Ray's SAAF story part 4

By Ray Watts


We did our fair amount of guard duty as well and there was one particular beat, which went from the main gate all along the public main road, passed the shooting range to the AGA beacon. By the way the AGA beacon was a radio homing device that had a woman's voice reading out the heading you had to fly to get back to the base. I don't know if any pilots actually used this beacon, but it was generally known as "die vrou in die boks". One of the instructor's favourite tricks was to get a new pupe to take a cup of tea "To the lady at the beacon" This caused great confusion amongst the pupes. One of them even had the audacity to bring the cup of tea back to the flight and tell his instructor that she wouldn't answer the door.

As I was saying the beat was along that fence but there was a marshy area just before you got to the AGA beacon, that was OK to walk through but not suitable for vehicles. One night I was on that beat when the OOD brought me a cup of coffee. He had a large urn in the back of his Land Rover and a number of cups, and he would dole out hot coffee to all the guards. This was great, especially in winter, as it got extremely cold. Anyway, this night I was at the far end of my beat when I saw him coming towards me and although I shouted and waved at him, he drove into this marshy patch. Now the Land Rover being four-wheel drive should have been able to get out of there but the more he tried the deeper she dug herself in. Now the guard on the next beat happened to be Ronnie Smuts that night and he came down to see what was going on. Ronnie was attached to the MT division, so he abandoned his beat, on instructions from the OOD, and went to fetch the breakdown truck. This promptly got bogged down as well when trying to get the Landy out. No trouble to Ronnie, he goes and gets the 30-ton Coles crane (usually used for lifting downed aircraft) and tries to get the two stuck vehicles out. Result, one bogged down Coles Crane. By this time, it's about 5am and the MT officer, who was just coming on duty saw this 'gemors' and comes down to see what's going on. He popped a fu fu valve and swore at all of us. He then went and fetched a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and dragged the whole caboodle out. We were all in serious trouble and had to appear before the colonel. Once the situation had been explained to him, he burst out laughing, told us not to do that again and dismissed the entire matter. The station disciplinary officer wanted to throw us all in the DB but the Colonel, in front of us, told him to stop being an idiot and to, in his own words, "Vat 'n poeier en verdwyn"

Later on that month, the Mini needed new tyres, and as there were quite a few Mini Mokes on the MT fleet I asked the MT Officer if I could perhaps buy four tyres from him. He simply said I should bring the car around to the workshop the next day. He had four new tyres fitted for me and I never heard another word about payment. I guess I still owe the Air Force for four new tyres.

There was also an ancient Ford Armoured Car on the base. This thing didn't have a turret but could still be driven. It was great fun chasing rabbits round the airfield with this thing. The airfield maintenance officer could never understand why there were always gouges in the grass in the morning when he'd inspected the airfield the night before and all was serviceable. Eventually somebody caught on to what was happening, and the old, armoured car was given to the War Museum. It's still there but it has a turret now. Blooming Spoil Sports. The military have no sense of humour.

While there, the OC organised a parent's day and we were allowed a free run of all the hangers on the base. Normally we weren't allowed into them but on this day all of them were open. This was the first time I'd seen the Me262, FW190 and the Fiesler Storch that were stored in Hanger 1. These aircraft were of course later passed on to the War Museum and the SAAF Museum where they are all three well preserved.

Another thing that happened while I was there was to drive the runway control Landy for which I had to have a military driver's licence. I duly did the driver's test and was licensed to drive all military vehicles up to and including 3-ton trucks. This by the way included tracked vehicles but I never got to drive them (there weren't any on the base) Great fun. On a Sunday morning, we had to load up all the guys and take them to church and of course collect them again later. The truck was supposed to be back from church at around 11am but seldom got back before 1pm (Lunch was at 1 and roll call was taken so we couldn't be late. Never happened though.

A couple of years ago a good friend of mine, his wife & I went back to the area and did a pub crawl through all the pubs we knew in the area, ending up at the Springs Flying Club for a meal. A great day was had by all but we were not impressed by the state of the camp, having been taken over by the army when CFS moved to Langebaan. It was untidy and the troops were slovenly. Also, there were tanks & trucks parked on the runways - definite sacrilege.

Flying at Dunnottar was of course strictly regulated and the flying discipline was tight. It was not unusual to see a pupe running around the airfield with his parachute banging against the back of his knees. There was one strict rule and that was that we, in the runway control Landy were not allowed to let this guy rest when he came past us, as a matter of fact we were to ignore him totally but if he stopped, we were to chase him on, if we didn't, we were in trouble.

There was also great excitement when a pupil was to do his 1st solo. He would land and the instructor would then get out and tie a small red windsock to the tail wheel and off he would go. We, in the Landy would be advised of this and would be extra careful to see that his wheels were down on final. As a matter of interest, I never witnessed a wheels up while I was there, nor were there any ground loops or other incidents.

The other excitement was when a pupil had to do his 1st solo spin. The circuit would be cleared to the south (over the Nigel area) and the pupe would then climb to the regulation height and do his solo spin while all watched. Again, the standard of training was so high that there was never a problem with this exercise.

There was of course another story. As the Harvard's took off going to the west, they would fly over the little town of Dunnottar. Just after take-off they would change the propeller pitch from full fine pitch to climb pitch just as they were going over the town. One old lady telephoned us and wanted to know why the aeroplanes always had to change gears just as they went over her house.

Life at Dunnottar was much the same as any other military base, strict but not unreasonable, until one day they decided to put a retired Harvard on a plinth outside the main gate. This really looked good until a troepie on his 40 days decided to spray 'Min Dae' on the side of it with black spray paint. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to a period in DB.

There was a tragedy that happened while we were there and that was that the Chaplain's driver was killed in a motor accident whilst parked outside SAAF HQ in Pretoria. He was sitting in the car waiting for the Chaplain when his car was struck by a runaway truck. We were all granted a day's leave to attend his funeral which his parents had decided to have in the Catholic Church in Rosettenville Johannesburg. It was to be a full Requiem Mass followed by internment at West Park Cemetery. All went off very well until after the burial. We were by this stage extremely hungry and thirsty and managed to get the bus driver to stop at a local cafť not far from the cemetery. When the shop owner saw us coming he rushed to the front of the shop and promptly locked it up. There was no way he was going to allow a bunch of military guys into his establishment. No amount of pleading would budge him so we went hungry. There was a pleasant side to this in that when we got back to base the OC instructed the canteen to give each one of us a free coke & a pie.

As happens in life suddenly military life was over and we were free men again. We had to go to all the various places on the base, hand in our kit etc and get signatures for all of this on the prescribed form. Once this was done, we then proceeded to the main gate to hand in these forms and get our final clearing out stamp. There were great celebrations as we left. I had parked my car behind one of the other guys who owned a Fiat 124, and after we had said our goodbye's, I climbed into my Mini and he into his Fiat. He reversed and I pulled forward - BANG - him a broken tail light and me a smashed headlamp. Guess what, it didn't matter, we were free!

At the end of our national service, I was allocated to 40Sqn for the rest of my life, or until age 60, but was never called up to do any camps.

I look back on that year spent in the SAAF and realise that it was not a waste of time as so many people think it was. I learned discipline, how to take care of myself and best of all, and self-confidence. Over the years I have renewed some friendships with guys I met there and we are all of the same opinion. Our present Government could do worse than to re-introduce compulsory military service; it would do the youth of today a power of good.

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