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Jan 22

Written by: The Ancient Armourer
2011/01/22 11:55 PM  RssIcon

The exact terminology of the Seventies I no longer remember, but the Infantry Basics was effectively about three months long. The first six weeks of this I have described in Part One. The next six weeks passed relatively quickly and uneventfully, except for the time my wax ear-plug popped just as I fired. I ascribe the tinnitus from which I suffer today to that single shot. Ironic, isn’t it; they wanted to G5 me because of the right eye, and yet it was with a damaged right ear that I came away, my vision intact. The hardest for me during this second period was Buddy PT, especially skaapdra, which isn’t really saying much for most guys. But it all did come to an end.
                I had survived the G1 training. Just. But I had survived. I was fitter and healthier than I had ever been, feeling really good. And my Afrikaans was already beautifully fluent. It was clear that I would never be great infanteris, that my left-eyed shooting was probably more of a danger to the SADF than it would ever be to the enemy. That was probably why they decided to put me on the small arms course. I would go to Poesplaas for three months to train as an Armourer, return to Ladysmith for advanced infantry training, then go with 5 SAI to the Border for 3 months. I was not unhappy about this. Even though I was a lousy shot, I loved my R1 as a piece of precision equipment, and the thought of working with weapons while remaining in an infantry unit was a great prospect. I was hoping to do the LMG course when I returned. If only I had known…

 
So, with four others also going on the tiffies course, I pack up and climb on the Bedford for the ride to Ladysmith station. Also with us are a group of G4s who are going up to an ADK unit on permanent transfer. The train journey is an overnight one, arriving next morning at Pretoria station. We climb off and make our way to the main entrance. There, Bedfords from various units are waiting. I join the guys at the Bedford with the Poesplaas unit flash. But my name is not on the list! I hear it being shouted elsewhere, and go to see what is going on.
A Corporal from the ADK unit, 81 TSD, has me on his list, together with the G4s. Shock! I try to argue that there must be an administrative mistake, but to no avail. Eventually the Corporal fixes me with an angry glare and says, “Troep! Bly stil en klim in die fokken Bedford!” Back then one didn’t argue with a command like that, so I climb up, hoping to sort matters out at the other end.
81 TSD is a Technical Stores Depot, a unit full of ADK clerks and storemen. We drop our kit at the camp and are taken straight up to the depot. We are divided between Groups A-H. I am sent to A Group; as fate would have it, the small arms stores. The commander is a 2-pip Lieutenant. We are two new arrivals in A Group; I and a G4 called Wessels. Again, I try to state my case, but the Lieutenant is not particularly interested. He promises to “make enquiries”. He later turns out to be a decent fellow, but right now I just want to moer him.
I am beside myself with rage. I’m a G1, vir fok’s sake! I fought to stay in the army, I fought hard to become a G1. I’ve done the full infantry training, like every other G1. I’m supposed to be going back to 5 SAI, to be going to the fokken Border! How have I ended up amongst a bunch of triple S (sick, sorry and shit) G4s to issue rifle spares in a store?
So I become the one thing I have never wanted to be; a disobedient and troublesome soldier. I refuse to give up my green beret and badges. I’m a bokkop, not a stupid fokken G4 ADK! I’m a real soldier! For me, G1 is not just a medical classification, it’s a bloody achievement, one I’m massively proud of. I feel like I’ve been shafted. The fact that nothing comes of the Lieutenant’s “enquiries” only confirms this feeling. Even today I don’t understand (a) how I ended up at 81 TSD and (b) why I was not sent on to my correct destination, which was only about 5 Km up the road.
The G4s, on the other hand, are beside themselves with happiness. A relaxed unit. No more marching to the mess, which is next-door to the camp. No more mockery from G1s – except me, and here I’m the loser. Proper – if short – hair-cuts by a barber with scissors. Pack-out inspection once a week. I’m still consumed with fury. I keep my perfect infantry inspection below in the camp. I shift out the beds and kaste, do the layers of Dri-Brite, force the other two guys to walk on taxis, dust and clean the room myself every day. I go running and do PT with the LWT Tiffies, who are G1s and G2s, and who don’t seem to mind me joining in.
But up at the Depot I sit vas. I refuse to do issues. I find myself a spot between the stacks and study weapons spares manuals all day, with their beautiful exploded views. I carry out only the most immediate and direct of orders.They want me? They find me! I refuse to wear overalls and mosdop. I still have my green beret and bokkop. I growl and snap at anyone who comes near me. When they call me Weerman, I correct them to Skutter. As a result, I do extra wagdienste, the G4 ADK equivalent of opfok. The only thing that stops me from sinking into self-pity is my boiling anger, which overwhelms any self-pity I might otherwise feel. But at least, according to my lights, I have kept my dignity. I have not ceased to be the fit G1 I struggled so hard to become.
 
 
Eventually I am summoned in by the Lieutenant, told that I am useless to him, and that there remains only one thing he can do with me. I am to go across to Transito and to help Sammajeur Herbie Kerswill, whose main task is to inspect all incoming weapons. Perhaps he will manage to make something of me (!!!). I storm out of the hangar, on my way to Transito. I have just been sacked from a G4 Storeman's job!
In 81 TSD, there is a railway siding along the whole east side of the unit. A Group’s main hangar backs on to it. To its right a second hangar, the main Transito one, lies lengthwise, then a third parallel to A Group. In the space bounded by the three sits HQ, an old-fashioned square of offices with a garden in the middle. I stride around HQ, up the ramp and into the Transito weapons section, the front half of the third hangar. There, along with three black workers, stands an elderly tiffie WO2 wearing overalls. Elderly to me, at any rate – he was in fact in his early mid-fifties! I march up, stamp to attention before him and strek exaggeratedly. He is looking over a sheet of paper (on a clipboard!) with columns of numbers. He looks up calmly.
Skutter Vietri reporting for duty, Sammajoor!” He looks me up and down.
“Are you related to Anthony Vietri from Test the Team and Quavers and Queries?” Radio quiz pro­grammes in the Seventies, with expert panels.
“My cousin, Sammajoor!”
“Well then, you can’t be as stupid or as useless as they say you are!”
He throws me a tiffie overall like his own; you know, the lekker, dark brown ones with an elasticated waist instead of a belt, and a double zip that opens from the top and the bottom instead of those stupid metal buttons. He then takes me over to a long steel bench on which lies a row of Uzis with their barrels removed.
“I’ve got to go and check issues over at the main hangar. You inspect these barrels for pitting and bulges. If you find any damage, make a chalk cross on the barrel.”
When he returns a while later, he asks me:
“Found any bulges?”
“Yes, Sammajoor, five.”
“What!” He inspects the barrels I’ve marked. “My word,” he says. “The LWT youngsters didn’t pick up these ones! Well, lad, I think we can find a use for you."
With that, things get a bit better. It’s not what I have left 5 SAI for, but at least it isn’t counting out screws and springs. Load after load of weapons crosses those benches. Sammajoor Herbie is an Armourer from the Second World War. His knowledge of weapons is encyclopaedic. I learn not just their structure, how to inspect them, etc. I learn their histories, hear a host of wonderful anecdotes from Herbie’s wartime service in North Africa. After a couple of weeks, he calls me one day. “Put on your titfer, lad, we’re going across to see the Lieutenant”. He didn’t mind my remaining a bokkop. In the Lieutenant’s office, a surprise awaits. The Lieutenant is smiling.
”Well, Skutter Vietri, it seems the Sammajoor is very pleased with your work. He thinks you’re not so useless after all. In fact, he thinks you have the makings of a first-class Armourer. I can’t have you sent back to Ladysmith, but the Sammajoor has arranged for you to do the Armourers’ course under his personal supervision. If you pass the tests in three months’ time, we’ll transfer you to tiffies, and you can move over to the LWT. How does that grab you?”
It grabs me just fine. At least with tiffies I will be a G1 amongst G1s again, training and fit and working in the trade I have been destined for. And who knows what might yet turn up?
“Of course I want to, Lieutenant!” I reply.
The thought of being trained by Herbie with all his fascinating knowledge, instead of just doing the basic rifle tiffie’s course, is a really exciting prospect. So we begin. Three months later, I pass my Armourer’s test with flying colours, and nearly full marks. I am a tiffie! At this point, I am finally prepared to hand in my green beret and bokkops, replacing them with the gold-lightning-bolt-and-silver-prancing-stallion on a black beret. How proud I am of my new corps! For the first time in months, I am really happy. I have lost infantry; but I was only ever a mediocre infanteris. The tiffie badges I have earned! My love for firearms has turned out well, and I have become a “first-class” Armourer. At this point, the other tiffies also accept me as one of them, even though I have never passed beyond the front gates of Poesplaas. Which I now am entitled to do!
Weapons become a passion with me. I think this brings joy to Herbie as well, to carry over his superlative store of knowledge to one of the younger generation, and to one who takes such an interest. He takes a personal pride in me, and they leave me to work with him. He is a good, kindly old man, and we get on very well together. We remain in contact for years after I klaar out and he retires. He and his wife Kathleen have no children, and I lost my dad less than two years before I was called up. I won’t say we develop a father-son relationship, but we spend a lot of working hours together and become very close friends, despite our 35 years’ age difference.
 
 
By June ’74 my uitklaardag is fast approaching. One afternoon, Herbie is at a meeting in LWT and I am working alone in the hangar. I am approached by two PF soldiers in black berets. One is a tiffie Samma­joor from Dekwaria, whom I know well, since he visits the depot on business from time to time. The other is an Uiltjie Captain whom I have seen around the depot. I am invited into the small office inside the hangar. And here follows my second embarrassing memory.
I am reminded (as though I need reminding!) that I have just over 100 days left. Nearly an ou man. Ok. There are things about to happen, things that no-one has even heard about yet. They need all the experienced armourers they can get. And though I am only a diensplig (!!!), I am one of the best-trained Armourers here. One in the cap for Herbie! How would I like to sign on for an extra twelve months? No, I wouldn’t particularly. That’s very unfortunate, says the Uiltjie, speaking for the first time. Why? Because then we would probably have to extend your training anyway, and then you won’t get the R 3 000,00 bonus. Well, that’s putting it pretty plainly.
I decide to tempt fate. If – and I’m not saying I willif I decide to sign on for another 12 months, would I get my first stripe? Pause. Yes, you would. And a second 6 months later? Yes, that’s usually how it works. Yes. Well. No, fine. Why not? They produce forms with indecent haste, get me to sign, tell me to take them to the WO1 in charge of the LWT. They’ll see to the rest. And by the way, there was no need to ask, I was certain to get my stripes anyway if I signed on. Off they go. I hand in the form to our WO1, who is pleased, since it reflects well on him. Herbie is also happy. In due course, Part 1 Orders appear, and amongst the promotions to L/Cpl my name appears, wef 5th September 1974. Ok, now at least I will get a single room in camp, better pay, and eat meals off china plates in the Onderoffisiere se Menasie. Bye bye, varkpan! Ha! ha! As though one is ever quite finished with a varkpan in the SADF!
Why is this an embarrassing memory? Because just as in those days no-one asked to stay in the army and to go from G5 to G1, so nobody really wanted to stay longer than the prescribed 12 months. I let myself be pushed so easily into it. Would they really have extended my training if I’d refused? And bargaining for stripes is pretty low, don’t you think? On the other hand, if you’re going to be in for a further 12 months, who wants to spend it as a troepie-doepie? I suppose it is some consolation that I was going to get them anyway. This may sound arrogant, but I believe I had earned the two stripes I eventually wore. Still, I’ve always felt they were mildly compromised by my asking for them, and thus the embarrassment. I turned out to be an ok N.C.O. too, but that’s beside the point. Sometimes our motivations are mixed. That’s why I have kept this particular story hidden for so long. Now you must decide whether you think I’m ok, or whether Ritchie-Robinson (see Part One) was right about me.
 
 
I had an eventful second, when I was shifted from weapon inspections in Transito to actual Armoury work. This was when what was “about to happen” actually started to happen. This story is already recorded on WIA in the article The Tale of the Ancient Armourer.
The weapons Ops we dealt with all went under the code name "Operation Lucky Packet 1, 2...etc." Especially with the captured weapons, and the variety we bought in on the international spot-market, the application is obvious. I doubt there are many, if any, people apart from myself who even remember these Ops today. They covered those mentioned in the Ancient Armourer article. They were important at the time, and kept very quiet. We were constantly warned and threatened about the dangers and consequences of information about them leaking out. This was no doubt to spare the reputation of allies/friends such as the Shah of Iran. But with the development of our own armaments, they became increasingly less important, as we manufactured rather than imported weapons and vehicles. Here are two which may or may not be of interest, which are not part of the article in the link.
Anyone who used Brens during the late 70s was very possibly using one that I had worked on. This would particularly have applied to new-looking weapons. Though the Bren dates from World War II, hundreds of the ones used by the SADF during this period were in fact brand new. They arrived in South Africa in their original boxes. They were encased in Tektol, an oily substance that hardened into a tough outer skin, used by the British during WW2 to protect stored weapons from rusting. The Mk 1 and Mk 2 sights were calibrated in Arabic numerals. They were rumoured (a rumour which seemed to have solid feet) to have come from pakhuise in Teheran. There were very few spare Mk 1 (drum) sights in the stores, but quite a number of ordinary Mk 2 sights. I suppose we eventually manufactured the Mk 1s. Preparing the Brens was an oily, messy job, as anyone who has ever had to remove Tektol from a weapon will know. We worked in filthy overalls, and used a mountain of hand-cleaner. But every visible Arabic marking had to be removed from them.
The other job was just as quietly done. One the 61 BWS Armourers discovered an anomaly in the cartridge headspacing of the new rifles in production. When the barrels of a sample group were removed, there was only one conclusion that could be drawn: sabotage. There were a number of Belgian expert consultants working at Lyttelton engineering. Scarcely had this been discovered, than they were gone. Every new rifle had to be checked. At the time, the SADF was opening two new infantry camps, 7 SAI (Upington) and 8 SAI (Graskop, as we knew it then, later Phalaborwa). Between these and the growing needs of other units during the mid-70s, there was for a time an extreme shortage of R1s. If you can remember this, you now know at least part of the reason why. It caused a real bottleneck, and it was quite a time before it came right.
Lastly, by the way, it was my ou leermeester Herbie, himself a left-eyed shooter, who got me to shoot straight. We had to fire thousands of test rounds through various weapons as a result of our duties, and it was during this time that he worked on my shooting technique. As a result of this, I eventually got my orange badge.
 
 
I would also be lying if I didn’t admit with what pride I pulled on my lance-jack stripes – the deep, old-style V-shaped ones like the Wehrmacht ones – for the first time, and drilled a squad back down to the camp on 5th September 1975. I was now myself die Korporaal to the new rofies, and like a good Poeskorporaal, I made the 18 manne in my bungalow afkak. We all did the same.
 Why do all this in a place which was not even officially a training camp? For a good number of reasons. First, the new ADKs came directly from Diensvak, so they had done only 6 weeks’ Basics followed by an Admin course. They hardly knew the army, and were not going to be let off that easily. Second, ADK camps like 81 TSD could become very slack, the troepe almost like civvies in uniform. Thirdly, camps that were too slack, even in a place as apparently safe as Pretoria, were vulnerable if something did happen. Die army bly maar die army. And so we new 1- and 2-strepers moved in as the ou manne klaared out.
Like our predecessors, we weren’t about to turn 81 TSD into 9 SAI. But it needed to be kept looking and feeling like an army camp. The G1s and G2s got fitness training and opfok. The G3s and G4s were made to do what they could, and got extra wagdienste. Everyone got rondfok. The camp had to be kept spick-and-span, inspections had to be real. The guys had to be marched up and down to the depot and back.
The RSM and WO1 “Ploffies” Senekal (Personnel Records), who was from time to time his substitute, kept a close eye on the camp. Stafsersant Postumus, the RSM's assistant, was the man on the spot; he was what the Germans call der Spieß. He was a tough, po-faced individual, ADK, but a paraat G1-type. He was in the camp every morning, and made sure it looked good. His favourite expression was “Hond se kont!” He later achieved his heart’s desire of going to the Border for 3 months, but came back suffering from leukemia. He died some months after returning.
When he discovered I was a musician, he once invited me to his house in the PF block to sing and play the piano. I had to sing, to my own piano accompaniment, “Ombra mai fù” from Handel’s Serse, after which he became embarrassingly sentimental. He described me as his “perfect soldier” – a musician who was also G1K1! I beat a hasty retreat as soon I politely could. I didn’t want to socialise with PFs under these circumstances. Perhaps I was wrong. He was just a hard soldier struggling to express himself in the unfamiliar language of sentiment. The best part of the visit was his wife and stunning daughter, who plied me with koffie en koek.
The last few ou man two-stripers in the were quite happy to leave us new outjs to get on with things. There was much testing of boundaries by our peers at first. The sort of promotion where you were once a guy’s peer and become his superior is always the most difficult. It’s ok with the new rowers, who only know you as die Korporaal. With the blougatte it’s different. But you know the army; once a few examples have been made, things pretty much settle down. And in this sort of situation, you have to make those examples.
For example, on that very first day I drilled a squad down to the camp, some of the guys were trying their hand at a bit of rondstoot. I gave an omkeer to take them back for some extra drill, but one of them, a G2 tiffie mechanic in the front of the squad, kept right on going. When his mates called out, “Die Korporaal het gesê ons moet omkeer!” he calmly replied, “Fok die Korporaal!” loudly enough for the whole squad to hear. I halted the squad and warned him then and there that I would be filing a DD1 against him as soon as we got back to camp. I was as good as my word, and he was given 21 days DB, of which he served 14. There was a rumour that two of his PF friends from Poesplaas were going to come and give me a looiing. That never materialised. I was not madly happy about putting a man in DB, but the fact is, that none of them hassled me again after that.
There was another reason, too, for keeping the order in a camp like this, and it came as a surprise to me. I got to know the G3s and G4s for the first time, and realised that many of them, medically speaking, were ok guys who just couldn’t help being in their particular medical classifications. They were also diensplig­tiges, but unlike myself many of them did not want to be in the army. They were quite happy to accept their lesser medical classification without any hassle. In Ladysmith they would have been treated with contempt. Here, they were the guys who kept the machine oiled; who did the work of supplying the infantry camps, for example, with all that we required for our shit-hot training. They also, as human beings, deserved to be taken seriously. In my new situation, this meant taking them seriously as soldiers to the maximum of their capacity.
I had two models for this. The first was the Lieuty who was in charge of one of the G4 squads in Ladysmith. He did not want the job, but someone had to do it, and to his credit, he took his guys seriously. To our intense annoyance, his G4 squad rated constantly above the G1s as the one with the highest morale in the whole of Charlie Coy! For a G4 squad in infantry, this is quite something, believe me! And all he did was to take them seriously. A G4 can gyppo as well as anyone else, and he made sure, you could see, that his troepe did everything of which they were capable. The other was our own Lieuty, Oberholzer, whom I have described in Part One. So as a humble tiffie lance-jack, I set myself up for a double-Lieuty act. I hope I was ok as far as that went.
 
 
81 TSD was a weird unit. Up at the depot, because of the nature of our work, we all stuck to our own corps; tiffies, pantsers and kanondonkies (sorry, Johan, but we tiffies were called bebliksemde donkies!) This was mainly because 81 TSD was so big. The pantsers and artillery did their thing in F and H Groups at the far end of the depot. We tiffies were mostly either in the LWT or the groups that we serviced, e.g. A Group for the Armourers. We crossed paths at lunch-time in the depot’s mess-hall, where all of us dienspligtiges sat together eating off varkpanne. Tiffies mixed mainly with the pantsers, who used our Brownings in their Elands. There was a separate table for N.C.O.s and one for the plastic pips, but all sat under one roof and eating the same (kak) food. Hene, those horrible, oily-smelling brown beef stews with rice and shrapnel! The PFs brought their own lunch.
But down in the camp it was different. We had the old British six-room bungalows, three to a room, plus a couple of permanent tents for the newest rowers down the bottom. Some bungalows had subdivided end rooms, making four singles and four three-man rooms. N.C.O’s got first shot at the singles. Otherwise we lived two to a three-man room. And down in camp, for official purposes, the differences in corps fell aside. In the camp there were only N.C.O.s and troepe. We occasionally had guys from units like 1 SSB for short periods, up to several weeks, but there was a special bungalow for them, and we didn’t bother them if they didn’t bother us. They tended to regard it as a bit of a holiday, doing the odd guard duty and Friday inspection, but mostly breaking out at night to drink and vry, though at least one group of pantsers kept up quite a tough training regime. The ou manne without rank had their own bungalow as well; the one furthest from the camp gates.
Guard duty could be a hassle if you didn’t keep a very firm hand. Manne might swap beats without asking. A guard might not turn up, and not be in camp when you searched. Another might refuse, quite reasonably, to stand for someone who was missing. Unfortunately, there had to be guards, so for the ou concerned, reasonableness didn’t come into it. Manne would dros at night, and not even bother to get someone to cover for them at 21:00 roll-call. All these ouens were simply arrested and banged up. We left the (military) law to take its course. It happened very infrequently in my time, because we did take action when it was needed. Mostly they ended up in front of the Adjutant getting opfoks or extra wagdienste. Our Adj was a great believer in extra wagdienste.
81 TSD and 61 BWS, a full tiffie unit, did guard-duty up at the depot. Because of the nature of the place, this was taken quite seriously. At Tekbasis down below, the conglomeration of camps around the common yellow-brick mess that served us, wagdiens was done by 4 Signals. They did 4 hours on, 8 hours off. Insanity. They spent most of their beat sleeping if they could. You could climb right up into the tower without disturbing them. Problems that would never even crop up in an infantry camp! At Tekbasis, the O.o.D and his assistant, generally a diensplig 1-pip and a 2-striper, would have to raid the towers from time to time just to see that the signallers were awake and doing their beat.
Across the road at the Military Medical Institute (MMI), was the army's mainframe computer. G4s who did not shoot did guard duty there, behind a thick glass window. It was 4 hours on, 8 hours off, but everything inside a warm office. Adjoining was a small guard room with a bed and a shower. Although the week-end duty was 48 hours, MMI was the best-"loved" beat, and guys vied with each other to do their wagdiens there.
There were ou manne in 81 TSD, and they could sometimes get out of hand. It was difficult to keep a balance between shutting one’s eyes and not letting things go too far. I suppose that was the case all over the SADF. Our brass weren’t really interested in what went on in the camp, as long as the depot ran well. To them we were just "other ranks". The only time we saw them in the camp was at inspections, where they would occasionally put on a little show of kragdadigheid just to let the manne know how on the ball they were. We tended just to lag them uit when they did this.
Up at the Border, I know, a lot of this stuff fell away. But then, the guys at the Border had others things like SWAPO and FAPLA and the Cubans to keep them on their toes! But despite this tedious camp set-up, we had to keep in shape. Any one of us, especially the tiffies, pantsers and artillery, could be pulled out of our jobs and find ourselves earning danger pay. Selected PFs did, for 3 months at a time. A few of us tiffies later made two of the weirdest Border tours of duty, I am sure, in the history of the SADF. This was my third embarrassing incident. (See The Tale of the Ancient Armourer above). But that was to come only much later. Also, in the army, there comes a point when you like being fit and don’t want to lose it. A point at which hard exercise and shooting became enjoyable as activities in themselves. Don’t think that Staff Postumus and the RSM let us N.C.O’s off rifle-drill either!
 
 
When I first arrived, I was made the roof of a tough pantser lance-jack whom I only remember as “Manie”. He originally had two stripes, but had been bust a grade with 21 days’ DB for putting a fellow two-striper in hospital. The other rowers were terrified of him, and everyone pitied me for being his roof. But I was used to infantry PTIs, and he was no worse than any Korporaal I had ever experienced in Ladysmith. In fact, he treated me quite decently.
He kept his own room clean and polished his own boots. I think the worst I ever did for him was to fetch his food from the mess and wash his dixies. He would occasionally call me into his room when there were fellow ou manne there. I had to stand to attention and answer lawwe questions. Sometimes I had to sing for them, always in a foreign language. Schubert and Italian opera were my first choices, therefore German and Italian. The first time he called me I had to get down on the ground and listen for Louis die min dae trein, and received a massive plathand through my head when I couldn’t, to raucous laughter from the visiting ou manne. I seem to remember that that klap caused me to thump my head against the side of his trommel. I was sometimes dismissed by being thrown an illegal Castle and told, "Daar's vir jou, rofie. Jy kan maar wegfok!" Which I wasted no time in doing.
In front of the other troepe and N.C.O.s, he barked and swore at me and chased me around relentlessly. Looppas, of course. But then, there are appearances to be kept up, reputations to be preserved. Mine as well as his. I suppose this was what gave him such a terrifying name amongst the new rowers. That and his reputation as a street-fighter. But when I think of the dirty work the others had to do for their ou manne, I count myself lucky. Manie did not need to do much cleaning for inspections; his room was always immaculate.
Manie also sometimes showed a strange kind of sympathy. Two of our guys did not come back from week-end pass, and were arrested as AWOL by the MPs. They were locked up for a few days before being brought back to 81 TSD. I was in the RSM’s Assistants’ office when they were brought in. So was Manie. He pulled out his Luckys and offered them each one. They were both desperate for a smoke, and the one almost cried as Manie lit up for him. It was probably the first kind gesture he had been shown since his arrest. Manie would sometimes offer to drill the CBs. After 5 minutes of very showy afkak, he would march them off somewhere quiet and give them a smoke-break – his Luckys again.
When he was Guard Commander up at the Depot, he would get in his bakkie and ride around the perimeter during the lonely “suicide beat”, 04:00-06:00. He would unlock the cage, climb right up into the tower and offer you a smoke. His Luckys must have cost him a small fortune, the way he offered them around. Perhaps he had a private source of income. For the duration of that smoke, he would just stand beside you, leaning on the concrete edge, and talk. It was always a very welcome visit. Beat at that time of the morning was one of my loneliest experiences. Beneath the street-thug that Manie undoubtedly had been as a civvy, he showed some oddly humane characteristics. I think that it amused someone make the bokkop his roof. Whatever. When I finally got my first stripe, he was just finishing off his ekstra dae. I was the lucky ou who inherited his room, with its perfect dri-brited floor complete with blanket taxis. That I got it, was most probably his doing.
My own roof, Falcke, a G2, was a real goofball. He shared a bungalow room, F5 it was, with two equally sloppy mates from Diensvak. I got him because he was detailed to A Group, where I was mainly involved outside of LWT. He smoked grass like it was going out of fashion, and was expert at finding a safe place to kip at work. On top of the stacks; at the back of the pistol cage, for which purpose he provided himself with a copy of the key; in the box-yard, where he stacked the R1 cases in such a way as to leave a lovely space, entered from a narrow opening next to the wall, complete with plastic waterproof ceiling, mattress and pillow.
That one proved to be his downfall. He was bust one day when there was a massive issue of R1s for one of the new infantry camps, that literally took the roof off his dwelling. He was sent to me for punishment. I couldn’t let the little sod be kla’ed aan – he was, after all, my rofie – so I made him pull on full kit with bricks and stand to attention from 17:00 to 21:00 in front of the O.a.D’s room, where I was on duty that evening. Whenever he started dozing, I made him ’kierie pas. His mates kept dinner for him, though I pretended not to know.
There wasn’t systematic sleep-deprivation in our camp in the sense that we suffered it in infantry, except that some fellows did huge amounts of strafwagdiens. But sleep’s an issue any SADF troep always feels for. Later, when the weapons ops started coming in, we sometimes worked round the clock, taking catnaps in the corner of the hangar, where we kept a couple of mattresses and sleeping bags. I don’t suppose one ever got enough sleep in the SADF. At any rate, Falcke was relieved that his punishment was as minimal as it was. He had feared a real, major opfok or a spell in CB. He'd have got the opfok, too, if he’d messed up down in the camp. I gave him and his two mates – also G2s – a good few for kak inspections. Really kak, not army kak.
 
 
It depended on the sort of N.C.O. you were. The guys who got their lance-jack stripe at 18 months, and who knew they weren’t going to get a second – they were often the worst. Little tin-pots, most of them. There is an art to being tough without enjoying it too much – it consists in doing things for the good of the troepe, rather than to satisfy your own ego. A really good N.C.O. can be as hard as nails, while still being concerned about the welfare of his manne.
I gave one really bad opfok once. The tiffies had to inspect rifles every time the manne went shooting. Most guys here shot so little – about once a month – that they didn’t really care too much about their rifles. Tiffies shot every week. I cannot remember the frequency of the other G1s and G2s but it must have been something similar. This inspection was mainly for safety’s sake. The guys used to clean their gas chambers with 2 x 4s and pull-throughs. The 2 x 4 would get stuck, and instead of asking one of the tiffies to knock out the pin and remove it, they’d just rip it out by force, leaving a chunk of 2x4 behind. They had no idea of the dangers involved. Also, some fellows used to leave rifle oil in their barrels when they went shooting, because it made cleaning so much easier afterwards. But this mostly resulted in bulges, which in turn led to aanklagte for beskadiging van staatseiendom. Plus, they had to pay for the new barrel.
At any rate, I came down to do the inspection, and found that some of the rowers had made a wigwam of their rifles. Probably saw it in an American film. They were sitting smoking and sunning themselves cheerfully on the steps of the bungalow. You know the rest. I saved the rifle-PT opfok for when they returned fom shooting. There were some very exhausted, very sore rowers about the camp that evening. But casualness with weapons must always have consequences. One didn’t want an R1, powerful precision weapon that it is, to fall into the wrong hands. Losing a weapon had a court-martial as consequence. We couldn’t afford to let the guys get even near to that stage. Casualness with weapons always leads in the end to carelessness.
 
Army camp life in Pretoria during the Seventies
 
Life goes on, no matter where you are and, of course, the SADF was no exception. The SADF, like armies worldwide, had its own particular culture and language, and things happened that could be downright entertaining. You won some, you lost some. You lived for the times when you won. The following stories are not in chronological order, which I doubt I could in any case reconstruct after all these years.
There was in the 81 TSD camp, a poor malle by the name of Willem. He would have been G7K9, had such categories existed. He was quite off his head, and could hardly even speak. Why they didn’t just send him home I will never understand. At 21:00 roll-call the guys in the back row used to pinch him mercilessly. His only response was “Vir fok’s sake!” He was a prodigious masturbator, and if you went down for a slash in the evening you could hardly miss hearing him when he was at it. You would stand in the doorway and shout, “Haai Willem, wat maak jy daar?” and there would be sudden silence. One evening, so the story went, some of the ou manne convinced him to try Deep Heat as a lubricant. I was on guard duty on the night this was said to have happened, but if the story is true, he must have suffered. Poor Willem should not have been subject to that kind of practical “joke”, but guys can become quite afgestomp, and much army humour can be cruel. I suppose they were also finding Willem’s behaviour very lastig.
The PFs of the sort who worked in stores were not a particularly impressive lot. They seemed to spend almost their entire salaries paying off expensive cars, most often well beyond their means. They had to show off their wheels to all and sundry. A certain PF Private acquired a fancy new car. One Thursday he decided to show off in our camp, which he did by roaring up and down, doing wheelies and generally making a pest of himself, stirring up dust and wrecking the clay surface which the rowers had carefully swept for Friday’s inspection. Naturally we were de hel in. We all pitched in to help the rowers re-sweep. I was O.a.D. in camp that evening, and was going to write it up in the Diensboek. But we had a group of visiting guys from 1 SSB who asked me not to. Let’s see if he comes next week, they said. Then leave him to us. You could usually rely on the pantsers to come up with something good, so I left them to it.
Having got away with it, said PF Pte in fact did turn up next Thursday. I was again O.a.D. I cleared out as requested when he arrived, and went up top to the Officer on Duty Tekbasis to have the Diensboek inspected and signed off. When I returned, the pantsers were all grinning like cheeses. The Pte had to slow down to make a right turn out of the camp. The pantsers had positioned themselves at this corner. One of them lunged forward and turned off the ignition. The Pte was dragged out of his new car, the interior of which was then treated to several fire-buckets of sand and water, with the warning that if he did it again, it would be the bakwerk that would be beautified next time. Needless to say, a complaint was lodged, but since there was no record in the Diensboek, which had been signed off by the Officer on Duty, for either of the two Thursdays, and since no-one in the camp had seen or heard anything, the incident obviously hadn’t happened. Sometimes revenge is sweet!
There was also a married PF Corporal who used to intimidate the rowers into lending him money – which, needless to say, he never paid back. Eventually news reached Oom Geel, the RSM, who called them in and ascertained the damages. As I heard it, when the Corporal turned up for his pay that month, all the cash owing had been deducted, and he received something like R30,00! With Oom Geel in the know, revenge was out of the question.
This guy was eventually court-martialled for something or other, and the whole depot had to go on parade and watch while the RSM stripped his stripes from his arms, and he was removed via DB to a dishonourable discharge. I don't remember what the charges were. In my time, I saw this happen three times; once in Ladysmith and twice in Pretoria. No matter what a crud the soldier concerned was, it was a painful thing to observe. Both RSMs, you could see, hated their part in it.
The January after I received my first stripe, two of the most useless specimens in the camp became late 1‑stripers. They were moved together into a a 3-man room, which soon became the filthiest in the camp. Having rowers did not encourage them towards good habits. Their rowers had to clean the entire pigsty on a Thursday before they could get on with their own inspection. Neither swine lifted a finger to do a stitch of work. Since they drew the curtains and locked their room when they were not there, the Staff never got to see it.
It was Terry A, a 2-stripe Lebanese fellow of great integrity, who finally got them. They had received a pass for the evening before O.C.’s inspection, and had gone out, leaving their rowers, as usual, to do all their cleaning. The two rowers were whispering with one another in the squad at roll-call, and Terry used this as an excuse to bang them up for the night. The two lance-jacks were not in by midnight. As usual, they slipped through the wire at 06:00, to find their room still a pigsty. They raced off in search of their rowers, who were nowhere to be found, then of Terry, who told them what had happened. They ranted and threatened, and told Terry to give them two other rowers to help them.
Terry coolly informed them that the rowers were now busy with their own inspections, and that none was available. He then ordered them to get their pigsty ready for inspection. He made them stand to attention and strek, which outraged them, then dismissed them with a “Hup…tweedriehup…tweedriehup-hup-hup!” It was now 06:40, with inspection at 07:00. It was, of course, a hopeless task. They were exposed and bust back to the ranks after barely a month as lance-jacks. They were also stripped of their rowers, and moved separately into 3-man rooms with the kinds of guys who would make them stay clean and tidy. One of the other rowers was heard to comment that the two who spent the night in confinement reckoned it the best so far of their diensplig.
O.C.’s 1st Friday inspection was not without its problems. Our Colonel was generally quite mild. He didn’t look too hard, relying on the N.C.O.s to see to it all. He often asked “Everything Ok, Corporal?” and if you replied in the affirmative, moved on to the next bungalow without even inspecting. But every now and then he also liked to show us that he had teeth. One Friday morning he entered the camp, did not like the way in which the grounds had been swept, and cancelled the inspection, along with all passes.You can imagine our reaction. Werner Nel, a German-Afrikaans 2-striper, went out and hired some films, which we showed the guys in the open air. Despite this, it was a miserable week-end, especially for the married guys who had lost their passes.
But we had a very amusing revenge. The next month, Colonel Willi arrived again for his inspection. This time, apparently, the sweeping was up to his exacting standards. But we were still anxious. In bungalow F5, my roof Falcke and his two luigat mates were still preparing their inspection when the Colonel arrived. As he entered the first room of bungalow F, they were only starting to put the Dri-Brite on the floor. They finished just in time, and when the Colonel arrived at their door, were standing to attention on a wet floor that shone like the noonday sun. They were counting on the fact that Willi rarely entered the rooms. True to form, he did not, but was so impressed with the shine on the floor (!) that he gave the three little fokkertjies each an extra weekend-pass and terminated the inspection there and then! How we laughed. Paraat Willie, ADK, had done a half-inspection, been taken in by the three most slapgat rowers in the entire camp, and rewarded them, out of all the troepe, with extra passes. Again, revenge is sweet!
One of the characters in our camp was a G3 of Greek origins. He was beloved of the Admin staff because he was the only fellow in the history of the depot who ever managed to balance the petrol books. He would under-issue petrol, i.e. pump less into the vehicle tank than he wrote in the log-books. At the end of the month he would balance the books with the petrol, pump back from the bowsers into the tanks, and tap off the surplus into jerry cans which he would then transport to his home in Lyttelton. His grinning face was a familiar sight, driving in and out in his “R” registered bakkie, and no-one would ever have dreamt of checking his loads. He was lucky no-one ever took too close a look at the books, though. The shortage would then have become evident.
At one point, while my single room was being repainted, I spent a couple of days in a 3-man room with two pantser lance-jacks from 1 SSB who were up working on Elands for convoying back to Bloem. I think they were helping to install the weaponry. We tiffies were a pretty raw lot, I grant you, but these two gave even us a run for our money. They used to break out night after night. One of them was from Pretoria, and used to meet with his girlfriend. The other, who was a tall, striking fellow, never had problems finding female company. They were both seasoned fighters as well as fornicators. One freezing winter’s evening they returned at about 02:00, both wearing greatcoats drenched in blood. A while later, I heard the Pretoria ou calling. “Corporal! You awake?” I answered in the affirmative. “Come and sit over here! I want to ask you something.” Bit of a cheek, but he was, after all, very drunk. I dragged a blanket over, sat on the end of his bed with my frozen feet on his trommel.
            “Corporal! You’re Catholic, aren’t you?” Affirmative. “Have you ever though about becoming a priest?” Huh? What kind of a question is that? Affirmative. “Well, I’m an Anglican, and I’ve considered it as well.” Long silence. “Corporal?” Affirmative. “My girlfriend told me tonight she’s missed her period. Do you think she’s pregnant?” I answer that there are many reasons, and that it might just be delayed. “Ja; thanks. I was hoping that as well.” I sit and wait. After a few minutes, he starts snoring. I creep gratefully back to my bed. A week later I ask him about his girlfriend. “What do you mean?” he replies. “Is she pregnant, or did her period eventually arrive?” He gapes at me. “Where did you hear that?” I tell him he told me himself. “Nought, she’s ok,” he replies, walking off. I hear no more of this enthralling saga.
It’s amazing how as soldiers we can forget to keep our language in check when we’re not amongst ourselves. One of my buddies went home for a week-end. At Sunday lunch, after Church nogal! this very vrome NG-lad turned to his mother and said, “Pass the fucking salt!” You can imagine the shock this caused, and the misunderstanding. He was choking with laughter as he told it, but I’ll bet he was mortified at the time. On another occasion, I was standing with fellow two-striper Peter Lüdemann, from Swakop­mund, at the gates of the camp. Someone shouted something to Peter from inside the camp. “Tell him to do it him-fokken-self!” was Peter’s reply, or some such words. A highly respectable-looking woman in her sixties was passing by at that moment. Her nose shot into the air, her back went stiff as a ramrod, and she hurried by with a “Hmf!” I remonstrated with Peter for using bad language in front of her. “What does she expect if she walks past a fokken army camp at this time of the morning?” was his laconic reply.
For the first sixteen-odd months of my army service, the SADF was officially dry. We were then told one afternoon, as we prepared to march home from the depot, that as from that evening we were allowed to have two beers per night, as long as we drank them in the Mess. The cheer nearly brought down the A Group hangar (in front of which the squads used to tree aan to march back to camp). Of course, there were always ou manne that used to hijack their rowers’ beers, but, as the old saying goes, dis mos die fokken army, dié. No doubt. But those two beers per night, inadequate as they were, made life in the army a lot more human.
My mate Peter Lüdemann had a magnificent Fender Strat and amp in his room. He was an excellent rock-guitarist. Though I am pretty much a classicist, I bought a clarinet, later a tenor sax. We used to jam in his room. Then a signaller who played bass came in. We shifted to the Mess, where we used to jam at night and on non-pass week-ends. I was keyboards, wind and vocals. Later we found a drummer who moved his kit in. Then my bokkie jilted me. In response I wrote the song “Tell me”, which we performed, though mostly we just jammed. Anything to add some interest to the tedium of camp life. The song, though I say so myself, has a rather beautiful jazz melody, but the words! I quote the first verse as an example:
 
“I watched you walking, walking away
across the shimmering sands, along the waves.
The sun beat down so warm, so gentle.
Salt spray stung my eyes, or was it tears?
 
I sit here staring, staring out to sea.
The sun so radiant won’t melt the ice within me.
You froze my heart on this beautiful day,
in this gentle breeze as you walked away.
 
Tell me, O tell me,
why did you have to leave me?
What did I do, what did I say,
that without a word you walked away?”
 
And so on. Pretty sickening slush, isn’t it? Except, how would you feel if you were sitting in the mess on Friday night with your two beers, listening to this stuff, your girlfriend a thousand or two kilometres away?
One of my longer-service N.C.O. privileges was to to keep a car at the base, for which one had to obtain a parking disc from the MPs. This wasn’t much use to me, since I had neither car nor driving licence. But one of my troepe was a married man, a typical subject of SADF logic; a master butcher who was put into tiffies as a motor mechanic. He had a battered old Volksie, and asked me if I would obtain a disc on his behalf. What could I say? He had a wife and two little kids. I obtained the disc with his vehicle Reg. no. Some time later, he was transferred to catering, and left us. We both forgot about the disc. Shortly after, the MP troep from Tekbasis visited me at the depot. “We are going to kla you aan for fraud,” he said. Fok weet how they had found me out, but they had. I was told to report to them next morning at 09:00. I was quite shaken; I could have lost a stripe for an offence like that. I went to see Peter Lüdemann straight after supper. He worked with Sammajoor Ploffies in HQ, and heard all the skinder. When I told him of my predicament, he threw his head back and bawled with laughter. He told me that same MP troep had issued fraudulent discs to several of his buddies – whom Peter named.
Next morning, I appeared before the MP troep and his S/Sers. The troep proceeded to indulge in a major cross-examination – and I a two-striper! I patiently waited my turn. Eventually the S/Sers. asked me what I had to say. I replied that I was indeed guilty, and deserved to be punished. But in that case, I continued – fixing the MP troep with my eyes – I would like to see a full investigation by an outside party, with all offenders punished – since there were others who had done the same as I, who ought to have known better…
The MP troep got my drift immediately. He gulped, then turned to the S/Sers. “Staff”, he said. “Perhaps we are being too hard on the Corporal. He was only trying to help his troep. I don’t think he really intended to break the law seriously. Perhaps a warning…” The Staff was clearly only too pleased to take the easier option – much less PT for him – and delivered himself of the said solemn warning. I listened with apparent contrition, then took my leave. What a farce! But what a relief, too! And so, Peter downed my two Castles as well as his own that evening. He had earned them!
 
 
We got our laughs in the depot, too. The unit Adjutant, a bright but pompous and very officious captain, was a favoured target of our practical jokes, though we had to be careful, since he was liable to take great offence at what he perceived as a personal affront. I was given a great many strafwagdienste by him during my first year of diensplig. I suspect it was because some snitch told him that I referred to him as kaktein, which translates rather neatly into English as “craptain.” He once decided to give me fifteen extras standing in towers during my last 3 months when I was already a two-striper (!) – he had tried to score a point off me and on that occasion, instead of keeping my groot bek shut, I had answered him back in kind. The extra duties I perhaps earned. But in towers? Fortunately for me, the RSM’s assistants managed to change them into five Guard Commander's duties! Once, the Adj. was accompanying the O.C., who was inspecting Hangar 20 where I was working on 81 mm mortars. He called me aside, ran his finger over a metal balk and showed me the dust. “Corporal Vietri,” he said, “There are two things I hate; Corporals and dust, because Corporals are dust."
We could always give him his come-uppance on the shooting-range at Schurveberg. They would put mostly the guys who were exempt from shooting into the skietgat. Some of the others would make up the numbers, and shoot in a different skof. Our kaktein was a sharpshooter, and very jealous of his reputation. When he shot, he would be given an occasional “wide” by swinging the arrow from side to side – but only for shots which actually hit the white square. Did he get woes about it, especially since he knew that his shots were in die kol! On one occasion, when I was N.C.O. in bevel, he rushed up as soon as the flags were up, and demanded to know who the fool was who was marking him. Naturally, no-one could say, since we officially didn’t know which target he was using. The manne had already begun to plak, so we certainly couldn’t adjust his score!
Once, when I was still a roof, a very kop-toe 2-striper was in charge of the gat. He always wore his staaldak in the pit, which was correct, but which in practice we never did. He was marking the end teiken on that day, and was sure he counted only nine shots. You’re crazy, we told him. But as he pulled down the skyf, and stepped up towards it to count, a shot was fired, which hit the bank. Stones went flying, some hitting his staaldak with a clang. Ausker was on the whole a pretty cool customer, but he was really shaken that day. Turned out the guy who saved the shot had a grudge against him. He was gone before the shooting ended that day, as you can imagine. When I started shooting at Schurveberg, we still used those messy paper squares with a glue pot to plak toe. It was a great day when we started using the self-adhesive little round coloured dots!
In the depot, just opposite the LWT, was a small recreation centre containing a tuck-shop, the barber and a small club-room where we could relax during lunch-time. There were three Jewish fellows, all G3s, with whom I used play klawerjas. Two of them were middle-class, the third, one of those tough working-class Jews from Wemmer Pan. When I met him he, like Manie, had just come out of DB for thrashing a fellow with serious injuries as a result. Hosiosky was a street-wise ruffian. We got on extremely well. He and I used to play in partnership against the other two, whom we regularly fleeced. The other great recreation during lunch-break was bridge, and it was during my army days that I learned to play that particular card-game. I suppose I owe the SADF a big one for that – bridge remains one of my favourite recreations.
Section Records, with its state-of-the-art punch-card computers (!) had its own team of characters, four of them. Three were, again, Jewish G3 guys. The fourth, André Nell, was a tall, very striking Afrikaner, a marathon runner with an insatiable lust for women. He was the one who later got the stripes, and he became a great companion. A fellow with a bent for drawing made a magnificent cartoon likeness of them, the “four monkeys.” The first three were, of course, seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. The fourth. André, was covering his privates with both hands and swinging his head round wildly, tongue out, in every direction. We all made a copy of it. I wish I knew where mine was today.
There were quite a number of civilian women working as secretaries in the depot, but they were mostly officers’ wives and therefore strictly “hands off!” for troepe. They tended to look down on the dienspligtiges in any case. When their husbands were away, these ladies were constantly visited by other officers. One of the older (and lustier) Majors was after a certain lady in the receipts section at the back of the A Group main hangar. When she told him one day, “Nee, Majeur, jy’s te oud vir my!” he left, only to appear two days later with his hair dyed. These liaisons caused us no end of amusement, especially since they were conducted in the open before us. I think many of the officers hardly noticed us troepe, in the same way as the servants of the old European nobility were invisible to their masters.
We also had a rather tragi-comic figure amongst us, a girl barely out of her teens who was so skinny that she earned the nickname Spykerbeentjies. What she was doing there I really don’t know; looking for a PF husband? She certainly did her best to be aanloklik. One of the A Group Staffs said of her once, “Sy loop rond met ’n viskop in haar handsak, want sy wil soos ’n groot meisie ruik.” Sadly, that was how things turned out. One of the PF Korporale used to get her in the box-yard for a quick kap at lunch-time – the same fellow who had had most of his salary gapsed – and she fell pregnant and had to leave hurriedly. We troepe felt for her, and would happily have warned her off the swine, who was married, but – what can you tell someone who knows it all, and is so intent on digging her own grave that she won’t listen to anyone?
I haven’t had much to say about guard duty, because it didn’t vary much from place to place in the SADF. Everybody had to do it, and everybody hated it, though in my extremely limited experience it was a hell of a lot better than doing patrols. I remember that there were 24-hour shifts, but whether they were week-ends only or every day I can’t remember for sure. I mentioned earlier that guard duty was taken seriously up at the depot, but there were lapses there, too. Strictly speaking, the Guard Commanders were both supposed to stay awake all night, since they were given the next day off. In practice, they split the shift at midnight. It was the task of the hekwag, usually a G3 or G4, to make sure that they were woken up to change the guard if they nodded off.
One freezing winter’s night in 1974 – I think it was about a month after I signed up for my second year – a treurige PF striper known as “Sad Sack” was Guard Commander. I was on the 24:00-02:00 beat. It was so cold that not even several pairs of socks, scarves and those thick old SADF greatcoats helped. I remember freezing off as never before – and Lyttelton, lower down and in a hollow, was much colder than Voortrekkerhoogte. 02:00 came – no change. So also 02:30, then 03:00. Finally, at 03:30, headlights appeared on the track. When the diensbakkie arrived, it was the Lieutenant from the Tekbasis. Apparently Sad Sack was doing the after-midnight shift, and had fallen asleep in the office. So had the gate guard. The Lieutenant had decided to make a late (or rather, early) inspection tour, and had found the whole lot of them snoring. Sad Sack was bust a stripe, as was the PF lance-jack who was his assistant. Best of all, the beat that stood 3½ hours was given the next day off. We had paid a price for it, but what a joy to go back to camp instead of to work, eat a special late (and tasty) breakfast instead of powdered eggs out of a hot-box, then to sleep snugly in a warm bed instead of working in a freezing hangar. Ecstasy – and another small victory!
 
 
Voortrekkerhoogte (VTH) was a booming place during the mid-70s. From Jo’burg, you turned off the Ben Schoeman Highway, took the road between the Tekbasis and MMI, up towards the heights. At the robot, the star-shaped Air Force Memorial was on a small hill to your left. You crossed over, and entered Voortrekkerhoogte proper. To your left was the Air Force training centre, Valhalla. To your right was the fence of TDK Opleidingsentrum (Poesplaas), with its enormous bebliksemde donkie at the entrance. You travelled past various other units to a T-junction, with Kommandement Noord-Transvaal on your right and a big auditorium straight ahead.
A left-turn took you past a massive, curved-metal roof hangar which belonged to the Air-force, and which was VTH’s biggest military theatre, around past another Air-force institution (I don’t remember which) with an Impala and a Vampire on their front lawns. In the street behind were a number of the military churches, including the Catholic Church, Our Lady, Queen of Peace, where I went on Sundays. Had you turned right at the T-junction, you would have descended to the Army Gymnasium and Officers’ Club.
I ate there twice. Once, when two young PF 1st Lieutenants were married. I was given a day pass to play the organ for the wedding, and attended a private lunch, just them and the chaplain and me with my two stripes. That was pleasant. The other was story of a completely different stripe. One of the military wives of the parish was an Italian war-bride. She was very fond of me; I apparently reminded her very much of her eldest son. I knew she was the wife of a senior officer. Just how senior I was to find out. She asked me to play the organ at her daughter’s wedding, and insisted that I attend the reception. I was told to come to their house at VTH on the afternoon of the wedding. When I entered the front door, the first thing I saw was a Major General’s cap and tunic on the hall stand. Nothing but red! And a small plaque on the hall wall held a flash with an Uiltjie! Nee, hel, waarvoor het ek myself nou ingelaat?
It turned out that the gentleman concerned was the DG of the Uiltjies, with whom I had had so many happy encounters, and with whom I was to have several more. See The Tale of the Ancient Armourer. The General was sitting at the dining-room table working on documents from his open briefcase. He turned out to be kindly and friendly, taking a short break from his work and making an effort to put me at my ease. Maria produced for me a complete tiffie 2nd Lieuty’s uniform (!) for the occasion, obviously procured by the General at her insistence.
So it was that I attended a wedding reception at the Army College as a plastic-pip. I stuck close to the chaplain, and ended up shaking the hands of Generals Magnus Malan and Cockcroft, the Surgeon-General. Not conversing, maar, just shaking and beating a hasty retreat. There were probably others there, but luckily I didn’t get to meet them. In case you think I am boasting, you must know how intimidating it was to a tiffie korporaaltjie in a fake Lieuty's uniform, who knew nothing of the protocols for such an occasion. Fr Armstrong, the chaplain, realised my discomfort and got me out as soon as possible after the meal. I don’t think I was ever as relieved in my life as when I walked back into camp that evening. As I remember, I pulled on my PT kit and went for a good run, just to clear my head. When I got back Peter Lüdemann was there. He was a man who kept his own counsel. I told him the story. He just looked at me, with a silly grin on his face. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Sounds like you spent the evening kakking yourself”, he said. Not quite, but close enough.
VTH in those days was teeming with soldiers over the week-end. Going to movies. Church-parade. On Sundays the streets were full of ouens being dropped in Bedfords or marching in squads to their churches. Squads would stop at church after church while the relevant troepe would fall out. The civilian members always made the troepe most welcome. There was usually tea and something to munch, and a chance to meet some of the younger female members of the church. The bungalows of the various training units were crammed to capacity with young dienspligtiges kakking off at Basics and further training. The Ops Medics, Diensvak and several other corps were there. There was a mind-boggling variety of uniforms, including the Air Force with their browns, blue caps and black boots (I always thought that particular combo looked a bit silly) and even the Navy (who had their HQ in the city centre, a building called SAS Immortelle). I eventually became the choirmaster at the church, which got me quite a few evening-passes, as well as most of Sunday, quite often with a lunch invitation from members of the parish! The SADF was as a rule very tegemoetkomend about church involvement.
In the Seventies, one could still see those old WW2 films in VTH, with their wonderful, hilarious clichés and caricatures. I remember a scene at which I still laugh today, from a film about the D-Day landings. It is a conversation between two German defenders:
 
Soldier: “Achtung! I will never understand these verdammt Englanders!
Gunnery Sergeant: “You’re not supposed to understand them, Dummkopf! You’re supposed to shoot them!”
 
The big hall next to the movie house was used annually to give a major lecture to the new rowers on the dangers and evils of drugs. Since so many ouens in the SAW smoked dagga – including for quite a while, mea culpa, myself – this was something of a hose to us. The principal speaker in the year I attended was the Tekbasis MP S/Sers; it was in fact the MPs who arranged this happy festival. It seemed to most guys that the biggest danger was being caught, handed over to the civvy police and getting several cuts laid on by the court. That in fact happened to one of the ouens in the 81 TSD camp. Didn’t stop him smoking, though. If anything, Des Hogg was an even bigger goofball than my roof Falcke.
The auditorium played a part in my second near-loss of rank. We received two new plastic pips in our depot. One was a kindly Engelsman who nevertheless spent too much time gatkruiping the troepe. The other was an arrogant swine called Coetzee. He was paraat in a way of which I might have approved, except that he believed himself to be Mr. Paraat himself. No-one else was quite as paraat as 2nd Lieutenant Coetzee. Had he been a fellow who cared about the manne, like Lt. Oberholzer, that would still have been ok. But he gave the impression that he saw us as no more than grubby troepe who needed to be reggeruk.
He was apparently assigned to take responsibility for the camp, though I suspect he asked for the job. On his first morning he arrived with his fluitjie at 04:00 and dug out all the N.C.O.s for a run. He was damned fit, I will grant you that. When we got back, he decided to make us do PT in front of all the troepe, who were by this time up and getting ready to start the day. What did he think that was going to do for camp discipline? The bliksem then joined us in the N.C.O.s' mess for breakfast! All the while telling us how paraat he was going to get us, and how grateful we would be when we got there, even if we had to kak af for the present. This went on for about a week. The came the Great Debate.
Coetzee was a debater of note, and there was to be a debate at the hall in VTH in which he was to play a starring role. The whole camp was to turn out in support of him. But a group of us just decided there was no way we would go and support him. We stayed behind.
We were hauled into the RSM’s office next morning, where there was much uitkak. We were all kla’ed aan to appear before my favourite kaktein. With a further string of fine phrases, including “En ek hoop hy vat julle donderse strepe weg!” we were dismissed. You can imagine how we were boiling about this. We met in the rec. room at lunch to discuss it. Then every single N.C.O. marched down to the RSM’s office in a squad and asked to see him. As we announced the purpose of our visit, he stiffened.
“Besef julle dat hierdie as meitery beskou kan word? Weg is julle almal! Korporaal Vietri, bly jy agter!” Now I really was kakking myself, being one of the absentees from Coetzee’s debate. But it turned out that he wanted me because, as he put it, he regarded me as the most woordvaardig of the N.C.Os. Relief. I explained the situation to him. Oom Geel turned, if it were possible, even more red than his moustache. Apparently he knew nothing of the whole Coetzee regruk affair, and he the RSM! It was apparent tha it was the kaktein who was behind it all. “Weg is jy, en vergeet die hele bliksemse affêre!” was the RSM’s only instruction. I was happy to comply. Later that day, Peter Lüdemann told us the rest of the story. Apparently the RSM had stood at the door of his office and yelled for the Lieuty, whom he had marched forthwith to the Adjutant’s office. Coetzee waited nervously outside while the RSM tore a strip off the kaktein. His words could apparently be heard throughout the HQ. The upshot was that Coetzee was removed from the camp, the DD1s were quietly torn up and thrown away, and that, to save the captain’s dignity, the English-speaking Lieuty was placed “in charge of the camp", which continued to run as well as ever. Our new Lieuty simply called us together and said, “Boys, I know that everything’s fine down below”. He knew because he was often O.C.’s flunkey at the 1st Friday inspectons. “Keep it like that; and come to me if you have problems.” That was the end of the story, and respect for the Lieuty increased at once.
Living in Pretoria, it was easy to get home for week-end pass by flying from Jan Smuts Airport. Some guys flew and hitched back. Some hitched and flew back. Some flew both ways. Remember that hitching was illegal in those days. We would share the petrol of guys with cars who were going to Jo’burg for the week-end, and get dropped at the airport on the way. Coming back late at night, we would share the taxi costs. It is hard now to believe that a return air-fare to Durban cost only R52,00 and to Cape Town R95,00. If you could pull strings you could also get a SAFAIR flight to Ysterplaat.
 
 
Our final months were not much different, I suppose, to that of most others. We did rather too much drinking, with all else that goes with it – without going into too much detail. One of our tiffie Commandants once told us that the four main interests of the tiffies were to “Suip, baklei, vloek en fok.” I suppose he was right. The general picture of tiffies is of a crowd of hooligans in greasy overalls.
But that is less than half the story. Tiffies were mostly working-class artisans, but had a real esprit de corps. Our N.C.O.s and officers bawled and shouted with the best of them, and we laughed when they did this, but for all that we did as we were commanded oppie looppas. We presented an unbeatable inspection, clean and well-ordered units and LWTs, and we were amongst the snappiest drillers in any parade. Out of overalls we were always very paraat. You never saw a tiffie in scruffy step-outs or browns – at any rate, not unless he was coming in from exercises or a patrol.
By the time of our 100 days, I had metamorphosed completely into a tiffie. Infantry made of me a soldier and a man, but tiffies made it possible for me to excel as a troep. Armourer was the one really good task I ever did as a soldier – though I still think I wasn’t too bad an N.C.O. I am of working-class origins, but not an artisan, though my parents and step-dad were. I was lucky enough, three years later, to make it to ’varsity as a music student. But I loved working a trade in the Army, and it made me get real about my afkoms. If I ever had any snobbishness about my social origins, tiffies cured me of it, and even today, in the upper-middle-class private school in which I work I am proud of my working-class origins. Not only do I not hide them; I actually make them part of my identity.
For the record, here are three photos of me:
  
1. Middle of September 1973, just after the first 6 weeks of Basics. I am with my mum in Pretoria during my first week-end pass – getting fit, but still a skinny little runt. This was shortly after running the 8 Kms as described at the end of Part 1. Look at the ill-fitting step-out uniform and the absurdly brand-new shoes!
  
2. In the same uniform, 39 days before uitklaar – the “morning after”, just following Friday morning Parade. We had had a glorious 40 days’ celebration the night before. The rowers each handed over their 2 beers. We made a beer-mountain, and proceeded to suip the lot uit. We staggered into the depot next morning, in step-outs, to O.C.’s Parade. He must have smelt our breath; he must have seen that his ou manne were babelaas. But just for once, to his credit, paraat Willi said nothing. See the babelaas eyes squinting painfully into the sun? But see, also, how I have filled out over the course of my two years. Can you spot the error in the photo?
 
3. Just for the record, this photo was taken in 1985, 10 years after I klaared out. I am 30, playing loose-head prop for my rugby team. Still pretty slim and strong. The permanent after-effects of that tough SADF training. I never even liked sport before I went to the army!
 I don’t, oddly enough, remember much about our uitklaar parade, except that we sang Die Stem. I have always loved those lines “Ons sal antwoord op jou roepstem, ons sal offer wat jy vra", words and melody. I am glad Die Stem is still in our National Anthem, but I do miss those two lines – they, above all, sum up why I served in the SADF. Langenhoven’s poem is not a political tract, but a pure, simple expression of love of country. One with which I identify – deeply. Ultimately, I served in the SADF because I love South Africa – the country, irrespective of the government.
And I love South Africa still. My diensplig I did for my country, not a for any particular political dispensation. The political dispensation has changed. But the country hasn’t. I have dual Italian nationality, and could settle anywhere in Europe tomorrow, if I so wished. I never will. I am a South African to the very core of my being. I chose Afrikaans over both Italian and English as my home language – you don’t get much more South African than that! I am tied to this country with bonds so deep that I don’t believe they can ever be severed. And the greatest of these is diensplig.
If there were a war today, and I were called up to serve in the SANDF, I would go just as freely as I went then, and pull on the new SANDF uniform, and do whatever I could to serve my country. As a 55-year-old diabetic with stents, I would probably not be much of a combatant – but I think that with a refresher course, I could still be a mean tiffie armourer!
My rather ordinary diensplig may not mean much to guys who were in the thick of it all during the Eighties. But it means a great deal to me. In our Basic Training, we all suffered the same onslaught that the SADF used to make us into soldiers, a training of an intensity and hardness that few other soldiers in the modern world have had to endure. But it was survivable, and we survived – even the weaklings like me. As I have said elsewhere, I still look back on those two years of diensplig with awe. And I don’t think I will ever get past my experience of being an SADF soldier. For us it might just have been “army”. For most of the rest of the world, it was something they missed, and never will have the opportunity to experience. And that is something worth keeping very close to one’s heart. END.

 

 

 

 

23 comment(s) so far...


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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Phillip, just read your 3 parts, all I can say is "excellent". You definitely do not suffer from Alzheimer's. I did basics myself in January 1979 at 4 SAI, Middelburg and then in July 1979 I joined the PF ranks for the next 20 years in the SAAF. I agree with you, it (Basics) changed me as a person into a better, stronger and more confident adult for quicker than any other training could do it. I always say that it was my most "enjoyable" time of my life I never want to relive again. Enough of that, again, thanks for sharing with us your memories and hope to hear some more in the future. Greeting, Feetloose

By Johan Smit on   2011/05/24 08:44 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Johan: thanks for your kind comment. The part that changed me most was the 1st 6 weeks of Basics. The rest followed naturally...well, almost naturally! You are right; it ended up being the most influential time of my life, and it was something I am glad to have done; but never again! Please write up some of your experiences for us.

Kind regards, Phillip.

By Phillip Vietri on   2011/02/14 01:15 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Phillip , I enjoyed your memoirs on the good old days of our SADF adventure. Thanks for the interesting insight into the work of an Armourer. Every one was a cog and part of the machine.Yes, they were times to remember, and as your previous reader and many others have said, the best time in our lives that we never want to repeat! The best part is the making of good buddies after going through the same experiences together. Well done on pushing yourself up and doing what you had to do. Imagine what we would be like if we didn't have to do our National service. Stay well. Granger Korff

By Granger Korff on   2011/05/24 08:48 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Granger: Thanks for taking the trouble to read my blog. Regret, not a fraction as exciting as 19 with a Bullet, but as you also say, everyone was a cog in the machine. The crafty old SAW had a place for everyone - even the weaklings!
Thanks again
Phillip Vietri

By Phillip Vietri on   2011/03/08 08:44 AM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

My respect to you, sir, or should I say corporal! I was a German volunteer (G1K1), 1SSB 1979-1980 & camps (Messina convoy power demonstration with Mugabes entry, Katima Mulilo, etc.). You wrote it like it was. Today - so much anti-SADF propaganda. How this brings back memories...

By German volunteer on   2011/07/09 10:38 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Many thanks, deutscher Freiwilliger, for your kind comments. What better response could a guy ask for? As you saw in my blog, we tiffies got on really well with the pantsers at 81 TSD. You guys had some of the wildest ideas, and the chutzpah to carry them out. You are so right about the memories. Some time ago I read Peter Tannhoff's book about his 18 Monate - Sprutz: in die Fänge der NVA. What a whiner, especially considering how relatively mild the NVA training was. I wonder what he would have made of SADF training! But it did trigger memories, and this blog is the result.
Kind regards
Phillip

By The Ancient Armourer on   2011/07/11 07:44 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Interesting story about Italian prisoners of war who fell in love with South Africa (article by Jan Lamprecht of Africancrisis):

http://www.historyreviewed.com/Article.php?ID=84058&

By German volunteer on   2011/08/01 08:26 AM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Thanks for the URL, German volunteer. There are many such stories. One old Italian in Alexandria during the war spoke of a new kind of soldier with brown boots arriving, chasing the pickpockets and winding them with their belts. He swore he would find out which country they were from and go and live there. Another old man who ran a restaurant in Pretoria was a P.O.W. who cheffed for Jan Smuts during the War. I was in the army with the son of an U-Boot Commander who saw Cape Town through his periscope and came and settled here after the war. And as a sideline, did you know that the Afrikaans surname Marx comes from Karl Marx's sister, who settled in Cape Town. How's that for irony?
Regards
Phillip

By The Ancient Armourer on   2011/08/03 09:58 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Mr. Vietri, how can I contact you? I have recently relocated to a safer country, and if I am not mistaken and have not misread one of your comments elsewhere, I might now live just around the corner to you. If true, perhaps we might have a little get-together to talk about the old times.

Kind regards

R.D.

By German volunteer on   2012/02/09 11:36 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

By a safer, country, do you mean South Africa? That is where I live.

By The Ancient Armourer on   2012/02/10 03:40 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Man, dis jammer ek is so van die merk af, ek het so uitgesien om u te ontmoet. Ek het na my geboorteland, wat ek op vierjarige ouderdom verlaat het, teruggekeer..Ek dog ek lees u is êrens in die omgewing van Freiburg. Snaaks hoe die lewe uitdraai. In elk geval, groetnis van my kant af.

By German volunteer on   2012/02/10 07:30 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Jammer, nee, man. Ek was September vir 'n rukkie in Freiberg, Sachsen, na aan Dresden. Ek't 'n besoek aan die voormalige DDR gemaak, en met 'n vriend gebly wat in die NVA was dieselfde tyd as wat ek in die SAW was. Jammer vir die misverstand. Dankie ook vir die boodskap. Phillip.

By The Ancient Armourer on   2012/02/12 01:31 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Dear Sir,

I read all the three parts of your long experience in SADF. I absolutely enjoyed it. Have you considered writing a book. Though some of the sentences in Afrikaans I could not comprehend, nevertheless an excellent read.

I am not a South African and I am an not white, I am an Indian. But I have a huge interest in South African history. A very small group of people made this country a first world one, with excellent infrastructure, strongest army, best media houses even nuclear power. Although now I think in modern day SA talking about the bush war is taboo. I don't think it should be in any way. I think most of the people who fought were not there on a racial agenda. They were fighting because their country was at war. And young people were going through tremendous hardships because of it. As you sum it that being in the army was not because of political affiliation but because of patriotism.

I am now incensed by the PC of some people in SA about that period and another section of the society highlighting it as a race struggle against "Swart Gevaaar" I think it was more of a War where a lot of good people went through tough times.

Sincerely
Devarpan

By devarpan on   2012/03/15 01:04 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Devarpan: Many thanks for taking the trouble to read my Warblog. You have made not only my day, but my week and my year. Yours is the response I had hoped for when I wrote it in the first place. I have in fact expanded it into a book, with many more memories as they have come back to me. Some time perhaps I will publish.

My army career was a not a particularly exciting one, but it meant a lot to me. I am touched that a young fellow like yourself finds the story of an ancient like myself (I am 56 years old) of interest. You have inspired me to one thing, though; I realise the need to compile a glossary of Afrikaans terms. Many of them are slang, and many are the vulgarities of military language. As time provides the opportunity, I will do this. I have also an article to add, entitled "Why we fought the war". Regretfully, it all takes time, and who has too much of that these days? But again, many thanks for your response. I will value it, and so will many other old servicemen. Kind regards, Phillip Vietri.

By The Ancient Armourer on   2012/03/16 10:16 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Dear Sir,

Thanks for your lovely reply. Apologies for the delayed response to it.

Well you and all other veterans definitely are down-playing it. You were in the army fighting a war in the Bush, It had to be exciting, maybe the troops who operated behind enemy lines had more excitement and dangerous situations than yours. Were they called "Koevoets" ?? excuse me if I am wrong or spelled it incorrectly. But still

I know a gentleman a Dear Oom who used to work in the kitchen, his job the entire time was to peel potatoes and cook food. And my word he cooks fantastic meals and you should see how he peels and chops potatoes.

So I guess every one learned something or the other in the war. As they say, that the army builds characters and friends for life. And you will definitely agree you had more excitement than the youngsters nowadays with their blackberry's and swanky malls and the fast cars. Where 2 beers was the daily quota. Now the young get wasted every day if they want to.

My respect to you and every other person who participated in this war in which ever capacity. As we talked about it earlier most probably this war wasn't about race or colour of one's skin or communism. Atleast not for the people fighting it, maybe for the politicians. There might have been some who would have thought it that way. But as you mentioned in another article, that being a prick is not the hegemony of a particular race or group. Anyone can be one, no matter what the situation.

Please share some more of your stories. I am reading others war experiences too and its a fascinating read. Now sitting in the safe confines of society I can only imagine how it must have been.

Best Regards
Sincerely
Devarpan

By Devarpan on   2012/03/23 05:41 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Hi again, Devarpan. Thanks for this latest reply. Really, some fellows like the paratroops wer engaged in the thick of it. I was a humble Armourer, and my story is definitely not understated. Koevoet, to answer your question, was not military, but a paramilitary police unit. Before the SADF became involved on the former SWA border, it was secured by police. After the SADF took over, Koevoet was a police unit that functioned alongside the SADF, though relations with them, for various reasons, were not always good.

If you can supply me with an e-mail address, I can send you the full account of my SADF experience, which includes some supplementary articles and book reviews. I can then also recommend some websites and excellent books by soldiers who have a real story to tell.

And by the way, my name is Phillip.
Kind regards
Phillip Vietri.

By Phillip Vietri on   2012/03/24 08:57 AM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Hi Phillip. I happened on your blog by accident today and got to reading about your experiences as an armourer part two. I myself was conscripted into the SADF in Jan 1974 and trained as a rifleman in Danie Theron Combat School in Kimberly. I completed 5 months of an 8 month Officers Training Course in Oudtshoorn before leaving the course after injuries in 1974. I then completed COINOPS in 3 SAI in Potch and went to the border from there.Reading some of your experiences brought back many fond and not so fond memories and reminded me that there was a time when I wanted to join PF and I sometimes regret that I did'nt. I volunteered for my second year in the SADF as well and 'klaared' out on 6 Jan 1976. I have a "Brother in Arms" in a very dear close friend who also served but was lucky/unlucky enough to have to do camps for 10 years ( I did none, having volunteered for my second year in 1974). He and I very often share our memories and exploits over a bottle of our favourite poison. over the years we have also come into contact with many who profess to have served or who are not proud of the part they played in serving. They are quickly sorted out and sent packing when attempting to bullshit us. I am proud to call you "Brother in Arms" and would love to read your complete story. It's funny that after serving for two years, so closely with so many people, that I have never bumped into or had any contact with any one of them again. Also strange that I served for a time in Ruacana with a man that I dont recall ever meeting and today his son is maaried to one of my daughters. Its a strange, weird, wonderfull small world we live in.

By Cecil on   2012/05/04 11:32 AM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Hi Cecil, and thanks for the kind comment. Funny that I have also really never seen any of the guys since, excepting one with whom I corresponded for some years. Yes, there are a lot of bulls*itters out there, and whiners, too. I am not in the slightest embarrassed - as you can see from the story you have already read. I have good relationships with some of the young Navy ratings here at home, and have already been invited to visit the base and "see what the SA armed forces look like today". For the current generation, I'm just an old soldier. Cheers, Phillip.

By The Ancient Armourer on   2012/05/07 09:16 PM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

I was just an Eland gunner, not part of 32-Battallion, doing border duty in 1980 at Katima Mulilo, at what was a relative peacefull time (but that I only knew 30 years later when the Border War literature appeared). But that time must have made heavy impact upon me as an impressionable youth, in such a manner that I somehow get tears in my eyes when I see this, and that as a mature grown up!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNiStMtvKzs

Perhaps the sadness is also the knowledge of something very bigger we lost. We lost a country and with the country also an idea.

By German volunteer on   2013/09/16 03:15 AM
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re:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

Audrey
www.imarksweb.org

By rachelle on   2014/06/10 05:01 AM
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Re: An SADF Conscript Remembers the Early Seventies – Part Two

Good day, my dad Andre Nell, will love this, i am looking for a little background for him on his days in Voortrekker. Wow.

By Nicolene Brits on   2015/08/07 10:28 AM
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Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.


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WarBlogs > Home - A VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
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WarBlogs > Home - Operation Savannah
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By on: 05 July 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
Duncan, I remember you well!

Unfortunately I do not know about Maj Kruger. I've made enquiries in the past but wasn't successful.

Take care!
By Johan du Preez on: 17 May 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
Hi Johan
You mentioned 1 Mil in your story. I was there 15th Nov 1975 spent 9 mths-also very secretive. Lost both my arms. You mention a Major Kruger -Social Welfare. She was a wonderful person. Would you by any chance know if she is still alive and if so, how to contact her. I last met her in 1980 at 1 Mil.
Great site
Regards
Duncan
By Duncan Mattushek on: 16 May 2018
Re: The Battle of Mongua: From Ondjiva to Preira d’eça
Sorry to reply very late Lukas, but the story of the statue is a sad one. In short the money to make the statue was either stolen... There is lots of infighting in the provincial government.
By Dino Estevao on: 30 April 2018
Re: The Battle of Mongua: From Ondjiva to Preira d’eça
I must say i'm so happy to see my great grandfathers name being mentioned in the books of history. i grew up hearing of his names in stories (folk tails), know i have discovered myself his name and his contribution to the world history and the shaping of the Namibian and Angolan borders of today
By Thomas Mweneni Thomas on: 29 April 2018
Re: Photo Gallery of Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell) added
Hi Johan
I drove 72C in smokeshell, Kobus Nortje who has put up a number of Photos was in 72A
As you know from Hilton's email above I have written a book that Hilton is editing and I'm looking for good photos. How do I contact Kobus to ask him for permission to use the pictures?
Thanks Brian
By Brian Davey on: 02 April 2018
Re: Photo Gallery of Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell) added
Hilton, I could not find the exact reference in my notes, but I suspect it was Lt Paul Louw as I do remember reading about that report. As soon as I pint it down i will get back to you again...As to the photographs, none of them belong to me. Many come from the 61 Mech site and you may be able to obtain high res ones directly from them.There has been too many holdups and issues re the publication (mostly from my side) so I would have to re-approach the publisher to do it "my way" as previously they wanted me to reduce a 200-page manuscript to 64 pages to fit to the standard format of the publisher's series. It was not exactly what I had in mind, so I put it on ice...
By Johan Schoeman on: 16 March 2018
Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell)
Hi Johan,
Thank you for the wonderful service you provide for Bush War vets.

1. Can you tell me which officer said during the attack on Smokeshell, "My troops are bleeding!" It might have been Maj Fouche.

2. An old friend of mine, Brian Davey, is writing his memoir of National Service, including Smokeshell. He was driver of Ratel Seven-one Charlie. I am doing the editing, and would greatly appreciate permission to use some of the photographs you have here.

3. When do you think your book will be published?

Thanks again
By Hilton Ratcliffe on: 06 March 2018
Re: 23rd of August 1978 01h15 I remember it distinctly.
I was 10 years old and went to skool in Katima Mulilo, I will never forget that knight, siting in the bom shelter. Our house was against the Zambezi river next to the gest house.
By Jan Cronje on: 23 January 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
Thank you for the interesting information, Sandy.
By Johan du Preez on: 03 January 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
It seems we never accomplished anything in Angola you with your foot taken in a slippery place....I was part of 16 maintenance unit ...a soldier escorting convoys all the way to Silver Porto from Grootfontein on many occasions between Dec 1975 and Jan/Feb 1976 . Everytime a truck a truck broke down we were expected to run and take cover in a bush we did not know waiting to be blown away whilst the tiffy's tried to fix the trucks on route ,,,lastly we then had to ride shotgun on a diesel/petrol train up from Lobito on the Benguela train line ,,,up the steep escarpment at a snails pace waiting to be blown away which never happened .We then after two weeks having to guard it whilst daily pumping to trucks was done to fill the underground tanks kept at the monastery abandon the train as is whilst we had to hitch a ride back to the states. A high light was being a barman at one of Jamie Ys's movies beautiful people at Grootfontein. People do not know what a civil war can do and the comfort they have or had living in in SA..For some reason I never was called to do any camps or had made contact with the 9 others who were part of that "escort defence unit" a real mix breed of English/Afrikaners .Unfortunately I but did almost lose my leg from the knee playing soccer up in Jhb lying all tied up for over 2.5 months as they battled to save it in the Mill Park hospital in around 1983.This eventually effecting my whole body.I guess it keeps one humble and the glory be to the One and only God ...regards
By Sandy Carter on: 02 January 2018