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Karel's first Summer Camp by thadeusz
I was born in a small and poor farm, in the North of the Netherlands, in Frieland near Leeuwarden. My parents, Jan and Maria Beekman, worked very hard every day (and sometimes they had to work during the nights).
Despite that, they had three children : first my brother Adriaan, two years later my sister Maaike and finally two years after Maaike, myself, Karel Beekman.
Our parents plan was to keep the first boy as follower on the farm when they were old, should the first child be a girl the second child would be their follower and also their old age pension: this was the tradition in our neighbourhood. But the second child was a girl, that’s why they decided to have me as "replacing unit" should my brother die early. They did this, like their neighbors, despite the costs of having three children. Indeed they hoped to have a parson as third child: that would be their contribution to our church. Of course, they did not ask us what we actually wanted as life.
Our parents were very religious and we went every Sunday to the Calvinist Tempel. The reverend was a very traditional man. He told us, Sunday after Sunday, that some attitudes were "vain" and thus "bad in the eyes of God". Having long hair was "vain" in his speeches. The problem was that I did not like the parson, nor did I believe in God. So I tried, among other things, to have long hair. My mother did not like that and she was the family barber.
My brother Adriaan did not mind going to the Temple, and he did not mind the short hair situation. But he did not like his own situation: he did not want to work later on a farm. So, as soon as he reached the age of 14 and was no longer subject to compulsory schooling, he left our home and started to work as apprentice in a big factory situated near Eindhoven, in the rich south of the country. As soon as possible, my sister was sent to another farm as farm servant, and maybe farm wife if possible. I remained the only child of the house.
We were really poor, so my mother had always played the role of hairdresser for my father and for her three children. She did it for me every Saturday as long as I had to go to school and she forced me to go every Sunday to the Temple. It was, for me, a painful 8th grade: I knew it was the end of school for me, and I loved school, and I had been told that immediately after graduation I would start working full time on the farm.
I had been told at the start of this 8th grade that I would have to replace my brother and thus spend the rest of my life on my parents’ farm. I was 13 then and I did not like the idea.
In any case, when I reached 14, for my 8th grade (and final) graduation, on that day of glory (for me) my mother managed to give me a relatively short haircut, but still with hair covering my nape and sides but not my ears !
I decided that it would be my last haircut: after that I chose to arrange my hair in a sort of pony tail and I loved taking care of them, which was obviously "vain", but I told my parents they should no longer take care of that. I also stopped going to Church: as "new and young adult" I had the right to do that in our congregation.
Immediately after that "last" graduation, I had a long and serious discussion with my teacher and he agreed with me: it would be sad to lose my mind and myself for ever. He thus worked hard and succeeded to convince my parents to let me go to school until I was 18 and got some high school diploma. He also told them that he would find for me a cheap school specialized in farming.
During the holidays following that half victory, I worked very hard with my father in the fields. I had no time for another haircut. In any case, my mother did not plan any since it was no longer important for me. My hair started to grow and I liked that.
In september, I was oriented, now that I was 14, towards a very specialized farming section. where I studied during my 9th grade. My teacher gave me form time to time school books of the normal section, and I studied them at night.
Like many of my comrades, I had long hair going down to my shoulders and covering completely my ears. Nobody objected to this haircut. I had also mended clothes, with pieces of different colours, inherited from my big brother.
I was in Grade 9 but I didn't really like my section ! Despite that, I did well and my teachers suggested to my parents to send me to a Summer Camp for the first time. I had done so well in that agricultural school ! I was thus dispensed of work on the farm with my father ! I liked the idea and got ready for my first Summer Camp.
My parents found a cheap Summer Camp organized by our Church and sent me to Leeuwarden, in the North, to take the bus there. I arrived alone at the bus station and rushed towards the place where my Summer Camp bus was waiting. A man in uniform was waiting next to the bus. I ran to catch the bus and the man told me:
"You were nearly late ! What is your name ?"
"Karel Beekman and I am 15 now."
"It is strange, your name is not on my list. Write it down, with your address and birthdate and add your signature in the appropriate column."
I did as I was told and went to sit in the back of the bus. I had a school book with me, so I was busy reading while the bus rode towards the camp.
Once, I raised my head and I was astonished to see that most of the people on the bus were boys, many of them in uniform. That meant that I would probably get a camp uniform and be able to wear something else than the rags inherited from Adriaan.
I then kept reading until, hours later, I noticed that we were now driving through the extreme south of the country, in Limburg, close to a city named Venlo: I had never been there but I had learned at school that it existed. The bus reached a camp gate shortly afterwards and entered the place, in fact I should write "entered the compound" since this camp was heavily protected by by high grids and barbed wires. There were two other busses already waiting there. We all came off the busses and tried to get our bags when a tall man in what was obviously an Army uniform with many stripes came out of one of the buildings. He started a short speech which I am not about to forget:
"I am Captain Debever, commanding officer of this Camp, and I welcome you all, new and returning Army Cadets. For the new cadets, they will get their uniforms in a few minutes while the others will be assigned to one of these tents."
This was clearly a mistake: I had probably taken the wrong bus ! It was the first time I took a bus alone. So I raised my hand, as I would have done in school, and said:
"There must be a mistake, I am not an Army Cadet."
"We will settle that in a moment while your comrades get their uniforms. Wait here," said the Captain in a dry and sharp tone, nearly angry.
A few minutes later, the Captain came back to me and said:
"What’s your name, Cadet ?"
Well I was not one of his cadets but I replied politely, though rather anxious:
"I am Karel Beekman, from Menaam near Leeuwarden."
"Well Cadet Beekman, you are wrong: your name is on my list."
"That’s because a man near the bus in Leeuwarden told me to add it."
"Never mind, you are on my list. I will check with your parents but while I wait for their answer, you will anyway be treated as an Army Cadet. And that means getting a uniform and", he looked at me in disgust, "a serious haircut. UNDERSTOOD, Cadet ?"
He interrupted me:
"As Cadet, the only possible answer is ‘YES, SIR’ and no hesitation. Go now with Sergeant Langendries." He showed to me the man who told me to write my name on his list when I boarded the bus and he added:
"Sergeant, get a uniform and a serious induction cut for this young rebel."
The Sergeant told me to follow him and took me first to a big room where several men in uniform were functioning as barbers. I now identified them as soldiers ! All the barbers were busy giving regulation haircuts to the boys who were with me in the bus. Most of the boys were already in some sort of uniform, but there were also many other boys, not yet in uniform, coming probably from different parts of the country. Sergeant Langendries told me to wait. I was unhappy because I liked my long haircut, and I did not like the regulation cut I could see on the other boys’ heads.
When finally one of the barbers was free, the Sergeant told me briskly to go and sit on his chair. The barber then asked Sergeant Langendries:
"This guy has very long hair. Any special requirement or an ordinary short back and sides ?"
"No, the Captain has ordered that you give this boy a real serious induction cut. He looks filthy with his mass of hair and he is a rebel, he is here but he claims it is a mistake. So, give him what he deserves."
"Too bad for him, he will look different !"
"Captain’s orders. He wants to punish this boy because he behaved in a rebellious way."
"Sergeant, I will do my best to please the Captain !"
The barber, I know now that he was a Corporal, prepared his clippers and his scissors. He looked at me and called me "Filthy boy". He then got hold of my head and first took his scissors to cut my long ponytail. My hair was now lose. The barber started then to use a comb to place what was left of my hair in an order which suited him and then took again his scissors to cut it in such a way that he could start using his clippers. In order to reach his aim he placed his left hand on the top of my head and made it move so that he could easily cut the back, the left and the right side. He raised his hand to cut what was left on the top. All this left at first a very disorderly haircut and he made me notice this fact. I was crying on my now disgusting appearance, and on the fact that I was treated like an Army Cadet despite the fact that the Captain had said that he would check this with my parents.
The barber told me:
"You cry ? That might be good to clean your face, but not your hair." He started laughing, turned the chair in such a way that I could not see the mirror and put his clippers into action.
He was not brutal, but energetic. He placed again his left hand on the top of my head, pushed my head in such a way that my chin was now on my chest and he started to let the clippers plow through my hair but only up to a limit he had defined. He kept shaving my neck and the sides of my head, pushing or pulling my head whenever he felt like it, and also turning forcibly my poor head to the left and to the right. I could feel him shaving nearly completely my neck and sides, but only "nearly". He ended by reducing the length of the hair remaining on top of my head. But the barber had placed me in such a position that I could not actually see what he was doing, only guess !
When the barber felt that he was done, he turned again the chair towards the mirror and let me look at what he called "the new you". I did not like it, but I had to admit that this regulation haircut was elegant. So I did not cry.
The barber asked me then:
"Cadet, do you like your new haircut ?"
I had now a real regulation haircut, like the other cadets, and nothing worse than that.
Knowing that it was too late to object, I simply said "Yes, sir"
"Well, that’s what you would have had if you had not been a rebel, but now I must obey orders and I will shave you to the woods."
He turned again the chair, leaving my back towards the mirror, and started to plow through what remained of my hair.
First in the center, from the forehead to the neck. I could see a mass of hair falling on my lap where my pants were not protected by a cape. He then gently plowed next and left of his first groove which seemed to me to be a first furrow like those I had done in our fields. After that came another groove to the right. The barber kindly asked:
"Does it hurt, Cadet ?"
"NnnO" and my voice was trembling.
"Then stop crying, it will not help you if you keep crying. And start to use the proper terms : you must address me as follows ‘YES, Corporal’ or ‘NO, Corporal’. UNDERSTOOD Cadet ?"
I was accepting my fate and replied: "YES CORPORAL" in a loud voice which surprised everybody, me included !
The barber went on shaving the top of my head. Then pushing kindly my head towards my right shoulder he shaved the left part of my head. He went on with the right part and finished by cleaning completely the neck and the ears.
As soon as he was done, he turned again the chair and let me have a look at the new me: I was awful. I had only stubbles left on my head and I started again to cry. So the Corporal asked me:
"Your first day in the Army, Cadet ?"
"Yes Corporal, and I did not want to come here."
"Did your parents force you to come to this camp ? It might be for your good !"
"No, they did not force me, I was supposed to go to a Summer Camp organized by our Church, and I took the wrong bus."
"Well that’s too bad Cadet. But don’t forget that as long as you are here, you must address me as ‘CORPORAL’ and show the required respect. UNDERSTOOD, CADET ?"
"YES CORPORAL. Thank you Corporal."
And I left the chair feeling very bad about all this. I was still hoping to be sent back to my parents as soon as possible.
The Sergeant took then the whole group of new cadets to a big room where we received our uniform: a green t-shirt, a green overall with lots of pockets, green high socks, a green cap with an Army logo and black boots. The boots were heavy and high, provided with very long black shoelaces.
Sergeant Langendries inspected then what we had with us as undies. Most of us had what was required, but I was not ready for that: my mother had placed in my bag exactly one set of briefs for each week. The Sergeant objected and said:
"Of course, you did not know that you were going to a CLEAN place."
And he gave me 7 underpants, Army model. I did not want to take them and said: "You know very well that I am leaving tomorrow."
The Sergeant reacted immediately: "That was a very improper sentence. As of now, you will start and end each sentence by the word ‘SERGEANT’ when you speak to me. And you don’t know how long you are going to stay. In position and give me 50 push-ups."
I had never heard that word before, but the Sergeant showed me what he wanted. He had a stick under his left arm and I assumed it would be better to obey. After that, I took the underpants the Sergeant wanted to give me.
I was now more or less equipped like the others, but I was certain that the next day I would go home.
The Sergeant told us then that we had to keep our clothes perfectly clean. We would get clean overalls twice a week and we received immediately 6 other t-shirts since we had to wash each evening our t-shirt. The same was also valid for the undies !!! The shoes had to be carefully polished every day. He finally added:
"I will personally inspect you and your things everyday. Don’t forget to be clean, otherwise you will be punished and if you are found unclean, there will be hell to pay."
After that, the Sergeant took us to a very big room with a high ceiling. The room in itself was painted in khaki. There were many windows, all of them placed very high: the windows were thus not accessible for the cadets, but they gave lots of light. There were also many lamps on the ceiling. In this room, the first I could see were two rows of double bunk beds down either side, in fact 5 double bunk beds on each side. Next to each double bunk bed, there were two cupboards, one on the left and one on the right. All these pieces of furniture were painted in a sad khaki. Anyway, this was more than enough for the 16 new cadets, me included.
The Sergeant showed us how to place our things in good order in our tiny cupboard, how to make our bed "in a military way" using the khaki cover and other stuff placed on our future bunk. Finally Sergeant Langendries taught us how to salute and how to march in a military fashion. He told us then:
"From now on, 10 minutes to get settled and in uniform. After that supper. No food if you are late. Cleaning duty will start immediately after supper."
I had no watch, but a big electric clock was fixed on the wall, above the door. It was now 5.40 pm.
I raised my hand, trying to remind the Sergeant that I was in the wrong place, but Sergeant Langendries stopped me before I had started speaking and said:
"The Captain has been in touch with your parents. He will tell you tomorrow what their decision is. For the time being, behave like the others, like every good cadet. UNDERSTOOD, Cadet Beekman ?"
And I could only answer :
"SERGEANT YES SERGEANT" on the top of my voice.
Supper was not extremely good, but it was decent and anyway I was hungry. I ate all of it, very rapidly as I did at home. I had decided not to say the prayer before meal, which my parents always imposed on us. I was surprised to see that none of the other boys requested such a prayer. After supper, we were all marched back to our room by Sergeant Langendries. When I say "marched back", it is exactly that: the Sergeant did not let us walk but required that we marched in step. He had also required that we put our cap on our head immediately after leaving the huge mess hall and that we took it off as soon as we entered our room. There he told us to stay in front of our bed, the guy sleeping above on the left and the guy sleeping below (my case) staying on the right. He did not give more instruction except: "Get now your things ready for tomorrow. You have one hour for that and after that free time until 21:00."
The sergeant left the room, leaving us alone. It was 7 pm or, in military terms: 19:00.
I soon realized that none of the other new cadets knew what it really meant to "Get our things ready". I knew what had to be done: in my parents farm I had learned to take care of myself very early in my young life. I knew how to prepare my clothes for the next day in order to be ready very rapidly and start working very early on the farm, before going to school. So I tried to help my temporary roommates by telling them what had to be done and by showing them how to do it. This included washing my t-shirt, socks and undies in the big washroom (for humans and for clothes) next to to our bed room. The others accepted to copy me and we started to be good friends, well just for one night.
Sergeant Langendries entered our room at exactly 8pm (or in his terms, 20:00) and started an inspection. He seemed flabbergasted when he noticed that all our things had been washed and were ready for the next day. He said:
"I had never seen that, a group of new cadets who were ready before I had to scold them and before I told them what they had to do to get ready. Did someone enter this room and help you, cadets?"
There was a silence and after a few minutes one the new cadets raised his hand and said:
"Sergeant, it is him," pointing his finger towards me, "who told what had to be done. Did we do something bad ?"
"No cadet, that’s exactly what I wanted."
He turned towards me and added: "So, it is the young rebel who gives the good example. Already been in the military or in a disciplinary institution, Cadet Beekman ?"
"NO SERGEANT, I just did what I was doing on my parents’ farm"
"Good, as of now you are room leader and thus responsible if one of the others does not behave perfectly," and then to all of us, "now one hour free time and then lights out."
The sergeant left our room and the new cadets started asking me questions about how I had learned to "Get my things ready". So I explained and spoke about the farm and the cows I had to milk before going to school, and other details of my life with my parents.
Most of the boys congratulated me on being promoted "room leader", although I did not exactly know what it implied. One of the boys, Herman, was clearly jealous: his father was an officer in the Army and he considered that his father’s rank entitled him to be "room leader."
Nevertheless, I discussed with all the cadets and discovered that most of them were in this camp either because they belonged to a military family, or because they wanted to get ready to join the military, or both ! There was one exception: Pieter who was exactly as old as me and who had been sent there by his parents because he lacked the required self discipline to learn at school. Pieter had failed his 9th grade and did not know in which school his parents would send him, but he feared that it would be a boarding school.
When the Sergeant came back to turn off the light, we were all good friends and I started to think that this could also be a good summer camp after all. I crawled in my bed and fell sound asleep.
The next morning, Sergeant Langendries entered our room, shouting and making all kind of noises. I could see on the big clock that it was 05:30, exactly the normal time for me. The sergeant told us to get washed and ready in less than 30 minutes. Since we had our things ready, it was easy except for the fact that we were 16 and that there were only 5 basins in the big washroom. There was nearly a fight between the cadets and I suddenly remembered that I was room leader, so I started to get things organized. I told my fellow roommates who should go first and for how long, and then the next group. I chose to place myself as last one and I was still busy getting ready when the Sergeant came back. He looked at all of us and said:
"Of course the rebel is not ready !"
But Herman raised his hand and said:
"Sergeant, our room leader did his job well. If he had not organized us, none of us would have been ready on time."
The sergeant looked at me and simply said:
"Rebel, you are the only one who is not ready. Give me 20 pushups, 10 for being late and 10 because as room leader you did not organize it perfectly for all the cadets."
I did not say a word but I started to do what had been ordered when Pieter raised his hand and said:
"Sergeant, I was slow and delayed cadet Beekman. Permission to do the same punishment."
The sergeant looked surprised but replied:
"A cadet does have the right to contest his Sergeant’s orders. You will give me 50 pushups for lack of respect for your superior."
Pieter did not say a word, gave the required pushups, and the Sergeant marched all of us to the main sport field where we did "reveille exercises" during about 30 minutes, before going back to our room for cleaning everything, making our beds and checking our cupboards.
It was 06:30 when the sergeant started to march us to the mess hall where we had a solid breakfast before starting the day military and sport training. All that was great and I really started to like it.
At 11:30 the Sergeant gave me an unexpected order: "Cadet Beekman, march now as I told you to do and go to the Captain’s office." I knew where the Captain’s office was, and I immediately realized that I had to go there marching on step and turning only at right angles. Walking like normal human beings seemed to be banned.
I entered the Captain’s office, took off my cap and placed it in one of the pockets of my uniform and simultaneously saluted this officer. All that had been told to us and we had learned to do it during our morning military training. The Captain looked at me and simply said:
"So you are the rebel!"
"Yes Captain, but with your permission I am also Cadet Beekman."
"Do you like that, Beekman ?"
"Better than a Church camp, Captain."
The Captain started to laugh and then explained what was going to happen with me.
"I have spoken with your parents, Beekman. They do not have the possibility to come and fetch you here, but I don’t want to keep here a Cadet who does not want to stay. So you must make a choice: either you stay here as Cadet during 2 months, or you go back home with a civilian bus and the money your father will send me for you. Of course, since there is no bus for your other Summer Camp, you will have to stay with your parents during school holidays. So decide, and quickly, what is it that you choose ?"
I raised my hand and said:
"Captain, permission to ask a question before I answer ?"
"Yes, Cadet, but be quick."
"Captain, did you instruct the Sergeant to have my hair cut because you thought I was vain, like our reverend said I was ? He says that god hates long hair, Captain."
"Certainly not ! God and your reverend have nothing to do here. It is certainly not vain, but it is stupid. Long hair are not clean and it takes too much time to take care of them every morning. In any case we don’t take very much care about the reverend."
I suddenly felt much better and without hesitation I replied to the Captain’s previous question:
"Captain, I would like to stay here for the whole duration of the Summer Camp. I have already made friends here."
"That’s exactly what I expected from you, Cadet."
The Captain looked at me during a few seconds and added:
"You made a positive impression on your Sergeant. He chose you as Cadet Leader. Try to be worth of his choice." He then gave me two white little stripes and concluded: "Ask Sergeant Langendries to place these on your sleeves to show to all the cadets that you are a Cadet Leader. Now, DISMISS Cadet Leader Beekman."
I saluted the Captain and made as good an about turn as my fresh exercises let me do it. I left this office marching in step. After my decision to remain in the Army Summer Camp, marching in step was now natural for me, even if I didn't do it perfectly.
I marched towards the Mess Hall, where I knew my comrades had to be. There I met the Sergeant who placed the two little stripes on my sleeves while all the other new cadets were cheering. And this included Herman, despite the fact that he wanted to have the same job.
Immediately after receiving these two little stripes, I told Sergeant Langendries:
"There is a lot to do for a Cadet Leader, do you allow me to take Herman as second ?"
The Sergeant smiled, said that it was a bright idea and that all leaders should be able to accept help. He gave me the authorization and Herman accepted with joy.
After that, I started to really enjoy my stay in this Army Summer Camp. Herman and me did our job and none of our group was punished anymore for not being ready or for not having his kit perfectly ready and the room perfectly clean. Herman was a good leader who gave me lots of excellent advices, even if I was the only one to have stripes on his sleeves.
Every week we were marched to the barber and the first time, this brave man asked me as soon as he saw me:
"You are Cadet Leader now ! Good ! Have you been good enough ? Can we leave you some hair now ?"
He was really astonished when I replied:
"NO, Corporal. In fact I think I behaved well enough but I would like a very short haircut, please."
Sergeant Langendries confirmed that I was a good and decent cadet, but that I wanted now to have short hair like some of my roommates. The barber concluded:
"In this case, I am going to build slowly a high and tight for you. Sit silently, Cadet."
He started again to shave completely the sides and the neck of my head, pushing, pulling and turning gently now my poor head. He also defined with a sharp and old fashioned razor a straight line above my ears and shaved with foam and razor every stubble that remained below. But he left all the hair that had started to come on the top of my head, explaining:
"I took everything away, except the hair that is normally under your cap. Do you like it?"
He turned me facing the mirror now. I liked what he had done and I said:
"That’s exactly what I hoped to get. Thank you Corporal."
About a month after I started this Summer Camp, on a Monday, I was once again ordered by our Sergeant to go to the Captain’s office. I marched as requested, but I was full of apprehension: did the Captain want to take my little stripes away and give them to Herman ? In fact it was very different and very unexpected. The Captain wanted simply to give me a piece of information, but very wisely he started by reassuring the little boy I still was !
"Cadet Leader Beekman, I am satisfied with your work and I fully approve your decision to share your duty with Cadet Herman, who is really a good second in command."
There was a silence and he continued:
"I must communicate something to you. Your father called me saying that your sister is back home now and that she will get married next Wednesday. Her future husband is the third son of the farmer for whom she was working. The marriage will be very discrete and neither you nor your brother are welcome on this ceremony."
I was really puzzled: my sister was only 17 ! So I asked permission to speak and said:
"Captain, there must be a mistake. My sister is only 17 and she did not know that boy when she left home."
"Precisely !" was the Captain’s first answer and I must have looked bewildered.
So the Captain added a comment:
"Just think for a few minutes: what does it mean when a young girl gets married very rapidly and without guests ?"
"Captain, I don’t know for sure."
"Ask your second, Herman, very discreetly, what it could mean. He is one good year older than you are."
Indeed, Herman was 16. Anyway, the captain continued:
"Think also about the fact that there will be a young man, a farmer, to help permanently your parents. And now, DISMISS."
I saluted, put on my cap and made an about face, which was now perfect thanks to Sergeant Langendries (and my friend Herman’s) advices, and I left the Captain’s office.
My friend Herman explained me very clearly what the family was trying to hide and I was horrified and sad for my sister.
After this intermezzo, Camp life went on and the training the Sergeant imposed on us, was making us better and better in parading. Week after week, I was sent, with the others, to the Corporal Barber who kept giving me a better and better High and Tight. I felt well. I had also been shortly questioned by the Sergeant about my present school and my future.
Two days before the Camp was finished, while we were preparing our final parade, I was once again summoned to the Captain’s office. Captain Debever had an important message for me:
"Cadet Leader Beekman, you came here by accident and in the beginning you were a rebel. But after this first incident, you behaved well. Very well. We know that you are a good student, we checked that. But we also know that you are now in an Agricultural school because your parents did not want another one, despite your teachers’ and your own hopes. CORRECT CADET ?"
"YES CAPTAIN. "
"There is another possibility. You come to our Military Cadet School and you will have the possibility to study Sciences and Maths, which you liked before. You will have to redo a 9th grade, because I don’t believe that what you learned in Agricultural 9th Grade might help you. And there is a price to pay: it will be a boarding school with specialized teachers, so we will ask you to repay the Army by signing a 6 years enlistment. WHAT DO YOU SAY CADET ?"
"Captain, permission to think about this during the night ?"
"Anyway, it is OK for your parents since your sister’s young husband can replace you and since it will cost them less than the Agricultural School. Permission to think granted Cadet Leader Beekman. Be here tomorrow at 09:00. DISMISS."
I had the night to think about it and I discussed this suggestions with my closest friends in this Summer Camp: Herman and Pieter. Herman told me that he was going to this school in order to become later an officer, but was going to start in 10th grade. He told me to at least give it "a try". I did not know if the Army would let me go if I did not like it, but Herman seemed convinced: he had read a lot about this school. Pieter simply told me: "If you go there, I will go. With you it will be OK for me and my parents will be pleased."
I then asked Sergeant Langendries for more information. He told me that I would have no problem with the discipline: he had had time to judge my potential during these two months. He added that I might try to pass advanced exams in order to start as 9-grader but end up skipping a class because he considered me as a very intelligent person ("person" is the word he used) so it was too sad to let me lose my time in an Agricultural school.
The next day, at 09:00, I was in the Captain’s office. I first told him that I accepted his offer. And that I hoped that I would be allowed to study 9th grade courses and 10th grade courses simultaneously, in order not to be delayed with respect to Herman. I explained that my former teacher had given me books in order to let me get some notions of what a serious teaching would be. I added that, should Pieter be admitted, I promised that I would do my best to help him, independently of the grade I was placed in. I think I never made such a long speech to the Captain, and I never did it again with a superior.
Finally we had our final parade. I was marching in front and I had the honor to carry the flag. Most parents were present, my parents were not. Herman’s father congratulated me on my behaviour during the Camp: he had heard about my special case via Captain Debever. Pieter parents thanked me for helping their son: Pieter had written several letters about our friendship. Pieter told them that I wanted to go to an Army Cadet School and that he wanted to join me. Pieter’s parents invited me to come to their house when I would have a leave and they started to discuss Pieter’s admission with Captain Debever.
The next day we all left the Summer Camp. Those who were joining the Cadet School were in an Army bus and the others remained in the Camp where their parents would fetch them. None of my relatives made the trip: so I do not know the look of my sister’s husband nor that of my big brother. My parents did not come either.
As soon as we arrived in the Cadet school, the new cadets got a new and special haircut: an induction cut. I am not going to describe how it was done, I have done it before. The only thing I am going to say is that the School barber was more brutal than the Camp barber, but that was normal in my eyes: we were now in the military (in a way) while in the camp, we were young civilians. I had after that a completely shorn head, but I succeeded after several weeks to let the barber transform it slowly into a real short High and Tight.
We also got new uniforms: an elegant grey-blue shirt to be worn with a black tie (Sergeant Langendries was luckily with us to show us how to tie a tie !) A blue military battle dress with epaulettes and trousers attached by braces. On top of it, a web belt, black socks, boots and finally gaiters. Each of us received also a pot of Blanco, a sort of pasta to get our web belt and our gaiters perfectly clean. It appeared soon that applying this pasta was a boring and annoying job, but it had to be renewed every day. As a matter of fact, this "more elegant" uniform was heavier and hotter than our Camp uniform !
Finally there was also a beret which we were not allowed to wear before we had finished our basic training. In the meantime, we had to keep wearing our Camp Cap. We were also told to keep our Camp uniform for chores, but I had to take away the white stripes I received when I became Cadet Leader.
We were lead to our rooms: nice 6 men rooms, with 6 ordinary beds, each with his cupboard. There were also three desks, each could be used by two cadets simultaneously. Herman, Pieter and me were lucky enough to be sent to the same room. But there was a difference: Herman was assigned as he expected to a 10th grade school group, Pieter was assigned to a 9th grade group, since he had to repeat the 9th grade he had failed. And I was assigned "temporarily" to a 9th grade group, temporarily because as I had requested I was allowed to take 10th grader exams.
During the first semester, we were trained no longer as cadets but as new soldiers. Each had his rifle, which we did not have during the summer camp, and we did several marches in the woods surrounding the school. Some of these marches lasted several days. We also had to attend classes. Whenever we had a few minutes, Herman studied his 10th grade courses, while I helped Pieter with his 9th grade courses: that was easy for me since I remembered the books my teacher made me read. I also prepared as well as I could my first 10th grader courses.
I must say that the teaching was really excellent. Just before the Christmas holidays, the three of us took several exams and we got a "pass" for each exam we had taken, and for me it meant several 10th grade courses. There was a short but solemn ceremony during which each of us received his beret. Herman’s father came especially to give this beret to his son, Sergeant Langendries gave the beret to Pieter, but Captain Debever came especially to give me my beret. A moment I will never forget.
During the holidays, Herman went to his parents home, Pieter had to go and join his family. I was supposed to stay in the cadet school, which would enable me to study further. But Pieter had a surprise: he took me with him to his parents who had organized everything for this situation. I took several books with me in order to keep studying and to keep helping Pieter.
Christmas was glorious. Since I had no decent civilian clothes, I chose to stay in uniform and Pieter decided to do the same. I had an opportunity to call my parents on the phone and I was surprised to notice how little we had in common. The conversation was rather painful. There was no mention of a possible brief reunion. The only important thing I learned was that I was now an uncle, the uncle of young Thomas born in the farm.
As of january, back at school, the situation changed. We had far less military training: it was no longer considered necessary to train us, military customs seemed to be ingrained now ! But we had lots of classes. Herman decided to help much more Pieter than he did before to leave me more time to study 9th grade and 10th grade courses simultaneously. He also chose to explain to both of us some of the delicate maths and science courses we had missed.
At the end of this school year, Pieter was admitted in 10th grade, Herman and me were admitted in 11th grade. The Commandant of the cadet School congratulated me in person for my Academic achievement. Herman and me received together the "Comradery Citation reserved for Cadets who made a special effort to help a fellow Cadet".
The three of us asked the authorization to spend our summer holidays in "our" Summer Cadet. This was accepted: we were now "old cadets". Before leaving for the camp, I spent a week at Pieter’s home where Pieter’s parents thanked me more than I deserved for the work achieved with their son, formerly lazy and now a decent student.
When we arrived to the camp, I was told to go first to Captain Debever’s office. The Captain congratulated me on what he considered as an impossible achievement. He added that I had been useful the year before as Cadet Leader and that I had shown leadership abilities in the cadet school. He had thus decided to promote me to Cadet Corporal working with Sergeant Langendries. I received a real Corporal uniform, and no longer a Camper uniform. There were actual Corporal stripes on this khaki uniform and I worked as such during the whole camp. I really liked doing that. Herman joined me also as Cadet Corporal, but after three weeks as very good Cadet Leader. He was kind enough to tell me that even if we had now the same rank, he still considered me as his superior in rank and also as student.
To our great surprise, he was replaced by Pieter as Cadet Leader. We never told Pieter that it was a surprise for us, and the fact that he had been promoted changed Pieter for the good. He started to be more assertive and made good plans for his group.
At the end of the Holidays, it was back to the Cadet school where we kept studying together, one of us helping the two others whenever that was possible. We all took serious exams and were admitted in the upper class.
Then life changed for Herman: he had asked to be admitted into a special 12th grade preparing him for officer school. Unluckily for him, he was not accepted because despite his progresses in sciences he had not shown the required strength of character. He learned with sadness that he would first have to go through the NCO school, which was not bad.
Pieter remained in the "ordinary" 12th grade and was ready to join the Army as Private, hoping to become rapidly an NCO.
As far as I was concerned, I was surprised to get orders to go to this pre-officer school. The Commandant told me that all that was based on two positive elements: my attitude on the first day as Cadet Leader and my willingness to learn fast and well the 9th grade and the 10th grade courses.
Several years have passed. Herman and me are now both officers, and I am on the verge of getting married with Herman’s sister. Pieter is Sergeant and likes his job. He does not want to become an officer: according to him, Staff Sergeant will be his maximum level of responsibilities. He has two nice kids and he loves spending lots of time with Cadets, trying to motivate them, but also scolding them when it is needed. He does a good job according to his chiefs. He often tells demotivated cadets the story of a boy who arrived by mistake at the Cadet Summer Camp, an unwilling and rebellious Cadet, who ended up being an officer.
I have never met my sister’s husband, but I know that they have several children. My brother came once to see me and we had an excellent time: he is now an electrical engineer. Neither of us heard anything about our parents.