An Ode to Dick Stranger
Who was Dick Stranger?
As a young boy suffering from Creeping Paralysis (which today would be diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis) and being confined to a wheel chair, he lived at Merweville, a house overlooking Sandvlei in Muizenberg.
His mother was determined that he should have as near a normal childhood as possible and so he joined the 1st Muizenberg Scout Troop where, under the leadership of Wally Hastings, he was taken on a camp to Scout Rock on Muizenberg Mountain. To get him there the Scouts built a rough trek-cart that they dragged up the mountain with him aboard. Another highlight of his Scouting career was a meeting with Lord Baden Powell at Rosebank Show grounds when the Chief Scout visited South Africa.
As he grew older his condition deteriorated. He became a Rover with the Wynberg Rover Crew and was finally installed at the Dunmore Nursing home in Green Point at which time the Scouts and Rovers from all over the Cape Peninsular would visit him. The Scouts went to cheer him up only to discover after their visit that they were the ones who had shared their worries and in doing so came away having gained his wisdom and understanding. He never showed any sorrow for his condition.
In recognition of his fortitude Dick was awarded the Cornwall Award, the Scouting equivalent of the VC. His health went into a rapid decline afterwards, losing his muscular strength, his hearing and finally his sight. He died at the Dunmore nursing home in Green Point and is buried at the Muizenberg Cemetery.
Dick Stranger Memorial
War has produced its heroes, but not the proudest VC of all will grudge honour to Mr Richard Stranger whose death we reported yesterday. Dick Stranger lived 31 years. For 27 of those years he was an invalid often in pain, always weak with no prospect of recovery. His illness grew progressively worse with his years. Paralysis first invaded his limbs and inexorably consolidated its position. Next it attacked his senses, beginning with his sight and progressing to his hearing. But he was never heard to complain.
All his life, both as boy and man, he took the liveliest interest in life and in living’ especially in the Boy Scout movement, which in 1937 awarded him its highest honour, the Cornwall Decoration for courage.
His was a greater courage than that of war. The fighting hero is carried forward by the excitement of battle; he is sustained by the devotion of his comrades’’ he has already been conditioned to deeds of heroism by his training and by the traditions of his regiment. This is no disparagement to the soldier. However you try to explain it – or explain it away – the soldier’s courage is sublime. But it takes another and a higher kind of courage to rise above physical disability which grows progressively worse with the years; when every day brings a firmer realization that there is no cure possible’ when all that the ordinary heart can pray for is resignation.
Dick Stranger was resigned. But he did not stop at resignation; he went out and conquered the world by cheerfulness and by keen interest in the world. It was the custom of scouting people in the Peninsula to go to see him. Their original idea was to cheer him up. What happened in the end was that, if they went to see him in a mood that was doleful for any reason or other, they came away refreshed and encouraged. Dick’s courage cannot be explained away by saying that it was forced upon him by the realization that he had to be cheerful or die’ many others have been ill, many others have faced the gradual impairment of their powers and many of them have rebelled, many of them have assailed high heaven with their bootless cries. He, and a few like him, have shown the way of real courage.
Many of the others have been men at institutions like St. Dunstan’s where disability is turned into opportunity. Dick Stranger, a great hero, is to be buried today. Other heroes overcoming like disabilities are today and every day fighting not their disabilities, but the despondency to which they might legitimately succumb. They have been bold in action, but they are now braver still in readjusting themselves to life. A grand poem bids us toll for the brave; such lives as Dick Stranger’s and those of St Dunstan’s men and others, compel us to sound bugles for those who have vanquished depression.
Special thanks to Dave Privett (former Troop Scouter of 1st Muizenberg) for this valuable piece of 1st Muizenberg History.