1969. Mark Esslemont, Commando Basic, Danie Theron Combat School, Kimberley. "Turbulent and dangerous lunacy."
Dokkies Troopies: Top row - Jan Kooyman 1st left. Bottom row - Mark Esslemont 2nd left, Darryl Clifford 4th left, Rob Ruggier 4th right, John Rees 3rd right, David Cohen MIA. Several other troopies came from Northlands BHS
Basic Camp, July 1969: My conscription, dogging my tertiary studies, wasn't credited to my future teacher's salary. Later, white male teachers got salary credits for conscription. White conscripts were called up from all over SA, and hundreds of Commando Roofs (scabs) and I (17) troop-train-trekked to Kimberley, where army Bedfords took us to Danie Theron Combat School. We were 17-18 year old child-soldiers, signing our lives away for Volk en Vaderland: Botha's throw-away troopies, conscripted to protect whiteys. Some of us weren't old enough to legally drink, drive, vote, but Broederbonders who'd never volunteered to go up north during WW2, deemed us old enough to die for SA. My rifleman number was 672050548. '67 was the year I'd registered.
Troopies were issued with WW2 surplus kit and most were billeted in warehouse barracks. Some were billeted in tents to freeze during highveld winter. Each troopie was allocated a metal storage-locker, metal bed, two sheets, two blankets, pillow, pillow-case. Some troopies, scared of messing their beds, slept on the linoleum covered floor. "Aaaandag!...Ateeeenshun Roofs!..." Conscript corporals crapped on us from dizzy heights: "Roer julle slapgatte fokken Roofies!...Kak af kerels!...Ons vat nie kak nie!..." Kak continued from frosty 4am till late, and civilizing influences were binned. If kit was stolen, one stole someone else's...
Conscript corporals taught us how to make our beds, pack our lockers, polish our boots and brass, clean our greasy .303 rifles for kit inspection, after frosty breakfast each morning. Our rifles were our wives, we went everywhere with them, even slept with them. Rudolf, Northlands old-boy, and Skelm bedded either side of me. Skelm whined about army life. Once Rudolf picked a fight with me, and Skelm said, "Fokkof poesface!" Toilets were the only private places in camp. At night, small troopies like me, wearing helmets, were swung around in blankets, polishing floors with our bums.
Drill-squads were 3 sections, 10 troopies per section. Three or four squads comprised a company. Drill-corporals drilled squads, and white-epauletted, nominated lance-corporals sang, "Lef-lef-lef -ri-leeeef!...Lik-juk-lik-juk-looooy!..." I would hear that song for the next 25 years. We wore varkpakke pig-suits, green berets, webbing, gaiters, boots bayonets in belt scabbards, while drilling with our rifles. We were forbidden to wear bayonets in the mess, where Jew troopies ate kosher meals, and other troopies used varkpanne dixies. On Sundays, while a chaplain church-paraded English troopies around a flag-pole, Afrikaner troopies marched off to their dominee.
Drill-sergeants Killer Smith, Killer Finlay, and Sar' major Gouws supervised conscript corporals, yelling, "LIK-JUK-LIK-JUK -LOOOOY!..." Conscript-corporals taught us how to shoot and bayonet kaffirs, communists, terrorists, and how to hit them with our rifle-butts. Once, Killer Smith chase-paraded us, marching us double-quick, till Skelm was dismissed, crying and limping. During smoke-break, Sar' major Gouws sorted out Skelm, "Fedch a leaf frrom dad bush ON DA DOUBLE!" When Skelm returned panting, Gouws ordered, "Noddad bush fokken Roof. Fedch a leaf frrom dad blerrie bush OVERR DEEEERRE!"
At the rifle-range, we sighted our rifles, and shot live snapshot and rapid-fire at targets. My .303 was for a right-hander. Left-handed, I bashed my wrist on the rifle-bolt when I ejected cartridges. Stoppages caused more shit. Permanent Force Instructors screamed themselves hoarse, while stopping us being shot. We were expected to defend apartheid against kaffirs, communists and terrorists, who our Instructors implied were all the same. But banned ANC and PAC freedom-fighters were supported by Soviet and Chinese commies respectively. (Sean Moroney Editor, Africa Volumes 1, 2, Facts On File, New York 1989).
At passing-out parade dress-rehearsal, we stood at attention in columns of 18. Skelm, three ranks ahead, shuffled into dressing. Those behind shuffled up. Killer Finlay strode up the ranks, past Skelm, yelling at me to impress the parade. Later, I apologized to Finlay amongst a bunch of troopies. Finlay looked cross. In future, I'd cross several white bosses.
A general inspected us, then saluted from a podium, while a troopie band played Boomalakka!... Oooompa!...then troopies marched past, in columns of 18.
At basic camp, some troopies were weaker than me. Bullies, thick okes and fools stuck to the army like shit to shoes. I didn't think spit-an'-polish would save my life during war. "Sick" Rudolf had lain in bed most of camp. He recovered the day before we backspoored to Durbs. After varsity graduation, he trekked overseas.
At Danie Theron, we were verbally, physically and mentally abused. SADF excelled at fucking up troopies' minds. There were no passes, and rifleman pay was risible. There was no esprit de corps. There was irritation, brainwashing, frosty-sleep-deprivation-torture, shitting -off. My future Durban North Command "holiday camps" would have no esprit de corps, as camps would be short, Commandos came from different work and home backgrounds, and conscripts considered camps a duty to be endured, as other options were exile, state harassment, or jail. Later, SADF would increase Commando basic to one year, with camps thereafter.
On our last morning, out of bed at frosty 4am, we huddled in sub-zero darkness, hurry-up-an'-waiting for Bedfords to convoy us to Kimberley Station. When I climbed onto my Bedford, ill-equipped to fight terrorists with my WW2 battledress, old .303 rifle and balsac bag, I thought, "Fuck this!"
During my conscription, I'd sleep or doze amongst strange men, in the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) - in Kimberley and Durban; KZN bush-camp tents; the back of Bedford trucks; a Puma helicopter; trains; cars; Fynnlands barracks; Bluff Gun-magazine barracks, Natal Command rifle-ranges; Old Fort Road drill-hall; a Schmidtsdrif ruin; Jozini roadside; koppies; valleys; wattle and gum plantations; Zulu kraals; Pongola riverbank, and under bushveld starry nights. I'd endure men's smelly feet; snoring; farting; shitting; shaving; unwashed bodies - and men's boozing; joking; smoking; singing; swearing; dirty habits - and more.
See former DTCS troopie, Ian Patrick's eBooks (Amazon Co).