Two comma four

On Sunday afternoon there was a post on Facebook about the dreaded “Two comma Four” that was used as the standard fitness test in the SADF waaaay back when I was a conscript in 1980/81. The cut off time was 12 minutes and the first 2,4 we ran in 3SAI was in pt shorts and takkies. I remember it well, we had a one pip loot that would mark the turning around point (theoretically 1200 metres away) and then we would be on the downhill stretch. On your marks, get set… fokof! 
And so it started. A regular test of our fitness levels, and in 61 Mech it was compulsory for everybody to run it, whereas in basics only us roofies seemed to run it. We ran and ran and ran and ran and ran, further and faster than we had ever run before. Far from the perimeter fence of our high school and the the 3 rugby fields that we sometimes ran during PT. Far from Phineas Mackintosh Park in Mayfair where we tried to fitten up for the army in those last days of our school careers. That road was endless, and there was no sign of that sodding lieutenant! At some point we realised he was not there and we started to turn around and run back to the start line. I seem to recall walking a bit, but coming in at  under 13 minutes. 
We ran that 2,4 twice in PT gear, after that we did it in “Staaldak, webbing en geweer” which weighed a gazillion kilos and which became second nature to us, almost like a pair of underpants but heavier and on the outside. I know my times improved dramatically, and by the time I moved to Kimberly and 11 Commando could easily run it in under 12 minutes. That course took us through the middle of the camp and around the one parade ground, still in staaldak, webbing en geweer. 
When I ended up at Jan Kemp Dorp our fitness dropped, and our stamina was more in keeping with 4 hours of guard duty. Those were fun days, although in winter we really suffered. Shortly before we left some of us started to run the 2,4 for fun, and even then could do it under 12 minutes.  
The next major run we did was shortly before we went to the border when the whole company ran 3,6 kilometres in De Brug, and I believe we all made it under the allotted time, but we were buggered by the time we had done it. 
When we hit the border we used to run the chalk road from our tents to the tar road and back first thing in the morning (about 3,8 kilos). It was hell, partly because of the blistering pace and the early morning heat, but also because we ran it as a squad and that was difficult. When we got back to our tents we would then have inspection and company parade and those meticulously shone boots were all white from the morning run in that chalk road. 
It was hell. 
Trust me on this.
Today? I would probably not even manage 1 kilometre, although I am very walking fit. I was never a runner, and I never will be.
ps. cpl Slegter, cpl Strydom, and cpl Akker: you three are a bunch of “obscenity delete-eds”
DRW © 2016 – 2019 The image of the platoon running comes from social media, I do not know who it belongs to, but wanted to use it as it is very representative of what we faced back them. If the photographer will come forward I will gladly acknowledge you. 

30 years ago.

30 years ago, on the 16th of December 1918, I left South West Africa and the Border and headed back to 1SAI in Bloemfontein. We were due to kla out on the 18th and we had over 200 troops in our company that had to go through this process. However, for once the army was uncharacteristically efficient, and by the evening of the 16th most of us had already handed in our rifles, skeleton webbing, and any other extra odds and sods that we were issued with before going up to the border. The next day we would go do our paperwork and on the 18th we would head off in our respective directions.  Our 2 year National Service was finished, for some it was the biggest adventure of our lives and for all of us it was one of the biggest formative events in our youth. We had gone in as boys, and theoretically we came out as men.
15 Dec 1981. Omuthiya SWA. The tents are closed, we are on our way to "The States"
15 Dec 1981. Omuthiya SWA. The tents are closed, we are on our way to “The States”

But what did come out of those 2 years? What would we have been like had we not gone in in the first place? What would we have been like if we had become conscientious objectors? or left the country? When I got called up there was no End Conscription Campaign, and going to varsity was not an option. South Africa was in a period of bitter turmoil, that same turmoil that got us to where we are today. Those of us who served  our 2 years and camps today are legislated against by law in the job market. Our current government does not recognise our service and considers us to be “temporary workers”, and even the MOTH didn’t want anything to do with us.
Bravo ’81. One of the signs of our passing through.

Then there were those who never came home. In my case four of my comrades never made it. Rfn Hennie Van Der Colf,  Rfn Lionel Van Rooyen, Rfn Peter Hall, and Cpl JL Potgieter. Strangely enough they are always with me, and they are partly what drives me to find the graves of servicemen.  They are still young, they never got to look back on 30 years.

In memory of Cpl JL Potgieter.

I remember arriving at the doorstep of our family home in Mayfair on the 18th, our household now consisted of 3 people. I had lost my father on 7 November 1981, at the time when I understood him the most, he was taken away from us. I had many questions to ask him, and never got that opportunity.

61 Mech Bn Grp Memorial
I participated in Ops Thunder Chariot in 1984 and was given a medical discharge in the late 1980’s. South Africa gave SWA away at the end of the day and the old Nationalist order was replaced by the very thing they always feared and fought against. I came out of the experience a changed person who has never been the same since. I turned into a loner, I had problems with relationships, and have not been able to keep a steady job in years.
Did my time in the army contribute to what I am today? I cannot answer that as I do not know, but it probably did. I suffered from mild PTSD for many years and have steadily declining hearing. Was it worth it? those of us who went to the army have different viewpoint to those that missed it, we did better at work and we studied harder. We also had more discipline, a better sense of responsibility and we were theoretically more stable in our jobs. That must count for something. All I know is that I hated it while I was there but can look back on the whole experience with a jaundiced eye and say that I am glad it is all over. NEVER AGAIN!
First Pass. 1980. Gee, I hated that beret, it had no houding.

Would I ever do it again? if a global enemy threatened the planet and we were asked to return to uniform I do not know what I would say. But the chances are, there would be more volunteers from amongst ex-soldiers than there would be from the present technologically obsessed “youth” and millennials. Would I fight for my country if I was asked? probably not. I was never South African enough before 1994, and am now the wrong side of the colour, gender and age line.

I recall before I left for 3 SAI in January 1980 thinking that the chances were that I would never come out in December 1981, it seems as if I was wrong. It’s just a pity that so many dreams and wishes just never materialised. I finally got my “Pronutro” in August 2011, nearly 30 years later!

So what about the future?  There is a future?

DRW ©  2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016