VE Day in Plett, 1945 – Lest we forget 

Celebration of VE Day in the dining room of the BI Hotel, 9 May 1945
Published: May 4th, 2015
by Cindy Wilson-Trollip

I love chance meetings and revel in coincidence and synchronicity – to what end I have yet to discover. I once met Fergie’s South African born boyfriend in a dive next to the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong after watching, quite by chance, the BE Peas video Where is the Love, not an hour before.  Yes,  I know, where is the relevance in that? 

On a visit to my parents in the Helderberg Village in Somerset West, I met one of their dear friends, Mavis Kimble, who lived in Plett during the war from 1942 – 1945. 

Celebration of VE Day in the dining room of the BI Hotel, 9 May 1945

Celebration of VE Day in the dining room of the BI Hotel, 9 May 1945

Her husband was the accountant at the Beacon Isle Hotel and she took up a general position learning the ins and outs of management, before they moved to Wilderness to take over the management of the Wilderness Hotel.

In those gracious, or possibly wild, days, the Fisherman’s Lounge was appointed by the owner, with furniture from Tiffany’s in London and decorated with copper and african object from his travels in Central Africa.  Resident were a number of women and children who had been evacuated from the Belgian Congo in the wake of the strife.

She hilariously recounted the story of housekeeper, Daisy Terblanche, dashing after the bus departing with guests to the Knysna station, dramatically halting it in the middle of the road, and insisting that one of the guests empty their suitcase.  In it was all the linen from the room just vacated, much to the embarrassment of all on the bus, and Daisy’s satisfaction.

Another story was of the very elderly english gentleman who moved in with his butler to live out his last days at the hotel, in debauchery and revelry in the Fisherman’s Lounge and dining room, until he finally died at the hotel and the butler left – possibly for rehab somewhere.  Mavis, then 22, took great delight in lying under the bed of the dearly departed, groaning loudly when the maids came to clean the room.

The staff lived in a block on the south side of the hotel, and after one of our typical periodic high water tides during which the rooms were flooded, one of the waiters went to sea on his bed, apparently still passed out from the previous night’s excesses.

One of her most poignant memories is the celebration of VE Day in the dining room, a sumptuous dinner attended by the few hotel guests (May was quiet in 1945 as well) and all in the village.  Mavis took charge of the dinner and décor, and the emotions  were palpable as she remembered the evening.  V’s were everywhere to celebrate the allied victory in Europe. 

The waiters in the picture were all itinerant workers from North Africa.  The dinner included fresh fish (caught daily by handline off the BI rocks) prepared by the specialised hotel local fish chef, the only one trusted with the fish cuisine. 

Coincidentally, it’s the 9th May next week, when VE Day comes around again, 71 years later.  Maybe this synchronous meeting has relevance as a reminder of hard won peace in our times, and never to forget.

Cindy Wilson-Trollip