As his life wound down but before the candle of his life guttered and fizzled out, Norman Lovemore “decided to amuse myself by rambling amongst the many memories which haunt [ed him]”. In 1982 in the twilight of his life, he set out on a new adventure, a journey to record the highways and byways of his interesting life for posterity. The only detours that he made was to knowingly exclude those parts of this journey of which he was ashamed.
In using Norman Lovemore’s transcribed reminiscences, I have largely retained the original script but have detoured to improve readability and have often converted the first person into the third person. I have also taken the liberty to improve his grammar and vocabulary where required. In all other respects I have been faithful to Norman’s original text.
Main picture: Norman Lovemore as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during WW1
As this memoir was ostensibly written as a method of communicating his life story to his descendants, Norman does not dwell too much on his ancestors. Rather he assumed that the history of this well-known Port Elizabeth family, which resided at Bushy Park, did not require any introduction.
In his verbal autobiography, recorded on tape and subsequently transcribed, Norman does not elaborate on his ancestors suffice it to say that his great grandfather, Henry, settled at Bushy Park farm, close to Port Elizabeth, in 1820, having got a passage for his wife and family in one of the Settler ships. His son Charles later married and produced a family of 12, who are now scattered over Southern Africa.
Norman’s father, Charles, born in 1862, chose Barberton as a “landing site”. Earlier, he had relocated to Johannesburg, where his brother Walter resided. Walter declared, “You must go to Barberton. There’s no gold here in Johannesburg.” Little did he know then what was to eventuate. And so, Charles relocated to Barberton in about 1886.
Barberton was founded in 1884 and became the capital of the De Kaap Gold Field. It reached its zenith two years later when it consisted of about 8,000 whites, with numerous shops and saloons as well as two stock exchanges. Mining activity comprised mostly alluvial diggings, and with the discovery of the Sheba Reef in 1886, mine after mine was started and many men, who later became magnates, commenced their careers there. Charles was then about 24 years of age and later in life he would often speak of Percy Fitzpatrick and H.L. Hall as associates in those early days – both earning their living as transport riders. Wool Sampson was another who was sniffing around for opportunities.
Norman’s father Charles did not join in the gold digging which had caused a stampede of fortune hunters to Barberton. Having qualified as an attorney, he soon discovered that there was sufficient legal work to make a living instead of being compelled to enter the back-breaking gold mining activities.
It was in Barberton that Charles met his future wife, Constance Raw, when she was staying with her elder sister, Harriet, and her husband, Tom Savoury. Tom had married Harriet in Durban, and later they had trekked up to Barberton by ox wagon, bringing their small children with them. Constance went as a companion to her sister and to assist her with the children on the journey.
Charles was already practicing as a lawyer when he met Constance. They were married in 1890 and went to live in Bremersdorp. His work was mostly in connection with concessions from Mbandini, the Swazi king. The price of a concession was 50 golden sovereigns and a case of “square-face” gin. Any person who had a brainwave however specious or superficially plausible could approach the king’s indunas and request a concession over, say, saloons, which were then much in demand, or minerals or even to run brothels or pubs. Then old A.M. Miller (Allister MacIntosh Miller, also known as “Mahala”, meaning “to write”), the king’s secretary, would write it up for them officially, because, of course, no Swazis in that era were able to write, as there were no schools.
In the case of mineral concessions, so many were awarded that the claims eventually overlapped. As a consequence, this led to such confusion as ultimately it was discovered that the country had literally been sold two or three times over.
At this point the British appointed a commission to regularise the position and get it in order. Simultaneously Norman’s father, Charles, settled in Bremersdorp. These were very unsettled times with everyone fighting over developments, so Charles was based in the ideal location and did very well as a lawyer.
Escape from the marauding Boers
Constance gave birth to Marge in 1892 in Durban, Bob in 1894 in Bremersdorp and finally Norman was born in 1895 in Durban. The family lived in Bremersdorp [now Manzini] from 1894 to 1899, in a house named Langdon, built by Charles himself. Being only a few years old at that time Norman cannot recall much of these days, but this idyll was to be rudely shattered when one day a man came galloping into Bremersdorp with calamitous news that a Boer commando was en route intent on interning them. The family had to make a quick getaway. Charles rushed around and hired a wagon with a span of oxen and two Swazis to drive it.
By that time Miss Davis had joined the children as their governess, so there were six people to be catered for. By luck, Charles had twenty golden sovereigns in his office. He put them into a leather sovereign-belt, which Constance wore under her dress around her waist. For safety purposes, Charles owned an old Service revolver which he took with him even though he had never fired it in his life.
They only had several hours to pack. In a mad rush, they simply loaded everybody onto the wagon, as well as frantically grabbing bedding, clothes and food that was readily available, and then set off. The wagon was not a “covered wagon” like the pioneers used in America. It was merely a platform with a buck sail. It was on this uncomfortable contraption that they trekked through the unspoilt virgin Bushveld to Delagoa Bay. The wildlife was evidently very plentiful, as it had not yet been shot out, but as Charles had only his unused revolver, so there was no shooting for the pot. En route there were not many native kraals and even less cattle as the Rinderpest had killed them off. As a result, there was practically no beef to purchase or barter for. All along the wide Usutu River, it was fever country. Malaria was prevalent everywhere halting the progress of the white settlers into this region.
For all that, this party of six was able to exchange a fowl for a box of matches and milk or maas, eggs and grain (Mabela, mealies and Imphi) from the sparse kraals that they passed through. Being extremely young, Norman’s recollection is like shards of glass strewn over a large area able to recall fragments. Overall, he can only ever remember trekking through long brown grass and thick thorn bush. Even much later, there were not many kraals, only beehive grass huts surrounded by a stockade, with the cattle barricaded within the enclosure. It goes without saying but the king’s kraals were much more extensive, comprising several hundred huts.
Faced with the imminent prospect of capture, they were under relentless pressure to press on without respite as they were unaware whether the Boers would catch them. Due both to the rugged undeveloped nature of the countryside, and the slow-moving wagon, they could only have travelled about twenty miles a day, whereas they would have been much faster, on horseback. Initially it was open riding country. However, from Bremersdorp down to Big Ben, which was in thick Bushveld, it was slower going. They simply had to follow any track that there was and carry on as best as they were able to. The journey to Delagoa Bay must have taken about a month and were able to complete their journey with any tragic incidents either in the form of encounters with the Boers or wild animals.
From Delagoa Bay they sailed to Durban by boat, and, for want of any other accommodation, they crowded in with Constance at No. 110 St. Andrew’s Street.
The one incident that Norman can recall from this time was being bitten by a snake in St. Andrew’s Park. The children had gone with Miss Davis, their governess, to play in the Park. There was a railway line nearby and Norman remembers seeing a green engine with a red cross on it. To see it better, he climbed up a little knoll where he sat down. On attempting to put his hand on the ground, he accidently put his hand on a puffadder and received an awful bite on the side of my hand from which he very nearly did not survive. Norman yelled “Snake!” Snake! In a shrill voice. Miss Davis dashed across to him and courageously sucked the poison out of the bite and saving the young boy’s life as it was a large bite. They rushed him to hospital in a cab – a “growler” with one horse. Overnight the nurses in the hospital kept him awake and dosed him with brandy as there was no antidote available at that time as antitoxins were only developed years later by Fitzsimons, curator of the snake park in Port Elizabeth. Norman can remember very little of what happened in the hospital, but he does recall a skeleton hanging up on a hook and was terrified of it. Forever he was convinced that his siblings, Bob and Marge, had something to do with his terror. He speculates that they probably frightened the life out of him with it. He remembers being forced to stay awake but was very thankful to go home the next day.
Norman also remembers a Chinese shop in Durban with a small, sweet duck, standing on a green sword. He paid one penny for it. He ate the sweet duck and sold the green sword to Bob for one penny. In retrospect, this was a bone of contention for many years. (In later years they accused Norman of buying a piece of chewing gum and after chewing it well for days, selling it to Bob again- but he does not admit to that misdeed.)
They family resided in Durban for several, later moving down to Kokstad where his father had joined into a partnership with old Berning. They travelled down to Kokstad by Cape-cart and he remembers his abject terror when the cart tipped up when going through a dip in the road. Another exciting episode during that journey was the crossing the Umzimkulu River by means of a pontoon.
The reason for moving down to Kokstad was because two of Norman’s mother’s sisters resided there. They were Aunt Eff and Uncle Arthur and Aunt Em and Uncle Jack. They owned beautiful farms close to Kokstad and they were compelled to spend a lot of time on their farms until they could find their own home, which they managed to arrange after a while. They lived for two to three years in Kokstad and even went to school there. It was here that the Scott’s monkey chased Marge and eventually biting her on the behind.
Life after the Boer War
After the Boer War the family moved back to Mbabane travelling by train to Charlestown station and Volksrust and from there they travelled by wagon to Mbabane. They had various adventures whilst en route. The journey by wagon as far as Piet Retief was pleasant and relaxing due to the open nature of the countryside. That was to dramatically change when they encountered the Swazi rivers and mountainous country. This wagon was much more comfortable than the one in which they had used down to Delagoa Bay as it was half tented in front. They travelled in convoy with the Howes with Jimmy Howes being in charge of the two wagons. They also had three children too and a similar wagon. Constance privately complained that Jimmy Howes always used to pull up the wagons so that their wagon was sheltered by theirs.
On Christmas Day when they were almost on the border of Swaziland, they stopped to have their Christmas dinner. Suddenly one of the sudden storms sprang up. The Christmas dinner was cooked and had just been served on to the plates. Up came a howling gust of wind and down came the rain. The sail was blown off the wagon and the Christmas dinner was lost. They were camped in a hollow and a miniature flood came rushing down the hollow. Bob was the hero at that moment when he caught hold of the turkey as it rolled over and over down the road while Norman, coming behind Bob, saved several potatoes.
Crossing the rivers generated great excitement. There were large rivers that they had to cross – Nkwinpasi, Big Usutu, Little Usutu and the Nhlambanyati.
One of the major issues arising when crossing the river was attempting to keep the leading oxen fording the river by going straight across. By inclination they always wanted to follow the current downstream. As those rivers run fast and deep, it was a difficult job to ensure that the “voorloper” did not deviate off the drift. In this case, the “voorloper” was only about four foot high and neck deep in water so he could not do much. Mtola was the driver in charge and he had to oversee it all. If deviated off the drift, one could lose your wagon and probably some oxen too.
Norman could still recall Mtola once going down to the Usutu River to collect water in the kettle. Due to the rapidly flowing water, it was swept out of his hand. Only with a strenuous effort, did he manage to retrieve the kettle, but the lid was lost forever.
When the river was too deep, the oxen were compelled to swim and Mtola would urge them on with the whip to get them across. With remarkable skill and forbearance, Mtola had to force those animals to cross the river. They only experienced trouble once on that trek. That arose when the wagon overturned on the Mankaian range. By then they were in Swaziland and halfway to its capital, Mbabane. Fortunately, the wagon was not damaged due to the fact that those old wagons were extremely sturdily built. As such, they were capable of withstanding a terrible manhandling and mishandling. In this case, the wagon only tipped onto its side, making re-righting it simple. By using all the manpower available, the wagon was simply put it back onto its wheels and in no time at all, they were able to set off again. As there were no roads, horsemen scouted ahead searching for the tracks made by earlier wagon wheels.
Travelling like this was an absolute delight for the youngsters. Norman can still vividly remember the magic when he was on a moving vehicle looking up and seeing the clouds and moon apparently moving with them. They did travel at night as it saved the oxen by travelling in the cool of the night.
Norman recalled that “We finally got to Mbabane and my first memory is that our home there was a small cottage surrounded by gum trees with a garden and some deciduous fruit trees. It was built of green brick (unfired) and thatch. Someone had lived there before the Boer War and planted the fruit trees. We then moved over to “The Shed” among the gravel dumps of the Swazi Tin Mines. Dad bought it from the Tin Mines, and we loved it. It was a big wood and iron shed, with a large room (our living room) and a couple of other rooms. I remember Mother used to read the Bible to us and it always made me howl miserably. When they sang hymns, especially ”Now the day is over”, I used to howl loudly and they bad to shut me up, probably by giving me something to eat!
Dad had a span of donkeys at that time that he used to send up to Carolina to fetch supplies for us. We each had a donkey of our own. Bob‘s was called Teintjiebok and I remember that Teintjiebok got sick, so Bob used to take him out little bits of bread and other treats. When he recovered, Teintjiebok used to come to the door and “cry” for bread, with little squeaky ee-aws and we would call out to Bob, “Teintjiebok wants some food”, and Bob would go and collect something and give it to him.
In the summertime in the heavy rains, a spring would come up outside and leak through, making little canals which we kids loved. We sailed little paper boats on them! Having just returned to start [over] again after the Boer War, living must have been very primitive and difficult – but great fun for us.
We did not stay there very long. Dad had “Overdale” built to the north of Mbabane, about one and a half miles of Overdale was built with the corrugated iron from the Shed and lined with green brick. Later St. Clair, Marge and family built a house about 200 yards up the slope to the west of us. Both houses commanded a wonderful view across the valley to north and east, with the Ngwenya mountains in the north and the Mdimba mountains in the east as a backdrop.
Until they had Overdale, they would sit on paraffin boxes and upturned packing cases. They had left Bremersdorp in such a hurry to escape from the advancing Boers that they had left everything behind them and had simply fled within a few hours. When the Boers arrived, they burned everything.
After their escape they had received no news from Swaziland until they returned after the war. When they went back to have a look at their house at Bremersdorp, all that they found were the ruins of their house. While scratching about in the ash, the children found remains of what had been their possessions. It was especially sad for Constance who recalled all the effort and toil that she had endured to make this a home; now all gone. Subsequently, a commission was set up to compensate people for their losses. But when Norman’s father submitted a claim, they dismissed it with the words, “Oh no! You’re and Englishman!” Meanwhile claims were being submitted through Charles to the commission. In this manner, Charles was able to view these claims which often included the most inane and absurd items such as half a bottle of brandy. It must have rankled Charles that he received no compensation whereas others were reimbursed for even the inconsequential and mundane. Ultimately the family recovered nothing except for some of their silver cutlery which their Swazi cook had buried in the garden before the Boers had arrived and which he informed them about when they returned after the war. It was all intact and safe and was exactly still where he had buried it.
Norman continues: “Imagine how Mother had to cope in those early days after our return. Bob and I were naughty boys although Marge used to help Mother and tone us down a bit. Bob used to be into everything like a darned rat and often saved me from all sorts of trouble.
Long distance schooling
In about 1903 – I was about 9 and we were [staying] at Overdale. We started schooling at the little government school at Mbabane, run by a chap called Somerset Davis, where we went for a short time. Then we went to Mr. Warner. There were a few other children in Mbabane – the Millers (Mary, Sheik, Dave, Douglas, Donnie and Fiona) and the Perkins family (Crena and Desmond), all great friends of mine.
Our first proper school was Michaelhouse, at Balgowan in Natal. I was about 10 when I went [to school there] and Bob had been there for some time before I went. Dad took us on the long journey twice but afterwards Bob and I went on our own. Our luggage was sent off before we left, by transport wagon and train.
We set off from home on horseback at 4 am. Dad knew the country well and we rode along wagon tracks, through Mankaian (an administration post) and on to a shop, E.F. Baxter’s. He put us up and gave us dinner, bed and breakfast for 2/6d. each. He would give us hot chicken or goat, green mealies or potatoes and fruit. We slept in the store. On the next morning we were off again early, after sleeping soundly. I tell you those dinners were fine meals, when we were hungry and tired, having ridden all the first day, with only a couple of off-saddles on the way, to eat the padkos Mother had fixed up for us. I remember being so tired when we arrived at Baxter’s that I would just drop down on to the mealie sacks after having my plate of food and sleep like the dead until we were awake again at 4 am to continue our journey.
The journey entailed crossing four rivers which in the summertime could be roaring torrents – but it did not matter, we were quite happy in the roaring torrents! When Dad was with us, he swam a sedate breaststroke, while we just hit the water and lashed our way across. We would reach Piet Retief that evening – just a tiny village – and we would stop at some store or house where they would put us up – probably arranged by Dad.
Next morning again we would be off at 4 am. How I remember so well the smell of the burning manure (there was no wood for fires in Piet Retief) and the coffee being made before we left. It was jolly good, in big mugs. That evening we would reach Charlestown, Dad having loaded us on to the Zeederberg coach at Piet Retief, returning himself to Mbabane. At Charlestown we caught the train and arrived next morning at Balgowan, the station for Michaelhouse.
So, you can understand that it was not an easy journey and, apart from the fact that we hated the school, that was one extra reason why we finally left Michaelhouse and that was because Mother felt that I had been badly neglected, when I was sick with enteric.
At first Bob and I were in the same dormitory for the small boys. We were the first to go into The Bath early in the morning, when it was still dark. The other two dormitories for the medium-sized boys and the big boys would follow. Old Herbie Taylor was our prefect and when he shouted, “Bath!”, we would each grab our counterpane and run and if you got caught in the Bath by the next dormitory, you would be thoroughly ducked. The wind used to blow around that bath and it was icy cold. We would each grab our counterpane around us, when we got out, and run. We were like a lot of sheep. I was scared stiff of the big boys, especially Georgie Brown, who, to me, seemed a giant. I met him much later in France during the War, in the mess.
Someone came calling out, “Someone looking for Swazis!”, and it was Georgie Brown. He did not seem to be so big then and that was the end of Georgie Brown’s tyranny.
Being in the country, one would have thought that Michaelhouse would have the good fresh vegetables and been freer. But we were not allowed outside the school boundary except on Sunday afternoon when we had to wear our Etons. We were not allowed to swim without some responsible person there, but I tell you that the whole school would break up and go out into the veld on Sunday and we used to fall into the water in our Etons and swim in our clothes. Those dickies! They were like a little wet rag around our necks!
The Matron used to grab anyone who could sort of semi-sing, and Piggie Walters was the leader of the choir. We were singing a psalm one Sunday (we always had chapel and supper because it was a Church school) and in this psalm there was a break where another part started. But old Piggie forgot to break, and he sang on and we all sat and looked on – and old Hugh Jones (“Old Scabbie” to us, I might tell you) was so furious with us, that after chapel he gave us each three cuts – while Piggie got six – for being such a lot of fools. We thought it was a joke, but he did not.
You have no notion of the roughness of that school, in spite of all the masters being English-degreed men, with the Rev. Hugh Jones the Headmaster.
We were starved and we were always hungry. Our chief food was mealie–meal porridge for breakfast and samp or boiled mealies on the cob as a vegetable, with topside beef, cut in little squares and curried, for our midday meal. I have memories of always being hungry, unless Mother had sent us a hamper, which she did at intervals.
When I had been there about fifteen months, I became very ill. I can remember the matron saying that if l complained again of being sick, she would send me the Headmaster for a hiding. It turned out that I had enteric, and I was delirious a lot. When Mother heard how ill I was, she came to the school to see me (or to fetch the corpse?). She realised how rough it was. She stayed about a week, waiting for me to be well enough to travel home with her, to recuperate. She sat at the high table and she realised how badly we were fed, and made up her mind to tell Dad, and see to it that we would never go back there. Although the school was in the country, there were not vegetables, eggs or butter (except for the prefect at the head of the table who got a small pat of butter and occasionally gave one of the boys at the table a tiny bit of his butter for a treat). The food we ate was shocking in quality and quantity – and she was horrified at The Bath, which was a great big tank, chest-deep, full of cold water, covered in a big shed with wood slatted floor and sides and damned cold and draughty.
Mother always said I had been badly neglected when I was ill with enteric. I never went back to Michaelhouse, as I was away from school for three more months, and Bob only remained to finish that year.
In 1908 we changed schools and then went to Pretoria College. At first it was just a small school, set up by old Hope with a few English-degreed masters and an old Hollander. There was a bungalow for the boarding-house alongside the school, and the Headmaster had a house near the boarding-house. Our classes were in a hall adjoining the boarding-house. This was where the British prisoners were held during the Boer War. It was built up on piles and had a wooden floor with a trapdoor in it. Winston Churchill and others got down through the trapdoor and escaped. They lived in the foundations for a while and when all had quietened down, they got away one night. On the walls, a very historical map was drawn and used by the escapees which the Boers saw and greatly admired, never realising it was being used for escape routes. This school was at first called the Model School, later called Pretoria College, and still later called the Pretoria College High School for Boys.
When we arrived at Pretoria College, Bob and I went from the bungalow where we were to sleep, along the verandah to the Headmaster’ s house, and as we passed the dining room Bob looked in at the window and said, “Eggs!” We had never seen eggs at school before.
This was a much happier school for us, and we were able to go home for the short school holidays as it was an easier journey to and from Mbabane, than it had been when we were at Michaelhouse. The Headmaster was Mr. Aitcheson when we arrived, and Mr. Thomas had arrived before I left.
It was a much smaller school, about a hundred boys and more of a family affair. I was about twelve and they were building a new school opposite the site of where the Union Buildings were then being built. We moved to the new buildings (which are still there today) and both Bob and I loved the sport there. When Bob was 16, he was captain of the cricket team and a very good batsman and it was reported in the newspaper that he would play for South Africa – but of course the War stopped that. We both loved sport of all kinds and we had some wonderful times. I played cricket and rugby and enjoyed both.
I remember playing rugby at Trevena (we had no rugby fields of our own at that time) and there was a quince hedge surrounding the field, in full bearing. On the Sunday when we played there (and we had all been pinching the quinces wholesale) a native came along and caught one chap called Kelly, who had a clubfoot and so could not run like we others did. He took Kelly along to the owners and told them he had been stealing quinces. On Monday morning the whole school was called up and the footballers were all asked, “Did you steal some apples!”, one by one. When it came to my tum I replied “No, I took some quinces”, being very raw. The others were smarter, and they said, “No!” Kelly and I were each given three cuts in front of the whole school. The Headmaster must have been mad at my stupidity, and we were gated too. He did not say for how long we were to be gated, but after about two months when a friend came to take me and Bob out, the Headmaster replied that I could go as he had forgotten all about the whole thing.
At first, we travelled from Mbabane to Pretoria College and back by post cart and train. The post cart, a Zeederberg coach drawn by mules, used to pick up the mail and any passengers and go through about 100 miles from Mbabane to Breyten, the railhead latterly, via Carolina. They went by the main wagon route and stopped at Lochiel and Vlakfontein. They carried the mail in special Government canvas bags, tied at the top, and the tie was sealed with sealing-wax. The bags hung two on each side of the coach and the mail was carried in this way twice a week. From there it would
complete its journey to Johannesburg and Pretoria by train. They started at 4 o’clock in the morning from Mbabane and at Lochiel and Vlakfontein they would change the mules. They used a big span of fine, well-fed mules, and when they changed over the team, they had to have a boy holding each mule. Ben was in charge of the coach and he held the whip and the bugle. When the mules had been changed over, he would shout, “Los!”, and the mules would jump away at a gallop, so the boys had to move out of their way fast – and they travelled all the way as fast as they could. Ben was the driver. There were sometimes hold-ups on the journey – the most notorious of which was the Bank robbery of 1913 in which Ben was involved – but I will talk about that later.
This journey by post cart to and from school cost Dad £7.10s.0d. for each of us. We realised that he was now not too well off, having had to start all over again after the Boer War, and I remember we were discussing it lying in bed early one morning at home during the holidays, when we had a brainwave. We decided to tell Dad that if he bought us Humber bicycles, we would ride along the same route to Breyten and save the post cart trip. He agreed and it was in Pretoria that we bought the bicycles.
So, from then on, we rode to Breyten together and then went on by train to school. I was 11 and Bob 12 years old, and it was about 100 miles to Breyten railhead, along tracks made by wagons [as there were] no roads at all. We did this for about five years, four times a year. (when Bob left school, I used to ride alone to and from school. He persuaded Dad to let him leave although he had only half finished – it was really too soon).
We would leave Pretoria at night by train with our bikes in the guard’s van and arrive at Machadodorp at 4 am next morning, on our journey home for the holidays. Then the guard would push us and the bikes off on to the platform and we would get on to our bikes and start riding for home, straight away. We enjoyed the ride no end. On one occasion I remember, going back to school, Bob and I were having an argument as we rode along. Bob was much stronger and more robust than I (I think the enteric had pulled me down, perhaps) and he stormed off ahead of me. The wind was blowing strongly, and I would not increase my speed to keep up with him. He was tearing downwind, down a long hill far ahead of me – and suddenly I saw a large cloud of dust – he had bitten the dust! When I caught up with him, l felt a bit more amiable and saw he had gravel-rashes on his arms and legs. He looked a bit sorry for himself and our row was over – but two days later when he went to the matron and said he could not sleep on his side and she called the doctor, it was discovered that he had a broken collarbone. He would not own up that he had torpedoed himself and had ridden at least 60 miles in pain, after breaking it! He was not able to play sport until it had knit itself again.
I was at Potch for three years, in Mr. Hope’s house, and I stayed at school for the short holidays. The Hopes got me to do odd jobs for them like looking after the pumps, the grounds, and other things. By that time, I was playing for the first team soccer and cricket and doing well at athletics and was captain of all these teams. As Head Prefect I was the school boss and was given a lot of responsibility treating me almost as a junior master. Despite being expected to pass, I failed my Matric, but I got a University pass. We had to pass every subject for Matric, no matter what aggregate we got, and I failed my best subject, History, because we learnt only World History and that year, 1913, all the Matric questions were on South African history!
The British Government had handed over control in 1910 in the form of the establishment of the Union. South African history at once became all-important, to the exclusion of world History.
Norman continues: “I left school in 1913 and was darned glad to leave although my last year at school was good because, of course, I was of some importance by then. I believe I am the oldest “Old Boy” of Pretoria College and of Potchefstroom College and the oldest Lovemore alive now.
At first, I worked for Dad in Mbabane in his office, just doing clerical work copying letters and accounts. I still got a bit of tennis, but it was seldom that we arrange a cricket team. Piet Retief was about the nearest place to us in Mbabane, but it was darned long way round there.
Joining to fight the rebels
We used to go hunting when we could. On one occasion Cyp Taylor and I went off into the Bushveld and while we were away the War broke out in July 1914. The Rebellion had started. At once S.A.C. and we young chaps joined up together. Old Nicholson, our officer, arranged to take us as the Swaziland troop; about 30 of us. Bob joined us in Johannesburg. We rode our horses up to Breyten (about a hundred miles) and I.L.H. then took over our horses and re-equipped us. They had no accommodation for us, so they housed us in the sheep-pens at the Show Grounds, and we were fed in the Exhibition Hall. We were there only about two days, being “equipped”, and it was an amusing army. When I went in to see the Quartermaster, he said, “What can l do for you?” I said, “I want a shirt”. “No shirts”, he replied, “But I will put your name down for one”. “A helmet?” “No helmets, but I’ll put your name down for one”. “A pair of riding pants?” This time he produced a pair for a giant. I stepped right out again after trying them on. We carried on in our own clothes and went off the Rebellion in our civilian clothes and were given no training to speak of. We had one parade when we learnt signals; a shaking fist meant “gallop”. This was to be my only training. Not even at school had I had [received] any cadet instruction although I had been a bugler at Michaelhouse.
From Johannesburg we went down towards the coast. In the middle of the night the train stopped, and a chap came running down the train shouting, “Stand to arms!” Most of us just stumbled, half asleep, out of the train, on to an embankment, and lost our rifles – all a complete shamble. It was an exercise and part of our training!
From there we went to De Aar, then up to the end of the line to Upington and to Kakamas and on to engage in a few minor excursions.
Maritz was the General in charge of the Northern Cape and he went over to the Germans – a renegade. When this happened quite a lot of Defence Force deserted him, and they joined us. There I met Albert Millin, a great friend afterwards in Mbabane, where he practiced as a lawyer.
The Germans and the renegades barred our way on one occasion. They had occupied the koppies, so we had to charge them on foot across open flat country. Bob got wounded there, but before that happened, he took about ten prisoners. We went up the koppies with Bob rushing into the lead at once. He was bloodthirsty and an absolute fire eater as a young chap! He [confronted] a bunch of rebels and shouted, “Hands up!” And they [put their] hands up! I had been deputed to hold the horses, and when Bob came down, marching his prisoners single-handedly, I could not believe my eyes. As I had seen them approaching, I had thought I would have to sell my life dearly – and there was Bob in charge!
When they barred us again a couple of days later, we attacked them again, this time on horseback, by galloping to the sand dunes. As we galloped along, someone shouted that Bob was hit. I reined in my horse and saw that Bob was swaying in his saddle, and over he went into the scrub. I jumped off my horse to assist him, and old Norman Crudders came along to help too. We tied up the wound in his tail and rode off for the Field Doctor [using] a Scotch-cart with two oxen, as an ambulance. I then returned and picked Bob up in the cart. He lay in the cart right through the night, over the veld – about 20 miles – a bad journey for him and a lot of pain.
I then rejoined the troop. We winkled most of them out but quite a lot escaped.
That was the last we saw of Bob for quite a long time, as he went to hospital. The skirmish at Rooidam cleared the Cape of the rebels and so we were entrained soon thereafter for Cape Town.
At the camp at Upington, before boarding the train, I asked for permission to go back to see Bob in the hospital. They gave me leave on condition that I would be there to catch the train to Cape Town that night. I had to wade my horse over the Orange River to get to Upington, and saw Bob, but on my return the river was flooding in full spate. I had my gun and bandolier full of cartridges to get across, so I tied them on to the saddle and by hanging on to my horse’s mane with one hand, I swam with the other arm, splashing at his head to make him go ahead in the right direction. We had often crossed rivers like this in Swaziland, so I knew what to do, but I had dickens of a job to get through this part of the river as it was fast-moving water. Old Bertram Nicholson (a Boer War D.S.O) was anxious about me and was very pleased that I had managed to get through, knowing that there was no bridge and that the pontoon had been closed much earlier. Later he was a great friend – he was wicketkeeper for Natal, and we played cricket together. I was his right-hand man in Government Service. He suffered from epileptic fits and could not be left alone, and I drove him all over the place. He had a faithful servant called Mbugu, who accompanied him on his quail shooting. “Mbugu”, he would call. “Nkoos?” “Opi siqwacwa?” (Where are the quail?) and Mbugu would show us! That was in peacetime, of course. During the Rebellion, Mbugu rode behind Nick unarmed, in uniform, when we went in to fight. The Germans committed terrible cruelties to Blacks if they were caught not in uniform. One day one of our troop found two of them hanging by barbed wire in South West Africa.
The South West African campaign
From Upington we went to Cape Town by train travelling in cattle trucks. As the battle at Rooidam had cleared the Cape of rebels, they were soon reassigned and sailed from Cape Town in an old cargo ship, the Clan McFie, en route to Walvis Bay.
To land at Walvis Bay the ship came into the harbour, but as the water was of insufficient depth, a tug had to assist with their disembarkation. It came alongside the ship, putting a gang plank across from the tug to the walk across which the troops walked with all their kit, saddles, bridles, gun etc. The crossing was treacherous as the ship was heaving and gangplank was narrow. One man fell in and was never seen again.
All the offloading was done on to the beach and the goods were then taken to the camp. The conditions were awful, and it must have been then that the Major’s hamper was stolen. I do not know exactly who took the hamper. Apparently, the box was broken into with a bayonet and then everyone dived for their share. I came in late, knowing nothing about it, but I saw the dive and Cyp Taylor called me over. I did not do the swiping, but I was one of the receivers and the fowl tasted jolly good!
When Major Panchard discovered that his hamper had disappeared, he was livid. The thief had disappeared too by then. He ordered us all to fall in and told us that he had to report that there was a thief about and that if he found the thief, he would imprison him.
He extracted revenge when he caught Surrey and me for dodging going out on the horseline. Our penalty for being caught was that a dozen of us had the pleasure of offloading a train full of sacks of mealies. Each sack was 200 lbs. and to load in the sand and carry each one was heavy work. Poor old Surrey was physically unable to do it, and I learnt the hard way how to do it.
We did a lot of patrolling at that time. Occasionally there would be a smattering of gunfire but no standup fights. It was at this time, going to Otavi from Walvis Bay, at a place called Kalkveld where we were watering our horses at a well, that I saw the second plane I had ever seen on the ground, when old Van der Spuy landed on a flat piece of ground and ran into a thorn tree! He was to become one of the famous South African pilots of the war.
Our patrols took us in all directions from Walvis Bay and then we circled back to our base camp. Conditions were very primitive, and I remember that we had not eaten a decent meal for a long time, when an army canteen came along. I had won quite a lot of money in half-crowns at “Bank” the night before, so I bought a couple of tins of sausages and a tin of tomatoes. We fried the lot in a Dixie tin. Bob said he would do the cooking, which he did more than passably well, but he suddenly tipped the Dixie and out fell all the beautifully fried sausages on to the sand. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that there was no water to wash them. Bob used to tell the tale against himself. He would state that, in disgust, we had all just walked off in different directions and left him alone otherwise we would have murdered him. All that I can remember was eating my share, sand and all. Being utterly famished, a bit of sand was not going to stop me.
It was at Walvis Bay that we grew beards. I refused to shave for a whole year because I had lost my razor. We looked like wild Bushmen, and our beard came out in different colours. Glen Leary’s beard was fair and curly, mine was a ginger-red and brown mix, Lenine Hall’s was dark, and Tickey Green’s was pitch black. The Regimental Sergeant Major was annoyed at the look of us and in the terrible conditions at Walvis Bay he gave us C.B. for two days. He said we looked like full-blooded Roman Catholic priests with our beards, so we were christened the Four Bloody R.C.s.
The South West Campaign lasted about a year. We enjoyed South West Africa, trekking along the railway line and not having any real fighting to do. We were only issued with food spasmodically, when it was available. At Draghoender, an isolated railway siding between Prieska and Upington, we were issued with a huge cheese and a hamper of grapes and freshly baked bread. In between we just lived off the land. I remember once arriving at a bywoner’s hut with a wonderful smell of bread cooking. I bought the two loaves off the oven floor and we all tucked in and enjoyed the treat.
At Otavifontein we saw the first running water since leaving the Orange River six months before. The Germans laid down their arms here and the Transvaal Scottish took over control of the prisoners. We then went back to Johannesburg and were disbanded, having been away about a year.
I remember the bug-ridden Hotel Norman. We were all up all night and had no matches next morning. I was never lousy as some were as I had been given a “lice charm” by some woman on a station. It was a little brown bottle about one inch high and hung round my neck by a tape. I kept if from the age of 20 till I was 84 years old. The contents were powders like cayenne pepper, and it seemed to work. Later I washed it out and used it as my saccharine-container for many years. I last used it at Mark’s house where I lost it. It reminds me now of another memento of long ago. When I joined the Air Force, I met Christabel Edwards in London, who gave me a little teddy bear. I kept it always in my machine.
Air war in France
In Johannesburg, where we were demobilised, we were thankful to be back and thought the war was over. That was when I began working for Dad in Mbabane, but it only lasted for three or four months because we “Bushrats” had to join up again. Bob was recruited to join the infantry and sent to join an officers‘ Training Corps where he met Wilfred Hall. I went to England independently. I paid for my own ticket and sailed over in the Kenilworth Castle like a gentleman. When I arrived in England, I went to the officer-in-charge of personnel of R.F.C. [The Royal Flying Corps] bearing several letters of recommendation. I was interviewed and the result was I was handed my Commission as a Second Lieutenant and cash to equip myself. This was early in 1916. Then my training began. I was sent to Christ Church College, Oxford, to report for three weeks – morse, bombs etc.
My training took place at Gosport, Dover and Tadcaster with only 19 hours flying time all told. The first day at Gosport I had my first flying lesson, but my instructor (an Aussie) had not got to know his pupils. He made a mistake with me and only gave me half an hour instruction. Then I took over control, putting her down and then I landed it again. This we repeated several times, then he said, “How do you feel?” “Fine”, I said, and he surprised me by saying, “Well take her up now on your own”. The plane, a Farman Longhorn, is very simple and easy to handle – at 50 mph- and my first solo was a big adventure for me.
The following day he sent me up in a Shorthorn, saying “Take that machine over there”. There were two machines, and one had a flag on it marked “U” (unserviceable). Not knowing about the U and thinking it was the one indicated, I walked up to it and took off. The mechanic thought I wanted to hear the engine to test it. I took off towards the hangars and as I got level with the tops of them, the engine cut out. There was a small field in front of me and I managed to put her down in one piece. The first person to arrive was the Squadron Commander and he was most congratulatory!
More adventure followed the next day. I landed a machine and the propeller stopped and I had to wait on the aerodrome for a mechanic to come and start it up. The wind was coming from the aerodrome and we stopped some distance back. Another novice, Colson, who was coming down to land, landed right on top of me. Boom! I was sitting in the machine and did not even know he was coming. My plane was just a shattered mass of wire and wood and this chap was upstairs. He climbed down and said, “Are you all right?” I said, “Yes, I’m fine!” Both planes were a write-off.
Curiously enough, about nine months afterwards when I was in the train going up to London for a bit of leave, I sat next to a lady who was interested to see my wings and told me she had a son in the air force. I asked his name, and it was Colson! I asked whether he had ever told her how he had landed on top of another plane, and when she said yes, I said, “I was the one!”
After four- or five-hours’ flying time I went to Dover, where I was awarded my wings and to learn to fly a B.E. (British Experimental) machine, capable of being used in artillery observation. They were very short of men for artillery observation and so we were rushed through. The Somme Battle had started with Deville Wood and lasted for about a year. Both sides hammered each other, continually fighting for ground and then losing it, until it became completely static.
I arrived in France during the Big Somme Battle. We did not have even a semblance of training really. All we could claim was that we could fly an aeroplane around without crashing it. Our job was registering the location of the guns. (there were hundreds of batteries along the front. At night the lights were flashing all the time. They had batteries of four of these huge guns at certain spots and we had to make contact with our particular gun on the map. For example, if a gun situated at Seaview was firing at Port Elizabeth as their target. They would not be able see P.E. at all. Our role was to provide firing instructions to enable them to hit the target. First, I would ascertain where our gun was located on the map. Then by morse code we would identify ourselves and request the gun controller to identify themselves. I would then flash “Fire!” and turn around and fly in the direction of the target (which I had previously identified and so was able to recognise). When I saw the flash in the vicinity of the target, I would tum around again and provide the gun controller with a correction consisting of a clock direction and a distance in yards. 12 o’clock was always North and the yards indicated the distance from the target.
These four large caliber guns were providing counter battery fire in order to silence the Germans’ guns and vice versa. The two sets of guns were about 10 or 12 miles apart, and hence never in sight of each other. This type of gun was classified as a howitzer which were characterised by fired a shell at a steep trajectory much like a mortar. In this case, the gun was firing a shell weighing about 200 lbs. which often used to give you a ‘bump’ as they went past.
Of course, I was a pilot in those days whereas a pilot’s observer was only a machine gunner. He was with you to protect you. I had no other protection whatsoever as my gun fired sideways, and I could not do anything with it. I was involved in many aerial engagements. During my nine months as a pilot in France, every so often someone would come out of nowhere and we would exchange fire. The gun that I used was like the Chinese crackers that they used to ignite to frighten people, but you did not frighten the Germans that easily. My observer could stand up and fire over the top of the plane but if he were not damned careful, he could hit our propeller. Subsequently there were some machines that fired their guns through the propellor. The guns were synchronised with the rotating propellor so that their bullets did not hit the propellor blade. In addition, sights were installed which allowed the pilot to aim at an enemy fighter. Unfortunately, that was after my time.
Apart from the artillery observations, we did photography, taking pictures of the German frontline trenches, which was not a pleasant job at all. We also did day and night bombing. Generally speaking, each of us in the Squadron took turns to do what had to be done. I would go over to the German lines for about three hours in the morning and someone else would take over from me in the afternoon. Then in the evening they would announce that they required several planes to bomb a railway crossing or perhaps a railway yard. This was all that our old planes were fit for. In the dark on one trip at the time I met Nutcombe Gould, who was also a pilot. He was a very decent chap and we worked well together.
The planes used by us at this stage of the war were incapable of carrying sufficient bombs as well as their petrol largely due to lack of carrying capacity of the planes. As a simple solution, the pilots would fill up their fuel tanks at aerodromes close to the lines. Then the planes would wait at these forward airfields until issued with instructions to commence with their bombing sortie which usually took about an hour. On these bombing missions, we could not carry an observer, so we had to rely on our “scouting planes” to protect us if we were attacked. They were warned to keep their eyes on the B.E.’s and their job was to protect us.
The B.E.s which we were using were the oldest type of machine on the job. (B.E.’s or British Experimentals were made by England during the war. The F. E’s were the Fighting Experimentals). Our B.E.’s were absolutely out of date and should never have been in use at that time. Then came Farman Longhorns and Shorthorns. The British factories developed the B.E.’s, 2B’s, 2C.’s and 2E.’s. The 2Bs had no ailerons (the flaps which make the machine lift one wing or the other when you turn). The factories were making improvements all the time and went on developing it right up to the Second World War and the present day, the Pilots co-operating with the boffins to improve the killing capacity of an aeroplane.
We suffered very heavy casualties, which is why I was kept so long on the job. I had been at it for a long stretch of about nine months when they gave me a rest at the Radleigh Nursing Home in Rugby, where I had a pleasant easy time recuperating. It was here that I met Nowell. I saw her driving along the road, and I was quite sure she was Nutcombe’s sister as she looked so like him.
The commander of the home, Mrs Mulliner, had a soft spot for me because I had supervised and helped her with things at the Rest Home, so I said to her, “Who is that girl in the car? She reminds me so much of a chap whom I know called Nutcombe Gould”. She said at once that she would introduce me to her. I decided then, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” We were engaged about a fortnight later and married in Rugby on 12 February 1918. After we were married, we lived in a little village called Chagford, alongside the aerodrome.
After recuperating in the Nursing Home, I experiences ear troubles (deafness), and the result was that I was not allowed to fly any more. They sent me to Andover to establish a new aerodrome at a place called Hundred Acres Corner. I supervised a lot of German P.O.W.s to perform the tasks required. This was easy work as they were about as tame a bunch of German P.O.W.s as could be found. They were used for building hangars, and I had to ensure that the work was done according to plans. I was housed in a bell tent. As it was winter, and a mighty cold one at that, before bed, I used to put on my high-flying boots and walk across the aerodrome, turn around, run swiftly back, and then dive into bed.
Quite by mistake I got an order to take delivery of a B.E. at a factory as the fellow who issued the order did not know that I was not supposed to be flying. I went like a shot. No-one else was available so I had a private aeroplane for a time. I did not get into trouble because nobody ever found out about it. I was there a couple of months doing the job, and they sent machines down and ordered me to I04 Squadron which was forming there. I was with the 104 Squadron for quite a while and I just gravitated into instructing. They made me an active Flight Commander. (One of the chaps I taught to fly was a Canadian fellow, Cunningham, who came to South Africa years later in about 1932 as director of the Ford Factory. One day in P.E. I heard someone call out, “Hello, Swazi!” He and I struck up a good acquaintance in P.E. of several years.) I was instructing for a year or so until the end of the war.
Tape recording of Norman Lovemore supplied by Chris Lovemore
Photographs by Michelle Beckley nee Lovemore