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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Woman Who Loved An Alien

Britain’s Ministry of Defense threw open their UFO enquiries files containing  “6000 pages of otherworldly related material… detailing some unusual sightings and some even more peculiar behaviour from dedicated believers.” (link to WiredUK article).

Which reminded me of Elizabeth Klarer, the South African woman who loved an alien and had his love child in 1958. And in honour of the MoD throwing open their files, I’m going to throw open the chapter on her from my 2005 non-fic Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past

You can buy Elizabeth’s autobiography, Beyond the Light Barrier here.

Or read on below…

The Woman Who Loved An Alien: Elizabeth Klarer

This is a love story; of an interstellar romance that spanned space, time and credibility. But it’s also a mystery story tangled and clotted with verifiable facts, close associations with top brass military personnel, experimental plane testing sites and a four-month vanishing. What really happened to Elizabeth Klarer?

Elizabeth Wollatt was born the youngest of three daughters on 1 July 1910, most auspiciously in the year Halley’s comet inched its blurry way across the night skies. She was into horse riding and music and the stories of the farm’s induna, Ladam, which he related to her in Zulu.

She had her first encounter when she was just seven. As Elizabeth tells it in her book, Beyond The Light Barrier, she and her nine-year-old sister, Barbara, were playing outside on the family farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, when they saw a pocked-marked meteor hurtling through the upper reaches towards the farm, viscous smoke trailing in its wake. Suddenly a silver disc appeared, coruscating with a lustrous pearly light. It swooped out of clear skies to intercept the meteor. In fear, the dogs ran yelping for cover.

The children tumbled into the house to tell their parents of the narrowly averted disaster and the spaceship that had saved them. Elizabeth’s father, Samuel Bankroft Wollatt, was sceptical, while her aristocratic mother, Florence, who dressed in glittering evening gowns for dinner — even in rural KwaZulu Natal, accepted them at their word. But it was Ladam who was the most supportive of their wild-eyed claims.

In Zulu legend there is a creature known as the lightning bird, but although most references depict the impundulu as a witch’s familiar that summons thunder with its wings and lightning strikes with a kick of its talons, Ladam painted it as a herald of the Sky Gods with metallic iridescent wings that shifted colour, coincidentally much like the ship Elizabeth had seen.

Her second sighting came several months later. She was outside with Ladam, when a flattened, black cumulo-nimbus cloud bristling with jagged flashes of lightning suddenly heralded a tornado that twisted down over their heads. Again, a silvery craft swept in to the rescue, intervening between Elizabeth and the pulsating funnel that spun away to vent its fury on a pine tree and an abandoned shed instead.

Ladam called her Inkosazana (chieftainess) and Hlangabeza or ‘one who brings together’ and claimed that her golden hair would call down the Abalungu (white people) from the sky and that there would be a meeting. And a mating.

By comparison, the next few years were uneventful. After matriculating from St. Anne’s Diocesan College in Pietermaritzburg, Elizabeth moved to Italy to study art and music in Florence, and then on to Cambridge University where, compelled by her fascination with the skies, she completed a four-year diploma in meteorology.

She returned to South Africa in 1932, married an RAF pilot, Captain W. Stafford Phillips, and gave birth to a daughter, Marilyn a year later. Stafford taught her to fly and she would often serve as navigator during flips in his Tiger Moth. In 1937, they were en route from Durban to Baragwanath airfield in a Leopard Moth when a huge pulsating sphere with a slightly raised dome pulled level with their plane over the Drakensberg. Elizabeth tapped Stafford on the back of the neck. When he looked over his shoulder to see what she was on about, he immediately launched into evasive manoeuvres, ducking and banking away. The ship paced them easily, cyclically flashing through white, blue and yellow, before it flipped on its side, rolled away like a wheel and then, with a burst of light, vanished. As soon as they landed, Stafford filed a detailed report to headquarters in Pretoria. Unfortunately, the South African Air Force has no record of it.

Shortly thereafter, Stafford was redeployed to the DeHavilland Experimental Station in Hatfield, England. Elizabeth was employed by the Royal Air Force as a meteorologist and was trained to observe aerial anomalies, as many women were during the war. It was around this time that she claimed she met Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (who later lead the defeat of the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and was consequently upgraded to Lord).

Hugh, or ‘Chief’ as Elizabeth called him, a keen spiritualist and student of unexplained phenomena, was very interested in her experiences. Just before the outbreak of the World War II, the Chief recruited Elizabeth to do research on flying saucers, perhaps as an early precursor to a quite real secret committee set up after a rash of sightings in the late ’40s.

Under pressure from top brass such as the Chief, as well as Earl Mountbatten and Sir Henry Tizard — a leading scientist who helped develop radar technology, the British Ministry of Defence initiated the unfortunately named ‘The Flying Saucer Working Party’ in 1950. Their findings (recently released in February 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act, according to London’s The Times newspaper) were cursorily dismissive of the sighting reported by people like RAF Flight Lieutenant Hubbard who had seen an oscillating ‘flat disc, light pearl grey in colour’.

If Elizabeth was privy to that very secret information, it didn’t dissuade her in the slightest and she maintained regular contact with the Chief until 1960, ten years before he died.

During the war, Elizabeth said she did decoding for the RAF as well as research into what the pilots called ‘Foo fighters’ and the radar monitors ‘angels’; small bright lights that used to pace the planes. It was originally thought that the mysterious lights were some kind of secret German weapon, until it was discovered that the Luftwaffe was reporting them too.

In 1943, Elizabeth moved back to South Africa and allegedly continued her work in air force intelligence. She was hospitalised in Groote Schuur after an accident on the Ysterplaat airbase when a fire broke out in one of the hangars and a petrol tank exploded, catching her and Stafford in the blast as they tried to rescue one of the planes. (SAAF records recall a fire in 1944, apparently an act of an Afrikaner group with Nazi sympathies, but no injuries were noted).

The couple divorced soon after, quite possibly because Stafford didn’t share her passion for flying saucers, or perhaps Elizabeth was subconsciously trying to make way for the alien assignation she claimed later she psychically knew was to come However, she married again in 1946, this time to Paul Klarer, an engineer in Vereeniging. She gave birth to her son, David, in 1949, but Paul proved <I>too</I> level-headed to handle her all-consuming passion in the unexplained and by the mid-1950s, the marriage was over

Elizabeth still holidayed habitually in the Drakensberg on the farm, which by then belonged to her older sister May and her husband Jock. In 1954 she experienced something that would shift her reality forever.

According to her, she was standing on what has come to be known as Flying Saucer Hill when the same silver ship that haunted her childhood scudded through the sky, using the clouds as camouflage. It descended lower and lower until it hovered barely a metre from the ground, its pulsating hum reverberating through her head until her ears popped. It was a massive ellipse of a ship, 18 m in diameter with a rounded dome dotted with portholes in the centre – the quintessential flying saucer. Staring at her from one of the portholes, a man stood, arms-folded — the most beautiful man she’d ever seen with a shock of white hair.

In her book, which takes on a decidedly Mills & Boon tone after this point, she writes, ‘I studied his face, the most wonderful face I had ever seen and I felt a sense of affinity and love. A slight smile softened the aesthetic lines of his face, a gentle smile that caused my heart to miss a beat; a smile I knew had softened his eyes too and I dared not look again into those eyes.’ After a few brief minutes, the ship abruptly rose vertically and with a flash of light disappeared, leaving only a heat wave shimmer in the sky behind it.

It was to return 18 months later. Elizabeth sensed it’s imminent arrival (she’d spent much of her life developing her telepathic skills by practising on animals, plants, machines and ‘anything with the spark of life’), but this time, when she rushed up Flying Saucer Hill, it was parked, the tall man standing beside it clearly waiting for her. She ran to him and he swept her into his arms and swung her round, laughing.

‘Not afraid this time?’ he asked.

‘I have known your face within my heart all my life,’ she answered.

He took her onboard and introduced himself as Akon, a scientist from the planet Meton in the Alpha Centauri system. He had light grey eyes, fair golden skin, aquiline features and straight white hair that reached the nape of his neck. He wore a tight, shimmery one-piece suit. Elizabeth said the suit had a matching headpiece with slanted, slit eyeholes and a slit mouthhole, although he rarely wore it.

He told her he had been watching and waiting for her all his life and that while his kind only rarely mates with Earth women, when they do, they keep the offspring to strengthen the race with the infusion of new blood. Then he whisked her away beyond the reaches of the atmosphere to the awaiting mother ship.

He showed her the marvels of his immaculately utopian civilisation by way of an ‘electric mirage’, a type of holographic screen. He introduced her to his colleagues and they quickly became embroiled in explanations of how their ships worked (they’re moulded from pure energy and based on an electro-magnetic gravity field that creates the shifting colours). They also revealed their peaceful space-faring society, discussed technology, philosophy and that ultimate force of the universe – love. But while Akon and Elizabeth shared electric kisses and he revealed to her that she was truly a Venusian and the reincarnation of long lost soul-mate, she had to wait until the following occasion for their love to be consummated.

Back on earth, the Zulu villagers gathered on the hill, the women ululating and the men shouting about the ‘umlingo wagon in the sky’ in a scene that her sister May described as cinematic. May was admirably stoic about the news of Elizabeth’s would-be alien lover, but the Chief was so ecstatic, he flew out immediately from London to see her, although he advised her to let the hubbub calm down before she tried to see Akon again.

The story was already out in the press and when Elizabeth returned to Johannesburg, she was bombarded by journalists, enthusiasts and sceptics wanting a piece of her. At the time, alien intrigues were all the rage along with the perils of the communist Rooi Gevaar and there were several people at the time claiming to have seen UFOs, possibly inspired by a 1953 movie Invaders From Mars that was the first to dramatise alien abductions.

Elizabeth was very critical of her rivals and wrote, ‘Societies flourished like fungi in the bracing warmth of the highveld summer, watered by the fanatical enthusiasm of many misguided individuals whose egotism far outweighed any good they attempted to do.’

Indeed, a few years later, Elizabeth was to have a very public falling out in the newspapers with another self-styled specialist, Ann Grevler, whose book, Operation Broomstick claimed that she had experienced a close encounter of her own on the astral plane with an enlightened being called Ashtar.

Back in 1956, Elizabeth claimed she was threatened with abduction by shadowy military organisations and possibly the Russians if she didn’t hand over scientific details of the ship’s propulsion systems. When she appealed to the authorities, presumably the Chief or his local cohorts, she claims they assigned an ex-policeman to guard her Parktown home and accompany her wherever she went.

Unfortunately her book is sketchy on the exact dates, but when Akon’s ship appeared over Johannesburg in about 1958 , she says, inspiring the Air Force to scramble jets from the Waterkloof Air Force Base, she knew it was a sign and left for the Drakensberg immediately with David and her two dogs in her MG.

Akon was waiting for her when she arrived – but, she claimed, so was a curious Air Force helicopter. Fortunately, Akon bent the light rays around the ship to render it invisible and took Elizabeth to the heights of Cathkin peak, where they would not be followed.

Inside the ship, alone at last, Elizabeth removed her practical gillie shoes and her thick tartan kilt and luxuriated in an exotic green foaming bath rich in minerals and cleansing agents. When she stepped out, Akon presented her with a ring of beaten silver and green enamel set with a stone of light and then … ‘I surrendered in ecstasy to the magic of his love making, our bodies merging in magnetic union as the divine essence of our spirits became one.’ Afterwards, they enjoyed a tasty meal of fresh vegetables and fruits grown onboard and Akon returned her to Earth. Already his seed was growing within her, at the ripe age of 49.

Rather than return to Johannesburg, May and Elizabeth decided it would be best for her to lie low in the Drakensberg. Marilyn was already at university and David attended boarding school nearby, although Elizabeth claims he was with her on a ride up the mountain to meet Akon, when Russian cosmonauts ambushed her with the intent of kidnapping her and her unborn baby in their vertical-landing spacecraft equipped with a death ray. She made a narrow escape and galloped off on her horse. In frustration the cosmonauts fired at her and the death ray melted a nearby sandstone boulder, which may well still be up there. The brewing storm drove off the cosmonauts back to their orbiting spacecraft, while Elizabeth to one of the stone camping huts along the trail, where David was waiting for her, quite calmly with a meal prepared.

David remembers none of this. He has no recollection of his middle-aged mother being pregnant. Nor does he remember her being away for four months, when Akon supposedly took her – and, conveniently, the MG – into space so she could give birth on his planet in 1959. However, he admits that he simply might not have noticed her absence, being at boarding school. Or he shrugs, reluctant to be blatantly disloyal to his mother, his memory may have been erased.

While Elizabeth (and her car) were supposedly only gone from Earth for four months, that time equated to nine years on Meton. The planet was a truly wondrous place, with dome homes arranged in private gardens where the grass never needed cutting, amazing birds and horses and silkworm plants that produced the silvery clothing everyone wore. There was an abundance of everything and, Elizabeth noted, a marked absence of violent movies or comic books, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.

When the time came, she had a natural birth, remarkable only for being utterly painless, and she called the child Ayling. Curiously, in her book while she lavishes pages on Meton’s incredible white horses, she spares only a few paragraphs on the nine years of her son’s life, describing him as a perfect gentle child, full of life and intelligence, who would sleep in her arms and ride on Akon’s back when they went for walks or rides.

Unfortunately, the planetary vibrations affected her heart and Akon gently explained to her that while they could implant a timing device to regulate her pulse to Meton’s electrical frequency, she would never be able to readjust to Earth and her heart was too unstable to endure the shock of a device that could normalize the effect of multiple time-fields.

She reluctantly returned to Earth, glowing with her startling new revelation that would put anyone else’s alien encounter to shame, but her health was never the same. After May and Jock died, she moved back to Johannesburg and started work in one of CNA’s bookstores. However, she struggled for money and her tachycardia plagued her to the extent that she ended up in hospital.

In 1963 she became romantically entangled with Major Aubrey Fielding, an ex-British intelligence officer who Elizabeth maintained the Chief sent to look after her. Certainly he was there to take care of her when she was hospitalised, but David maintains he was much more than just a bodyguard and that his poised and elegant mother did love the gentle major. However, one of her surviving friends now claims Aubrey was a member of MI16 (as opposed to MI5 or MI6), and that when he died in 1980, it was an assassination by lethal injection because of Elizabeth’s interests.

Whether he was still an active agent or not is debateable but Aubrey was, as proprietor of the Aubrey Fielding Gallery, most definitely an art dealer and Elizabeth, ever the culturati, delighted in being part of the hip Jo’burg art scene as well as the alien one.

And what did Akon think of all this? Elizabeth believed he was not only supportive, but that he’d helped to arrange it. For his part, Aubrey had only this to say to the newspapers, ‘Well, my wife has been in love with a spaceman for 20 years. That’s all right with me – as long as he stays in space where he belongs.’

Despite his gruff rebuff, Aubrey, unlike Paul Klarer, was very much a believer. He was involved on the sidelines in Elizabeth’s work and the flying saucer society she chaired, Contact International, which held monthly meetings well into the ’80s.

Elizabeth was quite the activist. She travelled the country giving talks to interested groups and apart from the heckling she received at the Jo’burg MENSA society meeting, she was generally met with open-mindedness or, at worst, polite scepticism. She also attracted international attention and had correspondences from all over the world, including a post card from Professor Valerii Sanarov at the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences in Novosibirisk, Siberia, who read about her in a copy of The Sunday Times that was mailed to him, and a letter dated 17 January 1968 from America’s Library of Congress in Washington DC, requesting a copy of her book, then still in manuscript form.

In 1975 she was invited to attend the 11th International Congress of UFO Research Groups at Wiesbaden and received a standing ovation from the 22 assembled scientists. She also apparently gave a speech at the House of Lords in London in 1983 and one of her papers was read at the UN, although hard evidence of these latter two is not readily available.

What is readily available, in a trunk in David Klarer’s house in Durban, is a ton of newspaper articles. Ever since the 1950s when she first came forward about her experiences, the papers have loved her – and loved to ridicule her. She was a favourite of human interest columnists and journalist Jani Allen (best known for her affair with the riding-challenged AWB leader, Eugene Terreblanche) did several pieces on her over the years that were mostly friendly. But other journalists couldn’t resist the opportunity to make light of her light-years-away romance. Juicy headlines in the entertainment section read along the lines of: ‘My Stepfather Is An Alien’, ‘Liz Is In Love With A Harmony From Space’ and ‘A Romance That Is Out Of This World’. Elizabeth took it on the chin, claiming bad publicity was better than none and she needed all she could get to spread Akon’s message of peace, love, understanding and environmentalism that would save the planet.

When her book, Beyond The Light Barrier was finally published in English in 1981, it inspired new flurries of publicity. Following her coup at Wiesbaden, the book had already been published in German in 1977 and the first two print runs had quickly sold out, but in South Africa, publishers treated her autobiography as science fiction and it was only several years after completing it that Howard Timmins Publishers stepped in to bring it to light.

The book is an uneasy combination of autobiography, emphatic New Agey philosophical treatise, complicated science that sounds most convincing and wild adventure love story. It includes many photographs of the family farm in the berg, pictures of various dogs, horses and family, and Elizabeth receiving a bouquet in Wiesbaden, as well as several authentic-looking photographs of ships in motion streaking across the sky, which Elizabeth took with her Brownie box camera. But apart from a painting of Akon, there are no images of her family in space or close-up shots of the ship when it had landed.

While Elizabeth was in regular telepathic contact with Akon, she never saw Ayling again other than in holographic projections. She claimed it was too dangerous for him to come to Earth considering the violent barbarism of its inhabitants.

She always maintained that Akon would come back to fetch her. He never did, although her friends will tell you that she’s with him now. In 1994, at the age of 84, Elizabeth died of breast cancer, leaving her second book, The Gravity File unfinished.

She purported that her second book would fill in many of the gaps of the first and would also provide a detailed breakdown of Akon’s electro-gravity propulsion technology. The manuscript is not lost, however, just incomplete, and radio personality John Marsh is trying to complete it, with the aid of her notes.

Was it all hokum, a convenient format to propagate her free spirit philosophies, a way for a middle-aged woman to bask in the glow of public attention? Or did she really see something in her youth and just go overboard at the end as Zimbabwean UFO authority Cynthia Hind apparently claimed? Or are we simply not capable of understanding?

David says he now regrets not ‘cornering’ his mother on some of the things she wrote in her book. There are certainly glaring plot holes; for instance that there just happened to be beautiful white horses on Meton, which Elizabeth just happened to love, or that Akon took her MG onto the ship because he wanted to adjust the engine, despite not being familiar with piston engines, let alone the purple prose or the biological logistics of having a baby at 50.

On the flip side, Elizabeth had the hard evidence of photographs, Akon’s ring and a piece of space rock (although it was never analysed), which are all in the keeping of her family, as well as ties to high-ranking British military personnel. She is still taken very seriously by UFO societies today.

The descriptions of technology in her book read convincingly, at least to a layperson, although her relationships with the Chief and Stafford at the DeHavilland test site would have placed her in a position privy to speculation about new technologies Based on currently available technology, it would take all Earth’s energy resources to power a ship to reach the closest star, Betelgeuse, let alone Alpha Centauri. And it would take 250 years to get there.

As for her claims to working for the South African Air Force’s UFO division, a highly placed archivist I spoke to (who requested anonymity) says he’s never seen any documentation to that effect and all the SAAF’s secret files cross his desk, including the ones on the Helderberg. It helps that he has a special interest, having experienced a sighting himself outside of Kimberley.

However, he wasn’t prepared to dismiss it entirely either. ‘Just because I haven’t seen anything doesn’t mean it didn’t exist – it could have been shredded,’ he says. ‘I know many pilots who have seen things and the SAAF once scrambled a mirage to check out a sighting in Tabanchu. In the ’70s at the radar base in Devon [outside of Pretoria] the guys saw stuff on that James Bond shit of theirs that was moving too fast to be anything we know of.’

In her book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Harvard psychologist Susan Clancy puts forward the theory that abductees’ memories are often a combination of a nasty, but quite normal sleep paralysis, which many people will experience at least once in their lifetimes, combined with a vivid imagination, an already established interest in the paranormal, that work together with tricks of memory and emotional investment and are ofen complicated by suggestive hypnotherapy.

On the flip side, even Britain’s Ministry of Defence isn’t prepared to deny flat out that UFOs exist. The press release that accompanied the declassifying of The Flying Saucer Working Party in February 2005, stated, ‘The MoD does not have any expertise or role in respect of UFO/flying saucer matters or to the question of the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial life forms, about which it remains totally open-minded.’

Or as Elizabeth cannily wrote in the introduction to Beyond The Light Barrier, ‘The Cosmic scale of this book will be lost and misunderstood by many whose intelligence cannot be expanded in this epoch of time, to a conscious awareness of our Cosmic connections.’


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