Waterkloof (Military Transport Workshop) - Rhodesia - Camps
Tom served two years in the SAAF from July 1978 - June 1980, mostly working at the Waterkloof Military Transport Workshop, but spent some time in (then) Rhodesia just before the 1980 elections. After national service he did some camps, mostly supporting the police in the townships.
When you hear about a group of people lumped into a title, by race or nationality, an immediate conditioning depending on the propaganda fed to you in your surroundings will stereotype that group in your psyche. At school we where warned that if one pupil in uniform behaves badly outside the school the whole school will be judged by the behaviour of an individual. I was conscripted into a group called the South African Defence Force, but within that institution I remained an individual, lumped together with white males from diverse backgrounds. All white stock but not necessarily the same. I was not just a number, 74416165BC. Amazing that you never forget you army number but can forget a shorter 4-digit pin number for the auto teller ATM.
I will use the true names of people when I can recall them, if you see your name consider it a privilege because I do not remember names of people I met just five minutes ago. (What was your name again?) I have looked at the web site "www.schoolfriendsreunited" and the few people I am interested in do not appear, are they dead or computer illiterate.
I was born in Northern Rhodesia on the Copperbelt, I have happy childhood memories of growing up in Kitwe. It may have something to do with being a child, unaware of the angst of the adult world. There was a large ex pat community that socialized a lot, my father belonged to the Kitwe MOTH's (Memorial Of Tin Hat's) an ex serviceman's club. At home on rare occasions a squad of black Askari soldiers would march past our home and I watched from the garden fence finding them dashing in their smart uniforms. Guns were a part of the culture, my toy cowboy guns and my Father taking out his 303 one evening to go over to Granddads farm to assist in the ambush of a pride of lionesses and cubs that had come to nightly feast on takeaway pork. Another day I watched Grandad Henriod enter the pigstys, hold squealing pigs against the wall and shoot them between the ears, slaughtered for Normans Butcher shop.
At school assembly in the outside quadrangle one morningI watched the beautiful Northern Rhodesian flag being taken down and the new flag of Independence raised in it's place, then we sang "we've won freedoms fight." As a child I noticed new government was really the old Africa destroying the new European infrastructure and returning it to the bush mentality.
One quiet Sunday afternoon at the petrol storage depot there was a huge fire, a massive fireball, curiously we drove over to have a closer look, near the fire our car got stoned by rioters from the adjacent compound, rumour had spread that whites were responsible for sabotaging the gasoline supply. Life under the Kaunda one party state was no longer secure, December 1966 packed our belongings and Dad drove us over the border into Rhodesia, we got the steam driven train from Salisburydown to Johannesburg. I then started school at Florida Primary School and after one month was put down to a lower year for being " backward." Eventually the poor pupil made it to Queens High school (JHB), here there were a lot of Portuguese borders who had been sent to S.A. to avoid the civil war in Mozambique.
At Queens high school hostel one of the boarders was Paul Erasmus. He was not a bully but enjoyed associating with the thugs and being the centre of attention. He plotted with Keith Martin and Ali Versosy (Mozambique border) to extract protection money from a Mozambiquestudent Carlos whose parents sent him loads of money he spent on toys. One evening we heard screaming and Carlos running out the upstairs dorms to the Hostel Head Mr Hitchins' home. Mr Hitchins questioned Paul Erasmus who claimed Carlos wanted to have homosexual sex with him and he had got his tsotsi mates to lie in waitto beatCarlos up. Carlos spoke no English so was unable to defend himself against these allegations. Paul Erasmus later joined the SAP and then went in front of the truth and reconciliation committee claiming he is a victim of Apartheid, He is still trying to be in the limelight. The SAP did not turn him into a criminal. He already had criminal tendencies at school.
At assembly we were told that all boy's turning sixteen that year must report to the library. I was going off to class when a friend called me back, "you must go to the library, you are turning sixteen this year." In Library I was given my first SADF form to complete, that evening I mentioned to my Mother that I had written on the form that I was British. Mum got angry, "You are going to the Army. It's a mans duty!" Next day at school I asked for a blank form to take home so that Mother could type it out stating that I was a S.A citizen. I found out years later that if you put downanother Nationality the SADF never demanded proof, and you were automatically exempt from call up.
Military service was ingrained into my parents generation, Grandfather, 2nd World War veteran, Abyssinia campaign, (whites killing whites in Africa) a tough Sergeant Major.
Father, 2nd world war veteran, North Africa (whites killing even more whites in Africa) then onto Italy and the 3-month battle for Monte Casino. He never spoke about his war time experiences, that he was wounded atMonte Casino, nearly died and was discharged with shell shock, hejust hit the drug of his generation, alcohol. Then when I became a soldier I told him how I hated it his whiskey soaked body shook in anger yelling, "The army was the best time of my life, what is the matter with you?"
Is this what they call the generation gap?
EvenGrandmotherhad a strange, deep attraction to military training, the idea of permanent, systematized punishment appealed to a certain dark side of the South African white female, (a very spoilt creature)shetoldme, "wait till you go to the army, that will sort you out." Yep the Army was some place that could sort out,any young white male that Grandparents disliked (long hair was enough reason).What could it do for their crying soft-hearted, weak grandson, my goodness did I have a lot to live up to in this family tradition.
The 11th Boy's Brigade at Malvern Methodist Church taught me marching, brassing badges and spit and polishing shoes for inspection.
I changed school early in 1974 and went to Weston Agriculture College in Mooi River Natal.
I was 16 and the smallest boy in the school, and the first year was full on cruel initiation of new boys. It would make a man of you, and if you cannot take it you are not a man but a Queer. The sicko mentality of this boarding school was thatinitiation was good, because next year you could brutalize the next intake. (A sicko mentality) Next year onenew boy ran away (must bequeer) and his father just happened to be a journalist, well when the Sunday Times published his story it was amazing how the principal who had been in a German Prisoner of war camp and believed this cruelty was good in toughening up boys for life, quicklytook measures to stop bulling.
I would catch the train home for school holidays and on route it would stop at Ladysmith, often Troops would board and they would tell me about the army, army non-stop talk, and every detail about their basics. (Remember how we all became non-stop chatterboxes about the army, especially the first pass home) I also would hear about confidential SADF operating procedures, and one chap had been close to Luanda on the first op, already knew that the AK47 was considered to be a better assault rifle than the NATOcopied R1. There are always the repeated legend stories, haunted guard towers and the favourite waswhen a dead enemy in Angolalay in the road with his stomach split openand the breakfast of baked beans was being eaten by a dog.
I passed all my subjects in 1974 except Afrikaans, and the new law was that failing Afrikaans meant you failed the year. I had to repeat Std 8. Soweto student rioters, anger over Afrikaans, comrades I know your suffering.
In Matric year, we were trucked one evening to a Pietermaritzburg school where the hall was filled with matric boys from the area to hear a talk given by the highest ranking civilian General in the SADF, (was his name, Lord Haw Haw?) the English public relations officer to explain why they needed us to dotwo years instead of one.
Being atWeston Agriculture College the prison service would send around a recruiting officer and he would try and encourage Matric boys to join the prison service to work as Officers on Prison farms and this would count as National Service, the pay was better, but 4 yearsservice time was requiredinstead of 2.
There was a consensus of thought amongst the English speaking people that I knew, that a European could get a job fairly easily in the current system. If they were unemployable, lower than trailer trash on a Jerry Springer show, the SADF army embraced theminto permanent force staff.
Got my call up, July 1978 at Air Force Gym Valhalla. After Matric got employed as an Apprentice Diesel Mechanic with Johannesburg Municipality, (Parents advice: `A man must have a trade behind him!') and they would generously pay me while I was away doing 2 years national service. Having left one institution with only 6 months freedom before entering another, having myown money, freedom, it was time to go out to the drive in movies with as many girls as possible.
Early one morning in July,Dad dropped me at the gates of Valhalla Air Force Gymnasium, I walked in and saw20 queuing lines, You could join any one, like a lottery draw, not knowing the outcome I stood in a line and got to the desk gave my name bundled into a group, marched to a bungalow, and met the prick that was going to torment me for the next three months. PTI Corporal Snyman - Black belt Karate kid with hardened knuckles.
Medical, stood in underpantswatched over bysome female nurses ogling the abundant flesh on forced display, piss in a test tube, drop secretly smuggled glucose powder into urine, medic places litmus paper into urine and looks at colours, fine, no sugar diabetes, hit I am passed as fit.
Religion, if I say none maybe I could get out of church parade, None,then it'sFree Church for all sorts, Chaplin's little helper at desk takes details, sign form to say you will donate money out your wages to church, I write 10 cents, he looks disgusted, first pay day, they have taken R1, he had fraudulently altered it afterwards.
Sunday's go to Free Church, we are fearful of the Chaplin, thinking he is going to punish us like the nutty PTI's for sleepingcontinuously through his service. He doesn't, he preaches to a hall of Zombies, word gets around, his services become even more packed with converts from otherchurches. (The power of the Holy Spirit draws them in, even NGK defectors)OneSunday my comatose consciousness picked up his sermon, I stood up, "You've got it all wrong," he looks at me surprised, somebody alive out there, my friend is tugging me, trying to pull me down. The hall starts to stir, there's a nutter out there, and this is interesting. "Yes sir, you don't have to marry a woman because she has had sex with you." He's intrigued, at last somebody was listening.
Eventuallyto avoidchurch parades I hide in Bungalow, climb into my tiny metal cupboard Houdini style, get my friend to drape a blanket over door, and sleep in room until the Christian soldiers return.
Our Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) calls us once a week to a sports field, we can sit down on the grass, relax boys, he is so matey, first he tells us that if there are any drug addicts or homosexuals they can tell him as the SADF has a special (Gulag) camp that can help them overcome their problems. Nobody putsa hand up, who is going to stand up and say, "I am a crack cocaine addict, need a sex change and am into bestiality."
He then proceeds to explain that a PTI has incurred a "moersa" speeding fine and has no money to pay for it. Can we all donateone randand he willreturn the favour by beingsoft on us, but his identity willremain confidential. We donate one Rand.
Amazingly next pay day he tells us a Troopie is in financial trouble as his whole family has died in poverty and he cannot afford to bury them. We donateone Randfor funeral expenses.
Well these suffering sob stories continue (hooker scam trick lies) until donor fatigue kicks in, the usual koptoe morons donate and then get angry at the non donators. " He will make us suffer if we don't donate."
RSM gets arrested and court marshalled for embezzlement, sentence, confined to barracks.
His replacement, an RSM allegedly disallowed from commanding troops because he ran his own nephew to death. (Sad Sack comic story legends again) You are going to suffer now troopies. So the replacementRSM Lubaa, introduces himself by screaming in a high pitched girlie whine," At least ten of you are going to Military hospital tonight, I've ordered the ambulances, to the Sahara (dry as bone parade ground) He chased the troopes around, screaming like a madman, nobody went to hospital and I stood with the Asthma suffers on the side, even though I am not an Asthma suffer and had not a pump to show as proof of this condition.
RSM Lubaa did not kill any of our intake of Troopies, butnearthe end of Basics we "treed aan" (fall in), and he was angry (was he ever calm?) that insane look and high pitched whiny scream, ranting "'n bliksam se Joed" n' donderse joed", then changed to "waar is al die boere."? Mad Lubaa angry, only 2 hands went up. Boere according to Afrikaans folklore are supposed to be excellent marksmen, but the prize ofR150 for the best score on the shooting range went to a Jew not a Boer.No Jews were harmed in the making of this parade, they were away on yet another Jewish holiday.
After porridge for breakfastplus dinner at boarding school, the food at Valhalla was good, only the queuing up for food in the eveningtook too long. Many Troopies would have skipped breakfast due to time constraints in preparing for inspection, but threatened with punishment if caught not having breakfast it was easier to have it. Fainting on the parade ground was considered that you had not eaten breakfast. After meals we would wash our "Vark pan," in bin baths with hot white soapy water, and the cold rinse bath was greasy so I would go to the bathroomtap to rinse my utensils. Blue stone was not put in the tea, it was just sheer exhaustion that made you loose your sex drive. Once laced into mince curry at dinner and weeks later inyellow custard was dewormer laxative medicine (kill stomach worms) giving the camp diarrhoea and all night queues for the toilets. Kak parade!
We were the first intake to get the lower quality bush clothes, our bush jackets were thinner with less pockets, trousers were thin with no pockets. Luckily we were allowed to sow "Jippo" strips into our clothing that gave it a better appearance and madeit easier to iron. Air Force step out kit was blue and had a lot of brass buckles and badges to be buffed with brasso. The hat had a brasseagle badge in the centre and the chest of the eagle had lines showing feathers, feathers it was deemed desirable to erase byemery cloth and smooth the eagles chest as this was considered "Ou Manne". The blue hat remained flat panned during basics and only after basics could it be made to drop over the Eagle badge using a wet towel and a wire coat hanger in theinside rim, again to display,"Ou Manne". Boots were black in colour and you ironed lots of polish into the toe cap at the start for the boning base. Then rubbed with Escort pantyhose, for that extra shine. Even the lasses had to bethreaded in a specific order. I cut sponge out of a foam mattress and placed it inside boot as a crude cushion insole. Takkies (plimsolls) were issued army brown and had to be polished black.
Rifle was the R1, and holding it in your left arm when at attention on the parade ground you realized how heavy it was. I used to tuck the handle into my web belt for the longer periods. Rememberhow little bits of dust floating in airwould naturallystickto the oil in the CLEAN rifle barrel and then the childish remarks at morning inspection about "groen mannetjes" andfalsely accusedthat you had not cleaned your weapon. I solved this by spraying from an aerosol can, "Mr Min" furniture polish into the barrel and this would form a shinny wax coating but not absorb floating dust.
Fortunately we had aseven to five corporal, he would drive home to Randburg for the night and return for morning inspection, and we could see his car coming down the long drive. Thus we were sparedevening abuse. Morning inspection was the usual bull of him never being satisfied, it was always the poor blokes nearest the door that got inspected first and by bed 3 he was screaming that we were useless and had not done an ounce of work for inspection. Having stayed up cleaning till 11 the night before was irrelevant; it was never going to be satisfactory. One morning PTI displayed more angry insanity than his usual high decibels, and we had to dive up and over the beds with full kit for agescompletely trashing the barracks. What had rattled his cage was that every day at bungalow inspection he would run his finger along a surface and then say how dusty it was by wiping his finger onto a spotless white pillowcase, and a line of dirt would be displayed. It was a mystery; You had just dusted that surface before he had stepped through the door. What hewas doingwas a slight of the hand that magicians are famous for; he was wiping the inspected surface with one finger and thenwiping white pillowcase with a completely different dirty finger. His anger was that one Troopie had spotted this and dared to mention it.
There would be a bush telegraph call from Bungalow to bungalow as everybody would stream out to the call of "tree aan". We lined up out side the general store, and it was never fast enough for the PTI on the front porch. "Balke toe" and you made a left turn and ran to a sand wall, up the 2 meter steep bankwall, stop on top and then await the "Tree aan" and then down this bank shouting "Drie escader"(3 squadron) and fall in. The winter dust was horrendous with all the boots running over the sand, dust collected in all your orifices. The PTI on the bank always seemed to say that we never listened to him, and he would ask the same question again and again, we all in unison would shout in a mighty roar " Ja Korparaal", and then he would repeat his question again and again saying that he cannot hear us and we would all scream "Ja Koparal" again, and again, louder and louder. In unison with the squadcalling out I would shout. "Ja Kontaraal", (yes cunteraal) and then he would rant and rave about somebody "vloeking" him and away we would go "Balke toe " bank to.
The Instructors infamous insults spewed out their sewer mouths as they constantly insulted us, "Moenie vir my loer nie. Ek is nie a hoer nie", (Don't leer at me I'm not a whore.)we had to look straight ahead at attention and this was a command to tell us not to look at the person talking to us. Very difficult not to do, your whole life had been told "look at me when I talk to you." from parents to teachers,now it was the opposite. Others were "Jou sleg Eter", or "Eter Kop" (puss head), "Surstof dief", (oxygen thief)."Julle mark my gat hare taiie" calling us homosexuals.
The common constant insult was "Roofie", (scab) the term used to describe a conscript who had not completed basics.
Learning to shoot your weapon, the Air Force was civilized and arranged for us to learn at a small range within the camp, rifles were on tripods and bullets with plastic tips. We were allowed to sit around for our turn, unusual privilege. (Used to being chased constantly) Later we were transported in Bedford trucks to a huge shooting range outside Pretoria. What is it withboys in that they exaggerate how hard a task is and they overcame it macho style, especially if girls are present. I was apprehensive about shooting my first rounds because of the exaggerated stories wankers had told me about how their shoulders were nearly torn off by the recoil of the rifle. I expected my shoulder to be torn off and land behind me, nothing of the sort happened, more a gentle nudge.
The first few rounds were to set the gas cylinder on the rifle, andinstructor said that we were to fire into the bank and not the large number signs above each pit on the high earthen bank. Hadn't thought of that, so of course I aimed at the number boardsabove the bank. Don't remember much about the shooting, don't even know if I hit the target, same as when I got into the (skiet) pit and had to lift up the pointer. I just pointed it anywhere. Yes, maybe that looks like a hole in the target, point. Then after firing our rounds we had to run up to the targets being chased by RSM Lubaa and his swinging cane called "katjie" (kitten), then at the target RSM Lubaa would hit you for every miss with his cane and you had to say "Dankie katkie"(thanks kitten) after each whack. My most memorable memory was returning from the range in the Bedford when it stopped on a country road, then we saw a herd of cattle in the road and a parked car with the door open and the driver chasing a running herd boy who lept through a barbed wire fence to escape a beating from an angry motorist. My mate said, "That's Pretoria for you!"
Theory training was taking your green coloured trunk from the bottom of your bed and putting on the ground outside, sitting on the ground next to it, using it as a desk to try and take rough notesdictated by thePTI.( to be copied out neatly in the evening into your ledger)Now whenever he decided that we had been sitting too long he would ask a question, this involved leaping up and standing to attention . He soon realized that Francesco never ever knew the answers. Francesco, "Ja Korperaal"," What is the colour of your black boots?" "Don't know Korperaal", "You troopies never listen, weg is julle." (Collective punishment) We would open the trunk, throw our books inside, pick up trommel (trunk) by the side handle's and with this awkward box run around the barracks. I would run humming "round and round the mulberry bush", like we were back in kindergarten.
First pass, the usual threats of how this would be denied to us as we were disobedient, never listened and are absolutely useless. In our barracks was Wit Muis and Boertjie, life long childhood friends from banjo playing Griqualand (Kentucky deliverance) inbreds. Were these boys excited by their first pass? All we heard for weeks beforehand was how they were going to visit Hillbrow, "Daars a hoer op elke hoek" They were going to lose their virginity's (to a woman, farm yard creatures did not count) in Hillbrow, where they knew for sure it was teeming with nymphomaniac English women. (Afrikaans girls did not have sex until marriage). The English guys just smirked at this pair, they were like kids waiting forChristmas to arrive. After our first weekend pass theycame backas quiet as virgin church mice, and Hillbrow was never mentioned again.
My first pass home; instant fear at the first glance at my bed, it was not square, it had round corners, instantaneously expecting punishment.
I was fortunate to have received every week at basic camp a longed for letter from my girlfriend Kim Cowper, andI could not waitto visit her to rekindle the romance, and show her my stylish haircut. When I went for a casual walk with anybody I would automatically leap into step with them.
Chapkin wasnext to my bed in the barracks, he had eye problems and always was blinking. After 2 weeks of basics he stopped training with us and went to work in the main guard's office at the gate. I sometimes accompanied him tohis kosher food section specially cooked by a Jewish chef, it saved lining up in the long queues with the heathens. Some of the Jewish guys resented a blondeating with them, " Are you Jewish?" ""Yup, I am circumcised." I noticed that when some of them wanted tea with milk they went into the main mess to get gentile tea. Years later after leaving the Air Force totally, Chatkin admitted that he threw pepper into his eyes, and just went to the Guard room at the main gate and told them that he had to report for duty there, they let him stay and work there until the end of basics. (He had no permission.) They just accepted his word, it's called front.
On Wednesday evenings our black belt PTI held Karate classes, it was voluntary to attend, only about ten in the whole camp went. After running all day, collapsing with exhaustion in the evening, who would want to go for more exercise with the Prick that had annoyed you all day?
Sports parade, Wednesday afternoon's first ever sports parade - the different sporting groups werecalled to different areas of the parade ground, Rugby there, Soccer there, Tug of War, until at the very end it was Perde ruiters turn. I went to the equestrian group, the RSM there separated us out into different groups, Show Jumping, Eventing, Dressage, then there was a large group left over, he asked "What Equestrian discipline do you specialize in" Every one of this tail end group answered "Boere sport" BOERE SPORT ???
RSM dismissed us all, we were not what he wanted. He wanted Gymkhana riders. (Tent peggers and swordsman) We then had to join the cross country runners, now this sport did not take you out of the camp, remember "The fence is not to keep you in it's to keep the enemy out." So around the boundary fence we went. After running all week, who would join a cross-country group, eh? I always came last in school cross-country runs. I wasn't about to excel here.
Next weeks sports parade, undeterred my best friend Airman Martin Harris and I hoped onto the back of a Bedford truck to the Voortrekker sports stadium and walked to the army stable. Low and behold as we entered the yard we met the Air Force RSM who had dismissed us the week previously. He screamed that he had told us that he did not want us, then told us to saddle up horse R nommer, (even the army horses had R numbers branded on their rumps). The horse was barely broken in and it was a nerve racking ride. We walked back to camp as we missed the Bedford, Martin said that he did not want to ride nutty horses.
Influenced by my friend I did not return to the stables, a very big mistake I was to regret later. (This RSM was to be at my next posting).
Sports parade after our first pass consisted of crawling through the storm water drain, under the fenceinto neighbouring Snake Valley Air Force accommodation barracks, getting into Chapkin's car and go for a drive. We could see Chapkin's car parked in next doors car park from our Bungalow, and kept the secret between the three of us.
Golden Rule about breaking Rules, Keep it to yourself. Wonderful, aday out with our Squadron to train in the veld, so out we marched with full kit towards the Voortrekker Monument Hill in our individual squads, what a lovely surprise to find a broken down Bedford at the bottom of adirt track leading up to the monument. Push it up boys! Why was the driver and PTI grinning, ha ha? Normal people with broken down vehicles do not smile. Over the brow of the hill we then ran into the valley on the other side. Here in our individual squads we learned the art of camouflage, paint your faces and weave grass through your clothing. In the afternoon we rejoined the other squads and then were shown how to leopard crawl andwere taken to a burnt grass area in the valley, with stones exposed and told to leopard crawl across. Amazing I crawledover the burnt veld with rifle in front and got there first, not my usual last. Didn't groan in pain like the others, didn't feel any pain, may have something to do with the fact that I wore sport elasticated supports on my knees and elbows hidden beneath my browns. Then the joyful run back to camp up the hill past the front entrance of the Voortrekker monument, singing "Oosh aa,oosh khaa", karate calls, as instructed by our karate kid instructor, unlike the other squads chanting "Vasbyte min dae."
The big Bushcraft training trip was still to come, and our PTI instructor Snyman relished in telling us how he was going to make sure we would never forget the experience of the harsh training in the bush. Then he would single me out, "Hutcheson, you are a slapgat troopie, the worst I have ever seen." I was forced to answer, "Ja Korporaal." Then he would add a threat; "Wait till we get to the bush!"
There were no passes for the weekend before the big bush exercise, we stayed in camp to prepare our kit for Monday morning. On Sunday I bumped into Marc Knowle who I was friends with in school, he was posted in the adjacent Bungalow. "All packed for the bush Marc," "No, I cannot go. I have German Measles." I smiled, "Not the same German measles we had at boarding school?" He answered, "These are real." You cannotbe infected withGerman Measles twice in a life. Marc Knowle was insistent that his symptoms were the genuine illness. Now I knew the rules of breaking rules not to press him for an honest answer.
Amazingly I too developed German Measles that Sunday afternoon and reported to the Guard house who got the duty driver to take me to 1 Military hospital, see the Doctor, who gave me a sick certificate with instructions to stay isolated in bed for a week. Back in Valhalla I told my best friend Martin Harris about my illness, he did not believe that I was ill and begged me to tell him the secret of infection. I was loath to break the rule of secrecy; it would be an absolute trust to reveal such a secret to him. Half hour later Martin reported to the guardroom and went to1 Military hospital, and he nearly burst out laughing when the Doctor took one look at him and pronounced "German Measles".
That evening the barracks door was opened by a swaggering, smirking PTI Snyman, "So you are off to the Bush in the morning." I showed him my certificate, and then you should have seenthe face of disbelief when Martin produced a Doctors note.
Early next morning in the dark the Squadron jumped onto Bedfords and left for the Bush while I still lay in Bed. Every morning thereafter the bungalow door would open and a Corporal would take roll call on the 2 Airman lying in bed. Then we would join Marc Knowle next door in our pyjamas and play darts and cards.
On Wednesday morning I wore full step out uniform and walked tothe in camp medical quarters, hopped into the Duty Combi, took a seat at the back, and waited for it to fill up. The driver eventually jumped in and asked to see "Hospital passes," he checked ever ones except mine, I did not have one and stood out in my blue uniform, surrounded by brown bush uniforms. Off he drove and the chap sitting next to me whispered, "It's so obvious that you are AWOLing. I have a friend meeting me at the hospital, do you want a lift." True to his word his friend was waiting for him in the hospital car park, and they gave me a lift to Pretoria train station. (Thank You to all those who helped me, if you are reading this!) I know I got the train and alighted at Jeppe station. I then arranged a lift out to Benoni, got Marc Knowle's Ford Escort from his parents plot, and drove back to Pretoria. Just before Valhalla I placed aGymnasium window disc onto the windscreen, issued by our comrade Chatkin who stole it from the Guardroom. I drove nervously up to the gate in the dusk, low and behold the Roof on gate duty, upon seeing the windscreen sticker, hurriedly raised the boom and saluted me as I drove through. Parked the car and when I returned to my very distraught, worried friends (this was all before mobile phones were invented)who had imagined me being arrested and sitting in DB, they were so relieved and gave me ahappy welcome.
Friday afternoon, time to go on weekend pass, we piled into the Escort car and laughed with joy as we drove out the gate just in time to see the returning Bedfords unloading 3 Squadron.
I then volunteered to become an Air Traffic Controller, a good job if you can get it. The first step towards this position was the interview, which I blew with my lack of Afrikaans. But that did not stop them sending all 12 volunteers for medical and IQ tests. Every morning we got a Combi to a Medical Research Center, where they tested our hearing, eyesight and the hardest was sitting in a spinningchair that spun around at great speed and then afterwards told to stand on one leg, being very giddy we fell over. I was in no hurry to get these tests over with so we completed one a day and sat on the grass outside for the rest of the day. After a week the duty Combi stopped transporting us as the tests were now complete, but in the mean time the whole base was now practising for the passing out parade. As everybody was involved in the huge passing out exercise we no longer marched in our individual Flights under our personal PTI. With 2000 Airman on daily parade I was not missed by CPL Snyman, and I joined the light duty sick manne group, without a doctor's note, but nobody asked for it anyway. While others marched up and down drilling for the big parade, I painted the stands.
The final passing out parade arrived. I was not going to miss this one, and I fell in proudly in my immaculate smart blue uniform, andmarched perfectly in time to the South African Air Force's marching Band.
After the final stepping out parade, we went back to Bungalow for our flight (squad) to beharassed by Snyman (his last chance) whoscreamed that we could not go on pass as "Hutcheson was not doing enough push ups". PTI Snyman was working up the thick heads into a frenzy to give me a physical beating.
After Basic training I had the joyful news that I was posted to "Waterkloof Air Force Base," just outside Pretoria. Saturday passing out parade Valhalla,Monday a new start at MT workshops "Waterkloof Lugmag Basis"
The Military Transport Workshop was tucked away inside Waterkloof Air Force Base it was well away from the Aircraft Hangers. The workshop was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the Air Force's vehicles, from fire fighting Pathfinders to Mini Mokes. The workshop buildings were built around a courtyard, and strung over the concreted yard was camouflage netting, this was not there to hide us from spy satellites, but to provide shade.
The staff consisted of a Flight Sergeant in charge, two Sergeant's and about ten permanent force mechanics, one Mechanic and Auto electrician from Atlas Aircraft. Plus about 5 labourers, then us conscripts. There was a steady stream of work that came in; Landrovers, Bedford trucks, Kudu buses, VW Combi, Beetles, Renault cars, Minis, Mini Mokes and Bicycles. The work was done at a slow civil service pace; if these were private clientsvehicles, this garage would have gone bust.
The permanent staff werea church going, pretty contented lot, came to work on time, swung a few spanners, then went home on time to his family home in Pretoria, Monday to Friday, and got paid, a secure job for life. I ended up working as a spanner boy, alongside an Atlas Aircraft mechanic, Portuguese (Mozambique born) called Arillio. His English was about as perfect as my Afrikaans; he was a slow methodical worker, but a perfectionist. He repaired and totally overhauled the Head chefs beat up old Suzuki 50cc and made it look new (I did the scrubbing) it took 4 weeks and then upon delivery to the Head Chef, we took a Bakkie and went to the Mess kitchen back door and staff loaded up Air Force food boxes to take back to our workshop for it to be distributed to our staff, in gratitude by Chief Chef. No this was not corruption, it was a barter system; No money changed hands. Arillio worked on mostly private jobs, but out the back, so anybody walking into the workshop entrance would see only Air Force vehicles in the court yard, and anybody dangerous (officers) walking through the yard to the back we could see them easily, and switch from work to standing around.
Arillio made an exercise machine for the Flight Sergeant Rose's wife, and for FS Ross's church's alter a copper dove, also overhauled countless gearboxes and engines for the bases staff, and repaired numerous radiators. Radiators were stripped completely and I would stand over a paraffin bath and rub down with wire wool all of its parts until the brassshone, then Arillio would solder it all together again. It was like a work of art, timeless in its recreation. We did not receive any reward but Flight Sergeant Ross being thehead boss of the workshop got flights in Mirage fighters, and other grateful thank you's from Air Force personnel.
Arillio was sometimes required to work on a military vehicle, this was normally because the other mechanics were unable to understand or solve a particular problem. There was a particularly large old heavy truck, it was seldom used but in winter it would not start having no glow plugs. I watched the best P.F mechanics fail to start it, and always defeated Arillio would be called. He would take off the air filter pipe at the intake manifold, (nobody was allowed to watch) hold a rag sniffing with petrol fumes over the opening, I would crank the engine and hey presto who said that petrol should not be used to start a diesel.(Do not try this at home).It was his magic rag secret.
There was tea break in the morning and afternoon, the urn would be delivered to our workshop tea room straight from the mess, and we all put money into a tea club for cakes and games. At lunch there was enough time to walk outside the base to the mess.
The P.F.safter 2 years service were made up to Lance Corporals, they were not needed in any authoritarian role, it was merely done as a pay increase. The highest rank in the workshop was a Flight Sergeant, so the chance of a conscript getting promotion was nil. Withthe rewardbeing the same for working hard or not, there was no incentive to work hard.
As long as you turned up on time Monday to Friday, behaved yourself, outside working hours you were left alone the rest of the time. We turned up for work, had roll call, changed from Air Force cap and browns into a blue Air Force overall, and then at the end of the working day, back to locker and into browns.
The weekly routine could be disrupted by being called to guard duty, this would be for a solid week. The shift was from 6 evening until midnight, then a dog handler would relieve your post, and you would be off until you reported to the guard house for the next evening shift. You were given an R1 with a sealed magazine with 5 rounds, thank god we never had to use it in defence, breaking a wire seal off the magazine head would take longer than firing 5 rounds. That busy base after everybody went home became desolate and quiet, hangers full of fighter jets and me alone looking afterbillions of rands worth of equipment, with 5 rounds.
The furthest guard post was the bomb storage bays, on the far side of the base, well away from buildings, it was hidden in trees and it was very dark standing guard in there at night. Near midnight you could hear a petrol Bedford truck approaching the dog kennels, the dogs barking loudly from the kennels, then an inspection would take place and then afterwards could hear the sput sput of a straining engine as it drove around the base picking up bored and frozen guards to replace them with Dog handlers with 9mm Star pistols. When the Bedford stopped the dog would leap down with it's handler,then you would jump in the back seeing dogs left and right snarling and doing their best to bite you. You would stand in the middle as dogs were tied up very short with leads to the posts, the Bedford would bounce along bonging you and dogs around helping the dog shit and piss to run all over the floor.
In Winter it was freezing cold, temperatures dropped below freezing, South Africans who never have spent a full night outdoors neverwill knowjust how cold the S.A. winter is.
Another duty was a week on top of a mountain in the Magaliesburg that had a tall red and white Aerial mast and transmitter, at its base wasa surrounding security fenceenclosing small cottage with shower and gas stove for own cooking. The hard part was seeing the lights in the far distance valleys on New Years Eve thinking that the civvies wereenjoyingparty time.
The nearest train station alongside a busy road to the Airbase had a fenced off siding that held railway tankers with aircraft fuel, this pumping station pumped fuel up the hill into the airbases fuel tanks. Guards were assigned to this duty for a week at a time, from 6am till 6 evening, then relieved by a night Dog Guard, and wore civilian clothes so as not to draw attention to this vital artery. I could park my VW beetle car within the perimeter fence of this pump station, sit in it, reading a book or talk on the CB radio "big buddy crap", even had an "eyeball" with a passing motorist who would wonder when he drove past why there was always somebody in there.
Gate duty was another day or night shift, day shift was busy when everybody came into work and you had to check ID's, I knew most by recognizing them and never asked for ID, only asked Officers because I was fearful of being told off for not checking their pass. The only officer I never asked for ID was burnt so badly in a helicopter crash his stocking covered scary flesh made me not want to look. Weekends were quiet on the main gate, but one day a load of civvie cars with pilots wives arrived to collect their Pilot husbands, they drove in parked at the hangers, watched the Mirages land and gave their husbands a joyful reunion as he stepped out of his cockpit after being away on border duty. Everybody was so happy and I never was questioned for letting in civilians with no clearance.
Accommodation at WLBfirst was in tents, until spaces became available in the bungalows, the first bed to be made available was when MP's arrested an individual after a search of his cupboard found magazines with pictures of naked women. (Banned material). The lawns around the base were maintained by Jehovah Witness prisoners working in Air Force blue overalls, as theirreligion forbid them to wear military uniforms.
There were also civilian Atlas aircraft staff, theywore civilian work clothes with company colours. If you joined Atlas aircraft after leaving school as a trainee technician you had a civilian job counting as national service.
Martin Harris my friend from basics was posted to Air Force headquarters in Pretoria, and his accommodation was in Voortrekkerhoogte Air Force accommodation camp. It was more convenient to drive to my friends camp in the evening, sleep the night there, and return to my base in the morning for work. Martin eventually secured a small room in the corner of the barracks and I would sleep on a foam mattress on the floor, inspections consisted of the guys in the barracks room locking the bedroom door with a padlock on the outside, I would lie in my sleeping bag still, then attention called, silence as the inspection took place, inevitably broken by a strangers voice on the other side of door would ask, "Who's in here?" Then ourcomrade at attention would answer "Regimental policeman already at work, sir." Off he happily would go, the door unlocked by one of the great guy's outside. (Saam werk!)
Waterkloof airbase was divided into two halves by the runway, on the far side were the transporters C130 and C160's in their huge hangers, Canberra bombers with a Spitfire and Vampire. On the near side were the Mirage fighters and 4 Buccaneers to start with but one buccaneer was lost on an exercise. I remember watching the pilot and navigator being strapped into the cockpitthat evening, taking off, never to be seen again. There was also the Air traffic control tower and head offices.
Visiting aircraft would be SAA Boeing passenger planes practising take off and landings, a Rhodesian Hunter, and the USA embassy Lear jet equipped with spy cameras.
The only major parade we had no marching just falling in was when we assembled in front of the Base officer and hewarned us ofsuspicious persons with binocularsseen watching the base, and a huge sand bank was bulldozed into place alongside the perimeter fence, stopping communist spies in anoraks fromseeing into the base.
A major parade that I attended along with 50 others was when wecaught the Milk train from Pretoria station to Cape Town, now the Milk train is slow and stops at every siding, even in a desolate landscape the milk train will stop. There are only 2 woman on the train, a German backpacker, hairy armpits on a tight budget, and a 30's something lady who in the Karoo decides tobreak the boredom by walking up and down thecarriages naked, well she did have fishnet gear on.
Cape town train station bussed to an Airbase overlooked by Table mountain, our mission, marching practice to take part in a Colours parade, Shackleton aircraft are old and the replacement Aircraft are to be in a new squadron and the Squadron colours have to be presented for the first time. On the big day I marched impeccably and lifted my right hand in a salute to John Vorster taking the salute on a podium a few feet from me, oh how I wanted to break rank and leap up and smash him down, but I stayed in step, as you do. Back in barracks another lad was telling all how John Vorster looked him in the eye and how he beamed hatred back. "I hope he could see how much I hated him!" he said.
An airman thatworked at this base told me that his work was bringing in the secret shipments of spares needed for the Air Force from Argentina in crates marked "Agriculture implements", sanctions busting, arms embargo breaking naughty man.
Overall it was a wonderful parade, between marching breaks I got to stay with Capetonian friends from Zambia for the weekend pass, go ice-skating and visit the Castle. At Cape Town train station waiting to catch the train back, we smiled and said "Hello" to Cape coloured girls, they chanted back "Vorster se kinders", "Vorster se Kinders", our Air Force uniform had an effect on them, but they weren't going to score with that chat up line. Parade well done and over it was back to Pretoria on the Milk train, the cheapest rail fare ticket possible. Not the blue train, we had that on the way down.
The other parade I remember was being bussed out to Springs (Witwatersrand) East Rand and parading at a Mirage Pilots funeral, he died allegedly when he was showing off with his fellow Pilot and both planes went down and here I was in Springs marching, very badly, the slow march. Everybody was out of step, we struggled to get it right in basics and here after being out of practice for ages, nobody could drill properly. Anyway there were very few people at his funeral, and they didn't complain about the carry on parade, all we could think about was how late we were going to be back at camp, way past our knock off time, on this long bus ride to base.
Plane lossesand their causes are official secrets, but people love to talk and so here arethe stories about crashes, Dakota lost on border, pilot seat occupied by a drunken woman, not the pilot trying to impress her. Canberra pilot shot dead by AK 47 ground fire, Bomb aimer in plane nose tries to pull pilot out his seat to get controls, cannot move him, plane crashes with Air traffic controllers hearing it all on radio.
Border call up was for 3 months and one national serviceman at a time from MT workshop would go up to the border. In the workshop was a Booysens Afrikaner called Olwaga, he went in my place as Flight Sergeant Ross volunteered his name just to be rid of him. Olie was not happy to go in my place, but he went again, and he never did learn to keep from answering his superiors back.
It was just another day in the workshop, just like any other day, when the Base Regimental Sergeant Major visited the workshop. Nothing unusual in this. He often called to chat or get a private favour done. This day his request was for National Serviceman with Military driving licenses, and who spoke English. Flight Sergeant Ross called me over and told the RSM; "Here's another volunteer." The RSM whisked four of us out of the workshop and over to the Barber's for a special haircut, then over to the Commander of the Base's office, where we stood to attention in front of his desk. He gave us a talk about "when we represent our country we must be exceptionally behaved and not bring reproach on South Africa." I stood there thinking this is a bit strange. What is going on here? Thousands of troopsfly out from this Base to South West Africa and they never get to see this high ranking General give a farewell talk. Then off to stores, issued with rifles, mine was a FN with the S.A. coat of arms stamped on the stock. Then a bottle nosed 4x4 old petrol Bedford, was given to each of us, as the Air Force had no new 4x4 Bedfords. We drove to an Army Base in Voortrekkerhoogte, were given a co driver, and then other vehicles started arriving from other distant Army bases. We signed our wills. Intelligence officers briefed us. We are driving to Rhodesia with the vehicles. No cameras allowed, an orderI actually obeyed and lived to regret. I should have taken my camera. Don't bring back porn! How little they knew! There was no porn there. Rhodie's were asking us for porn! Most important was the cost of the Buffels, bring them back in one piece, even if you don't come back. A heckler called out "we are just a number!"
I drove home to Malvern, (JHB) that evening and told my family I am off to Rhodesia and showed them the workings of a FN Rifle. Next day in the late afternoon we drove out in convoy out of Pretoria. It was dark by the time we reached Warmbaths, refuelled at an Airbase in Pietersburg, and then we all parked alongside the northern road. In the dark we found one of those round water reservoirs on farms and jumped in and washed. It was a welcome bath, but how mucky the water was I will never know. Then sleep in back of truck. Morning after a jump-start because my truck was so old the seat had buckled in and the metal base was resting on the battery under the seat causing a short circuit. We drove to Messina and parked (and waited) in an Army camp. The heat was unbearable. Here our leader, aMajor called us to gather round for a talk. He stood casually with his one leg up on a trucks running board and demonstrated with humour that an audience with theMedia was not allowed. Rhodesia is crawling with foreign Media and if approached do not talk to them.
I do not remember crossing Beit Bridge. It was that quick, no passport required, but I do remember our first Rhodesian camp just outside the town of Fort Victoria. The camps ground was pitted withfox holes(or were theyshell holes?),and some of the vehicles got stuck in them and had to be towed out. Walking over from my truck to a bar full of Rhodesian soldiers the music of "Cars" by Gary Numan floated eerily out froma loud music show on the tele. Next morning, off to Salisbury, a straightforward roadwith Baobab trees growing at intervals alongside it. Travelling in one long convoy North you could not get lost. Rhodesian civilian convoys passed us on their way down. They were escorted by a Mazda Bakkie (LDV pick up) with a soldier on the back with a large swivel Browning machine gun. All major bridge crossings had Rhodesian soldiers guarding them.
We droveto Salisbury and I hummed in my head the Pink Floyd song "Just Another Brick In The Wall," as the convoy wound through the suburbshaving bystanders looking amazed to see light brown army vehicles, with R registration numbers, and the drivers wearing S.A army brown bush clothes. We parked in a grass-covered park bordered by thick tall trees. At dusk we got into Military buses and driven with the interior lights off to an Army camp, where we stood in a long queue at stores and were issued with 2 Rhodesian used but laundered camouflage shirts, 2 bush trousers, and especially for me, the only one to be givena pair of light olive green Rhodesian army underpants was me, because when we stripped down I was the only one with no underpants. It was so hot in the cab of the Bedford witha hotengine in the centre, I took them off. The storemen issuedwebbing with ammo pouches, then bussed us back to the truck park. We were paid Rhodesian dollars, I can't remember how much, but it was deducted from our S.A pay.I know I had dollars when in mywell-usedRhodesian uniform I stood in the camp bar and mixed and chatted to the friendly local soldiers. The bar had the regimental coloursbadge displayed on a wooden plaques. These were for sale, and like a fool, I never purchased one.
Next morning I followed a Buffel (Buffalo) and a few Bedfords to Borrowdale Police station. Passing Borrowdale Horse racing track, we parked along the main road next to the police station, and waited. Two girls on horses rode up to look at the new visitors; one let me ride her horse up and down the wide grassy footpath. My co driver Alan, a Bank clerk from Grahamstown now in the Air Force got angry and said I should wait in the truck. Alan and I did not get along; he never deviated from the rules. My spontaneous actions irritated him. After a wait we drove left into a side road into the Police Station gate and into the car park. Borrowdale Police Station was to be our HQ base. That evening they laid on a braai and a BBC documentary film about Rhodesian warriors that had just been shown on SABC television. A lot of Rhodesian soldiers died in this true documentary. Thenon the ground in front of us wasdisplayed the enemy's capturedcommunist block weaponry, and the names and functions of these weapons. The Rhodesians happily chatted about their raids into Mozambique to attack communist bases (war on terror insurgent hideouts) and their lucky escapes. One Farmer in uniform (shorts) sported aMakarov (Russian) pistol he had taken off of a dead enemy officer in Mozambique. He told me that his young son had an armed guard who looked after him on his farm. It had become normal for kids to see weapons around.
A generous part of the hospitality was we could use the police station phone to phone S.A. I phoned home and spoke to my mother and told her that I was now in Rhodesiaand well. Ten minutes after my callmy mother watchesSABC news and Pik Botha (Minister of foreign affairs)comes on thetele and states emphatically that there are"NOSouth African soldiers in Rhodesia."
My Mother takes to her bed with shock for 3 days as she is stressed out that her son is now in a war zone - but wasn't she the one who insisted that her babyenlist forduty?
Next day the soldiers arrived and we fell in with them. They did simple drill manoeuvres and the S.A troops stood dumb still. The drill commands were in English and we did not recognize them having only drilled in Afrikaans. I met my Stick (group). They were not too happy about being transported about in a Bedford, a soft bellied vehicle, no protection if you hit a landmine. The rear canvas tarpaulin was removed and we filled plastic sand bags and covered the back with them. I even got a few in the drivers cab. Side doors should have been removed but were left on. The 4-cylinder petrol Bedford was sluggish, but now with acarpet of sand bags and troops with full kit, the engine was straining with the extra weight.
We drove out to a small police station on the outskirts of Salisbury and found accommodation in an empty farmhouse. The farmer had emigrated. My stick consisted of 12 soldiers, a few with R1 rifles, one MAG belt machine gunner and the majority with G3 rifles (what a crap weapon!). My education now really started; my fellowtroops were very helpful inteaching me how to pack my magazines, every fifth bullet a red tipped tracer. Never pack the magazine to the maximum as this weakens the spring. How to load a rifle grenade and make sure you always slip the correct projectile into the firing chamber to launch the grenade; a normal round would blow the rifle and your hands away, "Don't make that mistake!" I had to sew a bright red square patch into the inside of the bush cap, as they explained, "When the choppers come in, you turn your hat inside out to display the red patch and hope they don't fire on you." In S.AI wasnever issued with dog tags, now I had Rhodesian dog tags, stamped with my S.A. ID number. These were not metal but of a card material; two tags in different colours, one was indestructible to fire. I asked what unit am I in and was told; "If anybody asks you, it's Rhodesian Light Infantry." Also a field bandage that "you never use on anybody else because you may need it for yourself later." Each troopie had a small bunsen gas burner for cooking, and ration packs, one a day delicious tasty packs. A Muslim troopie had his own special Halal rat pack. Experienced troopies lay claymore mines with their trip wires in the gardens around the house, making sure that they would blow away from us.
Our first casualty was a when some troopie burnt himself with his bunsen burner even before dinner. Was itself mutilation? One man down, away he was taken to hospital. We had to elect a leader, we had a Sergeant in our group but he was trained in winning hearts and minds, plus two mature veterans but nobody wanted the responsibility. In the end a young medical student called Stretch (nickname because he was tall) was elected leader, even though it was really the two veterans advising him. There was no barking of orders, just quietly working together. We sat on the veranda at dusk, when two of our soldiers returned from a Kraal with a home brew called Karchase, the older men pored it out and forbad drinking alcohol. They explained that Karchase moonshine booze would make a man go insane and he could be more dangerous than the enemy.
On the veranda Stretch was cleaning his rifle when it fired, the radio aerial (called `sputnik') was raised up a tree and the military air waves were listened into. All was quiet on the airwaves, nobody was reporting a shot being heard. It was decided that the illegal discharge of a weapon would go unreported (not charged),and Stretch was consoled "Don't worry, Stretch! You have a lot on your mind! Its okay! We didn't hear a thing!" (Saam werk)
One of the veterans wife's drove outbringing him a radio player so that we could listen to BBC world service news. When you don't know what is going on in your own country, listen to the world service. The stick consisted of soldiers who had been on light duty (sick) and never expected to called up again as a reserve. They were not happy, but the mission was to be a light one, and with transport laid on in a soft belly vehiclethey were sent to a quiet green zone. Red zone was actively dangerous and only the Buffels were sent there. Evenings were spent chatting and listening to the other guy's war experiences, told in a quiet manner, opposite demeanour totheloud swagger of a bullshitting school boy. Stretch told how he was trained with a .303 rifle as this was considered more accurate than a FN and would hide on a ridge overlooking a valley used by insurgents and he would try to prevent them from entering the country. Guard duty was divided up equally in the night and I remember walking around the house in the darknot seeing anything in the thick bush, staying away from the claymore trip wires and very relieved to wake up the next soldierfor duty.
Stretch had a map of the area and we drove to kraals and settlements, asking permission to talk to the inhabitants. We would form a protective 360 degree cordon around the meeting place and our Rhodie Sergeantwho had received training in S. A. to enter only armed with leaflets. He would clap his hands first in greeting and a responding clap would be returned by the sitting audience. He would explain inhis local Shona dialect the illustrations in the leaflet; it showed a drawing of fat cattle and happy people. This is how you will prosper if you vote for the Bishop, and then next page an illustration of very thin unhappy people; this is how you will suffer if you vote for Robert Mugabe.
A simple straight forward message andblank looks of indifference emanated from the locals' faces (civilians caught in the middle).
We drove along roadsthrough large fields teaming full of crops of maize (corn) cabbages, potatoes and tobacco. These Great White Farmers had managed to continue farming and feeding a nation, plus exporting farm produce through a civil war where the enemy was determined to stop their production and kill them. The Great White Farmers were always friendly and didn't mind that we stopped the workers for half an hour of our propaganda. We visited a racehorse stud farm, and the owner invited us into his lounge for tea. Then he popped out wearing a ZANU T shirtand walked amongst his stable lads while our Sergeant spoke about the evil ZANU. He came back laughing saying; "That must have confused them".
We visited a farm where they were constructingocean-going concrete-hulled yachts. The ingenuity of the European to build yachts in a land locked country, to be transported to the coast eventually. I was placed in the front garden as part of the cordon and the Lady of the house kindly gave me a cup of tea.
So we did our rounds and distributed leaflets, the trees along the roads had election posters of Robert Mugabe's Zanu PFparty with a cock as the emblem displayed. There were no other party posters to be seen. I was given new driving instructions by my Stick, driving on dirt road tracks is forbidden, drive off road on the edge of the tracks to avoid landmines. Drive slowly, very slowly, this will minimize injuries if you hit a mine. I could never drive slowly, even a sluggish Bedford seemed to be too fast for my passengers on the back and my canopy roof would be hit with ahand followed by "slow down". We were all nervous. You never knew when that blast would come - at any second! There were so many different types of mines I was taught about to look out for but it was impossible to spot them. I also learned that in an ambush, the driver is the main target of the enemy, and only in an ambushwillyou accelerate and drive like hell to get out. So I was alone in the cab, nobody wanted to be in front. Co driver Alan rode behind.
After about a week, we got a message to return to Borrowdale Police Station immediately. We packed camp hastily and got toHQ and you guessed it, we waited, yes the army "Hurry up and wait" syndrome. While our trucks were parked outside the station on the road, a car pulled up next to us and a woman asked, "What is going on? There are a lot of soldiers about, what is happening?" We justlooked at her with that blank look anddid not answer. We did not know what the hell was going on either!
I went to the shop opposite the police station, and bought a tin opener. When I came to pay, I noticed that the price on the till was a lot more than the marked price, "Is that the sales Tax"? The woman serving sneeringly answered,"Yes, don't you pay sales tax?" It was the first time I had ever paid sales tax. It had not yet been introduced into S.A. What I could not get were nail clippers. In all the training they never mentioned nail clippers were essential kit in the Bush.
We slept at the police station under my truck's canvas tarpaulin resting on the ground. We also went to the little internalpub inside theadmin blockto relax and chat. Early one evening the head policeman told us that a soldier drunk on Karchase pulled his rifle on his Stick and insisted that he was still driving, the consequences being that he rolled the vehicle and severely injuring another soldier. Then the Buffel pulled into the yard with the prisoner and the huge SADF Afrikaner threw him overboard. As he dropped onto the dirt, the Police chief attacked him with boots and fists shouting "You have ruined a mans life." Then he realized that he had an audience and stopped. Not that we cared! The Floppy was so drunk he didn't feel a thing.
South Africans were put on guard duty at the main gate, because we were seen as more reliable than the local conscript. I only did what I had been trained to do at Waterkloof when guarding the bomb dump; pull a rifle on approaching persons, make them stand with their back to you with hands in the air, and slowly drop their ID over their shoulder. It didn't take me long to be less vigorous in stopping approaching staff, no more `hands up or I shoot'.
With new instructions we left Borrowdale to Mazoe valleyand a gold mine. Here we were to guard a polling station, along with the police, international observer and one bald headed Metropolitan Policeman from London in `Bobby' uniform looking out of his depth in Africa. Some of our Stick manned an OP post a little way up the hill. There were queues of voters and they had one finger dipped in purple dye to stop multiple voting. White people were not allowed to vote. Near by were a large crowd of joyful revellers, dancing and singing praises to Robert Mugabe and their coming emancipation, sometimes a van with a loudhailer would pull near the crowd and a woman would shout about the Bishops party. Nobody went over to the lonely pick up. Second day, same gold mine, same joyful Mugabe supporters crowd with energy to dance all day. I asked my Rhodesian mate Gerald, "Are you sure the Bishop is going to win this election?" He would answer,"Of course! He has the support in the towns!" Alan and I are called. We have a visitor, our SADF Major in Rhodesian uniform accompanied by the RhA second in command. Alan and I marched up perfectly in step, halted in time and saluted smartly, right hand to brow. He asked us if we were well and Alan replied `yes', then we rejoined our Stick, who commented that we sure stuck out as S.A trained soldiers because Rhodesian soldiers do not salute like that when carrying a rifle, they clench the barrel. At closing time our London Bobby would leave in a white bakkiefollowing behind our Bedford and then head on to Salisbury so that he could stay in a hotel. We stayed in another empty farm house along with anothertwo Sticks exactly like us, R nommer trucks for transport. We did once stop for one sundowner drink at the Mazoe hotel.
Day three of the 1980 elections and it's Henderson Research Station, an agriculture farm, Gerald and I up on a water tower in a field as an observation and guard post. Here tractors with trailers brought the mainly sober farm workers to vote quietly, no singing. Voting over, ballet boxes sealed and sent to U.K. for counting.
Next stop Chinamore tribal trust land to a square fort(French Foreign Legion look) with earthenwalls erected in the middle of the bush. Here the accommodation blocks were full of Muzorewa's auxiliaries with coffee coloured uniforms. We sleep outside and stretch out an issue poncho type green rain sheet over our sleeping bags to keep out the evening rain. Parked next to our Bedford is Olwaga's Bedford and Stick. I go looking for Olwaga one evening in the rain, find him in one of the huts, dry and warm in bed, chatting and smoking dagga with these former insurgents, Olwaga relaxed in aAuxiliaries bed. The room had a strong khaia smell. They seemed a friendly bunch and one of them desperately wanted my S.A bush jacket, the inferior one the Air Force issued, I swapped for a pair of boots that he swore came from a communist country. They showed me how to strip downtheir AK47, what a simple weapon; idiot proof! One day an Alouette helicopter marked with a white cross displayed (which meant that it was part of the international peace keeping force) flew over. Apart from standing guard duty looking out over the bush, the only excitement was when I heard a call to run over the earthen wall and then peered back at a landrover, the only vehicle these auxiliaries had was an ancient Landrover, and they were always tinkering on it, one short circuited his web belt on the battery and the belt caught fire and he dropped it ammo and all. Fortunately it stopped burning before getting to the explosives. We got a signal to prepare for a bundu foot patrol. My Stick were very unhappy about this. They were meant to be on light duty. Then about midday a Landrover sped into the camp with an urgent message. The South Africans must go! Leaving my Rhodesian friends behind, I drove to Salisbury and parked at the same assembly point park where it all started. Hurriedly handed back kit, waited for others trucks to return, then in the late afternoon headed south in a long convoy, no stopping at Fort Victoria. Only stop was in the night when a truck hit a stray bullock and the Lieutenant's pistol put it out of it's misery.
Beit Bridge, the dreaded Beit Bridge of my childhood holidays when we drove down on holiday from Zambia, all that waiting and those surly Afrikaans officials with loads of rubber stamps. My parents always panicked that they must get to Beit Bridge before it closes. Tonight Beit Bridge boom barriers are open at 2am and I speed through along with the rest of the convoy, should be in the Guinness book of records for the fastest time ever that so many vehicles crossed Beit Bridge in record time. We then made our way along a dirt roadalong theborder to a bush camp set in the VendaHomeland next to Kruger Park. It had a dirt airstrip and tents with stretchers, a tent shop that sold chocolates out of a fridge, but we continued to feed out of Ration packs, but now S.A. packs. Here we heard the news that Robert Mugabe had won the election. They knew the result the day before releasing it to the public. That's why we left in a hurry. I felt so sorry for my Rhodesian friends; they dreaded the future under Mugabe.
Unknown to us, we were kept on the border because Rhodesian Generals were planning a military coup. We were going to be sent back. Daily Dakota airplanes landed on the bush airstrip unloading boxes of ammunition, and we had to take turns in unloading and storing the boxes. One evening we were called to assemble next to the landing strip to listen to the drunken rantings and cursing of the Bases commanding officer, telling us that we could not sleep in the tents and to sleep back in our vehicles because we abused his hospitality by damagingone tent. Collective punishment. One night when a group sitting next to us leapt up at a spider, we laughed. Fancy being scared of a spider! Then a few hours later we leaped up, it was a Baboon spider, fast and huge. I went for a walk into the bush one day as I heard there was infantry camped nearby. Sure enough I saw somebody I recognized from school, Garth Perkins. He was in the Parabats and had been in Rhodesia for a while. The proposed coup did not materialize, so we had our vehicles searched by MP's as it was forbidden to have any uniform or mementos of Rhodesia. Off for another night drive back to Pretoria, no convoy. Each to their own.
When we parked up at home base, I loosened the tarpaulin pole and took out of the tube some Rhodesian uniform. The bush trousers where at the bottom of a sandbag. Alan, co driver, Mrno rule breaker, wants some of my smuggled Rhodesian uniform.No, it's mine dog tags and all.
My VW Beetle's battery is flat. I have to awake Martin Harris for a jump start, then head home. Only 2 people are interested in my adventure, if I mention it to anybody else their facelooks as interested as a dog having a shit. I experienced difficulty returning to everyday life. My family seem to argue over petty things, what is spooking me the most - I thought I was going nuts - when in Rhodesia, I longed to get home safely, but now I want to go back. I missed the Rhodesian Army. The adrenaline addiction, now the come-down cold withdrawal.
I took an Afrikaans girl out for a date and when Imet her Dad, he was not happy that she was seeing an "Uitlander". She told him I was doing national service, and he replied "Hy's 'n Uitlander". Most important was she enjoyedriding "soutpiel" outside marriage. Her most romantic words to me were, "Ek was 'n rowe cherie in my dae".
Back to the routine at the MT workshop at Waterkloof. Some of thePF's in the workshop said they wanted to go to Rhodesia but it was for National Serviceman only. In the tea room we put up a min dae calender, an illustration of a train (min dae train) running over the tracks were the days were counted downand crossed off until Klaaring out day. We had our 40 days party at Garth Homon's house in Kensington, where tradition is you get very drunk, shout min dae and sing along to Elvis's hit song "40 days".
Well we finished our two years National service and still had camps to do. In my workshop, campers wouldreport in on the first day, be told to disappear and then reappear after a month to get their papers signed, camp completed!
It was not to be for us, I was transferred out to my local commando unit, Cleveland commando in Jules Street Malvern, JHB. I was not pleased; "I am no commando!" Still orders are orders so when I get my first camp call up it's to report to Diepkloof barracks on the outskirts of south west Johannesburg between Christmas and New Year for a month. A month of manning night road blocks along with the SAP. No terrorists were found, only drunks and people carrying extra fuel in containers, which was against the law at the time. When I drove the Bedford I still had the problemwith troops shouting for me to slow down.
We learned riot control drill and then had an Intelligence Officer brief us on our last mission at the end of the camp inJanuary 1982. He told us how Terrorists were operating in Johannesburg and were going to kill our mothers and sisters, and these terrorists were hiding out in a Hostel. We were going to surround the Hostel while the search for these Terrs was conducted. A hole was cut in the camps parameter fence and we went through it one at a time at 11 o clock night, crossing the busy Uncle Charlies road only when there were no headlights. We walked single file down the valley under a highway bridge still under construction and then to the Hostel on the outskirts of Soweto. The Hostel covered a large area and the buildings were single story, brick built long barracks shape with small pipe chimneys puffing smokeand frontdoors leading into small rooms. After the cordon was completed the Bantu Administration Board uniformed staff went in, they hammered on the tin doors shouting, "Maak oop Kaffir." The door would open and the occupants still in bed would have a torch shone into their faces by the BAB official. The dazed look in the occupants' eyes as he was just trying to figure out why he had been woken up then would hear a loud demand "Waars Jou Passboek?" If the response was slow the bed would be tipped over and if he was still slow responding whilelying on the floor a few kicks to help him awaken. If a Passboek was produced he could go back to bed, but as many of these 2 occupant rooms had far more occupants than that, a few more could be arrested for not having ID. Tin door after tin door was hammered with the same greeting "Maak oop Kaffir" hour after hour.
Our job was to stop the Terrorists from escaping. Sure we had been trained in riot drill, but we were not expecting to see a terrified man running flat out in only his underpants with an Alsatian dog snapping at his arse running towards you. What do you do? Wearing heavy boots and carrying a rifle you cannot get near a frightened running man. On three separate occasionsa communist in underpantsgot past me and fled into the township. Were these terrorists I letescape? The fleeing men that were caught by the dogs, were flogged with shamboks by angry BAB officials. Prisoners were taken to waitingpass lawprison trucks and loaded up standing inside like sardines, when it was full a few more prisoners standing at the trucks back door were reluctant to get in "Vol Baas" wereshambokedand simultaneously encouraged to squeeze in with"klim in Kaffir". This drove them into the crowdedholdall and then the door would be shut, and off the truck would go to who knows where? The last escapees were found hiding up on the roofs lying down. Officials called them down but they stayed up there until an official went onto the roof and pushed them off, upon hitting the ground a flurry of shamboks would be waiting to sting them.
In 4 hours from midnight until 4am over 1000 men were arrested and taken away.
In the horizon I could see the distant lights of Johannesburg and the sleeping city was unaware of it all.
Back in camp everybody was silent and did not talk about what we had seen, but there was anger. Camp finished I went back to work at Johannesburg City Council transport Bus workshops Newtownto complete my apprenticeship. I would have qualified by now if I hadn't been away doing 2 years N.S.Here a black colleague asked me what I had been doing the last month. I told him about the Diepkloof Hostel operation. He laughed saying; "My friend stays in that Hostel, and when I visit him I stay the night, I am so glad you came the weekend after I visited him." We both laughed.
Cleveland Commandobecame a total home unit, onlysoldiers whowere self employed or businessman could stay. I did not mind Cleveland Commando because most of the guy's were English with intelligence and a lot were Jewish businessman, so it was a good bunch to be with. I am posted out toEdenvale commando, a 3-month border-loving unit run by a embittered zealot.
No thank you, I am no commando!
I just hated those brown envelopes. I would go into a ragewhen they arrived, the worst were the recorded delivery; you knew it was a call up. When I received a call up to Edenvale Commando for a 3 month camp, it was timeescape from Africa. I emigrated to the U.K.exercising my English citizenship entitlements that Mother had kept hidden from me. Unbeknown to me Icould easily have lived and worked in England from age16.
I purchased (not stole) my green trunk (trommel) when I left the Air Force and stored my Rhodesian uniform, terr bootsand prophetic leaflets inside, along with a cryptic diary of my Rhodesian experience. Mother got Edenvale Commando to come and collect my trunk and the contents were lost forever.
What do I think of the current South Africa? I haven't been back as I now I have lived for a longer period in England than in S.A. so I don't know.
Any regrets? Only that I wasn't born in Australia; a land free from Bantu politics.
Benefits from serving, got me work as a background artist (film extra)in Movies. They onlyrecruited ex soldiers, and it was great meeting ex soldiers from U.K., U.S.A and French Foreign Legion on film location, swapping army tales and cracking sick jokes that only soldiers and nurses appreciate. It was amazing deja vu moment when I put the webbing on, that smell and feel made me stand up straightwith nostalgia.Got my 2 seconds of fame with Tom Hanks on the silver screen in the Oscar winning movie "Saving Private Ryan"directed by Stephen Spielberg.
"Is that you Forest?"
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