CTMT 2010: Rehearsals Part 2

The otherwise quiet and peaceful Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town was a hive of activity on the weekend, with the different acts rehearsing for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010.

If you haven’t booked tickets yet, go to Computicket and do so now – you’ll regret it if you miss this spectacular event!

After a busy Saturday afternoon (see photos of the rehearsals here), I was back at the Castle on Sunday morning, and spent the entire day and most of the evening behind the scenes, absorbing the sense of anticipation and excitement, taking photographs, waiting for things to happen, chatting with people, running up and down steps, taking more photographs, waiting a bit more, grabbing a bite to eat every now and then, drinking lots of water because of the heat, discussing ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings with my fellow ‘photies’ Brent and Lorraine, walking around the arena looking for good vantage points, and yes, taking more photographs. I loved every moment of it! 😀

Here are my photos of Sunday’s daytime rehearsals, followed by some pics of the evening’s run-through.

Cape Town Rifles (Dukes)

When I arrived on Sunday morning, the troops from the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) regiment were already busy with their rehearsals; I could hear the deafening din of gunfire from afar (over the loudspeakers, not live, thank goodness!) and cautiously walked through the Kat archway, my camera at the ready.

They were re-creating a mock attack. Three ‘baddies’ had taken up positions on the one side of the arena, while the soldiers were approaching from the other. They were practicing their routine without their weapons this time, just to make sure that everyone knew what was planned and where they had to be. Unfortunately, one of the troops took a tumble and sprained his ankle – for real. It’s ironic, because he was supposed to fall to the ground as though he’d been shot! So the medics had to rush to his aid – for real! In the meantime, his fellow soldiers dispatched the baddies one by one. I gathered that the purpose of the mock attack display was to show how closely the operational medics worked together with the soldiers when they were on deployment somewhere.

3 Medical Battalion Group

The sub-theme of the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010 is ‘A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes’. This is an acknowledgement of all the men and women of the military support services, who provide combat support – among them, the operational medics. A large group of soldiers and medics from 3 Medical Battalion Group thus had their own act this year.

3 Medical Battalion Group, established in 1889, is a reserve unit in the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS), and its headquarters are in Cape Town. The volunteers who make up this unit are trained to give medical support to the SANDF.

Under the direction of Major NA Hanekom, stretcher platoon commander Capt LL Swart and medical task team commander Lt SM Madyongolo, they performed a historical stretcher drill dating back to the 1911 Handbook. The purpose of these stretcher exercises was to drill the bearers consistently and thoroughly on the careful handling of wounded soldiers, until they were proficient and completely confident that they would be able to do this under battlefield conditions.

Fanfare Group

It had turned into a scorching hot day in the Mother City, with a clear blue sky arching above us – not a cloud in sight and not a breath of wind. I sought shelter from the heat in the lunch venue and the Reserve Force Office; the thick walls and high ceilings of many of the Castle buildings and rooms mean that they tend to be refreshingly cool in summer.

After lunch, the Fanfare group, which traditionally starts the Cape Town Military Tattoo, took their places on the Kat balcony. The Fanfare group is made up of a selection of brass and wind instruments from the various bands participating in this year’s Tattoo – the SA Army Band Cape Town, the SA Army Band KwaZulu Natal, the SA Army Band Kroonstad, and the SA Police Services Band.


This year was the first (and thus far only) time that the Rwanda Defence Force Army Band performed at the Cape Town Military Tattoo. The Band is quite young, having been established in 1992.

“In 2002, Lt Col Lemeul Kayumba was appointed Commanding Officer and introduced intensive band training programs, which included building relationships with foreign bands and military music schools. The RDF Army Band maintained its own training program, but was also assisted by neighbouring countries, such as Uganda and Ghana.

In 2008, the RDF Army sent the first contingent of 20 Military Musicians to attend the South African Army Military Music Course, presented by the SA Army Band, Cape Town with the assistance of the University of Stellenbosch. The students do external examinations which include UNISA theory examinations as well as Trinity/Guildhall College London practical examinations. Many of the students achieved distinctions and appear on the role of honour for achievements in UNISA examinations.” (Programme Notes: CTMT 2010)

Western Province School Marching Drill and Exhibition Association

The young men and women of the WPSMDEA Drill Squad were back at the Castle today, to refine their routine, and if necessary to adjust it to take full advantage of the size and shape of the arena.

By the end of their routine, it was time for supper! Thank goodness, because I wasn’t the only one who was ravenous and super thirsty by then. One of the perks of having a “backstage pass” was that I was “on strength” and thus allowed to have supper at the Castle with the rest of the crew, participants and backstage folk. It was a fun way of getting to know people I had thus far only seen from a distance. Many of the participants, band members and support staff have known each other and worked with each other for years, and the sense of camaraderie was wonderful.


After an early supper, there was no time to dawdle. The next act was getting ready to rehearse on the arena before sunset: the SAPS Mounted Unit! I had really been looking forward to seeing them performing at the Tattoo this year, as I’ve always been a little horse-mad. And these horses are gorgeous: rippling muscles, shiny coats, brushed manes and tails, polished tack… Quite beautiful.

Their routine was fairly complicated, with the horses weaving in and out of each other, forming circles and spirals and rotating windmills, and interweaving lines. Having ridden horses in my younger years, I know how tricky it is to memorise routines like this and to get through them without forgetting anything. Quite apart from that, horses can be temperamental and unpredictable, and, rather like human beings, can like or dislike their fellows, which is often signaled with an angry swish of the tail, flattened ears and slightly bared teeth, a sideways glare, the threat of a kick… – so there are many little things that can go amiss!

At the end of their routine, they formed up facing the main stands, and gave a snappy salute, before trotting around the perimeter of the arena one final time. After a short break, they did it all again, this time with background music provided by the SAPS Band.

Some General Photos

It’s been a long day of rehearsals, and the light is fading. We’re getting ready for a final run-through involving most of the acts who have been rehearsing at the Castle over the weekend. As it is my first time behind the scenes at the Cape Town Military Tattoo, I am really excited to be part of this.

I am also curious to see how my camera will cope with the conditions – low ambient light, patches of bright artificial light, fast paced action of people and horses… What I learn that evening is that it is not easy to capture really stunning photos at the Tattoo! My fellow photies Brent and Lorraine have been doing this for a few years already, and they have lots of experience. Luckily for me, they don’t mind helping me out a bit! 🙂

Evening Rehearsals

At about quarter to eight, the evening rehearsals got underway. The production team wanted to see how long each of the acts takes, and to make sure everyone knew on which side of the arena they needed to march on and march off.

Fanfare Group

Silent Guard

The SA Navy Sea Cadets formed the silent guard for the functionary; at each performance, there is usually one high-ranking officer from one of the arms of service, who takes the salutes during the show. They are traditionally escorted to their seats at the beginning of the show, and then escorted off again at the end.

Castle Ceremonial Guard

At the beginning of each performance of the Tattoo, the Castle Ceremonial Guard locks the entrance gate to the Castle, and delivers the key to the Castle Commander. This year, the guardsmen carried the large heavy halberds. MWO Alfie Wort stood in as the Commander for the rehearsal.

The Castle Ceremonial Guard performs the Key Ceremony with MWO Alfie Wort standing in as the Castle Commander

The Castle Ceremonial Guard performs the Key Ceremony with MWO Alfie Wort standing in as the Castle Commander

Massed Military Bands

It’s the first time that we’re seeing – and hearing – the full massed military bands on the arena. This year, we have the SA Army Band Cape Town, the SA Army Band KwaZulu Natal, the SA Army Band Kroonstad, and the SA Police Services Band. It’s the only time that the KZN Army Band participated in our Tattoo.

Let me tell you – it sounds AMAZING!

WPSMDEA Drill Squad

Then the Drill Squad from the WPSMDEA charged through their breathtaking routine. Can you spot Brent in his bright yellow shirt taking photos from ground level? 🙂

Rwanda Defence Force Army Band

After them, it’s the turn of the musicians from Rwanda.

As you can see from the flying dust, a strong and blustery wind has come up.

SAPS Mounted Unit

I was delighted to see the police horses returning to the arena for a final run-through under the lights. During their act, I saw how jolly difficult it was to take good photos of a fast-moving act – like trotting and cantering horses – under fairly low lighting.

I had amped up my ISO to 6400 (which is a bit much on my Canon 550D), so many photos became rather grainy. I was experimenting with shooting on shutter speed priority, with a minimum shutter speed of 1/100 to prevent blurring the horses, and my widest f-stop was f/3.5 – f/5.6 on my 18-55mm kit lens, depending on how far I zoomed in or out. I also tried using the camera on Auto without flash, and once the horses were off the arena, I even resorted to Auto with flash, just to see what would happen and if it would improve the photos. It didn’t. I quickly learned that using a flash under these conditions is not just useless but counter-productive – and potentially annoying for performers. And by then my lens was covered in dust from the wind, and most likely so was my sensor, because I’d occasionally swapped the 18-55 for the 55-250mm telephoto lens, and thus many of the photos clearly had dust spots on them.

It had been an interesting learning experience.

Historical Stretcher Drill and Mock Attack

Celtic Dance Tapestry

Like the horses and the mock attack, the dancers too posed a challenge – I don’t have much experience with taking photographs under these conditions. But it didn’t matter – I had a blast!

What an AMAAAZING day this had been!

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