While suffering terribly (NOT) during Basic Training in the weermag in a remote outpost outside Potchefstroom (which is itself remote) called Loopsruit, I had a brief respite from the relentless um, tedium, to pen a hurried note to sister Sheila and friend Joey K Nott. They were being paid to drink beer and lead schoolchildren astray in the gin-soaked hills of Empangeni.
They had sent me a letter and a parcel and how welcome that was, if you’ve ever sat through a whole posparade where every Tom, Dick and Jannie gets a letter and you sit there like kippie and get fokol, then you know the humiliation of the latter and the unbridled joy of the former. Looking down your nose at the poor poeses whose Ma’s haven’t written to them that week cos they’re working and anyway there’s no news and secretly, they don’t actually have a girlfriend even though they’re always talking about a girlfriend, gives one a great sense of superiority and one needs superiority when the whole point of Basic Training is inferiority. Y’unnerstand?
My parcel contained – as I wrote in appreciation – “grub, Scopes, sweets, Time magazines, etc,” Ha!! ‘Scopes’ were poesboekies in the days of nipple-censorship. In 1979 gentlemen were expected to go through a marriage ceremony before seeing their first nipple.
My main news was normal army shit: We’d had 2,5hrs of punishment drill cos we missed a 4.45am deadline to go on a route march. Turned out – this is NOT unusual – the punishment drill for missing the route march was way milder than the actual route march. We were relaxed after 2,5hrs whereas the ous were fucked after the 5hr route march. Don’t look for logic.
According to my letter the only two ‘hard’ days we’d had were a Monday and a Tuesday on which we did ‘leopard crawl’ and ‘rolling down a hill’ in full kit and helmets and ‘carrying our pea-shooters.’ The toughness was relieved by the hilarity of ‘watching the others’ – ‘you just saw helmets, arms, rucksacks, feet and rifles flying.’
Weekend passes had been cancelled, so I would miss Des’ wedding.
‘Lotsa love, Koos’
image found somewhere on the internets years ago
weermag – weather might; defence force; army
posparade – ceremony of the handing out of the postal delivery
like kippie and get fokol – like a fool and no post for you
Donald Coleman was my good mate and older mentor and side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash, alone in the car, around 1975. I have no detail of what exactly happened.
In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.
It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page. Probably page 2 of a 2-page letter, plus a scrap of envelope addressed to: poel rrismith e Free State
A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope, but the date part of the franking was missing.
I was gobsmacked! HOW did it get here? I have lived a year in Harrismith after it was written, a year in America, four years in Jo’burg, a year in Potchefstroom, years ‘in the wild’ in Durban as a bachelor, then my first own home for fifteen years and NOW, after being in my second home for six years, a letter falls out onto my very untidy garage floor!
I’d love to know how it happened! I suspected it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.
The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said (I have copied the line breaks as they were on his page):
This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412. Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year. It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you. From your mate Donald
Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny one changing your to you).
So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!
I gave the page and the half-envelope to Donald’s mother Jean.
I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Was it a Harrismith find? From when? That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. A sudden suspicion: Did my folks open it and not pass it on!? Very unlikely.
UPDATE: I searched the old desk again and found the rest of the envelope! It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, and Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School.
I asked the old man. He said he had bought the desk at Cannon and Finlay auctioneers in PMB some time well AFTER 1971. So I suppose the letter was put into a ‘new’ desk. Which raises the unlikely ‘they knew about it but chose not to tell me’ possibility again.
So the mystery remains. Well, I am SO glad I found it anyway. And glad I could share it with Donald’s family.
UPDATE 11 July 2020 – Another find! I found ANOTHER 3-page letter from Donald while clearing out old boxes in the garage, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages!
I was gobsmacked. If you’d asked me if I’d ever received a letter from Donald I would said No, I very much doubt it. Here it is:
I immediately started writing to his little boet Eddie, now in Japan, and while writing it the penny dropped: These three pages are from the same letter. This map is the map he refers to in that “one pager” I found eight or nine years ago.
Now I can rest content! I found a treasured memory from my past from a friend who was really really big in my life for the first nine years of my life and I’m glad to find out we kept in touch later on.
If I had ever got their farm, which Donald christened The Craggs, this would have been the view:
Here’s older boet Donald with sister Anne and lil boet Eddie on a visit to Durbs beach by die see, way back when they were still in Harrismith; and a pic of four of us in Harrismith:
14 July 2020 – And now another letter DOES pop up: Dated 29 November no year, and the envelope franked 30 November 197_ (probly also 1971 – he gives his address as Eastside Hostel again, but says he’ll be going home soon).
Here he says he hasn’t done any running ‘since the mountain race’ – so that means he came to do the Harrismith Mountain race in 1971? I can’t remember that.
I wrote to Sheila Friday, February 01, 2013 Long ago!! What did Jean (Donald’s Mom) say about the letter? Did she recognise Donald’s handwriting?
She replied: Hi Koos
Jean and Anne loved the letter – I could see they wanted the original, so they made me a copy for you and I left the original with them. They recognised the handwriting immediately – said he always had a very neat writing. He died in 1975 and is buried at their Winterton property – I think Ken is buried next to or near him. Love SS