DISCLAIMER: These are my memories and a record of my antics and experiences. SAFREA and all Safrea Members are not responsible and had nothing to do with any of it. They missed the fun.
Manne1 at last. Good-bye Troepie
I cannot remember any passing-out parade at Tempe. We had completed our three months of Basic Training, and there must have been one. The instructors had to have their pleasure to mock us and insult us one last time. “Troepie – gaan kak uit op ‘n ander terein”. They told us that we were now “Manne”.
Free. Free at last, we might have thought. Alas. We were simply shipped off to another camp. The army base in Ladysmith, Natal. This was the Head Quarters of the 5th South African Infantry Battalion. We were still ordinary cannon fodder but were supposed to feel proud. With all the chaos we were grateful that the train driver didn’t deliver us to Ladismith in the Karoo.
We discovered very quickly that we were not yet the “Main Manne”. We were only in our second trimester of forced service and were lower-class manne. There was nothing manly about being ordered around by “veterans” who had been there three months longer than we had and were still really just little boys like us.
The games began
There was no rifle range for Bisley training in Ladysmith, which obliged me to find other ways to avoid marching. My creative spirit soared. Opportunities presented themselves and I grabbed them. Sometimes we had to fabricate opportunities for “goofing off” and fortunately opportunities for fabricating opportunities popped up all the time. I hope to share these with you over the next weeks, perhaps even months. I hope to, but because I am now closer to death than to birth, it does depend on how long I live. This week we look at the . . .
Annual Ladysmith Agricultural Show.
What have soldiers got to do with that? Nothing. BUT – – – – I could jump and tumble a little and we had the then Natal Trampoline champion in our company. I convinced Kommendant Horner that it would enhance the image of the Army if we did a 10 minute exhibition every hour for the week of the show. Noel Whisperseth (not his real name, but close enough), the Natal champ, knew people who knew people who could get a trampoline. It arrived a week before the show because we needed a minimum of one week to rehearse our tumbling routines. Rehearsing is how we described our goofing off.
Rehearsing and training
Rehearsing was hectic. Of course we needed maintenance assistance and roped in a few grateful mates. One was Pete U. I won’t disclose his real name but we did have the same initials. He was Pete. I am Peter. A friend called me Pete once and my mother boxed his ears. Getting Pete U on board turned out to be a brilliant choice, as I shall describe later. Pete was a slightly older fella. He had contrived to fail Standard 8 (grade 10) and matric, at least once each. I suspect that he did so deliberately. Pete thought that high school was better than varsity. He was a tall, good-looking boy.
What a week that was. Away from the army camp we enjoyed community food from the local Tannies, and plenty of their daughters and nieces passing by. These local lovelies stopped to ogle at the illusion of two superbly fit, skilled gymnasts, and to chat us up. We managed to keep that illusion alive and we revelled in the attention. My power to communicate in Afrikaans was useful. We jumped and somersaulted and whirled and twirled and twisted and bounced and laughed and stole some magical moments behind the offices of the Show, with those young lasses.
A highlight was when Noel would jump as high as he could three or four times, getting higher with each bounce. Then, with perfect timing, I would leap onto the mat as Noel hit it. This stretched the springs and took the mat as low as it was possible to go. As the upward trajectory began, I tucked my knees rapidly under my chin, effectively removing my weight from the mat. All the kinetic energy was focused into Noel’s feet. As he straightened his knees leaping powerfully upwards, he threw his arms upwards and swung them in a wide arc in beautiful poetic balance. Noel was propelled to spectacular heights. This drew gasps and ooooohs and aaaaahs from our spectators. And a little additional admiration from the young ladies.
Teaching trampolining was fun.
We taught young kids who had never seen a trampoline, how to jump and tumble. They loved flopping onto their bottoms and being thrown up into free flight. They attempted somersaults. Many succeeded. They returned every day for more training and fun. Many mothers almost had heart failure. We loved it, and even the Kommendant was impressed. Pete U was ever-present keeping a disinterested eye on any non-existent maintenance and a roving eye on the young ladies. That proved to be our Ace in the Pack.
Miss Ladysmith. A gem in our midst
The Show always included a beauty pageant. The winner was crowned Miss Ladysmith 19xx. She took a liking to our tall blond maintenance man. Fortunately for me, she had a slightly younger sister who took a shine to me and enticed us to their home. For dinner, they assertted. Mother prepared a scrumptious meal for the two new beaus of her daughters. We spent the night there and many more after that. This is why having Pete on the team was the Ace. A stroke of unexpected genius in my planning. We got real “bang for the buck” – as the expression goes.
Life now presented us with a problem. We needed to get back to the army base and sneak in without being caught. Ten days in Dee Bee2 wasn’t a fun prospect. The local taxi owner operated a fleet of radio taxis from his home. No mobile phones and Apps yet in the 60s. He provided our regular transport and sufficient distraction at the gate for us to get onto the parade ground in time for roll call. He was adept at these deceptions because he doubled as the local hoodlum. (The American influence. The term “gangster” evolved later.) More about him when we get to our escapades on route marches.
Next week – a Travelling Band.
It was joyous freedom. HIV wasn’t known and it was almost impossible to acquire condoms. When we could there were more important practical jokes for which condoms were perfect. Despite the risks which we took, our foray into being in the real army in Ladysmith had been a success. More was to follow. Resurrecting our food supply business was one, but first I will relate the adventures of our Army Rock n Roll Band in Part 7. Making music was as important as making whoopee.
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1. Manne is Afrikaans for Men. It purported to indicate a degree of maturity and experience. What it really meant was that we were still a troepie but with the right to kill the enemy. We had no idea who the enemy was. We suspected that the apartheid government was creating or imagining one
2. Dee Bee is Detention Barracks. Army prison, where the worst of the worst sadistic bastards were deployed to make naughty soldiers suffer and behave. See Part 2