Please Share your Email if you Wish to Receive the Golden Tips & Tales Newsletter from History of Ceylon Tea Website
A fascinating and detailed autobiography of the extraordinary life of Joan Gottelier who was born at Hatton Hospital in 1919 to an Irish tea planting father and a South African mother. In this previously unpublished piece, which was dedicated to her grandson Stuart Hanmer, Joan describes in great detail her action-packed life of travels and travails, family and friends, good times and bad. Working in the Naval Office in Colombo during the WWII years, she met her husband Tony Gottelier who was a Flight Lieutenant with the RAF and based in Sigiriya. With the pair electing to remain in Ceylon after the war, her life on tea plantations continued as Tony took up planting, culminating in his managing one of the largest properties, Poonagala Group in Haputale from 1958 till their departure to the UK in 1971.
This missive concludes with the reproduction of a historical and moving letter written by her great-great grand uncle Henry Stap (to his brother) in 1882, as the last Master of Brunel's ship, the SS Great Britain.
History of Ceylon Tea would like to thank Peter Hanmer (Joan's son in law) for sending this hidden treasure.
My life began on the south coast of England circa November 1918 and I entered the world 9 months later, amongst the tea bushes of Ceylon, on 2nd August 1919. As there were no gooseberry bushes in Ceylon, I can say, almost literally, that I was born under a tea bush and so I lived amongst tea fields and hills until I left Ceylon 52 years later. I left, with my husband, sadly but in a way gladly, because we had seen into the future of what had been a beautiful, serene island, peaceful and tranquil. An old name for Ceylon was Serendib, which so aptly describes its serenity. Subsequent events have proved our foresight to be correct, as the old hatred between Singhalese and Tamils reared its ugly head. In the year that we left, 1971, an insurrection occurred with massacres, carnage and destruction, and a general destruction of the peace of the island which it had known under British rule, when all races and religions worked happily side by side, and when they all respected British authority.
My father, Stanley Cavendish Valentine John Traill, was born in County Mayo, Ireland in 1882, on St Valentine's Day, hence the name Valentine. Cavendish came from his Godmother, Ada Cavendish, the well-known actress. His father was Resident Magistrate in Belfast at the time of the Black and Tan riots, a much-hated man, being a Protestant. He was a stern and highly disciplined man, and quite unapproachable as far as his children were concerned and this must have been felt by his wife, my paternal grandmother, because she left him, living out her life in Menton, France with the children, where she died and is buried. By this time my father was 10 and spoke French as fluently as he spoke English. He had, in 1899, joined up to fight in the Boer War in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, but when loading mules onto transport ships in England he was kicked on the knee, resulting in a shattered knee-cap. This put him into hospital for 6 months. When he did eventually get on his way he disembarked at a port in Africa and was aboard a troop train on his way to the front when peace was declared. He stayed on for a few years in South Africa and went out to Ceylon in 1906 to commence planting. He remained planting until he retired in 1946 to South Africa, sadly to die there only 2 years later.
The others in the family were an uncle who was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and his elder sister Alexandra, who was an accomplished piano and violin teacher. Another of his sisters, Harriet Chippendale, married a tea broker in Ceylon and it was through them that my father went out to Ceylon to take up tea planting.
Duncan, a younger brother, ended up in the Argentine, working with an uncle who was breeding racehorses and beef cattle near Chiru at a station called Traill, it being the custom in those days to name the stations after the pioneer ranchers. He went over to South Africa during the 1914-18 war, possibly in Somervilles Horse, the irregulars collected by the colonel of that name. Nothing was heard of, or from, him, so it was assumed that he was killed soon after arrival. Louis was the youngest, but he died in his early twenties of typhoid. Harriet Chippendale was an ambulance driver in the Great War in France, and also drove ambulances in London in the 1939-45 war, when she had two near-misses with buzz bombs, which unbalanced her somewhat, and she ended up in a nursing home. Her condition was discovered by her bank manager/friend in a rather unfortunate way: she had two large trunks of valuable family silver held in safe custody at the bank, but she was conned into giving a complete stranger permission to remove the trunks from the bank. This happened when the bank manager was away on holiday. On his return he saw the signed permission note in his in-tray, when he began to make enquiries as to her condition. The fact that it all happened during his absence leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Be that as it may, my father lost out on a valuable lot of crested family silver.
When Harriet Chippendale ('Chip') married Charlie Aste, they suggested my father try his hand at tea planting in Ceylon and they arranged for him to have his training with Hugh Gordon in Bogawantalawa. Hugh and Dorothy remained two of his greatest friends, Dorothy later becoming my godmother. He moved on to become Superintendent and when the 1914-18 war broke out he was running three estates in the Hatton district. By this time Charlie Aster had died and Chip moved in with my father. He wasted no time in boarding a ship for England to join up, well in advance of any organised contingent, Chip following soon after.
On arriving in England my father joined the Royal Fusiliers, Legion of Frontiersmen, and was sent out to the East Africa Campaign. Here he served, in a very unpleasant jungle war, alongside such men as Frederik Selous, Pretorius, Cherry Kearton, the well known hunter/photographer of big game, Denys Finch-Hatton, and the author Francis Brett Young, who mentions the regiment and the campaign in his book 'Marching on Tanga'. My father's great friend in the regiment was Lieutenant Wilbur Dartnell ('Billy'), who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for a particularly gallant act in carrying to safety the severely wounded after a mounted infantry engagement near Maktau. My father started as a lance-corporal and was commissioned in the field to 2nd Lieutenant in July 1915, which promotion in the field was generally said to be for outstanding service. In 1916 he was taken seriously ill, and it was thought he had the newly discovered malaria fever, for which he was pumped full of quinine, which had the effect of doing nothing for his illness but leaving him partially deafened. The illness was subsequently found to be severe sunstroke through the eyes. He was sent down to a hospital in St James, near Cape Town, from where he was eventually shipped back to England where he worked out the war on the Army Recruiting Staff in Dover, and afterwards as National Service Representative for Herts Tribunal, until his demobilisation in June 1919, when he returned to Ceylon and planting.
He married when he was in the convalescent home in St James, and it all reads as a rather romantic affair. Before he went out to Ceylon from South Africa in 1906, he had met my mother's family in East London (South Africa) and carried on a correspondence with her sister, Clare, older by 8 years. In 1913 he had sent a moonstone necklace from Ceylon to my mother for her birthday and when she wrote to thank him for it a correspondence started up between them, and his affections were transferred, much to the annoyance of Clare, who never forgave my mother for appropriating her boyfriend! The correspondence continued while he was serving in East Africa, and one day in June she received a telegram from him from St James reading, 'Come down tomorrow. Bring Mother'. On arrival at Cape Town station he greeted her with, 'we are going to be married tomorrow.' She was somewhat taken aback, to say nothing of my grandmother's reaction, as they hadn't seen each other for 10 years. My father's honeymoon trousseau was a pair of pyjamas, a razor and a toothbrush, and my mother's her everyday garb! Their marriage lasted, happily and devotedly, for 32 years until death intervened and my father died suddenly in South Africa, to be joined just two years later by my mother following a road accident in Durban.
At the end of 1916, my father being shipped back to England, my mother followed in a blacked-out, zig-zagging ship a few months later, hating every minute of the voyage which was to land her in a strange country, to find my father still in hospital in London. She stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel in London, which had rather a reputation in those wartime days, with black-outs and pea-souper fogs, knowing no-one and hating England from the start. She never returned to England.
On leaving hospital my father was stationed in Dover, where they stayed in a boarding house on the sea front. Dover suffered heavily from Zeppelins returning to Germany after bombing London, when they jettisoned their remaining bombs over Dover harbour, and life there was far from serene. In due course my brother Erick was born in August 1917 and was christened in Dover Castle chapel. Before he was four hours old my mother was thrown out of bed when a bomb dropped directly in front of the boarding house, blowing in the windows, sending fragments of glass into the room and rocking the entire building alarmingly. Erick was given the name with a K on the end, named after his godfather, Frederick Darley, who had his throat slit by Chinese pirates when on patrol in the China Seas. My mother was ill after Erick's birth and developed septicaemia, and was told she must never, could never, have another child ... in August 1918 another son was born, and over the next 8 years she had three more children! Terence Victor was to be called only Terence, the Irish influence, until my father realised on the way to the church for his christening that it was Trafalgar/Victory Day!
Before leaving Ceylon to join up, my father had been given a written assurance by the company agents in Colombo that at least one of the three estates he was working would be kept open for him on his return, so his first move on arriving back in Colombo was to visit the agents to show them he was safely back from the war and ready to resume planting. He was staggered, to say the least, to hear, 'Well, Traill, it was like this. We had to get someone to run the estates in your absence, and Billy Benison said he would be willing on condition that he could keep all three even if you came back.' So there was my father with a wife, two babies, an English nanny, a baby due in a matter of weeks, no job and consequently nowhere to go. They offered him the use of a bungalow on Lamiliere Estate near Nuwara Eliya until he could sort out his future and, hopefully, get another planting job although they had nothing to offer him within the company, and it was from this bungalow that my mother entered the Hatton Nursing Home to await my entry into the world, which happy event took place on 2nd August 1919. On that day, which was Erick's 2nd birthday, my mother had three babies when the eldest of the three was just 2. So the family then was Erick, Terence and myself. Valerie was born 4 years later, and Maureen 4 years after that.
While on Lamiliere Estate my father went up one day to Nuwara Eliya and into the Grand Hotel. When he entered the bar, Billy Benison was sitting on a high bar stool. He turned to my father with the words, 'Hello, Traill, old man!, where have you been all these years?!', whereupon my father took a couple of steps towards him and floored him with a hefty upper-cut which sent him flying off the stool. He walked out feeling justice had been well and truly done – there were no repercussions from Benison! In Lindula bazaar, near Lamiliere, was a printing works owned by William Jordan, who owned a tea and rubber estate near Gampola, then being managed by a planter called Stephens who had just blown his brains out in the bungalow. William Jordan, who later lived in Palestine, had great admiration for those who had served their King and Country, while despising those who had exploited their absence to their own benefit, and had no hesitation in offering my father the job of Superintendent of the estate, Alpitakande. He was extremely happy to accept and he ran it until he retired in 1946. He was happy and content there, as we children were, and it was with great sadness that he left it, at the age of 64, with my mother, sister Maureen and all their goods and chattels, to retire and settle in South Africa in October of that year.
Having written of grandparents, aunts and uncles on my father's side, I will sort out those on my mother's side.
My grandfather, John Henry Stap, was born in Deal in Kent, the Stap family having come over to that county from France with the Huguenots. He was a chartered accountant, and was travelling out to a job in South Africa. My grandmother, Katherine Mary Richardson, who was born in Somerset, was travelling on the same ship to meet her fiancé in Cape Town. During the voyage, however, she met my grandfather and by the end of the voyage they decided to become engaged and they married soon after. She broke the news to her fiancé on the docks, but history does not recall his reactions! They had five children, a sixth being still born. Clare, Leslie, Stanley, Florence Madeline - nicknamed Bobbie - my mother - and Beatrice - nicknamed Chukie. Clare married Aubrey Oak, a bank clerk of modest means who came into a fortune when his uncle died when he was only 30, after which he never had the need to work. He died in 1945, and Clare remarried a Charles Bligh-Wall, a retired doctor and a descendant of Captain Bligh of the Bounty. Charles, in his medical years, tried out a new vaccine on his own arm, with the result that he lost that arm! Clare died in 1971 aged 90. Leslie married Peggy, and became a District Commissioner for the Rhodesias. One of his more enjoyable duties was to travel up the Zambezi once a year collecting Head Tax (Poll Tax) from the natives in their scattered settlements. He died in 1937 – he and Peggy had no family. Stanley married Dorothy, a very elegant, good-looking woman. They had two daughters, Esme and Joan, neither of whom I liked the few times we met! Stanley was secretary of the Jagersfontein diamond mines. After he died, Dorothy married Ferd Midgeley, a widower, who had been a childhood sweetheart. She died in the middle 80's, and must have been nearing 90. Chukie never married, although she was engaged to Stanley Baker, but after 7 years with him never naming the day, she realised it was a lost cause! She returned his ring and every present he had given her. Having lost 7 years, and having seen all her other boyfriends married, she remained a spinster. She was an accomplished secretary, devising her own shorthand of Pitman’s shorthand, and worked well into her 60's, with the Standard Vacuum Oil Company first, then with Mosenthals, wool merchants. She was an extremely good photographer, and had a wonderful collection of native studies. She and Stanley Baker met again in 1972, when he was then a widower, and he suggested that they marry but having been once bitten she was not prepared to wait and waste another 7 years, and really thought he was just looking for a kind home! She died in 1991, just 2 months short of 96 years.
I remember my grandfather as a big, fine looking man with a walrus moustache. He was a Freemason, holding high office as a Grand Master, and looked magnificent in his full regalia. He had a fine bass voice, taking leading roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the local operatic society. He would have made a superb Pooh Bah, which was always his role in 'The Mikado'. I always held him in awe, and could never picture him as a loving father of 5 children. I was always intrigued by, and a bit frightened of, a very long nail on his little finger, which I later learnt was used to clean out his pipe! He died in 1927.
Living with my grandparents in their big house in East London were my grandmother's two sisters, my great aunts Judy and Mary Jane. Mary Jane was always ailing when young, too delicate to go to school so had private tutors, but she out-lived both her sisters by many years. I remember her as always dressed in black, with elastic-sided boots. When my mother was small, Great Aunt Mary Jane had one of the early sets of false teeth, double row and hinged, and my mother and her sisters had great delight in making her yawn so rigorously that the hinges locked open!
Grandfather Stap had a sister, Beatrice, in England, and their uncle, who would have been your great-great-great-great uncle, Henry Stap, was the last Master of Brunel's ship, the SS Great Britain, found abandoned and rotting off the Falkland Islands and brought back as a hulk to Bristol in 1970, where she now rests in Avonmouth Docks, being restored to something of her former self, and of great interest. He was said to be the finest Master in the service, and his name is in the official history of the ship. Great Aunt Bee gave me a very interesting letter written by him to his brother, on a disastrous voyage in 1886, pointing out all that he considered wrong with the construction of the ship. At the end of this letter that you are now reading, I will attach a copy of that letter. During the voyage there was a storm at sea, water in the drinking tanks, cargo shifting, days without sleep, and half the crew completely inexperienced, walking off at Montevideo. The letter is especially interesting in that it was written, in a beautiful script, in 'cross hatching', written as normal across the page, then the page turned sideways and written across the original lines. Apparently this was done when postage was paid on the number of sheets of pages written. I managed to decipher it all, and made a typed copy of the whole letter, lending the original to the SS 'Great Britain' project at the docks for their museum.
Henry Stap had a sister, Ethel, who was chief stewardess on the 'Titanic' on her disastrous voyage. She was saved, and she was in the first lifeboat with Lady Astor. Great Aunt Bee died in 1969 aged 94, impaired only by poor sight and hearing. She was one of the earliest BA's, a degree which she gained at Cambridge University in 1890.
Our life in Ceylon was ideal. We had English nannies to start with, Alice from England until her contract expired, then Doris who came to us from South Africa. Doris was an attractive, rather buxom girl, and this seemingly created problems as the young planters in the area were vying for her favours like bees round a honey pot. She was returned, happily intact, to her family in South Africa before her contract expired. From those two we received our first lessons, after which the three of us, Erick, Terence and me, went daily by car the 5 miles to the Sangsters on a nearby estate for lessons with their two sons who were of a like age, Derek and Tony, and with their English governess, Miss Chapman. After the Sangsters left Ceylon, we went daily to the Jonklaas's in Gampola, having lessons with their daughter Aimee and her governess, Moyra Brohier. After the nannies we had Singhalese ayahs, patient, loving and caring souls but with a lot to put up with, with three very lively children, all of an age, followed by two other babies. Erick, Terence and I were a trio, great companions and doing everything together. Long walks, rocky areas where we played happily for hours, which rocks were in turn ships, hospitals, schools, never a thought that there could be snakes lurking among the rocks, but if there were they must have fled when three noisy children approached. There were children's parties at the various district tennis and sports clubs, and always Christmas parties. My father made the most wonderful Father Christmas I have ever known. He had very blue eyes, would whiten his hair and moustache, and with a flowing beard attached, leaving his face clear, children were not afraid of him, as they could see his lips move and his eyes smile. For a number of years, he was Santa at the Queens Hotel Christmas parties in Kandy, where he usually arrived on an elephant, riding up the main street throwing sweets and balloons to the crowd. One year he came down from Wace Park, on a hill overlooking Kandy Lake, from where he boarded a rowing boat, garlanded and decorated, and was rowed across to the jetty. But the most memorable to me was when he rode up to the hotel on a three-quarter grown elephant, into the foyer, through the lounge, down the passage, down a dozen steps and into the ballroom where the children were gathered and awaiting Santa's arrival. In the middle of the room stood a giant four-tiered cake, made of white paper and suitably decorated. Santa paraded around the cake on the elephant's back, cutting each tier in turn; sparrows in the top tier, then pigeons, rabbits and guinea pigs. As he was nearing the end of the cake-cutting ceremony, the elephant decided to spend a penny, and when an elephant spends a penny it spends a penny!
Santa, not to be panicked, shouted out, 'Bring me a boat and I will row ashore!' He was a wonderful Santa for the reason that he spent the entire time with the children, joining them at the tea table, handing out the presents with a word to each child, judging the fancy dress parade, taking them for elephant rides on the lawn, travelling down the slide with a couple of children on his lap. On the morning of the party, he would visit the Evelyn Nurseries, a children's home run on charity. For days beforehand he would go on a scrounging spree among all the traders in Kandy, and the market traders, all of whom were fans of his in the football world, gathering bolts of cloth, cases of biscuits, milk powder, tins of sweets, sacks of rice, bags of fruit and vegetables and numerous toys. He would drive up in the open car, decorated, to hand them over and spend a couple of hours with the children. This was always one of the happiest days of his life, and he gave happiness to so many children.
The tea estate bungalows were large and rambling and, to a certain degree, basic in some essentials. Alpitakande bungalow had no electricity, no running water, no flush sanitation. We had petrol/mantle lamps which gave a very good light, but with a lot of hissing! We went to bed and read by candlelight, which must have been a fire hazard with the mosquito nets which were essential. Water for washing and for baths was boiled in drums in the kitchen and carried to the bathrooms when hot. Sanitation was the old 'thunderbox' with a bucket underneath, with the bucket approached by the lavatory coolie from a trapdoor outside. It was just hoped that he didn't come to remove it when one was in action! A box of sawdust and a scoop was beside the thunderbox for cover-up operations! This amused my aunt when she was over with us; she came out after her initial action, laughing and saying she felt like a cat that always covered things up meticulously! In 1940 a new bungalow was built on the same site, and my father was given the option of electricity or running water and flush sanitation. As they had always been content with the way things were, and as they found the petrol lamps satisfactory, he chose the latter, which meant the luxury of a hot water system direct to the bathrooms as well as better sanitary arrangements. So, until they retired and bought a house in South Africa, they had never had the luxury of electric light, or any electrical appliances, and had never had a telephone.
There were servants, who were usually loyal and hardworking, although one had the occasional rascal amongst them! A cook (appu), second servant, kitchen coolie, a couple of garden coolies, and a driver, as neither of my parents ever drove, my father because of his partial deafness, and my mother whose nerves on the road were chronic. Roads generally were scary, which was why I never learnt to drive, usually one-car width with grass verges on either side so, in passing, both cars had two wheels on the grass. Very often there were sheer drops of 1000 feet or more with only a few spaced kerbstones as a safeguard.
One cook we had for many years, a Tamil, read and wrote English as well as being a superb cook. During the war my sister taught him to knit, confining it to khaki scarves for the troops, and he would be seen sitting on a chair, with a joint in the oven, happily knitting away for some soldier serving on some distant front. He felt he was doing his bit for the war effort!
The meat and fish markets had to be seen to be believed. We ordered our meat every Monday, for the whole week, and sometimes our beefbox would be sent back empty with a note saying, 'Sorry, Lady, cow getting away. Will catch tonight and send beef tomorrow.' At least our meat was fresh! One entered the market amid a cloud of flies, brushing aside cats and dogs, sparrows, pigeons and crows flying around. Hygiene was a word that did not enter their dictionary, yet we never caught dysentery, typhoid or enteric fever. All drinking water was boiled, then put through a filter with a clay candle and all milk was boiled, which was essential as milking was never supervised unless you had your own cows. Our milk on one estate usually came from the supervisor in the labour lines, in an uncapped whisky bottle, and if it happened to be short it would be topped up with water from the nearest stream. Fruit bought outside was always washed. The Ceylon fruits were delicious: papaws, pineapples, mangoes, bananas, guavas, mangosteens, soursops, custard apples, rambutans, jak fruit, avocado pears. Oranges, limes, lemons and tangerines grew in some areas. Oranges were always green skinned, but sweet inside.
Getting our meat supply once a week for the whole week led to the ritual of 'curry on a Sunday', as by the Saturday the meat was going 'a little bit high, Lady' – curry disguised that and would have killed off any germs, and usually one would invite friends round or be asked out to a curry lunch on a Sunday.
Ceylon had an assortment of insects and creepy-crawlies but one learnt to live with them. My mother had a fear of spiders, which we three sisters have inherited. There was always a frantic scream when a spider was discovered, when the servants would be summoned to dispose of it! But we were really justified in our fears, as spiders there were large. Tarantulas and bird-eating spiders being anything from 7" to 8" across. Beetles of all sorts, including coconut beetles that would go crashing round the room. Flying ants would come inside in hordes after rain, leaving their wings all over the floor – the cats delighted in them, jumping in the air to catch then devour them. The little gecko with his chirruping, always welcomed, as his diet was of mosquitoes. Red ants that made nests in the trees by joining leaves together, their sting like a red-hot needle. White ants, quite destructive, and they have been known to eat through a cement floor, through to the underside of a carpet. Leeches, such a horror - they lie in wait beside a leafy path, waving in the air, and hitch on to you as you pass. They suck blood and were particularly nasty when they got up the nostrils of a dog or a cow. They could usually be got off by a pinch of salt or a hot cigarette end or lighted match, otherwise they would gorge on blood until they were bloated, when they would drop off.
Then there were snakes: cobras, rat snakes, russell's vipers (tic polongas), pythons, kraits. Rat snakes were not poisonous though a bite from them could turn septic, but as it was difficult to distinguish them from cobras, my father shot any and every snake. It was a snake that could have prevented me being here at all. In the war, in East Africa, the troops slept in the open in their sleeping bags. One night my father decided it was too hot so he slept on top of the bag. In the morning, when they had to rise and roll up their sleeping bags, my father shook his to fold it when out dropped a green mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in Africa, which had obviously been enjoying the luxury of a nice warm bed! In one of our estate bungalows we had a resident rat snake that lived in the ceiling, our resident rat-catcher. At night we would hear great thumpings and bumpings, followed by frantic squeals as one more rat was caught.
My father was a great sportsman, and good at all the sports in which he participated: rugby, football, hockey, tennis and cricket – goalie in football and hockey, and a wicketkeeper in cricket. When he batted, everything went or else! He played his last game of football when he was 60, by which time he had broken almost every bone in his body. A very good tennis player, but above all his sportsmanship was beyond reproach. All planting districts had their tennis clubs and rugger teams, Saturday matches in the latter being popular events. The tennis clubs usually had one 'Club Afternoon' a week, but often playing on a Sunday morning as well. Then there would be inter-district tennis tournaments and tennis meets. My mother was also a keen tennis player, playing a useful game, so naturally all of us children were keen players. I myself was thought to be a good player and have many cups and prizes to my credit. Through my father I have inherited an interest in all and any sport.
Pets were always a great part of our lives, a lot of it possibly due to the fact that there was always someone to prepare their food, bathe them, lock them indoors for the night, and just be there then we were away for a day or two. Dogs and cats had a free run of the house and garden, as doors were always open and there was a big garden for them to venture into. I cannot remember a time when we had no pets, starting with my father's bulldogs. He imported a brindle dog from England, and a brindle bitch from South Africa, and bred from these two. He had a lot of successes at dog shows, but there was always a problem when they were held in Colombo. Because it was so hot and humid there, these two conditions played havoc with bulldogs. With their snuffly noses, they had problems with breathing and suffered a lot from pneumonia, and in the intense heat of Colombo hoses had to be played on them to cool them down. My father later got a lovely golden bulldog from England, with the idea of breeding from him, but the ship's crew on the way over must have teased him so much that he became so bad tempered and vicious that he had to be kept in a wire enclosure. Only one of the garden boys could approach him and we always walked past the enclosure with great trepidation. When we went on leave to South Africa the acting man took no interest in the dog and he got a festering sore at the base of his tail which spread. He eventually had to be put down.
We had tortoises, a mouse deer (chevrotain), a porcupine, a goat, monkeys, a little horned owl who was fed on spiders that were killed at my mother's behest, a mongoose, civet cat, dogs and cats, a loris. The porcupine was quite a hazardous pet - we had exciting games with him, making him chase us, we ensuring that we always got out of his way in good time. It is not true that they shoot their quills out but they run backwards into you, and if you happen to be caught the quills embed themselves in your legs. After a couple of years, Porky disappeared one night, but for some months he would come back to his old haunts at night, when we would hear his gruntings and sniffings in the garden. I have actually eaten porcupine meat. When we were staying at a friend's seaside bungalow on an island near Trincomalee the watcher shot a porcupine that was eating the pineapples, and the bungalow cook served it up roast, recommending it as 'good food'. Porcupines are clean feeders, so there was no apprehension on that account, but the only edible portion is the back legs. The meat is white and could be mistaken for chicken, and is really quite delicious. Our pet goat Billy was rescued from outside the local butcher by my father. He was a great playmate; he had free reign in the bungalow until he would career into the dining room and jump onto the highly polished jak-wood table and skid along its full length. When his little horns started to grow, it was decided he should be found another home. He would come for walks with us, and often we would walk about a mile to the tea factory, quite a procession with a goat, a couple of dogs, our Siamese cat, and a monkey on a chain. On reaching the factory, Billy would rush in to where the Tamil women were picking over the black tea, scattering screaming women to all corners, and proceed to eat the tea. When we managed to get him away, we would get him up the stairs to the withering lofts and indulge in a game of 'catch' which was wonderful fun.
One pet we did NOT have was an elephant, but we had the next best thing. In the village below us a villager's working elephant had a calf, which sadly died after a couple of days. My father, feeling sorry for the villager, bought the dead calf, handing over a few rupees to the villager. The skin was cured by a little, old, self-styled taxidermist in a nearby village, stuffed with straw and put on wheels, and this was a wonderful toy enjoyed by we children and the friends who visited us, over many years. It was only about 3 feet high, but had such prickly hairs all down its back that we had to use a protective blanket as a saddle to protect our legs.
My brothers were given a baby crocodile as a pet by Bill Guthrie, who was in the irrigation department. My mother had taken my sister and me down to South Africa, partly to see her parents and partly to give me a spell out of the Tropics after I had had malaria, and had had the dreadful 6-week quinine treatment. As it was the Armistice Day Ball in Kandy, at which my father was Master of Ceremonies, he went in with the two boys, taking a room at the Queens Hotel for the night, one floor up and with a balcony facing Kandy Lake. The crocodile was put into a cardboard box for the night on the balcony, but when the boys woke in the morning the box was empty and the crocodile nowhere to be seen. The sequel to this, which happened in 1926, was that in the 1960's a fully grown crocodile was seen in Kandy Lake. I cannot recall if it was caught and killed, but feel certain that, with a time span of 35 or so years, it was the same crocodile that was given to my brothers. It could have picked up the smell of water in the Lake, scrambled out of the box, fallen from the balcony and made for the water, all during the night hours.
Another of our pets was a Loris, a lovely little, big-eyed chap and very tame. He became very unpopular later on though! He spent the nights in a box in my father's office but one night he managed to get out of the box. My mother had an incubator in the office with a full batch of hens' eggs shortly due to hatch. The light obviously caught the Loris's eye, as he went over to it and turned up the handle that controlled the flame. When my father went into the office in the morning everything was blackened and there were 2 dozen hard-boiled eggs in the incubator!
A pet civet cat nearly cost my mother her leg. She had a mosquito bite on her leg, the scab of which was scratched off by the civet cat which, in its playing, had scrambled up her leg. In no time at all she had serious blood poisoning and a deep gaping wound on her leg. She had to travel the 18 miles to Kandy every day for some weeks to have it tended to, when it was packed with yards of gauze and Burnol. This saved her leg but left her with a massive angry scar to remind her of Charlie the civet cat.
The Gotteliers had a pet leopard, Sheba, when they were in Colombo. They saw it as a cub in the market and brought it home. She grew up perfectly tame and was always loose, except at night. She roamed the house and garden and was a deterrent to any intruders, but they themselves could do anything with her, taking care never to feed her with raw meat. When she was 18 months old, and fully grown, they were going on overseas leave to England, so asked Colombo Zoo if they would take her for that period. The zoo put her in a cage with an untamed male leopard, who fought her and bit her paw. When the vet went into the cage to attend to her wound, Sheba escaped and got out of the zoo grounds. The Police were called in, and as they could not trap her and considered it dangerous to do so, they decided she had to be shot. She trusted humans and was a playful pet, much loved by them all, so her sad end was a real tragedy.
Dogs and cats were always there in numbers, of varying colours and breeds, our most intelligent, Joker, being from a neighbouring planter's bull terrier bitch, and an unknown quantity as the sire. During the war, my parents were keeping my brother's two wire-haired terriers while he served in the Ceylon Planters' Rifle Corps, and later in the RNVR. One day one of the terriers showed signs of rabies, and really went to town - he bit Joker, the other terrier, one of the cats, a couple of hens and a duck before he was finally caught and subdued. Rabies was confirmed, which resulted in Joker, the cat, the two hens and the duck being shot, and the anti-rabies inoculations being compulsory for my parents, my sister Maureen, the cook, watcher, house boy and driver: 14 jabs in the stomach with a thick needle over 14 days, alternate sides, not to be recommended to anyone. I missed it as I was working in Colombo at the time. Rabies was always a threat and a great concern, as death from hydrophobia is a cruel and tragic death. There was one case of a Royal Marine brigadier who had had contact with a rabid dog but who didn't finish the course of inoculations. He was staying with a planter friend up-country when he was taken ill then driven down to Colombo by ambulance, in which he had to be forcibly held down by three men. He died soon after he was admitted to the hospital. The common thinking is that one foams at the mouth, rabidly, with a thick spittle. In fact, rabies constricts the throat muscles, causing inability to swallow or drink – hydrophobia is literally 'fear of water' but is, in fact, the desire to drink and the absolute inability to do so. Some say a barking occurs, but this is more due to strangulation because of the throat muscles having gone. With all of this, is it a wonder that fear of rabies is such a real fear? Planters on a neighbouring estate had a dog that developed rabies and even though no one was bitten they all had to have the inoculations, including the three children aged 5, 3 and 15 months.
We never had a horse, but at one time a neighbouring planter, who was keeping a horse for a friend had to go into hospital, and asked my father if I would exercise the horse. I don't know where he got the idea that I was a horsewoman or that I even liked horses! I had ridden a pony a couple of times at school, but my father accepted on my behalf! 'Dickie' was duly brought over every morning by the horse keeper. The first day I mounted him happily, not realising that he had not been ridden for some days and consequently could be frisky, and we duly set off at a gentle pace down the hill below the bungalow. I was full of confidence by then, but Dickie had other ideas – he decided to bolt and off he went down the hill and onto the main road. How I stayed on I cannot imagine, apart from an instinct for self survival at all costs, but I did, and eventually managed to bring him to a halt. A huffing and puffing horse keeper caught up with us, obviously relieved and possibly not a little surprised, to see me still in the saddle. Another time we were gently cantering along the main road, returning from the factory to the bungalow. We had to round a corner, below which was a bend in the river which was a bathing place for working elephants. This particular day we rounded the corner and came face to face with an elephant as it came up onto the road after its bath. Horses are petrified of elephants, as I found to my cost. Dickie turned round in one movement, facing the other way, throwing up his head and banging me on the nose. I lost a stirrup, bounced up off my saddle and landed back with my arms round his neck, and we careered off back down the road, me clinging to Dickie's neck, until we were back at the factory. Every time thereafter we came to that particular corner, Dickie would prance round it crabwise, and I always approached it with apprehension, but there were no further elephantine mishaps. Dickie was not a very sure-footed horse, which was somewhat unnerving as we rode a lot on loose gravelled estate roads, but I did enjoy the few weeks of riding and was sorry to see him returned to his owner.
My father's overseas leaves were always spent in South Africa, my mother's parents being there, which made it the obvious place to go. So my sea travel began at the age of 4 and ended at the age of 51, by which time I had been on 21 sea voyages, and had never missed a meal on board, which is quite a good record. Originally, the ships were around 4000 tons only, and they bounced around the ocean like corks. In 1924 my parents rented a small cottage near the beach in East London and in 1926 my mother took Valerie and me down, mainly to see her father who was declining in health. In 1928 we all went down there again, taking a house in East London. By then, we were a family of 5 children, with Maureen in a pram, so they decided to take the Ayah as well as the Tamil cook. We went down on a Japanese ship, 'La Plata Maru', the only English children on board so we were very spoilt by the captain and crew. They held a Sports Day at which all the children got prizes for merely entering. One event was a pram race, the only entrant being the Ayah with Maureen in the pram – she nobly, and very shyly, ran the length of the deck, loudly cheered and winning first prize!
The house we rented was near my grandmother's house. She had a faithful old Kaffir maid called Topsy, tall and dignified, who had known my mother as a girl, and, of course, she had to come over and see 'Miss Bobbie'. On her return to my grandmother's house, she said with some consternation 'Missus, Miss Bobbie has a man working in her house and he has no trousers on!'. This was because our cook wore the Indian dress of shirt and ankle-length sarong! This was capped by my mother asking the Ayah what she thought of Topsy, who always wore a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse and floor length skirt, topped with a fur toque, which, with her 6-foot figure, gave her a regal air. The Ayah said, 'Lady, Topsy is just like Mary Queen!', and in her eyes she was not far wrong. I don't know what Queen Mary would have thought! My father and the cook returned to Ceylon after 4 months, and my mother, grandmother, myself, Valerie, Maureen and the Ayah two months later, leaving the two boys at boarding school in East London.
When my grandmother returned to South Africa early in 1930, she took me with her to begin my schooling at Cambridge High School, outside East London, and near to where my grandparents lived. It was not a boarding school, but I lived in the school house which housed the headmaster with matron to look after him. They took up to ten up-country children from outstation farms, and agreed to have me there. The headmaster, Burdon-Martin, was a rabid atheist and matron a staunch Christian Scientist, neither of them concealing their beliefs, so there were a few heated arguments! I loved my schooldays, even though I was separated from my parents and sisters, but I was fairly near my brothers, and my grandmother, aunts and uncles were very kind to me. Now 55 years later, after leaving school, I have a close correspondence with two of my greatest school friends, Mollie Smith who took me under her wing at the school house, 5 years older than me, and Patsy Killick whose desk I shared at first. I was moved up a form after 6 months, as I apparently was not as backward as they thought a girl from the East would be! When your grandfather and I were on our way to England from Ceylon in 1971, we spent a few days with Mollie and her husband who had a trading station in the Transkei, and met Patsy in Cape Town one day before we sailed from that port: friendships that span half a century and more are true friendships and are such a treasured part of life. My happiness at school obviously overcame any feeling of sadness at being away from home and family. I saw my mother after only 1 year and again after another 2 years, and my father after 4 years when I returned to Ceylon. There was no airmail as there is today, so letters were weeks old when they arrived, but my mother wrote weekly, sending photos every now and again. There was no chance to telephone, as in the present day of schooldays. There were no holidays at home by air, but I spent them with school friends of aunts, sometimes on farms, which I greatly enjoyed. My mother was over again in 1932, when Erick was seriously ill with rheumatic fever, eventually returning with him to Ceylon as, after 6 months in a nursing home, he was too weak to stay on at school. Then, in 1933, when I had been at school for 3 years, the disastrous Great Depression was at its height. My father was very badly hit, as he was working the tea and rubber estate on a care-and-maintenance basis on what was barely a living wage, and he decided that he could no longer maintain two children at school overseas, and as a boy's education was more important than a girl's, Terence stayed on and I had to leave and return to Ceylon. I was not yet 14, but as I had had the basis of a sound education, and took my school books back with me, it had no adverse effect - or so I like to believe!
And so, arrangements were made for me to return to Ceylon on the old steamship 'Luxmi', a mere 4500 tons. My parents knew the captain, Lamb, very well and so I was entrusted to his care from Durban onwards, having had to travel from East London to Durban on a large Union Castle liner, 'Windsor Castle'. A week in Durban staying at an hotel near the beach, the Victoria, which we had stayed at before, and there I flaunted my independence by going up to town to the shipping agents to collect my ticket and travel documents, feeling very important, stopping en route to choose a book to read and some embroidery to work on the voyage! The ship had taken on 70 mules in Durban for the French army in Madagascar, and 70 stalls had been rigged up in one of the holds. I used to go down every morning with the captain on his daily inspections of their conditions, feeding a lump of sugar to each one. By the time we reached Madagascar they had gnawed most of the wooden stalls. There were 40 for Diego Suarez and 30 for Tamatave, and it was fun watching them being off-loaded by sling onto lighters, as there were no docking facilities. When they finally landed on the shore, they bounded off the lighters and rolled happily in the sand. Diego Suarez has one of the finest harbours in the world, horseshoe-shaped with high wooded cliffs on either side of the entrance, with guns spaced along the top.
And so, I returned from school, not yet 14. I did take a shorthand course and practised typewriting, which stood me in good stead. I lived a happy life. A friend gave me dressmaking lessons which has been of so much benefit to me all my life. I learnt to knit, and did a lot of embroidery, took orders for men's socks and stockings, all of which kept my idle hands busy! I joined the District Tennis Club, which I enjoyed a lot. And the next milestone was the 1939-45 War.
In August 1939 my mother and I went down to South Africa on the Indian African Line 'Inchanga' to see my grandmother, who was ill with dropsy and failing. It was a happy voyage but overshadowed by news constantly coming through of the pending world conflict. We called at Mombasa, Zanzibar and Lourenco Marques then on to Durban. On reaching Durban, I was in the Chief Officer's cabin chatting over a cup of tea, as I often did, when a signal came through from Head Office for him to open the Secret Orders, and he told me in confidence that this confirmed that war was a certainty. This was on 1st September. We sailed for East London on the morning of the 2nd, me keeping the news to myself, but as we pulled into our berth at the docks 24 hours later, there was a newspaper placard 'War declared on Germany'. Aunt Clare and Uncle Aubrey met us and took us to our hotel near my grandmother's house, whereupon my mother collapsed and took to her bed. I sat in the hotel lounge and listened with sinking heart to the Prime Minister's historic speech. It was not really surprising that my mother had a nervous breakdown – there she and I were in South Africa, on limited money, with my father, Erick, Terence, Valerie and Maureen back in Ceylon, none of us knowing whether or not we would be able to return to Ceylon. And, of course, she had known the horrors and sadness of one war, so she could be forgiven for panicking.
My uncle took over the situation by trying for a passage to Durban so that we could join the 'Inchanga' on her way back to Ceylon after a turn-around in Cape Town. She did not call at East London on the return voyage. The Dutch ship ' Klipfontein' was sailing from East London to Durban on her maiden voyage, but as Holland was neutral and we were British, the agents were reluctant to accept us as passengers, even for a 24-hour voyage. I do not know what strings he pulled, or what it cost him, but he did eventually get them to agree to take us down to Durban. And so, we left East London after only a week. Sadly, my grandmother died that December. We had an uneventful voyage back, without stopping at any port en route, but there was a strict black-out enforced, we always had to have our life-jackets to hand, and there was the occasional zig-zagging manoeuvre which always worried my mother, who was convinced they had sighted a U-Boat. It happened that we sailed north right up the path of the moon, hoping that German U-Boats had not yet reached those waters. It was a great relief when we docked at Colombo and were all re-united.
When war broke out, my brother Terence was mobilised in the local Ceylon Mounted Rifles, later disbanded, when he then joined the RNVR, serving for some time in Trincomalee Naval Office, then as British Naval Liaison Officer on the Dutch cruiser 'Tromp', as he could speak Afrikaans and so could understand a certain amount of the Dutch language. The 'Tromp' had a few narrow escapes, one when a shell went down the funnel, but a very brave Indonesian rating climbed up the funnel ladder, down into the funnel, and brought the shell up, to ditch it firmly overboard. He was decorated for that action. The 'Tromp' was the first ship to enter Sabang when Java was re-taken, having been given pride of place, and there was a lovely ending to this. When Captain Stam left Java to go to sea, he had to leave his wife and daughters there, later to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. Nothing was heard of them and he feared they had died, but as the ship sailed into Sabang harbour, they were standing on the dock to welcome him. Terence returned to planting and retired to Australia in 1965, having married an Australian war widow. They have one son, Malcolm, born in 1953, now married to Heather Marr, but they do not have a family. They live hear Perth, where Terence and Elizabeth settled.
Erick had returned to Ceylon in 1932 when he had been so desperately ill, which left him with a valvular disease of the heart, but after convalescing he learnt planting under my father, and eventually went planting as Assistant Superintendent on a cocoa estate near Kandy. He wanted so much to join up when war broke out, but was ruled medically unfit due to his heart condition. He could not play any sport other than tennis, but only doubles, and golf. He died a tragic and unnecessary death in 1942, aged 25. In October of that year he was rushed into Kandy hospital with acute appendicitis which had turned to peritonitis. An emergency operation was carried out. The surgeon who operated passed his heart fit to take a general anaesthetic, in spite of having treated his heart condition for over ten years. Sadly, he died on the operating table. He was a great lover of life and enjoyed the short life he had – he was a great pal of mine.
I was keen, naturally, to do my bit for the war, and applied to work in the naval headquarters in Colombo, and in July 1940 went down for an interview. They were taking on wives and daughters of Colombo businessmen and planters to work in the Cypher & Signals Office, and we did a sterling job – only in 1944 did WRENS join us, but we had kept things going all those years, through days and nights, as the Naval Office never closed. I received a call on 31st July to start work the following day, 1st August. It was my 21st birthday on the 2nd and my special birthday party at Gampola Club was organised, so this was quite a blow, but I decided that duty came first and down I would go, travelling to Colombo by train on the morning of the 1st. My party went off well, so they told me, in my absence, but Erick was able to attend as it was also his birthday, his 23rd, but I was consoled by being sent a hefty piece of cake, a lot of cards and presents, and a great satisfaction for having put duty before pleasure!
I worked at the Naval Office from August 1940 to September 1945, initially in the Cypher Office, cyphering and de-cyphering signals, sometimes doing extra shifts on typing and filing, then I moved to Logging, which involved entering all signals that came in and went out of the Cypher Office, which work would normally be done by the WRENS. I was also chosen, as one in each watch, to learn and work the new ENIGMA machine, which was highly secret. At the beginning of 1944 I was asked to take on the running of the Signals Reference Library, a day job, which was welcome as I had done 4 years of day and night watches. I had enjoyed it, thought, and had found it a very rewarding and interesting job. The library job, in which I had one assistant, was even more interesting, as I received a copy of every signal, in and out, including some Army and Air Force signals, all except the ultra-secret ones from, say, Wavell to Mountbatten, so I had a complete picture in about 2000 files of everything that was taking place. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I always put my job first no matter what, and this must have contributed to the Commander-in-Chief's Commendation that I was awarded, 'For Zeal and devotion to Duty'. I felt particularly honoured, as I was the only one of us civilian workers to have been given this commendation.
I enjoyed my 6 years in Colombo. I lived in a small flat in a boarding house, later joined by my sister Valerie. War touched me in many ways, seeing friends leave and not return, various and varied romances which went the same way as wartime romances which were 'of the moment', but friendships were made, and some have lasted to this day. We had a few hairy moments, the closest shave being when the Japanese fleet was seen steaming towards Ceylon. At this time, we in the Naval Office were told that the battleship 'Warspite' would be standing by to evacuate the Naval Headquarters staff, and if any of us wished to leave, we were to have one suitcase each, packed and ready. As my parents and my sisters were in Ceylon, I said I would not be leaving, as I didn't want to leave them to an uncertain fate, knowing how prisoners were treated by the Japanese in the prison camps.
Thanks to our Air Force, and Ceylon's defences, the Japanese never came on, but they did send a force of 125 planes to bomb Colombo. This was on Easter Sunday, April 5th 1942, in the early hours of the morning. I had been on duty at the Naval Office from 9 pm to 3 am so had prior warning, and we were given the option of staying on in the building, using the basement as shelter, but as Valerie was back in the flat, and I didn't relish the thought of the building crashing down on me, I chose to return to the flat. I had not been asleep for long when the air-raid sirens went, and we all rushed out to the slit trench in the garden, from which we watched some of the dog-fights overhead. At one time, I stood up in the trench, and a jagged piece of shrapnel fell about a foot from me - I dived sharply back into the trench! I have the piece of shrapnel as a memento. Three ships in the harbour were sunk, HMS Lucia, a sub-depot ship, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Hector, and the destroyer HMS Tenedos. One of the Tenedos's crew was able-seaman Robert Peel, Baronet, some of the late Lord Robert Peel and Lady Peel, the actress Beatrice Lillie. I had been in a group at the Swimming Club that afternoon when the recall-to-ships signal came, Robert Peel was in the group and he rushed back to his ship. The Tenedos got a direct hit in the engine room where was on duty, and his body was never found. I wrote a personal letter to Lady Peel to tell her that her son had been happy and enjoying life to the end, and had a charming but sad letter from her - he was their only child.
Of the 125 planes that the Japanese sent over, it was reckoned that 27 were brought down, some in the sea and some on land. Others would have been lost on the way back to the carriers, as it is said they were given fuel only to reach Ceylon, so after that they would not have had the fuel to return to the carriers. I do not know what our losses were, but they were minimal. They then went on to bomb Trincomalee harbour on 8th April, sinking the aircraft carrier Hermes, which had been sailed out of harbour, ostensibly to avoid the raid. Unfortunately, and with extreme lack of foresight on the part of the Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon, he gave orders for her to sail up the coast, with all her Swordfish aircraft on land. She ran into the approaching planes so was a sitting target. She was just 5 miles offshore and some of the crew were able to swim ashore, but the total loss was 303 men. The majority of her crew were South Africans, and when I visited the hospital where they had been sent I discovered four of my school friends among the survivors. Fred Timmins had lost an eye, Jimmy Goddard was peppered with shrapnel, 'Shirley' Esherwood had swallowed a lot of oil, and Alan Nichol had 3rd-degree burns. All that could be seen of him, swathed in bandages, was eyes, nose and mouth! They later went up to my parents' to convalesce, very bitter against the C-in-C's decision to sail the ship with no defences. It remains a mystery to one and all why the Japanese fleet did not advance and take Ceylon, which they could have done without any serious opposition. The general opinion is that they had advanced too fast and over-stretched their resources. But had it not been so, we in Ceylon would have had a very different story to tell. Hours after the raid on Colombo, the destroyers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall were sunk within 20 minutes between Mombasa and Colombo with an enormous loss of life.
Valerie and Maureen did their bit in the war, too. Valerie joined me in the Naval Office as a typist in the Cypher Office from 1942 until she married in 1943. She married a Major in the Royal Engineers, Sydney (Pat) Paterson, and they later left and settled in Scotland. They are now settled in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and have two sons, Alastair and Ian, both married. Their little daughter Fiona died, sadly, at the age of 7 from leukaemia. Maureen worked for a while with the Amy in Kandy, as a typist, and went over to South Africa with my parents in 1946. In 1951 she married Guy Paige-Green, a chemical analyst who worked for some years in the laboratories on the asbestos mine in Swaziland. They then moved to Durban, where Maureen still lives. Guy died in 1988 – it seems his lungs were affected, which was no doubt due to the asbestos during his time in Swaziland. Their family of 3 consists of Philip, and Doctor of geology, married to Pam and living in Pretoria with a son Timothy and a daughter, Alexandra. Heather married Derek Olorenshaw, an engineer, and they are living in America with their two children, Scott and Jodie. Sally came next and is married to Parry Anderson, and they are at present living in Sydney, Australia.
In 1945 the Eastern Fleet moved to Mombasa in East Africa, and the volume of work in the Colombo Headquarters was much less. As there was talk of taking the Signals Library with them, everything then being staffed by WRENS, I was recommended for a secretarial job within the Army in Horton Place, and they duly accepted me. Little did I know that that was to lead to the second phase of my life! I worked with the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General IV dealing with legal cases, personal problems, compassionate leave applications, divorce cases, various problems with families overseas, and also did some secretarial work for SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Air Force Association) which also dealt with personal problems, all interesting work and I enjoyed it immensely. It was also a turning point in my life, and the start of what is many years of happiness with a husband who was, and still is, my dearest friend and companion. That man is your grandfather!
Your paternal great-great-grandfather was Jean-Marie Gottelier from Alsace Lorraine who went out to Mauritius sugar planting. When that failed, he moved to Ceylon and bought a tea estate, old Peradeniya Estate, near Kandy. His first wife was Anne Marie Uranie de Chermont, who died in 1870 of, possibly, typhoid fever, and is buried in Mahayaya Cemetery in Kandy. He then married a woman called Winifred Clarke, from Bath, and they produced your great-grandfather Alfred, and Henry, known to your grandad as Uncle Tam. And from those two brothers, Alfred and Henry, have come all the Gotteliers in England. Henry lived latterly in Beckenham, Kent, having worked for years with the Metal Box Company. He married, and their family was Clement, Monica and Laurie. Clement married Cynthia and had Anthony and Virginia, who have married and have sons and daughters. Laurie married Temple, who died in 1989, and they had David, Anne and Peter, who have all married and had sons and daughters. David married Nicky and they have two sons, Dominic and Simon. Anne married Roger Barron and their children and Mark and Lucy. Peter married fairly recently.
When your great-grandfather was 18, his mother, then a widow, packed a trunk of clothes and household goods for him and sent him off to Ceylon to make his way, with tea planting in mind. He did get a planting job, in which he had to walk everywhere he went, until one day, after 2 years or so, he saw an advertisement for English Police Sergeants. 'Rupees 100 per month plus bicycle'. The prospect of a bicycle took his fancy, he applied and so entered the Ceylon Police Service, rising to Deputy Inspector General and head of the CID side of it, twice acting as Inspector General. He retired in 1930, was awarded the OBE, and with his wife and family settled in Nuwara Eliya, in the hills of Ceylon, moving to Colombo when his wife died in 1945. His wife, your paternal great-grandmother, was Jean Cecilia Morehead, one of 7 daughters born to Boyd Dunlop Morehead, at one time Premier of Queensland, Australia. His parents had emigrated from England to Australia when Boyd was a child, chartering an entire ship, in which they took their family, maids, grooms, carriages, horses, all farm equipment, settling in Queensland where they bought a large sheep station. Jean and her sister Alison were travelling to England on holiday, and the ship put into Galle Harbour, a port north of Colombo. During their short stay there, Jean and Alfred met and became engaged. They were married on the sisters' return journey. Alfred died in England in 1960 aged 86. Their family consisted of Ted, born in 1909, who served in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps in Ceylon until it was disbanded, when he joined the RAF. He married Margaret Slack, a QARNNS Officer and Matron of the Naval Hospital in Trincomalee. When he was de-mobbed in 1947, he went tea planting. Their marriage fell apart and they separated, Margaret returning to England with their son David, and Ted staying on planting, eventually coming to England in 1980. David is now a schoolmaster, married with two daughters. Ted died in London in 1990.
John was born in 1912. He was planting before the war, and also served in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, later joining the Army Intelligence Corps, rising to the rank of Captain. After serving in India and Burma, he was demobilised in England in 1946, and on the sea voyage back to Ceylon met Freda Corbett, a QAIMNS Sister on her way to Cyprus. They became engaged, and Freda later came on to Ceylon, to be married in Colombo in 1947. John returned to planting but in 1960 returned to England, later to settle in Penzance, Cornwall. They have two sons, Christopher, born in 1948 and married to Brenda. They have two daughters, Laura and Kate. After some years in hotel management, Christopher is now free-lancing in stained glassware. Patrick was born in 1951. He married Jane Foster and they have a business in London, 'Artwork', specialising in quality knitwear. They have two sons, Thomas, born in 1988 and William born in 1991. John died in Cornwall in 1994, the day before his 82ndbirthday.
Peggie was the only daughter, and she came between Ted and John, being born in 1910. She lived with her widowed father in Colombo, where she did some war work, and came to England in 1954. In 1956 she married a widower, Charles Page. They initially lived in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, then moved to York, where Charles died in 1975. After Charles died Peggy stayed on in York, moving to a small flat outside the city, and she died in December 1996.
Lastly was Tony, your grandfather, born in 1914, tipping the scales at 13 lbs and therefore his mother's final contribution to the world's population! He was mobilised in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps on the outbreak of war - he had arranged to take up planting, training with his brother John, but the war put paid to that – and was seconded for a while to an Australian Division, mostly in the low-country jungle. When the CPRC was disbanded and they were all going their different ways, some to the Army, some to the Navy, he joined the RAF. He would have liked to become a navigator, but being colour-blind on greens and reds, this was out of the question, but he did administrative work, a lot of it constructing airstrips in the jungles, with a labour force of 3000 Cochins from South India. His last major work was the construction of the runway at Katunayake (Colombo), this now being the airport used by all the international airlines and known as Bandaranaike Airport. He ended the war as a Flight Lieutenant, and was demobilised in 1947.
And this is where I re-join the story and we start our married life.
Peggy Gottelier was working with the Army Entertainments Office in Horton Place, Colombo, in the same building where I was working with the Army, and I got to know her well. One day we had both finished work late, my transport had left without me, and she suggested that I wait until her brother Tony came along in his RAF truck, and he would give me a lift home. He was Flight Lieutenant Richard Anthony Boyd Gottelier, on leave from the RAF station at Sigiriya, a jungle station. He was up on leave for his brother Ted's wedding. He showed a lot of interest in me, helping me gallantly into the back of the truck, so Peggie suggested that I go with her to Ted's wedding the following day, which I did. Tony was Ted's best man, but after his duty was over, he spent all his time with me! He returned to Sigiriya the following day, but later came down to Colombo on a week’s leave, and on the Monday he asked me out to the cinema. We saw a really trashy film, 'Tell It To The Marines', and laughed all the way through it, and I think that made it clear to us that we were both on the same wavelength and both had the same sense of humour, and that we were meant for each other. Subsequent years have proved us right from then on, things moved rapidly. We went out on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Again, on the Friday we went out, and had dinner at the Galle Face Hotel, and when he drove me back to my flat, we became engaged! Actually, Tony never asked me – it was taken for granted that this was it! At that time, I had decided to go down to South Africa ahead of my parents, as I had a possible job on a Union Castle liner on their Cape Town to London run, and I had pestered the shipping agents in Colombo to get me a passage, passages being hard to come by just after the war. In the car, Tony told me emphatically that I was NOT going to South Africa, and by then my enthusiasm over it had waned. We decided we were going to marry, so I had to crawl back to the shipping agents to say I did not want the passage after all! Tony had gone back to tell his dad the news, a bit apprehensive, but when he reached the house, Dad called him outside. Tony asked, 'what do you want to tell me, Dad?', to which Dad replied, 'I think YOU have something to tell ME'. They were all thrilled with the news.
My parents and Maureen had been waiting for passages to South Africa for some months, but had managed to secure passages on a certain ship, with all their goods and luggage organised, so Tony and I pushed ahead with our wedding plans, hoping that they would still be there, and we were married 7 weeks later. Sadly, my parents could not pass up the offer of their passages, as all their plans were made, and so they were on the high seas on our wedding day, 26th October 1946. The captain of their ship gave a little party on board to celebrate. We were married at St. Mary's Cathedral in Colombo. Tony was still in the RAF, so Service Dress was the order of the day, and he looked handsome in his RAF blues. John, as Best Man, wore his Army khaki serge, and Ted was in his RAF khaki drill. Peggie was my bridesmaid, and in my father's absence, my brother gave me away. As they were not there, my Godmother, Dorothy Gordon, was my Hostess, travelling down from up-country with hundreds of her beautiful blue/mauve orchids. The reception was in the Verandah Bar of the Galle Face Hotel, with murals on the walls done in varying shades of blue by the artist Sofronoff, so the setting was beautiful, and it was a happy reception. We spent our honeymoon firstly at the Suisse Hotel in Kandy, when I was able to put my bridal bouquet on Erick's grave in the Kandy Cemetery, then we went on to the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, chosen because servicemen got special concessions on the rates!
Tony was stationed at Katunayake then, but as I was not given accommodation on the base, having alternate living, I was able to live with Dad and Peggie in Colombo. Tony was demobilised in May 1947, then set about looking for a planting job. He managed to get a job on an estate in Talawakelle as 'trainee-cum-assistant' which lasted for 9 months when the permanent assistant returned after a long illness, but this was quite enough for us, as the Superintendent was a debauched, drunken Scotsman, a bachelor with no morals at all, and determined, as he put it, to make Tony so sick of planting he would throw in his hand. This was because, in the war, Tony was called in to quell a riot in Russells' labour camp, and rose higher in rank than Russell ever did! All of this made Tony, with me backing him, determined to make a go of it, no matter how much Sandy Russell tried to destroy his career. Having been born and brought up in Ceylon, Tony had the advantage of being fluent in both Tamil and Singhalese, and was well versed in labour relations, so his training was more or less a formality. He rose to be Manager of one of the two largest tea estates in Ceylon.
When we left that estate I was 7 months pregnant, which was quite a worry, but we stayed with Dad in Colombo from where Tony did the rounds of the Agency Houses, and it was only a matter of weeks before he was offered the job of Assistant Superintendent on Hunuwella Group, Ratnapura, in Carson's Agency, under Reg 'Chin' Warren, who was a wonderful man to work under, always firm but fair, and appreciative of Tony's capabilities. He started work there on April 1st 1948, but as my baby was due within a week or so, I stayed on in Colombo. I went into the Joseph Fraser Nursing Home on the morning of April 8th to await events, which events happened at 9pm that same day, and at 8.15 next morning Jean Alison Boyd entered the world, weighing 8 lb 5 oz. A telegram was sent to Tony on the estate that morning saying the baby was on its way, but by the time he arrived she was well swaddled and sleeping peacefully. We went out to the estate two weeks later, 75 miles from Colombo, no telephone, no 'weekly clinic', no Ayah, as we could not afford one for 6 months, but I was armed with a slim Good Housekeeping Baby Book. Today I think of the young mothers in England who are cosseted from the day their babies are born, and not allowed to think for themselves!
We were on Hunuwella group from April 1948 to September 1951, when Tony was granted his first overseas leave of 6 months. Jean was then 3 ½ . We travelled to England on the Dutch liner 'Oranje' and docked at Southampton. It was my first visit to England, so it was a real thrill for me, more so because it was my first English winter. Tony was last in England in 1933. We stayed at the Hotel Stuart at the top of Richmond Hill, Surrey, where we had a large bed-sitting room overlooking the corner of the Thames as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. We collected our car, a Triumph Mayflower, cost 670, in Coventry, so transport was no problem, although we always went into London by train. Looking 20 years forward, we sold that same Mayflower before we left Ceylon for the equivalent of ,1,200. We did one tour of Devon and Cornwall, otherwise were content with everything that was easily accessible from Richmond, going up frequently to London. Jean and I saw snow for the first time – Jean seemed to think it was ice-cream, but was soon disillusioned after a mouthful of it!
On our return to Ceylon, Tony was appointed Acting Superintendent of Henfold Group in Talawakelle, near Nuwara Eliya, then 6 months Acting Superintendent on Karandupona Estate near Kandy. After that, he was Acting manager on Hunuwella group for 'Chin' Warren, where he had started on joining Carsons' agency. After that he had 6 months Acting Superintendent for his brother John on Talgaswella Estate near Galle on the south coast. It was the policy to give Assistant Superintendents four 6-month 'acting' jobs, acting for permanent superintendents going on overseas leave, as experience before being given a charge of their own with the extra responsibilities.
By the time we moved to Talgaswella Estate, I was pregnant again, but things went very wrong, and after 7 months I was seriously ill with a haemorrhage, resulting in a hair-raising journey in an Ambulette (a station wagon with a low bed on the floor!) the 75 miles to Colombo and the Joseph Fraser Nursing Home. The Ambulette travelled at around ten miles per hour, with Tony ahead in the Land Rover picking out the numerous potholes, as I was not to be shaken. A Singhalese midwife travelled with me, as a precaution, but as she could not speak a word of English and I knew no Singhalese, I was grateful that there was no emergency! What a journey, every time we had to pull up, a crown of dark faces would be peering in at me, wrapped in blankets and sweating profusely. In that low position, all I saw were treetops, and my thought was that if anyone sang the tune 'Trees' to me, I would scream! The Fraser Nursing Home was gifted by Joseph Fraser, a wealthy businessman in Colombo, for the use of the European community, and it really was a wonderful nursing home, with all the nursing sisters out from England. So many of us owed so much to the home and its benefactor. After one month of being 'built up' I had a Caesarean operation, and Michael Anthony Boyd entered the world, one month early and weighing just under 6 lbs. It had been a great worry, as there was said to be a 50-50 chance for my survival, and 40-50 for the baby, so his safe arrival was a great relief.
During my two months in the nursing home, Tony had to move to his first permanency, on Kuttapitiya Estate near Ratnapura, where we were for 5 ½ years. We had our second overseas leave during that time, spending it again in Richmond. Overseas leave at that time was granted every 4 years, with 6 months' leave on full pay, and passages paid. It was later changed to 3 months after every 21 months, which meant flying both ways, time being of the essence, but we did miss the sea voyages, as we always called at many ports with plenty of time for day excursions. But when flying we found we could 'pub crawl', stopping off at various places, providing we always went forward on our ticket. On our flights we had a week in Switzerland with Swiss friends who had a thriving coffee and tea export business, therefore they were very wealthy. They had a lovely house in Berne, where they and four daughters lived, Jean-Marc the son living away from home. They gave us a wonderful week there, including one day walking up the Beatenberg mountain, first by rack-rail, then cable car to the base of the mountain, then walking. On the summit, we saw within feet of us, a magnificent herd of Ibex - Walter Murbach had never seen them so close before, so was especially thrilled. One day Jean-Marc took us on the round tour of Lake Geneva, calling at all the little jetties on the way, including those on the French side. It happened to be Bastille Day, so all the French children were dressed up and celebrating. One fascinating week in Rome, such a wonderful city where every step shows something of interest. We had a good tour of St Peter's, up to the Sistine Chapel, which is just beyond description. A week in Amsterdam, and a few days in Karachi and Athens. On our sea voyages, ports of call included Bombay, Port Said and Aden, Djibouti in North Africa, Port Sudan, Navarino Bay in Greece, Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Naples where we were able to visit both Capri and Ischia, Marseilles with an excursion to Arles, and Gibraltar, with the inevitable trip to the top to see the Barbary Apes. So, all in all, we saw quite a bit of the world.
After 5 ½ years we were asked to take leave of 6 months, making it a winter leave, as they had Poonagalla Group, Bandarawela, lined up for Tony to take over from Gorton Coombe, who was retiring. The estate had been owned by the Coombe family before being sold as a company to Carsons’ Agency, and when Tony took over from Gorton, son of one of the original owners, he was the first non-Coombe to manage the estate for some 80 years. There were many old ways and old traditions that needed to be broken, and to be broken gently, but Carsons had faith in Tony's diplomatic approach. He had to move slowly and cautiously, but eventually moulded it into one of the finest, best managed tea estates in Ceylon. He was a first-class planter and organiser, and commanded a great respect from those for whom he worked as well as from those who worked under him, so this respect was well-deserving of the managing of what was one of the largest estates in Ceylon, and the plum job within the agency. We had 11 years there, and there was no other estate on which we would have wished to spend our last years in Ceylon. The bungalow was situated at 4,800 feet, so was an ideal climate, and it had a breath-taking view over the low-country jungle and down to the coast, 50 miles as the crow flew. The bungalow was old, dating back to around 1880, 22 rooms in all, but it was a real home.
There were 5 assistant superintendents, around 500 administrative staff and a labour force of around 3000, mostly Tamils. There were schools and crèches on every division of the estate, and a 48-bed hospital and maternity ward with a fully qualified and efficient Jaffna-Tamil apothecary. There was a sub-Post Office, Shell petrol pump, silversmith, tailor and a fully equipped engineering workshop. There was a tennis and squash court at the bungalow, a sports club for the staff with 2 tennis courts, badminton, volley ball, billiards and table tennis, so it was a very contented staff. There was a good-sized swimming pool, a rock pool, on the lower division, with a swimming pool lower down with a children's pool, summerhouse and changing rooms. In fact, Poonagalla was a village in itself.
The estate rose form 1,200 feet to 5,500 feed, and the bungalow being at 4,800 feet we could grow all the English flowers and vegetables. I had quite a lucrative hobby/business supplying vegetables, flowers and fruit to Carsons' staff in Colombo and flowers to hotels. People in England have asked if I was ever bored 'with all those servants and nothing to do', but I was never bored and never idle. There was the garden, flower arranging, supervising, some cooking such as cakes, jams etc, my flower/vegetable business, dressmaking, walks etc. There were the district clubs, mah-jongg mornings, Sunday lunches, weekends away, and always the jungles and bird-watching. I often worked beside the garden coolies, collecting eggs, setting broody hens on clutches. Our day began with 'bed tea' brought in at 6 am, breakfast at 7 and Tony out at 7.30, usually to go round the fields. Back at noon, lunch at 1, out again at 3 pm, usually to the office or tea factory, and back any time around 5 pm. Of course, very often various things cropped up and the usual timetable went haywire! Bed was usually never later than 9 pm – we had no television and relied on the radio, using mainly the BBC and Australia, the latter our strongest station. The BBC news bulletins kept us in touch with Britain.
I always took an interest in all estate matters. Tony had various other interests and responsibilities, as he was a director on the boards of 4 other companies, and had the Visiting Agency in an advisory capacity of 5 other estates. It was so ideal a job, with Tony more or less his own master, and as it interested me as well, we were great company to each other.
Poonagalla bungalow had its ghosts, and for those who are sceptical as to their existence, I give some incidents that took place. People asked me if this did not frighten me – to me, the Coombes were so happy on that estate and their lives so enmeshed with Poonagalla, three of them having died on, or from, the estate, I considered their ghosts as happy ghosts. Some of the directors in the agency refused to sleep in the bungalow.
When Tony went up to the estate to take over from Gorton Coombe, he had the large guest room at the eastern side of the bungalow. One night, and knowing nothing of the resident ghost, he heard books being thrown about in the lounge next door, and in the nursery room next to his room he heard the clanging of wires (this room was used to dry off the ironing, so had wires around the room) and when he went into the room to see what the noise was, the Coombes’ Siamese cat had jumped onto the top of the wardrobe, 8 foot high, with no aid in getting up except straight up from the floor. A later incident was when Tony's cousin's son was out from England on holiday with us, and had that guest room. He knew nothing of the ghost, as it was never discussed. One morning he said he had heard footsteps from the window to the foot of his bed, with the mosquito net being moved, and a cold draught sweeping through the room. As the room was on the built-up end of the building, the windows being every bit of 12 feet from the ground, and as no servants slept in the bungalow, there was no way that 'it' was a person. We rather laughed it off, and to this day David does not know it was Coombe's ghost that interrupted his sleep. The same thing occurred when we had a young lad up from Carsons' office. At 2 am there was a knock on our bedroom door, which was at the other end of the bungalow, and Chris was there saying 'R G is here. Can I sleep in your room?.' He was clutching a blanket and was a white as a sheet, so I made up a bed for him in another bedroom near ours. But it was the same pattern as David's experience.
Two more incidents were even more realistic. Michael was only 6 when we first went to Poonagalla. One day when Tony and I were out, in the evening Rita the nanny told Michael to run down the passage to the drying room to get his pyjamas before he had his bath and got ready for bed. He did this, but ran back very disturbed, hiding behind Rita, which was so unusual, as he was never frightened by 'things'. He told her, and I quote his words, 'A man was walking up the passage. He was tall like Dad and had white hair and he stooped like that [a demonstration here! – and all the Coombes stood over 6 foot 4 inches]. He had a striped shirt with long sleeved and had on grey trousers. He had a walking stick and behind him was a little dog.' We had only been there a few months and had never mentioned the ghost to Rita or any of the servants, all of whom were new to the place, as we were. We told our friends, the Walls, who rented the other bungalow on the estate that had been built for R G when he retired, and they told us that, after R G's wife died in that bungalow, every evening he went for a walk with her little dog, and always entered the bungalow through the old billiard room at the end of the passage, and walked on up the passage with the little dog behind him. None of us had known R G, but the Walls described him as being very tall, white haired and very bent. He always wore his shirt sleeves down and walked with a stick. He took the dog out for a walk every evening, and always entered the bungalow through that back entrance, which was the billiard room.
Another really authentic sighting of the ghost was by our Tamil cook. He came to me one morning and I quote what he said: 'Lady, a funny thing happened last night. I locked up the kitchen and was walking down the road to my house [which was in the big vegetable garden] and I saw somebody walking in front of me. I thought it was my wife come up to meet me and I called, "Mary! Mary!" but it was not Mary. It was a bright moonlight night and when I walked down, she walked in front of me. She was tall like our Missie [meaning our daughter Jean] and had long hair like Missie. When I stopped at the gate by my house, she walked on and walked through the closed gate at the end of the road.' We again asked the Walls, who told us that a Coombe daughter had died in the bungalow of typhoid aged 17. She was blonde and had long hair, and was tall and slender. As none of us, let alone the servants, had ever known of this girl or her death, it confirms the authentic sighting of an authentic ghost. No way could our Tamil cook have dreamed up such a real and vivid picture, as he had not been long on the estate.
With the jungles more or less on our doorstep, we spent a lot of time 'jungling' and bird watching, and our friends the Walls were as enthusiastic as we were and joined in most of our expeditions. Ceylon had over 360 birds listed in G M Henry's excellent book, including migrants from England and India. They are all so colourful, more so than the English birds, with some wonderful songsters. We had a Land Rover and, later on, a Harvester Scout, and those two vehicles together with an excellent Tamil driver, Periasamy, were a wonderful asset in the jungle. Periasamy had done so many jungle trips with Gorton Coombe and his friends, and we had great trust in him should any difficult situations arise, and they certainly did! We would frequently rent one of the Park bungalows in Yala Reserve, or Wilpattu Reserve up towards Jaffna. Sometimes we would do a quick day trip, leaving for Yala at 4 am to get down to the gate by 6 when it opened. Yala Reserve had elephants, leopard and bear as the 'big' animals, but there were also monkey, numerous deer, sambhur [elk], crocodile, porcupine, snakes of various sorts, wild boar and buffalo amongst the lesser ones, and we had some wonderful sightings, getting recordings of animals on tape, cine films and stills. We had some wonderful thrills too, with bear, and elephants chasing us in the Land Rover.
Once a year we would camp under canvas for 10 days in the Strict Natural reserve, camping beside the river. We always took two of our servants as 'camp cooks', which they thoroughly enjoyed, and we always had to be accompanied by a camp guard and a tracker. No guns were allowed, but the tracker always had an axe with him, and this usually in case we were involved with a bear! Tony was keen on cine photography, taking mainly animals, birds, jungle trees and flowers, and has a wonderful record of sights and sounds. Apart from the animals listed above, there were also spotted, barking and mouse deer, jackals, rock squirrels, flying squirrels, loris, mongoose. And also snakes, scorpions and spiders. Tony had one horrifying encounter with a poisonous snake in the jungle. We had built a 'hide' beside the river one evening, to watch for elephants coming down to the river to drink in the early morning, hoping to see the big tusker. Having left it overnight, we went up river to it first light next morning. Tony sat there, surrounded by cine camera, tripod, tape recorder, binoculars, camera, bird book, well hemmed in and grounded. I sat on his left, the tracker beside me, our friend Ted on his right, and I suddenly heard peculiar grunting noises coming from Tony. He was quite ashen faced. A snake about 5 ft long had come out of the hide, slithered up his leg (luckily he was wearing long trousers!) tried to pass through between his right arm and chest, got stuck at his armpit, doubled back and veered to the left and shot over his arm, between us, and up the bank and away. it took Tony some time to regain his composure, especially when the tracker told him it was a very poisonous snake – and we had no snake-bite serum with us – so he really had a miraculous escape. At that same hide a couple of mornings later, we had a wonderful view of the tusker. It came down to drink on the other side of the river, directly opposite us, had a drink and started to walk downstream, turned and was walking over in a straight line with where we were sitting. The tracker decided it was time we moved! So we went some yards down and hid behind a tree. The elephant ambled on and went up the back beside the Land Rover, taking no notice of it at all! Our hearts were beating a little bit faster after that!
On one of our camping trips we went up to a waterhole to watch for elephants coming down to drink. As we walked up to it, a troop of monkeys, grey langurs, fled, leaving a baby behind. Knowing they would never return to it, Tony picked it up, a female no more than 3 weeks old and not fully weaned. It clung to him as he put it inside his shirt. We had taken a snack lunch with us, and had some tinned milk, so I gave it some mild, watered down, from a spoon, and as it sipped, it crooked its finger over the spoon handle. It was a she, and as she had a white cap of fur, she was christened Pixie. We had her in camp for 4 days, then had to smuggle her out, it being a strict nature reserve. We brought her up on Cow and Gate and Virol, and had her as a delightful pet for 7 years, when she died, possibly from age, as they do not live so long in captivity when away from their jungle environment. She lived outside our dining room, a long wire between two trees, with a little 'house' on each tree, and she had a large log to sit on. When the boy rang the gong for our meals, she would hop up on the log and bash her tin dish loudly as if to say, 'time for my lunch too!'.
We had many hair-raising interludes with elephants and bears and never failed to sight leopards. It was wonderful to watch these animals in their natural environment when they did not know they were being watched. We were known, together with the Walls, to have Leopard Luck, as we never had a trip where we did not sight them, whereas others would go down to the jungle and never see one. it was quite incredible when we were staying with Valerie and Pat in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on our way to England in 1971. I promised them a leopard as well as an elephant charge, but they thought it extremely unlikely as they had never seen a leopard in all their wild life trips, and Valerie certainly did not want an elephant charge! But she did get both! We had been round the Matopos Wildlife Park and seen many animals and on the way back to Bulawayo along the main road at dusk, a magnificent male leopard came down from the scrub on our left, stood in the middle of the road watching us then moved on to bushes on our right, still watching us, until we got tired of watching it and went on our way. It really was incredible, as they have not seen a leopard since. Later we were going round the Victoria Falls Wildlife Park, when round a corner we saw a cow elephant to our right. We stopped to watch it, when suddenly to our left there was an unholy squeal, right in Valerie's ear, so it seemed. A huge bull elephant, tusked, made a rush at the car. Obviously we were between it and its mate. Pat stepped on the accelerator and shot off at great speed, but he bravely reversed a bit, amidst protestations from Valerie, so Tony could get the elephant on cine film. Valerie said that we had redeemed our promise, could we now forget it!
Jean started her schooling with me, being very easy to teach and quick to learn, and she started at the Convent in Nuwara Eliya when she was 7. Michael, too, was quick to learn, and they both got on well with reading, writing and arithmetic. As was inevitable for children of expatriates, who had to send their children overseas to school as there was no suitable schooling for English children after the age of 11 or 12, Jean started school at Hazeldene in Salcombe in England in 1960, being left when we returned after our leave that year. She stayed there until she had taken her O Levels, after which she took her A Levels at Kingsbridge School. She then had a year at Plymouth College of Art and Design, followed by 4 years at Winchester School of Art, where she obtained her Diploma in Art & Design in Woven and Printed Textiles.
Michael started at the Convent in Nuwara Eliya when he was 7, later starting his English schooling at 11 at Bramdean School in Exeter. From there he went on the Brympton School in Yeovil, finishing with A Levels at Yeovil College.
It was a decision that we had to take to send our children to be educated in England, so they could take their place in the working world there. It was a hard decision, but we parents had to conceal our feelings and emotions, but it was a constant worry to us throughout their schooling years. The company did fly them out to Ceylon for the 8-week summer holidays every second year, our overseas leaves coming in the in-between years. Our weekly letters went to them by air mail, so different when I was at school in South Africa, with letters travelling slowly be sea mail and not seeing my father for 4 years, and my mother only twice in that time.
Ceylon was granted Independence in 1948 and went along on an even keel with a pro-British government until Mrs Bandaranaike came into power after the assassination of her husband, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, at the hands of a Buddhist monk. From then on, her government took up and anti-British vendetta, bringing in so many restrictions, mainly monetary, until it became difficult for us to remain out there with two children at school in England. A large number of European planters and businessmen were getting out, having seen the light. Mrs Bandaranaike made it clear that we were unwelcome in her country, when she said. 'we will not push out the British – we will gently squeeze them out', and that is precisely what she did. By 1970 we had decided the time was right to make the big move, although Tony still had four years to go before retiring officially at 60. He told the agents of his decision, and we started on arrangements to leave in April 1971. There was so much involved, and so much red tape to cut through, but some of the officials were more than helpful. Some were quite the opposite! There were numerous visits to the income tax authorities who demanded all our income tax receipts dating back to 1948, when Tony started planting and they gained Independence – and this was 1971. Luckily, and having grown wise over the years, we were able to produce them all. We had to decide what to take with us and what to sell. We had to decide which of our books and sentimental possessions we could not bear to be parted from. We ended up with 680 cubic feet of packing cases, all packed professionally by a Singhalese packer from one of the Colombo furnishing firms, all of which had to be listed, and he did a wonderful job. To his credit, and with all our glass, china, pictures, silver, some furniture and plenty of etcetera’s, all that was broken was one saucer, one small photo frame and the glass dome of a clock, and this after being stored in godowns in Colombo for 5 months, shipped 6000 miles to Liverpool, sent on down to Avonmouth docks and from there by pantechnicon to Martock.
We had many farewell functions, and ended up by having to fit them in with breakfast dates! They seemed genuinely sad, and very worried to see us leave, and genuinely worried at the end of British management, which has been borne out by the steady decline and deterioration of everything in Sri Lanka, as it is now called. The estate staff gave us a wonderful farewell function, with Kandyan dancers, tom-toms, speeches and a presentation, after which Tony made an excellent speech and presented the staff club with a silver shield to be played for in future competitions.
Just before we were due to leave, an insurrection took place, starting with a shooting and killing of three policemen in Wellawaya at the foot of Poonagalla Estate. Panic followed, and we were lucky to get away. They tried to withhold our Provident Fund money, but by well-timed thinking and a cable to our bank in London, and the Provident Fund administrators in England, which we got through only half an hour Before the Central telegraph Office was closed, we managed to get the full monies through. However, some of our money had to be left in Ceylon with the promise that we would get it out later, but this was never allowed. We were due to board the cargo ship 'Gowanbank', a vessel going down to South Africa, in Trincomalee, but she was diverted to Colombo at the last minute. Our luggage was ready in Colombo to be taken by road to Trincomalee, but we were able to stop it in the nick of time. The Walls had travelled to Trincomalee to give us a rousing send-off, and the staff had booked us into an hotel there before embarking, so they and we were all very disappointed. As no passenger ships went from India and Ceylon to South African ports, we approached the Bank Line agents. I told them I had been travelling on their ships as far back as 1924, and could they allow us to travel to Durban in the Owner's Suite, and they readily agreed, so we travelled down in comfort. We embarked, expecting to sail the following morning, but the port was completely disrupted, as was the whole of Colombo, with a 48-hour curfew, so we sat on board for four days, afraid to go on shore again in view of the troubles. Eventually, the captain had orders to abandon the loading of any cargo, and to proceed. He called for the pilot, who had been stuck in the pilot station at the end of the breakwater for over 48 hours. He boarded the ship, half fainting from lack of sleep and food, as well as from terror, added to which he was blind drunk. So the captain sent him down below to his cabin to have some food and a quick sleep. It seemed that he had been drinking in the pilot station beforehand. The captain took the ship out himself without the compulsory pilot's guidance, then decanted him on to the pilot's launch once we were outside the limits, and proceeded on his way.
We had a relaxing voyage down, which we badly needed after the traumas and worry of getting out of Ceylon, apart from one near-miss in think fog with the veritable coat of paint between us. Then the engines broke down and for two days we wallowed round the ocean between Africa and Madagascar. We put into Durban docks one night at 2 am to be wakened by the captain saying, 'Your friends are waiting to greet you'. We were double-parked alongside another Bank Line ship, on which the family had gathered to greet us, awaiting our arrival whilst having quite a party with that captain. And so we greeted each other across a few feet of water, with Maureen and Guy, with Philip, Heather and Sally, and Valerie and Pat with Ian down from Bulawayo, all lined up. It was quite a hilarious reunion. I had not seen Maureen and Valerie for 21 and 26 years respectively, our husbands had never met, yet in a matter of seconds all those years fell away.
When we boarded the 'Gowanbank Tony and I were signed on as Steward and Stewardess, and so were on the crew list. Docking in Durban and being a cargo ship, they docked at the Cargo docks at the far end of the port. Our luggage was stowed in Guy's Land Rover, and we were waved through by an African in a hut, no questions asked. We had two weeks with Maureen, then went up to Bulawayo in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with Valerie and Pat. Just after we left Durban, Maureen had a phone call from the shipping agents asking us to report to them pronto. She said we had left for Zimbabwe, and she didn't know our address there – which was stalling for time! The trouble was that, being on the crew list and having gone through the far end of the docks, there was no passport control. When the ship sailed two weeks later, the names of two 'crew' were adrift, and it was assumed, possibly, that we had 'jumped ship'! When we arrived back in Durban three weeks later, we went straight in to see the agents, who decided to back-date our passports and so save themselves a hefty fine! We had travelled around Rhodesia not knowing that we were considered as illegal immigrants!
We had a lovely time with Val and Pat. They took us to Wankie Game reserve and to the Matopos, where Livingstone's grave is. Pat organised a visit to the Wankie Coal Mine, as he knew the Manager there. The five of us, Tony, me, Valerie, Pat and Ian were garbed in the overalls, miners' lamps, headlamps etc, and gaily set off, having signed without a thought the name and address of our next-of-kin, should anything happen. Mr Schoonraad assured us that it was the safest mine in Rhodesia, one the Queen had been down two years earlier. We went by Jeep, 4 miles under and goodness knows how many feet down, to the actual working face, where we saw the miners at work, had cups of tea from flasks, then he switched off all lights so we could see just how dark it was. AND was it dark! Two explosions were let off further away, and the noise boomed down the canvas channels. We were more than glad to get back to the top, were taken to the Manager's rooms where we had showers, black running off Valerie and me in spite of our having worn protective gear. It was quite an experience. Imagine our shock and sadness to learn, exactly one year later, that there had been a terrific explosion in that very mine. They decided to seal up the entrance, as no one could have gone through; there were around 600 dead, including Mr Schoonraad. The mine has never been re-opened.
We visited my three school friends, Kathleen and her husband in Johannesburg, when they took us around, and up to the Parliament buildings in Pretoria. On to Mollie and her husband on their trading station in the Transkei, and later Patsy Killick and her husband in Cape Town. We also saw Sylvia and Jimmy Newton, ex-Ceylon, who lived just outside Cape Town. We stayed with my Aunt 'Chukie' in East London, when I was able to visit my old school, which was a thrill. Chukie drove us the lovely Garden Route from East London to Cape Town, where we spent four days in a hotel in Somerset West. By co-incidence we travelled from Somerset West in South Africa to West Somerset in England! We sailed from Cape Town on the Shaw Savill liner SS Southern Cross, which called at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and landed at Southampton on June 13th to be met by my cousin Henry Traill (captain Retd, CBE, RN). We were to look after their house near Yeovil for 2 months while they were away in Canada, and so we started house-hunting in that area. We arrived on a Wednesday, looked at two houses on the Thursday, two on the Friday, got lost and landed up in Martock, Somerset. We sealed the buying of it on the following day, and here we are now, in retirement, having moved in August 1971. We happily celebrated our Golden Wedding in October 1996 with a little party, at which our daughter Jean, and Peter and our grandson Stuart came down, and Maureen was over from Durban for it.
Our life was made complete when Jean married Peter Hanmer in 1987, and presented us with our first grandchild, STUART BOYD HANMER.
Transcription of an original letter written by Joan Gottelier’s great-great grand uncle Henry Stap (to his brother) in 1882, as the last Master of Brunel's ship, the SS Great Britain.
Ship 'Great Britain',
off The Canary Islands
December 17th 1882
My dear Brother
I wrote you a few lines by the Pilot on leaving, but had no opportunity of doing so by the Steamer, for it came on to blow very hard from the S.W. when abreast of the Arklow lightship. So had to cast off the tug, and the caper the ship cut that night is almost undescribable. I know that I got a good drenching. The next morning the crew all came aft, and wanted me to put the ship back, saying the ship was not safe, and that they could not manage her. I told them that I certainly would not put back to Liverpool but would endeavour to reach Queenstown thinking if I once got that far I might go on. They then agreed to work the ship to Queenstown. Well, after rocking about the Channel for two days we got as far West as Scilly and about forty miles North and N.E. but the men refused to pull another rope if I did not make for Queenstown.
I told them now this wind had set in it would take days to reach there, but still they refused, so I had no alternative but to keep the ship to the wind. We fetched close into Cape Clear blowing fresh from N.E. and bitter cold. I called them out to tack ship when some of them volunteered to square away which we did and eventually all turned to on the condition that I would let them have some clothes. Well, we lost some 300 miles by stopping, had a fine run the first day but on the second day the wind came from W.N.W. to N.W. and blew very hard with very high seas, and continued for 4 or 5 days and the ship rolled and laboured so much that I expected the mainmast to go every minute, the lanyards of the topmast backstays gone on both sides and several of the main rigging gone. What with the ship rolling and shipping so much water it was almost impossible to save others. While doing so one man fell overboard and was drowned as we could not render him any assistance. What with one half of the crew sick (loafing) and the rest next to useless I had a most anxious time of it, I can assure you, and wished that I had never seen the Great Britain.
The wind remained strong from W.N.W. with high rolling seas until we passed Madeira, had to go to leeward of them, and when passed on the 13th the wind became light but continued from W. to W.N.W rolling heavily, was close into Palma on the 14th with light Westerly winds and calms. The ship constantly on the roll. We are now past them with light N.E. winds, the first of the Trades and have got the ship pretty well in order again, and one might expect to get a little rest, but no, other troubles seem to come upon me. Our fresh water on leaving Liverpool was very bad. I spoke about it and was told that it was the cement in the tank that made it taste so. Well, it is getting worse every day, and I shall be compelled to put in to St. Vincent Cape Verd on that account. I must tell you she carries her water in a tank at the bottom of the ship and holds about 50 to 60 tons, I suppose the original tank.
I am told that when she put to sea first she lost 9 inches out of the tank the first night and the salt water trickling down her side must have got into the hole or holes, for during the bad weather the water got worse and worse. I have not drunk a cup of tea or coffee since I left, being much worse when boiled. There is no condenser on board and no tanks or cask to put any water in if we could save any when it rains. We have been trying to condense by putting the steam pipe onto an empty beef cask being the only available article to get and managed to make about 4 gallons, but that is almost as bad, tastes of the cask. I think Mr. Bright has been imposed upon in the fitting out of this ship for her sails though numerous are of no account and the running gear bad, both sails and gear look good, but they are constantly giving way. Then again the coals are placed too low in her, I don't suppose she has more than 300 tons of coal in the between decks whereas she ought to have 1000. it is that that makes her roll so heavily and to be so laboursome and she is too deep for her build. When in port I shall advise discharging some 200 or shall be compelled to jettison that much before we reach Cape Horn or she would never get around.
In the Channel that first night the fore topmast stay sail split, then the inner jib, the mizzen topsail braces carried away twice, and the dead eye of the main topmast stays carried away splitting the sail. They are the original sails and I suppose are getting rotten. They say that Mr. Bright laid out over £ 30,000 in this ship, someone must have had good pickings for I don't see myself where that money could be expended in her, she certainly is well found in stores and provisions but everything else has been slopped, things just put in their place, and I believe old running gear in the place of new. They certainly could not have had any practical man to superintend the fitting out. It grieves me to have to put into Port, but it cannot be avoided. She ought to have had a condenser in case of accidents. There is no getting at the tank to see, and if so it would be no use now the mischief is done, the men are complaining bitterly about the water. I give them oatmeal with it to drink, and use very little of it myself. I almost wish now that I had not taken this command. Had I been sure of a ship even in a month or two later on I would have waited. To leave my children so suddenly makes me very sad at times to think about it. Had she been stowed differently and less coal in her she would be all right. The men are all afraid of her, and a more useless lot I never was with, half a dozen of them no sailors at all, substitutes shipped on board at the last moment with only what they stood upright in and are no earthly use on board.
My mate is a good man, the second too quiet. Boatswain not much account. I wish I had joined her a week or two before she left and picked my men but I am told that they had 6 or 7 men shipped in the ship but the authorities in the sailors home would not cash their notes and advised them not to join the ship because they had money. They tried to persuade my Steward from coming. They don't like a man to leave the home while he has got some money. I have gone on writing but you might keep all I have said about the ship to yourself. If I go into St. Vincent, I shall telegraph the owners, put in for water, advise discharging 200 tons coal, or else I don't think anyone will remain. I shall have time to write you from there. If I can get the crew to go into Rio or Monte Video I shall do so. Last night was the first time that I could venture to take my things off and go to bed. I wish I could get something to do on shore, it is almost heart-breaking to be always away from home, sometimes I get very low-spirited when I think of it, and feel very unhappy, and being with strangers I feel it all the more. I never had a more unhappy time in my life than I have had since leaving Liverpool, no rest, all worry and vexation, the crew do little or nothing and always grumbling or sick. I think there are only three good sailors on board. I shall leave this till I go into Port.
I hope you got my letter about the Insurance in time, if not it is of no consequence. I think I told you I leave Stella £ 12 monthly, and £ 3 she had from me that I should think sufficient until I return or until I get to Frisco. Of course she would be at a good expense travelling up and down from Liverpool etc. and paying interest and my premium when it becomes due, but if she is not able to pay the premium I will give you an order on Mr. Richard Green for the amount, if you find she has not paid it, and if so you can draw it and give it to her or let it remain until I come home. I will enclose the order I have written to Stella and to the owners so will say no more for the present. I hope you will make my excuse to Mr. Marshall for not writing him to thank him and I also hope you let Mr. Dean know of my going away in such a hurry. Jan. 30th 1883. Arrived here yesterday.* We managed to make sufficient water for our daily use. 19 of my crew deserted this morning. I am going to get some 500 or 600 tons of coal from Lower hold into the between decks which will make her much easier. The mail leaves shortly but will write you again before leaving. We put in here for water only. With best love to all,
From your affectionate Brother,
(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be made in the spirit of contributing to the history of this estate, planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or adverse comments of any sort are not acceptable and will be deleted without notice – read full Comments Policy here)