Chapter 6:

The Parade Ground at No. 1 Training Battalion Voortrekkerhoogte is Hallowed Ground.

For the English-speaking militarists, the parade ground is the symbol of the conquest of Southern Africa by the British Empire. On this Hallowed Ground, Lord Roberts formally concluded the military conquest. Here, his presence is still very palpable.

For the Afrikaner militarists, the parade ground is also Hallowed Ground, but for another reason. This parade ground is the symbol of how we recaptured our country from the bloody English and how we transformed its colonial army into the formidable Afrikaner-dominated war machine it is today.

Quite a few RSMs (Regimental Sergeants Major), being the sentimentalists they are, have had their ashes strewn on the Hallowed Ground, to sweeten the ground for the boots of their successors. Rudyard Kipling must have been their favourite author.

Being Hallowed Ground, some very specific rules apply to the parade ground. Nobody, but nobody, walks across it. You march – and not in any old way: You march with your arms at an angle of ninety degrees to the ground, elbows locked, back straight and at one hundred and twenty beats to the minute. You also have to have a very valid reason to be there. Sightseeing is definitely frowned upon.

All three thousand new recruits have been marched onto the Hallowed Ground, with different levels of success, depending on their marching ability. This parade ground was the one place in the South African Defence Force where nobody was allowed to run. An instructor's first instinct, when a mistake is made, is to make the instructee run for his life. Here, on the Hallowed Ground, the instructors were denied that simple pleasure. They pouted terribly. Their voices grew shrill with frustration.

Corporal du Plooy was having a very bad morning. Lieutenant Basson's sarcasm had cut (him) like a knife. In the best military tradition, the lieutenant has stated his boundless dissatisfaction with the new recruits, without going into specifics. It was expected of Corporal du Plooy to act decisively against Peleton 44. He had absolutely no problem with that. He would fuck them up so badly, that they would not be able to walk for a week. His problem was that, if he did not immediately address the specific aspects the lieutenant was dissatisfied with, he would be in major shit. Being very solicitous of his own skin, Corporal du Plooy was a very worried man indeed.

The lieutenant was definitely dissatisfied with the recruits' drill performance. Corporal du Plooy would make them piss blood for that. Whatever the problem had been with the cleanliness of the barracks was still a mystery. Oh well, he would just have to inspect the bungalow properly and make the little shits clean it from top to bottom several times over.

On the northern side of the parade ground, there was a grandstand with a raised dais in front of it. The dais was equipped with a sound system that could be used as a weapon of war. Massive speakers were set on poles on all four sides of the parade ground. The sound system was capable of producing a whopping fifteen thousand watts. The speakers were set on five metre high poles. If the poles were any shorter, the sheer noise produced by the massive speakers would cause permanent hearing damage to people on the parade ground.

The dais was occupied by Regimental Sergeant Major Struwig and a microphone. RSM Struwig was not impressed with the new recruits' performance. He was also not impressed with the teaching ability of his corporal instructors. Invective rained down on them like manna, at two hundred decibels per word.

The theory was simple. The new troops had to be marched onto the parade ground, peleton by peleton. They then had to be arranged in a block formation, called a Company. In practice, this proved to be much more difficult and challenging than the instructors expected.

Each peleton had its own specific slot in the Company patchwork. It was a sure recipe for disaster, if the peletons did not march onto the parade ground in strict numerical order. Some of the instructors were a bit hazy on where exactly their peletons were to halt on the parade ground. Chaos erupted. RSM Struwig's shouting did not improve matters. He managed to confuse the corporals even more.

After much screaming, the Company was finally arranged to RSM Struwig's inadequate satisfaction. To be fair, this group of instructors were new at the job. One could not expect of them to knock the new recruits into shape on the very first day.

On RSM Struwig's order, the corporals marched to the centre spot behind their peletons. RSM Struwig left the dais and his beloved microphone. He took up position in front of the Company. “March on the officers!” he shouted. Even without amplification, his bellow could clearly be heard to the other side of the parade ground.

With great precision the lieutenants marched onto the parade ground and took up position in front of their peletons. A group of senior officers marched onto the dais. “Company! Company, sta-a-a-and at EASE!” bellowed RSM Struwig. Three thousand left legs moved in approximate unison. “There is much work to be done here”, muttered RSM Struwig to himself.

The first order of business was roll call. Each corporal marched up to his lieutenant, saluted and smartly turned about face. He produced the clipboard that was clutched under his left arm. As a recruit's name was read out, he was supposed to come to attention and shout “Here!” When the next name was read out, the recruit would assume the at ease position - theoretically. In practice, it was an entirely different matter.

Torrents of curses rained down on the unfortunate recruits. When a corporal had finally finished taking the roll, he stowed his clipboard under his left arm, did another about face, and shouted as loud as he possibly could: “All accounted for and correct, SIR!” The lieutenant would then regally nod at the corporal. The corporal then made a left turn and marched up to the RSM. The RSM, being a Warrant Officer, was not entitled to a salute. The corporal stamped to attention in front of the RSM and again shouted “Peleton 1! (Or whatever the peleton number was) All accounted for and correct, SIR!” The RSM marked down the peleton number on his clipboard. After another left turn, the corporal marched back to his spot behind his peleton. After all the reports had been received, the RSM marched up to the dais and saluted the senior officer on it. In this instance it was the Commanding Officer, No.1 Training Battalion, Colonel Viljoen. The RSM did not bellow at the colonel. He quietly told him that all the troops were accounted for and returned to his spot in front of the Company.

The chaplain moved forward. In a funereal voice he announced: “Laat ons lees en bid” (Let us read and pray). “Pette AF! (Caps off)”, bellowed RSM Struwig. “ONE!” shouted the corporals in unison. Everybody grabbed hold of the front of their berets or doibies with the right hand. “Two, Three!” They took off their headdress. “ONE!” They slammed the headdress against their chests.

The chaplain read a passage from the Bible and prayed for about three minutes. When he said “Amen”, RSM Struwig bellowed again: “”Pette OP!” (Caps on). The process reversed itself.

Six officers descended from the dais. They formed up into a little procession for the inspection of the parade. Colonel Viljoen, the senior officer, took his place in the middle row of the little cavalcade. The six officers criss-crossed the parade ground, marching past every peleton. As they passed a peleton, the lieutenant in charge brought the recruits to attention. He then saluted Colonel Viljoen. Not a word was spoken; neither did the pace of the inspection group falter. As the inspection group passed on to the next peleton, the lieutenant shouted “Stand at EASE!”

With inspection over, the group of officers mounted the dais again. It was now Colonel Viljoen's turn at the microphone. “We welcome you, the new recruits to this, your home for the next three months. You are now part of a well-oiled war machine. Russia and her surrogates are infiltrating and subverting the Fatherland. It is your duty to protect your families and all that is dear to you, from the Communist hordes. They are poised on our borders, hell-bent on destroying the Republic and our Christian way of life.”

Johan tuned out the stentorian voice. His mind drifted to Riaan. He had finally admitted to himself that he was in love with the red-haired boy, but his conscience troubled him terribly. If Johan had never met Riaan, he would not have lusted after his body. He would not have come to the realisation that he was a pervert. His immortal soul would not be destined to burn in the fires of Hell. He would not be wracked with guilt. But, would this not only have postponed the inevitable? Was it not just a question of time until his perverted nature had made itself known? If he had never met Riaan, would he not perhaps have found another man to lust after? Johan was certain that Riaan was blameless of any wrongdoing. This mess was caused by Johan lusting after a man. Johan was the sinner and he had to answer for his actions. Try as he might, Johan could not shift any blame from himself. Yet he was hopelessly in love with Riaan. He wanted to be with Riaan, no matter what the consequences would be.

The speech was finally over. Colonel Viljoen stepped back from the microphone. “Fall out the officers!” thundered RSM Struwig. The lieutenants marched to the dais. They quickly arranged themselves in a straight line, facing Colonel Viljoen. At the command, “Salute!” the lieutenants saluted briskly. Colonel Viljoen reciprocated. The officers on the dais about-faced and marched off. The lieutenants followed at a respectful distance.

When the officers had left the parade ground, RSM Struwig mounted the dais. “Now listen up”, he shouted into the microphone. His booming voice very nearly caused the demise of the sound system.

“I have NEVER seen such shitty drilling in my LIFE. It is a disgrace to the army and to ME! If your drilling has not improved by at least a hundred percent tomorrow morning, EVERYBODY on this parade ground will be doing punishment drill for the next WEEK, instructors included. I shit you NOT!”

This was bad news, especially for the instructors. Punishment drill meant that they would be drilling their troops for twelve hours every day. RSM Struwig would be in attendance, with voice and fist. Neither instructor, nor recruit would be safe from his wrath. An urban legend periodically did the rounds that RSM Struwig had drilled his own son to death on this very parade ground. The instructors did not really believe this, but nobody was prepared to take the risk.

“Medical examinations will start this morning. We need to be sure that you are healthy cannon fodder”, announced RSM Struwig next.

“Typical bloody army,” mumbled Jannie. “First they fuck us up, and then they worry that we might die on their hands.”

Drill instruction will continue for the rest of the day. Only one peleton at a time will be allowed at the sick bay. When you have finished, you will carry on drilling. Not all your kit has been issued to you yet. If you haven't noticed, there is a war on. Troops on the Border get preference. When your running shoes have been issued, the physical training phase will be implemented.”

Running shoes? Physical training phase? Oh boy, we’re going to shit bricks.” Jannie predicted.

RIGHT! Don't you shitheads have anything better to do?” shouted RSM Struwig. “Instructors, start earning your pay. Get BUSY!”

The Company was marched off the parade ground, peleton by peleton. The ban against running was only enforced on the parade ground. The moment a peleton stepped off the Hallowed Ground, their corporal was free to make use of his favourite teaching tool.

Corporal du Plooy had several scores to settle with Peleton 44. Their morning took a definite turn for the worse. The fence, running around the base, was about five hundred metres away from where Corporal du Plooy drilled Peleton 44. The recruits got to know every strand of wire on the fence intimately. Corporal du Plooy took a fiendish delight in chasing them to the fence at least once every ten minutes. After an hour of punishment, Vaatjie wheezed like a leaky bellows. His wheezing fell on deaf ears. Or rather, it was sweet music to Corporal du Plooy's ears. Corporal du Plooy had decided that Vaatjie was a slacker. It was time to teach Vaatjie the value of earning his bread in the sweat of his brow. Vaatjie was a fast learner. He sweated copiously.

At 11h00, a siren went off. It was officially teatime. Tea and lunch breaks are sacrosanct in the South African Defence Force. The recruits collapsed on the spot. Corporal du Plooy stalked off towards the staff tearoom.

Johan and Riaan had collapsed next to each other. “Oh shit, my feet”, groaned Riaan. “These bloody new boots are blistering my heels.”

Are you all right? Let me see.” Johan was immediately concerned.

Nahh, it’s OK. I just have to get used to them.”

“Quit playing the bloody hero. Off with those boots!”

Johan nagged until Riaan had removed his boots and army socks. An angry-looking blister had formed on each heel. Instinctively, Johan wished he could massage the pain away. This was impossible. The other recruits would immediately label them as “queer” and turn on them like a pack of rabid dogs.

I wish I could rub the pain away” Johan softly told Riaan. “We need methylated spirit (a purple, alcohol-based solvent, traditionally rubbed onto blisters to speed up the healing process) and some plasters. I hope we can get them at the shop next to the mess hall. I hope we are allowed to go to the shop. One never knows in this outfit. Wouldn’t you rather go to the sick bay?”

Sick bay? Pizza Face will have kittens. He’ll say I’m shirking and we’ll all suffer for it.”

One word out of that little cunt, and I’ll kick his arse into next week. Enough is enough! The little shit is beyond irritating.”

“OK! OK! Don’t loose your cool! It’s not worth getting yourself into trouble over my sore feet. Besides, they are already feeling better.”

But you have blisters! The blisters are going to get much worse with all this marching. It’s going to hurt badly. I don’t want you hurt.”

Don’t worry. My feet will be better in no time. Thank you for caring.”

I do care. I don’t want you suffering. I want to take care of you”, blurted Johan as he instinctively reached for Riaan’s left foot. He realised that they were sitting in full view of the other recruits and helplessly dropped his arm to his side.

Riaan could not believe his ears. Johan actually cared about him. He wanted to massage his feet! Johan would take on old Pizza Face - on his behalf! This was much more than caring for a friend! Riaan’s heart sang. He smiled his lopsided smile at Johan.

Johan blushed. “I’m sorry for embarrassing you like this. I just want to make you feel better. If I could rub your feet, I would. I just can’t help myself. I care about you.”

Bugger the others. Who cares what they think? Do they have their own personal foot-rubber? You’re here for me. Just looking at you makes me feel better already.” Riaan’s smile grew even wider.

Johan realised that Riaan was right. He did care about Riaan. He more than cared. Riaan had found a special place in his heart. He finally admitted it to himself: he loved Riaan. It did not matter if his love for Riaan was right or wrong. The fact of the matter was that he loved Riaan with every fibre of his being. He so badly wanted to touch Riaan. Instead, he returned Riaan’s smile.

Jy is my maatjie”, whispered Riaan. You are my friend, my companion, my heart’s desire. “You are my life. You are my soul. I need you. I want you. I will sacrifice myself for you. You are the most important person in my life.”

Johan could only nod. This was right. Words failed him. He involuntary raised his hand to touch Riaan again. Even that small gesture was not possible in front of the other recruits. Johan stared into Riaan’s dark green eyes. Finally he said, “You are my life. You showed me that I am no different from the guys that have a girlfriend. You showed me that I am no pervert. You are the reason for my existence. I will die for you. I cannot live without you.”

The dark green eyes sucked Johan into their depths. Suddenly everything was all right. Johan knew that Riaan would always be there for him. Johan was content.

Riaan was not the only recruit suffering from blisters. Fully half the recruits were barefoot, morosely regarding their throbbing heels. For a change, Vaatjie’s luck held. His boots fitted perfectly. Not one of his heels was chaffed. Jannie also struck it lucky, but Wouter had two matching sores on his heels. The recruits were despondently certain that Corporal du Plooy would drill them until their feet rotted off with gangrene.

When Corporal du Plooy returned from his tea break, he took one look at all the blistered heels and threw his arms up into the air. “I give up! Have you dumb fucks NEVER heard that you wear TWO pairs of socks to prevent your heels from blistering?” Corporal du Plooy got into his stride. He saw the blisters as a ploy to get out of the day’s training. He accused the recruits of being lazy pieces of shit. The army was too good for them. They were lower than snake shit on the bottom of the ocean.

By this time, it had become apparent that Peleton 44 was not the only peleton suffering from new boot disease. All over the base, instructors were heaping invective upon the unfortunate recruits. This sad state of affairs was reported to RSM Struwig.

RSM Struwig mounted the dais at the parade ground with a thunderous expression on his face. “It seems”, his voice resounded over the loudspeaker system, “that certain parties neglected to inform the new recruits on how to take proper precaution when wearing new boots. This has now delayed the training programme by at least two days. WHILE THERE IS A WAR ON and every able-bodied soldier is needed on the Border! Every recruit with blisters on his feet will IMMEDIATELY report to the sick bay. The other recruits will return to their barracks. When all the injured recruits have been seen to, the instructors will report to me in the NCO Mess (Non-Commissioned Officers’ Mess – the corporals’ Mess in other words). IS THIS CLEAR?”

The base erupted into a hive of frantic activity. Nearly half of the three thousand recruits hobbled to the sick bay, with the anxious instructors in attendance. The able-bodied recruits leisurely strolled to their bungalows. For a change, nobody cared if they ran, marched or did cartwheels. All attention was focussed on the “blisters brigade”.

Johan wanted to help Riaan to the sick bay. This was not allowed. Riaan had to get there under his own steam. He and Wouter hobbled off together, while Johan and the others returned to their bungalow.

Fifteen minutes later, the “blisters brigade” started trickling back to their bungalows. Riaan and Wouter appeared an hour later, just before lunch. They had been given ointment to put on the blisters and a massive amount of sticking plasters (Band-Aids). They were also excused from training for two days. They were also informed that the medical examinations would start that afternoon. Corporal du Plooy would fetch Peleton 44 when it was their turn.

“Mmmm”, said Vaatjie. “It seems that things are on the up and up for us.” He was sadly mistaken.