I know little about my ancestors, so when a friendly Essex wideboy who is into genealogy liked one of my posts and spoke about an ancestor’s challenge, I thought I’d attempt a more modest challenge: Learn about family whose names are very familiar to me, yet I know very little about them.
Another prompt came from Texas, when old mate Free State Texan JP du Plessis asked, ‘Is GS Bain your great uncle?’ when he spotted him in a polo team with Dr Frank W Reitz.
Yes indeed, I said and so I’ll start with Ginger Bain, who I have written a little bit about before – about how his rugby genes were passed on to his great-great-grand-nephew. I notice he rode ‘Da Gama,’ captained the side and, the tournament being in Harrismith, Free State, they naturally won the ‘Duke of Westminster Cup.’ Right. Who’s the Duke of Westminster?
And did they use only one horse in those days? By the time I watched polo in Harrismith thirty years later, I thought each player had four horses at his disposal? Ah, I see the rules say at least two, up to four – ‘or even more.’ A lot of polo rules seem to be ‘by agreement.’
Ginger Bain was the first-born son of Stewart Bain and Janet Burley, who owned the Royal Hotel in Harrismith. Stewart had come to South Africa from Wick, a tiny fishing village in NE Scotland. Accompanied by his brother James, they ended up building bridges for the new rail line extension from Ladysmith to Harrismith. I speculate how that may have come about here.
This building used to be something else, I think – not sure – but in our time it was the junior primary school. Occupying a full block between Stuart and Warden Streets near the centre of the metropolis, our Sub A to Std 1 classes were here. Except if your Std 1, 2 and 3 was all together in one room with one teacher (‘die Engelse klas’). Then you went down to the next school in Std 1. So I had Sub A and Sub B in this old sandstone building. I entered age five and departed age seven. With a blue bicycle.
My greatest achievement in this time was probably winning a high-pissing contest in the sandstone boys room and having big mate Fanie Schoeman report the feat to Mrs Van Reenen. Miss! Miss! Peter pee’d on my head, he said. Brief fame, diplomatically handled. The urinal was open to the sky and we’d been trying to see who could leave his wet mark highest up on the sandstone wall above the trough. Wee on sandstone leaves a very satisfactory, undeniable mark which cannot be disputed, in contests like these. It lasts long enough for judges to judge and disputes to be resolved.
Here’s a view of our classroom taken from the boys toilets. In fact this photographer’s head is very near where Fanie’s head was back then. Chips!
Another clear memory of that class was admiring the beautifully accurate Noddy car Lincoln Michell made of yellow and red plasticine.
That sums up my first year of formal education. Luckily it didn’t cost a lot.
One of the joys of being in this kleinspanskool was it was a junior part of the bigger primary school down the road and quite regularly something would need to be schlepped down there. To be chosen to pull the wooden trailer or trolley, with its rubber wheels from one school to the other was a much sought-after diversion from classtime. You’d be FREE! FREE AT LAST! and wandering the shady tree-lined streets in school time on a Long Walk To Freedom! Bliss!
Behind that long building was a rugby field where Giel du Toit despaired of my ever learning one end of a rugby ball from the other – or one end of the rugby field, for that matter. His coaching methods consisted of patting me on the head and muttering ‘There, there; Moenie worrie nie!’ Everyone was very kind to me in my young days. Occasionally onse Giel would get a faraway look in his eyes and talk about walking behind the ploughshare and picking up a clod of freshly-turned earth, smelling it and saying something about nothing in the world could ever smell better. The dorpsjapie in me thought ‘huh?’ Years later I speculate he was angling to marry a farmer’s daughter and was practicing his pitch to Pa.
I played for the under 11 B team, and the only reason for that was there was no C team. Although we were now down the road at the bigger school, rugby practice was at the old kleinspan school, as the bigger school didn’t have a field.
The end of the season arrived – near the end of winter – and the last game loomed. The traditional big derby day against the Olde Enemy, Vrede, played home and away each year. This year the final game was away, in that far-off dusty city of sin and ribaldry. OK, dusty dorp. Now famous for not having a dairy, back then it was famous for losing at a range of sports to Harrismith.
For some unfathomable reason, Giel decided I would captain the under 11 B’s on that auspicious occasion. It was 1966, so maybe England had won the soccer world cup and he was thinking ‘Miracles Can Happen’ – ?? Anyway, as the lowest of the most junior teams, we would be playing the first game early in the cold Vrede winter morning, long before most spectators arrived, only dedicated Ma’s and Pa’s on the stand. Our job was to break through the frost on the dead grass on the rock-hard ground for the more important games to follow. With our bare feet.
Which is how I came to have the leather odd-shaped ball in my hand that morning. This was a novel experience. Usually I was only vaguely aware that there WAS even a ball involved in this mysterious game Giel was despairing that I’d ever get the hang of.
My orange-clad barefoot underlings, now fully under my command, dutifully formed a line behind me as I ran onto the field and skopped the leather ball to start the game. I remember only four things about that game, but they are indelibly etched in my newly rugby-focused tactical brain:
1. We were awarded a penalty quite late in the game with the score still on 0 – 0;
2. I made a show of going down on my haunches, and staring at the posts, then tapped the ball and hared straight for the line and dotted the ball down. TRY!!
3. The ref awarded the try. We were 3 – 0 up!
4. There was a muttering from the tiny partisan home crowd of early-morning Ma’s and Pa’s, and the ref seemed agitated. At the next lineout I asked him ‘That was a try, ne?’ and he growled ‘Play on!’ So we won the game, I think.
The next year I was suddenly a rugby player and in the A team. I’d like to say it was because of this revelation, revival, awakening and discovery of deep latent talent, plus a realisation of my brilliance thanks to Giel’s inspired and kind gesture, but it was mainly cos I shot up four inches and became the tallest oke among the under 13’s! Size counts in a shoving and huffing and puffing game.
Kleinspanskool – small persons school; junior primary school
We mocked Bloemfontein as Flower Fountain and always looked on Durban as the big city, seldom Joburg, as we would head 299km to the coast not 268km inland to JHB when going for any city business. Bloem never featured. It was 378km and more of a backwater. Once you got there, you’d ask yourself WHY? And yet Bloem was our capital and everything official that went upwards in our little hierarchy summitted in Bloemfontein.
Especially the sporting ladder. If you climbed the sporting ladder and your head popped up through the clouds, there was Naval Hill!
As far as I recall I reached this valhalla of advancing upwards in your sporting code three times at school: For rugby I was not chosen for the Eastern Free State U/13 team in 1967. But I was chosen to be a reserve. The reserve, maybe? – or was there more than one? So I trekked to Bloemfontein, pulled on my togs and sat shivering on the sideline at the Free State Stadium for the whole match. The top pic gives a glimpse in the background of how the stadium looked. Our sponsors didn’t supply us with branded blankets and there was no attractive physio to massage our limbs. I don’t even know if the poor reserve got his quarter orange ration at half time. It was rugged.
For tennis Bruce Humphries entered us for Free State Champs.
All I remember is we drove there in his white Cortina and after I had blasted some booming high-speed double backhands – ala Frew McMillan – in the warmup of the first round, a guy called Symington sent me home 6-0 6-0. I even think he may have yawned while he was doing it. I can’t recall if the famous double pairing of me and Fluffy Crawley played. I have asked him. He can’t remember either.
And lastly, one year I went to Inter-High, which was the Free State athletics champs and I got a bronze medal for my troubles (actually a piece of paper that said ‘derde’) in the high jump.
Other than that, we once went for an ordinary rugby game. Daan Smuts drove us there in his VW Beetle to play against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Being Daan, we had beer! Yay!! All teachers should be like Daan. When he remembered that he had forgotten to arrange a place for us to sleep we didn’t mind at all. He dropped us off at an abandoned (for the holidays) koshuis where we shivered on beds with no bedclothes. That was maybe the first time we were glad we had blue and yellow and green blazers. Sure it was cold, but we would not have swopped the beers – die binne-kombers – for blankets!
Six foot four inch Pete Stoute was running the Comrades Marathon, that foolish 89km exercise in torture held annually in KwaZuluNatal, when suddenly he heard a shout from around knee-level: “Yiss, Stoute, hoezit?”
He looked around, nothing. He looked down: There was Skim, short and round as a beachball, choofing alongside. Skim du Preez, kranige scrumhalf of the great Optometry rugby team of 1975.
Skim! What the hell are YOU doing here! he exclaimed. No, Stoute, I thought I must do this thing, seeing I’m a boykie from Dundee, said Skim. – Dundee pronounced “DinDear,” the Afrikaans way – it means ‘steenkool.’ Stoute pronounced ‘stotah,’ the Afrikaans way – it means naughty.
They chatted a few minutes and then Skim said, Oh Well, Be Seeing You and ran off into the distance!! Left the long-legged Stoute in his dust!
As often, one of my dodgy history lessons: Dundee, pronounced DinDear, is the famous site where British army troops, tired of being shot through their red coats and their white helmets, finally wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle. I wonder if their commander Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB still wore his red coat that day, though? He got shot in the stomach and died three days later as a prisoner of war in Dundee.
These Boers would know: The caption says they were ‘watching the fight’ that day! Like a movie!
The British claimed a ‘tactical victory’ in the battle. Here’s the actual scorecard – a lesson whenever you read battle reports. To the Poms, this (as they were informed by their jingo press) amounted to a tactical victory:
British casualties and losses – 41 killed, 185 wounded, 220 captured or missing; Boer casualties and losses – 23 killed, 66 wounded, 20 missing. So – Total count 446 down vs 109 down, but “we won.”
And so the dispatch goes back to Mrs Queen in Blighty (perhaps sent by jingo war correspondent Winston Churchill?): “We won a tactical victory, Ya Majesty.” Maybe he at least added “Um, send reinforcements” – ?
Always remember that one thing all military outfits do without fail . . is lie.
stoute – the Afrikaans pronunciation “stotah” as in kabouter; it means ‘naughty.’
kabouter – Snow White and the seven kabouters
choofing – running like a gazelle
kranige – capable; brave; gallant; dashing
scrumhalf – not only a scrumhalf – see the comments
No – yes
DinDear – Dundee; coal-mining village; not in Scotland
steenkool – coal; or stone coal; you can’t say just ‘kool’ cos that would mean cabbage
Matric. Rugby season. I’m not playing. Old pipe-smoking, Andy Capp cap-wearing, grog-loving, moustachioed Stollie Beukes came up to me at school and asked straight-forwardly and politely, no weaseling, no guilt-suggesting. That’s him ‘playing goalie’ above.
“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”
“Ja, sekerlik,” I said, “Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” That would have ended it. I have an aversion to training in sport. Makes you sweaty. If you enjoy a sport, do the sport. Training? Ha!
“Nee, net op Saterdag,” he said.
Cool. So I got a coupla games on the President Brand Park B field; the field with the wooden poles on part of the cricket pitch. You can see the posts behind Stollie in the pic.
Being the mighty third (also last) team, we played early – before the first team, so we could all go and support them in our smelly kit. If it was in the morning there could be frost in the shade of those trees. The game would attract only a handful of the most die-hard spectators.
Then at the end of the season I played in the last game, the traditional matrics vs the rest of school. I don’t know who won? I dislocated my collar bone near the end and went off to see GP Mike van Niekerk, where he glanced at it, told me to wear a sling – “Your mother will know how to do it” – and then spent his time trying to change my future career. And he almost did.
The next year I played a season of American football; Two years later I played rugger again. In Joburg for Wanderers Club.
“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”– We need some superb and exciting talent in the Mighty Thirds. Will you sign up?
“Ja, sekerlik,”“Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” – Sure. I’m naturally fit, (right!) so I’m ready to play!
“Nee, net op Saterdag”– play the games only, no need to attend practice; a sign of desperation
Ode to a Tighthead Prop – Author unknown(but probly some Kiwi – they tend to wax forth after a few). The poem could also be called ‘Delusions of Grandeur.’
It was midway through the season we were just outside the four and although I know we won it I can’t recall the score.
But there’s one thing I remember and to me it says a lots about the men who front the scrum – the men we call “the props”.
We won a lineout near half way the backs went on a run the flankers quickly ripped the ball and second phase was won.
Another back then crashed it up and drove towards the line another maul was duly set to attack it one more time.
The forwards pushed and rolled that maul They set the ball up to a tee the last man in played tight head prop and wore the number “3”
The ball was pushed into his hands he held it like a beer then simply dropped to score the try – his first in 15 years.
Then later, once the game was done he sat amidst his team he led the song and called himself the try scoring machine.
But it wasn’t till the night wore on that the truth was finally told just two beers in, he’d scored the try and also kicked the goal.
At 6 o’clock the try was scored by barging through their pack he carried two men as he scored while stepping ’round a back.
By seven he’d run twenty yards out-sprinting their quick men then beat the last line of defence with a “Jonah Lomu” fend.
By eight he’d run from near half way and thrown a cut out pass then looped around and run again no-one was in his class.
By nine he’d run from end to end his teammates stood in awe he chipped and caught it on the full then swan dived as he scored.
By ten he’d drunk a dozen beers but still his eyes did glisten as he told the story of “that try” to anyone who’d listen.
His chest filled up, as he spoke, his voice was filled with pride he felt for sure he would be named the captain of that side.
By nights end he was by himself still talking on his own the club was shut, the lights were out his mates had all gone home.
And that’s why I love my front row – they simply never stop and why I always lend an ear
when a try’s scored by a prop.
This try was much like our mighty prop Hubby Hulbert’s try in our epic match against the InjunKnees. Do you recall? ca. 1975
Hubby found himself lying down for a brief rest on the ground under a mass of other bumsniffers when an oval object appeared next to him and he placed his hand on it. The ref went wild and indicated we had managed to beat the Injun-Knees, a team no-one thought would be beaten.
We were dressed in our all-black jerseys, black shorts, black socks with OPTOMETRY in front and ZEISS in white on the back. To show our appreciation to our jersey sponsors after a few beers – also kindly sponsored by them – we would shout “ZEISS ist Scheiss!” – I’ll admit, sometimes we weren’t impeccably behaved.
That game against those Injun-Knees: We had spent 79 mins desperately defending our tryline when some scrawny scrumhalf type happened to get the ball by mistake and hoofed it as hard as he could in the opposite direction of where we’d been back-pedaling all day. Those days his hair colour matched the colour of our jersey; Nowadays the bits that are left match the colour of our logo. You can see a recent pic of him here.
We got a line-out near their line, Hubby fell down, the ball fell next to him and he inadvertently became a match-winning hero. He’ll call it a tactical move.
I forget if he gave a speech afterwards in the Dev but we wouldn’t have listened to him anyway. We’d have sung ‘How The Hell Can We Buh-LEEEV You!?’
The game was played on the Normaal Kollege grounds in Empire Road, Jo’burg. We shouted for our hosts as we waited for them to finish their game so we could trot onto their field and display our brilliance. Up Normaal!! we shouted. Ab-normaal!
~~~o0oo~~~ On 2018/12/11 Peter Brauer (he of scrawny scrumhalf fame) wrote: Classic example of how bashful props become more truthful / eloquent when their throats aren’t parched.
bumsniffers – forwards; the tight five; the slow; the engine room; workhorses; honest men; no fancy haircuts; dodgy ears; the brains trust; depends who you ask
InjunKnees – engineers; they had a T-shirt slogan ‘six monfs ago I cooden even spel injineer and now I are one’
Normaal Kollege – anything but
2020 – a 1977 letter cropped up. Maybe the only letter I wrote in 1977! To sister Sheila. In moving home and tidying up she found it:
In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match – Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be one of his last games.
Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith’s English-as-second-language teacher. Also: Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.
Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”
We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.
“corrections of corrections of corrections”
Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!
Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda has kept this for nigh-on fifty years!
Tommy’s last game for the Boks came in 1971 against the French – again in Durban.
Two or three years later:
In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.
So I didn’t.
It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to politely voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.
ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why
Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford;’ – Not.
Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world, and sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.
My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and they were ‘Royal’ so as not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel! As fishermen from the tiny hamlet of Wick on the more freezing end of Scotland, they couldn’t really claim the traditional ‘Balmoral Castle’ kind of royalty.
Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the bane of Michaelhouse in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools, where vaguely bored and lazy shouts of ‘a bit more pressure from the rear!’ are heard through the gin fumes surrounding the rugby fields.
This report on the 1904 derby was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure:
Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that being smarter with your feet was better than “pretty passing”.
A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson – grandnephew actually – also whipped Michaelhouse.
I’ve included a lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.
Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:
Handwritten on the edge of one of these is “He wasn’t ill at all. (illegible) just found him (illegible) “
July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had gone to Bethlehem – surely the only town in the world where a big sign sayingFAKKELHOF welcomes you as you drive in? – to see them play. Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored two tries in his very first game in an All Black jersey.
Check the Bethlehem news: ‘en daar was rugby ook’ – with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby!
We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought! You can be sure there’d have been much more rugby coverage had we won!
Rugby writer Terry McLean said: (The) Paul Roos XV was, bluntly, a nothing team. Dannhauser and Fourie had good stances as locks in the scrummage. Lyell at No 8 had bags of pace which he used much too little and Burger, a hooker of some note, took a heel from Urlich, though he lost five in the process. But behind the scrum Froneman was an obsessive kicker and Kotze at fullback defended principally by making meaningful gestures from a distance.
And McLook said: I get heart burn (sooibrand) just reading remarks like this; it has always been one of the most irritating and frustrating things for me about South African rugby. As a provincial player you get one opportunity in your life to play against an international team so why would you waste the opportunity by constantly kicking the ball away. Secondly, it totally eludes me why selectors would pick individuals for a team if that individual does nothing else than kicking. If you want to kick a ball go play soccer.
Later the Silver Ferns played Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloemfontein and my mate Jean Roux and I decided we needed to go and see that game as well. We hitch-hiked to Bloem, arrived in time and watched the game.
Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.
After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the pulley staasie, the cop shop, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with complete indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, ‘Wat maak julle hier?’ and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. ‘There’s a ladies cell vacant,’ he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.
Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffiti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept tentatively, trying to hover above those mattresses, which were also vieslik, and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the tiny little peephole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!
‘Vaddafokgaanhieraan?’ he asked. ‘Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith,’ we said, eagerly. ‘Dink jy ek is vokken mal?’ came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence! They were these ous:
We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.
FAKKELHOF – doesn’t sound like welcome; sounds like go forth and multiply; literally Torch Court
‘en daar was rugby ook’ – oh, there was some rugby (after ooh’ing about all the ancillary pomp)
pomptroppies – drum majorettes
klapped – pasted; smacked
Wat maak julle hier? – what are you doing here?
vieslik – disgusting; sis
Vaddafokgaanhieraan? – Can I help you gentlemen?
Dink jy ek is vokken mal? – Do you think I’m gullible?
I had skipped rugby in matric, then played seven games of high school American football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corona 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.
I doubt there were 30 players among the under-21’s so we made the B side – probably by default; Opposition teams I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Pirates; Rugged bliksems all.
At Strathvaal in the Wes Transvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior 3rds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and – BOOM! was carried off on a stretcher.
Who knows what happened, but at about ten seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shit houses and seemed to enjoy them some explosive contact!