Gallant, Splendid and Tragic


Angela, Barbara,  Tim,  and  Gervas on the front steps of Greenham Farm, Que Que.  1940 

Gallant, Splendid and Tragic

During the war petrol rationing kept people at home unless they had horses.  Barbara’s father had owned one of the first cars in England but rode a horse in Herschel on his doctors rounds, sometimes riding forty miles to clinics.  She loved riding, especially with Gervas.  But they thought they could only ride together if a responsible European stayed with the children, which was seldom. Most of the country’s Whites were away at the war and the children had a Native nanny.

Gallant, Splendid and Tragic

Barbara rode to town on Saturdays to shop and lunch with friends, sometimes playing tennis or bowls, before returning to Greenham farm six miles away on the Gokwe Road. Gervas stayed home to do office work while the children, Angela and Tim were in the care of the nanny.

On Saturday, January 17, 1942, she rode passed a Native a couple of miles from town.  But shortly afterwards her riderless horse overtook him.  He immediately ran back to look for her.  She was unconscious.  He sought help from a European living nearby.  He  immediately drove her to the little G and P surgery.

The telephone hadn’t been connected, so the European then drove to the farm.  Gervas put the children into the truck and rushed to the hospital.  Her skull was fractured.  She never recovered consciousness. He stayed at her bedside until she died later that evening.  It was a month before her 33rd birthday

He was very distraught and had to be helped away by friends. The children were cared for by Judy Wiggins in town until a family friend, Rosemary Paget from Salisbury, arrived late that night and took over.  Then they all drove to the farm.

He was devastated.  Over the next twelve days Rosemary arranged the funeral and helped him come to terms with her death. He organized his laborers to build a stone-walled graveyard half way between ‘The Big Tree’ and Greenham house. “That is where his darling Barbara, mother of Angela and Timothy, was buried.”  The children were too young young to understand.

It was a terrible blow to her father.  His mop of dark hair turned white overnight. Eighteen months earlier, before she left for the Cape, she had contracted typhoid from unboiled water at the garage in town.  During the two week incubation period, before Barbara was diagnosed, the maid Violet at Herschel also became infected.  There was no treatment beyond a diet of  water and boiled milk.  Violet succumbed.  Joan battled for Barbara’s life for eleven weeks.  “What a cruel fate I should lose her so soon after.  I miss her always.”

Gervas wired that he was coming down to Herschel with the children.  With the whole world at war he had thought was ready for anything—more or less.  Both Barbara’s brother, John Millard, and Brian Freyburg, his assistant, were alive and well despite being in North Africa.

Dr. Millard wrote to a friend at the time “I do not know what plans he may have now – but we think he’s only too glad to have the privilege of looking after Barbara’s children – they are now aged 5 & 3. In war time it is going to be extremely difficult for him to find a suitable house-keeper. I know he would hate the idea of parting with them.  I do not quite see how he will be able to look after them at Que Que. 

As long as I live my home will always be their’s—and Joan will be only too proud to look after them. Barbara  has had a very short life – but it has been a splendid one and she has lived it very fully–and gallantly. She had so much of her mother’s graciousness and was a very popular person. It seems to have made a large gap in our family…”


Many Thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the  picture and the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript  Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s.   Excerpts are also taken from Rain on the Roof, by Joan (nee Millard) Freyburg (1999) ISBN 0 646 38477 5 with  family permission.   Tim Hughes has made electronic copies of this book that may be available on request via the comments section of this blog.