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action behind the scenes

There Will Be

Paint Zane Henry joins some weekend warriors for a re-enactment of the World War II D-Day landings. With paint. Lots of paint Photographs by Morne Van Zyl

ON THE WAR PATH After a bloody paintball session these soldiers like nothing more than to sip a Cosmopolitan, do some flower arranging and read a chapter of Eat Pray Love

action behind the scenes

SUITS YOU, SIR Those auditioning for a part in Village People Reimagined gave their costumes a decidedly military flair

I’m afraid. Afraid and slightly hungover. Afraid, slightly hungover and unprepared for World War Two. The Good War, they called it, but there’s nothing good about getting shot in the ’nads. I sure am going to miss having two functioning testicles. It’s 7am, my mouth tastes of death and I feel like k*k. Drinking with the boys last night was a terrible, terrible idea. I had to be up early to go behind the scenes of D-Day 2011, Urban Tactical Paintball’s re-enactment of the historic invasion of Normandy. History buffs will recall that this refers to the Allied forces’ hard-won securing of the French region. The invasion was the largest amphibious operation in history and is recognised as a watershed moment during WWII. All of this, of course, I hastily gleaned from a Wikipedia printout. Know your enemy, someone once said. I leave early in the morning for the drive from Cape Town to the spot just off the N7 between Atlantis and Malmesbury. I don’t want to be late and have to face the firing squad for tardiness. 68


I roll down the window to try blow away the mental cobwebs from last night. Sepultura is blasting at high volume to help me get psyched for warfare. The road is dark, foggy and empty. A red glint tints the clouds on the horizon when the sun eventually rises, and I try to not see it as an omen. There was no time for breakfast before leaving home, and I need something to take the edge off my hangover. I stop at the Engen shop a few kilometres away from my destination. There is a bunch of guys in military fatigues at the petrol station and I can only assume they’re on their way to the same battle as me. Otherwise there’s some serious s**t going down on the N7. They’re all shaking hands, slapping backs and exchanging howzits. Part of me wants to go over and introduce myself as the quarry who’s going to be in their rifles’ sights in a few hours’ time. But I decide that it’s better to remain an unknown factor. Also, I haven’t shaved for five days because I wanted to get that mean, weekend-warrior look, but I look like a high-school virgin with a desperate, ratty moustache.

CUTTING IT CLOSE Fritz asked Hans how many times he had shaved since the ‘war’ began. Hans barked with SS-like precision: ‘Nine! Nine!’

I see them stocking up on jelly babies, Energades and those rad Jungle Oats bars, and I gormlessly follow their lead. I also grab a pepper-steak pie because, dammit, I’m babalaas. Back on the road, the fog has lifted and the sun is up. I see the turn-off for the U-TAC field marked by a sniper’s tower and tree trunks painted blood-red. I pull up in the rapidly filling parking area, step out of the car and immediately feel underdressed. Nearly everyone is kitted out in head-to-toe camo gear and what looks like heavily modified paint rifles. I’m wearing jeans and takkies. See, I wore clothes I wouldn’t mind getting paint on, not clothes that I wouldn’t mind getting killed in. The Heritage Group has set up a camp at the entrance with displays of WWII uniforms and vehicles. Some guys are wearing all-out replicas of uniforms, both Allied and Axis. It’s 8.30am and I already have to get used to seeing guys in full Nazi regalia striding around with murky intent. Alan Muller, the owner and organiser of this whole thing, gives me a brief rundown of the day’s events. The campaign will

be waged in three capture-the-flag scenarios. In the first scenario, the Allied forces (which includes me, as I can’t bring myself to be a Nazi, even if just for one day) have to file into a Higgins boat – those floating death-traps Tom Hanks and his bruddas manned in Saving Private Ryan – wait for the signal, then storm out, dive into foxholes and take cover behind barrels, while avoiding the paintballs overhead that block out the sun. The second will see us stalking into the veld towards the Axis stronghold. Then, finally, the Allies will storm the two-storey wooden house and rout out the enemy. Each scenario lasts for about an hour and they are divided by 20-minute breaks. Ten marshalls patrol the fields, ensuring that safety stays paramount. They’re aiming to have more than 350 players here today and it looks like they’re well on their way to that target. Hundreds of camo-clad soldiers mill about, hardcore guys mixed in with youngsters and even some girls too. Our intrepid photographer has arrived and I’m relieved to have someone I can share my steadily increasing fear with. AUGUST 2011


action behind the scenes

AN IN-TENTS MOMENT The soldiers in charge of minding the ammo boxes full of beer were ever-vigilant, thanks to the recuperative effects of their butternut soup

‘Guns are designed to kill people. Markers are meant to mark you with paint,’ Alan says. I name my marker Betsy ‘Morne! Dude! These guys are nuts! Morne! Look! There’s a guy over there with a baseball bat! A baseball bat, Morne! Morne, a baseball bat!’ Morne smiles at me, then walks away to take a picture of a rainbow. Alan comes over with my kit: a pseudo-Kevlar vest, a neck guard, a camo hoodie, 800 paintballs and a BT-4 Assault marker. ‘They’re not called guns,’ Alan says. ‘Guns are designed to kill people. Markers are meant to mark you with paint.’ I name my marker Betsy. That’s right, I gave my rifle a girl’s name. I have to calibrate my marker’s air pressure in the ‘chrono’ lanes, which look very much like the shooting ranges one sees in the movies. People are queuing up, but Alan escorts me to the front where some Axis soldiers are standing because, you know, Nazis don’t queue. I have to shoot at a target about 10 metres away so that the attending marshall can adjust what needs to be adjusted. I miss the target, but I doubt that has anything to do with my marker’s deficiency. Alan grabs a megaphone and tells everyone to gather for the official briefing of the rules of engagement. I won’t bother you with the details – mainly because I didn’t understand them. All I took from it was: ‘Shoot the other guys while not getting 70


shot yourself.’ Just before the briefing, Alan leads us in a rather emotional rendition of Happy Birthday for some guy named Snowwolf. We even howl afterwards. It’s really quite touching. There’s a sense of camaraderie that feeds into the adrenalised, testosterone-laden atmosphere. We each get a coloured buff to put around our necks according to our teams: blue for American, yellow for British and red for German. I am British for the day; yellow by designation, yellow by nature. We move en masse towards the killing fields. Blues and yellows branch off to the side of the field where the Higgins boat awaits. I’m in the middle of the throng, part of the second wave. The first group is in the boat, waiting for the signal to charge. I peek through the netting protecting us from stray marker fire and see that the marshalls have detonated smoke bombs, filling the air with eerie orange smoke and rendering the enemy’s towers and barricades barely visible. The signal rings out and my comrades storm out of the boat, scrambling to take cover from enemy fire. Before I’m able to map out any kind of strategy, I’m being sucked into the maw of the Higgins boat by the flow of the second wave. The boat is soon packed and it’s hard to avoid feeling like an inadequately armed sardine. The guys around me are planning their run out, but I can’t hear them because my mask is fitted

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action behind the scenes

Soldiers participating in the Normandy landings came from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Britain and other European countries. 177 French commandos also took part.

MARKED MAN For one crazy moment this oke thought he was at a wedding in the Middle East and started firing his gun into the air

I dimly hear someone say the words ‘flank’, ‘foxhole’ and ‘Jessica Alba’ too snugly around my ears. I dimly hear someone say the words ‘flank’, ‘foxhole’ and ‘Jessica Alba’. There’s no time to ask them to repeat themselves because soon – much, much too soon – the gate of the boat is lowered and the whole herd of beefy soldiers starts heaving forward. I have two seconds to take in the surprisingly loud report of marker fire, and how thick the air is with paintballs and smoke, before I’m crawling like a snake through the wet grass towards an all-too-distant foxhole. I make it and land in the puddle at the bottom. We were warned against ‘blind firing’, so I lean carefully over the edge of the hole and take aim at a distant enemy. I fire a few times and, sure enough, my target puts his marker up in the air and has to sheepishly leave the field. Now, it’s highly unlikely that I was actually the one to hit him, but the possibility is enough for me. Suddenly, I get it. Paintball is awesome! I stand up, bloodlust thundering in my ears and charge to the next bit of cover. Five of us scrum against the wall, keeping our heads down and away from the hail of paintballs. I get brave and step out to take aim and, whack!, I get nailed on my unprotected hand. Dammit! I have to head back to the ‘respawn’ point at the Higgins boat to try again. The hour-long scenario goes very quickly and we’re soon heading back to the safe zone, The Embassy. I’m breathing hard and grinning like a lunatic. I proudly point out my wounded hand, where the paintball broke my skin, to Morne. He looks disgusted at my zeal and starts quoting Gandhi at me. Civilian. AUGUST 2011


action behind the scenes

HAIR TODAY, GUN TOMORROW Zane’s attempt to disguise himself as a flaxen-haired beauty in order to inflitrate an enemy squad was outrageously successful

A VIEW TO DYE FOR Bizarrely, no one turned up for the foxhole’s Open House, even though it was reasonably priced and in a prime location

He was suckling on his mother at Woodstock while I was out there fighting for his freedom. He doesn’t know what it was like. He wasn’t there. Face down in the muck. Jerry everywhere. We lost a lot of good men out there. During the breaks, people hang out together, but mostly according to the colour of their buffs. After the break, it’s twice more unto the breach, dear friends. The next two scenarios are even crazier, smokier and shootier than the first, but eventually, true to history, us Allieds win the day. We fire our markers into the air and hug each other in celebration. We trudge back to the Embassy, brothers in arms. Ladyfolk start arriving to pick up the alive and the wounded. As I walk towards the car, splattered in paint and covered in dirt, feeling the promise of fresh bruises on my right shin, left thigh and both shoulders, I realise I had more fun than I’ve had in years. But jislaaik, I’m sore. And still frikkin’ babalaas. Most of the guys are making plans to have a few drinks and rehash the day’s heroics. But I have a very clear plan of action. I’m heading home to run a bubblebath, light some ylang-ylang scented candles and put on some Katie Melua. Man, soldiering is rough.

Staying on Target in JO’BURG Similar to paintball, LaserQuest is an interactive game during which players use laser guns to ‘shoot’ their opponents and avoid being shot themselves. (A pack on each player’s back registers a hit.) Republic Road, Randburg Waterfront, 011-789-3036 in PRETORIA Test your skills at Nova Paintball; its paintball field provides for Airball/Speedball and Milsim/CQC styles of play. Marker, safety mask and 40 paintballs included in a basic player fee. Tshwane Events Centre, 082-299-0007 in Cape Town Learn the ancient art of the bow and arrow at one of the country’s oldest and largest archery clubs. With expert instruction, you’ll be fletching like Robin Hood in no time. Protea Archery Club, 084-561-9131, NATIONWIDE Clay target-shooting clubs, affiliated to the Clay Target Shooting Association of South Africa, can offer corporate days during which participants receive expert instruction in the sport. Ammo, lunch included. 0861-114-581,,



D-Day Story  

A write up from the Kulula in flight magazine for the D-Day event held at Redemption Paintball.