musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: South Africa

Remember the Mendi

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship; HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. The resulting death toll was high; of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew.  The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton I decided to visit Hollybrook Cemetery and the Hollybrook Memorial to the missing. 
 

 
This particular memorial at Hollybrook commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial.  
 
Sadly, all that is left of their lives is their names on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to participate as non combatants in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it, these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 
 
However, in a shocking newspaper article on the 17th of February it was revealed that “The department of military veterans has withdrawn support for an “imperial” commemoration of a World War 1 shipping disaster in which 646 mainly black South Africans died” 
A retired senior military officer this week described the department’s decision as “abominable and a disgrace”. He said: “This means no military band or guards in fact no formal military presence at a memorial for South Africans who died on service in war.”
(Article in the Sunday Times 17 February 2019 Front page.) 
 
The stance has drawn severe criticism from veterans and organisations, and sadly the Mendi is once again just a porn in a game called political correctness and white washing of history. 
 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.


DRW © 2019. Created 18/02/2019. 

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 13:58

Remembering SAS President Kruger

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  was a Type 12 Frigate, acquired by the South African Navy in the 1960’s. Built in the United Kingdom, she was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun.

SAS President Kruger (F150)

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg.

SAS Tafelberg replenishing a frigate (source unknown)

The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side. At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the  Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved  turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  

The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings.

Roll of Honour:
AB. G.T. Benjamin
CPO J.P. Booysen
 PO. S.P. Bothma
 PO. G.A.F. Brind
 PO R.C. Bulterman
 PO. G.W. De Villiers
 PO. E. Koen
 PO. H. Lotter
 PO. R.A. Mc Master
 PO. R.F. Skeates
 CPO. H.W. Smit
PO. W.R. Smith
 CPO. W.M.G. Van Tonder
 CPO. D. Webb
 PO. M.B.R. Whiteley
 PO. C.J. Wium
 
1982 Naval Casualties at the SADF Wall of Remembrance
At the naval board of inquiry it was found that there was a  lack of seamanship by the captain and officers of the ship. The inquest apportioned blame on the captain and PWO. However none of the officers was court-martialled.
 
There is a comprehensive look at South African naval casualties on the Observation Post blog
 
DRW © 2019. Created 18/02/2019. The ship two images I cannot source. They come from my collection, but I have no idea where the originals came from. If you are the copyright holder please contact me so that I may acknowledge your historic images.

 

Updated: 17/02/2019 — 08:22

Remembering SAS Southern Floe

HMSAS Southern Floe. (11/02/1941)

One of four Southern Class whalers taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.  

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941,  HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk where she was to meet Southern Floe,  but there was no sign of her. A common enough occurrence as often ships would be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life.  24 Men lost their lives; although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine. 

CWGC lists 26 South African Naval Casualties from that date as being commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial.  

Casualty List from CWGC

There is a comprehensive look at South African naval casualties on the Observation Post blog

DRW © 2018-2019. Created 06/02/2019

Updated: 17/02/2019 — 08:21

Happy Birthday 747

On February 9, 1969, the “Queen of the Skies” made her first flight, and début in the world of transportation. The iconic Boeing 747 (aka “Jumbo Jet”), entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route, and has been around almost as long as I have; and it is expected there will still be examples flying in 20 years time. My own memories of the Jumbo date back to when the South African Airways pavilion at the Rand Easter Show had a full scale mock-up of the interior of the aircraft. We were in awe of the rows and rows of seats, and could only dream of flying in one. 

My first flight in a Jumbo was on board a Boeing 747-SP from Johannesburg to Seychelles in 1989, and it was chartered Luxair branded aircraft and not a regular commercial flight.

747-SP (Seychelles)

My next flights were with KLM and they were from Johannesburg to Schipol and back and they happened in 2000 and 2001. The return trip was on board a “Kombi” version and the image below I took on my way back to South Africa, but this is not the aircraft I flew in. This is a 747-206B.

747-206B (Schipol)

In 2008 I flew long haul to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, and this is probably my favourite airline.  The image below is of our aircraft on the leg from South Africa, but unfortunately I am unable to identify her.  Our return flight was at night so I did not get any images of the aircraft. However, I seem to think these were 747-400’s and they were very comfortable (or as comfortable as you can get in economy).

My next flights also happened in 2008 and that was a return to the UK, travelling with Virgin Atlantic. I do not have pics of the onward flight, but we flew back on 747-4Q8 G-VBIG “Tinker Belle”.

747-4Q8 G-VBIG “Tinker Belle” (Heathrow)

I also managed to watch this lady landing while waiting for a connection at Heathrow. I think she is a 747-400 but cannot be sure. 

I also spotted this BA Jumbo overhead in London in March 2013.

Strangely enough I have not flown on an SAA Jumbo, although the images below are of the two 747’s preserved at the SAA Museum at Rand Airport that I visited in 2009. 

Boeing 747-200, ZS-SAN “Lebombo”

SAA 747-200, ZS-SAN “Lebombo”

Lebombo is the first Jumbo that SAA operated and she was delivered on 22 October 1971, and was in service for 31 years, 11 months, 14 Days. She landed at Rand Airport on Friday 5 March 2004 and it was a very close landing given that Rand Airport is not as large as the international airports that she was used to.  I was fortunate enough to have a tour of her at the museum, although the cockpit and upper deck was out of bounds. 

The museum page on the aircraft  and her service is well worth a visit (as is the real aircraft).

 

747SP-44 ZS-SPC “Maluti”

She was delivered on 11 June 1976 and made her last flight on 0 September 2006.  Unfortunately she was not open at the time of my visit, but she does make an interesting comparison to her fleetmate.

Museum page on Maluti

It is hard to think that in a few years time we will only see Jumbo Jets in movies or in pictures, however, it could be that this aircraft could enter the realm of long lived classics like the DC3. I like to think that they will be with us for a long time, although realistically there are much more economical aircraft around. It is probably the most recognisable passenger jet to fly, and I do not know about others but I really enjoyed travelling in a Jumbo. 

Jumbo passing at an airshow

The London Science Museum has a sliced section of a Jumbo on display, although getting a decent image of it is very difficult. 

When I saw it in 2017 I could not help but ask myself what happened to the mock-up that I saw as a child? it probably ended up as scrap somewhere.

The skies will not be the same without that familiar shape that we all took for granted, but the replacements are cleaner, more efficient and hopefully safer, but they all however seem to use toilets designed in 1920! I may dislike airports but enjoy flying and I am glad I was able to experience these before it is too late. I have flown on the A340-600 as well as the A380 and neither compare to my experiences with the good old Jumbo. 

DRW © 2019, created 09/02/2019 

Updated: 28/04/2019 — 14:27

Church in Danger

In 2012 I blogged about the Nativity Play that was held at the parish church that I was a member of way back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. When we all moved from Mayfair we left the church behind, although we do have a tie to the church as my father’s ashes were interred there in 1981, and we have an open plaque for my mother for when she passes on. The assumption back then being that nothing untoward would happen to the church. Changing demographics really affected the church over the years but from what I can read it still had an active congregation up till 2016. However, I was posted a link to the Heritage Portal website where somebody had reported illegal work being done in the grounds of the church.  

Christ Church Mayfair is one of the oldest churches in Johannesburg and was built in 1897; Johannesburg was only founded in 1886 (or thereabouts) and the church served the mining community in an area known as “Crown Mines”.

Looking at Google Earth imagery shows how the grounds of the church shrunk as more and more development encroaches around it. I recall walking up what was then Crown Reef Road with its tree lined streets and mine houses. The church being at the one end and Hanover Street on the other. It is all but unrecognisable now, and the formerly empty veldt and mine ground have really become a warren of Chinese shops, taxi ranks and assorted chaos. 

I recognise that progress is inevitable and invariable, and I also recognise that the church is really a relic from the past. Let’s face it, the church is in Mayfair/Fordsburg. It is not in the northern suburbs so is easily overlooked by the heritage followers. The fact that it still survives is somewhat of a miracle.

At the moment we have no further information as to what is going on, or whether the Garden and Wall of Remembrance still exists. The fact that there are cremated ashes there may prevent anybody from doing anything drastic. “In terms of Civil Rights, Cultural and Religious Rights, etc. in our Constitution, no grave may be disturbed or tampered with without due process.”

Watch this space? yep, I will be keeping a beady eye on developments, because this does impact on our family, and we do have some sort of stake in the outcome.

As for the Church, it was not an easy place to take photographs in, and these were taken in 2011. I am much better at it nowadays. It was impossible to get the whole building in the shot given how awkward the grounds were.

   

 

 

The Garden and Wall of Remembrance

A wall was built to the left of this this garden where commemorative plaques could be mounted. My father is commemorated on the 3rd plaque from the top next to the blank plaque.  

The Roll of Honour for the parish may be found inside it (or at least it was there in 2011)

There is also a commemorative plaque for Harry S. Metcalfe, 3rd Engineer of the Nova Scotia who died on 29 November 1942 when the ship was torpredoed.

The Rectory was somewhat of a Victorian wedding cake of a house, and was home to many a minister and their families. I do not know what it is used for today, by the looks of it the building has been cut off from the church, but it is very hard to say. 

That’s it in a nutshell. A place from my past in jeopardy, and the final resting place of my late father. 

DRW © 2018 – 2019. Created 20/09/2018

Updated: 04/01/2019 — 06:48

Four Ships Week

Regular readers will know that I have slowly been adding in reminders about important dates in South African naval history. The most prominent being in February when I commemorate Three Ships Month. Sadly though, it does not all end with those 3 disasters (although technically the Mendi was not a naval vessel as it sailed with a civilian crew while doing trooping duties). 

There are however four more ships that I am adding into these reminders, and they were all lost in April of 1942.  The men killed in these sinkings were seconded to four British warships that were lost in what has become known as “The Easter Sunday Raid“. 

I am not in a position to elaborate about the disasters that befell these ships, as there are others who have done a much better job than I have. I am heavy reliant on Wikipedia for the information below.

HMS Cornwall, was  a County-class heavy cruiser of the Kent sub-class built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. Cornwall was transferred to the South Atlantic in late 1939 where she escorted convoys before returning to the Indian Ocean in 1941. she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in March 1942 and  was sunk on 5 April by dive bombers from three Japanese aircraft carriers during the Indian Ocean Raid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Cornwall_(56)

HMS Dorsetshire, was a County class heavy cruiser  and a member of the Norfolk sub-class, of which she was one of two ships (HMS Norfolk was the other).  Launched in Portsmouth in January 1929, she was completed in September 1930.  After a long and varied career she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet to support British forces in the recently opened Pacific Theatre of the war.   On 5 April, Japanese aircraft spotted Dorsetshire and her sister Cornwall while en route to Colombo; a force of dive bombers then attacked the two ships and sank them. More than 1,100 men were rescued the next day, out of a combined crew of over 1,500. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Dorsetshire_(40))

HMS Hermes, was the world’s first ship to be designed as an aircraft carrier, her construction began during the First World War but she was not completed until after the end of the war.  She  was commissioned in 1924, and served briefly with the Atlantic Fleet before spending the bulk of her career assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and the China Station.  When the Second World War began she was briefly assigned to the Home Fleet and conducted anti-submarine patrols in the Western Approaches  before being  sent to patrol the Indian Ocean. She was refitted in South Africa between November 1941 and February 1942 and then joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon.

While berthed in Trincomalee on 8 April a warning of an approaching Japanese fleet was received, and she sailed that day for the Maldives with no aircraft on board. On 9 April she was spotted by a Japanese scout plane, and she was subsequently attacked by several dozen dive bombers shortly afterwards.  Without air cover she  was quickly sunk although most of the survivors were rescued by a nearby hospital ship, but 307 men were lost in the sinking. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Hermes_(95))

HMS Hollyhock, a Flower-Class Corvette, was laid down on 27 November 1939 and launched on 19 August 1940. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 19 November 1940. Hollyhock was bombed and sunk by Japanese naval aircraft on 9 April 1942 east of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean, along with the aircraft carrier Hermes, the Australian destroyer Vampire and two tankers.  53 men lost their lives in the sinking.  (http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-20Cor-Flower-Hollyhock.htm)

64 South Africans lost their lives as members of the crew of these 4 ships.  Unfortunately these losses were conveniently shunted aside in the quest to sanitise history, but slowly we are recognising that there is much more that we need to discover and commemorate.  

Further Reading:

The major inspiration for this post is The Observation Post, a  blog that was set up to keep contemporary South African Military history alive and reveal the truth – because historical “truth” in South Africa is so often skewed to some or other political agenda.

Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

DRW © 2018. Created 02/04/2018.  The Observation Post is created by Peter Dickens 

Updated: 09/05/2018 — 12:47

This time last year

This time last year I was in the air somewhere over Africa (I think) heading South towards Johannesburg.

Approaching ORT, with Johannesburg in the distance (1500×964)

It was a trip that I had to organise at very short notice and was one I did not really want to do unless I really had to. The reason behind it was the ever declining health of my mother who lived on her own in the South of Johannesburg. When I finally saw her early the next day I was shocked, it was hard to believe it was the same person I had known for all my life (my father passed away in 1981).   

There were a few problems that needed dealing with, and we were fortunate that things happened when they did or we would have been in an extremely difficult position.  The decision was made that we needed to get her into frail care. She was not coping well and a recent fall had really robbed her of self confidence and raised the alarm bells. The complex where she lived had no facilities for frail care, or even a resident nurse or caretaker. Too many occupants died unnoticed in the past and it was a situation we wanted to avoid at all costs. 

I won’t waffle on much in this post, I just wanted to say that a year down the line she is doing better than she was this time in 2017. I wont say she is healthy as a 70 year old, but at least she is in a better place physically than she was in March 2017. 

She moved out of her flat in May 2017, and that must have been a horrible experience for her. Leaving your life behind to embark on what may be your final days is not something to be taken lightly, and I do understand her reticence about going into frail care. Naturally the question is: did we do the right thing? whether it was right or not is irrelevant,  what is important is that it was the only option we had and it was better for her in the long run. 

Only time has the answer to our situation. Fortunately I am in a better position visa wise, but there it is inevitable that at some point will have to make another trip down south. There is very little I can do about it and just next year this time I will be doing a two years down the line post, let’s wait and see.

DRW © 2018. Created 20/03/2018 

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

Counting down the days

Having left South Africa we are almost at our destination… sort of.

En route to London

My post for 02/03/2013 has the following to say:

“It was time to put my new visa to the test, and surprisingly enough passing through immigration was easy. Now I had to find my way to Kennington in South London which was where I was staying until 8 Feb. There were 3 options: Heathrow Express, Tube, or Coach. I suspect I am sucker for a train so chose the Tube. I had to change trains at 3 different places but surprisingly that in itself was a breeze.  I do remember sitting on that tube from Heathrow with my luggage and heavy eyes from the lack of sleep; with people all around tied up in their own world of cell phones, headsets or books. They were on their way to work, I was on my way to a new life.” 

I have never forgotten that tube ride, it was my first time riding the tube too, but I think at that point I was feeling very uncertain of what I was doing. Fortunately finding your way on the tube is reasonably simple, assuming you know how to read a tube map  you can get almost anywhere in London. The only tube line that runs to Heathrow is the Piccadilly Line, and I rode it to Leicester Square where I changed to the Northern Line and bailed out at Kennington, and then did a short hop to Oval Station for some or other odd reason.

When I exited Oval Station I was very disorientated and I had been hoping to find a taxi to take me to my destination, but contrary to my expectations there were no taxis at Oval. I re-orientated myself, grabbed my suitcase by the hand and headed down the road. My suitcase was not one of the wheelie bags, it was a suitcase with a set of wheels on one corner and a handle on the other. It rolled easily enough assuming that the pavement was level. By the time I got to where I would be staying I was exhausted. But I had arrived. 

Camberwell New Road

The owner of the flat had cooked me breakfast although she was not at home at the time and a friend of hers showed me the ins and outs of where the loo was and how the shower worked and all that sort of stuff. I seem to recall I only met the owner the next morning. While I had not really crossed too many time zones I was still tired after being on the go from the afternoon of the 28th up till the afternoon of the 1st. I did not have a sim card for my phone yet and that was something I needed to do and I seem to recall that afternoon heading down to Camberwell after having a shower to buy myself a watch and a sim for my phone. The shenanigans of my watch having finally cheesed me off enough! Strangely enough I still wear that replacement Timex that I bought at Argos for $19.99.  

I spotted a cellphone shop somewhere and did some enquires about airtime packages. The person on the other side of the counter was a South African and she recommended I rather go try a place up the road because the people she worked for were overpriced. It was quite an odd encounter but I did appreciate her honesty so ended up going elsewhere and was connected probably an hour later. That cell phone package would come back and bite me in the rear end as we got to the end of the month, and my time in London. 

Brixton

Opening a bank account was easy as it had been pre-arranged, all I had to do was sign on the dotted line and bob was my uncle! However, the banking worked slightly differently to how we do things in South Africa and it took me a long time to get used to it. It too would bite me in the rear end when I left London in March. 

St Mark’s Church, Kennington

My immediate need for accommodation was solved when my landlady (another South African), let me stay for another month while I sorted myself out. She was very helpful and weaned me off the tube and showed me how to use buses! I had not travelled on one of those in years either and the bus service is London is amazingly efficient although it can be very crowded at peak times. Do not expect to see any smiles either because nobody seemed to smile on the buses. If only they had experienced the poor public transport back in SA they would have jumped for joy at what they had in this incredible city. 

I will admit I did a lot of the touristy things in that month, but it was very clear that there were a few snag in my job search. For starters I had to get my qualifications assessed and that would take at least 3 weeks. I was a tad too old to work in the customer service industry and I was really struggling with my hearing. There was a lot of competition for some of the jobs and I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. I was however prepared to relocate, although did not find any jobs outside of London at the time. The usual lack of feedback or responses by agencies also happened in the UK, and of course I also sat with that almost 2 year gap in my CV after my retrenchment. I did know one thing though, I had to get out of London and Southampton was really my city of choice. With hindsight it was a bad choice, if anything I should have headed to Reading or Basingstoke, but purposely avoided the latter  because it supposedly had a lot of South Africans in it. I wanted to avoid those if I could. It is not that I dislike my countrymen, its just that I tend to see things differently to how many of them see it.   

Kennington Park

My time in London spanned from 01 March till I left on 7 April. I saw a lot of things in that month and literally walked myself into exhaustion. The one issue that had plagued me in London was what I suspect may have been shin splints, although it may have been as a result of the extended cramped conditions on the 2 flights. Irrespective of what it was I was in pain for quite a lot of the time. Unfortunately I am allergic to ibuprofen and almost everything that I saw had Ibuprofen in it!  I also discovered that many of the pharmacists are really poor compared to what I was used to in SA. I battled for quite a long time to rid myself of the problem, but it was not fun at the time. 

I won’t even try to explain all I saw or all I did in London, there was just so much. My London folder has over 13000 images in it, and it is doubtful whether there are 2000 of them on this blog.  I started blogging halfheartedly in January 2011 and it really took off when I hit London. All of my travels are in here, and I often go back and reread what my thoughts were back then. I recall that I was at Lewisham one day and while I was there I found the old military hospital, and it was at that hospital where my grandfather was treated after being wounded at Delville Wood. It was a strange encounter, and I could not help but wonder what he thought of the place. I had a love/hate relationship with Lewisham for some unfathomable reason, and yet it turned out to be a very handy location for some of the places I visited. 

Lewisham

A lot of the places that I visited were “cities of the dead”;  when I left South Africa I thought that I would not be doing any war grave photography in the UK. I was very wrong and have photographed twice as many war graves here than I photographed in South Africa.  

At this point I will stop my waffling and draw your attention to the London galleries that I have added to the blog. They can be found under the old Photo-Essay pages.  My London Memorials page is at allatsea

It is also worth looking at the index for March 2013 and the many links inside it. Theoretically they all open in a new tab/page

Finally  I would like to thank my landlady in Kennington, we lost touch in 2014, and I hope that she is still well and has managed to sort herself out with a decent job. Thank you for everything you did for me. 

DRW © 2013-2018. Initially created around about 01/03/2013 but still adding bits as I go along. 

Updated: 18/03/2018 — 16:13

5 years ago

On this day 5 years ago I was facing my last day in South Africa. At this point the last of my possessions had been moved to the storage unit and there were no more sleeps left as I had to catch my flight. I had accommodation organised for my first week in London, but anything after that was uncertain. On arrival my priorities were: find a place to stay,  open a bank account, obtain a National Insurance Number, have my qualifications assessed, and find work. I had played these scenarios out in my mind a number of times, but was pretty sure that the odds of finding work almost immediately were small. When I had originally planned this I had decided that I really wanted to settle in Southampton, although that depended on whether I found work elsewhere first. I had visited the UK in 2008 so was not completely in the dark about what it was like. At least I more or less knew where London was!

I had a lot of stuff to store, so much so that I hired a storage unit to keep it all in, and the last week I spent driving to and from the unit and offloading into it. The unit also had to be big enough for my car which I had not sold. It is scarey how much stuff I really had at that point, much of which would be superfluous with me being the UK, but I was loathe to dispose of my books and other collectables. 

At my age (52) packing up and leaving is not easy, I literally had to turn my back on everything I had accumulated since I moved out of the family home so many years ago. Make no mistake, I had no loyalty to South Africa, I could easily turn my back on the place without a second glance. I would not be missing “braaivleis, rugby, sunnyskies and Chevrolet”, although I would miss Mrs Ball’s Chutney.

My visa was for 5 years and the start date was 1 January 2013. My original plan had been to leave on the 15th of Jan, but as things turned out I finally left on 28 Feb. 

The last sunset I saw in South Africa for a year

My flight was not a direct one, but via Dubai, and it would be a long schlep with roughly 17 hours in the air and 4 hours in transit in Dubai, and unusually it was partly during the day but I was still dreading the flight the most.

There were many preparations that I had to make; that included changing money (I seem to think the exchange rate was around R14 to £1), getting enough medication to last me at least 3 months until I had organised a doctor and a new repeat prescription. I was not lugging too many clothes around although, and was technically “travelling light”. Because my arrival would be towards the end of Winter I did have to take warm clothing and that included my infamous 20 year old navy parka. I also needed comfortable shoes, and bought a pair that seemed perfect but which turned out to be hell to wear. At the last minute I also bought a pair of Hi-techs that served me very well through many cemetery visits. I was also going to take my coal burning laptop because I would really need to search for work and frankly my small smartphone not be adequate for that task. 

I closed my bank account and killed off as much debt as I could, the one thing I did not need was having to run around trying to placate my creditors. A last minute snag with my broadband provider did cause me a lot of trouble and I ended up fighting with them while waiting for my flight at the airport. Fortunately when things went pear shaped at work my car was finished paid for so it was really a case of paying insurance while it languished in storage. 

It is very difficult to believe that 5 years have almost passed and I am now heading into year 6. I have seen many things in this period or my life, and have taken thousands of photographs to prove that “I was there”. The most difficult thing to believe is that I have literally started over. Although realistically starting from scratch really started in Southampton and not in London.

Was I scared? I would have been an idiot not to be, if things went pear shaped I was up the creek without a paddle, and because I had a one way ticket could not return to South Africa easily. I did not have any friends in the UK that I could call on and I really had to make a success of it as quickly as possible.  The fact remained that I was not able to find work in SA, I was prevented so by the constitution and legislation that enforced discrimination in the guise of “transformation”. It is important to know that my retrenchment was not a result of any racist agenda by the company I worked for, but rather a result of skulduggery by those in charge. Many of my African co-workers were similarly retrenched when I was.

In the 5 years I have been in the UK I have lived in London, Southampton, Salisbury, Basingstoke, Burntwood and Tewkesbury. The furtherest North I have been is Crich to visit the Tramway Museum. I have been to many museums in my travels, and walked myself to a standstill on a number of occasions.  I am much more physically active here than I was in South Africa. I have even started to ride a bicycle, but have not driven in the UK yet (although I do have a license to drive).

What do I find different?

For starters their postal system works! But the much vaunted NHS does not live up to the Doctors and medical professionals that I encountered back in SA, although I was a paying patient in SA (I had a medical aid). What amazes me in my day to day life is how many people I see. Dogs get walked, children accompany their parents to shops or the park, the trains and buses work, the weather is not only overcast and wet, houses are not fortresses, and life does not revolve around driving from home to the mall and back, or braai-ing meat over a weekend

There are negatives too: accommodation is expensive and hard to find, meat is pricey, food can be expensive depending on where you shop, London can get horribly crowded, employers do not tolerate slackers and works starts and finishes on time with overtime being paid unlike in SA. Safety in the workplace is often crazy but it is also there for a reason. 

I have met people from many countries, and I have worked with all manner of nationalities. Unfortunately my poor hearing and their accents does sometime create odd looks. Tattoos and “vaping” are very big, as are tanning salons, betting shops and nail bars. Many of the cities in the UK are in a decline as they are realistically built around old towns with a much simpler layout. I currently live in a small town and it and goes back many centuries and it too is suffering from the accommodation shortage and declining business within its borders. My council tax is roughly £75 per month and on top of that I still pay National Insurance and income tax. I was fortunate enough to find a bedsit and lead my own life surrounded by my ships and toys. I do miss my books, although have quite a collection already. I came to the UK with 1 suitcase and a wheelie bag, I now have 3 suitcases and 3 wheelie bags (and a wodge of other bits and pieces).

The experience has been a life changer for me though, at my “advanced age” (nudge nudge wink wink) I have had to adjust myself to a whole new country, timezone, hemisphere and culture. Fortunately I am somewhat of an Anglophile so it was not too difficult. My biggest challenge has been in the workplace. Lets face it, my skills are out of date and my poor eyesight really negates me applying for jobs that require small work. I have however worked 3 temp job, the first as a baggage handler, the 2nd as a “recycling operative” and the third as an “assembly operative” in the manufacturing industry. Those entry level jobs do not exist in South Africa and if they do come available get flooded by thousands of applicants.

Like many places the UK has its problems. I was here when the Brexit referendum occurred and by the looks of it will be here when Brexit actually happens. Gang violence does occur in some cities, knife crime is commonplace and drugs and alcohol abuse are a problem. Hooliganism and petty vandalism are common too, but alcohol does play a major part in it. Overall people obey the rules of the road (which can be confusing), and parking is expensive. Relatively speaking cars are quite cheap to buy but not as cheap to operate. I do miss my car, especially where I live now which is somewhat of a public transportation dead zone. Rail fares are not cheap either, especially if bought on the day and in peak hours. Bus fares are expensive too (Day rider is £7.50 to Cheltenham and back). However, public transport does exist unlike in SA. The transport system in London is to be seen to be believed. 

The weather does play a major part in our lives, and flooding happens more often here than it does in SA. Gloucestershire suffered a disastrous flood in 2007, and I tend to be nervous when it rains.

Snow is welcome but not an every day occurrence (at the time of writing we are suffering from a week of low temperatures and possibly snow too). I have seen snow 4 times in the UK which is 4 times more than I saw it in SA. Generally though most of the places I have lived had warm but short summers and long cold winters, and 2017 was probably the closest I have come to how the weather is supposedly in the UK; cloudy days and low temperatures in summer.

When Spring starts to arrive the country becomes a riot of colour as the flowers bloom and everything wakes up from its long winter sleep.

I have picked up some strange new habits and have a whole new line of food to try. I have developed a taste for cod ‘n chips, I tolerate “brown sauce” and I really enjoy a glass of cider. Pizza is not that great here, so my consumption of it has declined. I was never much of a meat eater and now eat even less, although I do live on “ready meals”. I do not own a television and if I did the TV license would snag a chunk out of my salary, I do not intend buying one. I have really quick broadband and my cellphone has 4G of data.

I could probably rattle on all day about this stuff, but I think I have covered it pretty well in blogposts that stretch from 2013 right up till 28 February 2018. 

It has been quite a ride, but stick with me because I am here for another 5 years, and who knows what changes will happen in South Africa while I am gone, or what will happen when the UK finally divorces itself from the EU. It is going to be interesting though. Talk about Interesting times.

I will periodically return to milestones in my sojourn from a retrospective point of view. It is always good to look back and say “Wow…. I did that?”

DRW © 2018. Created 28/02/2018

Updated: 15/03/2019 — 07:00

Three ships month

February has become known as a month where South Africa lost a number of men in shipping disasters. These are the three:

HMSAS Southern Floe. (11/02/1941)

One of four Southern Class whalers taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.  

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941,  HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk where she was to meet Southern Floe,  but there was no sign of  her. A common enough occurrence as often ships would be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life.  24 Men lost their lives; although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine. 

SAS President Kruger (18/02/1982) 

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  was a Type 12 Frigate, acquired by the South African Navy in the 1960’s. Built in the United Kingdom, she was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun.

SAS President Kruger (F150)

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side. At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the  Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved  turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. 

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship:  HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. Many would perish from exposure that night and the resulting death toll was high. Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. 

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The deep sea is a place fraught with danger, made even worse by wartime restrictions and the ever present weather conditions that often hamper navigation and the safe operation of a ship. In the case of the Southern Floe enemy action was responsible for her loss, while the President Kruger and Mendi sank following a collision. The Mendi has only recently become important once again and we probably know more about it now than we did before. Sadly, there are none alive who can tell us how it happened.  It is however important that we remember these disasters, and the loss of lives that were the result. And, to remember the families of those who never saw their loved ones again. 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.

 
DRW © 2018. Created 10/02/2018. 
Updated: 16/02/2019 — 08:20
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