From Boatsheds to Battlefields 4 A life full of adventure

End of 3rd Entry:  Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.””Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.

For a mile or two they wandered seeking orchids then came to the head of a dark deep gorge, slowly and cautiously the two boys began to climb down into it. The drop was one of some fifty feet with an almost vertical cliff face, hand and footholds were crumbly, wet and full of slippery moss. Disdaining the help of their ropes however the boys managed the dangerous descent and at last stepped into the bottom of the ravine.

Seating himself on a rock Mick drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered them to his chum who shook his head. “They’re rotten for a chap’s wind,” he said.

“It’s a queer thing now,” said Mick. “Every darn thing that’s nice isn’t good for one – smokes, girls, beer, everything – not that I can see anything nice about beer or whiskey, but they seem to give some chaps a lot of pleasure. But every time a chap wants to do anything he wants there’s always someone to tell him that he mustn’t do it.”

“Life,” said Bertie, “is a continual battle – the things you want to do are suggested by the Devil, and if you want to become rich and respected you’ve got to kill the old Adam in you and live a clean, godly and sober life.”

“Well I don’t want to be rich and respected” answered Mick, “I want to be a sailor, soldier, cowboy, and miner, knock about the world and have a darn good life. God can’t put every chap that has a happy life full of adventure into Hell, and all people that have made money into Heaven, if he did I’d want to go to Hell myself. Christ and the Apostles were fishermen and Christ didn’t jolly well go live with all the blighters who wore top hats – he went down to the docks and in the pubs with sailors, soldiers, and fisherfolk.”

Bertie grimaced – “Well it doesn’t sound respectable and I’m not going to argue not until we’ve no more rock climbing anyway.”

The gorge into which the boys had climbed deepened sharply from its head. A few yards down, it’s walls rose several hundreds of feet sheer above them, wet, slimy and mossy. In the gorge itself ancient mountain trees, great tree ferns, and brambles flourished amongst the loose waterworn boulders. Growing amongst the moss on the cliff sides were hundreds of blue-grey rock orchids, amongst them scores of buds of the glorious Disa Grandiflora some just beginning to show a tinge of red.

Discarding their rucksacks the lads sought for and cut a long stick at the end of which Bertie fastened a pair of scissors. To the one handle, he made fast a length of thin fishing line and taking a small grappling iron bent his Alpine rope onto it. Carefully the boys began to climb the slippery eastern wall of the gorge. The fluttering blue butterfly flowers were always in the most inaccessible spots, the ledges were narrow and wet, and the holds precarious, but with infinite care, the flower seekers crawled upwards.

Now and again Bertie would find a fairly secure hold and Mickey climbing on his shoulders would bring hand or rod into play to snip off the coveted blue treasures. Sometimes the grappling iron was used, being flung upwards until it caught. Testing its hold one boy would climb, aided by the rope, until he found good holding ground, then making the rope fast around his body take a portion of his chum’s weight as the latter climbed either upward to him or outward to the flowers.

An hour of this and Bertie began to complain of twinges of cramp whereupon the two started to work back into the gorge a hundred feet below. Slowly, carefully, testing every hand and foothold the adventurous couple regained safety and Mick wet, mudstained but gloriously happy lighted another cigarette.

“I didn’t funk much there, did I?” he enquired of his pal.

“No you were fine,” answered the other handsomely. “But that’s only a second class climb – wait until you get on Silverstream Buttress or Stinkwater Needle or Kloof Corner.”

“Rats!” replied Mick “A chap that’s used to ships can climb anywhere. Bet, you don’t come down to the Docks tomorrow and climb up to the top-gallant of a full-rigged ship.”

“Bet you I could, only tomorrow’s Sunday and I’ve got Sunday School.”

“I’ve got to go to the eleven o’clock service in the morning,” said Mickey with a sigh. “I wish I was like Clive and Renè, they don’t have to go to church and it hasn’t done them any harm. I bet God would sooner see me out in a boat enjoying myself than sitting for hours in church hating religion. That’s one good thing about Catholics as long as they go to Early Mass they can spend the day as they like.”

“Well, you’re not a Catholic. Come on Mick we’ve got 30 disas each and three Grandiflora buds – let’s get out.”

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.


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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 3 Thoughts on Religion

End of 2nd entry: Spellbound the two lads gazed on the majesty and wonder of the old world – far beneath them lay thousands of human habitations – great churches, proud colleges, mighty houses of business, the huge dockyard and the homes of the wealthy.

Seen from the ramparts of the world a colony of Lilliputian race spreading over one of ten thousand valleys. Look where they would the work of man seemed but the tiny castles, the pygmy gardens, the little works of children playing amongst the wide sands of a far-flung beach.

“Makes one feel pretty small doesn’t it Mick?”, whispered the one. “Wait until you know the mountain as I do, be up there with the mists rolling over and the Sou Easter shrieking down the gorges – Man! I tell you a chap feels that a fly climbing up about the wall of a room can’t feel more tiny or lonely.”

“What you say about the mountain holds just as true about the sea,” replied Mick. “It must be pretty rotten up here in bad weather but to get really scared a chap wants to get caught in a howling Sou Easter or worse still by the North. The mountain’s big and strong I grant you, but what about the Atlantic when it lets itself go? I’ve been fooling on the sea for a couple of years now and to have funk properly shoved into you I bet the old sea can give the mountain long odds.”

Bertie grinned – “All right Old Man, you tell me that tonight – you haven’t done any rock work yet, but you will in a couple of hours and then we’ll see.”

Mick flushed, “I’ve been up to the main-truck of  Yankee Ship flying skysails, Old Chap. Over 120 feet, and I didn’t go through the Lubber’s Hole either. I bet I’ll climb any beastly rock you can.”

The older boy grunted, “Climbing masts and climbing rocks aren’t the same, you’ll see – bet you my Redskin and Cowboy against your jackknife you get funky before I do.”

Image result for redskin and cowboy henty

“Done,” said Mick expectorating in a fashion learned from American Sailors and the two cautiously crawled back to safe ground.

“I wasn’t funky there,” exclaimed Mick as once more he rose to his feet.

“I bet you were all trembly inside and your legs felt full of water,” said Bertie, “I did and I’m used to it.”

Micky gulped, “Well if you admit it, I admit it, but it isn’t funk – funk is when a chap starts howling before he’s hurt – like a three quarter passing the ball because he thinks he’s going to be tackled – feelings don’t matter as long as you tackle the job you’ve set yourself on.”

“Why did you ask whether Religion is true?” asked Bertie. “Of course it’s true – there are the Bible and all the churches and parsons to prove it.”

“Bibles, churches, and parsons don’t prove Religion” replied the youthful skeptic – “What about the Muhammadans – they’ve got the Koran and it’s a blooming sight more sensible – take the Old Testament, it’s all parables and there’s nothing clear – not the way the churches teach it anyway. I’m going to find out what the Roman Catholics teach, I bet they know better than all these blighters.” Bertie gazed fearfully upon his companion, “Stop it Mickey, man – it’s bad luck to talk like that on the mountain – wait until we get off – one never knows anyway and I’m not taking risks. If God hears you he might let a bit of rock break when you’re climbing and then you’ll go straight to Hell.”

Mick looked thoughtful, “I know it’s the same at sea, I wouldn’t go arguing about God if I was in a Sou’ Easter, but all the same, I want a God, one I can see and hear like the Sun or the Old Viking Gods of  Thor and Odin.”

Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.”

“Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 2 Collecting Orchids

End of 1st entry:  Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved Silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

Their road soon brought the boys off the hill to the narrow neck between the corner of Table Mountain and the timbered slopes of the Lion’s Head. Below to the East lay Cape Town wrapped in the mantle of night, to the West the Ocean breaking on the white beach of Camps Bay and the rocky coastline beneath the range of Apostle Mountains.

Pausing for a drink of cold mountain water the two climbed to the pipe track which cut across the slopes of the Apostle and at a long swinging stride proceeded on their way. A dark glen gave an occasional steep run down one side and up the other, loosening leg muscles and breaking the monotony until the path crossing the Castle Gate gorge began to climb upwards towards the walls and buttresses of the Apostle Heads.

Soon came the flight after flight of stone steps and the narrow path ran above a gorge many hundreds of feet deep. Cut into the living rock, whose rugged walls hung menacingly over it, the narrow roadway at length reached an iron gate the entrance to a long tunnel through the mountain.

Turning to the right the boys clambered into the ravine itself and toilsomely worked their way up the watercourse strewn with loose boulders until at last the broad ridge which crowned the Apostles was won.

For a few moments, the youthful mountaineers lay panting in the bracken then sped down a long steep slope into a narrow glen through which rippled a burn of brown mountain water cold as ice.

Slipping heavy rucksacks and Alpine ropes from their shoulders the two began to search in the darkness for sticks, with the ease of long practice soon gathering enough to start a fire.

The rucksacks yielded a kettle, frying pan, gridiron and amongst other foodstuffs a packet of chops. Fragrant coffee, grilled chops and thick bread and butter followed, then donning coats the boys curled up next to their fire and carefree slumbered heavily.

The chill of dawn wakened them and stretching stiffened limbs the boys rose, made up the fire and fell to on a packet of sardine sandwiches – the kettle coming to the boil coffee was again made, then slinging their rucksacks the pair climbed back to the Apostle ridge.

Separating the boys began to seek the beautiful blue mountain bell orchids and their red cousins the cluster of gnomes caps – it was early in the season but now and again success crowned their efforts in spite of the still clinging mistiness of night.

As dawn began the ushering in of day the boys abandoning their hunt crept out on a jutting rock two thousand feet above the Ocean’s level where filled with nervous thrills they watched the ancient Sun emerge in all his glory from beneath the Eastern sky. On a host of mountain peaks fell the kindly eye of the proud old God and flushing with devotion a thousand grim pinnacles stood rank upon rank to welcome his gifts of warmth and light.

Spellbound the two lads gazed on the majesty and wonder of the old old world – far beneath them lay thousands of human habitations – great churches, proud colleges, mighty houses of business, the huge dockyard and the homes of the wealthy.

The Cape orchids are somewhat different from the extravagant tropical showpieces you see at art galleries and on smart dining tables. In the Cape’s wind-buffeted, fire-ravaged environment it pays to be small and to spend most of your life underground. But the flowers produced by the Cape orchids are no less astonishing than those in jungles of Ecuador, and their often ephemeral nature, coupled with limited distribution (a single wetland or mountain for example) means they can be as rare as black rhinos, blue whales and snow leopards.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 1 Three Anchor Bay

A stiff wind was blowing in from the North. Overhead the stars were hidden beneath hurrying torrents of mist. Seawards the Atlantic broke heavily on the iron coast.

Four of the little colony boatsheds at Three Anchor Bay were open and some dozen men, white, coloured and Malay sat around braziers in the biggest shed. Watching them lay a boy of fifteen curled on a heap of nets.

Now and again one of the fishermen would stroll down to the water’s edge and returning shakes his head. At each pessimistic gesture, the youth’s face lengthened, lightening again as an old Dane began to argue that it was all right if the boats would get out.

“It vos noding! De darkness yus make him seem bad but I vill get out mit mine pram. It vos a goot day for geelbek”.Image result for geelbekThe Boy, thrilled – the ambition of his life was to catch a geelbek or Cape Salmon, and it did seem hard that after getting up at one in the morning the weather might make a trip to sea impossible.

A couple of hours past, then the day began to break but with the coming of light, the prospects of putting to sea appeared negligible. The wind was blowing strongly, and beyond the line of breakers, the Atlantic was a flecked mass of curling, breaking waves racing shorewards. Surf combers were immense and the narrow rocky channel was a churning mill race.

Softly from the Atlantic came the croon of the surf. The heavens loaded with jewels hung low over the ancient Tavern of the Seas, as it lay shrouded in the violet mists of night. Through the starlight ghostlike rose the grey of Table Mountain.

Image result for Table Mountain from Sea Point 1910

Seawards the sliver of the moon cast a shining road across the heaving waters and far in the North rolled a smokey mass of sea fog.

Steadily climbing the heather brae of Lion’s rump two lads in football clothing filled their lungs with clean sweet air from sea and mountain. Many hours of hard climbing and walking lay before them leaving little leisure but in each bosom every chord of being responded to the witchery of the surroundings and the hour.

Reaching the summit of the Lion Hill the lads paused to regain breath and drink in the wonderful panorama before them. The grey mass stood proudly gazing at the immensity of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Flanking the Tavern ran the long narrow Lion’s Hill on which the youths were standing – at its end the black tower of rock which formed the Lion’s Head; across the Table Valley rose the wild Devil’s Peak its stern savage head rising naked from forested slopes. Beyond them, all stretched mountain ranges, bog, moor, and forest.

Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

Image result for sea point 1910

Photograph of Sea Point circa 1910 

Bernard Meredith Leffler In Service of the Wild

It may be that there are ears to hear and hearts to feel the story of the world beyond Civilisations’ frontiers. There may be those content to read an ill told true tale of a life they themselves have never lived. They may yearn for some of what is granted the soldier of Fortune, feel somewhat of the spell of the Wild – thank Almighty God that fate has guided their way into places, gain something of a knowledge of life in the rough; sympathise or condemn.

So I begin my tale of hard living, of love and war, of storm and sunshine, of ships and cattle and sheep and horses and of men who row and sail and fight, that Britain holds her hard-won Imperial Throne.

I was born beneath the immense grey walls of that flat-topped Table of the Gods which is set beside the blue waters that cap the old town first begun by Van Riebeeck and his sturdy Hollanders.

From boyhood I grew up amongst the tales and traditions of gallant East Indian men, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, of flight and cattle, of Hottentot and wild coast – of ships and frigates of France, England, and Holland which had cast anchor or run out the gun in our great Bay. I had listened to the tales of Huguenot, of Malay and of slaves.

I heard the call of forefather and it stirred my heart. I listened to the wooing of the sea and of the mountain and vowed my life to them and theirs.

Bernard Meredith Leffler

Transcribed by Bernard’s granddaughter Patricia Mary Armstrong nee Leffler

My Grandfather, The Author

Bernard Meredith Leffler is my Dad’s Dad, he was born in 1890 and married my Grandmother in 1928. He would die of pneumonia on my Uncle’s 21st birthday in 1951. I never met him and know very little about him or my Dad’s Mother Margaret Gardner Leffler.

I am thrilled to have his writings and in particular his book From Boatshed to Battlefield. I am looking forward to giving his story to family and friends as well as members of the world wide web. Most of all I’m looking forward to comments, stories, and feedback that I hope will reveal more of the character of Bernard Leffler.

My Dad, William Fredrick Van Blommenstein MacIntyre Patrick Leffler, is the eldest of three children. He was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in August 1929, his brother, Michael Leonard Leffler was born 18 months later on Valley Farm, Pretoria, South Africa and a sister, Mollie, who was born a few years later, would die of pneumonia three years later.

Here is a photograph of the three children with their nanny on Valley Farm, Pretoria, South Africa around 1935.

Dad, Mike, Molle farm with guns

Dad and Uncle Mike were well read, loved poetry, rugby and cricket. They had an in-depth knowledge of both World Wars. My Dad told us how he and Mike had newspaper cuttings on their bedroom walls, following the different battles and tactics.

My Uncle Mike built a Rondavel at Thomas Moore School, Kloof which became the centre of a wildlife sanctuary. His Rondavel is similar to the one Bernard Leffler is standing in front of for a photograph in the Farmer’s Weekly. Uncle Mike inherited his father’s love of the bush and wildlife.

CU photo of Bernard Leffler

My Grandmother, Margaret Gardener Wilson, travelled from Dumbarton, Scotland, to marry Bernard in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in 1928. Legend has it that she had all her teeth removed before she set off for Africa arriving with a set of golf clubs to become a tobacco farmer’s wife. When my mother met Margaret in 1955 her Scots accent was still very strong.

Margaret Gardener Leffler

Margaret also wrote articles for the Farmer’s Weekly and became an expert poultry farmer.

Bernard Leffler Dad and Mike school

My Grandfather with his sons; Patrick on his left and Michael on his right.

Bernard Leffler’s parents were William Fredrich Leffler and Alice Van Blommenstein. William was a well-respected Registrar of Deeds throughout South Africa and a renowned organist. Alice came from a large ancient Holland family. They had six children and their home was always open to friends and travellers.

And now for the story…


I would like to introduce you to my Grandfather, Bernard Meredith Leffler.

Bernard Leffler writer

Four years ago my Mother gave me a pile of yellowing, delicate paper dating back to the 1930s with the words “as the eldest you can be the custodian of the family history”.

In amongst the pile of papers was a book in my Grandfather’s handwriting titled From Boatsheds to Battlefields. The book opens with his experiences fishing and mountaineering in Cape Town as a schoolboyThe story takes you on his journey to  Delville Wood where the South Africans managed to hold off the Germans from 15 July – 3 September 1916. He was captured and held Prisoner of War until September 1918.


I will set-up the Website to provide a central location for the family to share stories and photographs from the past and the present for the generations to come.

A Blog will provide the forum for Grandad’s book as well as an informal way of publishing photographs, stories, comments and links from friends and family on a daily basis.

The Podcast will be the reading of Bernard Meredith Leffler’s book From Boatsheds to Battlefields, written around the 1930s, by his Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren.

I have decided not to change his language or his opinions to suit our present politically correct environment but rather keep the language and expressions as a reflection of the time in which it was written.

Apologies and warning in advance to those readers who might be offended.