Philip Benjamin Robinson (1912-1977)

portrait of PhilipMy grandfather was born on 21 January 1912 in Harrismith, the youngest child of Philip and Louisa and was not yet nine years old when his mother died at the family home in Kimberley.

He married Elsie Edna Currie on 28 December 1935 at Beaconsfield Methodist Church. Their son, Colin (my father), was born ten months later. Despite opposition to their marriage from both families, Philip and Elsie began married life in his father’s house at 44 Lawson Street, Kimberley and stayed there for at least the first few years after their marriage until the major rift in the family ranks forced them to move out. Elsie did not speak to her father for years, Philip’s rift with his father was never healed. He got a transfer to Port Elizabeth and the family moved to the coast.

Philip worked as a motor fitter on South African Railways and was happy to move around the country if it led to a promotion. He had shipped the whole family to Cape Town for three months before, in about 1946, he was transferred to to a little dorp (village) in Namaqualand called Bitterfontein. It was the railhead for the copper mines further up the coast and he was to be the senior supervisor. They decided that the schooling up there was totally inadequate, as well as being Afrikaans dominated, and so Colin returned to Port Elizabeth and stayed with his maternal Grandfather and Aunt, resuming his place at Sydenham Primary School. Their daughter Wanda hadn’t yet started school so she accompanied Philip and Elsie to Bitterfontein.

After a few years the family were all back in Port Elizabeth and bought a house in Newton Park at 112, 3rd Avenue. This was the first house they had ever owned; it was a three bedroom bungalow with a corrugated iron roof and no internal toilet. The outside ‘privy’ was emptied weekly by a gang with their small tanker and was as unpleasant as it sounds. In the end Philip dug a huge cesspit in the garden and an inside toilet was installed. He kept bantams and bred budgies and would often be found hand-line fishing from the harbour wall in Port Elizabeth, he was also fond of making things from old tins and bottles. He had at one time even made some money by illegally catching and selling Cape Canaries.

Philip was forced to retire from his final position of Works Foreman on the railways at the age of 60, having five years’ accumulated leave due to him; he was only known to have taken one period of leave with a week’s holiday on the south Natal coast when his son was 16 years of age (1952/3).

After the death of Elsie in 1971, Philip remarried. He had come to England in 1974 to see his son and grandchildren and do some sightseeing and while on a cruise in the North Sea visiting Norway he met a Canadian woman called Marilyn and they were married soon after. He died on 18 July 1977 at home in Port Elizabeth of a coronary thrombosis and is buried in the South End Cemetery alongside Elsie. Marilyn disappeared into the Winnipeg sunset leaving his family with not much more than memories.

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