Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Harrismith Author Leon Strachan

Harrismith History – Free State Fables – Rural Legends . . well told.

Harrismith has had a few published authors over the 171 years of the town’s existence. One day I’ll make a list. The best by far is Leon Strachan – imho of course! I have four of his books and am searching locally for the others.

– Leon Strachan’s four books on Harrismith characters’ achievements, foibles, shenanigans, pecadilloes and kakaanjaag –

In 1999 Leon wrote Blafboom, tales of Harrismith characters bravely told even when some may not have wanted them told! Admittedly some are told anonymously, but those in the know would know exactly who he was writing about . . and shudder. Some, I must confess, left me in the dark, but with a burning curiosity: One day I’d love to ply him with whisky – he drinks scotch, as like me, he has Scottish ancestry – and get him to tell me who the culprits, the instigators and the victims were! Known characters include ‘the man who swapped his wife for a bicycle;’ Petronella van Heerden, pioneer, leader, doctor and farmer; Caveman Spies, famous local mischievous strongman; He also tells the story of some Byrne settlers who moved to Harrismith from Natal – a step up.

Blinkoog followed in 2002. My mother Mary Bland grew up on Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Their neighbours were Badenhorsts on Stratherick, and Odendaals on Sterkfontein and Eskol. She told the story of how freewheeling downhill was known as ‘using Casper’s petrol’ – ‘ons ry nou op Casper se petrol’ she would say, smiling. He was known as Suinige Casper (Frugal Casper Badenhorst would be one way of explaining his nickname). Today the beautiful and precious wetlands and streams and valleys of Nuwejaarsvlei and neighbours are irreplaceably lost, drowned under Sterkfontein dam. Sacrificed to feed the industrial monster of Gauteng / iGoli / Joburg. Dead water waiting to be flushed downstream and then flushed down a toilet, where before an amazing ecosystem existed. You’ll notice I love wetlands . .

Botterbek in 2004 – I’d love to know the true identity (identities?) of ‘Botterbek,’ Leon’s narrator! More whisky! Characters who feature here include the very well known Kethlaan Odendaal, Jan Schambreel and jackal hunter Frans Olivier. Jurie Wessels’ remarkable ‘Harrismith Harem‘ is featured and explained in Strachan’s characteristic way: he seeks to understand the people involved; and while he will tell you the scandal and the rumours, he won’t simply leave accusations hanging without investigating them. And so it turns out the impressive building was really meant to be the most impressive home in the district for his wife. And it would have been had the 1914 rebellion not intervened . .

Bergburgers: his fourth book published in 2017 tells of Platberg, the beloved mountain that looms over the town and is visible for miles around; the book’s title alludes to the fact that the citizens of the town – past and present – all consider Platberg ‘theirs.’ The annual foot race up and down the mountain, started by an insult and a challenge; the geology of the mountain and how it formed over the millennia; Leon corrects the injustice done to the families living in the Lost Valley by telling their real story – a fascinating tale of quietly capable people living their own lives, yet interacting regularly with neighbours and townsfolk, not at all totally isolated; old Professor Bloch the violin teacher who lived down the road from us in Stuart street; old archeological and fossil findings by Arthur Putterill – one of them maybe the same as the one Donald found? and two boats built in our district, far from the coast, that sailed the high seas – one in 1886 to England and one in 1986 to the Caribbean;

Some of his stories are in the fine English he was taught by Mrs Ella Bedford, mother of Springbok rugby captain Tommy Bedford, but for most of them you have to be able to read Afrikaans.

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I know of three heftier tomes he has written:

Leon’s Grandad’s Story

– Charles Davie –

Probably all in suiwer Engels, Son of England, Man of Africa (2009) is the story of a Harrismithian who led the South African chapter of The Sons of England – Leon Strachan’s grandfather Charles Davie. Leon tells the little-known inside story of a secretive organisation for the first time. He then takes a look at other similar societies which took a leaf out of the SOE book. The SOE’s aim of uniting men who were loyal to England and wanted to remain ‘English,’ – sometimes more ‘English’ than their fellow countrymen ‘back home!’ – was based on the Freemasons; SOE was more influenced by the ‘correct’ political and religious powers of the day; plus they were more into charity work. The Afrikaner Broederbond, the Hebrew Order of David and the Caledonians based their organisations to some extent on the principles of the SOE. Ah, well, nothing exceeds like success . . and there was a time when little ‘England’ was the centre of the known Universe. Leon and I both had grandparents who lived secure in that knowledge!

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Then Matters Military:

Krygers en Skietpiete (2011): The 150 year history of the Harrismith Kommando, excluding the Boer War, which tale is told in his next volume. From Thabo Bosigo, through the ‘skietpiet’ period; to duty on South Africa’s borders; to deployment against fellow-citizens (though this was denied – ‘they’ were not citizens of South Africa, remember?!) in South Africa’s ‘townships’ – towns in which indigenous African people had to live by law. Leaders and interesting characters; the influence of political developments; incidents, good and bad.

– image from Leon Strachan facebook page –

Krygers en Guerrillas (2015). Experience the Anglo-Boer War as it was experienced by people in the Harrismith district, daily as the war unfolded; sometimes far and away and only read about, sometimes in their midst. See why the defenders, invaded by a foreign power, called it the Tweede Vryheids Oorlog – they were fighting for their freedom. Good tales and shocking deeds, including war crimes; the whole war time is unfolded from beginning to end. Comprehensive, the data includes names, casualties, Boer deaths, Brit deaths, prisoners, concentration camp deaths; ‘hensoppers,’ Boers who surrendered; ‘joiners,’ Boers who joined the British invaders; and ‘verraaiers’ who were outright treacherous. Boer Jews and Boer Irishmen and men of other nations who joined the Boers to help them against the invasion by the world’s biggest war machine, deployed by the world’s biggest looting and plundering machine. The war is presented from a local ‘on the ground’ perspective as well as a wide-angle perspective, showing how national and international decisions affected the people doing the actual fighting, suffering and dying.

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A keen horseman, Leon leads an annual ride down into and through the Lost Valley every year.

– the author on the right on ____ –

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Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family sport

Polo in Harrismith

The first recorded polo game in South Africa took place in October 1874 at the King Williams Town Parade Ground between the Gordon Highlanders and the Cape Mounted Rifles.

The Military Ninth Division played during the 1880s at Harrismith, Orange Free State.

Polo was played in Cape Town in 1885 at a club formed by army officers, and in Natal by the officers stationed at Fort Napier, in Pietermaritzburg; a year later, they formed the Garrison Polo Club.

Play in Transvaal began in Johannesburg in 1894, when the owner of the Goldfields Hotel founded a polo club. The game was dominated by the military, but civilian clubs sprouted in several places.

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Someone must have the history of Harrismith polo. I hope. The first polo field I remember was in the sixties on the far side of the railway tracks; you drove under the subway to get there. Across the road was the sportsfields: a hockey field and then the cricket oval. Legend has it that Jimmy Horsley once hit a famous six across the hockey field, across the road and onto the polo clubhouse roof!

During a recent visit to Harrismith I spotted this on good friend Bess Reitz’s passage wall: Her Dad and Ginger Bain in the winning team!

SA Polo has a website with some history.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 4_Optometry Johannesburg 5_Army days 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).

– annie watson – mary frances – peter frank –

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 between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.

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Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

A Harem in Harrismith?

You know that mansion Mal Jurie is building on his farm? It’s a harem!

A what?

A HAREM! A place where you keep lots of ladies in rooms and they lie around swimming and eating grapes and looking beautiful. When they do have clothes on its not clothes like your mother wears. He says he’s going to bring French dancers to his harem from the Moulin Rouge in Paris! A lot of French ladies in Harrismith in the Vrystaat!

Aag, man, You Lie!

No, I swear. He told me himself!

– just outside Harrismith, Free State – ?? huh? –

This is how an Urban Legend – in this case really a Rural Legend; or, as historian Leon Strachan calls them, a ‘Lieglegende’ – got started.

First of all, it’s true. Jurie Wessels DID say that. His neighbour wasn’t lying.

But what Jurie was really saying was ‘Leave Me Alone!’ ‘Los My Uit!’ ‘Mind your own Business.’

Jurie was a successful farmer, an intelligent, interested man, married to an outgoing and attractive woman and he was building her a home unlike any other in the district. His problem – his sin – the reason he was called Mal Jurie – was that he was an introverted and eccentric character. He didn’t ‘play by the rules.’ And for that you get punished in most communities, maybe more so in small communities. And Harrismith would have been no exception.

For starters, Jurie had brought his lovely engaging wife from far away. People didn’t know her mother and her grandmother. She was actively involved in the community, well liked, and often entertained; but still . . she was from far away. And also, often Jurie wasn’t at her gatherings, preferring to keep to himself, even when she entertained at home.

So when Jurie got Italian stone masons to start building a large sandstone structure on the edge of a hill above his ordinary homestead, overlooking the Wilge river valley and the west end of the dorp, the people started wondering . . and talking. But it was when a consignment of beautiful and really big wooden windows and doors arrived from Italy at the Harrismith spoorwegstasie that the rumours started building and gathering momentum. From ITALY? Nothing from ITALY arrived at the Harrismith stasie! Where was Italy, anyway? This was weird! Just what WAS Mal Jurie up to? Here was evidence, not just skinner, that Mal Jurie was mal.

Well, he was actually building a beautiful home, but he didn’t want people sticking their nose in his business. People always asked too many questions! So when his neighbour asked, he deliberately gave what he probably thought would be an obvious exaggeration. And it would have been taken as just that, had his reclusive behaviour not made him ‘suspect’ – ‘different.’ And so the rumour – the legend – grew wings and became ‘the truth.’

My mother Mary grew up with one of his sons, Hugo. Hugo was a popular, good-looking and talented medical doctor. He and Mom matriculated in the same class of 1945 and both did well in their exams. Here’s Mom on the piano and Hugo enjoying her playing and getting ready to sing at Mom’s 45th birthday party in 1973:

And here’s one of his sons, Max Wessels, who played rugby with me in primary school:

– Max extreme right – me right-most in the back row –

The beautiful new home never got finished. Jurie joined the 1914 rebellie – a rebellion against the government – mad, as were many others, that this blerrie government was joining the blerrie British to fight World War 1! Hadn’t the blerrie Engelse just been killing them a mere twelve years before? Hadn’t they locked up their women and children in concentration camps, starving them and killing them off through disease? Why the hell was South Africa fighting WITH the invaders who had ruined the country just a short decade ago, burning their houses and killing their livestock?

Building ceased. Today the impressive ruins of the home Jurie wanted to build for his wife still stand:

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Thanks to Leon Strachan for keeping Harrismith’s history alive – and for the photos. For more and better info, read his book (check which one . . . Blinkoog? He wrote four: Blafboom; Blinkoog; Botterbek and Bergburghers).

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

from Buckland Downs to the ‘Fitzstitute’

In October 1902, just four months after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick bought the farm Dreyersgeluk near Verkykerskop in the Harrismith district from the insolvent estate of Petrus Dreyer. Fitzpatrick got Herbert Baker to design a fine sandstone homestead and assist him in building it in 1903 ‘but without full professional services’ (Keath 1992:104-105). Baker, who became Sir Herbert in 1926, was an English architect who worked in South Africa from 1892 to 1913. Baker’s first job was for Cecil Rhodes on Groote Schuur; over the next twenty years he dominated the architectural scene in South Africa, designing the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1910.

– Fitzpatrick changed the farm’s name to Buckland Downs –

James Percy Fitzpatrick was born in 1862 in King William’s Town, the son of Irish immigrants from Tipperary.

Active in politics and very pro-England, Fitz agitated for war against the boers and was convicted of treason against the Transvaal state in 1896. Being on the winning side, though, meant he was then knighted in 1902.

As an author his most famous work was ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ written in 1907 while staying at Buckland Downs, about his life as a transport rider in the lowveld goldfields of the old Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek. The Jock stories began as bedtime stories told to his children. Apparently urged to publish them by his friend, famous author Rudyard Kipling, the stories became one of South Africa’s most famous books of all time.

Around 1910 Fitzpatrick ordered a large number of different varieties of oak trees from England and planted them in the shape of the Union Jack on about 35ha of land on Buckland Downs.

Sir Percy said “I would rather be a meerkat in Africa, than a millionaire in England.” Of course, he meant that only as long as Africa was under British rule.

Fitzpatrick’s daughter Cecily (1899-1992) later stayed on the farm with her husband Jack Niven. In the 1940’s the famous ornithologist Austin Roberts (1883-1948) used to visit them on Buckland Downs. Patrick Niven tells how Roberts involved the family during a 1942 visit in a collecting expedition to the nearby Spitzkop for specimens of swifts.

Cecily became very involved in birds – her name is reflected in the List of Members of the Southern African Ornithological Society (SAOS) for April 1935, the receipt for her subscription is signed by Austin Roberts who was Hon. Secretary at the time. In 1948 she established a Committee for Bird Protection as a subsection of the Wild Life Protection Society. In 1957 Cecily was the driving force behind the first Pan African Ornithological Congress which took place in Livingstone, Zambia. In 1960 she established an Institute for African Ornithology – now fondly known as the ‘Fitzstitute’ – dedicated to the memory of her father, Sir Percy FitzPatrick through a £15,000 endowment (around ten million Rand in 2007 money) from the FitzPatrick Memorial Trust.

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A first edition copy of Jock is going for $7500. And then THE first edition is for sale by Clarke’s Bookstore. I wonder how much that will fetch? Here’s the inscription Percy himself inscribed in it:

Illustrated by E.Caldwell

DESCRIPTION:

First edition, First impression. 475 pages, colour frontispiece, plates and marginal illustrations, dark green cloth with gilt titling and gilt vignette of Jock on the upper cover, light foxing throughout mainly in the text and on the page edges, with the drawings of a dung beetle pushing his load with his front legs rather than his back legs on pages 65, 337 and 457 and Snowball the horse being dragged out of the river on page 316 – these drawings were changed in later impressions. The spine is starting to fray at the top and the bottom, the bottom edge of the upper cover and the corners are slightly scuffed, housed in a specially made oatmeal textured cloth solander box with a dark green title label gilt on the spine, a very good copy of the first edition.

5000 copies of the first impression were printed at a total cost to Longmans of £416. 7s. 11d.

Signed on the title page by J Percy Fitzpatrick. His full name was Sir James Percy Fitzpatrick.

Inscription on the front paste-down end paper reads: This is the first copy of “Jock”- “ belongs to the Likkle People” and the mere narrator desires to acknowledge that fact in proper form. J Percy Fitzpatrick, Hohenheim October 1907

The dedications page reads: It was the youngest of the High Authorities who gravely informed the Inquiring Stranger that “Jock belongs to the Likkle People!” That being so, it is clearly the duty, no less less that the privilege, of the mere Narrator to dedicate the Story of Jock to those Keenest and Kindest critics, Best of Friends, and Most Delightful of Comrades The Likkle People.

Fitzpatrick’s adventures during this time of his life, when he was pioneering in the Bushveld, are vividly described in his book Jock of the Bushveld, a South African classic.

In the early 1900’s he used to recount the adventures of his dog Jock (a Staffordshire Bull terrier cross), in the form of bedtime stories to his four children, Nugent, Alan, Oliver, and Cecily, to whom the book was dedicated – the likkle people.

Rudyard Kipling, an intimate friend, used to take part in these story-telling evenings and he it was who persuaded Fitzpatrick to put the stories together in book form. Having done this, Fitzpatrick searched for a suitable artist to illustrate the book and eventually came across Edmund Caldwell in London and brought him to South Africa to visit the Bushveld and make the drawings on the spot.

The book, which appeared in 1907 for the first time, was an immediate and overwhelming success, being reprinted four times in that year.

Extracted from his South African Memories pages 24 -25: Of course to those who have read Jock of the Bushveld he needs no introduction. Jock and Jess and Jim will always live in the memories of the Little People whom he was addressing and whom in every generation of young South Africans he will continue to address. The Little People have always loved Jock and his companions because they know what was being told to them was true and that it was all about their own wonderful country.

Overall Condition: A Very Good Copy

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http://www.krugerpark.co.za/sir-percy-fitzpatrick-kruger-national-park.html

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Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 8_Nostalgia sport

The Subway

Greg Seibert arrived in Harrismith from Ohio in 1972 as a Rotary exchange student.

In 2014 he was sending sister Sheila some of his pictures from those wayback days. He wrote: Here is one I’m sure you will like. It is one of the very first pics that I took in Harrismith, probably the day after I got there. You or Koos took me down to the field hockey field. I remember people saying it was by the subway. Boy was I impressed! The only subways that I knew were the underground trains in London and New York! Imagine little Harrismith being so advanced as to having one of those!

Well…I was a bit disappointed…lol!

New York subway’s Grand Central Station

The feature pic and this pic are not the Harrismth subway, but do give an idea of what it looks like. I’m looking for some actual pics of our illustrious subway.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia travel

Home-made Bound

Three Norwegians in Witsieshoek were homesick and probably horny. They longed to go home to Norway, so they rode their horses to Port Natal, bought a ticket on a sailing ship and off they went, right? Actually not.

They decided they would build their own ship in the veld on their farm Bluegumsbosch in the shadow of Qwa Qwa mountain, load it onto an ossewa, trundle it to the coast and then sail themselves to England, seeking – and finding – huge publicity all the way. The huge publicity was because everyone knew it couldn’t be done. They were going to drown in a watery grave and everybody TOLD them so.

As always: pinch-of-salt alert. This is me talking about history I have read a bit about. A little bit of knowledge . . . you know. For actual facts and a lot more fascinating detail, including how their boat amused the Laughing Queen (Victoria herself, who actually ended up buying it), rather read Harrismithian Leon Strachan’s highly entertaining book Bergburgers which illustrates clearly that Harrismithans are amazing and wonderful people. Amazingly, some people apparently are unaware of that fact.

For starters, hello! what do you build a ship of when you’re living on the vlaktes un-surrounded by trees, just grass? Grass is no good, mielies are no good and ferro-cement has not been invented yet. The few trees you have are the bluegums the farm is named after and some small poplars you planted yourself on the bottom end of your werf ; and poplar wood is no good for keeping water out for long enough to do the Atlantic. And these okes want to do the Atlantic. Now I’ve no doubt they were drunk. I mean, join the dots: Three males, tick; Norwegians, tick; in the Vrystaat, tick; lonely, tick. They were drinking alright. They were a bit like ignoring the perfectly good bus that runs from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and running there instead; Wait! Some fools did do that some thirty years later and called it the Comrades Marathon.

Turns out there are trees in the Vrystaat if you know where to look: In the shady, damp south-facing kloofs there were some big old yellowwoods, excellent wood for ship-building if you’re inclined to build ships. So they didn’t use those. They ordered wood from America. I know! Mail order! But apparently this is true. Somewhere in America a pile of pitch pine beams and planks got addressed to c/o Ingvald Nilsen, farm Bluegumsbosch, foot of Qwa Qwa, Witsieshoek, near Harrismith, Oranje Vrijstaat and put on a wooden ship. Which crossed the Atlantic, got loaded onto an oxwagon in Port Natal and schlepped across Natal, up the Drakensberg, turned left at the bustling regional centre, transport hub and rooinek metropolis of Harrismith and were delivered: ‘There you go, sir. Please sign here that you received in good order.’

Up the Drakensberg to Harrismith village; Left to near Qwa Qwa mountain

So how big do you build a boat you want to sail 10 000km in, knowing the sea can get lumpy at times? Are you asking me? 362m long, 23 stories high, 228 000 tons, sixteen cocktail bars, a massage parlour and better airtight compartments than the Titanic had, please. No, but seriously, this is twenty seven years before the Titanic set sail, and you’re building it in your farmyard in the Free State. Like this:

Now hey! Don’t laugh. Read on to see how the Harrismith-built boat fared, and read up how the Belfast-built Titanic fared! Both were trying to cross the Atlantic – just wait and see who did it better!

The Nilsen-Olsen craft was 6,7m long and weighed about two tons. They called it Homeward Bound, though they were actually aiming for England. Seems Nilsen had become very British. He had signed up with Baker’s Horse and fought for Britain in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. He knew all the hoopla would be in English language newspapers in Harrismith where the Chronicle was already chronicling, Pietermaritzburg where the Witness was witnessing, Port Natal / Durban and in England, so shrewdly, he capitalised on that publicity.

All along the route people would look in amazement and offer advice (‘You’re never gonna make it’) but whenever he could – in Harrismith, Estcourt, PMB and in Durban – Nilsen isolated the boat and charged people a fee to view it and offer their opinion (‘You’re never gonna make it’). He raised so much money this way that in PMB he wrote: ‘. . had not the weather been unfavourable, we should very nearly have cleared our expenses, so general was the interest in the boat.’

In Port Natal the coastal people really REALLY knew these inland bumpkins were never going to make it and made it so plain that it gave Nilsen great pleasure some months later to enter in his log: ‘ . . sighted Ascension; this we found, in spite of what people said in Durban, without the least trouble and without a chronometer.’

Long story short – we won’t bother about details like navigating, surviving, hunger, etc now that the Harrismith part is over – they made it to Dover in March 1887 after eleven months, a journey that took passenger ships of the day around two to three months*. Nilsen sold the boat to the queen, who displayed it in the new Crystal Palace exhibition hall; he wrote a book with the natty title, ‘Leaves from the Log of the Homeward Bound – or Eleven Months at Sea in an Open Boat’, went on speaking tours where he was greeted with great enthusiasm, married a Pom, became a Pom citizen and lived happily ever after. I think.

Greeted with great enthusiasm, yes, but this was after all, England, so not all were totally enamoured. One commentator harumphed: ‘ . . Their achievement is a magnificent testament to their pluck and endurance, and one can only regret that such qualities have not found some more useful outlet than the making of a totally unnecessary voyage.’

——-ooo000ooo——-

What’s 362m long, 23 stories high and weighs 228 000 tons? – That’s the Symphony of the Seas, biggest passenger ship afloat as at Feb 2019

veld – savanna; no place for a sea-going shiplet

bergburgers – citizens of the mountain; Harrismithians

ossewa – ox wagon.

vlaktes – plains; not where you’d sail a 2-ton wooden boat

mielies – maize; corn

werf – farmyard

Oranje Vrijstaat – Orange Free State, independent sovereign state; President at the time was Sir Johannes Henricus Brand, Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, abbreviated GCMG ***

Sources:

  1. Bergburgers by Leon Strachan; Tartan Boeke 2017 – ISBN 978-0-620-75393-7

2. Martin Hedges’ blog actonbooks

3. A Spanish blog with pages from the book dealing with their tribulations in Spain – a month on land which was arguably the toughest part of their journey!

4. Nilsen’s book ‘Leaves from the Log of the Homeward Bound, or Eleven Months at Sea in an Open Boat’. Here’s a reprint with a snappier title:

The book sold well; a later edition had a shorter title

Two pages from the book: Arriving in Spain and walking in Spain looking for food or money or any help!

——-ooo000ooo——-

*** Enlightenment from the satirical British television program ‘Yes Minister’ season 2, episode 2, ‘Doing the Honours’:

Woolley: In the civil service, CMG stands for “Call Me God”. And KCMG for “Kindly Call Me God”.
Hacker: What does GCMG stand for?
Woolley (deadpan): “God Calls Me God”.

——-ooo000ooo——-

* The Lady Bruce, one of the twenty ships that brought Byrne settlers from the UK to Natal, arrived on 8 May 1850. The record says ‘their passage was a speedy one of 70 days.’ – Natal Settler-Agent by Dr John Clarke, A. A. Balkema, 1972. By 1887 the average time may have been shorter?

——-ooo000ooo——-

Amazingly, ferrocement boats had been invented forty years earlier, in France!

A bateau built by Lambot in 1848
Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Arthur Kennedy

Arthur Kennedy arrived in Harrismith like a dwarrelwind. Why we were so lucky as to get Arthur to our town I don’t know, but I think his wife Zita had family here. I think she was related to the Kerkenberg mountain vd Bosch’s.

He brought an exciting new venture to the dorp: A new motel on the N3 on the south-east end of town – at the Jo’burg-Durban-Bloemfontein junction – or the Warden-Swinburne-Kestell junction you could say if you weren’t going to drive far.

The motel – Kennedy Motel – was going to have a ‘flyover’ restaurant suspended over the road so diners could watch the road as they munched their mixed grills. All the Durban-Joburg traffic – the busiest rural freeway in South Africa by far – would have to drive underneath them. But meantime the motel and petrol station had to be built, plus all the rooms – the chalets. A cable car to the top of Platberg was also in the pipeline, according to Arthur. Big plans!

The Kennedy family stayed right on-site in novel half-round semi-portable wooden bungalows above the building site and below the track that was an extension of Vowe Street, below the SE end of Hector Street. Arthur was very hands-on and was deeply involved in everything. He made the cardinal apartheid error of starting to pay his workers more than the “known” Harrismith wage which, according to Steph de Witt, got 5ft 6 inch Arthur a visit from 6ft 4 inch Koos de Witt, Steph’s Dad. Steph says Koos found Arthur in a foundation ditch. He jumped in next to him and “explained” to him in international language how he was not to bend the “local rules” of wage exploitation.

Later he built a triangular house of wood and glass above Vowe Street – a huge novelty for the town. It was next door to the du Plessis home, and Pierre and I hopped the fence and inspected it while under construction. The bathroom had a novelty in it which we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t know it was called a bidet, but we spotted right away what it was for. HaHaHa! Our schoolboy humour kicked in. Arthur’s initials were AW (were they? or did we invent that?) and we proceeded to call him Arse Washer after that bathroom furniture that so tickled our crude funny bones. We weren’t always Methodist-polite, ’tis true.

He even became a town councillor, this foreign rooinek in the vrystaat! If America could have a President Kennedy at that time, why couldn’t we have a possible future mayor Kennedy? Quite a guy was our Arthur!

~~~oo0oo~~~

The Cupboard Snake

For a while the Kennedys lived in the middle of town – in or near the house where Nick Duursema lived, near the circle in Warden street, just down from Arthur Grey’s corner store. That’s where the puff adder landed on top of the bedroom wardrobe.

The first and last puff adder I saw ‘in the wild’ was in Hector Street outside our house in about 1965 when – ware vrystater that she was – Mother Mary ran over the poor thing in the blue VW OHS 155. Doelbewus! Swear! The old man was called out from the pub. He came home, caught it and put it in a box which he gave to Zita Kennedy to give to Tommy van den Bosch. Maybe he’d first stunned it with a blast of cane spirits breath.

Tommy lived against the slopes of Kerkenberg and wore a cowboy hat and played the guitar. He’d sing you a mournful – or toe-tapping if that was your poison – cowboy song at the drop of a hat. His cowboy stetson hat. He collected snakes and took them to the Durban snake park who paid him by the foot. They estimated this puffy at five foot, though of course that length may have grown over time! SSSSS – Snake Stories Seldom Suffer Shrinkage.

That night in bed just before lights out Arthur Kennedy asked Zita “What’s that box up on the cupboard?” She hadn’t finished telling him and he was already out in Bester Street opposite the ou groot kerk near the traffic circle in his tiny pie-jarm shorts shouting “Get that thing out of there ! I am NEVER going into that house again until that thing is gone!” and other earnest entreaties.

Flying through the air with the greatest of ease – Arthur K on his flying trapeze!

He did! He flew the full length of the stadsaal; again in his tight broeks. So he might have had a fear of snakes, but he was fearless in other ways: Who can forget Arthur Kennedy dressed only in a white Tarzan loincloth, swinging right across the hele stadsaal on a trapeze high above the gob-smacked and ge-be-indrukte Harrismith dorpsmense? And outdoors upside-down high on a thin pole above the skougronde? Fearless aerobatics and acrobatics.

But a snake on his cupboard? That was too much for him!

For a while he made Harrismith seem part of the wider world! It was a bit like this:

Trapeze.jpg

Here’s the actual scene of the thrill (I remember the curtains as red back then):

Republic Day 31 May 1961: On the big day celebrating South Africa’s freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen, Arthur gave a stunning performance on his own equipment down at the President Brand Park in front of a full pawiljoen of ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense! Dad filmed it:

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Arthur ran our mountain race and, further proving his commitment to Harrismith he married a second local girl – much, much younger than him.

~~~oo0oo~~~

dwarrelwind – whirlwind, tornado, breath of fresh air

doelbewus – on purpose; Swear! ‘Strue’s God! Gentle Mary did that. In those days you did. The only thing that made you think maybe you wouldn’t drive over it was the story that it would wind itself around your axle and then climb up into your engine, then under your dashboard and THEN pik you on the foot! Swear!

ware vrystater – genuine free stater; born and bred in the free state, as was her mother before her (who would not have been celebrating the 1961 demotion of QEII from monarch to foreign tannie)

tannie – auntie

ou groot kerk – the old Dutch Reformed Church, the Moederkerk

hele stadsaal – the full length of the town hall

ge-be-indrukte – highly impressed, awe-struck, yes, gob-smacked

mense – people, citizens; pale, of course

skougronde – agricultural show grounds

pawiljoen – pavilion; stadium, place of worship

rooinek – English-speaking; andersgesinde

freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen – Republic Day 31 May 1961 on which the Union of South Africa became the Republic of South Africa

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Harrismith & District Gymkhanas

Dad remembers the gymkhanas he took part in and so enjoyed in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

They were held in Harrismith, Eeram, Verkykerskop, Mont Pelaan and Aberfeldy; and on the farms Appin near Swinburne, Primrose near van Reenen, and Maraishoek.

The entry fee was one pound per event – and prize money was less than the entry fee!

Events included Tent pegging; Sword and ring; Sword; Lance & ring; Potato & bucket.

Races were the bending race, we’ll need to ask him what that was; and the owners race, where the owner him or herself had to ride, no hiring a jockey!

Regular participants he recalls are Manie Parkhurst Wessels; Bertie van Niekerk; Kerneels Retief; Richard Goble; John Goble; Kehlaan Odendaal; his son Adriaan and his daughter Laura; Laurie Campher; Hans Spies and his kids Hansie, Pieter and Anna.

Dad says he was the only non-farmer riding! Kerneels was usually his partner.

gymkhana-tent-peg

**  internet pics  ** If anyone has some real Harrismith district gymkhana pics I’d sure love to display them – with full acknowledgment of course.

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Here’s footage from a gymkhana in Cape Town in 1940. With hilarious Pommy-ish commentary.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

Platberg Shellhole

We always called it The Moth Hall, and for a while it was where Dad was probably drinking. But it was more correctly called Platberg Shellhole of the M.O.T.Hs – The Memorable Order of Tin Hats. And there was an older shellhole before that one – an older ‘Moth Hall’. It was down near the railway line; down near the Royal Hotel.

This was where old servicemen would lie to each other and themselves in song:

“Old Soldiers Never Die;

Never Die, Never Die;

Old Soldiers Never Die;

They Just Fade Away.”

 

Back then they were all survivors of WW1 and WW2. Only later did they take in ever-more members from ever-more wars. And there’s an endless supply of those; the armaments industry sees to that.

The things I remember about the old shellhole was playing in the dark next to and behind the building – big adventure; And seeing 16mm movies, with big reels whirring in the dark; some were sponsored by Caltex and other companies; I remember Hatari! about yanks in darkest Africa, catching animals for zoos; It starred John Wayne, but who was he to us, back then?

Hatari_(movie_poster)

. . and Northern Safari, about a 4X4 safari in the Australian outback with a very annoying theme song “We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari!” ad nauseum. We loved it!

Northern Safari movie poster

What the folks would remember, if the truth be told, would be booze and sing-alongs and booze and skits and booze and plays; these were the order of the day. * click on the pic * if you want to read some names.

MOTHs names-001

Seated on the left next to Mary Swanepoel and Trudi Else in full voice, is Harold Taylor, veteran of WW1. Under those voluminous trousers is one wooden leg. The other is buried at Delville Wood. He would take his turn standing next to the piano singing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etienne Joubert remembers:

The old MOTH hall was not opposite the Royal Hotel but in the vicinity. In fact it was next to Llewellyn & Eugene Georgiou’s home. It was near the railway line below the G’s house.

I remember Ray Taylor who had some shrapnel in his head, not Harold with a wooden leg; also Uncle Jack Hunt; Arthur Gray & of course your folks. I also remember playing in the dark outside. I remember my first sip of beer which I did not like; but I overcame this in years to come to absolutely love it!

I remember the song A Long Way To Tipperary; The piano was very rickety, as was the wooden floor, which squeaked with the slightest step. On the walls were very big portraits of Winston Churchill & Jan Smuts; Dan Pienaar was also there, but smaller; and a pin-up of Jayne Mansfield. This pin up made it to the “new” Moth Hall.

One thing I did not like was helping my Old Man clean the Shellhole on a Saturday morning; the smell of stale beer & cigarette smoke remains very vivid in my memory.

ashtray full
– royalty-free pic dreamstime –

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Still nostalgic?

and here’s Vera Lynn, 101 yrs old and still going (Nov 2018). In 2009, at the age of 92, Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it to number 1 in the British album chart.

The ole man acting Paganini:

The real Niccolo Paganini – and probly why the ole man wanted to be him:

When he was eighteen the young virtuoso escaped his father’s control, following his elder brother to the Tuscan city of Lucca. “Freed from parental control, Paganini embarked on a life of famous excess. As he later put it, ‘When at last I was my own master I drew in the pleasures of life in deep draughts.’ He would spend the next twenty-seven years in Italy, filling his life with music, love affairs, and gambling, interrupted by long peri­ods of utter exhaustion.”