Carry on Padre - Memoir of an Army Chaplain in Apartheid South Africa
"Carry on Padre" is the inside story of a young man’s journey through National Service in Apartheid South Africa. This memoir reveals the doubts, fears and uncertainties that were all too common for many in South Africa of that era. What was the right thing to do? By doing National Service, did you condone official policies of discrimination?
"Very highly recommended" Peter Chapman, SADF Veteran. More
This poignant, sad, and sometimes funny story of a liberal-minded young man tells how he was raised in a race-unconscious home, only to find himself serving in a conservative right-wing military. Pierre van Blommestein shares his incredible true story in Carry on Padre.
The book gives insight into Pierre’s liberal religious upbringing, his personal view of the challenges of Apartheid, his experiences as a chaplain during National Service, and the following seventeen years as a Reserve Forces Chaplain.
The story is set over a period of twenty-five years, from Pierre leaving school in 1975, through the darkest years of the Apartheid era in the 1980s and 1990s. It includes the free elections in 1994 and reconstruction of the “New South Africa”, finally ending with his emigration from South Africa in 2000.
Taught to accept and respect all people irrespective of race or creed, Pierre’s dilemma comes when he begins his ten years of National Service, like all white males over the age of eighteen years. He is simply an ordinary young man deeply aware of the pain of his homeland, as he tries to get through a difficult period in South African history.
Pierre van Blommestein’s memoir began as a simple recounting of his Apartheid experiences for his family. “I have a growing conviction that the stories of the ordinary people from this generation and this country, not the official histories or the propaganda, must not be lost in the turning wheels of recent history.”
Book Review -
Military memoirs by men of the cloth are generally rare, and with the exception of a few short first-hand accounts of chaplaincy in the South African Defence Force, extracted from theses and interviews, this is only the second autobiography by a SADF Chaplain, or 'Dominee', that this reviewer has read.
One could be forgiven for assuming that a chaplain’s war would be somewhat mundane and less glamorous or dangerous to experience than that of the more familiar combat soldier, but let me start by saying that, without exception, this is one of the very best personal accounts of military service in the SADF that I have been privileged to read. It is the story of a remarkable soldier, whose service and outlook on that service are as unusual and unique as any I have read previously, and filled with surprises throughout.
Pierre van Blommestein’s personal memoirs of his service in the South African Defence Force, particularly during the Apartheid years and the long wars, both internal and external, fought during those years, will ring a very strong chord with any ex-SADF soldier, be they conscript or regular. Wonderfully descriptive yet not too heavy on mundane detail, I found it very hard to put down once started, and only did so when my need to sleep overwhelmed my fascinated interest. A gifted writer, the author has added a valuable and much needed perspective of life as a Chaplain in that great military machine from the 1980s and 1990s, and is to be congratulated on not only leaving a lasting legacy for his loved ones, but for the rest of us too, whether we shared his experience or not.
This autobiography can be described in two words – simply outstanding.
Very highly recommended.
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