Published on the Website of the South African Military History Society in the interest of research into military history

Copyright Sheilah Lloyd

Life on the radar stations:
An operator's view
By Sheilah Lloyd

My nostalgic task is to call back the past - and try to resurrect for you the kind of life we led in the early 'forties, when women began to take over the radar stations, thus releasing men for the battle fronts.

Within a couple of months of South Africa's declaration of war in September 1939, Cape Town - my home town - became an extremely busy port, and its streets thronged with uniforms. Before the end of the year, the aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, had docked in Table Bay, and during the first half of 1940 troopships had included the Aquitania, and Mauretania and the Queen Mary. When convoys and troopships were in the docks, hospitality was organised on a vast scale by that marvellous band of women, the SAWAS, and I, like hundreds of other Cape Town girls, found myself working hard driving the troops around, making beds, preparing meals and serving them at the Soldiers' Club and the Mayor's Garden Canteen - and then wiping the fish and chips from my fingers and dancing non-stop to hearty tunes like 'Roll out the Barrel' and 'Run, Rabbit, Run' and doing the 'Lambeth Walk'.

There were German, Italian and Japanese submarines in our waters, and as the lights of Cape Town and Durban lit up the silhouettes of ships in harbour, making them easy targets, a blackout was enforced. Street lighting disappeared, windows were covered each night, and only small pin-points of light were allowed to show from car headlights, so that night driving, particularly in the winter rains in Cape Town, was hazardous and difficult. (incidentally, 160 ships were sunk or damaged within 1 000 miles of the coasts of South Africa during the war years.)

In 1941 the Italians capitulated in Abyssinia and South Africa were released from the East African campaign to the desert battle zones. Letters from Egypt included photos of pyramids and camels - and some other local attractions - and we read in the newspapers about the battle of Sidi Rezegh where Springbok troops fought bravely under General Dan Pienaar. We also read of a place called Tobruk, which seemed perpetually under siege, and a new German leader called General Rommel. And then, in June 1942, Tobruk fell to Rommel and thousands of our troops went into prisoner-of-war camps.

By now, the Special Signals Services Unit had come into being; coastal stations were set up, and radar sets installed, all this in the deepest secrecy. Women operators were recruited among university graduates, and at the end of 1942 I joined the SSS, took the oath of secrecy, and, along with four other Cape Town girls, Beryl, Helen, Mary and Barbara, travelled by train to Johannesburg for the start of our training course.

I will just remember briefly of some of the people involved. Kind and motherly Staff-Sergeant Pollock shepherded us from the station to the Services Club in Pritchard Street which became our temporary home. She also conducted us to the Army depot where we were issued with our uniforms: do you remember those greenish-khaki lisle bloomers and stockings, understandably dubbed 'passion klllers'? And our relief on hearing we did not have to wear them but could buy our own! And do you remember the wonderful tailor, Mr Pharboo, to whom we were sent if we wanted to splash out on a tailored uniform for best wear? He was amazingly quick and efficient, and the cost of the finished articles was about three pounds!

Staff-Sergeant Parry taught us squad drill and morse, and the Wits physical training instructor, a wiry Scot called Mr Ferguson, took us for PT. I have a couple of snapshots of us doing a tortuous exercise of which he was very fond called 'A-sses to the left! A-sses to the right!'

Captain Nancy Blue came into our lives - decisive, pretty and impeccably turned out: a perfect example of the way one should look in uniform, but seldom did! Today, when our group visited the Wits campus and the BPI, two members of the first course, Ruth van Tichelen (who was Ruth Gemmel) and Sylvia Goodman (who was Sylvia Newby) placed some flowers below the plaque which has been set up at the BPI commemorating Nancy Blue.

Then there was Colonel Hodges - the brilliant scientist who was O.C. SSS at the time. He lectured to us about cathode rays and other useful things, all of which I have regrettably now forgotten. But I have not forgotten his saying kindly, "It is very important to me that my girls should be happy". Happy I think we all were. For me, life seemed to bloom. Our course was interesting and our off-duty hours filled with pleasant things.

Those of us who wished to qualify for something called a 'U-licence' permitting us to drive military vehicles, underwent a driving test at Joubert Park. Few had driven anything as large as an army truck before, and the poor corporal who had to test us looked pale and shaken by the time my turn arrived, wiping his brow frequently and casting his eyes heavenwards in silent prayer. Doubtless he had been instructed to control his language, since he said as little as possible during the exercise, and that in a low mutter! I was most relieved when he 'passed' me.

Back in Cape Town for the second part of the course, we were stationed at Green Point Barracks, and subjected to proper military discipline, saluting officers left and right and taking our turns with orderly duties in the barracks. The kindly drill instructor we had in Johannesburg was replaced by a fiery little man - Staff-Sergeant Stewart - whose parade-ground voice could have been heard down in the docks. He was fond of roaring "SSS? I'll tell you what that stands for! Soldate Sonder Sense! That's all it means!"

Each day we travelled to our Headquarters in what, before the war, had been the German Club of Cape Town. Some of the lectures we attended were given by a very young Major Frank Hewitt. We found him most agreeable to look at as well as listen to.

Finally came our passing-out parade - and our postings. I had always loved the sea and was delighted to learn that I was among the girls being posted to the stations rather than to the filter room ('Freddy') which was in the city. It was thus a little ironic to discover that I was the only one of my course being posted to an inland station, called 'Somersveld'.

Having said goodbye to everyone, I caught a morning train to Darling - a journey which in those days took almost three hours. I was met at the station by Penny, who was to become a good friend. She had a sparkling personality, greeny-hazel eyes, and a tiny waist which I never ceased to envy. She took me to the ration van, and the driver, a colourful and confident character known as 'Red', entertained us with tales of his desert exploits as we drove along a dry, dusty road to Somersveld.
The layout of all the stations was, I think, fairly standard, with the mess, kitchen and recreation rooms in one block, separate sleeping quarters for men and women, the women's quarters always protected by what was called a 'chastity fence', and the operation Section situated some distance from the living quarters.

Our Officer Commanding, Lt Mrs Hartshorne, was a tall lady with a shock of grey curly hair a rather forbidding expression, which I soon realised cloaked a deep kindness. As befitted the wife of a brigadier, she maintained discipline and kept a firm eye on us, but she had a very genuine concern for our welfare.

That night I did my first shift with Penny and Lil. I can still remember the ride down to the Tech site, standing in the open back of a truck, and climbing down frequently to open and shut gates. The sky, above the flat, empty veld, seemed to blaze with stars. Inside the Tech Hut it was warm and smoky. Most of us smoked in those days - it was almost taken for granted, as a sign of adulthood. I was introduced to the set and was thrilled when I picked up my first echo. Somersveld was not high enough to pick up shipping on the west coast, although we were within the possible range, and ships were therefore covered by another station, Yzerfontein, on the coast. But there was a big air force station nearby, training pilots for both the RAF and the SAAF, and so Somersveld read only on aircraft.

I was taught about our relationship with the filter room, 'Freddy' - who received our readings over the phone and plotted them on a big table from where they were relayed to Combined Operations - so that air and sea traffic was constantly monitored.

On my first daytime shift I was taught how to take a weather report. One went outside, licked a finer and held it up to determine wind direction, decided what kind of clouds there were, and whether it was hot or cold. If these weather reports were ever of use to anyone, we never knew! There was also the routine of 'taking a visual' whenever a plane showing up on the screen looked as though it was approaching our station. One rushed outside, gazed anxiously up at the sky and returned to report that it was an Anson, a Ventura or a Catalina. I was assured that these were the only three types of planes which crossed the Somersveld skies. However, on one delightful and much remembered occasion, the newest recruit on a shift was sent on one of these recognition sorties without having been properly briefed. Accordingly, she rushed back, wide-eyed, and reported, "It is a bi-plane. It has got a wing on the right and a wing on the left!"

In the evening when we were off-duty, the rec. room became a cosy place, orange curtains drawn against the night, and a fire blazing cheerfully. People gathered around, to read, write letters, play Chinese Checkers, knit or chat, and there was always a bridge table set out. Mrs Hartshorne was a very keen player, and if you did not play bridge before being posted to Somersveld, you certainly did by the time you left! She liked a game every evening, if possible and if a fourth player was lacking, had no compunction about roping in some absolute beginner and teaching her as the game progressed. One person, however, who she never persuaded to learn bridge was our Station Commander, Lt David Davidson. He was a good-looking young man, inevitably nicknamed 'Devastating Dave' by the irrepressible Penny, who had nicknames for everyone. After watching him resist all blandishments with a charming smile, we decided that he had been thoroughly briefed on the pitfalls which lurked for any young, unmarried Station Commander in the Special Signals - for he did not fraternise! On the rare evenings when he was not on duty at the Tech Site, he retreated happily to his own little sitting-room, where he sat in front of his fire, feet up on the mantelpiece, pipe in mouth, and nose in a book. "Such a waste!" was the oft-heard comment on him from the girls, who all competed to take him his tea on those evenings, but could never elicit more than a smile and a brief word of thanks.

At least three people at Somersveld - Meg, Dodo and Paul - loved classical music and struggled sometimes to listen to concerts on the wireless - difficult, in the all-purpose Often the ancient gramophone was played. As you will remember, in those far-off days one had to keep winding up those things to keep them going. I can shut my eyes and still hear one particular Chopin Etude which was frequently played at Somersveld, and see Paul standing next to the gramophone, a rapt look on his face and hand outstretched ready to wind it if the record started to run down - while Dodo lay full length on the hearthrug, eyes closed, cigarette in mouth, blowing out peaceful and perfect smoke rings.

Sometimes we were free to accept invitations to dances at the Air Force Camp, or parties at surrounding farms. They were awfully kind to us, those farmers - the Bassons, the Duckitts and others. On a Sunday, they would often drive out to Somersveld and take girls home with them to swim or ride or just enjoy the marvellous farm food. Trips to Darling to collect rations and post also provided some limited opportunities for shopping and refreshment. After the hot dusty drive, a cold beer in one or other of the two hotels was very welcome. The general dealer stocked some goods which had become unobtainable in Cape Town, including Coates embroidery silks, which were discovered with delight by some of the girls. Occasionally we found condensed milk on the shelf - and would buy tins with glee, pierce two holes in the lid and stroll back to the ration van, sucking blissfully at the sweet, sticky liquid. Somehow that memory encapsulates for me the way we were then at Somersveld - young, silly, innocent and happy.

One bit of excitement I recall with some amusement. Our Station Commander was away on pass, the technical staff were on duty at the Tech site, and we girls had already gone to bed, when some sort of bush telegraph buzzed through the sleeping quarters. Very soon the whole lot of us had crept outside, and from a gap in the chastity fence we watched Mrs Hartshorne, who, clad in a thick dressing gown with her army shoes protruding below and her hair in disarray, had taken up a stance under a light at the entrance to the camp. In her right hand she clutched a large army revolver. We could hear the sound of a truck approaching, and in due course it stopped inside the gate and the driver climbed out. He saluted the strange apparition awaiting him, and then, somewhat unceremoniously, bundled out a clearly very drunk member of our technical staff, who fell unhappily in a heap at Mrs Hartshorne's feet.

Having peered down at him and established that he was in no state to present any threat to her girls, she put the revolver away in her dressing gown pocket and issued a few firm instructions to the driver, who hauled the unhappy victim to his feet and headed with him to the men's quarters. Shortly after this misdemeanour he was transferred to another station.

Because the train journey to Cape Town was so long and tedious, when going on pass we gladly accepted whatever lifts were offered in Darling, sometimes in very strange conveyances. I remember once Penny and I rode in on the back of a milk lorry, snugly ensconced among great clattering milk cans. On another occasion, three of the girls travelled in the back of a hearse, along with a coffin! They were never sure whether it was empty or not. When we did have to travel by train there was always a long stop at a place called Kalabas Kraal, where the steam engine had to receive water and other attentions. There was a hotel next to the station, and most of the passengers disembarked and streamed across the tracks to the bar. As soon as the engine had been refuelled the driver would give three short blasts on his whistle, and dozens of sailors, soldiers and airmen - and a few SSS girls - would down their last mouthfuls and return to the train. Inevitably there were always a few stragglers, usually sailors joyfully on pass from Saldanha, who delayed their departure from the pub too long, and had to run after the train. However, the driver was very tolerant and chugged along slowly until the last lingerer had been safely dragged aboard.

One cold July evening a movement order came across the lines via Freddy - and five of us, cosy and snug in the Somersveld nest, were instructed to pack our bags and report at headquarters in Cape Town. We had been selected to attend a special course. No-one knew what kind of course - but the rumour circulated, over the phones, that it had something to do with morse. This rumour plunged us into deep gloom, and with despondency Meg, Lore, Margaret, Marge and I said our goodbyes and caught the train for Cape Town.

Robben Island
To our relief, the mysterious course turned out to have nothing to do with morse code. It appeared that about 20 girls from the SSS had been selected to do a coastal artillery course on Robben Island.

Some of the less pleasant aspects of this hit us first. It was a rainy, stormy morning when we set sail in the little boat which ferried to and fro to the island. She was called 'The Issy' after Ouma Smuts, and like her famous namesake, was small, gallant and tough. She bounced like a cork that morning over the rough waves and, apart from her human cargo, she carried a load of Australian butter for the island. Butter was one of the wartime scarcities in Cape Town and some had to be imported. This particular contingent was rancid and the awful smell added to our misery. A few of us were sick, and we all stumbled ashore on the island feeling quite awful.

We were met by an extremely smart artillery 'Madam' who was not enthusiastic in her welcome, and we were marched off at a brisk pace to our quarters. These were in a dungeon-like building which had no doubt been part of the old leper colony. Our dormitory was a basement where the window panes were painted blue. A few unshaded light bulbs hung from the ceiling, and the whole effect was cheerless in the extreme.

For a few days the usual army disorganisation prevailed, no-one seeming to know what to do with us. It never stopped raining and life was miserable. Eventually, however, things got sorted out and the course started. The girls manning the battery on Robben Island were smart, uniforms always freshly pressed, buttons shining, shoes gleaming, hair regulation length. And they excelled at squad drill, while to us, coming from the SSS stations, squad drill was only a memory. The sergeant in charge soon told us what he thought of such slackness, while the artillery girls looked smug. They had not wanted us there any more than we had wanted to come.

But it was interesting learning to range-find and fire the big guns. And when the rain finally stopped, our morning route marches became enjoyable. After dry Somersveld, Robben Island seemed the greenest place in the world - except where it was splashed with chincherinchees and arum lilies, or shining yellow mimosa. One early morning, we marched up a little hill, and as we went over the top, there before our eyes lay a huge convoy of ships at anchor, waiting to go into the docks. Ship after ship - every one weighed down on its landward side by hundreds of men in battle-dress, hanging over the rail, smoking, and enjoying the sun and the sight of Table Mountain. They were very close to land, and the sudden appearance of some twenty marching girls, of course, delighted them. They broke into yells and whoops of pleasure, waving and whistling - and our drill sergeant, who had by this time grown quite fond of us, had the sense to call a halt. So we stood there on the edge of the little cliff and laughed and waved and the general joy was very contagious.

There were regular weekend passes to Cape Town, provided the weather permitted the 'Issy' to sail. Sometimes it did not. On one occasion the weather had been fine on Friday, but was blowing a gale on the Monday morning - and we were instructed to stay at the Services Club, so as to be on call when the weather cleared. A request was relayed around the club asking any girls who could speak French to report to the SAWAS lady in charge - and we were asked if we would like that evening to be the dance partners of the officers of two French frigates which were in dock. We were told that these were Vichy ships, but that they had now come over to the allies. The war situation for the allies at that time vis-a-vis the Free French, under De Gaulle, and the French Government, was very tricky, and it was firmly stated that we should not attempt to talk politics to our partners.

Mine turned out to be the Captain of one of the frigates, with a beautiful voice and eyes like Charles Boyer. We dined at the Cafe Royal and danced at the Bohemian Club, and I had no difficulty whatsoever in not talking politics! This encounter extended to the next weekend when he met the 'Issy' at the docks. A day or two later, the two French frigates sailed for unknown waters: I had a few letters and then, as so often in those wartime years, the rest was silence.

Early in September Italy surrendered.
The whole island, it seemed, with the exception of the SSS Artillery Course Trainees, celebrated that night with a dance. We felt a bit sore at having been excluded, particularly since the dance was held in a hall adjoining our quarters and the noise was deafening. There was a door in our dormitory which had always been locked and until that night we had no idea where it led to. But in the midst of the revelry, someone on the other side unlocked this door and three very happy soldiers flung it open and came plunging down the steps leading into our domitory. They came to a stop, utterly bemused at finding themselves confronted by some twenty resentful and unamused girls in various stages of undress, preparing for bed. I can still see Pam from Yzerfontein, in a green wooly dressing gown, long dark hair unbraided and cold cream all over her face, standing hairbrush in hand at the foot of the steps, with a glare sufficient to quell an army. The three intruders, mumbling apologies, beat a baffled retreat up the steps, with looks which seemed to say - "Only had four drinks - can't be that!"

Finally we finished the course, wrote an exam, and were then stationed for two weeks at Green Point Barracks from where we made sorties to various coastal artillery batteries in the Peninsula. Thereafter we went back to our SSS stations and two days after our return to Somersveld, Meg and I received a posting to a new station called Silversands. Dodo had preceded us and on shift that night I got a message from her which said, "Glad you're coming. Silversands is lovely. The wind blows all the time so you never have to brush your hair". After all the spit and polish of the last six weeks that was rather a nice thought - and as an introduction to Silversands it turned out to be as good as any!

From Somerset West station we were driven to the Steenbras River mouth where military police checked our credentials before unlocking the gate at the bridge and waving us through. Mile after mile flowed under our wheels with never a human habitation in sight. Everything was breathtaking in its freshness, the waves, the mountains and the wind - which blew incessantly so that the air was filled with a clean, salty smell.

Since the war, that coast has been 'developed' - one of today's favourite words - and holiday homes have sprung up like mushrooms. But in 1943 it all belonged to us!

There were two stations at Cape Hangklip, sharing the same barracks. Hangklip itself, where the set was one of the original JB's, lay halfway up the mountain, and the men who operated it included 8th Army veterans who had served a stint up north and had now, for various reasons, been brought back and given non-combatant posts. Silversands, the newly-completed women's station, lay lower down the mountain, some distance on the other side of the barracks, with a big revolving aerial and a new and shiny set.

Our OC was Lt Margaret Lister, a tall slender girl whom we all loved. Since she was only a few years older than most of us, her task was no easy one. She had to supervise an assorted batch of lively nubile girls, in an environment as free and delightful as a holiday hotel.

The Station Commander was Lt Geoff Hitchcock, who now lives in New Zealand. When news of this proposed reunion reached him, he wrote sending his greetings and good wishes "to all the men and women who served with me at Cape Point, Hangklip and Silversands, Avoca, Ramsgate and Zululand". His letter ends on a wistful note: "And all those lovely girls - are they still as beautiful as ever?" I know that he, like the girls of Silversands, enjoyed his time there.

After a night shift, we would often walk back to camp next morning rather than wait for a lift. Joan and I had a favourite place where a deep rock pool made a perfect swimming bath. At high tide the waves submerged it, but at low tide it was ideal, and we did not bother with costumes since we happily assumed that the rocks shielded us from prying eyes. It was only when we toiled up the mountainside one afternoon to have tea with the shift on duty at Hangklip, and they showed us a telescope they used for 'looking at ships', that we began to have a few doubts about the privacy of our pool.

Immediately below the camp was a beach where we surfed and swam. Joan had her 21st birthday party there on a January night, with a full moon on the water and much happiness around the bonfire on the sands.

Another favourite place, when a lift was available, was Pringle Bay - now built up and civilized, but in those days an empty stretch of paradise. The waves there were enormous, providing marvellous surfing - on lilos, or the little belly-boards we used in those days! Afterwards, under the milkwood trees, we would enjoy a picnic lunch provided for us by a wonderful lady we were lucky enough to have as our cook. She was known to everyone as 'Potty' - and when her transfer to another station came through, the news caused more upset than any other departure I can remember.

Some miles down the coast another radar station was under construction at Betty's Bay, and it was a visitor to Silversands, Lt Frikkie Botha, who led the first bundu-bashing expedition to visit it. Frikkie used to travel from station to station, spending a few days at each, observing the operation skills and how each set functioned, the ranges obtained on the echoes, and any special problems. Until we got to know him there were whispers about 'Gestapo from HQ', but very soon he endeared himself to all of us and was a popular visitor. The walk along the coast to Betty's Bay led us through thick bush, sand dunes and sea water, and a vigilant eye was kept open for baboons and snakes. We arrived scratched, dirty and dishevelled, but the welcome we got at Betty's Bay was very warm.

Those who came to Silversands in the course of their duties usually tried to arrange things so as to have off-duty time there also. This allowed them to go swimmlng, fishing, crayfishing - very popular with the Hangklip men - climbing, or just beachcombing. Among them were Keith, Clem and Jimmy, who went from station to station keeping the engines running and carrying out regular maintenance work. All three had been up north, so that their fund of stories added interest to the evenings in the rec. rooms. I still remember with clarity a night early in December 1943. All casual leave had just been cancelled for the Hangklip men, and five of them were to leave us the next morning, en route for 'up north'. They were young and excited - and listened avidly to the wartime yarns and arguments. As the night wore on the Gazala Gallop was re-run, the battle of Alamein re-fought and at least some of the exploits of the Desert Rats re-lived. Joan, cuddling two drowsy kittens named William and Sugar, and Meg, were among the listeners that night, and I do not suppose either of them then had any idea that within a few months Meg would marry Clem - restless Clem who paced to and fro, gesticulating as he talked - and Joan a little later would marry Keith. But it was the third member of the trio, Jimmy, who was the real ladies' man. His skill as raconteur was unsurpassed, and I can hear him now. "Petty lamb," he would say, in his deep, low voice, leaning forward to take someone's hand as he gazed deeply into their eyes, "Petty lamb - that's how it all happened! I'm telling you - I was there!"

There was much dancing at Silversands.
War or no war, these were the dancing years, before ballroom dancing became an anachronism. Music was always available. It was surprising how many people played guitars or piano accordians - and there were capable men around with pick-ups and amplifiers to convert the gramophone into a powerful instrument. And oh, the tunes of the time were romantic. I'm sure you remember them - 'Moonlight becomes you' - 'Love walked in' - 'Jealousy' - 'All the thing you are' - 'Lili Marlene' - 'Bluebirds flew over White Cliffs' and 'Nightingales sang in Berkeley Square'; We began the Beguine and were 'Alone on a Night meant for Love'; 'Stormy Weather' throbbed when we were not 'Together'. And we dressed up for dancing - even in the austere surroundings of our barracks - in the long dresses of chiffon and satin, velvet and taffeta, which were the fashion of the time. Of course romances flowered, despite a plaintive ruling which we received at one stage from Headquarters that there must be "no more couples in camp". Poor Miss Lister did her best, as did the Station Commander, but given the whole environment, this really was an impossible ruling to implement.

However, there was more to life at Silversands than beach parties and dances. Shifts could be very busy, for this was a period when much shipping was passing round the Cape. Sometimes during a five-hour shift there was no chance for a break to put on a kettle - even to pause long enough to hand over to the relieving shift was difficult. Often too much was happening on the screen to allow the set to be turned off for the routine morning maintenance and the technical staff would have to wait until we had 'Toc-Toc-Freddy'-ed the last track. To the best of my knowledge Silversands never picked up an enemy submarine, but on occasion some other stations did. The girls at Freddy were better informed than we were on the stations, since they saw the overall picture. But the need for secrecy cloaked a good deal of what happened and what news we received about the ships we read on, usually only reached us long afterwards, if at all.

Of course there were also shifts of sheer boredom when nothing came up on the screen, and then depression usually set in. Here we were, stuck out in the bundu, wasting months and years of our lives, growing older by the day, while out there the never-ending war dragged on, and it seemed normality would never return to life. One could hardly believe that one day husbands, brothers and boy friends would come back from the battle fields and the dreary soul-destroying prison camps. Some of us coped better than others with dismal empty hours. One shift companion I remember with amusement and affection is Doreen - known inevitably to all the men as 'Blondie' since she was golden-haired and curvaceous, with big china-blue eyes and a gorgeous gurgling laugh. She could keep up a never-ending flow of chatter and no matter how gloomy life seemed, it was lightened by her nonsense. I remember a conversation we had one night, when I was staring blankly at an empty screen and the phones were silent. Doreen, busily making coffee, announced a propos of nothing: "If there's one thing I cannot stand about a man, it's seeing him in his shirt tails". This startling comment, breaking the silence of the night, shook me out of my black mood, and I listened fascinated as she held forth about love and marriage and how she knew these would be irrevocably ruined for her if some hypothetical future husband were ever to walk around the bedroom with shirt-tails flapping over hairy legs and knobbly knees ... But my real laugh came a few months later, by which time both Doreen and I had transferred to other stations, when she wrote me a delightfully happy letter, in green ink, telling how she had recently met an RAF pilot and they were soon getting married.

Dodo, who more than any of us at Silversands, had a strong social conscience, and an understanding of the wider South African scene, was concerned about the lonely lot of the handful of Africans who worked at the station as cleaning staff, or, armed with knobkerries or assegais, as guards. With the approval of the OC and the Station Commander, she started a little school, and when off-duty times could be co-ordinated, she and I and one or two others tried to give some very simple teaching to these men, most of whom were illiterate. However, much to our indignation, this undertaking was frowned upon by Headquarters and we were instructed to stop.

One dark morning in June, as I was tracking a small vessel battling its way across False Bay, an excited voice called out from Freddy: "101! Hullo 101! The Allied forces have landed on the Normandy coast. The invasion has started!" At last the end seemed in sight, and one could visualize home-comings and happy endings and perhaps new beginnings.

This article was published in Elektron - February 1990

South African Military History Society /