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A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! These random personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know: With one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt.

Uncle Boet in Malmesbury

* random oldie reposted * updated *

1983 Uncle Boet's truck 20004After the 1983 Berg River Canoe Marathon ended in Velddrif, we stopped in at Boet & Anna Swanepoel’s smallholding outside Malmesbury, about 50km north of Cape Town. Boet was Dad’s older brother. Mom and Sheila had seconded me on the race, driving my Cortina to each of the three overnight stops.

I’d forgotten this visit, remembering only an earlier 1977 visit with Larry Wingert, but Sheila had pictures! And there I am, sticking up above Uncle Boet’s head, watching the activity from a safe distance, hands in pockets. Probably too tired and cold to help after the four-day freeze I had just endured? Or lazy? I do know my hands would not have appreciated hoisting hay bales after 240km of holding a wet paddle!

We won’t mention child labour, nor overloading, nor our way of saying “I loaded the Chev with hay” rather than “I had the Chev loaded with hay”, OK?

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The bakkie: My research suggests this was a 1955 Chev 3200 ‘Task Force’ 3/4 tonner.  Probly with a bit more than that onboard!

 

 

Durbs in 1962

 

We went to Durban around this time and stayed in the Four Seasons holiday flats. Free Staters loose in Durbs-by-the-Sea! The high-rise flats were in Prince Street one street back from the Golden Mile, or Esplanade. I remember the lifts and I remember getting back tired and full of sand from the beach. I don’t seem to recall the beach – weird.

We probably drove down in the Morris Isis.

Blast from the Past

My great grandfather got a letter from a seed and plant merchant in Uitenhage in July 1901. I know cos I found the envelope on an online auction site. It was sent to Harrismith, Orange River Colony (ORC).

It was stamped ‘Passed by the wartime Press Censor’ as the wicked Poms were trying to steal our diamonds and gold at the time and were waging the Anglo-Boer War.

JFA Bland envelope full

JFA Bland envelope

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Sheila responded:

Yes, I would think it was JFA Bland II who was our Grandad Frank’s father. He came to Harrismith by oxwagon with his father JFA Bland I and they settled near Witzieshoek.

JFA Bland I is buried in Senekal apparently – I made contact with someone in Senekal who offered to go looking for his grave, but she’s never come back to me – so if you ever find yourself in Senekal with nothing to do …….

Phew! I once found myself in Senekal with nothing to do . . . .

Platberg’s Flat Rock Pass

The eastern-most pass up Harrismith’s Platberg is the fabled Donkey Pass. We called it Flat Rock Pass. Mountain Passes South Africa says it’s the sixth highest above sea level, and the second steepest pass in South Africa.

The road traverses a nature reserve and you need a permit to drive up. The steep parts – with sections as steep as 1:3 – are concrete stripped to aid traction. 4X4 and low range is essential for a safe and – especially – non-destructive ascent.

For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.

On top you’ll find Gibson Dam, built by British soldiers soon after the Boer War.

Other passes on Platberg’s south side – the side facing the town – are Khyber Pass, ZigZag Pass and One Man’s Pass. They’re all footpaths only though.

Hopefully Platberg’s custodians limit the number of vehicles they allow on top to keep the mountain top as undamaged as possible. Sensitive wetlands!

Here’s the extent of Harrismith’s townlands:

Harrismith Townlands

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pics from dangerous roads and mountain passes of SA. Thanks!

The Bloody Red Baron Shot A Harrismith Oke! The Swine!

Red Baron fly
von Richthofen’s famous red Fokker Dr.1 triplane

Sheila found this:

On the 16 April 1917, the crimson killer Manfred Von Richthofen shot down his 45th Allied aircraft, which included 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Seymour Andrews, the son of Thomas Frederick and Louisa G. Andrews, of Warden Street, Harrismith, in the Orange Free State, South Africa.

Andrews was born in 1889, and was educated at Merchiston College, Pietermaritzburg and – even better – at school in Harrismith. Like many of his countrymen Andrews made the trek to England to volunteer his services in the ‘Great War’. Approximately 10, 000 South Africans and Rhodesians served in the British Armed forces during World War 1, around 3, 000 of them in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

Andrews joined the RFC and initially served in the ranks with No 1 Squadron, before being commissioned and gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant to the General List in March 1917. He was then posted to No 53 Squadron where he was to meet his pilot, Lieutenant Alphonso Pascoe, who hailed from Cornwall. Andrews and Pascoe were subsequently transferred, in tandem, to No 13 Squadron on the 18 March 1917, the squadron helping to pioneer formation bombing during the war.

April 1917 has gone down in British history as ‘Bloody April’ as the RFC was to suffer a disproportionate amount of casualties in relation to German losses, estimated to have been three times as many as the latter. Since September 1916, the Germans had held the upper hand in the contest for air supremacy on the Western Front, with the Albatros DII and DIII outclassing the British and French fighters charged with protecting their exceptionally vulnerable two-seater reconnaissance and bomber machines.

On the 9 April 1917 the Battle of Arras began with the concomitant RFC support, and subsequent engagements with the German air-force, the British losing roughly 245 aircraft, and 211 aircrew killed or missing, with a further 108 taken prisoner, during this catastrophic period of RFC history.

Andrews’s squadron was equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory Bleriot Experimental 2 single engine two-seat biplane, the BE2. Approximately 3,500 were built during the war and used as fighters, interceptors, light bombers, trainers and reconnaissance aircraft. The BE2 was not a popular aircraft with the British airmen, being seriously underpowered and unreliable – even by the standards of the time.

BE2e Allied aircraft WW2.jpg

There had been few combats on the 16 April due to bad weather, rain and low clouds, but at 14:50 hours, Pascoe and Andrews were dispatched in their BE2e aircraft No. 3156 on an Artillery Observation sortie. According to Von Richthofen, flying his red DIII, No. 2253/17, he approached Pacsoe and Andrews from approximately 1,000 metres. The two ‘British’ pilots were flying at an altitude of 800 metres, and were supposedly totally unaware of the enemy. Von Richtofen promptly attacked, whereupon Pascoe’s aircraft lost control and began smoking. The pilot regained control, but in the end the plane plummeted from approximately 100 meters to the ground below, coming down between Bailleul and Gavrelle. It was the Baron’s 45th victory in total.

Pascoe was lucky, he survived and was sent home to England to recover from his wounds, but his ‘Springbok’ observer was not so fortunate. Andrews, desperately wounded, was lifted from the smashed wreckage and passed through a series of casualty stations until he finally reached Le Tocquet Hospital, where he was to die thirteen days later, on the 29 April 1917.

Lieutenant Andrews lies buried in Etaples Cemetery, France. He was twenty eight years old at the time of his death.

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How short and hurried life can be in war.

Andrews lasted barely a month in combat. Von Richthofen’s spell was much longer, but still pitifully short.

Von Richthofen earned his pilot’s license in June 1915. After honing his skills flying combat missions over France and Russia, he met the famed German flying ace Oswald Boelcke, who enlisted him in a new fighter squadron called Jasta 2.

Under Boelcke’s tutelage, Richthofen grew into a seasoned fighter pilot. He recorded his first confirmed aerial victory in September 1916 by shooting down a British aircraft over France. He soon racked up four more kills to earn the title of “flying ace.”

He had his Albatros D.III fighter plane painted blood red. The distinctive paint scheme gave rise to the immortal nickname ‘The Red Baron’.

In June 1917 Richthofen was promoted to leader of his own four-squadron fighter wing and was outfitted with the Fokker Dr.1 – Dreidecker = triplane – the distinctive three-winged machine that would become his most famous aircraft.

The Red Baron’s final flight took place on April 21 1918, when pilots from his Flying Circus engaged a group of British planes over Vaux-sur-Somme, France. As Richthofen swooped low in pursuit of an enemy fighter, he came under attack from Australian machine gunners on the ground and a plane piloted by Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown.

During the exchange of fire, Richthofen was struck in the torso by a bullet and died after crash-landing in a field. Brown got official credit for the victory, but it seems it was probably the Australian infantrymen who fired the fatal shot.

Allied troops recovered Manfred von Richthofen’s body and buried him with full military honors. The 25-year-old had only prowled the skies for a little over two years, but his 80 confirmed aerial victories proved to be the most of any pilot in World War 1.

Red Baron crash

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song: The Royal Guardsmen – Snoopy vs The Red Baron

Pony with Pleasure

Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.

Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell.jpg

Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.

“Yes” he said, “but not with pleasure.”

Mother Mary

Tue 2nd May 2017 – I got a phone call at work from a friend who had just visited Mom & Dad – “Your Mom was saying strange things and was not herself, I think you should visit”, said Keith Griffiths. I phoned sister Sheila (who phoned other sister Barbara) and drove to Maritzburg.

Mom was physically fine, but a bit confused and – tragically – with marked short-term memory loss. Trying hard to be alright she asked me “How’s Trish?” Trish who died six years ago. Dear old Mom has had a probable TIA leading to sudden short-term memory loss. Tragic, she has always been so sharp and organised. Luckily her longterm memory and sharp sense of humour is unaffected.

DAMN!!

Probably a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”.

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A TIA is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain.

The disruption in blood supply results in a lack of oxygen. This can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs. However, a TIA doesn’t last as long as a stroke. The effects often only last for a few minutes or hours and fully resolve within 24 hours.

But Mom’s memory loss is still apparent a week later.

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Phoned them this morning

Dad says he told Mom to stay in bed till the sun came up but she didn’t. He wants her to see an audiologist as she doesn’t listen! (He’s as deaf as a post and her hearing is great, making the joke all the better).

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Mom says she prays for Tom n Jessie every day that they’ll understand their lessons and pass their tests.
I asked her if that wasn’t cheating? Mary Methodist hosed herself. Slightly cautiously – was raised not to tempt fate.

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From Sheila: Hi Everyone – I’m in the middle of a massive clean-up and came across this – on the back is written:

Marjory, Pat & Peggy – Harrismith 1938 – Signed DC Reed

** missing pic **

So I phoned Mum for more info:

Marjory was Farquhar – her younger sister was Dossie, who was Mum’s great mate – Dossie lives in an old age home in Bethlehem and she and Mum chat quite often.

Pat was Bland, Mom’s older sister.

Peggy was Hastings – Michael’s sister – she had a lovely sense of humour – she had 3 kids and then her husband walked out on her – she came back to Harrismith and married Bert Starkey – her kids were Barbara, Stuart and 1 other.

The “DC Reed” Mum thinks was Peggy’s cousin Daphne, whom they called Dodo – Mum says she was lovely and they all loved her.

It’s really a gorgeous pic and Pat looks so full of fun and nonsense, which she usually was!

So now you know. Love Sheila

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One day, before Mum started school, Brenda Longbottom came to play. She lived across the road in Stuart Street and was 18 months older. Mum very proudly told Brenda about a book she was reading – all about a little girl called Lucky.

When Brenda saw the book she told Mum in a withering tone that the little girl’s name was Lucy, pronounced Loosie, not Lucky! Mum was devastated.

.

Years later I was also teased for getting hard and soft ‘c”s mixed when I said SirSumFurr-ence for circumference. Hey, we read phonetically ‘by our own selves’, so this happens!