1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 5_Army days, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Conquered by the Boers, 2017

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

Here’s a dispatch to Mev Queen on the result of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament in 2017. It did not go well.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

“Boer War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace,  London, England

5th June, 2017

Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.

Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.

The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine ‘Mampoer’. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery. I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.

Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!

There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.

In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony. (with some more alphabets?)

Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.

Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal Colony), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.

I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.

I await your further instructions.

Your humble military servant,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

lekker – respectable

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; last to leave the pub

boerewors – secret sausage; used in hide-the-sausage games in bedrooms in the colonies

moer-en-soek – pointless game administered by the ancient Scots and Americans, proving that it’s pointless

‘Mampoer’ – moonshine liquor; anything distilled illegally; high octane rating

Mev Queen – that small tannie who wears the funny hats; the one with the rude Greek husband who crashes cars

tannie – auntie

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Harrismith Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because its there, see.

I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

mountain race harrismith_crop
At this point I wished I had done some training!

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

HS Mtn Race badges, medal
Mountain Race badges and medal

Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.

Leaving town
Start of One Man's Pass Mountain Race 9

It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees

The

Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter

Top of ZigZag Pass

The best part: On top, heading for Zig-Zag pass

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Run to A then to B and back (who added three km of tar road!?)

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about a wonderful day with Wally).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.

During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top.  In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel, won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.

A friend’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, Steph and JP’s Dad Koos de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.

Later the apartheid “whites-only” ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning the race was won by black athletes, starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.

*McDermott won sixteen times consecutively from 1982 to 1997 and in 1985 established the “short course 12.3km” record at 50mins 30secs.