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“Carry on Padre” is the inside story of a young man’s journey through National Service in Apartheid South Africa. This memoir reveals the doubts, fears and uncertainties that were all too common for many in South Africa of that era – what was the right thing to do in the face of legislated prejudice? By doing National Service, did you condone official policies you opposed? How did you reconcile a liberal and race-unconscious upbringing with the general racist philosophy of the country’s military?
The story traces the background of this liberal-minded young man – his somewhat unusual childhood as the son of a Presbyterian minister, during which he relates to and befriends people of every race, creed and colour in the South African tapestry. It follows him through his early military training as a Chaplain, his first exposure as an English-speaking person to the Afrikaans right-wing that dominated the military at that time, and then through the following years as a Reserve Forces chaplain.
Following his initial training, he is posted as a Brigade Chaplain to the forward operational area in South West Africa (Namibia), where a fierce and deadly counter-insurgency war is being fought by South Africa against communist-backed forces in Angola that are allied with the ANC.
The book relates incidents of poignant sadness, violent drama and shocking revelation, as experienced by this chaplain during the conducting of his duties. However, there is also much humour and irony in the story, as he experiences the truly funny and ridiculous aspects of the military life.
This book will be of interest to those who wish to hear something of the inside story of ordinary people during the Apartheid era – what it was like for a white liberal young man to live through those years.
It will also interest veterans of the SADF, if only to see their own experience through different eyes.
South Africa, a country devastated by the racial, social and economic policies of Apartheid, a nation torn by civil war. Every white male between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five is drafted. Irrespective of political persuasion or social conscience, they are thrown into the battle against the communist-backed forces of the African National Congress (ANC), which seeks political victory over the white regime through armed conflict.
Thank you, Pierre van Blommestein, for supporting us through those stormy times, when our anchors held strong and did not waver, and for sharing with us your unforgettable experience of military service in South Africa.
I still find myself under the impact of this book. It is exalting, gripping and truthful!
At South Africa’s call, you and your family and many of your fellow soldiers and friends did not falter. It was both an honour and privilege to write this review.
Major General Roland de Vries, former Deputy Chief of the South African Army.
Military memoirs by men of the cloth are generally rare, and with the exception of a few short first-hand accounts of chaplaincy in the South African Defence Force, extracted from theses and interviews, this is only the second autobiography by a SADF Chaplain, or Dominee, that this reviewer has read.
One could be forgiven for assuming that a chaplain’s war would be somewhat mundane and less glamorous or dangerous to experience than that of the more familiar combat soldier, but let me start by saying that, without exception, this is one of the very best personal accounts of military service in the SADF that I have been privileged to read. It is the story of a remarkable soldier, whose service and outlook on that service are as unusual and unique as any I have read previously, and filled with surprises throughout.
A gifted writer, the author has added a valuable and much needed perspective of life as a Chaplain in that great military machine from the 1980s and 1990s, and is to be congratulated on not only leaving a lasting legacy for his loved ones, but for the rest of us too, whether we shared his experience or not.
This autobiography can be described in two words – simply outstanding.
Very highly recommended.
Peter Chapman, SADF Veteran
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