Ivy van der Bank, of Plumstead, helped to make hand grenades during World War II. This Saturday, she will pull the pin on her 100th birthday bash.
Ms Van der Bank, known affectionately as “Oumatjie”, is the oldest resident at Mothwa Haven Retirement Home in Plumstead.
She celebrated her centenary with other residents last Saturday, and more celebrations are planned for her actual birthday on Saturday December 14.
“I feel like I am barely over 80 years old. I don’t know how I got here. My child, I’m just going to say that it’s God’s favour that has let me live this long,” says Oumatjie.
She is still in good health, proving so as she climbs up the stairs in her flat. She says she is very grateful for her health and a sharp memory, which she says hasn’t failed her yet.
Myrtle Payne, Mothwa Haven’s secretary and Oumatjie’s friend, describes her as a deeply religious, wonderful and kind human being.
“She supports and still works at fund-raisers when we have them. She still beads, knits and bakes. I could carry on singing her praises. However, I know she would not like me doing that.”
Oumatjie lives by herself, with her 80-year-old son a few flats away from her at Mothwa Haven.
She grew up in Johannesburg and moved to Pretoria during World War II. She lived there until 2015, when her son asked her to move to the retirement home to be closer to him.
Oumatjie lived alone since her husband, Jan-Hendrik, died 37 years ago. He was the second man she married, and they met during World War II.
“I met my first husband when I was 20. He served in the war, and things didn’t work out nicely between us because he came back a very different man to who he was. I think it was a lot of trauma for him. We divorced when I was about 22 or 23.”
Oumatjie also did her bit during the war years, working in a munitions factory.
“I was on the hand grenades. We worked on the machines that made the article that would cause it to go off. I remember we had these uniforms. They were khaki skirts, stockings and court shoes, very neat. I don’t know where they are now, but I’ve still kept them.”
Oumatjie met Jan-Hendrik while she was working at an army base in Pretoria around 1944.
“I sometimes tell my daughter I don’t think I was meant to marry my first husband, I think I was meant to marry this one.”
She met Jan-Hendrik, a swimming coach, through a friend’s gathering. Their love story began that day when he asked to write her letters.
Oumatjie says they discovered through their letters that they actually knew each other – they had attended the same primary school and church.
“I taught myself a lot of things, like cooking and baking and knitting. I must say, I was a very good housewife.”
She adds: “I have two children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren because these young ones don’t want a lot of kids these days.”
Oumatjie says she’s thrilled with the 100 years she’s lived and is looking forward to many more.