Chris Dooner, Sunnydale
Able Seaman William “Bill” Paterson Small, 99, is a member of the Boot and Saddle MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Shellhole in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal.
Another member is Peter Whittaker, with whom I went to school and who, coincidentally, was called up for and served in the South African Navy.
The City of Cape Town arranged for three World War II veterans to attend Cape Town’s 2022 Remembrance Day service, at which they laid wreaths and were billed as the only surviving World War II veterans that the City could locate.
I already knew about Bill from Mr Whittaker and when the opportunity presented itself, I told the mayor that the City had missed a veteran who had served in the South African Naval Forces in Cape Town.
The mayor asked me to pass Bill’s details on to his office. The upshot was Bill’s invitation and visit to Cape Town, courtesy of the mayor and his personal assistant, Bronwyn Fisher.
On Sunday November 12, Bill laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, a war memorial on Heerengracht Street.
He was the last to leave the venue as he was greeted, congratulated, interviewed and asked to join selfies after the service.
Bill was accompanied by his daughter, Helen Lewis, and Donald Guy. He was assisted to lay the wreath by the mayor and Moths Les Gale and Simon Ainsworth-Taylor of the MOTH Snoekie Shellhole in Simon’s Town.
The chief of fleet staff Rear Admiral Lisa Hendricks laid a wreath on behalf of the South African Navy and met and congratulated Bill at the service.
The curator of the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town, Commander Leon Steyn, arranged for Bill to visit the museum and be driven around the old section of the Simon’s Town Harbour on Wednesday November 15.
Rear Admiral Hendricks reported back to her commander, flag officer fleet, Rear Admiral Nkomonde Musawenkosi, who then said that he would like to meet Bill.
Commander Steyn also organised for a copy of Bill’s World War II personal file to be presented to him.
Bill was then taken for a drive around that part of the naval harbour that existed during World War II. On their own initiative, the guards at the gates paid him the same respects that they would for an officer when they were told who Bill was.
Bill visited but never served out of Simon’s Town. He joined the South African Naval Forces in February 1944, underwent basic training at Pollsmoor, followed by a stint on minesweepers out of Cape Town and then harbour defence launches and anti-submarine/escorts out of Durban.
He was demobbed in November 1945. The minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels were trawlers and whalers taken up from the trade and converted accordingly.
From the harbour, Bill went to the Snoekie Shellhole and thereafter up to Just Nuisance’s grave at Klaver. Bill recalled Just Nuisance taking up the seat next to him on a train trip.
That Bill took the time to visit was much appreciated. He surprised a number of us with his stamina. He was generally quiet and confirmed to me that he was absorbing and remembering.