What’s in a Name


A certain young man was at his Local Commando (Territorial) Unit Camp in 1975 wearing 2 strips of white tape on his epaulettes, results of a Course the previous year at Danie Theron Combat School at Kimberly. At the first mornings parade the OC proceeded to give him a dressing down for being improperly dressed and the Adjutant was instructed to remove the toilet paper and to replace it with 2 shiny stars, one on each shoulder.  He had just been promoted to an Officer.  A few months later rumours of a full war in Angola started to filter through and he decided to get involved. Ever tried running head first into a brick wall.  He gave up his Civvy job and arranged through Col Tommy Renfree the IO at Natal Command for a 3-week call up while the good Col promised that he would call in a few markers.  At that stage the Army were only interested in Modular groups i.e. Platoons, Companies and Units, not individuals. 


Col Renfree got it right and the young man arrived in the bush on the banks of the Kavango River with a group of National Service Officers, Some fresh from training Units and others from “The Angolan War”.  At this place, Later to become Woodpecker we met a few other officers and a group of Operators from No. 2 Recce Commando.  In this group from the Recces was this middle aged Silver haired Warrant Officer called Willy Ward.  The young man had previously bought a Browning Hi Power 9mm pistol and a 20 round magazine Every one wanted that pistol and Mag. 


After 2 weeks the base OC Maj. Hochapfel made the young man the transport officer as it was felt that his training was not up to scratch.  His first job would be to take a convoy to a place in Angola called Luengue to deliver Peter Miles and Rations for another Platoon.  Because the war was officially over they were not allowed to wear Nutria (Brown RSA) uniforms and the officers begged borrowed and stole various pieces of Camo from the Black Troops.  The young man had at this stage discovered the 106 rifle grenade and it was love at first sight along with several other exotic grenades and weapons. 


On the day of departure for Luengue he was all dressed up in his rag tag Cammos (this almost gave Maj. Charlie Hochapfel a heart attack) a motley collection of webbing to support his pants and 9mm Pistol, Ammo Mags and Grenades. When Willy saw him he gave him the nickname “ Die GEMASKEDE SKERPION “.  The young man weighing in at about 48 to 49 kilograms was very proud of the recognition from this esteemed Warrior.  Back home in the RSA a company called Republican Press used to publish weekly Photo story books using black and white posed photos, one of the characters had that name.


Very soon The Young Man and Peter Miles were off to war and to do Battle with whatever Africa had to throw at them.  Boy did she have some tricks up her sleeve, like long grass that was full of seeds that blocked Radiators, Little Water, rough sand roads with the top comfortable speed being 20 Kph, Punctures and many more.  10 days later the young dirty tired young man arrived back at Woodpecker only to be shat upon by Maj. Hochapfel.  Where had he been for so long?  In the background Willy was still laughing at the “ Die GEMASKEDE SKERPION “.  At least he still had some recognition when the Mad Maj was carrying on.  This made life a little more bearable and he decided that life was not so bad and that he would not pack it in.  This kept me going in my several conflicts with Maj. Hochapfel, Being bombed setting off landmines and driving over many kilometres of some of the worst terrain that Africa had on offer.


It was only many years later that I found out that what Willy was actually calling me was “Die GEMASKEDE SOPBEEN” At the mature age of 50 years I nearly wet my pants laughing my humour had improved.  Thank You Willy Ward for giving me the misguided will to carry on and finish what was most probably the best year of my life.  I really grew up in 32 Bn


By Barry. C. Roper                      

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