His eldest daughter Petrina, but known by her family and friends as Mitzi, very kindly agreed to tell us a few personal accounts about her life and times with her very famous father.
” The Petrus Hendrik Hugo that the RAF knew as an Ace Fighter Pilot in the Second World War was a far different man to the one I grew up with as my father.”
He was a dedicated family man, devoted to my mother whom he met when she was a volunteer nurse during the war, and as a kind and gentle a man as one would wish to meet. Children of all ages flocked to him, climbed all over him and talked to him about anything and everything. He patiently listened and gave answers as well as he could, all the while being extremely tactful, and at times trying not to laugh and hurt their feelings.
He was a combination of farmer, veterinarian, unofficial flying instructor, excellent shot, great fisherman and a superb, supportive but reasonably strict, father.
In the early 1950’s he left England to return to South Africa, but on the Union Castle vessel carrying him from Southampton to Cape Town met a group of men who persuaded him to apply for a farm ( virgin land in fact ) in Tanganyika ( now Tanzania ) on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. He was reluctant at first, but then put his name down and thought no more of it. Some time later he was requested to appear before the Land Selection.Board in Tanganyika, and was allocated Unit No. 1 at Ol Molog, later named ” Ol Kiret “. My mother, having been informed of the change of plan, set about changing the destination of our belongings and we duly sailed on the “Uganda” to ,Mombasa. My father met us there with two vehicles and we drove the long dusty road to our newly built home.
He gave me a sound upbringing in many spheres, how to measure our foundations for the stable block, where I was left with a ball of string, pegs and no idea how to go about it – hours later he took pity on me and we walked out the dimensions together. He taught me to use a rifle, how to catch wily trout in one of the mountain rivers, drive a Land Rover ( a basic farm Mark 1 without doors and the windscreen flat on the bonnet ), but the one I cherished most was when he taught me to fly.
I did not learn on the first aircraft he shared with two other farmers at West Kilimanjaro, a Piper Cruiser, registration VP – KGO, but on a Cessna 180, registration VP – KMC with a small tail wheel. I was not very tall then ( and I’m still only 1.63 metres ) and looking out of the side windscreen when taxiing was quite an effort. Once airborne it was pure joy to take the controls and share the exhilaration of actually handling this aircraft.
VP – KMC took us to Switzerland in 1961, with my mother and young sister Joanne sitting in the back. We started out on New Years day, flying to Kampala and on to Juba in the Sudan where we spent a night in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, At the hotel the car park was filled with abandoned cars and belongings, and the occasional currency notes blowing around. These had belonged to Belgian citizens, and probably others, fleeing the Congo at that time. It was a very sad and sobering sight and one which remains to this day. I was offered a drink called ” Kitty Cola “, nothing like Coke and absolutely disgusting. From there we flew to Malakal where we refuelled and then to Egypt, where we stopped for two days in Luxor to view the wonders of The Valley of The Kings and many other awe inspiring sites such as a Hatshepsut’s palace and Karnak. On to Cairo for a night, and then flying over Alexandria and along the coast to El Adem, where we picked up desert survival kits, and were fed excellent sandwiches, before heading to Benghazi where we night stopped.
Our travels then took us along the North African coast, flying first down the Gulf of Sirte to see the Arch of Philaeni, a massive 31 metre high arch built of Travertine during the days of Italian Colonization, and some say, through which Mussolini would march when Britain lost the Second World War. Then up to Tripoli for another night stop, and the following day over to Tunisia on to Algieria for a night in Algiers. Gilbraltar was our next stop, and we thankfully were able to stretch our legs and see the town and, of course the famous apes on the Rock. Valencia in Spain was our next refuelling stop, before flying on to Nice where we met Eddie Dissart, an old wartime friend of my father, and whose hotel, La Napoule, had been requisitioned by the RAF during the war. He was a delightful man and took great pleasure in entertaining us all. From there we flew, up the Rhone, to Geneva. The weather was dreadful and we had to fly low, my mother in the back counting the cemeteries along the river, what was she thinking?
We skied for a fortnight, basing ourselves in Gstaad where my mother had been at school, and booked into the hotel where my grandmother had stayed when she visited. I learned to ski rather badly, but enjoyed the experience – until my father tipped us both off the ski lift pulling us to the top of one of the pistes. Fortunately we were sitting on a towbar while the skis were on the snow and no damage was done, but the lift operator was baffled when we arrived back for a second trip just a short while after he had sent us on our way.
Flying back through Italy, stopping at Florence, Rome and Brindisi to sightsee before heading to Crete and back into Africa at Benghazi. Harvesting time was nearing and we were in a hurry to get home, so it took us eight days from leaving Geneva to landing on the farm.
Other aircraft followed ” Honeybee “, my mothers name for her, a Cessna 182, regtistration VR – TMH, and then a Cessna 182 Skylane, registration 5H – ABM, which was the last owned before the farm was seized by the Tanzanian Government. Fortunately she was in Nairobi for her Cof A and from there was flown to South Africa by a friend, where she was sold to the Torr family
My father, after losing my mother to cancer in April 1971 and then the farm in September, went through a tough time with the authorities, who locked him up in the police station in Arusha for a couple of nights after the farm was seized, and then released into my home until he was abale to depart from Mombasa bound for Durban with my two small sisters, Kristina who was born in 1961, and Joanne who was then 12, both attending school in Nairobi.
I visited him on the farm ” Canaryfontein ” at Pampoenpoort in the Northern Cape while I was living in the United Arab Emirates, and found him working hard to repair fencing, dams and pastures but ageing fast. The loss of his wife and then the Kilimanjaro farm hit him hard and although he was finally home, he had lost some of his spirit, but not all. These times were so precious and I look back on them with great affection. I miss him enormously and treasure my memories of a very special man, once known to many but now remembered by few.
Mitzi, from all of us involved with the Spitfire Society Trust ZA as well as all of our friends working with us in England to try and Honour in some special way, not only your famous father but the other 24 South African pilots who flew for the RAF during the Second World War, a very big THANK YOU for sharing these wonderful memories and times spent with your father.