The sailing of Union-Castle Line’s RMS Windsor Castle which finally sailed from Cape Town on that date will be etched in the memories of not only the tens of thousands of Capetonians who witnessed the spectacle but also countless other persons in the United Kingdom and Southern Africa, who at some stage of their life had an involvement with some aspect of the shipping line and/or one of the iconic lavender hulled mailships that made up the fleet. In Southern Africa not only the individual mail vessels enjoyed ‘household name’ status even the individual Captains became ‘A List’ celebrities in their own right.
A now famous painting of the Windsor Castle’s departure from Table Bay was painted by Eric Wale and we thank Caledonia Investments for their permission to reproduce it with this article. Colonel Lauren’s van der Post travelled on the last voyage of the Windsor Castle. At the Farewell Dance held on board on September 17th, Colonel van der Post made a speech on behalf of the passengers, extracts of which were printed in the company magazine The Clansman. It is reproduced below.
“I’m reminded of a famous English 19th Century Peer of whom it was said that he was always dreaming he was addressing the House of Lords and one day woke up and found he was. Now I feel not so much that I have been dreaming that for some years I have had a nightmare. A nightmare that this kind of travel, this kind of ship we are sailing in might be abolished, and I have just since Las Palmas woken up and found that indeed this is so, and I wonder if we realise what precisely is being taken away from us. If we realise what these ships and the men who sail in them have given us – though not just in my lifetime, and I sailed first in these ships 65 years ago, but in what they have given us over the centuries – for what is coming to an end is not just the Union-Castle Line, but a great era in human history which started with the Renaissance – which started in an age to go out and discover and adventure, find new nations and new lands.
We in South Africa, in Southern Africa I should say because I think it holds good for Rhodesia as much as it does for South Africa, we owe our existence to these ships. There is no country which has ever been so unique in the creation of ships because ships gave us our raison d’être. We came to the Cape of Good Hope as a half-way house to India as suppliers of food, vegetables and fresh meat to ships of exactly this kind, and in return the ships and the traffic they engendered made us grow and grow comparatively great.”
I was heartened by our departure from Cape Town, by the farewell we got – by the little ships that followed us out to sea and the Tugs sort of screaming ‘Don’t go’. The little mirrors flashing from Signal Hill and Sea Point, not in great big establishments but tiny little houses tucked in all over the hills, as if the whole nation felt – we know what is being taken away from us.” We know what friends we have had, what human contacts we have had given to us in the world with ships of this kind. Every year some 3,000 Officers and sailors and men of these ships took something of Europe and brought it to us, and as friends took something of us and gave it to Europe.”