Hendrik van der Bijl Primary School

I was very pleased to hear from Margaret Nel van Heerden, the daughter of  the late Mr A.S. Nel, headmaster at the Hendrik Van der Bijl Primary School in Vanderbijlpark in the 1950s. Margaret is a distinguished visual artist and lives in Pretoria. Her article about the school reads as follows:Hendrik Van der Bijl Margaret Nel

Margaret Nel – aged 8.

I read your article Vanderbijl Park: Early Fifties with a great deal of interest. I am  Margaret Nel, daughter of the first principal of Hendrik  van der Bijl Primary School, Mr AS Nel, not a Hollander or “Dutchman” but a highly qualified South African (BA, MA, BEd, MEd, BCom, BEcon), very well regarded by both the staff, parents and pupils of the school. Both he and my mother came from conservative Nationalist Afrikaner farming families. Both were fully bilingual as am I.

My parents had spent some time in the UK  a few years before World War Two.  My father was an exchange teacher in London and was sent at short notice to different schools, mostly in very poor areas, when one of the teachers was absent for some reason. This experience gave him a better understanding of the backgrounds of his pupils whose parents left after the war and settled in South Africa hoping for a better future for their children. He always believed that any child, no matter what his culture,background, or creed could make a success of his/her life if given a fair chance.

Hendrik VanderBijl School (1953)

Hendrik VanderBijl School (1953)

Hendrik vdByl badge

I attended the Hendrik Van der Bijl School from 1951 to 1957. My mother, whose name was also Margaret, was my Grade 1 teacher before she went to Oliver Lodge Primary School and later to Vaal High School. The headmaster at the Vaal High was Mr Thomas whose two daughters, Brenda and Sally, attended Hendrik van der Bijl School during the same period.

I am also left handed but my mother’s attitude was that I lived in a right handed world and taught me to  sew, knit, crochet and cut with a pair of scissors with my right hand. I write with my left hand however and remember left handed children in the school class being made to sit next to each other at a desk to prevent accidentally bumping the hand doing the writing.

My father was a keen sportsman who coached school cricket, rugby and athletics in addition to his duties as head master.

Athletics Team

Athletics Team

Names in the Athletics' photo

Names in the Athletics’ photo

The names of many of the children mentioned in your articles are familiar to me. Bridget (Biddy) Lawrence was the younger daughter of my family’s GP who lived for some time opposite the headmaster’s house, which was located almost next to the school. One of my best friends was Stephanie (Steffie) Daniel, younger sister of Joy. Other children who were in your Standard 3 class and whose names you may recognize are Kathleen Richardson, Geraldine Black, twins Walter and Jackie McGuicken, Darryl Pile, older brother of my best friend Jennifer Pile, Michael Beisly, who died of leukemia in 1956, Merle Aronstam, whose family owned the local hotel and Jennifer Forbes.

Hendrik Van der Bijl Staff

English and Afrikaans staff at Hendrik Van der Bijl School (1952)

The end of year concerts that you mention were enormous fun even though at primary school level no auditions were really considered necessary.  Mothers and teachers made the costumes while my father,  who painted (rather badly, as he had no training) as a hobby, supervised the construction of the sets. The Standard 5 teacher Frances Bird, usually wrote the script if it was an English play, often a version of a fairy tale such as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. Every year we would go to Johannesburg to a shop called Carnival Novelties to buy stage makeup and false hair for the wigs and beards. Needless to say, as the headmaster’s daughter, I only ever had a very small part and was never selected for a leading role as that would have been considered favouritism. After the final evening performance, all the staff members who were involved with the concert gathered at our house for refreshments while the children of the teachers played Blind Man’s Buff in the dark on my double bunk bed.

His Majesty’s Theatre, Commissioner Street.His Majesty's Theatre

We often visited Johannesburg as it was the only place where we could access book shops and go to the theatre. Ballet performances were always held at His Majesty’s Theatre, with the corps de ballet selected from local dancers while principals were always imported from Sadlers Wells. The library had a small theatre below ground level where Children’s Theatre productions were performed. A visit to Joubert Park and the National Art Museum near Park Station were always included on our visits. We didn’t have a car so traveled to Jo’burg in the red railway buses and stayed at the Victoria Hotel for the weekend. We often went to the East AfricanPavilion for curry or to the wonderful restaurant within Park Station where one could also see the massive Pierneef paintings.

Standard 2 class (1952)Hendrik Van der Bijl Standard 2dHendrik Van der Bijl Standard 2c

Children in Standard 2 (Afrikaans)

Children in Standard 2 (Afrikaans)

Standard 2 Afrikaans class (1952)

Standard 2 Afrikaans class (1952)

 

Names of Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Names of Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

I have all the photographs of the school buildings and of the primary school class  included in your articles. As a year end gift for my father, his staff compiled a photograph album of all the classes, both English and Afrikaans of that particular year, as well as photographs and programs of the concert which was held every year at the Iscor Recreation Centre quite close to the school, and also of school sporting events. These albums, seven in total, dating from 1951 to 1957, with every child’s name inscribed under the class photograph, are very precious to me, as they are the only record of a very special period of my life. Many of the teachers, including Joyce McFadyen, whose daughter Dawn was one of my friends, Mrs Hicks, whose two children Muriel (who was in your class) and Edwin also attended the school, Mrs Erasmus, my Standard 3  teacher, and Irmgard Verhoop, the sewing teacher, who was German and whose husband Daan was Dutch, were all family friends as well as colleagues of my parents. The Verhoops were good people, their daughter Mareliese and I great friends although she was a year younger. Mrs Verhoop studied in Germany before the war and a great treat for us was when she took out all her beautifully sewn and embroidered handwork which she had completed for her exams.

Some members of staff off-duty!Hendrik Van der Bijl Staff off duty

Because we lived in a government house next to the school I was friends with children from various cultures living in the neighborhood, from very very poor Afrikaans children who were originally part of farming communities and whose parents couldn’t afford school clothes,  to immigrant children, and children who lived in more affluent suburbs, albeit many of these in very modest homes. Almost all their fathers were connected to Iscor in some way, either at management or blue collar level. My earliest friends were Afrikaans children who lived in small pre-war houses in the same street, while also being taken by my parents to visit the luxurious riverside home of Mrs Erasmus, the Standard 3 teacher whose husband was a manager at Iscor.

My parents were acutely aware of possible family problems affecting the immigrant children whose fathers were employed by Iscor and Vecor and who came from the UK, from war-torn Europe, and Hungarians  after the occupation of Hungary by Russia in 1956. There was no effective social network for these people to make up for their absent family members and friends.

The Nationalist Party came to power in the 1948 general election  and decided  to do away with parallel or dual medium schools. My parents together with the proactive  Parent-Teacher Association were appalled by this retrogressive move and in 1956/57 decided to take the State to court in an attempt to retain the status quo of the school so that  children would continue to be educated in the language of their parents’ choice while both language groups remained free to play together at break and practise sport together on the sports fields. The State lost the court case and there was much jubilation amongst many parents and teachers. The staunch Nationalists were extremely unhappy with this outcome so the State appealed the case in 1957. This time the verdict went in favour of the State and against the School. It was a sad day for everyone connected with the school, especially for my own family, as my parents were much loved and respected by the community. My father was forced to resign his post and we moved to Swaziland where he took up the post of headmaster at the Evelyn Baring High School. From 1958 the Hendrik Van der Bijl school became a single medium Afrikaans school with the vice headmaster, Mr Schroeder becoming headmaster of the school in my father’s place. When my mother died just over three years later, my father and I  returned to the Transvaal, where he taught Mathematics at a Pretoria high school and later at Jeppe Boys High, where Haldane Hofmeyer was headmaster.

Because of my parents’ public opposition to the policies of the Nationalist Party I was given a place at the then politically progressive girls’ high school in Johannesburg, Kingsmead College. The daughters of the political activist Braam Fischer, and Helen Suzman’s nieces attended Kingsmead, as did Nadine Gordimer’s daughters some years later. My father was amongst the few brave people during the era of Grand Apartheid who stood up for what he believed in despite possible dire consequences. Most people simply went along with the system essentially knowing that it was wrong.

Later, as a mark of protest towards the government of the day, we spoke only English at home and all my friends were English speaking children from the neighborhood as well as from the suburbs nearer the Vaal river. Having such a wide circle of friends was beneficial to me for I have an understanding and empathy for people from different backgrounds and can easily accommodate myself when meeting people from areas as divergent as Houghton and Saxonwold to Pretoria West and Capital Park.

I have visited the school twice, the last time with my daughter about eight or ten years ago. The area is still essentially a poor white area, but the school, which became a prosperous Afrikaans-only institution and acquired a state funded school hall, administration block and swimming pool after we left, is now again, ironically, a dual medium school. This time it caters for a minority of white Afrikaans speaking pupils remaining whose parents wanted them to complete their schooling there before going to high school, and the majority of black pupils who were taught in English despite their native vernacular being a black language such as Sesutu. Sadly the buildings and grounds had deteriorated badly, the swimming pool unused and empty.  I suspect that it now enrolls only black pupils.

My father fought for equality and friendship amongst the two predominant white cultures. Never in his wildest imagination could he have foreseen the path the school would follow after he left.

Margaret Nel van Heerden

Read more about appeal at:Hendrik Van der Bijl School appeal

Resolution of the committee of Hendrik Van der Bijl School

www.margaretnel.com and www.art.co.za/margaretnel

 

 

Scarlet Fever in Glasgow and Immigration to South Africa

Early beginnings

My mother was forty-two when I was born in a maternity hospital in Balshagray Road, Knightswood, Glasgow in the middle of World War 2. Some years before I was born my mother gave birth to a son who survived for only a few hours, so.I was an only child. My first home was in Manor Road, Old Drumchapel, a pleasant mock tudor semi, with a fair-sized garden.

Manor Road, Old Drumchapel, Glasgow

I have no memory of  how the war affected me, although my parents shared stories with me as I grew up. Mrs Agnes Woodhead was our neighbour in Old Drumchapel. She had a little girl, Annette who was six years older than me. Mrs Woodhead’s husband and younger brother served in the home guard. On the night of the big German raid on Clydebank both were killed. My parents kept in touch with Agnes for many years, and I was delighted to meet her in 1990, still living in the same house in Manor Road forty-seven years after my birth. She married a Welsh cabinet maker some years after the war and became Agnes Harper. She had a second daughter, Moira who married Sandy. They in turn had two delightful daughters. When I visited them all in Glasgow they made me feel very welcome. After many moves in my life, it was good to think there was a family living in the same place who still remembered my birth and had fond memories of my parents.

Annette Woodhead (Wallace) aged 6.

Annette Woodhead (Wallace) aged 6.

I often wish we had stayed in my home country. I felt at ease there, as though I belonged. For the first five years of my life I had the same accent as everyone else. I was surrounded by loving parents, maternal grandparents, aunts and uncles, who referred to me admiringly as “wee Jean”. We had a player-piano at our home Sunnyhurst, 3 Southview Terrace, Bishopbriggs, and I soon learnt to put the different piano rolls into it and do a fair performance of playing it to the amazement of passers-by who heard the music and thought there was a child genius seated at the piano.

Next door to Sunnyhurst lived a delightful old widow, Mrs Renfrew. I remember visiting her on my own and playing all kinds of games with her. My mother recalled going in to her house to fetch me to find us both jumping from the couch on to cushions on the floor! There was a hard winter in 1947 with bad weather and rigorous food-rationing which continued after the war. I distinctly remember sausages composed of far more bread than meat, and tastier rabbit stews.

My maternal grandparents came to stay with us and we moved to another house called Quarryknowe in Kirkintilloch Road, also in Bishopbriggs. Perhaps it was a bigger house to accommodate my grandparents. Like Sunnyhurst it was a bungalow with a nice garden. My father had smooth white stones known as chuckies put on the path leading to the front door. My father worked as an insurance agent for the Cooperative Insurance company after the war ended. I remember he had a fine oak bureau in one of the rooms at Quarryknowe. He sat long into the night working on his insurance books.

Kirkintilloch Road, Bishopbriggs.

Kirkintilloch Road, Bishopbriggs.

I started school in Bishopbriggs when I was four and was quite happy there for a month or two. There was a scarlet fever epidemic and I had hardly been at school for very long before I caught it. My secure world changed in an instant. I remember the doctor visiting, the ambulance arriving, the ambulance men wrapping me in a rough grey blanket and taking me from the warmth and comfort of my home, parents and grandparents to the isolation of the fever hospital, Ruchill, where I remained for six weeks. Perhaps I was delirious but I can’t remember my mother telling me how long I would have to stay in hospital or that they would not be allowed to visit me for all the time I was there. I have found photographs of Ruchill on the Internet. It was a fine building when I was there, with well-tended grounds. Now it is abandoned and in a state of advanced decay like so many other buildings in Scotland which are no longer in use.

I was placed in an old-fashioned ward with about thirty other children, all of whom must have been in various stages of scarlet fever. The nurses wore starched white uniforms and little starched caps. The senior nurses had long white head-dresses covering the nape of their necks. I was in tears, longing for my mother. A young nurse came to my high bed and tried to console me.

“I want to go home. When can I go home? I want my mummy.”

“You have to stay in hospital so we can make you better,” the young nurse replied brightly.

I must have gone on like this for hours, for eventually she said, perhaps in despair, “If you’re a good wee girl and go to sleep maybe you’ll go home in the morning.”

I must have settled down after that, but I soon found out that she had made a false promise. I was devastated to find out that I wasn’t going to go home tomorrow, nor the next day, nor even the following week.

As we were all infectious nobody except the hospital staff was allowed in the ward, but there was a sort of viewing area, where parents could look through a window and wave at their offspring. My parents didn’t come. They told me later that they thought a visit under such circumstances would upset me. In due course I received toys from them, but these had to be left behind in the toy room of the hospital so that I would not carry the germs back to the outside world.

Every morning each child received a cup of hot strong tea handed round by the children who were recovering from the illness and would soon be returning home. Generally the ward was a cheerful place once we got over the acute symptoms of the fever and our home sickness. I dare say some of the children were very ill. Some may even have died, but I don’t remember anything like that happening. I do remember snatches of the songs we used to sing lustily, something like, “I caught the scarlet fever, they put me in my bed, they wrapped me up in blankets and took me off to Ruchill…” Quite recently, thanks to the wonder of the internet, Morag in Canada sent me the words to the song which has lingered in my memory for such a long time. It goes something like this,

When I had scarlet fever it nearly drove me mad,
They wrapped me up in blankets and put me in the cab,
When I got to Ruchill I was really glad, they only took my temperature,
and said I wasn’t bad.
I go home on Friday morning,
I go home at half past nine,
Say goodbye to the dear old doctor,
Tell him I can stay no longer,
Goodbye doctor, goodbye nurse,
Goodbye all you sulky patients,
Ho ho ho, home I go,
Friday morning home I go!!!

What a pity I don’t remember the tune!  We seemed to remain in bed for a long time. No thoughts of deep vein thrombosis in those days! The first day I was allowed out of bed left me feeling weak and light-headed. I could barely stand. Once I regained my strength I was allowed to go to the toy room and play with some of the other children. I made some protest at having to leave my newly-acquired toys there when it was time to go home.

Ruchill Hospital, now derelict and abandoned – quite unlike the pristine building I remember.

Eventually the day for leaving hospital arrived. I remember going home in the ambulance with a few other children. It was a sunny day. The grounds of the hospital were large and well cultivated. I felt strange and sad at home with my parents, hardly able to tell my mother that I needed to go to the bathroom because I felt so shy. I missed all the cheerful friends I had made in the big ward, the sing-songs and the camaraderie. My mother was horrified to discover that there were nits in my thick brown hair, possibly introduced by the nurse who combed each child’s hair with a communal comb and brush.

My grandma was still a lively handsome woman who enjoyed going out to the pictures and the variety theatres. She had lots of friends and when I look at the photographs of her as a young woman I see that I resembled her more than I ever resembled my small blue-eyed mother, who took after her father, my grandpa, Alec Kyle. He was a gentle kind man with faded blue eyes and a balding head. When he was in his late sixties he died of a heart attack on the tram on the way home after watching a football match. Somehow all this drama was kept from me, although my grandparents were living with us at the time. I can’t remember being told that he had died and I certainly was not allowed to attend his funeral, although I had loved him very much.

After his death my grandmother decided to go to live with a close friend in Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula of Argyle .After my grandmother moved to Dunoon, my parents decided it was time to leave the UK for warmer climes where food was not in short supply and I could regain my strength after my illness. My father was offered a contract with ISCOR (Iron and Steel Corporation) in Vanderbijlpark, on the Highveld of Transvaal, South Africa. The town centred on ISCOR and was dubbed “the planned industrial city” in the booklet they sent to my parents to help persuade them to settle there.

We went to Southampton and boarded  the Arundel Castle to South Africa. The ship had been used for military purposes during the war and was still fitted out as a troop ship, and still under the supervision of the British government rather than the Union Castle Line. It was only handed back to the Union Castle after a refit in 1949.  Women and children slept in cramped 4-berth cabins, while the men slept in the troop’s communal quarters. I may have been mistaken, but I’m sure I remember hammocks in the men’s quarters. My mother and I shared a cabin with another mother and daughter. The little girl was called Priscilla and was about the same age as me.  Priscilla and her parents were headed for a country to the north of South Africa – possibly Southern or Northern Rhodesia. It was so hot in the tropics that at night many passengers slept up on deck in deck chairs rather than in the stuffy cabins below deck.

Arundel Castle on which we sailed to Cape Town in 1948

On board the Arundel Castle with my friend, Priscilla. (1948)

We berthed in Cape Town and faced the long train journey of two days and a night to Johannesburg. How we reached Vanderbijlpark I do not remember. Perhaps ISCOR sent a bus to collect all the immigrants from the station. At the time they were employing skilled engineering staff from the UK when the country was still under the rule of the United Party, with General Smuts as the prime minister.

But shortly after we arrived an election was held and Smuts’ United Party government was unexpectedly defeated, to be replaced by the Nationalist Party with Doctor D.F. Malan as prime minister. The Nats were a predominantly Afrikaans party with no love for the British. Nearly fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war of 1898-1902 many Afrikaners still harboured bitter resentment against the British. The Afrikaners particularly deplored Britain’s “scorched earth” policy where Boer (farmer) women and children had been taken to concentration camps and had their farms burnt to the ground. These people had lived in isolation on large farms and were susceptible to all the infectious illnesses of the time. They were herded together in these camps, and many died as they had no resistance to these infections.  A significant number of Afrikaners had not wished to take part in World War 2 on the side of the Allies, but had far stronger leanings towards Hitler.

The Nat Government of 1948 opposed the idea of British workers immigrating to South Africa, fearing that they would vote for the predominantly United Party of Jan Smuts rather than the Nationalist Party, and would soon put the UP back in power once again. With this change of policy ISCOR began employing workers from Germany rather than from Britain. Most of the British and German employees at ISCOR had been soldiers in opposing armies only a few years earlier, so one might have imagined that they would not get along together. I don’t think this was the case. On the whole they got on very well on an individual level. It was only when the German émigrés were in a large group of fellow-countrymen and the beer was flowing freely that their wounded national pride rose to the surface and they often sang the Horst Wessel song, the anthem of the Nazi party from 1930 to 1945.

Most of our friends in Vanderbijl were fellow British immigrants. My father had gone to introduce himself to our Afrikaner neighbour in Hallwach Street. The gent had grown a long beard to mark the hundred and tenth anniversary of the Great Trek, and was cock-a-hoop that the Nationalist Party under Dr Malan had come to power at last. He told my father grimly, “Ek praat geen Engels nie,” (I don’t speak English) pouring cold water on my father’s friendly greeting.

Me and my little friend and his father.

Mary and me.

Although I had been at school in Scotland, I was not allowed to go to a government school until I turned six in 1949. My parents enrolled me in Grade 1 at the Holy Rosary Convent in Vanderbijlpark. I have dim memories of this small school, but I do remember the maroon uniform I wore and the very strict nun who marched round our classroom with a ruler in her hand while we recited our tables over and over again. The child who stumbled on an answer was rapped briskly over the knuckles with her ruler. We soon learnt our tables by this austere method and I still remember them  to this day, thanks to that formidable nun. Apparently the Holy Rosary sisters lived in a double-storey house in Faraday Boulevard but moved on to Vereeniging in the fifties. They were replaced by Irish Dominican sisters who built the present convent in Vanderbijl.

Living in Vanderbijlpark was rather like living in a mining community with everyone housed according to their importance in the company. The obsolete verse in “All things bright and beautiful” certainly applied to Vanderbijlpark in the early fifties and probably beyond: “The rich man in his palace, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.”

The blue collar workers lived in the town proper in streets like Hallwach Street, Parsons Street, Curie and Faraday Boulevards. The big yins lived to the south of the town near to the Vaal River, down the river or Nobhill, soon to be nicknamed Snobhill by those in the town. Most of the black workers lived in hostels or small houses in the black equivalent of Welwyn Garden City, Bophelong, Apparently Bophelong means ‘clean place’.

The following year my grandmother was taken ill, so my mother and I returned to Scotland, this time on board the Winchester Castle.

Return to Southampton on board the Winchester Castle

We lived in furnished rooms in Dunoon to be near to my granny. I attended yet another school, the Dunoon Grammar School. My grandmother taught me to knit, Scottish style with one knitting needle under my arm, and I remember picking out God Save the King by ear on the piano after hearing that King George VI was very ill. When my father returned to Scotland some months later, we moved to Blairbeth Road, Burnside, Rutherglen, south of Glasgow and I was sent to Burnside Junior School. It was here that I began my first piano lessons with a Miss Wright and where I had my first taste of ice cream – Walls Ice cream – quite delicious. I read Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories when it came out every week, and played with an older girl called Joan Dickson, one of the neighbour’s children. Her family had a heavy log cabin in their back garden with a heavy thick wooden door. I have a very distinct memory of my so-called friend banging my fingers in this door as she slammed it shut. My nails were black and blue for weeks afterwards.

Perhaps my father had to complete his three year contract with ISCOR for we returned to Vanderbijlpark in 1951, this time on board the Llanstephan Castle.

 

Returning to South Africa on board the Llanstephan Castle (1951)

This ship did not stop at Madeira as the others had done, but took an intermediate route, stopping at Las Palmas in Teneriffe, St Helena and Ascension Island. We settled at 21 Parsons Street and I was sent to yet another school, a parallel medium school called the Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School not far from our house. I was put into Mrs McFadjean’s Standard One class and faced yet another group of unknown class mates.

Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School in the 1940s.

 

Jean Collen

Updated 3 December 2015.

Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

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