Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Sherman Family

Over the past century and a half, a number of members of the Sherman family have left their mark on the Friendly City. This blog serves to record these long forgotten individuals. Finally their connection to the McCleland family is made.

Main picture: Howard Sherman 1861-1935

The Genesis of the Sherman Family in SA

Henry Sherman was born in 1804. At the age of 16, he arrived in the Cape Colony with the Independent Party of British Settlers aboard the SS Waterloo. He married Sarah Jane [1811-1874]. She bore him twelve children: William, Jane, Alexander, James, Maria, Frederick, Averilda, Alice, Amy, Sarah, Jessie and Henry-Joseph [1830-1869].

It was one of Henry-Joseph’s progeny who was to have one of the earliest and most profound impacts upon Port Elizabeth. He was initially employed in his father’s business in Cape Town and eventually managed the branch in Port Elizabeth. He married a widow, Mary Lloyd [1818-1891] who had been married to a Mr H. Jennings and who had two children, both daughter, Mary Jennings [1845-1936] and Anne Jennings [1847-1894].

Warehouses on Algoa Bay, 1886 by George Otto Battenhausen

After Mary Jennings married Henry-Joseph Sherman, she bore him four children:  Sarah [1856-1900], Cecilia [1858-1874], Henry-Ready [1860-1860] and Howard [1861-1935]

Howard Sherman

Howard was only eight years old when his father died in 1869. As a consequence, the family business was closed down. He followed a clerical career working at Armstrong’s Ironmongery Store on the corner of Donkin and in Main Streets. Howard was a keen all-round sportsman and was one of nature’s gentlemen.

Petronella Sherman 1867-1955, wife of Howard Sherman

Howard was born in Port Elizabeth in 1861 with his early education being at the old Grey Institute in Belmont Terrace. From there, he proceeded to Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in order to complete his education. On his return, he entered with zeal into the business and sporting life of the rapidly expanding town.

A magnificent athlete, he soon made his mark both on the running track and on the rugby field. As a runner, he became most famous throughout South Africa and he later demonstrated his amazing versatility by becoming an equally formidable cyclist. He numbered his trophies by the score before his athletic career came to an end.

In Rugby, Howard soon made his mark as a player of the rarest distinction – a brainy player and a player who placed the finest ideals of amateur sport in the forefront of his life. He became one of the founders of the Olympic R.F.C. in 1881, and the love for the Club was a tremendous factor in his life.

Westbourne Oval in 1914

During his Rugby career, Howard Sherman not only represented Eastern Province on several occasions but more than once captained the Provincial XV. He even played against several of the touring British teams. He was also largely responsible for the formation of the Eastern Province Rugby Union and was Honorary Secretary of the Union in 1890.

In 1892, he transferred to Johannesburg where he resided for several years. There he also left his mark on the game resulting in the Transvaal Rugby Union recorded a vote of thanks “for the preparation of the new football ground and other matters pertaining to the promotion of the game.”

In recognition of his outstanding services to the Olympic’s Club, he was elected a Life Member of the Club. As late as the last Saturday of his life, he was present at the Crusader ground to view his old Club to do battle with their ancient rivals.

These nine houses form part of a unique terrace (“Charmouth Terrace”) consisting of a row of identical late-Victorian double-storyed semi-detached houses which were erected at the turn of the twentieth century (1899 – 1900)

In the athletic arena, among other distinctions, he won the South African mile championship. He was also one of the founders of the Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club in 1882. Also for a time he served as its honorary secretary. In later years, an athletic meeting at Westbourne Oval was deemed not to be complete without “Daddy” Sherman in the chair as referee. This was a duty that he never missed, except of the rare occasions when his health would not permit his attendance. Furthermore, his quiet, well-reasoned decisions, when some point was presented to him, was the product of wide experience, and a close study of the rules. Never were his decisions questioned.

Howard Sherman was also a noted horseman and for many years he invariably rode one of his own mounts at Gymkhana meetings. He was also a courser [swift horse] when the sport had a vogue in Port Elizabeth.

Members of Prince Alfred’s Guard form up on the field at St George’s Park in 1907

In poultry circles, he was no less noted as a breeder of famous birds. His intimate interest in poultry remained one of his foremost activities to the end. Moreover he was one of the founders of the S.A. Kennel Club, on which committee he served for many years.

Howard’s business career was inseparably linked with the well-known firm of Wm. Armstrong & Co. Apparently he was Mr Armstrong’s right-hand man in every sense of the term. After lengthy service with the firm, he only retired from active service a year before his death. In spite of that, on every sale day, a Thursday, he would be found at work in his office.

Sports grounds of St George’s Park

Howard married Miss Petronella Meyer of Windmill Farm in 1895. They lived in “Kelso” at 120 Heugh Road and was buried at St John’s Church in Walmer.

Henry James Sherman

Henry James saw service as a private during WW1. He was in the B Company of the 1st Battalion. During the Great War, as it was then known, did not serve with their local Regiments such as the Prince Alfred Guards. Instead, the volunteers were encouraged to join the battalion of their choice which generally represented their province. In the case of B Company, it represented the Eastern Province and was commanded by Captain C.J. Miller.

Private Henry Sherman

These four battalions formed part of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade which were shipped to Britain , arriving there early in November 1915. After being initially quartered at Halton Camp in Buckinghamshire, they were relocated to Hampshire where they underwent two months of training and inspections. The South African Brigade was attached to the 16th (Irish) Division for service in France.

On the 7th December 1915, plans were altered as it became necessary to deploy them to Egypt instead, operations for which they were deemed to be especially suited due to their experience in German SWA. The four battalions embarked from Devonport on 30th December 1915. The situation in Egypt was dire as the Turks threatened the Suez Canal from the east while the Senussi tribes had been stirred up in the east. Under Gaafer Pasha, they intended to overrun Egypt.

 

The South African Brigade disembarked at Alexandria early in January 1916. In February, the Senussi forces were concentrated at the ports of Barrani and Sollum. As the harbours were mined, General Lukin decided on an overland advance along the coast. The scorching sun and wind combined with the paucity of water, made this an extremely arduous march with their only respite, the occasional swim in the sea.

Note by Howard Sherman to his son on his 72nd birthday

On 22nd February, General Lukin left the advanced depot with various units which included 1st SAI Brigade. Late in the afternoon of the 25th February, they were shelled by the enemy located at Agagia. An attack was launched on the tribesmen at 11am on the following day.

In a letter to his father recalling his first action, Henry James, then only 19 years old,  stated that he was guarding the ammunition stores when the shelling commenced.  He related his action as follows:”The only man in my platoon to get hit was an old Walmer postman. In fact he used to live in 9th Avenue for a while. He was with our General Staff, and a stray bullet got him in the stomach. He has gone to hospital marked “Severe Case.”

Map of Delville Wood area of the Somme 

“One of the 3rds who was wounded in the lungs, was gasping for breath when I came across him. I could see that he was far gone. I gave him my water and called for an ambulance cart. I came across several men, dead and wounded, on both sides, but it is not much of a subject to write on. “

“The general was well pleased with our work and thanked us all. Compliments came in from all over the country. I was surprised to see how calmly and fearlessly our boys went into the fire. We just duck our heads when we hear the bullets and shells whizz by.” 

Longueval and Delville Wood Battle

“The fight lasted all day and we covered about 10 to 12 twelve miles of their country. The next day search parties were out to bring in the fallen and clear up the field.”

The first action which Henry experienced was as part of the Somme Offensive commencing on 1st July 1916. Actually the correct starting date can be taken as the 24th June as they was the day on which the artillery barrage commenced. The action involving the South Africans was in the vicinity of Delville Wood, the nemesis of many a South African soldier. This section of the line abutted the French lines. This wood, or more accurately a forest, comprised 156 acres of dense oak and birch with entangled hazel undergrowth, crossed by grassy paths.

For the South African infantrymen, their involvement in the Battle of the Somme commenced on the 7th July 1916, the second week of the Somme offensive at woods less than two miles south of Deville Wood and its adjacent village of Longueval: Bernafay and Trones Woods. At this time, the 1st SA Brigade formed part of the 9th Division which comprised two Scottish Brigades and one Pioneer Battalion. These battles were a foretaste of what the South Africans could expect when they entered Delville Wood itself. The grim day-by-day accounts of the South Africans in the week preceding the Battle of Delville Wood, the hors d’ oevres so to speak, was a toll of 500 casualties.

Map of Longueval Village and the adjacent Delville Wood

On the western flank of Delville Wood lay Longueval Village, a rather nondescript and insignificant village of Longueval, as these hamlets went but one which was the responsibility of The South Africans to clear of the German forces. Private Henry Sherman was to participate in this operation which involved street-to-street fighting to clear it.

Private Sherman recalled that “on the Friday we cleared a village [Longueval], and many a Port Elizabeth boy was hit, but not any of our lucky platoon. In No. 5, Percy Allen was shot above the heart and soon afterwards died. Port Elizabeth lost a footballer in him.

South Africans Enter Delville Wood

Several others were wounded, including an old school mate, Maynard Atkinson, shot through the arm and leg and some other part. Well, we were chasing all over the village, some sections bombing the Huns out of the houses, others doing all sorts of murderous jobs.

In the evening we advanced into Delville Wood, without a casualty again, When we entered Delville Wood, the Germans withdrew, and in my estimation, we should have followed them, and there would have been no Delville Wood tragedy. But we had to stop there and dig ourselves in slit trenches two or three feet deep. That night the Germans came over, but we managed to hold them with rifle and Lewis machine-gun fire.

I was attached to the machine gunners and two were killed alongside me. One poor Cape Town lad was shot in the eye whilst aiming his gun – of course, stone dead. I slept soundly that Friday night.”

All that remained of Delville Wood in 1916 after the battle

Delville Wood or “Devil’s Wood” as the troops would later Christen it, was known as the Bois de la Ville – Wood of the Village – to the local residents of Longueval. Long open avenues had been cleared within the wood in order to allow the local landowner to ride his horse to all parts expeditiously. These “roads” were also used to bring out the cut wood. The local sawmill had also constructed a narrow-gauge railway line through the wood.

In size, Deville Wood was slightly less than one square mile and at that time, it was overgrown with gorse, thick grass and underbrush. It goes without saying that due to its overgrown nature visibility was no more than 30 metres at best. For identification purposes, the British had anointed each “ride” with its own name.

Delville Wood just after the war

Now it was time to tackle the Woods itself. As they entered on the western side so did the Germans withdraw from the eastern side. The Allied Forces in the form of the 9th Division made their way through. These “rides” provided an  easy thoroughfare through the woods. The troops, including Henry Sherman’s B Company advanced through the woods and dug in on its eastern rim. Simultaneously, the German bombardment commenced while the Huns advanced to within 75 metres and dug in as well.

Henry Sherman had a peaceful first night in Delville Wood. He recorded his experiences of the next morning, the Saturday as follows: “When I woke up on the Saturday morning, I was surprised to see how close we were to the German trench – not 25 yards off. We had two good men killed, Old Dad MacDonald, who brought down several snipers, and Willy Ferguson, (son of the baker). He was a good sort. Several were wounded.

We had no rations that day, but we had emergency ones which I tackled. All the excitement makes one forget one’s appetite, but still one gets thirsty. Our rations were bully beef biscuits. We drank from our water bottles. We were not supposed to smoke but we did.

Positions at 2.40 p.m. on 15 July 1916

 I might mention that that night they made a strong counter-attack, but we beat them off. The row was beyond description, and we fired where we thought [that] they were. 

The Germans are very treacherous, and you can believe all [that] you hear of them now, for they played their tricks on us. One sniper was shot in a tree covered with twigs and on his arm was a Red Cross. A dressing station of theirs in a village [covered] with Red Cross flags flying, had machine-guns in [it]. They fired on two of our stretcher-bearers carrying a wounded man, and he was killed in the stretched. (Witnessed it). 

 

They fight like merry dickens until you get within bayonet reach, then up go their hands and they cry for mercy, but they found very little. We were vastly outnumbered. That day we lay low, crouching in the trenches as they were too shallow to stand up in. We slept crouching too.”

Henry Sherman’s second day in the wood was to be his last. He recalled his experiences many years later.

On Sunday morning, July 16th, at 10:30, we had to make our first really big bayonet charge. We went over as a whole unit and that is where we copped it. We were decimated. I was one of the lucky ones. We went over on the blast of a whistle and then our boys fell like flies. As I was going over wiuth two bags of Lewis [Gun] ammunition, a machine-gunner got it in the throat. He fell on me, knocking me right back into the trench.

Nancy was a springbok presented to the Regiment in August 1915 by Mr D. M’Laren Kennedy of Driefontein, Orange Free State. She was brought to Egypt and to France and Flanders.

 

Now I was in a fix. Wounded [men] were crawling back in[to] the trench, but I had to walk over them and to another spot as the original one was marked. I got over safely and wriggled myself along the ground to within ten yards of their trench. Our boys were lying down, waiting for the next rush. 

In the meantime, I spotted a German officer, had a shot at him, but missed. He was in their support trench which was lined with machine guns. A chap in A Company was going to pot at him, but I got my second shot off before him and the officer fell like a log. Some fine language was thriwn at me by the A Company man. I knew the Hun by his helmet. 

Longueval and Delville Wood Soldiers

We waited for about twenty minutes for the next rush and got tired of it. Word was passed along for any officer, but no one could be found, so I threw off all my pack, rifle as well – a silly thing to do – and crawled along to the right about 25 yards to see if any other officer was near, but all were hit. So back I crawled to my kit. As I was buckling it on, Mr Sniper caught me napping. He must have been up a tree as I had good cover behind a stump. He was a good shot. I was wounded in the shoulder by a sniper shooting from a platform in a tree. I managed to wriggle back to my own trench and fall into it. 

I told an “A” Company man about the officers being hit but he advised me to crawl once more. So off goes all my kit again and I crawled in agony. Bullets seemed to fall thicker than ever, but I think [that] it was delirious imagination. 

Longueval and Delville Wood Rubble

At the back of our irregular trench, I came across a dump of bread and water. I ate half a loaf ravenously, had a drink, and then worked my way into an old German dug-out where I found a man of the 2nd battalion who dressed my wound. He had a sprained knee. 

The Huns spotted us there and sent some gentle reminders. Out I dashed his time and came across one of my mates wounded. A Black Watch stretcher-bearer hurried us along to a dressing station. In order to get out of the shell fire as soon as possible, we picked up another wounded mate, and the three of us set off at a good pace, being walking patients. We passed through several dressing stations, had our wounds dressed and, of course, plenty of good things to eat. Those RAMC boys do wonderful work, and at every station there are tons of eatable luxuries. 

Henry Sherman’s greatest praise was for his company’s two stretcher-bearers, Van Loggenberg and Willis, from South End, Port Elizabeth, who had worked in Victoria Park before joining up.

Post script: On 14th July 1916 some 121 officers and 3,032 men had marched into battle; now only 29 officers and 751 other ranks remained. It was the greatest place of South African sacrifice on the Great War battlefields so the wood was purchased as a permanent memorial after the war.

Longueval and Delville Wood Forest

Captain John Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman would bear two sons who would excel at all things martial. The first was Henry James whose story I have dealt with above. The second was John Howard. The fifth of six children, John Howard Sherman was born 1904, eight years after his eldest sibling, Private Henry James Sherman. Unlike his eldest sibling, he was not to see service in WW1 as he was only ten years old at its outbreak.

In March 1926, Second-Lieutenant John Howard Sherman attended an officers’ course at the Military College in Pretoria to be commissioned as a lieutenant. If nothing else, this investment in the 22-year old officer would be yield great returns as he was to become, according to Neil Orphen, “one of the most tireless supporters of the Prince Alfred’s Guards in succeeding years.”

During March 1928, John was posted to B Company. Presumably it was in that capacity that Lieut. Sherman attended the 1928 annual camp in Queenstown.

Officers of PAG in 1938 with John Sherman in the front row on the extreme right

Despite being 36 years old in 1940, John volunteered for active service. All members of PAG languished in expectation of being called into service against the Axis powers. But their wait was in vain. Other units were selected to form part of the Brigade marshalled to confront the rapacious Italians in Somalia and Abyssinia. After the ignominious defeat of the unmartial Italians in East Africa, they then confronted a more determined foe in North Africa, the Germans.

Prince Alfred’s Guards-shoulder emblem

Finally, after innumerable training exercises and retraining camps at disparate places such as Zonderwater, Pietermaritzburg and Potchefstroom for two years, they were informed that PAG would be given their turn to confront the Axis powers. The only difference was that instead of being footsloggers, they were be given some modern mounts: tanks.

 

On 19th April 1943, the battalion sailed from Durban aboard the Ile de France. Eleven days later the ship dropped anchor at Tewfik Bay in the Red Sea. After ten days acclimatising in the dusty desolate conditions which would ultimately be their home for the succeeding year, on 30th April 1943, they gratefully  clambered aboarded trains bound for Khatatba midway between Cairo & Alexandria. Ahead beckoned their Sherman tanks. Tank training commenced on 10th May 1943. Afterwards, they were relocated to Helwan, the original SA base for the 1941-1942 campaign.

The African campaign was at an end. Having broken the German line at El Alamain, Montgomery had pushed the Germans back all the way to Tunisia. In tandem with the American forces landing in Algeria and Morocco, the German forces were trapped within the pincer movement, finally surrendering in May 1943.

While the rest of the Allies were showing their mettle in the real thing, first in Scilly and then in southern Italy, for PAG, tank training continued apace as exercises scaled up from squadron drills to battalion drills. PAG now formed part of the 6th SA Armoured Division.

After a year of continuous tank training, finally PAG was informed that they would be let loose on the German forces in Italy. Their landing at the erstwhile Italian naval base at Taranto on 20th April 1944 marked the start of their Italian Campaign.

Tanks of P.A.G lined up on the quay in Egypt awaiting shipment to Italy in April 1944

Proceeding up the Via Appia or Highway 7, the slow arduous journey culminated in the foothills in front of Cassino. By now, the century’s old Benedictine Monastery had long since been pulverised by the Allied bombers. It was here that PAG experienced the realities of war when a Honey reconnaissance tank was destroyed by a German 88mm anti-tank gun resulting in the death of two tank crew and two wounded.

Shortly thereafter the Allies broke through the German line at Cassino and pushed them back past Rome. For the next eleven months, the Allies would hound the Germans up the Italian peninsular culminating in the German surrender in May 1945.

John Howard’s war was over.

Sherman tanks of the P.A.G crossing the Arno River early in September 1944

Nevertheless, John’s service to PAG was not over. As a stalwart, he would remain a dedicated member of PAG for at least another decade and a half. He would even witness his wife, Millicent (Milly) getting into the act when she unveiled a memorial stone on the original battlefield at Umzintzani in the Transkei on 2nd December 1962. It was at this battle that PAG had earned its first battle honours.

Mrs Millicent Sherman unveiling the memorial stone on the Umzintzani battlefield on 2nd December 1962

Connection to the McCleland family

It was the brother of both Private Henry James and John Howard Sherman, Stanley Meyer Sherman who would provide the link with the McCleland family. For it was Stanley who married my aunt, Thelma Adelaide McCleland [1905-1974].

 

Stanley & Thelma Sherman

Thelma would suffer much adversity during her life, bearing it with equanimity. After marrying Stanley Sherman on 4th June 1930, she gave birth to four sons over the next ten years, the first being Percival-Howard on the 18th January 1933. He was to die on 6th April 1937, at 5 years of age, from appendicitis. Then when her youngest son was only two years old, Stanley himself died in 1942 from meningitis. This must have been a frightful blow to a women especially as her sons were still so young.

Stanley Meyer Sherman

As Thelma was bright, she had always wanted to be a school teacher but her mother, Daisy, had reluctantly twisted her arm to assist her at her Tea Room in Schoenmakerskop. On marrying Stanley, Thelma escaped from the clutches of her mother who was a stern matriarch. Little did she know that in the future, her mother would re-enter her life.

Twelve years after her marriage, Stanley’s death had placed the Sherman household in dire financial straits. The ultimate solution agreed upon was for Daisy to build a cottage onto Thelma’s house at 99 Albert Road in Walmer. Rumour has it that her intrusions into the Sherman’s lives was not always welcomed. One bone of contention was her interference in how and what Thelma cooked. What happened when Ronnie (Rockie) brought his girlfriend, Karlene, home to introduce her to his mother, illustrates her level of control in the household. Amongst the gaggle of inspectors who came to ogle and provide their input as to the suitability of this young slip of a lass, was none other than Daisy herself. Fortunately, she approved and Ronald was allowed to court Karlene. Thelma must have felt constrained by somebody so domineering living in the same house but there was no alternative given her dire financial circumstances.

Thelma McCleland

Thelma herself was to die of colon cancer on 15th September 1974.

Like numerous residents of Port Elizabeth, many of her brightest and best were to find their fortunes outside the confines of their home town. So it was to be with Stanley & Thelma’s children. Despite residing in Joburg, one of her sons Ronald, a civil engineer, was even the Chairman of the Grey Old Boys Association for a period in the 1990s.

L-R Karlene, Nowell, Derek, Ronald Sherman

Newspaper clippings

Obituary of Howard Sherman

Sherman family tree-Page#01

Sherman family tree-Page#02

Notices regarding Howard Sherman


Leave a Comment.