South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 513
January 2019

Contact: Charles Whiteing
Telephone: 031 764 7270
Mobile: 082 555 4689


The December meeting was opened at 19h30 by the Chairman, Charles Whiteing.
He invited Roy Bowman to present the proposal for the 2019 KEN GILLINGS ANNUAL TOUR.

Roy's proposal was that there was a lot to see, visit and discuss in the Durban area, enough to fill two week-ends and that we should take advantage of being able to visit what is still left and discuss together with a Powerpoint Presentation, that which is no longer available and those sites that cannot be accessed. The tour is proposed to take place over the week-end of 4th/5th May 2019 and members who have special information on the sites to be visited will be invited to act as guides for those sites. A vote was taken and the meeting agreed that it was a good idea. A firm programme will be drawn up and the preparations begun to put the tour together.

Charles then introduced the guest speaker Col. Steve Bekker (Ret) and his subject, " A Bit of This and That - Fingers, Generals and Onions".
With a title like this, the audience was ensured of a hilarious evening!

Steve began by telling us about the two student pilots in his group on Course 176 at Langebaan, Piet Heyns and Don Villa. As was well known, there was always a high amount of horse-play amongst the student pilots and the named two were no exception! A brief discussion in the mess soon led to Don chasing Piet down the passage of the accommodation block and as Piet ducked into his room and slammed the door behind him he heard a loud exclamation that was not normally part of the sound effects expected! Upon opening the door he found that he had trapped Don's middle finger, left hand between the door-frame and the door, almost completely severing the top joint.
Piet, together with some colleagues half carried the distraught Don next door to the Infirmary where the Medical officer was consulted about sewing the dangling digit back on. He took one look at the scene and promptly reached for his surgical scissors and SNIP, the offending joint was gone. This left a new meaning to the saying "gave him the finger" whenever Don gave anyone the signal!

Whilst flying a training mission over Tempe in a Kudu, with a stick of Paratroopers aboard, Steve gave the signal for them to get ready whereby they opened the sliding cargo door behind him and took up their position along the left wing strut, with handholds where they could get them!
On the signal JUMP, they all let go and began their descent to earth. Steve did his check that all was clear and began his return to the airfield when he noticed something strange trailing from the aileron hinge!
On touch down Steve leapt out of the Kudu to inspect the aileron. What he found shocked him to his core!!!!! One of the parabats had used the hinge as a handhold and when he jumped he left his digit and the sinew attached to it, behind. Of course with his adrenalin flowing with the excitement of the drop he only felt the loss after he landed!!!!!

The Bloemspruit helicopter squadron were training in the Drakensberg to carry out Mountain Rescue procedures and as would have it, one evening, at their bivvie near Cathkin Peak and after a few dozen beers had been consumed the talk got around to how accurate the team members were with their service 9mm para. Pistols. Flippie Laatz remembered the story of William Tell and dared anyone to shoot the beer can out of his hand. The ending is almost predictable. One of the beer guzzling pilots obliged but not only shot the beer can out of Flippie's hand but scored a double bulls-eye! He removed Flippie's index finger with the same shot!!!!!!!!!!

General Piet Venter was standing in the ready room at Waterkloof Airfield, hoping to cadge a flight so that he could increase his flying hours, to enable him to complete his paper on Flight Medicine, when a call came in that the co-pilot scheduled for the VIP flight to Pomfriet that morning, wasn't able to make it, because of illness. General Venter immediately volunteered to take his place. As is tradition in all Air Forces the man in the left seat of the aircraft, no matter what his rank, is in command of the aircraft from the time he steps aboard. This tradition, of course, doesn't apply to the Brown Jobs where rank is strictly observed at all times.

After an uneventful flight to Pomfriet the crew of the Dakota evacuated the aircraft, as in the 40 deg. heat, to stay inside would have invited heatstroke. The commander of the aircraft, Captain Rodney King was inspecting the control surfaces of the Dakota and General Piet Venter was doing what all co-pilots do, check the hydraulics, when a young national serviceman rushed up and asked the General if he could take a parcel of urgently needed papers back to Waterkloof with him. The General followed procedure and told the national serviceman to see the commander of the aircraft for permission.

About 30 minutes later the same serviceman returned to the General and exasperatingly blurted out " Excuse me General but I can't find an officer on the aircraft with a higher rank than you" The General then escorted the frustrated national serviceman to Captain Rodney King and explained how the command structure in the Air Force worked.

To this day the General is sure that the man is still confused.

The same crew, Captain Rodney King with General Venter occupying the co-pilot seat of a Dakota, was detailed for a Paratrooper drop out of Tempe. They were late in arriving, because of adverse weather and then after the parabats had loaded it was found that the aircraft had suffered a malady with one of her magnetos, which required changing. Captain King left his pilot's seat to go back and inform the Major in charge of the paratroopers about the delay and suggest that he deplane the troops and allow them to relax under the wings whilst the magneto change took place.

The Army Major took off at Capain King with some strong invective about delays and training programmes and then demanded that he see the officer in charge. Captain King shrugged and took the Major up to the cockpit and introduced him to the General sitting in the right seat. The Major's disposition immediately changed and after General Venter suggested the same solution as Captain King, the Major returned to his troops and gave the order to deplane and explained that the General was flying the aircraft and he had suggested they rest under the wing!

When on the border a South African Sunday newspaper (it didn't matter how old it was) was like gold. One Sunday morning a crew was taking a scheduled Dakota flight from Waterkloof to Grootfontein and because of the heat and smells generated within the aircraft, kept the cockpit sliding windows open. They had a VIP passenger, an Army Major General from DHQ, travelling on an inspection tour, and lo and behold he had a Sunday Newspaper. Not just any Sunday Newspaper, but a current issue. The co-pilot asked the General if he could have a look at this prized possession and begrudgingly the General acquiesced.
As we all know the airstream within a Dakota in the air, is contrary to the slipstream and enters through the rear cargo door and exits through the cockpit side windows, so creating a lovely cooling breeze through the aircraft.
The co-pilot opened the main edition of the paper and the inevitable happened! The invaluable tome was sucked out the co-pilots hands and exitted out of the cockpit side window! The rest of the journey was taken in silence after the mighty tirade the General exploded at the hapless co-pilot telling him how inconsiderate he was and how he would like to throw him out of the window to fetch the paper!
The moral of the story is don't upset a General who has the latest Sunday paper on the border.

There was a job on the Border that transport crews flying Dakotas detested. "The Rum Run"! This entailed taking off from base at 05h00 and returning at about 20h00 and flying the entire run forwards and then backwards at between 50 and 150 feet off the deck, in midday heat in excess of 48deg C! To describe a fully laden or overloaded "Vomit Comet" in modern airline parlance it would be a "flight to remember", where the crew are on the stick continually, holding this bucking bronco on an even keel and on course!
Alterations had been made to the Daks. as they had gone in for inspections and where the Navigators cubicle had been, a cargo net had been slung, to increase the load capacity and provide space for the crews gear.
On this particular flight some enterprising cargo packer had used this cockpit cargo net to hold a load of about 300kgs of onions. As the hapless aircraft shook and shuddered in the intense heat, during the zig-zag course across the featureless coutryside, the onions stored in the cargo net began to be crushed and the floor of the cockpit became slippery with onion juice. As they came into land at one of the outposts, the aircraft appeared out of control, to those on the ground and the heavy one wheel landing confirmed this conviction.
When the ground crew rushed up to the aircraft, thinking that the crew had been wounded by ground fire, they found the hapless crew sitting in their seats, unable to move, not because of wounds sustained but because they were crying so much that they couldn't see!

Charles invited Roy Bowman to give the Vote of Thanks from the audience to Steve and Roy, after thanking Steve for his hilarious presentation, asked the audience if Steve should come back in 2019 for more stories from his career. The reply was a unanimous, yes.

The Chairman wished all present the Compliments of the Season and then announced the date and subjects of the January 2019 meeting before inviting the meeting to the Annual Cocktail Party.

To all reports the Cocktail Party was also a rousing success.

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South African Military History Society /