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A Long Gone Africa

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

PART 3 Robin Stobbs' childhood experiences take us back to a 1940's Africa


Grahamstown - during those war years this small City was perhaps the nearest thing to an English country town outside of England!


A centre of education with at least five large schools and a University College, a neat, clean, quiet town with wide streets, avenues of Jacaranda trees and imposing old buildings lining High Street, and steeped in the history of frontier wars


The City, and City it was with a Cathedral an' all, is situated in a basin-like valley surrounded by thick pine forested hillsides with here and there small groups of tall, majestic glue gums (eucalyptus)



Our maternal Grandparents, George Cyril Aubrey (erstwhile Editor of Grocott's Penny Mail), and Annie Aubrey, lived for a while in a house in a small street alongside Kingswood College prep and the railway line. Later they moved to a house in Somerset Street (a house that gave way to the imposing JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology - now SAIAB and where, more than two decades later, I worked!)


Norman and I were soon kitted up and sent to Kingswood College prep as weekly borders. Sixpence a week pocket money dosen't sound like very much by today's terms but back then it enabled us to buy a twisted newspaper cone of peanuts, an ice cream, the movies (provided you sat in the front eight rows) and two or three black gobstopper sweets - these were hard, spherical, black sweets that changed colour as you sucked through the layers, and something you could keep in your pocket all week, to be sucked again and again when the urge struck and after having first licked away the 'pocket fluff'!


It is interesting to note what effects the war was having on life at Kingswood. The following is extracted from the College Magazine for January 1945: "One notices of course that stationery, india rubbers, fountain pens, enamelware, cricket balls, mending wool and butter are in short supply. Football jerseys are going to be very scarce and Kingswood caps and ties do not seem to figure in any priority list; but we are jolly lucky to have all we have got!"


Holidays were generally spent at the sea, at Port Alfred or Kenton On Sea, or with our cousins on their farm at Southwell, or at their seaside place at Kasougha (Kasuka, Kasouka)


Travelling to the sea from Grahamstown was something of a safari in those days. There were no direct roads (certainly no tarred roads) and there were what seemed like a hundred farm gates that required opening and closing along the way. Fortunately there was usually an energetic young helper or two at or near each gate so everyone's car glovebox always contained a large packet of sweets to hand out to these kids. Those sweets you could pick up at any trading store at a couple dozen or more for a penny - a whole packet for a tickey!


Port Alfred was quite a sleepy hollow back then! The town had achieved some fame during the 1820's and early 1830's when it was proposed that the entrance to the Kowie River be built up and a harbour created for ocean-going ships. The book "Basketwork Harbour" by Eric Turpin details the work done during these decades and the many people involved in trying to develop the river into a safe harbour. It also contains some historical photographs of the few ships that bravely entered the 'harbour' that was touted as the 'best in the Eastern Cape!' All that remains of this endeavour today are the wooden piles along Wharf Street, the East and West piers and the remains of the paddle wheel tug 'Buffalo' which one can see at low spring tide!


Everyone, absolutely everyone, in those days listened often to the BBC news and eagerly followed the course of the war being waged in Europe and the Far East. Very often those news reports were of Japanese submarine encounters off the South African east coast; of German submarine activity on the Atlantic coast and of aerial encounters between the South African Air Force and Japanese submarine-launched fighter planes. Most of the time we were having too much fun growing up to be overly concerned with the news of the war, though we were well aware of, and talked about, the larger battles or events


One evening there was much jubilation coming from the lounge where Uncle Neville and Aunt Doris had been listening to the news. Sensing that something was 'up' we tumbled through to hear the news that Germany had surrendered and the war in Europe was over with the declaration of VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day - 8th May 1945)


Later that year (1945) we heard about a devastating 'Tonic Bomb' that had been dropped on Japan - a bomb so powerful that it would end the war. We wondered what sort of powerful tonic this was to cause such an abrupt end to a war that had seemingly gone on forever


With the declaration of VJ-Day (Victory in Japan Day - 15th August 1945) we discovered that those bombs were not 'Tonic' bombs but 'Atomic Bombs' and that two had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki


It was not long after that we began to hear horrific stories of the devastation these bombs caused and the terrible effects of radiation burns on survivors


PART 4 to follow


'One day our Mum sat Norman and I down and tried to explain that sometimes.....

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