Meanwhile I had gained a new interest. While I had been at school I’d become a Boy Scout and loved to be one with all the outdoor interests, hikes, camps, etc. My time as a cadet in the General Botha had, of course, stopped my scouting and my crowded final year at school had also prevented me from doing anything about scouting. But now, for nearly two months, I had nothing particular to do. I had, some time before, met a very fine man, Dr AP Moore-Anderson, who had started the Naval Cadets (later called Sea Cadets) in Cape Town in 1904, and who later became one of the members of the Board of Control of the General Botha. He now asked me to come and see him, which I did. He told me that he had seen how well I had done in the General Botha and he knew that I had been a keen Scout, so now he asked me to help him with the first Sea Scout troop in Cape Town. He had, when the Defence Department took over the Sea Cadets, lost his rank as their Commanding Officer so he had formed Cape Town’s first Sea Scout troop. He wanted to make it a complete troop, with Rover Scouts, Boy Scouts and Wolf Cubs in it but, to do this, he needed help. He already had a lady to run the Cubs and somebody for the Rovers, but needed someone to attend to the Sea Scouts. I was very pleased at his suggestion and so became Scout Master of the First Table Bay Sea Scout Troop. “APMA”, as we called him, could then become our Group Scout Master. Thus once again I wore a Navy Blue uniform with a cap that had a peak and a badge in front! APMA had persuaded the City Council to let him have a disused Fire Brigade building in Woodstock for use as a Scout Hall, so we went into it each Friday night. He had also managed to get a dory (a small rowing boat) for the troop and permission to moor it under that Pier which in those days projected into the sea from the bottom of Adderley Street. We used this boat every Saturday afternoon when the weather allowed us. We used to assemble on the Pier, then climb down into our boat, untie her, get out the oars and then start rowing, usually into the Bay and then on to Woodstock beach. When we got near to the place where we used to “beach” the boat we turned her stern-on to the shore, unshipped the rudder, shipped the oars except two which we used to steer the boat, then went in on a wave which threw us out on the sand of Woodstock Beach. It was a breath-taking manoeuvre to begin with, but we soon became accustomed to it. When our boat bumped the sand all the Scouts, bare-legged, of course, jumped onto the sand and hauled the boat up to just beyond the reach of the waves. The I could also step ashore! The boys then ran to a café just a few yards away where they could get a cool drink for a tickey (a threepenny piece) and a handful of coloured sweets for a penny! They loved this. Meanwhile I sat on the sand next to the boat and watched the boys enjoying themselves. When it was time to go or if the weather seemed to be changing I would blow my whistle and the lads would come running again to heave the boat into the water (with me inside!) and then jump into it when it was afloat.
If there was an interesting ship in the Albert or Victoria Dock we would row into the harbour and come alongside her. I would then ask the Duty Officer whether my boys could come aboard and was always given permission. On one occasion there was a lovely Finnish four-masted barque in dock, so we went across and got alongside her. I climbed up to ask the duty officer for permission to board her, which was immediately given. I turned around to tell the lads that we were welcome but got a shock, as not a boy was to be seen. Then I looked aloft ad saw all my boys very busy climbing up the rigging, much to the amusement of the Duty Officer. It took me a long time and much whistle blowing before they all came down, feeling very pleased with themselves.
Our boating activities were almost always done with the Sea Cadets, who had two ten-oared cutters to go about in. The Petty Officer in charge of them was an ex-RN one, so he and I had many yarns about the RN ships and Simon’s town harbour.
One Saturday the South-east wind suddenly started blowing in a gale, so we decided we would not go out. Suddenly a voice in a megaphone shouted to us from the docks that a yacht had been overturned in Table Bay and several people were in the water, so we were asked to send a boat to try to rescue them. The Petty Officer and I then decided to pick nine of the biggest boys from his boats and mine, that I would be the tenth and that he, being much older than me, would be the cox’n of the boat. I was to row “port stroke”. We all piled into the boat and she was at once pushed off by the other boys. As we pulled out we met the full force of the wind. It was the most unpleasant and dangerous boat’s trip that I had ever been in. The boat was pitching, nose under then aloft, rolling all the time from side to side; the wind was so strong that when we on the windward side lifted our oars out of the water on completion of a stroke it took all our strength to hold on to them.
The spray was so “solid” that in a few minutes we were wet through. It was really terrible and I began to wonder whether we would do it. Suddenly, however, a big motorboat passed us and the voice in the megaphone told us to return to the shore as they would do the job. Very carefully but very thankfully we turned our boat and managed to reach the shore without any further ado. It turned out that the motorboat, one of those that used to run about in harbour taking ropes from ship to shore or vice versa and doing other odd jobs in the harbour, had been asked to rescue the people from the yacht but they could not get their engines started so her captain had asked us to do the necessary. Fortunately, however, they were eventually able to get going and thus able to do the rescue work themselves. Some time later they returned, having saved the yacht’s crew.
I was at UCT for the period 1927 to 1931, during which time I was the Scout Master of the Sea Scouts and also managed to get the BA Degree in 1929 and that of BEd in 1931. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 a number of my Scouts who had joined the RNVR (SA Division) were called up for active service. Many of them were sent to HMS Neptune, the cruiser which was then Flagship of the Africa Squadron. She spent most of her time in the Mediterranean but was unfortunate enough to get caught in a minefield which the Italians had laid in secret and was blown up, all her crew sinking with their ship. So five of “my boys” were lost. APMA and I were immensely saddened when we heard the news. This, of course, was in 1941, long after I had been at UCT.
Two of my Scouts, Hugo Bierman and his brother Fanie, both joined the South African Naval Forces in World War II and both did very well. They elected to stay in the SANF after the war and both eventually became Admirals, Hugo ending up as Chief of the Defence Forces! So I was proud of “my boys.”
Meanwhile other things had been happening to me.
(The photo of the dory above is taken from the wonderful blog of TudorW:
It is actually a Newfoundland Dory but I guess the dory my father writes about here was not too different.)