A long hot day of rehearsals for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2013

When the early morning mist curled around the buildings and streetlights of Cape Town, creating a slightly eerie atmosphere, it gave no indication that it would become such a hot Monday. By mid-morning, the heat of the sun had burned off the mist, and a brilliantly blue sky was bringing out the ochre-yellow hues in the walls of the Castle of Good Hope. By midday, everyone was looking for shady spots to shelter from the harsh sun, and glancing hopefully towards the western skyline, where just the hint of a cold front was starting to appear. It was a relief, when the sun sank down behind the western battlements of the Castle, and a cool evening breeze gently stirred the leaves of the trees in the front arena.

It was a full and busy day of rehearsals, with a time slot allocated for each of the participating groups. Throughout the day, the ushers from the SA Navy were busy affixing numbers and labels to all the seats, under the watchful eye of Staff Sergeant Pat Greyling of the Cape Town Highlanders. The wranglers put in place the thick orange rope all around the arena, demarcating the barrier between the spectators and the performers.

The peacekeeping forces went through their routine in the arena. Lt Col Johan Conradie of the Defence Reserve Office, and the Vice-Chairman of the Tattoo Executive Committee, with the unenviable task of making it all happen, got the ball rolling by giving the troops a briefing beforehand. Capt John Manning of the Dukes, who has been the announcer of the Tattoo for many years, made copious notes to ensure that his storyline tallied with the actions on the ground.

Briefing the troops

Briefing the troops

The wranglers from Regiment Oranje Rivier with their black berets were tasked with carrying the props onto the arena, in the form of (at this stage imaginary) bushes, behind the troops of the Cape Town Highlanders with their balmoral caps could lie in ambush. When a couple of abalone or perlemoen poachers, and a group of illegal immigrants came sauntering down the pathway between the bushes, they were in for a surprise! In case there were any injuries during the encounter, one of the medics (maroon beret) was on hand. It was great to see the soldiers getting into character, and doing their best to act the part!

Just as we were all starting to wilt in the midday heat, there was a break for lunch – thankfully indoors! Captain (SAN) (Ret) Trunell Morom, the Chairperson of the ExCom, welcomed the directors of music, drum majors, pipe majors and group leaders to the Tattoo, and in an inspirational speech, urged everyone to do their best, and to ensure that it was the biggest and best Tattoo yet! Lt Col Ralph Wilkinson of the Defence Reserve office briefed everyone on the logistics and practical issues.

The Welcome Function in the Het Bakhuys venue

The Welcome Function in the Het Bakhuys venue

After lunch, members of each of the four military bands were chosen to play the fanfare. As the SA Navy Band hadn’t arrived yet from their simultaneous event in Simon’s Town, a couple of guys from the SA Medical Health Services Band stood in for them. WO2 André van Schalkwyk, the drum major of the SA Army Band Cape Town, and the band’s director of music Captain Vernon Michels were trying to work out the best way for the group to emerge from behind the double doors and onto the Kat balcony. Staff Sergeant Jerome Mecloen made sure that the alignment of the groups and individuals was correct and symmetrical. It looked rather complicated!

Suddenly, the big wooden gates of the Castle swung open, and the powerful SAMIL 20 gun tractor of Cape Field Artillery drove onto the front arena, towing one of their well-known 25-pounder guns. Under the watchful eyes of MWO Bennie Havenga, the Regimental Sergeant Major, the team unhitched the gun and wrestled it into position to the left of the Kat archway. I am always astounded at how strong these men and women are, to move this heavy gun with such ease!

The four military bands then took turns to go through their individual routines on the front arena.

First up – the SA Army Band Cape Town.

Next, the SA Air Force Band. I learned that it is the only Air Force band in the country, and thus covers all the military airport bases around South Africa; they have an extremely busy schedule, with parades and military functions throughout the year.

Next up, the SA Medical Health Services Band. In addition to having a brass marching band, they also have an excellent pipes and drums band.

Finally, the SA Navy Band in their striking black and white uniform took their turn on the stage.

The Army Band and the SAMHS Band have been regular participants in the tattoo at the Castle, but for the Navy and the Air Force Bands, I think it was only the first or second time.

The greatest challenge seemed to be posed by the fact that none of the walls in the Castle is at right angles to each other; although the seating stands are arranged at more or less right angles to create a rectangular arena, they do not run parallel to the walls either. The matter is complicated further by the fact that the large main gate with the belltower ontop is not centrally aligned either, nor is the ornate and thus eye-catching Kat balcony. When the bands thus march into the arena, it is difficult for them to know where their centre line is, and how to align themselves correctly.

Once all the bands had practiced separately, they came together for the massed bands performance, the 1812 Overture, and the final muster. It was an impressive sight, especially against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky and iconic Table Mountain in the distance!

All I can tell you is that it is going to be A FABULOUS TATTOO!!

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