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Lost in Light is a videoblog about small gauge filmmaking featuring weekly posts of home movies, work by artists, articles by preservationists and film scholars, video tutorials and other film gems.

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Leaving South Africa


click image to play in Flash | Quicktime | MPEG-2 #1 | MPEG-2 #2

Leaving South Africa, April 14, 1956

Mack Lundy of Virginia, USA, shares his story of this home movie:

Viewing the home movies from Africa, identifying the locations and activities of the scenes, and writing descriptions of selected clips for Lost in Light has been an engrossing project. The scenes of us leaving Africa have generated a nostalgic and sentimental response that I find odd and not a little unsettling after fifty years. This was a remarkable time for my family. We experienced a lifestyle inconceivable for an Air Force enlisted man – very nice house, large landscaped yard, two live-in servants, a social life that included diplomats. My mother learned to drive an American car on the left side of the road. I attended a private boy’s school, Waterkloof House Preparatory School where I wore a uniform and played cricket, football (soccer to Americans), and rugby and I returned to the U.S. nearly ten years old with a British accent that my Virginia grandmother had a difficult time understanding (Why is the boy saying “tow mah tow?”)

Looking back with an awareness of history and modern sensibilities, I feel some guilt now, knowing that apartheid was in full force while we lived in Africa. But I also know that my parents treated the Africans who worked for us fair and well. They had stockings on the mantle at Christmas and Piet, the gardener/handyman, cried when we left and would have followed us back to the U.S. if we could have taken him. My parents would have extended this tour of duty if they could have done so. I now wish that I had attended school there longer, learned another language while I was living amongst those who spoke it, and been older when we left so that the memories would be stronger.

But here we are leaving South Africa from Capetown on the African Endeavor – seventeen days to New York City. Here is an odd present meets past coincidences involving this ship. Some forty later, my parents were in a restaurant in Florida, one of those places with lots of things on the walls. Above the booth where they were seated was a life ring from the African Endeavor. Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

You first see a pan shot of the ship with Table Mountain in the background.

Interspersed with my mother, brother, and me boarding the ship are a man and woman throwing streamers. They are Bill and Bunny Hall, friends and neighbors. Career military families have to be able to move on recognizing that they have to leave friends forever but I know this was particularly hard on my parents and was the first of several for me.

As the ship leaves you see another view of Table Mountain.

My memory of the ship was that it was much larger. It probably was to a lad nine and three quarters years old but I have to say that the pool looks pretty small and unappealing now. Maybe that is why everyone seems to be reading or playing shuffleboard.

A little over two and a half minutes into this clip you will see us sail past an island. This is St. Helena Island. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here between 1815 and 1821. Google Earth and Wikipedia confirmed what I remembered.

Before we crossed the equator, I remember being taken outside at night to see the Southern Cross constellation. My father told me I wouldn’t see it again unless I traveled south of the equator again.

Toward the end are some general shipboard scenes and a lifeboat drill. I really like the firing of the line launching gun. It doesn’t look like it went smoothly at first try.

The clip ends with us sailing into New York harbour and seeing the Statue of Liberty in the mist.

I’ll close with a “kids say the darndest things” family story that happened after we returned. My father had acquired a case of South African brandy and he discovered that there would be a problem bringing it through customs. So he and some shipboard acquaintances decided that it would be a shame to waste it and proceeded to see how much they could
consume before we landed. We get back to Virginia and visit my father’s teetotaler aunt and she asks if we were sea sick. I admit to having been sick. She then asks if my father was sea sick as well and I replied “no, but he was drink sick.” I’m sure there was an awkward pause after that.

Visit our file directory for a link to high-quality footage of the entire trip, plus more home movies from life back in the States. More of Mack’s Africa footage here, here, and here.

Music: “Electro-Mortgage Blues” by Gurdonark

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Comments

Comment from Darel
Time: October 16, 2007, -5

I was 8 when we sailed on the African Endeavor to Cape Town from NY in 1958. I remember well St. Helena, Napeolon’s grave, and arriving in Africa where we lived in Rhodesia for many years. I almost cried when I found this clip…I have only a few still photos of our family’s trip…remember Neptune?

Comment from David Pruett
Time: October 16, 2007, -5

My brother sent me a link on this film. We sailed on the African Endeavor in 1958 (2 years later) when I was 10 years old. We travelled from New York to Capetown in August. What a lot of memories when I saw the film. And a couple of questions. Did you get to go to St Helena and see the place where Napoleon died? And did the ship have a Neptune ceremony passing the equator> Those are 2 highlights I remember. Anyway, thanks for the memories, one more thing….

In checking a couple of years ago, we found the SS African Endeavor had been through the mill, and was finally taken apart for scrap in 1972. We wanted to try to take a trip on her.

Thanks again,
David

Comment from Geoff Alexander
Time: December 8, 2007, -5

We have a rare 30 minute film of the African Endeavor showing a voyage from NYC to CapeTown, with a side trip through South Africa. If one of you would like to sponsor its uploading, we can make it available free to all on the internet. Please contact me for further details, thanks.

Comment from Dave Brown
Time: January 3, 2010, -5

Amazing, my father and Mack’s served together there in South Africa! At one time, we knew each other quite well, between spending time together at each other’s houses there and other places. Also amazingly, we traveled to Africa on this ship when Dad was stationed there in late 1952. In fact, I still have all the daily ship-board hand outs, mostly location and menus, but there is something special for crossing the equator. This clip and the site has helped me reconnect with a part of my life from the dimmest of memories. Many thanks for making the effort and putting this part of history on the web!