BATTLE OF ISANDLWANA 130TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION - JANUARY 21, 2009
I spent five days in Dundee the week of January 19, 2009. The ostensible reason for my visit was the activities commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Battle of Isandluwana. But that was just an excuse. The real purpose was to spend some time in Dundee and wallow in the nostalgia of re-living some of the experiences of my childhood (and nostalgia is, after all, a large part of what this website is all about!). This article traces my nostalgia wallowing, with an occasional reference to the events being celebrated.
I had planned to stop off en route from Durban to visit Tiny Marshall in Ladysmith. Having arrived in Ladysmith early, and finding myself near Farquhar Road, I decided to try and find the former Farquhar Road home of my good buddy (and birthdate twin) Bryden Clarence. While driving around looking for the old Clarence home (now a B&B) I came upon Paddy Ann and Charles’ Porrill’s Durnford Lodge, so I dropped in there. Charles was working in the grounds, but I soon tracked him down. Shortly thereafter Paddy Ann arrived from the golf course (in her pickup truck!) and we had tea, and – of course – caught up on the events of the years since we last met. Then it was off to see Tiny Marshall, just down the road – about to turn 80, and bubbling with energy and hospitality, and eager to talk about the “old days.”.
The road to Dundee brought back memories of joy and pain – for example, the spot outside Ladysmith where my Dad struck a pedestrian with his car on a dark and rainy night (he was found not guilty of negligent driving at his trial, where he was represented by Denis Smith), the Blyth Farm, the Porrill farm, the site of the old Kilbarchan Colliery and village (no longer in existence), the glorious vista from the top of the pass overlooking the Mitchell Innes farm – and then Balbrogie, the Henderson farm, in the distance. Having missed Sheila Henderson at her new home in Ladysmith, I stopped off at Balbrogie. More delights – Ishbel happened to be in the front yard talking on her mobile phone, and Sheila and Deidre were inside the house. What a wonderful reunion! Then I discovered that the Henderson family were off to Helpmekaar for the night, so we arranged to meet at the Talana Museum for lunch next day.
From Balbrogie I took the road behind the Biggarsberg, through the magnificent, green summertime countryside to see the Maria Ratchitz mission church (see http://www.talana.co.za/Visit_our_Musem/Museum_Services/Maria/maria_ratchitz_mission.html) – a first visit for me. This magnificent church, with its ornate Roman Catholic ornamentation – recently restored with the diligent support from Senator Charles and Sheila Henderson – seems almost out of place as if a relic of Europe in the middle of the African countryside.
My first stop in Dundee was the Talana Museum, where I had arranged with curator Pam McFadden to have access to back issues of the Northern Natal Courier to gather information on some articles that I am in the process of writing for the website. Pam was her usual, welcoming self, and soon I was buried in the Couriers of the early 1950s! The museum closing time of 4.30 meant that I ended up checking in at the Royal Hotel (now the Royal Country Inn) just in time to hit the bar at around 5.00 p.m. I knew that the Royal had been bought by Danie and Motz Bezuidenhout (formerly teachers at Dundee High School in the 60s – years in which my mother was a school secretary there). It was wonderful to renew our acquaintance after more than 40 years! And how wonderful the Royal looks nowadays – at least as good as it was in the glory days of Reg and Barbara Low! What is more I was delighted to find that there is still an employee from the Low era working at the hotel – Nora Simons, who took care of us in the dining room, and with whom we shared many a story of Dundee of the 1960s!
Having concluded from my recent, brief visits to Dundee that there was almost no-one left in the town that I knew, I was delighted to discover that there are still many such people if one just scratches the surface! Indeed, it soon became apparent that with a bit of effort one could find many familiar folks – if not faces – from Dundee of the 50s and 60s. The first was Louis Steenkamp. He and I had exchanged emails before my visit, and I invited Louis to meet me at the Royal Hotel bar. How nice to be in that great pub after so many years! While in the bar I had the eerie experience of watching Barack Obama’s inauguration on the television – eerie because if anyone had suggested to me when I was sitting in that bar having my first legal beer that some 45 years later I would be back in the bar as a U.S. citizen watching a black man become my president I might have wondered not only what you had been drinking but also what you had been smoking!
Next day my best friend from my Dundee days, Bevin Shirley, arrived. Rather than hitting the Royal bar immediately we took a short walk around the town. Our tour included St. James Church churchyard (now, sadly, surrounded by and eight foot steel fence with locked gate!), the old Oval, the “Municipal Swimming Bath” of our youth (now derelict and with the pool full of weeds, though the buildings are still standing), the Scout Huts (now also derelict), the area north west of Douglas Street (now a densely populated and up market residential area, the MacPhail Gates (now further down Smith Street, and serving as the entrance to the Jan Smuts Park), the Smith home “Bellvue”, the War Memorial Hall (now serving as the Town Hall), and then the main streets of the town centre. Then it was back to the Royal Hotel bar, where my brother Murray joined us from Johannesburg. Again Louis joined in too – probably the first successive nights Louis had spent in that pub in many years! We decided to walk Louis home (midway along the first block of Victoria Street, where he lives in the “Castle” house) when the bar closed – the hotel night watchman was so concerned for the safety of us old drunk farts that he insisted on accompanying us – knobkierie in hand – to ensure our safe return!
January 21 was the day of the wreath laying at Isandluwana and Rorkes Drift. One of the joys of Natal – even for someone who has been absent from the province for 23 years – is that you can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone that you know. So it was at Isandlwana, where I bumped into old Epworthian Wendy Bowman (nee Earl). With the MOTHS and 24th Regiment re-enactment troops present, the wreath laying ceremonies at both battlefields were moving. Sadly, and apparently due to conflicts between the ANC and IFP bodies that respectively rule local and regional affairs in the area, there was no wreath laid to commemorate the Zulu casualties at Isandlwana. The same oversight was repeated at Rorkes Drift, but the Welsh “nurse” who accompanied the re-enactment troops laid a posy on the Zulu memorial in a very moving ceremony.
After the Rorkes Drift ceremony Bevin, and Murray and I headed off to the Melville/Coghill memorial, past the Fugitive’s Drift Lodge. The thought of a beer or G&T at the lodge proved too much to pass up, and so we enjoyed the delights of sitting at the bottom of the garden of the lodge having a drink and looking out over the Buffalo/Mzinyathi towards Isandluwana in the distance.
In returning to Dundee we decided to have a drink at the golf club. On introducing ourselves as former residents we received a warm welcome, and were granted access to the club facilities. We had a pleasant sundowner on the verandah outside the main bar. For those readers who, like me, have not been to the club in almost 40 years you will be astonished at how the trees on the course have grown – the course looked beautiful!
From the golf club we headed out to the festivities at the impressive new conference centre that Nan and Lourens Roos have added to their Battlefields Lodge, on the left hand side of the Vryheid road just after the Nqutu turn off. On arrival we discovered that Dundee’s bush telegraph still works well – on seeing Lourens he said “I heard you guys were in town” – apparently someone had called from the golf club to let him know that visitors were on the way! As always, Nan and Lourens were the consummate hosts, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal and a demonstration of 1870’s weapons, as well as an amazing display of Zulu dancing by a group of junior dancers who seemed to be no older than about ten! Among the other people that I was able to renew acquaintances with at the event were Peter and Decima (nee Greer) Jones, and Evan Jones.
Murray and I played golf on the Friday – what a delight to be back on that course. We bumped into Sandy Browning (nee Mallet), who was walking her dog on the course, and is one of the club’s star golfers. Later, while we were having lunch in the golf club bar, in walked Jeff Johnson(formerly of St. Augustines, near Nqutu), looking very hale and hearty. Jeff showed us his new home in a gated community development due north of the turn off to Glencoe at the top of Ryley’s Hill – a very attractive development in another densely populated and up market neighbourhood of the town that did not exist in the 50s and 60s.
A visit to the Glendee Yacht Club at Hattingspruit Dam followed. Once again, the size of the trees was astonishing, and the size of the clubhouse has greatly increased. Sadly, however, there were very few boats in the clubhouse grounds, and one wonders how busy the club is nowadays. On returning to town, Bevin and I dropped in on Yvonne and Glynn Durham (Murray had left for home by then) – both were still hale and hearty, and consummate hosts, as usual.
Friday evening there was a function at the Indumeni MOTH Shellhole, which is still in its original location under the stage of the Memorial Hall. The function commemorated the opening of the Jimmy Marshall Bar – named in honour of longtime unofficial custodian and protector of the Shellhole museum. The guest of honour was Jimmy’s widow “Tiny,” who was accompanied by her children Robert, Howie and Margie, and son in law Peter Johnson (son of Jeff). It was another example of how, despite an absence from Dundee of some 40 years, if you scratch the surface you find old friends. Amongst the attendees were Mark Elliott and his wife Cheryl (nee Abraham), Ronnie Paijmans, Michelle Fleischman (nee Hudson, wife of Old Bill Dudley Fleischman), Dick and Claire Perkins, and Frans Koch (brother in law of the late Craig Smith).
For keen amateur historians like Bevin and me who had spent so much time in our youth on and around Talana Hill, a visit to Dundee without climbing the hill was unthinkable. So on the Saturday morning we took an early walk up to the fort, which is very overgrown with vegetation but otherwise in pretty much the same shape as it was in the 50s and 60s. On returning to the museum grounds we discovered the “Old Dundee” exhibit in one of the old buildings behind the main museum. What a gem! Included among the displays are a wonderful selection of historical photos of the town, and what appears to be First Dundee Scout Troop memorabilia rescued from the now-derelict Scout Huts – including the Honours Board with the names of scoutmasters and assistants, Springbok Scouts, and other honours. Definitely worth a look while visiting the Talana Museum.
What a wonderful visit that was! And how nice to find that much of what was good about the town still remains. While the Victoria Street area between King Edward Street and Smith Street, and the Willson Street business district, are shabby and scruffy, the rest of the town is in reasonably good physical shape and quite clean. The residential areas are in generally good shape too – and some areas like the Fouche’ Street area and the area north west of Douglas Street are most attractive. And – a big plus for me – the grass at the entrances to the town was neatly trimmed and looking most attractive. There are many active sports clubs (including golf, bowls, hockey, and tennis) and service organizations active in the town (including Round Table, MOTHS, and Rotary). And if you check out the Northern KwaZulu Natal Courier’s online version – which I highly recommend (see http://nncourier.blogspot.com/) – you will be kept up to date on the current events in the town
I left Dundee with a lump in my throat but with the satisfaction of having discovered that much of what made the town so attractive in the 50s and 60s is still there. There is improvement in some aspects and deterioration in others, but all in all Dundee is alive a well and still a nice town to live and work in. And the summer scenery and beauty of the town’s location remains stunning. So if you haven’t been there for a while – go back and check it out! And don’t just pass through like a tourist – get your friends from bygone days who still live in the town to gather some other “old timers” together and just wallow in nostalgia!
© Stuart Clark, June 2009
CENOTAPH RESTORATION COMPLETED
The November 2008 Armistice Day commemoration marked the first official event at the recently restored Cenotaph. The restoration involved fixing gaps in the lists of names on the memorial, fixing the cracked and broken plaster, and repairing other wear and tear in the more than 80 years since the structure was erected.
A substantial part of the costs of restoration was funded by former Dundonians who lived in the town in the 1950s and 1960s. Among those who made generous contributions are the following:
Martin Dando (now living in Australia)
John Hastie (now living in the USA)
Chris Kneppers (now living in the USA)
Joe Kneppers (now living in the USA)
Gill Coetzer (nee Lavers)(now living in Benoni)
Denis Jooste (now living in Sandton)
Rob Marshall (still in Kwazulu Natal)
Stuart Clark (now living in the USA)
The Armistice Day commemoration included an explanation by MOTH Pat Rundgren of the history of the construction of the Cenotaph (by public subscription), and the Courier published a wonderful article of the event – including photographs. See http://nncourier.blogspot.com/2008/11/remembrance-day-to-remember-for-all.html
See also the photos in the Photo Gallery of this website.
DUNDEE BASH - APRIL 11-13, 2008
Over the weekend of April 11-13, 2008 a number of the “kids” of Dundee of the 50s and 60s gathered in our wonderful town to celebrate our decades-old friendships and common Dundee heritage. The report of our correspondent at large – Anne Jenkins (nee’ Morgan) – appears below. To start, however, here are some of the other reports from those who participated in this wonderful reunion:
Anne’s initial emailed report – accompanied by the photos in the Photo Gallery (currently photos 1 and 2) was brief and to the point. It included the following:
It was a complete blast! . . . We all had a wonderful time - drank way too much wine, laughed til we cried and had a trip down memory lane par excellance!
From Brenda Featherstone (nee’ Couglin) came the following:
We met in the Royal Pub on Friday evening and there was much carrying on by those already present in the pub when somebody “new” walked in. Paddy [Porrill, nee’ Smith] and Charles [Porrill], Ruth and Anne [Morgan], Bev, Leeza and Ami [Shirley], Steeny [Mulholland, nee’ Coughlin] and us stayed at the hotel on Friday night. On Saturday Porrills, Shirleys and Featherstones climbed into “Grandpa’s Bus” – as the grandkids call Terry’s vehicle – and set off to the Battlefields with the best tour guide in the whole area – Bevin [Shirley]! Charles [Porrill] was on form so we had a very entertaining trip in-between the historical facts from Bev. It was just fabulous.
Lourens and Nan [Roos] entertained us all at their magnificent [Battlefields] Lodge on Saturday evening, delicious meal served by Nan. Vaughan Shaw joined the party at the Lodge, Rob Marshall, Jill and Ed Meyer (Rogers), Lyn Ford (Elliott), Robin Lowe and [Lesley Lowe, nee Marais] and also Peter and Laverne [Rogers].
And then convener Bevin Shirley’s comments:
WOW - we had an emotionally fulfilling few days! Friday night at the Royal Hotel was a din of chatter and uncountable "do you remembers!!” Saturday was a soulful and always interesting historic trip to Blood River, Isandlawana and Rorkes Drift for the few involved. Saturday night and a typical Dundee explosion-filled thunderstorm and downpour! - 30-odd Dundonians spent the evening with Lourens and Nan Roos at their beautiful Battlefields Lodge. What a feast and a party. Spread the word worldwide: this is THE place to stay in Dundee!!
Finally, from Bill Caisley (Rev), now of London, we have the following:
Although we did not partake in the 'reunion' it was quite emotional being in Dundee for a few days. My 20 years spent in Dundee, up till 1997, raising my 3 kids, were the most enjoyable years of my life.
Special thanks are due to Nan and Lourens Roos, and their Battlefields Lodge staff, for their wonderful hospitality on Saturday evening! Check them out at their website, http://www.battlefieldslodge.co.za/
Oh my goodness, what I would have given to be there!
Now here is Anne's article:
GOING BACK IN TIME
Anne Jenkins (Morgan)
The saying goes ‘You can’t go back in time,” and many times I found this to be true. But there’s always the exception to the rule - and Dundee is my exception. I lived there in the early 60’s and the last time I went back was in 1972. In April 2008 my sister, Ruth, and I went back - in time and memories… and best of all, we reconnected with friends from those far off days. The trip from Umkomaas to Dundee along the old road was a “Do you remember ….” day. It was a good start to a simply magical weekend.
A reunion of the “town’s teenagers of the 60’s,“ was arranged by Bevin Shirley and about 25 of us descended on the wonderful old Royal Hotel on Victoria Street. The Royal was where I had my first drink in public - bought for me by a man! Wow! It was so daring at the time - now it was a story of great hilarity and wise cracks from the group. As we gathered we recognized faces immediately or went completely blank. As I did when the first person we saw was Brenda (Coughlan’s) husband, Terry. I figured if I talked to him long enough I’d remember who he was. Unfortunately the first thing I said to him was I’d stayed with Steeny (Coughlan) for a few days when I arrived back in SA. Did he remember Steeny, I queried. Terry looked at me like I was some kind of idiot, and said, “She’s my sister-in-law.” We howled with laughter and that was the start of many such moments.
The Royal’s bar was hopping that first night - wine flowed right along with the memories and laughter and many shrieks of “Oh my God, Yes! I remember….” The first wave included Brenda and Terry, Steeny, Paddy (Smith) and Charles, Bevin and Leeza and their daughter and Lourens and Nan Roos. Lourens couldn‘t remember me at all which also caused much laughter. I can’t seem to recall what time the frivolity ended.
Saturday morning we met for a big breakfast and planned the day. We split in to two groups. Bevin led his family, Brenda, Terry, Paddy and Charles off on a tour of the battlefields - his passionate interest and knowledge of the battlefields make him a good guide and they had a wonderful tour.
Ruth, Steeny and I set off first for a driving tour off Dundee. We revisited old haunts and at times struggled to remember things, other times it was instant recall. We drove past our old homes, schools and downtown which led to many reminisces of the Cosy Café - one of our cool teenage hangouts of the time.
Next we headed out to the absolutely delightful Talana Museum on Talana hill just outside town. This is truly a special little museum - and not just because there are photo’s of my Dad in it. It covers the whole gamut of Dundee’s history - the mining industry, the glass factory, Zulu beadwork, a delightful mock up of the center of old Dundee, the railways, the old homestead of the founder, Peter Smith (Paddy Smith is a direct descendent) and a wonderful museum shop. They have also started artists cottages where the artist can work and sell work directly to the public. This gladdened my heart no end and I bought some lovely souvenirs.
Jill (Rogers) and Ed Myers and Peter and Laverne (Friis) Rogers joined us at the museum - a bittersweet moment. The Morgan and Rogers family have been friends since we can all remember. I think of Mrs Doreen Rogers as my second mother and never fail to see her when I visit SA. Peter and Laverne lost their eldest son, Greg, in a motor accident a few weeks prior to the reunion. It was a wonderful thing they did to come and meet with us. I was just delighted to see them and at the same time, my heart broke for them. We cried in sadness and sympathy. I wished I could hug all their hurt away.
Peter was a gem to have with us as we toured the mining section - not only is he featured three times in the museum (did we ever tease him about how old that makes him!) but he made that section so much more interesting. As we’re from a mining family, we knew quite a lot but nothing compared to him. It was a real treat for us. He and Jill are also just phenomenal at remembering faces and names. I would be standing there blankly thinking “hmmm…vaguely rings a bell,” and then they’d say, “Oh yes, that’s ….” and it would all become quite clear.
There’s an old house on the grounds they’ve turned in to a restaurant and we happily settled down to drinks and lunch. And we laughed till we cried at some memories, especially all the crazy nicknames we gave each other back then.
In the early evening we headed out to Lourens Roos’ hotel and restaurant, The Battlefields Country Lodge. They have a really beautiful establishment - a large thatched-roof lapa as their bar and restaurant and interesting silo looking buildings for their bedrooms. Their swimming pool overlooks the vast empty veld. It’s quite spectacular.
More shrieks of “Good Lord! look who just walked in!” greeted Robin and Lesley (Marais) Lowe. Wine and beer flowed. Nan and Lourens treated us to a great dinner.
Next morning at breakfast we voted it a very special weekend for all of us. James, the manager at the Royal, patiently took photos of us grouped on the front steps. Eventually we tore ourselves away. How sweet it is to see old friends after such a long time.
I’m so glad I went. I guess to me it proves you can go back sometimes - and it’s good for you to do so! However, my liver might not agree!