Musketry

I have spoken often of my old high school, St. John’s College in Johannesburg, and of its rigorous academic- and sporting regimen.

What I haven’t talked much about was one of the extra-curricular activities called “cadets”.  This was a military course:  close-order drill, full dress uniforms and discipline.  It took place once a week during school hours, and would involve getting dressed into uniform before school started, then breaking from class, going to the armory, drawing our drill rifles (decommissioned SMLEs), then running in formation down the stairs you see in the above pic, and drilling on the “A” rugby field.  (pic is not of us, but another school)

At the end of the drill period, we would run back up the stairs to the school and to our houses, where we showered, changed back into school uniform and continued with regular classes.

Of course, discipline was harsh because private school duh (to the point where most private schoolboys, once drafted, would find actual Army boot camp not too onerous).  “Defaulters” was feared — boots not shiny enough?  uniform not pressed?  not drilling properly?  late for parade?  etc. — and Defaulters involved one hour after school or on Saturday morning spent running up and down said stairs (two hundred and twenty-seven, ask me how I know this), carrying the aforesaid rifles overhead and shouting “Coll-ege!  Coll-ege!”

Secretly, I loved cadets.  I loved the polishing of my boots (to where you could tell the time in their toecaps’ reflection), I loved the precision of the drill, I liked the camaraderie of the shared misery with my buddies;  but most of all, I loved Musketry.

Once a week, instead of drawing SMLEs, one lucky platoon would draw BSA-Martini falling-block single-shot .22 rifles from the armory and head off to the 50-yard shooting range for an hour and a half of target shooting.  Here’s the rifle we used:

…the rear aperture sights requiring adjustment (“side screw one click, top screw two clicks”) as we shot.  (The range master was a U.S. Marine Corps Korean veteran from Georgia, a.k.a. the school chaplain.)  We shot from prone, unsupported (“no dead-resting!”) and the greatest disappointment of the day was the final “Cease Fire!  Cease Fire!” command, delivered in Fr. Fitzhugh’s stentorian bellow (“Sayce Fahr!” was what it actually sounded like).

With my old and decrepit eyes, I probably couldn’t shoot this vintage thing for peanuts these days, but despite that I would head off to Collectors and get this beauty in a heartbeat, if I had the spare dollars.

Nostalgia is its own reward.

Straightening Out The Military Brass

Actually, I think the so-called “brass” need to be hammered flat like their namesake metal, but let’s move on.

During the awful Obama years, it became obvious that soldiers were not, in fact, supposed to really act  like soldiers.  And when they did, the criteria for punishment were not “this is what happens on a battlefield” but instead, “it’s not a battlefield, it’s a garden party.”

Soldiers got prosecuted for shooting bad guys because said bad guys hadn’t actually done anything bad, yet.  In WWII terms, this would have equated to not gunning down a column of advancing Nazi bastards because they hadn’t started shooting, yet.

Which as any fule kno, is ridiculous except when Obama-era senior officers say it isn’t.  Here’s the story behind the conviction of one unfortunate officer:

He ordered his men to shoot three Taliban insurgents who were charging at his platoon on a motorcycle in Afghanistan on July 2, 2012.
The Taliban did not heed orders to stop. Lorance could have let them men pass and possibly kill some of his own American soldiers by blowing themselves up with a suicide bomb (as has happened in other cases) or by gunfire. He chose to stop them and save American lives.
Sending a soldier to prison for defending his troops in a war zone should never have happened and should never happen again.

God-Emperor Trump, however, seems to know what’s what, and has pardoned or reinstated those unfortunate soldiers who fell foul of the Obama milquetoast rules of engagement.

And it’s about time.  He should have done it on Day One of his presidency, is my only criticism.

Now the next  item should be to go after the fucking officers (up to and including generals) who approved both the rules of engagement and this travesty of justice — it’s the .dotmil, there’s a signature on a document somewhere — and either demote them or toss their asses out.  And the sooner the better.

We need fighting spirit in our senior officer corps, not rules-bound wokeness and pussyfooting.

Friday Night Music: The Hogwash Interlude

As I may have mentioned before, the vast preponderance of my Army time was spent as a draftee in the South African Defence Force, as a musician in the Entertainment Group, actually a small unit of some sixty personnel in the Permanent Force (PF), but augmented by the addition of a few draftee National Servicemen (NSMs) usually, like myself, having been professional musicians before being drafted — Trevor Rabin of Yes  was an alum, a couple years before I arrived.

There was a Big Band, managed by the unit’s Commanding Officer Maj. George Hayden and staffed almost exclusively by PF musicians, and was of astonishing virtuosity and quality — mostly older men, many of them recording stars of an earlier era, they performed Glenn Miller-type material and played concerts all over the country.  Sometimes the concerts would feature solo artists, singers, violinists and classical guitarists, most of these being NSMs who’d been sent there after completing their basic training (boot camp).

Then there also were a few dance bands which played mostly popular music of all kinds, whether Top Ten hits, country music or Afrikaans Boeremusiek, “sakkie-sakkie”  as we irreverently called it (here’s an example).

And then there was Hogwash.

(yes, that’s Yer Humble Narrator on the left, age 24)

We were thrown together one Friday night because some Army unit was having a dance and all the Entertainment Group steady bands were already booked — I mean, we found out at 3pm that we would be playing at 8pm, and a two-hour drive to the venue lay between.  A frantic scramble followed, to get some band equipment together  — only I had brought my own gear into camp, so everyone else had to content themselves with equipment that none of the other bands wanted.  At least it all functioned, more or less.

We were saved by the fact that we were all good musicians — the others, to be frank, quite a lot better than I — and fortunately, our keyboard player Boze knew the lyrics and music to a jillion popular songs, so the rest of us just followed him along.  I knew a bunch more, of the Creedence Clearwater- and early rock ‘n roll genres, so we busked our way through five hours of music — and enjoyed the experience so much that we decided to make the band a permanent one (or at least for the remaining time of our draft).  We found an empty practice room, and set about putting together a repertoire that was astonishing in its variety (as you will see below).  And because our whole job was to play music, we played all day and every day, five days a week — sometimes taking two or more days to master a complex song.  We played gigs at military bases all over South Africa and, to our great joy, at forward combat bases in the “Operational Area” of South West Africa (later Namibia).  And we rocked.  We were better than a lot of professional club house bands, all but the drummer could sing, and harmonies became our stock-in-trade:  nobody  could sing with us, not even the pros.  As we already had a good list of oldies and party songs, we could concentrate on playing stuff that we wanted to play, and which made us all better musicians.

Hogwash was together for just under eighteen months, but it was quite honestly one of the happiest times of my life.  We had no responsibilities and nothing else to do but play, and play, and play — and when we weren’t playing music, it was like being in Monty Python, with wicked humor, outrageous behavior and general mischief in abundance.  (We discovered, for example, that “gronsk” was not a word, but a letter  — the first letter of a magic word.)

Here’s some of the music.

The Fez (Steely Dan) — played note-perfect, as we did a couple other Dan songs

Who Loves You (4 Seasons) — ooooh those harmonies

Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether (Alan Parsons Project) — we played several Alan Parsons songs, and loved them all

Lazy (Deep Purple) — we played this version, not the indulgent live one

Breezin’ (George Benson) — smooth jazz, baby

Fantasy (Earth Wind & Fire) — funky (well, the way we played it, anyway)

China Grove (Doobie Brothers) — and a whole bunch of other Doobies

One Chain (Santana) — and a couple others by Carlos

I Wish (Stevie Wonder) — tough bass part and complicated backup vocals… I sweated bricks playing this one;  thanks a bunch, Stevie

Jive Talkin’ (Bee Gees) — and all their other disco songs;  hey, it was 1978

I Just Wanna Make Love To You (Foghat) — hair band music, even though we had no hair

…and the song which we played in our very first impromptu gig, and never stopped playing thereafter because we loved it, and because Boze sang it better than Garfunkel:

I only Have Eyes For You (Art Garfunkel) — best version of this song ever recorded

Here we are playing at some dismal Army camp or other:

Sadly, although we’d planned on staying together and playing professionally after the Army service was complete, Boze decided that he didn’t want to play pro.  Without him, the whole thing fell apart.  “Grundelstein” the vocalist quit music altogether and went into the hotel management business.  I rejoined Atlantic Showband (believe me, it was no hardship) and played with them from 1979 until I emigrated in 1986.  “Bee” the guitarist and Franco the drummer went on to play for two of the most well-known club bands in South Africa (Circus and Ballyhoo, respectively, for those who might know what I’m talking about).

Not playing pro with these guys is one of my greatest disappointments in my musical career.  I miss them all still.

My Kinda List

That would be the Top 25 Badass Planes Of All Time (and I especially like their choice of #1).

Now, as with all this kind of geekery, one can argue with the choices (or omissions, e.g. the WWI Fokker D.VII), but it’s still a credible selection.

(Yeah, that’s Ernst Udet in the foreground.)

And I don’t agree with Gen. Spaatz’s characterization of of the B-17, but it’s a minor quibble:  the Flying Fortress was a dandy, any way you look at it.

 

Feel free to add your suggestions — but:  if you do so, you have to say which of the existing 25 you’d drop.  (Mine would be the DC-3/C-47, to make room for the D.VII, for example).

VD Is Not Victory

Used to be that “VD” used to mean “Victory Day” — i.e. the day the war ended — but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, does it?

According to a report released earlier this year by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, incidence rates of chlamydia in service men and women more than doubled from 2013 to 2018, gonorrhea infection rates also doubled for men and rose by 33 percent for women, and diagnoses of syphilis were nearly three times the number just 10 years ago.

Of course, the brass is always ready with a “DUH!” statement:

In a press release Wednesday, Defense Department officials said the increases can mean negative consequences for military readiness.

Ya think?

Then again, maybe the higher incidence of disease in our modern Armed Forces is, as the article puts it, just a parallel of the population as a whole.

Of course, the pox (of whatever flavor) is a perennial problem for any  of the armed forces, whether invading armies, fighter jocks [sic]  or dockside navies, as whores have always known that randy young soldiers of whatever branch are a prime target, so to speak, for their eager little cashboxes.   And everyone, especially the military brass, knows it.

I recall reading somewhere that the British army sent to Spain and Portugal to oppose Napoleon’s Grand Army suffered infection rates of around 35%, but maybe that’s a feature of Spanish- and Portuguese totties, not to mention the ineffectual / non-existing prophylactics of the time.

And even the Edwardian-era U.S. Expeditionary Force sent to France in WWI became a walking pox factory, despite the Puritanic nature of American society at the time.  As the song put it, How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”  (Translation:  now that they’ve experienced the French flavor of booze and debauchery, they’re not going to listen to us when we tell them to be sober and chaste back home.”)

My favorite line, though, is that of the late Spike Milligan who, in recounting his artillery unit’s preparations for the invasion of North Africa in 1942, pointed out that each soldier was issued a single condom prior to landing.  Milligan’s comment:  “One? One?  They must have been expecting a short war.”

‘Twas ever thus.  The distinctly modern take on the increased poxiness of our modern Armed Forces is that it seems to be about the same for both male and female soldiers — which equality no doubt pleases Teh Feministicals greatly, but which I for one find ineffably sad.