From Alexandria you could take a road which ran through the beautiful indigenous government forest to an open area where you found farms with a lot of dairy cows. After driving through the tall trees which formed an arch all along the road, you came out at the coast where the first farm was the well known Greenwood Poultry farm of that time. The Green children also attended the Alexandria school and Sheila was in my class. Looking across the ocean you could clearly see Bird Island where thousands of sea birds bred and it was also the home of the Cape fur seals. This area was called “Grootvlei” and overlooking the sea was where my mother’s cousin, Uncle Dudley Foxcroft, lived and farmed. He was married to Thora Smith from the well known Smith family of Alexandria. It was her father who first grew Chicory in South Africa. They had one child only named Joy who was a year older than myself.
During the war uncle Dudley had to keep a watch for any strange craft at sea and he had a clear view of the ocean from his house high above the coast. One day he could clearly see a German submarine moving along the coast under the water, so the authorities were notified, but I do not know what happened after that. In the sea sand and among the rocks you could see the rusted ribs of ship wrecks from the past.
We once went camping in that area where there was a fresh water fountain flowing from the rocks down to the sea. To get to the camping spot you had to leave your vehicle at a certain place where a man with oxen and a sledge would take your tent and equipment down to the camping place on the dunes. There were about 4 or 5 families camping there at the time. The army tents which we stayed in were pitched in a sheltered spot behind a big clump of trees away from the sea. You could not take a lot of things with you so I do remember us picking up planks from the sea with which we constructed a table. We had little fold-up camping stools to sit on and at night we made a hollow in the soft sand where you rolled yourself in a blanket and slept. For my mother we made a fireplace in the sand where she could do her cooking in her cast iron pots.
It was my job to take containers every day and bring them back to our tent filled with sweet spring water. Near the spring were middens of shells, roof high, where Strandlopers used to live a long time ago. These people were tribes of Hottentots who lived on shell fish. There was also evidence that they had constructed fish traps among the rocks where they could catch and kill the fish at low tide once the waters had pulled back. They used to live under overhanging rocks and wore seal skins. During gale force storms, seals would be washed ashore on the mainland where these people clubbed them to death, ate their meat and dressed the beautiful skins to wear.
While we were camping there, there were very strong winds one night causing huge waves to come crashing on to the beach and washing up many baby seals. These little animals were calling like little lambs for their mothers, but there was no way that they could get back to the island some miles in the sea. We actually saw some black men arrive who killed some of the pups and leaving later with the some meat and skins. The next morning we noticed some paw prints in the sand around our tent and on closer examination found them to be that of a leopard. These big cats came from the government forest to partake of the free meal provided by the sea and had passed among our tents. We followed their spoor right to the beach were there was evidence of them killing seals. After that all the children were warned not to run around in the dark at night just in case a leopard came looking for a meal.
My dad caught a lot of fish from the rocks and I had to net them from below and move them away from the water. What we could not eat, my mother pickled and packed in containers which she had brought along for just this purpose. Aunty Thora was an expert at finding and stabbing soles on the under water sand. These strange looking fish with both eyes on the one side of the head would wriggle themselves into shallow sand where they would lie dead still. She had a three pronged stabbing instrument with which she would continuously stab into the sand until she could feel the fish wriggle, lift it out of the water and pop it into the bag that she carried on her back. The fish could not escape as the prongs were arrow shaped. Soles are the best eating of all fish. She was very generous and would divide her catch among all the campers.
One man camping with us wanted to show a baby seal to his little children, but when he picked it up, it bit his ear which was then hanging on a skin and he had to be rushed to a doctor in town where the ear was neatly sewn on again. It was the end of his camping holiday, of course, and he was lucky that his ear was saved, although it was rather strange looking after that. My father always warned us that a wild animal was not something that you could play with.
We never went camping there again as uncle Dudley and aunty Thora moved from there to another farm. On that farm was a very steep hill above the house and we children would climb it with home made sledges to slide all the way down the grassy slope. It was a very tricky art to stop when you reached the bottom. A rather dangerous game but fortunately no one was ever hurt. It was all so different to what we were used to in the Free State where we had come from.
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