It Was Like a Military Operation

Bouncing around on the back of a Bedford we would roar to a halt in the veld. Well, really the mixed thornveld somewhere north of Pretoria, which should properly be called Tshwane, ancestral home of the Tshwanepoels to which we have land claim rights. But that’s another (important) story. In a cloud of dust. We were a highly mobile, highly efficient ‘Field Hospital.’

. . . Right.

Seeking the shelter of trees so as not to be too visible to the enemy, and to have the shelter  of trees, we would leap eagerly to the ground, pitch our big tents and carry in the stretchers, placing them in neat rows one left and one right. Then up would go the drip stands, each with a drip hanging down. Sundry balsaks and trommels would be lined up and unpacked and in no time we’d be ready to receive the wounded, the sick, the lame and the lazy who had been drilled or scared by the kommuniste nearby, us being an advance field hospital. We were much like this:

field hospital

Well. In theory.

In reality the only thing that happened with any sense of urgency was the roaring to a halt by the Bedfords in a cloud of dust. After that there would be consultation and various opinions about whether the tents should be lined up like this (maybe east-west) or like this (maybe west-east). And how could we put it here? Look at this big stump in the ground here. The neat rows would be more haphazard and boiling water for tea would be accomplished before any drip stands were placed. Lots of hanging back and ‘after you.’ It was like a military operation.

Which is seldom like this:

Army marching.jpg

And more often like this: A strategic planning session in the bush.

– some literal ballas-bakking caught on camera –

The most organised of the troops was Rhynie Fritsch. From Durban, natch. Of the Fritsch Plumbers dynasty. As the lorry stopped he would step off with his blanket over his shoulder and his paperback in his hand and immediately stroll off till just out of sight but still well within earshot for a ballasbak. As the Bedfords started up again after we had struck camp and packed up he would reappear in time to clamber on, miffed that us workers hadn’t kept him any tea. Everyone loved ole Rhynie so you could only admire his gippo’ing.


In the evenings we ate well.


balsaks – literally scrotums; big all-purpose canvas bags; used as seats, totes, wardrobes, pillows, laundry bags, etc;

trommels – big all-purpose tin trunks; used as seats, bedside tables, cupboards, etc;

kommuniste – vaguely-defined bad ous who refused to believe we were Ve Chosen Race;

ballasbak – ball-baking; testicle-tanning; sitting or lying back in the sun, basking with your crotch exposed to the warm rays. See the picture: The sunglass fella is doing it well, the other two not bad. In the barracks you’d usually be leaning against a wall, hidden from the corporal’s sight. On a camp, though, the corporal might be next to you, doing it better than you; an early form of solar recharging;

gippo’ing – wisely dodging what you were meant to be doing. The opposite of volunteering; Probably slang from the Egypt campaign in WW2?

One thought on “It Was Like a Military Operation

  1. Pingback: What a Mess! | Vrystaat Confessions

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