He was my younger brother by six years. He had blonde hair, a soft face, blue eyes and his features were similar to his mothers and those of her family. Of all three brothers he was the most gentle and placid and had a brilliant grasp of mathematics for such a young mind. He was clever at school, was always the best student in his class and never got in to trouble. Whereas I, and the youngest of us three boys, Bernie, were sick with all types of ailments and local sicknesses like flu, measles or coughs asthma and eczema, Julian was never sick a day in his short life.

Mom and Dad, my Uncle Lex and Aunt Vera, decided to go for an extended overseas holiday in the European Spring. They flew out from our local airport to Johannesburg and then made their way to the Middle East and beyond. The year was 1958.

My Mom’s Aunt Babs had been invited to baby-sit us children. I was home for a month for my first term break from boarding school, which was outside the public school holidays. The travellers had left by the time I got home from school and Aunt Babs collected me at Hutchinson Railway Station as I stepped off the train.

One Saturday afternoon I decided to ride my bicycle to Biesjesfontein Farm where our friends, the Conroy family lived. Julian said that he wanted to come along on his bike. I said that his bike was too small and that the thirteen kilometres to the farm would be too much for him. But he insisted, saying that I always left him out of everything and he was coming, anyway. So we set off in the morning with my Aunts blessing and rode along the tarred road that lead to Hutchinson Railway Station. The farm was just adjacent to the railway station. At first there is a level stretch of road for a few kilometres and then two small hills. After that it was down hill all the way.

It was a cold day and a biting wind was blowing from the southeast in to our faces. I had to wait for Julian most of the time as his bicycle had smaller wheels and he had top pedal harder and longer. But to the credit of the 9 year old, he made it all the way to the farm. We spent a lovely afternoon there amongst friends and then just before dusk they offered us a ride home in their utility truck, which we accepted gladly.

On Monday when Julian came home from school he complained of having a slightly sore throat. We gave him some throat lozenges to suck. Tuesday and Wednesday passed with Julian holding in there with his sore throat. On Thursday the School Principal sent him home and we put him to bed and doctored him with a throat mixture medicine. He stabilised for a while. Friday came and went. On Saturday afternoon, one week after our bicycle adventure, his throat became inflamed and we gave him some more soothing medicines.

It was a bitterly cold day with an icy wind blowing from the plains. Unfortunately our Aunt was not a decision maker and left a lot of things up to me, a fourteen year old. I decided to call our doctor. In those days we had manual telephone exchange and I rang the telephonist and asked him to find our doctor. He replied that the doctor was at a party on a farm some miles away. I asked him to contact that farm and the doctor as I thought that it was urgent. After some twenty minutes I was speaking to the doctor and related what I knew and what we had been giving Julian and that he was now having trouble breathing. Doctor said that he would come right away.

An hour passed before the doctor arrived. He assessed the situation carefully and decided on not moving Julian to the hospital at that time of night as it was below zero outside. Julian had laryngitis. His condition deteriorated within another half an hour his face colour turned to blue and the doctor decided to do a tracheotomy, which is a surgical incision into the trachea or wind pipe. First he gave Julian an injection to stabilise him. Getting a good position to do this operation was difficult and leaning over Julian the doctor made the incision. Tragically he was off the mark with the incision and he cut through a main blood artery. Blood squirted up from the incision like fountain, and on to the ceiling of the room. I got drenched as was my aunt, and the doctor. Dabbing at the wound with a towel and some cotton wool the doctor tried to stem the flow of the blood. He put a swab in and with no other surgical equipment with him tried in vain to rectify his mistake. While I held my fingers on the vein next to the incision the doctor rang the hospital for assistance. Soon a nurse arrived . Doctor also rang the neighbouring town for blood supplies, which were dispatched immediately by road a 140km away.

The doctor seemed to be at a loss at what to do next even with the nurse there. He thought that he had stemmed the flow of blood but within half an hour Julian started losing colour and you could hear the blood interfered with his breathing. inside his lungs.
Then a peaceful look came over his face. He closed his eyes and the said the words “Mama” and passed away.

In their hotel in Rome my mother suddenly sat bolt upright in bed and waking my father, told him that one of her children was calling her.

I rang my father’s business partner and he and his wife came over immediately. We were all stunned beyond belief. The doctor was in shock. He had to issue a death certificate as well. Time of death was 11.14pm, Saturday night, 10th day of May 1958. Julian was 8 years 7 months and 27 days of age.

Later that evening the blood that the doctor had ordered arrived. The blokes said that they were sorry that it took so long but the ambulance had a new engine and they were running it in. It did not really matter then. It was too late anyway. We gave them a cup of coffee each and they returned the way they had come.

Uncle Gert, my father’s business partner, and I made the phone call to Rome and other calls to other family members

My parents cancelled their overseas holiday and came home immediately. It took them about 5 days to get home after getting consular help with airline connections. It even made the national newspaper’s front page.

My parents were devastated. Our great aunt was inconsolable and Julian’s death is considered to have contributed to her early death. Life changed and our family never returned to normality, ever. The doctor sold his practice and moved away to a place as far away as one could go within South Africa. Three years later he took his own life.

The last photograph taken of Julian was by my father. There he is standing looking pleasant and smiling dressed in his school blazer and matching cap.

This event in my life still haunts me.

Posted in Life Stories.