Trish’s Eulogy for her beloved Midge.
First you have to be polite and let me prattle on for 20- 30 minutes and show you some photos, so turn up your hearing aids and get comfortable. There’s to be no- one looking sad or bored. To quote Midge “To cut a long story short….
Midge always wished that I would wear bright clothes…he loved red and yellow and orange, so for him, for the first time in my life, I’m wearing something red.
I am so happy that you are here with us to farewell my unforgettable Midge. He was unique, and loved by an amazing number of people, but Pope Francis is not likely to ever canonise him St Midge. I reckon St Peter welcomed him and said “You’re a bit late as usual, but there’s a mob of souls waiting to catch up with you so I’ll let you in.”
This email, from Peter Joffe in South Africa, who was a fellow Youth Forum member 50 plus years ago, is characteristic of many I’ve received
He will be missed, but remembered for all the good times we had. In fact there never were any bad times except for now where I am shedding tears for a friend and love lost. May he continue to be the hooligan that entertained us all, here on earth. I hope that we will meet again.
His most outstanding attribute was the strength, longevity and range of his friendship. Once you were Midge’s friend you were part of his life for ever. He was in regular email or phone contact until recently, with boys from his school St Johns, fellow workers and back packers from his 20s, old girlfriends, the Youth Forum teenagers of the 50s, people we met in our travels. People such as our postie, the lady in the bakery, our doctors and staff and even our lovely friend Anna who works at his podiatrist’s…all have been so upset to hear the news. We have stayed with at least 5 ex girlfriends in our travels. There were others no doubt but he never would spill the beans.. The reaction from friends in 6 countries is disbelief and grief.
So now, a potted version of 85 years.
Matthew Charles Carter, known to many of us as Midge (the midget version) was born in Sydney on 30 November 1930 to New Zealanders Elsie and Matthew Charles Carter Senior.
When he was one, his parents emigrated to South Africa due to changes in his father’s work. They lived in the Johannesburg area where his father did very well in the motor trade business. In 1932 a second son, Gavin, was born.
Elsie and Matt gave their two boys a very comfortable way of life, which included trips to Victoria Falls and New Zealand to show off to the family. No doubt Midge would have loved to join these little Maori kids.
The two boys had a very carefree happy childhood, although Dad lost everything, including their home, through unwise investments. However the children still attended the prestigious St John’s College, for their secondary schooling. Midge hated it at the time as it was a fairly Spartan existence, in spite of the high fees, but he retained great affection for his old school and is a life member of the Old Johannians.
(A message from friend Courtney Thompson). “Do you realise that we have known each other for something in excess of 70 years? It’s a long time but it seems like only yesterday that we were at school together. Unfortunately memories grow dim, but one thing that sticks in my mind is the sound of ‘Carterrrr’ being shouted out of Hill’s changeroom windows whenever somebody saw you in the Pelican Quad below. Someone had bellowed at you in an attempt to waken you up, stop you talking or perhaps even smoking in class. Whatever it was it seems to have been a source of great amusement to your peers.”
The other memories of you are from a later era. They are both from Old Johannian Club days. One is funny and the other more serious. The funny one is the sight of you taking up cricket again and turning up to nets with all of your equipment such as bat, pads etc in a strange looking bag which from the appearance of it, must have once contained your grandmother’s knitting. I think the Americans call them carpet bags. This somehow appealed to my sense of the ridiculous and I thought “Good old Midge, he will probably start a new fashion in cricket equipment.
Apart from admiring you, I have to confess to envying you. None of my other friends ever got around to giving midnight swimming lessons to nubile young maidens in the Parktown High School for Girls’ swimming pool. My only complaint is that you could have invited a few of us along as assistant coaches”.
Matthew Junior’s interest in photography was fostered early by his father’s recording of their life with a movie camera as well as stills. Since he was a teenager Midge has always had a camera or two at hand, and today the photos he took of his reluctant friends, 40 years ago, bring great joy when he emails copies to them. Added to this he has a marvellous collection of historic photos he took of long-lost battlefields,, graves or monuments.
By 16 Midge had his first motor-bike. Interestingly, nearly every female who has sent me a message has a motorbike snippet! Most of them remember Midge taking them on their first ride on a motor-bike, which scared but exhilarated them, and caused great parental concerns. Michelle captures the picture many of us have of him in recent years.
“Midge you are a free spirit. One impression of you sums it up for me. At a walk in John Forrest National Park we were sitting down quietly talking and I heard the roar of a motor-bike approaching. I looked up and there you were. A long thin figurer bent over a funny little motor-bike, crash helmet on your head, camera slung over your shoulder and driving with total abandonment down the very bumpy path. You had the cheeriest and cheekiest grin, full of devilment. There you were, and I thought “Midge has arrived.”
Next a letter from an old friend, Jeremy Flint from Hermanus, South Africa.
“As I exercise what is left of my memory, I vaguely recall a certain shiny new motor-bike, a magnificent Ariel 500 ‘Red Hunter Twin’ which he hurled me with considerable force, and with malice aforethought, onto the road at the foot of the steepest hill in Africa. The cat which darted across the road and onto the front wheel, jamming the forks, had nothing whatsoever to do with the incident, plain and simple reckless driving it was.
And it was I, in my inimitable forgiving way, who not long afterwards, tipped him gently onto the softest of roads from my precious little MG roadster when forced into an unsuccessful U-turn at 50 miles per hour. Impeccable driving it naturally was, but another driver, leaving a parking bay suddenly and unannounced, like a shot across my bows, cause the whole thing, the difference in treatment of our so-called friends is clear to see.”
When Midge left school he joined a merchant bank, but deciding to see the world, also worked at night in an American-style diner called ‘The Dollhouse” to earn enough funds for the big adventure. In 1953 he sailed on the Stirling Castle and arrived in London in time for the Coronation. Of course he bought a bike straight away and over the next three years traveled extensively on it through England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia, making long-term friends along the way.
One friend who accompanied him said: “The holiday involved a trip on Midge’s motorbike from London to John O’Groats up the east coast of Britain, and returning via the west coast through the Lakes District back to Oakley St in Chelsea.”
Shortly after we moved off from Oakley St, Midge informed me that when riding as a pillion passenger you had to lean over in the direction of the turn, otherwise we would not make the corner. I had been sitting bolt upright.
During our travels through the Scottish countryside I can remember quite clearly the occasion when Midge stopped the bike in the middle of nowhere, put the bike on its rest, turned on its portable radio which I think must have been tuned into one of the Promenade Concerts. Midge turned up the volume and the sound that emanated from the radio boomed out into the landscape. Nobody else in sight and it was quite an experience.”
While in London Midge and several other young people from Australia, South Africa nad New Zealand all lived in two boarding houses run by a mother and daughter. Needless to say Midge keeps in touch with several of them still and even receives cards from the daughter. The address was 53 Oakley St and it was a hub of fun and activity. While in England he worked for Vauxhall Motors in London and Luton.
Finally in 1955 Midge set off again for South Africa, working his passage on the Braemar Castle as a steward…’the worst job he ever had’
Throughout the 50s, Midge had been a very active member of the Christian Science Youth Forum in Johannsburg. This was a wonderful group of young folk, who led a varied and fun social life, which included a lot of camps. In 1997 and again in 2000, a large group of them got together to throw a party for Midge to welcome him back. They said that the Youth Forum was memorable because of his enthusiasm and organising and that he is the force that bound them together for 50+ years.
Robyn Richie claims “You were the ‘hot’ man in Forum. All the girls were after you’.
When Midge returned home, South Africa seemed rather repressive and dull to him, so after several holidays in Rhodesia, he decided that he might as well live there as at that time it was Paradise. So he loaded up his earthly possessions on his motorbike (wish I’d known him then) and set off for Salisbury.
Life was full of fun for him…water-skiing on Lake McIlwaine with his friend Dennis, picnics with cousin Brian and friend Wilbur Smith, adventure trips all over Rhodesia with a friend and the girlfriend of the time.
Den is a treasured friend still of course, though we nearly lost him when he was mugged in Johannesburg, shot and left to die. Though the bullet went through his neck, miraculously it didn’t kill him.
Dennis says:” I don’t know what it is about water that attracts women so much. I had a boat with the necessary skiing equipment and sufficient power for twin skiiers, but a single skier could really have fun. On one occasion his Lordship was driving when I parted company with the ski and tow rope. He was oblivious of the fact. All he had in mine was his high speed pass of the jetty, lined with his adoring entourage. This lake was well-known for bream fishing and crocodiles (flat dogs in army slang). There was no option for me but to tread water and watch the boat disappear in the distance. It was some 20 minutes later, when someone asked where I was, that the penny dropped that maybe I was still out there.
Camping and touring in a VW Beetle 1600 cc with four adults requires a particular criminal mind to locate crevices for storing a week’s food, beer, tents etc. In the Zambezi Valley Midge decided to erect our Howslow stretchers on a flat clearing twenty yards from the river, at a remote place called Mana Pools. ‘No need to pitch a tent’ as the likelihood of rain was remote. About 11.30pm we woke to the sound of soft padding close by. We happened to be on the elephants’ trail for their nocturnal drink. It was too late to move now, so we told the girls to keep quiet and lay still. The entire group proceeded to the water, skirting us by a few yards.”
While working in Nelspruit, South Africa, in 1959, Midge met a beautiful blonde named Jean Paxton from Port Elizabeth. In 1962 he and Jean were married in Salisbury where they now lived. In 1963 they became the proud parents of a baby daughter, Kerrin.
Jean was not happy in Rhodesia so Midge found a job back in South Africa.. Before long they had two more children Ann and Peter and in 1971, Stephen.
The 1960s were full of family trips to the beach and, later, military history expeditions. There were always motor-bikes,animals, photos and (judging by family photos) fun and adventure. Not many little boys and girls get to handle real, rather than toy, weapons, but as Midge had a collection of more than 100 historic rifles, pistols etc, the kids were taught a lot about them. Of course they also spent a lot of time on or around motor-cycles.
His own kids were not the only ones to be taken on his bike. Richard Voller now in Cape Town, says:
“My oldest, and one of my fondest, memories of Midge dates back to some time in the late 70s (I must have been about 10 or 11) when this tall thin crazy friend of Dad’s came to visit us from somewhere far away, on the BIGGEST motor-cycle I had ever dreamt about, let alone seen. We were used to the little 75cc farm bikes, and Midge arrived on something like a Honda Goldwing if I remember correctly.
Seeing my utter awe at his steed, he then proceeded to grab me by the upper arm and swing me way up on the fuel tank in front of him and we then went racing off for a ride around the mango lands adjacent to the farm house. I can still remember the sheer exhilaration of holding so tightly onto the handle bars in front of me with white knuckles, and this HUGE machine growling down beneath us, as Midge chuckled fiendishly behind me…
Even though I only had the pleasure of meeting ‘Uncle’ Midge a few times (as we lived so far away up in the Northern Transvaal on Dindinnie) the image of that wonderful unconventional man has stuck with me all these years, and he is today still the same. My biking experience with Midge undoubtedly instilled in me the desire to own at least one LARGE motorcycle some time.”
Sadly, Richard’s Dad, Bill, who Midge counted as a brother, was tragically murdered on this same mango/avocado farm on Midge’s birthday in 1998.
During these years Midge was selling and delivering heavy machinery around the country and of course, there were all the dramas family life brings. There was also the sorrow of losing, through cancer, his little brother Gavin, a dentist in Uitenhage, at the age of 39. He had 2 small children Guinevere and another Matthew Charles..
Midge had always been a great one for organising social events, He was one of the founders of the Durban branch of the South African Military Historical Society which is still flourishing, and set up the Breakfast Runs where, on Sunday mornings, many enthusiasts would go together on a bike ride and end up at an hotel for breakfast. He also persuaded several friends to accompany him on their bikes from Durban to Rhodesia, visiting Victoria Falls and taking part in the Trout Rally (which was until recently an annual event). They had such a wonderful time that they repeated the trip.
Since adolescence Midge had been fascinated by military history, sparked by reading “Commando” by Deneys Reitz in boarding school, and over the years had searched for and found lost battlefields all over South Africa. When he first went to Spionkop he had to ask a local farmer if he was in the right area, then struggle up the steep hill which at that time was untouched. On one trip there he even replaced bones which were visible in the mass grave.
He also found Itala, which no-one even knew about then, and talked to an old local-Isaiah Nzibandi – who had been a little boy at the time of the battle, and who showed him a rifle that a tree had grown around.
So he was the perfect choice when Samarkand Film Company decided to make a film about Isandhlwana. Midge became the military and historical advisor, selected suitable sites etc and even played the role of Lieutenant Cavaye, moustache and all. Among others, the film starred Burt Lancaster, John Mills, Peter O’Toole and Simon Ward.
In 1982 Midge and Jean were divorced. It was a devastating time for him. He began to put into effect his plan to leave South Africa, as he knew that trouble was brewing, and settled here in 1987. Then at last in 1994, they all arrived – four children, one daughter-in-law, two grand-daughters Sian & Fenn, one boyfriend and one ex-wife. They have all worked hard to settle in here and become Australians. They have also added another three Aussies- Jordan, Sara-Jayne and Brendan.
On a visit to Victoria Falls we met two Australian girls Alison and Chris. We have been friends ever since and this is part of Alison’s message: “In my extensive travels as an air hostess I have had the good fortune of meeting people from all cultures, creeds and walks of life. Every now and then someone stands apart from their fellow man, with a depth of character, a joie de vivre, a sincerity that remains impressed upon one always. Midge was such a man”.
I’m so glad that we had our book We Wander the Battlefields published 6 months ago in time for him to see it. It is full of anecdotes about him and the fantastic experiences he had due to his interest in military history. It’s not all about battlefields.
I met Midge in 1995 at a Forum discussion night. He managed to discover my phone number and we arranged to have coffee together. Then he dropped me off at the hospial so I could have a biopsy on a breast lump. The next afternoon when I awoke he was there when I was told that it was aggressive and I needed a mastectomy.We have been like Siamese twins ever since.
He has had his own hiccups. Heart bypass surgery in 2000 (5 grafts) then 15 months later a craniotomy for a bleed on the brain.
He claimed that he did not need a hearing aid!!! So I laughed myself silly when I told him I was going to the chiropractor and he said “Who’s going to Choir Practice?”
This time he had a problem called dysphagia where the valve is weak and allowed food to get into his lungs, causing infections. He had pneumonia 3 weeks ago as a result then was back in hospital so they could try to help him to eat and drink . His weight had dropped to 55kg.
So last week Jenny and I bought him home as he so desperately wanted, but a few hours later he must have had 2 little strokes. He just stopped breathing. Do not be sad. There will be no more coughing, no indignity or ghastly thickened drinks and pureed muck. He didn’t want to leave me, but now he’s free.
In our 21 years together we have had a great life, traveling constantly, including a total of 10 months exploring beautiful southern Africa, sharing a passion for military history, meeting people. It has not been dull.
For his 70th birthday I gave Midge a “This is your life Party” and I thought I was ever so funny when I gave him his wish for a stripper… Bargain Basement Bertha.
Midge played his music loudly like a true teenager and I would hear it as I came down the road. I was impressed with myself when I arranged for Lachlan to phone Midge from Guildford to ask him to turn the music down so he could get the kids to sleep.
In Penang, with me clinging to him fearfully and unsuspecting, he took off over the very long new bridge on a hired motorbike (13 miles I think). Then off we went up the winding mountain road with me clutching the video camera and him yelling “Just hold on with your knees!”
Near Colenso South Africa we were exploring a vast deserted area when 2 large Africans with weapons appeared in front of us. No one knew where we were and everything we possessed was in our car (which we had bought from Rent-a Wreck). Midge waved nonchalantly to them and we skedaddled. We discovered later that they were there because of cattle rustlers.
We were wandering around in the bush late at night close to the Zambian border post because 2 Aussie girls told us there was a hole in the fence where you could get into the Victoria Falls and we were checking it out. To my acute dismay we saw a car without lights going very slowly past. Oh my I was glad to get back to the motel.
We went into Stanger to see Shaka’s monument and found that all the local Zulus were pouring in all dressed in ceremonial gear and we were the only two white people there. What a welcome they gave us and what fun it was, though friends were horrified that we were there alone.
Midge was nearly 76 when we struggled up Majuba. My legs would hardly hold me up when we came down. Midge and his kids had been part of the Centenary climb in 1981 when 41 local historians climbed this mountain, at night, some with full equipment and following the same route taken by the British soldiers.
Wonderful friends welcomed us and gave us hospitality throughout the 10 months we spent in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and each hostess proudly surprised us with a melktart (like a custard tart). Just the name can make me feel bilious now.
This then was my old darling, Midge…one-of-a kind, unforgettable. Sleep in peace, sweetheart.