SALDANHA 1956 to 1961 (as remembered by Keith Heuer)
Arrival at Saldanha
I was 9 years old when my parents and I arrived at Saldanha by train in January 1956. My father worked for the Department of Customs and Excise in East London (Eastern Cape) and he was transferred to Saldanha to take over the post from a Mr. Dutton, who was transferred to Cape Town. My father never owned a car and never got his driver’s licence. He was the one and only customs officer in Saldanha, and he used the department’s bicycle as transport.
I must just mention that this was my step-father married to my biological mother. His name was Louis Smart, (Smart being Scottish) which surname my mother took on when she married him in 1955 after the death of my biological father. I retained the name of my biological father, Albert Heuer (Heuer being a German name) Mom never had a job with a firm, she was house-wife.
No Tarred Roads and Pavements
The first thing I noticed was that none of the roads were tarred. There were no pavements and every-thing was gravel. It was only a few months later that the municipality started tarring Main Road which ran through the town past the Hoetjies Bay Hotel. This was the major access road into Saldanha. (The road at the back of Hoetjieskop, which is now Saldanha Road and major artery into Saldanha, was just a narrow dirt road, and remained so for a few years.)
We arrived, by taxi from the train station, at our house (which belonged to the Dept. of Customs) situated at the top of the hill next to the Naval Gymnasium which overlooked the small bay and the one and only long jetty.
I noticed that there were lots of large wooden deep-sea fishing trawlers at anchor in the bay between the jetty and the cliff below our house, but they were not allowed to anchor immediately close to the naval base concrete berth below the cliff, as the navy had one or two motor patrol boats and several cutters and whalers (rowing boats with 6 oars and a helmsman steering at the back) at anchor in that space. Fishing Trawlers were also anchored a few meters from Saldanha Bay Canning factory, and also in Hoetjies Bay. There was no Yacht Club.
2 Naval Targets
There were also 2 long flat steel Targets belonging to the navy anchored very close to the rocks below the cliff, and my friends and I used climb down the cliff using our “secret” parthway and then swim to these Targets and play on them, diving off into the water and climbing back on again, over and over again. The navy never objected to us playing on the Targets…We had great fun.
Our 2 Flag Poles
Our House had 2 tall single mast white-painted flag poles, one each on opposite side of the house overlooking the bay. One pole flew the British Union Jack, the other pole flew the South African flag (Orange, White and Blue). My dad said that it would be my job to hoist the flags every morning and take them down at sunset. I used to time it to co-inside with the raising and lowering of the navy flag in the gymnasium. I could not raise or lower both flags at the same time, so I would first do the South African Flag (slowly in time with the bugle from the navy), and then run to the other side of the house to raise or lower the Union Jack flag. On gale-force windy days I would hoist very small flags…on normal to breezy days, bigger ones…I enjoyed doing this job.
Old Whale Catching Steel-Hull Ship
Closer to the long main jetty and below our house was a sandy/rocky beach. (a large stretch of the beach was visible at low tide, but covered at high tide only exposing the tops of the rocks. A few meters from this beach in the middle of this little bay was a sunken Norwegian Whale Catching Steel Ship lying 60 degrees on it’s port side, keel on the bottom, with it’s bow facing the beach head-on. I was never able to find out how it got there, or the circumstances about its sinking. But here was another “toy” for my friends and I to play on. At mid-way between low and high tide, we would swim from the beach climb aboard, and then run from main deck port/fore side below the wheel-house to port/fore starboard side, dive off the ship into the water, making sure that we clear the starboard side plates. This was fun, and none of us ever got hurt. Sadly, divers came, closed the holes in the keel, refloated the ship, and she was towed slowly by a small craft on a calm day to Hoetjies Bay beach area, beached, cut up and sold as scrap.
Our Next-Door Neighbors House and Patrol Boat
As you can see on the one picture you sent me, our neighbors house was between our house and right next to the naval hedge-covered wire fence. Mr. De Kock, his wife, 3 sons and 1 daughter (Europeans) lived there. He worked for the Dept. of Fisheries and was skipper of their boat, a fairly fast wooden motor patrol vessel (almost the same shape, but little smaller than the large wooden trawlers I described above). His vessel had on deck a large enclosed Cabin, with one bunk, a Kitchen, Toilet and Wheel-house (all under one roof) and had two masts, one short one at the back and a tall one with boom in the front. It also had a Fox’ol in front on the deck for crew quarters. (Only had a crew of 3…engineer (who was also cook, and 2 deck-hands (all Europeans)
Mr De Kock was responsible for patrolling the islands in Saldanha and as far as Dassen Island outside the bay, and would be on the look-out for any illegal fishing and seal poaching. No, he did not have a 3inch gun mounted on the deck, but he did have an enfield .303 rifle and .22 rifle in a cabinet inside his wheel-house. His ammunition was kept in a safe place in his house and was only taken on board when he sailed. Was his cabin door on the boat locked? No! It was very safe to keep things unlocked in those early years, and there were never thefts or any reports of theft. His boat would berth at the bottom of the cliff below our house tied onto a permanent anchor-bouy (small bouy). No other boat, naval or fishing trawler, would go near or attach to that bouy !
But here was another opportunity for us youngsters.
Mr. de Kocks 3 sons were my school and playmates (I also had other playmates whose fathers were naval and military academy officers). Mr de Kock would keep his small 2-ore rowing boat (“bakkie” or “dingy” as we would call them) tied next to a very small (tiny) wooden jetty situated next to a very small rowing-boat slip-way situated in turn next to the main long jetty. He and his crew would use the dingy to row out to his patrol boat when going on trips to the islands towing the dingy behind the boat.
Mr De Kock’s sons would ask him if we could take his dingy to row to his boat and play on the deck, and climb up the ladders of the main mast (port and starboard) . His answer was always “Ja…maar moenie kwaad aanvang nie”
So, we rowed to the patrol boat, climbed on board and played around for a while, but then we slowly moved to the cabin door (un-locked), slipped inside, and there they were…. .303 and .22 stearing us in the face. Yes, we played with them, cocking the bolts, and pulling the triggers…needless to say with no ammunition.
I remember one of the 3 sons, Servaas De Kock (known to us as Stevie De Kock) saying to me that he was thinking of joining the navy to become a “Paddaman” (Frogman) after he left school. This would have been in 1963 or 1964. I am not sure that he did so or not.
In one of the 3 face-brick houses, just up the road from our house, lived a Lieutenant Gower (2-stripes) with his wife and one son. He was from England and came to South Africa after WW2. His son had a lot of “Dinky Toys” (cast-metal non-motorized cars and trucks, military and commercial, made by the firm “Meccano Ltd, Liverpool, England and imported into South Africa after the WW2. These toys were “the toys that every boy wanted to have” and so we became friends sharing and playing with our Dinky Toys.
Lieutenant Gower was of a slim-to-medium build and the smartest man on the parade ground. He led the passing-out naval parade at the end of each year. No other officer could march and perform movements like he could, and the Top Brass knew this. He held the honor of perfecting every movement of sword, arms and legs, and the crowd loved it. He issued his commands with sharp, crystal clarity, and his men responded instantly. The top brass and their wives from Simonstown, Pretoria and Saldanha military academy would be present, and Admiral Biermann would take the salute. As kids, along with our parents, we enjoyed watching this event every year.
Sadly, Lt. Gower was involved in a motor-car accident. He was one of the passengers travelling one day to Cape Town in the car of the principal of Saldanha Primary School. The principal, Mr. Van Der Merwe was driving (excess speeding we were later told), and collided with another vehicle. No one was killed, BUT Lt. Gower lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheel-chair. He was transferred to Simonstown sitting behind a desk. What a tragedy.
The whole naval and many in the civilian community was in a state of shock, and if looks could kill, Mr. Van Der Merwe would have been 6-feet underground earlier than expected.
Further up the road overlooking the bay was the home of the naval commanding officer, Captain Biermann. Captain Biermann also had an older brother in the navy, his rank being Admiral.
When Captain Biermann was transferred to Simonstown, his post in Saldanha was filled by Commander Joubert (3 full stripes). He drove his own DKW car to work and home.
The Port Captain (4 stripes) (European) worked for SAR&H and lived further on from Cmdr Joubert’s house. His name was Mr. Harding, and he had a very large family, a wife and 9 children, mostly girls. 3 of the oldest (girls) were married lived away from Saldanha. Mr Harding also had a department bicycle that he used for transport. He used to drink excessively and now and again would fall off his bicycle. His SAR&H face-brick house, with steps leading down the cliff to the large jetty, is still standing today near Cmdr Joubert’s house.
I had many friends whose father’s were in the army. The Commanding officer was colonel De Vos (full colonel). He once came to give us school children a short motivational talk one Friday morning at Saldanha Primary school.
The Regimental Sergeant Major was RSM Snyman. He served in WW2 with the South African forces in Italy and married an Italian girl soon after the war. He had 2 children, a boy and a girl. His daughter was very pretty, and I took a fancy to her. But things never got serious, especially when my dad was transferred back to East London in early January 1962.
(P.S. Us children were all terrified of RSM Snyman, perhaps because of his authority on the parade ground)
There were only 2 factories: Saldanha Bay Canning and I think Southern Seas. (Sea Harvest did not exist).The trawlers would arrive fully loaded with sardines and pilchards (holds full and fish almost knee-deep on deck) very low-down in the water…so low that very little of the bow was visible above water. Same with the Cray-fish trawlers…You could see the crayfish flapping their tails on deck. The snoek trawlers were smaller vessels, and a lot of the snoek would arrive ashore gutted and cleaned by the crew. My dad used to send me to buy directly from the trawlers…20cents for a full snoek and 50cents for a large full-size crayfish. Those were the good days.
The Main Shop in Town
Mr Rabe owned the largest grocery and general dealer shop in Saldanha. You could buy just about anything from his shop. My dad (dressed in his full dark navy-blue customs uniform and white cap, summer and winter) and I would ride our bicycles into town every Saturday morning to do shopping. Our bicycles would sometimes be over-loaded with large pockets of potatoes, onions, gem-squash, beans, peas, cabbage, carrots and fruit of all shapes and sizes. Our meat was bought from the local butchery…I don’t remember who the owner was. How we managed to ride home so over-loaded without falling off our bicycles is a miracle, but manage we did.
We had our own post box and key at the post office (P.O. Box 53) and the box would be emptied every Saturday when shopping, and as well as when I happened to ride into town on my bicycle with my friends.
Whaling Station at Donkergat, Langebaan
Every year during the whaling season, a fleet of Norwegian large-size Whale-Catcher ships would come and hunt for whales. The ships would tow the whales caught to the whaling station at Donkergat to be cut-up. Langebaan was very small and no-where near the size it is today.
Bioscope (Movies) Hosted by the Navy
Bioscope was available Wednesday evenings and Saturday evenings and was a highlight of the week. Up-coming programs were typed out by the navy on A4 sheets of paper, and handed out just before the start of the next month, free of charge, showing dates and film titles so you could see exactly what was going to be screened during the month.
It was in a recreational hall with large air ventilators on the roof. The hall was situated near the “new” parade ground and chairs would be put out (by the navy) before each performance. Saturday nights was popular and always full, with mostly naval cadets, officers with families and also a few civilian families. Wednesday evening was not so well attended…some cadets attended. (As children we were not allowed go. Our parents said it was time for school home-work and early to bed for Thursday school). The cost to attend was 9cents for children and 15cents for adults. This included (Saturday evenings) the latest British Movie tone News…a news-reel of what was happening each week around the world, a Tom and Jerry comedy or other similar comedy, intermission, and then a full-length different colour movie each week. Refreshments such as sweets, peanuts, chocolates, cold-drinks (in glass bottles) and sealed packets of dry chips were served at the back of the hall behind a counter. (Cool drink was 5cents a bottle). Empty bottles were left in the hall next to our chairs after the show…and NO ONE stole the bottles.
There was, as far as I remember, only one school for European’s, i.e. Saldanha Primary School.
The standards later were in ascending order:- Sub A, Sub B, Standard 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. There was no high school. The nearest High School was Vredenburg High which catered for Standards 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. (10 = Matric). Children from Saldanha, Velddrift, Paternoster, Langebaan-Weg etc. were taken by private busses to and from Vredenburg High school every day of the week.
Vredenburg High also had boarding (koshuis) facilities for those students wanting to use them.
Some of the best years of my life were spent, with no regrets, as a young boy in Saldanha, and if I could go back in time to re-live those years with my friends and their families, I would most gladly do so.