Let’s paint the ’42nd’ up on 42nd Hill! Yeah! We’ll shoot up there with some whitewash and paint it quickly.
We Boy Scouts needed a PROJECT – a ‘good deed’ – and this seemed a good one. Everyone would notice and be impressed by the shiny white freshly-whitewashed stones spelling out ’42nd’ compared to the dull look it had as the whitewash faded.
This was ca.1970 and the symbol had been put up there by some Pommies of something called 42nd whatever, way back just after the Anglo-Boer War – over sixty years earlier. We would get it looking like new.
I mean, how hard could it be . . . ?
Well . . .
When we got there we parked on the top of the ridge – none of those towers and pylons were there back then – and walked down to the white stones. That ’42nd’ was A LOT bigger than we had imagined. Our big whitewash buckets and wide brushes looked tiny now. We would have painted for hours and run out of whitewash before we even finished the ‘n’ – the smallest of the symbols.
We had a good look around at the unusual – to us, we had never been up in Phomolong before – view of Harrismith and the mountain, climbed back to our Scoutmaster Father Sam van Muschenbroek’s car on the ridge and snuck back to town, tails between our legs! What’s that about biting off and chewing?
So who put all those stones spelling a huge ’42nd’ there?
From ca.1900, Harrismith was to serve as the base for all military operations conducted by the 8th Division until the end of hostilities. The bulk of the Division were posted at Harrismith. The force under command of Lt Gen Sir H M L Rundle, comprised:
The 16th Infantry Brigade (under command of Maj Gen B B D Campbell) consisting of 2nd Bn Grenadier Guards, 2nd Bn Scots Guards, 2nd Bn East Yorkshire Regt, the 1st Bn Leicester Regt, and the 21st Bearer Company, 21st Field Hospital;
The 17th Infantry Brigade (under Maj Gen J E Boyes) consisting of 1st Bn Worcestershire Regt, 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regt, 1st Bn South Staffordshire Regt, the 2nd Bn Manchester Regt, and the 22nd Bearer Company, 22nd Field Hospital;
The 1st Brigade Imperial Yeomanry consisting of the 1st, 4th and 11th battalions; 5th Company, The Royal Engineers; 2nd, 77th and 79th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery; 23rd Field Hospital, Royal Army Medical Corps.
General Rundle used the de Beer home as his headquarters. Mom Mary Bland’s best friend Joey de Beer grew up here:
In 1904 a census revealed that there was a white population of 4 345 resident at Harrismith of which the soldiers numbered 1 921. By the end of 1902 the regiments comprising the 8th Division had departed, and the 4th King’s Royal Rifles, involved in garrisoning blockhouses from January 1902 until the end of the war, departed in June 1904. In the next decade Harrismith was occupied by the 2nd Hampshires, the 2nd Yorkshires, the 4th Royal Garrison, the 3rd Dragoons and the 1st Wiltshires.
I haven’t yet found anything that says ’42nd’ but I did find that the ‘Royal Highlanders’ encamped at 42nd Hill.
Later: During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the British occupational forces were active in and around Harrismith until their official withdrawal at the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) in 1914 (Breytenbach 1978, Pakenham 1997, Dreyer 2007). The remnants of their camps can still be seen at King’s Hill, Queen’s Hill and 42nd Hill. The badges of the 80th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers), the Gloucestershire Regiment and 3rd Dragoon Guards are still recognisable against the hill to the north west of town. Regular maintenance by the Harrismith Heritage Foundation, the MOTHS Military Veteran Society and, until their disbandment, the Harrismith Commando, watched over the stone-built and whitewashed badges against the hill (Dreyer 2013).
Ah! So we should probably have asked the MOTHs or the Commando before we went a-painting anyway!
Boy Scouts was great – a real breath of fresh air to our dorp. Learnt a lot, did a lot, loved being Patrol Leader to ‘my boys:’
Loved going on camps and hikes, earning badges, drawing maps, navigating by maps and compass . .
I did all sorts of badges – master pet with Jock the staffie; canoeing, cooking, map reading, hiking, swimming, raft-building, tower-building, tying knots I still use today – everything, and was well onto my way to being a 1st-Class Scout; Went to camp in Bloem, after which ‘Haithi’ wrote and said your 1st Class will be soon; Father Sam drove us blindfolded, dropped us off (it was near Nondela) and we plotted our way back in high winds to a microwave tower near Bobbejaankop east of town; Was invited to the Chief Scout’s hike in the Valley of Desolation outside Graaff Reinet starting Sunday 24th September 1972;
We met at the Anglican church, at the MOTH hall, and in our loft.
The favourite, most talked-about thing, the biggest challenge was: The BIG Hike
I drew five maps for this route near Normandien pass. Or really one map, on five pages of SHELL notepad! What I’d forgotten is how much Father Sam and Charlie Ryder drove us around! Probably at their own expense? Eg. We drove out to Robbie Sharratt’s farm one week night and got back at 9:30pm just for Robbie to explain the route we’d be taking on our 50-miler hike!
Then I went to Veld and Vlei in the 1972 July holidays, matric exams followed and suddenly Scouts in Harrismith folded, after a brief but glorious reign. Very sad, great pity but we just didn’t have the numbers.
I pulled out of the Chief Scout’s hike – I had REALLY looked forward to seeing that valley. I had read much about it. One day . .
Decades later my boykie followed in my footsteps . .