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Open Features: The Cape Of Good Hope

Bob Boyd continues his account of his Royal Navy service. To read earlier episodes of his story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=bob+boyd

After the journey from UK by the Union Castle line my colleague and I arrived in Capetown. We took the train along the cape peninsular to Fish Hoek and were picked up and transported to the naval communication base, known as ‘Slangkop’, near the village of Kommetjie, . The base housed about 30 telegraphists, and several civilian communications staff.

We soon settled in to the main routine of watch keeping and communicating with the ships based in Simonstown - H.M.S. Neiride, H.M.S. Acteon and the cruiser Flag Ship H.M.S. Bermuda. When the ships were in harbour we helped the civilian staff sending and receiving telegrams from the many commercial vessels sailing the South Atlantic. It was a busy time; we worked around the clock in 6 hourly watches sending and receiving messages in Morse code (ZSJ). In addition to this we had a direct teleprinter line to the Admiralty in London.

During our free time we could go ‘ashore’ (it was always known ‘going ashore’ even on land bases), but had to wear uniform. A lorry would run us in to Fish Hoek where we could catch the train in to Simonstown or Capetown. We would change into our civilian clothes as soon as possible, sometimes in the station toilet! We headed for the Navy House in Simonstown or the Union Jack club in Capetown, where we could book a bed for the night. Delmonicos club in Capetown was always popular with the Navy as admission was free and there was always musical entertainment. We would then perhaps go on to a dance or a picture show at the Bioscope. Everyone was very friendly once they knew we were from the Navy base. We could also invite the girls we met to come along to the occasional dance at the base. My friend Paddy Thompson eventually married a South African girl and we were all invited to the wedding held in Muizenberg. They both settled in South Africa after he left the Navy.

We could not get used to the strict apartheid rules in those days, we would chat to the natives and coloured people we met, as we would have done at home. We were warned by our senior officers that we must obey the strict apartheid rules and could be sent home if accused by the police of associating with the black or cape coloureds. However, there were several black workers on the base and we always treated them as equals.

If we were walking along in uniform we were sometimes offered a lift by car. In this way I got to know a friendly couple living in Fish Hoek. They invited me to visit them at their home and let me leave my civilian clothes there. They had come out from England several years previously to settle in the Cape. They kindly took me to visit many beautiful places in the Cape, and a trip by cable car to the top of Table Mountain was a memorable experience.

As I was due to take two weeks leave every year they invited me to take a trip with them along the Garden Route. It was a wonderful opportunity to see something of the country and I was most grateful to them. They eventually moved inland to the village of Montague. They were both elderly and wanted to spend a quiet retirement there. I visited them a few times, but it was a long journey and getting the time off was not easy. I kept in touch by post, even after returning to England, but eventually the correspondence ceased and I assumed they had passed on. However, I will always remember their kindness during those years when I was feeling home sick.

After two years I was due to return to back to England. H.M.S. Bermuda was also due to return at the same time and several of us were ordered to take passage in her. No luxury cruise this time as we were to help out the other Telegraphists on board. No Madeira visit either, but we would be stopping at Freetown for a few days.

Freetown was hot and sticky, but I managed to get ashore and explore the town. This was the Africa I had always imagined. As we visited the market stalls looking for souvenirs to take home little boys followed us around inviting us to “come and meet my sister”. An offer we decided best to avoid! In the evening we had an invitation to an Army camp, just out of town. The British soldiers stationed there were happy to have a drink with us and chat about home.

Soon we were on our way once again. It was January 1952 and the year of the great east coast floods. Crossing the Bay of Biscay was very rough and I was glad to be in a cruiser and not a smaller ship. As we pulled in to Portsmouth customs officers lined us up for inspection. We certainly did not have any contraband and were not charged for any small souvenirs we were bringing home. Two weeks leave was announced and we could not get home quick enough - but I will always remember the beautiful Cape with happy memories.

To be continued.

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