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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY – 14 NOVEMBER

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UPDATE: 14/11/2017

14 November 1901, The renovated, improved Wesley Church re-opens for services in West End.

DID YOU KNOW

Some of the [early] diggers [in Kimberley] were Wesleyans and endeavoured to keep up the forms of religion. The Rev. J. Thorne paid them a flying visit, and money was promptly subscribed to purchase a large tent for public worship. In January 1871, the Rev. B. S. H. Impey was appointed to the river ‘diggings’, and he lived in a waggon, preaching in the open air, in a billiard-saloon, or in a photographic gallery.

About July of that year diamonds were discovered at [what is now the Big Hole] Kimberley ; and though the stones were not of such pure quality as those found by the Vaal, they were more abundant. There was a rapid migration of the diggers to the ‘New Rush,’ as the dry diggings were first called, until the river was comparatively deserted. The Rev. B. S. H. Impey followed the people to Kimberley and held services in tents or in the open air.

Towards the end of the year 1871 the Rev. J. Priestley super-seded Mr. Impey, and the Rev. James Scott came over from 
Bloemfontein to assist. Services were held by the side of Mr. Kidger Tucker’s store at the West End, and in the billiard room of Smith’s canteen, in what is now called Main Street. 
The billiard table was used as a reading-desk and empty bottles served as candlesticks. There was a good congregation and some of the diggers found true riches in Christ.

In those days wood and iron had to be carried by the slow ox- waggon 600 miles from the coast, at a cost of 3d. per pound, and were thus exceedingly costly. Large tents or marquees were put up at the West End and at Dutoitspan.

In organizing services in several parts of the camp the local preachers rendered valuable assistance. One of them still lives at Kimberley, Mr. A. Stead, M.L.A.

The diggers were generous, and in a few months a wood and iron church was erected at the West End. This was at the time the largest building on the Diamond Fields. [On Tucker Street in 1876].

As the mine was worked, the West End was filled up with reef and tailings, and the population drifted to the East End, and the site on which Trinity Church [on Chapel Street] now stands was secured, and a place of worship was erected.

The Rev. Gardener Scates also arrived; he was an attractive preacher, but died of enteric fever in the year 1877. At Dutoitspan the canvas tent was replaced by a building of wood and iron, the expense being borne by the Good Templars, who used the hall for their meetings.

By the year 1878 the population of Kimberley reached its height. When it was discovered that the ‘blue’ beneath the yellow surface soil was rich in stones, and descended to unknown depths, the permanency of the diggings was assured, but a change in the method of working became necessary. As the open mine increased in depth, the falling of reef, and the increased difficulties of haulage made the old system of working impossible. Deep shafts, underground galleries, pulsators, and tramways were introduced, and the individual digger gave way to syndicates and companies.

As the diamond industry assumed a more permanent form, the dwellings of the residents became more substantial in character. The Churches shared in the improvement. The wood and iron structure at the West End was replaced in 1886 by a brick building known as ‘Wesley Church.’ It had parapet and buttresses, with a good pitched roof, was Gothic in style, and was looked upon with not a little pride. In the year 1901, the foundations proving defective, it was with considerable skill reconstructed. Side aisles were added, the roof was carried on arches surmounted by clerestory windows, and now the church is one of the prettiest in Kimberley. It is lit by electricity.

[Note: The final service at Tucker Street was held on Sunday 26th January 1964.]

All above, except for that in brackets, from History of the Methodist Church in South Africa by the Reverend J Whiteside and published in 1906.

Nothing found yet that happened this day in Kimberley’s history. Assuredly there is something, so research continues….

DID YOU KNOW

One must remember that all South Africans who fought in WW 2 for the Allies were volunteers – there were no conscripts, and like WW 1, the war would split the Afrikaner nation in two and South Africa would be in a state of civil war the entire period. Attempts to hush up the role of saboteurs – the Ossewa Brandwag (Greyshirts) – have been most successful in the decades following the war, as have the numerous internment camps throughout the country for those of German descent from not just SA, but from the surrounding countries as well. The active German sympathisers among the Afrikaner nation, foremost of whom was Robey Leibbrandt, played a small role in sabotaging strategic installations, mostly electric pylons, railway culverts and the like. Still, it was enough for SA to mobilise what could well be called a Home Guard.

At Andalusia (now Jan Kempdorp) the largest British Naval base outside England was situated and remained under British control until 1958, the last British naval officer leaving in 1961. The reasons for this base were twofold – one, it could not be reached by enemy bombers, and two, it was easily accessible by rail to all coasts in SA, making it easy to resupply any allied ships.

By June 1941 Kimberley had a major role in the training of bomber pilots, navigators and bomb aimers – the 21 Air Flying school at Alexandersfontein/Diskobolos/Airport being one of the biggest – if not the biggest – bomber training school in the British Empire. Apart from the Air School having 101 Squadron, there were also 70 Technical Training School and 72 Basic Training school based in town. Later 121 and 131 Squadrons were in Kimberley, these being Oxfords, mostly used as bomber reconnaissance planes. Naturally, being a bomber pilot school there were several types of bombers on hand for training.

Perhaps it may be right to mention here that the most famous pilot to come out of 21 Air Flying School was one Edwin Swales, destined to win the VC. He also played rugby for GW at the time.

In the West End cemetery lie the mortal remains of dozens who died in flying training accidents, including the full crew of a bomber that crashed just outside of town, plus many accidents that claimed both the lives of the trainee as well as the experienced pilot. The RAF badge on the headstones stands out. Likewise, the bravado of a pilot who attempted to fly under the old wagon bridge at Barkly West and failed, is no longer remembered, nor is the pilot who succeeded. The pilot who crashed was never found despite intensive searches.

The Mint – the munitions factory started by George Labram during the siege – employed many of those disadvantaged by their colour, and they pushed out countless millions of shells, bullets, and for some time, barrels of guns. An amazing fact is that at its peak of production the Mint put out some 20 million bullet components per month for the .303 round. Women too, are not forgotten, as hundreds rallied to the call and volunteered for service so that able-bodied men could be released to go to the front. Not just as nurses, but as mechanics, pilots, drivers and numerous other positions of authority and responsibility. They were generally known by their acronyms of Wrens, Waas, or Waafs. Traffic wardens were introduced to Kimberley in 1940 – all women, and all under supervision of Mrs Dot Stonier.

Doreen Harris (WAAS), aged 40 years is buried in West End. So too, are several women who served the allied cause with distinction.

Who knows that Bridget Oppenheimer (nee McCall) was serving with the SA forces when she met her husband-to-be, Harry, on Robben Island? Her job included being a petrol jockey at the filling station! Another major link to Kimberley, and who died recently, was Diana Barnato Walker, the grand-daughter of Barney Barnato. She served in the RAF and was a skilled pilot on all types of aircraft, although she preferred the Spitfire. She came under fire on numerous occasions from anti-aircraft fire as well as the Luftwaffe when delivering planes to the European frontline.

And we must not forget the silent majority of women, those who knitted gloves, pullovers, wrote letters, served tea and cake at depots and railway station stopovers, made up gift parcels, donated money to various funds, and generally did so many thankless tasks in Kimberley and the rest of the country. In England, Poppy Day is remembered by all in memory of those who died not only in WW 1 but also WW 2. Here in Kimberley we have all but forgotten the sacrifices made by Kimberley men and women in both world wars that enabled us to live in comparative freedom. To recap the words of Rudyard Kipling – the freedom that comes unsoiled to your hands, read revere and uncover here lie those who died for their city, being sons of the land. If it were not for them, there is little chance that we would be here today.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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