Pencil Thin Moustache

(draft)

Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.

Dudley Bain was a character and my cousin. I’d known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.

Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.

Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, he had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre. Fitting his frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would come in for endless appointments “to see my cousin” – where’s my cousin? – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly “I know he’ll see me”. They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d “only need a minute” just to adjust his frame, not to test his eyes, and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me and I’d say “got to go”.

I would visit occasionally at their lovely old double storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove I think. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double storey home out Hillcrest way.

We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. (I’m trying to remember his favourite car). One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith.

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Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide:

Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.

They wrote:-
Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?

Here’s Ethne’s contribution:
3 West Riding Rd., Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa
When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack.  Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.

A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale.  Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.

My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband, our Guide daughter D. and our Scout son P.  We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu.  We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident.  However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in.  A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.”  Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away.  As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter.  We, of course, were not far behind.  Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.

Baden-Powell house Nyeri Kenya

It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life.  From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later.  Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.

My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit in March 1970.  Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour.  The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away.  A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders.  Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over.  Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again.  The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.”  Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, GO back!” they all turned round and went back.  You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.

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Steve: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.

And funny Steve should mention that! Sheila remembers:

“After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.‘”

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Family tree:

(Sheila to check): Dudley was the (eldest?) son of Ginger (Stewart) (eldest?) son of Stewart who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Stewart’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.

The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

  • Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854;
  • He and his brother James came to South Africa in 1878, to Durban. Then they trekked on to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Orange River Colony;
  • Stewart married Janet Burley, who predeceased him in 1924;
  • He became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’;
  • He pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it “Bain’s Folly” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?” I called it the Moses MaFIFA stadium). Did Stewart have the tender?

Here’s a lovely 3min slide show of the building of Bain’s Folly – completed in 1908; by Hennie & Sandra Cronje of de oude huize yard. Biebie de Vos is Harrismith’s archive and treasures man – thank goodness for all the stuff that Biebie has saved and rescued! See where Biebie was born. WHAT an impressive building undertaking for a dorp on the vlaktes!

Stewart Bain died in September 1939 and the town pulled out all the stops for his funeral; The pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel, with ‘his’ Town Hall visible in the background, and ‘his’ mountain behind that. All Harrismithers and Harrismithians regard Platberg as ‘theirs.’

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral procession – who paid?!
Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

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I thought I remembered that, despite every dorp in South Africa seeming to boast a ‘Royal Hotel’ – from whence ‘hier sirrie manne innie Royal Hotel’ – the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two in South Africa that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has hereby confirmed that I have a flawless memory; Well, something along those lines:

Royal Hotel article

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Couldn’t resist this close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:

1939 Sept. Funeral of Stewart Bain Harrismith

Postscript:

A young post office worker left his little 1935 Morris in that garage in the care of the owner, Cathy Reynolds while he went off to war, ca 1940; When he returned around 1946 it was waiting for him. He then met Mary, second daughter of Annie Bland, nee Annie Watson Bain, Stewart’s fifth child. They got married in 1951. He was Pieter Swanepoel, originally from Pietermaritzburg, and my Dad.

Details of the 2007 refurbishment of the Town Hall

The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!

She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain, born in Wick on the 14th of April 1777. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

sarclet, scotland.jpg

Sarclet coast

sarclet, scotland_2

Sarclet village

I reckon if you dipped your toe in that Wick water you’d know why some Bains moved to Africa! Also, the castle looks  like it needed a revamp . . .

wick castle scotland

Wick Castle

Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, to Donald (42) and Katherine (41). On the 7th of February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage.

In 1853 Donald’s sons George and Stewart were out fishing when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. He died as a young father aged 34 on 19 February 1853, and was buried in Thrumster, Caithness.

Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

It seems Stewart’s father Donald also died that year. The next year, 1854, his brother George and wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa with his brother James in 18____ and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from the ‘Central Bains’, not to claim royalty! My grandmother was the fifth of these seven ‘Royal Bains’ – Annie Watson Bain.

 

Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ family in this cottage adjacent to their hotel in Station Road, down near the railway line:

1990 April Royal Hotel Cottage0003

James Bain, Stewart’s brother and owner of the Central Hotel, called his home ‘Caithness’. It was in Stuart Street near their hotel in the centre of town.

Caithness, Harrismith

Caithness, Harrismith

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.

My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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  • Many thanks to katrina duncan for getting in touch!
  • The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one ‘The Bains of Caithness’ was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.
  • There are a few coats of arms; I chose two examples.

 

 

 

Annie Watson Bain – Annie Bland

By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie. She was our dear Mom’s dear Mom.

In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died in World War 1 and whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall. She was a cousin of our Annie.

They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and Annie now owned the ‘Caltex Garage’, as we called it – one of the many petrol filling stations in town. At one time there were seventeen of them! Hers was on ‘Caskie Corner’, opposite our posh Town Hall which Annie’s father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building.

At the time some called the town hall ‘Bain’s Folly’ as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp. I remember exploring inside it with fascination as a kid. High up in the rafters and steel gangways above the stage, with all sorts of ropes and chains hanging down and black curtains behind the red velvet main curtains; the backstage rooms, along the marble-floored passages past the toilets, the museum with the taxidermied animals – a lion, a vulture, what else? The galley above the main hall. I never did get up into the clock tower, come to think of it! Nor onto the outside balcony overlooking Warden Street. I wonder why? Locked doors?

HS Town Hall
Harrismith Town Hall Bain's Folly
Town Hall3

Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty. This as she looked mildly disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me –  at mine. She called me Koosie and the way she pronounced it, it rhymed with ‘wussie’ and ‘pussy’, but don’t say that out loud.

The car she drove was like this one, except faded beige:

A Chevrolet Fleetline OHS 794, I think a 1948 model. It had a cushion on the seat for her to see over the dash and under the top rim of the steering wheel.

She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Bains of the Royal Hotel. There were also ‘Central Bains’.

She went to St Andrews Collegiate School in Harrismith:

. . and then to St Anne’s in Pietermaritzburg where she played good hockey ‘if she would learn to keep her place on the field’. She’s the little one on a chair second from left:

Annie Bain, ? seated on chair 2nd from left
– Hmm, looks like St Anne’s in Pietermartizburg was a riot of fun and laughter! –
HS Caltex

She ran the Caltex forecourt and the workshop at the back, where At Truscott fixed cars. She rented out the adjoining Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?

Sundays were special with Annie as your gran. She’d roll up at our house in the big beige Chev, we’d pile in freshly sanctified, having been to church and Sunday school, and off we’d go on a drive. The back seat was like a large lounge sofa. Sometimes she’d drive to nowhere, sometimes to the park, sometimes cruising the suburbs. OK, the one and only suburb. Usually there’d be a long boring spell parked somewhere like the top of 42nd Hill overlooking the town and watching the traffic. Annie and Glick chatting away on the front seat and us sitting on the back thinking, OK, that’s long enough now. I’m sure they told us the whole history of Harrismith and who lived where and who was who and maybe even who was doing what and with whom. But maybe not, as they were discreet gentlefolk. All of which we ignored anyway, so I can’t tell you nothing!

Later she got a green Opel and for some reason – maybe after she could no longer drive? – it was parked on our lawn for long spells. I sat in it and changed gears on its column shift about seventy thousand times. Probably why I (like most males in their own opinion) am such a good driver today. It was a Kapitan or Rekord like this, but green and white:

Annie's Opel Rekord

Annie died in Harrismith in 1983 aged 90. Looked after to the end by her loving daughter Mary. Her husband Frank and elder daughter Pat had died around 1943 and 1974 respectively.

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The pic of the Town Hall with the green Chev is thanks to De Oude Huize Yard – do go and see their blog. They’re doing great things in the old dorp, keeping us from destroying everything old and replacing it with corrugated iron and plastic.

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Also from DeOudeHuizeYard, this information about the building that housed Annie’s school:

The Dutch Reformed dominee Rev A.A. van der Lingen began his years of service in Harrismith on the 6th May 1875 and remained there until the 12th July 1893.  He and the church ouderlings built a new church on the site of the original building. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on the 25th August 1892. Five weeks prior to the unveiling of the stone, on the 14th July 1892, the town had enjoyed a four-day celebration of the momentous arrival of the railroad from Natal. The festival was paid for by a £5 500 donation by the Free State government! Harrismith was now online!

– Is this when the first train choofed in? Who was there? –

Around then the Rev van der Lingen ran for President of the Orange Free State. In the hope of impressing the townsfolk and swaying their vote in his favour, he built an impressive house, the first double-story building in Harrismith. The townsfolk seemingly were not impressed though, and he was not elected. Later, with the British occupation of Harrismith in the Anglo-Boer War, the military authorities made the double-story building their headquarters.

After the cessation of hostilities, Vrede House (Peace House) as it was then known, became St Andrews Collegiate School (1903-1918), then Oakland’s School and finally a boarding house in the 1930’s.

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Here’s some info and pics from the Imperial War Museum (IWM) of the bombing that killed Annie’s namesake, Annie Watson Bain in World War II in France, found by Bain descendant Janis Paterson, raised in Wick, now living in England:

Filmed at a stationary hospital near Etaples, probably 9 Canadian Hospital three days after a bombing raid hit the hospital on the night of 31 May 1918.

*** – see IWM movie here – ***

The wooden huts of the hospital show various bomb blasts but little fire damage. Four coffins, covered in Union Jacks, are wheeled on trollies by soldiers.

A single coffin, also covered with a Union Jack on a wheeled trolley, is followed by a funeral procession of nurses, soldiers with wreaths, and a few civilians. – ** this could have been our Annie’s ** – The procession arrives at a temporary but extensive cemetery where a burial service is held.

Stills taken off the IWM movie:

Seeing the acres of graves and knowing about the “War To End All Wars” who would think mankind would go on to fight another World war just twenty years later – and then be at war continually after that up to today 2018 with no end in sight!?

Janis visited the cemetery in France and found Annie’s grave:

Our two Annie Watson Bains, cousins from Harrismith, born of two Scottish brothers, both hoteliers in this small African town in the Oranje Vrij Staat, at that time a free and independent Republic:

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Footnote:

Maybe this Canadian sister attended our Annie in her last hours?

Edith Campbell, RRC, MM (12 December 1871 – 1951) was a Canadian nurse, one of the first to arrive in England in World War 1 to assist in the establishment of a field hospital. She served in both England and France, earning a number of medals, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. First she received the Royal Red Cross, first class, for her actions in England and France, and again for her bravery during enemy air raids at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples, France, during which she attended to wounded nurses. For this, she and five other nurses received the Military Medal.

Her citation read:

For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Regardless of personal danger she attended to the wounded sisters and by her personal example inspired the sisters under her charge.

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Footnote 2:

Janis Paterson loves flower arranging and has won cups at local shows. In 2014, one of the floral themes was related to the beginning of WW1.

Janis’ entry was a tribute to nurses like Annie Watson Bain and won the best in show award. The book in her arrangement “The Roses of No Man’s Land” is about those brave nurses.  She thinks that people often forget what nurses like Annie had to endure. The person escorting the judge told Janis the judge was almost moved to tears.  Isn’t it stunning: