The amazing heritage of the Walker family - Nomansland
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John Walker John Walker was born in 1892 on the farm Bathurst in the Umzimkulu District, during a very unsettled period in the history of Griqualand East. He was baptised in the Wesleyan Church of South Africa, in the Mount Currie District, on 17 November 1893.

John, always known as ‘Jack’ to the family, did not attend a conventional school but he and his brother had a personal tutor; his father sent all his girls to Catholic Schools but the boys received home tutoring ”in the true British style.” Jack was only 16 when his father passed away in 1909. According to his father’s Will, which took 9 years to be finalised and provides a very good reference of events in the family during those years, he and his brother each inherited a half share of the farm ‘Beersheba’ and of Erven 15 & 16, Block 35, Kokstad. Jack also received some of the money due from time to time as distribution of the assets progressed. This money was not paid directly to him, but to the Tutor Testamentary, John Carroll, who had been appointed to care for “the property and person of the minors”. John Carroll reports in his second account in March 1913, that John was 20 years old and was self-supporting; it is not clear how he was employed. However in Carroll’s next report, it is stated that John had received the remainder of the money due to him, the sum of £101/15/11, and that he had signed a lease at Highdown to rent the Farm Beersheba for the amount of £40 per annum.

There must clearly have been an interesting situation when Robert Walker attained his majority in 1915. The brothers could quite easily have farmed as co-owners of Beersheba, but these were difficult times. The First World War had broken out and there was little development in the country, in fact high inflation was the order of the day. It is known that both were excellent horsemen and, apparently, were impeccable dressers, with a taste for imported riding apparel! Robert and Jack got on very well together and it is believed that after many discussions as to their immediate future, they decided to toss a coin to determine who would go to war and who would stay at home on the farm. So it was that Robert went to war, although it was not clear whether he was the winner of the toss!

Another reason why it would have been difficult for Jack to be the one to go to war is that he had married Maria Sophia Rooyen in 1914, in Kokstad. Maria, known as ‘Babs’ or ‘Babsie’, would have been pregnant with their first child at this stage, as Thora Veronica was born on the 3rd of September 1915. While Thora was their first child, Babs had unfortunately lost a baby earlier when she had a miscarriage after helping to fight a fire that had broken out on the farm. The Baptismal records of the Grigua Church show that Maria Sophia van Rooyen was born to Gerhardus and Sarah Juliet van Rooyen on 26 April 1891, she was baptised by the Rev W Murray on 7 June 1891.

This is probably a good time to investigate the origin of the van Rooyen family in East Griqualand and its place in the Griqua Nation. The records of the Griqua National Independent Church make fascinating reading. They certainly reflect the comment that has been made that the Griquas were a truly multiracial nation. For a short period of time entries in the marriage register have an additional column that indicates the race of the persons entering matrimony. This is the case for Jack and Babs; according to the marriage register he is a “Coloured” and she a “Griqua”.

William van Rooyen, Babs’ grandfather, was not a part of the Griqua party that trekked with Adam Kok from Philipolis; in fact, William was born in Graaff Reinet in about 1827 to Gert van Rooyen and Sophia (van Wijk). He married Johanna Maria (maiden name unknown) and must have had numerous children before the Griqua Church was established. The marriage of his 9th child, Annie Catherine, aged 26, to Henry Reuben Usher on 28 March 1899, is one of the earliest records in the GNIP Marriage Register. Adam Kok arrived on the slopes of Mount Currie with his clan in 1863. The area was then known as “no man’s land” and it must be assumed that it was only after the advent of the Griquas that the district became settled. So William and his family must have arrived in the area soon after the arrival of the Griquas; for he is listed as a member of the original Griqua Church Council, which was under the management of the its founder Rev William Dower in the 1870s. The current church was designed by the Rev Dower and was completed in 1877. William’s wife died in 1908 and he remarried on the 11th May 1909, to Margaret Lee, nee Kok. The old man passed away a year later at the age of 83.

Similarly, the Griqua Village of Rietvlei, which was granted by Adam Kok as a church station, had a church and a church council. The elder of this Council was Gert van Rooyen! In a divorce action brought against Sarah on 15 October 1906, Gert states that he “married Sarah Julia Phillips on the 21st of May 1880, there were 7 children born of the marriage. In June 1905 he went to Pondoland to work there, he returned last month, on the 17th and expected to go to sleep in his home. She informed me that she had taken another husband, a European and at that time I did not know who he was. I then went to my married son’s house and slept there. Since then I have not cohabited with the women. When I returned from Pondoland I found my wife had taken the minor children her and had left to go to William McDonald, a bricklayer of Kokstad.” As evidence the Special Marriage License was put before the Court; it proved that the Assistant Magistrate of Kokstad had issued it to enable the Rev Dower to marry Gert van Rooyen, 25, farmer, and Sarah Julia Phillips, 19, spinster, on 21 May 1880, Mr van Rooyen’s house. The above reference to a European seems to indicate that the van Rooyens were in fact of Afrikaans stock, with William marrying a coloured, or that the whole family was of coloured origin, but had been wholeheartedly accepted into the Griqua nation. For the record the outcome of the divorce action was that “The marriage existing between Gert van Rooyen and Sarah Julia van Rooyen is dissolved. He is to have custody of the minor children and she is to forfeit all rights of community of property between them.” Babs would have been about 14 years old at the time.

This photograph of the van Rooyen sisters has fortunately survived and shows, Dora Amelia, who married Daniel Kyd, Annie Catherine who married Henry Reuben Usher and Maria Sophia, who, of course, married Jack Walker.

The circumstances surrounding the loss or sale of the farm Beersheba are unclear, at this stage. Jack had obviously taken pride in the farming for he entered and won the “best fleece “ prize at the Kokstad show one year. These were, however, very difficult economic times in South Africa, and thousands were driven off the land by adverse circumstances, such as drought and economic depression, into the city in an attempt to make a living. The dice were surely stacked against a new entrant into the farming market at this time; “a succession of droughts (1919, 1924 -1927), and depressions (1920 -23, 1929 - 1933), shriveled up what remaining assets they possessed”. There is anecdotal evidence that seems to indicate that the farm was no longer in the possession of the Walker brothers when Robert returned from the War.

The First World War did nothing to diminish the friendship between Jack and his younger brother; and their drinking sessions together became legendary! Babs was a softhearted and kind lady who was not always pleased when Robert came visiting, for it usually gave rise to another ‘bonding’ occasion! As was often the case with those of Irish descent, this affinity for ‘poteen’ would unfortunately dog Jack on occasions during his adult life. Strange are the ways of in-laws in a family, for although Jack’s sisters unkindly referred later to Babs as “that washerwoman”; she had taken in washing to supplement the family’s income during the Depression years, from about 1933 to 1938. While the family was at Hilton College, Babs worked in the laundry, taking charge thereof whenever Mrs Davis was away.

When things on the farm deteriorated Jack was forced to move to Durban, where he drove a night-soil cart/truck in an attempt to make ends meet. He became ill doing this job and then took a job driving taxis to and from the outlying districts. His fluency in the native tongue stood him in good stead during this period of his life, recalled Robert Allenby Walker, who enjoyed cleaning the taxis because he often found “bobs and half-crowns” which had fallen between the seats!

For the duration of the Second World War, Jack was the caretaker of the farm "Otto's Bluff", while Captain Otto Solomon served in the war. He was a member of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, a battalion of the same regiment as Robert Allenby, Jack’s son. Otto, his brother Tim Solomon and Robert Allenby were all captured at Tobruk, as will be described below. Jack and Otto corresponded; copies of these letters still exist and are in the possession of Alex Walker, Jack’s grandson. An additional small homestead was built on the farm especially for Jack Walker and his family; made of wattle and daub, it held special memories for Godfrey, who spent many school holidays there. He recalls that the Solomon’s homestead was a beautiful stone building overlooking the Umgeni River, near Shooter’s Hill, and in the vicinity of the Albert Falls. There were some big rocks in the area and after the many electrical storms lots of mushrooms would sprout; the young “Umfaans” would come around selling these delicacies. At Christmas time the young men from the farm kraal would dress up in their tribal regalia and dance for the farm owners and their visitors, sometimes going on to the next farm and so on. Native beer (mahewu or tshwala) would be the reward for their endeavours and some dancers would be much the worse for wear the next day. During this period Jack supplemented his income by training and selling polo ponies to the well-heeled farmers of the area, utilising the skills with horses that he had learned in his youth.

Jack and Babs at Hilton Cottage After the War, when Otto Solomon was eventually discharged on 25 October 1945 and returned to take over the reigns of his farm once again, Jack and his family had to move on. In 1946, he accepted the position of Assistant Farm Manager of Hilton College, where he managed the dairy. He served in this position for 11 years and is fondly remembered by many a student of that institution. The family lived in a quaint cottage, which sadly, Alex believes, has given way to the construction of school dormitories in the name of progress. Godfrey recalls the Mudra, a gardener who worked for the College and was occasionally requested to cook for the family. He believed in planting according to the cycles of the moon and says Alex, “it was a sight to see, all those beetroots, cabbages, carrots, lettuce etc in very neat rows like soldiers on the parade ground”.

Jack’s daily routine, as remembered by his son Godfrey, was certainly the hard life of a farmer; up at 3:30 in the mornings to supervise the milking at the dairy. After breakfast, he would check various activities of the very large estate, often on horseback, amongst others, the wattle forests that were stripped for the bark that was used for the tanning of leather and which was exported to the UK. In the afternoon the milking had to be supervised once again, before he knocked off at 5:30, after a long day. Jack loved a good cigar and this usually constituted the gift given to him by his children.

As is usual on a farm, there was a firearm in the Walker home, a .38 revolver. Godfrey and Graham knew where their dad kept the revolver and would often play with the gun, until scolded by their mum about the consequences of their dad catching them with the gun. Godfrey remembers that in 1949, when the tension between Africans and Indians caused by the introduction of various new laws erupted into the so-called Durban Riots, Jack put the gun in his pocket and when down to the Kraal to have a word to the Africans who were beginning to show signs of unrest. There were some Indians on the Hilton estate and they were in fear of their lives. Godfrey went with his dad to the compound but was told to wait at the outer perimeter whilst Jack went ahead alone and defused the situation.

After leaving Hilton in 1957 Jack moved to 166 Acutt Avenue, Briardene, Durban to live with RAW and Bobby. It is unclear how long he remained at 166, but at some point he worked for a Mr Hampson at Mooi River. Mr Hampson was a “big-shot” at McCarthy-Rodway, a major car dealership in Pietermaritzburg. Godfrey also recalls working for McCarthy-Rodway at a stage in his working life. Jack did not stay at Mooi River for very long, because it was too cold for him!

Jack and Babs stayed with Allenby and family at 39 Ben Nevis Road in the period leading up to their departure for Rhodesia. He had responded successfully to an advertisement in the Farmer’s Weekly for a position in Rhodesia. Having Jack to stay had its moments – especially at dinner. Jack’s early upbringing was deeply embedded and he would wash up and dress for dinner, always wearing a jacket. Table manners were the equivalent of any officer’s mess or fine hotel, as were the starched table napkins. Inadvertent use of the incorrect item of cutlery drew a sharp glance, and if, as a child, one was granted permission to leave the table early, one had to be sure to say than you for the meal and push in your chair. Peter Walker recalls that the cutlery at 39 was, on one fine day, not up to Jack’s standard and he took it outdoors and polished it; every tine on every fork, until it was to his liking!

En route for Rhodesia, having been told that that they would be searched at the Beit Bridge Border Post and that it would be unwise to be found in possession of the weapon, he threw away his revolver before they got to the border. It is not yet clear where and for whom he farmed in Rhodesia, but on Jack’s return to South Africa, Alex recalls seeing a photograph of a prize Jersey cow hanging on the wall, which was obviously something special. In the words of Alex, “people do not take photos of cows just for the sake of it!” Hopefully, the Rhodesia chapter will become clearer with time. It is believed that Jack worked for a Mr Cairns in Rhodesia; he soon became disillusioned as he was being used to train local folk in specialised farming practices, such as Artificial Insemination, without any real opportunity of self advancement.

Alex recalls, “Thora, who doted on her father, agreed to assist Jack to lease a farm in order that he might have something meaningful to do. This is how he came to farm at “Homelands” in Ixopo. It seems ironic that this farm should be so close to the district where James Walker had set himself up two generations earlier. Alex spent some happy school holidays at ‘Homelands’. The house itself was very basic, with a small veranda on which he once sat and killed 28 flies with a flyswatter at one sitting. The farm had that wonderful masterpiece of human invention called the outside or long-drop toilet. A convenience that defies description but which leaves a permanent impression on one’s mind, with a smell that has lingered in his memory. Squares of neatly cut newspaper were used at the completion of the necessary work. Here also was his introduction to the old and trusted practice of floor-laying, using cow manure. It was spread on a floor adjacent to the kitchen and it looked pretty good once it was finished!

This farm had one distinct drawback and that was it was in a rain shadow area. Rain would fall on the other side of the hill but not on the “Homelands” side. It did however have a lovely river running through it; a river that made a great impact of Alex: “I still get a lump in my throat when I think of that river. It was the most beautiful, tranquil, clear, waterway, one could imagine. If I could choose the spot where I would spend my last moments on this earth, the banks of that river in Ixopo would be my number one choice.” Helping at harvest time was another “first” for Alex, not work for the faint-hearted! And also, to see the threshing of the corn, or mealies, as they are commonly known. A fascinating experience; the bags of threshed corn were weighed and then a little extra put in each bag to make absolutely certain that the bags were not underweight. The bags were then sewed up and stored ready for sale. Being taught how to drive the tractor by his grandfather was an experience for Alex remembers with pleasure, except for the one occasion when he nearly dumped the old man off the big mudguard on the rear wheel when he let out the clutch too fast!

From the homestead one could look down across the river to a farm owned by Fred Oakes. Fred had a son called Aubrey. Times were tough and Thora, who had noticed that Fred Oakes had a habit of scrounging tobacco off her father, decided to always have on hand a packet of the cheapest tobacco available (BB tobacco!). After Fred left to go home, Thora would bring out the better quality tobacco for her dad.

Unfortunately, Jack had to move on from this farm as the owner wished to resume farming. After looking at several potential farms, Jack obtained the lease on a farm in Richmond. Alex is of the opinion that the move from “Homelands” to Richmond must have taken place between July 1967 and January 1968. The reason he knows this is because his grandfather took him to the homestead at “Strehla” in Richmond at the end of the Christmas holidays, so that he could make a phone call to find out whether he had passed his matriculation examinations. It was one of those really old-fashioned party-line phones, but he got through, both on the phone and the matriculation examinations!

The family visited Jack and Babs at the “Strehla” homestead on a few occasions. The Schmidt family owned Strehla, they were a Coloured family who were descended from some early German settlers. Alex recalls that there were three brothers, John (actually Johan), Mannie and Patrick, who were very nice people. He remembers them swapping stories with his grandfather regarding feats of strength; these had to do with being able to lift a bag of threshed corn from the ground using one’s teeth. Jack said that he had been able to this when he was younger. Alex saw no reason to doubt this, as Jack was a strong man with typical ‘ploughman’s’ hands, as Allenby used to call them. Certainly, says Alex, he would not have liked to cop a clout from one of those big hands! Yet Jack never used profane language in Alex’s presence, whether it was because he was a youth or whether Jack just had good self-control, is not clear. Once, at Richmond, when he was having a bit of bother with his truck and could not get a bolt or nut to budge he emerged from under the truck and let go of his frustration with the exclamation, ”Devil take it!”

Jack Walker passed away in his sleep on Monday, the 14th of October 1968, on the farm Strehla, in the Richmond District, a few months short of his 76th birthday. Little has been said about Babs thus far, other than the observation that she was a ‘bomb’ in her youth! She is remembered as having always believed that “God will provide”, and this is reflected in her letters. She gave Alex the impression that for her the glass was always half-full; she was the eternal optimist. The children recall that she would listen to any story being told and, nine times out of ten, her response would be,”Fancy that?” She took snuff, liked sewing and baking, and made her own butter at Hilton, the epitome of a practical farmer’s wife!

Thora, Amy, Dolly and Daphne Apparently Babs owned an erf in Kokstad in her own name and, as all the Walkers married out of Community of Property, she must have held on to this land when things got bad on the farm. Bobby (Alex’s mother) says that Babs intended it to be used to pay for the children's education. There were sheep on the erf, but they were sold, presumably when money was tight. It is strange that this erf was retained when the family was so close to starvation at one point during the Depression; nonetheless Bobby says that after Jack died, she was asked to sort out interest payments on the erf that were going into a bank. She looked into this but it is not clear what transpired and, after a while, the whole matter was dropped.

Babs passed away on 29 September 1982. As can be seen from the attached Funeral Notice, there were six children born of this marriage; Thora Veronica, Robert Allenby, Muriel (Dolly), Amy (predeceased), Graham Claude and Godfrey Derrick.

Thora Veronica Walker

Thora, Amy, Dolly and Daphne Thora was born on the 3rd of September 1915 in Kokstad. Nothing is known about her early life at this stage. Thora was working for a prominent Durban legal family as a governess in 1940. She would have been 25 years old at this stage. The precise events are not clear but it would seem that she was the victim of a sexual assault by the African chauffeur who also worked for the family and she fell pregnant. This was something of a scandal and anecdotal evidence has it that the family placed the Walker’s under duress not to make the matter public or lay charges. The child, a daughter, was born on the 23rd of June 1941 and baptised Felicity on 1 March 1942. Thora gave her daughter up for adoption and Felicity was duly adopted and raised by the Ulbrecht family of the Melbourne Road Flats. In later years Thora made an attempt to contact the Ulbrecht family, but was requested to stay out of the child’s life. When she grew up Felicity married Stephen Samuels and had two children of her own; Malcolm Samuels who is married to Karen Pullen and who lives in New Zealand, and Stephanie Samuels, who is single and lives in Durban. Felicity would in later years contract cancer and feel a need to trace her natural mother. As is often the case in stories like this, it was coincidence that eventually reunited the family. Colleen Walker had shared a house with Adele Sloane, whose Aunt “Ting-a-Ling” knew of the adoption and the circumstances surrounding Felicity’s youth. When Ting-a-Ling met Colleen, she made the connection. After some initial and understandable awkwardness, Felicity eventually invited some of the Walker family to her home. Reconciliation was immediate and complete; and must have been a great comfort to her. Unfortunately Thora had passed on by then, but Godfrey met Felicity during a visit to South Africa and says that she was the spitting image of her mother. Felicity Samuels succumbed to cancer on 21 February 2002 and is survived by her husband Stephen, who still lives in Durban.

Thora was an excellent horsewoman and owned a racehorse named “Marsh Gas”, which showed a great deal of promise. As the family needed the money it was decided to sell to sell Marsh Gas with the proviso that a percentage of any prize money that the horse won in the first number of months would be payable to the family. Apparently the new owners realised that they were on to a good thing and merely waited for the stipulated time to elapse and then went on to win races, retaining all the prize money for themselves. Robbyn and Alex Walker have corresponded re this horse and managed to find some interesting information about "Marsh Gas" who did quite a lot of successful racing in the mid-1940's. The horse was a brown gelding, sired by Acragas out of the mare Woods Lore. The renowned and influential sire Phalaris sired Acragas. It appears that Marsh Gas may have changed hands several times during his racing career. The names associated with him were Messrs. Chelin, Cheek and Woolfaardt (owners) and S. Johnstone (trainer). The late great jockey Basil Lewis often rode Marsh Gas.

Thora married Bernard Francis (known as Frank) Hollard, who was born in Wakkerstroom on 18 July 1891, yet, interestingly, had served in the Canadian 2nd Division in the First World War! When Frank attested for World War Two on 3 April 1941, he was a divorcee. However his marital status changed on 29 September 1942, so he must have married Thora in the preceding year. Frank served as a Military Policeman at first, notwithstanding the fact that he was 49 years of age when he attested, but was later transferred to the Base Workshops after a few disciplinary mishaps. It is believed that he became the manager of the Westville Quarry after the War. Frank passed away in 1963.

Thora worked at Fulton School for the Deaf in Hillcrest and would often spend weekends at 39 Ben Nevis Road, Red Hill, Durban, with RAW and Bobby. At that stage Alex and Cilla (his wife) were living at Botha’s Hill, where Cilla was in charge of the jointly owned Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches conference centre called “Koinonia”. Alex had his regular job as a plumber and was responsible for running repairs on the property. They could thus give Thora a lift back to Fulton on their way home. Alex recalls that Aunt Thora would always pull you up if you were slouching, declaring: ”Sit up straight, shoulders back!”

Apparently Thora was to later receive both Frank’s pension from the quarry and her own from Fulton. Although she had not been able to cope with conventional school as a child and had been sent to a special school, she certainly had all her wits about her as far as her money was concerned. So much so that when she died, she left R25,000 each to Graham, Alex, Joan Smuts and Colleen Walker, with the rest to going to Dolly. Thora passed away in 1995, in Umkomaas, as she had lived with her sister Dolly in later years. She was cremated in Durban.

Felicity Ulbrecht married Stephen Samuels, who died 21 Febrary 2002. She died of cancer. Children Stephanie (single resident in Durban) and Malcolm Samuels who married Karin Pullen, they have a son living in New Zealand.

Robert Allenby Walker

Robert Allenby Walker RAW was born in Durban on the 26th of September 1918, as the First World War passed into recent history. He attended school at Mansfield Road where he was in the cadet band. He left school at 16 years in 1934, before finishing Standard 8, largely because the family was in financial straights due to the Depression. He was unemployed for about a year, doing odd jobs such as delivering junk mail, also delivering ironing and washing done by his mother. RAW found employment in October 1935 with Hart Ltd, a manufacturer of aluminium pots and plastic house ware. He started work as a metal polisher on the factory floor, later working as a packer in lamp assembly. When he enlisted he was a storeman with the company.

RAW Attestation Raw Birth Certificate

Allen Robert Walker, as he called himself in his attestation papers, volunteered for active service in the Second World War on the 17th of June 1940 at the age of 22. He was 5’ 8’’ tall, weighed a mere 150lbs. RAW was assigned to the 2nd Royal Durban Light Infantry Battalion, which had been formed on 8 June 1940. This Battalion was to be sent up North as part of 4 SA Infantry Brigade, 2 SA Infantry Division. After training for approximately a year at Roberts Heights as a second Bren Gunner, responsible for feeding the gun for the 1st gunner to fire, he embarked on the “Landaff Castle” to the Middle East via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to Alexandria. According to his service record, he disembarked at Suez in Egypt on 12 August 1941. From there they were taken in military trucks to El Alamein, where they were encamped. Like all soldiers, they dug fortification trenches and carried out sorties and patrols.

RAW describes their living conditions in a letter written to Graham on 7 Sep 41, sand and more sand, heat, flies you have to literally pull off you and bombers roaring continuously overhead to pound the distant enemy, clearly a letter written with the censors and the feelings of a young man in mind. He mentions that they have not yet seen action and does not expect to do so for some time yet. Later the whole battalion moved into Libya to a place called Derna and became part of the force that overthrew the Italians who were entrenched in Halfaya Pass. They then held the Pass until ordered to Tobruk to join the Allied Forces (8th Army).

The Germans cut off the supply routes to the British forces in Tobruk on June 17. On June 20, General Erwin Rommel’s forces launched an offensive against the Allied there. The town fell to the Germans on June 21, as Rommel led his troops past its fortifications. The Germans were obliged, in terms of the Geneva Convention, to turn the prisoners over to the Italians, since they had been captured in an Italian Colony. The 33,000 Allied prisoners of war, including the almost 9000 South African captured with him, were endure terrible hardship before they eventually arrived in Italy. Nobody had foreseen the capture of so many prisoners and the Italians were simply not capable of administering the problem. The men were incarcerated in camps in Benghazi, with totally inadequate food and water. “The prisoners here were perpetually hungry. Contemptuous of the Geneva Convention and its provisions on the treatment of prisoners of war, the Italians cooped up 5000 men in each of several compounds measuring roughly 150 by 100 metres. Heat, dust and flies, which are torments at the best of times in North Africa, added to the discomfort of the Allied captives crowded together under the merciless sun with nothing like enough food or proper latrines to cope with ordinary demands, let alone the needs of thousands of men with dysentery. It was in the cage in Benghazi that the anguish of being a captive of the Italians really began to bite!”

After a three-month internment they were taken to Italy in the holds of cargo boats (in groups of 50). They went via Athens and the Corinth Canal to Bari. From there they were taken to Salerno where they were put into concentration camps for about 3 months. When the Allies reached Salerno they were moved in cattle trucks to Northern Italy to a place called Bergamo. Here RAW was put to work in a shoe-factory. He recalls that they were treated a little better here, getting a daily ration of a pani, a small loaf of bread. When Italy capitulated the guards were so concerned with their own safety that they released their captives and allowed the prisoners to do as they pleased. RAW was one of 4 who took a chance on a train travelling north as far as the border of Switzerland. Knowing that they might not be allowed entry into Switzerland at a Border Post, they walked along the fence-line into the hills and then broke through into Switzerland. The Swiss were not pleased to have the numbers that were infiltrating, but did their best to accommodate the escapees.

Then, in September 1943 the incredible news reached his parents; and his exuberant father could write Wonderful News

RAW letter home transcribed by Alex While RAW was not in London, as the family was led to believe, he was certainly safe, although he had to kick up his heels for 15 months in a camp in Switzerland until the American forces established a frontier with the neutral country. Working through the International Red Cross and the Army, the POWs were repatriated to their different countries or taken back into service. RAW had requested to be sent home, which he was allowed to do as his employer had requested that he be discharged to enable him to return to civilian employment. He emplaned for South Africa on 5 November 1944. Thus, on 28 April 1945, RAW returned from the War, having served 4 years and 312 days and having earned the right to wear the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the War Medal 1939-45 and the Africa Medal.

RAW played soccer for Swallows Football Club and cricket for Comrades Cricket Club after the War. The Swallows teams drew most of their players from the many Sugar Mills on the Natal North Coast. Places like Gledhow, Melville and Chaka’s Kraal supplied players. The clubs in those days raised funds by having Social nights called simply “socials.” A “social” would be held at the home of one of the players or officials where drinks and other refreshments were available at slightly inflated prices in the name of fund-raising. It was also where young people met and forged great friendships that in some cases lasted for the duration of people’s lives. Marion Elaine Brady played hockey for the Swallows Hockey club. On a bus trip back to Gledhow after playing for her hockey team in Durban, her cousin, Patty Dixon, introduced her to RAW. He sat next to her all the way to Melville where Marion had to leave the bus to do her home chores, her mom had died in 1942, and Marion cared for her younger siblings and her Dad, Arthur Scott Brady. She later walked all the way to Gledhow to be a part of the evening’s entertainment.

RAW Wedding Marion and Maria at Hilton Cottage

Thus began the courtship in late 1947! They met again some two months later at a dance at the home of the Lawler’s (a well-known family in the community with some claims to Irish descent) in the Gledhow Sugar Estate. The couple were engaged on 5 June 1948 and on 6 July 1949; they were married at the Registry Office. Amy was bridesmaid and her consort “Gwaggie” Carter was best man.

Jack Walker had an Austin pick up that was on its last legs; Les Brady, Marion’s brother, had repaired another to replace it. The idea was to drive the refurbished vehicle down to the farm and simply swap the number plates. Les, accompanied by Alex and Robert, drove the vehicle down to the farm. They kept hearing metallic noises that seemed to be coming from one of the wheels but were unable, when they stopped to investigate, to identify the source of the noise. As they were going along a particularly high section of the road, the answer came to them in dramatic fashion! Alex, who was sitting at the left hand window seat, saw the back wheel go past the window and head off down this huge hill; it kept hurtling down until it came to rest in a farmer’s cabbage field! Robert drew the short straw to go and retrieve the wheel, which was no mean feat. “Someone” had forgotten to tighten the nuts on that particular wheel. That model Austin had wheel nuts made from brass and they had worn away as the journey progressed. Using a nut from each of the other wheels, the errant wheel was secured and the journey completed without further event. Alex recalls that Jack Walker drove that Austin for years afterwards. When he visited his uncle Les in Perth in May 2002, Alex, his brother Robert and Les had a good laugh recalling the episode, although they had not been that amused at the time that it had happened.

Comrades Cricket Club It would appear that the Comrades Cricket Club had its origins in the same lofty ideals as the Comrades Marathon – ex servicemen bonding together in sport in memory of Comrades. Ernie Lawler was one of RAW's mates and a member of the Comrades Cricket Club which was made up of several returned servicemen, and others, of course. The players are; back row, l – r, Graham, Ernie Lawler, Boucher twins, Harold and Herbert, Stanley Morgan and Plonkie Richards. In front are RAW, Gwaggie Carter and Reggie Lawler. Missing from the picture are Ginger and Bubbles Christensen. One day Stan, who was pretty quick, motioned to Bubbles the 'keeper to stand back a bit. Bubbles, who had had a few drinks, would have nothing of it and assured Stan that he was fine standing close up to the wicket. Stan duly sent down one of his best and in the twinkling of an eye there were gloves, teeth and blood all over the place. Ernie later went to London and wrote to RAW on 29 May 1961; typical Comrades humour; “bit strange to see a blonde out with a big black Jamaican!” He says that he is looking for work, awaiting replies. Reminds them of the Motto, ‘Nil Desperandum’, and trusts that the kids are going to Sunday school in memory of him.

RAW and family moved from Briardene to the re-zoned Coloured area of Red Hill where they stayed for many years, selling the home when he immigrated to Australia. He had previously sub-divided his land to allow his son RBW to build a house on the lower portion, which he too sold before coming to Perth, Western Australia to live. His favourite watering hole was the Brittania Hotel, which was on the city side of the Connaught Bridge across the Umgeni River. He was a gregarious man and social activities were not restricted to the Brittania – there was also the “Corner Boys”. This was the affectionate nick-name given to a group of friends comprising Tom De Vries, headmaster of a primary school in Wentworth; Ronnie Dickson, a truck-driver for Hart Ltd and real character; Jack Creighton, a pen-pusher for a large steel supply company and RAW, store man at Hart Ltd. This was the core of the “Corner Boys,” whose numbers were often bolstered by blow-ins like Harry Katts, Trevor Potgieter and other visiting friends and relations. The main players and Harry Katts lived a stone’s throw from each other, Ronnie lived between Jack and RAW, Harry lived across the road and Tom was almost within shouting distance! Gathering the lads for was thus a simple task. The modus operandi was to alternate houses on given weekends; the wives who were expected to provide “bites” which usually consisted of small pieces of cheese and cold meats with some biscuits or crackers, etc. Not all wives approved of this convivial gathering and the standard of catering varied greatly! On one occasion when one of the revellers (not a core member) was asked what he had received as “bites” at a certain core member’s house, his disgusted reply was “dust”- the colloquial for nothing at all!

RAW and family Alex recalls that RAW was never happier than when he was pouring a round of drinks. His skill at pouring equal amounts into each glass was highly regarded! When raising their glasses for the first round of drinks RAW’s favourite toast was: “Al die mooi meisies vir my en al die lelikes vir jou” – which just about summed up all the Afrikaans he knew. As the afternoon drew on, RAW, proud of his kid’s scholastic achievements, would enquire as to whether the lads had seen the latest reports cards. He would then interrupt whatever Marion was doing by having her produce the reports so that the visitors could admire how well his children were doing at school. His major claim to fame, in his mind, was always that all 9 of his children had passed Standard 10 and that all 9 had been confirmed into the Church!

RAW worked at Hart Ltd until way past normal retirement age. Much to his chagrin, the company had always had him reporting to a white man; sadly this was common practice in South Africa in those years. Hart Ltd was Jewish owned and, when he was informed that they would have to let him go due to his age, one of the company directors arranged for RAW to take on the position as grounds-man at Parklands Nursing Home, a position he held for several years. RAW and his wife spent ten years in Melbourne with their son Alex. RAW passed away in 1999, Bobby still lives with Alex. There were nine children born of this marriage.

Alex and Cilla Alexander Walker was born 28 April 1950 in Durban, Natal. He married Priscilla du Sart on 7 July 1973 in St Columba’s Anglican Church, Greenwood Park, Durban. They emigrated to Australia in 1976, as requested by Uncle Godfrey. Angus Specer was born 13 May 1974 and Robyn Marion was born 27 December 1977, in Australia. Alex has been a major collaborator in this project and is currently writing his own memoirs, I will thus not embarrass myself by attempting to do that on his behalf. Alex contracted Pigeon Fancier’s Lung and became seriously ill; he underwent a double lung transplant and thereafter battled bravely with organ rejection. His passion for this research was not diminished by his illness but he was finally overtaken by diabetes and kidney failure. He died on 22 October 2004, in the early hours of the morning.

Robyn and Bradley Robyn married Bradley John Newman in St Georges Church in Malvern (a suburb of Melbourne, Australia) on 13 March 2004. Bradley is the son of Edward Samuel Newman and Jean Gertrude Maneveldt of Kuils River in Cape Town. Bradley is employed as the Liquor Manager at Safeway, Australia’s leading food retailer.

Richard Neville Walker was the second of RAW’s children; he was born on 1 December 1951. He married Denise Samuels in Cape Town. Their children are Clare Stephanie born 12 September 1985 and Byron Andrew born 7 December 1986.

Robert Bruce Walker was born 9 July 1953 and married Rosalind Merle La Gaite. Children are Scott Jonathan, born 29 December 1978, and Leigh Lynne, born 22 December 1980.

Joan Lesley Walker was born 17 January 1955 in Durban. She married Mark Lindsay Smuts on 3 January 1981 in Durban. He was born on 15 April 1955 in Kimberley. He runs an industrial air conditioning business. Their children are Lizl Jaye, born 26 June 1982, and Sheree Lindsay, born 25 May 1986.

Peter Noel Walker was the young man referred to in Geoffrey’s letter above; he was born on 6 July 1956 and married Sharon May Rose de Gee in Durban. She was born on 7 July 1958, and later left Peter. Their children are Cindy Leigh, born 23 January 1978; Mandy Peta, born 23 January 1980; James Robert, born 12 September 1981 and Ashley Erin, born 31 December 1987.

Colleen Barbara Walker was born 2 November 1957, she is a teacher.

Gillian Ruth Walker was born 6 June 1960 and married Eugene Gabin in Durban. They now live in Perth with children Andrea Jeanne, born 15 September 1985, and Luke Mitchell, born 27 March 1995.

Helen Veronica Walker was born 19 February 1962 and married Derek Samuel Keith Haller in Durban Natal. He was born on 29 May 1961. Children are Lauren Helene (13 May 1988), Shannon Julia (25 September 1991), Merryn Caitlin (28 August 1996) and Drew Kendall (8 September 1999).

Harold Martin Walker was born 2 February 1964 in Durban Natal. He married Nalane Moodley on 6 June 1992, she was the daughter of Ken and Marion (Aaron). She was born in Durban on 20 May 1967. They have one son, Joel Ross, who was born on 19 January 1995.

Muriel Walker

Muriel was born on the 16th of August 1921. She married a Vivian Percival Goodsell (born 1918), in 1944 in Johannesburg, whom she later divorced. Muriel (Dolly) worked from home doing sewing as a means of earning a livelihood. Very much later in life Dolly married Leo Fracasso an Italian who had a very limited grasp of English. Leo has since passed on. Dolly is 81 years of age and lives in Umkomaas, to all accounts she is not well.

Maureen Goodsell was the only child born of the marriage between Dolly and Vivian; she was born on 23 October 1946 in Johannesburg. She has married a Johannes Martiens du Plessis and they currently live in Vryheid, Natal. He was born in Durban on 27 Nov 1945 and is, apparently, a Member of the SA Police Services. Maureen has recently relocated to Pietersburg, unfortunately rather far from her ailing mother. Maureen’s children are Daleen, born 7 June 1968, was married to Anthony Fernandes and had children Zoey and Kelsey. She was then divorced and has subsequently married Paul White; Dean born 25 April 1970 and who married Adele Kruger, they have one child, a son called Damian; and finally Johan, born on 27 January 1974 and who married Camilla Payne. They have one daughter named Taryn.

Hello Scott,

First of all I would like to thank you for all your hard work on the amazing heritage of the Walker family which you have so carefully documented. I am the grand daughter of Muriel Walker, the daughter of Maureen Goodsell. After reading the full history of the origions of the Walker family of my heritage is not only touching but received with a great amount of unknown pride and compassion for the difficulties they experienced. Just as in the character of your book, my mother " Maureen Goodsell" kept a great secret, a secret my father shared with me 4 years ago which I have now shared with my daughters, Zoey and Kelsey. My mother was reistered as a white child as were my brothers and I but we were never aware that she had an extended family, of a different classification. As you can imagine South Africa was cruel and my mother made a painful choice to protect us. The Walker women all lived very much alone but all in suppot of only each other, Great Granny, Aunty Thora, Aunty Amey and Granny all in the same house and all passing in the same house years apart. I was never aware of visitors, cousins ect. True Children of the mist!

My great granny "babs" passed away when I was 13 years old. I remember my granny " Dolly", my mother Maureen and my Great Aunty Thora silently praying for her peaceful passing. Aunty Thora was an amazingly chatty little old biddy with a laugh that errupted from her menthol, smoke bellowing lungs. No matter what the climate or her state of health there would always be a glamourous menthol tipped cigarett clutched in her tiny fingers.

Granny "Dolly" was a softly spoken gentle angel in a floral frock as she called her little dresses. I remember granny would work tirelesley to have at least one frilly floral frock made for me every time I came to visit untill I was 16 years of age. Fashion was an endless circle therefore frills were timeless! Just as your book and our amazing heritage will be as documented in your work.

Granny "Dolly" saddly passed a few months after you completed Children of the mist and was also burried in Umkomaas, just as my great grandmother "Babs", Great Aunt Thora and my belated father were, from the same house I will fondly remember in Umkomaas.

Once again, my thanks and appreciation for documenting the Walker heritage a documented journey in history.


Daleen du Plessis UK

Amy Walker

Amy with brothers Amy death notice

Very little is known about Jack and Babs’ daughter Amy. Alex recalls that Amy was a will –o- the wisp, a very happy soul with an unfortunate weakness for alcohol; she was inclined to binge now and then. She worked as a hairdresser. As a farmer’s daughter she was a laugh a minute. When she stayed with Thora for a spell she would sometimes have to feed the fowls in the run, but would be so scared of them that she would stand way back with the food and launch it through the air, many times missing the target! Asking her to collect the eggs was out of the question. Amy also had a severe aversion to changing babies’ nappies; she would return a baby to one of its parents as quick as a flash if she suspected an imminent nappy change.

Amy met and married Laurie Henderson later in life and he provided a steadying influence; while they were married she was very stable. Unfortunately Laurie appeared to have become attracted to a neighbour, which led to their divorce in 1977. Tragically, Amy went back to alcohol again! All who knew her remember her as a lovely person who died much too soon. She passed away in 1980.

Graham Claude Walker

Graham Walker Graham was born on the 14th January 1928. He attended Mansfield Road High School along with RAW. He left school in 1946; his school leaving reference recommends him for a clerical position, given his aptitude for English. Ironically, he also received his Active Citizen Force call up papers in May of that year but it is not clear whether he ever decided to participate! Graham loved boxing and was a member of a club, and, of course, was a member of the illustrious Comrades Cricket Club as well. He had a motorcycle and enjoyed playing the mouth organ.

Graham left South Africa in 1957 to go to England. He had boarded with RAW and Bobby prior to leaving. He found employment with the Otis Elevator Company on 14 April 1958, and was given a very good reference by them on leaving on the 29th July 1960, obviously to go to Canada. In a letter written to RAW from London he had expressed his interest in going to Canada and hoped that he would have enough money to do so. His Canadian Immigration Card is dated 12 August 1960, so he seems to have stayed on track as far as his plans were concerned. In the London letter Graham makes mention of the fact that things in South Africa were on the downside and expresses concern about the family. Hopes the political situation would not affect RAW adversely at Harts Ltd. As is always the case when one leaves home, he misses them all.

Graham Wedding A letter written from the “Arctic Circle” on 20 Jan 1970 ”from your bachelor brother in this god-forsaken country”, expresses a bit of nostalgia, Graham asks after old comrades, Bubbles, Ginger, Reg, Stanley and the rest? He mentions that Amy had told him that Alex and Dick are holding down good jobs. Strangely prophetic are the comments he makes about training being down by IBM and suggesting that computing may be the way to go in future. Also his own observation about a well-known fact, the Canadians and Americans are fiercely materialistic! Graham achieved Canadian citizenship in 1972 but unfortunately there is little information about the next 10 years of his life. When available sources do make contact again, it is with very good news – the long time bachelor needs documents to facilitate his upcoming marriage to Kathleen O’Halloran! He and Kate were married on the 3rd of May 1980. Kate, reported Graham, came from a large Irish family, her brother had given her away at the wedding, said he was glad to have been able to do so?

A recently received letter from Kate to Alex gives some substance to this relationship, “Graham and I were married for 20 years. We worked together in a pharmaceutical company. He was a shipping clerk and a very hard worker; the company was very pleased with him. He worked for them for 29 years and I for about 24 years. He lived to read, especially newspaper articles on South Africa. He enjoyed letters and cards from Home. (Interesting comment this, after all those years, where was ‘Home’?) He enjoyed going to the movies. He didn’t like sandals, he said that lace-up shoes were more comfortable and I couldn’t get him to wear sandals. He was a very good husband, I loved him dearly and I miss him terribly. But life must go on and we live with our memories and so your mother wrote once in a letter she sent. We are never alone, he is always with us, prayer helps to get through the lonely times.”

Graham Claude passed away on October 28th 2000.

Godfrey Derrick Walker

Young Godfrey Godfrey was born on 21 June 1932. His aunt, Isabella Walker, who had married George Henry Bishop, had asked Babs for a child to raise. Babs had already become attached to Graham and she promised the next child; this was Godfrey. The Bishops adopted him on 1 December 1933. Godfrey can remember shooting rock pigeons with Bella, his aunt and adoptive mother. When George Bishop passed away and Bella remarried, this time to Daniel Joseph Pitout, Godfrey returned to the John Walker fold.

As can be expected in a family steeped in horsemanship, Godfrey also owned a horse, a grey named “Punch”. Godfrey recalls a horse related incident that landed him in hot water with his father. He and Graham would occasionally ride to the local trading store at Albert Falls, which was run by Indians, to purchase goods for the family. On one occasion, after remounting after having closed the farm gate, the strap from the haversack accidentally struck the flank of his mount, a racehorse named “Marsh Gas”, and it took off with him. The further he went the more the strap struck the horse and he was at full gallop when their father saw them coming. He and a couple of labourers waved the horse down. He was apparently afraid that the horse would not stop before a wire support stay on one of the gates was reached, presenting a threat of decapitation for Godfrey. More than a few harsh words were levelled at Godfrey for what their father had seen as a race home between the boys!

It is interesting to note in John Walker’s letters, written over a period of many years, that he always enclosed some money for Godfrey. His concern for Godfrey is a common thread through all these letters. Godfrey attended the Genazzano Catholic Convent at Verulam, as had his brother Graham and his cousin Horace. When he left Genazzano to return to Durban he went to Epsom Road School. When he started High School he went to Umbilo Road School. He was accused of smoking in an incident merely because he was with some boys who were smoking. Unfortunately Godfrey threatened Leslie Dolly, the Prefect who had accused him of smoking with some bodily harm, and was asked to leave or be expelled! Auntie Dolly came to the school to pick him up. He returned to Hilton where he received private tuition from Mr A.S. Pitceathly to prepare him for his Standard 8 examinations. Mr Pitceathly was the headmaster of Newnham House and had a shop opposite the old Red Hill station. Godfrey worked for him as a grocery delivery person often having to push his very heavily laden bike with the big basket on the front up some steep roads in the Red Hill Area. Godfrey boarded with the Leggats while he was doing a panel-beating apprenticeship in Pietermaritzburg.

There seems to be general consensus, confirmed by Alex Walker and Peter Napier, that Godfrey was an excellent sportsman. According to Alex, he was a member of the Railways Cricket Team that wiped the board one particular year. There are stories about his rugby and boxing abilities that confirm that he was very good all rounder, while Peter Napier says that Godfrey was a very good soccer player.

Godfrey married Doreen Lynette de Vries on 14 February 1956. In the 1970s Godfrey emigrated to Australia and, in a letter to RAW & Bobby, written from West Australia on 21 Nov 1978, Godfrey reports on life there. He mentions that they had moved from Melbourne to Perth, as the weather and the rat race in Melbourne got them down. They hoped that Alex and Cilla would decide to join them soon. The weather is more like Pietermaritzburg. Godfrey emphasised that Australia is a great country in which to live, those South Africans who fail have only themselves to blame. Then the same message as with Graham Claude in Canada – will nobody write? They are starved for news, have their folks forgotten them? Doreen had written often but they had as yet no response, only Dolly had sent a card. He promised to write a long letter to mum, please to give her hugs and kisses from him. When you see Thora please tell her he remembers she used to be a champion letter writer! His final words in the letter are “PS PLEASE WRITE SOON”!

Godfrey with sons Needless to say, much water has passed under the bridge since then – hopefully Godfrey will feel encouraged to add his story in his own words.

Claude John Walker was Godfrey and Doreen’s eldest child and was born on 3 June 1957 in Pietermaritzburg. He married Gillian Apelgren on the 23rd of December 1978 in Perth, Western Australia. Gillian is the daughter of Oswald Appelgren and Iris Thring, she was born on 6 November 1952 in Durban. Their children are Craig Justin, born on 25 March 1980 in Attadale, Perth; Sheree Anne, born 13 April 1983 in Dandenong, Melbourne; Leigh Derek, born 15 June 1986 in Dandenong and Shaun Keith, born 1 November 1990 in Melbourne.

Keith Patrick Walker was born on 9 November 1958 in Pietermaritzburg, he married Marilyn Joyce Maloney on November 10, 1980 in Perth, Australia. She was born on 10 March 1951 in Geraldton, Western Australia. Their children are Jess Michael, born on 9 March 1984, in Windsor, Brisbane, Queensland; Lauren Frances Eloise, born on 20 September 1985, Paul Christian, 10 July 1988, Jacob Keith, born on 1 January, 1993, in Southport Gold Coast, Queensland, died 1 Jan 1993. He is buried in Allembe Gardens Cemetery, Southport. Andrea Elizabeth Rochelle, the youngest child, was born on 4 Jul 1995.

Lindsay Michael was born on 8 August 1967 in Pietermaritzburg. He married Sophia Cosooplous on 22 December 1991 in Melbourne, Victoria. She was born on 19 June 1969 in Mebourne. Their children are Keegan Paul, born 22 June 1995, in Bundoora, Victoria and died 23 July 1997, in Melbourne; Caitlin Isabel, born on 1 August 1997, and Tahlia Jasmine, born on 23 April 2000.

Rowan Paul Walker was born on 3 August 1971 in Pietermaritzburg. He married Melissa Wiersma on 11 December 1999 in Melbourne, Victoria. She is the daughter of Saka Wiersma and Lynette, and she was born 11 June 1973 in Melbourne. They have one child, Remy Ethan, born on 4 Nov 2000.

Email received from Peter Crowder on 25th June 2009:

Hi Scott,

Iread the write up about John Walker and just have to claify perhaps Fred Oakes.The Fred Oakes I knew that lived in Ixopo had two sons one was Eric and the other was Winston. Aubry Oakes was Richard Oakes son. I may be wrong. Take care and keep well.


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