Known by all and sundry as Clifford or Cliffie by those closer to him, he was never to be called Harry apart from on his birth certificate. Having never been close to him, the song “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics has resonance with me. An intensely quiet, introverted but humble person, he was not somebody that would readily admit other people into his life. This was the person who was my father.
Amongst the many abiding memories of my father was that I never ever engaged in a discussion with him. Blaine on the other hand would rise early and share coffee with him in the kitchen. Naturally Cheryl was the apple of his eye until there was a falling out when she reached puberty. At that point both our relationships with him were platonic with no love or affection displayed.
Main picture: During WW2 in Egypt
With my mother, Eunice Letitia McCleland – nee Dix-Peek – and my father being one of six children, one would have expected that the family reunions and get-togethers would be order of the day. Instead relations were seldom if ever visited and even many first cousins to this day have never been met or even their names being known.
I can however recall two instances where we did attend family gatherings. The one was on a hillock or perhaps more correctly a cliff overlooking the rocks pools below at Schoenmakerskop, a sparse settlement of two dozen houses about 12kms from Walmer. The late afternoon / evening meal was based upon the South African tradition of a braai [barbecue] together with copious helpings of spanspek – melon.
The other occasion was a beach sleep-over near Sardinia Bay where we traipsed a few kilometres along the coast towards Schoenmakerskop and pitched a camp for the night. I vividly recall having to carry a demijohn of fresh water for part of the way.
My father endured a tough upbringing. With his father dying before he was 10 years old, his mother, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland, had to provide for her young family. An elegant solution was at hand. With the construction of the coastal road from Summerstrand all the way past Willows to Schoenies as Schoenmakerskop was affectionately known, the populace of Port Elizabeth with their newly acquired Model T Ford cars needed a refreshment station en route. The Tea Lounge started by my gran became the salvation for both the weary Sunday travellers and the McCleland household.
This is when his enduring love of the sea and Schoenmakerskop in particular arose. It was a life-long love affair as resilient and comforting as a soul mate. Apart from taking the children to swim in the main gully every weekend come rain or sunshine, he would go there to fish every weekend. Its rocky shoreline formed part of his very being and gave it succour.
As a child he once nursed a sick penguin back to health. Like all animals out of their natural environment, it was soon killed by a fellow animal.
Naturally the three girls – Thelma, Maureen and Kathleen – were drafted as waiters and probably the 3 boys – Clifford, Bryce and Francis – assisted with other chores. With money being tight, dad had to attend an orphanage. The cheapest available was in Alexandria, far from the warm welcoming family home in Schoenmakerskop. The distance was not the major objection. Rather it was the fact that it was an Afrikaans establishment. Being the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War, English speakers – souties – were not welcome at the school. This ostricisation and bullying culminated in a life-long antipathy towards the Afrikaner. He never spoke with any level of endearment about his experience.
Bryce being four years younger than my dad, never had to attend this school. As the proverbial laat lammertjie he was kept at home. In a tragic event, Francis was killed. Going to investigate a noise at the dead of night armed with a gun, in an ensuing scuffle, he was fatally shot and killed. The perpetrator was never apprehended nor punished.
Like many South African men, he felt duty bound to support the British in their fight against Nazi aggression. He signed up and was duly posted to the artillery at Potchefstroom and became an artificer. His war service was spent in Egypt and Libya.
Surprisingly he never spoke ill of the war nor did he appear to have suffered any negative effects such as PTSS. Unlike many returning servicemen, he never attended any reunions but did occasionally did contact one by the name of Goff Wilson.
The only socialising that he did was to go fishing with his brother Bryce every Saturday and Sunday morning. The catches were minimal but occasionally they would trespass onto a fish sanctuary and spear for soul.
Apart from visiting his mother religiously every Sunday, contact between him and the rest of the family especially on the distaff side was minimal.
A quiet reserved person, he did not easily socialise with other people.
For most of his working life, he worked for a small building contractor, Ruddy and Sons first as a carpenter and then as a site foreman.
In his mid-sixties he was diagnosed with colon cancer. This eventuated in having collar rectal surgery but ultimately it metastasised and spread rapidly throughout his system.
When I received news that he was in a critical condition, I flew down that day to Port Elizabeth and went straight to the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital where he died one hour later.
That is why the song “The Living Years” resonates with me. We might have lived in the same house for 27 years but I can honestly claim that we were like ships in the night passing one another without acknowledging one another’s existence.
It only now, in my sixties, that the tragedy of such a sterile stillborn relationship is felt.
Just like Mike Rutherford I yearn to have been able to connect with him during his living years.
Now it is too late.
Far too late.
- Date of birth: 15th September 1911 in Uitenhage
- Fought in Egypt & Libya during WW2 in the artillery as an artificer
- Married: 21st June 1952 to Eunice Letitia Dix-Peek
- Dean Frederick McCleland – born 30th May 1953
- Cheryl Joy McCleland – born 18th January 1955
- Blaine Farrington McCleland – born 14th March 1957
- Died: 2nd June 1983 of bowel cancer
Blaine recalling early morning coffee and fishing
Unfortunately for my Dad, Dean and I never took to fishing, probably to his lasting regret. I did go out a number of times on early morning fishing jaunts – mainly to Schoenies. I guess, given the age differences between us, you guys had moved on to other things as I don’t remember you there. The adventure of going out early in the morning when the rest of the world was abed was always indescribable to me. I wouldn’t fish with them but would potter around in the gullies poking at things or I would just sit quietly and absorb the chilly solitude surrounded by the crashing waves.
My Dad and Uncle Bryce must have had quite a special bond as they went fishing so often together and hardly said a word to each other. I suppose it was just a temporary escape from reality where they could be one with the sea that they both loved. It wasn’t for the fish. It was a standing joke when 9 times out of 10 Dad came home with nothing. I think Uncle Bryce was a more adventurous fisherman and would sometimes go fish elsewhere and perhaps he caught stuff there, but with my Dad it was always somewhere along the coast between Schoenies and Cape Recife where they caught zip.
You mentioned your early morning coffee before you fishing trips. Today, modern parents keep their kids away from coffee for as long as they can. Ours thought nothing of introducing us to a strong jolt of boere troos at a young age. My Dad and I ended up with an early morning ritual. He would wake me up every morning before 6 and I would watch him make the coffee. He would brew the grounds coffee an enamel coffee pot directly on the stove. When it was ready he would take it off and put one of those triangular pots (the ones where 3 can fit on one plate)on the hot plate. When the milk boiled and a dome of milk started rising, he would pour the coffee in through a strainer and collapse the bubble. There were no filters where coffee was dripped through at the ideal temperature or fancy Italian expresso makers but that coffee was precisely made and was the best. It was exceptionally creamy, sweat and strong – it sure put hair on my chest. We never slathered the Marmite on but we dunked soldiers of buttered bread into it and both slurped on them. When they were finished, the coffee would still be hot but manageable if we slurped sips which we did loudly, ending each one with an aahhh. This drinking ritual was as precise and repeatable as a Japanese tea ceremony. This was our solitude time and lasted until 6:30 when the rest of the house would slowly stir awake.
Barry McCleland recalling early morning coffee and fishing
Dad [Bryce Beckley McCleland] and Clifford were very keen fishermen and whenever Dad was not working over a weekend, Uncle Cliff would be at our house in Fordyce Road at 4am and we’d all sit in the kitchen having a cup of percolated coffee and a thick slice of bread smothered with Marmite before driving to the chosen fishing spot
Graham and I would often join Dad and Cliff on the fishing trip to Skoenies and at some stage Uncle Cliff made me a wooden chest. I can’t remember the reason for him making this for me but I’ve always stored my paraphernalia in it and I also brought this to America when I relocated. And I still have it in my garage as well……more than 50 years old and still going strong!
An assortment of photos of Clifford McCleland