On the way to war

This card was posted from Cape Town, South Africa, by a New Zealand soldier on 23rd February 1917.

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Dear M.
Just a note. We have had a fine time here, and think it is a fine place. We have had the best part of a days leave and have made the best of it. The gardens are fine.
Frank Berg and I have had afternoon tea today in the Parliament Buildings. We were invited by a gentleman we met in the gardens, and who is interested in N. Zealanders. His name is Mr. Van de Reif M.P. Grahams Town.
I am sending two small ostrich feathers they are fairly cheap here. We had a good trip over and expect to leave here tomorrow.
I am doing A1. With love from Fred.

Without a second name, Fred’s identity must remain a mystery and I’ve been unable to trace a Grahamstown politician called Van de Reif so far. If you can help, please leave a comment. His generosity towards two young New Zealand soldiers must have been a real treat for them after weeks crammed into a troop ship; a last brief encounter with civilized life before the trenches of the Western Front.

Frank Berg was born in Devonport, Tasmania, on 26th August 1896 to parents Isaac and Elizabeth and moved with the family to Sheffield, west of Christchurch, New Zealand. At the time of his enlistment on 19th September 1916, he was working as a labourer at Greendale, south of the city. His father, a bootmaker, must have died soon afterwards because his estate notice appears in the Press in mid-October. There is no mention of compassionate leave in Frank’s army record.

Private Berg, Frank Lewis, 33679, was 5ft 6in tall, 140lbs., 32 inch chest, brown hair and eyes. The Mister Average of his generation, one of thousands like him who volunteered to fight in a European war under conditions they could never have imagined in their worst nightmares. After basic training, he and Fred and the 21st Reinforcements NZEF sailed from Wellington on the troop transport Ulimoroa, 21st January 1917.

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The Ulimaroa leaving Wellington. Photo by J. Dickie. Te Papa collection.

They disembarked at Devonport (Plymouth), England, on 27th March and arrived at Sling Camp the same day. After more training to prepare them for what was to come, they left for France on 26th May. Frank’s record is silent for seven months until, on 26th December, he was sent to hospital suffering from enteritis and enemia. Disease was almost as deadly as the enemy in the Great War but Frank recovered quickly and was back with the 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment by 12th January 1918, just in time to be sent to England on leave a week later.

Back with his unit by early February, Frank managed to keep his head down and was sent to a School of Instruction in late September. Where, and for what purpose, is not known. He returned to the Front on 15th October.

Frank Berg was reported killed in action on 23rd October 1918, just 19 days before the ceasefire.

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Destination Cape Town

My last post on Tuesday left a large group of Union Castle mail ship passengers playing deck games on their way to South Africa in 1913. So today I thought I would deliver them to their destination and visit a couple of sights in Cape Town.

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After the ship’s band played the last waltz there would have been lots of goodbyes

Vintage postcard of a man and woman on a  ship's deck in the moonlight.

Some were harder to bear than others.

Vintage postcard of a group of ship's passengers with binoculars.

In the morning there would have been great excitement as their next port appeared on the horizon. The lady in the centre of this image, peering through binoculars with hand on hip, looks like a fashionista of her day. It’s a pity we can’t see that outfit in colour.

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This card from the Cape Town branch of J. Valentine and Sons shows the Grand Hotel on the corner of Strand and Adderley streets. Built in 1885, it probably catered to many Union Castle passengers before it was demolished in the 1950s.

Vintage postcard of Cape Town Grand Parade and City Hall (opened 1905).

Cape Town City Hall was completed in 1905, to house a growing city administration and has, in its turn, been outgrown in more recent years. This landmark building was built facing the sea with the Grand Parade in front where regular markets were held.

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Cape Town’s Houses of Parliament, built in the same year as the Grand Hotel, became the legislative centre for the new Union of South Africa in 1910. The administrative capital is Pretoria.

Table Mountain dominates the view in the last two cards. Locals might possibly get used to this sight eventually, but to a visitor, it never fails to take your breath away no matter how many times you return.

 

A bad week at the office

Postcard of RMS Edinburgh Castle arriving at Capetown.

RMS Edinburgh Castle. Photo: Arthur English Colour Prints (PTY) Ltd.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (1948 – 1976) was one in a long list of Union-Castle liners that serviced the mail run from England to South Africa for three quarters of the 20th century. We can tell by the angle of the sun in this image, and the choice of berth, that she has just arrived at Cape Town “down coast” from Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth. The doors in her side are already open to receive the gangway and two tugs, unseen on her port side, are pushing her towards the dock. Along with other ‘Castles’ she ran to a regular timetable. Like a bus service. Most of the time.

The message on the back of this card, posted in 1970, reveals that life in a shipping company didn’t always run to plan. Some of the people mentioned here are possibly still alive so I’ll use their initials only.

Dear A.,
We leave Capetown at 4p.m. today. Much delayed arrival yesterday after floods and engine trouble in East London. Its been quite a week for our agents what with a fire on Clan Macinnes, all the mailboats late and someone overboard on the Vaal. Spent the evening with R. H. yesterday. Due to our late arrival N. and I have missed each other but hope to have a quick word with him before we sail. Please excuse writing. I’m standing in Heerengracht [Street, Cape Town] with this balanced on my hand. Regards, R.

Poor ‘R’ was so stressed he didn’t know what month it was. He dated the card 2/7/70 (2nd July) but it should have been 2/9/70 (2nd September). The events he mentions didn’t happen until the last week in August. The Clan Macinnes had a fire in a cargo of charcoal off the S.W. African coast but managed to reach Walvis Bay safely. The now legendary case of ‘man overboard’ happened on 26th August when a male passenger fell from the S.A. Vaal and, against all odds, was rescued 11½ hours later after he was reported missing and the captain retraced the ship’s course.

Cape Town Pier unearthed

A section of Cape Town’s elaborate Edwardian pier was uncovered during construction work recently and is now being preserved as an historic artifact. It was, during its lifetime, a magnificent structure by any standard. The five images below are from a set of twelve booklet postcards taken not long after it was completed in 1910.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

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Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Sadly, most of the pier was demolished in 1939 and the remains buried under the huge land reclamation that supports Cape Town’s business area today. You can see a photo of that work, and other images from Cape Town’s past on this Biznews page.