Monday, February 23, 2009

An Unsung Hero

Johnny Deintje was my father in law. At five foot eight inches he was
not a large man, but he was wiry with a pair of thick hairy arms and
well developed shoulders of a boxer, with thinner legs and a firm
muscled chest. I know that he considered me a softie when I started to
court his daughter. During World War two he had served in the navy on
a minesweeper, and I am sure he did not rise above able seaman,
because he took nonsense from no one. He was also the all services
middleweight boxing champ. I know because I saw his trophies; a whole
row of polished silver cups stretching the length of the mantelpiece.
His role model was Jack Dempsey, and he worked hard at emulating him.

One Saturday afternoon I pulled in to his home in the mining camp at Luanshya on the Copperbelt of Northern Rhodesia, and as I stepped out of the car he was coming out of the house on his way to the pub.
"Coming with to the pub for a few beers?"
He did not ask, rather it was a summons, so how could I refuse?
Opening the passenger side door he climbed into my Zephyr Zodiac and waved me to carry on to
the mine club bar. We arrived and I parked right in front of the bar entrance, got out from the car and walked through the door which sported a set
of batwings as if it was prepared for a cowboy movie. The interior was
dingy with a long wooden topped bar running the length of the room. At
one end there was a full size snooker table where some men were
playing a game of snooker, and at the other end was a dart board with
a game in progress. Low chairs and tables were lined up along the wall
in such a position that the occupants could watch both the snooker and
the dart games.
There was one spot open at the bar, and Johnny headed
straight for it and perched on the stool. I moved in next to him and
stood with one foot resting on the copper foot rail at the bar. Johnny
turned to the dude sitting on his right and whispered something in his
ear. He was a big miner with a square unshaven chin and a pair of
hands so large and rough that he could have used them to rip the rocks
from the tunnel face in the mine shaft. The miner leant forward over
the bar and glared at me as if I had some contagious disease. Johnny
turned to me and said, "I told him that if he did not pick up his ass
and move over to the tables by the dart board you would rip off his
leg and beat him over the head with it."
I had just opened my mouth to say something to Johnny
when the miner picked up his glass and walked round to confront me.
Somehow I knew I was in trouble, and I would have to fight my way out
of this one. I was not exactly ignorant of barroom brawls, having been
in a few of them myself; I was very fit as I worked on the farm and it
was all manual labor. I knew that I dare not let the miner take the
initiative as then I would be lost, and would sustain some real
damage. As he came level with me I swiveled on my heel and fetched him
a hard uppercut right to the point of the chin. It felt as though I
struck a piece of granite, and the man backpedalled and went down on
the seat of his pants. Before he could gather his wits I picked up his
wooden stool and swung it at his head. It glanced off his shoulder and
caught him right on the ear, and he fell flat on his back. When he
regained his composure he put his hands in the air and gestured at the
empty stool and got up walking to the empty table at the dartboard and
sat down nursing his bruised ear. Johnny looked at me under those
shaggy eyebrows. "What are you drinking?" he asked casually as if
nothing had happened.
We finished a few beers, and Johnny left the bar and headed
for the door. The miner got up from his seat and walked over to me.
"Sorry for the misunderstanding. I just wanted to tell you that you
were welcome to my seat. I know what Johnny is like, but I should have
known that anyone going for his daughter would be worse." With that he
took my hand and shook it in a farewell. "See you around." He said and
returned to his place at the bar.

Some months later I married his daughter, and he did not
object, but I really cannot say that I managed to become one of his
bosom buddies. He sort of just tolerated me, and about a year later
when I invited him for a visit to the farm near Lusaka I was quite
surprised when he accepted the invitation.

By that time he had moved south to South Africa and flew to Lusaka. I met him at the airport and after checking in his rifle we set off for the farm. I still had some work to complete before we left for the Luano Valley, and we had to spend two more days on the farm while I completed the planting of a potato crop. The afternoons were free, and we would set off into the bush just to get oriented and to see if we could find a Kudu or two. I did not like to shoot the kudu on the farm, and knew that there would be plenty game in the Luano and Luangwa hunting areas, but it was an opportunity for him to get some walking done in the bush in
preparation for the later trips. I was very fit, and I walked him till I could see that he was ready to drop. He did not complain, and doggedly matched me step for step and although he sacrificed stealth for speed we did not get a shot at the kudu we encountered. A large
bushpig boar was not so lucky, and fell to a shot from Johnny's 7x57Walther
Two days later we set off to pick up my neighbor Dirk Ferreira who would accompany us into the Luano Valley with his Wartime Willys Jeep. When we arrived he stated that the Jeep had broken down and that we would have to make the trip in one vehicle. I knew that we would be a bit of a crush in the short wheelbase Land Rover, and that we would not be able to shoot much game as we were almost overloaded as it was, and there would be little room for meat.

The trip down the mountain into the valley was rough and steep, in fact so steep that we could not take a trailer down with us as it would be impossible to bring it back up again. We came down that precipice and into the flat valley, and had not gone two miles when we
spotted a massive Kudu Bull standing about fifty yards to our left. Dirk had his rifle ready and jumped off the vehicle and stalked the animal. We heard his shot and the Kudu rose into the air and fell down stone dead.

We loaded the bull and set off for our campsite next to the Mwapula River, and on arriving and having set up our camp we skinned the buck and hung the quarters on the slaughter pole while we got the camp ready for about five days stay. Here I must tell you how the camp was organized.

It consisted of an open area beneath some large leafy trees with a tarpaulin stretched across two horizontal saplings tied fairly high up against two big tree trunks. At the back the tarpaulin was stretched to the ground with another sapling placed on the tarpaulin on the inside, and then it was taken forward to form a groundsheet. Our bedding was placed with the pillow up against the sapling so that our heads were up against the vertical part of the tarp with our feet
towards the fire burning just outside the groundsheet. The fire was built inside a ring of large flattish boulders with a fold out table next to it and three fold out chairs positioned around the fire. We had two cast iron three legged pots, one for porridge, stiff maize meal, and one for the hunter's stew which would consist of all thesucculent pieces cut from the carcasses of whatever we bagged. We had brought along some luxuries such as tinned peaches and tinned cream,
as well as condensed milk and a cooler box with some lamb chops and a string of Boerewors; that sausage sold by the yard. In this case it was made by Dirk who was an expert at its formula. Our drink in the bush was instant coffee as it was the most convenient, and for this
purpose we had a big enameled kettle which we filled with water and
set next to the fire to boil. If the Land Rover ran on gasoline, we ran on instant coffee, the horrible cheap variety. A sack of rusks completed the pantry so that we could dunk them in our early morning coffee in lieu of breakfast. I was designated as camp cook, and that first evening I
grilled the lamb chops and made up a tasty pot bread which I baked in the one cast iron pot. The method was to bake the bread on the coals, with some coals on the lid to give it an all over brown crust. The logs we used were Mopani, and they made the best red coals in the fire, so the pot bread came out beautifully. All three of us ate a full meal and we went to bed and slept like the dead. As the dawn broke the next morning we were up and Dirk and Johnny stripped all the parts that could rattle off the Land Rover. These included the doors, the windshield and the tailgate chains. I made a Thermos flask of coffee, and loaded a packet of rusks which we could dunk along the way. We set off as the eastern sky started to turn pink, and followed the river, going in a westerly direction. This would put the sun at our backs and we would be able to see better without being blinded. Sunrise is spectacularly beautiful in Africa and startlingly rapid so that soon the sun was blazing down with all its power.

Near the camp there was a resident herd of Roan Antelope
about sixteen strong. We were used to seeing them grazing at the edge
of a long dambo, and they were very tame, and as we neared them the
bull picked up his head and stared at us with his long ears cocked.
The face markings and the enormous ears reminded one of a clown in the
circus. We loved that herd and it would never have entered our minds
to shoot at them. At that time very few people knew about the valley,
but after a few years when others came into the valley the herd
disappeared altogether. A great pity! There were some people who could
just not pass any game without killing as many as possible.
There was a small herd of elephant in amongst some reeds,
and we gave them a wide berth, not wanting to disturb them, and
continued in a north westerly direction. In a stand of Miombo forest
on the side of a hill I noticed a big Kudu Bull browsing on some
bushes. Getting off the land Rover I stalked him behind a massive
Marula tree. A shot to the neck laid it low, and as I got up to it I
noticed it had only one horn. The other was broken off clean at the
base. We loaded the bull, and proceeded along the same path when we
came across the rest of the herd about a mile away. Johnny got out and
stalked the herd while we sat in the Landy waiting to hear his shot.
After what seemed an age a shot reverberated and we heard Johnny call.
I started the Landy and drove closer. Johnny was standing next to the
carcass of a big cow. He had given it a head shot. It was risky,
because the animal just has to turn its head for the bullet to miss
completely. When I mentioned it to him he just said that he did not
want the Kudu to suffer.
Moving back towards camp, Dirk shot a large common Reedbuck
ram, and then again two guinea fowl, which made welcome additions to
the Hunter's pot. On that first day of hunting we had as much as we
could carry home, and we spent the rest of that hunt just driving
around the valley and viewing the game. A small herd of buffalo about
sixteen animals strong grazed without even lifting their heads, and we
drove past without them taking fright. We had cut up the biltong
strips and had hung them out to dry and cure, and two leisurely days
in camp watching the birds and listening to the sounds gave us a good
rest before we needed to tackle the steep and rocky road out of the
Arriving back at the farm after we had dropped off Dirk we
started to get ready for the main event; the trip to Luangwa. Johnny
had fifteen days left before he had to get back, and Luangwa was the
final destination.
The valley through which the Luangwa River meanders runs
roughly in a north to south direction and is an extension of the Great
Rift Valley which runs down the backbone of Africa. On the west it is
bordered by the Machinga escarpment and the river forms a tributary of
the mighty Zambezi. The Luangwa is one of the four major rivers of
Zambia. Its two major tributaries are the Lukashashi and the Lunsemfwa
rivers. The Lunsemfwa is the river running through the Luano valley
into the Luangwa.
During the dry season when food in the escarpments becomes
scarce the game congregates in large numbers near the river where lush
grasslands supply fodder and cover for the vast herds. Most of the
bigger antelope species abound, but the Luangwa is known for its many
Elephant and Buffalo. Because the river meanders, and when the rains
arrive it is subjected to mighty floods. New channels are cut leaving
many oxbow lakes, the joy of Hippos and crocodiles and diverse species
of water birds.
On the banks of the river and of the oxbows tall leafy
trees grow supplying many shady spots where it is a delight to camp.
Lions are an everyday spectacle, and the other predators such as
leopard and hyena are seen and heard almost daily. The Valley is
filled with birdlife and some exotic species abound in vast numbers.
Thousands of Carmine Beeaters make their nests in the high clay banks
of the river, creating a dazzling sight all along its length. Egyptian
Geese fly overhead in groups emitting their hissing call, and big
Spurwing Geese strut around the sandbanks in pairs keeping a watchful
eye on hunters passing by.

I borrowed another Land Rover from a friend. It was almost
identical with mine, but ran on diesel and we found it to be much
slower, making only about 45 miles per hour at top speed. It was also
very underpowered and I had to hitch the trailer to my Landy. Tuesday
we packed early and set off along the Great East Road for Petauke the
jumping off spot for the Luangwa. It was a full day's drive, and when
we arrived at about nine in the evening the guest house was full and
we had to sleep in the bush. After making a temporary camp we had some
food which had been precooked, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Before dawn broke we were on our way along the track
leading to our controlled hunting area at Kaoma. The motor track wound
along the base of the escarpment through stands of Miombo forest, and
when we started to notice the Mopani bush we knew we were in the
valley Mid morning brought us to within a few miles of the river, and
as if to tell us we were nearing our destination a big Roan Antelope
bull stood watching us as we drove past. Suddenly the river was before
us, and we knew we were in our hunting grounds. There was a nice stand
of riverine forest nearby, and we decided to pull in and make camp.
The river was about three hundred yards off and from our camp spot we
had a nice view of it. We had passed a village of about ten thatched
huts some distance before the river, and had picked up a tracker and a
guide there. Between the four of us we set up the camp and unpacked
the vehicles. I had seen some sign of Impalas in the Mopani, so Johnny
and I left the two helpers to collect firewood while we went off in
search of a nice Impala for the pot.
Johnny had his 7x57 Walther while I had taken my .222 Sako.
Johnny's rifle was a real beauty with a clip on Zeiss scope. He had
carried it in a walnut case that was polished to a high shine and
itself cased in a padded canvas sleeve. My rifle had seen better days,
but the Nicol scope was set in at one hundred yards and was deadly

Ten minutes out of camp we spied a small herd of Impala,
but they were running when we saw them, and it seemed that they would
never stop. Johnny stepped off the Land Rover and started to follow
their spoor. I sat waiting for twenty minutes that seemed like ten
hours when I heard a shot off to my left, and almost immediately
another. Starting the vehicle I drove slowly in the direction of where
I reckoned the shot to have been, and soon I heard a shrill whistle. I
stopped and Johnny came sauntering out of the bush. He had shot a
lovely big Impala ram. Again he had gone for a head shot, and had
missed when the ram turned its head. Then he had taken it with a shot
high up on the shoulder, and the ram had dropped where it stood.
We had a late breakfast of Impala liver and kidneys with
scrambled eggs and toast, washing it down with strong hot coffee.
Johnny as always was not very conversant, and I had to stimulate the
conversation while he answered in monosyllables punctuated by the
occasional grunt. Then in the afternoon we each took a local man with
us and moved off in different directions with me driving along the
river upstream from the camp and Johnny going in the direction of the
Impala kill.

I drove along slowly, keeping the river to my right and
negotiating a number of gulleys and dongas. The floodplain was wide at
some places and there were many Puku grazing on the short grass. They
stood around singly or in small groups, and stared at us
inquisitively, reminding me of Reedbuck but with black tails, while
the reedbuck had a white powder puff tails. At one wide open space we
could see where the game descended to the river to drink, and when we
walked over to the place we could see fresh Buffalo spoor. They had
been at the river, a big herd, not two hours ago. The tracker said
that that were already on their way to where the lie up during the
heat of the day, but if we came back with a circuitous route the next
day we would be sure to encounter them. I wanted Johnny to be with
when we confronted the herd, as I would like him to shoot a nice bull.

Back at camp we found that Johnny had another kudu, and we
decided to call it a day and get an early night so as to be fresh for
the Buff hunt the next day. Johnny pulled out a bottle of Vat69 Scotch
whiskey, rough stuff but his favorite, and we each had a few pegs. I
grilled two beefsteaks and some lamb chops which we ate with baked
beans and tomato salad. Later we turned into our bedrolls and to the
serenade of a woodland owl I drifted off to sleep.

As dawn broke we were up and ate some rusks with coffee,
and I took up the .500 nitro express by Army and Navy which I had
borrowed from my friend Dick. It was a lovely weapon and had a kick
like a mule, but I knew that whatever I aimed at would go down. Johnny
only had his Walther which was a bit light for Buff, so I gave him my
9.3x62 Brno open sight rifle which I knew was as accurate as one could
want, and packed a good punch to boot. Within half an hour we were off
towards the drinking place, and soon arrived where the pathway to the
river started. When we arrived within sight of the river we could see
that the place was empty, and we walked down to the water's edge. The
ground was still wet where the herd had dripped water onto the loose
earth. We backtracked and found that they had turned off the path
parallel to the river. We mounted up again and drove on. Hardly two
miles farther and I sighted some white egrets diving towards the
ground, a sure indication of a buffalo herd. Johnny took up the 500,
and I took the Brno and we advanced on foot all along the edge of the
river. I could see egrets wheeling near the ground, and as we came
over a rise there was the herd not a hundred paces away. There were
about fifty animals with a number of cows with small calves.

Four old dagga boys grazed in a tight group nearer us,
about sixty paces away. There was no ground cover between us and the
four, and we decided that we should take a shot from where we were.
One of the four was a young bull in his prime with a fair spread of
horns, and I gestured for Johnny to take him, tapping my hand on my
shoulder to indicate where he should aim. Johnny sat down and resting
his elbow on his knee he sighted the rifle at the young bull while I
knelt with the Brno at the ready behind him. His shot took the young
bull on the shoulder and we could see the mud blow off him where the
bullet struck. He rolled right over and lay with his legs in the air
for a few moments then he rolled over and let out a mournful bellow.
The rest of the group ran for cover of the bush which was about two
hundred paces to our left, and they came past us at about fifteen
paces. As they passed, a young cow was broadside on and I shot her
just behind the shoulder. She staggered and ran on for about fifty
paces when she went down onto her chest and remained still. The others
carried on running and gained cover in the tree line.

The cow was very fat, and made the best biltong one could
wish to make. Because the bull was young, his meat would also be most
palatable. We spent the next two days cutting up the carcasses and
salting and hanging the biltong strips. The two helpers received all
the bony cuts, and busied themselves cutting and smoking the meat over
slow fires. Two Buffalo and a kudu was an awful lot of meat, and we
were exhausted by the time the last bit was hung out to dry. I had
purchased an elephant as well, and we started to prepare to take a
nice bull if we should come across one.

In the meantime we enjoyed the camp near the river. Johnny would go down for a swim and a bath on a
shallow sand bank in the river every afternoon while I stood guard
with the Brno. The Luangwa has more crocodiles per mile than any other
Zambian river including the Zambezi, and I preferred to take my bath
in a basin, but Johnny came through it unscathed. Maybe the crocs were
afraid to take a bite at him, I really cannot say.

We drove upstream next to the river, and as luck would have
it we spied a lone Elephant bull browsing on some trees across a deep
donga. Stopping the Land Rover I took up the .500 and Johnny the Brno,
and we stalked towards the donga. The donga was deep opposite the
place where the bull was standing, but it broadened out towards the
river. The bull was leisurely plucking branches and moving slowly
towards the river, and I surmised that he wanted to cross the stream
over to the other side The wind was in our favor, and we moved towards
the river to intercept him when he came into the flood plain. He was
totally unaware of our presence, and came onto the plain next to the
river not twenty paces from where we were concealed. I moved forward
with the double .500 at the ready. Johnny stayed about half a yard
behind me, ant stepped right into my footprints. Something alerted the
bull and he swung round presenting a broadside view. I would have
preferred to get a little closer, but being afraid that the wind had
shifted and within a second the bull would turn and run, I lifted the
heavy rifle and sighted right into his ear hole and pulled off the
shot. The bull's hind legs collapsed and he sat down hard and then
rolled over. I dropped the barrel, opened the breach, the spent
cartridge popped out over my left shoulder and I reloaded with a fresh
round. The bull gave a feeble kick and lay still. Johnny had not
moved, and stood with the Brno rifle at the ready. I walked over to
the elephant, and taking out my pocket knife I cut off the tail. The
heavy .500 bullet had entered the brain and the bull was dead.

Johnny drove the tracker back to the village to collect
some men to butcher the elephant carcass, and after cutting out the
tusks they commenced the job of cutting up the meat and carrying it
all back to the village. The job took them two full days. In the
meantime we packed up and left early for the long drive home.

When we got home I saw that Johnny had cut a cluster of
buffalo beans which he had put into a peanut butter bottle and placed
into his case. Later he told me that they had been confiscated at Jan
Smuts airport in South Africa. He had warned the officials not to open
the bottle, but I am sure their curiosity must have got the better of
them. It boggles the mind!


Jeff ( Va. Rebel ) said...

Your father in law sounds like he was the real deal - hard working 'n hard playing ... although prone to play the mischief maker !

Men of few words usually have a good story to tell ... if ever you can get them to talk.

I'm like you, I would prefer my baths in a tub versus sharing a spot with crocs.

Still remember your tale of the buffalo beans so I bet that was an interesting time when they heeded not his warnings !

See you posted this early in the morning -guess in your mind yer still up for the hunt Oupa ! May your memories continue to reward you.

Oupa Grysbaard said...

Thanks for the comment Jeff.That river looks innocent, but believe me it is full of peril. He was very reckless, although the crocs may have seen something familiar in him. Who knows. Keep going will talk again soon.

Oupa Grysbaard said...

Thanks for the comment Jeff.That river looks innocent, but believe me it is full of peril. He was very reckless, although the crocs may have seen something familiar in him. Who knows. Keep going will talk again soon.