After centuries of living and working in Devon, our Ellicott family had moved up from farm labourers and tenant farmers to urban business owners; a carriage business and drapers shop in Torquay, as the new century dawned. Now Edgar Lionel Ellicott was about to travel the world as he took advantage of the opportunities that came his way. Born in Babbacombe, Torquay on the 11 May 1900 into a fairly well off middle class family living in a fashionable resort and employing a domestic servant, Edgar (Ted) was the middle child of three boys (that’s him on the left, with Billy and Stan).
Still only fourteen and at school when the First World War broke out, Ted proved an able student and was to leave with a particularly good record including matriculating in the top percentile in mathematics. Upon graduation he joined the Eastern Telegraph Company (later Cable and Wireless) being engaged as a probationer in February 1917. He spent a year at the London training school before being transferred to the head office at Porthcurno for the final six months of his training and was taken on to the staff as a cable operator in August 1918 gaining his first foreign assignment, to the Lisbon office, in May 1919. Regular promotions and transfers followed over the next ten years as he travelled by first class steamer to such places as the Azores, Gibraltar, Suez, Aden, and the Seychelles before returning to London in 1928.
In February 1929 he was transferred to Durban for six months before moving on to Beira in Mozambique where he “did useful work” (like being mentioned in despatches!) assisting in repairs to the Beira landline and station after a fire. Ted spent two years in Mozambique before heading back to Durban on his way to London. On the Durban to Cape Town leg of the journey, which takes only three or four days, he met Dorothy Leith who was on a pleasure cruise with some girlfriends. The girls disembarked as planned at Cape Town while Ted continued on to London but that brief encounter was enough to spark a romance that would lead to a 46 year marriage.
Ted’s ship arrived in London in September 1931 and many a frantic letter must have winged its way between London and South Africa before Dorothy arrived in London with her parents on 18 July 1932 with the couple married less than a month later on 10 August at St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Covent Garden.
They were a handsome couple.
They stayed in the London area, Ted continuing to work at the London office of C&W, eventually moving to a new development at Hinchley Wood near Kingston. But Dorothy’s father would not return to South Africa; John Leith died three months after the wedding on 9 November at Redhill County Hospital, Edgware of a cerebral thrombosis. Her mother, Mary Ann, would make her home with the newly-weds in between travels to visit relatives in Australia, South Africa, Ireland and Canada. Ted and Dorothy had a daughter (my mother), born on Christmas Day 1937.
When World War 2 broke out Ted was called up from the Territorials he’d joined a year earlier to the Royal Artillery and spent most of the war manning the anti-aircraft guns somewhere in North London while his wife and mother-in-law, now stuck in London for the duration, helped provide a home-from-home for Australian and South African personnel, before Mary died of breast cancer in March 1943.
Ted fortunately missed being sent overseas twice because of illness, including sitting out D-Day as he recovered from a hernia operation, but towards the end of the war he was sent to Kenya from where he was demobbed in mid 1946.
The war, the English weather, the shortages and her mother’s death had taken its toll on Dorothy and by the time Ted returned from service she was desperate to leave. Whether or not he sounded out the possibility of a transfer back to the Cape we don’t know but Ted resigned “of his own accord” and left Cable and Wireless on 30 November 1946 although unfortunately this meant he forfeited any pension rights. “Kloof”, the house in Hinchley Wood, and its contents were auctioned off and as Christmas 1946 approached the family were staying in a hotel on Northumberland Avenue waiting for their final papers to come through from South Africa House.
On 21 December 1946 they set out on their epic journey to Port Elizabeth, flying first from Croydon Aerodrome to Brussels where they picked up the Sabena Air flight south. Reaching Tripoli on the 23rd before flying over the Sahara overnight and landing in Kano, Nigeria on Christmas Eve then flying on to Leopoldville in the Congo (now Kinshasa). Christmas morning and mum’s ninth birthday dawned but celebrations were brief as they were on the move again, flying down to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) where they spent Christmas night. On Boxing Day they continued on to Johannesburg via Rhodesia (Zimbabawe) before catching the train to Durban to visit an old friend before finally moving to PE.
With mum packed off to boarding school, Ted and Dorothy found work running a hotel right on the beach at a place called Keurboomstrand on the “Garden Route” and near Plettenberg Bay. They later moved to the Lake Pleasant Hotel which they leased until things turned sour and they lost most of the little money they still had. After some time at a B&B in Port Elizabeth followed by a low grade hotel in a grotty strip-village called Swartskop, they landed the job of running the local MOTH club (Members of the Order of the Tin Hat) and lived in the flat above the club until they retired in about 1960. Their remaining years were spent in their own house in Port Elizabeth until Ted died in June 1978 followed by Dorothy just three years later.