With the advent of World War 2 in 1939 the residents of Fish Hoek were determined to do all they could to support the allied cause. It was still a relatively small community, a census taken in 1940 tells us that there were 1 200 white residents, 136 coloured and 37 black servants living in the town. Although there was no conscription, by September 1941, 152 men and 2 women had volunteered to join the armed forces, and there were others who enlisted later.
In May 1940, at a meeting in Fish Hoek, the Deputy Commissioner of Police enrolled over 80 men as Police Reservists. A few weeks later the Civilian Protection Services, the South African equivalent of the Air Raid Precautions in Britain, was formed. Local men and women were trained to deal with air raids and possible invasion, although their main task here was the enforcement of the blackout. As a precaution against enemy ship attacking the harbours at Simon’s Town and Cape Town the whole of the Cape Peninsula was blacked out. No lights were allowed to be shown from doors or windows, street lights were not lit and car headlights and torches had to be screened. No unauthorised access was allowed to Simon’s Town and a barrier was put up at Glencairn. The Fish Hoek Red Cross Detachment trained with the Civilian Protection Services in the treatment of casualties, with the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts acting as “victims”. This was fun for a while, but boring if you were not supposed to be very badly hurt and had to wait your turn to be treated. One young man got so fed up with waiting that he drew the international scouting sign for “gone home” and did just that!
There was much fundraising for the war effort. The Fish Hoek Women’s Association was particularly active in this field. They had been very busy raising money for local causes since the Association was formed in 1934. In 1936 they were responsible for persuading the Divisional Council to open a clinic at Noordhoek which they supported with funds and voluntary workers. In 1938 they supported the formation of a Voluntary Aid Detachment in Fish Hoek and when war broke out the VADs performed valuable service in many parts of the world.
The Women’s Association War Markets were held monthly in the Recreation Hall. Each month the proceeds went to a different cause, amongst them were the Air Ambulance, the Red Cross, the London distress Fund, the Merchant Navy Fund, the Lifeboat Service, St Dunstans, parcels for troops and prisoners of war, Russian Relief and the South African Women’s Auxiliary Services funds. One particular cause received their regular support. Mrs Waterson, the Governor General’s wife had visited one of their meetings in Fish Hoek to speak about the Red Cross. In 1941 she sent a cable from London asking if they could contribute towards equipment urgently required for the treatment of facial burn cases. An alfra red lamp and a steriliser were bought with their first donation and this was the start of their support for the Plastic Surgery Unit at the East Grinstead Hospital where so many airmen were treated. A plaque acknowledging the contributions made by the Fish Hoek Women’s Association was put up in one of the prefab wards at the hospital and unveiled by Mrs Waterson. In 1946, when many men were still being treated there, a consignment of dried fruit was shipped to them.
They also had a “Spinning Contingent’ which operated from a shop in the Main Road, spinning pure wool into yarn to be dyed and knitted into garments to be sent off to the troops. One of the ladies, Mrs Margaret Cobern, had a “sock machine”, which knitted a long tube, the width of a sock, with only the heel having to be turned by hand.
The South African Women’s Auxiliary Services, known as SAWAS, had a very active branch in Fish Hoek and one of their main activities was entertaining, the men from troop ships passing through Cape Town and sailors from ships docking in Simon’s Town. At first the Recreation Hall was used for this but when Reg Clark joined up, his garage, in the Main Road, was taken over as an entertainment centre with the Municipality paying half of the rent. Meals were provided and dances and parties were held, with everyone, including the local lasses having a good time. Some of the men came from Cape Town by train but transport was mainly provided by local residents who would meet the troopships at the docks and open their homes to those men who could stay overnight. At the Homestead Hotel a group of young ladies, know as “The Good Companions” provided company at social events for sailors passing through Simon’s Town.
Of the Fish Hoek men who volunteered to serve in the armed forces fifteen did not return. In 1946 it was proposed that some sort of war memorial should be erected. Unfortunately agreement could not be reached on what should be done. Several schemes were suggested, one of which was a proposal by the MOTHs for a complex which would cost £30 000 and entail the Municipality taking out a thirty year loan and levying an extra rate to repay it. A more modest idea for a hall and communal centre for ex-servicemen would only cost £10 000. A very poorly attended public meeting was held where two other ideas were put forward, the endowment of a ward in the Red Cross Children’s Hospital or a Children’s Park and Garden of Remembrance to be built on the sports fields. No decision was reached, so the Women’s Association asked for the money they had donated to be returned to them to be banked in an interest paying account until the matter was settled.
By April 1947 still nothing had been done and the Mayor wrote to the Women’s Association suggesting that “a strong sub-committee be formed from this Association” to try and get something done. They were obviously known as ladies who got the job done! By this time they were considering only two plans, the building of a hall or the laying out of a park at the sports field. In November 1947 it was reported that the residents of Fish Hoek were losing interest in the war memorial and the committee was having difficulty in finding a site suitable for the building of a hall.
In April 1949 it was suggested that the money that had been raised should be used to enlarge the Recreation Hall, which would then be renamed the Fish Hoek Memorial Hall. This would require an assurance from the Town Council that the hall would never be demolished and “a suitable plaque would be affixed in the hall.” By August 1950 the various organisations who had been raising money for the memorial had handed over their contributions to the Council and it had been planned to build the hall in the school grounds using the money collected with the addition of a loan of £1 000 to be raised by the Council. However at a meeting of the War Memorial Committee it was discovered that this would not be possible as the Ratepayers Association had vetoed the raising of a loan and it had been discovered that any hall built in the school grounds would become the property of the School Board. It was also said that a hall on school property “would restrict activities for the MOTHs, noticeably billiards.” In desperation it was decided that a meeting of representatives of the Women’s Association, SAWAS and MOTHS be convened to decide on what form the war memorial should take. The Women’s Association instructed their representatives to vote fora children’s play park, but as nothing was being done they lost interest.
The matter dragged on for several more years until finally it was decided to lay out a Garden of Remembrance on part of the Outspan, which was designated as public open space. In 1965 the MOTH cairn in the park was dedicated and the saga of the war memorial was finally ended.