I was drafted into the army after school. Conscription. I didn’t take it seriously. Well I did, but not defending the country.
It was funny; I sort of found it romantic and heroic that my father fought for King and country in the war, civilisations response to the threat of the Nazis. What I took seriously in my army days was not getting beaten up by some illiterate Dutchman lance corporal with a pacing stick.
When I did get beaten, it wasn’t the fault of the Lance-Corporal with a Standard Three. It was me, for refusing to speak Afrikaans. I could speak it (I come from Dutch stock); I just refused. If I was in his putrid socks, I would also have beaten me up, especially as he had a deep and abiding hatred of “Die Engelse”. In the Army, they all had.
Our uniforms were all Second World War issue. My father said they were great because they came in two sizes: too big and too small.
Nine months of completely wasted time. I was declared unfit for combat. Suited me, I didn’t want to die for Afrikaners, or “The Skaaps” as my father called them. These days he would have been hauled before the Human Rights Commission. In the 1960s, the word xenophobia hadn’t been invented, and what it meant, was compulsory.
My father said that “we only won the war against Hitler because the Skaaps stayed at home. The only thing a Dutchman can grow without a subsidy is a beard.” He’d puff his pipe, and snort.
So I was drafted into the Pay Corps, Hoofbetaalmeester. The bunch of non-humans who paid servicemen like me 50 cents a day. Wow. Really worth while dying for your country.
We marched to the office in the morning, filled out forms, had a hot dog for 5 cents; and marched back to the tent camp behind Defence Head Quarters in Pretoria (next to the jail).
Then we’d not march, just saunter into town and spend the evenings in the café bios.
They were great, and Pretoria was full of them. They were small, maybe 200 seats, with a shelf in front of you where our stored you free glass of Coke or milk. We always chose the Coke as there was less chance of it being watered down. For something like 10 cents, you could sit there all night. Walk in the middle of the film, watch it through to the end, and then be treated to at least an hour of series, and serials, and then the film would start again. “Continuous showings” read the sign. They all had the same names all over the country: Imperial, Royal, Roxy.
Those serials: Hopalong Cassidy; Bar 20 Rides again; Doomed Caravan, Forty Thieves; Captain Marvel; The Adventures of Fu man Chu; Flash Gordon; Lost City of the Jungle. Forerunners to TV today – mindless. I think it was Groucho Marx who said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go and read a book.”
When things started a looking a bit déjà vu, then you just get up and leave. A really nice night’s entertainment. Every night. Hebrews 13:8 – my father used to say that about dinner at home. It wasn’t grace. It was an old wartime habit. Went back to fighting in the desert. I one day looked it up. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever.”
That was army. Sitting in a tent, spitting on your boots so that the polish came up with a shellac type of shine. Pure Dada.