We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in the same firm as a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR (now Arcelor Mittal) in Vanderbijl Park and we were living in the Valmeidere boarding house in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.
My parents and me in Vanderbijlpark (1950)
The school year in South Africa runs from January to December, so I, aged thirteen, went to yet another new school just in time to prepare to write the end of year exams in subjects with seemingly different syllabuses to the ones I had been studying at my previous school in Vanderbijlpark. I staggered into the middle of the busy road each morning, praying that I would not be knocked down by a speeding car, in order to catch a rattling tram on its way down the hill to Jeppe Girls’ High School, clad in my new green dress and black blazer with white stripes. The most important part of the uniform seemed to be the white panama hat adorned with ribbon of school colours and a badge in the front. There was a strict rule that thishat had to be worn at all times when outside of school. Heaven help anyone who removed it, or worse still, forgot to wear it.
The boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs McDonald-Rouse. Mrs McDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert party and was the accompanist to all the singers in the group. Her daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the Valmeidere. In due course, we were introduced to the McDonald-Rouses, Heather and her husband.
Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, shortly after their arrival in Johannesburg the year before and had become extremely friendly with them. Through the grapevine we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul at Heather’s wedding entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one he sang when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another lighter wedding favourite of his was the ballad, My Prayer.
Click on the link to hear Webster singing: BE THOU FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
In mid-1958, my parents, doubtful of what the future in South Africa held, made a bid to return to the UK. We lived in Southampton – yet another new school another different syllabus, new subjects and girls with Hampshire accents. My mode of transport in Southampton was a crowded bus from the suburb of Bitterne to St Anne’s Convent Grammar School. It was winter, so the bus journey began in the dark and ended in the dark by the time I reached home in the afternoon.
One of my parents’ friends had a grand piano on which I was allowed to practise and receive music lessons. The gentleman had a collection of 78 records which had belonged to his late wife. While his son and his friends chatted about various forms of jazz in the sitting room, I looked through the record collection in the dining room and was delighted to find a number of Anne and Webster’s recordings. After listening to their fill of Chris Barber records, the young men departed and I was able to play the duet records on the ancient record player. I enjoyed listening to the records and thinking that I had heard Anne and Webster singing in Johannesburg the previous year and knew something about them.
By the end of 1958 my parents decided that we would return to South Africa so we were on our way back on board the Pretoria Castle, the same ship on which Anne and Webster had travelled to South Africa in July 1956.