‘I’m reading a book about Princess Elizabeth’s visit to East Africa; and so I’m remembering her visit to South Africa in 1947. I’ll never forget it.’
This is Mother Mary Methodist speaking, reminiscing.
‘I was nursing at the Boksburg-Benoni hospital and the Royal Family cavalcade was going to pass right in front of the hospital. We all went down to the road in our uniforms and we just knew she was going to stop and chat to us because the porters had wheeled Daphne down from Ward 7 and put her hospital bed right at the edge of the road.’
Daphne was well-known: Young and paralysed from diving into a shallow pool. The King and the Queen and the Princesses would definitely stop, lean forward and have an earnest chat with Daphne making sure not to get too close. Mary and her fellow nurses crowded round Daphne’s bed and waited breathlessly, the loyal Royalists they were. And here they come!
And there they go. They drove straight past. Didn’t stop; just a vague wave in the general direction!
But of course loyal Monarchist Mary immediately made excuses for Their Royal Bliksems: ‘They were on a very tight schedule.’
Bah, jou moer Koning Jors, us republicans would have said. Actually, we wouldn’t have been out on the road waiting . . we would have pretended to not even know they were visiting . . Who? King of where?
Later Mom’s friend, nurse Audrey Beyers was chosen to accompany Daphne to America for an operation. She doesn’t know what transpired, except Audrey got married and became Audrey King.
Mary Bland and Sylvia Bain, cousins, decided there was NO WAY they were going to miss the dance in the Harrismith Town Hall. This is quite possibly Mary’s single biggest act of defiance or wilful disobedience in her whole life. See, they were meant to be in Durban then, to start their midwifery course at Addington Childrens Hospital.
But to the dance in the dorp they went. Mary with Pieter, who she later married; and Sylvia with John, who she later married.
The next day they left (by train?) and in Durban they got their new quarters and their new uniform, which they loved: ‘It had a long fishtail headdress down the back almost to our waists. It looked beautiful.’
Also, their new matron was Mary Hawkins and they knew her sisters in Harrismith and in fact, Mary’s Mom Annie had dated her brother ‘Hawks’ Hawkins for quite a long while.
When they were summonsed to Matron Hawkins’ office they waltzed in merrily feeling glam and looking forward to a warm Harrismith welcome; only to be met with a frosty blast and a good dressing-down from Bloody Bill, as Mary Hawkins was known by those who knew her! Or sometimes Bloody Mary. She had been the Matron of all SA nurses in the war, and this was shortly after the war, and she was in no mood for nonsense. They were LATE starting their course!
Somewhere there’s a newspaper photo of Mary and Sylvia with a New Year crop of fresh Durban babies. Must find it.
The feature pic shows Mary and Pieter also in 1949, also outside the Town Hall, but another occasion.
pics from skyscrapercity.com; and kznpr.co.za – thank you. kznpr is Hugh Bland’s site; Here’s the cover of Hugh’s book on the Addington Childrens Hospital:
The ole man got a visit from his alma mater. Now he’s on the internets at maritzburgcollege.co.za! Their article follows, modified, with spelling and grammar corrected by me (non-College):
A few weeks ago, we popped in for a quick chat with Mr. Pieter Swanepoel. Class of 1939 – so he finished College before World War II started! (I have him as class of ’38, College?)
Mr. Swanepoel gives a lot of credit to his older sister for him getting to College. He says his family were not wealthy, as his Dad had been seriously affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Fortunately, he kept his job throughout – but he always felt pressure to get money for his family of six. To help her Dad, Pieter’s older sister Anne, or ‘Lizzie’ as he called her, stopped school at Russell High School early to get a job. Pieter was still at junior school in Havelock Road, just below the railway station where his father worked. Sister Lizzie used to get him to read every night, even though he wasn’t particularly partial to it! She also helped him to apply for College and motivated – successfully – for him to secure a scholarship.
He remembers one of his first classes was a Latin lesson with the headmaster, Mr Pape; he was walking around the class talking with the boys, and Pieter decided he needed to look very serious and studious to keep out of trouble. Pape walked over to him and said, “Why are you frowning at my teaching?” and promptly lashed him a few good whacks there and then. All lessons took place in Clark House which doubled as dormitories and class rooms. His sister encouraged him to knuckle down at school and take the more difficult courses like Latin and Math, to give himself a head start.
He excelled at sport, and athletics was his particular passion. He won the best athlete prize in 4th and 5th form and recalls College doing very well in inter-school meets. See the results from 5th form in 1937 here.
The school itself was a little out of town and there were very few buildings nearby.
Much of the conversation among the boys was about either about Philip Nel, who was then Springbok rugby captain, or the global tensions developing in Europe with Nazism on the rise. (nothing about girls, beers or cars, then). As it was, Pieter didn’t finish 6th Form; he left College in early 1939 (1938 I thought) to take his trade exams at the post office and started working there to earn money for the family. And soon he bought his first car.
He left the post office to join the army once South Africa joined the Union Defense Force. He was part of the 14th South African Armored Brigade as a radio operator and spent most of the war fighting across Italy. The impact of war on him and his friends was rather marked. In an incident in Abyssinia – present day Somalia – seven Old Collegians were killed in action. He wasn’t there, but two of his friends, Hornby and Berlyn, were among those College boys killed (read more about the White Flag Incident here).
Mr. Swanepoel has his class photo still and in the notes below he lists seven of his class of twenty-five that were killed in World War II. Almost a third of his 5th form class! The loss of some of these friends took a long time to come to terms with. He spent time in Egypt and in Italy. Interestingly, his inauspicious start to Latin lessons with Mr. Pape had some good consequences. Once in Italy, he found that he picked up the language very quickly, allowing him to speak to the local citizens. He found this a useful skill and was soon able to converse for the army and on a personal level. He found the Italians to be very friendly and accommodating. After the fighting stopped he was offered a position in Japan before returning home, but he opted to return to SA.
He survived the war and returned to Harrismith where he married, started a family and farmed. He still has a love for horses, and talks with fondness of some of his horses and the excellent ponies he bred from Basotho stock. He remains a passionate Old Boy and is an avid woodworker. He has made a number of wooden articles for the school to use.
Family is very important to him as are his friendships. He remained friendly with his classmates and attends the Veteran’s luncheon and Reunion whenever he can. He has been very disappointed about the current lack of events due to COVID and looks forward to being back on campus. He met our last centenarian Cyril Crompton at the 150th reunion. Cyril passed away a few years back at the age of one hundred. Mr. Swanepoel wishes the current boys well, and encourages them to be diligent and work hard as the opportunity at College is not something afforded to everyone. Saint Pieter.
As he said to the Maritzburg College chap who came round to interview him:He excelled at sport, and athletics was his particular passion. He won the best athlete prize in 4th form 1936 and 5th form 1937. This was the Old Man talking, Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, born in 1922. (‘6th form’ is matric, or high school senior year, which he started in 1938, but he left school on 1st April that year to start an apprenticeship at the post office).
He recalls College doing very well in inter-school meets:
Big sister Barbara Swanepoel Tarr met Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the travelling rabbi, who I wrote about some time back. He very kindly gave her a book.
Barbara tells of her voyage of discovery looking up old Jewish friends. This post is snippets from a letter she wrote:
Many of the names and surnames have been mentioned to me in conversations over the years with my parents and some I knew personally and grew up with. We’re still lucky enough to be able to contact our folks, Pieter Swanepoel (98) and Mary Bland Swanepoel (92), who now live in Pietermaritzburg and still have amazingly good memories. They fill in the gaps with names and places and help make our history come alive.
In Harrismith, the Royal Hotel was built by my great grandfather Stewart Bain and was sold to Mr. Sookie Hellman; the Central Hotel was built by his brother James Bain and was sold to Mr. Randolph Stiller.
We lived in the Central Hotel for about three months in 1960. Mom and Dad had bought our first house in town – 95 Stuart Street, and were waiting for the tenant’s lease to expire. There we got to know the Stiller family (Isa was a young girl at school, I think) and Becky Kaplan, the receptionist. The Deborah Retief Gardens were our playing fields, under the watchful eye of Ted and Fanny Glick, sitting on their balcony in Van Sandwyk Flats No 1.
Fanny Glick and my grandmother Annie Bain Bland were the best of friends. Sunday afternoons these two characterful old dears would pick up the three Swanepoel kids in Annie’s big cream Chev and tootle down to the Park on the Wilge River. There we were each given a sixpence and left to our own devices at the round kiosk. ‘Glick’ and ‘Anna’ (that’s what they called one another) enjoyed tea and scones in the Chevy, and us three would swing, slide and no doubt fight on all the wonderful ‘things’ in the playground.
Around 2015 a bee flew into my bonnet, and I started looking for old Harrismith High School scholars. Finding Ivan and Brenda Katz in Joburg was a gem of a find; I also found another strong Harrismith sister, Adele Cohen.
In 1961 in Std 1, I received my first bicycle for Christmas – a blue Raleigh that kept me going to matric in 1970. I remember going into your Dad Eddie Cohen’s shop for a patch, a new tube, a bell or just to look around. All too soon, the three Swanepoel kids were finished with school and our bikes were no longer needed. Happily they became the property of new owners…the three Cohen kids.
Joy Kadey, your parents’ shop, Jack Kadey’s Jewellers, still stands and is very much alive. Now called Louis’ Jewellers. While the name has changed, very little else has changed in the shop and in the whole building, thanks to Louis Nel and his daughter Erika Nel du Plessis (the owner). She has managed to make time stand still in a little place of long ago. Absolutely worth a visit to this ‘lil ‘ol shoppe’ of our childhood. Erika and husband Pierre du Plessis live in Louis Green’s old home in Warden Street, which they have also restored beautifully. One of Harrismith’s magnificent old homes.
Other Jewish people from old Harrismith are Essie Rosenberg Lunz, John French (great nephew of Fanny Glick, who sent a Facebook link on the Harrismith Jewish Cemetery), David Babbin, son of Isaac and Joey Babbin from the Tickey Bazaar, where you could buy ‘everything.’ How I loved that shop! Walking in through the door took one into an amazing fairyland. Baskets of all sorts on the floor, glass compartments of sweets at mouth-watering eye level, and counters of ‘what you will,’ and everything that could hang was hanging …just ‘as you like it’…..it was all there!
Who knows more about this lovely story? Let me know!
Andrews Motel on van Reenens Pass was a well-known landmark to anyone who drove the busy N3 between Jo’burg and Durban.
Old Mr Andrews had retired to Harrismith and was now dying. He asked his GP, Mike v Niekerk to please scatter his ashes on top of Platberg.
When the time came, Mike took Mr Andrews’ nephew to the airstrip on 42nd Hill; clutching the little box he got into Mike’s plane; they took off circled, climbed and headed for the nearby Platberg, that iconic mountain that most people who live in Harrismith claim as their own. When the time was right he signaled to the nephew to open the window and empty out the ashes as requested by the old man.
The nephew did; he opened the box; opened the window; and flicked out the ashes. Or tried to – they blew straight back into his face and all over the interior of the plane!
Mike turned and landed back at the strip – and said he spent the rest of the day spitting out ashes!
Some of the ashes surely must have landed on top of Platberg though? As requested.
Here’s a great painting of the western end of Platberg – the end nearest the aerodrome – by Alan Kennedy, artist who grew up spending holidays with his uncle and aunt Leo and Heather Hilkovitz at magic Little Switzerland Hotel.
Mary tonight reminded me of her trip to South West Africa back in the seventies, I think, where ‘they all talk Afrikaans, you know.’
She tells of staying with one young fella who was fascinated by her accent. He told her she talked funny. What do you mean, asked Mary, indignant that her Free State Afrikaans wasn’t judged perfect by this lil five-year-old.
‘Tannie praat so Talking Talking,’ he said.
The pic shows Mom feeding a (probably Afrikaans-speaking) kudu.
Shades of my Afrikaans also being judged in SWA in 1969, see below – the full post of our tour is here.
We camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.
We should have been more biblical. Us Swanie kids should have listened in Sunday School and been a lot more faithfully Biblical.
Doesn’t the Bible say quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Obey Your Father’!? And Pieter Gerhardus said quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Shoot Me When I Turn Sixty!’
We shoulda been obedient children.
Luckily for him (now aged 98) the Bible might also say ‘Obey Your Mother.’ Does it? Lemme check.
Yep. Ephesians 6 v1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
On the other hand, our disobedience (or mine, as a son) could have led to this:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, . . . that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother (Ah, Mom woulda saved me) lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place . . . And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die . . . (Blimey! But God Loves ya! Eish!) – Deuteronomy Chapter 21 v18
So Wendy wakes the Reed and announces it’s time: Stacey the firstborn is on her way and they need to get to the hospital sommer right now. Oka-ay, now where did the Reed put his car keys?
Searching for stuff when you’re not completely calm is fruitless. Rather phone Koos. Who comes roaring around the corner into 10th Avenue, Berea, Durban, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa at three ay emm in the grey and grey 1965 Concorde deluxe four door column shift Opel. Or was it my puke-green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon? Memory fades and it could be either. Both had slick column shift gear levers anyway. And anyway, it’s a good thing we have vehicles like this for times like these. Spacious bench seats. Ample boep-room between seats.
I whisk them off to the hospital in no time. Efficiently. The robots change when I go through, the clouds dissolve and the sky turns blue . . thanks, Don Maclean. The Concorde is stable around the corners, swift on the straights.
Wendy was in the ward long before 4am the way I remember things.
Stacey, on the other hand, appeared in that ward only at about 6pm that evening. She’s still laid back.
Decades later we discussed the details.
May 2021, Steve Reed wrote: Was it from there (Whittington Court) that you made your pre-dawn mercy mission to the obstetrics department on 8th June 1983? Possibly not, because you bought that flat in 1984 or were you renting it before then?
Me: Memories dim and they’re very malleable. Mine is of getting into my puke-green Pukealot stasiewa OHS 5688 outside my residential hotel on the Berea – or perhaps the Communal house in Hunt Road.
But not Whittington.
Where did I drive to? I remember Debbin North, but no more detail except I dimly see a flat, not a house? Where were you when Stace was born?
Steve: We were living in 10th Avenue – a little duplex near Greyville a few streets up from Windorah. You visited us there after Stacey was born. I remember your living in a flat not very far away … closer to what was Berea Road. I remember it being pretty spartan – Were you sharing with someone?
I think it may have been your Opel that you came round the corner on two wheels but memory murky. Maybe it was the Pukalot.
I had been spray painting a cot for Stacey’s arrival. Slammed the tip up garage door shut and went to bed with all keys locked inside the garage. Another set of keys had been left at work in Durban North. Somehow I had no key for either of our cars.
Me: Ah! I might have been staying with Dave Thorrington-Smith in his flat near Botanic Gardens.
So you took Stace home to 10th Avenue? Amazing. I was convinced I roared across the mighty Umgeni River. In the stasiewa, I thought, cos I was imagining being an ambumince driver.
Steve: At 5am you took a moer of a lot of waking up… but damn I was happy to see you. Bliksem!