Tag Archives: Life

Joining the army part four

National service – first phase continued 3

“Does anyone want to join the regular army?” the instructor asked.

Two of us immediately stepped forward.

“Why do you want to join up?” the instructor asked me. I replied that I had always wanted to and I had a number of friends in the regular army. I had been turned down when I applied in 1963 but I now felt that as I was being trained I wanted to try again.

I due course I was marched in to see the OC A Coy (I think it was Major Willar). He posed much the same question and put me at my ease by sitting me down to tell him my story.

I explained to him that I had tried to join the army at the end of 1963 but had been turned down because of my eyesight. At his prompt I added that I felt that if I could be shot at as a spectacles-wearing short-sighted territorial or NS soldier then surely it made no difference if I was a regular and besides, my friend Graham in RLI signals troop was equally short-sighted.

“So where do you want to go if you join the regular army?” and I replied that I wanted the RLI signals troop.

I don’t really remember what happened then but a few signals must have gone between Army HQ and DRRR because when the intake was being split up into the various specialty training groups I was in some kind of limbo – not having been allocated anywhere yet. I was called in and told that while a decision was being made I would be temporarily put into the RPs (Regimental Police) – where I was to languish for about ten days.

A new intake arrived during this time and I was with the MEET AND GREET party of RPs at Heany Junction. With great enthusiasm we started cursing and swearing at these new recruits in exactly the way we had been welcomed on OUR arrival – doubling the men here and there (being bloody bullies actually, on the premise that WE had been subject to this shit so….)

Imagine our surprise when we were taken aside and told that we were to moderate our language and not make the men run until they had all had their medicals…WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD we muttered. As to the swearing we were admonished that there had been complaints from parents…we were gobsmacked that some youngsters could have snivelled to their parents.

I was in the guard room one day and heard a woman shouting outside. Keeping a low profile I looked out and saw that there was a woman BERATING the guard – in fairly robust language – for not saluting her and for not opening the boom – forcing her to stop her car.

C Sgt Gregan who was in charge of the RPs came out and spoke to the woman.

“Madam” he reminded her, “you are not a serving member of the Army nor are you an officer. As such you are NOT entitled to the courtesies accorded to such rank” (or words to that effect, as we used to say when framing a charge sheet). The woman was apopletic but the C Sgt went on and told her that the boom guards were merely doing their duty and following the orders of the CO of the Depot. One such order was that ALL VEHICLES will stop at the boom and the drivers will identify themselves before being allowed to proceed.

With some further rather startling invective the woman drove off vowing to have the RPs, and the C Sgt in particular, sorted out.

It may have been later that day or the next morning an officer came down to the guardhouse and spoke to C Sgt Gregan. He apologised if his wife had been rude (knowing of course that she had been) and assuring the C Sgt that he understood perfectly that the men had acted in accordance with standing orders. We suspected that Colour Gregan having a talk with the RSM about the matter may have had a lot to do with this apology. The clerks in HQ confirmed that it had started with bluster from the officer, a visit to the CO by both the officer and the RSM and a somewhat subdued officer leaving to speak to the NCO in charge of RPs.

A few days later C Sgt Gregan came into our quarters and told me to pack my kit. I was then driven down to Brady Barracks, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, and handed over the the School of Signals where I was to join the Regimental Signals course that the Intake 70 men had started nearly ten days previously.

I did not have too much trouble catching up and enjoyed learning voice procedure, basic electricity and battery charging, radio set handling, line and field telephones and – MORSE CODE and procedure. It was unfortunate that we were taught morse code in a way that some of us found difficult as the speed increased but we managed to pass it anyway.

At the end of the course I think I was in the top three (maybe I came first – I really don’t remember) and while everyone was getting ready to go home I was summoned to the School of Signals offices.

“Do you still want to join the Corps of Signals” asked the adjutant.
“No sir, I want to go to RLI signals”.

Looking at my records he commented on my excellent results as well as the results of my aptitude tests and said, “You can join the Regular Army, Corps of Signals, or you can NOT join the regular army at all.”

I accepted the ultimatum, not realising at the time that THEY wanted ME and that he probably did not have the authority to make that deal – to coerce me really. Anyway, a signal would have been sent to expect me at recruiting in Salisbury.

I attested into the Rhodesian Regular Army, Corps of Signals, on the fifth of March, 1965 – a few days after completing my national service – fourteen months after the dissolution of Federation and a mere eight months before UDI (the Unilateral Declaration of Independence) that was to take place on 11 November 1965.

The Signals badge BEFORE Rhodesia declared itself a republic in 1970

As it was to turn out I think that it was the right thing for me to go to Signals because I suspect I would not have been a particularly successful infantryman.

Joining the army part three

National service – first phase continued 2
(Pictures used were mined from the internet. The butts are somewhere in England and there was no caption on the picture of the range. No harm is intended by the use of these pictures – they will be removed if so requested by copyright holder).

A lot has been written about basic training in the army – the Rhodesian Army as much as perhaps any other army so I will not harp on this aspect too much. Once weapons training had started things became a lot more interesting and serious with weapons safety being a point hammered into us at every turn.

A typical military range see where LOW shots have gouged at the mantlet in front of and below the numbers. The STOP BUTT is the higher mound BEHIND the targets.

Before going onto the range for the first time for live firing A Company was addressed by WO2 “Pinky” Mould, an ex Guardsman who always had a rather red face made worse by the african sun.

The butts, on an army shooting range, is the area below and immediately behind the mantlet (the raised berm from behind which the targets are hoisted). The much higher berm further back is called the STOP butt – for the obvious reason that it is meant to STOP the rounds that have been fired at the target. Every so often a stop butt would be MINED for the astonishing amount of metal from spent rounds that could be recovered from it and sold.

Toward the end of his briefing SM Mould instructed that the butts party must ensure that they patched every target properly. There was plenty of target patching glue, he said, but should one run out he off-handedly suggested semen be used, emphasising this with a well-practised flick from the region of his groin that resulted in a large gobbet of patching glue splatting onto the zeroing target in front of us. Among the ribald laughter one of the men was heard, and seen, vomiting! Poor sensitive soul was teased mercilessly every time we were on the range after that!

Sometimes a shooter would aim too low and the butts party would get a shower of sand and grit as the round ploughed across the top of the mantlet. One day such a round hit the top of a target frame and ricocheted in under the mantlet where I was sitting on butts duty and landed in the crook of my arm. The round was spent but it was still bloody hot! I still have that round which I found today, 15 October 2018. See picture added!

Typical view of the BUTTS the mantlet on the right protects the butts party. Note the target frames with zeroing targets fitted

We did a lot of live firing with many of those from rural backgrounds showing better results and those of us not used to firearms struggling a bit – but we all became proficient and passed the training.

One day we were being taught to shoot from fire trenches – in front of each firing point there was a roughly four foot deep slit trench and we had to learn to load and fire from this cramped position.

In one of the squads was a young man from Cyprus whose English was not really up to scratch but who had been disdainful of the training with claims that he had been in the fighting in Cyprus as a guerrilla a few years earlier.

DOWN RANGE was the mantra – the rifle must ALWAYS POINT DOWN RANGE.

Our Cypriot had a stoppage while in the trench at the number one firing point and turned to call an instructor. As he did so the loaded rifle was turned to point down the line of foxholes, the instructor screamed at him and nineteen heads disappeared into their foxholes! SM Pinky Mould had been standing behind this man watching him with considerable distrust and he leapt forward, snatched the rifle and stomped the man down into the trench – all the time yelling at him in the choicest language (and he had an impressive vocabulary) about how stupid and careless he was.

The Cypriot was incensed and tried to go for the SM only to get clobbered and marched off to the guardhouse for a week in the RP (Regimental Police) cells.

This was several years before the mandatory issuing of ear defenders for range work and anyone caught with four by two (weapon cleaning rags) in their ears would be teased and vilified implying deficient masculinity. I am sure that some of the problems I have today with hearing higher frequencies stem from those days – especially during zeroing when the number of men on the firing line was doubled and the rifles on either side were about a metre away. Further range exercises and listening to noisy radios while wearing earphones in my first few years of service probably also contributed!

Some very mean, bullying tricks were played occasionally. There was a very slightly built chap (a first class bloke – let’s call him Mike – with whom I was to become friendly a few years later) who had been made pony master (he was in charge of the regimental mascot) but he still had to learn drill and shooting. One day on the range some smartarse turned Mike’s SLR gas regulator to zero while he was not looking.

The gas regulator controls the gasses from the fired round directing some of them to sharply push back a piston to automatically reload the weapon. Normally set to around position five, lower settings meant the recoil became increasingly, and unneccesarily, violent – not good for the weapon nor for the shooter.

Not noticing what had happened Mike took up his prone firing position but when he fired the weapon he let out a yell of agony and laid the rifle down. I think he may have had a cracked collar bone. He was horribly bruised around the shoulder area and in considerable pain – much to the amusement of the bullies behind the trick. (I think Sgt Annandale sorted them out though).

A few weeks later we were to fire the Sterling sub-machine gun and Mike, who probably only weighed about a hundred pounds or so, turned up with a pad of cloth around his shoulder (not knowing or believing that the nine millimetre Sterling had no recoil to speak of). When the SM spotted the padding he humiliated Mike by showing it off to all those on the firing line which I felt was rather unfair and poor Mike was so embarrassed.

Young and overwhelmed by all that was going on – and feeling sorry for Mike – many of us did not say anything but when we were asked why we were not laughing we had to smile weakly in order to BELONG – and not become targets ourselves.

In spite of these unsettling incidents I feel there was nothing particularly special about my initial training.

Grenade training was fun if only for the TERROR shown by some of the men – some of the BIG DEAL bullies at that! Many of the guys wanted to throw the grenade and run and had to be held UP by the scruff of the neck by the instructor and MADE to watch the grenade land. I watched my grenade roll to a stop but did not need the instructor to pull me into cover though! Years later I had to instruct some people on hand grenades and it was odd to observe the “students” from the perspective of the instructor – and have to be ready to grab the runners.

One morning before we were marched off for another round of drill we were asked by the instructor:
“Does anyone want to join the regular army?”….

Joining the army – part two

National service – first phase continued.

The people in my barrack room ranged in age from around 18 – like me – to the early-to-mid twenties. Some of the older young men had been to university or been overseas but inevitably the call-up had netted them.

A few smug individuals had older relatives who had completed their call-up. They had, variously and through these relatives or friends, obtained boots that were highly BONED, brasses that had been squared and buffed for them and some even had mess tins and so on that had been CHROMED so that they merely had to wipe them for inspection and could use their issued kit for day to day use.

It was interesting to see how the various instructors reacted to this preparedness – some accepted it and others would throw these items off the beds and sneeringly tell these men to make sure that the ISSUED kit was presented for inspection. Of course the PREPARED boots and brass would pass muster. I remember that I battled with drill boots (we called them STICK BOOTS) until one of the batmen came round and, for about ten shillings or a pound they boned the boots for us. A few times the batmen’s quarters were raided and then those without boots for inspection were in deep trouble! I was lucky and was not discovered having my boots set up by the batman!

Many of those who had benefitted from the experience of their predecessors had DURAGLIT™ – something I had never heard of and was marvellous to use compared to Brasso™. I also learned to scrounge some beaverboard (sometimes call softboard) on which one could REALLY shine brass with the help of Brasso™.

Lots of tips and tricks were shared or observed and a team effort emerged because it was in no-one’s interest for any member of the barrack room to fail inspection.

About three weeks into training my feet and ankles started to swell from the hours of drill and the pain in my feet was excruciating. Sick parade was no fun and the doctor and medics were mostly indifferent to us recruits. I started to worry that I would be back-squadded – everyone’s biggest fear – that meant staying for a second round of recruit training. I don’t know what made me think of it but I stuffed my packs and other gear under the end of my mattress to elevate my feet at night. Within two days I was OK and had no further fear of being back-squadded. I did this for several weeks until I had no more problems.

Outside A company and ready to go on pass. The bush jackets were only for stepping out and ceremonial
Picture courtesy ORAFs

In those days all drill was done in stick boots (leather soles with hobnails) with puttees and hosetops, starched khaki shorts and shirts and a slouch hat with the brim up over the left ear. Of course the intricacies of putting on the puttees correctly gave the instructors plenty of scope for criticism at inspections – never mind the boots having to gleam. (the picture is from 1962 – two years before my time in those barrack rooms)

“You think those boots are shined, boy?”
“Yes, colour!”
“What!” screams the Colour Sergeant in the recruit’s face – so close that little specks of spittle land on the poor unfortunate’s shirt. “I’ll put my boot up your arse so fucking hard it will come out of your mouth and FUCKING BLIND YOU – that is what shined is you fucking arsehole!”
“Yes, colour” but the NCO had already moved on and was regaling the next unfortunate with his expletive ridden, sarcastic criticism.

We had THREE Smiths in our squad and one morning the instructors were observed marching up to the barrack rooms a few minutes earlier than normal. There was a scramble to get out onto the road and form up for inspection before they arrived.

This one Colour Sergeant, a small built man with an English accent that the rest of us struggled with (he was not our normal squad instructor) completed his inspection and looked at the squad, and looked at us again. Marched up and down each rank, looking each inwardly trembling man over and obviously puzzled by SOMETHING that was wrong.

He marched out again and turned to face the squad. Just as we thought he was about to march us off he SCREAMED – “SMITH!” Three Smiths took a smart pace forward. “Not you and you,” he shouted, stabbing at the other two with his stick and they, smartly and with obvious relief, stepped back into line.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Mr Smith” he bellowed, standing about a foot away from Smith. “What, Colour?” came the bewildered reply.
“Do you think you are fucking clever, Mr Smith? Did you think you could get away with this you little shit?” (made funnier because the NCO was about five foot six and Smith was over six foot)
“What, Colour?”

Most of us had seen what Smith had done and to this day I don’t know if he was bucking the system or if it had just been as a result of undue haste but his hat was on back-to-front. Where everyone else had the upturned brim with the badge over the left ear his was the opposite way round. (see picture above where all the hats are correct)

“Do you see that hangar over there?” said the NCO, pointing with his stick at an aircraft hangar made small by distance. Smith’s head snapped to the side, “Yes, Colour”. “You will DOUBLE AROUND that hangar and when you come back into view you had better be properly dressed, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“No, Colour, er yes Colour, er, what, Colour?” “Run, you fucking idiot or you will be on a fucking charge”.

As Smith took off for the distant hangar the NCO, who had been aware of the sniggers of the rest of the squad, suddenly screamed “What the fuck are you laughing at?” causing the squad to immediately brace up. “You keep laughing and you will join that fucking idiot”. A suppressed laugh or two later and we were off for the distant hangar, at the double and with dire warnings about being last back…

One morning, instead of being marched out onto the old airfield for drill we were marched towards the stores and issued with rifles from the nearby armoury – the SLR (Self Loading Rifle). Used by the British army the L1A1 was widely considered a more rugged improvement on the FN FAL that would become the Rhodesian Army’s standard issue rifle a few years later.

We were to do several days of drill with the rifle before starting weapons training but everyone was suddenly more interested in this new development.

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…

Beard coming…

There seems to be quite a fascination for beards here, where I now live – particularly among young men, and I mean YOUNG men!

Thing is, many of these beards just look so odd.

There’s this beard coming towards me. A huge, luxuriant brown handsome beard and I notice that the beard has this skinny little guy attached to it.

The beard turns so that it can look at someone and you observe a rather attractive young thing in animated conversation with the bush on legs. The beard turns to the front and continues its approach and then one sees the cap and a pair of eyes glittering behind the foliage, under the deep shadow of the cap brim.

This chap is so proud of his beard but it is TOTALLY out of proportion to the little fellow that it, the beard, is wearing.

Another time and another beard heaves into view. This luxuriant, reddish monster is forked. Each fork is about twenty centimetres long and the distance apart at the ends is probably also twenty centimetres. From the centre of the fork to the moustache is probably the same distance. As it gets nearer one notices a nose and a pair of eyes peering over the shrubbery. Once again the face is shadowed by the bill of one of those omnipresent baseball caps.

Below and behind this forked growth is a youngster of perhaps 20-22 years with the build and innocent-seeming eyes of a child. He looks up at something and the beard levers away from his chest to a position horizontal to the ground, weirdly reminding me of the bonnet of a car being opened!

Now there is nothing wrong with a beard – I myself have sported one since 1980 – but somehow these slightly built, young guys just look so incongruous with these luxuriant facial jungles that are so out of proportion to their stature.

I’m sure that out in the woods somewhere there are great big lumberjacks who would LOVE to have such magnificent growths as I see strolling around with these waif-like fellows attached!

Then again of course there are blokes who are in in charge of some truly smart beards that are perfectly balanced to their faces and frames. Where the man dominates and the beard knows its place!

I suppose it is like body art – to each their own…and I must add that some of these slight, magnificently bearded, fellows seem to have no problem with the chicks! Perhaps there is a lesson in that – but we won’t go there.

About CROCS – and bullies

A while ago I read an article by some smart fellows who were giving forth on sartorial dos and don’ts.

Right at the end of the article we, all of us – men and women, are exhorted to never, ever, under any circumstances and NO MATTER HOW COMFORTABLE they may be, wear CROCS©.

I remember a theatre nurse wearing CROCS© many years ago and I questioned her about them. She told me that irrespective of the lack of elegance and adverse comment about them they were the most comfortable and easy to clean footwear for someone who has to be on their feet all day and pretty much all her colleagues were wearing them at work. I went out and bought a pair of black CROCS© clogs.

Now the sight of skinny legs ending in those clumpy TRAINERS or running shoes while wearing little hide away non-socks, making said legs look like upside down lollipops, seems to escape comment from the stylistas…but, wear CROCS©!

CROCS© stay on your feet, are comfortable to drive or walk in, are as inelegant as hobnailed boots on a fashion catwalk…and make you a pariah. People will cross the street to avoid associating with you. Non-U does not even approach the disapproval the fashion police will heap upon you.

Comment or advice around the subject of CROCS© is usually offered in the most disparaging and derogatory of terms. Can terms that clearly reference one’s sanity and sense of community really be termed advice? Actually it is a superiorlookingdownthenose form of BULLYING!

However, having reached my three score and ten years, comfort rules, really it does. If I am casually dressed why are slops OK but CROCS© are not? After major surgery on my knees I wore Crocs© all the time during my rehab and walked miles in them with no discomfort.

With this in mind I had a little badge made, with an acronym that I shamelessly cribbed from Kevin Bloody Wilson, the irreverent Aussie comic. The badge blatantly reads DILLIGAF which, loosely translated, means:

Do I Look Like I Give A Flying damn

There is certainly nothing elegant about CROCS©, no matter what colour they are, but they are extremely comfortable and practical so at my age – DILLIGAF!

NB: where I grew up FLIP-FLOPS were always called SLIP SLOPS hence, SLOPS.

Postscript: NO-ONE turns a hair when I wear these particular CROCS©!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Time

Time and the river“, is the name of a song and the analogy is really quite apt.

On a lazy holiday one may encounter a slow-flowing stream that complements one’s frame of mind – and the song that so aptly describes the experience. Time seems to stretch itself out into a very relaxed tempo.

Conversely imagine being pursued by an enemy along a river in full flood, lots of rapids, in a steep valley. Time takes on the urgency of flight and the rushing river, the confused sounds of scrambling along, rushing water and the PURSUIT adds a dimension of confusion and rush.

And life? Life at times seems to be proceeding at a leisurely pace and dragging along – especially when waiting for a long-anticipated event.

Then again, at every turn of the week we are startled to find the time gone as we exclaim “Is it time to put the bins out, again?”

 

The Record

These days gramophone records are obsolescent at best – having nearly become obsolete they are experiencing a nostalgic resurgence.

The historical record is one that will never become obsolete but it IS one that some agencies seek to corrupt and rewrite to suit their own agendas.

Not enough people seem to care that the records of history are really important if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past – such as world wars.

A frightening trend appears to be sweeping the world with new generations often seeming to align themselves with suspect organisations. Organisations that would, for their own (and sometimes unknown) purposes deny the lessons of recent history – that which has happened in the last hundred years.

If the record is not truthfully maintained and honestly taught, and the lessons of that history are not fully understood then the future record will speak of the repetition of untold tragedy – of a history unlearned and a record ignored.

 

Picking up the pieces

Life can be like a favourite jigsaw puzzle that you have made many times. Then, in the strange way that these things happen, a few pieces go missing.

When your partner unexpectedly dies under unexplained circumstances your life falls apart and you can, after a while, gather together most of the pieces and even replace some of those that are otherwise irretrievable.

Some pieces however you can never find again. That person who shared your life and dreams – who frustrated and often angered you – is gone and, most painfully, it is when you see something you would have shared and the thought “I must tell…” dies in your still-bewildered mind that the enormous finality crushes you over and over.

All these things do fade and they do become less painful but the worst is when you are let down – by all the authorities who should determine the causes and allow you the solace of what is called closure.

Strange word that because it will never close – that door that will forever be ajar.

You go forward with new circumstance and a new partner building a new life but the pieces that could not be found will scratch and scratch at your thoughts forever.

 

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