Monday, 11 April 2011

School, School, School!

My sister, Daphne, and I had to go to school and there were no arguments about that.   She was clever and as far as I can remember, she liked school.   I felt it unnecessary and would much rather have stayed on the farm.   Les was a clever child and my sisters enjoyed teaching him; he was not yet six years old but could read, write, count and do sums, but he would have to wait another six months before he could go to school.   So in the mean time he had to keep himself busy by playing school.
Hopewell Farm House from a distance

            Farm number one in this area was called “Skietrug” and belonged to Eb and Emmie Long.   They had a shop and a petrol pump.   And they had a telephone, the only one on Skietrug.   There was also a bus stop on the farm for the busses running to and fro from Grahamstown and Alexandria.   As far as I can remember it was for goods only and not for passengers.   A short while after our arrival in the area the Long’s shop assistant went on leave, so they asked if Bertha could come and work in the shop for a few weeks.   She did so and also stayed with them during this period.
            Our goods arrived from the Free State at Alexandria station, but I can’t remember how my dad fetched the load and took it home.   Daddy found boarding for Daf and I in Alexandria with Alf Dickerson and his wife.   Desmond and Stanley Bradfield were also boarding with them at that time.   We were rather scared as this would be our first time away from home.   Alf’s father was the blacksmith in town and Alf was the barber (men’s hairdresser.)   I had to share a room with the young Bradfields and they found great delight in teaching me all the bad and dirty IsiXhosa words.   I can still remember those words to this day and isn’t it strange how such things stick in the mind.
Alexandria with the school on the right

            It was a dual-medium school although I would say that only about 5% of the pupils were English speaking.   There were three teachers for us; Mrs Colesky had the bigger children, then there was Miss Rudolph who had the middle ones, and her sister, Mrs le Roux, taught Sub A & B  and Std I.   We were now, at last, being taught in our own language.   I must have sounded like a little Dutchman as the Afrikaans speaking children often asked me, “Is jy dan nie Afrikaans nie?”…I did my school work, but I lived for the weekends when Daddy would fetch us on a Friday afternoon.   (I actually take pride in myself for being able to speak Afrikaans correctly to this day and cringe when I hear how the young Afrikaans people mix it with English and other words.)
            One weekend towards the end of that year, we were told that we would have to wait until about seven o’clock the evening as Daddy was going to meet the railcar at the station as a special man was coming to visit.   (The Railcar was a bus that ran on the rail tracks every day between Alexandria and Port Elizabeth.)   It left Alexandria every morning and arrived back in the evening.   Daddy came to fetch us and he had Thelma with him and they told us that Gordon Bradford was coming to spend some time on the farm with us.   He and Thelma were going to get better acquainted.   Unfortunately, on our way home, two horses jumped out from behind a bush and into our car.   We could go no further as the radiator was broken and it pushed back on to the engine.   A kind farmer took us home and the next day Gordon and my dad fetched the car and Gordon worked on the car for a few days to repair it.   He was a qualified diesel-loco mechanic on the railways.
Huts similar to the ones that our labourers lived in.  Nate their goat kraal in the foreground

            After Bertha’s time was up with helping Mr Eb Long in his shop, she found a job in Grahamstown with W Gowie Florist and Seed Shop.   She worked there for quite some time.   I have wanted to tell you that Hopewell was about fifteen kilometres from Alexandria, forty kilometres from Grahamstown, and one hundred and ten kilometres from Port Elizabeth.

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

A Fox Terrier Puppy and a Big Cape Cobra.

Cape Cobra
            One day, when no one else was around, the silence was disturbed by a child calling and the insistent barking of a young puppy.   It so happened that Bertha was alone at home with five year old Les who was playing outside with Toby.   When he continued calling the dog, and the dog just kept on yapping, she went out to see what was going on and that is when she turned ice cold.
Puff Adder
            The little dog was barking and dashing to and fro in front of a huge Cape Cobra while Les was trying to get the dog away from the danger.   The snake was erect and would strike at the dog, but he was too fast and just kept frustrating the snake and making it angry.   Bertha was quick to grab a hoe and with her second attempt, when the snake lowered its head, she chopped its head right off.   Les explained, while she was pulling him away, that he was trying to get the dog to leave the snake alone, but the dog wouldn’t listen.   By now Toby had grabbed the dead snake’s writhing body and was trying to shake it.   That snake could quite easily have been about a meter and a half long!   It was only at this point that one of the farmhands came sauntering along to take a look, and he then removed the dead snake to burn it in a fire.   Bertha’s reputation among the blacks rose tremendously.   Those who saw what had happened told the others that she was a fearless “Intombi”.
Boom Slang
         There were many snakes on the farm so you had to keep your eyes wide open when walking in the veld.   My dad always told us that a snake was afraid of a human and would only bite if it felt that its life was threatened.   For this reason we were warned to carry a sturdy stick at all times.   Toby grew up to be one of the best snake killers that I have ever seen.
Night Adder
            When birds see a snake they all give the same danger call and gather in numbers to pester the reptile until he leaves.   But before you could get there, Toby would be busy killing the snake or searching for it.   I had seen him climb a tree to pull a snake down.   He was fast, very fast, and before the snake realised what was happening he had grabbed if by the throat and was shaking it and tossing it into the air, which would make the snake dizzy.   He would then proceed to kill it.
Garter Snake

            We dreaded the day when he would be just a little too slow for a spitting or striking snake.   But in the meantime he kept the snakes away from the house.   My poor mother was terrified of snakes and never lost this fear.   She would threaten to go back to the Free State, but this never happened.

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Harmless Mole Snake

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

More about “Hopewell”

Pineapple lands near Bathurst

           Hopewell was situated on an area between two deep valleys and there were nine more farms further on.   Ours was one of the first and our eastern border was the Bushmans River.   A few miles down the road was “Harmony” the Bradfield’s farm.   Harvey and Lizzie had both been married before and each had children from those two marriages and together they had Desmond and Stanley, boys of about my age.   Lizzie had a daughter who was already married and a nice looking son Reggie Reynolds who was in the army.   Harvey had a daughter, Trixie, and two sons, Junior and Hunter, about the same age as my sisters.   Junior was also still in the army and he sent Bertha some very nice postcards from Egypt.   Mrs Bradfield was a pretentious woman and was not the least bit interested in my mother.   As a matter of fact, as far as I can remember she had very few friends.   She may have called after our arrival but never again.   I don’t think that it was a happy family.   She would never have approved of any of her sons visiting my sisters.
Bertha Whittal
Our next door neighbours were Captain and Mrs Suttie and their only son. Todd.    A very short while after we had moved down there, Captain George Suttie passed away and was buried in Salem.   Mrs Suttie became my mother’s closest friend and Todd and my sister Bertha became like brother and sister.   Bertha soon became a very sought after young lady with the young men of that area all competing for her attention.   There were even some who came down through the Bushmans River and up the bridle path on horseback to call on her.   Thelma in the mean time was sewing and filling her bottom drawer with pretty linen for the day that Gordon Bradford would come for her.
Thelma Whittal

 On the farm were big fields of pineapples and it was the first time in my life that I was allowed to eat a whole pineapple by myself.   The method was to break the top of the fruit off, cut the fruit in half, and then to eat it out with a spoon.   This was so different to the withered pineapples that my mom used to buy at Christmas time to make a fruit salad which we called “angels food”.   At first we used to eat a couple of pineapples each a day.   It was fun!   But we got used to it and after that we slowed down to a few slices a day.
            The other crop planted on our farm was Chicory, a member of the sunflower family which produces a large tapered root which has been used for many years for its beneficial effect on the human digestive system.   Chicory is also widely used in beverages as a blend with coffee and as an ingredient in pet food and breakfast cereals.   It was first introduced into South Africa for commercial use in 1895 in the Alexandria area.
  The third crop was mealies (maize), mostly grown for human consumption and poultry food.   It was never grown in the same quantities as in the Free State as the Eastern Cape’s rainfall was too little for such quantities.   Among the mealies other crops would also be planted.   This was especially a very popular method with the black labourers where they were given lands to grow their own food.   They grew a lot of sorghum which was then known as ‘Kaffir Corn’.
The goats were always feeding in the lands
            The black staff all kept goats and it was a continual battle with them to keep their animals out of the crop fields.   It was usually the duty of their young boys to herd the goats but they were most unreliable in performing their duties.   They would rather be out hunting with their “Kaffir” dogs.  
Killing hares, Bushbuck lambs and other small animals.   There were also a lot of “Dassies”or Hyrax on the farm which they were encouraged to kill.   These little animals also known as rock rabbits were very clever in hiding in their dens under huge boulders where the dogs could never get them, so they had to be stalked in the open and cut off from their dens by the dogs.
            There could never be enough hours in a day for an eleven year old boy to do everything that he wanted to do.   My mom would be upset with me when it came to mealtimes and I was missing again!    I soon learnt to carry a sturdy stick wherever I went and this could be used for many purposes.   I was also learning to speak IsiXhosa which was very important in communicating with the locals.
Africanis - the dog of Africa
  (The word “Kaffir” is not allowed to be used in South Africa any longer so I suppose the dogs I wrote about above would be called “Native” dogs.)   The Internet writes about them as- “You'll see them in the villages and dirt roads of rural South Africa, and on the streets of the country's townships: seemingly undistinguished medium-sized dogs, sometimes scrawny, with long snouts and short brownish coats.   Some dismiss them as mongrels, strays or even, because of their long association with black South Africans, with the racist epithet of "kaffir dogs".   But these dogs are a distinct breed, endemic to southern Africa and with a proven lineage going back some 7000 years. They are the Africanis - the dog of Africa.”   It is said that they are wonderful animals and very faithful to their masters.
            The Zulus call their mongrel dog a “Mgodoyi” and they are also used for hunting and when a Zulu wanted to insult a man, he would call him a ”Mgodoyi”.

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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sleep Late! Not Me!

            I never sleep late and so it was on our first day on “Hopewell”.   I was awake long before anyone else and when I peeped over the bottom door of the rondavel there was a pink glow towards the East.   I listened to the night sounds which would soon be fading away.   There was the churring sound of the night jar, the lonely plaintive call of the Dikkop and in the distance a rooster was crowing at some native huts.   The calves in the kraal were calling for the cows that were resting nearby chewing their cuds.  

 Many of the sounds were strange to me but so exciting; I wanted to see the birds that made them.   In the Free State the Afrikaans people called the Dikkop a Commando bird as the Boers used it’s strange, haunting cries as their secret warning call during the Anglo/Boor war.   There was a little pair of familiar Wagtails that came out to greet me and I wondered whether they had followed us. My dad soon came outside and was surprised to find me there.   I asked him and he told me that the sparkling geen/blue birds were the Glossy starlings and the bird sitting on the top of the thorn tree was a Jack Hanger.   He was waiting for insects to appear so that he could pierce them with the long white thorns of the tree.   He would eat them later when food was scarce.  The big noisy birds flying overhead were hadeda ibis.   In those days they roosted in the rock faces called “krantzes”.
            It had rained on the farm a week or two prior to our arrival so the grass around the house, and near by, was a most amazing shade of green.   There was a slight mistiness floating low above the earth and when the sun came up the dew drops sparkled on the grass and the spider webs looked like strings of diamonds.   It was a most beautiful sight and below the house to the left, there was a kloof with big boulders on either side that looked like a village with whitewashed buildings.   By now we were all looking at this lovely scene and even my mom said that it was an amazing sight.

Milk Seperator
            I had not yet been through the house, but that could wait as I was anxious to see the milk cows and calves that had come with the ‘lock, stock and barrel’.   I also wanted to meet the farm folk and was soon greeted by them with a “Molo Basie” to which I had been taught to reply “Ewe”.   My dad, having been brought up on the boarder of the Transkei, could actually speak a better IsiXhosa than the locals who were mixing their languages.   The cows were driven into the kraal which was an enclosure made from tightly packed tree branches and they were each tied to a sturdy pole.   Each cow knew her place where she was given a scoop of meal, so when the calves were let out; they ran straight to their mothers.   I soon picked up what the milker called out when he said “Nikela”.   “Let out a calf, I am ready to milk”. These cows were a mixed herd but most of them were a type of Shorthorn.   It was also discovered that most of them were rather old and would not be good for milking much longer and would have to be sold.   When the milking was done, the buckets of milk were carried to the dairy which was a whitewashed rondavel behind the house.   There was gauze at the windows and door to stop flies from entering.   The milk would be poured into a separator whilst it was still warm and when the handle was turned, the low fat milk would flow out of one spout and the rich cream out of another.
Cape Wagtail

            By now the women folk were calling for breakfast which was a plate of delicious mealiemeal porridge, milk and sugar.   Bread would be baked in due course.   This was the nicest house that my mom had ever lived in.   Inside there were four bedrooms, a big sitting/dining room, a breakfast room, a kitchen and a lobby.   There was no bathroom and the toilet was what is called “a long drop” situated a little distance from the house.   To have a bath a big tub would be carried into a bedroom and filled with warm water and the children had to queue up at bath times.   There was a pantry in the house which my dad converted into a bathroom at a later date.
            We inherited a medium sized brown dog called “Whisky” and there was a cat or two (Chips was not impressed).   There were some chickens which had been kept for us by a neighbour.   There were a few fruit trees and another two rondavels behind the house where the one served as a pantry and in the other tools, etc., were kept.   A little distance from the house there was a big store and attached to that was what was called a wagon house and in it a wagon and farm implements was kept.   This was where my dad also parked his car.   There was a big “Kaffir” plum tree near the store and we soon learnt to call it an “iGwene” or a sour plum.  (Not sure of the spelling)
            There were two horses which were kept in a camp near the house and their names were “Tony” and “Champion”.   They were used for pulling the cultivators in the pineapple fields.   There were a few trained oxen and some young untrained ones and there was a big Afrikaner crossed shorthorn bull.
  The day was past before I had even seen a tenth of the place and my bed in the rondavel was calling.   There were no modern mattresses on the beds and we all slept on a hard coir one.   There was a spring mat from the head to the bottom end of the bed and invariably it was stretched and would sag when you climbed on it, making the bed hollow.   We at least each had our own bed now!
The farm road leading down to ther house
  You are most probably wondering about my dad’s friend, Harvey Bradfield.   I will tell you about him and his family next time.

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Monday, 4 April 2011

The Great Trek to the Eastern Cape.

The Bluegum Trees that
we were used to
            At last my dad was being discharged from the army and this would be final on 24 June 1944.   He was sent on leave, so in the mean time the sale of “Maizefield” was finalised and we would move during May 1944.   As far as I know there were a few pieces of furniture and my dad’s tools that would be sent by train, the rest would all be sold or given to loyal farm labourers.   There were also odds and ends like milk buckets, a milk separator, a churn, two large three-legged pots, etc.   Mommy wanted her bed, her sewing machine and her dining-room table with its six chairs.   The piano was returned to her father, my Oupa Dave.   There wasn’t much else of value and, after all, we were buying a farm ‘lock, stock and barrel’, which included the furniture.   Everything had to be taken to the railway station to be loaded on a railways truck bound for the Alexandria station.
Hillman Car similar to the one we used

            Daddy had bought a Hillman motor car in which the family would travel.   I do not remember anything about where we slept the night before we left or when we greeted all the family, but I do know that it was a car loaded with four adults and three children, and then there was still Chips and Toby.   How this was done only the good Lord would know!!!   That night we slept in a boarding house in the small village of Naaupoort which used to be a large railways junction, very noisy and very smoky because of the steam engines with their smoke clouds from coal fires.   We started very early the next morning as we were very anxious to see our new home, and we had food to eat along the way that was packed for us by the boarding house.   My dad gave up trying to answer all our questions.   But … my mother was not happy.   “Where are we going?   Have we done the right thing?   Just look what the countryside looks like — too many bushes, rocks and hills!   What about all the snakes?”
            In those days it was a dirt road through the Karoo and it was very dusty and hot.   You would hang a canvas bag filled with water on the front of the car where the wind from the moving car would keep the water cool.   The dust was inclined to cling to the damp bag and you had to be careful when pouring water into a cup.   Not an easy trip, it was very bumpy and everyone was tired from sitting cramped up all day.   There were steep hills and long stretches of down hills and after sunset it looked terribly strange.   We were used to the flat, treeless roads of the Free State.   My poor dad, he just had to keep driving and hoping there would be no breakdowns.   He was very good at trying to calm my mother and cheering up his children.   I wonder how the modern children of today would cope.   We really had the most wonderful parents.
Aloes flowering in May
           We eventually made it to our new place and arrived there after dark.   Let me tell you that it is very dark on a farm if there is no moon, and so it was that first night, but the Potgieters had left candles and matches in strategic places which we soon found.   We all washed ourselves with cold water and found beds to sleep in.   I know that I slept in an outside rondavel with a thatched roof where there were four or five beds.   A rondavel is a hut built by the Xhosas and can be square or round.   This one was square and even had a fireplace.   It was warm and cosy and we went to bed by candle light and soon everybody was fast asleep despite the strange night sounds of an Eastern Cape farm.
            The farm was registered as “Janedale” but my parents decided that we would call it “Hopewell” as it was hoped that it would be a better place than what “Maizefield had been.   So from now on I will only tell you about “Hopewell”.

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Saturday, 2 April 2011

A Fox Terrier puppy as a farewell gift

We prepare to leave “Maizefield” for “Hopewell

            Daphne and I were attending the “Kleinbroek Primary School”, she was in Std six and I was in Std three when we left for Alexandria in the Eastern Cape.   The principal of that school was a Mr Foxcroft, and he and his wife lived in a house on the school property.   They were childless, but had two little Fox terriers and we had asked them that if ever their dogs had puppies that we wanted to buy one.   It so happened that their little female dog had puppies when we were going to leave so he gave us a pup which we called “Toby”.   Daf says that Mr Foxcroft gave us the pup because she was his “star” pupil and he told Uncle Jim Randall that after we left, he never had another pupil like her again.
A Fox Terrier with her Puppies

            I am afraid that I was just an ordinary pupil and once got into serious trouble with some of my school friends for taking some reeds without permission that grew in the school grounds.   Mr Foxcroft ordered us all to stand in a row and to bend over.   We were about to get a few cuts each when something made him change his mind and instead he gave us the reeds with a warning not to do that again.   (I think he was a very kind man and the sight of the row of bums which would soon be stinging, softened his heart, and after all what were a few thin reeds which were going to be used as arrows.)
            Toby was a short legged black and white Fox Terrier with a black patch over one eye and a black spot on his back.   The eye without a black patch used to get sore and would weep at times.   This, however, never prevented him from becoming one of the bravest little dogs that I have ever known.   I don’t think that Chips was too impressed, as he was getting on in years and he was a bit grumpy, but Toby soon learnt to keep out of his way.
A typical Fox Terrier Pup
   I used to tease Toby and then run away with him chasing after me and nipping my bare feet until I could climb on to something.   He was fond of all of us but eventually he became Daddy’s dog and followed him all over.   You will read more about him as I tell you stories.
            Many years later when I started doing family trees, I discovered that our school principal, Mr Laurence Foxcroft, was of the same 1820 Settler family as my Foxcroft cousins.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

World War II

South Africa at war.

Please do read to the end as it will help you to understand the times we lived in.

The following article on World War II is taken from the internet:

            World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, which involved most of the world's nations, including all of the great powers: eventually forming two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis.   It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised.   In a state of "total war," the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.   Marked by significant events involving the mass death of civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in 50 million to over 70 million fatalities.
        During the Second World War many South Africans saw military service.   The Union of South Africa participated with the British Commonwealth in North Africa against Erwin Rommel and his Nazi forces, and many South African pilots joined the Royal Air Force and fought against the Axis powers in the European Theatre.   On the eve of World War II the Union of South Africa found itself in a unique political and military quandary.   While it was closely allied with Great Britain, being a co-equal Dominion under the 1931 Statute of Westminster with its head of state being the British king, the South African Prime Minister on September 1, 1939 was Barry Herzog — the leader of the pro-Afrikaner and anti-British National party that had joined in a unity government as the United Party.
            Herzog's problem was that South Africa was constitutionally obligated to support Great Britain against Nazi Germany.   The Polish-British Common Defence Pact obligated Britain, and in turn its dominions, to help Poland if attacked by the Nazis.   After Hitler's forces attacked Poland on the night of 31 August 1939, Britain declared war on Germany within a few days.   A short but furious debate unfolded in South Africa, especially in the halls of power in the Parliament of South Africa.   It pitted those who sought to enter the war on Britain's side — led by the pro-Allied/pro-British African General (later Field Marshal) and former Prime Minister Jan Smuts — against Herzog, who wished to keep South Africa "neutral", if not actually pro-Axis.
            On 4 September 1939, the United Party caucus refused to accept Hertzog's stance of neutrality in World War II and deposed him in favour of Smuts.   Upon becoming Prime Minister of South Africa, he declared South Africa officially at war with Germany and the Axis.   Smuts immediately set about fortifying South Africa against any possible German sea invasion because of South Africa's global strategic importance controlling the long sea route around the Cape of Good Hope.
            John Vorster and other members of Ossewabrandwag strongly objected to South Africa's participation in World War II and actively carried out sabotage against Jan Smuts' government.   Smuts took severe action against the pro-Nazi South African Ossewabrandwag movement and jailed its leaders — including Vorster — for the duration of the war.   Mr B J Vorster was later to become a Prime Minister of South Africa.
            My dad had joined the S A Defence Force on 15th Jan 1941 and was discharged on 24th June 1944.   So much had happened during this time, and the person in our family who had suffered the most was my mother.   At one stage she was on the point of a total nervous breakdown when Doctor Goldberg arranged with the army to grant my dad compassionate leave to come home for a while.   My dad had met and befriended a man by the name of Harvey Bradfield, a farmer from the Eastern Cape who was in the army with him, and my dad was so impressed with what he heard about that part of the country that, when he was discharged, he would sell “Maizefield” and move down.
A farm in the Alexandria district, E C
            I am not certain at what point Daddy came down to the Eastern Cape to Mr Bradfield who was farming on “Harmony” in the Alexandria district, but when he came down he found a farm for sale in that district in the area called “Skietrug”.   Arrangements were made with the owner, Billy Potgieter, that as soon as Daddy could sell “Maizefield”, he would take over “Janedale”, lock, stock and barrel.   After that, and on his discharge from the army, things moved fast and “Maizefield” was sold to a Lebanese family.
            There was great excitement in our family as this would be a new beginning for us.   Although we children knew no other home but “Maizefield” and had very happy memories of living there, the last few years, with the war and political tensions, caused a lot of unpleasantness.
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