Dramatic happenings in the year 1939

Dramatic happenings in the year 1939


I was at long last reunited with Anita and Dick at 60 North Ridge Rd, Durban. Dick and I had earlier resolved our mutual kinship terms of address, by using the word “Buddy” when addressing one another.


Their return to Durban was celebrated by a sumptuous cocktail party hosting shipping and consular representatives. In planning this, Anita even included freshly opened oysters on her menu. I sat upstairs during the occasion listening to the loudening noise of chatter as the party proceeded.


I moved up to standard VI at DPHS under class master Mr. Durrant. My great interest was cricket and I played for DPHS 1st Eleven with Messrs Theobald and Miller as coaches.


The famous timeless 5th Cricket Test between England and South Africa began in Durban at Kingsmead on March 3rd. It had been decided that the game would be played to a conclusion no matter how long. After eight days of play the match was abandoned as a draw because the touring team was forced to leave to catch the ship home. Five thousand and seventy balls were bowled during the course of the match and 1981 runs are scored.


The greatest event of the year for Dick and Anita was the birth of their son Dirk Robin (my one and only brother). He was born at home, 60 North Ridge Rd, on 29th April. I had become acquainted with the cravings of pregnancy prior to the event as I was constantly called upon to produce Melba toast for Anita. Robin was baptized on 26th May in St Thomas’s Church in Musgrave Rd. Witnesses to the baptism were Anita’s sister Molly and Dick’s friends Tony Lourillard and Frans Heckman.


Dick and Anita planned to sail to England and Holland in June 1939 to meet up with his father (Opa), then to do a tour of Europe, leaving Robin and I in Haarlem with Opa. They had arranged a housekeeper and trained nurse to care for Robin. Dick insisted that before the event, I should (A) learn to swim and (B) learn names of the Provinces and cities of Holland as well those of the Dutch off-shore islands. I was taught to swim by well-known Rachael Finlayson, after whom the Durban Beach swimming pool is named. My knowledge concerning the geography of Holland would later stand me in good stead.


In early June 1939 Dick, Anita, Robin (at 6 weeks) and I left Durban for Southampton on the Winchester Castle. Such Union Castle liners were generally referred to as “Mail Boats”. This was the first stage of Dick’s long leave. It was my job to care for Robin after an early supper when Dick and Anita joined the Captain’s table appropriately dressed.


After visiting South African east coasts ports, the first Atlantic stop was the Portuguese island of Madeira where the ship anchored and we were transported ashore. The main attraction was a funicular trip to the mountain top, and descent at speed by toboggan on a twisting cobblestone roadway. Control was by two persons standing at the back, one on each side, to change direction by transfer of weight. The sleds were greased for sliding over the cobblestones.


After returning to the ship, locals dived from small boats for coins thrown by passengers. Others offered valuable hand made Madeira lace for sale, lowering prices when sailing time was imminent.


My 13th birthday on 12th June occurred during the voyage and I was given a leather bound photograph album featuring the Winchester Castle by a Polish gentleman named Edward Griffel. The album, still in my possession, was used for photos I took using a Brownie box camera, also given as a present. I often wonder what happened to Edward Griffel as he was going home to Poland which Hitler’s armies would invade within three months.


After arrival in Southampton on 29th June we hired a car and drove through the New Forest to a hotel in Bournemouth where accommodation had been booked. Next morning, anxious to get on with sight seeing, Dick and I hurried to catch a paddle steamer to Portsmouth to see Nelson’s ship “Victory”. In running for the paddle steamer I experienced abdominal pain forcing me to slow down. The pain subsided when I stopped running.


Although in holiday mood, passengers on the trip to Portsmouth discussed the frightening possibility of war. One lady, when discussing Hitler’s latest adventure, stated that “The midwife should have throttled him at birth.”


On return to Bournemouth that evening my abdomen had become rigid and the pain severe. A local G.P. recognised appendicitis with complications and recommended immediate consultation with a Harley Street surgeon, Mr Adeny, who happened to be visiting the nearby Boscombe Hospital. Mr Adeny advised and undertook an emergency operation at that hospital but unfortunately peritonitis had already set in. A night nurse special was arranged and I was injected morning and evening with a lifesaving sulphonamide, M&B 693, which had recently come on the market.


Anita sent a telegram to my father Sydney and followed it with another when Mr Adeny advised I was on the way to recovery.


Dick and Anita had established a social bond with Mr Adeny when it was discovered that they had a mutual friend called Colonel Irish who lived in Durban. On the strength of this Mr Adeny became aware of the need for changing of plans for our travels. He kept them advised on my progress and the point at which they could safely leave for Haarlem in Holland to prepare for my reception and continued treatment in that country. In the mean time I would remain in Boscombe hospital and be taken by ambulance to Southampton and by stretcher to the on-board ship’s hospital.


On 11th July I left Southampton on the Dutch ship Johan van Olden Barneveldt arriving in Amsterdam the next day where I was met by Dick and Anita. The ambulance driver from Boscombe to Southampton was most friendly. He allowed me to view the Queen Mary at her dock through the one way glass of the ambulance. At that time she was the biggest ship in the world and contestant for the Blue Riband award for fastest crossing of the Atlantic to New York. Other contestants at the time were the French and German ships Normandie and Bremen respectively.


A child passenger being carried on a stretcher on or off a ship attracts close attention from crowds along with expressions such as “shame”. In Southampton where I lay flat on the stretcher, I avoided this by pulling the blanket over my face. This could not be achieved in Amsterdam because patients on Dutch stretchers were carried in a sitting position.


I was duly delivered by ambulance to the house in Eindenhout Straat, Haarlem, after being met in Amsterdam by Dick and Anita. It was my first meeting with Dick’s father Opa. Other occupants, apart from Dick and Anita, were Mevr. Kuipers, the housekeeper, and her 12 year old daughter Enekje Koolbergen. Enekje was my companion in canoe and bicycle rides during convalescence. Sister Nijenhuys was in full time employ to care for Robin.


Houses in Eindenhout Straat were typical semi-detached two-storey Dutch houses with” solder” (attic). A bed for me was placed on the ground floor sun room (“sara”) as I could not use the stairs, but could get to the toilet under the stairs. Being alone in the sara at night was at first lonely with sound dampened by Persian carpets, heavy curtains, and constant ticking of the grandfather clock.


Doctor Sigaar used to come by bicycle every morning to tend my dressings and carry on the M&B 693 injections. This provided a happy interlude for Opa as Doctor Sigaar was an old friend and they enjoyed a chin wag accompanied with a glass of advocaat.

Sailing is great