| 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 fathers 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 Carrolls 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 mans 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. Williams 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 sons 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 Rooyens
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 Jacks
sisters unkindly referred later to Babs as that washerwoman;
she had taken in washing to supplement the familys 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
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, Jacks 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, Jacks 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 Solomons homestead was a beautiful stone
building overlooking the Umgeni River, near Shooters 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.
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.
Jacks 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 Farmers Weekly for a position in Rhodesia.
Having Jack to stay had its moments especially at dinner. Jacks
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 officers
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 Jacks 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 Jacks 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 ones 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 ones 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 ploughmans 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 Alexs 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 farmers wife!
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 (Alexs
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 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 Walkers 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 childs 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
Felicitys 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
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 Bothas 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 Franks 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
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.
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 Rommels 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
Then, in September 1943 the incredible news reached his parents; and his
exuberant father could write
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
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 Chakas 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 peoples 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
Thus began the courtship in late 1947! They met again some two months later
at a dance at the home of the Lawlers (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,
Marions 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
farmers 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.
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 stones 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 members house, his disgusted reply
was dust- the colloquial for nothing at all!
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 RAWs
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 kids 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
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.
Alexander Walker was born 28 April 1950 in Durban, Natal.
He married Priscilla du Sart on 7 July 1973 in St Columbas 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
Fanciers 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 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, Australias leading food
Richard Neville Walker was the second of RAWs 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
Geoffreys 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
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 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. Maureens
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.
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
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 farmers 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 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.
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 OHalloran! 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
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 didnt like sandals, he said that lace-up shoes were
more comfortable and I couldnt 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
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
It is interesting to note in John Walkers 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
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!
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 Doreens 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
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.