Remembering the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2008

From 20 to 22 November 2008, the Cape Town Military Tattoo was staged at the Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town, as in previous years.

I have been sorting through the photos I took from the spectators’ stands that year, and thought it would be nice to put them up on the blog. I found it really challenging to get good photos, though, so many of them turned out blurry – low light, fast-paced action on the arena, a fairly slow focusing camera, and my own ignorance with using more manual settings on my Canon S3 IS meant I wasn’t getting the shots I so desperately wanted.

In the end, as in the previous year, I took some video clips instead, and managed to extract some reasonably good frames from those. So yes, I know they ain’t superb quality or high resolution, but I do hope that they will at least convey some of the excitement of the evening!

Tattoo Prelude

Before the start of the show, spectators were entertained by the Habibia Siddique Muslim Pipe Band and the Military Heritage Group, in period costume. According to the Programme Notes, the Heritage Group provided 18th century pikemen and World War II desert soldiers, but unfortunately I did not get any good pictures of them – they were all blurry beyond rescue.

What is a military tattoo?

Click on the image to download the Booklet of the CTMT 2008

Click on the image to download the Booklet of the CTMT 2008

I found the following information on the Tattoo’s official website (the domain has unfortunately since been taken over by a tattoo of a very different kind):

“The word “tattoo” is derived from a centuries-old military ritual which originated in the Low Countries during the 80 Years’ War in the 16th and 17th Centuries, when patrols would be sent out near nightfall to warn off-duty soldiers in the taverns that it was time to return to their barracks.

At each tavern the tavern-keeper would be told: “Doe den tap toe!” (close the taps on your beer-barrels). All the armies fighting in the Low Countries adopted this practice, and as the centuries passed the nightly ritual became known by various names – such as “tattoo” in English, “taptoe” in Dutch and “Zapfenstreich” in German, and turned into a unique form of military show business.”


At the Castle of Good Hope, a drummer used to be sent up to the Leerdam Bastion, where he beat his drum for half an hour, instructing the off-duty soldiers to return to their barracks. Once all the men were safely inside the Castle, the smartly dressed Castle Ceremonial Guard with their shiny replica 18th century halberds collected their orders – and the big key, from the officer in charge of the Castle, in order to lock up the main gates. They re-enacted this for the Tattoo. This year, the Castle Guard consisted of members from the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) regiment.

As always, this was followed by a couple of loud bangs from the SA Muzzle Loaders Association and the Cannon Association of South Africa, and a fanfare from the trumpets to raise the levels of excitement among the spectators!

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


This year, the SA Army Band Cape Town (now known as the SA Army Band Western Cape) was joined by the SA Army Band Kroonstad and the SA Army Band Limpopo. Looking back from 2015, I think it was the only time that the Limpopo band has participated.

Weaving their way between the assembled military bands came the various Pipes and Drums – the Cape Town Highlanders in their dark green Gordon regimental tartan, the Cape Field Artillery in their red Royal Stewart tartan, and the South African Irish Regiment in saffron. This was the only year that the SA Irish Regiment performed at the CTMT.

There are few things more soul-stirring and patriotism-invoking than hearing bagpipes and drums – even more so if they are played well and in tune! There’s often that mysterious something about this music that makes me want to leap up, throw on a uniform, grab a weapon and charge off into battle! Perhaps it’s a past life thing…

Machine-gun marathon

Troops from the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes), the Cape Town Highlanders, the Cape Town Highlanders‘ Drum Corps, and Regiment Westelike Provincie were pitted against each other in a tense and fast-paced obstacle race.

The four teams of four men each, wearing yellow, blue, red and green shirts, had to dismantle a mounted machine gun and to transport it in pieces across the arena, under, over and through a series of obstacles, before running back at full tilt to the start, where it had to be re-assembled, ready to fire!

I don’t remember which team won, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

ALL that glitters

The energetic youngsters of the Western Cape Marching Band, glittering in red, white and black, crisscrossed the arena, waving and twirling colourful flags.

As the Programme Notes say:

“The Ashwin Willemse Orient Marching Band is the public face of the Western Cape Marching Band Association, which was founded as a youth organisation in the suburb of Manenberg eight years ago, and one of its aims is to introduce troubled children to the finer joys of life.

Since then its youthful musicians have made an international name for themselves. It has performed all over South Africa, ranging as far afield as Durban, Calvinia and Oudtshoorn, and in 2007 won a bronze medal at the World Marching Band Competition in Malaysia. In June 2009, the band – which has 115 members of whom between 70 and 80 will be performing in this year’s tattoo – will represent South Africa against 54 other countries in The Netherlands. The CEO/President is Mr Fadiel Gasant.”

Flag talk

They were followed by the least dramatic of all the acts: the Semaphore Signalling Routine by the students of the SAS Simonsberg Signals School. Even though it wasn’t particularly riveting, we enjoyed watching it, because we knew the friendly fella waving the flags on the far side of the arena: it was our friend Eric from the SA Navy!

There was another chap on the near side, also waving flags, in response to which the group of eight students changed direction and marched back and forth across the arena. I don’t think it made any sense to the audience, though, because we had no idea what the different signals meant. And the eight students looked a little lost on this vast arena.

The Programme Notes said the following:

“SAS Simonsberg is a ‘stone frigate’ (traditional naval slang for a shore establishment) with a vital role, and it is where the South African Navy provides its sailors with a wide variety of specialised training, from maritime warfare, diving and signalling to fire-fighting, seamanship, harbour protection and catering. It was established in 1963, when it was decided to consolidate all the various training schools scattered around Simon’s Town to provide all specialist training in South Africa.

The school teaches students all the ‘mod cons’ and semaphore, the oldest of all signalling methods at sea. This is not simple nostalgia, but during an international naval exercise a few years ago, a ship from a participating nation suffered a total communications failure and ended up sending essential messages to SAS Tafelberg by means of semaphore. The Navy took the lesson to heart.” (CTMT 2008)


After them, we saw the return of the Massed Pipes and Drums. This was followed by a beautiful and elegant Highland Dancing routine by the Alexander School of Dance (now the Celtic Dance Tapestry).

KNIGHTs and maidens

As a horse lover, I always enjoy seeing horses performing at the Tattoo. It’s not always possible, of course – and horses do tend to leave little … um … steaming piles in places where they shouldn’t be and where some poor sod may step in it. Like in the middle of the arena, for instance. And yet… there is something wonderfully exciting about a Tattoo with Horses!

At the previous Tattoo – the CTMT 2007, the energetic horsewomen of the Riding Centre Hout Bay had painted all their horses black and white for a beautiful piece they called the Quagga Quadrille. This time, the riders had dressed up in blue costumes with pointy hats as knights and maidens.

It was a lovely, flowing performance, and much credit must go to the riders for successfully controlling their horses and getting through the sequences without any hiccups. It was spell-binding to watch.

shamrocks by the sea

The long-limbed lassies of the Alexander School of Dance (now the Celtic Dance Tapestry) took to the stage once more, having changed costume, to perform a foot-stomping, hard shoe Irish dance, which they called, fittingly, ‘Shamrocks by the Sea’. A couple of pipers and drummers provided the perfect musical accompaniment.

They were incredibly good!

kaapse klopse

Next up was a uniquely South African act – the new Regimental Band of the Cape Garrison Artillery. They have seriously colourful uniforms! They were spectacular and very showy with their Kaapse Klopse costumes and make-up. And because they were very loud and flamboyant, they had us all clapping our hands and tapping our feet to the rhythm.

According to the programme notes, the Band was created earlier in 2008, when the Platinum Brass Band formed a relationship with the Cape Garrison Artillery, headquartered at Fort Wynyard in Green Point. Originally the Platinum Brass Band had been a street band, playing traditional Cape melodies by ear for “Klopse” troupes and Malay choirs. As the band progressed, they began to take onboard more and more youngsters, and it is now 80 strong and growing.

Looking back from 2015, this was the only time they were part of the CTMT; in subsequent years, Cape Garrison Artillery got a Pipe Band – the Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band became their regimental band and renamed itself the Cape Garrison Artillery Pipes & Drums.

massed military bands

The SA Army Band Kroonstad usually has a bit of a surprise up their sleeve. With Staff Sergeant Johan Labuschagne, their Drum Major, a world champion line dancer, the bandsmen often incorporate an entertaining dance routine into their act. So too this time!

the 1812 overture and the final muster

Then it was time to get serious with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which  is always a highlight of the Tattoo, particularly because the ceremonial Saluting Troop of the Cape Field Artillery fires their four 25-pounder G1 guns, lined up right outside the front gate to the Castle. The precision firing is synchronised by means of a stop watch, and with signals passed from the arena to outside the Castle walls. If you’re standing outside the walls, it is difficult to judge the music, so it is always quite tense out there. Members of the audience aren’t allowed outside, for obvious safety reasons, but even inside the arena, you get a sense of the action: the loud booms make the ground tremble underfoot and you can smell the distinctive smoke from the guns.

After the triumphant climax of the piece, with all four guns firing simultaneously, the echoes faded away and the clouds of gun smoke slowly dissipated.

We knew it was almost the end of the show, as all the groups of participants marched into the arena to perform the final pieces. The melancholic “Auld Lang Syne” had the whole audience on their feet, linking arms, and swaying and singing along. After the singing of the National Anthem, during which all the men in uniform had stood stiffly at attention, darkness fell on the arena and a spotlight lit up the Lone Piper on the battlements, playing “Lights Out”.

And then, one by one, all the groups left the arena, with the Pipes and Drums bringing up their rear with the traditional “Black Bear”, the tune they play always when returning to barracks.

Although it sad that the show was over, we felt uplifted and invigorated and in excellent spirits – and promising ourselves that we would attend next year’s Tattoo!


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