Pulling Frontwards

FRIDAY 31st JULY - 18H00 Meet Ken in the Conference Room for a talk, “Zulu Military Systems”.
SATURDAY 1st AUGUST - 09H00 Depart for the Kerkenberg, to see where Piet Retief’s daughter wrote her father’s name on the rock; and the Kaalvoetvrou (barefoot woman) Monument at Retief’s Pass. From this magnificent vantage point on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, you’ll be told the story of the arrival of the Voortrekker parties, Retief’s visit to King Dingane and the tragedy that unfolded in the valleys below.
Return to The Cavern in time for lunch.

Ken makes it all come to life. But no thanks. I had enough of “the arrival of the Voortrekker parties” back in the sixties and early seventies to last me a few more decades, thank you. “The Great Pull” – Die Groot Trek – was an oft-repeated, always mocked theme throughout my lo-ong Free State school years.

Before we had Boy Scouts in Harrismith my good mate Leon Crawley joined the FrontPullers as we used to call them. The Voortrekkers. Later he told me they were going on a camp and made it sound so good I asked if I could join. Only if I ‘sluited aan’ said the Kommandant and Korporaal and Hoofleier and all those other menacing military-sounding mense that ran it. With their berets and badges and uniforms.

So I sluited aan for short-term gain and went to a pre-camp session, then joined them for that camp in winter in a wattle plantation on a farm outside Swinburne. Bok Venter’s farm. Where we sang lying songs and listened to lies exaggerations.

I did have fun, but I resigned the next week. Or probly just let things lapse. So yes, I abused the Voortrekkers, I’m afraid. Used them, rather. Used, not abused.

wooden tent pegs.jpg

I remember the tents: Canvas with sloping roof and vertical walls, wooden poles, rough hessian rope guys, some metal pegs some wooden pegs. Who remembers wooden pegs?

No groundsheet, just bare dusty ground – no grass grows in a wattle plantation. We didn’t pitch them, they were ready-pitched. We didn’t dig trenches on the uphill side, though best practice said you had to do that – though it must be said there’s very little chance of rain in a Vrystaat winter. I didn’t think the FrontPullers weren’t big on actual camping lore though, and that’s what I wanted to learn. I had American Boy Scout books and I wanted the camping and survival stuff, not the history stuff.

A few years later we started Scouts: 1st Harrismith Troop. Father Sam van Muschenbroek, Anglican dominee, Charlie Ryder, electrician, and Dick Clarke, electrician with the municipality, led the way. They gave up their time, skill and resources for us. Now that was fun. Sure, the uniform was also military-like, but it felt more . . . anti-establishment somehow. Had I known more about British army atrocities in SA and the Scouts’ beginning in the British army in Mafeking in the Boer War I may have had a different outlook, I’m sure. I hope.


But, ignorant, I loved it! The 50 Mile hike down Normandien Pass. A blind-folded trip to Nondela and a compass-guided walk back.

Nondela koppie Drakensberg
Nondela on the Natal / Free State border

Being a Patrol Leader, choosing our name as Cheetah Patrol with brown and burnt orange shoulder tabs. Fishing. Canoeing. Cooking meals. Camping out. Sleeping out alone – character-building – that was a lo-ong night! Killing my first chicken, plucking and cooking it – character-building also. Building rafts and platforms. Watching a sheep being slaughtered – can’t have mutton without death, right? Father Sam of the Anglican church ran Scouts, assisted by Dick Clarke our municipal electrician, and Charlie Ryder, electrician and Dusi canoeist. Robbie and Wally Sharratt supported us and let us use their farms.

Good times, good people.


voortrekker – trekking ahead; pioneer

sluited aan – joined;

Die Groot Trek – almost mythical epic heroic trek into the interior; actually trekking away from the abolition of slavery and rule of law, no?;

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s