The Soldier Returns to What? Part 2

Continued…..

Few men or women today look upon the Party System in Parliament as being anything but a vast waste of National time and money. So little is done in Parliament to make homes attractive and happy, so little is done to fill stomachs and provide clothing, boots and shoes for the children.

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There is so much interest in academics, so little sense of responsibility regarding the pressing problems of Health and Welfare. Surely it is infinitely more important that a young South African should be well clothed, well fed, and well housed than that he be taught in his home language. There are two languages in general use amongst European descended South Africans.

Then let every school in the Union be compelled to teach in both languages and if necessary keep the children an extra couple of years in school; but feed them properly, clothe them properly, house them properly, discipline them properly and teach them proper manners. Teach them truth and honour; the first essentials to the building of a nation.

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There are roads to be built, afforestation to be encouraged by Private Owners and a multitude of social welfare problems to be tackled. There is easily work for a generation in purging our whole social and economic system and making it a clean wholesome scientific one.

Today few trust anybody or anything because there is obviously so much scandalous getting jobs for pals, so much waste of Public Funds, so many getting high positions and pay with obviously so few qualifications. If it wasn’t so, half the Union’s population wouldn’t be living below the Breadline.

Above portrays the Hewitt Family. The two images below are both of slums: the left  is of present day Africa, the right is of early 20th century NYC.

Above portrays the Hewitt Family. The two images below are both of slums:
the left is of present-day Africa, the right is of early 20th century NYC

Why not have a competent commission begin at the top and work down through all paid National, Provincial, Municipal and District Government employees and decide what posts could be abolished and what new ones created to increase efficiency; whether the holder of a post is competent, and whether he is earning his money or whether he would be better off somewhere else or retired.

Why not have a certain day set aside in Parliament to discuss racialistic questions on a non-party basis? Why not give the Speaker of the House power to confine members’ speeches strictly to matters in the National interest and taboo any speech calculated to provoke antagonism between sections of the Nation.

Baleke Mbete Teacher, member of SASO and the ANC, head of the Medu Arts Ensemble (Gaborone), Member of COSAW, Secretary General of the ANCWL, Speaker of the National Parliament, poet

We are all in South Africa to make comfortable happy homes; just as Up North, South Africans; White, Coloured and Black put everything into smashing the Germans and the Italians.

The Governor-General’s Fund is a source of eternal irritation to the soldier. Every soldier detests the idea of exposing his family life to committees of well-meaning but often wholly unsuitable townsmen. A magistrate, clergyman, doctor and a lawyer would be a logical committee to decide who requires assistance and in what form.

In the army today one of the commonest phrases is “What a racket” when discussing politics, the Governor-General’s Fund and a score of other national activities and enterprises.

After the War, the last thing any sane man or woman wants is social upheaval, political exploitation of the soldier, Coloured and Native unrest or the spectre of Revolution. When the War ends however if tens of thousands of young, vigorous ex-Servicemen and women are not competently handled and promises to them are not fulfilled the threat to the state will be a real one.

The strikers were backed by Afrikaner commandos,
like this group manning a roadblock ©Museum Africa

Today the business of winning the War makes men amenable to rule and regulation but after the war, the business of winning the Peace must be run efficiently and without ‘Rackets’ or there is bound to be trouble.

The general tenor of speeches made today by responsible men shows that these contentions are realised, that there will be a necessity to disgorge on the part of the wealthy, that the soldier must not be allowed to fall into the hands of irresponsible leaders, that promises are easily made but often impossible of fulfilment.

(Note in pencil in the margin see Lawrence of Arabia.)

Why then do not the leaders of the people, the leaders appointed by the people put all they know into logical solving of problems instead of talking so much about them. Tackle the obvious and tackle it with enthusiasm and confidence and it is queer how often, how smoothly, and how quickly the problem turns out devoid of concrete difficulty.

The War has shown us how to achieve results, how to handle problems, how eagerly and efficiently South Africans respond to any decent lead. In peacetime, however, we are unfortunately too tolerant, too easy going, too desirous of avoiding trouble. It is terribly difficult to work up and sustain enthusiasm in South Africans in National matters. Each wants to live his own life in his own way.

Outside the professional politician, there is very little racialism really. It can be safely said that ninety-nine Afrikaans speaking South Africans in the country will help an Englishman or a Jew in distress. During this War, it is remarkable how in the country Ossewa Brandwag supporters have helped lone English women running the farms of their husbands on Service. In every department of the huge South African army, those of Dutch or Huguenot descent and those of British descent merge and if anything it is often difficult to know which is which. 

Fusion of the two European descended races has been going on for generations, is going on and always will go on until we are all South Africans. Why worry about it as it cannot be stopped. What we must worry about is how we’re going to have decent homes, good food, excellent clothing and the very best prospects for our sons and daughters. To secure this men must be chosen as executives for their ability and their trustworthiness. We have the men and they have the material.

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It does seem so ridiculous that there should be difficulty in absorbing South Africa’s present Army and War workers into civilian employment.

When one travels through the vast bushveld, up and down the long West and East coasts, when one sees the magnificent well-equipped harbours and thinks of the millions Up North beginning to become civilised one can’t but feel that’s a poor lot who can’t find lucrative employment for a quarter of a million White, Coloured and Black South Africans.

In the reconstruction cabinet, there should be at least one seaman. Nobody can have escaped being struck with the number of South Africans who are serving in the British Navy.

There are apparently hundreds of them – and South Africa itself is employing a really large number. Thousands of South Africans seem to be working in dockyards. It seems only logical if these should be represented in the Reconstruction Cabinet and full consideration is given to the profitability of building South African ships for coastal work and engaging in South American trade.

It has often been authoritatively stated that there are large markets for South African coal and railway material agricultural implements and the like from our Iron and Steelworks in South America and in the North. From Cape Town to Dakar and from Durban to Mogadisco seem natural South African coastal trade routes as well as from the Cape to South America.

If the Reconstruction Cabinet can only adopt General Staff methods and obtain the same parliamentary support there cannot be bounds to South African employment and prosperity. For the next two generations, we should be welcoming immigrants. Let us put away pretty things, abandon childish ideas and go forward as men to Peacetime Victory.

Mention of the Sea brings to mind several suggestions for interesting employment in establishing oyster beds, the resumption of the tinned Cape lobster and frozen lobster tail exports to France and the extension of the trade to French colonies, the revival of the old trade to Australia of smoked Cape Sole and the following up of former highly promising experimental shipments of fish to Billingsgate. What has often been strongly urged is the commercial development of our vast seaweed wealth.

Make South Africa a real tourist paradise and offer facilities for the exchange of Trade Missions. Related image

Take but one instance the avid reception by Canadians of South African canned pineapple. Our pines can be produced in unlimited quantity and the Union Trades Commissioner to Canada reports that at all we can send Canadians will buy.

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What the Reconstruction Cabinet needs is reliable statistics as to the following:
What types of hospital and sanitoriums does the Union require?
For what number of Europeans, Coloureds and Natives?
Are existing Military establishments convertible to civilian needs?
How many Europeans and Natives can the mining industry absorb?
What number can Iron and Steelworks employ and how soon can the industry produce agricultural implements?
Will shipbuilding of coastal Steamers pay and what number could be absorbed in building and manning?
What has the fishing industry to offer?
Can a seaweed industry be established?

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One imagines that many pages of questions could be written and it seems feasible that most would be answered satisfactorily to those seeking to place men and women in civilian employment.

We must retain an army and will very like build up a small efficient Navy. The Youth Brigade, the Physical Training Brigade can be carried on with and possibly the Kappie Commando be revived on the present Youth and Physical Training Brigades. The HMS Assegai establishment could be taken over and converted more to a merchant marine basis and that of the General Botha training school be extended.

We have the money, we have the material, the factories, the mines, the railways, harbours, trained personnel to achieve anything – Let’s get down to and do things.

Note in pencil: If we cannot satisfactorily solve our post-war problems, our victories over the Germans will have availed us nothing, and the men who died will have died for an illusion, not an ideal.

Letters in Bernard’s handwriting

Here are the pages from the manuscript From Boatsheds to Battlefields that contain the letters to Mick Osmond’s Dad.  Are the letter’s real or being used as a storytelling technique?

I believe that Bernard did write and send these or similar letters to his father William Frederick Leffler telling him about life as a pioneer in Rhodesia. There is evidence that father and son exchanged letters on a regular basis.

It is lovely to picture William reading his son’s descriptive letters of adventure to his mother, brothers and sisters gathered around the dining table in Cape Town.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 37 Walking The Belt

End of 36th Entry: No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.

Little time, however, was given for him looking about – the waiters seemed possessed by demonical energy and hardly had he given his order when his wants were supplied. As the waiter put the food before Mick he asked what shift the lad was on and what he wanted.

Stopping the work of mastication Mick asked what the other meant and found that mine shifts were 6am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm, 11pm to 6am. Breakfast was from 6am to 9am. Lunch noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm, so that except when on the second night shift one of the three meals would be missed and in its place the mine provided a can of tea, coffee or cocoa and a parcel of sandwiches.

Asking the way to the excavator Mick was directed to a line of immense iron tanks – on either side of these ran a single line of rail on wooden platforms high above the ground. Over one of the tanks stood an engine puffing vigorously and on asking for Roberts he was directed to the engine. Here he found a worried looking man cursing fluently at the engine driver who retorted in kind. Seeing Mick the two looked round.

“What the Hell do you want?” asked the worried man.

“Please, Sir I want Mr. Roberts.”

“I’m Roberts – no bloody Sirs or Masters here there ain’t.”

“I’m Osmond, told to report to you for work,” answered Mick.

The worried man flung his hands to Heaven and blasphemed freely.

“A kid in a choker collar and pretty suit, a man five feet four high and five feet round the guts, thirty years in a Haberdasher’s shop whatever the Hell that is – a Dutchman six foot seven inches high that’s a bloody telegraph pole, two half-starved rats from gaol and one tank ahead of the Battery with only two men beside the trash heap.”

Turning to Mick he told him to come along and dashed off.

The engine driver winked at the lad who grinning scrambled after the worried man to a little office where Mick was implored to throw away his collar and tie, discard his coat and waistcoat, sign his name and the time in a large book, and come along.

At another little room, Mick was issued with a four-gallon tin of grease by Roberts, led back to the tanks and shown a wide belt revolving rapidly under the tanks.

“The Excavator’s got four beams each with a score of big iron discs,” said Roberts “after the cyanide solution has drained away from the tanks the excavator comes along and ploughs the slimes throwing them to the centre of the tank. The stuff drops down a hole on to this endless belt which carries it to the headgear over the dump – the headgear is 120ft high and damned slippery. Your job is to walk the length of the belt to the top of the distributor and keep the grease pots full – there are two thousand of them and God help you if I come along and hear a squeak – I’ll chuck you over the side, I bloody well will. Now you know your job – get on like Hell. Just a moment – this is all new-fangled machinery which nobody understands and the damned excavator is always choking – if you hear the engine whistling run along and give a hand to free the discs, Savvy! Away with you then.”

A fortnight passed. Mick found the work hard but not monotonous for as the shift boss had prophesied the excavator discs were continuously clogging and the scratch gang hastily engaged to work on the new plant were continually being rushed into a tank where with picks and shovels they laboured furiously under the lash of the shift boss’s tongue until the wet sticky masses of slime were picked and dug from between the discs.

Ferguson the Irish engine driver was no man to waste time and at Robert’s shout of “All Clear” would instantly put the engine in action the long beams would slowly move and the numerous discs revolve giving little time for the working gang to scramble on top of the moving beams and from thence climb out of the tank.

It needed no little agility and there were some hairbreadth escapes from a horrible mangled death but Mick could not restrain his delight at the telegraph pole Dutchman and the stout Haberdasher, desperately leaping for the beams and from them despairing attempts to spring to the tank edge to haul themselves to safety. Both Ferguson and Roberts delighted in the agonies of mind and the queer contortions of the ill-matched pair and were never so happy as when one or other missed disaster by the very skin of his teeth.

However, the shift soon became accustomed to the work – the Haberdasher’s corporation diminished daily and the hop-pole seemed to broaden and thicken. Mick’s only complaint was about his sleeping quarters. He had been given a beautiful little room with electric light and a fireplace but otherwise as bare as when the builders quilted it. With a thin raincoat, sweat-soaked garments, no blankets and not even a towel it was pretty miserable after work.

Mick hadn’t a penny – his suitcase contained only spare shirt and socks and nights were bitterly cold. Tired as he would be after a shift of hard manual work – and in his first week he put in 35 hours overtime – it was impossible to sleep on the cold hard boards with nothing under or over him. The nights were inexpressively long and when the hooter went for a change of shifts Mick felt more dead than alive.

He had started at the beginning of the month and somehow the thought of applying for an advance never crossed his mind. He was too proud to confess his misery to his companions or superiors and doggedly tried to fight out the month planning in anticipation what he would do with the money he would draw at the end. Blankets, working clothing, towels, soap – Jove he would have ten pounds with all the overtime.

But Mick was young and impulsive and his companions except for Ferguson were wasters. Knowing that any stoppage of the excavating process would hold up the Battery with its nine tube mills and hundreds of stamps, the shift persuaded Mick to head a deputation to ask for an increase of pay – gallantly Mick interviewed the much-harassed Cyanide Manager – received a clout which made his ear ring, and whilst he saw his mates disappearing back to work, he himself was led to the office received what money was due to him and with some seven pounds sorrowfully wended his way from the mine.

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As he took his way towards Johannesburg the boy felt as though a landslide with himself as the principal figure in it had taken place. The life had suited him well, Ferguson, the engine driver and Roberts the shift boss had both treated him kindly and he had been taken from greasing to help Ferguson.

There were developments proceeding daily on the Reduction Works and Roberts had assured the lad that any day he might be able to snap up a position worth having – another fortnight and his troubles would have been over for his cheque would have been sufficient to clothe and equip him fairly well.

Bitterly the lad cursed his easy-going nature and lack of caution. He had had no complaints, he was well satisfied. Why oh, why had he let himself be a tool in the hands of a rotten crowd of shirkers?

£11.5 per month almost doubled by overtime and one of the first men to be employed on a modern type of plant certain to be introduced on every mine on the Rand. What a damned fool he was.

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 36 Advice From A Stranger

End of 35th Entry: The third day Mick decided that however bad his own plight might be he could not retain any self-respect by remaining with his friends. Knowing that they would scornfully repudiate any idea of his presence adding anything to their expenses or making any difference, he told them that a friend of his father had invited him out to his place and hoped to find him a job.

So on the fourth morning, Mick once again ventured forth. Night came and the youth now entirely desperate flung himself down in a little pinewood and sobbed his heart out.

In four days he had had one meal a day and that mostly a scanty one – he had interviewed a hundred men without receiving one word of encouragement or hope.

As he lay on the fragrant pine needles a boot kicked him in the ribs and turning over Mick saw a ruffianly individual regarding him.

“What’s the matter Sonny?” asked the tramp Mick explained and the man laughed.

“Just starting to find life ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Come spit out your whole history kid and let Uncle think what’s best to be done.”

The man’s voice was kindly and accustomed to fish and mountain folk as Mick was, he saw nothing to alarm him in a rough exterior. Mick was young but he numbered some tough acquaintances in his circle of friendship and he knew that nobody was likely to hurt him if there was nothing to be gained by it.

So the boy explained the circumstances which had brought him there giving the impression that he was a farmer’s son – the father had been ruined by the drought and in consequence, Mick had been thrown on the world to make or break.

After relating his experiences in seeking employment the boy heard a sarcastic balancing of his mental abilities. The Tramp wanted to know why he hadn’t gone from one business house to the other seeking employment – Buttons, errand boy, office boy, junior assistant, stable boy or anything else.

“With your build and weight and being from a farm the Racing stables would have jumped at you – going to the business firms you’d have had a choice of a hundred jobs – and you damn little fool, you go hunting round on gold mines where there isn’t a hope for a kid. What the hell use would you be on a mine? The Batteries, all the Reduction Works are run by learner labour but the learners are all College youths who have matriculated – the only non-Varsity men are miners and tradesmen and they employ Blacks to do the rough work. If you want to go mining get a job in town so that you can live, then get to know miners and mine tradesmen, and when through one of them you hear of a decent thing, go to it.”

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“Well I guess you’re pretty peckish and so am I – came out of goal this morning – six months hard for battery and assault – anyway I’ll go down and get some food and we can doss down here – you needn’t be frightened kid I won’t hurt you.”

Mick assured his new friend that fear had not entered his mind and promised to remain where he was until the ex-convict returned.

As darkness fell Mick lay under the trees wrapped in an overcoat he had luckily bought and gazed at the flaring headlights of a score of the world’s greatest gold mines – all around shone thousands of lamps and lights and the night seemed alive with the thunder of stamps crushing the rich gold ore and the volleying crashes of trucks emptying their loads of refuse rock or delivering gold-bearing quartz to the tube mills and stamp batteries.

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Hungry and overtired the lad found the feverish activity around him soothing and lulling so that when laden with eatables the man returned he found a boy curled up fast asleep. Waking him the man laughingly invited his young guest to a supper of cold roast fowl, thick slices of brown bread heavily buttered, with a can of hot sugary tea to wash down the feast. A cigarette completed Mick’s satisfaction with the evening’s entertainment.

Next morning on his companion’s advice Mick set out for one of the great racing establishments but on his way passed through City Deep Mine – more out of devilment than anything else he paused at the Reduction Works and asked a man who appeared to be one of the bosses whether there was a job going.

“7/6 a shift on the Excavator, start right away.” snapped the man who happened to be the Cyanide Manager.

“Done” quoth Mick eagerly.

“You look half starved, had any food?” asked the manager rather less abruptly.

Mick gulped – “Not since last night, Sir.”

The man scribbled a note on a leaf of his pocketbook, “Run down to the office with this – give them your particulars and you can get over to the boarding room and wade in – the office will give you a room if you want one and fix you for meals. Report at the Excavator to Roberts the shift boss and get started as soon as you can – if you have any pals I can take on half a dozen men for surface work. Righto Son.”

Dismissed Mick once again an eager boy brimful of happiness skipped off to the office.

Here a document was read to him. He was engaged as a Reduction worker at 7/6 per shift. He would be provided with a room at 10/- per month, board at £6. 2/6 per month would be deducted towards Reading and Recreation room and 15/- towards the medical and Burial fund. In the event of death, he would receive a £15 funeral. Overtime would be at a rate of time and a quarter – eight hours notice on either side could terminate the agreement.

Overjoyed Mick signed the contract and being provided with a note to the mess caterer ran over to the mine boarding room.

Here he found a score of long tables piled with great platters of bread, hot scones, buns, and cakes – dishes of butter and jars of half a dozen jams were scattered over the board where scores of men were eating as he had never seen men eat before. As he paused a waiter came to him, took his note and showed him a vacant place handing him a menu which appeared to contain the names of every dish Mick had ever heard of.

Giving an order for bacon and eggs he turned to look around. The seats were only half filled but their occupants were well worth looking at. Every race seemed represented, every man appeared ravenous and all were uninformed in blue copper rivetted dungaree trousers, heavy boots and dark blue and white striped boiler shirts – many were black with oil and grease, others white and yellow with dust and mud. No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.