Remembering the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2009

The Cape Town Military Tattoo 2009 was held at the Castle of Good Hope from 19 to 21 November. After the exciting CTMT 2008, we were really looking forward to going, and this time took along my good friend Kim and her mom.

As it is an outdoor event, bad weather can really mess things up. But we were really lucky that evening. The weather was perfect, there was hardly any wind, no rain, and almost no clouds.

And what an exhilarating evening it was!

Click on the image to download the Booklet of the CTMT 2009

Click on the image to download the Booklet of the CTMT 2009

So, without further ado, here are the pictures for you. I should add that they aren’t spectacular, because my little Canon S3 IS did not cope well with low light conditions (for obvious reasons, you can’t use a tripod on the stands in the midst of all those spectators). As a result, some of the pictures are screen-captures from the video clips, which turned out surprisingly well, even though my Canon is not a video camera, and certainly not a high definition video camera at that (so that’s why the largest screen captures are 640 x 480 in size).

I also can’t add a soundtrack for you or include any of the video clips, but you can always play a CD of appropriate military music or bagpipes in the background if you like, to get into the right mood!

I thought that the CTMT 2009 was even more amazing than the previous year’s (CTMT 2008). It was noticeably more military in nature, without the ‘feminine touch’ of the Alexander School of Dance who had participated in the CTMT 2007 and CTMT 2008. Right from the start, when we almost fell off our chairs with the ear-splitting bangs of the cannons and muzzle loaders, and the bands marched on for the first muster, all the way until the final departure of the pipes and drums, it was a glorious spectacle.

Tattoo Prelude

As we found our seats on the stands, which had been arranged along three sides of the open arena, a choir on the ornate Kat balcony was singing beautifully for us. We bought some hot beverages and contentedly sipped our tea and coffee, absorbing the magic of the evening.

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

Beating the Retreat & Closing the Castle

At 20h00 sharp, the Closing of the Castle ritual began. Also known as the ‘Key Ceremony’, this is traditionally performed at the start of each CTMT through the years, and involves the closing of the main gate to the Castle.

An SA Army Drummer in interesting period costume beat the retreat, as the Castle Ceremonial Guard with their fearsome halberds glinting in the light fetched the keys from the Castle Adjudant, checked that there were no stragglers or ‘baddies’ lurking around outside, and secured the heavy Van der Stel gate, with a creak of unoiled hinges and a loud thunk.

“The Castle Guard was formed in 1986 to provide the Castle of Good Hope with its own ceremonial element. Originally a 48-man unit, its size has varied greatly in subsequent years, but the guardsmen in their unique traditionally-based uniforms and replica 18th century halberds – as far as is known, the Castle Guard is the only unit in the world except for the Vatican Guard to parade regularly with these fearsome weapons – have become a well-known sight.” (CTMT 2009)

A similar version of this Closing of the Gate ceremony is performed every day of the week, at 10am and noon, for tourists and visitors, who always seem to enjoy the colourful spectacle – although in their case it is more an Opening of the Gate ritual. The Castle Guard is manned by various Reserve Force regiments, who take turns – at the CTMT 2009, it was troops from the Cape Town Highlanders.

Fanfares – & Big Bangs!

As the Castle Ceremonial Guard trudged off through the archway, the lights went up on the Kat balcony to reveal the musicians who had lined up to give the dramatic fanfare!

The brass and wind instrument players came from the SA Army Band Cape Town in khaki-brown, SA Navy Band in snazzy white, SA Police Services Band in blue and The Trumpet Corps of the Koninklijke Marechaussee, visiting us from The Netherlands, in blue and navy uniforms.


Even before the final note of the fanfares had faded away, there was an ear-splitting **BANG!!** from a small cannon, standing to the right of the balcony. We almost leaped out of our seats with fright, as the sound echoed around the castle grounds. Jeepers! I hadn’t expected that! Such a small cannon – such a Big Bang! And the trumpeters on the balcony hadn’t even flinched…

mvi_5229-1As the smoke cleared, three men from the SA Muzzle Loaders’ Association, not to be outdone, arrived on stage in dazzling period costumes – and proceeded to fire a couple of shots into the air with their old-fashioned muzzle loading weapons.

Even though I kind of knew what would happen, the sharp reports still made me jump!

The next instant, a blinding flash and an ear-splitting **kerPOW** came from the second cannon, to the left of the balcony. I hadn’t seen it hiding there in the darkness, and almost dropped my camera in fright. I’ve seen non-blurry and clearly focused photos of these cannons firing, but I don’t know what settings the photographers have used… a tripod with shutter release cable may be a good idea to eliminate the almost inevitable camera shake!

At the CTMT, the cannons are fired by men from the Cannon Association of South Africa:

“The Cannon Association of South Africa might be small, but it makes its voice heard frequently, to the accompaniment of long muzzle flashes and clouds of gun smoke. Its members are not only serious researchers who have logged the existence of more than 900 muzzle-loading cannon in South Africa, but also like to fire them.

The CAOSA members and their guns – most of them well over a century old, with one or two detailed modern replicas – are in great demand by an astounding variety of organisations to fire salutes on momentous occasions. Among their regular venues is the Chavonnes Cannon Battery Museum at the Waterfront, where the CAOSA members frequently turn out to fire a noon gun … or several noon guns … on Sundays, when the official one at Lion Battery is silent.” (CTMT 2009)

The First Muster

img_5232Eerily lit by the floodlights, the clouds of gun smoke wafted across the open arena. We were still recovering from the unexpectedly loud bangs, with some people giggling helplessly and others chatting animatedly, when – out of the haze – emerged the marching bands, drums thumping and trumpets blowing!

Leading the way was Warrant Officer 1 André van Schalkwyk of the SA Army Band Cape Town, swinging and twirling his mace with the authority of a man who means business. Forming up on the right were the SA Police Services Band and the The Trumpet Corps of the Koninklijke Marechaussee, while the SA Navy Band formed up on the far left.

I can remember how I got goosebumps when these bands marched into the arena, playing a jaunty tune – and I still get the same feeling when I look at the little video clips we made. Yep, we were in for a thrilling evening’s performance!

massed pipe bands

And then, from out of the darkness behind them, emerged the unmistakable sound of a swarm of angry hornets, with the relentlessly pounding thump of a bass drum, the thudding and flourishing of the tenor drums and the rattling of the snares reverberating around the arena – here come the Massed Pipe Bands of the CTMT 2009!

Neatly filing into the gaps between the military bands came the pipes and drums of the Cape Town Highlanders, Cape Field Artillery, SA Military Health Services and 1 Medical Battalion Group – all in their distinctive tartan kilts, with each grouping led by their own drum majors, complete with tall feather bonnets and colourful sashes.

Here are some extracts from the Programme Notes:

The Cape Town Highlanders, a mechanised infantry regiment of the South African Army’s Reserve component, was established in 1885 by a group of patriotic Capetonians of Scottish descent and has been going strong ever since, earning 22 battle honours in fighting South Africa’s wars… The regiment was allied to the Gordon Highlanders for many years, and is now one of only two regiments in the world still to wear the Gordon regimental tartan. The CTH Drums and Pipes (it retains the traditional Gordon’s nomenclature instead of the more common ‘Pipes and Drums’) dates from 1885 and has accompanied the regiment to strange and sometimes awful places.” (CTMT 2009)

“The Cape Field Artillery is South Africa’s senior artillery regiment. It was founded in 1857… In its early years, the CFA was a double-hatted regiment: a mobile field artillery unit whose members also trained on the heavy ordnance in the coastal gun-batteries. …. The CFA also has an excellent pipe band under Pipe-Major Andrew Imrie, which has taken part in all the Cape Town Military Tattoos since 2003 and is in great demand.” (CTMT 2009)

“The SA Military Health Services Pipe Band was formed in 1987 at the express wish of the Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Nieuwoudt. Since its inception, the Pipes and Drums have become a unique and valuable asset within the SAMHS, adding a colourful presentation, along with its blend of stirring music to whatever occasion they are asked to perform.” (CTMT 2009)

1 Medical Battalion Group was established in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, as the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps in 1899. It consisted primarily of the ambulance detachments of the local KZN Units, which were started earlier, in 1895. … The Unit has been wearing the MacKenzie tartan since 1939. The band is based in Durban, South Africa, and consists primarily of civilians and reserve force members of the South African National Defence Force.” (CTMT 2009)

the silent service

Once the massed military bands and pipe bands had marched off to some rousing tunes, the Silent Drill Squad of the SA Navy in their smart dark-navy/black uniforms took centre stage. Guided only by the beating of a bass drum, they marched around the entire arena, changing direction, weaving in and out of each other, swinging and twirling their weapons, forming and re-forming themselves into groups…. They moved so fast, that I struggled to get clearly focused photos of them. So the speed-blurs were not intentional!

Watching their routine, I was awestruck: how do they remember all the different parts of such a long silent drill with nobody shouting orders?

‘Wel neerlands Bloed’

This year, we had visitors from overseas – the Trumpet Corps of the Koninklijke Marechaussee from The Netherlands, in their snazzy blue and dark navy uniforms.

“The Trompetterkorps der Koninklijke Marechaussee was established in 1950, but its organisational roots go back to 1814, when Willem van Oranje established the Maréchaussée as a type of constabulary. Officially, today’s Marechaussee is the Dutch military police corps, but in fact it carries out a wide range of military and civilian tasks, including policing, guard and security duties for several ministries of state.

The Trompetterkorps is a 57-strong marching band, which participates regularly in important state occasions, but can also break down into a number of smaller ensembles. It performs about 75 times a year within The Netherlands and abroad. Countries it has visited include Australia, Russia, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and Finland.” (CTMT 2009)

They were very entertaining and their routine was very professional and slick.

Call to Arms

After all that excitement, the choir returned to the Kat balcony with some more peaceful songs. They aren’t listed in the Programme Notes, though, so I’m not sure who they are. Judging from their uniforms with the maroon berets, they are probably from 3 Medical Health Battalion Group in Cape Town and thus part of SAMHS.

Massed Military Bands

After that soothing interlude, the massed military bands returned to the arena: the SA Navy Band, the SA Army Band Cape Town, the SA Police Services Band of the Western Cape, and the Trumpet Corps of the Koninklijke Marechaussee.

The SA Army Band Cape Town is the country’s oldest Regular Force band, having originated in 1915; although it was deactivated and reactivated a few times, it eventually became so popular that it became the Regular staff band for the Western Cape in 1990.

“It has an extensive repertoire, ranging from orthodox military items to classical, romantic, pop, avant-garde and ‘big band’ music, and also trains bandsmen from surrounding countries. The Director of Music is Major Martin Chandler, who has served in the band for many years. His Bandmaster is Warrant Officer Class I A. van Schalkwyk.” (CTMT 2009)

The Programme Notes didn’t say much about the SA Navy Band this year, except:

“The SA Navy Band, conducted by Commander K Leibbrandt, was established in 1954 and has visited and performed in many places in South Africa as well as other countries, such as Germany, The Netherlands and Russia.” (CTMT 2009)

The SA Police Services Band of the Western Cape is a fairly young band, only having been established in 1968.

“Police bands represent and market the SAPS as an organisation at events where they perform and use the universal language of music to bring communities closer together and unify people from different cultural backgrounds. They also ensure that the image of the ‘dignified blue’ is carried out to the public and that a sense of pride is fostered in being a police member, to build morale and camaraderie in the internal environment.” (CTMT 2009)

Boots & Saddles

What is a tattoo without horses?!

img_5327At the CTMT 2009, audiences were held spellbound by the powerful steeds of the SA Police Services Mounted Unit of Cape Town.

The Mounted Unit is very young, with a pilot project having been tested in the Western Cape in December 2007 – and the official commissioning of the Western Cape’s Mounted Unit on 1 April 2008. The stables for the horses – there were about 27 horses and 30 members in 2009 – are in Tamboerskloof, on the slopes of Signal Hill:

“… police members and their horses are deployed from there daily to various areas in the Peninsula where a need for mounted patrols is identified. The horses have proved to be highly effective in their application to control crowds, increase visible policing, do crime prevention duties and policing areas not conducive to vehicle patrols. Their operational duties include, among others, the policing of big events, for example: the KKNK in Oudtshoorn, police open days and displays, the 2009 Youth Day Celebration in Kleinmond and sports events at the Athlone and Newlands Stadia.” (CTMT 2009)

These daring horsemen managed to keep their clearly excited horses in check, even breaking into the occasional thundering gallop from one side of the arena to the other – no mean feat, given that this is not a huge area! These are big, strong horses – and clearly beautiful looked after, judging from their shiny coats and rippling muscles.

One of the riders must have Cossack blood in him – he performed some scary twirls and whirls with a spear, before flinging it tip-first into a pile of straw bales! He even succeeded in beheading a row of watermelons on stakes with the swish of a sabre, to much whooping and cheering from the spectators!

This was the trickiest act to photograph – a little point-and-shoot camera can’t cope too well with the combination of fast-paced action and low light. But I did take a couple of short video clips, so I’m including a few screen shots for you.

1812 Overture

When you see the SA Army Band drummer setting up his large tympani and the wranglers rolling the tubular bells onto the arena, then you know what’s going to happen next!

The signature act of the Cape Town Military Tattoo is the performance of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky, the only piece of classical music that incorporates actual gunfire in its score. This saw the massed military bands returning to the arena. The firing of the guns is closely synchronised with the music – which is quite challenging.

The drummer pounding the large kettledrums and the chap hammering the tubular bells have an important role in this dramatic and stirring piece – especially in the build-up to the actual cannons firing just outside the entrance gates!

Yes, the four powerful 25-pounder ceremonial guns of the Cape Field Artillery Saluting Troop are lined up on the other side of those massive Castle walls, and during the climax of the piece, they make the ground tremble under your feet, the concussion wave will punch you in your chest, and you will never forget the smell of the gunpowder as the clouds of smoke waft waft over the walls and hazily obscure the moon and the stars.

the final Muster & the lone piper

Then, all too soon, it seemed, it was time for the Final Muster. The massed pipe bands, all the other participants, the military veterans, and the regimental flag bearers, all joined the military bands on the arena.

This is always my least favourite part of the evening, not because the music isn’t wonderful, but because it signals the end of the show – and I don’t want it to end. What a treat it was to hear “Flower of Scotland” and “Highland Cathedral” performed live! I don’t think I was the only one with goosebumps and a lump in my throat.

We all stood for the singing of the National Anthem, and some of us linked arms during “Auld Lang Syne”, feeling just a tad melancholy.

mvi_5376-1Suddenly, all the lights were turned off – and a single roving spotlight swung around to highlight the Lone Piper standing on the rooftop on the far side of the arena… – another one of those goosebump moments. As the mournful sound of the pipes faded into the night, and silence fell, he saluted… and darkness descended once more.

After a moment, the lights came back on in the arena, and the massed bands began to march off, one group at a time, to loud cheering and vigorous applause. The pipe bands were the last to depart, playing “Black Bear” as they disappeared through the Kat archway.

And with that, it was time to pack together our things, climb down from the stands, and join the long queue of people filing out through the massive steel-studded gates – now open once more – of the Castle of Good Hope.

I probably wasn’t the only one looking back over my shoulder, longingly, not wanting the night to end, and promising myself I would return the next year!


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