Afrikaans

Hugh Oloff de Wet

The unravelling of William Arthur Hugh Oloff de Wet (known as Hugh Oloff)'s family ties with the South African De Wets by H.C.(Henk) de Wet. After my retirement in 1988 I did not know what to do with myself, out of boredom I started reading my grandfather De Wet's "Memories"   It has stimulated me to learn more of the Family De Wet. In the course of my research I came across a mysterious person, Hugh Oloff de Wet, a British citizen. Sampie de Wet, the author of "An Hour of Breath" refers to him as "a Spanish Pilot". In 1990 during a visit to the Cape Library I came upon an article in the "Argus" of 29 November 1975, with the heading "Mad Devil de Wet" written by David Beresford of London.  In this Hugh Oloff is described "as one of the most extraordinary Adventurers of the 20th century."  He then goes on to relate some of his experiences, which kept me spell bound and made me determined to establish his relationship to the De Wets of South Africa.

In explanation it must be stated that De Wet family consists of two branches - The first stemmed from a relationship of our progenitor and Josina Jacobus Pretorius, from which the majority of the De Wets descended.  The second leg is the result of the marriage of the said James and Christina Berg, the daughter of Oloff Bergh and Anna de Koning. The name Oloff, betrays it's origin in this family setting, he could only descend from the Bergh marriage.  That made my search easier. From the newspaper article mentioned, it appears that he was a versatile man - a writer, a pilot, a painter, a sculptor and adventurer.  (The books he wrote were "Cardboard Crucifix" - his experiences as a fighter pilot during the Spanish Civil War, and "The Valley of Shadow" - his trials as a French spy in German prisons during World War II.) At the University of Stellenbosch I learned that I get the books at the former RAU and the City Library of Boksburg.  I scrutinised both books, but I could not obtain details of the author's ancestry. On 10 November 1991 an article was published in the Johannesburg "Sunday Times" under the heading "Mystery of Spy Caught in Germany".  It refers to the memoirs of Mr. Donald Sole who during World War II, was a junior diplomat in the South African High Commissioner's office in London.  He at some point received a call from the U.S. Embassy in London as advised by their counterpart in Berlin (the U.S. was still neutral) that a certain Justus de Wet was arrested by the Germans as a French spy and that he was condemned to death. Mr. Sole was not aware of such a person, but he decided to try to save his life by claiming that this person was related to the famous General Christiaan de Wet and should he be executed, it could alienate pro-German Afrikaners.  The chances he took paid off and the convicted’s sentence was mitigated to life in prison. I personally communicated with Mr. Sole in the Cape and asked him if he was sure of the name Justus.  He admitted that he possibly could be wrong since his memoirs were written sometime after the events. I then began to inquire seriously - wrote to the presenter of "So it Happend" at the SABC if he could inquire about the person whilst broadcasting his program.  There was no response.  On the spur of the moment I phoned the British Embassy in Pretoria and inquired if they could help me with information about the British authors.  They give me the address of "The Writers Guild of Great Britain", the Guild could not help but referred me to the "Society of Authors."  With them I drew a blank. I then wrote to the "Times" of London and asked if they could help me by publishing my letter in which information of the readers are requested about Hugh Oloff.   The request was unsuccessful.  They suggested I put an advertisement in the newspaper.  The cost of it was unacceptable. It was then suggested that I write to the "Book Trust" London.   They were very helpful and suggested I get in contact with the "National Portrait Gallery", London.  They referred me to "The Royal Society of British Sculptors."  They sent me photo copies of his sculpture and his birth and death dates. After all the correspondence I was no closer to the phantom's origin. Someone suggested that I request his death certificate as his exact birth and death dates are known.  I wrote to the "General Register Office", Birkdale Southport, England, attaching a check for £15 (R200,00 today).  The certificate I got without difficulty,  but no - there is no information of the parents or other family members except his sister, who reported his death - Emily Eugenie de Wet. It seems that I was at a dead end it. Meanwhile, I bemoaned my fate to a cousin of the family who regularly visited the UK.  The niece and her spouse visited London in 1994 and decided to go through the phone book and call all the De Wet's they found - perhaps someone has information.  And then the miracle happened, the second or third person they called is the sister that reported the death of Hugh Oloff.  She was a 90 year old, of sound mind, and still worked full-time, albeit very deaf. They visited her in her apartment and met her daughter and got all the information to confirm the relationship with the South African family by means of photos and documents.  All this information is in my book "The Family De Wet - 300 Years" recorded (8743-8753 - a1b6c0d4e8 - f1, f2, f3, f3g1, g2, g3 [h1] g4, g5, f4).  Hugh Oloff's biography (3.20) is largely based on his previously mentioned book. Unfortunately, Emily Eugenie, that so timeously provided all the information shortly afterwards died in an accident. After all these years she still cherished her root is South Africa. After her divorce she adopted her De wet name again and wrote “I felt that I returned home when I signed De Wet again”.

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Monday, 19 August 2019 12:34