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Boer War

On reflection the 1st Boer war was a boorish time to me…. I wasn’t there, just heard
the rumours of destruction from my mother. Father did not say much about it, being
mute from the shock of it all. The old fellow had played in that game, a modern
phrase for a vintage time. I was never sure, growing up amidst the talk around it, if it
was a home win, score draw, or a loss. I know it was a bit of a loss to my father. It
was only Mungo that ragamuffin of a man who would tell the tales of it. Scotland
being as it is a land of story, myth, the misty legends of its Celtic roots always had a
Mungo type to tell the tale.

The loss to my father a strong man of the 92nd Highlanders came in a variety of
different guises.

Mother said the swagger of his kilt would turn many a lassie liquid with desire. Well
bits of his legs used to work then, I thought. Not so much working now between his
missing legs. The nameless bits that a true Scotsman wears with a kilt had received a
fair old jolt in the Veldt, the nuts were missing from the bolt so to speak.

These injuries did not horrify me as much as the socket that used to be an eye. When
he removed the patch that orb of blackness, a void to another universe churned
emotions within me. The missing legs were useful in their way…useful for the
begging sympathy vote as I wheeled him on his bogey through the town. A few
pennies were made out of that! Day on day a childhood of wheeling an old soldier
through the cobbled thoroughfares. Penny for the guy so to speak. Dankness and
darkness crept through my spirit. All of my childhood was not lost though. It was my
time with Mungo that lit the lantern of knowledge.

What happened to my father at Majuba Hill. Who won what?

Mungo was a man with answers to all of my childhood questions. Strangely he had even
more questions than answers…questions he would often plant like spring seeds in my mind.
Mungo had arms legs and eyes. He even had nuts for his bolt as well, if the amount of starry
eyed women that often surrounded him was anything to go by.

“Well laddie what are all the questions you are about to bombard me with today?”

Mungo said as we sat watching the crystal waters of the Falls.

Mujuba Hill what went on Mungo?”

“ Money laddie …Money! and our feelings of superiority”

How did our officers get their commissions they bought them. I mean yea cannie be a
cavalry officer without a horse now can you? It would be a bit like a farmer without a

I suppose we English in our scarlet uniforms thought well its only a bunch of farmers
with guns so it will be a cakewalk this Boer war lark.

“ But Mungo we’re Scottish why do you say English?”

Well it is how we were regarded… Even olColley the General kept saying drivel like

“We will fight with the last drop of blood for our just rights, as every Englishman
would do. “
So you just go with the flow like anyway back to the story son.

What with our shiny buttons and all…we made a dashing sight. We of the 92nd a
swirling in our skirts and the other regiments in their red jackets and breeks perfect
camouflage for the veldt don’t you think… the Boers with their farming clothes just
vanished in the bush but our old bores the generals usually need a bit of spit and
polish to cheer up their days. Pass the Port ol’ boy and all that kind of colonial chit
chat being the standing orders of the day.

Its no bad that watching the frolics from a safe distance… sort of a grandstand seat
hoping the actors get it right.
Poor sports these damn Boers old chap they strike fast, snipe easy and just melt to
the veldt. What’s this fire and run policy they have. Will not stand and fight like a
gentleman at all buggers are picking us off from a distance.

That’s what they did son…. our officers saying they are wasting their ammo shooting
all the time..little did we know that was to keep our heads down so the could creep up
to our perimeter. So the better to overrun us. Some guy Smit set up their tactics so in
a way we were smitten by Smit.

Your dad was smote by a Smit man's field gun shell. That’s what did it for your minute the laughing, joking Scotsman the next legless without having a

Naturally in true British spirit we ran…well had a strategic withdrawal in the army
parlance. OlColley didnae run fast enough since he was shot.. by whom its not sure
could have been himself they say. So in some ways your dad got off lightly.

I suppose our report card would say room for improvement next time. Which as it
turned out was just around the corner.

We ended up a sorry raggedy taggaldly arsed outfit.. not like we had arrived. Sun tans
and all.

We had come from fighting in another outpost of Empire…Afghanistan…you’ll

probably no hear of that place again.

You said money and superiority Mungo xxxxxxxxxxcauses of Boer where did they
get the weapons?????

Mungo that man of mystery. Where did he come from and where was he going in his
ragged arse clothes. He had arrived with my dad from the war sort of wheel
barrowing him along the road like a builder with a hod full of bricks. Having been
with father at Majuba Hill on that sorry day for “Empire” he had tasked himself to get
him home and had stayed.
Where he stayed, was a matter for village conjecture. Some said in the dense woods
to the North others thought he stayed in the gentle glades of the silver river. Me? Well
I did not really care I just enjoyed the wiles and ways of his company. He was a
magician to my child’s eyes and a Warlock to my ears.. It was not so much where he
came from that interested me but where he was going.

He seemed to appear hither and thither on the whim of a moonbeam to what purpose
no one knew though rumours were many. With his frazzled hair and gnarled scarred
swarthy darkened face he could have been the bogeyman of many a childhood
nightmare. though not to me. To me he was a light in a tunnel of darkness

His purpose seemed to be as a mentor and confidant, more of a confident than my

family or the other peers in my drab world. The only other child who dared to keep
him company was Molly the wee quiet lassie of the village. Her tiny frame that darted
around like a sprite from the world of the faeries. Long raven tresses a flying in the
wind as she whizzed through dark and dank cobbled streets spreading slivers of lights
with her footsteps.

I could almost see a trail of diamonds following her, though I did this from a
Most people kept their distance from Molly.
The rumour was she was from a union of the devil and the mad old Gypsy woman on
Conic Hill. The shawl bent woman who only was seen in the town once a month
when the travelling market arrived.

Mungos’ 1st Boer war story, sort of flew past like a migrating goose in winter. Swift
as the wind flies. Unfortunately the second one did not slip by so easily.

His words were strange when he said things like “Afghanistan…you’ll probably no
hear of that place again.” as devil twinkle entered his eyes, a small burning flame if
ice blue that made you wonder..but his story of Mujuba Hill rang so true, he had
been there after all that a chill wrapped the air around you.

“Well you better go son, your mum and what’s left of your dad will be missing you.”

So my childhood seemed to plod on a scratching pennies with the guy, reasonable

days except on a Sunday the toffs were only for offering their tithes to God that day.
Rag tags were off their menu. It was Mungos questions that kept light alive.

“And where do you see yourself in ten years laddie”

Do you see some pomp and grandeur in your life, a fine gentleman of silks and horse
and carriages. Ladies awaiting on your call or footfalls on the stairs of their
boudwares. Or the man who pushes the guy around a shouting pennies for an old

Perhaps you see yourself as a Captain of a square rig cutter a flying over the ocean
waves to the far off east of Empire saving the savages for Queen and country. Or the
man who pushes himself around a scrapping and a stuttering for a living in this piss
pot of a land.
His words both angered and excited me. Empire, flag Queen and country, greatness,
all seemed to be worthwhile to follow.. to serve ones duty, before God and the
Queen, was that what he was suggesting. Make a decision and grab your future.
However as he said these things the devil twinkle seemed to enter his eyes. Was it
teasing or something deeper . Perhaps a malevolent knowledge to be passed on to a
young initiate.. Questions, questions so often seared in my mind after meeting him
that the thought of possible answers was beyond my wit.

It seemed to me that Mungo had been in wars before the Boer one. He would talk
tactics of strange formations that I was only later to find out could have come from
Hannibal, Pliny, Charlemagne, Cromwell or indeed from Jacobite times. How could
this ragamuffin have known about these campaigns. Did he read about them. It
seemed so unlikely that this figure could have been part of the world of gentlemen,
versed in the ways of warfare and the commerce of past times.

I considered this so unlikely especially with all the village murmurings of

“ Aye that Mungo he is one to watch!”

but struggled to find an explanation for his intimate knowledge of the world of now
and the past. I struggled to so hard to understand that often my head would spin like
the eddy's in a river.

Childhood life passed by in a blur of scenes. Pushing my dad through streets of woe
to beg a coin or two. School with their dusty tomes of well crammed words that
seemed to offer a hope beyond what life had to offer. Mungo and molly from a
distance filled what little light I had within my shade.

I have been here long enough my young friend and my bones ache for the sun of far
flung world I think it is close to time to pass on. People to see, places to visit and
knowledge that our parochial country's people cannot even dream of.

My heart fell into grieving at these words. Without Mungo how could I see glimpses
of a world beyond the pitiful boundaries around me.

No…no, no Mungo you are my friend, my confidant, the person who puts some life
and sparkle around this dreary place.

You’ll be fine son if you look hard enough you will find that light within you!

Where do you think knowledge comes from laddie?

Books perhaps? That’s what surrounded me in my schoolbook days after all.

Ha! Books you say! dried out bits of trees, bleached white for a spiders ink to flit
across their surface… ach no laddie that’s just words. Knowledge is such a different
thing. A thing of such terror and beauty that it can make your spine crumble before
the alter of the wise.

Knowledge, the poetry of the celestial spheres, is in what you feel laddie! Can you
not feel it resonating around you even as we speak.
Look at its colours dancing, blues and reds that touch the sides of the world making a
green hue around you. See it how it gently touches the void within you.

With these words he struck me a stinging blow to the side of my head and in that
crack a tiny edge of a veil lifted. The dancing colours of the rainbows edge stole in to
smear across the screen that was my mind.

Do you see a little better now.

Is there a spark we could euphemistically call knowledge somewhere in that head of
yours now my young friend.

Not so much of a wee laddie now, soon you will be following in your fathers
footsteps so to speak, well if he had any feet to follow that is.

I can see it in your stars, the ones that are dancing round your head from that fair old
slap I have just given you.

Perhaps you will see them to if you let your soul fly free from what you’ve heard in
Kirk, chapel or the schoolmasters lips.

By tomorrow I will be gone. Whether we will meet in this world again is an open
question but remember I will always be within your mind and more importantly in
your heart.

“ But Mungo I am at a loss.. where does direction in my life come from now.”

He laughed

You have it already within you son, we all do if we search hard enough for it.
That sprite of a girl Molly can help the lassie that most people avoid.

At this he left, whistling a merry tune as he walked by the rivers edge. A final wave
and he was gone. The puff of smoke that seemed to rise from the trees, I put down to
my childhoods imagination.

Grief overwhelmed my senses and childhoods tears dripped off my chin. A warm
coursing, tangy salty river of loss that tasted bitter in my mouth. The side of my head
did not feel sore from the blow he had given me, it felt warm and liquid. A sort of
liquid spot of skin at my temple.

As my hand brushed it a faint rainbow flashed across my vision. Not easily noticed in
sobbing state but somewhere in the minds edge an signal clicked into place.