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SACS Meeting, Letchworth. 30-10-2021.

Report on a "LIVE" SACS Meeting, Letchworth, Saturday 30th October.

Bob Hill, ably assisted by Rob and Lyn Lester, arranged our first SACS meeting post-lockdown. To this end they were aided by Simon Peetoom who brought the display boards from Castle Bromwich.

The meeting was held in the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, Letchworth, "where the letchers live", according to my wife who never ceases to enjoy reminding me of that everytime we pass through it on the Cambridge to London train. Sir Ebenezer Howard OBE (1850 – 1928) was an English urban planner, the founder of the garden city movement which attempted to improve suburban living within an industrialised environment. The building of Letchworth Garden City began at the start of the Edwardian era in 1903. South Africa's first garden city, Pinelands, was started just after WW1 in 1919 and was closely modelled on Letchworth but in practice was nothing of the sort. I grew up in Pineland's whose local shopping mall is called the Howard Centre. As if that was not co-incidence enough but no.....

Most SACS members arrived by car. Parking is ample but expensive, just over £5 for the day. A few came by train from London and elsewhere. The venue is short walk from Letchworth Railway Station. The meeting, a regional rather than a national one, was attended by 13 people, including four newcomers to SACS, one of whom, Dr Colin Archibald, made the long journey by car from Reading. Two visitors, David Belton and Mick Humphries were members of Bob's newly combined Hitchin and Letchworth Clubs. The fourth was a very welcome surprise, a young woman who had found out about the meeting on the SACS website (God Bless Otto) and decided to attend. Getting a young person to attend is almost impossible. Having a young woman arrive out of the blue is, well, unheard of. 

She was introduced to me as a South African. "Hello meisie", I cheekily said. "Aangename kennis. Praat u Engels of Afrikaans?" "Altwee", she said. It was at this point I began to regret my attempt to 'praat die Taal'. (Afr. Talk the language). Her name was Annemarie. She had lived in Bellville before her parents left SA when she was three. She retained a gentle South African accent because her family continued to speak Afrikaans in their English home. She didn't seem to get my reference to Blouberg Strand as 'Bellville Beach'. I asked her "so, who do you support in rugby?" "The Springboks", she said instinctively and with emphasis enough to imply 'of course, what do you think?' She had recently left university where she had studied mathematics. She was looking for a job but for now worked in a restaurant as a waitress and in the kitchen, even washing dishes.

Ian Shapiro was first to display. He needs no introduction. He is preceded by his reputation and his 'House of Parliament' display, not to mention his 'Queen Victoria' and 'Afghanistan' collections. I am undecided if Ian is a Super Sleuth or a Super Squirrel. I suspect he is both! He has the habit of presenting superb historic material that he has discovered on his travels or taken from the trove we believe he has stashed away somewhere. It had not been announced beforehand what Ian was going to display. As a result, none except the organisers knew what his subject was. Ian's 60 page display on 'Premiers and Presidents: Archival Items from the Collection of Herman Steyn, Head of Philatelic Services, Pretoria', came as a surprise to most of us. It formed the first part of our wonderful co-incidence.

Ian's remarkable display began with philatelic items covering the life of Prime Minister Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of the policy of Apartheid, who was assasinated in the House of Assembly in September 1966. Among many philatelic gems this included one of only 250 VIP First Day Verwoerd Commemoration Covers (December 1966) printed with gold left-hand side 'HFV' wreath box. "Look for these in dealer boxes. Chances are they will have misidentified them" advised Ian. (The common FDC is printed with the 'HFV' wreath box in an olive-green. See both examples in top photo below. Zoom in.) There were also rare die proofs of the engraved 1975 Diederichs issue. After Ian's masterly presentation we spent time examining his impressive material. I have never liked the Apartheid Republican era and don't collect it. I said as much to Ian. "It is a very historic period", he said in defence of collecting it.

Say what you will about Apartheid and White minorityt rule, we have yet to escape its historic legacy and memory. Was Apartheid a genuine attempt to provide a home for all the people of South Africa or an insincere attempt to secure the best land and living for a minority through a policy of divide and rule? I am open to a discussion about this. I am prepared to accept that Dr Verword personally believed that his policy of Apartheid was in the best interests of all South Africans, most especially the Whites. What I cannot accept is the injustice and cruelty of the implementation and defence of Apartheid, (later euphemistically called 'Separate Development' by Pretoria's spin doctors). Having grown up in 1960s Cape Town, South Africa's oldest and most integrated city, and having seen the tragedy of the devastation of the Group Areas Act unfold, I cannot look on the Verwoerd Commemoration stamps with equanimity.

Annemarie showed particular interest in the Verwoerd material and was full of questions for Ian who smiled and obligingly answered and wondered what her interest was in Dr Verwoerd.

"He was my great-grandfather", she said. Wow!

None of us were prepared for that utterly amazing statement delivered as simple matter of fact. What a co-incidence - an unannounced display and an unexpected visitor combining to turn our small meeting into a confluence of philately and history! Ian told Annemarie that he had met and knew her grandfather but not her great-grandfather. As philatelists and postal historians used to seeing Dr Verwoerd's face on stamps, most SACS members were awed by her ancestry, the South Africans especially given Dr Verwoerd's impact on our lives. Ian generously suggested that perhaps now was the time for a new biography of Dr Verwoerd. Perhaps.

Next to display was Steve Hannath who facetiously claimed to have found a new South African collecting field - 'Simonstown Aerial Ropeway Mail'. This was mail that travelled up and down the mountain between the West Dockyard and the Royal Naval Hospital and Sanitorium by 'ropeway', (a Royal Naval nautical term for 'cableway'). His display included watercolours painted in 1911 by 'AVS', assumed to be a patient or worker in the Royal Naval Hospital. Some watercolours showed several historic places, like Admiralty House, Boulders, Duart and Froggy Pond, home to HMS Afrikander 1, a 'stone frigate'. A display, 'Who is Colin Peter?', revealed the sailor on the 2d Large War Effort and Bantam stamps. He concluded with 'Naval Postmarks of the Africa Station'.

An enjoyable sandwich lunch (many thanks to the Lesters!) with a variety of savouries and tea by Bob broke the day into two halves. The lunch hour gave the visitors the chance to go through material for sale by Simon Peetoom and Steve Hannath. This opportunity to acquire some affordable stamps, covers, postcards and ephemera was welcomed by members starved of stamp fairs during lockdown and forced to live on a diet of over-priced eBay purchases.

Chris Oliver, the Hon. Secretary of SACS,  began the afternoon with a well-researched and detailed 36 page display on 'WW2 Airgraphs from South Africa'. Airgraphs cannot be said to be 'attractive' items but nevertheless they performed a vital function during the war and are an interesting collecting field. Airgraphs are letters that were photographed in South Africa (or anywhere) whose negatives were sent by airmail overseas, typically to the UK where they were printed-out and posted. This reduced the weight of forces airmail that planes carried. Chris showed that even Italian POWs in South Africa, of which there were a great many, got to use the Airgraph mail system.

David Belton, a non-SACS visitor and an authority on 'Plymouth Mail to South Africa' showed something a little different, 12 pages of 'Kenilworth Castle Salvaged Mail'. Built in 1903 and delivered to Union-Castle Line in 1904, the Kenilworth Castle carried mail between Southampton and Cape Town until pressed into service as a troop transport during World War I. She survived a collison off Plymouth in June 1918 with HMS Rival. After striking the destroyer's stern depth charges were released which exploded under Kenilworth Castle's hull. Fifteen crew members drowned, the ship was badly damaged but much of the mail was salvaged.

Tony Johnson, editor of The Springbok, showed two frames of attractive, largely WW2 advertising covers sent to Burmeister & Co., (East London). These emphasised again the contribution that the Burmeister hoard has in made in helping to document the diverse postal history of South Africa's rural platteland. (Afr. flat land ie. countryside). Dr Chris Board provided a highly specialised, in-depth appreciation of the 'Union of South Africa Definitive Postage Stamp Design Competition'. He posed the question "Are the rejected competition entries less worthy of study than winning ones?" Given the time that Chris has spent on his research to provide us with an academically detailed understanding of a rejected entry, the answer is a definite "no".

As ever, Simon Peetoom was in fine form, good naturedly entertaining us with one frame of eclectic but interesting items. The one which seems to have given him the most pleasure was a postcard from his recent holiday in Tenby, Wales, stamped by a cheerful lady in a Mobile Post Office van. Why do sub-conscious images of Donald McGill's saucy seaside summer postcards come to mind, eh? Know what I mean, know what I mean, eh? Nudge, nudge, wink!

Next up was Bob Hill with a display on 'Tito Maleka', an ANC guerilla imprisoned on Robben Island and educated by correspondence with UNISA in Pretoria. Much of Bob's material was Maleka's family correspondence, some of which showed his difficulties in staying in regular communication with them from Robben Island. Post-Apartheid, Bob said, Maleka became the ANC's mysterious head of security. He was, apparently, central to the intrigue surrounding the missing Gadaffi billions. Some say as much as $80 bn was hidden and lost by the late Libyan dicator, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, in South Africa. Bob also displayed some sheets showing the Bechuanaland Pioneer Corps in WW2. Once again, Bob used the promise of KitKat treats to discipline and reward his unruly and appreciative audience.

With time running out, Rob Lester was hard-pressed to conclude his (and Lyn's) superb display of 'South African Perfins on Stamp and on Cover', also their beautifully laid out displays on 'South African Post Offices and their Postmarks'. (The latter was the subject of a recent SACS Zoom Meeting). Only 198 South African perfins are known, including officials and fiscals. These are hard to find, particularly on cover where they are easily missed. It was a great pity and a huge disappointment that time prevented Rob from fully describing both his displays. Perhaps we can see these again sometime with the certainty that they will get the time that they deserve?

This was a most enjoyable spot of 'Autumn Philately', a phrase that Simon used at my first SACS meeting in Honiton many years ago, one which struck a chord with me and which I have used down the years. While Zoom meetings now have a valuable place in the life of philatelic societies, especially by allowing them to go international, the ability to get together at a venue and enjoy the social side of our hobby in the company of like-minded collectors over a weekend remains, in my opinion, the beating heart of our hobby.

Thanks to all who came and to all who made it possible. Thanks to Dr Colin Archibald and Annemarie Verwoerd for joining SACS. To the organisers, keep up the good work. To members, work on those displays for next time! There will be a next time! Inshallah!


Top. Ian Shapiro at the start of his display, 'Premiers and Presidents: Archival Items from the Collection of Herman Steyn, Head of Philatelic Services, Pretoria'. L to R. Mick Humphries, Dr Colin Archibald, Annemarie Verwoerd.

Bottom. Ian towards at the end of his socially-distanced  display. L to R. David Belton, Dr Chris Board.

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