Category Archives: My life

about my family and where I come from

Joining the army – part one

National service – first phase

I had thought about joining the army for some time when I was still in high school and after writing my high school finals in 1963 (in which I got terrible results – another story for another time) I decided to go for it.

It must have been about November 1963 when my best friend at the time, Willie van Rooyen, and I presented ourselves at the Army recruiting office.

I was quite short-sighted and wore heavy horn-rimmed specs and Willie had a bad limp.

Willie had fallen off a roof a couple of years earlier while bunking school. The neighbours in the council flats where we both lived thought it would teach Willie a lesson to be left in pain – assuming he would get up and limp away to nurse his bruised ego. What they did not know was that the head of his femur had popped out of the hip socket and, from lying there for several hours unable to move because of the extreme pain, the fluids in the joint had dried up (my understanding of what Willie was to tell me about it later) and it would now require surgery and bone work in order to be put together again.

The nett result was that Willie’s one leg was shorter than the other and he walked with an increasingly pronounced limp.

After our tests we went for a medical and were told we would be informed of the results. We were concerned about Willie’s tests because of his leg but when the letters came he was accepted with no restriction and I was rejected for being short-sighted! We had made a pact that if we could not BOTH join up then neither of us would and we kept to that pact.

I was puzzled though, because my friend Graham McCallum was in the regular army – and had been for about 18 months already – and he was as short sighted as I was if not more so. I approached the recruiting office and they said there was nothing to be done and assured me that any chance of serving was to be forgotten. “Even National Service?” I asked and was assured that I would not be called up. (with hindsight this was the end of Federation and that may have had a bearing on attitudes and so forth as far as recruiting was concerned).

I went and got a job with the OK Bazaars, supposedly in their advertising department hoping to become a commercial artist eventually but I ended up selling pots and pans, much to my chagrin.

Fast forward to September 1964 and I got a call-up notice and was promptly fired!! (they could do that in those days and I had said, in good faith, that I was not eligible for callup).

In mid October, having turned 18 in the August, I entrained from Salisbury station to join Intake 70 at DRRR (Depot the Royal Rhodesian Regiment). We arrived at Heany Junction the following morning where several army trucks, drivers and junior NCOs were waiting for us.
We had the usual hazing that all new recruits went through – on and off the trucks – never fast enough getting on or off with our luggage but eventually we were taken to the barracks quartermaster stores to be issued with our kit.

Loaded like pack mules with our civilian kit and our army issue we were formed up in a shambling column and marched (well sort of marched!) up to the A Company lines by our instructors.
Of course we kept calling the instructors SIR, this and SIR, that and got yelled at for doing so:
“I am not a fucking officer boy! I am a fucking COLOUR SERGEANT DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“YES, SIR”
“NO, YOU STUPID CUNT, YOU CALL ME COLOUR! I am a COLOUR sergeant!”
“YES, COLOUR”

This exchange was going on in every barrack room and was to continue for a few days until we got the hang of it.

We were then told to ensure that the floor of the barrack room was gleaming for the next mornings inspection and told to get the polish (in huge 25litre cans) off the back of the land rover.

On opening the polish (that waxy, stoep/veranda/cement floor type of polish) we found that it was black while the barrack room floor was green. Some brave souls approached the staff and told them there had been a mistake. “NO, THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING MISTAKE” bellowed the Colour Sergeant, “we want the fucking floor BLACK by 0600 tomorrow morning. Get the paraffin and rags and brushes off the truck!”

There were a few “But, buts” and other comments that brought down more wrath on the heads of the speakers and we all retreated into the barrack room to get started – by this time it was getting late and we still had to go and have supper (we had been introduced to the mess hall at lunch time).

It took all night. We moved everything to one end of the barrack room and cleaned and scrubbed and scraped then moved the gear to the other end and did the rest. We then had to put everything back in place and be ready for inspection. We saw the sunrise that morning without benefit of sleep.

Typically shiny barrack room getting ready for inspection
Picture courtesy ORAFs

We were to be cleaning waxy green/black paraffin-infused muck from under our nails and the pores of our hands for days but at 0600 the barrack room had a black floor. One of the junior instructors had come in a couple of times during the night and hazed us but also given some valuable advice. A few recruits from B Company messed us around but soon left us alone when a couple of them were nearly flattened.

We had a grudging approval from the Sergeant in charge of our barrack room who was a pretty decent chap named Annandale although the platoon warrant officer, WOII Mould, was not so easily pleased – ever!

We had one chap who professed to HATE the food and determined he would NOT eat what was served in the dining halls. He used to buy what he could at the canteen but there was not much in the way of proper nourishment available considering the extremely physical routine we were being pushed through. One morning he came to breakfast, wolfed down EVERYTHING he had been able to get on his plate and asked the people nearby for any toast or sausages they weren’t going to eat. No one said anything but everyone was highly amused.

I actually don’t remember too much of the first few weeks – it was a haze of doing things at the double, of marching, of weapon training and field work and we gradually started to work as a unit, as a team,  responding to the army way of doing things. We also became very fit in phase one training…

Hitch Hiking December 1979

As December 1979 approached David, my brother, and I decided to go Cape Town.

We were both serving in the Rhodesian Army with plenty of leave available but to save money and have a bit of “adventure” we hitch-hiked and stayed with my aunt in Constantia.

Because of the situation in Rhodesia convoys, escorted by police and army reservists, ran between main areas. As soldiers and with our service rifles we would be very welcome on, or in, anyone’s vehicle.

Salisbury to Fort Victoria to Beit Bridge, about 600kms, was boring and uncomfortable. At Beit Bridge we signed our weapons in to the BSAP armoury.

We walked over to South Africa and got a lift to the Mountain View hotel in the mountains above Louis Trichardt. It was raining and the hotel owners let us camp in some disused, leaky, sheds. We put up our tents, (leaky roof, remember) ate, had a beer then slept.

Day TWO dawned cool and misty and after a wash in the gents we made our way down to the main road. The rain had stopped and it was misty but we held up our CA (Cape Town registration) sign. A young woman roared up and offered us a ride. She had a crow in a box on the back seat (don’t ask because I don’t think we found out why). She drove like the clappers and roared through misty Louis Trichardt – ignoring stop streets – while chatting away excitedly.

In Pietersburg (Polokwane) we found an excuse to leave our dangerously cheerful benefactor, got a bite to eat and went to the main road.

We soon got another lift, being dropped near the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) in Pretoria. We trudged for about a kilometre when a truck pulled over. Offered a ride in the enclosed rear – no communication, view or way to open the door, we declined his “kind” offer

At around 1400 we got a lift to Meyerton south of Johannesburg, pleased we didn’t have to navigate Johannesburg’s confusing highways.

We were wondering about where we would sleep when a bulk liquids 28-wheeler pulled up and offered us a ride all the way to Cape Town.

Our job was to talk to the driver so that he would not get bored and go to sleep…at the wheel!

It was late, very late, when we stopped at a sleepy Beaufort West for cokes and a pie and again, shortly before dawn, at a watering point in the middle of nowhere.

Going over du Toit’s kloof (a picturesque, and dangerous, mountain pass) was marvellous. Outside Paarl and about an hour from Cape Town though, the driver said we must find another ride – if seen with passengers he would be in trouble.

With no-one stopping to give us a lift I called an ex-army friend who came and fetched us and took us to the Pig and Whistle pub in Rondebosch. It was early afternoon on day THREE – not bad going.

I only stayed about a fortnight and  it was now Saturday of my last weekend and once again in the city and hanging around our uncle’s brother’s market stall I knew we would be doing bugger all else. We had been relying on my uncle for transport but always ended up going where, and doing what, he wanted and I really wanted David to get a better experience of the city. Even though I had only lived in the Cape as a child 20-plus years before I said to David “Let’s go, I’ll show you how to get around”.

We went on foot to the harbour and a pub then by bus to Clifton and Sea Point.

Friends in Sea Point took us to the Pig & Whistle and later we took the train to Wynberg where we bought the best fish and chips ever across the road from the station!

We got a bus to Alphen – and walked several miles to my aunt and uncle’s house in Constantia. I was wearing brand new jeans and was chafed raw, but we’d had a good time.

David was staying for a few more weeks which was why I had wanted to show him how to get around! He had a great time on his own after I left.

We got a lift into the City the next morning and I held up my sign, the one David is holding in the picture, with the Rhodesian flag colours and SBY (Salisbury) on it. My first lift to the Worcester turn-off left me stranded for three hours in 40°C temperatures.

Finally, in Beaufort West after having got another lift, I stood for five hours on the northern edge of town. When it started to get dark I got permission to camp on the lawns of the motel over the road. I had some food and was back on the roadside at 0500.

I read a book, standing there, an ENTIRE BOOK and at 1500 a car stopped near me and I asked bemusedly, “Are you offering me a lift?”

We slept somewhere during the night. I’d worried a bit about my benefactors but they dutifully delivered me in Joburg where I was able to spend the night with my brother in law. Next day I was on the road at Buccleuch interchange and got a lift all the way to Beit Bridge.

My convoy lift developed car trouble and, with the main convoy drawing away quickly, there was potential danger for a lone car. After a few roadside repairs and with a few other stragglers we made our own convoy. I think I was the only one among them armed but we made Fort Victoria OK. From there to Salisbury was straightforward.

I was home for Christmas with a backpack stuffed with gifts and bits and pieces others had asked me to get.

 

What it feels like to be a bully!

Well, my first reaction to this questioning statement was: “How would I know?”

Then I remembered a brief period at junior school when I became “friends” with a school bully group.

Other children with whom I would normally have played avoided us. The leader would push others around making other children feel afraid.

Then Mr Bully picked on a child who knew how to stand up for himself. He pushed back and when he was hit he retaliated so effectively that the bully was in retreat and in tears, still muttering threats.

The young man asked if anyone else wanted to try to push him around.

The group broke up and dispersed and I walked away with a distinct feeling of relief – not at the fact that I had not been involved in a fight but that I could return to being normal. My flirtation with bullying had lasted less than a week.

I have never been, or wanted to be, a bully and my brief brush with it left me with a profound sense of discomfort.

 

Misled…

I love reading and, as a child, my reading was always years ahead of my age.

As a result, I had a pretty good vocabulary from an early age.

The pitfall is that no one is teaching you, so you GET it but you do not necessarily know how to SAY it.

For years the most misleading thing in my life was that I thought MISLED was pronounced MYZILLED. I DID, really, I did but for some reason I had never been conscious of speaking it  correctly – my mental autopilot just used it I suppose but I never connected it to my READING misapprehension.

My EUREKA moment came one day when the word MISLEAD occurred in what I was reading. Of course!…the present tense of MISLED that I had heard, understood – and even spoken – so many times, while my brain had persisted with MYZILLED! I looked around guiltily for a moment, as if everyone knew my little secret!

Years later I was listening to a discussion programme and a woman told how her father had always read MISLED as MYZILLED – suddenly I was not alone.

 

After Guinea Fowl School (GFS)

Guinea Fowl School is/was located in the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) midlands halfway between the towns of Gwelo and Selukwe – roughly eleven miles either way. (today those names are Zimbabwe, Gweru and Shurugwe and the distance would be 18 kilometres). It still exists, GFS, having been reopened but it is not the same and is very run down and rather sad in the pictures I have seen. (The GFS blazer badge – as worn in the period that the school was originally open is shown here).

I attended GFS, where I was in Wellington House, from January 1959 to December 1960. There were six houses then – located at TOP school were Wellington, Lancaster, York and Stirling (Stirling was still a girls’ house in 1959, the last year in which girls were still at the school). At bottom school, just over half a kilometre away on the other side of the main road and railway line, were situated Lincoln and Blenheim houses. Anyone who knows anything about the air war in Britain will recognise the names of bomber aircraft of the RAF and a picture of a Wellington bomber is shown in the photograph.

With each house accommodating about 60-70 of us there would have been around 400 students.

In retrospect I did not realise how happy I was at GFS until quite some time after I had left.

The school was on the site of a WWII training airbase and the hutments that had been used to house staff and trainees had been converted into school hostels, teachers’ single quarters and houses for the married teaching staff. When I arrived there the new school classroom block had just been built but there were still a number of classes being held in the old buildings including one of the old aircraft hangars.

With its own small hospital, a chapel, swimming pool, large communal kitchen and dining halls and vast grounds and sports fields it was a great place for young people to be educated. Long rambles into the surrounding bush were the order of the day on most Sundays. After eating the breakfast cereal we would make a sandwich of our bacon and egg and sneak it out in a handkerchief to eat for lunch later. There was a kind of overarching esprit de corps at the school. The same esprit pertained in the individual houses with fierce inter-house rivalry, helped by the fact that each house had its own accommodation buildings. The large dining halls were shared and each house was seated in its own section of the halls. Bottom school had its own dining hall and kitchen complex but all school work and sport took place at TOP school.

The reason I left the school was because my stepfather had experienced some setbacks and could no longer afford my boarding fees. The Department of Education ruled that because my parents had moved to Salisbury (today’s Harare) I had to go to a day school near home as the family was now living in an area served by a local high school – we having previously lived in the Sinoia/Karoi (Chinhoyi/Karoi) rural area.

I hated Cranborne Boys High (my new school) – it was new and rough. I remember Mr Brown the headmaster, as he was about to cane me (because I had been falsely accused of something and would not counter-accuse), saying something like this to me: “Young man you need to realise that there are no traditions such as you had at Guinea Fowl, at this school. These boys think you are a mug and none of them would dream of owning up. By keeping silent you are accepting their accusations and I have to punish you”. I received three cuts and was laughed at on my return to class.

I never did tell tales and was bullied for a time until I clocked a couple of the ringleaders after which I was left alone.

I had all but stopped Latin at GFS because I would not have been taking it in Form 3 had I stayed, so I refused to do it at Cranborne. As a result, I was moved down from the four year A stream to the five-year B stream.  My classroom colleagues were not A-streamers either.

In June 1961 my stepfather was killed in a car accident on the Lomagundi road. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister only three months old.

I missed a term of school while my mother took us to Cape Town (where she was born). She decided Rhodesia would be better for us and we went back. She told me if I passed that school year I would get a bike. I came seventh in a class of over forty and she kept her word. I only realised later the sacrifices she made in order to do that.

We lived at Cranborne hostel (as we had before my stepfather died) for several months. This was the old WWII air base that was to become HQ 2 Brigade a few years later. We then moved to Queensdale and finally Cranborne Park.

1961 was to be the last year that I really did fairly well at school and although I got a good pass at the end of 1962 in Form 4 and a full CoP (College of Preceptors) my work deteriorated. I got a lousy GCE O level and battled to find work – it was also the first year of GCE replacing the Cambridge certificate which had caused some confusion.

I wanted to join the Air Force or Army on leaving school but the air force turned me down (I suffer with colour confusion – I see colours but not in quite the same way everyone else does). The Army also turned me down for being short-sighted. I took a job with the OK Bazaars under the impression I was not ever going to serve in the military.

When I got called up in the September of 1964 the OK promptly fired me but that left me free to get into the Regular Army – a lot of friends were already in the army.

In my interview at Llewellyn Barracks the reason for being refused at the end of 1963 was brought up and I said if I could be shot at as a short-sighted territorial surely I could as easily be shot at in the regular army with the same condition. (I think that the break-up of Federation at the end of 1963 was to blame for them not taking too many people when I first applied?)

I was attested into the Corps of Signals because I did so well on signals course and my request for infantry was met with the option of not joining up or joining signals (sometimes referred to as a dog’s choice vs bugger all choice)!! I think it was the right CHOICE in the end and I did very well in the Corps. I served from my National Service call-up in September 1964 to the end of April 1980 with a short break trying the BSAP in 1975 (I hated it and promptly transferred back to the army). I was a Warrant Officer Class 2 in 1979 up to the end of my service and my next logical career move – that was not to be – would have been to go for a commission. I served until the 30th of April 1980 after which we sold up and moved to South Africa.

The picture of me at Victoria Falls was taken on an instamatic in mid-December 1966. We were returning from a one week signals course exercise during which my detachment had been based between Victoria Falls and Kazangula. I was 20 at the time.

I left the Army in 1975 at the end of my first ten-year contract in a vain attempt to save my marriage which ended in divorce that year. It was not the fault of the army although the tensions of the day played a part. Janet and I have a daughter who was born in 1974.

The BSAP (British South Africa Police) was the national police force of Rhodesia. In 1975 when the police advertised for individuals with a communication background I applied and was accepted. The job was in plainclothes and, oddly, not really police work at all. I was not at all happy and transferred back to the army on 1 March 1976, almost exactly a year after leaving.

In the Army I had done several courses and been fortunate to serve with some really good officers who mentored me. I found that as a senior NCO and as a Warrant Officer I was frequently in charge of sub-units and was appointed in acting positions in the absence of available officers. I ran two signals troops as acting OC and near the end of 1979 I was attached to the Commander, Rhodesian Signals, for the last 5 months of my service.

During this final period of time I carried out liaison for a short time with the communications elements of ZANU PF and ZANLA then took over the running of the communications for the Salisbury District area of command for the elections period. The area was vast – Darwendale to Marandellas (Marondera) and Mazoe (Mazowe) to just north of Beatrice. HQ Salisbury District at that time was being run as a brigade headquarters.  I drew up the Signals order, drew and issued all the required equipment, deployed the personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the operation.

After that I was tasked with putting together a team to provide communications backup for the Independence Celebrations. I and my team were afterwards congratulated on a signals backup that enabled the complex logistics to proceed when the telephone system could not cope with the volume of communications traffic. Once I had returned all the equipment and given my team their Independence Medals (a most informal medals parade, it was held in the lounge of Meikles Hotel over drinks) it was the end of April 1980 and the end of my service.

The letter to the right is the one thanking the Army for our assistance. I got all my team to sign it when I issued them with their Independence Medals. I also received a separate, personal letter of thanks from the department.

In South Africa I worked in the two-way radio industry for most of the time with a couple of forays into my own handyman business while unemployed after being retrenched (made redundant). I have always had something of the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling as a civilian having made up my mind before the end of the seventies to make the army my permanent career.

After my late wife, Rose, died I remarried Janet who was again divorced and with whom I had maintained a close but long-distance friendship. After visiting her in 2014 we decided to remarry and she came to SA in 2015 for the ceremony. My application to join her in Australia, where she is a citizen, was approved in 2016.

I now live in an area called the Sunshine Coast in Queensland which is very beautiful – the Pacific Ocean is ten minutes away. If it had been suggested a few years ago that this is where I would be, very happily remarried to the person I have always loved, I would have scoffed at the idea!

To clarify that last statement. After the divorce from Janet (that I did not want) I had to get on with my life and I dearly loved those to whom I was married in the interim but, to use THE BEATLES’ song IN MY LIFE as an analogy:

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before

(and) I know I’ll often stop and think about them
(but) In my life I love you more

If you have sound listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAGvON_WjUA

Having always been the “go to” person for letters and proofing, and having worked at a typesetting company (during one of those REDUNDANCY periods), I found it natural to start a business doing proofreading, editing and copy writing. It is something I enjoy, suits my attention to detail (am I a bit OCD?) and the WWW is the perfect vehicle for it, for Erik the Ready and…I also still take on small DIY / handyman work. …and I am starting to add blog-type copy on my site to satisfy my love of writing