International

A Namibian story has it that one morning during the early 1950s two men glided their light aircraft onto a diamond-strewn beach in the Namibian Sperrgebiet (German for no-go or forbidden zone) with the intention of collecting a large amount of diamonds hidden by one of them in rocky outcrops near the beach. On take-off from the beach the aircraft however nose-dived after one of the aircraft’s wheels struck a rock. They were subsequently spotted by the restricted diamond areas’ security personnel and arrested.

Should you search on the internet for Shildon, a small town in County Durham in the North East corner of England, you will find out that it has house prices one-tenth of those in London, but that is not the town’s major claim to fame. Shildon is world famous for being the cradle of the Railways (a.k.a. Rail Roads), which were launched in the first quarter of the 19th century.

July is mid-summer and warm in New York. But in this world city, July 1965, Nat felt cold, miserable, depressed and missing his country, his people.

Nataniël Nakzana Nakasa, popularly known as Nat, could not ever return to his country of birth. The premier placing this restriction on his passport which prevented him from returning to South Africa, was none other than the architect of apartheid, Dr Verwoerd. Verwoerd, as Nat once commented, was himself not even born in South Africa (Dutch), while Nat was.

Ninety-nine years ago, on 22 May 1921, a young corporal in the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment died. What distinguished him was that he was a Chacma baboon. The story of Jackie the baboon has often been told and forgive me if you have heard it before. The reason for making it a Magalies Memoir is that Jackie was born in the Magaliesberg. Some details have become confused during a century of re-telling, but essentially the story is as follows:

 

The SA dagger was the service dagger of the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment) formed under Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm’s authority in 1921. Otherwise known as the Brown Shirts, the SA was a paramilitary group named after elite German forces from the Western Front in the First World War (1914-1918). Their primary role was to provide muscle at Nazi rallies and to counter the actions of opposition paramilitary groups. The SA soldiers were also used to violently intimidate civilians.

 

My eye has been on international news about the Corona Virus since the story of this mysterious illness that was changing life in Wuhan China first hit the news. It all seemed a little distant in  January. We were concerned and curious but it was not a personal threat - China seemed (mistakenly) a long way away. I now look back on our celebrating Christmas 2019 as a time of innocence and a time free of worry.

A 1:48 scale model of the Type VIIC German U-boat “U-96” was donated to the Museum in September 2019. The model is a true representation of the original submarine used in the Second World War (1939 – 1945) and was constructed by the donor, Mr Brian Echstein (see image above).

The Importance of the Donation

During the reign of Queen Victoria the then British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once told the House of Commons, ‘More men have been knocked off balance by gold than by love” but to be fair to the man he also said on another occasion “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end”.

I had been in South Africa for four years after being transferred from the company I had been working for in London. I spent 1968 in Johannesburg and was now working in Durban.

I was twenty-six years old and was in a position where I needed to make some decisions about my future. I was in love with South Africa but at the same time needed some adventure before I put my roots down. Travel was the obvious answer.

If I was to ask that question, 9 times out of 10, the respondent would not know and would take a stab and say perhaps a railway station in London. If it was the last question on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” to win £1 000 000 (that’s Pounds not Rands) would you phone a friend, ask the audience or take a 50:50? (supposing in the unlikely event those options were still available to you).

On June 19, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle a son was born to Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the baby was christened James and he would become the sixth of his name to be King of Scotland when he was barely 13 months old. His mother was forced by the Lairds to abdicate the Scottish throne and she fled south to England for her own safety and he would never see her again.

The year of 1812 is mainly remembered for Napoleon Bonaparte’s ruinous retreat from Moscow, when his “Grande Armee” was forced to evacuate the city or face starvation with the Russian winter impending. It was the beginning of the end for “Boney” and his defeat would eventually lead him to abdicate as emperor of France in 1814. Napoleon’s failed “Russian Campaign” would be known as the “Patriotic War of 1812” by the Russians and seventy years later would be celebrated by the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in Moscow.

Professor Lipmann Kessel MC, MBE, FRCS (1914-1986) was an eminent surgeon and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who wrote several important works on orthopaedic surgery, but rather like another well-known doctor, Roger Bannister (1929-2018), Kessel is best remembered for what he did as a young man. In the case of Bannister it was breaking the four minute mile barrier (in 1954) and with Kessel it was his medical role during the famous Battle of Arnhem, in late September 1944.

There are not many South Africans who have been honoured by having a statue of themselves erected in London. Only two come readily to mind and they are Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela, whose statues stand proudly in Parliament Square, Westminster. However, there is a lesser known South African who has a statue which stands outside Bank Station; he is James Henry Greathead (1844-1896), the grandson of an 1820 Settler of the same name. So why is it that a boy from Grahamstown should be so honoured and what was his achievement?

Many commentators have written about the guns falling silent in Europe on 11 November 1918 and the reasons we should be remembering 100 years on. For South Africa and other African countries though, the war continued until 25 November 1918 when the Germans finally lay down their arms at Abercorn, today’s Mbala.

Below is the epilogue of Mel Baker's remarkable story. It covers his return to Wernersdorf on two occasions and his reunions with fellow POWs over the years. It also highlights the powerful commemorative events that he has been part of.

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