SAAF dog handler, Guard Commander
(1982 – 84)
And so the day dawned, 7th July 1982. A rather auspicious day as my late mum would have celebrated her birthday. Old school pal Trevor Gallan picked me up in his volla and dropped my off at the gates of Valhalla Beach as it was known to the pongoes and the fun was about to begin.
Of course, lots of rumours planted in my cranium over the years were whizzing around at speed. Did they really put stuff in your coffee to quell your sexual urges? Did you really have to chain up your washing lest it got pinched? Ironing of beds? Was the food really that kak and would you keel over from exhaustion and end up in ICU on a drip?
As I walked through the gates with the guards giving all of us 'roofs' those condescending looks, all was about to become very apparent. The sight of that huge 'sand only' parade ground to my right was to become one of the most hated patch of earth, an area we would soon be introduced to as “The Sahara’
Scrubbing floors after the previous intake had stuffed them up for the next lot was a laborious task, while getting your nutria kit was a lesson all on its own- nothing seemed to fit well, while the boots had an appearance of a crocodile’s skin and were harder than granite.
Next came the lessons on bed making, bed ironing, folding and ironing your new browns and so forth. Being winter, the showers were rarely warm so cold showers were the order of the day. Your browns had to be clean for the next day’s punishment so were always ironed dry, which took forever and an age. It gave them houding quickly though, and soon took on that faded, ou man look.
Lots of things stand out as you get used to the military style of living, if you want to call it that. Washing your varkpan in a mixture of luke warm water, fat and washing powder comes to mind, as does the food itself. One meal out of twenty was palatable, and even that was rare.
The instructors of course knew exactly how to make your life a misery. Dragging a dustbin of mud through the bungalow at 11pm at night was a favourite, as was a quick visit at any hour to see who was sleeping on the floor rather than in their bed which was suitable gyppo’ed most nights and which didn’t have to be made in the morning. To answer your question, yes, you did iron your bed, using shaving cream to keep it all nice and boxy.
Then of course, the new recruits, who came in all shapes and sizes and obviously, from very varied walks of life. My favourite was Gatiep, who had the IQ of a jellyfish and logic says got his name from his missing top teeth. A sight to behold. Gatiep decided one day to move on parade which was spotted by the RSM, who duly gave our instructor Dave Shaw an earful of note. Shaw in turn took it out on us and we stood to attention in the sun for the next four hours, with the okes dropping like flies every couple of minutes or so. Gatiep was duly chased up a tree and locked up with laundry chains to sleep that night.
Of course, what would life be without the usual ‘vuilgat’ who refused point blank to follow any form of personal hygiene? His browns were dirty with sweat, he stank and so forth. After a good opfok one day, we marched him off to the showers and borselled him properly- shoe brushes, black polish all over, including any crevice you could find and the result was instantaneous. Vuilgat spent the better part of 3 hours under the cold showers scrubbing it all off and looked like a pink prawn for his efforts. Vuilgat transformed into the cleanestoke in the bungalow from that eve on. Then there were okes who were new to toilets, (I’ll leave that there) and others that simply had no idea. One okearrived carrying so much weight we had to literally carry him 90% of the way when running the dreaded 2.4km in full kit, and even after three months, he was still rotund.
DOG HANDLERS COURSE AT BOURKE’S LUCK
The first pass came and went, and finally we ‘klaared out’ from basics. We had a rare 3 day pass after which we returned to hear our fate in regards to our mustering. I got to be a 'doggie', while others were more fortunate and became drivers or office jockeys. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter where you went- you still got to donate 24 months of your life to the State.
So it was off to Bourke’s Luck for me for another three months of opfokkery. See SAAF Notes Mk1 for that escapade but essentially, the same. Another three months of bullshit, cleaning kennels and having your ear chewed off. At least we could drink beer at the end of the day and there was always much trading for beer coupons with those that didn’t drink. Two beers hardly did it.
Back to Valhalla we went and were now posted to various bases around the country. I got Pietersburg Air force Base, a dorp I’d never even heard of. Captain Nimrod Bekker came to fetch us in a bus, and years later I tracked him down on the 'Vleisbroek.'
Of course, the bullshit was about to start all over again, and the Ou Manne were always on our case, especially when they’d run out of money and wanted money for more booze which we were expected to sponsor. Luckily that didn’t last too long and a few weeks later, they klaared out for good and life would resume to almost normal. Not before of course they’d caused so much kak like discharging dry powder extinguishers through the bungalow the night before inspection. Stuff them.
Life as a 'doggie' wasn’t too bad- you stood a 6 hour beat at night, either 6-12 or 12-6, after which you were free to do what you pleased. That changed to a three shifter- 6-10, 10-2 and 2 to six. Obviously the kennels had to be cleaned daily and the dogs had to be dipped now and again for ticks etc., while some poor bastard had to don the attack suit now and again and be punished with sharp fangs trying to bite through it as the handlers let their dogs loose. This was normally reserved for the okes caught sleeping on duty. Moral of the story- don’t sleep, or don’t get caught. One of the two.
Keeping busy on beat was easy enough. Pietersburg had a good array of wildlife such as hedgehogs, bullfrogs in season, jackals, and the occasional feral cat which gave the hounds good exercise. Rabbits were also fair game for the mutts but were rarely caught, if ever.
The niceties included standing at Bulk Fuel when they were doing night flying and keeping low as the Mirages landed or took off was a site to behold, along with the glorious noise. Or the laundry- a few bucks off your salary each month was way better than doing it yourself while the bar sold dop at stupid prices. The trick was to order a double brannas and half way through, top it up with another shot or two, add the balance of the coke and repeat. I stood beat many a time with eyes that refused to focus and a head that just wanted a soft cushion.
Finally I got transferred into the security office, a small rung up the ladder, and few months later, I would become a guard commander. The office job was quite lekker- I drew up guard lists, escorted the school bus now and again and issued domestic workers with permits as well as vehicle permits. It was during this period that I cracked the nod to have a flip in an Impala, a privilege few National Serviceman had the honour of enjoying (see SAAF notes MkI1).
And then, guard commander. This is when it became fun while at the same time, you realise just how resourceful you and your mates had become over the past 14 months or so.
It was an exhausting job though. You were on duty by six and had a myriad of chores to do during the day, after which you’d hand over at 4pm to your fellow guard commander for night duty who grafted till six the next morning. After a week of day duty it was now your turn to push a 14 hour day.
A weeks pass followed the night shift which was great and given Pietersburg was just 4 hours from Jozi, it wasn’t a schlep going backwards and forwards.
Roll call, let the okes eat, and by six you were posting them to their various beats of which there were seven- five around the buildings and two a few kms away at 70 Mobile Radar Unit (70MRU) and Bulk ammo. And this is where the fun started.
There was always an officer on duty for whom you had fetch grub from the Officers Mess and where there were always left-overs. Porterhouse steaks were a favourite which were carried out in your ‘boshoed’ to avoid detection. (You had your stripe by then and could always commandeer a roof to wash it the next day) Some PF’s arrived on beat one eve with huge rucksacks, strictly verboden. I soon learnt they were going to have a quick braai at 70MRU so got a few steaks from the mess and joined them!
Getting the bakkie sideways in a four wheel drift on the way back from 70MRU was always fun - the okes in the back used to scream blue murder. Choppies bust me once honing my rallying skills and promptly dished out 7 extra duties. Luckily he never caught me wheelying the Chev Nomad with four doggies on the back, or lightly ‘kissing’ a large rock one night.
Then there was the matter of sleeping on duty. Given the dislike between us and the PF members, it was largely PF’s that got nailed, and this was done in two ways- either have your name written in the book and you’d be formally charged or make a small donation to the wellbeing of the guard commanders’ night life.
Given I had a batman to make my bed, clean and tidy etc in the varkhok, (a separate room in the bungalow) fetch and carry washing, etc, said 'roof' also had a key to the varkhok. I’d return on occasions to find my cupboard full of an array of mind altering, feel good beverages. That itself presented a small problem come inspection so the 'roofs' were dispatched with their money to fetch ice and coke from the local SAWI after which they were invited to help you dispose of your ill-gotten gains.
Sleeping in the varkhok had its advantages but one thing that was unpleasant was the day to day noise. And when I say noise, I mean it. The one runway was less than a kilometre from my bungalow and after a 14 hour stint on night duty you needed sleep, big time. The Mirage’s taking off made a hellava din- the snarl of the engines on afterburner on take-off was amazing, but it also rattled the windows which woke you up a few times during the day.
Going back to the resourcefulness of the troepe...
It was Christmas time and the 'doggies' had all been dispatched to their posts. Every half hour, they had to report in and declare all was fine, and being Christmas eve, I cut them some slack and didn’t patrol, but chose to relax in the guardhouse and read.
The 'doggies' had all jumped the fence and were having one moerova party somewhere in the dorp, smoking dope and dopping, but still reporting as if all was well. They’d cleverly worked out which radio was strongest and were all using the same radio to do their reporting. Come midnight and they all miraculously appeared at their posts with yours truly none the wiser that they’d had an absolute ball.
The more notable mischief making came in the form of two okes being caught trying steal an Alfa Sud motor from the scrapyard next door, one oke taking his pistol on pass with him and holding up a video shop for which he got a few years while Frikkie VD Westhuizen got bust on his Honda outside Potgietersrus at 187km/h and got six cuts on his bare backside for his Rossi impersonation.
Of course there always some sadness and stupidity. On one occasion, a 'roof' was playing with his 9mm which then AD’eed (accidental discharge) and shot his mate in the neck who was chilling on his bed. I’d left for my weeks pass that morning so they pulled a Mirage from the skies to afford the poor chap a blood transfusion directly- he was O Neg as was I and the Mirage pilot. The pilot’s donation saved his life and the transfusion was done on the runway once his Mirage had come to a stop, so urgently was it needed.
The final months at Pietersburg were a welcome slow down to my two year state expense paid holiday and as soon as the new commanders had been shown the ropes, the three of us guard commanders were drafted to Spes group, which did random patrols around the bases 14km fence among other things and were confined to the security area where all the lekker planes were stored in their hangars. We slept in a huge prefab and had the use of a Buffel and Unimog, which were both great to drive. Many a Sunday arvie saw me volunteer for driving duties around the fences while the okes sat at the back with beers and dope and got pleasantly wasted.
Just before we finished up came the annual Air Force Memorial Day, where we directed the civvies to parking spots and generally kept an eye on things. Once done and the civvies had buggered off a feast awaited us at the mess but as mentioned, we were confined to the security area at all times so had to have our braai there. Each oke at the mess received half a chicken so we duly we went to fetch ours which would be braaied by ourselves.
Trickery at its best - inflate the numbers so that it was almost a full chicken per oke along with salads rolls etc. But when I say thick as thieves it gets better. Each of the guard commanders arrived at the mess to collect the grub at different stages, but each spoke to a different cook and voila, three times the amount of grub needed was handed over. Then came the small matter of firewood. A huge dead tree was collected by Unimog from the veld and broken by placing against a wall at 45deg angle and reversing the Unimog up the tree stump. This saw it shatter into many, manageable pieces.
Next came the problem of labour but with lots of grub on hand, six 'roofs' happily made the fire, cooked the grub and fetched the dop from inside the bungalow for us ou manne. And on the subject of booze, I teamed up with an old mate and we bought a case of beer and bottle of brannas to get the meal down. We started at noon but by 2pm that was all klaar so we just repeated the order.
Of course, our chicken only meal reached the ears of one the national serviceman officer’s mess cooks and he duly arrived, invited specifically if he proffered steaks. He duly did, with lots of meat to satisfy a battalion. Luckily the 'roofs' were on hand to tidy up the deluge afterwards. It was after all, our swansong.
Finally, the day we’d all been waiting for – klaar out day. Our two years was up, and we duly headed back to Civvy Street to start life in earnest. Just 12 months later, I was back for my first camp, this time at Hoedspruit, another joint I hadn’t even heard of..
SOME MORE MEMOIRS FROM MY SAAF DAYS.
Pietersburg AFB circa December 1983 – July 1984. I was a July intake, and it was kak. Winter basics even at Valhalla Beach as the pongoe’s labelled the place was not something anyone enjoyed. But basics is/were basic- we all went through the same shit.
I did my basics July 82, and then went to Bourke’s Luck in October 1982 as I was assigned/mustered as a “doggie’ . (see ‘who who walks around with dog on leash trying to stay awake’)
Rather, see who has to pick up 35kg+ Rottweiler and run up and down the countryside while said hound chomps on your ear, or any other available body part in his/her bid at administering love bites.
It was during such training that the pongoes decided to give us budgies an opfok, but not before they’d considered that the ambient temperature was a moderate 38c.
For those that have ventured to Bourke’s Luck, the instructors had a wonderful game to play- ‘Monument Building’. This involved running down the ravine, each ‘roof’ fetching a rock and hauling it upstairs to build a monument. i.e- a huge pile of rocks. The instructors would of course have a case of beer or two on the bet as to who’s flight (platoon) built the biggest monument in the shortest/fastest time.
That’s said, most of the okes had to drink from the Blyde River as the instructors didn’t consider dehydration (rehydration) – no water break offered, so fend for ourselves was the case.
A day later and some 90-odd troepe ended in sick bay with the remaining 38 or so walking around doing fokoli.
The commandant of the camp soon got wise as to why 80% of his budgie intake got booked into sick bay and duly called a bosberaad. He ‘treed aan” his instructors and duly gave them a similar opfok while us roofies sat back with smokes and water bottles and watched the fun as he jaaged them up and down the countryside.
Never again did the pongoes give the budgies kak!
Much later, I ended up at Pietersburg AFB, affectionately known as 85AFS/GVS - delete according to taste.
I rose through the lower ranks and eventually became an office jockey – drawing up guards lists was a pain in the arse, as was answering as to why said doggies under my watch had managed to infiltrate the hangars (Mirage and Impalas) and relieve them of much sort after cokes, crisps, chokkies etc.
Nevertheless, as part of my duties, I had to issue/verify/print access passes to the various domestics working on the base and, one such occasion, a certain Major Barron arrived in my miniscule office.
This was not before I had scorched Nimrod Bekker’s fingers with cordite stolen from an R1 round or two and placed surreptitiously in his ashtray. I got 7 extra duties for that prank/misdemeanour.
To cut a very long story short, part of my duty/duties, over and above permits etc also included escorting the school kids on the SAAF school bus, to the dorp and back, etc.
And there was a naughty little shit on the bus, son of Major Barron, (RIP) and, if memory serves correct, Richard. Cute little bugger, especially when he pranced up and down the isle kissing the younger ladies’ cheeks, or for that matter, any young bokkie that he could lay his peckers on. The young damsels would blush for hours afterwards!
The above was duly related to “Ol man Barron” who needless to say, was extremely proud of his offspring’s conquest and abilities to pull punda.
He’d warmed to me from the above, and instead of a non descript number in the SAAF and one who had his name inked on the ‘guest list’ to fly in a something exciting, I suddenly found myself in a flying overall with Mike Weingartz (ZU-IMP) behind the ‘stick’
Mike was an absolute gent and took me through the all the safety procedure before take-off- oxygen feed, chatting to him up front, the use of the ejection seat (I’ll tell you when) and finally onto the manoeuvres before executing them.
We got airborne for Pietersburg and being a low level reconnaissance headed for the Ysterberge (between Potties and Pietersburg). The wing tips were clipping the granite alongside, while at 200ft on the descent and flying over rural land villages, were able to spot Kudu and other wild game on our way to Ellisras. The villagers never enjoyed this I might add.
Climbing to FL230 and a wing-over back down again in a MK1 remains one the biggest, highest of highs in my life.
No, I didn’t puke even after a non-pressurised overall (G-suit) with +4g tugging away.
But the pongoes at Ellisras must have known that the oke in the back seat was having the time of his life!
(I’ve had a spin in a modified F1 Arrows car at just under 300km/h.) The Impala rose above that, easily I might add..
And so, to lost souls who have made somebody’s life very special for just 90 minutes, thanks Major Barron! RIP.
That word you put in for me and getting me to leapfrog the PFs remains very special (to a nondescript one liner) and some PF’s are still muttering as to why a NDP (National Service Man) got preference over them..
FIRST CAMP - HOEDSPRUIT
It wasn’t even a year later and the dreaded registered mail slip arrived in the post. I’d left the SAAF in July 1984, had found a job in civvy street and even had a car! Life was good. Except that donderse piece of paper.
In those days the then NATS had failed to look after campers and national serviceman alike with regards to their salaries. In short, your employer was not forced to pay you for your unintended holiday, and this one was a whole 60 frikking days. Quite a cheek really- you’re expected to protect the state but the state couldn’t protect you.
Never mind that like Pietersburg where I did my two years, I had no idea where Hoedspruit was once the brown envelope had been opened and revealed its contents revealing my intended temporary home.
Packing my kit into the trusty Tarzan car ( A canary yellow 323) I headed to Pietersburg and then through Phalaborwa, Gravelotte etc toward Hoesdpruit. The long way round yes, but a nice drive anyway.
Hoesdspruit Air Force Base was modern compared to Pietersburg. It even had aircons in the bungalows and the bungalows only had 14 beds or so in them. The ablutions were clean and the hot water never ran out.
The attitude was also more rustig, with the PF’s knowing that we were tired off all their bullshit experienced over the 2 years previously, except some two liner called Potties who was there to try and make life miserable. We were civvies and they/he knew it.
They gave us all R5s and it was only two week later that we headed to the range to fire the things. Many of us had only had fired G3’s so something light without the recoil of an angry buffalo made a refreshing change.
In the meantime they kept us busy by sending us on a daily stroll around the perimeter fences in pairs. They’d drop us off at 5km intervals and off we went at a leisurely stroll for the next 6 hours. Given we hadn’t been set a target on how far to walk, we didn’t walk much on a few occasions.
Half way through the beat the trusty Bedford would do its rounds with orange juice on tap. I’m sure it was Mazoe and we soon caught on that filling one water bottle with Vodka and the other with water helped to make the walk more interesting. When the Bedford came into range, we’d empty the water from the one bottle and pour half of the Vodka bottle into the now empty bottle. Both bottles were subsequently topped up with orange juice after which the Bedford would continue on its way. Walking all of sudden became a lot more pleasant.
For those that don’t know, Hoedspruit was a declared nature reserve and the place was teaming with creatures, especially warthog, the next subject.
The group of campers that we were relieving were a crafty bunch and had potted a ‘hog a week or so previously that they claimed had a broken leg of sorts. A good bullshit story that was hardly believed by the brass at Hoedspruit but innocent until proven guilty always works when there are no witnesses. They kindly offered to throw a departure/arrival party for the two groups and the security officer agreed in principal to that notion with the kind request of ‘don’t dop too much’
We borrowed a Bedford and beatled off to the dorp to fetch grog. Then we set about bribing a few national serviceman to act as barmen and cooks for which they could enjoy the braai with us and obviously, have a few drinks too.
The aircons came in useful at this stage and kept the beers at an amazing temperature
The ‘hog had spent the better part of a week in marinade and if you thought granny’s roast pork on Sundays was good, you haven’t tasted well prepared warthog yet. It was tender, tasty and in abundance too.
The security officer’s eyes nearly popped out his head the next morning when he saw the aftermath…. The 44 gallon drum was overflowing but by that time, half of us were on duty and half had buggered off just in case he decided to reward us with an impromptu opfok for our fine efforts.
On that subject, the corporal Potties took exception to one of my sniggers when he shouted an incorrect command during parade one morning. “Moenie op my parade grond lag nie troep” he barked.
True to form, he rounded up the group the next morning and gave them a bit of exercise. I was on the early morning stroll so he missed outright, much to his chagrin and the group that wasn't on beat that morning.
On the subject of grub, there was a quaint steakhouse in the dorp which served the most amazing pepper sauce burgers, a meal that made a welcome change to the rather boring ‘menasie kos’ normally on offer. We soon befriended the owners who made our trips worthwhile – a starter salad, a generous burger and finally washed down with a Don Pedro, all for R30 bucks.
We soon cracked the nod to watch the infamous “The Wall” by Pink Floyd at their place and accepted. The screening of the movie was accompanied by some rather potent gorilla grass, Even after several viewings, I never quite got a handle of what it was all about with each version dishing up a different interpretation.
When we weren’t strolling around the 37km perimeter fence we dawdled around if we were off in the morning, or if we’d done early morning duty, often headed to the dorp for entertainment at Motel Fort Coepieba or ‘Kapieps’ in colloquial terms.
Probably the most run down joint in the Lowveld it offered a cheap reprieve which became even cheaper once we got hold of it…
The dump boasted two bars- a “Ladies” version and the plain old men’s version, which were joined via a small corridor and shaped in a loose “L”. Both bars had bulkheads onto which the bottles of common drinks with optics were attached and secured. If you leaned forward a bit, you could reach the optics…
It didn’t take us long to work out that poor Alfred couldn’t see what was going on in one bar if he were serving in the other, so a simple stretch was all that was required to charge your glass with a double brannas. To hide or disguise the game, the occasional single was ordered but the coke sales rocketed. Poor Alfred- as one group ordered, the others were recharging and of course visa verse. This went on for hours….
Our visits to the Riverlodge Motel also had interesting consequences. Situated just outside the Strydom Tunnel it had a nice view and cozy pub.
Of course our fascination with the large fruit jar on the bar counter led to a rather unintended windfall. It had a tulip shaped shooter glass placed in the bottom and the jar was filled with water. Finally the large lid had a small slot cut in it so essentially it became a money box. Dropping a coin through the slot would see the coin falling through the water in a very erratic fashion and supposedly a drink per coin was the reward if the coin landed in the glass. There were several in it when we started.....
The challenge was on we were soon on a winning streak. After many experimental runs using different denominations by my pal Martin we’d worked it out. A volley of some 30 old nickel 5c coins found themselves in the shooter glass.
Our enthusiasm in getting so many in and a coin per drink was soon dampened when the barman claimed he didn’t see our efforts and our reward could not be honoured. Not to be outdone, we simply told him to empty the jar, and we’d start all over again. He could then count our coins and honour the arrangement. He obliged by emptying the shooter glass and also moved the glass from its original position hoping to outfox us. We also bought back the 5c coins which offered the most consistent travel. Beeg Mistake!
Given we felt a bit screwed the first time out, Martin made a concerted effort to reclaim our lost winnings and after a few test runs, dropped a record 21 consecutive 5c coins into the tulip glass. The barman nearly had a fit, but rules are rules
The mixers were chargeable but to our joy, we spent just R38 each on coke over the 6 hours of madness, but hell that was a lot of coke in those days. We kept a tally of drinks won/drinks consumed and with our generous balance sheet, were buying all and sundry complimentary drinks. When our tally ran low we simply got the barman to empty the glass and we'd start all over again.
Once such farmer was enjoying our generosity and took pity on us trying to play 301 which saw 1 out 3 darts actually reaching the board, but nowhere near its intended target.
He’d "show us how to do it" was the next offer and after missing the bull with three darts promptly potted it with .38 special.
Seems this was a common occurrence and after the marksman handed the barman R120, a new dart board was procured to replace the now destroyed one hanging on the wall. The numerous slugs still embedded in the wall when the new was hung up proved this theory.
It was at this stage that we decided to head home. On return a few days later, the glass jar was nowhere to be found..
The second camp, now a one monther came and went and besides a few braais at Swadini, proved largely uneventful. Ok, I burnt the living sheet out of my thumb spooking a brandy bottle which was followed by a shot of Omnopon by the medics but soon recovered..
It was at that stage that I got the local MP to query parliament as to why there was no law to force companies to pay us during our yearly camps.
The feedback was that there were no plans to introduce such law and being a bit wiser to the world, decided to call it a day after two camps and ninety days of walking around fences.
I didn’t change my address when I moved again and sadly, or gladly, that was the last the SAAF heard from me.
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