Throwback Thursday : A centenary celebration in Nov 1997

Throwback Thursday : A centenary celebration in Nov 1997

On 4th November 1897, two weeks after the arrival of Cecil John Rhodes and his construction train, the first passenger train arrived in Bulawayo, Rhodesia from South Africa.

My great grandmother, Mary Milne was the only woman passenger on this first train, who had travelled from Arbroath, Scotland to Rhodesia to meet up with her fiancé, Robert McMurray.    After her arrival on this historic train in Bulawayo, she then endured the final 5 days of her journey by taking the Zeederberg coach to Salisbury (Harare).  Robert McMurray was already in Salisbury, having travelled by train from Beira to Chimoia and then by coach to Salisbury.  They were married in Salisbury at the end of November.

My Mum had heard about the up-coming Centenary celebrations of this historic train journey and made every effort for some of Mary Milne’s descendants ie us 🙂  .. to follow part of her journey to join her fiancé in Rhodesia.

  ~~~ A journey in memory of my great grandmother, Miss Mary Milne ~~~

The Centenary celebrations were held over four days, beginning on 1st November when the special train left Bulawayo Station.  My Mum and Ian were on that train arriving the following day at  Johannesburg Park Station.  I joined the train, together with Kathy and their two children, Daniella and Kevin, on the 3rd for the return trip to Bulawayo, thus reliving my great grandmothers journey.  A section of Park Station was decorated like the old station …

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Nov '97 - 100 yrs

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This is when I wished I had had a better camera !!!!  .. or better still a digital camera!!  My Mum and Daniella waving on platform 🙂 next to steam locomotive No.3472 SAR class 25.  I have written on back of the photograph the name ‘Anne’ but researching railway archives she goes by the name of ‘Elize’ .  The flash blotted out the name

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Off we huffed and puffed on our historic journey .. passing a choir who were singing ‘Shosholoza’ as we departed ..

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Rhodesian Railways sign on window with Krugersdorp mine dumps in background …

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I could kick myself now.  I didn’t take any photographs of the interior of the coaches, or the compartment Mum and I shared.  It hadn’t changed since we were children!!! (We travelled several times by train between Salisbury and Bulawayo.)  The same pale green, blue and pink formica panelling, same photographs .. now faded, same well-used leather straps for sliding sash windows up and down, dinky basin between the sash windows adorned with gold RR sign, had the same cover which, when lifted, was hooked by a very well-used leather strap (ours was broken so we had to hold the lid in order to wash!), the same old dark green leather seats.  We were lucky .. we were given a 4-berth compartment for the two of us, which gave us extra space.  Nice!  When night fell, the compartment steward made up our beds with, seemingly, the same sheets and heavy blankets!!   Cockroaches appeared from cracks and crevices which made my skin crawl!!!  My Mum, being Mum, told me in no uncertain terms to “just go to sleep” .. ” Once you’re asleep you don’t see them” !!!  Mothers are always mothers, not matter how old you are!!!!

I’ll never forget those two days (and one night) spent with my Mum, chatting, reminiscing, quietly reading our books, sharing a special time, while the train rocked and rolled it’s way to our home town.  We even had a newspaper reporter sit with us over a cup of tea while my Mum told of our link to this historic event.  Unforgettable!

We trundled along the tracks making our way to Magaliesburg where our steam locomotive was changed to a diesel one, which took us all the way to Plumtree, where engines were changed again …

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On entering Magaliesburg station, there was a buzz of excitement from the train enthusiasts on board, who all hopped off and ran to the end of the platform.  Ian and I followed not knowing what was going happen 🙂   This big, black, beautiful locomotive pulled our coaches several times back and forth, chuff, chuff, chuffing .. black smoke and soot billowing into the sky!!!  What an amazing sight!!  What an experience !!!

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While the engines being swopped around, we had a peek into the train’s manager’s office.  Loved the old wood panelling and solid wooden chairs …

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Old coal stove in the manager’s coach …

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Our arrival in Plumtree, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) on 4th November was celebrated by a welcoming party of government officials including Joshua Nkomo (with walking stick) …

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Joshua Nkomo  – 1917-1999 became leader and founder of Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (SAPU).  I remember it being very hot under the tent and listening to endless speeches !!

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Mum and I slipped out to get a bite to eat and a welcome cup of tea !!  We all had to wear our commemorative t’shirts.  Pity I didn’t get a photo of it.

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Plumtree School was the high school my Dad attended as a boarder.  Mum, Ian and I walked from the station along the dusty gravel road to the school which my Dad was so passionate about.  He always told us stories of his school days in Plumtree.  Here again, I wished I’d taken more photographs.

The chapel with a magnificent flamboyant tree in the foreground …

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Mum chatting with a Form 1 pupil in the main chapel …

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Ian and Mum with boys from the school on the steps of the chapel ..

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I took this photo to show my Dad – Roll of Honour for WWI and WWII – he also fought with the Allied Forces in WWII … (Roll of Honour WWII continued on another commemorative plaque on the back wall of the chapel)

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We were ready to board for our last leg of the journey.  The centenary train was pulled by three locomotives.   In front was No. 115 – 9th b class locomotive built in 1912, followed by No. 43 – 7th class locomotive, entered service in 1901 and then followed by No. 190 – 12th class locomotive, entered service in 1928.  These three locomotives are in the NRZ Museum.  (Many thanks to the Curator of the National Railway Museum in Bulawayo for this information)

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Matabeleland landscape.   Childhood memories came flooding back …

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Nearing Bulawayo …

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Bulawayo Station coming into view …

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Welcoming party included gum boot dancers …

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.. drummers, singers and dancers …

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… and a Scottish pipe band and dancers …

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The three locomotives …

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We didn’t stay for the festivities and left by taxi to my aunt’s apartment where we spent the night before returning home to Johannesburg by car

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Footnote 1:    Newspaper article in The Financial Gazette, November 13, 1997

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Footnote 2:    I am a member of the Pioneer Society of Southern Rhodesia

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Robert and Mary McMurray with their five daughters on the occasion of their 50th Wedding Anniversary (my Granny Lily on extreme right)

IMG_2238- golden wedding 1947

Footnote 3:

I have a confession to make  …..  between my Mum and I we decided we needed a souvenir from the trip which didn’t only consist of the t’shirt that everyone was given – which fades over time.    But shhhhh … don’t tell anyone … we slipped a fork each into our handbags !!!!  We really felt so bad and extremely guilty !!!!  It didn’t end here … my Mum (who can be very persuasive and bolder than I!) asked one of the waiters if we could ..  if it was at all possible … empty a sugar-filled sugar pot so that my very-persuasive-and-bolder-than-I Mum could slip said sugar pot into her handbag.    What a really nice man!!! he not only came back with one, but two sugar pots .. all cleaned and dried 🙂 🙂 🙂 !!

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A memorable journey.   A very special time with my Mum too

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