Thought’s Of A Middle Aged Man Part Two
Our overalls stained with sweat and then caked in fine red dust kicked up from hundreds of leather boots
We were a sorry sight, a brown mass of sweat and dust. Our overalls stained with sweat and then caked in fine red dust kicked up from hundreds of leather boots. The dust was in our nostrils, in our ears and made little streaks down our cheeks from clinging to our sweat, and tears. We looked a sorry sight, like Long Tom had dropped one from Umbulwana in the main road and we were picking up the pieces. It was summer but the ground was dry and thirsty. I hadn’t yet seen rain in Ladysmith.
We stood in line waiting for orders. Someone wispered “why did we get such a revving out here today, I thought we were here to learn how to shoot?” Someone else piped up “cause you need to learn how to shoot when your heart is pounding in your ears and your hands are shaking.” It never made sense to me at the time but looking back, that’s exactly what they were teaching us. War was not like in the old paintings, it was sweaty, dirty and it hurt like hell.
We were separated into sections and sent on our way. We were given instructions by a Sergeant with a big moustache perched on top of the ammo truck. As he spoke, he played with the tip, curling it in his fingers. I remember thinking that if he stretched it any further, he would look like Salvador Dali with a bush hat. This made me chuckle to myself.
By now it was late afternoon and the shadows were getting long. The clouds were still on the horizon but had bulked up to a grey mass of cotton wool. The air was cooler and the stress of the day had been somewhat relieved by the mere fact that there was no rank to be seen. We had two final objectives to achieve before we could rest our weary bodies. First we had to set up a TB, dig loopgrawe and set up for the night. Then we had to get supper ready, mine was a no. 5 rat pack. Poor Roos next to me drew the tinned fish and was desperately trying to convince everyone else that it was better than beans and sausage or chilli concarne. He ended up going hungry, poor sod.
It was at about the same time that our lutenant made an impromptu inspection of our accommodation. He was a chilled two pip, a guy that was there to teach you something, a guy you could respect. He sat with us as we drank coffee out of our firebuckets and smoked Styvesandt Red. He told us stories of the Cut Line, Oom Willie’s se pad and his first contact while out on patrol. He told us that a terr could hear your sleeping bag zip up from two clicks away and that you never share a match while lighting your smoke otherwise the sniper will get you. We were all ears. By this time the sun had gone down. It was dark but the moon was up and there was a brushstroke of silver on the rocks around us. Far off in the distance, the flicker of lightning. Before he left he had one last story to tell…
Part 3 to follow….Next Sunday