Christian Brothers College – Pretoria

Christian Brothers College – Pretoria


In 1936 when Dick and Anita married in Penang and remained on in Java to take up a KPM posting, I moved from DPHS to Christian Brothers College (CBC) in Pretoria.   I was in the care of the (Roman Catholic) MacDuff family, who lived in Berea St East, Muckleneuk. “Auntie” Macduff had been a close friend of Anita’s mother and had cared for Mary and Anita in earlier life.


I travelled by train to Pretoria in the care of Max van Muschenbroek, a friend and KPM associate of Dick van Amstel. We broke our journey in Standerton to spend a night with Max’s relatives who kept a pair of free ranging bush babies which leapt up to nip the fingers of visitors. Max delivered me to the house in Muckleneuk where I would spend the next 18months. Flo and I later met with Max in the evening of his life when he visited us from Holland after having survived the horror of working under the Japanese on the Burma Railway.


Auntie was a widow (forever dressed in black), who lived with her two adult sons, Lawrence and Punch, and daughter Bobbie. Lawrence worked for the Vacuum Oil Company, Punch was studying engineering and Bobbie was a trained nurse. All three were engaged in fencing as a sport. The sons had attended CBC, hence the reason for my enrolment at that school.


The flat roofed two storey house had been built by Auntie’s late husband. It had a lovely view across Pretoria to the Union Buildings. The Union Building’s hourly clock chime was audible a short time after hearing it on the radio. There were interesting artifacts in the lower end of the garden which included the relic of a steam driven car.


Punch occupied the basement alongside his beloved workshop, where he was rebuilding an Indian motor cycle and I assisted by passing the required tools. The Indian was red and similar to a Harley Davidson. It could be identified by a magnificent Red Indian head with feathered headdress on the petrol tank. Sad to say Punch, after an accident on the bike, finished up in hospital with a broken leg. Sadder still was the fact that in later life he was killed when the RAF aircraft he was flying during World War 11 crashed in the English countryside.


The Macduff house was bordered by pepper trees bearing many wasp nests. I soon learned that wasps have the incredible ability of locating and stinging anyone who damages their nests. Why, I thought, did they not sting the three dogs Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as well as me, when I knocked down their nest with my catapult?


I was encouraged to grow my own garden which included snapdragons and hollyhocks. The soil was fertile if freed of small stones by sieving. My attempt at keeping pigeons came to an end when a cat killed the pair of fantails I was given. I enjoyed the regular visits of an Indian vegetable vendor with horse and cart especially when the horse was fed by nose bag.


Jimmy Rodda who lived over the road was a scholar at CBC and happy to take me to school on my first day. Although one year my senior he was most kind. I joined the class in mid-term and it was important that I had someone to show me the ropes. We went by bicycle, I with my Natal handlebars that had been bent to make them wider and Jimmy with semi-drops, which was the fashion in Pretoria at the time. Needless to say I soon changed to semi-drops to stay with the fashion.


Jimmy became a good friend who sometimes invited me on weekends to sleep in his tent pitched on the “koppie” in the grounds of his house. He and I rode his donkey which had been bought from the Pretoria pound by his widower father. One night we both got a terrible fright when the donkey got its legs entangled in the guy ropes.


I made several friends at CBC including Vivian de Villiers who in later years joined the Natal Blood Transfusion Service as a biochemist. Another friend I met again during army training at Potchefstroom was Leon Norgarb, a well known tennis player. I also met a boy named Douglas John who became a good weekend friend. He lived in Sunnyside near the Apies River which runs through Pretoria. We spent much of our time cycling the sloping cement sides of this canalized river when the water was down to a trickle. We also visited the zoo and Fountains Nature Reserve.


The Macduffs took me to the 1936 Empire Exhibition held in Johannesburg. A popular exhibit was a family of Kalahari Bushmen carrying on their everyday living in a constructed encampment at the exhibition grounds.


Comparing Pretoria to Durban I observed that locals did not use “fana-ga-lo” in communicating with domestic workers as was the case in Durban. The preferred language for this was Afrikaans. Although Auntie Macduff did not speak Afrikaans she referred to a broom as a “besem” and a cloth as a “lappie” when addressing a domestic worker.


Moving to a Catholic school caused confusion in my mind when it came to prayers said in Catholic schools as opposed to those in Anglican schools. At DPHS we attended assembly every morning when the Headmaster recited the following prayer concerning activities for the day ahead.


“O Lord, our heavenly Father

almighty and everlasting God,

who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day;
defend us in the same with thy mighty power;
and grant that this day we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger,
but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance,
to do always that is righteous in thy sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord”.


At CBC there was no morning assembly and no prayer concerning activities for the day. There was a clock in every class room which chimed on the hour. On every chime of the school day the teacher, always a brother, recited a “Hail Mary’ as follows:


“Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary,
Mother of God pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death”


As a boy of 10 years I had the following problems:


  • I did not know the meaning of the word “womb”
  • I had never experienced any prayer addressed to the virgin Mary
  • I did not understand the concept of intercession via the virgin Mary
  • The wording did not seem to relate to the day’s activities


In Durban I had attended St James Anglican church and I had learned to address my private prayers directly to God. Now, in Pretoria I did not attend church and relied on letters from Anita for my continued assurance towards being united as a family.


Irish Brothers did all teaching of classes and singing. I recall “Come back to Erin” and “By Killarney’s Lakes and Wells.” Brother Mcguire had a dislike for a boy named Albert Jaminee and appeared to delight in administering excessive physical punishment using a wooden blackboard pointer to the ends of his fingers, in wintry weather. I therefore took an instant dislike to this particular brother but not for any of the others who were kind and genteel.


I noticed a large proportion of Greek scholars whereas in Durban schools I had never met any Greeks.

Auntie Macduff had an elderly gentleman friend who took us on outings for tea on Sundays to places like Bonaccord and Hartebeestpoort dams. He took great care of his car which had drawable curtains on all windows. I was expected to be on best behaviour during such occasions.


I returned to Durban and DPHS in 1938 to live with the Beisiegel family, a stone’s throw from DPHS. The move was to settle me back in my old school, in preparation for the return of Dick and Anita later in the year.

Sailing is great