From Boatsheds to Battlefields 56 Their Future in Their Hands

End of 55th Entry: Twisting and turning like serpents the long procession of heavily laden trains crawled round the cutting powerful engines before and behind holding their burdens of precious freight.

“That’s the place! Hell! Just look at the Smash!” called out the Welshman.

From the windows, thousands of curious eyes gazed at the awful mass of wreckage. Railway carriages smashed to matchwood, telescoped into half their length, capsized to leaning drunkenly on the verge of toppling over.

The mail stopped – a shaky looking Corporal of the Kaffarian Rifles entered Mick’s compartment and asking whether the others minded his coming in dropped on a seat.

“Isn’t it a Hell of a Smash?”  he said, lighting a cigarette with trembling hands.

“I was reading a chap’s palm just as we came round the bend, most fellows were looking out of the windows. I saw my chum’s lifeline ended –  isn’t it damned funny? I was just going to look again – I’m good at that sort of thing, been studying it all my life – then the whole blasted train went over – it was hell – the fellows whose hand I was reading had his head crushed into his body.”

The others gazed at him entranced. Mick’s Celtic blood grew cold as he stared at this man who, still fresh from under the shadow of Death; still with the chill of the ghosts upon him had the power of reading the future.

The Corporal evidently finding that the use of his tongue drew his thoughts from the horrors and scenes he had just left began to speak of palmistry.

Mick gathered that a man’s brain in use left its impressions on his body through the working of nerves, that particular trains of thought, of emotions, caused particular nerves to be used more often than others, whereby a man studied in the art could read from the lines whether Passion, brooding, love or what other emotions were the ruling ones in a man’s life; and that the Future could likewise be read by lines left by subconscious brain action obeying the dictates of Fate.

Offering to read their hands the Corporal began on the Welshman, continued with the ex-captain, and finished with Mick. His reading of each man’s character and past more than fulfilled his boasts – covering all three with confusion and undisguised disquiet.

Then came the future – Taffy’s hand he glanced – Celtic eyes met South African ones –  without a word the Corporal dropped the hand and the Welshman with set hard face looked out into the great grey mountains. Six weeks later Taffy’s torn body lay on the road to Ypres.

To the ex-Captain, he foretold disappointment, love, disgrace and at the end redemption. The Captain married a barmaid, joined a South African Defence Unit, deserted – was arrested and in the end finished high on the staff of the Imperial Army.

To Mick he foretold a breaking of his engagement, a deviation from his course; War – months of physical agony – and then the continuing of his long road, many disappointments, many losses, War again, a long break in his life then blow after blow would all but shatter him, but in the end he would win almost all of his heart desire.

All these things have duly and truly happened.

Bernard Leffler WW2

Bernard Leffler (Mick Osmond) WWII

Late at night, the Mail arrived in Cape Town. Nine days had passed since it had left Salisbury, well over twice it’s usual time, and though the journey from Kimberley to Touws River had been full of excitement and interest the tragedy of the Pass had sobered and saddened everyone.

It was therefore with a feeling of deep satisfaction that Mick and his comrades detrained. All three were destitute, so leaving their kit at the Cloakroom paying away their last shilling in doing so, they set out to tramp the four miles to Mr Osmond’s home at Sea Point.

At two in the morning the three men now ravenously hungry, but otherwise fresh and vigorous swung from the Main Road into a broad street leading to the dark mountain bulk looming through the night. Only one light showed from amongst the houses and Mick localising it said “Jove that’s our place! Hope nothing’s wrong.”

A few more yards brought them into the garden gate and as they climb the verandah steps the door opened and Mr Osmond called

“Come in Dear Son and bring your friends. Mother will be in in a few moments – you must all be ravenous.  Walk in Gentlemen!”

Divesting Taffy and the Captain of hats and overcoats Mr Osmond led the way to a large well-furnished dining room whose long mahogany table was well supplied with cold food, covered and waiting.

Meanwhile Mick had waited behind in the hallway to be received with a warm loving hug from his mother. To his infinite distress, his mother appeared to have aged terribly and to have become very frail and worn looking whilst her manifest emotion brought a lump to his throat and the tears welling to his eyes. A few brief seconds of close embrace then the two went in to join their guests.

Mick eagerly inquiring for news heard that his brother was already on active service with a Defence Force unit and that many of his chums had left for overseas. The Permanent Forces of the Union together with the Defence Force were being poured into German South West Africa, but no new units had up to the present been formed, nor were volunteers being enlisted.

Under the Defence Act, all men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one were trained and organised whilst in the country districts. The men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were under the Burgher Law, liable to be called out on twenty-four hours notice.

The Union therefore within a few hours of the Proclamation of General Mobilisation had not only a large army of Infantry, Artillery, Naval ratings and Mounted Infantry under arms but could command an immense body of mounted irregulars, the bulk of whom were veterans and sons of veterans of the Boer and Native Wars.

The Union Government had accepted full responsibility for Conquest of German South West Africa and the defence of the Union itself; thus releasing the British Garrison of regular trips who have been rushed off to France.


Mounted units, such as the Witwatersrand Rifles (above),
faced considerable challenges in the desert.
(Photo: By courtesy, SANMMH).

That summed up the situation Mr Osmond telling the three Rhodesians that during the day their best course was to go into town and investigate conditions before attempting to decide on their future policy.

 

Family History Letter from William Frederick Leffler to Bernard Leffler 1922

I found this photocopy of a letter from William Frederick Leffler to Bernard Leffler dated 16th October 1922.  William moved to Pretoria as Registrar of Deeds and his youngest son Jim who was 13 at the time went to the newly opened Christian Brothers College.

Some interesting stories about the Lefflers and music in the Court of George III.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 49 Battling Through Life

So Mick lived for nearly a year. Kotzee and himself obtained sixteen oxen from the ranch they have the use of them on condition that the oxen were trained to the yoke, and returned at the end of six months fit for use in waggon or plough.

The two with a few Mashona made bricks and built a house – a weird and wonderful erection whose chimney fell off after erection and whose corners came apart owing to lack of proper bond. Somehow they existed Mick bought a Martini-Henry rifle and 100 rounds of black powder ammunition from the police for £3 sent him by his father – he and Kotzee wore out their boots and walked the country barefooted – more and more the two grew into a pair who looked as though civilization’s breath had never touched them.

But Mick was no fool – he soon found his partner to be a man with no stability of mind or purpose – a visionary and a fanatic.

The two began to argue about Imperialism, Religion and farming. Each began to feel the other an enemy and Mick started to go off more and more to the Godfrey’s, the two English neighbours, Kruger and old Airth. All of them seemed to like him – he got plentiful food at their homes and they thought about everything in the same way that he did.

Then Kotzee’s wife arrived with two beautiful children – Mrs Kotzee proved to be a Christian Scientist and a vegetarian and came from a wealthy family.

The rains began and with it came Malaria – Mrs Kotzee refuse to take quinine or give it to the children – one child died – then Mick went down badly and Mrs Kotzee and the other child were taken ill.

For some days Mick lay delirious without a soul visiting him – he came to himself weak as a kitten and looking like a ghost.

Then came Kotzee with a shotgun practically stone mad raving that Mick had poisoned his family, put his wife against him, ridiculed him to his neighbours and that he would have Mick’s life. Mick thoroughly alarmed grabbed his Martini knocked Kotzee aside and left.

A few days later barefooted and starving he arrived in Salisbury his only possession his rifle and two shillings. At a tearoom, he ordered some soup and fainted whilst trying to eat it. On coming round he found a pretty little waitress doing all she could to help him – the girl told him at once that he had better get into the hospital as he was rotten with fever and advised Mick to interview the Anglican Clergyman who would arrange his entry.

Wearily Mick trudged up to the interview but evidently gave the worthy minister the impression he was drunk. Half delirious Mick understood that the Clergyman couldn’t do anything for him and staggered back to the tearoom for further advice.

The waitress wasted no time but helped Mick to her room and put him to bed. Three days later feeling much better the youth set out on foot for the Angwa alluvial goldfields where a younger brother of his family’s – the family black sheep was earning a precarious living from hunting and gold washing.

Advised that his route was “Follow the railway line”, Mick did – but the Fates sent him along the wrong line until he reached a farmhouse where he was advised to cut across country to the Lomagundi line the one he was on leaving to Cape Town.

That night he came to another farm – a tall bearded man took him in for a meal and hearing his name said: “Well I’m damned – not the son of William Osmond of Sea Point?”

“Yes I am,” answered Mick “Do you know Dad?”

“God Bless your soul youngster I used to live next door to you – nursed you as a baby – Hell it’s a small world.”

For two or three days Mick was kept in bed and well looked after. The Stewart’s to whose hospitable door fate had brought him laughed at the idea of the Angwa pointing out that the place was a death trap and the diggers merely making a bare existence.

The tobacco boom was in full swing and their neighbour Godfrey a brother of Mick’s Marandellas friend wanted a man. Godfrey himself came over to interview Mick with the result that a satisfactory agreement was concluded the youth as soon as he was fit enough moving over to his new employer’s home.

Mick had now had over two years of battling through life and with the exception of three months in the Struan District and six weeks near Grahamstown, his life had certainly not been a soft or easy one. He had become inured to disappointment, used to coarse scanty fare and well able to hold his own amongst any type of men.

His twenty-first birthday was past but with all his rough and tumble experiences Mick still retained the heart of a boy of sixteen with all his idealism unspoilt. A nature full of emotionalism, a strongly developed imagination and the closest possible contact with a father and a mother whose letters showed that however far from him they were in body, yet in spirit, they were always near, kept Mick from many pitfalls. His pen and his imagination were his greatest friends – if with the one he could fight loneliness with the other turn hardship and rough conditions into a game.

Early years spent on the sea and mountain certainly contributed much to his ability to accustom himself readily to any emergencies or calls on his powers of adaptability. They had given him the wiry constitution of a savage and the digestive powers of an ostrich and with Mick, a squall was past was gone – others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

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.

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

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.