Why does Bernard Leffler use the alias Mick Osmond?

I have been intrigued with Bernard’s choice of naming himself Mick Osmond for the From Boatsheds to Battlefields autobiography.

Going through the papers given to me by my Mother a few years ago I found this in my Dad, William Frederick Patrick’s handwriting.

Margaret Johanna Osmond is Bernard’s Grandmother and Johannes Michael Adriaan and William Osmond Uncles.


I love how different family members record their findings in family ancestry.

Background William Frederick Leffler Bernard’s Father

I took Bernard’s book to North Beach, Carrickalinga, there was a freezing cold North Easterly wind blowing up whitecaps on the sea. I thought Bernard might like to be transcribed overlooking the sea.  I mirrored how cold he was on the train to Grahamstown.


What I didn’t realise until later was that this chapter is a tribute to his parents and in particular his father.

I have found research by Uncle Mike (my Dad’s younger brother) on William Frederick Leffler, his Grandfather. The spelling of Frederick is sometimes seen with an h.


  • Son of James Henry Leffler and Ellen nee Prestwich
  • Born Cape Town 18/02/1865?
  • Educated – seems to have left school circa age 14/15. By the standards of the time possibly at the end of Standard 8 (JC)
  • Came from a big family: Brothers:
    • Henry (unmarried) lived in the Transvaal seems to have been a civil servant.
    • Claude something of a wild character, served in WW1. Committed suicide in a shoot-out with police in Southern Rhodesia date unknown.
  • Sisters:
    • Florence, Winifred, Rhoda – all spinsters.
    • Nellie who married Hennige(?) Edwards
    • Where did Phyllis and Edna fit in?
  • William Frederick accompanied his father on a trip to Australia circa 1878 when he would have been about 13. The object of the journey seems to have been to visit his maternal relatives (The Prestwiches). Some of the time was spent in Ballarat, Victoria.
  • Although James Henry had an uncle, Edmund Ironside in Tasmania, I (Mike) think he died in 1874/76. There certainly would have been cousins who between them founded the NSW and the Victoria branches of the Leffler family. For all this, there does not seem to have been any evidence of the Australian Lefflers being included in the visit. Edmund Ironside (James Henry’s uncle) left England in 1834, while James Henry’s father (Edmund’s brother) died circa 1853. It is quite possible that the English, later, South African Lefflers lost contact with their Australian relatives.
  • At age 15 (circa 1879-80) William Frederick entered the Cape Government Service, first in the Treasury, then the Colonial Office from where he was sent to Carnarvon as clerk to the Resident Magistrate. At the time he was aged 18, therefore circa 1883. He was drawing a salary of £145 a year.
  • He was promoted to Kimberley as clerk to the Masters of the High Court at an increased salary of £240.
  •  It could not have been too long after this that William Frederick returned to Cape Town where he married Alice Mary van Blommenßtein (also spelled van Blommestein) – late 1887 at a guess.
  • Having regard to the lives of his father, itinerant entertainers and two of his sons, Bernard and James, both of whom followed on a variety of occupations, William Frederick seems to have been a model of order rectitude.
  • William Frederick also had a sizeable family – Bernard, another boy who died in infancy, Leonard, Kathleen, Eileen, Lillian, and James.
  • During the course of his career served mostly in Cape Town but also had spells in Pretoria (circa 1922 when a 13-year-old Jim enrolled in the newly founded Christian Brothers’ College) and Pietermaritzburg from where he retired as Registrar of Deeds.
  • Died 1928 at age 63. Retired at 60?

Points to be cleared up

  • Service in the Town Guard during the Boer War
  • Musical accomplishments – did he play the organ at St George’s Cathedral or at St Jame’s Sea Point Cape Town?
  • Like Bernard after him, William Frederick did some freelance writing.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 39 The Power of a Father’s Name

End of 38th Entry: An answer came the same day accepting and asking him to leave for Grahamstown immediately. Calling on a friend of his father’s, Mick borrowed three pounds to make up the fare and with many an affectionate word bade farewell to the O’Donovans and Muriel.

From Johannesburg to Grahamstown in the Eastern province of the Cape Colony was a long and wearisome journey travelling under the best of conditions. The route involved changing two or three times and waiting long hours at railway junctions and some of the trains were amongst the slowest in the world.

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Travelling Third Class – a Class in Africa patronised almost exclusively by Coloured people – in winter with no funds to buy food and without blankets moreover was something of a purgatory.

However Mick was beginning to become accustomed to hard living and took the journey philosophically. He secured a loaf of stale bread and with that kept body and soul together.

The hard cushionless seats were no worse than the floor of his room on the mine and the scenery kept his interest ever on the alert.

The journey through the great grassed plains of the Orange Free State was monotonous, but once over the border the train ran into the hills and then Mick in spite of hunger and cold forgot his worries in the exquisite pictures ever appearing.

One of the greatest sources of interest was the native in his raw state. Along the line, the boy saw many warlike Amaxhosa draped in their red blankets. Some covered in red clay signifying they had undergone the rites of circumcision and initiation and were now men.

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Two Xhosa men and a boy wrapped in blankets and wearing traditional Xhosa accessories,
stand in an open plain in the Transkei, South Africa.

These men had passed weeks away from women practicing various ceremonies and proving themselves capable of enduring various tests as to their courage, endurance and ability to stand the pain. Now as warriors of the tribe they could marry as soon as the price of a wife, a matter of four or five cows was theirs.

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The women adorned with armlets, bracelets, necklets, and anklets of cunningly woven brass and copper wire or beautiful beadwork, wearing tiny skin petticoats embroidered with beads amused him but Mick with a brain crammed with tales of the Kaffir Wars found his attention concentrating on the men. Savages they were not.

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Tall dignified, with the manners of courtiers and the bearing of well-disciplined warriors the sight of them, thrilled the lad. No Xhosa whether of the Gcaleka or Gaika Tambookie or Pondomise had ever yet been called a coward. Even Dinigiswayo, Chaka, and Dingaan named them as cousins and kept the Zulu regiments away from the territories of the Amaxhosa.

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Grahamstown came at last and Mick slept in the station waiting room. Next morning he called on one of his father’s friends and was cordially received – the lawyer leaving his office to take Mick to his home. Here his wife proved keenly interested in spite of the lad’s appearance for Mick had left Johannesburg in a pair of white drill trousers, a white shirt, and linen collar – three days and nights in the train had turned the boy into a disreputable specimen of humanity as any slum could produce. Mick, although only nineteen was already growing a strong black beard and unshaven for three days, made a horrible sight.

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Questioned regarding his luggage Mick airily explained that it was following. However, in spite of his looks the lawyer’s wife behaved like a mother – some old clothes of her son’s were routed out. Mick was sent off to bath and shave and on emerging found a well-spread table awaiting him.

Michael from his earliest childhood had loved his parents and respected them – ever since the misty days of babyhood his father had been his chum but that throughout South Africa his father’s name should be an open sesame to every legal door whether of office or private home came as a revelation to the lad.

Dad was a good pal and Mother was one of the best and everybody liked dropping in at his home whilst there were always stacks of calling cards left. That seemed natural but he had never regarded his parents as anything out of the ordinary.

Of course, both came from deuced good families but all the money gone – there was a great old-fashioned harp – there were relics of ancient days and all the aunts and relatives looked as though they had come out of pictures and books but much the same applied to dozens of families he had been brought up with.

As a kid he remembered most of them as being still landowners being buried in their own vaults, living stately old-fashioned lives but nowadays that sort of thing was no use to anybody.

Clever moderns who didn’t know where their grandparents came from, had sneaked land, cash and everything from the old world lot and being ancient lineage didn’t bring people flocking around.

Still Dad’s multitudinous activities in the musical and scholastic world he supposed made people grateful. Two school boards got a free secretary, a church a free choirmaster, all sorts of clubs and societies got advice, training and clerical advice free, gratis and for nothing. No wonder Dad was so popular and the Mater‘s cooking and unbounded hospitality were known everywhere.

But that didn’t account for the power of Dad’s name throughout the length and breadth of Africa – Ah Mick many and many a year would pass before true realisation would come that in this modern world a clean gentleman who to the moment of his death never swerved from the code of King Arthur’s knights, who never stooped to touch dirt or turned to glance at it – who himself never shirked danger, poverty, or cared a damn what other people thought, was a man so rare that in sixty years no man met him and forgot him or his wife.

Ah Mick – in the dark days of ’14 when you travelled sixteen hundred miles to “Join Up”, and arrived after midnight at your father’s house there was a light burning in the hall and before you could knock the door was thrown open and yourself and two comrades heard – “Come in Dear Boy and bring your friends, there’s food waiting.” Aye with a Dad like that no wonder Mick’s brother three times discharged, crippled from different units somehow wangled back into the fighting line until covered with the flag of Britain he was borne to the Heroes Corner of Brighton.

But the Dad and the Mater, their other sons and their daughters belong to another tale – perhaps who knows their records may yet be written.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 32 Rÿk Van Blommestein

Mick found his new life very different from that of Struan. Instead of thousands, there were only forty acres, but he found 10 000 fruit trees and 55 000 vines with odd patches of arable fields kept him with his nose to the grindstone. He had arrived just in time for the winemaking and from dawn until dark was working with, and urging on the pickers until the very sight of great piled baskets of purple, black, red, green, and white grapes sickened him.

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The owners had not yet built a cellar so the grapes were sent down to his brother’s farm a mile away. Here Mick struck up a warm friendship with the eldest son a tall young man who was devoted to athletics of all descriptions but chiefly to rugby, football, weightlifting, and wrestling.

Rÿk Van Blommestein gazed pitying at Mick’s want of stature and physical development and finding that the youth was longing to possess the strength of a professional athlete Rÿk  took him to his room, stripped him, conducted a thorough examination, ran a tape over him, caused him to lift weights and strain at a physical developer. Eventually deciding that there remained a remnant of hope Rÿk issued his instructions.

Mick was to sleep naked between coarse blankets, discard undervests – at dawn run around the farm, take cold showers perform various Swedish exercises and then begin work.

Throughout the day Mick was to look upon whatever job he was on as physical exercise – note the muscles being used and concentrate his thoughts on them getting as thorough a series of exercises as work made possible. At midday a few movements of Swedish drill were to be performed and another lot in the evening. After dinner, he was to come down to Rÿk for further instruction.

Armed with a physical developer, Lieutenant Muller’s book on keeping fit and a number of copies of Health and Strength Mick returned from his first visit to Glen Rÿk filled with new ambition.

Month after month sped by – an ideal life for a youth on the threshold of life. A great well-ordered home where all the traditions of a long line of gentlefolk were strictly observed, glorious air heavy with the tang of mountain and ocean, the life-giving fragrance of the pinewoods aided the merciless discipline to which he subjected his body. Then to Mick his mind, as well as his body, received training.

At his own home life was more or less a Bohemian existence. Six boys and girls with scores of friends, parents full of Irish blood and artistic instincts all resulted in the house being a happy-go-lucky home where the strict observance of convention was impossible. Mr. Osmond was an honourary organist, conductor, and secretary of an orchestra, a dramatic society, a choral society and the assistant head of a Government Department.

Mrs. Osmond was the idol of a large circle of relatives belonging to old-world families to whom life was a leisurely round of social visits. So all day and until late in the night the house was full of visitors while boys and girls raced in and out.

“Mother, have you seen a football?” “Mother where’s my rod?” “Mother where’s my hockey stick?” “Oh, Mother don’t you know what I did with that song?”

Whilst parties, orchestral rehearsals, band practices, committee meetings – with half the time someone hurt at football or on the mountain or sick through some foolish act. No there had never been time or opportunity to dress for dinner, to be particular about fingernails, to moderate one’s tones – to be perfect little gentlemen in any way.

But now Mick was in a home where the children had their own portion of the house under a head nurse and a nursemaid. He himself breakfasted and lunched alone in the Governess’s room and lived in a little two-roomed cottage in amongst Silver trees. In the evenings shaved, bathed and dressed Mick dined with the owner and his wife – warmed and poured Burgundy, handed round cigarettes and coffee – made his hostess comfortable and read books selected for him by the owner Thackeray, Scott, Dickens and other excellent solid authors.

On Sundays, he had all his meals with the family or at the owner’s brother’s home though often he went out to his own people.

Saturday afternoons were generally spent at Newlands watching the famous Western Province teams competing for the Grand Challenge Rugby Cup.

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Saturday evenings at a theatre or music hall. It was a quiet uneventful life – with plenty of healthy work and wholesome amusement amongst boys and girls of breeding and refinement.

Mick soon began to long for something sterner and more filled with excitement. The wild mountain walls and crags ever looming above, the blue, white flecked oceans before, breathed message after message to the boy and Mick started enquiring as to the possibility of getting into other rougher conditions.

Six months had passed when the lad was offered a post on a large sheep run near the borders of the Kalahari Desert – Mick jumped at the offer and feeling at last that the gates of Romance were opening arranged to leave the beautiful Valley of Contentment.

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