COSWALD Brown and Shepstone Streets in Vryheid run vertically and horizontally parallel with the Vryheid Government Hospital, in the north eastern suburb of Vryheid town. In 2017, while researching for my book, I came across an article in a Vryheid Gazette that was printed during the time of the Second World War that reported on a Dr Coswald Brown from Vryheid, who had, at that time been serving in the South African Medical Corps. Then in the past few weeks people of Vryheid, as well as former residents of Vryheid, posted and commented on a Facebook group named “Vryheid, Good old Vryheid” about the same Dr Brown. I then decided that the people of Vryheid deserved to read about this remarkable man named Cyril Coswald Brown and the events and family that may have shaped his life and the lives of those who followed him. I was fortunate to make contact with one of his grandsons and a former resident of Vryheid, Dr Chris Harle, who lives in and practices medicine in London, Ontario in Canada. With the assistance of Dr Harle, I was able to write the following on the life of Dr CC Brown:
Cyril Coswald Brown was born in Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape of South Africa on April 18, 1904, as the child of William Thomas Brown, a General Dealers clerk, and Johanna Magdalena Brown, a shop assistant, born Du Plessis, who lived in Meintjies Street in Aberdeen.
Dr Brown had three brothers named William Thomas Brown, Stephen du Plessis Brown and Austen Arnold Brown, and all three of them were employed with Standard Bank. Dr Brown had two sisters, Johanna Magdalene Hobson and Florence Isobel Drennan.
Cyril Coswald Brown matriculated from the De Villiers Graaff Institute in Villiersdorp, which is today known as the De Villiers Graaff High School, where he played First Team Rugby. Brown was considered a brilliant scholar at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he studied medicine. Brown was young when he graduated and he did his internship with Prof Eric Crichton and Charles Saint at UCT. Brown loved rugby, but it is not known if he played Varsity Rugby, nor is the position he played known. After his internship, Dr Brown set up in medical practice at Nkandla, where he used to visit his patients on a horse named Horse, and then at the Saint Mary’s Hospital, at KwaMagwaza, near Melmoth. In the 1930’s he moved to Vryheid, where he soon had a very large medical practise. Dr Brown was the district surgeon at Vryheid for at least 20 years, and the superintendent of the Vryheid Hospital for 26 years. During World War 2, Dr Brown served in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with the South African Medical Corps with the rank of Major and later during the war, in July 1942, he was appointed as the the commanding officer of the military hospitals in Durban, and was based at the Snell Parade.
Cyril Coswald Brown, a medical practitioner, was married in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Durban on September 26, 1927, to Dora Mary Withers, a trained nurse from Somerset West in the Cape Province. Dora Mary was born on April 15, 1902, who was the daughter of a Methodist minister and she passed away on August 3, 1983, and was buried in Vryheid. CCB and Dora had two children named Noel Coswald Brown and Jean Harle born Brown.
Noel Coswald Brown was born in Durban in 1927 and he matriculated from Michael House School near Balgowan in the Natal Midlands. After school, he studied Mechanical Engineering at Howard College in Durban and he was a member of the South African Air Force with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and earned his flying wings at Lyttleton, Pretoria. Noel Coswald Brown was killed on May 27, 1950, when his Harvard aircraft crashed near Durban and he was buried in the Vryheid cemetery.
Jean Harle was born on April 12, 1930, at Nkandla, in Zululand and matriculated at Durban Girls College at the end of 1946 and later wrote a matric physical science exam at Vryheid High School. Jean was also a qualified aircraft pilot who was awarded her wings on April 19, 1948, but stopped flying after her brother’s death, out of respect for her parents. Jean studied at UCT and qualified, herself, as a radiographer.
Jean was married to Joseph Oftebro “Joe” Harle, who was a Lieutenant, navigator and bomber of a Martin Baltimore air craft in the SAAF during WW2. Joe Harle was also a medical doctor in Vryheid, in the time of Dr’s Alston, Koster and Coetzee and he also served as the superintendent of the Vryheid Hospital. In later years, Dr Joe Harle and his wife Jean moved to Pietermaritzburg, where he practised as a doctor at Grey’s Hospital, and he left practicing medicine after being ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church.
Jean and Joe had three sons named Stephen, Andrew and Chris, who all grew up in Vryheid, started schooling at Nardini Convent School in Vryheid and matriculated at Michael House near Balgowan in the Natal Midlands. Andrew, or Andy Harle, resides in Pierre van Ryneveld, Pretoria, where he is employed as a Biomedical Engineer for Siemens. Chris Harle resides in London, Ontario, Canada where he practises as a medical doctor.
Chris Harle reports that his grandfather, Dr Brown, always had an eye for cars and owned early Fords, a Cadillac, a Jeep, a Humber and an Olds Mobile, among others. Dr Brown was fondly known to his grandchildren as ‘Gags’ and their grandmother, Dora, as “Goks”.
The oldest of the three brothers, Stephen Harle, was a medical student at the University of Cape Town. During his final year at UCT in 1978 he married Jane Harle nee Nevin who was also a final year medical student at UCT. In November 1978 and after their final exams, Stephen and Jane took a camping trip to Junction Pool in the Bains Kloof area near Wellington in the Western Cape. Now in the 1940’s, a couple built a mansion at Bains Kloof. For reasons unknown, this couple never moved into the mansion, but made use of another couple to serve as care takers thereof. In 1949, a veld fire completely destroyed the mansion, leaving only a ruin behind. Late during November 1978, a group of school boys decided to explore the ruins of this mansion. Inside it they found the body of Jane Harle and her puppy dog named Otto. Jane and Otto had been stabbed to death. At the same time a group of hikers discovered the body of Stephen Harle at Junction Pool. Stephen Harle was stabbed and assaulted to death. Soon after the gruesome discoveries, an escaped convict, John Smith, was arrested for the murders of Stephen and Jane Harle. Smith was trialed, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. After the trial, the mother of John Smith had sent a letter written by herself to Joe and Jean Harle, wherein she had begged for their forgiveness for what her son, John Smith, had done on November 18, 1978. Stephen and Jane were cremated and their ashes were strewn on a hiking trail near Rondebosch in the Cape. Till today, there have been many a story told by persons who have visited the Bains Kloof area, of having seen the ghost of a young blond haired woman with a puppy in her arms.
Cyril Coswald Brown died on May 18, 1969, and he was buried in the Vryheid cemetery.
(With many thanks to Dr Chris Harle).
# Vryheids own Mr John Carnegie reports that Shepstone Street is named after Arthur Jesse Shepstone, who was the Magistrate in Vryheid from May 1901 until November 1904.