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National Service Part III | #MyFridayStory No. 140

National Service Part III | #MyFridayStory No. 140

After the first 3 weeks as a new troop, called a ‘rōōfie,’ your desire to question orders is greatly reduced.

The combination of a mental and physical onslaught to ‘soften’ the troops had worked. In the previous 3-weeks, we drilled rigorously on the parade ground in the sweltering heat. Any troop making a mistake, which was everyone at some point, either the erring troop or the entire platoon would have to run. The running and drilling would continue late into the night.

Regardless of the medical classification, I was given of G4K4, (administrative duties only) for 3-weeks I was treated the same as a G1K1 troop. I didn’t want to be treated as a ‘sick, lame and lazy’ troop. I took part in the training without revealing my classification.

The army sent representatives from the various divisions to the camp to select their new intake from the troops. The signal corps, chefs’ school, medics, intelligence, artillery, and others were all there. The G4s and G3s were sent to various administrative posts. The G1s and G2s would complete their 10-week basic training at their new division

About 20 of us G4s and G3s were sent to a camp in the Northern Cape of South Africa. After a 2-day train journey, we joined another 200 or more G4 and G3 troops that arrived from other camps around the country. From the station, we were taken in army trucks to our camp. It is customary in the army for new troops to be taken on a ‘rōōf ride. I knew to sit close to an upright pole on the back of the truck. A rōōf ride’ is when the driver of the truck tries to throw troops around in the back by driving erratically.

I held on to the pole with both hands as my body was flung into the air. Duffel bags and bodies smashed from side to side, and into the front cabin as the driver slammed on brakes. There is no doubt the drivers meant to harm, and they succeeded.

That trip was a taste of what was to come.

Our camp was where medically unfit or light duty troops came for their training. By a twist of fate, our intake got a group of ‘ou-man bokkop’ training instructors. (‘Ou man,’ Afrikaans for ‘old man,’ is a troop in their second year of military training; a ‘bokkop’ is an infantry soldier, named after the Springbok head corps badge.) These two-stripe corporals arrived, hardened after graduating from an extra six-months of rigorous training.

Bristling to show off their physical prowess, each corporal wanted the ‘fittest’ platoon.

With the will to question authority completely knocked out of your thoughts, no-one dared to question the heavy physical training we received. Regular physical punishment was the order of the day. This included being made to carry our rifles above our heads whilst running for hours, and drilling and standing to attention in the sun on the parade ground until troops dropped and fainted.

For the first time, my control of my life was taken away.

Over the next 3 months, the physical and mental onslaught continued. Men were admitted to the hospital in droves. One of the forms of punishment was ‘Water PT.’ A troop was made to run for a distance, then made to drink a full canteen of water, and run again. This would continue until you vomited or collapsed with exhaustion.

These people in authority had my life in their hands. They were reckless and abused our rights.

There were many times I thought I was going to die.

Not only me but many of the other troops. We could sense that they wanted to hurt us. We could sense too that it was because of our reduced physical capacity.

For a long time after my two-year stint, that time became blank for me. It was as if my mind was protecting me from those dark memories. After suffering from serious depression, I received therapy every week for more than a year.

Many soldiers from that era say: The best two years of my life I never want over.

Looking back, I know it was my faith in God that brought me through that time. It was not the best two years of my life. Yet, the grit and character that experience developed in many men, including me, can’t be found in many places.

It is when we are gripped in the fear of losing our life that our innermost desire to live is revealed.

Have an awesome weekend and stay safe! 😄

As always, thanks for reading 🙏

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