13

A Letter To
The Times

On 9 March 1992, The Times published a letter from Bernard and me. We were living in England, in Sherborne, Dorset. The letter was headed ‘March Hare Madness’, and we had written of seeing six hares running alternately in a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise direction, as though choreographed. The day that we saw this strange sight, and wrote the letter, happened to be Shrove Tuesday. The Times telephoned to ascertain that we were genuine, not a Shrove Tuesday hoax, and our letter was published. The letter included our address in Sherborne. That same day I had a telephone call from Jimmy Clark, who also lived in Sherborne, and who said: ‘Brokensha is an unusual name, I wonder if you are related to Guy Brokensha?’ Jimmy, as I have mentioned above, had been a pilot in Guy’s Fleet Air Arm squadron, and had been on HMS Formidable when Guy disappeared. Through Jimmy, I met at a reunion, three other pilots who had been in Guy’s Squadron 888. This was a great thrill for me: I had not met any of Guy’s other fellow pilots. All of them made me feel very proud when they told me that Brok, as they called him, was the best pilot they had known. (Quite coincidentally, one of Guy’s great-grandsons is named Brock; the baby’s father, Brent Lees May, was very pleased to learn of  the connection.)
Paul and I were reported ‘missing, believed prisoner of war’, in June 1942, and Guy was ‘missing, believed drowned’ in August. So for a few weeks Dad and Ouma did not know if they had any sons left alive. I was confirmed as POW in September 1942, but Paul’s confirmation did not come through until November.
In 1944 – probably partly the result of all the uncertainties arising from the war – there were many spiritualists in South Africa. Ouma was approached by some, claiming that they had been in touch with Guy; she politely sent them away. When we came home after the war Ouma told me that she had managed to hold things together for two whole years, until the day that Punch had had to be ‘put to sleep’. Punch had become very frail, and eventually Ouma had had to ask our Zulu servant, Fanyan, to take the dog to the vet to be put down. (Dad was in England at this time: as Chairman of the South African Prisoners of War Association, he was waiting for the war to end, and for the POWs to come to England.) Ouma had always told Punch that Paul and I would be coming home soon. When Fanyan came back from the vet, carrying Punch’s collar and lead, Ouma broke down and wept. She told me that she asked the chemist for some medication; Punch’s death had been the last straw.