Cape Town Military Tattoo of 2008

The Cape Town Military Tattoo is coming up on 19-21 November, and I’ve just bought tickets for one of the performances. I am very excited to be going, as it promises to be an exhilarating event! As in previous years, it will be held at the Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town. (If you’re curious, check out the official website, which has been entirely revamped since last year.)

We attended last year’s tattoo, and at the time I didn’t get around to posting any photographs, so I thought I’d do that now.

“The word “tattoo” is derived from a centuries-old military ritual which originated in the Low Countries during the 80 Years’ War in the 16th and 17th Centuries, when patrols would be sent out near nightfall to warn off-duty soldiers in the taverns that it was time to return to their barracks.

At each tavern the tavern-keeper would be told: “Doe den tap toe!” (close the taps on your beer-barrels). All the armies fighting in the Low Countries adopted this practice, and as the centuries passed the nightly ritual became known by various names – such as “tattoo” in English, “taptoe” in Dutch and “Zapfenstreich” in German, and turned into a unique form of military show business.” (History)

At the Castle of Good Hope, then, a drummer used to be sent up to the Leerdam Bastion, where he beat his drum for half an hour, instructing the off-duty soldiers to return to their barracks. Once all the men have returned, the smartly dressed Castle Guard Halberdiers collect their orders – and the big key, from the officer in charge of the Castle, in order to lock up the main gates. They re-enacted this for the Tattoo.


01 Castle guard halberdiers

Castle Guard Halberdiers



02 Castle guard halberdiers

Getting their orders



03 Castle guard halberdiers

Standing guard, waiting for the gates to be locked


The SA Army Band is always a favourite, not only do they manage to march in synchrony with each other, but they play very well at the same time, and they never collide with each other!


04 SA Army band

SA Army band



07 SA Army band

SA Army Band


And then arrive the various Pipes and Drums – the Cape Town Highlanders in green and black, the Cape Field Artillery Regiment in red, and the South African Irish Regiment in orange.

These are *my* favourite musicians, because there are few things more soul-stirring and patriotism-invoking than hearing bagpipes and drums – even more so if they are played well and in tune! There’s often that mysterious something about this music that makes me want to leap up, throw on a uniform, grab a weapon and charge off into battle! Perhaps it’s a past life thing…


08 Pipes and drums

SA Irish Regiment



10 Pipes and drums

SA Irish regiment in orange


Four teams of four men each, in yellow, blue, red and green, participated in a ‘Machine-Gun Marathon‘. Each team had to dismantle a machine gun, transport it in pieces across the arena, under, over and through a serious of obstacles, and back again to the start, where it had to be re-assembled. I don’t remember which team won, but it was a lot of fun to watch.


12 Machine gun marathon

Leopard-crawling underneath an obstacle



11 Machine gun marathon

High-stepping over tyres


The next piece was called ‘All that Glitters’ by the Western Cape Marching Band, indeed glittering in red, white and black.


14 Western Cape marching band

Looking very snazzy!



13 Western Cape marching band

Whirling and twirling


After them, we saw the return of the Pipes and Drums.


15 Pipes and drums

SA Irish Regiment and CT Highlanders



16 Pipes and drums

Cape Town Highlanders


This was followed by a beautiful and elegant Highland Dancing routine by the Alexander School of Dance.


20 Alexander School of Dance

Highland dancing



17 Alexander School of Dance

Leaping up!



18 Alexander School of Dance

Final pose!


The least dramatic of the performances was the Semaphore Signalling Routine by the students of the SAS Simonsberg, but we still enjoyed watching it, because we knew the fella waving the flags on the far side of the arena: it was our friend Eric!


22 SAS Simonsberg

Eric semaphoring


There was another chap on the near side, also waving flags, in response to which the group of 8 students changed direction and marched back and forth across the arena. I don’t think it made any sense to the audience, though, because we had no idea what the different signals meant. And the eight students looked a little lost on this vast arena.


21 SAS Simonsberg

The team obey Eric


No tattoo would be complete without horses: The previous year (2007), the Riding Centre had painted all their horses black and white for a beautiful piece they called the Quagga Quadrille. This time (2008), the riders had dressed up in blue as knights and maidens.

It was a lovely, flowing performance, and much credit must go to the riders for successfully controlling their horses and getting through the sequences without any hiccups.


23 Knights and maidens

Knights and maidens weaving in and out of each other



24 Knights and maidens

Beautiful costumes, gorgeous horses


Then it was the turn of the SA Army Band once more:


25 SA Army band

An excellent drummer



26 SA Army band

A Glockenspiel



27 SA Army band-2

Marching into position


The Alexander School of Dance appeared again, to perform a foot-stomping, hard shoe Irish dance, which they called, fittingly, ‘Shamrocks by the Sea’.


28 Alexander school of dance

Alexander School of Dance


They were darn good!


29 Alexander school of dance

Synchronised hopping and tapping



30 Alexander school of dance

Final pose!


The Cape Garrison Artillery and the Heritage Group have seriously colourful uniforms! They were spectacular and very showy with their Kaapse Klopse costumes and make-up. And because they were very loud and flamboyant, they had us all clapping our hands and tapping our feet to the rhythm.


31 Cape Garrison Artillery

Moving in formation



32 Cape Garrison Artillery

Marching to the rhythm



33 Cape Garrison Artillery

A very lively and impassioned drummer!


Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture is always a popular highlight of the Tattoo, particularly because the Cape Field Artillery saluting troop fires REAL guns, just outside the front gate to the Castle. There are four 25-pounder / G1 guns:

“The guns have been included in the orchestral score as the percussion and the precision firing will be done using limited communication and rely on a queue sheet and stop watch.” (SA Navy website)


34 1812 Overture

1812 Overture


During the Final Muster, all the participants marched into the arena to perform the final pieces. Last year, they played ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which had the whole audience on its feet, swaying and singing along, followed by the National Anthem.


35 Final muster

Highland Pipers



36 Final muster

Highland Piper



37 Final muster

SA Army Band and CT Highlanders



38 Final muster

Alexander School of Dance



39 Final muster

SA Irish Regiment (in orange) and Cape Field Artillery Regiment (in red)


One by one, all the groups left the arena, and then, slowly, all the Pipes and Drums marched out too.

Although it was very sad that the show was over, we felt uplifted and invigorated and in excellent spirits – and promising ourselves that we would attend next year’s Tattoo!

Which – as I said – is coming up in two weeks!!

4 thoughts on “Cape Town Military Tattoo of 2008

  1. Reggie, what a thorough description of the event! Interesting origin of the name. I too find the bagpipes most moving.

    Every summer, the Halifax International Tattoo attracts a huge audience here. I’ve yet to attend, and have always wondered what the event would be like. It’s probably very similar to the one you described.

    • I’ve been lucky to attend three so far, all here in Cape Town. I *love* tattoos. They’re so showy and dramatic, and the music is stirring and patriotic, and the marching bands create this kaleidoscope effect, swirling in and out of each other. Never mind the beautifully turned-out horses!

      My ex-boss plays the bagpipes in the Cape Town Highlanders (who are going to be performing this year too), and they’ve performed at the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland, which is also, as I gather, a HUGE event, far bigger than our’s. I would *love* to go once, just to have experienced it there too, but alas, getting to England from here ain’t all that easy. 😦

      If you can, definitely go, even just once. Go with some friends, take lots of photographs, let yourself be swept up by the excitement and the spectacle and all that! 🙂

      We’re just holding thumbs that the weather clears by then.

I'd love to hear your views

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