A visit to Tuffy, then stationed on the Bluff in Durban with Recce Battalion was a happy reunion. There he was in uniform and me with long hair, his student mate from Harrismith. He introduced me to his sergeant ‘Vingers’ Kruger and all his comrades and announced we’d be partying tonight.
We started off at the famous / notorious Smugglers Inn off Point Road and had a good few there, warming up to a fun night on the tiles. On our way out, en route to a nice place one of the guys knew where ladies would remove their tops with sufficient encouragement, we heard shouting – screaming really – in the alley next to the entrance to Smuggies: ‘You’re married to my sister and here I catch you fucking a man!’ We didn’t wait to hear the fellow’s explanation for his errant behaviour – the other side of the story, y’know, in fairness – but there were some smacking sounds.
Later outside another nightclub a few insults thrown around started a fight between some of the short-haired soldiers and a group of longer-haired ‘civvies’. In the interests of transparency, one of our boys had started it. It soon developed into a brawl and the cops were there in a flash. They took no nonsense and a number of prisoners, throwing anyone near the fighting indiscriminately into the back of the black maria. Which was grey, not black. I tried to explain how very innocent I was, having hung back and danced around the edges of the fight, but was told to fokkin keep quiet and shoved into the van.
As we huddled uncomfortably and with foreboding with some of the okes who minutes before had been throwing punches at us – OK, for me, potentially anyway – I saw through the mesh window Sersant Vingers having a quiet word with the cop in charge. Probably something about fellows-in-uniform, our obvious innocence, how little we’d had to drink, how the blackguards had attacked us, look at their hairstyles and other good, if biased, points. The cop in charge nodded and approached the door of our van. As Vingers pointed out his men – we all looked the same in civilian clothes – the cop brusquely shouted ‘You, you and you! OUT!’ Thankfully Vingers included me among ‘his’ men. Any friend of Tuffy’s was a friend of Vingers’.
Once Vingers had counted his men he trooped us back into the club with a grin for a victory drink, with lots of congratulatory slaps raining down on his back. ‘Justice’ had been served.
You give some old bullets the internets, and what happens” – 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.
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.
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:
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 – unlaced – 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. Barmy day. He’s gone a bit mashugana I’m afraid.
* private? were we privates or riflemen? I can’t remember. If we were riflemen, can we become cannons one day, like dominees can?
Lunch Corporal (equal to a Texas General) Dhhhavid 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.
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
– 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.
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!!
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
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.
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!? Just imagine what the Gotchefstroom stof would do to them! He was 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.
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 under the desirable DD69 conditions. Their eyes. Focus, you ous! What could we do? Orders are orders. It was hell; We served. We suffered. We were barracked right next door to the DQ Pub, The Cock and Bottle. The Cock and Bottle was 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!
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. Seriaas. Ask Les.
Our first big bash was arranged by a New Zealand couple, two of the twenty-some houseman – these are practicing doctors in the literal sense of ‘practicing’ – they didn’t know WHAT they were doing, so they practiced. These two delightful Kiwi appy-quacks’ surname was actually Houseman, funnily enough. Lovely folk; they organised a raucous Priests and Prostitutes night in the Cock and Bottle.
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 I’d inherited from a drunk Irishman one FreeState night, which slayed the ladies. I think. They thought I was a catholic father. 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. If they diagnosed the need, they would sometimes even hop into the sickbed with you in order to apply pelvis-to-pelvis resuscitation. Swear! Dedicated!
The weermag had actually posted us to heaven. Probably by mistake, but we were not complaining. Hey! you can ask 2nd Lt. Leslie LadyLover&Charmer Chrich; I shit you not, I’m not exaggerating! Tell them, Les.
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? Like: ‘PW Botha, My Part In His Downfall’? 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:
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? Who has the Master Tapes? Do you think that cunning corporal cHooper 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 and someone should demand answers . .
Dhavid Cooper wrote:
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, Goodnight Irene . . . I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened . . we never saw her again except in our dreams!
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, by the way, not as in ‘south of the border’ as sung by Cooper which (I suspect, how would I know?) was 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;
Stephen Charles Reed sent a terrible picture of a recovering drunk back in the old days. Around 1980. He found this poor soul asleep on the covered veranda of his top floor flat in 10th Avenue off Clarence Road in Windermere, Durban and cruelly photographed him, him unknowing. Sleeping with his specs on so as not to have blurry dreams.
Later he accompanied the poor soul to the cafe on the corner for something to slake our Sunday morning cotton mouth thirst. En route we came across the Salvation Army on the pavement, gearing up their instruments, blowing the spit out, getting ready to go and blast a bracing dose of Christian ‘look sharp’ into some poor sinners’ ears. And we were convinced they’d marked us as just exactly the right type of sinners they needed.
Neatly – if severely – dressed in their fierce outfits, sensible shoes and soldier-looking hoeds they glared at us, fiddling threateningly with their instruments.
I could feel their accusing stares boring through the back of my head as I minced delicately past them, taking a wide – but not too wide – berth by stepping down into the gutter – where I belonged? – trying not to upset them in any way. Had they sounded the horn and hit the drum we might have capitulated and joined immediately. Thankfully a baleful stare was all we got and we made it past them. We eyed them out from a distance from the cafe door and returned to Stefaans’ flat once they’d parum-pum’d off a goodly distance down the road. Anyway, I’d already been saved a few years before, so there was no need for them to target me. Dunno about Stefaans – he looked like he needed a bit of salvaging.
They were like this menacing-looking mob, except there were more tannies with sensible shoes, like in the top pic:
hoeds – headgear; salute-worthy headgear
tannies – aunties
parum pum – guilt-inducing tympanic torture
Ah! This is better! THIS is what they looked like – Beryl Cook captured them perfectly:
My Best Man, I have always said, is one of the most honest upright people I’ve known. I’ve said this for many years. It isn’t strictly true.
One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein, shortly after having been crowned The Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World, the story of which famous victory has appeared in print elsewhere, we were smuggled out of the bar in secret to avoid a massacre by the vengeful forces that had lost to us in the final.
Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen, past the chest freezers and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein. Out into that dark night.
Through the kitchen. Did you get that part? Through the hotel kitchen. Past a number of chest deep freeze cabinets. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the lids lifting, a hand reaching in and a packet being shoved under an old jersey. The jersey was probably part of the uniform of the new Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World.
When we got to the safety of our large and lavish room in the plush Doories residence a few blocks away we were highly relieved and thankful to have survived. So we reached into the huge old off-white Westinghouse we had inherited with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on the door in black coki pen and calmed our nerves. Poor old Willie the housemaster came round to ask us to Please turn down the sound, manne, my wife is trying to sleep.
Then an interesting aroma started to fill the room: BACON. Being fried on the two-plate hot plate. By My Best Man.
THAT’s what had been lifted from the chest deep freeze of the New Doornfontein Hotel. Illicitly. And THAT’s who had dunnit. Did I mention he has a small trace of Jewish blood running through his veins, making this not only a crime, but also a sin?
As we revved up on another evening after a night’s carousing, we rollicked as poor old Willie the housemaster asked us Please to behave manne, my wife is trying to sleep. Another bright idea took hold: Converting the hostel angle-iron bed into a fold-away stretcher. You can’t bend angle-iron, but he had done a year’s engineering before he started optometry, so through persistence and focused dedication, he did. His skilful panel-beating expertise is depicted in the big pic *.
The sheer force of this exercise bumped the bed against an heirloom 5-gallon glass flagon with two ears. SMASH and tinkle. It must have been tempered glass, as there were millions of tiny pieces!
Barks sometimes inexplicably went to bed early. Something about a good night’s sleep. One night we got home handsome and clever and Barks had locked his door. Which was his right, except the Fridge Over Troubled Waters was in his room, and the beer was in that fridge. When we failed to rouse him Chris Slabber said “Hold My Beer and Stand back!” and next minute BA-BLAM! he shot off the doorlock! It seems people from Die Perel with CJ numberplates carry small arms with them in case of moeilikheid. I didn’t know that. Access to refreshment obtained. Like the bloody Wild West!
Asseblief manne, said poor housemaster Willie, My wife is trying to sleep. We felt for him.
You’ll have a positive outlook on this if you remember:
“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars” – Stephen Fry
Asseblief manne – stop it, you hooligans!
Die Perel – the city of Paarl in the western cape province; average of eighteen teeth per head
Sheila saw to it I had a party! As so often, Sheila saved the day.
Des Glutz threw open his palatial bachelor home, Kenroy, on the banks of the mighty Vulgar River to an invasion of students from JHB and PMB. That’s because as a lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer he had his eye on some of those student teachers from PMB!
“Kindness of his heart” you thought? Ha! You know nothing about horny bachelor Free State farmers! Anyway, he owed me for managing his farm brilliantly when he went to Zimbabwe.
Eskom had not yet bedevilled Kenroy so paraffin lamps, gaslamps and candles gave light. Music pomped out from car batteries. Noreen, Jo and Ski danced their Broadway routine The Gaslamp Revue with Redge Jelliman holding the silver tray footlight staring in open-mouthed wonder at their skill. And of course, their legsnboobs – another lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer, y’know.
There was also Liz and Mops and Jenny, Georgie, Mandy, Gill and Jill; Hell, we bachelors were in awe at almost being outnumbered – a rare event. We were so excited we got pissed and fell down. Timothy Paget Venning got so excited he walked all the way round the house smashing Des’ window panes to let in the night.
Poor ole Gilbert, Des’ personal butler, valet and chef, bore the brunt of the extra work! He cooked and cooked, including a big leg of lamb which didn’t make the main table, getting scoffed on the quiet by ravenous would-be teachers under the kitchen table. Pity the poor kids who would have to grow up being taught all the wrong things by this lot in Natal in the eighties.
They were wild n topless:
If the bachelors had been there, we’d have politely averted our eyes. Right!!
Tabbo wore his tie so he could make a speech into his beer can microphone:
Funny how Glutz doesn’t feature in any pics! Where was he? We know he wasn’t in his bedroom cos the TC girls raided it and were in awe at the impressive collection of toys and rubber items in his bedside drawer. No stopping those TC girls!
After the weekend I roared back to Jo’burg in my brand-new 1965 two shades of grey and grey Opel Rekord Concorde deluxe sedan four-door, full-bench-seated, 1700cc straight-four, three-on-the column chick magnet motorcar. My first! Watch out Doornfontein!
Thanks Mom & Dad! And thanks for the party, Sheils!
The old man organised the numberplate OHS 5678 for me. The man at the Harrismith licencing office said “Oom, are you sure you want an easy-to-remember number for your son? Don’t you want one that’s hard to remember?”
One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein we were playing darts. In the New Doornfontein Hotel pub.
Actually to be more exact, we were engaged in a very important international darts championship tournament, and we were in the final. We had made it through to the final by skill and courage. And imbibing. See, it was The Official Inebriated World Darts Championships of The World. Our opponents were the Sicilian Mafia who had materialised out of nowhere, tapped one of us on the shoulder and announced darkly in a sinister growl: “We play you next”. That’s how they got into the final. We didn’t dare to do anything but nod nervously.
It was like:
We were not fooled when during the important ceremony of ‘diddle for middle’ they missed the bull’s eye by about three metres and we hit bull to go off first. We knew they were simply lulling us into a false sense of security and had in fact wanted us to go first as part of a dastardly plot. This plan was executed faultlessly as we continued to whip they asses and beat them by a mile in all three rounds. Something was afoot. We got even more nervous when they appeared to accept their defeat in good spirit and retired to a corner of the bar conversing – sinisterly for Sicilians – in Portuguese and Joburg English.
Our lives were saved that night in that we ordered beers when the barman called ‘Last Round!’ and the Mafia didn’t. So at closing time the Mafiosi left and we stayed behind to finish our drinks, huddled in a corner as far away as we could get from the door in case it suddenly shattered and splintered under sustained machine gun fire.
The barman then escorted us out the back. Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen past the chest freezers – take note, I am not mentioning the chest freezers for nothing here – past the chest freezers: they will feature again at the end of this story – and out the back door. As I hurried through the kitchen I thought I had seen some movement of the one chest freezer lid out of the corner of my eye . .
Then we were outside – into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. Then out that side gate visible on the far left into Height Street.
We scurried home to our lavish quarters in the plush Doories residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education a few blocks away, keeping to the shadows. It was all shadows.
Once safely inside we opened the large door of the old off-white Westinghouse with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on it in cokie pen. Finally we, The Official Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax. Another beer . .
Suddenly the smell of frying bacon filled the room . . .
I was going to ski – we would have called it snow ski! – for the first time in my life. Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan mountains in Colorado. We’d be catching a bus from Oklahoma, driving there and staying at the lodge. Jim Patterson was taking me on a host-Dad and Son special treat. In the previous summer (1973) he and Katie had taken us on a steam train ride nearby – the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad.
My pic of the Animas River out the train window:
That was a glorious summer. But now we were going in winter:
As the day approached we watched the snow reports with bated breath. Nothing. No snow. The day before we were to leave the bad news came: Trip cancelled.
True to form Jim looked on the bright side – he always did! – and invited me to join him in drowning our sorrows as he opened up the big heb cooler full of Coors beer he had packed for the trip! Jim always put a good spin on everything!
I would have to wait fifteen years till 1988 before my first snow skiing – in Austria.