Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1969 Apartheid Kimberley, Danie Theron Combat School

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).

21 comments:

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from a Northlands Boy High School mate, living in USA, who did SADF Commando basic with me at Danie Theron Combat School (Diskobolos). His barrack was worse than mine:

"I went to basic at 'Diskobolos' in Kimberley in July 69, and as you were, almost had to spend the rest of our lives as cannon fodder.

Left for the US in Oct. 71, and of course returned in a wheelchair in Mar. 76, whereupon I was discharged with, I think they said 7 more years to complete. [After Kimberley basic I] spent many weeks at the Bluff and Hotel Command. [Natal Command?]

On my return from Kimberley in 69, with pneumonia, I had to leave the next day for Jhb for the South African modern pentathlon trials for the world games in Budapest in Aug 69. Almost drowned in the swimming pool in Hillbrow. I don't even remember finishing the 300m swim... By the time I returned to Durbs I was coughing up blood. Wonderful memories of time spent in Kimberley.

You remember I was in the drill platoon for 4 years at NBHS: private, corporal, student officer. That year Clive Davis was the drill sergeant, then company commander of A group. Plus two school holidays at Hotel Command supposedly to be considered for officer training during Citizen Force service. That never happened.

[At Danie Theron] did you also get the shitty aeroplane hangar, with the holes in the windows with no showers? We had the ice cold water truck behind the hessian cloth.

Ons Afrikaner broers het die lekker warm en koue water bungalows gehad! Vasbyt matjie!... Our SM was Gouws!"

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Follow up email from USA about our July 1969 Basic at Danie Theron Combat School, Kimberley.

"Mark I can't believe you mentioned the tetanus 'shots' given at Danie Theron. You remember me telling you that I had been training for the SA Modern Pentathlon trials which started the Monday after we returned from DTCS? I was super fit before going to Diskobolos. Of course Gouws would not let me train there, and being elected the captain of the company volleyball team was all the exercise I was allowed.

I remember as if yesterday, the Sunday afternoon just before lunch of the second week at camp, we were hauled off to get the supposed tetanus shots. After the dronk S. Majoor stuck me with the needle which had been stuck in umpteen dozen arms before mine, thank God AIDS had not raised its nasty head yet, but Hep. C had. My arm felt as if I had been kicked by a horse.

I went immediately to the mess hall and started to feel crappy almost immediately. Hardly ate, and returned to the bungalow, sorry I mean 'hangar,' and within 1 hour I was shaking like a leaf, couldn't even stand to dress myself.

My mates dragged me down to the medic, who asked whether we had been given the antidote pills for an allergic reaction to tetanus. Of course not! They ran out of pills before they even got to our bungalow. So after taking a pill, the symptoms subsided, but that was the end of my healthy stay at DTCS. The next day I started coughing, and as I said ended up with pneumonia the following week.

Amazingly, I have never heard of a pill being prescribed before having an Anti Tet., so what they gave us who the hell knows? That was the end of any aspirations to represent SA at the M. Pentathlon Games in Budapest."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Received an email from a Natal expat living in Canada. He did his basic at Danie Theron in 1973. He reminisced about Killer Smith at Danie Theron & his 3 years in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, 1976-79, his choice, not conscripted as in SA.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from a Durban bloke, 1969 January Intake, said Danie Theron was the worst month of his life.

Robyn said...

Hi there - I have some old photo's eg "Danie Theron Combat School" K80 Section Leaders 3 to 21 March 1969. They belonged to my father (HJ SPENCE) who passed away approx 18 months ago. Would anyone be interested in them?

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Hi Robyn, Many thanks for the kind offer of your photos & blog feedback.

Sorry to hear about your dad. We must be the same vintage, as I did my Danie Theron basic, aged 17, in mid 1969.

As my blog is autobiographical, I will not have use for your photos thanks.

Perhaps you could look at Bruce Strachan's SA Defence Force Weermag website www.sadf.info/

Bruce was a conscript troopie like your dad & myself & Bruce has done an excellent private website about SADF / conscript history, with loads of troopie info. Maybe Bruce would like your dad's photos?

Thanks again for your confidence in my blog. Go well & best.

Anonymous said...

Your blog brings back weird memories of my former home, South Africa. All in all I survived my training and I still,remember my army number: 68496413k.
I have lived in Seattle for thirty three years and my time in South Africa is now a distant memory.
Michael Herr, Seattle, USA

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Hi Michael.Our conscript generation have become scatterlings now. Go well.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Two April 2013 emails from a Danie Theron Combat School graduate now living in Brisbane. His 1 year commando basic at DTCS was harsher than my 2 "holiday camps" there in 1969 & 1975.

1. "Took me back 40 years. I did DTCS hard labour for 9 months extended to a year in 1970/1. After basic in the hangers, as a signaller / driver I was mostly in a tent next to Kim airport with 19 others. Finlay was our NCO still only a sergeant and Smith was in charge of discipline for the poor guys who really stuffed up. After basic I was fortunate to be posted under the CO after two disciplinary problems:).

Subsequently I did 3 months camps at Katima Mulilo and Grootfontein driving beer and Scope magazines around for the police. Then discharged because of asthma!..."

2. "The biggest attraction of being at the airport was that we were in tents next to the roller skating rink where we were required to help on weekends. Occasionally some of the local girls could be attracted back to the tent for some R & R although I was never sure who was playing whom...

We had two Israeli instructors at DTCS, 1 male, 1 female who was a completely mad bastard - I ended up with a ruptured eardrum thanks to her screaming at me...

Writing was on the wall for me in 1976 when deployed to Soweto during riots and supposed to do something - like shoot at people. Earned the gratitude of the guys on the Bedford for getting lost for fourteen hours...

Only ever been to NZ once for a conference and to visit a former colleague... He was in the SADF after me and spent a lot of time in Namibia as a para. BTW out of boredom I volunteered for paras and got my wings only because, for some reason I have never understood, I could shoot straight, also made the shooting team at DTCS. The armourer there custom built a target rifle for me but no recollection of what happened to it. Best thing was that my rifle was always kept and cleaned in the armoury so I didn't have the stupid hassle [rusty rifle barrel] you described in your blog."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email comment from a Dokkies grad who did northern KZN Commando service in the hectic 1980s - early 1990s at the end of apartheid & in the new Rainbow SA:

"Your pictures that accompanied the 'articles' were also memory jogging. I had forgotten, for example how many of you South Africans (I was a Brit out of Zambia, at College, remember) went for officer training. I know that ... for one it meant a great deal.

I had to wait many years - until the early 80s - to do some 'military service' preparatory to resuscitating our local commando group: 'Operation Buttermilk,' when we re-learned (or in my case learned) to march, open order march, salute, etc, etc.

We had firing range practice with terrifying weapons, and then we backed up the police (mostly at night; mostly to intercept AKs coming in from Mozambique via Swaziland), farm patrols (astonishing how under-prepared most were, in spite of multiple murders, in those days) and standing watch at political rallies in the early days of 'democracy.'

One by one we abandoned the commando until a few die-hards remained to watch our collective backs. I was thrilled to hand back my R5 rifle! Always terrified some ghastly accident would occur with it, in my inexperienced pacifist hands!"

A brave man in dangerous times. He was one of the few "foreigners" I knew who actually did volunteer military service in apartheid SA & beyond. Many Pom teachers who arrived in SA & were given jobs in the late 60s - early 70s (mom & I worked with some of them in Durban) then fled back to UK when the going got tough.

In the early 90s, at the changeover from apartheid to democracy, troopies patrolled E Cape / Border & E Vrystaat farms, due to farm murders & cattle rustling in the RSA / Transkei / Lesotho border regions.

Tom Lund said...

Hi Mark,
Found your site by accident, but it certainly brought back some rather “interesting” memories. I was in the same barracks as John Rees. I remember him, as he was also a Karate Black-Belt (Kodokwai) from Durban. Most of the chaps that were in my platoon, also came from Glenwood High Durban, and so it was made less stressful. I was transferred to NZ by the British firm I worked for, in 1974, and never again returned to SA. I became an accountant and then moved to Australia, where I have lived for the last 34 years. I retired 5 years ago, after a rewarding career in the Australian Government. My time with the “Durban South Commando Unit” was something I still reminisce about until this day! So much happened! Do hope that you and your family are keeping well. Regards, Tom Lund.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Hi Tom. Thanks for the feedback. I too did Kudokwai karate for a couple of years, night classes, but dropped out as a busy teacher early 70s. I've now lived in NZ for 20 years with my family. I stopped teaching after arrival in NZ, too deaf. I remember Dbn Nth Commando & Dokkies John Rees well. Some years back I met an expat whom I did a Danie Theron NCO's course with at Kimberley in 1975.I taught at Glenwood HS, 1982-84, ran general science. I remember a Dbn Nth Lund family, Anglicans. Go well.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

23.12.14 email from Capetonian Ray Wright who did Danie Theron, 1969 basic camp with me. Ray was at school with Darryl Clifford, fellow troopie:

"I finally read your story - very accurate. I have much to add and will get to it soon.

The last day early morning was so very cold in the dark. I remember a bunch of us trying to keep warm round a drum fire. On the train up from Durban we must have heard Proud Mary a million times on transistor radio.

One Sunday morning a friend and I broke into the ID and Dog Tag room. Made new ID cards and appointed myself General, Colonel and most other ranks.

Landed up in hospital after a scorpion sting for 2 days. Some person in the next bed died from arm burns from the washing up boiling water.

I fled South Africa in 1985 after being arrested many times for not ever going back after the Dec / Jan stint in Durban.

Now I live in Cape Town.

Was in Durban at the oil tanks in December or Jan (can't remember) and also on the Bluff big guns and lighthouse.

Sometimes I still wake up at night from the bad Kimberley dreams. That place was hell and terrible. They hated us because they were still fighting the Boer war and we were English.

I suffered from a type of pneumonia for months after July and leg paralysis from the sting. I injured my foot on some koppie outside camp (the one you have to run to and - are you back?) and still today I have serious foot issues that are getting worse. I sometimes think we should start a class action lawsuit.

Anyway enough for now.

Thanks for keeping the memory alive.

Best regards,

Ray."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

24.12.14 email from Capetonian Ray Wright:

You can add to comments and use my name.

I have thought a lot about the terrible place the last couple of days - with some mild depression. Time to write the whole thing from before the train trip to the personality changes afterwards. It has raised my anger issues with any form of govt to the point I lost it with the Pollsmoor prison truck today as they were pushing everyone off the road. I followed them into Pollsmoor and had a huge fight with them all. See what this Kimberley thing has done to me...

I wont let it get me down but the truth must come out. It will be a long story. You can maybe show it in some link or not even use it.

I seem to have a lot of memory loss re Diskobolos. Some things are as clear as day but most are long gaps of nothing. Maybe you can fill in the gaps after I write everything I can remember. The night the person died I was told he tried to injure himself to get out of the terrible training. We had those large boiling tanks for washing the food trays and he hung his arm into the water.

I was a paramedic at that time and told the nursing staff that he was going into shock although I was in a bad way too with the pain and high fever. Nothing happened and he just died. In the early morning I was told he was moved to another hospital. Full of lies and coverups.

Best regards,

Ray.

Tom Lund said...

Hi Mark,

I read Ray's comments and it made me feel that I should share some information of what happened to me. As I explained earlier in my email, I was transferred to NZ, where I settled. I had requested the company I worked for, to assist me to get out of SA, as the army was intruding more and more into my private life, and I was terribly ill after many horrendous bush camps, etc., as were many others. After living in NZ for about 3 years, I received a formal, certified letter from the S.A. Embassy in NZ, stating that my S.A citizenship had been revoked, and now being a non-citizen, I needed permission to visit SA. In 1979, my Mother passed away and I travelled to RSA on a NZ passport. Two weeks after I had returned to Australia, where I lived, the Military Police called at my father's home in Durban, to ask questions about me. He told them to speak to me directly, as I was over 21! When the Government in SA changed in 1994, I received a letter from the SA Embassy here in Australia, formally advising me that I had had my citizenship reinstated again. Amazing. The fiasco with the army in SA drove me out of the country and I missed so much of my family from then on. And so, we still carry the burden of all that "Afrikaner Broederbond" nonsense, and now the country is quite literally, in a complete mess and beyond repair!!
Regards,
Tom.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Many thanks for your heartfelt experience Tom about leaving SA. A good friend of mine completed all his required Durban North Commando camps & in 1976 left SA to work in London. When he returned to SA to visit family he was interviewed by security police at his parents' Durban North home. He became a UK citizen & has lived there ever since. He still returns to SA to visit family. The Broeders have much to answer for.

Macca said...

Arrived at DTCS on 7th January 1972 for six weeks basic. Devastated to be a handed a crappy .303 when I had been looking forward to a decent FN Rifle. Sgt Finlay was our company ("D") sergeant, but our lives were ruled by the one and two stripers. We felt sorry for Company "B" who had "Killer Smit" - who was a corporal but rumoured to have been demoted due to killing someone on a drill square. Army rumours eh! I was very small compared to others, but managed to not get hassled more than any others because I could shoot straight (my father had taught me to shoot from the age of six). The whole six weeks they tried to get to get me to sign on for longer and go to first sniper school and then OTS, but I had read somewhere that snipers only lived an average of ten days after their first kill in WWII so declined. On patrol in the bush, one evening I managed to tip boiling water over Finlay while cooking tinned potatoes. He swore at me for what seemed like five minutes without repeating himself much. I thought I was done for, but in fairness, he took it in good part when we got back to base. Worst day was spent at Diskobolos from early in the morning (told we were flying home), until evening when we were suddenly embossed and hauled off for the inevitable train journey back to Durbs. All day on the tarmac in the sun, no food,no water - their last chance to muck us about. Can you tell where (GPS-Wise) DTCS was as I would like to pin it on Google Earth?

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Many thanks for your reminiscences Macca. Spot on.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

I responded to an email from a UK author who did his DTCS basic, January 1969 intake. He remembered sgt Finlay & sar'major Gouws, as well as cpls Gerritse & Swartz. He did his Fynnlands / Durbs camp while Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. He ended up with Highway Command in Westville / Pinetown.

Kevin French said...

Did basics at DTCS in Jan 1971. Can't believe no one made mention of the art of poer poer (not sure of the spelling)! It's the art of appearing to be doing something when you're doing nothing at all.

And weren't you sent out to weed the veld? We made mounds of goddamned weeds for no good reason.

Also slept in the 'bungalow' airport hangars, something 20 beds in a row. Wore clothes on our boots to walk over the linoleum floor called 'taxis'.

And then there was the day they had us leopard crawling over rough rocks separated by devil thorns. Our corporal was Balfour, or should I say korporaal, because despite the name he was Afrikaans. He told us to crawl over the thorns and rocks to his feet. As we got there he stepped back a distance, and then again, and then again. You could feel the thorns penetrating the skin on your arms and torso and legs, and the rock grinding your elbows. When he first told us to crawl on the thorns we were a bit incredulous. Is he being serious? Then it slowly dawn on us that he was. You lowered yourself onto the thorns there tried to use the rifle to take most of the prick and hold yourself up. But as it progressed and he kept extending the crawl I found myself just getting mad angry and determined not to let him break me. Some started cracking and came out with the traditional, 'Ek kannie mere nie korporaal!'

When we got back and went to shower we looked as if we had had an outbreak of a kind of selective measles, with a rash of red pin prick only on all the surfaces that had made contact with the ground, and the thorns. I even had some on my cock, and no, it wasn't because I found the experience arousing.

I was also at Northlands btw. Survived the psychopathic headmaster McFarquhar. Was in Durban North commando. DID at least one camp in Umhlanga, somewhere near where the drive-in used to be.

Kevin French

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Thanks Kevin. Bladdy leopard crawling! I did poer poer when cleaning up after subsequent Commando camps e.g. pretending to pick up rubbish around camps when there was no rubbish at all. I remember an Engelse offisier busting me for poer poer at Umzinto Commando camp. Like you I knew many toxic Englese corrupted by SADF - at Commando camps & in school cadets. Brainwashed teachers too. McFarquar left his mark on us all.