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Source: Botwana Press Agency

First reposted by:
Papa G - 06/15/2006 : 9:45:03 PM

Builders of Botswana
31 October, 2003

The first Batswana APC troops, the 2 500 men of Companies 1971-77, began arriving at Port Suez, Egypt, in October 1941.

Those aboard the S.S. Mauritania had enjoyed the most comfortable passage.

As noted last week, the Mauritania was one of this century's greatest luxury liners.

Even when stripped down for service as a troop transport the Mauritania had a grace and, perhaps, more importantly to Batswana at sea for the first time, stability of her own.

Once on board some fortunate Batswana, who had henceforth been confined to third class train carriages in their homeland, found themselves in the upper decks, first and second class, cabins for the nine-day voyage up the coast of East Africa and the Red Sea.

According to the former APC Major RAR Bent, who's 1952 book "Ten Thousand Men of Africa" is by far the most comprehensive, if somewhat dull as well as paternalistic, first hand account of Batswana troops in the war (...)

Once landed, Batswana companies were taken by lorry to Qasassin, a dusty town some 35 kilometres west of the Suez Canal that was the location of the main Pioneer Corps Depot for the British forces in the Middle East.

There, Batswana joined some 20 000 other Pioneers drawn from throughout the Empire.

In addition to the British there were men from such places as Cyprus, Kenya, Malta, Mauritius, Palestine (then divided into separate Arab and Jewish units), the Seychelles, Sudan, Tanganyika (Tanzania), Uganda and Yemen.

These units were able to mix freely, but international contact for most of the Batswana was limited by the language barrier.

Few then spoke the imperial lingua franca, English.

Upon arrival each Motswana was issued with full battle kit which included fatigues (combat dress), steel helmet, gas mask, and canteen.

The two protruding ammunition poaches that one strapped across one's chest were instantly dubbed "mabele".

For many troops the most prized piece of equipment was their Mannlicher Carcano 6.5 mm assault rifle.

These captured Italian guns were substitutes for the modestly higher calibre British Lee Enfield Mark 3 rifle, which were then in short supply.

The Lee Enfields subsequently became the standard armament of Batswana, as well as most British and other imperial troops.

For the more suspicious Batswana the guns were proof that they, unlike their predecessors in World War One, were, indeed, now proper soldiers.

After being equipped, Batswana were put through a month-long crash course of combat training.

During shooting practice the lightness, balance and simple sighting mechanism of the Carcano's was well appreciated.

But the Italian ammunition frustrated many a marksman by failing to fire.

There were also "endurance marches" through the desert.

While these tests left most of the Depot's cosmopolitan mix of troops from all corners of the Empire gasping or worse, they do not seem to have been much of a strain for men already seasoned by the rigours of the Kgalagadi sand veld.
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