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.

 

The games people played

Modern cruise ships provide every kind of entertainment to keep their passengers from boredom at sea. Shops, movies, nightclubs, casinos and live theatre shows; luxuries that less demanding travellers in simpler times couldn’t have imagined. But some of the old favourites have been dropped in the name of progress.

What about ‘Slinging the Monkey’, ‘Chalking the Pig’s Eye’, ‘The Turtle Pull’, and Cock Fighting? These were all part of the fun on your journey from England to South Africa on a Union Castle liner in the early years of the 20th century.

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This Union Castle mail ship leaving Cape Town isn’t named on the postcard but is probably the RMS Kinfauns Castle (1899 – 1927).

You’ll be relieved to learn that no animals were harmed during these activities. In fact, no animals were involved. They relied on volunteers from the audience.

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 Slinging the Monkey. The rope is standard issue (non-elastic) so this isn’t an early form of horizontal bungee. A tall man with long arms would be a safe bet to win.

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Chalking the Pig’s Eye. A variation on the old Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey game you might remember from childhood birthday parties. Obviously these people had no sense of direction.

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 The Turtle Pull looks like it could have been invented by a rugby coach. Was it a consolation event for men who weren’t picked for the Tug-o’-War team?

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Cock Fighting. Yes, I know – you have to see it to believe it.

These illustrations were taken from an extensive list of postcards published by the Union Castle company. I have 33 of them and wouldn’t be surprised to find there are more. They were issued in booklet sets and can be dated fairly accurately to 1913, give or take six months.

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.

In a world of their own

Captain Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, reached the Cape of Good Hope in the last week of December 1897 and, soon afterwards, met a politician in denial.

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…..the Spray ran into a calm under Table Mountain, where she lay quietly till the generous sun rose over the land and drew a breeze in from the sea.

The steam-tug Alert, then out looking for ships, came to the Spray off the Lion’s Rump, and in lieu of a larger ship towed her into port. The sea being smooth, she came to anchor in the bay off the city of Cape Town, where she remained a day, simply to rest clear of the bustle of commerce. The good harbour-master sent his steam-launch to bring the sloop to a berth in dock at once, but I preferred to remain for one day alone, in the quiet of a smooth sea, enjoying the retrospect of the passage of the two great capes. On the following morning the Spray sailed into the Alfred Dry Docks, where she remained for about three months in the care of the port authorities, while I travelled the country over, from Simons Town to Pretoria, being accorded by the colonial government a free railroad pass over all the land.

Kerk Straat, Pretoria, around 1900, from a vintage postcard.

The trip to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria was a pleasant one. At the last-named place I met Mr. Kruger, the Transvaal president. His Excellency received me cordially enough; but my friend Judge Beyers, the gentleman who presented me, by mentioning that I was on a voyage around the world, unwittingly gave great offence to the venerable statesman, which we both regretted deeply. Mr. Kruger corrected the judge rather sharply, reminding him that the world is flat. “You don’t mean round the world,” said the president; “it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!” he said, “impossible!” and not another word did he utter either to the judge or to me.

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Oom (uncle) Paul Kruger and his wife Tante (auntie) Senna.

The judge looked at me and I looked at the judge, who should have known his ground, so to speak, and Mr. Kruger glowered at us both. My friend the judge seemed embarrassed, but I was delighted; the incident pleased me more than anything else that could have happened. It was a nugget of information quarried out of Oom Paul, some of whose sayings are famous. Of the English he said, “They took first my coat and then my trousers.” He also said, “Dynamite is the corner-stone of the South African Republic.” Only unthinking people call President Kruger dull.

‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, Capt. Jushua Slocum. Rupert Hart-Davis. 1948.
Original edition published 1900.

It seems incredible that, as recently as 120 years ago, a man who achieved the presidency of his country still believed, in spite of the evidence, that the world was flat. In 120 years from now, what will people think of a president who believed, in spite of the evidence, that the idea of global warming and climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese as an act of industrial sabotage against his country? Assuming, of course, there are any people left to think about anything.