Remembering the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2007

2007 was the first year that I brought my camera along to the Castle of Good Hope to try to take some photographs from the spectator stands during the one of the performances of the Cape Town Military Tattoo, which ran from 15 to 17 November 2007.

I’m pretty sure I had attended the previous Tattoos (2003 or 2004 – there was a break of two years, before the CTMT 2007 was held), but I cannot find any photos tucked away on my hard drive…

Click to download Booklet of CTMT 2007

Click on the image to download the Booklet of the CTMT 2007

Isn’t it strange how we have become so accustomed to using our cameras and cellphones to document our daily lives?

I still remember having handwritten diaries and those hard-cover journals, for writing down my thoughts or keeping track of daily appointments or sticking in newspaper clippings and assorted snippets and mementos, like ticket stubs, old photographs, postcards or other special occasion cards. I rather miss doing all that. There was something so  magical … comforting … grounding … and hands-on about that kind of journal. Digital photos buried away on a computer are so much more fragile and intangible.

But I digress… Anyway…

Note: You can access the photo carousel with the bigger images by clicking on each of the photo galleries below. 

At the time, I was the proud owner of a Canon Powershot S3 IS, which was a hybrid or bridge camera. It was a significant improvement on our previous forays into the digital camera market (the Olympus 150Z of 2002 and the Canon Powershot A75 of 2004), and was a most thoughtful gift from a very nice University Professor in 2006. We continued to use it for many years, until it eventually gave up the ghost.

01-spectatorsOur Canon S3 IS tried its best to cope with the challenging lighting conditions during the evening performance at the Castle. It took amazing pictures during the daytime, but as soon as it got dark, it didn’t focus so well and the images became very noisy. Apart from that, I was kinda new to this digital photography thing, and didn’t know how to play around with the settings. So we took some video clips, which I unfortunately can’t upload to this blog. But I’ll include some screen captures instead. I know, they aren’t great, and they are rather small in size, but I still wanted to capture the vibe and share some of those happy memories with you.

It was a very blustery November evening, uncharacteristically chilly for the beginning of summer, judging from the fact that we were wrapped up in snugly winter anoraks and scarves.

You can find the Running Order of the CTMT 2007 here.

Tattoo Prelude

The Band of the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) in their scarlet tunics with the old-fashioned pith helmets entertained us with some laid-back music, as we gazed up at Table Mountain, softly illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. Spectators used the opportunity before the performance began to buy some hot coffee and tea from the stalls, and to wobble across the cobbles to the toilets, located – oddly – down a long whitewashed tunnel, which seemed to burrow deep into the outer walls of the Castle.

The Habibia Siddique Muslim Pipe Band and the Military Heritage Group were also part of the Prelude somehow, but I didn’t take any photos of them and don’t remember what they did! The Programme Notes didn’t give any further information about them either.

The show starts

07-closing-ceremonyAt last, as darkness fell, the show got underway, with the drummers of the SA Army Band Western Cape beating the retreat.

This year, the Closing of the Castle – otherwise known as the Key Ceremony, involved two powerful white  horses known as Percherons from a company listed only as ‘Horse Trails’ in the Running Order. I think these may have been the horses of the Cape Town Carriage Company, which has over the years been restoring various vintage carriages that can be pulled by cart horses. The act was called ‘The Light Dragoon Patrol and Halberdiers’, and involved soldiers from the Cape Garrison Artillery and 9 South African Infantry Regiment. I think this may be the only time the closing of the castle gates has incorporated horses into the act, so I wish I’d gotten better photos.

The South African Muzzle-Loaders Association and the Cannon Association of South Africa made us jump out of our seats with a couple of loud bangs from muzzle-loading muskets and deceptively small cannons. Let me tell you, they may look small, but they pack a punch.

According to the Programme Notes, “in the opening ceremony of the Tattoo they bring back to life the memory of the Javaansche Artillery Corps, a unit of Malay light gunners, which fought with distinction at the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806.”

The one cannon unfortunately misfired, much to the disappointment of the spectators, but I guess that is always a risk.

The First muster

The First Muster saw all the participating military bands and pipe bands march onto the arena. This year, we had the SA Army Band Cape Town (Drum Major WO1 André van Schalkwyk) and the SA Army Band Kroonstad (Drum Major Staff Sergeant Johan Labuschagne), as well as the SA Police Services Band of the Western Cape.

These three military bands were joined by three pipe bands: the Drums and Pipes of the Cape Town Highlanders (wearing the Gordon regimental tartan – dark green), and the Pipes and Drums of Cape Field Artillery (Royal Stewart tartan – red) and of 1 Medical Battalion Group (McKenzie tartan – also a dark green).

soldiers from the sky

A military tattoo needs a bit of drama and excitement on the arena. This year, it involved the intrepid soldiers from 3 Parachute Battalion Charlie Company, headquartered at Fort Ikapa.

The scenario: A couple of very, very bad people had captured an innocent civilian and were mistreating him quite convincingly. They stood in front of the ornate Kat balcony in the centre of the arena, with the rest of the arena in complete darkness. Suddenly, a spotlight found two or three soldiers in camouflage, ziplining down into the arena, one by one, at an impressive pace. (I still wonder where they mounted the zipline?!)

Right in front of the spectators, three soldiers were leopard-crawling carefully across the arena towards the captive and his tough-looking captors. One of them raised his arm and waved a blue glow-stick in a circular pattern. Out of the darkness came the sounds of a helicopter approaching high above.

A spotlight was suddenly trained on soldiers who were sliding down a rope from high up on the battlements. It was nail-biting stuff, made all the more realistic by the buffeting wind and the sound of gunfire and explosions echoing through the darkness. The baddies ran hither and thither, trying to shield themselves, but to no avail! The good guys won! 🙂 I hope they learned their lesson – Don’t Mess With Our Paras!

The massed military bands

After all that high-paced action, it was time to enjoy some stirring military music, with the act called “Song of the Battlefield”.

The massed military bands were led onto the arena by WO1 André van Schalkwyk, the Drum Major of the SA Army Band Western Cape.  Looking at the footage, I can also recognise the Drum Major of the SA Army Band Kroonstad, Staff Sergeant Johan Labuschagne, but I don’t know who the Drum Major of the SA Police Service Band (in blue on the far side) is.

I think that Captain Martin Chandler was the Director of Music of the SA Army Band Western Cape at the time, as it looks like he is conducting the bands in the one picture.

When the Massed Military Bands had left the arena, the Military Heritage Group presented a “Salute to the Old Heroes”, but I didn’t take any pictures or videos of it, and can’t remember what they did.

kwagga quadrille

Having caught our collective breaths somewhat, we were ready for the next act: a group of 10 horsewomen and their mounts from the Riding Centre Hout Bay came trotting in through the Kat archway, to perform a well-rehearsed and professional looking quadrille on the arena.

Having ridden horses in my youth, I know how much work goes into rehearsing these kinds of routines… They look so easy and flowing, when they are performed without a mishap, but horses can be temperamental and skittish, particularly on an unfamiliar terrain like the Castle, with floodlights, loud music, uneven cobblestones, and blustery wind. So I was impressed!

The horses had all been painted to look like kwaggas – a sub-species of the Plains Zebra, which had been hunted to extinction by settlers in South Africa in the 19th century. Since 1987, there has been an ongoing breeding project aimed at restoring this extinct species through selective breeding (


A squad from 9 South African Infantry Regiment performed a silent drill in the arena. According to the program notes, 9 SAI is the only Regular Force infantry unit in the Western Cape; it is headquartered at the former South African Cape Corps base out on the N2 near Somerset West and was only formed in 1992, which makes it a very young unit.

The massed pipe bands

As no Tattoo is complete without the inimitable sound of the Pipes and Drums, next up were the massed pipe bands, consisting of the Cape Town Highlanders, Cape Field Artillery and 1 Medical Battalion Group.

Thistles and fynbos

With the pipe bands providing the suitable musical accompaniment, the lovely lasses of the Alexander School of Dance (now known as the Celtic Dance Tapestry) in their pretty tartans took centre stage. Fleet of foot, leaping and turning and hopping and skipping, they made it all look so effortless and graceful. The wind, meanwhile, had picked up and was causing skirts and kilts to fly and flap rather alarmingly!

1812 overture and the final muster

Once the long-limbed lassies had left the arena, the military bands returned for the trademark piece of the Cape Town Military Tattoo – the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, complete with real cannon fire (not ‘live’ though!). Pipe Major Andrew Imrie, who is also in charge of the Cape Field Artillery’s Saluting Troop, has the unenviable task of synchronising the firing of the four ceremonial 25-pounder guns lined up outside the Castle entrance with the music being played inside the thick walls. It is not an easy task, and there is the very occasional misfire, but over the years, they have gotten extremely good at it!

And then, all too soon, the rest of the participants, including the regimental flag bearers, marched onto the arena for the Final Muster. They played “Highland Cathedral”, which is an all-time favourite hymn; and then we all stood at attention for the singing of the National Anthem, before “Nightfall in Camp” and “Lights Out” by the Lone Piper on the battlements signalled that the show was at an end, and we would have to say goodbye. The massed pipe bands were the last to depart, and did so to their traditional tune, played when returning to barracks – “Black Bear”.

Hopefully until next year!

And that was the end of the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2007.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at these old photos with me. Did it bring back memories for you too? Were you there in 2007? Or even earlier, in 2003 or 2004?

It’s an incredible feeling to look at that old footage of 2007, and to recognise the now familiar friendly faces of people I’ve gotten to know since then. Sometimes, I still want to pinch myself that it’s not a dream … Sitting on those stands, shivering in the cold wind but beaming from ear to ear with excitement and delight, I never imagined that I’d one day meet, talk with and befriend many of those amazingly dedicated men and women who performed on the arena or worked so diligently behind the scenes.

Yeah. Life can be pretty awesome!


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