Wandering Through South Africa – Part 7

Day 11 was a lovely sunny day as most of them have been.  We called to Talana Museum to fetch our guide and off to Blood River about 30 kilometres away which I suppose makes Dundee an ideal centre for touring the battlefields.  I can hardly believe that warring factions over 100 years ago could have come up with this policy of centering all their squabbles in an easy arc round the town.

The Boers had decided to give the Zulu a lesson after 60 or 70 of their ilk were murdered by the Zulus in 1838 by tricking a peace party to lay down their arms at a peace conference and then slaying the whole party and then the Zulu king sent out his impis and killed another 500 men, women and children in local Boer camps.  470 Voortrekkers assembled at Wasbank where we had dinner two nights previously at Sarie Mehl’s house, under the command of Andries Pretorius.  They set out in 49 0x-drawn wagons for the Zulu encampment on the Ncome River and practiced lagering every night for a week.  Lagering means the drawing of wagons etc together into a protective circle.  They reached the river and set their lager up on high ground and tempted 15,000-20,000 Zulus to attack.  Each Voortrekker had two muskets and a black servant to load the one just fired.  They killed 3000 Zulu with only three of their rank slightly wounded, the river ran red with blood, hence the name of the battle.  Peace was declared and more or less lasted for 40 years.

It is a proud moment in Boer history and the monument there is massive consisting of a rehash of the original lager with the 49 wagons and three guns finished in bronze and gathered in a circle.  It is quite an amazing sight as you approach with the Zulus having built their own monument across the river.  A bridge between the two was mooted but neither side would have it.  It all happened 166 years ago.  Talk about Northern Ireland and the orange and the green.  Memories certainly rule in this spot.

Back to Talana Museum and lunch and another tour of the parts of the museum we had previously missed.  It really is that big you could spend a few days touring round it.  Then it was back to Lennox for our last night on this lovely farm.   By now the five of us had gelled sufficiently to nod each morning at breakfast.  Flash Harry was boasting he had used up his third memory card having taken 3000 photographs so far, Boyling looked at him askance and took another bottle of Castle from the crate,  Mad Mullingar was mithered with couriers, stuff he had left behind him in various places was turning up and now as he had brought so much stuff on the road he could not fit everything into his cases and he was trying to off load his dirty underwear to any fool who felt sorry for him.  The Colonel, officer and a gentleman that he is, promised to take the most of it but by god it did smell.  I was the only one who had kept up to date with his dhobi and I resonated freshness and violets.  Boyling and Flash had given theirs to the Zulu women on the farm and they had been ripped off with these good ladies wanted all of two rand to clean and iron their nearly two weeks dhobi, all of 15 cents in Euro money.

We had our last drink at Lennox, packed our bags and slept for tomorrow would be another day and it should be Day 12 by my reckoning.

Day 12 and a good day began with our last breakfast, we then settled our mess bills with Dirk and bade him goodbye, a smashing fellow but not taking a dram is a severe disadvantage in our company.

We headed south towards Ladysmith, we had a destination the Nambeti Game reserve at Elandslaagte, the site of a battle before Ladysmith in October 1899.  The 1st Devons and 1st Manchesters attack put the Boers to flight and General French’s cavalry finished them off with sword and lance.  The only plus for Britain in those days.  The victors were recalled to Ladysmith and that is where they stayed for three months until Reverse Buller relieved them.  We found a small graveyard here by the side of the railway track it contained the graves of a few hundred soldiers, victims of enteric which ravaged the ranks at the end of the siege and after the relief.  There were four Connaught Rangers buried there who had died at Modder Spruit, 893 Pte R Gill who died on 27th March 1900, 2058 Sgt T McGarry who died on 4th April 1900, 4799 Pte George James Dowler who had been wounded at Harts Hill but had died on April 23rd 1900 and 2014 Pte R Gough of the 5th Battalion who had died on 1st May 1900 and had come over in a draft of 216 men and three officers on 30th January 1900.  The poor lad did not have long in South Africa.

After this we visited the Boer Memorial for this battle situated high  The monument was in a hell of a state and because it was difficult to access seems not to have been discovered by the authorities.  Grave stones had been turned over and the ground beneath disturbed.  The problem is a social one when you keep ignorant indigenous people on or below the poverty line.  They have to make money where they can, scrap iron is one of their ways.  They also believe that a man’s riches are buried with them, little did they know that the poor old burghers buried here did not have a pot to piss in when they died.

We eventually landed at Nambiti and as I think about it I must have lost a day somewhere because we were at another Game Reserve in Dundee owned by the Klusener family, a big construction outfit, famous for Lance Klusener the South African cricketer.  We went because it was next to Dirk’s place.  It was a freezing cold night and the boys wanted to sit up top in the vehicle while I was forced into the freezing cold cab of this monster 4×4, we saw the usual stuff and a few hippopotami if that is the plural but one animal is like another to me I have no interest, so that is why I forgot about the experience.  One interesting thing is that on our way back from our circuit, it was a black night, we could see a torch flashing in the distance, when we came close, a solitary figure came into view.  It was this man’s job to patrol the inside of the security fence looking for poachers breaking through, all night long he would tramp this solitary path.  Better him than me I thought.

So we could be on Day 13 now not 12 as I suggested before, how things fly.  Well Nambiti is in another league, security is massive.  There are lots of dangerous animals on their land and I suppose onlookers need protecting.  However to my mind I have no interest in enclosed animals, they remind me so much of the enclosed whites of South Africa, hiding behind high fences with the backing of visiting security guards.  By going to Nambiti I am just following our tour organiser, to me it is somewhere to put my head down and what a luxurious head down it is.  We were met at the car park by our personal game reserve guide and brought down to our lodge or hotel, where we were offered warm towels to wipe the dust of travel from our faces and a glass of fresh lemonade and given the keys to our tents.  We are in Springbok Lodge which has about 20 tents scattered round it.  In this case tent is a misnomer albeit that is what it is.  It is a raised structure 1.5 metres off the ground with a wooden floor, the superstructure is canvas, as is the roof but inside is sheer luxury.  The floor area is  10 metres by 5 metres approx and as you walk in on the right are two armchairs and a side table with a decanter of sherry poised delicately on top, in front of you is a bed the size of a 5 aside football pitch with a mirrored headboard incorporating an air conditioning unit.  Behind the bed are the facilities, a large porcelain bath, two wash hand basins, a flush toilet and a large dressing table 3 metres long and through a door at the rear a rather large outside shower protected by a bamboo screen from prying eyes.  To the left of the entrance door is a snack station, tea,coffee, biscuits etc.  The whole a luxurious affair suitable for the likes of a Connaught Ranger on leave.

After lunch of barbecued meats, salads and vegetables we relaxed over a beer and about 4.00pm the lads went off on a three hour game drive.  The reserve is vast and of thousands of hectares in extent and contains all indigenous animals, however I chose the pen and paper drive and sat down to write this report.  The boys unless they are eaten by lions will be back at 7.00pm. I am going to read, write and snooze.  The boys did return full of talk of rhinoceros, hippo, lions, leopards, giraffe, elephants and all forms of antelope and zebra.  While they were gone a massive thunderstorm hit the area, lightening in all its anger lit up the darkened sky and me in my secure, dry, warm, snug tent felt a tinge of pity for my fellow travellers as I settled down in my vast bed, poured another sherry from the decanter and tried to forget their travails.  The rain stopped at about 6.00pm and I walked up to the lodge for a refreshing and much needed apero and waited for my returning and no doubt soaking friends.

They returned with brave faces and discovered while they were away the staff of the lodge had gone to their tents and filled each bath with hot water and sprinkled the petals of many flowers on the surface of the water.  They enjoyed this unexpected soak and dried out over a beer or in Mullingar’s case a bottle of Jameson.  The colonel happy not to have to say mass this evening reached for the wine and kept on reaching.  We had dinner and retired early to our individual boudoirs and gave the decanters a bashing.  What is included should be consumed.  We slept until a probable Day 14 arrived.  Boyling and Flash were up at five o’clock for the early morning drive, Welsh men and sheep come to mind.  They returned, we had breakfast and we eschewed this luxury and hit the road after a very satisfying breakfast.

Wandering Through South Africa – Part 6

Day 8 was the last day of the conference and again I cherry picked and again the PA system was not quite there.  The little hut for so many people, too many speakers and not enough time to say what was needed to be said,   all jarred somewhat on the visitor, some of whom had traveled some distance to be there.  The quality of what was said was a bit of a curates egg.  It was as though they were dragging any one in who was passing to fill the numerous slots but I suppose overall the organisers nearly made it and hopefully will learn the next time.

We had the afternoon off in the pleasant surroundings of Lennox, time to relax, time to write up my notes of the trip so far.  We had been promised a treat in the evening the ex-servicemen’s club in Dundee had offered us dinner and a trip round their museum.  Des was telling us all about these men, the salt of the earth, the food will be great.  However what we got was a salad and a bit of barbecued meat served out in a dingy old bug hut.  Not my idea of a treat, not that I was after treats.  Nor was I after the presence of these two weird women and I have a feeling one of them probably wasn’t.  They had been stalking us for days now  and they were getting on my tits.  However certain elements found them amusing but each to his own.  We had a few drinks and were glad to be out.  Back to Lennox by 9.00pm to find Dirk in bed and the bar shut.  You win some but lose a hell of a lot more.

Day 9 was a tour round Dundee and a visit out to the countryside to look at some sights.  I was not feeling 100% so I demurred preferring my own company and some writing to what was proposed.  A lovely morning, I had a doze and wrote and read and a nice Zulu lady came over with a toasted cheese and ham sandwich and a pot of coffee at noon.  By the time the boys returned I was well on the mend.  This evening we had been promised another treat. Sarie Mehl, the Boer lady , who had given a talk on her ancestors at the conference, had invited us over for dinner at her old farmhouse, Wasbank, south of Glencoe.  She is the great great great granddaughter of Karel Landman, the Voortrekker leader who was second in command at the battle of Blood River and great granddaughter of Lodewyk de Jager who ran a spy ring for the Boer forces behind British lines during the conflict.  During the war the Dublin Fusiliers and the Natal Carbiniers were stationed at the house.  As with Boer tradition the family have their own burial plot in the grounds and there is an extra grave in that space that is not attributed to the family.  The story goes that in 1901 when the Natal Carbiniers were stationed there, two of them over dinner had a heated discussion over a particular lady and one shot the other.  It was covered up by the authorities at the time and there is now no record to suggest anything, except this extra grave with no markings on it to make it unclear as to who lies under.  Sarie has plans to get in an archeologist to investigate.  Meanwhile the house which is 120 years old is deteriorating, Sarie lives now in Pretoria and visits the place once a month and has let the land to a tenant farmer thrown out of Zimbabwe.  The history of the place makes it dear to her heart but her children have no interest.  It is sad really and like with everything kids do not want to be encumbered and parents wish they would attain maturity quicker than nature intends.

We had a lovely meal and drank lashings of good red wine, only once more to be plagued by one of these women I wrote about last night.  From the looks of the other Boer women she was not at all welcome and neither was her history.  The colonel was again asked to do his sacerdotal duty and I am not certain whether is prayers tonight were not in Welsh but it went down a treat.  We thanked Sarie, a wonderful lady, said our goodbyes and we were off, away from the pestilent French woman.

Day 10 looked good after breakfast at Lennox our guide for the day met us, Patrick Rundgren.  A mountain of a man of Swedish lineage and an ex-sergeant in the South African Army.  He was taking us to Isandlawana and Rorke’s Drift, which were about 40 miles south west of Dundee.  On the way he explained the situation in January 1879.

Lord Chelmsford ,the leader of British Forces in South Africa had been persuaded by the British authorities to invade Zululand to put down Chief Cetshwayo and his unruly warriors and claim the land for the British Empire. His army of 4,000 men plus followers, cattle and numerous wagons crossed the Orange River at Rorke’s Drift in early January, the wet season.  So overloaded were they and they could only proceed as fast as the 0x wagons, they were only averaging a couple of kilometres a day.  Eventually after five or six days they came to Isandlawana, a majestic setting, which he decided was to be his temporary camp while he sought out the Zulu.  He gave orders not to entrench or lager as that would take a week so his camp was spread out over many hundreds of acres with the large rocky outcrop of Isandlawana at his back and with a wide expanse of plain to his front and left.

On news from scouting parties of Zulu presence he left the camp with about 3500 men and went off in pursuit.  The Zulus who were travelling at about 16 kilometres a day easily by-passed his force and descended on the camp at Isandlawana with surprising speed.  The engagement lasted no more than an hour 1300 men lay dead, the rest had made off for Rorke’s Drift pursued by Zulus most of the way and being killed as they ran.  The massive difference in numbers 1800 against 24,000 and the fact they were not lagered meant the result was inevitable.  The Zulus also probably lost about 1300 men but gained so much in terms of cattle, armaments and food supplies that it was for them a massive victory both physically and psychologically.

You look at the massive valley floor now scattered with hundreds of white cairns, every cairn a place where a soldier was found and then buried and wonder why they had not lagered, formed a square or even gathered on the hill on the right hand side but it seems it all happened too quick for the inexperienced Pulleine who had been left in charge. Today the place so little changed in a 135 years has a mystical air about it, a place of real sadness inhabited by the ghosts of some very brave men.  Few places impress me on battlefield visits but this place, Verdun and the south west side of Ypres send shivers up my back.

We left there and followed the fugitive’s trail back to Rorke’s Drift where the following night 120 British soldiers held off 4500 Zulu warriors until they were forced to withdraw the following morning.  Rorke’s Drift has gone down in military history as being a unbelievable victory and it is certainly a lesson in being small, well prepared and well managed.  12 VCs were won that night, probably a political gesture after Isandlawana but the two Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead certainly earned their spurs and undoubtedly there was a lot of incidents of remarkable bravery amongst the British regular army soldiers.  But who won the engagement is difficult to say.  The British lost a few men the Zulus possibly a thousand but the Zulus made off with several hundred head of cattle which meant a hell of a lot to them.  I would say a draw with a generous advantage to the Zulus.

Before we actually walked the killing field we had lunch at the Rorke’s Drift Hotel, a splendid place overlooking the Buffalo River and the historic Drift built by an Ex-Irish Guards officer Charles Aikenhead, but it is literally in the middle of nowhere and is approached by a haul road fit only for 4x4s.  It must be the importance of the place that keeps it viable, I did not see any guests but Charles Aikenhead proved to be an excellent host and we spent a relaxed few hours in his company.  We moved on to the station afterwards and we could see what an excellent place it was to make such a stand against overwhelming odds.  I would suggest anybody in the vicinity of KwaZulu Natal should visit both these places, soak up the atmosphere and marvel at the remarkable bravery of the private soldier in the British Army of 135 years ago.

Well that was enough for one day and we retired back to Lennox, a slap up meal, wine by the vineyard and Castle by the crate load.  Everybody in ruminative mood after the stirring events of the day and we all slept the sleep of the just,  Day 11 beckoned.

Wandering Through South Africa – Part 5

Day 7 started in blazing sunshine and I have to say the weather we have had has been great, 90% sunshine, the odd cloudy period, a couple of five minute showers and the temperatures settled at about 27C.  Often there is a wind which you have to watch, it can burn you quicker than the sun.  However you never feel uncomfortable, it is a dry heat and you do not tend to sweat.

Once more a great breakfast and then off to the early start to the conference.  Unfortunately we were all shown into a little hut, too small for such a crowd and it became weary after a while, this combined with the fact that they could not sort out the PA system and the fact that the Afrikaan’s accent was new to us, made listening a chore especially as the academics had bagged all the front seats.  The speakers were a mixed bag, they were only given 40 minutes to explain their subject and no over-runs they were strictly managed by the chair.  To stand out you had to deliver and it struck me that a lot of them, although university professors, did not succeed.  A few lectures stood out, Meurig Jones from London on Boer War Memorials, Professor Philip Everitt from KwaZulu Natal University on Buller’s Deputy, Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren whose talk rescued Warren in my mind, were the best of a bad day, although Charles Leach’s talk on Constable Charles William Eagle, a Canadian indiginent who came over and joined the Natal Police and was eaten by a lion was interesting when audible.

We went back to Lennox early, prepared ourselves for the evening had another marvellous meal and seven of us settled down with Dirk for an evenings conversation and refreshment.  Now Dirk along with our guide Des does not partake so we did not have long of their company but what we had was intense and mind troubling.  I had not been happy from the start with social conditions as I saw them, I thought that the Blacks were hardly tolerated by the Whites, they were looked down on, patronised and not in their presence, almost spit upon.  They were a lazy, indolent, undisciplined lot who did not deserve anything, not that they got much anyway, the minimum wage was about five euros a day.  In fact all the subservient jobs went to any Black who would take it.  The terms and conditions of employment seemed tenuous to say the least.  Although all children went to school, the conditions looked drab and the hours short, lots and lots only spoke Zulu or variations of same.  Any Black man or woman who had risen out of the ghetto existence was despised.

I cannot say what the Blacks think of the Whites because I was never introduced to one but it struck me that this racist feeling was mutual.  In a way I think both sides realise that apartheid still exists.  I put this view to a few Whites I met socially and not one denied it.  Because of the imbalance in opportunity in the country, the government had to bring in laws and charters to help the rising Blacks to ensure that they were given preference in certain situations in sport and in the professions, the Whites abhorred this bias and said it is now no place for young Whites.  The fact is that the Blacks have all the political power, while the Whites in the shape of the multinational companies that abound, have all the economic power.  Neither side seems able to back down from their imagined moral high ground and embrace the other.  The whites can only scorn the tribalism that affects the choice of leaders and grasp for morsels when talking about the present leader, Jacob Zuma, who incidentally has just spent €18 million of state funds on upgrading his KwaZulu Natal home.  They await their hoped for redeemer, Cyril Rhamaphosa, to put matters, in their eyes right.  They might be clutching at straws but I cannot see a Black man giving a white man an advantage.  The problem was for too long on the other foot.  So with this intransigence on both sides the country is slowly going backwards and the average age of the white population is probably getting older.  To me it seems like a first world country with massive third world propensities which is a bloody shame for all those people taking part in this charade they call life here in South Africa.

Now I know I had only been seven days in the country but to a newcomer it is like a permanent elephant in the room, you cannot move without being aware of the problems.  Whites in big houses surrounded by 6 metre high electrified fences and Security signs blocking out the sunshine and 100 metres away hundreds of blacks living in hovels with little in the way of public services, its bound to lead to contention and my thoughts certainly led to lively debate.  It is just a pity that one or two of the farm hands could not have been introduced to the conversation but they only spoke Zulu any way.  Our two abstainers had faded out of the company and we had been joined by a fellow conference delegate, an ex-army man from Durban, who made his living buying and selling military memorabilia.

Well more drink was put on the table and as soldiers do, the drinks were moved off the table and down respective gullets and the previous high brow conversation reverted to the barrack room, Durban turned to Mad Mullingar and said he was dressed like a fuckin’ Christmas tree, Mullingar said to Durban that he would knock his fucking head off his shoulders if he did not take back his words, Durban would not retreat, Boyling Scouse was wondering which side to take, the Colonel was saying an Hail Mary in a language that the clergy did not know, Flash Harry was poised for some action shots and I was quickly weighing up the scene, whether to take flight or grab the Zulu assegai hung on the wall, because Mullingar at whatever age he is, is a sight to be feared by the best of men when aroused.  We quivered between deadly intent and WW3, when a young unassuming accountant from Pretoria staying at Lennox broke the ice by asking how the conference had gone.  By god we were close!

Day 8 was slightly cloudy and as with all aftermaths the sparring partners shook hands, shared an egg and Durban gave me a wonderful news sheet, the type you see outside newsagents telling the passer-by what is the headlines in the paper.  The one he gave to me was from the Natal Witness First Edition timed at 1.20 pm on 28th April 1916 telling of the Irish Revolt and that rebels were still holding various public buildings in Dublin and that General Maxwell was preparing to go over to take charge. It was a present for our museum and what a marvelous present, which set my mind wondering how to start another row that evening if the harvest was that good.

So off to the conference in happy mood, I did not bother with the first three hours and chose to walk round the museum’s grounds with Flash and Boyling but was very interested in not missing the late morning session.  First up was a gem from Ulsterman Professor Donal McCracken from the University of KwaZulu Natal.  The place was still overcrowded and hot and still the PA system had problems but McCracken disavowed the microphone and in a voice that Ian Paisley would have been proud of started his monologue which made me think that he had been so long out of Ulster he probably could not point it out on a map.  He gave a sharp witty, disparaging talk on the ageing Michael Davitt’s visit to South Africa in 1900. Disparaging in that he described Davitt’s whole life as being a continuous  diatribe against Britain and its aims, without explaining how at the age of four in 1850 Davitt and his family were evicted from their rented property by a zealous landlord, how he had his right arm cut off in machinary at a Baxendale mill at the age of 14, a constant reminder that Britain’s policies were a massive thorn in Irish life, how he was a pivotal figure in the restoration of ownership of agricultural land back to the Irish tenant farmer with his activities  in the Irish National Land League and how he became an international socialist revered throughout the world and offered by Gandhi as being his biggest influence.  Mr McCracken’s words echoed his Protestant heritage and despised his ancestor, Henry Joy McCracken, for his good work with the United Irishmen of 1798 for which he was hanged by the authorities.  However let us just put Donal’s words down to ill conceived mischief as he said from the floor that he would not take questions from Connaught Rangers.

There was more good lectures from Arnold Van Dyk, a very interesting and likeable fellow but more about this man later, he was aided by a great photographic display, he spoke of the activities of the Isaac Malherbe Corporalship from Pretoria which included the young Reitz brothers in the early part of the war before most of them were killed.  This talk was followed by Sarie Mehl speaking about her historic roots in Boer history but again her very interesting talk was slightly nullified by the stupid PA system.  Why when they went to the trouble of inviting speakers from all over the world did they herd us into a hut and to an extent make a mockery of what people had to say.  Third world or first world?

At this juncture I have to mention the works of Denys Reitz, Boer and writer extraordinaire.  His book Commando sustained me during the many long hours travel and I recommend it to all.  It tells the tale of a 16 year old burgher who rode out with his friends in September 1899 to face the growing force of the British Army, the tremendous hardships they suffered and the bravery of them all and the privations they were put through when politically exiled from South Africa after the treaty was signed: a compelling and literate piece of work.

Enough was enough for me, I skipped the afternoon lectures went back to Lennox and had a very peaceful afternoon on the farm.  We had lunch and Dirk took us for a drive round his estate as well as cattle, he has a wild life reserve which he farms.  It seems there is money in farming these beasts and he has a herd of zebra, antelope of all sorts like springbok and eland and bigger animal like hartbeeste, he also has a family of giraffe.  While we were there a zebra was accidentally killed and he went out and skinned the beast, the hide it seems is very valuable and then hung the beast up in one of his sheds.  It would feed his workforce for weeks, they were making some biltong out of parts of it when I looked in (marinated and dried strips of meat the indigenous chew during their day).  Like dillisk the Irish seaweed variant, it is very moreish.

A quiet evening followed, everybody on edge following the antics of last night, subdued in body and spirit.  Mullingar contented himself with some sort of Zulu liquer that is supposed to be mind-bending, the colonel brought some Lourdes holy water from his bag and poured a thimble of this juice into hit, drank it, did two somersaults and went to bed without praying.  Flash and his mate Boyling settled for a crate of Castle, I contented myself with a couple of glasses of Pinotage, a native South African vine but tasty none the less.

Day 8 was waiting to grab us

Wandering Through South Africa – Part 4

Well Day 6 started with one mighty fine breakfast.  Lennox Farm is run by an ex-Springbok, Dirk Thonemann and his wife, Salome.  Dirk is the farmer whilst Salome is what you could call front of house.  However she is away in Ullapool in the far north west of Scotland, attending the birth of her only daughter’s first child.  Now Ullapool is as far away from South Africa as you need to get, she is married to a fisherman up there.  I just wondered during the week was she perhaps trying to give her parents a message, that South Africa is not for the young, but I am stepping out of line, the Scottish fisherman could hardly catch fish in KwaZulu Natal.  Dirk reckons nobody should be made to live that far north.  However Dirk’s wife has taught the Zulu women who work on the farm how to cook in a Cordon Bleu way and they are sending us up some great food.

The boys themselves are settling down to a routine, no squabbles so far but plenty of chiding and everybody trying to get in the favoured back seat of the bus.  I have decided not to get involved and usually sit in the cramped middle seat alongside Mullingar or if we have no accompanying guide, act as co-pilot or shotgun in front left.  Flash Harry as now perfected his style and his acting like a David Bailey in taking photo shots of the young women of the various towns, Boyling Scouse has chosen to be reasonably friendly and has started talking to Flash.  The Mad Mullingar has started to involve himself in a paperchase by leaving items of toiletry and clothing and the odd camera where ever we spend the night.  We have a fleet of couriers chasing us round KwaZulu Natal with all things Mullingar.  The Colonel now he can spot his moment of fame is practising saying the Lords Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be in Donegal Irish, Galway Irish and Belfast Irish.  He is like a Trappist monk of an evening repeating his mantras.

On the alchohol front Boyling and Flash settle down to 12 0r 15 bottles of Castle lager with a bottle or two of wine with their food, the colonel busy in his devotions, slurps a bottle of wine with his meal and sometimes takes one to bed with him, I tend to tentatively sip a glass of wine and I have taken a liking to a dry Cape cider.  Mad Mullingar, in living up to his Army nickname of the Dry Fucker, is busy making sure he has enough.  A few sips of strong liquer for breakfast, a bucket of beer for lunch and whatever is going in the evening as long as it is plenty.  Snores and farts accompany his progress and there is not normally a word out of him on the bus as he gently cuddles his half gallon hip flask.  All seems well with the world but I know it cannot last.

Day 6 is our big day we have been selected to lead the big procession through the town of Dundee behind the pipe band of the South African Irish Regiment.  They have travelled overnight in the back of an enormous wagon from Johannesburg, a six or seven hour journey, so they are not too well pleased when they meet us at the rendezvous in a secluded part of town.  Behind us are an assorted few hundred British soldiers, camp followers and a Boer contingent that seem very heavily armed as though expecting trouble on the way.  Mullingar calms the pipers by producing his hip flask, and giving each and every one their tot.  Once a soldier always a soldier I say and then were off down the town with Mullingar’s tot putting a swing into the pipers step.

Flash Harry was like a dervish dancing in, out and around the crowded footpaths to get the right shot, The Colonel was on the left flank giving the orders and keeping us in step, Boyling Scouse was in and around our centre while I was posted to our right flank, in the vanguard was trusty Mad Mullingar carrying our colours and daring any man to relieve them off him.  He was like a Churchill tank as he swept all before him, even the parade marshals looked a little scared.  On the dais taking the salute was a little black man who seemed to have borrowed his uniform off Mullingar.  He was Colonel of the South African Irish and probably originated from Mayo.  I heard he was third in command in Zuma’s government.  A quick eyes left from the Colonel and four Connaught heads swivelled as though swivelling was going out of fashion.  I have to say the march could have seemed a little in your face to the overwhelming black population of Dundee but everybody and there were lots of bodies in the spectators seem to enjoy the occasion and the local police force came down hard on one or two impatient motorists.  I have to say I enjoyed the spectacle, I enjoyed the pageantry, I can well understand how a soldier would swing his shoulders and march off like a hero.

In the afternoon and evening we were at the Talana Museum for drinks, eats, military re-enactments and general interaction.  The Museum covers 120 acres of land at the foot of Talana Hill where the first battle of the Boer War took place on 20th October 1899.  The result you could say was a draw but the Brits got a bloody nose and leaderless they marched, ran or limped the 80 kilometres back to Ladysmith over the following three days.

The museum is a wonderful example of dedication, management and closeness to history, all done with very, very little state involvement or input.  Gandhi figured highly in the museum because Dundee figured highly in his early life.  It was here in 1913 Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment for deliberately breaking immigration laws.  Well done to the board of trustees who have turned the place into a masterpiece.

On our way home at the dead of night we were just crossing the cattle grid into Lennox when our headlights picked out a leopard chasing two zebra about 10 metres away, whether it was our presence or the flailing back legs of the Zebra, I do not know, but the leopard took a big leap into a stunted thorn tree and remained still, the Zebras galloped off and the leopard jumped down and slunk off, he was so near to a feast.  So we had to have a drink to calm our nerves, tomorrow was the start of the three day military conference.  I for one was looking forward to it but a bit feared about walking across the lawn afterwards with no bride to offer to the cat.

 

1 2 3 4 5 100 101