Drafted at eighteen to service under Menengai, a mountain with a flat wooded peak and bare sides just like the haircut they gave us, overlooking the Kenya Regiment Depot outside Nakuru, I got my first taste of army life. Six months tough training and how we grew to hate that hill. Mostly guys from the farms around the Highlands, a few city slickers from Nairobi, one bearded artist from the UK – well he lost that on Day 1, and then into the bush and up the Aberdares.
And as we marched we sang the songs that soldiers sing and it wasn’t long before I met Sarie Marais. A bunch of Afrikaaner boys were leading the march the day I first heard the song that popped back into my head last Sunday. I didn’t understand the words – still don’t, except the first line I’ve misquoted above, but I know them all. She joined our marches, sang around our camp fires and lived in my head. We could go for hours, swinging along the tracks and trails, light of heart and loud of voice.
I’ve been looking for a recording of her as a march sung by the voices of men as I first heard. The Royal Marines adopted her as an instrumental, pretty rousing but no singing, there’s a bagpipe version, a couple of high-pitched choir renditions and plenty of balladic solos, but the song in my head is loud and raw, packed with rhythm, and the colors of the Regiment: through the mud and the blood to the green hills beyond – as it happens the same colors of the Gurkhas where I ended my military career thirteen years and a thousand marches later.
So if you know her, and you know her sung in a rowdy chorus of bullets, bass and baritone, please send me a link. And if you don’t know her, here’s a sweet karaoke version. Play it loud. Totsiens!