BRIAN WINGFIELD'S NAVY EXPERIENCES
BRIAN joined the Navy Permanent Force, and served between 1981 and 1985. After basic training at Saldanha, he was worked in signals and cryptography, first in Pretoria, and was then transferred to SAS Scorpion in Durban, where he served on strike craft.
BEFORE REPORTING FOR SERVICE
In those days my father wasn't very well off, and being in Sasolburg we had no access to university, and, wanting to better myself in some or other filed, not knowing what that field was, I actually wanted to try and get a university degree. At that time the brochures and pamphlets that we saw coming from the South African Defence Force, the Navy in particular were saying; `Joining up permanent force and you can do a university degree though the navy.' It wasn't until much later that I found out that you had to be a straight `A' student. They took two of an intake of about fifty people to go and then you had no choice other than to do a B.Mil degree, which was basically studying military law and that sort of thing. That was the reasoning behind my decision to join permanent force. Also, having grown up in Sasolburg and not having much of a direction in life. I thought to my self; `I want to do something. I want to be somebody. I would like to make a name for myself in something.' But I didn't know what that thing was. So; `Join the navy and see the world.' All I saw was the sea.
NOVEL: 1981: I was seventeen, and had the world at my feet. A common misconception among the youth of the world......... Wait let me start at the beginning.
I had just returned from playing in a high school rugby match, bruised and battered, I needed some good news to cheer me up. "BRIAN... Your call up papers for the army have just arrived!" my father cheerfully called out, as I entered the door. My mind started racing... How could I escape this terrible fate?
"Really dad, and where is P.W. Botha sending me?"
"To Potch artillery!"
Now for those of you who don't know, Potchefstroom is a dusty, dry little town in the Transvaal. Hardly the place for a young adventurer like myself....
LETTER: 18/07/1981: I am rather pissed off with the South African Defence Force. My Dad phoned Pretoria about six times before they let him know that they had transferred my case to the Carlton Centre Recruiting Office whom he phoned about six times before they received my papers. Anyway, on Tuesday 14 of this month I went for my interview. "Don't be late or we won't see you!!!"
I waited for an hour before the rest of the blokes arrived for interviewing then we all did aptitude tests for a one hour (exactly the same aptitude tests I did at school six months ago, of which most of the answers I remembered). Then when I had finished, some kind 'Rock' (Afrikaans speaking) Lieutenant tried to interview me, and basically talk me out of going to the Navy, and talk me into joining the infantry permanent force.
NOVEL: I carefully opened the door marked WERWING/RECRUITING and entered the drably furnished room. Behind a desk in one corner sat an overweight, middle aged sergeant, smoking a cigarette, seemingly oblivious to the no smoking sign on the adjacent wall. I was greeted in a thickly accented, practised way. "Gooie More, Good Morning!"
"Good morning sergeant, I am here to apply for permanent service in the Navy," I stammered.
"Ag no man, why don't you okes join the Army, You know how many okes come in here a day wanting to join those moffies?"
There was an awkward silence while the sergeant and I looked each other squarely in the eye, then the sergeant continued "Why the hell do you want to join the Navy anyway?"
"Well firstly my great grandfather was Vice Admiral Sir Herbert Wingfield, and I have always had......" I was cut short by the sergeant, who it seemed had a tremendous respect for rank. He shot up so quickly that he sent his chair toppling backward into a small table on which stood a small slimy looking glass water bottle. Water shot up the wall and cascaded onto the floor.
"Vice Admiral Wingfield.... I think this is a matter for the lieutenant."
I waited patiently, as the sergeant disappeared around a corner and down a passage to another office, from which I soon heard some muffled conversation. Soon the sergeant returned with a bespectacled, somewhat spotty looking lieutenant. The lieutenant stared at me over his horn rimmed spectacles, and then spoke in a gruff voice, which was completely out of character with his appearance.
"So you're an Admiral's son are you?"
"Ahem... Great grandson sir."
"Well come into my office, and lets fill in a few forms!"
I followed the lieutenant to his office, where I filled in the usual confusing, red tape type forms, which to a mere lad of seventeen mean squat! When I had finally completed the whole interview I was given a map of Johannesburg and instructed to find the Military medical building, where I was to undergo a physical.
I stepped out of the doorway into the bright sunlight, shielding my eyes I saw the patient silhouette of my dad leaning against his car that was still parked at the curb, where I had left them both almost two hours previously.
LETTER: After this I was told to go for my medical, which I understood to be in the same building until I received a map, which was a great help seeing as how it only gave one street name and instead of their being six roads to cross before getting there, there were eight.
Apart from that, my Dad had been told that he was not needed, and could go away until 3 p.m., meantime I was walking eight blocks to the medical centre. The first thing that I saw on entering the medical centre was a Captain (doctor) chasing a nurse down the corridor with a blown up surgical glove, looking like a 'French tickler', protruding from his pants.
We sat and waited in the waiting room for half an hour, probably for the doctor to finish fitting the surgical glove where it didn't fit best. When my medical examination was eventually over, he told me to go for my X-rays which just happened not to be in the same building. Once more I was issued with an incorrect map.
After the X-rays I had to walk back to the medical centre to hand the X-rays to the 'tickled' nurse, and from there walk back to the Carlton Centre. I slept for twelve hours after that. I will only get the results in September.
NOVEL: After losing our way on numerous occasions, we finally pulled up outside the Medical building in downtown Johannesburg. Only later it struck me that even though I had grown up in the small town of Sasolburg, approximately ninety kilometres from Johannesburg, I was never in awe or envious of big city life.
My first impression of military medical personnel was to be one of shock and amazement. I opened the door marked examination room, just in time to see a young medic examining the posterior of a young nurse whose anterior seemed to be engrossed in a filing cabinet.
"Ahem!" I cleared my throat, hoping not to embarrass the young lady too much. With his hands and stethoscope still firmly on her nether region, he turned to me and said "Examinations third door on the left!"
"Thank you." I stammered. I was quite astounded to see that the nurse made no effort to remove the mans hands from her backside, nor was she at all flustered by my presence.
Before me lay a long medical check list, obviously Photostatted for the umpteenth time, as some of the writing was barely legible. "What do you weigh?" The question asked by the chubby medical officer with one star on each shoulder, which denoted the rank of second lieutenant. This rank was usually afforded to graduates who were completing their two year national service, and allowed to gain some "valuable" experience in their chosen profession. "About 85kg sir!" To which reply the lieutenant simply wrote down "weight 85kg"
"Can you see?"
"Yes of course sir!" The block marked eyesight excellent received the resultant tick. And so it went through the whole medical examination. "Right now you just have to go for x-rays, and then you're all done."
LETTER: 09/09/1981: I received a phone call last week from a chap in Pretoria who told me that as far as the SADF is concerned I am being called up for Naval Training on 13 January 1982. He has sent my papers to the final hurdle ie. Simonstown, the head office of the S.A. Navy, and they will let me know if I am to succumb to their wishes. In the mean time I have received my call up papers, and they are not too bad ie. Potchefstroom 4th Field Artillery. Leonard and Colin have been called up to the same place. So if I am, by some stroke of bad luck, not acceptable for the Navy, it won't be toooooo bad!
I don't know if by some unlucky stroke of luck you know a slimy shit-head called Chris M.-. , but he will be doing his two years 'diensplig' [National Service] in the S.A. Navy, most of which he will be spending in D.B. seeing as he can read 'morse code', sail his father's yacht, which does not exist, is a member of the O.F.S. (Orange Free State) swimming team and last, but not least, belonged to the Sea Scouts for five years, or at least, so he told the Navy. Sometimes I really feel sorry for arseholes like him.
THE JOURNEY TO SALDANHA
NOVEL: I had joined the South African Navy at the age of eighteen, along with the usual dreams of grandeur, honour and valour that give young school boys their reason for living. There was a glint of pride in my father's eye when he shook my hand as the train edged forward, on route to the very southern tip of Africa, a very scenic journey of some one thousand five hundred kilometres. As though in a dream, I stood waving good-bye to my parents. The train pulled slowly out of the station, en route to Cape Town
I lent back heavily in my seat, and looked at the rest of the cheering, waving boys, while I wondered what the next four years held in store for me. Having come straight out of a good strict school, I found the long train journey to be most eventful indeed. Finally I was on my way to the Navy. I had been accepted without any problems, much to my amazement and great relief. I often think that my great grandfather, Admiral Wingfield had pulled me through the selection. "What time does the bar open?" I turned to face the pimply adolescent who had addressed the question.
"I didn't know the train had one." I replied innocently.
"Of course there's a bar..... Were in the navy now, rum and coke here I come."
The motley crew who congregated in the bar, were exactly that. Most of the recruits were from Johannesburg and Pretoria, needless to say I was the only one from Sasolburg.
After three whiskeys, most of us were on first name terms and noisily discussing the fate which awaited us.
Most of the lads shot off to the bar as soon as it opened, to try and out-drink each other. Not wanting to be the odd one out, I was soon finishing my sixth gin and tonic, while I very seriously considered the fact that our train was moving sideways as well as forwards. I informed my comrades at arms of this startling detection. A roar of laughter ensued from those who had not yet passed out. This gave rise to a drunken discussion about the possibilities of sideways-moving crab-type trains. Those of us who knew our alcoholic limitations were fast asleep in our compartments by 10 p.m. that night.
I awoke with a lurch as the train pulled into De Aar station, which is a landmark in the middle of nowhere. I glanced at my watch - it was past midnight and the temperature was well above 30c. I heard a commotion outside on the platform, apart from being desperately in need of fresh air, curiosity got the better of me. I lifted the compartment window up to its full opening, just in time to see two of my drunken comrades being chased furiously down the platform by the station master. Being chased would ordinarily not seem humorous, but the fact that each of the fleeing boys wore only a pair of scants, constituted the roar of drunken laughter and cheers being issued forth from the stationary train.
ARRIVAL: TAKE ONE!: The rest of the journey was without incident and I sat back and enjoyed some of the panoramic scenery of the African bushveld, as we headed toward our destination. Two days later thirty young sailors, most of whom wore sunglasses to avert the bright light from their hung-over eyes, stepped apprehensively onto Cape Town station. Our final destination was to be the Naval training base at Saldanha Bay, where our basic training would commence. . The basic training period of three months lay ahead of us all, like a fire-spitting dragon. When we arrived in Cape Town there was no bus to fetch us. We walked around and said; `Typical Navy.' Eventually we found that there was a navy bus waiting for us outside. We boarded a Navy bus driven by a jolly faced leading seaman, whose grey curly hair gave testimony to the fact that he had not progressed very successfully through the ranks. The rank of leading seaman was among lowly non commissioned officers, and usually promotion to petty officer was not effected much later than twenty five years of age.
The lethargic movement of the bus mixed with the remains of a hang over, sent me hurtling into the world of sleep, dreaming of home, my family and friends. I was subject to a strange nightmare; would I see the world I knew again?
As we neared Saldanha Bay, some one hundred kilometres north of Cape Town, the scenery began to change from the lush green of the Cape peninsula to the dry and barren landscape of the Cape West coast. Saldanha bay itself was no more than a village, with a very large harbour, used mainly for fishing and the export or iron ore. It has the few essential shops, two hotels and a string of fish processing and canning factories. Before long we arrived at the main gates to S.A.S. Saldanha. Sailors in uniform, armed with rifles, and bayonets stood guard. As the large boom blocking our path was lifted, and we proceeded into the base, I could have sworn that I detected a huge sadistic grin on the face of the one gate guard. As we drove through the entrance to the main barracks, the rest of my comrades began getting excited.
"Check the surfboards on the roof-racks guys... I knew I should have brought mine!" One fellow exclaimed
"Check out the dudes sun-tanning over there, really cool hey...?" The dudes in question, upon seeing our bus all mockingly stood to attention and saluted. I began to get an uneasy feeling. We passed the kitchens and saw young chefs lolling around outside smoking cigarettes. Something that struck me about these people was the fact that they all had the same, dull almost drugged look in their eyes.
When we arrived we saw all the people smiling and leaning on their surfboards on the roves of their cars, and we thought; `Oh, this is great.' The bus came to an abrupt halt. They off-loaded us in the middle of the dusty looking parade ground; this huge rectangular plain in the middle of Saldanha. We all bundled out and stood around in an unceremonious heap of untidy humanity. In the middle of summer is 30o plus and about 80% humidity. You stand there' looking around and thinking; `I wish I could get a cooldrink somewhere.'
After a time an elderly, kindly looking Warrant officer lined us up and checked our particulars, making sure that we had in fact all been selected for Naval training.
"Your instructor Able Seaman De Jager will be here in a few minutes to show you around." These were the last words the warrant said to us before turning on his heel and marching away to a row of buildings from which he had first appeared. I threw my kit bag onto the ground and sat down heavily on it, as did most of my comrades.
The sweat coursed in rivulets down my dusty face, splashing in little droplets onto my already sodden shirt. How much longer would we have to sit here waiting for our instructor? Slowly a mirage began to form in the heat-wave in the distance. A creature of human proportions was bearing down upon us, it could however not be a human, as it leant forward at a forty degree angle, with arms like a gorilla which seemed to hang down and touch the ground. The creature did not walk, but rather stomped upon each piece of ground as though trying to destroy and punish it. As the creature came into range of my red sore eyes I saw that it was in fact a human being, a very large one indeed. "Right chaps on your feet," the gorilla man muttered almost incoherently. Slowly my band of mates began to pick themselves up out of the dust. "I said on your feet you bunch of dweeps!" louder this time. One by one we stood facing the able seaman.
"GET DOWN ON YOUR FACES, YOU DOG FAECES, YOU SHARKSHIT, GET DOWN!"
Quickly we lay down in the dust. Now AB de Jager was getting into full swing. "I am Able Seaman de Jager, and for the next six weeks I will be your father, your mother, and your worst nightmare. Those of you who don't believe in God, I will be your God, and those of you who do, had better pray to God to take you up to heaven with him when I kill you. I have full authority over you for the next six weeks. I am allowed to kill 5% of this intake, the military law states that quite clearly, and believe me I intend to do just that.
The rest of the day was spent flying around to the Barber (You would see people going in looking like Jesus and come out looking like a convict.), a medical inspection of sorts, where we also became human pincushions, and fetching numerous non-existent leaves, from non- existent bushes on the horizon.
After what seemed like an age we were eventually drag-marched to our dormitory, which would become our home for the next six weeks. Dean 5, was a stonewalled dormitory, approximately 80ft in length, and about 40ft wide, on either side of its slatted wooden floor stood a row of fifteen beds, each with a tall wooden chest of drawers next to the head. We were each assigned a bed, and kas, then told to have a smoke-break. Settling down on the ground outside the dormitory, I had my first real opportunity of getting a good look at my comrades in arms. What a horrible bunch! The most noticeable of them, were Patterson, whom I had noticed seemed to have very little stamina, along with a low pain threshold.
ARRIVAL TAKE TWO!: Being rudely awakened by the braking of the bus, I sat up straight in my seat and peered ahead. Uniformed figures were bundling out of the guardhouse to catch a glimpse of us, as we passed through the gate into the area of the Naval Gymnasium. One stood to attention and saluted us mockingly, while another called out; "Suckers!"
It was Saturday morning and the camp was deserted except for a few chefs who came out of the galley to stare and joke amongst themselves. Standing around dejectedly we waited while the bus driver unloaded our kit, and then drove off leaving us very much alone in the middle of a large dusty parade ground.
A voice like a thunderstorm made us all turn sharply and stare at the large muscled figure, striding towards us as though he was trying to destroy each piece of ground that he trod on. "Don't stand there like a bunch of plucked chickens, get here. Don't walk, dammit. Fly!"
We 'flew' over to the man with the loud hailer voice, who continued to shout and grunt like a wounded elephant, until we were all standing neatly formed up in ranks of three.
"You horrible bunch think you've come here on holiday. Well if any of you want to leave, you'd better go now before the killing starts!"
At this remark, one rather small fellow nearly fainted. I must admit I was hoping we would be killing the enemy, and not be killed by this large enraged human-animal.
The rest of the day was spent running, sorry, I mean 'flying' to the barber, a large variety of bushes on the horizon, and often around the camp for such mere trivialities as talking in the squad or moving. Eventually we were all 'flown' into our dormitory, issued with rags and told to polish the slatted wooden 'deck', which was on numerous occasions called a 'floor' by some poor soul, who was, however, convinced by flying lessons, never to call it a 'floor' again.
After what seemed like two hours, we were told to go outside for a smoke break. Here I met Shaun for the first time. He sat opposite me, puffing merrily away at his cigarette. He did look rather strange however, wearing a pair of brown thong sandals, a thin T-shirt and a pair of silky shorts, while most of us wore jeans, tackies (trainers) and open neck shirts, which was considered unanimously as 'recruits national dress'. Shaun stood up swiftly, and I noticed that he was considerably shorter than myself, with a rather cocky manner, and a 'couldn't care less' attitude. I also notice that he was the last one to extinguish his cigarette when we were all bellowed for once more.
NAVY BASIC TRAINING
15/01/1982 I am sorry to inform you of the death of one Brian S. Wingfield who passed away quietly in the heads at 4 am today. Hell, I nearly did, hey! A gastric germ in our food brought three quarters of the camp down with gastrointeritus, and I was one of the worst struck. I sat in the heads, literally shitting myself from 11 pm Sunday until 4 am Monday morning, before I decided that the sick bay was the only answer. I have now been booked off for five days ...
Basics is getting better considering I have only got four weeks left or twenty five working days. Once you are in the defence institution, you really start going 'bossies' to be on the outside of the fence looking in.
You have to do so much ironing and be so fucking neat that you want to take your white shirts and merrily stomp on them in front of your killick (corporal), because he usually does that anyway.
The Navy is a 'jorl'; so far we have had (1) 2 heart attacks, (2) 8 cases of severe mental strain, the "Fuck you AB. ha! Ha! ... I think I am going mad .... goo goo ... screw you ... aaaagh!!!) types (seriously!)
(3) Numerous physical breakdowns and everyone has nightmares and talks in their sleep. "What are you doing to that 'landman' gorgeous ..." etc.
DON'T THINK I AM TRYING TO SCARE YOU !!!!!!!
Basics wasn't much fun. It was six weeks of rushing around all over the place, and being chased around all over the place. Fetch that leaf form the bush on the horizon, and you do that and you coke back, and he says that its not the right one, all that sort of thing. In those days I remember that during basic training, they were allowed to give you Dorm PT, which was banned at a later stage. It was basically that they could give you all sorts of physical torture that wasn't actually allowed by the army, like rifle PT were you had to hold your rifle with one arm out at your side for ten minutes, or until you couldn't hold it any longer and your arm dropped to your side, or running around with fire buckets. I remember we had quite a lot of dorm PT and they weren't actually allowed to do that to us.
We used to have to lie under our beds and twist the blanket to get the blanket flattened out at the top so that there weren't lumps and bumps in it. Every time that one of the instructors walked in, he shouted `Attention!' and you had to stand up to attention, and not move. I was lying under the bed adjusting all these things, and I was so tired because we were getting about four hours of sleep; going to bed at midnight and waking up at four in the morning to start your training. A bloke shouted `Attention!' I had fallen fast asleep under the bed. I just heard this `Attention!' in the back of my mind somewhere, and I shot up, and hit my forehead full-tilt on the bed-frame, and knocked myself out. I was dragged out from under the bed and felt people throwing water on my forehead. I had a huge ridge for about two days across the middle of my forehead.
I remember `work week' when we had to work in the actual offices of Saldanha bay, where they did their administrative work. They got one bungalow per week to do the work and help them out in the office. I went into the office of the warrant Officer who was in charge of the whole place. He was the `Master at Arms'. He had many dagga bottle-necks on the top of his pelmet. Having come from Sasolburg I had no idea whatsoever what these things were. He looked at me looking at them, and he said; `Do you want one?'
I said; `What would I want one for?'
He said; `Don't act all innocent with me. I know you blokes all smoke that stuff.' It was only when I got back to the bungalow that I realised; `Oh. That was a bottleneck. I had heard of bottlenecks, but I didn't know what it was. I soon came to find out all about it when we got out of basic training and you suddenly found that all the blokes were smoking it, and all the blokes were getting high on something. There were a lot of drugs around the navy.
I played in the band. It wasn't the navy band. The navy band is actually quite famous in South Africa. I played in the Saldanha Base Navy band. At the passing out parade, we actually played at the passing out parade. I've actually got that on video as well. I played the drum, and we all marched. It was actually quite a `skenive' as they called it in those days. It was getting out of PT. When the guys were doing their PT session and had to run the 2,4 we went to band practice, so it was quite good.
That is what I remember from basics apart from the pyrotechnics course. There were two courses that I really hated. The one was the fire fighting course. In the navy you have to go through an intensive fire-fighting course, because if you are out at sea on a ship, and a fire breaks out, you've got to put it out, or you die. Basically they frighten the hell out of you before the time telling you all sorts of things like; `One bloke had nylon underpants on. His underpants got so hot that they melted into him, and now he's got a permanent pair of underpants.' When you do the fire-fighting course, all you wear is an overall. You take off all your underwear and jewellery and everything. The overall either had press studs or a zip, and they tell you stories about blokes who have had blisters all the way down the zip, and all that sort of thing.
The other course was the pyrotechnics course. You ran from Saldanha bay down a couple of sand dunes, and up a couple of sand dunes until you were really dripping with sweat with your full kit on, and then you went to this place where there was this little cement house on the beech, set in amongst a while pile of rocks, and it had a door going in, a pillar, and then a long stretch of wall, and then a door coming out on the other side. They would take a tear-gas canister, and they would throw the tear-gas canister in the door, and then your whole platoon would have to go through without gas masks on to see what the effect of tear-gas is on people. Then the second time around you would go through with gas masks on to see what the difference is. I didn't go through the second time around, because I didn't make it through the first time around. I thought to myself that I had experienced tear-gas slightly before; I had got a whiff of it and I know what its all about. For those who had experienced tear-gas, you know that it doesn't just make you cry and make you cough, it can clog your lungs up completely like asthma, and you can't breathe at all. When it was my turn to go in, I was already catching a whiff of the stuff and it was starting to make my eyes stream and every thing. I took a deep breath, held my breath, closed my eyes - I didn't want my eyes to burn - and I ran in the door. I didn't know how far I had to run to get to the other door, and I ran full tilt into the wall on the other side. It hit me on my staal-dak, and I fell back, and I took in a deep breath as I fell. Of course, from there, the people had to pick me up and drag me out. I just dived out on to the rocks; threw my rifle away and everything. I was choking and coughing and puking. That was one of the worst experiences I ever had. I refused to go in a second time with the gas-mask on. I told them what they could do with their bloody navy.
Later on, when I went on an officers course, one of the main reasons for making me pull out of the officers course was the fact that I had to go and do a day NBCD course, which involved pyrotechnics and fire fighting. From my experience in basics, I said; `I'm not interested in this.' But by then I already knew that of about fifty of us on the officers course, they were only going to take two guys to study at Stellenbosch, and they had to be the guys with the best matric results. I didn't have fantastic matric results. I had average matric results. By that time I was completely put off by the officers course anyway. That's why I pulled out of that.
We used FN rifles. We didn't ever use R1s or R4s. I never shot an R4 until much later when a friend of mine actually had one that he had bought privately, and we went to a shooting range and shot it. We used the old Fns which kicked like crazy. You ended up going to the rifle range, shooting a hundred shots, and having a blue cheek for a week afterwards. They had a terrible kick on them. These were the old Fn's, the forerunner of the R1. It wasn't an automatic rifle. It wasn't even a semi-automatic rifle. It was basically the single action FN rifle. You had to physically pull the trigger. You couldn't hold the trigger down and have a semi-automatic action. That was what we started with. We did quite a but of shooting. I remember we had the rifle. We had to clean it and we were taught how to strip it and put it back together again in fifteen seconds or whatever it was. It wasn't until about the last three weeks of basic training that we were allowed to use the rifle. We did bayonet drill with the rifles, and then we were taken to the shooting range. We started out first shoot at 50 m; we shot twenty rounds. Then we went to 100 m, and shot 10 rounds standing, ten rounds kneeling and ten rounds lying down. Then we went to 150 m, and did the same thing; 10 rounds standing, ten rounds kneeling and ten rounds lying down. We went to the shooting range a second time before the end of basics, and did the same shoot again. I think I was possibly in the top ten shooting, but I was probably about number nine or ten. I wasn't one of the top shooters. Out of a platoon of thirty guys. I do remember that in basic training I did come overall, out of our intake of eight hundred and something naval cadets, I came 43rd in total, which I thought was quite good. I didn't win any trophies or anything. You didn't get a skietbaltjie from basic training. You got it when you went to do further courses, and you had to do shooting courses then as well.
COURSES AFTER BASIC TRAINING
In training you basically did a course of all the different sections of the navy. Then after that you would decide whet you wanted to become. An executive Officer is someone who would become a gunnery officer for instance, something that was a practical and on the ships. You could become a communications officer, which means that you would have been in charge of the communications, radar; ops. Room basically. You could also go through the whole course that the executive officers followed - usually you would become a navigation officer, which, when you became a sub-lieutenant, you would do navigation under the supervision of the captain, steering the ship, being the duty officer of the watch etc. From there you would progress to being the gunnery officer, who was usually the third in command of the ship. So if you had become a Lieutenant, a Full Lieutenant, you might become the gunnery officer. There were other tasks that you could become as well, but that was the general path on your way to becoming the captain of the ship. You would first of all become navigational officer, secondly gunnery officer., third you would become the second lieutenant, which is the Captain's right hand man, and then lastly you would become captain of the ship.
Basic training was just six weeks at Saldanha, and when you finished the basic training, you were in a totally different world. I don't know what the army's like, but at Saldanha where you've been doing basically the same as the army basic training, where you've been absolutely drilled and drummed into the ground, and broken down to next to nothing, when you leave there and you get into the bus to go to your different destination. About two weeks before you finish your basic training they come around and say; `What would you like to do? We would like you to join the marines.' Of course, nobody wants to join the marines, because that would be like being in the infantry. They do all the same training as the infantry guys do. The you get to choose; would you like to do seamanship? Would you like to do communications? Gunnery? They have all the different departments that you can choose from, and you have to put done; `My first choice, my second choice and my third choice.' More often than not it ended up being your third choice. All the blokes knew which were the good courses to do. The best were communications and radar. You didn't want to do things like gunnery because those were the guys who were very strict and very authoritarian and paraat. I put down communications as my first choice, and I got first choice. I was very lucky.
When we had finished basics they took all the guys who were going to do communications, loaded them on a bus and took us to Simonstown. Communications is on the top of Red Hill in Simonstown. It was an old navy base that's been there since the turn of the century, and it was first manned by the British when the British were still governing the cape. Its still run by a very old bunch of English seamen; warrant officers or whatever, and they all talk with these broad English accents. Most of them were actually ex-Rhodesians. I don't know what they were doing in Rhodesia if they were navy men because Rhodesia was a land-locked country. We arrived at Red Hill, following the beautiful scenic route up the mountain to the top. They were really old buildings, with a little old tarred parade ground in the middle of all the buildings, and an old clock-tower, and all the flashing light Morse towers all over the place. That's what you learn there was well. You're used to clicking your heels and standing at attention for anybody with absolutely any sort of rank, and whenever you did it there, the people would look at you and go; `Phew! He's just finished basics.' Then only people that you did that for when you had left basics were an officer or a warrant officer. Any NCO under that, you would just walk straight passed and say; `Howzit. How's it going?' It was very relaxed. Going from the absolute paraat paraat basics to being in such an absolutely relaxed environment that you couldn't believe. It was like; `Wow! I've suddenly been let out of jail.' Also from having been locked up in basics where you were only allowed out twice during the whole of basics for a weekend, we now had a weekend pass virtually every weekend. We had to do a duty for one in every four nights, and you basically had to be fire-party for the base, and maybe kitchen-party where you would dish up food for the people, or clean the plates or put them through the dishwasher. That was the sort of duty watch.
The rest of the time you could go out. Once you had been there for two or three months, and you weren't a rookie starting out, you were given passes every night. If you had your own vehicle you could go to town. It was like a day job. Basically you had to be there from eight in the morning until five in the evening, and when you knocked off, you knocked off. If you were on duty, you had to stay and sleep in the base, and if not you could go in to town. If you had a flat in town, you could stay in town. This was after six weeks basic! It was very different. Of course, being from Sasolburg, and not having any relations in Cape Town, I stayed in the base. Eventually I made good friends in Cape Town, and I would go home with them for the weekend, and have raucous parties and all the rest of it, but most of the time I spent in the base. The blokes who liven in Cape Town, some of them went home every night. Being in Simonstown, you are quite a way from the centre of Cape Town, so people who lived in the centre of Cape Town, a lot of them stayed most of the week, and only went home at weekends. It would be about a 45 km trip in to Cape Town.
LETTER: 30 April 1982: I have only one really slack week left, and then I will be as S.A.S. Wingfield for six weeks of basic technical handcraft.
Something rather funny happened today, some FTR3s (P.O. qualifying) were rowing out to a yacht in a dinghy, when two of them lent too heavily to one side and the whole dinghy sank. They were in browns and tackies [trainers], and weren't wearing life jackets. Needless to say, we had to go out on our Namacurra and rescue them. They were overloading the dinghy.
On Tuesday the guys in my cabin (and I) got pissed, and then went to visit two 'birds' in Plumstead. If we had been caught we would have been charged quite heavily; three of us were in browns (not me), one was on duty and the rest of us hadn't handed in our liberty cards, apart from the fact that the car we went in was not roadworthy and the driver didn't even have a learners licence.
This weekend I have decided to stay in camp, watch videos and do a couple of duties at R 15 a time. I need the money!
On Thursday night we decided to get happy; we had three 500 ml. 'dumpies' each, and then proceeded to rip each others beds, wreck the dormitory in general and then fall asleep. The next morning was Captain's rounds, and we had quite a job to clean the place up!
The actual training there was very interesting. I must say that the food was very good. During basic training the food had been absolutely atrocious. We had had eggs that were fried and kept over night; you could bounce them on the floor. When we were doing the communications course, they treated you like a person. There was discipline, but if you were a decent person and you talked to the warrant officers in a decent way, they would respect your opinion and point of view. It was only the troublemakers who they punished and who had a hard time. We started off by doing a basic telecommunications course. First of all we did the normal typing course that anybody who learns to type does. We went into an auditorium and we had a woman in the front and she says; `Put on your earphones.' You have a screen and it shows you the whole typewriter , and it says `Right, your five fingers of this hand are placed on this side, and of that hand on that side. Now, little finger `a', small finger `b'(`s'?) and you would learn the whole thing. Its actually a form of brain washing, because eventually you learned to type completely fluently with your eyes closed. You know exactly where all the keys are on the typewriter. That was a six-week course. At the end of six weeks you were expected to pass the course, and you were expected to type at twenty-eight words a minute, with 100% accuracy. It was very easy, because when I finished I ended up typing at forty words per minute. Your average typist today does about eighty words per minute. Its just a general standard; nothing fantastic.
Then we did normal Morse code. Again we were put into an auditorium where you sat in little cubicles with a glass front, and you put on ear phones, and the guy said; `Right. Morse code; `a' and you heard the sounds. Dee Dah. `B' - Dah dit dit dit. It started off like that. You were very bored at first, thinking; `God! What am I doing this course for? Its boring!' From there you work your way up to; `Right, we're now going to read words. Here is the word.' At two words per minute, which is very slow, they would give you a sentence. You had to work it out. Eventually you work out, at the end of six weeks as well, you have to end up reading Morse code at twenty-five words per minute, which is pretty fast. That is the speed of Morse code that you hear normally on radio band frequencies. You were specialised either as a bunter, or as a sparky. A bunter was on the flag signalling side, and a sparky was the radio signalling side. Then you could also specialise, which I did. I became a specialist communicator, which is both. I did sparky and bunter. I enjoyed the flashing light Morse code, which was very interesting. It doesn't get very fast, unlike the sound Morse code. They say that your brain immediately interprets what you heard though your ear, but what you see, your mind first has to put into sound, and the its interpreted, so with flashing light they only went up to about fifteen words per minute, and not faster than that. I don't know why, but I found this much easier than listening to it. On the bunter side of it we had to learn about a hundred different flags and all their meanings. `Flag Alpha' means diver down. `Flag Bravo' means whatever. There was a whole range of them, and all sorts of meanings if that if you put them together (in various combinations) what they meant. You had a whole string of flags on a yard-arm, and it would say; `There is a diver down below. Please pass on the left hand side of the ship, and don't come within a hundred metres.' Those things are hardly used at all today. We also learned all sorts of ships turns and signals. You learn how to talk on the radio if you were officer in tactical command's yeoman, you would be giving the commands, which are `corpen' which means turn at an angle to the left. `Turn Left' means an immediate 90o turn. `Corpen' means a slow angled turn to the left. You had to learn all those different things. We actually learned it by walking in a squad - there were only about ten of us who were doing the specialist course together, but we all walked in a single file and the chap who was teaching us would call; `Corpen papa one four zero' which basically means that you must turn at an angle of 140 from where you are at the moment, at a true heading. Then the front guy would have to walk like that, and you would all be ships in a convoy turning like that, and then `Turn Starboard three zero' and we would turn to starboard to 30o's. It was very interesting. That was what we did, and then we finished the course. I came second on the course doing that, and I really enjoyed it.
From then we had to go down and do a seamanship course at Simonsberg, which is the base down at the bottom in Simonstown. That was a three week course. We had already qualified as communicators, and we were given our little badge. Which had a sparky on, and a bunter had the flags on, but mine had a sparky and flags on it. The seamanship was very strange because all of a sudden we were thrown in at the deep end, back to the absolute paraatheid of the basic training, after being so slack up at signals school. We had a warrant officer who was an absolute pain in the arse and who marched us around and chase us around and all sorts of silly things. The seamanship course was mainly going over things that you ad learned in basics; learning knots, and learning different methods of sailing different types of vessel, and learning how to steer a ship again, and learning all the commands that were given on a ship.
We were on those little namacurra boats, and we were being shown how the rolls royce engines worked, and there were a couple of us standing on the boat and a couple of us standing on the jetty. Sean was the only one standing with one foot on the boat and one foot on the jetty, and of course, because he was standing like that, the boat constantly moves away and comes back, and it moved away and moved away more until he was doing the splits, and he didn't know whether he should jump on the land or jump on the boat, and eventually he just fell straight into the water. He had to be hauled out soaking wet.
From there we went on a three day course where we went on to a wooden mine sweeper, and we went out into False bay, and learned how to sweep for mines. We had turns steering the ship, with the captain shouting the orders at us, to put your seamanship theory into practise.
LETTER: I am at S.A.S. Simonsberg where I am at present completing an Advanced Seamanship course which is rather a waste of time and is a complete rip off. We are being instructed by an AB (Able Seaman = Lance Corporal) who thinks that he is Hitler and seems to have a similar sort of temperament, because he will be very nice to you one moment, and then suddenly fly off the handle and make you do push-ups, and make you run around the parade ground. This is a most frustrating time for me because I will be an AB in three months time, and yet there's nothing I can do but put up with his nonsense.
I would not like to go to ships, as, while we have been doing this advances seamanship course I have been out on a minesweeper, and I went out on the navigator which is a little wooden tub which is actually a converted fishing vessel and I was horribly seasick for the two days that we were out on it. So I would not like very much to go to sea, and I can imagine myself in rough weather, how I would handle it.
The mine sweeper base, Chapman, is not a very nice place at all and anybody getting into the Navy who goes there is in for a very bad time, because the lockers that you have to put your clothes in are something like about three feet high and about two feet wide. Now I have got a numerous amount of civvies; all my uniform wouldn't fit in there, let alone the civvies. I have about ten pairs of boots and shoes here, my motorbike helmet, my suitcases, my blankets and such like. You cannot leave your blankets out on the ship because someone just 'scales' (steals) them. There's no way of marking them to keep your name on either. (For illustration of 'Minesweeper', see Heitman, 1985, p 87.)
My friend Shaun is really a scream; he's about five foot four. He has a baby face and his hair is always too long. We were doing DSB work, ... we had to come alongside and then jump out acting as bowsman and stern sheetman, jump out and secure the boat by the painter and make the stern fast to a cleat. We came alongside; Shaun and I with our instructor, and he told us not to jump out because her was going to reverse, but somehow, Shaun would get it wrong, and he heard that he has to jump out, so dear Shaun jumps out just as the DSB starts reversing. He has one foot on the DSB and one foot on the jetty. He cannot make up his mind whether to jump back into the DSB or to the jetty, and falls straight into the water. You must realise that he had his boots on, his browns, his ID in his pocket, his cigarettes, his everything, his money, the whole works. He fell into the 8o C ocean. It was a cold rainy day, and it is Winter as well, so he was very sorry for himself and we really laughed ourselves sick.
Shaun is such an innocent, honest sort of chap. One day up at signals school a couple of months ago - you're not allowed to wear civvies up there, and you're not allowed out unless you hand in your liberty card, and then you have to go out in your 'step outs'. But Shaun and Eddie decided they would take Greg's car down and go and fill it up with petrol. So they went out in civvies, and when they came back we were all having a 'raut' (a fight) in the dormitory; we turned the beds upside down and went mad. Eventually the Chief walked in and wanted to know what was going on, so Eddy said to him quite honestly - not honestly, but with an honest, straight face; "I was working on Greg's car. That's why I had civvies on. I didn't want to dirty my uniform." He turns to Shaun - now this is how honest he is - and he says to him; "And why are you wearing civvies?"
"Oh no. I took Greg's car down to go and fill it up with petrol." So, as you can imagine, Shaun was given a few extra duties and nearly charged.
Another time, somebody was to do his duty for him, but Shaun forgot to tell the chap - he just had the chap in mind to do his duty for him, but forgot to tell him. Subsequently, nobody did his duty on the weekend, and he was given extra duties once more.
We are staying at Waterfall Barracks at the moment. You stay in a three bedroomed flat, with a lounge and a toilet; you just don't have a kitchen. Its very nice indeed. We have a hifi, a TV, a toaster, a kettle. We seem to be having quite a grand time.
Brian became very disillusioned with the navy at one stage when someone he knew got into trouble for what he considered a trivial offence; he had siphoned petrol from a Navy vehicle into his own car. Apparently the guy had to put forward a good case as to why he should be allowed to remain in the South African Navy. I wouldn't have seen this theft as `trivial'.
THE START OF BRIAN'S NAVY NOVEL
.WSED: Taped in the week leading to Friday 27 August 1982
I sat dejectedly and watched the others sleep while the soft hiss of the ship's air ventilation system broke the monotony of the quiet afternoon. Suddenly a distorted voice shattered my train of thought by announcing very loudly that it was time for the duty watch of the day to muster on the upper deck. The sleeping figures stirred and a few grumbled the usual complaints uttered by seamen who were unfortunate enough to be on duty. The rest turned over and went back to their individual sleep fantasies. I turned to look at Shaun who, as usual, had not even heard the outburst from the piping system. I would have to remember to wake him up if our ship was to sink, or some great disaster strike the civilised world. Fortunately we were not on duty.
Mondays were never kind to me. "Seaman Wingfield to the brow," blurted that distorted enemy. As I stepped onto the brow, I could not help but wonder what damned foul up had caused the quartermaster to send for someone so obscure as the honourable Seaman Wingfield. Being used to the many curses of being a seaman, I resolved to take my punishment calmly. The crime: I had been on leave for two weeks, and the punishment: the duty watch system had been changed and the slumbering Shaun and I were on duty.
From there I was posted to SAS Wingfield, which was in the middle of Cape Town. It used to be an old Air Force Base during the Second World War, and then the navy took it over and turned it into the Navy's technical college. Basically, nobody knew what I was doing there. When I had joined the navy, on my joining form, they had put down that I was to be a - the word bugged me for a long time - whatever it was, lets say it was `mechanic' - it was some word that didn't have a defined meaning. When I was posted from Simonsberg to SAS Wingfield, I asked them; `Why am I going here?' They said to me; `Because you are a (whatever the word was).' I said; `What does it mean?' They said; `It means that you have to do a technical training course. I said; `Fine. I'm here. What the hell? You're paying me. Let me go. I'm getting experience and all the rest. I went to Wingfield and did another six week course. I was learning all about electronics, learning how to join components together in circuits, in tandem, in series, and parallel, making little radio circuits, and then how to work on a lathe, how to cut things on the big band saws that you cut metal things on, and drilling. We made all sorts of interesting little things. We made little ashtrays and all sorts. It was a proper technical course. Who was I to argue with them? They were paying for it. What the hell? Lets do it.
Once I had done that I was on a sort of guard duty at the base. Because I was qualified as a communicator, they didn't know what to do with me next. Then they came and told me that they were taking people for officers course. I said; `Okay., That's what I wanted to do all along. I wanted to become an officer and do the varsity side of it.' I applied for the officers course, and was accepted. I went back to Signals School where we had done our communicators training because that was where all the officers all joined together. They were guys from all different fields who had done gunnery or whatever, a couple of communicators like myself. They starred off by telling us that we were going to do an intensive training course in every single field of the navy. You're going to do a two-week intensive communications training course, you're going to do a two-week intensive radar course, two weeks gunnery, two weeks NBCD fire-fighting, two weeks seamanship; two weeks of everything. From there you will go to the midshipman's course which is in Gordon's Bay, and you will train there to be midshipmen. So we started off and we did the communications course, and of course I came top of the class with that because I had already done it, then we did the gunnery course which was quite an experience because the gunners are very paraat, and the gunnery base is on Red Hill as well, a little but away from where we were at signals school. They have a parade ground which is on the edge of a cliff, which overlooks the whole of Simonstown and the harbour at the bottom of the mountain. Right at the end of the parade ground they've got a bell. The navy are very into their bells. You ring the bell for eight bells in the morning, and you ring it for whatever you ring it for. At the Gunnery School they had this parade ground, and at the end of the parade right on the edge of the cliff they had this bell. At eight bells in the morning you would have to march very smartly up to the bell, each one of us had a turn, march very smartly up to the bell and ring eight bells which went in the form of ‘ding-ding, ding-ding ding-ding ding-ding' and then you stepped back and saluted and turned round and marched back again.
The Gunnery Warrant Officer was this huge bloke of about six foot nine, tall and thin but very smartly dressed, and the Gunner's also always prided themselves in that their uniform was always the best and pressed and their boots were shining that you could see yourself in them and all this sort of thing, and he said "You bastards who ring the bell in the morning, you rookies, you officers, you shark shit, you go up and you ring that bell smartly, and if I don't hear it I'll eat you for breakfast!"
Of course you know what happened to me; I went up to ring the bell and I thought; `Jees! I've got to ring this bell because this bloke's going to eat me for breakfast!' I rang; ‘Ding-ding ding-ding whack - and the bell rope snapped off. There was dead silence. The Gunnery Warrant Officer said "You will ring that bell. I don't care how you ring it, but continue until you ring eight bells!" I had to ring another three ding-ding ding ding ha ha with this broken thing.
I was the laughing stock of the Gunnery School for a while. Of course the warrant officer picked on me from that moment onwards, but I got through the Gunnery Course. We didn't have to fire the absolutely massive guns. We basically just learnt the theory and learned what size the shells were and what the shells were comprised of and all the different types of shells. You get a `star burst' which basically lights up the waters so that you can see what you are shooting at and you get `anti- electronic warfare burst' that you can shoot as well which actually confuses the electronic warfare radar's and all sorts of things and basically shoots down all sorts to little foil and stuff and they don't know where you are and all that sort of thing. It was interesting but it wasn't my cup of tea at all.
From there we went to radar. We did a radar course of two weeks which was just a very basic radar. I found quite interesting because it was linked to communication as well because the radar people worked quite closely with the communications people. They identify the ships around you and linked to the electronic warfare chaps who basically sit with computers which they have sort of satellite dish things and they pick up whatever the ship is. It is transferred into the computer and the computer actually prints out the shape of the ship, the size of the ship and tells you; `This is a Russian class Caspirov type whatever vehicle, with so many staff on board. It has these weapons capabilities etc etc,' which was very interesting.
So I did the little radar course and then of course from there we went to do the M B C B course and basically I was shit scared. I just gave up I said; "No ways! I'm not doing this course!" I am really not into this because after doing what I did during basics, when we went to do the M B C B course they told us -- that the ironic thing about all this is that if I had stayed on the officers' course I probably would have been an officer on the ship, with a lot more authority than I did have. I was rated as a communications officer because there were no officers that had my qualifications, but I wasn't an officer. I was an NCO. The ironic thing was that, years later, when I was on the Strike Craft, I actually came back to Cape Town and I was forced to go on the same MBCB course, which turned out to be not nearly as bad as everybody made it out to be. When we went for the first day we were shown films of people and burns, and what they looked like and third degree burns and how people had died because they couldn't put out fires, and what fires could do to you etc etc. Then we were told they had a simulation of the super structure of a ship outside which was this huge metal container that had three different levels that you had to go upstairs. They lit oil fires in oil drums all over this thing and you were let down through the top, on top of the fire, and had to basically fight your way right through and come out the bottom, putting out these fires, and you know, the way we were told about it, we were told that you were lucky if you came out the other side with your life or your hair still intact or without half your body like burnt or whatever. I just decided; `That's it!'. I've got this communications qualification. I'm not going to carry on with this Officers Course. I went to see the Lieutenant and I said to him "I'm really not interested", and he said to me "Why?" I have always been a very manipulative bastard as you know, and I thought to myself - I'm not going to mince words with this bloke. I could basically say anything I wanted to. I said to him; "Basically I'm only 19. I'm too immature to become an Officer and I'd like to try it at a later stage." He said: "Well, well done my boy, fine! I'm really glad! We need more men like you being Officers!" I pulled off the Officers Course.
Then I was given a little period of time where I was sent to what they called a namacurra-craft which are the basic harbour protection little craft just in Simonstown, just until they knew what they were going to do with me; where they were going to place me. I spent about two weeks just sort of meandering along on these things, and going out for trips and basically just pretending to be protecting the harbour, although you were actually just having great fun riding around in this dirty great speed boat with a double Rolls Royce engine. Its like a big speed boat and its got sort of a double twin hull with a split in the middle and a little radar on the top of it, but its like a dirty great speed boat. Its not longer than about ten meters in length and about two or three meters in width, and basically its a dirty great speed boat. I hear that someone actually stole one some other time, one of the blokes stole it and tried to go to Mauritius in it or something. Typical South African Navy type.
From there I was posted, I actually applied, my folks were still living in Sasolburg, I applied to go to Navy head quarters which was in Pretoria. I was posted to Pretoria and that was another experience in its self, totally different to the rest of it. We were totally paraat in the work place, but the Navy barracks in Pretoria were in the old Union Hotel, and all the Navy chefs, who were rated as the best chefs in the Defence Force, were trained at the Union Hotel, and everybody NCO'S, Officers, everybody alike had the same food. The food at the mess was incredible. It was like having hotel food, because every morning for breakfast you would go in and a waiter would come and serve you. Even if you were a seaman, he would come and serve you. He would say; "This morning we have oats, we have Cornflakes, we have Rice Krispies,' then he would bring the bowl of whatever it was to you. and he would say; `Would you like fruit and yoghurt and whatever?' and he would bring it to you, then it would be bacon and eggs and whatever you wanted. You could have your eggs poached, you could have them scrambled, you could have an omelette.
The Navy HQ was in the centre of Vermeulen Street in Pretoria, and the Navy barracks at the Union Hotel were probably about six or seven blocks away, and busy traffic blocks in the middle of Pretoria so you didn't go back to the mess for lunch. You just had a sandwich or something because you only had about three quarters of an hour for lunch, but in the evening - that was what I looked forward to every evening - you would go for supper; you would sit down the waiter would come and you would have soup, then you would have an entree` which would be a little pizza or a little quiche or something like that, then you would have your main course which would be a choice of 2 or 3 different main courses not just one. The chaps were experimenting so they were making roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and whatever, and it was incredible! Then sweets; you would have a choice of about four different sweets afterwards as well, and coffee. The accommodation itself, of course, were hotel rooms. Okay, they put Navy bunks in so you like had 4 people to a hotel room, but it was still basically a hotel room with a carpet on the floor and cupboards not like your basic training were you've got a little bed and a staal kas and a bare floor and that sort of thing. It was absolutely astounding. I was just your basic seaman then. If I could have stayed there, jees! I would have stayed there my whole Navy career because it was incredible. I acutely got my first rank when I was there, which was Able Seaman. Basically though most people who have been in the Navy for a year get the rank of Able Seaman unless you've done something atrocious -you know like screwed the Commanding Officer's dog or something - you know you get given that rank.
FLAG RAISING IN PRETORIA
For a while, Brian worked at some important Naval Building in Pretoria. He reported that one day he formed part of a detail required to attend the flag raising ceremony, which took place at a flagpole - or would it be three flag poles with it being Navy?
He chanced to glance at the surrounding sky scrapers, and saw that they were being watched by hundreds of businessmen looking through the windows of their higher skyscrapers, possibly having a giggle over their morning coffee.
There was a senior NCO who was amusing to Brian, except when he was annoying. Brian quoted an interview he had overheard, where the NCO was raving about all the interesting things you could do in the Navy. He went on to list them, but could only think of one. "You can run the two comma four ..." he declared. (2,4 km was the standard run required for SADF fitness tests.)
While I was there I also enjoyed - I played a lot of golf. I played golf for Northern Transport Command. I played league golf for Northern Transvaal Command. I went to the South African Navy Golf Championships at Westlake in Cape Town. They flew me down in a ‘Flossie' and I actually came fourth, I think, in the Navy championships. I was invited to play in the SADF championships but they wouldn't let me go because I was needed at work.
We played golf for Northern Transvaal Command. The navy was a very small section, and basically they had a league golf situation, where the premier league was played between the different commands; Northern Transvaal Command, there was an East Rand Command; there were all these different commands in that area. Because the Navy was so small, we fell under Northern Transvaal Command. When we played golf, we played with them. Again, Paul Camps and myself were selected to play; we played together and were a league team together. I remember that once we played against a chap who was quite famous then, Pieter van Der Riet, who was a springbok golfer and later became a professional. We enjoyed it. I remember playing against a general once, a retired general, who hit the ball really far. He was one of these real old general types; you weren't allowed to say much to him. I remember hitting a shot, and the general was about to hit a shot, and he gets down and he hits a shot in the wrong way; its going left instead of right. I'm shouting at the ball; `Bounce right! Bounce right!' This is the sort of thing that you generally do, and the ball bounces left. The general comes over to me and he says to me; `Leading Seaman, if you ever speak to my golf-ball again, I will make sure that you will not progress any further than Leading Seaman.' I suppose it was in jest, but ... I had no way of knowing whether it was, or not!'
Brian was an accomplished golfer, and this was known at work. He was often invited to play golf along with fairly senior Navy officers. He recounted once, following a Lieutenant in a battered old mini while he was driving his (admittedly second hand) BMW. Very ironic.
TOP SECRET CLEARANCE
Then all of a sudden while I was there, I was given a top secret clearance. I hadn't applied for it, it was just given to me, which was quite amazing because basically in the Navy was there was more English than the rest of the defence force but it was still basically your Broederbond and Afrikaner regime type Army, Navy whatever. Basically to qualify for a top secret clearance you had to be a koeksuster, you would have had to have been in the Voortrekkers and you know you would have had to have a photo of P.W. Botha on your wall and kiss it every night. So I was quite surprised, you know, being a semi-liberal type English South African getting this top secret clearance because in the whole Navy, the only people that had it were the top officers in command of their own ships and one or two cryptographers who were employed in the communications division who could encode and decode the signals that the captains of the ships etc had to see. So I felt quite sort of special about the fact that I had been chosen to get this top secret clearance.
The only problem with the top secret clearance meant that almost straight away I was chosen to go on a cryptography course back in Simonstown back at Red Hill at the Signal School. I went and was quite surprised to find that. as an Able Seaman, that I was the only Able Seaman on the course along with two killicks, two petty officers and four warrant officers. Basically you didn't get a top secret clearance until you had been in the Navy for about 5 or 6 years, and so mine had come through very quickly. I did the cryptography course which basically entailed learning how to encode and decode signals through a teleprinter as well as a decoder book as well as your usual sort of authentication type signals where a message is sent over the airwaves; `This is your sister ship so and so. The captain wants you to sink your ship, scuttle your ship and sink it', and you go; `Okay, fine! Are you Russians or Mozambicans or what are you? Authenticate today's code which is K8YPZ, and then they would go to another table which they had which had K8YPZ on it and look down and they would find an authentication code at the bottom which would be 12345, and they would say your authentication of K8YPZ is 12345 and you would go; `Captain, sink the ship!'. So basically you learnt how to do all that sort of thing.
That was also a six week course; everything seemed to be a six week course! When I finished that I became a cryptographer went back to Pretoria, where there was only one other cryptographer who was also a warrant officer. I was then sort of the warrant officers assistant although he wasn't to happy that I was so young and had been given the cryptography exam and all the rest. I have no idea whatsoever why I was given the top secret security clearance. Because the cryptographer was always someone who had quite a bit of NCO rank, the cryptographer was in charge of the watch at the Navy base in Pretoria, so I found myself, as an able seaman, in charge of the watch with petty officers working under me, who were people just doing menial tele-communications type tasks. At the communications centre in Pretoria at the Naval base we received and logged and replied to something in the region of 350 signals a day, which was sent from all over the Navy by different people to the Chief of the Navy requesting things or telling him about what had happened, or telling him about an attack that had gone wrong, so having access to the top secret code as a cryptographer I often, when I had a to do an all night watch, we actually had beds in the little offices adjoining this big communications centre. We had about 15 communicators working in there at one time; you had two people, when tele-printers were printing out the messages tearing them off, logging them and whatever, because everything was carefully logged etc., passing them onto someone else who was handling a different section of what had to be done, someone else that was filing them into the relevant files for whoever's attention, someone else who was replying to them whatever. It was an interesting set-up that we had going, it was like a machine, a well oiled machine that worked. Then at night, if you were on duty the cryptographer was in charge and he had two other people working with him because basically at night you received 5 or 6 signals the whole night, and you just sat there till 9 in the evening or something and then the next morning you would go to bed and sleep and the next morning you would wake up and come back in before everybody else got to work and make sure you logged or whatever had come in. Every now and again you would get a priority signal which would come in or a flash signal which was like a real heavy one that had `ZZZ' on it and you knew ‘Oh my god this is war!', you know; `We've declared war on someone else again!' You know I saw a lot of things like - your basic signal which came through was a sit-rep which was basically just a weather report and what the sea swell was like and all that sort of thing but you saw things like reconnaissance vehicle ambushed in Lusaka , loss of life 3 people, please advise the Chief of the Navy, Strike Craft SAS Hendrick Mens has returned without 3 personnel who have been presumably shot dead, you know etc. You had to pass this on and as a top secret cryptographer, you weren't allowed to divulge any of this information to anybody so you constantly walked around knowing secrets and knowing top secret things, that you couldn't tell anybody, you know , whether you would like to or not, because of the security and something or other act they had in those days. If you divulged any of that information it was straight in to jail for you , there you go, end of your career.
But we had a lot of good times as well. We had a telephone in the communications centre which had a direct line that you could dial absolutely anywhere in the world. When we were on duty at night and we had `the right people' on duty with us, we would sit down and say; "Right who should we phone? Look up the code for United States! Lets just dial until we find a number that gets a reply, you know, not thinking that the United States is 7-10 hours behind us in time. You phone and someone says on the other end of the line; "Hello", and you say; "Hello, this is a courtesy call from South Africa." The person says; "Africa? Hell!" and puts the phone down. Then you realise that its actually the middle of the night there or something.
I remember one time we phoned up a block of flats in Pretoria, and told all the tenants that they had 3 weeks notice to move out; we were that owners and we had sold the block of flats. One poor old lady said; "You can't tell my husband this because he's recently had a heart attack, and he'll have another heart attack!" and we said "Look, lady, we are not interested, and we don't care".
"But where are we to go? We are old people. We have lived here all our lives!" We said; "Look actually we really don't care. The flats have been sold. In 3 weeks time you have to be out of the flat. If we come along and you are not out of the flat, I am afraid we will just get movers to take your furniture, put it out in the pavement and that's the end of the story." So anyway we had a lot of those sort of messing around because basically we had nothing to do.
THE 1983 PRETORIA BOMB
I also remember the famous bomb blast in Pretoria, 1983. I was on duty at the time. I was working, and we actually felt what felt like an earth tremor, and everybody said; "What the hell was that?" We said; "We don't know!" About half an hour later, because it was at home time basically that it happened, everybody was leaving work at 5 in the evening or whatever when it happened, and basically we were leaving, we going downstairs to walk up to the Navy Barracks, and a bloke came running past who had blood splattered on his arms. It wasn't his blood; it was someone else's but he was screaming at Army blokes, screaming hysterically and saying; `They have bombed the - I can't remember where it was now - Nedbank Centre, or whatever it was. So many people have been killed and everything. I just turned the other way and went to the Navy Barracks because I thought to myself; `I don't want to go down there. Basically I am just going to see people blown apart. The bomb blasts were quite a big thing in those days with the ANC and everything so, it wasn't anything new. At that stage, we had all been indoctrinated that the ANC were the enemy and the terrorists and the bad guys. It made me pretty upset, it made me think that we were under threat, and all our families were under threat, our lives were under threat. I felt the same as all other white South Africans felt at that time you know, apart from the Broederbond and the AWB and those blokes; of course they felt differently. I mean, they just wanted to kill, kill, kill but, it was sort of a sad feeling, you know, you didn't know whether you, you were sort of quite proud of the fact that you were in the Defence Force and that you were doing your bit for your country, that you were proud of - your country. But then these terrorists were coming along and spoiling the whole thing. Looking back on it now, I actually look back and I laugh and I think; `What a joke!', you know, `I did my bit for my country, but was I actually doing anything for my country?' Meantime I was actually just furthering the cause of the Afrikaner Regime in Pretoria without realising it. We were so indoctrinated, we had no idea what it was all about. Its only now with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where all these things are coming out and you hear about all the hit squads and people confess to the crimes and the murders. What made me think about the Government was, just jumping quite a bit ahead, sitting in Maputo Harbour, in a Strike Craft, with the Nkomati accord being signed between the Mozambican Government and the South African Government, and listening on the radio in the Strike Craft, a big radio, I could pick up basically short wave, medium wave, any wave. I could pick up anybody anywhere in the world. I tuned in to Radio 5, and they had the news on and there was Minister Pik Botha saying, "There are no South African troops in Mozambique whatsoever!", and we were sitting in Maputo Harbour. And I was thinking to myself, that's what made me start thinking, you know, I wonder if this Government are actually as good as everybody thinks they are, and are actually doing everything that everybody thinks that they are doing, or are they on a dirty tricks campaign behind everybody's back?
Later on I met up with someone who was in the Army at the same time who said to me; "Yes we were actually sitting on the border, over the border in the enemy's territory when that same statement was made." You know we were there. There were actually more troops there than ever before, and he had said; "There are no South African troops in Mozambique whatsoever!" which was very interesting.
Then the biggest shock of my life came! I hoped that I would get through the Navy, after finding out that I couldn't do University degree etc., just get through my 4 years being land locked when the Captain of the Communications Section in Pretoria called me in and said; "Mr Wingfield, I have very good news for you!" [Mr?] Yes, he was an Africans bloke and they called us `Mr.' "Mr Wingfield, I have very good news for you. You have been drafted to the SAS Scorpion!" I said; `SAS Scorpion? Where the hells that? In the desert?' He said; `That is the Strike Craft based in Durban!' I thought; `OOHH SHIT!! I don't want to go to sea!' Just on the 3 days seamanship course that we did, you remember I mentioned that I had been so sea sick. I thought; `I can't go to sea! I really can't!', and then I though; `Well there is still a chance because SAS Scorpion is a land base where the Strike Craft are based, but they have still got their communication centre on the land base that deals with all the ships. Maybe I can get posted there.
I wasn't happy to leave Pretoria because as I say all my folks were in Sasolburg and it was about an hour and a half's drive through from Pretoria every weekend. I had a girlfriend in Sasolburg , all that sort of thing. Or a couple of them! Eventually after a much sighing, and not being very happy about it all, I had to go. I couldn't change my mind, so I went off to Durban in my BMW, and arrived at the SAS Scorpion which is on the bluff in Durban. I had never been to Durban, and I didn't like the humidity and stickiness of the weather etc., but I was thinking; `Well, at least Barry and Vivien are down here somewhere. I can see them every now and again.' I went into the Navy base which was absolutely shocking; the barracks, the accommodation were filthy. I mean you had to basically take a broom and sweep out the whole place before you could even make your bed. It was just sand and dust. It was really very unkempt. It was a terrible place. I remember thinking to myself; `Well as soon as I possibly can, I will move out of this place!' I remember spending the first night getting issued with a mosquito net because the mosquitoes were such a problem there, and spending the first night lying on a soaking wet bed, dripping with sweat, trying to sleep. It was so hot. At 1.00 in the morning I remember getting up and going and diving into the swimming pool which was right next to the barracks. What I remember most about it was that you could have a shower in the morning, an ice cold shower and put on your brand new ironed uniform and walk a 150 meters across the parade ground to where you worked, and by the time you got to work, you were soaking wet under your armpits on your shirt and on your back. The humidity there was incredible. One nice thing about the office where we worked in the communications centre on the land , was that we had a air conditioner which was right next to my desk where I sat. I would plaster myself against this air conditioner and there was all this ice cold air blowing against you once you had walked in to work. The food was atrocious there as well; it was absolutely atrocious. We got mostly curry because it was Durban and it was really gross. I didn't enjoy the food at the barracks, and I actually only stayed at the barracks for about 3 weeks before I moved out.
You had a junior NCO's accommodation, you had a NCO'S accommodation which was from petty officer upwards, then you had your officers mess. The officers' Ward Room was basically like a bloody hotel, they had waiters and everything like that. The senior NCO's made sure that the seamen and the junior people came and cleaned their place and kept it clean and everything because they didn't have servants or anything like that they had to do it themselves.
The seamen and the junior NCO's had a terrible mess which basically they were supposed to look after but nobody looked after and none of the NCO's or the officers gave a damn about whether it was clean or not. There were no inspections, nothing like that at all, it was totally slack. It was just like a barracks were you slept. It was like the old cowboy movies were they say; `All right. Off you go to the bunk house!' You just walk in and get your kit, your blankets and everything and there you are. That's your bed. You had sectioned off rooms, you didn't actually have a room. You had a partition wall between you and the next bed with a curtain that you could draw all the way round. You had a size of 3 or 4 meters that you could call your bedroom. There were communal showers, communal washbasins; all that sort of thing, no real laundry service to talk of.
You had to make your own plan. Then I worked in the base there for three to four weeks before I was told that I was going to be posted to the strike craft. From where the land base was, you walked out on to the quay and you had six or seven jetties where the strike craft were all parked. I had had time to walk around and look at them and see the people on board, but I still didn't like the idea of going on to these strike craft at all.
I was posted to the SAS Hendrik Mens, which was called `boat seven'. I was drafted on on a temporary basis as the OTC's yeoman which is the Officer in Tactical Command's Yeoman. The yeoman is the person who is in charge of sending all the signals to all of the different ships and all the other yeomen on each ship. Each ship has its own yeoman who is the head of the communications department, and they have to relay the communication to the captain, whatever it is; `Turn to whatever ... hoist the flag ... blow the trumpet ... skinny dip, whatever.' I did that. The OTC was one hell of a strange bloke, Commander --- he had bright red hair and a bright red beard, smoked plain cigarettes, and basically I had to sit at his feet when he was on the bridge of the strike craft, and he would relay messages to me which I had to talk over the radio and pass on, and he would rip his cigarette ash on my head. So I would always end up with this grey hairstyle, because he was constantly tipping his ash on my head, the twit! It was a temporary arrangement.
I was drafted onboard and we left straight away to go on a trip from Durban to Cape Town. We were four ships in convoy. I had only done it in theory before; I had never done it in practise. I had no practical experience whatsoever, and I was suddenly thrown in at the deep end and made the OTC's yeoman. They usually took a senior bloke, a Petty Officer or a Chief Petty Officer to be the yeoman. Anyway, there I was. I did the job, and I did it all right. I seemed to, because I didn't get shat on. We arrived in Cape Town, and because I was the OTC's yeoman, I wasn't expected to go on a watch with anyone, so I thought; `Oh, this is great! Off I went and jolled around in Cape Town. The only problem was that I was as sick as a dog all the way down to Cape Town. When we got back, of course, what I didn't realise is that in the navy, if you want to get off ships, the quickest way to get off ships is to make sure that you are as slack as possible, and that you don't do your job at all, and then people say; `This arsehole is useless. Kick him back to a land base.'
Unfortunately, being proud, I did the job as best I could, and the OTC gave in a recommendation that I be permanently posted to ships. So form there I was given a permanent position as a junior yeoman. The yeoman was a petty officer and I was his junior. The communications department on each Strike Craft consisted of six people. You had the yeoman in charge, you had a junior yeoman and then you had two radio room operators and two bunters, so I was the junior yeoman even though I was an Able Seaman. I actually had two killicks that were bunters who were very upset that I was supposed to be above them. We had some very sophisticated electronics on board, and probably ten of the crew were electronic technicians who could fix up anything at any time, and could change blown circuits, and put in new things here and there.
Then I had to learn all the things about strike craft. You had to do a course, which again took six weeks. Everything was six weeks; I don't know why. Had to learn every single section of the Strike Craft. You had to learn everything about the strike craft, how it worked, how it functioned, the electronic warfare, where everything was kept, how the engine room worked, where the keys were for the emergency missile launching; everything. You had to learn everything form the forehead right to the off-deck, every single section of the ship, and then you had to write a test after six weeks to make sure that you knew because basically everybody had to double as everything else, because it was a small ship, and we only had a crew of fifty two. If one section of the ship was blown up, and you lost all your gunners, everybody else had to know how to do the gunner's job. If your electronic warfare blokes were blown up, you had to know how to do the basic electronic warfare stuff. I had this `task book'; I did that and I passed the exam, and then I was on the ship for about six months as a junior yeoman where I met David Noel and Cain Atkinson who became my buddies. David was the sparky, and Cain was a gunner. They lived in a flat together, and I moved in to a flat with them in Durban. We had some raucous parties together. After about six months, the chap who was the yeoman on my ship went on a course to become a Chief Petty Officer and I was made the yeoman, temporarily. Of course, having the top secret clearance, and being the cryptographer on board, I had to handle all the signals. The yeoman who had left was also a cryptographer, so at first I hadn't done the cryptography; I had just been the junior yeoman. Then he left so I had to do the cryptography job.
ED: Following material Edited from conversational tape recording made in early 1984 - I think, BHF
Note: For more formal information on 'Strike Craft', see Heitman (1985), pp. 82 - 83, 85 -86, 89. Illustrations, pp. 7, 72-73, 85, 88-89.
Three weeks ago on Sunday afternoon I went on board a Strike Craft, with the intention to get to know the ship. In one afternoon they tried to cram everything into my head; where all the fire extinguishers are, how many fire extinguishers there are on board, where the CABA equipment is; 'fearnought' suits and breathing apparatus; mainly fire stuff because that's the main hazard. Where they keep their ten inch lamps for signalling, all the bunting stuff and everything.
First I was told that I was going to be drafted permanently to this boat, the Kobie Coetzee. I've been on nearly every boat in the Navy now. Its a Strike Craft which has been modified; the aft gunbay has been taken away and they've put in accommodation which is for recce's. If they're going to accommodate recces they accommodate them there; drop them off in Mocambique, they go in and stuff up the Angolans in Mozambique, or whetever - the Mocambigueans, and then they swim back to the ships and we've got these things called 'scramble nets' which you chuck over the side and they climb up the side - in sea state 6 they would have all drowned anyway.
I was on this one because I had been appointed to the OTC's staff (Officer in Tactical Command = the senior officer afloat). He's the one who promulgates all the signals, sends them out. The other ships just do what they're told. Usually he is the captain of one of the ships, but in this case he went along on one of the boats as an extra. They were sending out tactical signals on the ship's network, and I was his 'yeoman' in Navy terms: I was his signalman, sending out the messages for him, from the same boat which would radically confuse the enemy who would wonder why they were getting two transmissions from one boat - "These two must be pretty close!"
They told me I was going along under this Commander Harrison; I'm going to be his yeoman, under his chief yeoman who is Warrant Broom, who was my crypto instructor, who drafted me down to Durban with the express intention of getting me to work with him. Bastard!
I got on the boat; chuck all my kit on. "Oh! This is going to be fun. Swallow ten sea sick tablets, remembering early days of seamanship trials out at sea in those little fishing trawlers - that was terrible.
Get to know the ship on Sunday. Monday morning, 8 o'clock, I'm sitting in the Ops room. I do all my work in the Ops room where you've got all the radar operators. You've got about a hundred of them. I don't know what they all do. They just sit around and chat on the microphones. They all sit around with about five different radars, and then you've got the electronic warfare operators who sit at a lot of computers that look like 'pacman'. Then you've got the ships signal men, sitting on the other side. The Ops room is the biggest compartment on the boat. Fifty two people on the strike craft, about twenty in the OPs Room at a time. You've got the Captain down there, you've got the OTC down there, unless they go up to the bridge, and then they just relay instructions over the microphone. That was boring sitting there. Then they give the order to sail!
Even before the order came I had this sick salty feeling in my throat, as if I'd been at sea for an hour already. I just knew I was going to get sea sick. It was bad; we got out of the harbour and they said; "Ah! Sea state 1. Its very calm today. Swell: nought to comma five of a metre." But it felt terrible to me.
Every compartment on the ship has got a bucket, which is especially for sea sickness. Sometimes you can't make it up to the heads (toilets) which are up a couple of flights of steps up to the officers heads. About an hour out to sea Brian's there with his head in a bucket, hurling his lungs out, as on strike craft is commonly called 'braaking' [puking]. I just got sick from that moment, 8 am until about three o'clock in the afternoon. All the people who were not sea sick said; "You must eat. If you don't eat, you'll just feel worse. You must just eat dry bread, because that's the best thing to eat." You just can't. You cut of a piece about the size of your little finger's nail. You can't swallow it. You just chew it and chew it until its absolute mush in your mouth, but you can't swallow it because it just won't go down. Eventually I managed to eat a half, and then I just got sick again. Then I went to bed, and I just slept and slept and slept. I slept for sixteen hours. I was having this terrible dream when I woke up - I dreamed that I was lying on a soft bed at home, on a soft mattress, and every time I took a deep breath, the mattress bounced up and down, and I was bouncing my back on the floor. When I woke up, it was the motion of the ship. Every time it goes up and comes down, it goes 'gwaah!' 'gwaah!' and you bounce up and down like that. That's what I was hearing and I was feeling in my dream. It was incredible.
I woke up feeling a little bit better, swallowed another five or six sea sick pills, which was the wrong thing to do, and then walked up to the galley to see if there was any breakfast. The coxswain, the guy who steers the ship, is like a master at arms. He decided; 'Ah! There's a new 'roofie' ['rookie'] on board', so he said to me; "Ah! You've come for some breakfast. Now the best thing to eat for breakfast is this (greasy, slimy) egg. Have this egg with some cheese on top of it." Now if you can imagine yourself being nauseous, and think of cheese and egg. I ate the cheese and egg and got sick for the rest of the day again. That's the last I remember of that.
All the time they were doing manoeuvres. Usually the journey from Durban to Cape Town takes thirty hours, travelling at medium speed. At operational speed, they can do it in twenty hours, I think. They were doing all these manoeuvres and so on, so after two days we pulled into Port Elizabeth harbour. You can imagine two days - Brian loves eating; he's been out at sea, and he gets off the boat and he feels fine, because the moment you step off the boat, you feel fine.
Straight into Port Elizabeth, buy two big packets of these chock crust biscuits, and just chowed them down. A 2l coke which I drank on my own, which was totally the wrong kind of food to eat after not eating for two days. Back on to the boat; next day out at sea; "BRAAK! BRAAK!"
Eventually I was just lying with my head in the bucket. Every time someone came past me they would say, "How are you feeling now?" I'd just look at them and go, 'Braak!'. It was incredible. I was so sick. It was terrible.
Eventually, on the very last day, just before we came in to Cape Town, into Simonstown, I was feeling a bit better. I was sitting and doing a bit of radio work. We pulled into Simonstown at about four o'clock on a Thursday afternoon. On the Friday we had the day off and we just did maintenance on the ship, which is basically, 'Go and scrub the deck, down at the bottom, until four o'clock this afternoon.' You just go and lie on your bunk with a brush in your hand, and make movements like this.
That weekend was incredible. There was a stoker, who works in the engine room. He was a big fat chap, but he lost quite a bit of weight as well because he was also very sea sick. He and I went in to Cape Town that night, and he loves good food as well - we went to one of these 'Apache Spurs' (Burger houses) and we had mushroom burgers and waffles and ice cream. Anything we could chow, we just chowed It was fantastic. I went to movies and all kinds of stuff.
Part one of the big ordeal starts the following Monday. I woke up on the Monday morning knowing that I have to go to sea today. Mmm, wonderful! I got up and I went to see Warrant Broom, and I said to him, "Warrant, what's happening today?"
He says to me, "Ah. Just go over to boat six, Oswald Pirrow - we went down on Kobie Coetzee. Go over to Oswald Pirrow. The Lieutenant on board says he wants to see you. The first Lieutenant."
I ask, "What does he want to see me for?"
Warrant Broom: "Mmmmm Mmmmm Muuumm. I dunno. Just go and see what the fucker wants."
Off I go. Get to the boat. Climb on board. Go to the first Lieutenant, and say to him, "Sir, you want to see me?"
He says to me: "Who the hell are you?"
"Able Seaman Wingfield, Sir. You wanted to see me."
"Oh, yes! You!"
"Me? What have I done?"
He says to me: "No, I want you to take an A52 radio, which is a little portable radio, and go to the tug, and you're going to play 'Coms' (Communications) today. The tug is going to tow the target for the Strike Craft and we're going to shoot at it."
"Whaaat?!? You're going to shoot at the tug?"
"No, we're going to shoot at the target."
"But the tug's towing the target."
He says, "Ah, but they tow it at about a thousand metres."
So off I go to the tug, climb onboard the tug. As I get onboard the tug, here's this civvy standing on the tug, long greasy hair hanging down on his shoulders, blond hair. Dirty old ripped open T-shirt, jeans and tackies. I walk on to the ship and I look at this guy and I think 'Oh! One of the deck hands. I say to him; "Excuse me, I'm looking for the Captain."
He says, "Ah, I am the Captain."
I looked at him. Oh! That's nice!' I tell him, "I'm coming to play 'Coms' for you today."
He says, "Ah! Fucking waste of time."
A coloured crew of about six or seven guys. The tug was very nice. All the other craft have these telegraph - 'half ahead ting ting' and turn the wheel and all this. The tug was like a motor boat, it had an accelerator, which is grand.
So he was busy playing with the tug. We were just busy pulling out of Simonstown harbour, going past the lighthouse, when I looked down in the water and saw what looked like a tailor's dummy floating in the water.
The Captain says to me, "Was that a body?"
"Ah, a body. No. It looked like a doll or something. Its got no hair on it; its just like plastic."
He said, "We'd better go and have a look," so he turns the tug around and we come past. Its a body lying face down in the water. He said it had been there for about three days because it was absolutely white, waterlogged. All the hair had fallen out. Luckily it was facing down, otherwise we would have seen the eyes peeling out, or probably they had already been eaten out, and its legs were already shredded, little fish had eaten off strips. It still had a pair of tackies on. It wasn't much fun to observe, but it didn't effect me at all.
He called the harbour patrol on the radio, and they came out with two civvy police and chucked a groundsheet under the thing to pick it up, because otherwise if you pull it up by the arm, the arm just comes off. They confirmed that it was a fisherman who had been drowned.
It was a nice way to start the day - go out target shooting and find dead bodies! I asked the Captain about how well the Strike Craft could shoot. He said we were lucky it was the Strike Craft shooting. "Last time it was the PP (President Pretorius, a frigate) shooting, and they nearly hit us."
We went out to Cape Point - we stopped just off the 'Point' because the shoot was scheduled for 1.30 in the afternoon. It was about eleven o'clock, so we just stopped there, and the crew were fishing over the side. The Captain is lying back with a cigarette in his mouth with his feet up on the bunk, listening to 'Radio 5' on the network that he's supposed to be listening in for the Strike Craft on. I felt I might as well join them, so I parked there catching some fish - I didn't catch anything though.
One thirty comes and the Strike Craft radio us, and tell us to shoot across the bay - towing the target, and they're going to shoot at it. So off we go across the bay. Suddenly two fishing vessels loom up on the horizon, just on our starboard bow.
I say to the Captain, "Shouldn't we tell the Strike Craft about those two?"
He says, "Ach, no. They're far away man."
The first Strike Craft shoots. Dwoofff! From where we were it looked about a hundred metres from the fishing trawler.
I come up on the 'net', and I say, 'This is Alpha Juliet so and so, Tug. Cease firing. Cease firing. You are shooting at fishing vessel.'
The one guy comes up. He says, "Ah, sorry. We wondered. We had two contacts on our radar scanner. We wondered which one was the target," obviously shooting at the wrong one. I was thinking that it could have been the tug. These massive shells exploding in the sea. Bgggg! Next to this fishing trawler. Russian spies on the fishing trawler; "Yaa! We give up."
So we waited for them to get out of the way, and the rest of the day was okay. Night falls. At about seven o'clock that night we pull back into harbour; the tug. Myself and the civvy Captain.
Warrant Broom is on Oswald Pirrow. He was observing the shoot with the OTC. My boat, the Kobie Coetzee, the one we had come down on, the one we had been drafted to, is in the harbour. He didn't go out that day. I got my kit off the tug, and I go over to Kobie Coetzee, and Kobie Coetzee's engines are revving up, and its navigation lights are on and everyone is standing around on the quay with ropes, throwing them to the boat. I'm just about to jump onboard and the Captain says to me, "Where are you going?"
I say to him, "I'm coming onboard. Its my ship!"
So he says to me, "No, its not!"
I stood there very bewildered. I said to him, "What do you mean, Sir?"
He says to me, "I'm very sorry. We're going on a special mission. Very hush hush and everything, and you're working for the OTC so just stay on the quay until they come back."
So I just stood on the quay and watched my ship go off to Mozambique or Angola or wherever it was. I stood on the quay until 11.30 that night, waiting for the other Strike Craft to come back. Strike Craft pulls in. Warrant Broom gets off, "Mumble mumble mumble eleven thirty mumble mumble could have been at home mumble mumble could have been ashore mumble mumble could have been drinking." He comes over to me and he says, "Take these books over to Kobie Coetzee."
I say to him, "(chuckle) There's where Kobie Coetzee was."
He looks. "Where the bloody hell have they gone?"
"I'm sorry. They've gone off on a Special Ops."
He says; "My bloody kit's onboard!"
I told him I couldn't do anything. When I came back on the tug, they were busy pulling out. He's raving there; "Bloody hell. Raar! Raar! Monty Python terms 'en alles' [and everything]," going crazy there. He's just got the pair of 'blues' he's wearing, and nothing else. All his kit's on there, his shaving stuff, everything. We go over to the MSO Chapman to find out what's happening and they tell us; "No. The boat's gone off for about two or three weeks." Warrant, next day, off to 'slops' (stores) to go and get all new kit, and he has to buy it. So they tell us we'll have to go over to the P.P. President Pretorius. (Heitman, 1985, pp. 81). That's that dirty great battleship (frigate) like the President Kruger that was sunk (Heitman, 1985, p. 84). All my friends are on there ... Michael, Shaun, the whole bunch of them. I thought this was going to be great.
I went over there and went onboard. The coxswain asks, "How long are you guys here for?" so we say, "No, we're just temporary. We're probably just here for the day. Sleep overnight, and leave tomorrow morning, or something like that."
He says; "Ah! That's okay." Its much better on the P.P. because you can go up to the bridge, and that's where they send the signals from. I was parking up on the bridge. Its grand because you can watch everything happening around you.
The first day we were on the P.P. the OTC misunderstood the signal, and he went off on the Oswald Pirrow. His staff is on the P.P. and he's on the Oswald Pirrow. We didn't do anything the whole day, Warrant Broom and myself, we just parked off - and drank coke from the canteen all day, and just lay around.
The P.P. has big messes and they have hammocks - try and sleep in a hammock! I decided that I wasn't going to sleep in a hammock because I would fall out and dash my brains to pieces on the floor, so I got a stretcher; a normal camp stretcher - I had to tie it to a cupboard so it didn't slide away in the middle of the night. I slept on that thing - very uncomfortable.
We went out on the P.P. and sent a few signals, and then they had a gunnery shoot. Two Strike Craft, one on either side of us, with the P.P. in the middle. They asked me if I wanted to watch the shoot. I asked what they would be shooting at. 'Drogues'
"Drogues?" Something like dragons? Its a long balloon that they tow behind the Shackeltons (Heitman, 1985, p. 62, 70.), and then they shoot at the thing. That was piss-willy stuff! Then they got hold of these radio controlled aircraft, that cost R 36 000.00 each. They wind it up on the P.P. and off it goes up in the air. Its quite big; about the size of a motor car. They're controlling it from the P.P., and the Strike Craft shoot at it first, and they've got these guns that are locked in with the computer. They were not trying to hit the thing, they were just shooting bursts underneath it. It was excellent shooting. It was brilliant to watch. You see the thing fly over and then you see 'Gwoof Gwoof!' like flack burst underneath it. Brilliant. Just like watching a war movie. It was grand, hey!
Then they opened up with the close range battery. I was standing right next to the thing, and then the 7.6 machine guns with the double barrels - massive things right next to my ear. The vibrations were incredible.
Then it is the turn of the P.P. to shoot. It was just a close range shot, and then they come with their Bofors cannons. The guys are sitting at the Bofors - the thing goes over. They haven't got a computer to lock into - they're told to shoot just underneath it. R 36 000.00 worth of equipment. Goof! Goof! Goof! The whole thing explodes, and goes crashing down into the sea, right next to the P.P. The guy shooting the Bofors jumps up, makes a war whoop. Yeahhh Yeahhh! Everyone on the P.P. Yeahh Yeahh! The guy controlling the thing: "Thirty six thousand rand ..." Shaking his head. Eventually they shot down two of them. They had about six on board. They shot down two of them, and the others ran out of petrol and they just hauled them back onboard again. That was quite a grand day.
The next week we went to Saldanha, and I was onboard Oswald Pirrow again. We got there, and we were just parking off. The next day we went out to sea. It was sea state 5; Strike Craft do not operate in anything more than four, because then even the Captain gets sick. We went out and it was like surfing. You can't walk, you have to hang on to everything. There's nowhere to eat, so you just lean against the wall, and you're chowing, and the next minute you are running over to the other side; just turn your back and smash into the wall, stand there, eat a few mouthfuls, and then run back to the other side. Or you come down the stairs with a plate of food in one hand and an ice cream in the other - you spill everything.
Then next day we went out on manoeuvres. We pulled out into the bay - sea state 5, swell: 3 to 4 metres. Terrible! Then they said we would go back to harbour; we would have a lovely day there parking in the sunshine, but just then there came a distress signal from a yacht, 180 km off the coast somewhere near Walvis Bay.
They say, "Well boys, who's going?" We draw lots; sitting there praying its not us. "It has been decided that the Oswald Pirrow will go out."
"Shit! What boat are we on again?"
"Aaaagh!" So off we go to sea on the S.A.S. Oswald Pirrow. As we headed out, I heard the weather 'SitRep' (weather report): "Sea state 5, swell, 4 to 5 metres. Gale force winds, speed 60 to 70 knots, and headswells." I ran straight for the heads and just parked there, braaking. (On the way back we had a braak cricket team. It was quite fun. We had a little score board; they've got the operations board where they've got all the calls signs and everything on, and they've got there 'Braak team A' and "Braak team B' - 'A' was the port watch, and 'B' was the starboard watch. Every time you come on watch, they see how many times one of the guys can go and braak. Eventually we lost by about thirteen to fourteen, because one chap really walked away with the honours. He was just in the heads all the time.
We got out to the yacht at about two o'clock in the afternoon, and the yacht Captain - cheeky bastard - told us, "We'd like a tow into Port Nolloth please."
So we told him, "We're terribly sorry, this is the SAN. We will take you in to Saldanha Bay, which is where we are heading."
So the chap says to us, "I'm terribly sorry, but we'd like a tow into Port Nolloth."
So we said to him, "Well, we're terribly sorry then. We're going to have to leave you here and let you drown." Eventually he accepted a tow back to Saldanha, after much bickering and fighting, so off we go with this massive rope astern of us, towing this yacht. So we head off at about ten knots and the yacht is doing nose-dives on all the swells and jumping up and down like a trampoline.
The Captain of the yacht comes braaking over the air, "Please slow down because we're not handling it back here. So we slowed down to about four knots, which was incredible in the state we were in because the swells were so big - if you're going fast you can more or less plane over the swells and just catch the tail ends of them which just sort of bounce you up so that you touch the ceiling, but this way you go right down into the swell, and then you go up four or five metres and then you come right down the swell again. Needless to say, a lot of people braaked all the way back.
We got back into Saldanha harbour at about six in the evening, to be interviewed by Charl Pauw (television reporter). Our captain had a little chat with Charl Pauw, and they showed a couple of the crew members. Unfortunately I wasn't there, due to some ailment.
The next day, Friday, we had a sports day which was great fun because they decided, "Right! Who'd like to play cricket?"
Brian: "I'd love to play cricket. I haven't played cricket since high school." Lying of course; he's never played cricket in his life before, although he had played in the back garden with his sister. All the chaps put my name down for the team from S.A.S. Oswald Pirrow, playing against S.A.S. Hendrik Mentz. We get out on the cricket field and S.A.S. Hendrik Mentz is first up to bat, and we are out there bowling and fielding. I didn't do any bowling because I didn't want to embarrass myself, but I was doing some pretty good fielding. Really, I was. We took them all out for 111 runs. It might not mean that much to you, but if you're a cricket enthusiast, you'll know that its a pretty poor score.
Full of confidence, our opening batsman walked out on to the field to be bowled out for the first ball by the skipper of their team who also happens to play for Natal. By this time Brian is sitting there feeling very apprehensive, knowing that there's this chap out there bowling at 160 km per hour cricket balls at the chap batting, and you haven't got much padding, and you're not wearing these safety helmets. It carries on at a progressive rate and eventually about seven of our players are out for twenty runs, and its Brian's turn to bat.
He walks in bravely, putting the cricket box into his pants, steps up on to the cricket pitch and faces the first ball which he doesn't even see but swings wildly in the air, and is merely caught behind the wickets by the wicket keeper. Second ball he manages to see, and he gives a big wack and the ball goes running straight past the wicket, and he runs joyously thinking, 'Wonderful. I actually managed to hit the ball.' I run up to the wicket on the other side, get there and decide that it was just one run. Its not two runs. I am not going to run back to the other side of the wicket, so I turn around. Meanwhile the other chap batting is halfway back across the pitch already, so I have to run. I start sprinting to the other side, but they threw the ball in and I was caught out for no runs.
Final Score: S.A.S. Hendrik Mentz 115, S.A.S. Oswald Pirrow 25, which in cricket terms is pathetic.
After that we had our RPG where the Captain was slammed. He gave twelve people a lift home in his mini - an R mini - which didn't go very well with three or four on the roof, one or two on the front seat, three or four on the back seat, and one or two on the window sills which was quite fun. Then the first Lieutenant of the Hendrik Mentz got locked in jail for trying to steal a dinghy, and when questioned by the police about why he was stealing the dinghy he said that he liked it and wanted to take it back to Durban with him. He was let out on fifty rand bail when they found out who he was.
The following day, which was Saturday, they had the passing out parade of the roofies from Saldanha, which was quite fun because we went there and laughed, and thought to ourselves, 'Gee! Were we actually like that once?'
Then, at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon we set sail for Durban. Luckily on the way back I did not braak once, and I felt great. The sea was rough; the sea was sea state 5 and 6 the whole way. Once, I was lying, trying to fall asleep and having a bad dream, thinking to myself that I was lying on a very soft bed at home and every time I breathed in, my back touched the floor (ED: haven't we had this story above?) and when I breathed out, it went up again. It was a terrible feeling. When I woke up I was bouncing on the bunk. You can hear a swell; the ship starts creaking - one terrible swell came up. I just closed my eyes and I prayed. One of my friends sleeping on the top bunk of three, shot out of his bunk, did a somersault, and landed on his head on the floor. I was lying wedged between two mattresses - one on either side of me, was shot up in the air, landed on a table which was next to me, shot off the table, landed on the one mattress sideways - bounced off it onto the other mattress, and back down on to the mattress I was lying on, thinking, "Oh! What a lovely ride."
One of the 'ou manne' (old hands)'s voice piped up out of the cabin, "Is everybody all right?" This was something I hadn't heard before so it must have been a pretty bad swell. We pulled back into harbour on Monday morning at 9 am.
Going past the Transkei Coast at two o'clock in the morning, the first Lieutenant pipes up to the Captain on the piping system, he says, "Command, this is the PO. Confirm we have a Transkeian strike craft approaching us on the port beam."
The Captain says, "What's he doing on our port beam?"
"He's trying to flog us third party discs."
The Captain says, "We'll take two. ... How do you know its a Transkeian strike craft?"
"Its the one with a roof rack on."
The one chap was a Monty Python fan as well. An EW operator sitting next to me, playing with his theta scan and all his radars, and everything going 'bee dee beee dee bee' - little knobs and buttons everywhere. At about three o'clock in the morning he looks at me and asks, "Do you listen to Monty Python?"
I looked at him and I said, "Yes. How did you know?"
He says, "Ah! I see your type of humour." He says, "This is the time of the morning when people start to crack," and he simulates pulling out a hand grenade's pin, and he puts it on top of his computer, gets up out of his chair, walks over to the hatch, opens it, climbs out, closes it - both clips. We all sit there watching. He opens both clips, sticks his head in and goes 'Boom!' "You're all dead!" It was fantastic.
You try and make tea. Climb up the stairs, walk along the passage to the galley, open the galley door, make your tea, now you've got to come back with this massive jug of tea for the whole Ops. Room. Down the passage, climbing up the side of the wall, on the floor. Its incredible. Its great fun.
Warrant Broom: He just moans non-stop. Shit! I laugh at that guy. I go to him, and I say, "Warrant, what boat are we on today?" because they had stuffed us around so much we never knew where we were.
He says to me, "Oh bloody hell mumble mumble. I dunno. Just go ashore." Today I said to him; "What must I do today, Warrant?" We had pulled into harbour and my boat had gone out for two weeks. "What must I do?"
He says, "Mumble. Well, just keep a low profile, and at twelve o'clock just secure and go ashore." He says, "I'll cover up for you."
"Where will you be, Warrant?"
"Oh, I'll be ashore."
"How are you going to cover up for me."
"Oh! Mumble. Tomorrow morning." He's a very good chap.
Brian visited an outdoor clothing shop with me, and bought himself a para-military looking set of clothes which he took with him back to the Naval base. Probably with some mischievous intent, he wore these clothes around the base one, to be challenged by a nervous new sentry. He produced his Identity card, showing him to be 'Special Forces', which made the sentry even more nervous, and the sentry allowed him to pass without further inquiry.
PARATUS December 1990, p. 8 - 9: Strike Craft - Oswald Pirow
PARATUS January 1991, p. 38: Strike Craft - Frans Erasmus (Bit)
PARATUS June 1991, p. 4 - 5 Navy Role incl. Strike Craft
PARATUS March 1990, p. 34: The Marines - Bryan Cunningham - Last of the marines - - Would Bryan Cunningham have been one of these - was he a junior leader?
I remember in the middle of 1985 we were really locked in a war with Angola at that stage, denying all the time that we were actually involved in Angola to the United Nations, although we were involved in a big war there, and we were still involved with Mozambique as well. I had just been promoted to Leading Seaman, and I got the signal which said, in layman's terms; `You are to proceed to Walvis Bay where you are to load up some reconnaissance troops from Recce battalion and you are then to proceed to Angola where you are to await further instructions'. I knew that this was the first operational trip that I was going on. Of course all your mates know that you get these top secret signals, and they say to you; `What was that? Why did you go in and lock the radio room door? What was the signal?' You say; `I'm sorry. I can't tell you.' I would go to the captain, and the captain would say; `Yeoman, you know you're not allowed to tell anyone,' and I would to say; `Yes, sir. I known.' He'd say; `Okay, no, fine! Prepare yourself and tell everyone on the ship that everybody's on eight hours standby.' You would say to the guy on the brow of the ship who announces things over microphones, and he says; "Please note, crew, everybody is on eight hours stand by as of today." That basically means that you're not allowed to leave a 25 km radius of the Durban harbour, and if you do, you have to leave a telephone number where you can be contacted and you must make sure that you can get back within eight hours to go off on an operational trip. Nobody is ever informed of an operational trip. The captain knows about it, I know about it. I know when we're leaving. The Captain knows when we're leaving. We've been told you will set said at 18H00 on Tuesday evening, or whatever, and lets say this is Sunday. Nobody knows.
On the Monday the Captain would say to everybody; `Bring enough kit for a week. You are not allowed to tell your wives - if you're married. You just tell your wives; "I've been told to bring enough kit for a week. Quite possibly we're going on an operational trip. I'd don't know when I'll see you again.' Which in those days couldn't be a very nice thing for a wife to be told. My husband's off to Angola, I don't know if he's coming back alive, or if he's veer coming back, or when he'll be back. On the Monday at work the captain says; `All leave is cancelled. Everybody will stay on board tonight.' There's a frenzy and a frantic rushing around. Everybody rushes to the nearest telephone to phone the wife and say; `Listen. I've been told that leave's been cancelled. We're definitely going on a trip. We don't know when were leaving.' The next day the captain will say; `Right. No further contact with any relatives. We are setting sail tonight at 18H00. Quartermaster, make sure that you bring on enough provisions for at least two weeks. Load on everything that you need to load on. Make sure that guns bays are properly stocked. Make sure that the armoury is properly stocked.' There's this frantic rush the whole day to get everything in readiness for sailing. Then the time comes and you leave, and everyone is wondering; `Where are we going? What are we doing?' The captain has given no orders except to set sail, and he gives you a course of where you are off to. Then, of course, everybody knows that I know. I would constantly get these looks, and have people coming up to me and saying; `So. Can you tell us yet?' or `Is it Angola?' Is it Mozambique? What is it? Tell us.' `I can't!'
We set sail and we went off to Walvis Bay, which is a trip of about six days; from Durban it takes three days to Cape Town, and three days up to Walvis Bay. You arrive at Walvis Bay and most people knew that this was the kick-off point from where you would go on an operation up to Angola. We spent about a week up in Walvis Bay. Again, there was no news from anybody. Everybody was having a fat party, and every night they were going out and getting pissed out of their minds in Walvis Bay; `Well I might as well get drunk and have a good time because tomorrow I could be dead.'
Then another signal came through which again I got, which says; `You are to go to Langebaanweg where the Reconnaissance base is, and to collect six people from the reconnaissance unit.' You tell The captain, and he says; `Right. Everybody prepare to set sail tomorrow.' Everybody is confused; `Why the hell are heading back to Cape Town?' Personally, I think that the navy thought that there might be spies within the navy. There was Dieter Gerhardt that was a spy, but they thought that there might be people within the ship's company, so they would say to you; `Go to Walvis Bay'. Everybody would think; `Okay. We're going to Angola.' Then they would say; `Go back to Cape Town' or `Go back to Langebaanweg to fetch these people,' and everybody would think; `Now we're going back. Oh, well. We're probably not going on an operation.' They were trying to cover their tracks.
We went back to Langebaanweg and collected these blokes. We actually took on rails - like train rails on the back of the Strike Craft which were fitted with hydraulics, and these rails could be lowered down over the back of the Strike Craft into the sea, and we took on very powerful motorboats, which would ride up the ramp on to the rail, and then they would be hoisted up on to the ship. We took onboard six reconnaissance people; two of them were black Mozambicans, who spoke mostly Portuguese, who had been converted from Frelemo or one of those terrorist groups to the South African reconnaissance troops, and the other four were white people who were long haired hippy-looking types who basically didn't have any uniform markings whatsoever and carried Makarov pistols and AK47 rifles. One of them was identified and introduced as Captain Wynand Du Toit. We were onboard the SAS Jim Fouche, which was Boat 4, which I am sure the navy would recognise as having been the vehicle that transported Captain Wynand Du Toit. I was given the signal again to give to the captain that we were to go up to Angola and to proceed with Operation [Whatever]. I was given the details of the operation, I gave it to the captain, and Then we went to Saldanha. While we were there, every evening we would set sail and go 20 or 30 km out to sea where there was no other shipping around, and we would practise dropping off and picking up these reconnaissance troops in their motorboats. It was quite a risky business. I remember being the communications operator on the quarter-deck which was right at the back where these boats were lowered into the water. Basically what happened was that you would be steaming along and the captain would slow down from about 20 knots to about 15 knots, which is still quite a steady pace - 15 knots is about 35 km per hour, which is quite fast at sea. You would then lower the rails down into the water with the speedboats positioned on top of them, with the reconnaissance troops; three in each boat. Then there would be some or other mechanism; the boats were linked on to a winch on to the front of the motorboat, and the winch was started and they slowly rolled backwards until they hit the water, and they were being towed behind the ship and then the winch was released. One of the reconnaissance people would actually crawl forward over the front end of the motorboat and lean forward and unhook the hook that was attached to the ship. Then they would speed off into the darkness, and we wouldn't know what had happened to them. Then, ten or fifteen minutes later they would come along next to the side of the ship, and we would have to lower a strop over the side with this hook on it, so that it was slack, and then they would hook it on to the front of their motorboat, and slowly but surely let themselves go back to the back of the ship and fall in behind the ship until this line was taught, and then we would hydraulically pull them back on to these rails again and on to the back of the Strike Craft. We were practising this, obviously because this was what was going to happen when we arrived in Angola. They were going to be let off this way and sent in to do whatever they had had to do. Once we had done the training, and we got the orders to sail for Angola. We sailed, and all markings were removed from the ship. The name of the ship was removed. Any South African flags were removed, any navy ensigns were removed. All rank was removed from all officers, all NCOs. Most people were told; `If you have any civilian clothing on board, wear your jeans and tackies and your T-shirt. Don't wear any navy uniform whatsoever.'
When we got up to where we were supposed to be, which is pretty near up to the Tropic of Capricorn. It was very hot up there. I remember them saying that the sea water temperature was 26o C. The air temperature was 40oC. In the engine room, the guys who were working in there were working in 15 minute shifts because it was 55o in the engine room and they would pass out from the heat.
Again we had to wait until the signal was given, and one night we went in close to Lobito harbour. We were about 5 km off the harbour - in fact we could see the lights of the city. From there we were told to off-load the reconnaissance troops off the back of the ship. Then we set sail at full speed away from the harbour back into the open ocean. We were at sea state one, which is the emergency state, where everybody has to constantly stay at their posts. Usually you have different watches while you are at sea; for instance you have five communicators, you have three watches where two people do a watch, and another one where one person does a watch, so that you can at least have time off to go and sleep. When you are in combat state one you are constantly at your post, even if its for 48 or 64 or 72 hours, you sit there for however long it is. We were at combat state one. I remember lying on the floor in the operations room with my parka type jacket thing which you wore which was like wearing a duvet, lying on my back on the deck sleeping because you had to stay at your post but you could have a nap if you wanted to as long as someone else was manning the radio communications etc. Eventually at about 4 o'clock in the morning the captain said to us; `Okay, we're going in to pick them up.' I remember everybody had to keep dead quiet. There was no radio communications, we had to cut all radio communications, we had to had to cut just about everything. You could hear the engine; it was dead quiet. There wasn't a single noise, and you could hear the engine of the ship going `doef doef doef doef' as we went into Lobito harbour again. We stopped probably ten to fifteen km from the harbour, but you could still see the lights, and we sat and we waited, and we waited - and we waited!
Eventually the captain said to us; `Look, the cut off time is 5.30 am. If they're not here by 5.30 am, we're going.' We sat and we waited and we waited and we waited! Eventually, just before 5.30 am one of the boats came back, and there were two people on board. One was one of the black Mozambicans and another white bloke. They were in a terrible state, and they told us that there had been an ambush, and that we had to get out of there as fast as possible. The captain turned the ship round and he said; `Full speed ahead.' The guys were pretty upset and pretty messed up, and one of them had been shot. He had a flesh wound. It wasn't anything serious. They basically said; `Lets get the hell out of here because the guys are after us!' They didn't know whether they had been followed or whatever. The captain turned the ship around and we sped out of there at full speed, but as we were leaving, and this is the clearest thing in my memory, the sun was busy coming up, it was really early in the morning, 5.30 or quarter to six. The sun was starting to rise over the ocean in an orange glow, and behind us, on the land we saw a huge mushroom of flame. Then we heard this dull thud; `Gwa-doof!' and we saw another mushroom of flame, and heard another `Gwa-doof!' To me that was incredible because I'd never seen any sort of action whatsoever, and I knew that they had blown up something, which was obviously what their mission had been. We only heard afterwards that there was an oil tanker depot there where they had stored all the oil for petrol and petroleum or whatever. They had gone in to blow up this oil tanker depot. They had blown up two of the oil tanks, but while they were laying the charges or whatever, they had been discovered; some of them had been caught, some of them had been shot.
We left without any incident. We were at combat state one almost all the way back to Walvis Bay. We were constantly in fear of the fact that the Angolans had equivalent vessels to our Strike Craft that had equivalent technology on board in warfare and weapons, but they obviously didn't have the equivalent know-how and man-power, so they never followed us. We know for a fact that they had Mig fighters, and we never saw any and never heard any, and we never picked any up on radar. Obviously they had thought that it was a guerrilla band of people, and because our blokes weren't wearing South African insignia, and were using Russian weapons, it must have taken them a couple of days to realise that these were South Africans. By that time we were back in Walvis Bay, and nobody knew anything about it. It was a very carefully constructed operation and plan. For my part in the operation when our friend was captured, I received the `Pro Patria' medal.
I went on a couple of other operations after that. One was to Mozambique; one where we were sitting in Maputo harbour when they had the Nkomati accord, and we were actually fired upon, which was quite a shit feeling. Basically Maputo harbour had nothing except a machine gun post, with an old browning machine gun at the harbour entrance, and the bloke who was sitting in the machine gun nest with his friends or whatever decided that he was bored and that he was going to have target practice. He didn't know that we were sitting just off the harbour, just a couple of kilometres away. The guy just fired randomly into the air, and we heard thud thud thud thud! on the side of the ship. He had actually hit us, but at a range that was totally ineffective. The captain, of course, had a hernia; `Turn the bloody ship around and full speed ahead. Get out of here.' Of course we all thought it was the end! We thought that we were being hit by some other major vessel that was attacking us, meanwhile it was just this poepall probably having target practise. Afterwards, when we tried to find out what had happened, the Captain found out that they had one machine gun post on the harbour wall. Obviously it was just one of them having target practise. Nobody followed us. Nobody got hold of us. I was on the strike craft that was hit by some stray bullets in Maputo harbour.
The only special forces thing that we were involved with was because we were regularly involved with transporting reconnaissance troops up to the border. We were the most active and the most operative section of the navy. Often the replenishment ships like the SAS Tafelberg would go up, or a submarine would also be in the area. The submarines could get information for us without actually being noticed on the ocean. Once or twice we had to RAS - replenish at sea with the submarine, where they would send up a line for fuel if they had more fuel than we did, or we would send them a line and we could pass fresh water over to them or anything like that. Often when we were on operations up north there were submarines up that way as well.
Operations all went smoothly and nothing ever really went wrong apart from where Du Toit was captured, but he wasn't navy. He had nothing to do with the navy as such. The strike craft were certainly shot up, but mostly in harbour by their own crew. Often we would have a new seaman who had just come on board, and all the seamen that were on duty on the brow had to have a loaded uzi machine gun. They were supposed to have been taught how to use the thing. One bloke at one time cocked the thing, and fired it into the ship, and shot a couple of holes in the hull of the ship, because he didn't know what he was doing basically. Another time one of the seamen dropped a loaded shell in one of the gun bays, which exploded and killed him and another person inside the gun bay. On operations, nothing ever went wrong really, that I know of.
[Keeping secrets:] It was quite a thing because, especially if you come from a quiet little town, and you haven't really been subjected to any sort of stressful situation in my life whatsoever, and then suddenly you're put in a situation where you are constantly in `Combat State One'; you can't leave your post, you don't have sleep for days on end; go there, loose a couple of people, see these things exploding, and hare-tail it out of there; it definitely does Afterwards, you would like to talk to someone about it, but you can't. I've kept it in for years and years and years. I told Kathleen about it, I told one of two people about it at a braai a couple of years ago, but only after the whole `apartheid regime' was being dismantled. Its a case of if you had gone against the official secrets act ten years ago and told someone about it, you would have been thrown in jail. At the age of twenty one or twenty two, that's the furthest thing from your mind.
We were debriefed after ops., but we were basically just told that were to keep our mouths shut, and not to tell anyone, even family members. You weren't allowed to say where you had been and what you had done, who you'd seen, who you'd lost, who you'd picked up, whatever. Our families didn't know what we were doing. We'd been to sea, but we'd been to see for three weeks. Who knows where we were. Nobody knew that you were in Angola or in Maputo or wherever.
We went quite far up the coast. I remember we went up as far as the base of Egypt on time. We travelled around all over, but we weren't allowed to go in anywhere. We could see Africa from the sea, but we couldn't land at any harbour. We weren't welcome anywhere. I remember being off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania and quite a few different places, but we never ever went ashore. We could see the land, but we couldn't go ashore, which was quite frustrating because we were going up past Mozambique, past Tanzania, up near the equator, and we suddenly came across a couple of little islands which looked just like the little desert islands that you see the little drawings of - literally there was one that was no more than about a hundred square metres of white sand with a palm tree in the middle of it. It was incredible. `Wow! Check at that. Its a real little desert island!' The shoreline was like that too, it was absolutely white, and with palm trees. It was beautiful. You thought; `Wow! I'd love to go ashore there and see what it is all about, but you couldn't.
Something that we used to do that was quite interesting was, whenever we turfed our rubbish away on the ship, we would use hessian bags that were weighted down with weights. They had the proper weights that they use for barbells, and they would put two 5 kg weights into the hessian bag, and then all the rubbish from the whole week would be emptied in there, and it would be closed up at the top with a chain, and locked with a padlock, and thrown over the side because coke cans made in the Transvaal, anything that was made in South Africa would be traced back to South Africa, and we wanted nobody to know that we had been in the waters there. They did that which was quite interesting to me.
[What if white people had been seen onboard the strike craft when you were travelling anonymously?] They would see a mixture. That might have been why we had so many coloured and Indian people working on the ship. Out of fifty, there would be about twenty white people, and about 15 and 15. A lot of the junior seamen were coloured and Indian.
ROUTINE SHIPBOARD LIFE
We did drills for different combat states. There was a drill for combat state one, two three four and five. Five was the most relaxed, just cruising. Four was some form of possible enemy presence on the radar or something like that. You had a certain alertness state. Three was slightly more; you were on for four hours and off for eight hours. Combat state two had four-hour watches; four hours off and four hours on. `Combat State One' was were you were all awake and everybody was at their combat positions. Then there were no watches whatsoever.
We would also have regular fire drills. You could be in the middle of the ocean in Sea State Five, which is basically a swell of twenty foot, or something, and you would be bouncing around all over the place, and suddenly you would hear over the intercom; `Fire! Fire! Fire in the forward mess!' and everybody had their specific station; one person knew that he had to put on the fire fighting suit, another person would attach a rope to him and hold the rope, another person would be doing the actual carrying of the carbon dioxide tank - which we used to use because of all the electrical fires etc. Everyone had their station. I was on communications on the bridge; someone else was on communications wherever the fire was, and he would relay information immediately to me, straight to the captain who was stranding right next to me, telling him what was happening and what they were doing to put out the fire. It was all pre-planned and everything was worked out according to a very set routine. You couldn't take chances; you were playing with 50 people's lives all the time.
Nobody carried small arms with them on the ship except the officers. We had an armoury where the small arms were locked up. If there was an emergency situation where we needed to draw small arms, everybody would be issued with them. If there was a situation where you might be boarded, or might have to go ashore on hostile territory. The rest 0of the time you relied on the ship's weaponry; there were two browning machine guns on the bridge, there were two bofors 20mm cannons. There was also the forward gun which was worked by a director; basically above where the captain sits on the bridge, there was a chair-unit that two people could climb into. It had a perspex screen all the way around, and they look into binocular-like things, and they can see what the gun can `see'. They can see the target, and they have controls; whatever way they turn the controls, the whole turret moves, and the whole gun turret moves as well, so wherever they are looking, the gun is moving with them. Then of course we had eight missiles, four missile boxes on each side. The missiles had a range of 32 km , although they hardly ever worked. We often had firings of the missiles; every time they fired a missile it cost about a million rand; most of them were `shurries' (That's almost like the sound that a cracker makes when its supposed to explode, and instead is goes `shurrr!'). They would either take off in completely the wrong direction and have to be blown up in the air, or they took off, hit the target, and never exploded. They were real duds. We had a lot of problems with testing the weaponry like that. The guns worked very well - we tested those often. We had an aft gun as well, and they both worked with the director, exactly the same.
[Shore leave:] If you were off duty and there was nothing to do and no-where to go, a group of the boys would go out together and get drunk, and come back together falling all over the place, and then fall down and go to sleep in the ship, ready for the next day. If you were on duty, you stayed onboard and fished, which was usually quite a lot of fun. Fishing over the side of the ship into the sea. We always enjoyed the phosphorous in the water at Walvis Bay. There was such a huge amount of phosphorous that you could come back from a night out and stand and have a leak into the sea, and where it landed, the water displayed in all these different colours because of the phosphorous. One of the favourite things of the navy guys was you had an onboard television system, that was like cable TV basically, between all the different messes. There was a video machine installed in the upper mid section of the ship near the radio room, and certain members of the crew, especially during the `apartheid era', when it was all banned, had blue movies which they took with, and the moment that the ship was out at sea, they would take some normal videos with them as well, and they would say; `A video will now be shown,' when we were all off duty, and you would be lying in your bunk, with a television set up there in front of you, and this blue movie would come on, or sometimes it was a normal movie. If you'd been at sea for three weeks and you had about ten movies with you, you ended up seeing the same movie about five times. It got a bit boring eventually because once you were about 300 km out at sea, you couldn't pick up SABC TV anymore. It was mostly the officers who supplied the blue movies.
Your average seaman who manned the Strike Craft were national servicemen who weren't at al interested. Your top positions on a strike craft were taken by permanent force personnel. Obviously all of the officers and most of the top NCOs, and of a crew of fifty you had maybe twenty that were just seamen, that were just there to do the menial tasks that seamen do. They were all national service type people, who weren't interested, and didn't give a stuff about the navy. Things happened. Plates that were supposed to be washed were thrown over the side into the sea. Any task that was given to them that was a little bit too much; `Take that 6 gallon drum over there and chip all the paint off and repaint it.' The six gallon drum would somehow disappear and never be seen again. Nobody really volunteered to be on the strike craft. The people who did volunteer were the crazy few who wanted to be on ships and were proud [change of tape]…
[Living on top of each other:] Not many people cracked up because we had all been through the training. When you're ashore you spend most of your time on the ship as well, and you know what's going on. You've been trained to handle it. The time when you start cracking up is when you've been at sea for two weeks, and your fresh water supply is running low because you've only got one tank of fresh water on the back of the ship, and eventually they say; `No more showers. You can only use the water for brushing your teeth and drinking, and washing your face.' When that runs out, they have a desalination process that they use, but you can't drink the water. It tastes terrible. They keep the reserve tank of fresh water for drinking water only. You get dirty, your hair gets dirty, you can't wash your hair. Your fingernails get dirty, and you can't really get the dirt out of you. You've only got two or three sets of clothing with you; you're constantly living in the same clothes, so your clothes become dirty and smelly. Eventually you get so used to it that when you arrive ashore, after you've been at sea for three weeks, and they open the hatches, the people who have come to meet the ship all (screw their faces up at the smell) but you look at them thinking; `What the hell's wrong with you?' Everyone has lived together and you don't smell each other. The submarines are the worst because they are completely closed, whereas we still had fresh air coming in, although the strike craft is still pretty much sealed. You really only have fresh air coming in from the bridge at the top, which is an open bridge, but all the other hatches are closed.
It does get difficult. There are tempers that flare up, but you've got to sort it out because you can't stay enemies with people that you've got to stay at sea with for three weeks at a time. I never had a problem because I spent all my time being sea-sick. I never had a problem with anybody. They could moan at me, and shout at me and scream at me, and I would just get sick. When we went to sea for three weeks once I lost 7 kgs in weight. All I could do was drink water and eat ice-cream. There were things that you knew you could eat, that you knew wouldn't taste too bad coming up the other way. They had excellent food; they would give you steaks and eggs, but you couldn't eat it if you were seasick. It was terrible.
There weren't too many clashes. I don't remember too many. There were very very few racial clashes. If anything, it was Indians fighting with Indians, or white guys fighting with white guys. We all slept in the same cabins; you might have an Indian guy above you or below you, or a coloured. There were no problems there.
We were there in the early 1980's and at that time there was still a great deal of racial tension in South Africa. On the ships we were very integrated. We never had black people on the ships; we only had Indians and coloured and whites. We all got along famously; there was no difference between us whatsoever. We used to go to the Indian people's homes and to their parties, eat their curry and they would come around to ours for a braai or whatever. We socialised together and there was no problem whatsoever.
The crews generally stuck together most of the time. When you were ashore, you know each other and chatted to each other, and got to know each other. It was a pretty close community. The crew wouldn't often change. The ship that I was on the longest, I was probably on it for a year and a half, and in about a year and a half there were only about seven or eight crew members that changed. Some bloke got promoted and got a land post, and some other junior bloke came and replaced him, and one or two national servicemen left, and one or two national servicemen came onboard. Generally everybody knew everybody. You knew what to avoid; who you could be friendly with and who you couldn't be friendly with. You just had to get along because you had nowhere to go to get away from it.
Discipline wise, as long as you did your job properly, you would get left alone. The captain was like God, you hardly ever saw him. He spent most of his time in his cabin. When he did appear briefly on the bridge or in the ops. Room, it was only at an important moment, or when he was needed. I have no idea what he did with his time. A lot of the officers spent a lot of their time in the ward room - they had a very small wardroom, which was about three metres by two metres. All they had in it was a table, with a bunk against the wall, and a bunk against the other wall, and then a little passageway to where there was a little kettle. They would sit and play cards there all day, and the officer of the watch would be on watch, and he would be reporting to the captain., The captain would either be in the wardroom or he would be in his office. We had different microphone systems on the ship. The one was a general PA, and another was a cord that reached just the ops room, and there was another cord that reached just the captain's cabin, and you could reach the wardroom, the galley etc. The officer of the watch would be up there and he would grab the one for where the captain was, and say; `Captain, this is the officer of the watch. We have identified the skunk on starboard five zero as a fishing vessel.' Hew constantly kept the captain updated about what was happening in the sea around us. They called an unidentified vessel a `skunk'. You started with `Alpha', and you went right through the alphabet, so at some time you might have skunks Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, a whole lot all at once and you plotted them all on a map of the sea all around your ship, and once they ad been identified, they were no longer `skunk', - I can't remember what they called them. They had another name for them, a more friendly name than a `skunk'!
Generally on the strike craft most of the captains were either a lieutenant commander or a commander; there weren't many that were captains. Usually, once they had been promoted to captain, they would become the captain of the whole base of S.A.S. Scorpion. In fact, what was quite interesting was, when I was on strike craft, the first ship that I was on, I think it was the Cobie Coetzee, the captain of my ship was Commander Simpson-Anderson. He later became Captain Simpson-Anderson, and was in charge of the whole SAS Scorpion Naval Base, thereafter he became Commodore Simpson-Anderson, and was posted to some big shot head office in Pretoria, and I don't know currently, but in 1995, he was the Chief of the Navy. He was Admiral Simpson- Anderson.
There were one or two junior officers who were a bit of a pain in the butt, and gave some of the more senior NCO's a hard time. The NCOs thought that they had been in the navy long enough, and they knew more than the young officer, and the young officer would come along and say; `Stuff you. I'm an officer. You're supposed to respect me.' So he would try and give the NCO a hard time, and in return the NCO would go around behind his back telling everyone what an arsehole he was.
There was one chap who was a sub-lieutenant when I was on the ship. I remember his first name was Brian, because I used to call him by his first name. He used to say to me; `Don't call me "Lieutenant". Just call me Brian.' We were about the same age; he was also about twenty-two. Interestingly enough a navy strike craft docked at the harbour here in Post Elizabeth in 1996 and they came to play golf at our club. Lieutenant Commander Brian was the captain of the ship. I can't remember his surname. I said; `Howzit, Brian.' He said; `Gees, BRIAN. I haven't seen you for a long time.'
What I do recall that was quite interesting was when I was at Strike Craft in Durban, having played golf for the navy, I was selected along with another chap who is now a professional player on the circuit, Paul Camps, who is actually a friend of mine, and he's a professional golfer that you see on TV regularly, to go and represent the Navy at the South African Defence Force Championships in Cape Town. So we were told to go and organise ourselves on to an Air Force Flossie, and this we did. We got all our kit together and everything whenever it was, a week later, and got into our cars and drove to the Air Force base in Durban, arrived and were told that unfortunately they had only booked two seats on the plane, and there were four of us going. It was not decided according the fact that I was a four handicap golfer, Paul Camps was a two handicap golfer, Lieutenant Whoever-he-was was a ten handicap golfer, and Lieutenant-Commander Whoever-he-was was a fifteen handicap golfer; lets send Caps and Wingfield to represent the Navy. Oh, no! Officers have to go on the plane and you must find your own way to Cape Town. The result was that we never went, and we didn't play in the South African Defence Force championships. That sort of mentality was the kind of thing that made people leave Permanent Force.
LEAVING THE NAVY
I had wanted to get out from the beginning. I knew that I was there for four years. I was one of what they called the `four-year wonder boys'. I knew that after four years I was getting out. As soon as I got to the stage where I had six months to go I was counting down the days, because I knew that I was going to get out. You have to take a month's discharge leave a month before you leave, so I took a month's discharge leave in November 1985, and went back to work at the beginning of December. I worked the whole of December and finished up on about the 28th of December 1985.
I was called into the base captain's office and he wanted to know why I was leaving, and I told him; `Basically because I'm a chronic sea-sickness case. I have asked to be posted back to the land and nobody wants to post me back to the land. Everybody wants me on the ships.' I said; `As far as I can see there's no future for me with a career in the navy, because I'm never going to enjoy being on ships. If I do get onto the land, its only going to be for a few months and then they're going to send me back to ships again, so I've decided that's it! I'm not interested in a career in the navy. I'm out.' They didn't argue with it.
The technical term of `buying yourself out' is a term still used in the navy, but basically the amount that you have to pay to get out if so minimal that its actually silly. In the old days it was used to actually dissuade people from leaving the navy, where, for instance, you would earn £10 per month as a seaman, you would have to pay £50 to buy yourself out. In my case, when I left the navy, I was earning in the region of R 2000 a month, and I had to pay R 350 to buy myself out. It wasn't really anything special.
You had to go and fill in a discharge leave form saying that you were intending to leave the navy at the end of the four years. They then gave you a date which they said would be your date of discharge, which in my case was about the 28th of December. You go on discharge leave after you've filled in the form, and then you have to serve your last month. Then, on your last day, all you do is, like you normally check in to a place, you check out. You go to each place and get them to sign that you don't owe them any money or any bedding or any clothing or whatever, and then you walk this very nostalgic walk to your car that's packed full of everything. You don't look back. You get in your car and you drive out, and you don't look back. As you go through the gate you shed a tear, and you think; `Four years of my life wasted!' That's how I felt then.
I don't see it was a waste now. I see it as a very good experience, now! But I must admit that if I had the choice to go through it again, I wouldn't because the navy did effect me in a detrimental way to an extent. For at least five years after I left the navy I couldn't sleep properly because I sued to think that I was waking up to go on watch in the middle of the night. I had dreams about blowing up places; just things that effected you. Things that did happen that you remembered and things that didn't happen that could have happened, situations that you could have been in; you wake up in the middle of the night and your ship is on fire, and you're burning to death or something, things like that. I didn't have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; nothing quite as bad as that, but it did effect me. I remember for quite along time afterwards also being very lost and without direction in my life. I'm just so glad to be out of there, that I used to piss it up every night and have a fat party, and I didn't know where I was really going. That was in about the next two years after leaving the navy.
I was very lucky. When I klaared out, I was given the instruction that I had to go and do camps at SAS Scorpion in Durban. On my arrival in Port Elizabeth, I had been working for about two months when I received a notification from SAS Scorpion saying; `You are liable for twelve camps. We will shortly be sending you a call up again for you to come and do camps,' which I thought was basically just sour grapes. Knowing that I had left PF they wanted to call me up within the first six months of me having left. I first phoned SAS Donkin, the navy base, and I said to them; `I am area bound. I run my own business. I don't have anybody that I can employ in my place. What am I to do about camps?" They said; `Oh, well, you can come and do your camps here at SAS Donkin.' `What are you saying to me? I have to come there for two or three weeks, and then who runs my business?' `Oh, well, you can't do that. Then you must apply to the PE Commando to be declared `area bound' and become a member of the PE Commando, which I then did.
Luckily for me, the 2C at PE Commando was one of my golf members. He was a major or something or other. He said; `Oh, fine. We can do this.' He got me on to the computer, and the next thing I knew I got a letter from the navy saying `You are now the property of the PE Commando. We want nothing further to do with you. You are now liable for twelve twenty-one day camps with the PE Commando.' The PE Commando then wrote me a letter saying `We will call you up for seven one-day camps throughout the year.' In other words; `Seven times a year you must come on a day that we will tell you when, usually a Monday, though to do road blocks and whatever. I got called up for my first one day camp. I went down to PE Commando. I had navy uniform, and nothing else. The guy said to me; `What are you doing here?' I told him, and he told me; `You are now a corporal. We have you down as Corporal Wingfield. You have to get a uniform. You can't walk around in those blue things.' I was issued with an army uniform and an army beret and army badge and all sorts of things, corporal's stripes and brown boots, the works! Then they said to me; `Okay, fine. Now you can go home.'
I said; `Oh, I thought I was here for a camp for the day?'
They said; `That was your camp. You got all the stuff. You can go. Goodbye.' So off I went home.
The next thing I knew was when we had the riots here in Port Elizabeth in 1988 in the northern areas. The people were rioting and burning tires in the road. I can't remember what it was all about. Basically, they called up all the blokes in PE Commando to come and do a seven-day camp. I hadn't been touched at all until then. I never did anything. I went down to the Commando in my uniform, the whole works, and I sat around and sat around. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. There was a group of a couple of hundred guys just sitting around. Then I saw this bloke from the club who was the 2IC, and I went up to him and said; `Major, could you tell me what's going on?'
He said to me; `What are you doing here?'
I said to him; `Well, I've been called up.'
`But what about your golf shop?'
`What do you mean?'
`This is a seven-day camp. We've got to go into the northern areas and sort out the riots and stuff.'
I said; `I don't know. I've just been called up.'
He said; `Okay. Come with me. He took me into the building and he sat down in front of the computer, and he tick-ticked around on the computer, and he brought up my name. He said; `Who phoned you?'
I said; `I don't know. Somebody just phoned me, and asked if it was me, asked my force number. I gave him my force number, and he told me; "Okay. You are called up."'
He said; `Fine. Don't worry about it.' Next to my name there was a thing saying `contacted'. He deleted this, and added; `Unable to contact. Out of town.' He said; `Goodbye!' I walked out, and I got in my car, and I went home.
About two years after that, in about 1990 or 1991, everything was starting to be disbanded; national service, the whole works. I got a letter from them saying; `You are a member of the PE Commando. We are just sending you this friendly letter to ask you whether you would still like to be a member of the PE Commando, or be put on to the reserve list?'
I wrote back and said; `Of course I'd like to be put on to the bloody reserve list.' I haven't heard a word from them since. In the last five or six years I've heard nothing from them. I've thrown my uniform away.
If I had been a national serviceman called up to the navy, I wouldn't have had as many choices as I had about what direction I wanted to follow. Basically, the national service guys - 85% of the national service intake went straight into the marines; there had no choice about where they wanted to go, and only a mere 15% would end up on the ships. None of them were basically based on the land bases. The permanent force guys were given preference over the land bases, especially those with families and children etc. Permanent Force young unattached guys were the ones who went to ships, and of course there were certain permanent force people who had made a career out of becoming like an executive officer or whatever, and he's have to be on a ship. You didn't have much say if you were national service.
I was in the navy in Simonstown when he was arrested. I remember the big to-do about it all, and I remember them lowering the commodore's flag, because any naval base that had a commodore, which is quite high up, a commodore is equal to a brigadier, and base that has a commodore or an admiral flies a commodore or admiral's flag. I remember that they always used to fly the commodore's flag, and I always used to ask people; `Why do they fly that?' They used to tell me; `Because we have a commodore here. Commodore Gerhardt whose in charge of the dry-dock.' I remember on the day that he was arrested, the flag was hauled down. It was just something that sticks in your memory, because you know that there is those commodore, and the you hear that scandal, and you walk past and you wonder whether his flag is still flying, and you look and the flag's gone, and you think; `They've obviously taken it down because he's been arrested.'
I think that the Navy's suspicions escalated after catching Dieter Gerhardt and they were suspicious of everybody after that. That's why I was also surprised that I got the top secret clearance so quickly. I never applied for it. We had the general - everybody applied for a confidential clearance when you started out, and that was the only such form that I had ever filled in. They checked out my form for the `confidential' thing, decided that it was good enough to be put in to go to `top secret' and then they must have checked me out again after that because I did find out from one of my ex-girlfriends, Nancy Fryer that someone from National Intelligence had come to see her, and ask her all sorts of questions about me, but she was the only one whose name I'd ever written down on the form who told me that she had been contacted by them.
ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM BRIAN WINGFIELD'S 1997 INTERVIEW
BRIAN, these were notes that I made after a conversation later on, after I had switched my tape recorder off, so are reconstructed from memory.
Langebaan was about 30 km south of Saldanha, and this was where the Recces had one of their training bases. They had one of those pop-up target ranges there, where you had about ten minutes to walk through the course, and shoot at about 60 pop up targets. Because we were in the navy we were given a chance on it.
Walvis Bay had Dune 17 which was an extremely big sand dune. We used to climb up it and slide down it again. Walvis Bay was a small town; it had about one of everything, except that it had about 17 pubs.
When the boats came back in the prostitutes would line up to welcome the sailors back. Many of them were really ugly, and some of them had `passion gaps'. They would point to the different sailors and say things like; `Ek wil daai man he!' After a couple of weeks at sea, some of them started to look quite attractive.
We needed a certain amount of time at sea and on operational status in order to draw `sea pay'. Every now and then the Captain would decide to take us on a trip from Durban up to Richards Bay. We would have a braai when we got there, stay over night and then have a slow trip back the next day.
When you joined a new ship, or if people found out it was your birthday, you would get thrown overboard in everything that you were wearing. You used to keep very quiet if it was your birthday. Because of my line of work, I was constantly moving around the different strike craft and I got sick of being thrown overboard.
The frigate had hammocks, which were very comfortable, but they were very difficult to get out of. I kept falling out of mine.
The Strike Craft would bounce, whereas the frigate would move in a wave. There was a long walkway down the length of the frigate, and when you were leaning into the wave at your end of the frigate, you could see someone in front of you leaning into the wave in a different direction, the frigate was so long.
`In 1993 a couple of Strike Craft came to Port Elizabeth and had an open day. I went to go and have a look, and I saw three of the crew that I used to work with were still there.'
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