Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 27 — Homeward Bound
Leaving Liverpool, we were now steaming out into the Irish Sea, and I turned to say good-bye to old England. I say England because it was the English shores that receded in the distance as we steamed towards the Atlantic. We are all apt to say England when referring to the Homeland. Foreigners nearly always refer to Britain as England. There are many incidents in our history that help to perpetuate this habit; Nelson's famous signal hoisted to the masthead of the Victory when sailing into battle at Trafalgar is perhaps the best illustration.
I learned my lesson many years ago. I was having breakfast at a well-known New Zealand hotel with an old friend of my father's. We were later joined by an elderly, rugged Scot whom my friend knew. His name was McPherson and he came from the Highlands. During the conversation I referred to the Motherland as England. “Brritain!” snapped the Scot. I blinked and felt as though someone had hit me, but the conversation went on pleasantly. As the topic of our talk was in reference to Imperial matters, it was not long before I repeated my error. “Brrit-ain!” said McPherson, this time a bit louder. So ingrained was the habit with me that, before our meal was finished, I had said “England” for the third time. This time “Brrit-ain!” rang through the dining-room like a military command. We all laughed aloud. This lesson, or one might say, rebuke, I have never forgotten. The Scots rightly claim equal partnership with England. They insist on its being Britain and pronounce it with a double “R”—Brrit-ain! The fact that the Scots represent but 10 per cent of the total population of Great Britain does not prejudice their claim to equal rights.
The cold winds of early winter and the rough seas of the Atlantic made things unpleasant for a day or two. Crossing the big westerly swell at an angle, as we steamed a course more southerly than westerly, the old Suevic both rolled and dipped. It was, however, not long before we reached the calm and page 358 warmth of the lower latitudes. Soon the passengers began to assemble on deck and to get to know one another. This White Star liner was a one-class ship, the only difference in the fare being the location of one's cabin; on deck, from stem to stern, everyone fared the same; it was a sort of glorified “second cabin” class. Meals were frugal and there was no morning or afternoon tea, but most of the women knew of this in advance and had stocks of cake and biscuits. It was in this way that twice a day we split up into merry groups. Some day, when flying boats have annexed the traffic of all of those who might be called luxury travellers, I believe the one-class ship, of better grade than the one I travelled in, will play an important part in the ocean travel of the future.
The Suevic's passengers comprised people from Britain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Warmth and sunshine soon start sports and games on ocean liners. There were many young men on board and there were sufficient to raise cricket teams representing the different Empire countries. We might thus be said to have anticipated by half a dozen years the Triangular Cricket Contests of 1912. We had great fun and there developed a rivalry that made our matches keenly contested. It is no criterion of the cricket strength of the countries represented that New Zealand won the series, both before and after South Africa dropped out at Capetown.
We played every morning and in the afternoons joined in the deck games. There were some attractive young women on board, so the afternoons were as bright as the mornings, to say nothing of the evenings! Sometimes we had mixed cricket matches and these added to the amusement. The day before we arrived at Capetown a South African girl named Wells, when bowling asked, “May I bowl over-arm?” She did. An English girl named Darby, who was on her way to Western Australia to be married, was fielding at silly mid-on. It will be understood that with the narrowness of the field of play on deck, short mid-on was very nearly in line with the flight of the bowler's deliveries. Darby turned to watch Wells bowl over-arm But the latter was not an accurate over-arm bowler and her first delivery hit Miss Darby fair in the eye. At the moment we all laughed hilariously, for it seemed so funny, but it was soon evident that Miss Darby had suffered a painful blow. There was no more women's over-arm bowling! Next page 359 day Darby had a black eye worthy of a boxer. It was a close call to get her eye healed in time for her marriage at Perth.
Arriving at Capetown in the early morning, we obtained a splendid view of Table Mountain with its flat top, standing four thousand feet high, supported by Devil's Peak on one side and Lion's head on the other. This made a fine background to South Africa's capital city. As we crept slowly across Table Bay towards the docks bounded by a breakwater on three sides, it seemed impossible that there could be a great city between the waterfront and the mountains. The precipitous mountain rocks were certainly deceptive, for, at a distance, they appeared to leave little more than a narrow strip of land in the foreshore.
Quite a number of passengers disembarked here. This meant the breaking up of parties and saying good-bye to some whom we knew we should never see again. It was a blow to the young men on the ship when two most attractive Scotch lassies, sisters, left us at this port. They were not only attractive-looking, but were bright and vivacious and spoke with that fascinating accent of the Scot which is always so pleasant to hear. It could be said of these young women as Harry Lauder, in one of his songs, says of his Jean, “… her hair is nice and crimpy, and her cheeks are like a rose …”
We were all ashore soon after breakfast. It is surprising how much one can see of a place even in one day. It was not long before I was in the good old horse cab and driving from place to place. My cabby proved to be a splendid guide. The architecture of Capetown was a mixture of old Dutch style and modern English design. It seemed a pity that the mountain sides were not less precipitous. This would have enabled great suburban areas to be built on the rising slopes, and a most attractive city would then have been overlooked by residences and villas that would also have taken in a glorious panoramic view of Table Bay and the ocean beyond. Owing to the limited amount of flat land beneath the mountain, it became necessary, as the population increased, to extend the suburban areas along the foot of Devil's Head and often these suburbs were a considerable distance from the centre of the city. The gardens in the outlying suburbs of the city were very beautiful.
I was surprised to find that there was a Malay Quarter. The native costume of the Malayans and the picturesque page 360 mosques in their settlement almost persuaded one that this was part of the East. The origin of this tribe dates back to the days when the Dutch used to import slaves from the East Indies. These people are not to be confused with the Zulus, Kaffirs and Hottentots, the native races of South Africa.
Adderley Street, the principal thoroughfare in Capetown, was comparable with the splendid Collins and Bourke Streets of Melbourne, and its buildings were equally imposing. Parliament House, in its attractive grounds and situated close to the foot of Table Mountain, looked worthy of the great men, both Dutch and British, who at that time were engaged in the attempt by legislation to create a peaceful and happy South Africa. Even to this day the outstanding feature of South African politics has been the magnificence of Botha and Smuts. I remember a beautiful avenue of oaks running from the end of Adderley Street towards Table Mountain. It must have been a mile long. This was very similar to the avenue of oak and chestnut trees in Christchurch that runs along the west side of Rolleston Avenue, bounding on the Botanical Gardens, the Museum and Christ's College. As it was mid-summer and a hot day in Capetown, this Covernment Avenue, as it is called, proved a restful and shady spot. They told me these oak trees were two hundred years old; it may have been true, but they did not look big enough in the trunk to be that age.
Of course I had to see the cricket ground. I had already played in New Zealand, Australia and England, and had seen the game played in such widely separated places as Hong Kong, Montreal and Trinidad, so it was natural I should want to see the headquarters of South African cricket.
There is little need to say more. I explored Capetown as I did Philadelphia and Boston, although on this occasion it was one day instead of many visits. We steamed out of Table Bay before dark on a lovely summer's evening. The view of the mountains as we drew away and turned eastwards on our long run to Western Australia was just as fascinating as was the first glimpse on our approach in the early hours of the morning. Table Mountain is one of those sights a traveller remembers.
Now began the long, uninteresting run to Western Australia. The Captain of the Suevic was a Welshman. The Welsh are reputed to be a superstitious people. It had been predicted by a noted clairvoyant that the White Star Company page 361 would suffer a tragic loss in the year 1906. It was now December and the officers told us that the “old man” was fidgety and anxious for the end of the year to pass. The Suevic duly completed her voyage, but it is worth recording that on New Year's Eve, Captain Jones remained on the bridge till midnight. No doubt the anxiety of the last days of December was soon forgotten, but the tragic irony of fate is to be found in the fact that, on her return trip, the Suevic, when groping her way into the English Channel in thick weather, went on to the rocks at The Lizard. The clairvoyant was but three months out in his forecast. By a remarkable piece of salvage work the Suevic, which was held fast on the rocks, was cut in two—forward of amidships—and the stern end towed to Portsmouth. A new bow was built at Harland & Wolf's works at Belfast and this, in turn, was towed to the same port and joined to the salvaged portion of the hull. The Suevic again resumed her trading to Australia.
After calling at Albany we steamed across the Great Australian Bight to Adelaide. One day ashore and we were off again to Melbourne. I had a few days to spare before catching one of the Union Company's steamers to New Zealand. These were merry days in the Queen city of Australia spent among my intimate friends of but a few years earlier.
Calling at the Bluff, then Dunedin, I landed at Lyttelton and was soon in the bosom of my family. At sea, a marine engineer, spending so much time below deck, usually gets a complexion typical of what the Red Indians once called all white men—“Pale face.” Six weeks at sea and playing games on deck all day saw me arrive home tanned and sunburnt, so no wonder my mother remarked on how well I looked.
Then followed the bright and happy days and nights of a joyous home-coming. My eldest brother and sister were both married, and my brother Alex was now out on the mission field in Brazil, but we still had a goodly number in our family circle in the evenings.
I had maintained a steady flow of correspondence all the time I was away, but I had not had time to write of my visit to Scotland, and the story of this was perhaps the part my mother enjoyed most. It was inconceivable to her that the village of Wishaw was rapidly becoming a great industrial centre with its coal mines and steel works. But the personal page 362 equation counted most. To hear the name of Lady Belhaven, to hear of Jean Thomson of Wishaw and Mary Smellie of Motherwell brought back all her happy school and girlhood days.
Anyone knowing the characteristics of Scots who have long left their own country will have noted how they nod their heads and, with a glow in their eyes, look back and beyond when you speak of their Bonnie Scotland. I can still see my mother lost in reverie when I spoke of the places she had known so many years ago. Wishaw, Motherwell, Edinburgh, Leith, Glasgow and the Land of Burns, were the high-lights of my stories, made more so by the fact that my listeners were all hearing for the first time of my experiences in these places. Family reunions are often but fleeting events, but as the days and weeks went by, I soon became an ordinary member of the family.
I had come home to work, and joined my brother immediately. I was now twenty-eight and noticed many changes since I first left home. Most of the young women whom I had known were now married, but all my boyhood friends were still here and former cricket chums still playing.
One of the first men I called on was my old schoolmaster, Mr. T. S. Foster—Tony Foster to all the boys of my time. He wanted to hear all about my travels, and my visit extended into several hours. On rising to leave I happened to mention that I wished I had had a few more years at school. With that he put his hand upon my shoulder, for he was a tall man, and said, “Reese, you are the best educated member of the Reese family!” There was great amusement in our family when I told this story, for my eldest brother was at school until he was nineteen, my eldest sister nearly as long, while my youngest sister had attained a university degree. My youngest brother used to score off the others and perhaps have a jibe at me too, when, in discussion or argument, he would interject and in facetious manner say, “Dan must be right, for he's the best educated member of the family!” Mr. Foster's remark seems to show that even schoolmasters place a high value on general knowledge.
It will thus be seen that I was now just one of the family, and quickly settled down to a happy home life.