Author Peet Coetzee served as a Permanent Force member in both the South African Air Force and Army, completing a distinguished career of 33 years as a Warrant Officer 1st Class. His speciality during the majority of his service was that of photographic interpretation, a task at which he proved to be extremely adept, and which saw him transferred to Special Forces, where he served for much of his career, in a ‘jam stealer’, or backroom role. This, his autobiography, is written primarily about his service with Special Forces, although the remainder of his time in the forces is covered too.
The author begins his story with a note, the first line of which states, “I am no writer, only a soldier...”. As one progresses through his story, you get the idea that he may be correct on both counts in part, though his tale is a heartfelt one and written exactly as he saw it. Chapter One gives the reader a brief resume of the author’s service career, and a clear perspective to what follows, and this is particularly useful as I personally found the later narrative did tend to jump around at times.
As I’ve said though, these criticisms are minor and overall the book is excellent, providing the reader with hours of entertaining stories about the author’s and others’ experiences within the SADF at the time, and for this reviewer, the first and most comprehensive account of the role played by a highly skilled specialist Photographic Interpreter (PI). The latter is covered largely in Chapter Two – Specialist Training, in which the author not only explains the role of the PI, but also includes many examples taken from his own operational experiences. All of the latter are well illustrated with black-and-white photographs taken during the mentioned operations, one of the truly outstanding features of this particular book. This reviewer has never seen as many photographs, maps and illustrations included in an autobiography of similar size and scope, and most are new to this reviewer too, not just tired repeats lifted from earlier publications. The author is to be congratulated on their inclusion, as they are a graphic reminder of not only his own service within the SADF, but any soldier, sailor or airman who served therein.
Further chapters include JARIC Training Wing - with details of the author’s role as trainer within the latter, The South West African Bush War – which covers the author’s overall service on the Border, both as young infantryman, dog handler and later PI, My Time With Special Forces – self explanatory, Operation Sceptic – in which the author took part, Operation Askari – ditto, three chapters covering the Recce bases at Fort Doppies, Fort Rev and Fort Foot, an operational area gallery of photographs, another chapter on Army Related Tales, Special Tributes ¬– including a moving one to the author’s late father, a World War Two veteran and later SADF dentist, and Cul-de-Sac, which documents the end of the author’s military career.
Having had the pleasure of reading Peet Coetzee’s account of his service as a P.I. ‘JAM STEALER’ within the SADF, I look forward in due course to reading his account of the dog soldiers, aptly named, DOGS OF WAR. You may not believe you are a writer Sergeant Major, but this reviewer (and former ‘JAM STEALER’) begs to differ.