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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Eyewitness Account

Thanks to coincidence, luck and connections, I have an eyewitness account to the time my good friend Tuffy fell out of a helicopter!

Chris Greeff is one of the most connected people I know. He mentioned that John Lee is a parabat. I said: My two schoolmates did parabats in 1971 (Pierre du Plessis) and around 1975 I’d guess (Tuffy Joubert). He asked: Tuffy Joubert – that became a Recce – and raced Rubber Ducks with Maddies?

I said Yep. He’s a Harrismith boykie. So Chris sent me a pdf file: Read page 10, he said.

Interview – Major Peter Schofield by Mike Cadman 21 August 2007

Reconnaissance Regiment – Project Missing Voices

Schofield on arrival at Recce base on the Bluff in Durban:

Then I had lunch and went looking for the climbing course. Now, it wasn’t a very long walk but I walked along the length of the camp where there was a helicopter hovering at about a hundred feet. And I stopped on the edge of the hockey field where this was taking place and watched this, and out came a couple of ropes and a couple of guys came whizzing down in sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more came whizzing down sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more.

Then one came out, and came into free fall. And he literally, he got hold of the rope a little bit, but he just fell a hundred feet flat on his back wearing a rucksack and a rifle. And I didn’t even bother to walk over to him, I thought, He’s Dead. He can’t fall that far and not be.

And obviously the ropes were cast off and the chopper landed. They whipped him into the chopper and flew away. I didn’t know where to, but it was in fact to Addington Hospital, which is about three minutes flight away. And, I thought well this must be quite something of a unit, because basically they carried on with the rest of the course as though nothing had happened.

I thought, Well, I better introduce myself to the senior people here and see what’s going on. So I walked over and met the senior members of the course, and it was being run by a bunch of senior NCOs and I was impressed by the lack of concern that anybody showed for the fact that the guy had just fallen a hundred feet from a helicopter. A guy called (Tuffie?) Joubert. And Tuffie is still alive and kicking and serving in Baghdad right now.

And I said, What the hell are you doing? How did he fall over there? They said, Well nobody’s ever done it before. I said, OK, show me what you’re doing. And they were actually tying the abseil ropes direct to the gearbox of the rotor box in the roof, I think it was, in the Puma. Which gets to about a thousand degrees in no time flat. So if they had gone on long enough, they’d have broken at least one if not all four of the ropes with people on them. I said, Well let’s change that. And anyway you’re not abseiling properly so let’s send the helicopter away and let’s do some theory on abseiling and then we’ll go and do it off a building or something that stands still for a while before we progress to helicopters.

Then I went back to report to the commanding officer, John Moore, that I wasn’t really terribly satisfied with the way things were proceeding on this climbing course. He said, Oh well, have you done it before? I said Yes, I’ve done a hell of a lot of it, I was a rock climbing instructor apart from anything else. And he said, OK, well take over, run the climbing course. So I did just that. And again I was so impressed with the fairly laid back attitude of everything.

=======ooo000ooo=======

me & Tuffy Joubert in his Durban recce days
Tuffy Joubert (right) with me in his Durban recce days

I told Tuffy and he replied in his laid-back Recce way:

Good morning Koos,

Trust to find you well; This side of the coast we are all well and we think we have everything under control.

Maj Peter Schofield was a Brit, he was part of the Red Devils if I recall correctly; came to South Africa and joined the Recces. His first day at work on the Bluff he had to take over the Mountaineering Course that included abseiling. As he walked out to see what was going on, “Yes, I fell out of the helicopter”. He was not impressed.

He lived in Harrismith for a few years after retiring, Pierre knew him. He passed away a few years ago here in Cape Town.

No I have not heard or seen his talk.

Lekker dag verder, enjoy and go for gold – Groetnis – Tuffy.

 

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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family

Veld and Vlei

Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or ‘senior’ – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said. Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dr Dick Venning.

– Veld & Vlei leadership course July 1972 at Greystone near Estcourt – middle left – Wagendrift dam on the upper middle right –

Memories of a busy first week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!

– cosy comfy luxury tents –

Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs. Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief naked immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning after a 2,5km run; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!

..

– that wall –

Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader of Uys Patrol; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!

I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.

But then I found a website – www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast. He had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also has his course report and certificate. I wonder what they said on them, as our course was cut short. His images are very blurry but you can read the word PASS – so they must have decided we’d done enough to get certificates? I now only have the felt badge.

Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! We drove by bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.

– we were on the plateau on the right of this near valley –

We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source.

It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!” Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early! Sheila’s diary records my folks were phoned on 12 July and asked to fetch me. We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.

– chain ladder –

But our rucksacks were packed . . . . and our wanderlust aroused, so I’m afraid I headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut. Greg Seibert may have accompanied me. I forget who else.

~~~oo0oo~~~

That’s what I remembered. Today, however, 48yrs later, Sheila has given me the letters I wrote home, so I also know this: So much for vivid memories!

My first letter was two days into the course and the main concern was ‘PLEEZ send my rucksack! The rucksack I have been issued with is absolutely messed up!’ (see at the end – Mom did send it). I was fit, as shown by my maximums. I had done 63 step-ups with weights. The camp record was 64. ‘The assault course instructor is a sadist.’ Please send the rucksack! They have arranged for parcel deliveries. Mom’s letter back said she had sent the rucksack – and ‘look inside.’ Moms are great!

– my favourite, long-term, frame rucksack – here seen on Sheila’s back –

The next letter was Monday 3rd July 1972 – Early morning run and naked dip in the dam; sailing and canoeing. Our patrol won both canoe races (‘natch!’ I wrote, being very keen on canoeing at the time) and we won Best Patrol of the Day. ‘Today Monday was much tougher: The assault course consists of eleven obstacles and we only completed five! Only one of the six patrols completed the course. They took one hour and seventeen minutes. The course record is twelve minutes and fifty seconds! PT was based on maximums. My first round took 10 mins 42 seconds, then a run. I did the second round in 10 mins dead. Dead’s the word! I met Stephen Middlemost. A good chap.’

– everybody 1972 winter course at Greystones – I’m sitting on the ground third from left – on either side were good mates – I think that’s Nev Slade second from left –

The last letter was on day 9: Our first free morning. On day 7 they had given us twenty minutes to get ready and leave on a two day expedition. Find your way by map to various waypoints. There was ‘not much discipline’ in our patrol. ‘Leaders had been chosen who were not leaders’ (according to yours truly!) and not much hard hiking was done. I saw we were way behind schedule so ‘I tried to push them, but they just got mad and rested often and long.’ I did all the map and compass work and ‘they would argue like mad as to our direction without ever looking at the map!’ By nightfall we were about halfway to our intended destination. We camped and ‘the boys just wanted to turn around and go back. I refused and eventually they agreed to try and finish the course! In the morning we only set off at 9am! I worked out shortcuts for them while one of the guys and I walked to the beacons and took bearings; we would then catch up to them again. We walked along to ‘a chorus of moaning and swearing, mainly at me for ‘rushing them.’ Anyway, eventually we crossed the Bushmans River in the dark and arrived back at camp at 7.30pm. At least we did finish the course! And luckily there was a good supper waiting.’

On the evening of that ninth day we chose patrol leaders; seventy two boys, six patrols; I was chosen to lead Uys Patrol. ‘My deputy is Reg Wilkins, a very good chap: funny, determined, stubborn, etc. but we’ll go great. Our quartermaster is Neville Slade, also a great guy, very conscientious.’

Our full patrol is Eric Cohen, Arthur Lees-Rolfe, John Peterson, Nev Slade, Clyde Nunn, Reg Wilkins, Rusty du Plessis, Bud Marouchos, and me. We lost Rob Hohls abseiling when a big rock fell on his head.

In a letter home: I lost or mislaid my boots; I should find them. Cuthberts made a lousy job of fixing them. R3!! On the first hike I lost half of both heels; on the two-day expedition the other halves came off and the whole sole is coming off, starting at the toe.’

I was so looking forward to the high ‘Berg hike. That was MY territory! None of these city slickers and beach bums knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

More odds and sods I found, scanned and tossed. Warning: Boring! – only those who were there will be interested:

July 2020 – Found a diary I kept on the course.

Later that year I got a hilarious raunchy letter from my cool-dude side-kick Nev Slade:

– letter from henchman Nev Slade, quartermaster, Uys Patrol! Veld & Vlei, winter 1972 –

Excerpts: He moans about swotting for matric; He says ‘now listen you Free State Fuckup’ (‘that’s the best I have thought up for a long time’) and invites me to a post-matric party – a good thrash! He reports getting as ‘canned as a coot’ at a disco; he says he’ll set me up with a sexy partner; threatens, if I don’t pitch at his thrash, to come to the Free State and castrate me! Signs himself off: ‘Great Poet and man who survived Veld & Vlei’ – Nev Slade, Bridgewood, Dargle Rail

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.

Veld & Vlei after-letter

So Hofland could not have been on the July 1972 course, I guess. Still, thanks for the photos! ( I see his course certificate says G14).

I gave a talk to Harrismith Rotary club afterwards, telling them all about it, expressing my disappointment on not doing the high Berg hike; and thanking them for sponsoring me on this lovely adventure.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Another postscript: I now know, from another hilarious and rude letter from Nev Slade, something about our hike up Mt aux Sources. Nev had been to a polocrosse tournament in Greytown where he almost broke his arm due to rough treatment from Transvalers who were “the dirtiest, wildest pigs you’ve ever come across,” – in fact they were “just like Freestaters in the wild Swanepoel tradition.” He couldn’t think of a worse insult! What a lekker oke! Anyway, obviously replying to my letter he says “Wow, you’re lucky to have seen a lammergeier so close up! Lend me some of your luck sometime won’t you?”

~~~oo0oo~~~

– meningitis tablets –
– Uys Patrol preparations for hike –

~~~oo0oo~~~

A letter! Sheila found a letter written to me by Mom while I was on camp. She filled me in on happenings in the metropolis of Harrismith in my absence:

1. Two heart attacks – Jonathan McCloy’s Dad and Ds Ras. Lulu was at home with her Dad, but De Wet was away playing Craven Week rugby. He hastened home; Ds in hospital under heavy sedation.

2. When Eastern Free State won a game at Craven Week, Rudolph Gabba Coetzee had to speak on the radio! Big news for one who did not do much public speaking!

3. I had an interview straight after my course in Estcourt to apply for a Rotary Exchange Student posting. It was right near Veld in Vlei in Estcourt, so Mom said I should stay with my cousin Marlene – ‘and try and get a haircut in Estcourt before the interview’ – Yeah, like that was going to happen!!

4. They had stayed at a caravan park with Sheila. It was lousy, no lights, no hot water and a long list of other things wrong.

And lastly, when she was about to send me the rucksack I had requested, her friend Harriet vdMerwe saw her and said, No Mary! You can’t send it empty! Put some goodies in it! So she had included sweets and dried fruit.

~~~oo0oo~~~