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13 September 2018: African childhoodA red mud road through lush trees

Today one of our members spoke about her early childhood in Africa after the Second World War. Her father had gone through Cape Town with the RAF and fallen in love with the place. After the war he obtained a job in Kimberley and taken his wife and two daughters over. Our member, the younger of the two daughters, was then around two years old.

She told us she was apparently quite forceful at that age. They went to South Africa on a ship which had a nursery for young children but she would fight for possession of the one doll’s pram and got banned!

After a few years in Kimberley, the family moved to the slopes of Table Mountain. Although the house number was 11 there were only six houses in the road. They were surrounded by open bush, so she grew up in a place of freedom where the children could roam quite freely.

Well, comparatively freely anyway. She recalled that one of the first lessons she had at school, aged six, was how to deal with snake bites! Her father killed a snake on their garden path on one occasion. She also remembered being scared of the geckos, as the boys teased the girls by telling them the geckos would crawl up inside their clothes and bite their hearts.

She told us that once she and her sister were with her mother in the Kruger National Park, with her mother driving the car. They turned a corner to find themselves facing an elephant on the road. The elephant stopped, as did the elephant behind it, and her mother drove gingerly past them.

Further along they saw about twenty cars, all parked by the side of the road because of a rogue elephant up ahead. The road in front of them dipped and then rose again to the brow of a hill. As they waited their they saw a lorry come over the hill, only to be charged by the rogue elephant that had been hidden in the undergrowth. She said it is the only time she has ever seen a race between an elephant and a lorry! Fortunately the lorry won and the elephant went off.

On a holiday in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the family stopped to camp overnight. They heard a scratching noise outside the tent. The two girls decided to sleep inside the car for safety even though their father assured them it was only a jackal. In the morning a lorry driver who was parked nearby asked them whether they had seen the pride of eight lions walk through the camp!

The family had maids. One of them had a husband who had a job that took him all over Africa and a daughter whose ambition was to become a doctor. Because of the political unrest and violence at the time, their father would drive into part of Cape Town where the maid lived and drive her back to the home. Owing to the apartheid laws, the maid could not sit in the front but had to sit in the back. In the late afternoon he would drive her home again.

Our member’s father was a member of a secret organisation acting in opposition to the white South African governments. The family returned to the UK because of the political tensions when she was 15½.