Experiences of the SADF soldier

Experiences of the SADF soldier –  Stories, Shadows & Dust

Garrett Eriksen interviewed ex SADF soldiers as part of his dissertation.  Although his study actually involved exploring subjective experience and Constructed Memory, his documentation of the experiences of the SADF soldier in a forgotten war a long time ago is helpful to others today.

Garrett’s film (at the bottom of this post) Stories, Shadows & Dust  includes these interviews & footage from this era.

Why watch this short film? 

Watching this will hopefully rekindle good memories for some people.  A trip down memory lane, wondering what happened to people you once knew & lost contact with can be nostalgically pleasant.  Most ex-servicemen have hilarious stories to tell of their time in uniform!

Others readers might feel less comfortable, so why would they watch? Well, sometimes just knowing that other people have felt the same fear, pain & emotion can provide some small comfort.  Hearing how others have coped over the years might strike a chord, who knows?

Each of us is an individual & there is no miracle pill on offer that can just make events un-happen. Certainly, I have never been in a war & would never assume to know the workings of another mind.

The bush war was a closed subject 

The South African Bush War along with many African bush wars of the era has never received much media coverage.  This seems strange given the length & brutality of these conflicts.

One of the men who was interviewed said he had never spoken of his experiences before, not for any deep personal reason but rather because nobody had asked.  In all the years, the subject was just never raised.  Hearing that made me feel like I was seeing ghosts.  I felt guilty because I too just circled the date that my own servicemen  would be back home & got organised.  I drew up a list of jobs, made leisure plans & grumbled about the extra responsibilities that fell on my shoulders while they were away.  It never occurred to me to ask about their experiences, & how they were doing.

Most women were more concerned with getting regular letters & reassurances that we were not forgotten.  We quite enjoyed romantic thoughts of lovers pining for us out in the middle of nowhere.  Conscription did mean that most of the boys who were around were well toned, fit & attractive.  It also meant we got an annual break when our men were called up.

Many years later I did ask my husband what it had been like for him in the army.  He looked surprised at first, then joked about boredom & brackish water.  When I pushed a bit more he finally told me that it was simple.  He put on his uniform & went to the bush, then came home & slipped into his jeans.  Different kit, different jobs, different lives.

War & change

Entire male populations were conscripted & spent their youthful years going back & forth to the border.  Society at the time actively discouraged displays of emotion in boys & men. These guys & their wars were often overlooked in the birth pains & drama of their new nations. Organisations & people who were once the enemy became their new leaders.

The winds of change blew fast & furious. Thoughts, values & attitudes had to spin 90 degrees to keep up.

Equality was in, sport was back,social norms & acceptable attitudes shifted as quick as a quake.  Looking back was considered a waste of time & energy was needed for other things.  Laws & processes changed rapidly & demanded urgent attention & compliance.  Nothing could be done about the past, & it was now all about the future.

A welcome study

This study is very welcome because there is a lack of material from these times.  It is worth watching for that reason alone. Maybe enough time has passed & enough objectivity has grown to enable people to pause & look back now.

It could also be useful because of the timing.  Ex-servicemen from a collection of previous wars are reaching the stage where they are vulnerable to the growing problem of late onset PTSD.

Late onset PTSD

Studies have shown that late onset or delayed PTSD can be very disruptive.  It  can affect ex-servicemen many years after their war, & for a variety of reasons. The combination of more leisure time & the removal of crutches that have helped people cope in the past are just two possible triggers.

Consider that working long hours, drinking, smoking or even running might have to be stopped for health reasons.  Where these have been used as coping mechanisms, removing them lets previously trapped demons back out of the cage.

Who would be interested? 

Garrett’s work is well researched & put together.   It could be of interest to historians, ex and current servicemen/women & their families & friends.

Timing is everything 

So much of our world today is a war-zone.  More young men & women are fighting in wars that are quite similar to the African bush wars.  Maybe the ex-servicemen of previous wars have something to say that may help the casualties of our current wars find a way forward when their time is done.  More lives than ever before are currently lost to the chaos of conflict.

Grab some popcorn & enjoy the movie.  Let us know what you think?

Stories, Shadows and Dust from Garrett Ernst Eriksen on Vimeo.

Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of webmaster or the film maker, &  here is the link to the dissertation which this film is part of.


The film is used with kind permission from  Garrett Eriksen, all rights reserved.  I have permission to use the film, but do not own the copyright.

Image is public domain & needs no additional credit

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