From Boatsheds to Battlefields 75 Living A Life of Utter Dissipation

End of 74th Entry: D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

That evening all sorts of rumours began to circulate of a fixed determination of the regiments composing the command not to cross the Border. Darkness fell.

The order came to saddle up and the 18th Mounted Rifles fell in. The bulk of the other regiments refusing to saddle or move. Troopers of D Squadron raging began to quietly slip cartridges into their magazines muttering that they were prepared to attack the others if anyone would lead.

The commands came “Prepared to Mount” “Mount” and like one man D Squadron swung into the saddle. Amongst the other squadrons, the response was varied but the bulk stood sullenly at their horses’ heads.

For an hour D Squadron sat ready to ride, every man itching to open fire on the cowardly dastards around them. Then came the order to dismount and off-saddle.

Next day new regiments rode forward to take part in Van Deventer’s wonderful ride which resulted in the Germans finding their rear threatened, and abandoning their position at Aus. Retiring with all speed the Germans were badly smitten at Gibeon by Colonel MacKenzie with the Natal Light Horse, the Imperial Light Horse, the Umuti Mounted Rifles and the Natal Field Artillery after one of the greatest military marches in the history of warfare.

Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915

Meanwhile, the 18th Mounted Rifles, the Midland Horse and various other Cape Colony Boer units rode back to Upington to be disbanded.

After a long dreary ride, the troops arrived back in Upington, D Squadron in a bitter evil temper. No delay was made in disbanding the regiment each man received his pay and two months leave pending discharge.

Thoroughly disgusted with the Union Army Mick proceeded home to Cape Town to receive a wonderful welcome the joy of which was sadly marred by the feeling of absolute hatred of anything Dutch. A hatred which would never leave him.

Mick’s mother was half Dutch, many of his friends and relatives belonged to the race but to Mick, the Boer was tainted. Mr Osmond vainly argued pointing out the wonderful loyalty and courage displayed by the bulk of the Boer race – Mick sneered.

“They know which side their bread is buttered, most of them, but damned few know the meaning of the words Truth or Honesty.

For a few days, Mick hunted around for means to go overseas. He tried steamers for work as a fireman, coal trimmer or deckhand; interviewed relatives for a loan, approached the Imperial Army Officers still in Cape Town but every shipping company was flooded with applicants like himself.

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Then one night at the theatre he met an old friend of his Marandellas days then a B.S.A police trooper now Captain and Paymaster of the 1st Rhodesian Regiment. He proposed that Mick transfer to the Rhodesians who would shortly be proceeding overseas as a unit.

Mick welcomed the offer and next day after wiring the 18th Mounted Rifles depot at Kimberly was transferred to the Rhodesians with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Six weeks passed – weeks that did Mick no good. He travelled to Kimberly to receive his discharge from the 18th Mounted Rifles who were being demobilized – this broke his service as the transfer was for some reason disallowed thus involving a new enlistment in the Rhodesian Regiment.

On his return Mick found himself being everlastingly dragged into bars by a fellow Staff Sergeants and a thousand and one old acquaintances. There was practically no work as the regiment was in German West Africa and with ample leisure, a high rate of pay and numerous friends Mick lived a life of utter dissipation.

Soon wearing Mick applied for and got a transfer into the 2nd Battalion of the Transvaal Scottish gladly relinquishing his rank and pay as a Staff Sergeant to become a private. 

Three days later he left for Luderitzbucht with two Officers of the battalion. A pleasant sea voyage was followed by a long but interesting railway journey and at last, Mick was landed amongst a battalion composed largely of ex-regulars of the Highland Regiments.

Three days went by – the battalion received orders to move down to take part in the Grand Finale of the Campaign. Hemmed in on all sides the Germans were at last at bay. The same night came news of the surrender of the entire German forces.

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Mick returned with the regiment to Johannesburg via Cape Town.

After a triumphal March through the Golden City the regimental pipes skirling in front they proceeded to a demobilisation camp and a few hours later Mick walked out once more free.

Returning to Cape Town Mick found the 1st Rhodesian Regiment arrived and awaiting orders to proceed overseas – interviewing the Commanding Officer regarding reenlistment Mick was told to hold himself in readiness until definite orders had been received.

Unfortunately, a good deal of dissatisfaction existed in the regiment and a day or two later it was disbanded many of the men returning to Rhodesia which was being threatened by a German invasion – others disgusted with Colonial warfare proceeded to Europe to enlist in Imperial units.

For a few days, Mick picked up the threads of his old Sea Point life doing some mountaineering and fishing. With several friends, he discussed every phase of the situation. All were emphatic that they would not serve again in units controlled by the Union Government or engage in Colonial warfare.

Their hearts were set on Europe but funds were lacking and scheme after scheme of going to Australia, England or Canada to enlist were threshed out and dismissed as impracticable.

Then came the news that a brigade of infantry was to be raised immediately for service in Europe. The brigade was to be equipped and paid by the Imperial Government and the troops to be enlisted as units of the Imperial Army. 

The next day Cape Town awoke to find itself placarded with recruiting posters, military bands marching through the town, pipes skirling, processions of veterans of former wars exhorting the fit and young to follow in their footsteps and all the beauty of the Cape calling on men to behave as men.

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Still in the uniform of their Union regiments Mick, his brother and a dozen chums joined the long waiting queues outside the City Hall – waited hours, fought their way into the examining doctors presence and after many hours suspense and struggling found themselves soldiers in the King’s Army.

The first year of the war was over. Mick, his brother and chums were lusty with life bronzed and well experienced in army life. All had smelt powder, were trained soldiers and now with open eyes, and sober minds had definitely chosen their future course.

They had taken a man’s share in the greatest of all wars and it was due to no fault of their’s that little of the actual clash of arms had come their way. Not one had hesitated a moment as to where duty lay. They had played a part in the land of their birth and now eagerly they went to help the land of their fathers, to the battlefields of their race.

Mick, his brothers and three school chums enlisted together. Two bore Swedish names, one Irish, two Dutch. Three were to lie beneath the poppies of Flanders, one to rest in Brighton’s Hero Corner. Mick to return a man hardly worn by suffering, hardship and captivity.

From Youth, the five entered manhood and a life which was Life, Love, and Battle and truest Comradeship – life in the service of the Red Gods.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 74 Great Omelette Feast

End of 73rd Entry: Cautiously the fifteen men representing the five sections of the troop crept up the dune – from the summit they looked down on the Police Station standing still and ghostlike in the lunar rays.

An hour passed then slowly the night began to change to day but no signs of movement could be seen in the buildings. The sun rose flooding the desert with waves of red. The stillness of Death reigned.

“I want two volunteers to gallop up to the buildings and draw the Germans if they still there,” said the Lieutenant at last. “Rhodesia will go I know, eh Osmond?” Mick and a young Dutchman volunteered.

“Get your horses and keep well apart” ordered the Lieutenant. “If they’re still there I’m afraid you lads are going to certain death, but it won’t be forgotten. If they’ve evacuated the post they’re sure to have laid mines or set some devilish trap according to their pleasant little customs so be careful. Don’t enter the building or ride right up to them unless you’re certain the station is deserted. Gallop around and give Jerry a chance to show his hand. If you see anything or hear a sound turn and gallop like hell for the scrub or back to the Dunes.”

The Lieutenant shook hands with the two, took down the addresses of their next of kin, and whispered to Mick that Rhodesia would get full details if the worst befell him.

Returning to the horses the two mounted, said brief prayers trotted around the dune and driving in their spurs raced for the buildings.

The ground seemed to fly past beneath their galloping horses, the wind howled in their ears Mick, yelled Tipperary to the silent threatening mass before them. On the dune summit, the troopers laid fingers on triggers.

Round the buildings swept the two but it was all silent. They halted before the doorway – then carefully examining every inch of ground for suspicious signs Mick dismounting walked up and opened the door.

Once more the elusive enemy was gone.

The others now rode up and for a while, every man except two, who were sent scouting around the vicinity, busied themselves in search of loot. Ample evidence existed that the Germans had been at the station the previous day evidently departing in great haste at the news of the approach of a strong British Patrol.

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Many interesting souvenirs were collected Mick unluckily missing most as he and his mate who had been with him in the dash on the station, wasted an hour blowing the office safe open to find it empty.

After an hour’s halt, the Lieutenant once more moved the troop in the direction of a fairly large German town.

That afternoon a big encampment of half-caste Hottentots, the famous Bondelswarts was encountered. These deadly foes of the Germans, well armed and travelling with waggons, flocks of sheep, goats, and herds of splendid cattle had been moving about the Kalahari in bands strong enough to defy any but a powerful body of troops.

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The Germans with many bitter memories of former clashes had not attempted to molest them and so far the Half-castes had refrained from participating in the War. They were ready and eager to give any information regarding the movements of the Germans and to offer unbounded hospitality to British troops.

From them the Lieutenant gathered that the Germans were drawing in all small bodies of troops, clearing the country of civilians and evacuating frontier posts, concentrating on the town of Keetmanshoop. One interesting item of news given by the Bondelswarts was that a large convoy of civilians including some English was only fifteen miles away under a small German escort.

The Guide who knew several of the Bondelswarts personally found that his wife and family were amongst the refugees and earnestly pleaded for an attempt at their release. A Council of War was held but the Lieutenant though itching to have an opportunity to do something material felt it his duty to point out the impossibility of conveying civilians amongst whom were women and children back to the road the troop had come.

Eventually, after much hesitation, it was decided to abandon any idea of attacking the convoy and to resume the patrol.

Shortly after leaving the Bondelswarts a nest containing twenty ostrich eggs was found and a great feast of omelette followed.

Another day was spent in riding along the border but the farmhouses encountered were deserted and eventually the horses’ heads were turned homewards.

When the camp was reached it was found that troops, mostly Boer Commandoes were pouring in and that an immediate move was to be made.

The rebellion shattered and finished, Generals Botha and Smuts were intending to push forward the campaign against the Germans with all the rapidity and vigour they possessed.

Image result for general botha and smuts german southwest 1915The only photo of the meeting
of General Botha and General Smuts in the field

General Botha himself took command of the Northern Army operating from Walvis Bay. General Smuts directed operations from Swakopmund against the strongly entrenched German position at Aus which blocked the road to Windhoek, the Capital. Colonel Berrangé with picked men rode through the Kalahari to attack from the landward side. General Van Deventer was to advance from the South.

D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 13 To the Crags

End of 12th Entry: So passed four happy years of life spent in continual struggle with wind and wave and though always the mountain loomed in the background and often thought lingered on her cliffs and hovered over her hidden joys of heights ascended, glens explored no opportunity came to wrest them from the unknown, until I reached nearly sixteen.

At fourteen I began to be entrusted with the loan of goels (The Yiddish word for redemption) and to be sought after to take the tiller when surf broke heavily in our tiny cove. Also, I knew just where the fish were and what varieties to go after so more and more I left the canoes and went out from other bays with older fellows or gathered crews for boats I borrowed in the home-place. I found myself always sure of a place in any canoe which put out at times when I was short of hands or anxious for a spin. Gradually some of us began to get in with yachting men and to devote much of our time to sailing in racing craft in Table Bay.

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Then when near sixteen I made a chum of a boy of my own age whose people had come from suburbs lying inland against the mountain. What the sea was to me the mountain was to him and we began to compare the two. I took him out, taught him sea and fish love but always his heart clung to the Crags.

We began walks on the hillside, made a few ascents on Lion’s Head and did one or two cliffs and soon the glamour of the lonely places and the grandeur of the hills caught me so for a while the sea was left in the background and my eyes turned to and were held by the mountain.

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Together we climbed and explored, rent the treasure of flower and heath, faced wet and cold, sun and heat, mist and wind, cliff and crag and ever the fascination grew. Many an evening, many a night and many a day the two of us tramped the hillside, clamoured amongst the peaks and corries, drank at the crawling mountain burns. Often early hours found us perched on the roof of the world watching tiny white-winged craft skimming over the blue main where my old-time chums followed the old ways.

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But I was content. I loved the harsh naked rock walls, the deep gloomy wooded chasms, the wild crags of my new world. Crawling along the narrow ridges, an immensity of space below, a sheer unclimbable wall above; worming through natures chimneys carefully, painfully climbing rock corners, zigzagging a perilous way up some louring buttress I was ever filled with joy o’ life in feeling the thrill of adventure, of surmounting Death’s traps of playing with the grim enemy.

Together with mountaineering I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia – old world farmhouses, set in vineyards and orchards and woodland, clinging to hill and mountainside, backed by frowning cliff and wooded cleft, overhung by gigantic dark ramparts, broken with glen of silvery poplar, intersected with grove and thicket of fir and oak, looking down on blue lagoon and snow white strand with the deep azure of waters of the mountain-locked False Bay fringed with crested wave.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 7 The Untamed Wildness

As I have been typing the story I have come to realise that Grandad borrowed names and I believe he may have blended first and last names, he calls himself Mick Osborne. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank family, friends, and friends of family and their ancestors who have played a part in Bernard Leffler’s autobiography and his life. 

End of 6th Entry from the original:

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From here there are pages missing in the original and rewrites of the opening chapter in the typed manuscript with scattered page numbering.

A FEW STEPS BACK IN THE TALE

I was born beneath the immense grey walls of that flat-topped Table of the Gods which is set beside the blue waters that cap the old town first begun by Van Riebeeck and his sturdy Hollanders.

From boyhood I grew up amongst tales and traditions of gallant East Indian men, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, of flight and cattle, of Hottentot and wild coast – of the ships and frigates of France, England, and Holland which had cast anchor or run out the gun in our Great Bay.  I grew up a dreamer dwelling in a world of shadows, of ships o’ the line, caravels and mighty cluff (clough) bowed merchantmen.

Myself of an ancient family of Holland on the one side, of an adventurous Scandinavian on the other related by blood and marriage to a score of old Dutch, Irish and Huguenot families I had a great wall of legend and history to climb before I entered the world of those whose people have but newly come to our portion of the Cape.

Old manners, old furniture, old names, grey old world houses and a crumbling vault – a tiny world of bygone days and customs was where I spent my childhood days.

Always in my ears thundered the Atlantic surf breaking on a cruel rocky shore – ever in the eyes was the looming bulk of the Table overshadowing the crouching mass of the Lion Hill with its steep heather and sage-covered sides crowned by the stern crags and cliffs of Lion’s Head.

All boyhood memories are tangled up with mountain wall, brushed hillside, granite shores, the heave of the sea and its breaking fury or wooing loveliness, woodland of sombre pine, glen of silver poplar and green oak – the howl of the mountain wind and the sullen murmur of the Ocean.

I went to school – to a great school half hidden by surrounding oaks and gardens, standing well away from the noise and bustle of the city. A school whose children have writ their names not only on Africa’s scroll of honour but through the world. Politicians, soldiers, priests, scholars, and sportsmen are richly represented and college and school combined it nestled under the rampart of the great grey mountain and looked down on the ship crowded Bay giving its sons ever a vision of far-off  lands, of tempests fought and won, of heights to be surmounted, of ways up, across or over seemingly impossible.

And from my classroom to the great neglect of Caesar, Ovid, Euclid and other ancients my mind everlastingly pondered on the view set before the wide-open windows. Mighty cliff, the silver thread of mountain torrent, huge awful buttresses, jutting pinnacle, dark gloomy gorge and pleasantly wooded glen.

As I look ever and aye the untamed wildness called and longingly and full of craving my soul flung its answer to the rocks and corries, to the woods and glens.

Always the mountain called, but mingled with the sagas wafted from the stern walls so often all but buried in eddying, whirling mist, stung and gashed by cruel maddened howling wind came another song – the salt-tinged spray and limitless horizon in its call – the hymn of the sea and I listened.

Freely have they given their joys, fully have they taken me for their own. In all their moods, their anger and their pleasures have I shared. Much have I given them but more have they lavished on me. greatly have I suffered through them the joys they have given me repay. Nor yet have they finished with me nor yet do I grudge them my service.

My vow of dedication has brought me hunger and thirst, rough fare, coarse living, led me to sickness and hurt, plunged me to depths of fear and horror, raised me to the topmost heights of joy and glory in feeling and winning of a man’s victory through manhood’s powers.

I have lain crushed and torn crying for Death to release me from hurt and I have sung a song of glory in the wonder of the mad gallop over ridge and slope, of the gale-driven craft tearing her way through wave and squall, flinging from her bows the green smashed water and wandering through the wild of mountain and forest and ocean.

It has given me to meet many a gallant man and fair maid and noble mother, some of gentle birth, some of the people all of the stock of the mother from whom sprung Hengist and Horsa, Rollo Hereward, the Crusaders, the Elizabethans, the Cavaliers and Jacobites, the men of Nelson and Wellington and all the countless host of hero and heroine who fill the pages of Britain’s weal and woe.

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 6 On Women and Religion

End of 5th Entry: As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers, Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”

“If I had I wouldn’t be giving them to her. I want them myself. I like flowers and so do Dad and the Mater. Think I’d bally well give Disas to a girl? Not much!

Old Jack reckons women are a necessary evil. Get keen on them and it’s all up with a chap. They’re like snakes. I know a chap that makes pets of snakes. Well he plays with them and likes them and some are jolly pretty but he has to be jolly careful or they’ll turn on him. Girls are like that or like a kitten – she plays nicely as long as you do, but if you get tired or don’t keep giving her things, she scratches.

Old Muhammad Abdul, he’s old and he has been to Mecca – he’s a Hadji and can handle a boat better than anyone in the world – well if he doesn’t know about girls who does? He’s had ten wives and has scores of children – he told me the Holy Prophet said God only made girls to be playthings when young and to be workers when old.

Old Jack says the same and he has sailed round the Horn and been in the South Sea Islands.

Abdul he says girls are made to give men enjoyment and women to work for men and ease their lives – the Prophet said so and he reckoned women and girls didn’t go to Heaven, they just died, bar the prettiest and they were taken to Heaven to minister to the wants of men. I reckon Muhammad was a darn good man and made a fine religion.

The Christian religion is all ‘You mustn’t do this and you mustn’t do that’. I reckon the parsons have made it all quite different to what Christ wanted. He was always chums with the fishermen and publicans and sinners and if this religion was like the Christian religion today none of the fishing crowd would have followed him.

I like the old Norse religion too – Thor and Odin and their crowd had a good religion. I feel darn sorry for the old jarls and Vikings in the Sagas being driven into the North and killed by the followers of the White Christ (term used by the Vikings because the converts wore white robes). I reckon the Vikings, Moors, and Aztecs were a better crowd than the Portuguese and Spaniards.

All the crowds had civilizations without Christianity and they stuck to their religions. I reckon the Catholics were right to have the Inquisition. If a nation has a religion all the crowd that isn’t true to it ought to be tortured – only its got to be a proper religion where everybody knows what are the rules of it like the Catholics.

Bertie looked at Mick in a worried fashion – “Why on earth do you keep thinking about deep things like religion, Mick? No other fellow of our age does.”

Well, sailors and fishermen and mountain folk do. The Malays are always talking about the Prophet and the Koran, and sailors talk about God; not like Sunday School people, but wondering what God’s like and whether he takes into consideration Jack’s hard life, or whether he’s like a Yankee Skipper with Gabriel and Michael and St Peter (Peter, a Jewish fisherman, was called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) as mates and boatswain. Most reckon they’ll get a square deal up loft but skippers and mates and bo’suns and shipowners they’ll get chucked into Hell. Well, let’s get moving.”

“Let’s get out on the side of the Window first,” replied Bertie and swinging on their rucksacks they made off down the stream by which they had camped. A hundred yards and they paused – the tiny burn dropped over into a huge cleft of incredible savagery – wild rocks, great precipices dripping water with nowhere a possible route to be seen.

Thousands of feet below lay a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean, its long rollers breaking against the white beach of Muizenberg – All False Bay backed by its mighty mountain ranges lay before them – just under was the famous Constantia Valley with its ancient Dutch Homesteads, its vineyards and orchards and the beautiful suburbs of Cape Town below.

A while they gazed awestruck at the immensity of it all, then turned to once again continue their tramp.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 5 What are you going to do with your flowers?

End of 4th Entry: Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out to search for flowers.

Turning to the South the lads, still picking an occasional flower, worked up to where the Disa Valley, dammed in two places by stupendous stone walls, formed two blue lochs.

Backed to the East by the mass of heather and bracken-covered hill which formed the back of Table Mountain, a tiny moor flanked the West and North, the head of a glen filled with pines bounding the Southern end; the two great reservoirs which supplied Cape Town with water presented as wild and beautiful a sight as any Scottish mountain scene.


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Woodhead Dam

Passing over the hundred and the twenty-foot wall of the Woodhead Reservoir Mick and Bertie worked the moorland to the West until they came to the pines. Regaining the path they passed a little white beach on which the blue wavelets broke playfully, then striding outreached the head of Skeleton Gorge.

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Leaving the path the boys struck up a brae face and began to reap a good harvest of red crassula and cluster disas until coming over the braehead they arrived at Window Gorge.

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At the shelter, rucksacks were again discarded and a fire made. Both lads were now beginning to feel the heavy tramping and climbing. Blackened, sodden with sweat, scratched and muscle weary they thankfully lay basking in the sun too weary to unpack food or feel inclined for it.

“It’s a queer thing now,” remarked Mick “how girls spoil everything. If we had had girls with us we wouldn’t have had any fun. Just walking on the paths talking silly rot. It’s the same with a boat – have a girl in her and the day’s wasted. If there’s a wind you’ve got to reef down and watch other chaps carrying full sail. I hate girls and fellows that are always mucking around with them.”

Bertie grinned – “You’re a queer lad Mick – all you Boatshed mob are like a crowd of heathen – girls are all right – better than a lot of Malays and half-caste and sinful old white men that have been in gaol. Man, your brothers and sisters must feel rotten when they see low fishermen and flower sellers greeting you.”

“Then they’re blooming snobs – the fishermen and flower sellers always take off their hats and say Sir in the streets. They’ve got darn sight better manners than the stiffs one meets all dressed up. They’re men not blooming stiffs that sit writing and tallying figures all their lives. Chaps that play tennis and walk about with girls – that’s not life man Bertie.”

Flowers seller, Adderley Street, Cape Town. Franco Frescura Collection.

“A chap isn’t a milksop if he plays tennis or walks about with girls – if he doesn’t he’s low and a disgrace to his family and he’s sure to end up poor and looked down on – ends his life sitting in a corner getting the family’s scraps and cast off clothes – a chap must be steady and work his way up otherwise he will be a burden or have to join the Salvation Army or go into a home or be like old George, or old Bowman doing odd jobs and getting drunk – all your sailors and soldiers and other chaps that aren’t steady end up that way.

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Night watchmen, porters, doorkeepers and so on – look at Smith and Williams, they were at Oxford and are of a good family yet roving around has landed them with the Malays.”

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Mick grunted, “Heaps of respectable people end up badly and lots of adventurous people get rich and powerful its just if one gets a chance and grabs it.”

“That’s all rot! Let’s get coffee made.”

As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 4 A life full of adventure

End of 3rd Entry:  Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.””Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.

For a mile or two they wandered seeking orchids then came to the head of a dark deep gorge, slowly and cautiously the two boys began to climb down into it. The drop was one of some fifty feet with an almost vertical cliff face, hand and footholds were crumbly, wet and full of slippery moss. Disdaining the help of their ropes however the boys managed the dangerous descent and at last stepped into the bottom of the ravine.

Seating himself on a rock Mick drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered them to his chum who shook his head. “They’re rotten for a chap’s wind,” he said.

“It’s a queer thing now,” said Mick. “Every darn thing that’s nice isn’t good for one – smokes, girls, beer, everything – not that I can see anything nice about beer or whiskey, but they seem to give some chaps a lot of pleasure. But every time a chap wants to do anything he wants there’s always someone to tell him that he mustn’t do it.”

“Life,” said Bertie, “is a continual battle – the things you want to do are suggested by the Devil, and if you want to become rich and respected you’ve got to kill the old Adam in you and live a clean, godly and sober life.”

“Well I don’t want to be rich and respected” answered Mick, “I want to be a sailor, soldier, cowboy, and miner, knock about the world and have a darn good life. God can’t put every chap that has a happy life full of adventure into Hell, and all people that have made money into Heaven, if he did I’d want to go to Hell myself. Christ and the Apostles were fishermen and Christ didn’t jolly well go live with all the blighters who wore top hats – he went down to the docks and in the pubs with sailors, soldiers, and fisherfolk.”

Bertie grimaced – “Well it doesn’t sound respectable and I’m not going to argue not until we’ve no more rock climbing anyway.”

The gorge into which the boys had climbed deepened sharply from its head. A few yards down, it’s walls rose several hundreds of feet sheer above them, wet, slimy and mossy. In the gorge itself ancient mountain trees, great tree ferns, and brambles flourished amongst the loose waterworn boulders. Growing amongst the moss on the cliff sides were hundreds of blue-grey rock orchids, amongst them scores of buds of the glorious Disa Grandiflora some just beginning to show a tinge of red.

Discarding their rucksacks the lads sought for and cut a long stick at the end of which Bertie fastened a pair of scissors. To the one handle, he made fast a length of thin fishing line and taking a small grappling iron bent his Alpine rope onto it. Carefully the boys began to climb the slippery eastern wall of the gorge. The fluttering blue butterfly flowers were always in the most inaccessible spots, the ledges were narrow and wet, and the holds precarious, but with infinite care, the flower seekers crawled upwards.

Now and again Bertie would find a fairly secure hold and Mickey climbing on his shoulders would bring hand or rod into play to snip off the coveted blue treasures. Sometimes the grappling iron was used, being flung upwards until it caught. Testing its hold one boy would climb, aided by the rope, until he found good holding ground, then making the rope fast around his body take a portion of his chum’s weight as the latter climbed either upward to him or outward to the flowers.

An hour of this and Bertie began to complain of twinges of cramp whereupon the two started to work back into the gorge a hundred feet below. Slowly, carefully, testing every hand and foothold the adventurous couple regained safety and Mick wet, mudstained but gloriously happy lighted another cigarette.

“I didn’t funk much there, did I?” he enquired of his pal.

“No you were fine,” answered the other handsomely. “But that’s only a second class climb – wait until you get on Silverstream Buttress or Stinkwater Needle or Kloof Corner.”

“Rats!” replied Mick “A chap that’s used to ships can climb anywhere. Bet, you don’t come down to the Docks tomorrow and climb up to the top-gallant of a full-rigged ship.”

“Bet you I could, only tomorrow’s Sunday and I’ve got Sunday School.”

“I’ve got to go to the eleven o’clock service in the morning,” said Mickey with a sigh. “I wish I was like Clive and Renè, they don’t have to go to church and it hasn’t done them any harm. I bet God would sooner see me out in a boat enjoying myself than sitting for hours in church hating religion. That’s one good thing about Catholics as long as they go to Early Mass they can spend the day as they like.”

“Well, you’re not a Catholic. Come on Mick we’ve got 30 disas each and three Grandiflora buds – let’s get out.”

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

 

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 3 Thoughts on Religion

End of 2nd entry: Spellbound the two lads gazed on the majesty and wonder of the old world – far beneath them lay thousands of human habitations – great churches, proud colleges, mighty houses of business, the huge dockyard and the homes of the wealthy.

Seen from the ramparts of the world a colony of Lilliputian race spreading over one of ten thousand valleys. Look where they would the work of man seemed but the tiny castles, the pygmy gardens, the little works of children playing amongst the wide sands of a far-flung beach.

“Makes one feel pretty small doesn’t it Mick?”, whispered the one. “Wait until you know the mountain as I do, be up there with the mists rolling over and the Sou Easter shrieking down the gorges – Man! I tell you a chap feels that a fly climbing up about the wall of a room can’t feel more tiny or lonely.”

“What you say about the mountain holds just as true about the sea,” replied Mick. “It must be pretty rotten up here in bad weather but to get really scared a chap wants to get caught in a howling Sou Easter or worse still by the North. The mountain’s big and strong I grant you, but what about the Atlantic when it lets itself go? I’ve been fooling on the sea for a couple of years now and to have funk properly shoved into you I bet the old sea can give the mountain long odds.”

Bertie grinned – “All right Old Man, you tell me that tonight – you haven’t done any rock work yet, but you will in a couple of hours and then we’ll see.”

Mick flushed, “I’ve been up to the main-truck of  Yankee Ship flying skysails, Old Chap. Over 120 feet, and I didn’t go through the Lubber’s Hole either. I bet I’ll climb any beastly rock you can.”

The older boy grunted, “Climbing masts and climbing rocks aren’t the same, you’ll see – bet you my Redskin and Cowboy against your jackknife you get funky before I do.”

Image result for redskin and cowboy henty

“Done,” said Mick expectorating in a fashion learned from American Sailors and the two cautiously crawled back to safe ground.

“I wasn’t funky there,” exclaimed Mick as once more he rose to his feet.

“I bet you were all trembly inside and your legs felt full of water,” said Bertie, “I did and I’m used to it.”

Micky gulped, “Well if you admit it, I admit it, but it isn’t funk – funk is when a chap starts howling before he’s hurt – like a three quarter passing the ball because he thinks he’s going to be tackled – feelings don’t matter as long as you tackle the job you’ve set yourself on.”

“Why did you ask whether Religion is true?” asked Bertie. “Of course it’s true – there are the Bible and all the churches and parsons to prove it.”

“Bibles, churches, and parsons don’t prove Religion” replied the youthful skeptic – “What about the Muhammadans – they’ve got the Koran and it’s a blooming sight more sensible – take the Old Testament, it’s all parables and there’s nothing clear – not the way the churches teach it anyway. I’m going to find out what the Roman Catholics teach, I bet they know better than all these blighters.” Bertie gazed fearfully upon his companion, “Stop it Mickey, man – it’s bad luck to talk like that on the mountain – wait until we get off – one never knows anyway and I’m not taking risks. If God hears you he might let a bit of rock break when you’re climbing and then you’ll go straight to Hell.”

Mick looked thoughtful, “I know it’s the same at sea, I wouldn’t go arguing about God if I was in a Sou’ Easter, but all the same, I want a God, one I can see and hear like the Sun or the Old Viking Gods of  Thor and Odin.”

Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.”

“Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 2 Collecting Orchids

End of 1st entry:  Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved Silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

Their road soon brought the boys off the hill to the narrow neck between the corner of Table Mountain and the timbered slopes of the Lion’s Head. Below to the East lay Cape Town wrapped in the mantle of night, to the West the Ocean breaking on the white beach of Camps Bay and the rocky coastline beneath the range of Apostle Mountains.

Pausing for a drink of cold mountain water the two climbed to the pipe track which cut across the slopes of the Apostle and at a long swinging stride proceeded on their way. A dark glen gave an occasional steep run down one side and up the other, loosening leg muscles and breaking the monotony until the path crossing the Castle Gate gorge began to climb upwards towards the walls and buttresses of the Apostle Heads.

Soon came the flight after flight of stone steps and the narrow path ran above a gorge many hundreds of feet deep. Cut into the living rock, whose rugged walls hung menacingly over it, the narrow roadway at length reached an iron gate the entrance to a long tunnel through the mountain.

Turning to the right the boys clambered into the ravine itself and toilsomely worked their way up the watercourse strewn with loose boulders until at last the broad ridge which crowned the Apostles was won.

For a few moments, the youthful mountaineers lay panting in the bracken then sped down a long steep slope into a narrow glen through which rippled a burn of brown mountain water cold as ice.

Slipping heavy rucksacks and Alpine ropes from their shoulders the two began to search in the darkness for sticks, with the ease of long practice soon gathering enough to start a fire.

The rucksacks yielded a kettle, frying pan, gridiron and amongst other foodstuffs a packet of chops. Fragrant coffee, grilled chops and thick bread and butter followed, then donning coats the boys curled up next to their fire and carefree slumbered heavily.

The chill of dawn wakened them and stretching stiffened limbs the boys rose, made up the fire and fell to on a packet of sardine sandwiches – the kettle coming to the boil coffee was again made, then slinging their rucksacks the pair climbed back to the Apostle ridge.

Separating the boys began to seek the beautiful blue mountain bell orchids and their red cousins the cluster of gnomes caps – it was early in the season but now and again success crowned their efforts in spite of the still clinging mistiness of night.

As dawn began the ushering in of day the boys abandoning their hunt crept out on a jutting rock two thousand feet above the Ocean’s level where filled with nervous thrills they watched the ancient Sun emerge in all his glory from beneath the Eastern sky. On a host of mountain peaks fell the kindly eye of the proud old God and flushing with devotion a thousand grim pinnacles stood rank upon rank to welcome his gifts of warmth and light.

Spellbound the two lads gazed on the majesty and wonder of the old old world – far beneath them lay thousands of human habitations – great churches, proud colleges, mighty houses of business, the huge dockyard and the homes of the wealthy.

The Cape orchids are somewhat different from the extravagant tropical showpieces you see at art galleries and on smart dining tables. In the Cape’s wind-buffeted, fire-ravaged environment it pays to be small and to spend most of your life underground. But the flowers produced by the Cape orchids are no less astonishing than those in jungles of Ecuador, and their often ephemeral nature, coupled with limited distribution (a single wetland or mountain for example) means they can be as rare as black rhinos, blue whales and snow leopards.
http://thefynbosguy.com/nature-shows-off-cape-orchids/

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 1 Three Anchor Bay

A stiff wind was blowing in from the North. Overhead the stars were hidden beneath hurrying torrents of mist. Seawards the Atlantic broke heavily on the iron coast.

Four of the little colony boatsheds at Three Anchor Bay were open and some dozen men, white, coloured and Malay sat around braziers in the biggest shed. Watching them lay a boy of fifteen curled on a heap of nets.

Now and again one of the fishermen would stroll down to the water’s edge and returning shakes his head. At each pessimistic gesture, the youth’s face lengthened, lightening again as an old Dane began to argue that it was all right if the boats would get out.

“It vos noding! De darkness yus make him seem bad but I vill get out mit mine pram. It vos a goot day for geelbek”.Image result for geelbekThe Boy, thrilled – the ambition of his life was to catch a geelbek or Cape Salmon, and it did seem hard that after getting up at one in the morning the weather might make a trip to sea impossible.

A couple of hours past, then the day began to break but with the coming of light, the prospects of putting to sea appeared negligible. The wind was blowing strongly, and beyond the line of breakers, the Atlantic was a flecked mass of curling, breaking waves racing shorewards. Surf combers were immense and the narrow rocky channel was a churning mill race.

Softly from the Atlantic came the croon of the surf. The heavens loaded with jewels hung low over the ancient Tavern of the Seas, as it lay shrouded in the violet mists of night. Through the starlight ghostlike rose the grey of Table Mountain.

Image result for Table Mountain from Sea Point 1910

Seawards the sliver of the moon cast a shining road across the heaving waters and far in the North rolled a smokey mass of sea fog.

Steadily climbing the heather brae of Lion’s rump two lads in football clothing filled their lungs with clean sweet air from sea and mountain. Many hours of hard climbing and walking lay before them leaving little leisure but in each bosom every chord of being responded to the witchery of the surroundings and the hour.

Reaching the summit of the Lion Hill the lads paused to regain breath and drink in the wonderful panorama before them. The grey mass stood proudly gazing at the immensity of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Flanking the Tavern ran the long narrow Lion’s Hill on which the youths were standing – at its end the black tower of rock which formed the Lion’s Head; across the Table Valley rose the wild Devil’s Peak its stern savage head rising naked from forested slopes. Beyond them, all stretched mountain ranges, bog, moor, and forest.

Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

Image result for sea point 1910

Photograph of Sea Point circa 1910