Africa 1955

Ina and Godfrey Part Three

Our first Christmas ‘oop north‘ was a pretty grim affair. The winter of 1955 was one of the coldest winters of the 20th century. Large snowfalls struck in January with blizzards in the north and huge snowdrifts blocked the roads. I was admitted to Durham Hospital with bronchial pneumonia where I had my first taste of orange cordial. Undiluted, as I had never seen it before.
“Much too sweet, Mummy.”

Godfrey yearned for the warmth and sunshine again. He answered an advertisement for a ‘time and motion study engineer’ with H H Fraser and Associates based in Johannesburg and in the summer of 1955 flew down to South Africa on his own to take up his new post. He had six glorious months of bachelorhood with weekends of golf, braais and parties. Meanwhile Ina was coping with 3 children under 7 and alone in a new town.

Christmas 1954

Six months later Ina packed up her belongings and with three young children boarded RMS Braemar Castle setting sail from London on 16 February 1956.

RMS Braemar Castle

This was a one class ship which called at Las Palmas, Ascension Island, St Helena, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London before disembarking us at Durban. It then continued up the East African coast to Beira and Mombasa then Tanga and Port Said before entering the Red Sea and returning to London. We weren’t allowed to go ashore on Ascension but I watched the stewards throwing meat overboard to be savaged by the swarms of black triggerfish – the Black Piranha – that made the sea boil. Little did I realise that some 28 years later I would land at Wideawake, or rather, RAF Ascension Island, on my way south to the Falklands.

We crossed the Equator and headed south to St Helena where we disembarked the Governor, Sir James Harford and his wife. I looked so mournful looking down from the deck as Ina boarded the launch to take her ashore she had a change of heart and allowed me to join her. Thus I saw Longwood House where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his exile, Jacob’s Ladder which runs up from Jamestown to Ladder Hill Fort and Jonathan the tortoise, the oldest known living land animal on the planet.

The 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder

We arrived in Durban some 4 weeks after leaving London and took the train to Johannesburg where Godfrey was waiting on the platform to greet us. We didn’t recognise him as he had grown a moustache.

Godfrey in 1956

Our first house was out in the suburb of Kensington before moving to a flat in Becker Street so that I could attend Yeoville Boys School. There I had my first taste of Afrikaans delivered by Mr Nel and his painful wooden ruler.

Godfrey’s work as a time and motion study engineer meant short spells in different industries in different parts of the country. In quick succession he worked for Roberts Construction, building cooling towers near Springs, United Lime at their cement works in Ulco in the Northern Cape and Huletts Sugar at their refinery near Durban. Each time we would up sticks and move with him to a new location, starting afresh at another school. At Ulco the language in the playground was Afrikaans. I was the only boy wearing shoes. At Glenwood Primary in Durban they were using inkwells and nibs whereas I had only written with pencils. However, all the schools were studying Tudor history when I arrived so there’s not much about Henry Vlll I can’t tell you.

Godfrey was then posted to the Ankobra Gold Mines near Prestea, north of Tarkwa on the Gold Coast. My first ever flight was from Johannesburg to Accra via Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in the Belgian Congo on a Pan Am Stratocruiser. The double-decker Boeing B377 Stratocruiser was a derivative of the B29 Superfortress bomber. We slept in little curtained bunks. In Accra we transferred to a de Havilland Dove for the short, bumpy, unpressurised flight to Takoradi and the three hour drive in a VW minibus to Prestea.

Takoradi Airport

We lived in a house on stilts built into the side of a mountain and were looked after by a houseboy called Kwame which means ‘born on a Saturday’ in Ashanti. I learned to swim in the traditional way, by Godfrey throwing me into the deep end of the pool at the Company Clubhouse.

Richard (with his bandaged arm), Finola and PaddyMiguel

We had no schooling there at all although we were able to witness the granting of independence and the transformation from the Gold Coast to Ghana on 6 March 1957. So we went to the Gold Coast but never left.

On our return to Johannesburg it was decided that Richard and I were to be sent to boarding school. Richard’s stutter had got worse and he was suffering nightmares. The psychologist diagnosed anxiety. The cure was deemed to be Uplands Preparatory School in White River and the loving care of the Reverend Driver and his wife.

The journey to school was by steam train departing from Johannesburg in the evening and chug chug chugging up through the Low Veldt to Nelspruit. We passed through Witbank, Middelberg and Waterval Boven, names that still bring a chill to my heart and a sick feeling in my stomach. We slept in green leatherette bunks and woke to find ourselves in the sub-tropical Crocodile River valley. Waiting at the station would be the driver to take us the 25 kms to the school past the orange, mango and avocado plantations.

Webster House, Uplands Preparatory School

The home sickness we suffered, the beatings, the bullying and the abuse meant that both Richard and I dreaded our return after the school holidays. The evening before we caught the train were spent playing whist for beans. I still hate the game. Ina and Godfrey came up with a neat solution. Why, keep them at the school during the Easter holidays! Mr Cameron, chief kiddy-fiddler, was asked to look after us. He had a field day.

The unhappiest year of my life

Ironically, Godfrey worked on the same project for the whole time we were at Uplands so Ina, Godfrey and Finola moved only once during that period and even then it was only to a more comfortable flat. Richard and I finally returned to Johannesburg and went back to Yeoville Boys School again for another year.

In 1959 the Pass Laws Act requiring all blacks to carry passbooks was meeting increased resistance and led to many thousands of arrests. This was the spark that ignited the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960. The government declared a state of emergency and the effect on the business community was dramatic. The Johannesburg Stock Market collapsed and H H Fraser and Associates immediately laid off most of their staff, including Godfrey.

As in Argentina 9 years earlier, the political and economic upheaval forced Ina and Godfrey to flee the country and find a new life elsewhere. Sailings to Australia and New Zealand were fully booked and all that was available was a 4 berth cabin to Southampton from Durban in June. Once again we packed up all our belongings, loaded up the DKW and drove the 1000 kms down to Durban.

Godfrey’s pride and joy

On 23 June 1960 we set sail on RMMV Carnarvon Castle from Durban to Southampton and a very uncertain future.

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