The Dress Rehearsal for the CT Military Tattoo took place on a rather windy and very cold Tuesday night, 30 October 2012. It was the first time that all the participants would take their turn on the arena in full uniform, and I was looking forward to capturing some nice close-up photographs of the action.
What made it all even more spectacular was a beautiful full moon rising above the east-facing walls of the Castle, just as the massed military bands entered the arena, and Corporal Godfrey Rahube of the SA Army Band Cape Town launched into the theme song for the evening: ABBA’s “Thank you for the music”.
The rehearsal was well-attended, with spectators on all the stands. Representatives from the various media had been invited, and numerous photographers lingered on the sidelines, occasionally sprinting from one place to the next to get different angles, looking for the so-called ‘money shot’: that one stand-out shot that would capture perfectly all the thrill and excitement of this event and thus motivate their readers to buy tickets!
Glynnis and Max Schutte from my local community magazine, the Pinelands Muse, were also in attendance, so we met for some cups of hot and delicious tea and coffee before the show (and dear Glynnis even brought me a bite to eat, which was most thoughtful, because I was indeed ravenous by then).
The mood backstage was one of nervous excitement and eager anticipation. During the day, the team of wranglers, mainly from Cape Garrison Artillery and Regiment Westelike Provincie, as far as I could tell, rehearsed the sequence with which equipment had to be carried on and off the arena – with WO2 Mike Cairns dashing hither and thither to issue instructions. The ushers, made up of soldiers from 3 Medical Battalion Group and the SA Air Force, were busy applying numbered stickers to the seats with much good-humoured bantering. And the medical teams from made sure that all their equipment was ready in case of any emergencies requiring first aid.
In the late afternoon, an impressive static display consisting of a Rooikat from Regiment Oranjerivier, a Ratel of the Cape Town Highlanders, and an Oerlikon 35mm twin-barrel cannon of Cape Garrison Artillery, was set up outside the front entrance of the Castle. The four 25-pounder guns of the Cape Field Artillery saluting troop were being neatly lined up on the lawns outside the Castle, facing roughly northeast.
I noticed that the CFA troops were going through an odd-looking ritual: they were removing the large rounds from a box, one by one, and putting them into each of the four guns in turn, before placing them back into their secure carry-case. When I asked WO2 Kevin Laskey about this, he explained patiently that the rounds needed to be tested in this way to make sure that they would slide neatly into the guns, and that the metal was not bent out of shape in any way.
The guns need to be able to fire in very quick succession during the 1812 Overture, which is the CFA Saluting Troop’s trademark piece at the Tattoo, and it is crucial to prevent any blockage. The process was closely observed by Lt Col Kees de Haan, OC of CFA, and his Regimental Sergeant Major, MWO Bennie Havenga, who is responsible for signalling the correct instant of firing for each gun crew. The Pipe Major of the Cape Field Artillery, Staff Sergeant Andrew Imrie, is the time-keeper, who follows along on the music score, signalling when the troops must stand ready to fire; he needs a clear line of sight to the conductor who stands on a podium inside the arena, although I have also seen him with a stopwatch. The Troop have gone through this routine sooo many times over the years, knowing exactly when the music builds up to a crescendo just before each firing sequence, that they are definitely experts!
Teams of ticket checkers in luminous yellow bibs welcomed spectators, as they began to arrive for the evening’s show, and inside the heavy Van der Stel gate, a group of smartly dressed soldiers was handing out programmes and red paper poppies (in celebration of Remembrance Day on 11 November 2012).
The highlight of the show – judging from the reactions of the spectators – was the performance by the SA Army Band Kroonstad, who revealed – much to everyone’s surprise and delight – that their soldiers were not only accomplished musicians, but also talented dancers! And I’m talking about the men here! Can you picture “The Skater’s Waltz” danced (well, kind of…) by a couple of men in khaki-coloured uniforms, with frilly little tutus slipped on? And a Drum Major laying aside his mace and cap and dancing exuberantly to “Let’s Do The Twist”?! They had behaved fairly sedately during all the previous rehearsals, so their high-energy antics that night came – for me, at least – completely out of left field!
And now – enjoy the pics!