Chapter 3

TRAINING AND DEPARTURE – JUNE 1940 – SEPT.1940

To the powerful beat of the locomotive and the rattle of the train over the points, we passed through the beautiful Western Cape. The compartment was somewhat cramped with 6 chaps and all our clobber. Four of us knew one another from our CFA training days but the other two were very young and took a while to thaw out. They were Les Herringer and Paul Shackleton. The Hex River and Matroosberg mountains were snow-covered and we were glad to be in the warm, steam-heated compartment. At Matjiesfontein there was a concerted rush for the local Hotel for Beers while the locomotive filled up with water. Despite the long stop, there was a further delay as the Officers and NCO’s made an all-out effort to get the chaps back to the train. I remember little else of note on the journey to “Potch”, other than getting to know the “new guys” and talking about our folk back home and hazarding guesses about the camp at Potch. We eventually arrived at “Potch” station at about 23h00 on 18th June and then set out on the long march to the Camp in a steady drizzle and icy cold wind. When we arrived we were issued with 2 army blankets and a straw paljaisse (mattress) and told to go to the cook-house for hot soup. HOT! It was icy cold and greasy with chunks of fat floating in it.- Ugh! Was this a foretaste of rough, poorly cooked army food?

“Potch” was totally unprepared for the sudden influx of troops. The “long-drop” latrines and the showers were open to the elements and were only surrounded by hessian for privacy. In the tent lines “Lillies” were placed for those needing to answer the call of nature during the night. Lillies were trumpet shaped funnels set in the ground in a hole filled with stones for drainage. Lonely figures, clad in a great-coat and untied boots could be seen dashing out for relief and dashing back again on those icy winter nights.    We were allocated 8 to a Bell tent and tried to get comfortable on the hard ground and to get warm against the bitter cold. Despite these adverse conditions, we crawled into bed and slept like logs. I remember those early mornings at “Potchefstroom Camp” – they were ghastly as the taps were often frozen and the only way to shave was in the hot coffee. Ablutions were best done at midday when it was warmer and the showers had thawed out and the soap lathered more easily. The hard Transvaal water soon made the skin on our hands and faces chapped and sore.

A collections of tour poems and verses and office Christmas party doggerel written by Howard J. Bates