And Then There Was Johnny Brass


It was a hot Friday morning in Omauni. The ”Son Besies” had started early with their shrill concert, shrieking about an obviously scorching day that lay ahead. Inside the four sand walls of the base, the Recce Wing troops could be seen drifting around between the tents and bunkers chirping each other and giving a hand here and there, with the daily chores of keeping the base neat. The crackle of the radio in the underground Ops-room was a welcome reminder that we were still in contact with the world out there. With not much to do, the day was going to be a long one.


A troop came up to the "Orders Hut” , slammed his heal into the ground with a resounding “paff”, saluted and announced that a person at the main entrance wanted to speak to the base commander. As Blue Kelly was in Rundu the honour fell on me to act as the commander for the following few minutes. At the main gate I found a middle aged man dressed in brand spanking new camouflage dress. I immediately recognized the uniform as that of the TIN Police.


My polite question, offering assistance, was greeted by him saying, in a rather aggressive tone “ I said, I wanted to speak to the commander, not a child”. I explained that I in fact was taking care on behalf of the commander whilst he was gone. “ Well, he said; I am Major So and So and I need a Buffel -- now !!! As a junior Second Lieutenant I was careful not to aggravate this Major any further, it was clear that he was going to take no nonsense from a junior rank. My question as to the purpose for lending the Buffel was the excuse the Major was looking for to pull rank. In less than polite Afrikaans the Major told me that it had nothing to do with me and that it was orders from “Higher Up”. He did however say that he needed to pay a visit to Silas, a local Headman some 14 Km from there. At that point I was joined by a sergeant by the name of K O, who wanted to know what was going on. I asked him to organize a Buffel for the Major.


K O and I went and stood on the outer wall of the base, overlooking the chopper pad. At the bottom of the wall the Major was pacing up and down pensively waiting for the Buffel to arrive. The next moment a Buffel boomed into life in the small LWT right behind us. The modified exhaust pipe of the Buffel made it sound like a dragster that had blown its manifold into oblivion. The energetic revving left no doubt who the driver was JOHNNY BRASS. JOHNNY BRASS was without doubt the meanest Buffel driver 32 Bn ever produced. He in fact was the best  Buffel driver in the world. Apart from this he had a natural feel for diesel engines. JOHNNY BRASS had  personalised his Buffel and in the process turned it into the fastest Buffel in the whole Universe. The last thing JOHNNY BRASS needed was encouragement to get from A to B quickly.


It almost looked spooky as BRASS came idling slowly around the wall with his right arm hanging off the throttle. The Buffel stopped in front of us and the Major walked around and got onto the back. BRASS was standing upright in the “cockpit”, staring straight ahead, waiting orders from me. The Major called me and said: “Please tell this man (referring to Brass), in his own language, that I am not in a hurry and that we have the whole day to get to Silas and back”. Before I could say a word, K O shouted in his best Portuguese: “ JOHNNY !!!--- the Major is in a hell of a hurry and needs to get to Silas, don’t stop for nothing, this is a dangerous mission, you have to get there and back as soon as possible “ This was what JOHNNY BRASS was born for; HELL DRIVING !! When he dropped into the cockpit, he dropped the clutch at the same time. The Buffel roared the last bit of horsepower out the exhaust and ripped down the chopper pad, in the direction of the runway. The Major had lost his balance and was hanging like “Killroy” on the inside of the Buffel's bin, staring back at us with a panic stricken face and the white of his eyes showing clearly. The Buffel turned onto the runway at a blinding speed while JOHNNY worked through the gears making it sound like it was fully automatic. The last I saw, before they disappeared down the runway, was the Major, less than glamorously, clamouring his way to the front, along the role bar, his hat blown of and his cheeks blowing in the wind.   


About two hours later we all ran out and stood on the wall. A report had come in that the Major was due back in a few minutes. It was not long before the Buffel came screaming back down the runway. We could faintly see the Majors head bobbing in the back. The Buffel came to a noisy, rocking halt at the exact point where it had departed. When the dust cleared the Major stood up slowly. He was covered in light grey dust, from head to toe. He climbed down and looked at all of us staring down at him from the wall. He walked up to me, cleared his throat and asked in a dignified and respectful manner “Who are you people”? and before I could answer, he said; I mean, which Battalion”? I proudly said: "32 Battalion Major” He gave me a lingering look, turned around and walked back to his Land Rover.


JOHNNY BRASS later complained to me saying the Major was not well trained because he kept on hitting JOHNNY on the head. JOHNNY’S reasoning was, you only have to tap him on the head once, to go faster, not hit him all the time.


Some days later “Falcon Ferreira’’ radioed from Rundu to enquire about an unauthorized joint operation that we had undertaken with the TIN Police. During the discussion it became clear that the Major had become some sort of local celebrity in Rundu, after telling his colleagues that he had gone on a secret mission with the famed 32 Bn boys and was lucky to survive.     


It later transpired that this Major was responsible for paying the local Home Guards that had been formed by the Police some months earlier.  It was in fact what he did that day.


Theunis Marais



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