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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 8_Nostalgia

Above and Beyond

I have written about our lonely little, short-lived Boy Scout troop in the vrystaat and how wonderful it was, how much we learned and how much fun we had, but as I find more and more material in my Big Garage Cleanup, here’s the thing that strikes me most: How incredibly dedicated our troop leaders were and how selflessly they gave of their time and resources. Take this one incident, a memorable hike to test our map-reading and navigating skills:

Father Sam van Muschenbroek was the Scout leader (what’s that called?) and we met at his house at 6:30 on a Friday evening, got into his car and he drove us off. He stopped for petrol and while his car was being filled he blindfolded us – me and Greg Seibert, Rotary exchange student and American Boy Scout, as we were not to know where our hike started, nor did we know the end-point yet. All of that we were to work out from maps and compass readings.

Greg wrote: ‘We were hopelessly lost after a few tricky turns by Father Sam. After a bit of rough and out-of-the-way driving, we arrived’ at our campsite at 7:50pm. We cooked for Father Sam, his son Sam and ourselves and finished eating (spaghetti followed by a can of pears) at 9:35pm, wherupon the Sams drove off without lights (‘tricky, tricky’ wrote Greg).

All this in his own time and on – I would guess – not a huge salary as a rooinek dominee of a tiny little Anglican parish in a vrystaat dorp! I salute people like Father Sam, Dick Clarke and Charlie Ryder! They enriched and enhanced our growing up in Harrismith, going out of their way to ensure we had adventures and fun and did good stuff. Many, many men, far richer and much more influential than these three did WAY less for the kids in their town.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oh: So what happened?

The next morning we rose at 6:20am – Greg sure watched the clock, he even said we fell asleep at 10:45pm the night before! – he took a picture of this sunrise on Saturday 29 April 1972, and I made a fire and attempted and failed to bake some bread over the coals. Then at 7:20am PAUL GOT UP! Who the hell was Paul?

We ate coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. The wind was whistling, and it musta blown page 3 away, so on page 4 the weather was still cold but warming. Still very windy from the WNW. At point C on the map we were obviously following ‘we were only 25 yards off of our calculations!’ We calculated and read the compass and left for point D at 10:15am.

Point E at 11:30am after detouring around a vlei and throwing my pack across a stream (!). Point F was some half-dead trees and some ruins and we rested there for ten minutes to 12:20pm.

Point G was a willow tree, a stone pillar and a little dam. We found it after a longish detour to find a place where we could cross the stream which was 4ft deep and 20ft wide. There we had lunch and a rest till 1:30pm. No mention of what we had for lunch but my guess would be coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. We ate in the shade while the mysterious Paul slept in the sun. Point H was an empty house and barn down a farm road. After a tricky crossing of a stream we were looking for a windmill. A glint of sun reflected off it revealed it and we headed up a rough hill, stopping halfway up for a rest and a drink. We reached the windmill, point I at 4:15pm and ate an apple.

When we weren’t sure of our position, we would seat Paul under a tree and Greg and I would go and check and then come back, so the mystery Paul wouldn’t get too tired, I suppose?

We were now headed for a Mr Blom’s farm. On the way we got our first glimpse of Platberg in the distance, so that was heartening. We reached Mr Blom’s house at 4:45pm and he invited us in for tea! We chatted till ‘about 5:30pm’ – HA! Greg was less accurate over tea! – when it started to rain.

We moved to camp, Mr Blom having kindly given us milk, apples, grapes and water! We cooked and ate supper at 9:30pm – spaghetti! But also beef stroganoff and oxtail soup. Paul went to sleep at 9pm! So, hike scribe Greg notes, ‘Pete and I gorged ourselves on the beef strog.’

‘We finally climbed in at 9:45pm. We we asleep ‘

It ends like that.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Greg called the adventure Operation Headache – and it occurs to me: Father Sam must have spent hours beforehand setting up the course! Taking compass readings, probably meeting Mnr Blom and getting his co-operation, probably other farmers whose land we crossed, too. What an absolute star! We loved those three days and spoke about the hike in years – decades – to follow.

As proof that We Wuz There, we got Mr Blom’s signature:

Greg’s notes in his unmistakable spidery handwriting:

. . . and I found half of page 3: It said we stopped at a spring and drank. We saw ‘several freshwater crabs, insect larvae and a frog.’

A map I drew of our first campsite:

– Campsite sketch – see the WNW wind howling –

~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Boy Scouts – 1st Harrismith

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 . . . ?

– there it is, looking dull –

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?

– view from Queens Hill back when the stones were being laid – 42nd Hill in the background –

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

– the de Beer home with its lovely stoep – or veranda – or porch –

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:’

– Harrismith Boy Scouts Patrol Leader Booklet –
– must write in the boys’ names – Father Sam v Muschenbroek and Dick Clarke, bless ’em

Loved going on camps and hikes, earning badges, drawing maps, navigating by maps and compass . .

– Boy Scout Nondela Campsite sketch –

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;

– Mom Mary comments on me and Jock –

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!

– from Wally Sharratts down Normandien pass and along the escarpment flank to van Reenen –

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 . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Decades later my boykie followed in my footsteps . .

– Tommy, cub scout – Wandsbeck pack –

~~~oo0oo~~~