A bunch of unlikely and involuntary ‘soldiers’ reminisce . .
One fine day in October 2018 I walked into work and my practice manager Raksha said, ‘A lady wants you to phone her. She says she thinks you were in the army with her brother Derek Downey.’ That must be Avril!, I said.
Well, that brought back a flood of memories and led to this garbled line of correspondence from a whole bunch of ancient friends who I’m very worried about. I think they’re all going senile. Seems I’m about the last sane one amongst us!
Do you guys remember the Durban boys on the offisiers kursus back in ’79? – Derek Downey, Rheinie Fritsch and Paul (‘no KIDDING!?‘) Goupille? They all begged to be sent to Durban-On-Sea after the officers course, citing important sport events, tragic family happenings, weeping needy girlfriends, Springbok surfing training, etc. I, on the other hand, asked to go to the Angolan border in South West Africa. ‘Die Grens’.
Well, all three of them were sent to Die Grens and I went to Durbs. To Natal Command, the famous ‘Hotel Command’ headquarters right on the beach on Marine Parade with the waves of the warm blue Indian Ocean lapping gently at the feet of the soldier on guard at the front gate. Who saluted me when I arrived!
Inside, I was shown to my quarters and told to put my shoes outside the door – of my own private room! No more bunking with you smelly lot.
I thought the shoes thing must be some sort of ritual or tradition, or maybe a hygiene thing; But the next morning the blerrie things were brightly polished! ‘Twas like a miracle! I had a batman!
I also reported to this motley crew of kakhuis offisiers that our friend private* Graham Lewis – he who belonged to the wrong company at Loopspruit and then joined us – promotion – and promptly proceeded to fuck up our pristine floor in a misguided effort with dribrite polish and a rotary floor polisher – was alive and irrepressible.
I brought them up to speed on the Private’s Progress:
He’s done some amazing things post-war that you will not believe and you will think I’m talking kak but I’m TELLING YOU. Our Private Graham Lewis:
– got married; Can you believe that? But more: To a lovely and very good-looking lady! Who tolerates his foibles. It’s astonishing!
– got rich; Swear! And not from smousing spectacles. He became a landlord after being skopped out of a shopping centre; it’s a wonderful tale of success and couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. When I phone there now I ask for the Wicked Landlord and they put me straight through to him;
– started running; his mates used to run the 89km Comrades Marathon while he drank beer and they made the mistake of mocking him, so he pulled on an old pair of tennis tackies and entered the Comrades unbeknown to them and beat the lot of them!
– did the 120km Dusi Canoe Marathon; He got into a canoe and fell out; then got in again and fell out again, then entered a race and didn’t finish. So I said to him, come, Lewis! Lemme show you. I took him on a race on the Tugela near Colenso. We finished last, but we finished; Then he entered Dusi and finished and he did it quite a few times after that.
– decided running on KwaZulu Natal hills was too easy so he ran from the bottom of the Drakensberg to the top of Mt aux Sources up the chain ladder and then down the Gulley on a rugged track for about 55km on a balmy day; And the next year he did it again. He’s gone a bit mashugana I’m afraid.
* private? were we privates or riflemen? I can’t remember. If riflemen, can we become cannons one day, like dominees can?
Lunch Corporal (equal to a Texas General) Dhavid Cooper wrote:
Luitenant – I’ve been meaning to reply for a while.
Firstly, luitenant Swaneveer – you’re a damn good writer and your blogs are hilarious. Why have you been hiding your talents under a bosvark?
Secondly, Makeerdiepas Les kept us smiling and “always looking on the bright side of life” with his voluminous aka “audible” mirth. **
Thirdly, I was most impressed with KO Lewis’ resurrection as a first rate floor officer to an even finer specimen of an officer in the running, so to speak. We should all be so lucky.
Fourthly, royalties, meagre as they were, were all blown in one night of wine, women and song – at least I think they were. Maybe the ‘women’ part is just wishful thinking. Memories at 63 are not what they used to be.
However – I do remember one conversation with you KO Swaneveer that still makes me pack up laughing when I think about it . . it related to “a few polite thrusts” . .
I do remember the Durban boys – Les Chrich was filling me in on the ballesbak time you and he had fighting for the homeland at Hotel Command.
Fascinating times – good memories.
** Les’ laugh led to a corporal once telling him “Hey, jy moet uit, uit, uit lag, nie in, in, in!”
I wrote again:
That really cracked me up, Lunch Corporal Cooper! Whattasummary!!
Talent? My real talent lay in talking about hiding under bushels rather than diving under same. Most ladies would watch wide-eyed as I deteriorated until eventually I’d be on the floor, last drink on my chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a touch incomprehensible.
Ah well, it was a good contraceptive, I changed my first nappy at age 43. And even then I had to contract out the actual pomping.
You’re quite wrong about Hotel Command. It was rugged. We suffered. I was told to report for duty as adjutant at the medics HQ in the 25-story Metal Industries House, two blocks back from the beachfront. Tenth floor.
The first day was taken up in making sure I had a parking spot for my sleek grey and grey 1965 Opel Concord OHS 5678 and that my office was suitable, window overlooking a park, now the Durban City Lodge. Couldn’t even see the sea.
The next day I checked my desk, covered in brown manila files. One said Lt X was to leave Osindisweni Hospital and report to Christ the King Hospital the next day! I phoned him to tell him. “Wow! Thanks!” he said, “Usually we don’t get any notice at all!”. The next said Lt Y was moving in a week, he was bowled over that someone had told him so far in advance. The files had been on the desk for ages; they were covered in stof. The previous adjutant was a PF – a career soldier – and he was damned if he going to spoil those blerrie civvie doctors, who did they think they were!? He was a funny oke dressed in white with a strange title, it’ll come to me now . . Scallan! Petty Officer Scallan. Petty Officer! What a weird name compared to me: LUITENANT! You could salute a luitenant. Who’d salute a petty officer? OK, OK, I was a 2nd Lt. Only one pip.
Our OC – that’s Officer Commanding – was a dapper 5ft tall Captain dressed all in white, complete with white cap and white shoes. Hilarious! What koptoe soldier would dream of wearing white shoes at Loopspruit in Potchefstroom!? Captain Mervyn Jordan. Naval Captain, mind you, which – if you’d read your notes on offisiers kursus – was equal to two Commandants in a brown uniform.
Once I cleared my desk, Captain Jordan – a helluva cool oke, by the way – suggested I commandeer a jeep and reconnoitre the hospitals under my command (none of which words he used, I’m just feeling uncharacteristically military here). My battlefield / sphere of influence lay between the blue Indian Ocean in the east and the high Drakensberg and Lesotho in the west; and from the Mocambique border in the north to the old Transkei in the south, which was also another country, remember? Three foreign states and a deep ocean surrounded me. Besides Christ the King and Osindisweni my other hospitals were called Appelsbosch, Emmaus, Hlabisa, Madadeni, Manguzi, Mosvold, St Appolonaris, ens ens.
Luckily I’d read my notes on offisiers kursus unlike you lot, so I filled in a DD99 form for the Jeep and a DD45 form for petrol and a DD78 form for accommodation, and – who’m I kidding? I knew DDbuggerall. Some PF pen-pusher did it all for me.
But then disaster struck!
Before I could leave on my grand tour, driving my OWN Landrover all over Natal, peering over the border into three foreign countries including Transkei, an order came through on a DD69 assigning 2nd Lieutenant me and 2nd Lieutenant Les Chrich to Addington Hospital as resident oogkundiges. Instead of driving around visiting the odd nun and some okes in uniform at Zululand hospitals, I was ordered to move into Addington DQ – doctors quarters – across the road from the nurses res.
Did you catch that? Are you paying attention? We soldiers were ordered to live next door to a NURSES RESIDENCE. In which six hundred – that’s 600 – nurses in white skirts, silly little white hats and pantihose waited for us to come and service them. Their eyes. What could we do? Orders are orders.
It was much like Alfred, Lord Tennyson had predicted:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into The smoke-filled Cock and Bottle
Rode the six hundred.
We were each given our own flat. Not a room, an apartment. Bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and entrance hall. High ceilings; Hot and cold running blondes.
It was hell; We served. We suffered. We were barracked right next door to the DQ Pub, The Cock and Bottle. Mecca. Every one of the superb six hundred – that’s 600 – knew The Cock and Bottle. Sure, some knew to avoid it, but others said Meet You There!
Our first big bash was arranged by a New Zealand couple, two of the twenty-some houseman – practicing doctors in the true sense of ‘practicing’ – in residence. Their Kiwi surname was actually Houseman, funnily enough, lovely folk; they organised a raucous Priests and Prostitutes night.
The fishnet stockings! The see-through tops! The high heels! The micro skirts! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I wore a white dog collar and a blue houndstooth holy Irish jacket made by a tailor in Dublin which slayed the ladies. Much later that night I was on the floor, last drink on my chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a touch incomprehensible.
But there was a big difference now: Nurses! Kind, nurturing souls moved to take up a caring profession. They didn’t step over you and walk out on you like a Jo’burg or Kimberley or Rustenburg chick at the New Devonshire Hotel or the New Doornfontein Hotel might. No! They would pick you up and sling your one arm over their shoulder and take you to bed, tuck you in saying tut tut. Or “Shine up, Chicken Legs” if their name was Peppy. This is true! They were angels. Better than angels, as they had a devilish streak.
The weermag had actually posted us to heaven. Probably by mistake, but we were not complaining. Hey! you can ask 2nd Lt. Chrich; I shit you not, I’m not exaggerating!
Meantime a reunion took place in the Fairest Cape attended by old soldiers Stedall, Chrich, Miller and Cooper.
Great, Rod! So at your reunion, were there a few tales of how we won the war? You, Cooper, Chrich and Miller must have told a few lies about what a terribly hard time we had? I was a normal person before that 1979 weermag year. Also, what’s the name of that song we sang so well, and why didn’t it go platinum?
Rodney Stedall wrote:
I think it was Piano Man
That’s right, it was. How could I forget!? Here’s one version. not anything like as good as ours:
Which brings us to the second question, why are we not earning royalties from sales of our version? Do you think that cunning corporal Cooper filched the funds? Corruption is rampant and I think we should investigate.
Was there another song? Shouldn’t there be more royalties?
Also, what happened to that young female luitenant in her tight browns that Cooper and I used to eye? The only female on the base under half a ton? Do you think she’s wearing browns a few sizes larger these days? These are important questions . .
Dhavid Cooper wrote:
Howzit Luitenant Swanefeer homse geweer! Would have been such a hoot to have you with us in the Cape!!
Regarding corruption (see The Early Years – my new upcoming book on corruption by Snyman and Verster) – money had to be made when it could – and the stage had to be set for the future of the country . . apparently we did too good a job . .
However, the most memorable event – besides the shapely looty you alluded to – was the well serenaded, fine looking lass who stole our hearts that one summer beer-filled night . . . Irene!! Do you remember . .?
We sang “Irene, Goodnight, Irene Goodnight, Goodnight Irene . . . I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened . . we never saw her again except in our dreams!
Hope you’re well pal… be lovely to catch up again sometime….Rod, maybe a weermag reunion sometime.
Les Miller wrote:
Pete – Thank you so much for this. I killed myself laughing while reading it. Brings back forgotten memories. Good ones!
MaakkeerdiePAS! Lick-yak, lick-yak, omkeeeeeer!
Hey Les – What a good laugh! Carefree days. Give some testosterone-fueled youths guns, bullets and beers and what could possibly go wrong, huh?
offisiers kursus – learning how to gippo exams; or, officers course
Die Grens – the border; usually the border between Angola and South West Africa, where we shouldn’t have been in the first place; In Natal my borders were Mocambican, Transkeian, Lesotho-an – oh, and also Swazi-like, plus there was the boerewors curtain keeping us safe from the Transvaal;
border not as in ‘south of the border’ as sung by Cooper which was a a panty-line border;
kakhuis offisier – candidate officer; KO or CO; aspirational;
smousing – peddling; which is better, one or two? I’ll take the tortoise shell one;
skopped – kicked out;
mashugana – batty; barmy;
dominees – canons, preachers, priests, imams, rabbis, gurus, archbishops, dob-dobs, pontiffs, cardinal sin, swami, ayatollah, blah blah; liars;
lunch corporal – half a corporal; one stripe;
pomping – the brief, active part of conception preceding the long slow hatching part; seldom immaculate;
koptoe – delusional;
luitenant – lieutenant; some of us became one-pip lieutenants, a massive promotion from KO;
bosvark – bushel; bush piggle?
makeerdiepas – mark time; march aimlessly in one spot, going nowhere; mind you, all marching is aimless;
ballasbak – literally, sunbaking your balls; leaning back comfortably with your groin aimed at the sun and your legs spread; a frequent activity between brief sessions of ‘hurry up and wait’;
oogkundiges – uniformed personnel skilled in the gentle art of gazing deep into nurses’ eyes;
weermag – war machine;