Obituary: Hockey great Claude Mitchell

2013-11-22 00:00

CLAUDE Mitchell, well-known former Springbok hockey player, died in Pietermaritzburg recently at the age of 93. Born in 1920 in Colenso, the son of a schoolmaster, Mitchell first made the Natal Hockey team at the tender age of 16, despite not playing hockey in the major centres of Durban or Pietermaritzburg.

From the age of 17 he was a regular member of the Natal hockey team including the triumphant 1938 team that won the inter-provincial tournament in Salisbury.

The war years intervened and in 1940 he sailed up the coast to Mombasa with the Royal Natal Carbineers on the troopship HMS Devonshire. He saw action in Abyssinia, Egypt and Italy.

He was badly wounded at the battle of Monte Casino. He recovered from his wounds and saw further frontline action until the end of World War 2.

On his return to Pietermaritzburg, he joined the Natal Provincial Administration in its accounting department while studying accounting through Unisa. His career with the NPA lasted until he retired in 1983, after serving as deputy provincial accountant for many years.

Mitchell married Jean Park in 1948 and they raised six children while developing their beautiful garden in Clarendon. Jean was a well-known gardener, floral artist and gardening columnist for The Witness for decades.

Mitchell represented Pietermaritzburg in inter-town soccer and cricket in the late 1940s, while a key member of the Pirates Soccer Club and Zingari Cricket Club. He captained the Wanderers hockey team that swept the boards from 1947 to 1956. Well-known cricketers Jackie McGlew and Roy McLean and a host of Springbok hockey players including James Finnie, Andy Stewart, Dean and Fawcett Bestall and Paddy Dobson played in this Wanderers hockey team.

Mitchell’s name is synonymous with the hockey history of Pietermaritzburg and South Africa. He was a Springbok from 1948 to 1953 despite the severe WW2 injuries to his left hand, which left him short of a few fingers. He was the vice captain of the Springbok hockey team in 1951 against the British and Irish side, in all four Tests; and captain of the 1953 team, that was to tour Kenya. Unfortunately that tour was cancelled.

He is survived by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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