In 1961, John Tolmie Currie’s 80th year, having retired from De Beers over twenty years earlier, the De Beers newspaper ran a story of his life. Quite a tribute. Much of what follows is grounded in that story so there might be a little journalistic licence remaining which I hope to iron out over time.
Incidentally, that’s me in his arms.
John was born on 20 April 1881 as his family were settling into their new life in Cumberland. After leaving school in Haverigg, the story goes that he studied music and piano construction for seven years, eventually becoming branch manager of a well known musical instrument dealer in Cleator Moor. However, at the time of his marriage to Edith Ella Dockray on 19 August 1902 (age 21) he gave his occupation for the register as insurance agent.
The newspaper story then recounts how John claimed to be somewhat of a marvel to medical skill in that when he was 17 years of age he had an accident and was confined to bed for 12 months. Four doctors held a consultation, after which one of them thought his life would last a few hours only, another gave him two days, a third two weeks and the fourth declared all human skill had already been exhausted and he could only be “left in the hands of the Almighty”. In support of this he said he had found among his possessions a most beautiful dress shirt and got married in it, discovering years later that it was a shroud of Irish linen bought to bury him in.
In 1906 he emigrated to South Africa to join his brothers who were already working for the De Beers Mining Corporation. He lived at 13a Innes Street, Kimberley then 6a Wilson Street becoming employed at the Bultfontein Mine until the outbreak of war in 1914 when he joined the S.A.Engineering Corps, Force ‘K’ company as a Sapper and saw service in South West Africa (Namibia). He was injured on 22 September 1915 and was awarded the Silver Star War Badge. However, whilst on active service his home, now at 50a Main Street in Beaconsfield, was mistaken for that of a German and to avenge the sinking of the Lusitania, was wrecked by a mob who knocked his wife unconscious and injured his 4 month old daughter, Elsie. As a result he was given special leave by General Botha to return home. On 13 September 1916 he returned to the Bultfontein mine as a charge house attendant, although he also signed on for the Veterans Corps with Captain Belding. He was again injured and as a result had to use crutches for two years.
His wife died in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic and De Beers paid £9/10s towards Edith’s funeral expenses. His two brothers were also dead within two years as they continued the Currie men’s habit of dying young that John had so far luckily avoided.
He held various jobs over his years at De Beers from guard to overseer and sub-station attendant. He was a telephone operator when he retired from the company in 1940. In his early days there he was a bare knuckle fighter and played competitive billiards in the Kimberley Bars. He also trained and raced greyhounds, winning the Kimberley Cup outright.
John kept up his love of music and was organist and choirmaster at the Beaconsfield Methodist Church and was a Cellist in the Kimberley Orchestral Society as well as Herr Rybnikar’s Orchestra. He was also organist at the Beaconsfield Masonic Lodge, later becoming Master.
Soon after retirement he moved to Port Elizabeth with his daughter Doris. They first lived in a flat in Sydenham overlooking my dad’s primary school, before buying a small seaside bungalow in Humewood. He worked as a storeman for a small engineering company in Sydenham before finally retiring in about 1945. As well as becoming organist and Choirmaster at Sydenham Methodist Church, he joined Humewood Bowls Club when aged 77 years playing twice a week with the ambition of winning the South African Rinks Tournament, which had been won by his brother James many years earlier. I don’t believe he achieved this ambition however, as he died in 1964.