SOS – Steve On Sunday


Sos Sunday 18 October

Steve on Sunday

My fellow strikers, rioters and stay at homers

It was to be hoped that those EFF(ing) fellows dressed in red, and not to be confused with the Christmas Father, had got lost and ended up in Senegal rather than at Senekal this Friday past. It was not to be however as about 300 dancing chanting singing and unemployed persons dressed in red debussed and looked busy in front of Scheepers store on the town’s main street. I note that some media reports stated there were three thousand. Hah!

Was that fat chap who is now thin and who calls himself the Commander in Chief there? Yes, he was, eventually. And loudly proclaimed that his ground forces had saved South Africa, democracy and Senekal from disaster or worse. My spy tells me that he had hovered on the outskirts of Senekal for a time before entering, this in case of trouble as he would quite probably have been the first target of many. Maybe he is wiser than he looks? Perhaps…

What this funny fellow named after the great imperialist Caesar neglects to mention is that the original hoohaa by the farmers was in registering their unhappiness about farm murders which just carry on unabated. Especially the murder of a young farmer from the Senekal/Paul Roux area. So by saving South Africa from these complaining farmers he is merely making every movement by his party a racial one. Ignore the killing of farmers and rather sing about killing them – that’s democracy at its best. The singing appears to condone the murders?

It does appear from one of the many photographs taken on the day that at least one golfer from the famous Senekal golf club was in attendance waving his traditional weapon that looked very much like a five iron. Presumably he had never before attended one of these formal gatherings – no masks no social distancing etc – so he is forgiven for not knowing that a wedge is a better weapon. More solid and quite used to taking chunks out of grass, sand, and rock. Ideal. Ask any decent golfer and he’ll tell you.

I drive through Senekal quite regularly, or used to before March 2020, so I better bring you all up to date on the history of Senekal. Not as much history as Cape Town and surrounds have of course but the town comes close. There are mountains, well, to be honest, some slabs of sandstone sticking out here and there, and to be even more honest there are exactly two tourist attractions – the really stunning NG Kerk at the top end of the main street, and the petrified tree trunks that surround the church. They were already petrified several million years before the red clothed funny people decided to visit.

I do love the comment on their website that “…Senekal’s tourist office is open and helpful, and you can pick up brochures for the town’s historical monuments of relevance.” I am positive that the most massive influx of tourists to Senekal in their history took advantage of the office being open.

Other attractions that the red persons and personesses would most certainly have viewed in the town were the Boer memorial to the fallen of the 1899-1902 conflict, a memorial to General Senekal, and the house of the famous poet AD Keet. You’re right of course, I have never heard of Keet either but that’s neither here nor there. The usual street names are still there – Kerk Street, Voortrekker Street and Van Riebeeck Street. The latter street had its signpost removed by the glorious EFF(ing) fighters in red and now probably adorns some bar/shebeen and/or tavern in Saxonwold. A war souvenir.

Any else of interest in Senekal? Only one more thing other than the road that leaves the town. The town cemetery boasts the final resting place of another person you’ve never heard of before – ‘The Treasure’. ‘The Treasure’, better known to his family as Henry Shelley Dalbiac, was once quite famous in British military and social circles. Indeed, his fame went even further as Rudyard Kipling immortalised him in one of his poems entitled ‘The Jacket’.

Dalbiac was born in 1850 and joined the Royal Artillery in 1871.  He was a famous athlete and daring steeplechase rider and while a cadet at the Royal Military academy won the coveted “Bugle” steeplechase trophy. Kipling’s poem describes an incident where the ammunition limber was filled with bottles of beer and champagne to celebrate Dalbiac’s assumption of “the jacket”. To get his jacket means he joined the Royal Horse Artillery from the Field Artillery. A sort of promotion.

According to Charles Carrington, Kipling’s biographer and editor of The Complete Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling, the poem was first published in McLean’s magazine September 1896, and later included in Kipling’s volume of short stories and poems, The Seven Seas, published later that same year.

According to Carrington, Dalbiac was a “…well-known joker who was selected for the senior corps, the Royal Horse Artillery, when serving in the Egyptian War of 1882 and celebrated his assumption of the decorated ‘jacket’ of the horse-gunners with a round of drinks for his men, during which they got involved in a skirmish. He had brought up to the battery position three dozen bottles of beer (Bass) in a limber which should have carried thirty-six crackers, case-shot and shrapnel.”

In February 1900 Dalbiac had joined the Imperial Yeomanry, volunteers being sought from among the riding classes to counter Boer mobility. There were over 8000 volunteers, including the 49-year-old Dalbiac who, shortly before proceeding to South Africa, won the race open to all winners of the Bugle trophy at the Royal Military Academy sports day.

In May 1900, when the British moved beyond Bloemfontein heading for Johannesburg and Pretoria, Dalbiac was leading the 11th Imperial Yeomanry – some 60 men – who formed part of the 8th Infantry Division who had been given the task of preventing the Boers from re-occupying the south-eastern Free State.

On the morning of 25 May 1900 the British force, with Dalbiac and his men leading the way, advanced on Senekal.

Though some Boers were seen in the distance, the town was empty. Dalbiac set up posts on the outskirts and had the Free State flag removed. In the early afternoon two groups of Boers advanced on a spur commanding the town. Dalbiac gathered some men together and ascended the spur under fire from the Boers. On reaching the top the force quickly dismounted and an order was issued to save the horses, most of which were shot. Dalbiac was killed shortly afterwards, shot through the neck.

His vandalised headstone was repaired in the year 2000.

For those who cannot find the poem ‘The Jacket’ by Rudyard Kipling, herewith:

THE JACKET

Through the Plagues of Egyp’ we was chasin’ Arabi,
Gettin’ down an’ shovin’ in the sun;
An’ you might ‘ave called us dirty, an’ you might ha’ called us dry,
An’ you might ‘ave ‘eard us talkin’ at the gun.
But the Captain ‘ad ‘is jacket, an’ the jacket it was new —
(‘Orse Gunners, listen to my song!)
An’ the wettin’ of the jacket is the proper thing to do,
Nor we didn’t keep ‘im waitin’ very long.

One day they gave us orders for to shell a sand redoubt,
Loadin’ down the axle-arms with case;
But the Captain knew ‘is dooty, an’ he took the crackers out
An’ he put some proper liquor in its place.
An’ the Captain saw the shrapnel, which is six-an’-thirty clear.
(‘Orse Gunners, listen to my song!)
“Will you draw the weight,” sez ‘e, “or will you draw the beer?”
An’ we didn’t keep ‘im waitin’ very long.
~For the Captain, etc.~

Then we trotted gentle, not to break the bloomin’ glass,
Though the Arabites ‘ad all their ranges marked;
But we dursn’t ‘ardly gallop, for the most was bottled Bass,
An’ we’d dreamed of it since we was disembarked:
So we fired economic with the shells we ‘ad in ‘and,
(‘Orse Gunners, listen to my song!)
But the beggars under cover ‘ad the impidence to stand,
An’ we couldn’t keep ’em waitin’ very long.
~And the Captain, etc.~

So we finished ‘arf the liquor (an’ the Captain took champagne),
An’ the Arabites was shootin’ all the while;
An’ we left our wounded ‘appy with the empties on the plain,
An’ we used the bloomin’ guns for pro-jec-tile!
We limbered up an’ galloped — there were nothin’ else to do —
(‘Orse Gunners, listen to my song!)
An’ the Battery came a-boundin’ like a boundin’ kangaroo,
But they didn’t watch us comin’ very long.
~As the Captain, etc.~

We was goin’ most extended — we was drivin’ very fine,
An’ the Arabites were loosin’ ‘igh an’ wide,
Till the Captain took the glassy with a rattlin’ right incline,
An’ we dropped upon their ‘eads the other side.
Then we give ’em quarter — such as ‘adn’t up and cut,
(‘Orse Gunners, listen to my song!)
An’ the Captain stood a limberful of fizzy — somethin’ Brutt,
But we didn’t leave it fizzing very long.
~For the Captain, etc.~

We might ha’ been court-martialled, but it all come out all right
When they signalled us to join the main command.
There was every round expended, there was every gunner tight,
An’ the Captain waved a corkscrew in ‘is ‘and.
~But the Captain ‘ad ‘is jacket, etc.~

 

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