Thought’s Of A Middle Aged Man Part One
It was January and the heat in Ladysmith was stifling. The sun burned down on the backs of our necks and there wasn’t a breath of air to inhale
Charlie Company was excited. It was our first chance to test our weapons, our “girlfriends” as our corporal would say. The shooting range, as we soon learned was a place of pain, of thirst and our home for two nights. On “die skietbaan” we soon found out that nothing was done at walking pace. You ran. I remember looking over my shoulder with my helmet half blocking the view. I could vaguely make out the silhouette of that hill. It’s shape, etched in my mind forever. Spioenkop. The hill I so innocently went up in the school bus when we were in Standard four. The hill that changed my perception of man and war forever. That acre of massacre, that innocence taker.
There was a small puffy clump of white clouds beyond the hill and the rest was just blue open sky. I remember an old farmer telling me years later that “if the clouds are up over the Berg before nine in the morning during summer, we’re in for a hellava storm in the afternoon”. The thought never occurred to me. We were all too busy getting stuffed around to be thinking of the weather. And secondly, we didn’t even know that we would be sleeping in the bush that night. Our fully kitted groot sacks were all lying in a heap next to the Samil. We all just thought that that’s what you brought with you when you go to the shooting range. We were roofs, what did we know? The important stuff was happening now and we got down to the nitty gritty of hitting that black terrorist on the yellow background. 1,2,3,4….yes OK, that’s my target. No use hitting Greg’s target otherwise I would look like a useless shot and would probably get a boot in the ribs too.
In between shots, I glared up at the hills on my left and in front of me. There was Wagon Hill and further ahead, Caesar’s Camp. To the right, running all along to the horizon was the flat topped hill where the Boers had their guns about ninety years before. As the corporal screamed out “fire” the sound of rifle fire echoed between those hills, probably just as it did all those years ago when the poms were held up in town and held ransom by Botha and his mates, hiding behind the rocks and boulders that hadn’t moved in a thousand years.
The targets went down and quickly popped back up in no specific order. Once again the order went out “tap tap, tap tap”. I remember the pain, I remember shouting out and I remember the boot being pushed down on my back. A doppie had gone down my collar and was sizzling on my skin. Our corporal wasn’t going to let this one get away and had ‘caught’ it with his boot. My punishment for dropping my rifle and being a girl was to do a bit of running with a full ammo case. Up number one, down number two, up three and down four. I can’t remember how many numbers or letters there were on the range. I just remember that when I was finished, I could hardly walk and that’s when we were told to “tree aan” with our grootsaks.
Part 2 to follow….Next Sunday
– by ThoughtsOfAMiddleAgedManBlog