index memoir  -   homepage  -  contact me at

02 Cape Town Childhood (1937 to 1954)                                                                                                    

South Africa and Cape Town in the 21centuary are popular destinations for tourists and are frequently written about in the travel press - but from a perspective different to what I recall.

I was born in Cape Town on the 16th August 1937. My family lived at Feldhausen Avenue in Claremont, a suburb under the verdant shady eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the 3000ft high mountain dwarfing surrounding sea and countryside. On the east side of the mountain about 100cm of rain falls in a year, mainly in winter, and after heavy downpours white water sparkles down gullies carved in massive rock faces. Below the rock faces, in areas hidden from the sun, miniature rain forests drip into streams coursing over boulders. The western side of the mountain named the Twelve Apostles, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is drier and usually bathed in sunlight with the sun setting red on the sea late in the evenings.

My mother Cecelia born in 1905, nicknamed Bonny reflecting her character, was a Transvaaler whose mother, an Afrikaans Boer War widow with two daughters, married an ‘Engelse’, a Londoner Harold Barker. He had been a dispatch riding mounted trooper from the opposing British side. My Afrikaans grandmother’s forebears included Dutch Nels, Bothas, Potgieters, German Kritzingers and French Du Preezs. In1688 French Huguenot Hercule des Pres and his wife Cecelia d’Artis had arrived at the Cape and settled in nearby Paarl. My mother’s first name, Cecelia, was the same as her mother and this last mentioned forbear. My mother, an attractive woman, had apparently appeared in several revues as a chorus girl in South Africa before she met and married my father.

My mother - Cecelia Ida Carrie Allsopp (nee Barker), born in 1906 in the Transvaal

My mother told me that as a baby, I did not thrive. I fretted and threw up, not gaining weight, despite persistent bottles of cows’ milk fed me. Despairing she took me to Johannesburg to show me, her first son, to my grandmother before I passed onto the Elysian Fields. For the long steam train journey overnight bottles of milk had been prepared. The milk went sour, but being no other option, I was fed it. I drank this soured milk with gusto finishing my bottle for the first time in months and thenceforth put on weight. Even now I love cheese but never drink fresh milk.

My father William Anthony Allsopp, born in Natal in 1899 on right - in background the Cape Town Pier, demolished in the 2nd World War to expand the harbour

My parents wedding on 19th November 1932 at Ilovo in the Transvaal. My mother's sisters, and her mother and father (with cigar) in row behind. Brothers Jim (with cigar in hand) and Alfred in top row. 

My earliest memories, after moving from Claremont at the age of 3 years, are of our house in Pinelands, a then new residential suburb set on the sandy Cape Flats. Our home, built to my father’s design, was a bungalow with attached quarters for a full time sleeping in maid. This was apparently considered necessary despite white women having time available for housekeeping and child rearing in contrast with present times when most women work - possibly commuting at that time by daily maids was also impracticable.

Our house in Pinelands in 1941, thatched roofed with white washed rough plaster walls. The trees are Australian wattle trees.

Our three bedroom house was thatched roofed, cool in summer, with rough plastered whitewashed walls, and fussy leaded diamond shaped windowpanes. The lead around the rhomboid panes later buckled and the windows were replaced with large rectangular panes of glass. A veranda faced south to provide shade from the sun, but caught the irritating ‘Cape Doctor’, the southeast wind blowing continuously in the dry summer months. My mother complained about the force of the wind when walking against it as it brought on her angina. Fortunately the wind dropped each evening and we then relaxed in still calm often with cloudless skies filled with stars.

My father influenced by American architecture had equipped the kitchen with built in cupboards and working surfaces[1] and a stainless steel sink - rather than a porcelain one. All this was somewhat in advance of our neighbours. We children took the refrigerator, electric stove and washing machine for granted not realising that these were undreamed of luxuries[2] for most of South Africa’s population.

Left picture - my father with first daughter Ruth taken in Claremont? Second picture - Judy and I ~ 1939

My two older sisters Ruth and Judy shared one bedroom. Judy was barely 16 months older than me, and Ruth 4 years older. I had the third smaller bedroom where my mother occasionally sewed on her treadle Singer machine. Apparently when we moved from Claremont to Pinelands Ruth and I accompanied our parents, but Judy, barely 4 years old, had been looked after at a nearby children’s nursery Lady Buxton’s Home for some weeks as my parents found it difficult to cope at this time. Unsurprisingly this separation, although brief, had made Judy feel insecure and affected her confidence as a youngster.

Allsopp siblings ~ 1945  - Ruth Jennifer born 1934 , me Anthony Christopher (standing on a box) born 1937, Judith Anne born 1936

As a toddler I clearly remember my belated christening in the whitewashed, thatched roofed Pinelands Anglican Church St Stephens. My sister Judy was also christened at the same time but I have no recollection of this. I walked around the church and howled when I was picked up and cold water was sprinkled on my head. I do not recall meeting or knowing my nominated God Parents after this event although their names are recorded in my baptismal certificate. My mother, as a regular churchgoer, had obviously pushed for our Baptism, my father professed to be an agnostic.

Shortly after this, now in a state of grace, I tripped and fell on a jagged broken milk bottle on the pavement cutting my right lower leg on my calf. My next recollection after fainting is inside the house sitting on a bed as my parents having stopped the bleeding peeled off my white socks, blood soaked red, and awaited the doctor. He took me in his car to the Rondebosch Cottage Hospital on the edge of the common where I was stitched up under anaesthetic. Fortunately an artery had just been missed. The V-shaped scar stretched, as I grew, to its present 3inch size. Later when questioned by my children I attributed this to crocodile bites during journeys of exploration in darkest Africa.

Umbrella pines planted earlier had given Pinelands its name. Later, in competition with grey squirrels, we collected the ‘dennepits’ (pine nuts) from cones lying on the ground, cracked the hard shells with stones and ate the inner white resinous tasting ‘nuts’. I recall grey doves cooing soothingly in these trees when I was home sick in bed with measles, chickenpox or mumps - childhood diseases for which no vaccines were then available. We were encouraged to catch these infections - they were considered more dangerous if caught as adults. Vaccinations were given routinely for smallpox and later also for Polio, a serious threat - I knew several children, who had been infected with Polio and could walk only with the assistance of steel leg callipers. Later the bioscope (cinema) in Mowbray, when encouraging people to have Salk jabs, showed frightening pictures of patients being assisted to breathe in ‘iron lungs’

Before I was six years old, after a series of persistent sore throats, my mother took me, missing my breakfast, by buses to Woodstock Hospital to have my tonsils out. I was taken through spooky dark corridors smelling sickly of chloroform and passed patients lying and moaning on trolleys. I was then rolled into the theatre and placed under a blinding round light surrounded by ominous green clad masked figures staring down at me. I fought in vain trying to push away the anaesthetic mask forced over my face until I fell whirling into oblivion. I awakened held by my mother spitting blood into a bowl. A journey home by ambulance followed. I got into bed and ate cold ice cream and jelly.

When I was a little older a rash of sores broke out on my head. Our doctor carefully cut away hair and then with a scalpel lifted and removed each scab with small yellow pustules attached. The craters remaining were liberally dressed with splashes of red Mercurochrome ointment. Fortunately I was not yet at school and did not have to face the jibes of schoolmates. Children infected with ringworm, a fairly common infection, with their hair shaven off, were regarded as being unclean and not permitted to come to school.

My father’s income, in common with about a third of our neighbours, was insufficient to buy and run a car - hire purchase was as yet uncommon. We depended on public transport. Double-decker ‘Golden Arrow’ buses, then painted in red and cream, ran to the railway station at Mowbray, a nearby suburb of Cape Town, or we caught trains from Pinelands station almost ½ hours brisk walk from our home. Suburban trains were powered from overhead electric wires and had dark brown wooden carriages with slam doors. Seats for first, second or third class passengers ranged from upholstered green leather to hard wooden slats. Before Apartheid was legislated in 1948 ‘Whites’ generally travelled first class, ‘Coloureds’ second class and ‘Africans’ third class.

After Apartheid was legislated in 1948, 1st class carriages were marked ‘Europeans Only’ and 2nd and 3rd class carriages for ‘Non Europeans Only ’. On some suburban trains a 1st class coach was often ‘surprisingly’ left racially unlabelled permitting races to travel mixed together. In buses sitting areas were also segregated with blacks placed at the back or upstairs. The terms ‘European’ and ‘Non European’ was used not only on trains and buses but also on toilets, park benches etc distinguishing between the ‘master’ and ‘servant’ races. Belatedly the Afrikaner Nationalists, disenchanted with much of Europe criticising their policies, acknowledged that whites settled in South Africa for several generations were not European and changed signs bilingually to Whites / Blankes and Non Whites / Nie Blankes.

On rainy winter nights we children huddled on mats on the polished pine floors, around an open grate coal fire in our lounge rather than sitting further away on sofas. I collected and melted lead foil from the tops of empty liquor bottles in the fire and then cast sinkers - but never went fishing. Central heating was not commonly installed in the Cape, near sea level, in a climate similar to the Mediterranean, it was not cold enough for snow. Snow only falls on the top of Table Mountain possibly once in fifty years.

We read newspapers or books or listened to the English language programmes on our small valve operated Bakelite radio set in the lounge. Sometimes BBC comedy programmes such as ‘Round the Horn’ were relayed, or local commentaries of important rugby matches were given at breakneck speed trying to keep up with the play. There were Afrikaans broadcasts, but despite my mother having an Afrikaner[3] mother, we did not tune in to them as my father spoke no Afrikaans and we children although taught it as a compulsory subject at school were not fluent.

The garden around the house struggled to grow pitted against sterile sand, the unremitting sun, scorching winds, and the fitful unenthusiastic efforts of my family. The sand did not seem to absorb water even if much watered. The lawn was stunted and seldom needed mowing. Topsoil and care would have improved the situation. To the west of the flat wastelands behind our neighbourhood, the rock capped masses of Devils Peak and Table Mountain served as homing beacons to children playing in the featureless wattle scrub then surrounding Pinelands. Wattle and eucalyptus trees, introduced from Australia to stabilise shifting sands, have since become unwanted weeds and they now provide fuel for barbecues.

In the early days, especially before new houses were built around us eradicating the bush, snakes especially poisonous Cape Cobras were found hissing in the garden and killed by my father. I do not recall coming across any scorpions although dangerous button spiders were reputed to be around.

This growing suburb was modelled on Garden City principles introduced first in industrial England by a few well-intentioned industrialists to house their workers. In Pinelands the community consisted of young middle class English speaking families who owned their own homes. There was a sprinkling of Afrikaners - their migration from country districts to the towns was only then starting.

Many thatched roofed houses were built in Pinelands in its early days intending to create a rural English aspect but this gradually stopped as they frequently burnt down. Some houses were set alight by stray rockets during Guy Fawkes[4] fireworks celebrations on 5th November each year strangely celebrated in this ‘British outpost’. On one bonfire night a friend fetching fireworks stored on the back seat of his father’s motorcar, foolishly used a lighted sparkler to see them and the lot caught fire with whizzes and bangs. It was put out before the petrol tank could catch fire - only upholstery was scorched. Our house, after I had left South Africa and shortly after my parents had sold it, was struck by lightning, an unusual occurrence in the Cape, but fortunately the thatch did not catch fire.

To avoid corrupting the inhabitants, Pineland’s founders had decreed that no shops or liquor stores were to be permitted in this new Utopia. For years, in the age before supermarkets, we telephoned small shops in Mowbray, who delivered groceries and meat. Motorised tradesmen supplied milk and bread. Fruit and vegetables and occasionally fresh fish were purchased from horse or donkey drawn Cape Coloured hawkers’ carts, announced by wailing horns. Snoek, caught on hand lines from boats out of Kalk Bay and Hout Bay, was especially popular. During the 2nd World War apparently an attempt was made to ‘can’ snoek and export it to the British Isles where it was ill received. Eaten fresh, cooked or smoked, it is delicious. Crayfish with tails 4 to 5 inches long, already boiled, was also occasionally sold cheaply at a shilling each at the roadside.

For a short period ‘Bremer bread’, containing ground up fishmeal from pilchards plentifully caught on the west coast, was baked and sold. This brown bread promoted by and named after a Nationalist Minister of Health, was intended as a nutritional supplement especially for the poorer sections of society, but was usually rejected in favour of white bread.

Eventually a co-operative shop, subscribed to by homeowners, was built. Later private enterprise took over this ailing concern and other shops sprang up. But to this day Pinelanders must still leave the suburb to buy alcoholic drinks in more ‘decadent’ neighbouring areas. When I, now in my 60’s, return to the Cape on holiday, I often go to the local supermarkets in Pinelands and watch the shoppers, those of my age or older, and attempt to identify ‘ghosts’ from the past.

The community grew rapidly after the Second World War with the return of young South African servicemen largely from North Africa and Italy who started families. British immigrants, leaving their war and class depressed island, also arrived seeking their place in the sun. Indeed two Barker families, cousins of my mother, sailed from England and joined us for Christmas dinner before travelling on to settle in the Eastern Cape[5]. About 15 years later, these Barkers possibly disturbed by the Apartheid or homesick returned to England

The National Party elected in 1948 representing Afrikaner nationalism almost staunched the flow of British immigration - they did not want to be swamped by new citizens who in time may have voted them out of power. They preferred immigration from Dutch and Germanic lands, hoping that they would easily learn to speak Afrikaans and be absorbed as Afrikaners as had the French Huguenots who had arrived from 1688. But these newcomers perversely adopted English as their new language. Many English speaking whites of British origin were disinclined or incapable of speaking Afrikaans while most Afrikaners in towns spoke reasonably good English.

No Cape Coloureds were permitted to live in this ‘altruistically inspired’ community except as live-in servants to ease ‘madam’s’ burden and as baby sitters in the evening should parents go out. My parents played cards, especially canasta, with friends from time to time, surrounded in clouds of cigarette, smoke while drinking local brandy with ginger ale or gin and tonic. My mother despite her liberal instincts recruited and replaced good humoured but apparently fickle maids at a fast rate and I only remember the names of some of them, Bella and Janip. I cannot really assess any influence they had upon me, but I recall no antagonism or strife.

The Dutch started their ‘refreshment’ station in the Cape under the leadership of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. They grew and raised fresh produce to replenish the ships of the Dutch East India Company on the way to their colonies in South East Asia[6]. The indigenous people at the Cape at that time were KhoiKhoi, generally nomadic cattle herdsmen, and the San who were hunter-gatherers. For centuries they were politically incorrectly, by present day standards, called ‘Hottentots’ and ‘Bushmen’ by the white Settlers. Neither the KhoiKhoi nor San survived as a distinct racial group in South Africa but individuals who have their distinctive features are sometimes seen in country districts. The Settlers clashed with both groups over land and cattle and often shamelessly killed them. Diseases also, especially smallpox, took their toll.

The San has left a legacy of rock paintings in South Africa some of which I later saw in caves in the Cederberg National Park in the northwest Cape. San still live in Botswana and Namibia. Ironically some San men, used as trackers by the Apartheid regime’s army in the anti independence war in Namibia (the then South West Africa) and in ‘civil wars’ in Angola, were resettled with their families in South Africa’s Northwest Cape districts to protect them from possible retribution by SWAPO[7] when Namibia finally gained independence in March 1990

Early on the Dutch brought Malays and Indians from their South East Asian Colonies as slaves to the Cape. They lived in poor conditions, as can be seen today in the cramped dark quarters in cellars under Groot Constantia, the distinct gabled homestead of Governor Simon van der Stel. Many similar Cape Dutch homesteads were built by skilled slaves and often still have their slave bells. While slaves undoubtedly contributed both culturally and economically to South Africa’s development their history and contribution to society is poorly documented in history books largely written by ‘whites‘. The Malays are Muslims and today many descendants still follow their faith. Their customs are virtually unchanged as my wife, who attended Malay weddings both in Cape Town and Malaysia, can attest.

In early times marriage between the Dutch and other races had obviously been accepted, Governor Simon van der Stel had a Malay wife, but official social attitudes later changed. The Western Cape due to the influence of the coloured people had a unique culture, mellowing the Puritanism of the Afrikaner, and the self adopted superiority of the English[8]. Indeed Cape Town could easily be mistaken for a bustling Asian city with its hawkers and distinctive foods of Malay and Indian origin. In the post Apartheid era after the 1990’s the increased migration of Africans to the Cape may well change this culture. Indeed Africans from all parts of Africa not only from within South Africa have moved here, most in the hopes of a better economic future.

The home language spoken by Cape Coloureds was basically Afrikaans[9] reflecting their long relationship as workers for their Afrikaner masters, but often with a more expressive dialect. Some Cape Coloureds in towns with upward social and financial mobility and possibly with a reaction to Apartheid switched to speaking English but it is still widely spoken in country districts.

Each day after school, disregarding possible hookworms, tetanus, parasites and the disapproval of some neighbours who associated bare feet with poverty and ‘poor white-tism’[10], I shed my shoes, and walked barefoot. Or I would cycle to nearby playing fields where some scratch game of rugby, touch rugby, or cricket was played. In one casual game of rugby, I being relatively small, avoided opponents’ tackles by ducking under their clasping arms and earned the unfortunate nickname of ‘Slimy’ as they could not grasp and hold me. I was known by this name by friends and acquaintances until I left South Africa in 1959. Indeed if I now, grey and balding, come across old acquaintances, many do not recognise my real names and I resist using my nickname to identify myself.

Occasionally I wrestled with neighbourhood playmates. On one occasion I pinning one boy down on his back, knees on his arms. Egged on by friends I remember with shame punching him on the nose and drawing blood. Later this same boy when cycling down steep sand dunes at Hout Bay fell off and was knocked unconscious and some days later died after a brain operation.

During seasonal winter floods we, neighbourhood boys, made tin canoes of corrugated iron battered flat and paddled in ponds and occasionally on the swiftly flowing Elsieskraal Rivier where it was almost frighteningly impossible to steer the canoes to the banks. After some heavy downpours municipal storm water drains could not cope and roads flooded forming canals in which we played happily unthinking of contaminating sewage. We also ventured up Devils Peak passing Rhodes Memorial up to the contour path. From here we scrambled up treacherous slippery, water dripping, shale rock gullies.

During the Second World War the provision of black out curtains was enforced. Trenches were dug at school as a place of refuge in case of air attack and evacuation drills were held. No air attacks or bombardments from Japanese Zeros or German submarines occurred. Some rationing of foodstuffs occurred and New Zealand became a major supplier of ‘Anchor’ butter.

Shipments of Argentinean beef were disrupted by threatening U boats or diverted to more essential or profitable markets - probably canned as bully beef, the staple rations of soldiers. Ritual Sunday roasts had to continue, and local beef rolled tightly and wrapped by string invariably appeared on the table. My father, even after sharpening his carving knife, struggled to slice rubbery balls of meat. We ungrateful children annoyed him by picking at grey morsels leaving surrounding gristle and fat on our plates. The best parts of these meals were vegetables, roast potatoes, onions, and delicious pumpkin with gravy. Tinned peaches from canneries in the nearby Cape country districts followed as dessert. The sweet juice mixed with evaporated milk at the bottom of the bowl was spooned up enthusiastically.

Sometimes we were treated to roast chicken, possibly more rightly described as fowl. Cleaned and plucked chickens were not available from supermarkets - indeed there were no supermarkets. My mother sometimes bought birds live and kept them temporarily. She slaughtered them, and I can still see bloodied necks of headless fowls, running around the backyard minutes before collapsing. She dipped them in hot water and plucked their feathers. My mothers messy disembowelling of them at the kitchen sink was watched with morbid fascination. Despite this, roasted chicken stuffed with breadcrumbs, onions and herbs was always an enjoyed treat. All fat from roasting trays was collected in a ‘dripping’ bowl kept un-refrigerated and reused, seldom being emptied and washed out – but we seemed to escape food poisoning.

Disposal of household waste was unsanitary. Kitchen waste was placed in unlined galvanised bins, large paper or plastic bags were not available, and in summer this would stew in the heat. A few times during the week the bins would be emptied by municipal rubbish collectors onto tarpaulins, then folded up and carried on shoulders and then tipped into smelly open garbage trucks. Not unsurprisingly many flies were caught on sticky yellow coils hanging from our kitchen ceiling or decimated by flit spraying. In summer children sometimes suffered from diarrhoea, euphemistically called apricot sickness, as apricots were coincidentally freely available and eaten at this time.

We as a family did not know the local dishes comprising Cape Dutch cuisine. A partly misleading description as it was Malay and Indian slaves bringing their spiced food from the East that inspired most dishes such as ‘baboutie’, a spiced minced mutton dish or ‘bredies’, tasty mutton stews. The Voortrekkers made these bredies on their journeys northward escaping British rule at the Cape. The mutton was taken for granted and the hard to come by vegetable flavour was emphasised, such as ‘water blommetjie’ (a type of water cress), or tomato or pumpkin bredie.

My father, from Durban, professed to enjoy curry, a taste acquired from the Indians who largely worked the cane fields in his youth, but the possible subtlety of various spices seemed unknown to him – he preferred it as hot as possible. His brother Geoff in Durban occasionally railed down avocados and mangoes from semi-tropical Natal. Sometimes they took too long en-route and arrived rotten. These plants would not mature in the milder Cape climate and their fruit was unavailable in shops at that time.

We did not ‘braaivleis’, the Afrikaans equivalent of barbecues. We ate English type fare with deserts such as bread and butter, and rice pudding. Later, when we returned from abroad to the Cape in 1972, we experimented with and enjoyed local dishes and introduced them to my culinary conservative parents.

My father, dressed in army uniform, on occasion disappeared for days to Langebaan, near Saldanha bay northwest of Cape Town to inspect military fortifications being constructed. Langebaan with its lagoon and wild life is now a restful nature and bird reserve, but he, driven there over rough roads at breakneck speed, was fortunate not to be involved in accidents and did not enjoy these excursions. He had volunteered for overseas service at the start of the Second World War, but was considered too old at 40years. He then, because of his skill as a draftsman, was accepted for part time local army service designing and building military structures and fortifications. Some parade-ground drill is always required in an army and he, as a sergeant major, entertained us with booming parade ground commands.

We children, chaperoned by eldest sister Ruth, travelled to the seaside by the electric train running from Cape Town to Pinelands, on through the Cape Flats to Muizenberg where we passed the simple holiday cottage of Cecil John Rhodes, the imperialist founder of Rhodesia and one time Prime Minister in the Cape Colony. The veranda of his cottage overlooks enticing miles of waves breaking into white foam and a continuous sandy beach stretching miles to the blue tinged mountains across False Bay at Gordons Bay. Seal Island and fishing boats were often visible in the Bay.

Train wheels screeched as we continued below St James’ coastal mountains perched on the rocky edge of the blue sea. We travelled over a low arched viaduct past Kalk Bay harbour crowded with coloured families picnicking on small patches of sand[11], on to Vishoek (Fish Hoek) where we alighted before the train continued on to Simons Town (the then British naval base). We swam and competing with each other to see who took the most dips. We warmed ourselves in the sun lying on the rocks along Jaeger’s Walk and boasted about our tans – ironic as a dark skin could imply one was ‘coloured‘.

Riding horse on beach and boy wearing unaccustomed tie

We took no real precautions against sunburn, seldom wearing hats and our skins invariably burnt. Suntan lotions and barrier creams were not yet available. At home we patted on calamine lotion before tossing restless in bed. Invariably our skin peeled some days later.

From the beach Coloured fishermen, although not permitted to swim with their whiter brethren, rowed their heavy wooden clinker boats through the breaking waves. Directed by whistle blasts by a spotter on the nearby mountainside looking for shoals of fish, they let out their trawling nets and U-turned back to the shore. Willing children helped tug in the nets occasionally full of gleaming fish. Once a porpoise was netted and killed - the sea ran red with its blood.

My childhood was subjected to the evangelical attempts of nonconformist preachers informing of my inherent sinful being, of which at the time I had been blissfully un-aware. Ignorant preachers sadistically stressed the danger of being consumed by fire in everlasting hell, the need to repent by accepting Jesus as one’s personal saviour. After temporal death in due course we, as the carrot, would then enjoy everlasting life with God, his son Jesus and the winged angels in heaven. We unthinkingly accepted the barbarity of Christ’s crucifixion never for a moment questioning whether an all powerful and compassionate God would possibly not allow ‘his son’ to be killed and at the same time unleash eternal resentments against the Romans, or the Jews - his chosen people. The central message of Christ of compassion to others seems to have been somewhat lost in the following 2000 years. The desire to gain converts, to exercise control over adherents according to current ‘moral and sexual’ principles and the selling of an afterlife in heaven or hell somewhat blurred messages of compassion on earth.

My close childhood friend Patrick’s parents were English born and belonged to the Plymouth Brethren sect whose members were required to refrain from earthly pleasures such as drinking alcohol, dancing with the opposite sex or attending cinemas. I accompanied Patrick and his elder sister to Sunday School where between sermons we sang rousing choruses (gentle Jesus meek and mild look upon this little child), and viewed exciting painted magic lantern slides of Daniel in the lion’s den, John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress and so on. Still projected images were permissible for Plymouth Brethren, but moving pictures at a public bioscope were apparently the work of the devil. Ironically Patrick’s father owned an 8mm cine projector and showed silent films of Joe Louis boxing, and comic films of Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy – these, seen in the confines of their home, were apparently tolerated by their church and at least enjoyed by me.

I spent some school holidays at ‘Schools and Varsities’ (S&V) gatherings held in Pinelands mainly in the open air, ‘whites’ only attended. These were run with the assistance of older teenagers either in their last years at school or starting at university. There was a mixture of sports such as touch-rugby and athletics, (which I enjoyed) and evangelical teaching, singing and prayers - the price for such pleasures. In a climate of guilt and emotionalism we confessed our sins and were ‘saved’ several times over the coming years. These interludes were brief and we were soon distracted from our religious zeal by the commencement of school. We resumed our ‘sinful’ ways with more peace of mind and emotional balance.

Other holidays were spent under canvass at camps with the same bend of muscular Christianity. The camps were for both boys and girls an exciting and welcome change from our single sex secondary school environment. We travelled overnight in specially hired steam trains to pre-pitched camps in country and mountain settings. We swam in unspoiled rivers, the Groot Berg Rivier west of Piketberg and the Bree Rivier near Swellendam. Most of these camps were at Easter and invariably rain dampened our enthusiasm on some days. One of my childhood companions on these trips recalls how we travelled with a minimum of clothing and were obviously not fastidious about a daily change of underclothing.

Much of this I experienced before reaching puberty and was ‘innocent’ of sexual desire, fornication and masturbation, the sweet ‘sins’ of ones physical nature. These by their very nature guarantee that people are ‘sinful’[12] and require ‘salvation’.

My mother was not happy about these hothouse non-conformist religious activities and in due course ensured that I received instruction for confirmation in the then more staid Anglican Church. I had reservation about the whole business and the beliefs but did not have the strength to resist my mother’s wishes – anything for a quiet life? The whole concept of communion, drinking both wine as blood and eating bread as flesh in remembrance of Jesus, surely stems from ancient primitive rites but I was not sufficiently mature to question this. I was duly confirmed and dutifully attended church and communion for some months afterward. Fortunately the parson, a former Royal Navy Chaplain, a rather pompous Englishman, asked my mother to reduce the loudness of my out of tune hymn singing. My attendance then lapsed leaving time for whole day outdoor pursuits on Sundays.

My parents were liberals who considered the system of racial discrimination in the then Union of South Africa, a British self-governing dominion, to be unjust and unsustainable in the long term. Like most liberals their only contact with other races was on a master and servant basis – a theoretical liberalism with no social contact with Coloureds, Africans or Indians. At this time the influx of Africans in very large numbers into the Cape as contracted single male labour had only just started, although many Africans were employed in the north on the Transvaal’s Witwatersrand goldmines and industries.

In a society with segregated schooling and income differences there was probably not much common cultural ground. The fear of being ostracised by ones neighbours if one associated socially with other races was also as much a trait of British Colonialism as of Afrikaner exclusiveness.

In a parliamentary by-election during the Second World War my mother publicly supported a candidate for the Pinelands constituency, the communist Sam Khan who promoted racial integration. At this time reference was frequently made to ‘our great Russian allies’ but the brutality practised by Stalin on his own people was ignored or unknown. Other voters overwhelmingly supported Captain du Toit the candidate for the United Party lead by General Smuts, of Boer War fame. The then ruling United Party was a political party supported by most white citizens of British descent and those Afrikaners who had accepted that the Boer War had been lost and their future was as part of the British Empire.

Prior to the Second World War the United Party had been lead by General Hertzog (yet another Boer War General). But in 1939, not wishing to enter into what he considered to be essentially a European war, he was ousted in a vote by his own members of parliament assisted by a few others (‘white’ native representatives, and members of the Labour, and Dominion parties). The small opposition Nationalist party lead by Dr D F Malan had sided with General Hertzog to no avail. General Smuts had then become Prime Minister.

In my youth I was more aware of the antipathy between Afrikaans and English speaking South Africans than between other races, largely not seen and discounted. Antipathy had resulted from the British taking over the Cape from the Dutch as a Colony in 1806 during the wars against Napoleon and the English later intrusion into the Boer Republics in search of gold and diamonds leading ultimately to the Boer war. British concentration camps[13] in the Boer War early in the twentieth century in which many Afrikaner women and children died of illness after removal from their farms when husbands and fathers had departed to fight, was still an emotive issue.

White political parties, the United Party, lead by General Smuts, tried to heal the ‘white race’ rift, and were opposed by the more fundamental Nationalists who wanted to retain their separate Afrikaner identity. Smuts a fervent Afrikaner fighter during the Boer War had transferred his allegiance to the British Empire and supported them during the two world wars – to some Afrikaners this was traitorous. Before the 1948 election it appeared inconceivable that this bastion of the British Empire could be toppled, but it was – Afrikaner Nationalism won[14] and Apartheid[15] followed.

After 1948, my mother became a keen supporter of the ‘Black Sash’, a largely middle class white women’s movement opposed to Apartheid. They wore black sashes, carried placards and stood silently in front of Government parliamentarians, or assisted in charitable works. She was also a keen amateur actress[16] – sufficiently good so that I did not cringe when watching her performances. She died of a heart attack at 70years of age, her heart had been affected by rheumatic fever as a child and later angina. The removal of a painful kidney riddled with stones before she was forty had also affected her. An aspirin a day and Statins may have prolonged her life but its use in this way was not yet known.

My father, William Anthony Allsopp[17], was born on the 15th of August in 1899 in semi-tropical Durban, Natal on the east coast prior to the Boer war and the Act of Union in 1910 when Natal became part of the self governing dominion the Union of South Africa changing itís colonial status. His father Lawrence was the son of a Methodist Minister in Durban whose family had come from Derbyshire[18]. His mother Annie Sykes was the daughter of a Yorkshire man who had become a sugar baron in Natal. (see section 03 Relations for further details of my father.)

I took it for granted that I was a boy and that I had older sisters and did not pine for brothers. While most of my playmates were neighbouring boys, I recall being strongly attracted to one young girl when about 4 years of age. After years of virtually no contact, I took her to my final year high school dance but the allure had apparently disappeared and other girl friends were met. Homosexuality was not something of which I was remotely aware. Some boys appeared rather ‘precious’ at the time and other boys in retrospect aggressively over ‘macho’ possibly hiding their true nature, but I did not know sufficient to ascribe any sexual connotation. I did, however, as a young senior school pupil identify some older boys as persons whom I admired, without I think, any sexual attraction.

In many ‘white’ families in South Africa some children were darker than their siblings. In my family my eldest sister Ruth and I have brown eyes and olive skins while my other sister Judy is greenish eyed with a fair skin[19]. In Pakistan when visiting in 1990 I was mistaken as being one of their own countrymen, my whitening hair, glinting brown eyes and beard adds to this impression. I thus doubt whether I am of pure European stock. Whose family was responsible? – mothers family with their generally longer stay in Africa - Malay blood from the early days in the Cape or on the Great Trek? or fathers family with his darker appearance? Possibly the latter - my father’s sister, my aunt Stella, became almost Indian or Arab looking as she grew older. My sister Ruth, however, recalls as a child being told that her Irish great grandmother Sykes was a dark complexioned Irishwoman descended from a Spanish Moorish sailor from the defeated Armada shipwrecked on the Irish coast.

While I treat the above in a flippant manner in the Apartheid Years formal racial categorisation of individuals often split families and destroyed small communities. Skin colour and tightly curled hair were among several features assessed. DNA testing was fortunately not available to inhuman and stupid racial arbiters of this time.

As a family we went several times to a beach cottage at Onrus, a small village a few miles from Hermanus. We caught a train at Cape Town’s main station and crossed the Cape Flats passing Somerset West and then crawled slowly up the steep Sir Lowry’s Pass. We hung out of the windows with eyes streaming from the puffing smoke of the protesting steam engine. The track twisted and turned through the Hottentots Holland Mountains through several tunnels until we reached Botrivier where we caught a bus on to Onrus arriving after a full days journey. This journey today by car from Cape Town takes under 1½ hours - passenger trains no longer run.

Sometimes the weather was too hot, sun blazing overhead on our bare heads. I complained when walking the short distance to the beach when I stubbed my bare toes on stones hidden by the dust. We heard cicadas buzzing in the melkbos and saw beetles pushing large balls of dung, which dwarfed them, with their back legs. I learnt to swim first underwater then above in the shallow freshwater river lagoon cut off by a white sand bank pushed up by the sea.

The holiday cottage at which we stayed had a bucket toilet and at the end of each stay the contents were buried in the garden before we departed. Later a flush toilet was constructed with a septic tank into which a gory goats head was placed to ‘prime’ bacteria.

Future holidays as a child were on my own, arranged by my mother to visit my uncle Jim in Rhodesia and also some friends in Plettenberg Bay. Or I went to several camps organised by evangelical Christian organisations or by Boy Scouts – both of which practised racial segregation before the formal introduction of Apartheid.

While English Speaking children joined either Boy Scouts or Girl Guide organisations inspired by Baden Powell, some Afrikaans children joined the Voortrekkers. Both these organisations tended to follow political tendencies. Scouts were instilled with the glory of the British Empire and the need for loyalty to King and country. Many hours were spent learning about the English (St George), Scottish (St Andrew) and Irish (St Patrick) 'crossed' flags which comprised the British Union Jack, a sub flag incorporated within the South African flag. Voortrekkers no doubt had their flag the Vierkleur[20], the Great Trek and the Afrikaners heroic resistance in the Boer war stressed by their leaders. After a while, I found Scouts boring and left as did most other boys after some years.

We as privileged children in a British Dominion, The Union of South Africa, unthinkingly accepted that we were part of the British Empire and did not realise that most colonies had been seized often by force from native peoples usually to promote trade and exploit natural resources rather than for religious or philanthropic reasons. Cecil John Rhodes, commemorated by an imposing granite memorial on the slopes of Devils Peak, was generally looked up to. His rather dubious dealings both in the Transvaal against the Boer republic culminating in the Jamieson Raid or against the natives in Rhodesia in seizing then settling their land with white farmers were ignored – ‘Gattling’ gun diplomacy was sometimes the method of negotiation in the British Empire. My father, despite his ‘English’ origins, disliked Rhodes.

The natives in Colonies in Africa and elsewhere, because they were not white and Christian, were seen as being naturally inferior. We, as children, saw the British as heroic figures in hostile environments civilising, administering, educating and converting savages. We saw economic progress as benefiting all peoples and did not see that peoples and cultures were often debased.

We, born in South Africa, tended to defer and look up to people coming from the British Isles thinking that they were all educated and born to direct others. I was occasionally disillusioned coming across some blond inarticulate regional accented Briton. We had little comprehension of the dividing social and wealth divisions within the British Isles.

In 1947 the Royal Family King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited South Africa, sailing in the battleship Vanguard, at the invitation of General Smuts. Standing on the De Waal Drive roadside near the Old Mosterts Mill, we saw them pass us in a flash. They waved graciously. Years later in the 1970's one of my colleagues at work, who had attended a local private school Bishops where rough South African edges were bumped off, recalled attending a party where some of them had danced with the princesses – a high point of his youth.

Despite this royal visit, the Nationalist Party won the 1948 election. Dr D F Malan, a Dutch Reformed Church pastor, became their Prime Minister and started the legislation of Apartheid. This in time lead to the banning of the communist party, removal of the Coloureds from the voters’ role, continued enforcement of the ‘pass laws’ against Africans, removal of the coloured people from pleasant 'mixed' suburbs on the Cape Peninsula which they had occupied for centuries onto desolate new suburbs on the Cape Flats, and similar legislation. The journey into darkness and oppression, exacerbating already existing racial discrimination, lasted another 40 years.

King George VI died on 6th February 1952. Princess Elizabeth became queen and was not again to visit South Africa until it rejoined the Commonwealth after Apartheid finally crumbled in the 1990’s. South Africa had become a republic under Dr Verwoed in 1962.

With the release of Nelson Mandela from goal on 11th February 1990 a new society arose. Exclusively white Pinelands, my home as a youth, is becoming multi-racial in character and my first primary school, the blue school, is also now well integrated.

Added in September 2009 - picture of my sister Judy Mclean taken in March 2009

My sister Judy  (1936 - 2009)

[1] All made from solid wood – chipboard, hardboard, plywood and formica were either not yet produced or available

[2] Indeed for us in London in rented digs in 1959.

[3] White South Africans of mainly Dutch descent whose language had been modified into Afrikaans partly through the influence of the original people and imported slaves from the east.

[4] Pronounced Fox in South Africa

[5] Large numbers of English immigrants had been first settled here in South Africa in 1820 to act as a buffer between the Cape Colony and ‘warlike’ African tribes dispossessed of their land.

[6] What now largely comprises Indonesia

[7] South West Africa Peoples Organisation

[8] Scots, Welsh and Irish are often indiscriminately considered to be English in former British colonies.

[9] Today Afrikaans is often the common language between the different peoples in Southern Africa - not everyone speaks English

[10] Whites who had let the side down by being destitute

[11] One of the few ‘beaches’ coloureds were permitted to use under Apartheid legislation - the best beaches selfishly being allocated to a fewer numbers of whites.

[12] In the 21centuary, the Anglican Church fearful of losing members, is rethinking and possibly relaxing their dogma on sexual sins and homosexuality.

[13] The forerunners to the Nazi concentration camps in the 2nd World War where people were deliberately exterminated.

[14] Country constituencies, largely Afrikaans speaking, with fewer voters than in town constituencies elected more MPs although total Nationalist votes were less than the UP.

[15] South Africa was not unique in its practise of legislated racial discrimination, the United States of America in most of it’s southern old slave states had similar legislation and practises until 1964. Pressure by trade sanctions from outside countries for the USA to reform did not occur as happened later to South Africa. In the USA reform came only through internal protest movements.

[16] As is my sister Ruth

[17] A brief recollection of his youth written by my father in his eighties is attached in Chapter 03.

[18] My father told me that the Allsopps had once been brewers in England - possibly the same Allsopp family described in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF ALLSOPP- a lecture by R. G. Anderson, High Ridge, Marchington, Uttoxeter, UK on 3 March 1998 at the Annual General Meeting of the Institute of Brewing at the Bass Museum in Burton-on-Trent.

[19] My sisters recall that, when leaving Israel after a holiday in the 1980’s, Ruth, apparently suspected of being a potential Palestinian terrorist, was questioned for several hours by the Israeli emigration officials, fairer Judy passed through without problem.

[20] Also a sub flag incorporated on the Union Flag

index memoir  -   homepage  -  contact me at