South African Marines (1988-90)

Bryan had somewhat gone `off the rails' in his family life and his education. Somewhat unsure of what direction to follow, he received a July call up in 1988 to go to the Marines, which seemed as good a plan as any.

I went off to do national service in August 1988. Not a shit am I going in the marines! I'm going to be blue navy. I volunteered for it. I had dreams of a nice white uniform, and rank, and shit like that. They didn't tell me you had to have a matric before you could get your rank. I'm not going to go there and sweat it out for an extra six months just to get some little patch on your shoulder. The lance corporal is the star, which is an AB, then your corporal is your leading seaman, which is an anchor, and your sergeant is our Petty Officer, which is a crossed anchor, and your sergeant major is our Chief Petty Officer, which is a lion, and then Warrants are the same.

I got there and some little wog came up to me and tried to tell us that we wouldn't be able to make it. Two of us volunteered. Worst decision I've ever made.

We had some real idiots with us. You do an ambush. You sit there with your rifle cocked and everything. You've got your mortars back there, and you've got your LMGs and everything. All your fingers are next to your triggers. You're just waiting for a flare or for somebody to fire a shot. All our marine rank is inspecting the killing ground. One chap falls asleep. Shot! These guys hit the deck. Luckily nobody else fired. We clicked; `Hey. Something's wrong. Our rank's out there.' (I always thought they were the enemy?)

A couple of us did drivers, and then we suddenly had to fit into the rest of the bush company and try and catch up. We were a bit clueless. While your guys are doing that, you've got your other guys in a `V', and they go off into a straight line, and as they are running down, `staak vuur, staak vuur, staak vuur' I'm a bit deaf when there's a rifle going off right next to my ear, and I didn't hear the command in Afrikaans to go into a straight bloody line. Everybody else moves into a straight line, and I'm still about twenty metres behind everybody else, still firing away, trying to finish off my magazines. Eventually I looked in my sights, and saw `Aw, shit. There's my section leader.' I hadn't clicked to stop firing. These guys were `Woah woah!' The Chief jumping on my back. Then I went into a straight line. Nobody had told me `Don't fire at rocks.' There were these cairns of rocks. I was shooting at them. Everyone else is on the ground. The more ammunition you get rid of, the less you have to carry back.

I felt sorry for our guys who had to do the 12.7 km with brownings. Do you know how heavy that ammunition is? The rifles are that long! There's four guys, but the thing disassembles into four parts. Each part weighs about 25 kgs. The guys were actually quite fit. They were out at the shooting range, and it was just over 5 k's back. The instructors says that they don't get an `op vok' if they beat him back to base. Now he's in his shorts and a T-shirt and takkies, and these guys are in full kit with this 12,7 browning. They beat him by about 500 m. These guys must have kicked down.

I rode over my rifle with a buffel. I got a reputation for my driving too. I went there, and we had to park our buffels in a line. Some `beaut' had parked his behind, so I decided to be a good Samaritan and I put my rifle down and jumped into the buffel, did a big turn and parked it. I got out and I couldn't find the damn thing. I picked it up. The bi-pod had broken off, all the plastic was crushed. The barrel looks straight-ish. It had no butt left.

I went in to the tent; `Chief, sorry, I'm having a problem with my rifle.'

`Get out of here, Curtis. Go and clean it!' I never got charged for driving over my rifle. I only found out quite a while later. They can't actually charge you for negligence when you are under training. You're under training! You don't know any better. You're just a troop.

In Walvis Bay we had to drive food out to some platoons patrolling along the beech - like you're going to have some massive invasion in Walvis Bay. We had to drive food out to them in hot boxes. `Aw, please, chief, can't we borrow your bakkie?' It was his pride and joy, his four wheel drive Nissan. It gets washed every morning. `Don't worry, chief, we'll take care of it.' Now you've got to go all the way up, because you've got a big bay in Walvis Bay, and they will be camping by the lighthouse. I don't know why you don't just take it across in a boat. We went all the way up to the end of Walvis Bay, across, and drive back along the beech. We're driving along there, we've let air out of the tires, and we've four wheeled diff locked, the works! We're driving along slowly, following the footprints. The twits walked across solid looking pan. There's a sand-dune, there's sea and there's flat pad. Schluup! Down to the chassy. Dig dig dig! Whoom! Schluup! Eventually sand was seeping in the doors. We were stuck out there for twenty five hours. They came back to find us. They took the food, and left. This is the navy for you.

First they sent out another four wheel drive landrover. They got lost, ran out of petrol, burned out the clutch - and got stuck, all at the same time! We got a knock on the door at the middle of the night. We shat ourselves.

It was the ensign that was with the poor guys. `Got a cigarette?' No, just pop over there to the light house. A light house in the desert looks like just over there, but its a good many k's. Next morning they sent out one of those big eight wheel drive MAN trucks to find us. That got stuck about three times before it got to us. They parked in the sand dunes, and with a long rope, pulled us up. The poor chief's bakkie was rusted to shit. He wasn't impressed. [After one night?] No, it took us a couple of days to get around to cleaning it! You get one of those little spray things that just shoot water out. We found R 140 lying on the beech, in the middle of no-where. We were driving along. Woah!

At Walvis Bay we grabbed one of our ABs, because they are all guys who basically dropped off JLs, and they get made into section leaders. We put them in front if we have dealings with the army. They have a star, and the army see a star and they salute it. We used to drive into the army base and fill up with petrol and drive straight back out. Until we got there, you used to be able to sign out a vehicle for the weekend until we put about 400 k's on one. [Where did you go to?] You would be surprised, just driving around South West. Then they tried to limit the k's, so we used to unplug the speedometer, and fill it up with army petrol. We used to get there at 3 o'clock in the morning and wake the guy up. `I've come to fill up my car.' They stopped it for a while when I got stuck on the beach and I had to have a police casspir come and tow me out. I often got stuck in the beach.

Everyone was pulling back from the border, and all that shit was going into the nearest part of South Africa, which was Walvis Bay. Its still South Africa now, it just happens to be half way up the South West coast. It was the easiest place for them to all pull back to. I think that must be the most heavily armed piece of territory in the world. Dune 7. That is the biggest sand dune in Walvis Bay. 2 SAI had about the same amount of rank as we had troops up there, in the marines. The marines got together with the police riot squad, because we shared bases, and they used to set up border posts. We used to go out, and there was always a pub fight between the police and the marines versus their rank. That's how many of them there were up there.

We went to watch UNTAG trying to play baseball against one of the South West teams - it was the Canadians, I think. They kicked ass! They came and played baseball, not like the South West locals. We used to get extra passes for swiping UNTAG number plates. By the time we were leaving there, it was getting rather hard to find a UNTAG vehicle with a number plate. We went to Swakopmund, and there were no UNTAG vehicles with number plates on anymore. [Why?] Souvenirs. The rank wanted souvenirs. The troopies used to go and swipe an UNTAG number plate, and have another weekend off. That weekend you make damn sure you find another UNTAG number plate, so you've got the next weekend off.

I was AWOL on my nineteenth birthday, Bryan gets a telephone call; `Hey, you're AWOL. The MPs are coming to look for you.' The next day I was trying to get back very quickly. I had a friend who was an Ensign, and he phoned through and said `Look, they're going to send a signal off.' Somehow he arranged that it didn't get sent, and apparently they can't actually send you to DB for being AWOL unless the signal is actually sent off to the MPs, or there is some little complication like that. When I got back they were hacked off, but they couldn't actually do anything to me. There were about six of us who had gone AWOL at the same time, and none of the signals had gone off. They couldn't sent us to DB.

I got back and they had a whole lot of these silver telephone boxes. You're meant to brasso them, but he said `Clean them'. I wormed my way out of this. I got to do some. I used to drag my typewriter around with me, so I did some typing for some of the officers, and all of a sudden this Lieutenant burst in on me, all white! `I can't handle it. Do you see what those guys are doing?' We walked outside. One guy was holding the box open, and the other guy is hosing it down with the fire hose. `But, Lieutenant, we're cleaning them.'

So then they said; `brasso them.' We got a whole lot of deodorant cans - you know you put brasso on and you burn it - whoosh! - and steel wool. The things shone! Then they confined me. We were allowed to go out on pass after hours because we were waiting to go on another training course. I was confined to base. Bryan goes out - you know how big Cape Town is? Bryan happens to run into our rank, at the same place that they are having a party. `Aren't you supposed to be confined to base?' `Hee-heeh!' `Base? I thought you said "Cape Town"?' [`I'm based in Cape Town'?] `Hey, where I come from, this is close to base!'

That was the first time I was out at Touws River. The third time at Touws River, but I was AWOL at Cape Town. I just saw these guys running back with grease all over them, shunting it with this huge pole looking thing of a browning.

This is all that I got from Bryan about his marines experiences. I think that he dropped out of school when he was in Standard 9, and had the unusual experience of returning to school - actually sitting in the back of a class room with a teacher walking around in the front - after his national service, and he matriculated. There are other better stories told by Bryan, and about him. When I last heard about him in 1997, he was working or travelling in Jordan. I haven't heard from him since, but I would enjoy it if he were to get in touch!

Published: 1 June 2002.

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