PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE; The Reverend Canon Birt with his Prefects in 1934. Second from right at the back is Sydney Quentin Bagshawe-Smith; and fourth from the right is Charles Cock. The story that follows explains the context of the photograph. TWO PREFECTS FROM 1934
Memoirs of Richard Cock
I have always been a hoarder of things, and for many years I had a sort of private museum of very odd bits and pieces collected over the years. Nobody would understand it but me, and my family used to joke about it. But it kept many memories of mine sacred, and I don’t regret it. Eventually bits and pieces were dumped but more special things were kept, and the collection was added to over the years. Photographs have also been part of my collections of THINGS, and I came across one recently, when doing some clearing out, which piqued my interest, and it involves two prefects at Bishops from 1934. There are many names of people in this photograph who have a strong connection with Bishops…and the names tell their own story: Melck, Sales, Jordan, Stanford, Greenshields, Tanner, Bairnsfather. Attwell, Fry,Le Mesurier, and several others. These are names which would become very familiar to me one day, when in turn I was at school with their sons. But two in particular are important in my life: Bagshawe-Smith and Cock.
It’s a clear and posed photograph. I wonder how many generations of Bishops boys remember the extraordinary photographer from Akkersdyk Studio, who had the same routine every single time, and always got a laugh: OK boys, all up straight…look a little bit happy…… and with that he would put the photographic plate on his head with one hand, lift up one leg at a rather strange angle, and say ….eeeeheeeee…in a rather nasal way! I can hear it now, and I still smile.
Anyway this photograph had come from my mother, I suppose via her first husband, Sydney Quentin Bagshawe-Smith (OD), who appears in the photograph, back row second from the right. He came from East London, from whence my mother also came. The Bagshawe-Smiths were of 1820 stock, and had farmed in the Grahamstown district for generations. Quentin’s father, Old Mr Bags, as he was known in our family, Leonard Bagshawe-Smith, (OD) had also been one of the founders of the Farmers’ Co-operative Union (FCU) and had been very involved in the wool business. He had three sons: Len, Quentin and Philip, and a daughter Ellerie. The first two sons went farming, also in the Grahamstown area. Sydney Quentin and my mother announced their engagement on her 21st
birthday in 1938, and they must have been married soon thereafter, and moved to Handsworth, a farm where they were to make a life for themselves. However the Second World War was to change all that. He volunteered to serve in the navy, as did his brother Philip. By now my mother was expecting her first child and Quentin tried to delay his departure for the War, hoping to be on hand for the birth of his first child. He stayed as long as possible, but then was told he had to leave, and so he hurried to East London, and was sent to the Mediterranean having been assigned to HMS Gloucester, on which, by coincidence, his brother , Philip, who, along with many other South Africans, was already serving. In Naval Regulations brothers were not allowed to serve on the same vessel, but the circumstances were such that they did, as it was the last opportunity for him to get on a ship bound for action. And it was action to which they went…the Battle of Crete, where HMS Gloucester was sunk on 22 May 1941. His child had been born on 3 April 1941. I remember my mother showing me a letter which said that both the Bagshawe-Smith boys were in the same gun turret which received a direct hit from Stuka dive-bombers, and so they died instantly. Old Mr Bags, Oupa, only spoke about this once to me when he was an old man…”I lost both my boys “, he said sadly. And in a strange twist, the ship Quentin should have been on, but which he missed by waiting for his son to be born, went through the whole war safely.
Sydney Quentin Bagshawe-Smith is commemorated at the Memorial Hall, and also in the bronze plaque above the door of the Memorial Chapel. He never saw his son, Quentin John Bagshawe-Smth (OD), and I wonder if he ever even knew that he had become a father.
My mother was now left a widowed mother at the age of 24. She could not stay on the farm alone, so she moved back to East London to her family home. And it was there that she met Charles Cock (OD). He appears in the same photograph, back row fourth from the right. Had my father not been so tall, the two prefects might have been standing next to each other! But I can imagine the conversations that happened with my mother, remembering the days when the two men were at school together, and now one of them was gone. My father was also 24 years old…he had been at UCT, and now was in the Eighth Army and with the pressure of time that War brings on, he and my mother were married on 26th April 1943, before he went back to North Africa where he was in several battles in the desert with the Eighth Army, and was in a forward observation post at the Battle of El Alamein. He was at one stage ADC to the Maharajah of Jaipur, who was also in the Desert War, with his Indian troops.
As was so often the case with ex-servicemen my father never talked about his war experiences to his children, but he ended up after the War in the wool trade in Port Elizabeth, and so a sort of link was kept with the sheep-farmers from Grahamstown.
My sister was born in 1944 and I came later in 1949…..100 years after Bishops was founded. I was destined to go to Bishops…my grandfather, Charles Ernest Cock, had been there, and so had my father, so it was assumed that I would too. I did and that story has been told.
I do think it amazing that this photograph should have stirred up these memories, but I am so glad that I kept it for my own private museum, and that this has allowed me to tell a tale of two ODs who were prefects together in 1934, and that both of them fought together not far from each other in the War, one on land and the other at sea. One never came back, and luckily for me…the other did!
Richard Cock (O1966)
The Photograp above: Charles Cock (OD) with his bride, the couple were married on 26 April 1943, during the time of WWII.