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Oldest Springbok hockey player dies in Pietermaritzburg
- Updated: November 16, 2013
South Africa’s oldest surviving hockey Springbok, Claude Mitchell, has passed away in Pietermaritzburg at the age of 93, reports Jon Cook.
Born in Colenso in 1920, the son of a schoolmaster, Claude first made the Natal hockey team at the tender age of 16 years, despite not playing his hockey in the major centres of Durban or Pietermaritzburg. From the age of 17 years he was a regular member of the Natal hockey team, including the triumphant 1938 team that won the Interprovincial Tournament in Harare (formerly known as Salisbury).
The war years intervened and in 1940 he sailed up the coast to Mombasa with the Royal Natal Carbineers on the troopship HMS Devonshire.
He saw action in Abyssinia, Egypt and Italy. He was badly wounded at the battle of Monte Casino but recovered from his severe wounds and saw further action in the front lines until the end of World War 2. On his return to Pietermaritzburg he joined the Natal Provincial Administration in its accounting department while studying accounting through UNISA. His career with the NPA lasted until he retired in 1983, after serving as Deputy Provincial Accountant for many years.
Mitchell married Jean Park in 1948 and they raised six children while developing their beautiful garden in Clarendon.
Claude represented Pietermaritzburg in inter-town soccer and cricket matches in the late 1940s, while a key member of the Pirates Soccer Club and Zingari Cricket Club. He captained the (Pietermaritzburg) Wanderers Club’s first hockey team, which swept the boards in Natal from 1947 to 1956. Well-known cricketers Jackie McGlew and Roy McLean and a host of Springbok hockey players including James Finnie, Andy Stewart, Dean and Fawcett Bestall, and Paddy Dobson played in this Wanderers team.
Claude’s name is synonymous with the hockey history of Pietermaritzburg, Natal and South Africa. He was a Springbok hockey player from 1948 to 1953 despite the severe war injuries to his left hand, which left him short of a few fingers.
He was vice-captain of the Springbok hockey team in all four tests in 1951 against the British and Irish side, and captain of the 1953 team that was to tour Kenya. Unfortunately that tour was cancelled due to the activities of the Mau Mau.
Claude is survived by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.