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Mary South

Knitting for love

For the past 16 years, Mary South has made jerseys and beanies for the children in communities neighbouring Hilton College. It has been more than keeping small bodies warm, though. Mary has been clothing children in her love and a rich tapestry of memories. Memories of a life well lived, serving her family, God and people in need.

With every stitch she knits, Mary recalls vignettes and chapters of a life spanning almost 93 years – growing up in England during World War II; her voyage on a troopship to South Africa, unaccompanied at the age of 15; marrying; becoming a mother; burying her husband of 53 years; moving to South Africa in her 70s.

Self-effacing and hard-working, Mary gets on with the practicalities of life. But her eyes light up when she reminisces about her “fantastic adventure” aboard The Orontes from London to Durban, via the Suez Canal.

“One of the biggest things was that we had no rationing on the ship. Even a year after the war, everything was rationed. Except on the ship. We could buy chocolate!”

Then there was “The Lady in White”, Perla Siedle Gibson, the South African soprano who became known internationally for singing troopships in and out of Durban during the war. “Because we were a troopship, she sang to us even though the war was over!”

From Durban, Mary made her way by train to Bulawayo where she was reunited with her father, who she hadn’t seen for five years. He had worked for the Royal Air Force and fallen in love with what was then Southern Rhodesia, his posting during the war.

Within weeks of her arrival, Mary started a clerical job with Sedgwick’s, the makers of Old Brown Sherry. She worked there for 13 years, until her son was born. This same son, Brett South, now works as Company Secretary at Hilton. Mary came to live with Brett and his wife Margie (a bookkeeper at Hilton) when her husband died in 2005.

“When I came down [to SA], Margie bought a pattern and wool and asked me to knit a jersey for Brett. It kept me busy. Then I made one for Margie’s stepfather and brother, and then for Brett’s girls Kyra and Lara. When I had saturated the family, Margie said, ‘Why don’t you knit for the needy?’ That’s how it started.”

Since then Mary has hand-knitted more than 200 items of clothing.

This past winter, Mary donated her last batch of knitwear to the school. Her eyesight is failing her, making it difficult for her to sew the jerseys together.

But Mary’s not casting off for good. She has started knitting on a smaller scale for Bobbi Bear, an organisation working with children who have been sexually abused.

“I’m determined to knit until I can’t. I said to Brett, I am going to count my blessings. It’s only my eye. It could be dementia.

“I never thought about being remembered. I think I take after my mother. I can remember her helping people. I’m the same. I get such pleasure out of helping.”

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