Comrades in arms - US & NZ in the Pacific war
Genia man of the match against England

A joyful memoir that truly raises the spirits

Pretzel Legs Ex-kiap Laurie Meintjes’ book Pretzel Legs is billed succinctly as the reminiscences of an expatriate South African relating his youthful impressions of South Africa and his later experiences in New Guinea.

Of course, it is the latter period that will be of most relevance to PNG Attitude readers. But this does disservice to what is an insightful memoir with many sparkling gems between its covers.

In a sense, this is a coming-of-age book: a personal, thoughtful, well-told story of growing up in South Africa and maturing as a man in PNG.

Meintjes’ life is challenged and transformed by the cultural adaptation required of a young kiap, where significant professional, personal and moral choices have to be made.

For Meintjes, this challenge generated a zesty and embracing approach to life and his story is told joyfully, with good humour and with great anecdotes. This is a book that raises the spirits.

The ‘pretzel legs’ refer to the appearance of the gangly young Meintjes but also, I surmise, to the greenstick youth who is shaped by the life forces he encounters and who, making the right choices and with a bit of luck, matures into a substantial and accomplished human being.

The Meintjes mind is sharp, the pen acute and the writing faithful to reality. Passages such as this bring back rich memories:

Port Moresby’s Jackson Airfield in 1962 still showed signs that it had been a front-line airfield during the Pacific War. Marsden matting covered much of the runway; rows of 44-gallon drums hunkered down inside the earthen revetments that had protected the fighter planes; a trio of khaki Dakotas squatted tail-down by the Quonset hut terminal, their noses in the air as if they were sniffing around for another war; and a couple of Jeeps stood by into which officials hopped from time to time and scooted off to some distant part of the airfield. All that was missing was flight of Japanese Zeros snarling in from the Coral Sea.

When Laurie finished being a kiap he turned to teaching, from which he’s now retired to live in Cooranbong NSW where, amongst other pursuits, he writes poetry.

Pretzel Legs or Stepping Out of Africa by Lawrence Meintjes, Michael J Horn Blackwood, South Australia 2003, 238pp, 38 illus

PNG Attitude readers can copies from the author at the great discount price of $10 (includes postage). Email Laurie Meintjes at [email protected]


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Laurie Meintjes

Did I sound prickly? Sorry if it came out that way. I actually appreciate your comment. I'm seriously considering a second edition of 'Pretzel Legs', and if it goes ahead there are a few changes that I will make. Although I like the sound of Marsden matting, and always have, it might bow to Marston and wave it through. But then again...!? Oh, we'll see when the time comes.

Martin Hadlow

Be assured, Laurie, that I was not seeking to be critical or pedantic. Just making an observation.

I agree with you that 'Marsden Matting' has a nice (logical sounding) ring to it. It's a little like the alliteration of 'Bailey Bridge'.

As the Bailey (of bridge fame) was a British public servant (and one of his bridges still survives over the Matanikau River in Honiara) I always imagined that the Marsden (or Marston) of the matting was also a person.

While living on Guadalcanal, I often met visiting US Marine veterans who were surprised at how well the matting had survived from World War Two. They called it Marston and (in that pre-Google era) I had to go to the history books to check it out. With Google, we discover that it was named after the town of Marston which was near Camp Mackall, a major WWII airborne training camp.

Having viewed Marston, NC through Google on-line, one can't help but wonder why they tested the matting in a place which looks like a one-horse town. Maybe it was bigger then.

But why didn't they call it Mackall Matting instead? This also has a nice alliterative tone to it and would seem more logical, given that it was a military base. Another historical strand for me to pedantically pursue!

Laurie Meintjes

Thank you, Martin, for pointing out the correct spelling and derivation of Marston matting. However, there must be something (perhaps euphony) in its ubiquitous alternative, Marsden, that attracts the ear and, for that matter, Google. It even crops up in the recollections of some of those who saw or handled the stuff during WW2. Ron Wylie, who served as a Deck Officer on various BP vessels during the war years, recalls berthing at the B.H.P.wharf in Newcastle "to load a large quantity of Marsden Matting". I seem to be in good company, even if we are all wrong.

Martin Hadlow

Really enjoyed the excerpt about Port Moresby airport in 1962. I'm sure the reference to 'Marsden matting' [sic] takes us all back to our time in the Pacific where we saw this product being used in just about every post-war situation. And it's still going now! Pig pens, fences, foot bridges, you name it.

I had always heard it called 'Marston matting' and presumed that it had been named after a person, probably the inventor. Not so.

The mention in 'Pretzel Legs' has taken me to the bookshelf and a copy of the official history of the US Army in World War II (The Corps of Engineers: the War Against Japan). I hope I'm not being too pedantic in quoting (p 125) as follows:

"Steel mat was also known as pierced steel plank, pierced plank, or Marston mat, from the name of the town in North Carolina near which this type of mat was first tested".

Apparently, 'Marston mat' was made from a special kind of steel, which is why it hardly rusts and is in use to this day. What an incredible product.

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