Patrick and Doreen both grew up or adjoining the Eastern suburbs of Johannesburg, and both attended Queens High School, where I assume they met. (It’s not clear if they were in the same year at school, or a year apart). Their lives however, were very different.
Patrick and the Weldon Family
Patrick was the youngest son of Elsa Wierck, by her second marriage to John Charles Weldon.
John Charles (1878 – 1934) had been born in Port Elizabeth, to a family of Catholic Irish immigrants. However, we don’t know too much of him until he married Elsa Wierck in Johannesburg in 1915, by which time he was already 37. We do know however that like his brother Patrick he served in the Anglo-Boer War (in the Kaffrarian Rifles), and trained as an electrician
At the time of their marriage, they were living in Queen Street, Kensington, but John Charles died when Patrick was just 7 years old, during the depression years. (The death certificate shows that by this time, the. family had moved to Frere St, Bertrams.) This made for a tough childhood; to supplement the family income, Patrick worked part-time after school and Saturdays, both with a paper round, and also selling ice creams at interval in the local cinema. For the same reason, he left school early with only a Std 7, to start work as a clerk in an insurance company – where his sister Peggy was already working, and who had presumably helped to secure him the position.
It’s not at all clear what was the relationship at this time with Elsa’s other, earlier family. Patrick spoke of being raised by a single mother, with Peggy as the oldest taking charge of ensuring he got to regular Sunday Mass and Catechism lessons.
We know more about Elsa Wierck, but there is a puzzle and a surprise. We know that she was born in Hamburg, Germany, in about 1881 (Peggy had a studio photograph of a smartly dressed young Elsa, with “Hamburg” and a date on the back). Later, she moved to London “to enter service”. There she met up with Archibald McNeilage, with whom she then relocated to South Africa and had four children . However, her marriage certificate (with John Charles) has handwritten, “Elsa Lillie (or Lilje) Wierck”, using her maiden name, and gives her marital status as “spinster”. It would seem that she and Archibald were never actually married.
Doreen Sussens and family
Doreen grew up with her parents Clarence and Sarah and siblings on a large property on the South facing slope of a kopje in the village of Bedfordview, just outside Johannesburg, and about 2 miles from the school, to which she had to walk there and back. The property was situated at the end of a long cul-de-sac crossing the early headwaters of the Jukskei river. At this stage of its course, it was not much more than a stream. Without a bridge at this time, it could usually be easily crossed even so – but it was a different matter when the river came down in flood after heavy summer rains. Mom once told me that on those occasions they just didn’t go to school. (She never explained what they did if the flood came after they were already at school, which would have been more common, with Johannesburg’s afternoon thunderstorms).
In contrast to Patrick’s forced involvement in the world of commerce, Doreen’s will have been pretty quiet and isolated, resulting both from the property’s isolation, and her father’s strict religious observance, as a committed Seventh Day Adventist.
Clarence’s family had been in South Africa for a couple of generations, but before that was originally English. He was employed as a local government official, but in his own time was a dedicated builder, who over the years dramatically expanded the house and its outbuildings. He was also an enthusiastic gardener, and planted an extensive collection of fruit trees.
Sarah Williamson, born Bantjes, was originally Afrikaans, from a long line of originally Cape Dutch families, with some lines going way back to the earliest days of the Cape settlement. As a young girl she was one of those held for a time in one of the notorious concentration camps during the (1899 – 1902) Anglo Boer War. Although she was Afrikaans, I never heard Clarence ever speak Afrikaans, and am not even sure that he could. Always the dutiful housewife, she was kept constantly busy every summer dealing with the super abundant fruit harvest, bottling it and making endless jams, subsequently distributed among the family.
Doreen and Patrick were married in 1947 – twice.
We know that Doreen had been raised a Seventh Day Adventist, which was strongly opposed to the Catholic Church, but by upbringing, Patrick was fully committed to his Catholic faith. To be married in a Catholic Church, Doreen had to go through a formal program of instruction, which she did, and was duly received into the church, with a customary church wedding to follow. However, I was told they also had a civil wedding in a registry office, possibly to placate Doreen’s father Clarence Sussens. I do not know in which order these two marriages were done – or which is the one they commemorated as their wedding anniversary, on August 2nd each year.
The early years
I was told that they began their married life in a one-roomed flat, somewhere in the Eastern suburbs of Johannesburg. Some time later, they moved to Bulawayo, before returning to Johannesburg sometime before I was born in 1951. Margaret was born a year later.
Some time in about 1953/4, the family moved to Cape Town. Patrick went ahead alone, to find suitable accommodation, leaving Doreen and the two children to follow later – together with his mother, Elsa. (I have a dim recollection of the four of us in the plane, with Elsa taking care of Margaret).
Doreen told me that she had been getting letters from Patrick about how wonderful and beautiful Cape Town was = but when she arrived in May, and settled into a house on The Highway, Fish Hoek, she was not impressed. It rained for much of the month, making it difficult to get laundry dry, and getting the shopping done required trudging down to Fish Hoek Main Road, then carrying the groceries back up the hill to the house.
They could not have stayed in Fish Hoek too long, because by the time I was ready for school, we had moved to Devil’s Peak in central Cape Town, then on to Vredehoek (where Michael was born).
Soon after, it was back to Fish Hoek for just a year, before a return to Johannesburg in 1960.
By this time, Doreen had clearly gotten over her early distaste for Cape Town. Not long after we were back in Johannesburg, and living in Malvern East, she made Margaret and me get down on our knees to pray a Novena, that we could return to Cape Town.
We stayed in Malvern East (where we were when Carol was born), we moved first to Wychwhood, then on to Primrose Hill. All these previous addresses had been rented houses, always for just a year or two at a time, but 45 Deutzia Rd, Primrose Hill was a house they bought, and stayed at a little longer, before a move back to Cape Town. Both Valerie and Brenda were born while we were in Primrose Hill.