Book Review: Desert Veld Mud


“Through Desert, Veld & Mud” is no ordinary regimental history. But then 15 Maintenance Unit, the oldest logistics unit in the country, is no ordinary outfit.

It has from its inception between a Reserve unit blessed with enterprising, straight-talking commanders, officers and men willing to overcome the obstacles of the day. And most often the largest obstacle has been the Regular. Authors Hamish Paterson and Mark Levin pull no punches in this regard. Numerous examples of the duplicity, lack of courtesy, arrogance and sheer indifference the Regular has towards the volunteer Reservist dots the well-researched, well illustrated account. Particular scorn is heaped upon the late and unlamented 7 SA Division and its 74 SA Brigade. Eternal shame on them!

The book follows the Natal Volunteer Transport and Commissariat Department from its creation in 1899 through various incarnations to its centenary in 1999. It also contains a valuable epilogue on volunteer service in the Reserves “towards 2099.” This makes a number of astute observations with which this reviewer, himself a Reserve officer, can easily identify. This includes the overwhelming urge to penny-pinch in the absence of an immediate perceived threat. The authors also point out the difference between “cheap” and “cost-effective,” pointing out that “one of the great advantages of properly funded Reserve units is that they are cost-effective.

However this is dependent on the unit receiving the the necessary money. One of the most successful ploys of permanent forces is to deprive Reserve units of money for training and then to claim that they are inefficient.” Paterson and Levin also point out that many Regulars, who owe no unit any loyalty, are hard-pressed to understand Regimental esprit d’corps and pride. Hence they often act in ways destructive of this. “These loyalties were often seen as an obstable to be overcome rather than a resource vital to military effectiveness. This percepion was aggravated by the fact that many permanent members of he army were not, as is commonly understood, soldiers. They were (are!!), in fact, uniformed bureaucrats. This meant that in practice they lacked the attitude essential to military effectiveness… So, if we are to have an effective Reserve Force, a major transformation must take place in the minds of the permanent members of the (SANDF.)” Enough said!

So, what is the prognosis? Can the Regular change his mindset? “The right words are being said by the right people, but as always, they will have to be followed through with the right deeds. In the meantime, 15 Maintenance Unit, like the rest of the Reserve Force, will have to continue to tread water.”

HR Paterson & M Levin

Through Desert, Veld and Mud

A History of 15 Maintenance Unit (1899-1999)

15 Maintenance Unit