View Wallposts Gallery Join us on Facebook

Life and times of Annie Martens (1898 To 1977)

 

Nicola Harris, Great-Granddaughter of Anna (Annie) Martens (1898-1977), daughter of Jan Thomas (1859-1990), did a project on her Great-Grandmother’s life when she was still in Grade 9. This project was posted on the Greytown website and provides a poignant insight into life in Natal. She was a pretty special lady and especially the extract from her diary describing how she met Jan Smuts and King George VI accompanied by the, then, Princess Elizabeth on their visit in 1947.

Note: If anybody should know the contact details for Nicola please contact me.

Idyllic  Childhood

Foundation member, president and Honorary Life Member of the Woman's Institute in Greytown, mayoress of Greytown for six terms, president of the Umvoti Horticultural Society, president of the Woman's Auxiliary, president and Honorary Life Member of the Greytown Child Welfare Society and Tennis Club, and recipient of Civic Honours.

This was my great-grandmother, Annie Harris!

It was in the autumn of 1898, on 25 April, that Susanna Engela Martens, nee Vermaak gave birth to my great-grandmother Annie.  She was the second youngest child and youngest daughter in a family of ten children.

Her mother, and father Jan Thomas Martens, were both descendants of the Voortrekkers who were the first white settlers in this region in the early 1840's. After the British Annexation of Natal in 1845, the farmers who would not submit to British rule, packed their wagons, rounded up their stock, left their farms and trekked north. Ann's grandparents were among those who remained. This was just as well for the future of the region because unlike the British and German settlers, who tried to farm according to the methods used in their home countries, those who remained were seasoned settlers. They were accustomed to the climate, strange stock diseases, poor or non-existent roads, lack of transport and the large amount of land needed to make a living.

Annie grew up on the beautiful farm "Groenkop" in the Seven Oaks district which lies in the heart of the Umvoti County. The district is known as the Jewel of Natal, due to its rich natural resources. These led to the growing of magnificent timber plantations, sugar, maize, cotton, tobacco and various kinds of fruit and vegetables. At the time of her birth, Annie's father owned half of Seven Oaks and, on what is now developed agricultural land, 500 hartebeest roamed freely on their cattle farm. This fact was confirmed in one of T.V. Bulpin's books. In later years, Annie often sadly recalled the tragedy that struck in 1911.  It was during "The Great Snowstorm" that most of the hartebeest on their farm were wiped out.

Annie was small in stature, with big blue eyes, an elegant figure, dark hair, and a fine skin. She was a girl of extraordinary character, born with many gifts and talents, and would undoubtedly today be recognised as a gifted child. She spent her entire life developing her God-given talents to the full. She always had perfect confidence in herself and was a born leader. Annie enjoyed a privileged childhood and became an accomplished horse rider, shottest and tennis player. Her life was sheltered and carefree, with glorious days spent horse riding (side saddle) on the farm with her parents, brothers and sisters. These were always happy occasions filled with laughter. She also spent a great deal of time swimming in the crystal clear farm streams during the summer months and loved playing with the farmyard animals and pets.

She had exceptional talent in practical things and, at an early age learnt the culinary arts from her mother; in particular the delicious old Dutch methods. She became a superb cook and people who knew her said most of her cooking was done without recipes, "a bit of this and a pinch of that with the result that many of her recipes have not been passed down to her great-grandchildren She was a quick learner and her artistic flair could be seen in the garnishing and decorating of her food.  She also sewed and knitted beautifully, most of the time without patterns.

Annie received little formal education and was taught by governess', which was quite common among the more privileged in those days. One of her governess' was Betty Wessels, who later married a farmer from Kranskop. Annie had obviously formed a strong bond with Betty, as they remained loyal friends throughout their lives.

The contentment of Annie's early life was not to last, for in the Autumn of 1912, only days before her fourteenth birthday, her mother died.  For a child barely in her teens, it was a traumatic loss and life was never quite the same again. She had idolised her mother and it was difficult to face life without her.

A few years later her father remarried and had a son Boetie (Johannes Bernardus) and a daughter Regina. Her new stepmother was kind to the stepchildren, but could never replace their mother. She always wore black and, like Annie, was a petite lady. Sadly Annie lost her father when she was 18. He was on his way to Greytown when he had a fatal heart attack. 

Marriage and Children

Annie fell in love with Alfred John Harris and married him in the Dutch Reform Church in Greytown on 12 February 1919. Alfie was the son of Mr and Mrs G. W. Harris, a large cartage contractor in Greytown.

Annie had been protected from the trauma of World War I by living on a farm that was self-sufficient and where contact with worldly affairs was limited. She was able to start her married life at the beginning of a time of prosperity, which became known as the "roaring twenties."

Alfie purchased a beautiful house in Greytown and they spent their entire married life in their home at 180 York street. They were a devoted couple, who lovingly called each other Billy. Tragedy struck in 1921 when Annie and Alfie lost their first child, Keath, in infancy. However much to their delight another son, Kenneth, my grandfather, was born on 30 April 1924. A daughter, Lola, was born on the 15 December 1926. You could say that Annie's bark was worse than her bite. Having been the second youngest child in a large family she was used to having her way, so she ruled her family with an iron rod. At home she ruled the roost in an efficient no-nonsense manner but beneath her stern exterior, she was a romantic at heart and showered her family with love and attention. She treated her children well and bordered on pampering them. They had a very happy contented childhood with lots of fun, sport and support from Annie and Alfie in everything they did.

Alfie Harris was an estate agent and well known businessman in Greytown. He was a tea-totaller, as he had promised his father he would never touch alcohol. He kept this promise but made up for it with soft drinks sweets and ice-cream, at Annie's discretion or when she was not around. He had an impish sense of humour, and loved to get up to mischief behind Annie's back.

Every Saturday the children and Alfie had to have caster oil, "To get rid of the rubbish in your tummy," Annie would explain, and no one dared argue with her. Alfie used to keep his caster oil in his mouth and spit it out when she turned her back. The children soon learnt this tack too. Annie was a devout Christian. An over-riding factor in her life was her deep and unquestionable faith in God, a power greater than herself. Alfie shared her beliefs and the whole family attended 
services in the Dutch Reformed Church regularly.

"i" (communion) was a big occasion, when folk from the out-lying areas converged on Greytown. Annie's sister Harriet, her husband Wiz and their son Frank, always arrived from Rietvlei with their wagon laden with farm supplies and stayed with Alfie and Annie. Hendrik Loots, his wife and children always passed 180 York Street with their trap and horses at exactly the same time, on their way to church.  The alarm was thus raised in the Harris household with Annie declaring, "Loots has gone by," and the family knew it was time to be on their way.

Alfie and Annie gave the children every possible opportunity and both Ken and Lola were educated at good schools. Ken went to Maritzburg College where he was a prefect and played in the first rugby and second cricket teams. Lola went to Girls High in Pietermaritzburg and was voted the most popular girl in her class in matric. She then went to Rhodes University where she graduated with a BA degree in Social Science.

Annie's home was always immaculate. On the wall of her entrance hall she had a display of African Curios that was described as one of the finest collections in Natal. Hanging in the archway from the hallway to her elegant lounge was a pair of unique bead curtains which she had made from seeds. They rustled cheerfully as one walked through them and made an indelible impression on everyone who passed through them.

In all her married life, Annie only had two servants. Jim faithfully served the family until his death. He was an interesting character who ate nothing but watered down mealie meal porridge. At meal times he sat on the back veranda steps, and drank this mixture from the large saucepan in which it had been cooked. The other servant was Esai, who became an alcoholic and as Annie grew older and less vigilant, he gradually whittled away precious items of crockery, cutlery and bed-linen to pay for his expensive habit. After Annie's death the family found mounds of empty half-jack bottles in the cellar, which had to be removed by the truck load. It was always a source of great amazement to her friends that her living rooms were never without at least three or four arrangements of fresh flowers from her garden. She was so quick and dexterous that this posed no problem to her.

Annie's artistic talent was evident in her garden that was always a rainbow of colour. She personally spent many hours toiling in her garden with the help of her faithful servant, Jim. The back garden had masses of large, unusual stones which Annie and Jim, moved to create rock gardens in front of her home. Her proudest achievement was the creation of a grotto with a rock 
garden, a birdbath and overhanging ferns.

The pet black crow, Jill, could always be found near anyone digging in the garden. He eagerly inspected each up-turned sod, hoping to pick up titbits of worms and bugs The families' efforts to teach Jill to talk had failed. Instead she learnt to do perfect imitations of the roosters crowing, dogs barking and hen's cackling after laying an egg.

Annie's gardening talents led to her becoming a foundation member of the Umvoti Horticultural Society and she served as its president for several years. Somehow she developed the "Anne Harris flowering peach tree".  This is an ornamental tree that has spectacular deep pink blossoms in early Spring. It is unique in that it grows from seed, while most flowering peach trees are produced by grafting. Many of these flowering peach trees can still be seen in Greytown, and its surroundings.

On the sporting side, Annie was an accomplished tennis player and was champion of her club in singles and doubles on numerous occasions. She gave back to her sport by serving as president of the tennis club and personally supervised the resurfacing of the tennis courts; an extraordinary achievement for a woman working with only one or two unskilled labourers. In recognition of her various services she was awarded an Honorary Life Membership of the Greytown Country Club, and thus became the only woman to receive this award.

There always remained some "farmer' in Annie as she loved to have chickens in the backyard and there were always many pets in the home. Whenever Annie sharpened her knife by clicking two knives together all three cats would be next to her in a flash as they knew she was about to cut up their meat. The crow Jill also ate meat and when she had had enough she painstakingly buried the remains and dug it up later when she felt peckish. She and Pep, a mongrel, built up a firm friendship. They often curled up together and slept in the sun. Jill snapped up any ticks she found on Pep and hunted for fleas on his belly.

Lola unfortunately did not share this close friendship with Jill. She was Lola's worst enemy and ruled her with an "iron beak". Many were the days that she held Lola hostage in the outside toilet. Every time Lola tried to escape, Jill dive-bombed her.

The family also owned a budgie, that was never harmed by the cats. She often pulled their whiskers and the long hairs that protruded from their ears.

Family Holidays

The family always went to Rietvlei over the Festive Season and stayed with Harriet and Wis. They spent wonderful holidays shooting, fishing, horse riding and playing tennis. One day Harriet and Annie gathered the children for one of their regular walks. While peacefully ambling through the bush, eagle eyed Annie firmly exclaimed "Stop!" raised her rifle, took aim and shot a 4 metre long python that lay across their path. Annie subsequently had shoes and a handbag made from the skin.

During the winter holidays the family sometimes joined relatives and friends for canoeing trips at the Tugela Hot Springs. This was on an island in the middle of the Tugela River, beyond Kranskop. It was only accessible in winter when the river was at its lowest. The cars were parked on the mainland and all supplies were moved on foot, across stepping stories. There were six 
natural sulphur springs on the island, each about two and a half meters in diameter. Each spring was fenced in with thatch and everyone took several baths daily. During the day the family fished, went canoeing and took long walks around the island, while Annie did the washing on large flat stones in the river and prepared the meals. At night everyone gathered round a large bonfire for a braai, rusks and coffee and a sing song.

Alternate July holidays were spent on the Natal North Coast, at Pumula Cottage, Blythedale Beach. The family "trekked" over gravel roads which were fraught with hazards and sometimes impassable after heavy rains. It was a common occurrence for cars to become stuck in the mud for several hours. This meant that motorists had to carry chains to attach to the wheels and this was a rather tedious and messy task. Alfie was never one to get his hands dirty or to undertake anything of a practical nature; much like my father. The securing of chains and changing of wheels thus always ended with Annie either doing the job herself or supervising some kind passer-by. It was never established whether Alfie was really incapable of undertaking these tasks, or whether he was just being very clever! I suspect the latter.

For these holidays at the beach, Annie always made certain that she had enough supplies, which included live chickens in a cage, as there were no fridges. Meat was kept cool for short periods in a cold box or a dark, cool room. Firewood was also taken down for the wood stove, as well as lamps and candles as there was no electricity. Water for dish washing and baths was heated in four go-goks (paraffin tins) and baths were rationed to every other day, with swims in the sea providing 
"baths" in-between.

The family enjoyed these holidays at Pumula cottage so much that Alfie and Annie decided to build a cottage of their own. It was built by Ken and labourers, under the careful supervision of Annie.

The cottage still stands today, and is used regularly by the family; a tribute to Annie's energy and foresight. 

Greytown  in the 30's, 40's and 50's

Just below the lovely Greytown Town Hall was the market. This was very important in the lives of the residents. On Friday nights the markets were crowded out for the auction of farm produce. Products were neatly arranged in square lots on rows and rows of counters. The auctioneer, Hendrik Loots, was a colourful character full of humorous barter and was fluent in English,Afrikaans, German and Hindu. Annie used to thoroughly enjoy these evenings and entered whole heartedly into the excitement of obtaining bargains and back-chatting Hendrik. Towards the end of each year, another exciting event occurred in the lives of the housewives of Greytown. As October drew near they all prepared for the arrival of the Muden peaches. These were transported from Muden by ox wagons, which were outspanned on the common for several days. The Africans slept under their wagons and during the day, the woman hawked the peaches, which they carried in "go-goks" on their heads. The peaches sold for half a crown (25c) per go-gok. This was always an exciting time for Annie. She did all the buying for her out of town friends, going straight to the wagons to get the best bargains. During the week that followed, there was much activity in Annie's kitchen, with bottles and bottles of peaches being preserved for storage on the pantry shelves. The peaches were out of this world. They were big, juicy, yellow clingstone peaches, filled with flavour and fresh from the tree; only to live in the memories of the lucky people of that era.

Television was non-existent in the early days but there was never a dull moment. If anyone got bored there was always the arrival of the passenger train from Pietermaritzburg to look forward to. A common question would be, "Did you meet the train last night?" or "Are you going to the station tonight?"

Every evening the train pulled slowly into the Greytown station, announcing its impending arrival with a hoot, as it slowly curled itself around the bend and came to a loud clattering halt. Annie, Alfie and the children could often be seen at the station. If  passengers had no one in particular to meet them, there was always a group of Greytown residents to welcome newcomers. The station porter, Koot Nel was one of the great characters presiding over the station. A man of many parts, Koot was a member of the Nel family who were regarded as the Greytown "aristocracy", numbering among them the famous 1937 Springbok rugby captain, Phillip Nel.

Koot was a tall man with a slightl paunch and was always dressed in his porter's uniform. His long black serge pants with years of shine on them, hung at half mast and his collarless blue shirt was fastened at the grubby neckline with a brass stud. To this he added a waistcoat, his porter's cap and large black shoes. He bustled around with his porter's trolley, loading, pushing and unloading luggage. He reigned supreme over the station platform and all the people on it. He was Afrikaans but spoke with a cultivated Cockney accent and laced all his announcements with a brand of Cockney humour.

Sadly today, this station which was once the scene of much hustle and bustle is deserted and merely a ghost of what it once was. Trains coming and going are few and far apart and the social scenes played out on the station platform are relics of a more romantic past.

Annie was a foundation and active member of the Woman's Institute in Greytown, which was founded in 1928. She participated in their activities wholeheartedly for years. She had recoginsed the need for young married women to meet others and share their ideas and develop their talents. Her own talents were a source of great inspiration to others. Most of the members were farmer's wives who travelled to town once a week, usually by horse and trap on rough gravel roads They dressed up for the occasion, which was quite a social event and the rapid growth of the organisation showed that there was a real need for a society of this nature. They held cake, floral and needlework shows and worked tirelessly to raise flinds for worthy causes, and were particularly active during the depression years from 1929-1933. Annie served as president for several years, and was a judge in the cookery, needlework and floral art section of their shows. In recognition for her dedicated 
services she was made an Honorary Life Member of the Greytown Woman's Institute.

It was during the war years that Alfie was first elected Mayor of Greytown. He served in this capacity from 1944-1949 and again in 1965. As mayoress, Annie entertained high dignatories effortlessly and with dignity. She was renowned for her graciousness as a hostess and many wedding receptions, parties and meetings were held on the long veranda of their home. She was also a foundation member, and for many years chairlady of the Greytown Child Welfare Society. She was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in recogintion of her long and devoted services.

Although she gave unstintingly of her time to community services, Annie never neglected her children, husband or friends.

Inextricably woven into the fabric of Annie's life was the wide circle of friends, whom she and Alfie gathered around them over the years. With their friends Annie and Alfie enjoyed a full and happy social life.

Every year the Mayor of Greytown gave a ball in the Town Hall. All members of the comminity were invited.  These were grand occasions when all and sundry dressed up in their "glad rags" -long formal evening dresses for the women and dress suits for the men. They filled the Town Hall to capacity. The Mayor and Mayoress, councillors and their wives, the magistrate and his wife and other prominent citizens always made a "grand entrance." Later they look the lead on the floor for the first dance of the evening. Elderly people and those without partners, would watch the dancing, and, as can be imagined, they were a hot bed of local gossip!  The local Hooper Super Duper Band always provided the music. Norman Hooper played the saxophone, Mike Hattingh the piano and Bob Ellis the drums. Their music was of the highest standard, and it was said that Norman Hooper could have attained national, even world fame if he had made a career of his music. Norman and his wife and family lived next door to Alfie and Annie and interestingly enough their two sons, Ian and Jeremy, are now well-known television producers.

These were wonderful carefree, simple and yet elegant and productive years. How sad it is that so much of the charm and values of that era have disappeared. 

The War Year

World War II broke out in 1939 and affected the lives of every South African. Economically, times were tough and able bodied men and women volunteered and went to war in far away North Africa and Europe.

Annie's children were both at school at this time, but after Ken matriculated in 1941, he volunteered to join the South African troops. One can only imagine the anguish that Annie experienced when she waved her only son goodbye, as he went off to war. My grandfather vividly remembers his mother waving a white handkerchief as the train slowly wound its way out of Pietermaritzburg.

Mercifully he returned home two years later, in 1944, and set off a chain of events that resulted in my being here today.

It was in 1942, that Annie and Alfie walked out of the Dutch Reformed Church in protest, when the minister refused to pray for the servicemen fighting in World War 11. They found refuge in the Methodist Church, and Annie was soon elected co-chairlady of the Woman's Auxiliary, which provided comforts for the troops in North Africa and Italy.

Everyday there would be a hive of activity in the Oddfellows Hall with the woman baking, cooking, sewing, knitting and preparing gifts to be sent to the boys up North. Annie was in charge of gifts and was known as the "Sergeant Major." She worked tirelessly and stood no nonsense from her helpers.

At Christmas time Annie was in charge of making large batches of Christmas cake and plum pudding mixtures. This was then divided among the ladies for baking and steaming. One day one of the helpers, Mrs Vial, looked at her hand and found that her wedding ring had slipped off into one of tile mixtures. Horrors! It was impossible to know which one it was in, so a note was placed on each cake and pudding, asking the recipient to look out for it. The story goes that Mrs Vial's own son Rodney, actually found the ring in his Christnias cake. Whether this is true or not we do not know but when Rodney returned home after the war he brought the ring with him. At the end of the war, afler all the local men had returned, Annie, Mrs Rowsell and Mrs Henderson were honoured for their contribution at a grand banquet at the Town Hall.

A Royal Occasion

One of the great highlights of Annie's life was the visit of the King and Queen to Natal in 1947. At the time Annie was mayoress as Alfie was serving one of his six terms as mayor. No one managed to capture the excitement of the occasion better than the following extract from Annie's diary.

At 7.30 p.m. (Monday night) Alfie was busy dressing for a dinner given by the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, whilst I was busy ironing my dress and packing suitcases, and at the same time endeavouring to concentrate for fear of forgetting some important garment for the great day. Alfie went off at 7.55 p.m., when I started painting my nails and then read until the arrival of my better half at 1130 p.m. We had our bath and retired after midnight.

As we were so excited no alarm was necessary and at 1.40 a.m. I switched on the lights and again at 4.30 a.m. From then on sleep was out of the question and I decided to get up at 5.00 a.m.

We rushed around and as usual, "did everything," including making up our beds , more packing and making sandwiches. 
We were finally on our way in our Rolls Royce at 6.30 a.m. Mr and Mrs Vial and Mrs Dolavers were our passengers. Our 
car was decorated with two large flags attached to the bonnet and "Official" pasted onto the windscreen, which entitled us to travel anywhere in Pietermaritzburg, or in the world for that matter, without interference by the police, cops, or any member of the Government General's staff. I really looked and felt like "the cats whiskers."

We duly landed at Mrs De Graaf's and after a hell of a lot of fuss on the part of our hostess, I was fully clad and presented to Mr De Graaf, Mr and Mrs Fulton and a Mrs Bluns, who all bowed. I felt perfectly satisfied to meet the King, Queen, the Princess and anybody else in the world. We then motored to our parking site which was between the Market Hall and the Town Hall, and I entered the Town Hall on the arm of my old husband, who also looked quite nice in his robe and mayoral chain. We were duly shown to our places by the Town Clerk and after being introduced to our dignitaries, took our place on the dais to await the arrival of the Royal Party. The only others from Greytown were Mr and Mrs G. I. Van Rooyen M. P. C. Our seats were in the second row and those of the Judge President behind us in the third row so we were quite important for once in our lives.

Being so high up we had a wondenul view of the enormous crowd and recognised many people from Greytown and other districts.

I was dressed in white, with a black hat and white ostrich feathers, black gloves, bag and shoes to match and Mrs P.O. Nel's fur coat over one shoulder. Oh boy, oh boy, did I look smart. Feathers usually make the bird but it very definitely made me for this wonderful day. The Royal Party arrived at 10.30 a.m. and what a reception greeted them. Full reports appeared in the 
press. After the usual welcome we retired to the supper room for tea. My old man and I were 15th and 16th on the list to be presented to the Administrator.

We shook hands with the whole party and also General Smuts. On being presented, the King asked Alfie, "How far is Greytown?" and he replied, "48 miles your majesty." The Queen said, "I believe Greytown is a very pretty place," and to this I replied, "The prettiest in the Union." "Oh that is nice of you to say that," said the Queen.  General Smuts said "Mooi so Greytown, mooi so Mnr Harris," and to Mrs H. "bly dat julle gekom het."

We then stood round drinking tea. The Queen was beautifully dressed, she looked grand and was very charming. She rose and looked towards Alfie and gave him such a nice smile, and he, never being backward in coming forward took full advantage and returned one of his very best smiles. To our great and very pleasant surprise the Queen came straight to us and spoke to us for at least 5 minutes telling us of magnificent scenery at the park, amongst other things.

When finally she stated that it had been a very strenuous tour, Alfie suggested that, "Her Majesty might be persuaded to prolong her stay and have a complete rest." To this she replied that she would love to but had to do as she was told. When the Queen moved on the lady in waiting, Lady Harleck spoke to us for even longer. We spoke about several subjects such as rugby and scenery. Alf told her that he thought the Queen most charming and said, "She must have a wondeful soul."

The Royal Party left the hall at 11.20 a.m. and although we were with them for at least three quarters of an hour we had not had enough and followed them to the park, to the station and finally to the garden party to have a final glimpse of them.

We left Pietermaritzburg at 6.00 p.m. and still not satisfied, switched on the radio in the car and listened to the various commentaries.

We arrived home at 8.30 p.m. very tired but satisfied that we had spent the RED LETTER DAY of our lives. 

Grandchildren on the Horizon

Another memorable event in Annie's life was Lola's wedding on 16 January 1949. She married Rail Dent, son of Professor Dent, who was the principal of Fort Hare University. Rail was a school teacher and had been shot down while flying a fighter plane in the war.

Lola's wedding was Annie's chance to display her talents at entertaining. The reception was held on her large veranda, spilling out into her lush garden. Alas! There was a big hitch, as the bridegroom fell ill the week before the wedding and had to undergo an emergency operation in the Greytown Hospital. The couple decided to go ahead with the wedding, and the ceremony was conducted in the hospital ward. The reception took place at 180 York Street.

Lola was a beautiful girl with light brown, curly hair, a slim figure, shapely legs and her father's impish sense of humour. She made a radiant bride in an elegant cream bridal outfit and carried a bouquet of miniature dahlias made by her mother. 
Fortunately Rail had an identical twin brother, Cliff, who was the best man. He stood next to Lola for the wedding photographs. The bridesmaids were Rail's sister Mary and Ken's fiance, Joan Bower, who is my grandmother.

Just over a month later on the 26 February 1949 Ken married Joan at the St Peter's Church in Pietermaritzburg. Their reception was held in the Supper Room of the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall.  Once again Annie was responsible for the exquisite floral arrangements.

Ken and Joan went to live on the farm Quarme, that Alfie had bought while Ken was at war. Annie was closely involved in building the first farm house and helped Ken and Joan settle into their new home. Ken became a prominent sugar cane and wattle farmer, and they still live on this farm. This is the family farm that my father refers to as "home".

Annie's greatest joy was the arrival of her first grandchild, my father, Paul, son of Ken and Joan. They had another three sons, Nigel, Peter and Roy. Rail and Lola had two sons, Hugh and Mark, and the only granddaughter, Lynne. Annie was never a passive grandmother and entered wholeheartedly into the lives of her grandchildren ,sometimes to the point of interfering. This was however only because she loved them so much.

Being a close knit family, holidays were still spent together. Rail, Lola, Ken, Joan and the grandchildren all joined Annie and Alfie at their beach cottage at Blythedale Beach. Annie, as usual, was in charge. After serving a huge breakfast she would start sweeping the floor. This was the cue for everyone, including Alfie, to go down to the beach so that she could get on with her household chores. They knew that they were, under no circumstances, to return until lunch time. These idyllic holidays 
contributed to the family remaining close and to this day Annie's descendants, my family, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins still holiday there. Long may it last!

The Final Years

Annie's lifelong devotion to helping others, was rewarded in 1967 when she was awarded Civic Honours. The citation read:-

"On behalf of the people of this Borough, The Greytown Town Council, on this day pay our honour to Anne Harris a gentlewoman, sportswoman and a champion of the underprivileged, who, during the past half century has devoted herself untiringly to charitable works amongst all sections of the community"

In 1971 her husband Alfie, was also awarded Civic honoured for his services to the cornmunity as acouncillor for 28 years and Mayor for 6 terms.

Annie and Alfie thus became the only couple in the Republic to receive Civic Honours independently.  

In the winter of 1976, with the countryside lying bleak and still, Alfie died of a sudden heart attack. He was 85 years old. He must have been ailing for some time but never admitted, and minutes after telling Ken, "I am as fit as a fiddle," he collapsed into his arms and died.

Sadly, or perhaps mercifully, Annie in the extremes of Alzheimer's disease, lay in her bed unaware of the drama being played out before her eyes.

Who knows what secrets and mysteries lie deep within the human psyche? How can one explain that Annie, her mind totally destroyed by the disease, that had totally overtaken her, showed a violent reaction at the exact time of Alfie's funeral? Her daughter-in-law, Joan, was looking after her at Quarme when she suddenly went completely limp and broke into a cold sweat. Annie survived Alfie by only seven months and died on 21 January 1977 in hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

I was born 2 years and 9 months later and I know that my life will be richer now that I "know" my great-grandmother.

Recent comments

Sponsor