Many bazaars, concerts for war efforts

2017-11-28 06:01

Communities around the world remembered their fallen heroes this month as Remembrance Day on 11 November marked the end of World War I.

Fish Hoek boasts a proud history of service to its country. While many local men went to fight in both world wars, women at home also contributed greatly to the war efforts.

Local women stood together during World War II while 1m visiting troops, as well as refugees and evacuees, passed through Cape Town.

Recruits were needed for the army and this led to women replacing men in civilian jobs in large numbers. Voluntary workers were used to help in war organisations and many women volunteered their time and energy to women’s organisations.

These women’s organisations grew quickly and were soon recognised and gathered together by the department of defence under the director of research and then the director-general of recruiting and given the name of South African Women’s Auxiliary Services (Sawas).

More than 65 000 women registered for voluntary services throughout the country and through their ranks the women’s auxiliaries of the army, air force and navy were recruited. In the Cape peninsula alone, there were nearly 10 000 members of the voluntary unpaid services.

Sawas soon became recognised throughout the country and was known to stand for helpfulness to servicemen and their families. Soon there was a branch of Sawas in every town and almost every village.

Municipal halls in the suburbs were at the disposal of the organisation for work parties, canteens and entertainment when the peninsula was “flooded” with troops from convoys or with refugees. Much work was done in canteens, with comforts and hospital supplies, for civic services such as fire-drills, running emergency crèches for soldiers’ children and helping to run post offices, in transport services, hospitality, and entertainment.

The first contingent of volunteers from Cape Town left in May 1940 to go to North Africa. Sawas gave them tea and snacks and they could pick what they needed from trestle tables laden with hand-knitted socks, pullovers, mufflers, caps and gloves, razor blades, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap and facecloths, and a cloth bag to hold the items. Those so-called “glory bags” were sought after and valued articles.

The shortage of wool resulted in some Fish Hoek women taking to spinning their own carded wool into yarn for knitting seamen’s sea-boot stockings and pullovers. Sawas’s knitted balaclavas kept Command troops warm in Norway, and many socks were on patrol in Denmark.

The Fish Hoek Women’s Association started in Fish Hoek with the aim to stimulate local women’s interest in public affairs and war activities. There was an urgent need to raise funds and Sawas branches devised bazaars, concerts, bridge parties and open days in historic or especially beautiful homes.

To raise money for the Red Cross, a market was organised to which people contributed jewellery, silverware and other treasures for sale.

Food parcelsAfter the fall of Tobruk and with the need to send food parcels to South African prisoners-of-war, Sawas ran stalls once a week at the market to raise funds for the food parcels.

Street collections took place on Saturdays and often on Wednesdays too. At the end of the war, one of the biggest collections counted was for the “Thank you, Britain” fund for food and clothing.

Medical supplies were needed for Russia, and 70 000 books were collected to sell. There were also street collections for Malta. The countryside was scoured for aluminium. Sheepskin jackets were made for minesweeper crews. Clothes were needed for Royal Navy men who landed in Cape Town having lost all personal possessions in Greece and Crete. Hampers were sent to bombed Britain.

In September 1942, the Fish Hoek hospitality hall was opened. Spinning wool started in Fish Hoek and went so well that by August 1941 the branch kept eight qualified spinners and six learners busy. Between February and July around 90kg good wool had been used in the making of 143 garments from the spun wool.

At the end of the war, women from Fish Hoek composed a letter from the Fish Hoek Women’s Association to announce that its efforts had reverted to its peacetime activities. Those activities were to include holding markets to raise money for civic benevolent work.

The association continued its work until 2002, when it closed due to dwindling membership numbers.

The Fish Hoek branch of Sawas decided that after establishing scholarships for women students at UCT and the Cape Technical College, financing a ward for the projected Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and starting a branch of the National War Memorial Health Foundation in the Cape, surplus funds would be used to establish a home for elderly women and married couples of small means, primarily for those who had given war service.

V Edited from a 2009 compilation by Jean Newport, Fish Hoek Valley Museum volunteer, published in Fish Hoek Fossickings by Dr John Clifford.

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