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The Army Chronicles: Basics


She grabbed me and gave me a hug before she kissed me on the cheek. I could see the
inner struggle as she said goodbye to her eldest son. I was the first of her four children to leave
the nest. I watched as she gave a final wave and drove off. K nowing my mother, the moment she
was out of sight, she would bawl her eyes out. I felt sorry for my siblings, because I knew that
for the next few days she would smother them with affection, until she got used to the idea of me
not being in the house anymore.
I turned my attention to my surroundings. There was a sea of activity, mothers, fathers,
wives, girlfriends, grandparents and even children, were saying their last tearful goodbyes. I
walked past a young couple who were desperately clinging to each other, both reluctant to let go.
I looked past the crowd of people and saw rows of brown army trucks neatly parked. Their
drop sides were raised and the cargo area was covered with a canvas top. The only opening at the
back was via the dropped tailgate.
I clutched the brown envelope and approached a la rge group that gathered. A man in a
brown army uniform directed proceedings and I approached him.
“Excuse me sir, is this group for 1 South African Infantry Battalion?”
The man looked me up and down and had a slight smile.
“Welcome to the 1 SAI group, join the rest,” he said and pointed me to a group on my left.
I joined the group and barely put by bag down, when another uniform directed us to one of
the waiting trucks. We were herded to the back of the truck, which was fitted with bench seats,
two rows back to back along the middle of the truck, and two rows against the side.
An iron hoop attached to the tailgate acted as a step when the gate was down. A guy in
uniform with two chevron stripes on each arm ushered us up the step and into the truck. I sat
down and from the way we were loaded, I knew it would be a tight squeeze. The young man
sitting opposite me had a wild head of flaming red hair, and each hair stood in a different
direction. He had a friendly smile on his freckled face, but I could see the fear and uncertainty in
his light blue eyes.
“Hi, I am Rex, Rex Dumont,” he said and offered me his freckled hand.
I gripped it and we shook hands in greeting.
“Chris Dempsey,” I said.
He still smiled, and I could see his eyes relax. He made an acquaintance and didn’t feel
alone anymore. I too felt the knot in my stomach untangle a little.
“So, you also got called to 1 SAI?” he asked.
I just nodded. We watched as the truck filled up, and we were squeezed together with our
bags on our laps. We were squeezed like sardines in a can, and the tailgate finally closed.
The uniform with the chevron stripes banged on the side of the truck and yelled, “Driver,
this one is ready to go!”
The truck roared to life and jerked forward, throwing us against each other and so me
awkward glances were exchanged. Every one of us had a feeling of uncertainty, but there were a
few that tried to act big and brave. They thought the louder they acted, the braver they looked,
but their eyes gave them away. They were just as scared as the rest of us. We made it to the train
station in no time. Although it was a Monday, it was early and there was very little traffic
through the streets of the city.
Our truck stopped behind another at Johannesburg station. Almost immediately the tailgate
was dropped and we were ordered out. I stepped down from the tailgate and looked around at the
milling crowd, unsure and uncertain with no purpose. I looked over to the left and there stood a
big, black, old fashioned steam engine. A magnificent and shiny mo nument of an era gone by,
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