I was born in 1942 at the Enfield Nursing Home, an Annex of Addington Hospital, on the corner of Manning and MacDonald Roads.
That prominent old building has since served many purposes and apparently started life as a police station on the outskirts of the then undeveloped suburb of Glenwood. My parents, Alf and Maisie Barth, were blessed with three children, my older brother Edmund, a future Head prefect of St Henry’s Marist Brothers College (1954) and my younger sister Monica. My sister and I both attended the Holy Family Convent in St Andrews St and I duly matriculated there in 1960. My father had started the iconic Medwoods Furniture Removals and after school, I joined the family business where I was to work for the next 29 years. In 1963 Medwoods moved the entire Convent from St Andrews Street to its present site in Glenmore, overlooking Durban, where it became known as Convent High and later the Holy Family College.
But first a word about the origins of St Henry’s. My mother, Cecile Jessie May Bonamour*lived in an old Durban house, since destroyed, on the corner of Moore Road and Canterbury Grove. Perhaps unusual for a young lady in the 1920’s, she drove a car and the then Bishop of Durban, Henri Delalle OMI soon cashiered her services as a chauffeur. He would cycle to the Bonamour home on his bike and ask her to drive him to various places in the Archdiocese. In approximately 1925, he arrived one morning and asked his young parishioner to drive him to “The Maze.” The entrance to this hilltop estate was off Chelmsford Rd, now Maze Road. (Old photos in the College archives show horses grazing on the old island in the middle of the quad so it could also have been a farm of sorts.) The Bishop advised that he wished to buy a school for the Marist Brothers. And so it was that St Henry’s opened its doors in 1929. (A page recording the first set of marks awarded to those early pupils is open for scrutiny in the glass cabinet in the new College archives, Marist Association Building) The young Miss Maisie Bonamour’s brother, Alex Bonamour, was a Notary at the time and was involved in the transfer of the property to the “Marist Brothers of the Schools” as was and still is, their official title.
Our family were always at St Henry’s usually watching my brother playing rugby so I got to know all his mates quite well. Every year the Medwood’s van would take St Henry’s boys up to play St Charles in Pietermaritzburg. One year, when Ed was about 16 and in the 1st XV, the boys had finished their game, had showered and were climbing back into the van for the return trip to Durban. To everyone’s horror, the driver had over-indulged in alcoholic beverages and was found to be blind drunk and totally unable to drive. Urgent phone calls were made and Ed contacted our dad and asked if he could drive the van back to Durban. Br William took the phone and asked “Mr Barth is your son able to drive safely?” “Yes” came the reply and the rosary was said all the way back to Durban by the passengers of the Medwood van for their 16 year old driver who eventually arrived back at St Henry’s where a larger group of waiting parents were also no doubt feverishly reciting decades of the rosary! On Monday morning Ed was presented with a missal by Brother McCartan for his safe driving skills.
I had not been out of school for very long when Ed asked if I could take over the duties of the Treasurer of the Marist Club. Reluctantly I agreed and soon learned that a Mr Roger Chandler was Chairman of the Marist Association and Mr Graham Gallocher, Chairman of the Marist Club. This must have been the largest bodies of old boys of any school at the time. I had to learn quickly. My job was to contact all the Chairmen of the sporting sections for subs and their names I remember as follows; Graham Gallocher (Rugby), Pat.Tuohy (Cricket), Tony Higgs (Soccer) Ian Stanley (Hockey) Dennis Stone (Water Polo), Ken Rabie (Baseball) and Alan Montile (Badminton). Fund raising kept us all very busy and every year we would play rugby against St Henry’s and sell vast quantities of hot dogs, cool drinks and beers at the party afterwards. At one early meeting of the Club, I was seated between my brother Ed and Brother Eugene. A bottle of whisky mysteriously appeared and was passed backwards and forwards between the 2 gentlemen who became merrier as the meeting progressed. Suddenly the Chairman, Graham Gallocher shouted “Get out!” The three of us then left the room and sat outside where I continued passing the bottle backwards and forwards to the two gentlemen. I was outraged! I had nothing to do with their unruly behaviour.
Soon Graham, with a twinkle in his eye, joined the three of us for some liquid sustenance. Only later did I see the funny side of things and I never let him forget how he kicked me out of a Marist Old Boys meeting for behaving myself! In the late 1960’s, possibly due to falling membership, a meeting was called for the merging of the Marist Association and the Marist Clubs into one entity. I was asked by Ken Gautier, our Auditor, to submit our savings of approximately R100 000 and to close all accounts. I am pleased that this money was eventually used in the building of the first phase of the Marist Association Building as some of the old boys saved and worked very hard for the Club. That doyen of all Old Boys Associations, Arthur Gibson, a true catholic gentleman, wanted to make me an Hon. Marist Old Boy but sadly passed away before this could be arranged. But when I left the Club, I was presented with a paperweight!
Marriage to Dave in 1973 continued to cement my association with both St Henry’s and the now Holy Family College. We were blessed with two children who both matriculated as follows (Paul 1991- St Henry’s and Adele 1996 – Vice Head Girl, Holy Family College). My sister Monica had two children (Mark, matriculated 1987- St Henry’s and Clare 1989-Holy Family College).
But the line still continues! Adele married Sean Ackerman now Vice-Principal – Primary School St Henry’s and our grandchildren Mathew (14) and James (11) are pupils at St Henry’s. My niece, Clare’s daughter Gemma matriculated in 2014 at St Henry’s and has served time there as an aspirant teacher.
It’s as if I had never left – and all because in 1925 my mother drove a grumpy French Bishop up a dirt road in Glenwood!
- Author’s Note; After WW2, the Catholic community of Glenwood and Umbilo grew together out of the establishment of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in 1947. By the 50’s and 60’s everyone knew everyone. My dad apparently assisted the Barth family in the early days of Medwoods via some advertising deals in the Daily News where he worked. Mrs Barth was very grateful and every time she saw me after Mass she would call me and tell me what a wonderful man my dad was and smother me in kisses. As a very young altar boy, I hadn’t a clue what this was all about and tried to duck her affections – never very successfully!
PRESENCE SIMPLICITY FAMILY SPIRIT LOVE OF WORK MARY”S WAY