Chapter 12

THE AFTERMATH

The long road of rehabilitation and adaption began with my return to office work and to the norms of the daily life. It was very difficult and frustrating at times as there was an impatient urge to catch up on all that had been missed and lost during my service and those desperate years behind barbed wire.

I returned to live with my Father at Livingstone Road, Claremont for a few months until after Christmas 1945.I was very unsettled and found it extremely difficult to bend to the home routine and conditions dictated by my step-mother and eventually moved out and went to board with Paul Shackleton’s family until my brother, Arthur returned from Pretoria.I then went to live with him and Kate in our old home, Ermond, Summerly Rd, Kenilworth.

During my stay with Paul I was soon friendly with a group of other ex-servicemen and we all enjoyed the Saturday night dances at the Rotunda, Camps Bay and the Cecil Hotel, Newlands. Kelvin Grove was another venue and I also teamed up with Denis Oakley at Zeekoe Vlei where we crewed in the Yacht races on Sunday afternoons.
Shortly after my return to Cape Town I received the first letter, dated 9th June 1945, from Marta Blochova from Prague.It affected me immensely and made me extremely unsettled. I felt trapped by my responsibility to return to work, to return to “normality”, to try to forget those years of upheaval, danger and privation.I was sorely tempted to “get out” and return to Europe – perhaps to work with the Red Cross – to find Marta and Lisa in Prague and to try to render some assistance to all the displaced, lost and homeless people. I replied to her letter immediately, sending it to the address of a relative in the Czech Army, which she had given.

I also received a postcard from her dated 23rd June ’45 and another letter in July. Each time she wrote she supplied a different address for me to write to, including her own home address. I read and re-read those letters many times, re-living those dark, tempestuous and dangerous days, as every detail came to mind with crystal clarity.Out of those icy, snow-filled days, ‘midst the devastation of war, our little group of weary prisoners and the near-to-death concentration camp refugees found a common bond and a selfless trust in adversity.We had all been fugitives from the horrors of war and the hardships shared had bound us together with deep understanding and a determination to survive. I continued to write to the various addresses Marta had supplied, but, obviously, none of them ever reached their destination and, eventually, all communication ceased. In retrospect, considering the
conditions in Europe at the time and the turmoil of the Russian occupation of those Eastern European countries, it would have been remarkable had any of my letters reached their destination.I had been most surprised when her letters had reached me and I was sorry that she never received any of my replies.Even now, after so many years, the poignant memories linger on when I re-read those sad, lonely letters.
After visiting Israel in 1985 I made several attempts to locate Marta through the Council of the Jewish community in Prague and the South African Friends of Beth Hatfutsoth in Israel. Later I made enquiries through a Czechoslovakian friend whose brother visited Prague and, more recently, when diplomatic relations were re-opened between South Africa and Czechoslovakia, I wrote to the Czech.Embassy in Pretoria.All attempts have proved fruitless and so the door on that episode in my experiences must finally close.

Back to 1946 – The Survey office was re-opened at Newlands Avenue, Newlands and most of the pre-war staff returned and more staff employed. We were all ex-soldiers and a great camaraderie grew between us as “The War” filled most of our daily chatter -Jokes, experiences and endless army stories filled the days – in between work, of course!

Gradually my life began to normalise itself as I picked up the threads and settled in to the survey work at office. I found many of my old friends and returned to the Badminton club at Wynberg.Socially, life was busy and most Saturday nights found me, with my friends at dances. The venues were varied and, to name just a few, they were The Bordeaux, Rotunda, Kelvin Grove, Cecil Hotel, and The Blue Moon at Lakeside. During 1946 I met my future wife, Enid Wells, and we were married on 10th January 1947.

Field Marshall Smuts, the Prime Minister, invited the British Royal Family, King George and Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret to visit South Africa in 1947 and a great deal of patriotic fervour and excitement followed them throughout their tour. Enid and I went to a “Royal Ball” in the City Hall which was attended by Princess Elizabeth as part of her 21st Birthday celebration and we also obtained seats on a stand to see them on their return to Cape Town on the 20th April 1947.

South Africa, as a Dominion and part of the Commonwealth, was well liked by all “the Allies” and our Forces – all volunteers – had made a wonderful contribution to the war effort.

There had been, however, a very strong Afrikaner Nationalist opposition to the war effort and to the visit of The British Royal family and Dr.Malan and his followers used these and “The Swart Gevaar” question to drum up support for the Party in the 1948 General Election.They won with a small majority and even “Jannie” Smuts lost his seat. Those were dark days for the country and, as it was predicted then and as it has proved to be, the whole development and progress was set back for more than forty years.

How true! The new government set about entrenching themselves and imposing many new “Apartheid” laws such as Group Areas, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages, the Immorality Act, the Population Register and the removal of the African representatives from Parliament. Succeeding Prime Ministers imposed harsher laws until Dr. Verwoerd took South Africa out of the Commonwealth and declared a Republic. South Africa lost all her Allied and Overseas friends and finally the United Nations imposed an oil embargo and sanctions were applied. All our sporting ties were cut and we were to be totally isolated until the apartheid laws were scrapped.

Likewise, in those early post-war years, Russia was rigidly controlling all the Eastern European countries and Communist regimes established. The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall effectively kept the West out and stopped the movement of people across the borders. The lights of democracy were dimmed as the harsh Communist regimes severely punished any protestors with imprisonment and torture. Later, uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were crushed with the aid of the Russian Army and the tense days of the “Cold War” kept East and West apart.

Finally, at long last, after four decades of National Party rule in this country, the cracks have appeared. In the last years of the 80’s a sudden change has spread through the world from Russia where President Gorbachev called for the end of Communism and more Freedom for the Eastern European peoples. The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain tumbled and Poland, Rumania, Hungary and others have thrown off the Communist stranglehold and free elections have occurred. Here, in South Africa, the weight of world opinion and sanctions has brought about a change of heart in our government and a new mood is sweeping the land under the guidance of President de Klerk. Nelson Mandela was freed from gaol and negotiations have begun with the African National Congress and all other African parties to establish a new democratic government for our wonderful country. Memories of the Second World War are rapidly fading into the mists of the past, but the repercussions are still being felt. Wars and rumours of Wars are ever present but “the old order changeth, yielding place to new” and, perhaps, a new era of Peace will be achieved by the end of the century. My experiences during my Active Service brought me into close contact with many characters from all walks of life and from many countries. In all of them, enemy or friend, rich or poor, or from whatever background, I found an underlying goodness which gives me Hope for Peace in the World.

A collections of tour poems and verses and office Christmas party doggerel written by Howard J. Bates