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Nora Herbert - it is well with my soul

Nora (right) with her mother (left), grandmother and son

Nora Herbert turns 95 later this year. She said there was no need to make an appointment to see her. “I am always sitting on my stoep, you will find me there.” And sure enough, there she was with a memory as clear as a bell.

Growing up in Simonstown

She could tell us so much of the years gone by, having seen many changes in her lifetime. Born Nora Felix in 1929, she grew up in Seaforth, Simonstown. Her father used to take the children to church at St Francis of Assisi Anglican Church and they would walk all the way back, every Sunday. Everyone used to wear hats and gloves and they would get all dressed up for church.

Whatever else has altered over the years, Nora’s sense of humour is still strong.

“My family recently took me to visit Simonstown again, it has changed so much. No wonder the baboons go so mad, everything has been taken away from them - there is not enough space. The tree that was on the end of the garden is still there, but there is no bark on the tree, it was so sad, I wanted to give the tree a hug."

“I read the novel ‘The Girl from Simons Bay’ by Barbara Mutch, about Simonstown. Some is about a time before I was born, but a lot of it I knew personally. I know all about ships coming in. I was 11 years old when the Germans scuttled their ship and later those people who were rescued were led out from the dock. I can remember one little girl whose blonde hair was just hanging and her shocked faced often came in my dreams. Reading the book brought it all back.

“When I was young, we would watch the boats in dry dock being repaired, but now you can’t get close and see what is happening. About the quarry in the mountains, where the stone came from to build the docks, there were cable cars. My sister’s son used to drive the cable car that used to go up and down. I saw some of that, now there is nothing. There used to be a naval hospital in Simonstown, now they come to Military Hospital in Wynberg.”

Marrying Dougie Herbert from Wynberg

Dougie (insert left), Nora's mother (insert right) and her grandson

Nora met her husband Dougie at work in Cape Town, at a clothing factory. He was from Wynberg – you can read about the Herbert family in the books about Wynberg, and they were members of Battswood Baptist Church in Castletown Rd, Wynberg. His grandfather was William Herbert, (cousin of another William Herbert who played a prominent role in promote sport in Wynberg). Dougie was also a keen soccer player for the St John’s Club.

“We got married in Simonstown and then when our eldest son was turning 5 we moved to Wynberg, (near where the Civic Centre is now). Our minister at St Francis sent a letter to Rev Wakeling at St John’s, so that our membership could be transferred. He came to visit us and said that if we had a problem with transport up to St John’s, we could attend Emmanuel Church, which was very close to us and also in the parish, so we did that.

"Later when our youngest son Kevin turned 5, he got a birthday card and letter from St John’s Sunday school to say that it was now time for him to come to Sunday school (he had been baptised there, so they had that on record.) At that time, we moved to St John’s, though my mummy and sister and others stayed at Emmanuel."

“During those apartheid years, everything was always very unsettled and there was so much rubbish about classifications. Sometimes we had to laugh, it was such nonsense, and what the government said about us didn’t change who we were as people.

God prepared me for everything

Nora in 2024 at St John's

“I always say, ‘God prepares people for everything’. For example, once, when I was younger, my aunt was working for Mr Miller (of Maskew Miller), caring for his wife who had a stroke. My aunt invited me to come and read to the old lady and help. I did this for a while and always watched the nurse in what she did, and learnt from her. Many years later, my own mother had a stroke when she was 95 and was in a care home for a while, but she kept saying, “I want to go home.” When we moved her into our home, the Fehrsens helped me get bedding for her, and I already knew how to care for her from what I had learned in caring for Mrs Miller all those years before. God had prepared me for that experience and I was glad I could do it, as my mummy died at home on her 96th birthday. Before she died, she was trying to say something, but I could not understand what she was trying to say to me. At the time, we had a lady Minister at St John’s and she said that if it was really important, it would come to me.

“Another thing God prepared me for was when my third son was burnt terribly in an explosion and had to be taken to Woodstock Hospital. We were just talking about this the other day in our family, so I have been remembering it. For some time only I could visit, with gowns and protective clothing on. I had to stand and pour ice all over Victor all the time and felt like I was standing in the River Jordan. He was totally covered in Betadine, and I thanked God that he was alive, but I couldn’t bear it. I said to God, ‘You must take over and help me, because I can’t stand it.’ Victor was in terrible pain and kept saying, ‘Mummy, you must take me home or I will die.’ I couldn’t even touch him because of the burns and knew I couldn’t take him home. I said to him, ‘Dye, dye, any colour you want, but not dead!’ I don’t know how I was able to say that, I didn’t panic. How did I get that calmness at the time? – Only God helped me. Margaret Bridgman gave him a radio so he could listen while he was in hospital. I only heard recently that my youngest son Paul was traumatised by seeing him, I did not know this at the time. Today, Victor is well and healthy.

“I live by myself in the house, but my youngest son lives next door, and there is an adjoining door, so they can check on me.

“Our church has been going through a lot and I have seen how always God helps us. Many years ago, David Prior’s wife, Rosemary, invited me to join their Wednesday 10am meetings at Christ Church. Lynn Cunningham used to fetch me for that. The Anglican Women’s Fellowship (AWF) has travelled a long road together and I still go on Wednesday mornings.“I also started playing bowls, for the Peninsula Blind Bowlers, and another club, but eventually I had to choose between the two, so stayed with Peninsula Blind. My granddaughter, Debbie has glaucoma. She and her son Kyle are at the church.

“I was brought up a Christian, and there has been nothing dramatic about my life, but my faith has grown stronger and stronger as I have responded to God.  I am thankful for all those who have been on the journey with me, who give me lifts to church and to Wednesday morning meetings at Christ Church.

“I stay at home, can stay in my dressing gown if I want, grow pot plants and talk to them, but the problem is they don’t answer me! The other day a man looked through my window and wanted me to give him my Teddy. ‘How can I give you my Teddy Bear?’ I told him, ‘When I work with pins or needles, I put them in his feet, I need him here!’ Once the puppy got hold of Teddy and ripped him in the tummy so I had to knit and put a patch on him. I always have time for visitors. When our minister Jeremy visited, he asked me, ‘How is your soul?’ My answer is, ‘it is well with my soul.’”


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