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Letters to Home: from South Africa to Unity Part 4

Part four of David Keay's life and adventures while working in South Africa in 1938.

David Keay, a young man who grew up on his family’s farm outside of Unity, moved to South Africa to work in the gold mines with his uncle. He wrote home to his parents and siblings often, outlining some of the interesting things he was doing. This is a continuation of David’s story.

The beginning of 1938 was fun and exciting for both Sandy and David. Sandy had purchased a brand-new car, a Chev Master Deluxe sedan. With an upcoming trip to Durban coming up, there was much to do, including getting accustomed to the shiny new vehicle. David was continuing to write exams, where he scored 100 per cent on his NTC Theory Chemistry course and a 92 per cent in the Metallurgy of Gold exam. He has also dec, ided to sign up for another year of technical school, learning more about the mining industry that includes mathematics, geology, mining and surveying.

David is also preparing to take his driver’s test. He starts with an oral exam on the signs, rules and regulations. He must know everything about his vehicle before the practical test, where one would show their driving ability and proper use of hand signals. He also had to stop the vehicle on a steep hill, then proceed with driving without the car rolling back.

A letter dated Jan. 15, 1938, says David passed his driver's license exam. The trip to Durban will include a few vacation spots such as Kruger National Park before their destination. While visiting Durban, the duo visited the Lever Bros. soap factory. More than 5,000 women worked in the factory and at the end of the tour, a small token of Lifebuoy shaving soap was given. They also stopped at one of the largest rubber factories in the world while in Durban.

While working in the mines, David has two local men with him. They carry the sacks of gold samples for David and wrote that he “prefers these fellas to some of the white men.” He also added in one letter that he couldn’t understand a word they said, but as they worked together, they were able to communicate well. The two men said they were Basutos, commonly referred to as ‘black Scotch’.

By the end of March 1938, David had spent six months in the Sampling Department and was being transferred to the Ventilation Department. Working in the ventilation department involves taking the velocity of air passing through the columns and finding the cubic feet per minute of air passing through different stopes. The air quality is also tested for carbon dioxide and ensuring that the fans are all working properly.

Based on a letter David wrote dated March 26, 1938, it was apparent David had recently received a letter from Unity. Older brother Ron must have been teasing about the new car, asking if David had taken any dames out for a ride. He added “You know I have no use for flappers!”

Each year the mine hosts a Charity Ball. Based on the account of the previous year’s event, it was all “charming evening gowns and some other big pots! Blooming swank!” as David wrote.

With the purchase of the new car, it took the two men six months to put 5,000 miles on it. While visiting a family, David learnt a recent widow was preparing to move out of the mine house she shared with her late husband.

In the first half of June 1938, there was a great tragedy. Four chaps and two South African fellows were killed in an airplane crash in Rhodesia, amid jungle and bush. It was said that no one was able to reach the crash site for four days. With many wild animals claiming the jungle as their home, the bodies were badly mutilated.

More bad news followed in David’s next letter dated June 19, 1938. A chauffeur took two officials from the Daggafontein gold mine to the Barclay Bank in Springs. While the two officials were temporarily absent, the driver and car disappeared along with the payroll consisting of silver, copper and notes.

Please stay tuned for the next installment of Letters to Home in an upcoming issue of the Unity-Wilkie Press Herald or on