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Guests of South African families on"Uphomers"

Brian Shaw and Kenneth Collings, Sick Berth Attendants on HMS Hecla

Until March 2017 Brian Shaw was just a name on the list of 858 men in HMS Hecla on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942 with MPK (Missing Presumed Killed) written alongside and a face in a photograph of the medical team and Sick Bay attendants sent to me by the son of Chief Petty Officer Norman Brown who was also MPK.
But in March 2017 I received a message sent via a form on my website in December 2016 from a Louise Duncan in Cape Town, South Africa. Louise was the daughter of a Cynthia le Roux (nee Abrahamse) who in 1942 was living with her parents, Pet (Petrus) and Minnie (Wilhelmina) Abrahamse, on their farm Rondeheuvel at Hermon in Western Cape Province while her husband, Prins Albert Le Roux, an eigth generation  South African of French Huguenot descent from Blois, Oreleans, was in the SA Signals with the British 8th Army in North Africa. Cynthia's husband was named after the village of Prins Albert in the Karoo, named after the consort of Queen Victoria.

Cynthia Roux died in 1993 and Louise found in her Mother's papers several letters from two  Sick Berth Attendants who had stayed as guests on an "uphomer" while Hecla was being repaired after detonating a mine on 15 May 1942. Louise Googled Hecla, found my website and was hoping I could trace the families of Brian Shaw and Kenneth Collings and she could return the letters to their families.

Medical staff and Sick Berth Attendants in HMS Hecla at Iceland in 1941
The Medical Team and Sick Berth Attendants (SBA) on the deck of HMS Hecla in 1941 when she was the destroyer Depot Ship at Havelfjord, Iceland
Brian Shaw is standing third from the left but Kenneth Collings only joined Hecla on her return from Iceland in early 1942

Hermon is a village about an hours drive east  of Cape Town where Louise's grandparents mainly planted vines on their farm but also had wheat and sheep and cattle. Pet and Minnie Abrahamse, "Oupa and Ouma" to Louise, were Africaners, descendants of the Dutch, French and Germans who came to the Cape,. They were also known as Boers and the language they speak is Africaans. Louise's grandparents had five Italian POW to help them farm at
Rondeheuvel while Cynthia's husband and elder brother were serving in North Africa with the 8th Army. Brian Shaw and Keith Collings only stayed with them once in July 1942 but they had many other sailors on "uphomers" at Rondeheuvel.  I was surprised - and impressed - to read an apology in one of Brian's letters  to Cynthia for the mistakes he made in Africaans.

"The photos were taken at Bainskloof where they used to go for picnics.  It is a beautiful mountain pass at Wellington with a stream where you could swim or just relax. It is about three quarters of an hours drive from the farm. Our family loved to go there for picnics on a Sunday;" Louise Duncan.

Brian Shaw and Kenneth Collings as guests of Cynthia and her parents on their farm in July 1942
Brian Shaw and Kenneth Collings on an Uphomer with Cynthia and her parents
Picking Sugar Bush Proteas in the Veldt
Kenneth Collings (left), Minnie Abrahamse and Brian Shaw

Brian Shaw and Kennth Co;;omns on an "Uphomer" with Cynthis and her parents
Picknicing at Bainskloof mountain pass in July 1942
Minnie Abrahamse, Brian Shaw, Cynthia's son. Pierre le Roux, and Ken

I had never heard of "sugar bush proteas" and Louise Duncan explained:

"Sugarbush - Protea Repens - is an indigenous plant that grew abundantly on the Cape Flats all the way from Cape Town to Hermon.  It likes a sandy soil without too much water.  The flowers have large quantities of nectar and the birds and bees love it.  Years ago the nectar was collected, strained and boiled to form a ruby-red syrup.  it was used to sweeten food and also to soothe coughs and chest complaints.  It was used for firewood as well and is hard to find in the wild nowadays.  Still plentiful on mountains and on the farms where they are grown and the flowers exported."

Sugar Bush Proteas
The flower of the Sugar Bush Proteas
The bee gives the scale
Louise Dincan and the two Sicj Berth Attendants from HMS Heckla
Picking Sugar Bush Proteas at Bainskloof
Minnie Abrahamse, Brian Shaw and Cynthia with Pierre le Roux in front

Brian Shaw wrote to Cynthia three times before HMS Hecla headed north to her fateful encounter with U-515 off the coast of North Africa. The first page of the last letter dated 29 October is on the left  and the remainder of the letter can be read by clicking on the link. Brian Shaw had less than two weeks to live when he dated this letter. The postcard had his portrait on the front and the Christmas Card may have been received after his death.

Letter to Cynthia from Brian Shaw, 29 October 1942

The final PS about passing the exams for promotion to Petty Officer is especially poignant
as he would not live to "pick up the rating".

PS to final letter fromn Brian Shaw to Cynthia on 29 Oct 1942
Telegram notifing the Le Roux family of Brian Shaw's death
"Regret Brian reported missing writing soon"
Post Card to Brian Shaw - "Lost at Sea"
Portrait postcard: " Say no more - lost at sea enroute home"
Christmas Card from Brian Shaw on HMS Hecla
"De Fumo In Flammam"
Out of the smoke into the fire
- all too apt since Brian Shaw would not live to see Christmas -

Kenneth Colliongs in South AfricaPortrait of Brian Shaw on reverse of Postcard 1942It wasn't difficult to return the letters sent by Kenneth Collings (left) as I had been contacted by his son in New Zealand in November 2012 and his father already had a page on this website. Bruce was delighted to receive letters written by his father to Cynthia le Roux in 1942 but it was more difficult to trace the family of Bruce Shaw (right) despite having his address on the top of his Mother's letters.

Cynthia le Roux kept the letters she received from Florence Shaw, Brian Shaw's Mother, after his death. At first Florence was too grief stricken to write but on 12 January her husband wrote explaining her silence. Florence wrote from the family home of Oakdale in Frodsham, Cheshire, in March and again on 21 April:

 "We can't think of the words to thank you for all your kind thoughts and messages to us in our dreadful sorrow, no other word from the Admiralty has come along. Have you heard from your brother that you feared was a POW in Italy? We do hope you have got somewhere to write him. These shocks are almost more than we can bear".

Cynthia's brother Lionel was captured at Tobruk but ended up as a POW at Stalag 7 in Germany. Click on the link to read Florence Shaw's short painful letter.

Google helped me trace the only surviving members of Brian Shaw's family in Britain. Gill Holt, a distant cousin, posted an enquiry about Brian on U-Boat.net in January 2005 and on RootsChat a Family History Forum in May. I joined as "Venomous Bill" and we were soon in touch by e-mail. She knew a lot about Brian Shaw's ancestry but very little about his life. Gill Holt and her brother William were the grand children of Brian Shaw's Uncle, William Morris Shaw, and she told me all I know about Brian Shaw and his family. I sent Gill Holt the letters he wrote to Cynthia in 1942 but it is only now in August 2021 that I am finally  telling his story on this website where it can be read by the families of his shipmates on HMS Hecla.

Brian William Coulson Shaw was the son of William Coulson Shaw and his wife Florence Hoskins Davies and was born at Crosby, Liverpool on 11 July 1913 and went to Merchant Taylors' School For Boys, Crosby, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2020. Brian and his siblings, two brothers and  a sister, were all born in Liverpool where his father was in the grocery trade but moved to Frodsham in Cheshire when his father retired. 

At present we do not know what he did between leaving school at 16 in 1929 and joining the Navy in February 1940 when he gave his occupation as "clerk". He may have been distantly related via his Mother to Rear Admiral A H Hoskins who chaired the Hoskins Committee whose report led to the establishment of a trained Sick Berth Rating Staff in 1884. His Service Certificate is not on the National Archives website despite him being born more than a hundred years ago but could be obtained by a family member.

Bruce Shaw and his three siblings never married and left no children. Brian's parents died in 1950 and 1951 and Oakdale was cleared and sold and their oldest son Edmund Morris Shaw and his sister Joan emmigrated to Sothern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) soon afterwards. Gill Holt lives near Frodsham:

"Brian's parents & grandparents are buried in Frodsham Parish Church. Brian is remembered on the War Memorial outside the front of the church, on a Memorial which stands on Frodsham Hill overlooking the River Mersey and on the large War Memorial on Plymouth Hoe."

Bruce Shaw was accompanied by SBA Petty Officer Kenneth Collings on their "uphomer" at Rondeheuvel and Louise Duncan also sent me scans of his letters which she returned to his son, Bruce Collings in New Zealand, who told his father's  story on this website. Kenneth Collings wrote to Cynthis le Roux until his death in 1989. Find out more about the medical staff and the Sick Bay team on HMS Hecla.

Louise Duncan also found photographs and letters from men who served "in HMS Derg and many other ships who stayed with her grandparents on uphomers at Rondeheuvel and is hoping she can return their letters and photgraphs to their families.

Happy wartime memories as guests of the
Abrahamse family on their farm Rondeheuvel at Hermon

Between March 1942 and January 1946 Petrus and Wilhelmina Abrahamse and their married daughter Cynthia Le Roux entertained more than forty seamen from fourteen ships on their farm near Hermon in Western Cape Province and most of them kept in touch with their hosts long after the war and Louise Duncan still has some of their letters and would like to hear from their families. The ships they served in were HMS Derg, Colossus, Ceres, Express, Dauntless, Racehorse, Kenya, Aloe, Unicorn, Staffordshire, Blackmore, Quickmatch and, of course, HMS Hecla. A complete list of these men and their ships is attached as a PDF. If a member of your family is on this list you can contact Louise Duncan by e-mail by clicking on the link.

The Abrahamsen's were only one of many South African families who welcomed the men who served in HMS Hecla into their their homes on "uphomers" during the five months Hecla was being repaired at Simonstown after detonating a mine while rounding the Cape on 15 May 1942 and before leaving for her disastrous - and avoidable - encounter with U-515 off the coast of North Africa on the night of Armistice Day 11 - 12 November 1942. Those who survived exchanged letters with their hosts for years to come and the families of those like Brian Shaw who died had the consolation of knowing that their final months in South Africa were happy.

You can read some of their stories on this website. Don Preece, Leading Stores Assistant, and a talented cartoonist was the guest of Dick and Marjorie Magnin at their small apartment in a large house at the foot of Table Mountain. Jabez Skelhorne, Engine Room Artificer (ERA) was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and went riding with the South African family he stayed with but was killed when Hecla sank. Norman Holmes and Edward Wynn, both Electrical Mechanics 5th Class, were invited to stay in the home of the Koch family at Mowbray, a suburb of Cape Town. Ted May, a Telegrapher in Hecla, and his two of his shipmates were welcomed into the home of Mr and Mrs Bain,  in Cape Town, a short train ride along the coast from Simon's Town where Hecla was under repair and stayed in touch after the war. They were the Uncle and Aunt of Louise Duncan and the "inlaws" of her Mother Cynthia le Roux.

SBA Arthur Ching - an old Cornish name - became a close friend of Joss Margerrison, the Captain of HM Tug Dogmael which assisted HMS Hecla into harbour at Simon's Town after the mining, was their guest on several occasions and got to know the family well.

Find out about the lives of the Medical Staff on HMS Hecla in 1942 - those who lived and those who died
Rerturn to the the index list of the 858 men in HMS Hecla on the night of 11-12 November 1942 when she was torpedoed and sunk
Return to the Home Page for HMS Hecla


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