The Drill Squad of WP SMDEA visits Fort iKapa: Home of the Reserve units in the Western Cape

The dedicated boys and girls making up the drill squad of the Western Province School Marching Drill and Exhibition Association (WP SMDEA) (see previous post) gave up their mid-term holidays, in order to participate in an intensive week of training by members of the SA Army Band Cape Town. The drill squad is part of the pre-show entertainment on each night of the Cape Town Military Tattoo to be held at the Castle of Good Hope from 03 to 06 November 201o.

After spending all of Monday on the parade ground at Youngsfield Military Base and practising their routines, Tuesday was designated a day of relaxation and it included a visit to the SA Naval Base in Simon’s Town (see this post). Wednesday was another day of hard work, as they spent long hours rehearsing and drilling under the watchful eyes of Staff Sergeant Jerome Mecloen and WO2 André van Schalkwyk of the SA Army Band Cape Town, as well as the various instructors.

They were duly rewarded on Thursday, with a visit to Fort iKapa in Goodwood, which is currently the only base in the country where all the Reserve units in the province are located.

3 Parachute Battalion C Company

The first stop was the hangar of 3 Parachute Battalion C Company, marked by a forbidding sign announcing “BEWARE: You are now entering Paratrooper Country – Zero Tolerance”. A huge cargo parachute was draped from the one wall, while camouflage netting hung down from the railing above; just inside the entrance, four parachute harnesses were suspended from the ceiling – these are used for practising the various landing drills.

Beware! Paratrooper country ahead!

After they had been warmly welcomed by Captain Tawse, Company Commander, WO2 Boshoff, assisted by Gunner Mark Bouillon and Staff Sergeant Simboya, taught the learners a little about the rigorous and demanding training that is necessary in order to become a paratrooper, as these are required to be very fit and strong both physically and mentally. A couple of the youngsters discovered this when, no doubt eager to impress the girls, they accepted the challenge to run across the parking area, weighed down with a heavy cement ‘marble’ and an unwieldy metal cylinder!

Gunner Bouillon and WO2 Boshoff

WO2 Boshoff spoke to the curious learners about the drills, which the paratroopers practice so frequently that they become second nature. They included, for instance, how to strap on the parachute, how to jump safely out of an aeroplane, how to connect the static line, which ensures that the parachute will open, how to release the reserve chute in an emergency, how to check for other paratroopers in the air, and how to land safely, even in trees and in water. Staff Sergeant Simboya, strapped into one of the harnesses, demonstrated some of these drills, much to the delight of the learners. Two of the youngsters eagerly volunteered to be  strapped into the harnesses to experience first-hand what this was like.

Staff Sergeant Simboya then demonstrated the correct and safe way of landing and rolling. Two boys who were really keen to try this out themselves, were given a chance to practice landing and rolling on the mat, while using the ramp; their courage and enthusiasm was rewarded by much good-humoured laughter and applause from their classmates.

S Sgt Simboya demonstrates the roll-and-land

The paratroopers climbed up the stairs to the platform above, from which they rapidly fast-roped, one after the other, to excited cheers from their spellbound audience. At each of the stops, one of the learners was chosen from the group to thank the relevant officers in charge for showing them around their facilities and telling them about the training given to their particular unit. I thought this was a wonderful gesture.

One after the other, the five paratroopers fastrope down to the ground

Regiment Oranjerivier

The second port of call was the Regiment Oranjerivier, “Home of the Armour Reserves”, where the group was greeted by Lt Col Jaco Olivier.

Welcome to Regiment Oranjerivier!

He told us a little about the unit and the vehicles they used in battle. We were taught the difference between an armoured vehicle and a tank – the former has wheels, whereas the latter has tracks! Their hangar houses an Eland Mk7 (affectionately called the Noddy), a highly mobile 4×4 light armoured car, which was used extensively during the Angolan/South West African border war in the 1980s. (Have a look here for some more photos).

Lt Col Olivier talks about the armoured vehicles used by the regiment

It stands proudly next to its more recent replacement, the imposing Rooikat, an armoured vehicle that was custom-built in South Africa. The Rooikat is designed for combat reconnaissance and for search-and-destroy missions, as well as to give combat support. It accommodates a driver in the hull, and a commander, gunner and loader in the turret.

Capable of travelling at up to 120 kph on the open road, and 30 to 60 kph across rough terrain, it can climb gradients of 70 degrees, traverse gradients of 30 degrees, cross 2 metre wide trenches at a crawl and ford water up to 1.5 m deep (Info from here). Even if some of its eight tyres become flat, it can continue driving – these are known as flat-run tyres.

It is clear that they thoroughly enjoyed their thrilling ride!

Naturally, everyone was very keen to climb aboard for a spin around the base! Judging from the expressions of exhilaration on the youngsters’ faces as they returned to the hangar, and their evident excitement, as they hopped off to give the next group a turn, all the time chattering animatedly with each other, this experience was the thrill of a lifetime!

Lunch at the Mess

After this adventure, it was time for lunch at the Mess, a large building near the entrance to the base. The tasty meal of meat, chips, bread, fruit and juice, followed by a pudding of strawberry ice cream as a treat, had been prepared by the chefs of the Cape Town Rifles, otherwise known as the Dukes.

Everyone enjoys a delicious lunch

The Dukes are a Reserve Force Infantry regiment of the South African Army. Founded on 28 November 1855, they are the oldest regiment of the five traditional volunteer regiments of Cape Town. The others are the Cape Field Artillery (founded on 26 August 1857), the Cape Garrison Artillery (founded on 06 August 1859), the Cape Town Highlanders (founded on 24 April 1885), and Regiment Westelike Provincie (founded on 01 April 1934).

Cape Town Rifles (Dukes)

After lunch, the youngsters were ready for some more excitement, and so we headed across to our third destination, the indoor shooting range, which is run by the Cape Town Rifles.

The badge of the Cape Town Rifles (or Dukes) Regiment

Two Mamba armoured personnel carriers stood guard in front of the hangar, which is divided internally into two sections. The one on the left is used for simulated musketry training (learning how to shoot handguns and rifles), whereas the one on the right is used for live firing exercises.

Two Mamba vehicles are parked outside the Dukes’ indoor shooting range

The Regimental Sergeant Major MWO Pedro Dias Lobo and his assistants had their hands full, keeping the energetic students in check; although all of them were very eager to try their hand at firing a shot, only those who were 18 and older were allowed to handle the specially modified R4 rifle.

Rather than firing live rounds, this high-tech R4 rifle fires an electronic beam at a target. A cable connects the rifle to a computer, which monitors the trainee’s shooting technique, assessing whether the target has been hit, analysing errors in the shooting technique and recommending improvements. Posters on the wall illustrated a handful of the more than 150 possible errors that can be made when shooting! MWO Dias Lobo pointed out that all shooting is monitored by the trainer from a central computer.

The older learners are allowed to test their marksmanship

Both boys and girls had a chance to test their skills on the simulated training range. They discovered that the rifles were unexpectedly heavy and that it was surprisingly difficult to hit the target; given that it required considerable courage to attempt this in front of their peers, they acquitted themselves bravely!

Thereafter, we went next-door into the live firing range. The live firing range is also used to simulate the firing of mortars and other weapons. Obviously, there was no live firing while we were inside! MWO Dias Lobo explained that various images of different types of targets were projected onto a screen at the far end; when shots were fired at this screen, they entered a rubber block behind it, which, over time, would became quite heavy with the lead.

A high leap

Finally, under the supervision of Staff Sergeant Jerome Mecloen and WO2 André van Schalkwyk, the youngsters divided into two groups for an impromptu competition on the nearby obstacle course. Amidst much shouting of encouragement and whoops of victory, the boys and girls hot-footed it through a series of tyres laid end-to-end, scaled a tall fence with some impressive aerobatic manoeuvres, leopard-crawled through the heavy sand underneath a low-strung net, and tested their balance by running across a balance beam, before racing back to the start.

They completed their stimulating and educational visit to Fort iKapa with some marching and drilling practice on the surrounding roads.

10 thoughts on “The Drill Squad of WP SMDEA visits Fort iKapa: Home of the Reserve units in the Western Cape

  1. Hello Reggie 🙂 – My PC is not able to open the last – 4th. – post of these exiting posts about young people testing South African Army life. But the first 3 gave great insight in this topic. This time I will show these posts to my son (12 years) – I am sure he will come all the way to S.A just to spend some days riding The Rooikat and testing his skills like the young boys and girls do here! (But I do not hope, that he plans to join our soldiers in Afghanistan later!). Have you or your husband been soldiers or got close relations to the army in South Africa?

    • Hi Truels

      Sorry about that, I had some trouble with the hyperlinks, but I hope they are fixed now. In case they are any other problems, here are the links again (and remember that you can access them from the homepage too – scroll down the right-hand side margin for the menu-section about the Defence Reserves):

      1. SA Army Band training the Drill Squad

      2. Simon’s Town visit

      3. Fort iKapa visit

      4. Performance on Friday

      And to answer your last question – no, we have no links to the military at all. I’ve just always enjoyed going to the annual military tattoo in Cape Town and to the Navy Festival in Simon’s Town, and Cape Town has a very rich and fascinating military history dating back to the early days of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape. So when I was contacted a few months ago by the chairman of the committee organising the Tattoo, and asked whether I’d be interested in going behind the scenes and learning more about the military, specifically the Defence Reserves, and then writing about it for their office and on my blog, I immediately said yes (see here for the post I wrote about this).

      In the last few months, I’ve attended a whole variety of functions, parades and events, and it’s been quite a steep learning curve, but really interesting! It’s a very different world to the one I’ve been living in so far!

      By writing about it on my blog, I hope to share these experiences with others, to create awareness of that other world and to generate a greater understanding of what the Defence Reserves in South Africa actually are, and what they do, and what benefits they offer to the country. I think a lot of people don’t really know much about them, or they have preconceived (and often negative) ideas about them, particularly given the political history of our country. Not that I am an expert! 😉 I’ve just been exploring the tip of the iceberg so far! 😀

  2. Reggie, thanks for your comment. I will tell you I’m really impressed by your blog – posting very comprehensive and interesting items about which you write and show nice pictures. Maybe it’s because you’re able to see these issues from the outside and at the same time engaging you fully in the topics that your descriptions are so exciting for us to read?!I will certainly assure you that you greatly achieve your goal to tell us about the South African society these days. Thank you! And I am sure, that many others than I will plan to visit your country after reading your blog 🙂

    • Wow, Truels, now that was nice to hear. 🙂 I really do hope that you and your family will visit South Africa sometime soon – you will certainly encounter an exciting multi-cultural society, thrilling adventures or tranquil getaways (whichever you prefer) and magnificent landscapes!

  3. I feel certain, that we will come to South Africa sometime in the future, I am sure I will like both the magnificent landscapes and cultural experiences – until then I will enjoy reading your blog – and keep on dreaming…

  4. Pingback: SA Army Band Cape Town prepares the Drill Squad of the Western Province School Marching Drill and Exhibition Association for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010 « SA Army Band Cape Town

  5. Well I am glad to see that the citizen regiments are still active Or rather some of them I am a member of 30 field and currently working in Malabo EG in the oil bussiness

    I really enjoyed reading thru this article

    Boys keep it up

    Klaus Wiegmann SGT

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