Thursday, 4 June 2020

Memories of our first journey to Cape Town in 1969

Travel is unfortunately on hold at the moment, and our next long-haul journey is likely to be to Cape Town next April for Comminution '21 and the XXX IMPC.
So I thought I might reminisce about our first ever journey to Cape Town, which might stir a few memories for blog readers who also experienced the leisurely manner of slowly eating up the 9700 km of ocean between Europe and South Africa's Mother City.
On a grey September afternoon in September 1969, Barbara and I slowly sailed from the port of Southampton; ahead of us two weeks on the RMS Windsor Castle, the flagship of the Union Castle Line.
RMS Windsor Castle
Launched in 1959, she was then, at 38,000 tons, the largest liner built in England. She was a very fine vessel, and we quickly settled in and made friends with a South African couple, Cath and Nels Jackson, who were returning to their home in Luanshya, Zambia after a long European holiday.
Compared with our usual 12 hours by Boeing 747, this was indeed a leisurely journey, with one stop at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, days spent swimming and playing deck quoits, evening discos and games and, of course the ‘crossing the line ceremony’ as we entered the southern hemisphere for the first time in our lives.
The Windsor Castle's Commodore Hort welcomes us on board
Youngsters at dinner
Crossing the line: the 'Greasy Pole' competition
Hippy night
The highlight of the journey was to be the approach to Cape Town, our stately entrance to South Africa, with the magnificent Table Mountain dominating the Table Bay skyline. We dragged ourselves on deck as day broke on that final day, only to be met by weather typical of that we had just left behind in Southampton, cold, grey and wet, and no sign of Table Mountain even as we approached our berthing. We did eventually see the mountain in all its glory, but that was 13 years later!
South Africa was in its most intense phase of Apartheid in 1969, and we spent a couple of days with Cath and Nels in a very uninviting Cape Town waiting for our cars to be unloaded, before heading off up the Great North Road (the N1) to an even more uninviting Johannesburg (MEI Blog 25 November 2010). Here Nels persuaded me to purchase short shorts and long socks, essential items in the Southern African uniform. I felt that they looked ridiculous then, and even more so now- at least Barbara was well suited to the fashions of the day!
Johannesburg: 1969 Southern African fashions, VERY short skirts and shorts and VERY long socks
After two days in Johannesburg, we said our goodbyes and headed north again, relieved to leave South Africa and drive through Rhodesia's Matabeleland and on to Victoria Falls, a journey which we did by luxury train only 6 months ago (MEI Blog 9 December 2019). And then across the Zambezi and on to our new life in Zambia.
Wonderful memories of what is now a long-gone era. It would be great to hear from you if you experienced this before the Union Castle line ceased operations in 1977.


  1. Barry, I do not want to say I envy you but great to read glimses of your pleasant menories of the past(including the dress code etc) and the future you(we) are looking forward to.
    I hope the pleasant and productive times are very near.

  2. Barry, in 1968 we arrived in Cape Town from the east having taken 3 weeks to travel from Australia via Singapore on the Achille Lauro. Weather on arrival was superb and we thought it was a magnificent harbour with Table Mountain as the backdrop. Not having a car we took the train, or rather several trains, from Cape Town to Kitwe which took around 4 days. We then went across to Chingola where I was assigned as a young Metallurgist to the Leach Plant. I have many fond memories of the Leach Plant, learning to fly and visiting a few game parks in Zambia.

    1. Hi Peter. I didn't realise that you were on the leach plant, at roughly the same time as I was on the concentrator (69-71). You would have known Peter Glass and Tony Brown, who came out to Chingola shortly after me and Barbara. I spent my last few months at Nchanga on the leach plant in 1973. It now no longer exists of course, the area having been swallowed up by the flash smelter- see Return to Nchanga. I have a few photos of my time on the leach plant which I will post on the blog during the summer

  3. Hi Barry,
    Your blog brought back many memories of our voyage to Cape Town in 1966 on board the Capetown Castle (I think it was its last voyage). I remember that Veronica’s father came down to Southampton to see us off and he remained a deminishing solitary figure on the quayside as we sailed away to our new life. I was due to take up a post as a geologist with the Swaziland Geological Survey.
    It was rather a dreary voyage as we only stopped at three ports. Mealtimes punctuated the day and we had Paddy as our waiter. I think he was always at the back of the queue as we never received what we had ordered. At one stage a fancy dress party was organised. Veronica dressed up as Nell Gwynn and I dressed down as Adam with a fig leaf and a snake round my neck. I think my choice caused a shock to the older generation on board. At one stage I had a painful foot and decided to visit the ship's doctor. He thought I’d need an amputation when I got to South Africa!
    We were lucky with the weather on our arrival as Table Mountain was there in all its glory. However, I mainly remember the noise of crates being ripped open by customs.
    Looking back we should have spent a day or two exploring Cape Town but I was anxious to press on. We caught a train to Johannesburg and then Breyten where we changed to a bus. The ticket collector was amazed to see we had single tickets! In the event we spent three happy years there - some of the best years of our lives when we made many lifelong friends.
    I enjoyed the photos in your blog. Barbara has barely changed!
    Richard Edwards, Malvern, UK

    1. Thanks Richard, great memories. Barbara thanks you for your kind comment! One thing that has changed is the length of her dresses

  4. Hi Barry
    As I think we have discussed previously, I made the exact journey, but in reverse. Having been born in Chingola (at the same hospital as Amanda) we left many years before you arrived via Cape Town and on the Windsor Castle to Southampton. Being 2 years old you would think I don’t remember it. However, for their wedding in Luanshya my parents received a gift of a cine camera and my dad became an avid cinemaphotographer. The whole journey and in fact the whole of my early life is recorded in all its detail. Growing up there was no internet or 100’s of tv channels so Saturday nights were invariably spent watching the cine films, so I can recall it like it was yesterday. Although ask me now what I did yesterday and I would have a problem! Regards, Mike Battersby

    1. Hi Mike. Like your dad I documented our time in Africa on Super-8 cine films. Twenty years later I acquired a camcorder and projected my films onto a white wall and recorded them, and then transferred to VHS. Now they are all on USBs and we have been watching them during lockdown!

    2. That's what my dad did. Although he had some machine that converted directly from Cine to VHS. He added appropriate background music and a commentary. They are now on USB's. Luckily he edited a lot, so it is all reduced to about 3 hours. We've watched it once and then my kids got bored!

    3. I put commentary onto one of my films- our tour around Rhodesia in 1970. I put this on YouTube a few months ago, as it shows what an amazing country Zimbabwe was before Mugabe wrecked it


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