A button was lost near Bathurst in the Eastern Cape. Not any old button, but a rounded brass button that had once shone brilliantly on the tunic of a soldier. How it was lost will remain a mystery. So many things go missing when armed forces are constantly on the move during a war: buttons, buckles, stirrups, cap badges and so on.

Over a hundred and twenty years later the button was found by Theo van der Walt, who has developed an eye for such treasures from the past.

He looked closely at the embossed design on the button and made out the figure of a horseman and the number five. Could it have come from the Light Dragoons, he speculated, and turned to members of the Eastern Cape branch of the South African Military History Society for assistance in identifying the origin of the button, made from gilded brass.

Everyone loves a mystery.

True to form, within twenty minutes the Chairman had matched the emblem to a cap badge and sent a link to a Wikipedia article that suggested a connection with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. What a promising lead!

Meanwhile, others were taking an even closer look at the photograph posted on the WhatsApp group. Was the clearly visible VOOAN a significant abbreviation, Nick Cowley wondered? After all, some units were called ‘Victoria’s Own’, but they usually had the word ‘Queen’ in front. Further research was required.

About four hours later, Nick reported that VOOAN is the word for the Irish province of Munster. Had this mounted soldier been part of a unit from Munster that had served in the area during one of the Frontier Wars?

Interest had been piqued and the collective search continued.

The following day brought to light that the 5th Regiment of Foot’s regimental badge pointed to the horseman on the button being St. George slaying the dragon. It is interesting to note that the regiment of the Northumberland Fusiliers was permitted to use the legendary figure of St George killing a dragon in uniform regulations dating back as far as 1747.

Three hours later, the mystery had been solved: the button had indeed come from a member of the 5th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. The letters VOOAN had been an interesting red herring that was netted and put to rest with the discovery that the Latin motto of this regiment is QUO FATA VOCANT (Wherever the Fates call). The second O was actually a C and the letters (viewed only from the photograph) were clearly a part of that motto – the other letters were not easily decipherable. The button has a raised moulded band in the shape of a garter, bearing this motto. These buttons are described on eBay as ‘rare’.

The 5th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers had been involved in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1901). This infantry unit was raised in 1674 and subsequently served in many British Army campaigns during its long history. While there might not have been much military action in this area during that war, a British concentration camp had been set up in nearby Port Alfred.

Note: Photographs supplied by Theo van der Walt.



It is time to delve into some random patterns that might stir up memories or comment. The first is a cairngorm brooch my son used to wear on his plaid as part of  his piping uniform. These have thankfully been dispensed with as they are far too hot to wear during our summers.

Here is a detail on a canon in Fort Beaufort.

At this time of the year we scan the horizon for clouds that might just bring us rain.

After the rain comes the joy of seeing drops on the leaves around the garden.

Leaves on their own make attractive patterns too.

Lastly – part of a buffalo.


After the gloom of venting about load shedding and in the gloom of a heavily overcast morning, it is time to cheer up by looking at more patterns around us. The first one isn’t a ‘natural’ pattern – and sadly is no more – but is of a garage door in the suburbs that used to sport a plain zebra that was brightened up when the residents changed hands.

The potato bush that pokes through the fence from the neighbouring garden to share its bountiful blooms with us is particularly cheering.

So are the pelargoniums that are flowering profusely in a fairly neglected part of my garden.

My garden – which was a desert of gravel and exotic succulents thirty-four years ago – has grown into a beautiful jungle of indigenous trees and bushes with a variety of textures, shapes and hues of green.

I came across this caterpillar while I was mowing the lawn last week.

When I was driving along a road out of town at around sunrise, I marvelled at the pattern made by the dew on this seed.


According to various dictionaries, when used as an adjective, plump means having a full and rounded shape, whereas round means circular or cylindrical. Of course those of us whose shape is not exactly lean are used to being referred to as being plump [in the sense of having a full and rounded shape or being chubby and somewhat overweight.] Should you take offence at this description you might quickly be assured that ‘plump’ in this case is meant to describe an ‘appealing roundness’. Let us look at some examples of creatures with this appealing plumpness.

I don’t think I have ever seen a dassie that looks thin!

Olive thrushes always look ‘cheerfully chubby’.

Unless they have very recently been shorn, sheep also have an appealing roundness about their appearance.

As far as round things go, look at the spherical shape of this dung ball – courtesy of the work of a dung beetle.

Dandelion seeds are appealingly round.

The shape of these rings on a gun carriage may generate a discussion on the difference between round, circular and spherical – we can leave that for another day!