Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 4

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07 August 2003

I've been sent a picture of two zebras making themselves comfortable on the grass next to the amphitheatre on Marine Parade.

<==== Click to view an enlargement.
Picture courtesy J. Lousada.

My informant Joan Lousada told me that the two used to roam freely about the beachfront and Old Fort Road area a couple of years before World War II. [A recent letter to the Mercury Idler put the date between 1936 and 1938] Joan says she remembers going on a visit to the Old Fort with her mother and being charged by one of the zebras.

I've also added some new details to the page on the Ovington Court tragedy.

12 August 2003

The pressures of work have kept me offline for longer than I'd like but I do have the excuse that I have been collecting more facts in the meantime. In Facts About Durban I included a number of stories which I was told but wasn't able to verify. Among them was the story of a German U-Boat officer who caught his first sight of Durban through the periscope of his U-Boat during World War II and ended up settling here.
I have now had words with Durbanite Doug Thomas who assured me that the story is perfectly true and that he worked with Hermann Kolditz at Unilever in Durban where the former U-Boat officer was in charge of dried soup production. Doug told me that Hermann had been a member of the crew of U-177 which had been responsible for the sinking of a number of vessels including the Nova Scotia just 120 miles off Durban.
I have done some research on U-177 and it appears that she left the German harbour of Kiel on 17 September 1942 under the command of Korvettenkapitän Robert Gysae bound for the U-Boat hunting grounds of the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. On that trip she sank eight ships including the Nova Scotia [on 28 November] which was packed with Italian Prisoners of War and a number of allied troops.
The U-Boat apparently surfaced to pick up a survivor for questioning and Herman Colditz later said that he and the U-Boat crew had been apalled by the scenes they witnessed as the survivors struggled struggled to get aboard the submarine
[to escape sharks in the water??]. He said that the U-Boat had been unable to stop to offer assistance and I surmise that this must have been because of the fear of discovery by allied warships or a roving Catalina*** patrol aicraft from Durban or St Lucia [see Diary page # 5 for another reason the U-Boat might not have stopped]. A number of bodies from the Nova Scotia were later washed ashore on Durban beaches.
Hermann Kolditz was extremely lucky to survive the war given the heavy losses suffered by the U-Boats in its latter stages. He settled in Durban but later took his own life on 19 January 1967 after attending a retirement party at which Doug Thomas was present. Doug told me that there had been no warning signs and I can only speculate that the traumatic experiences of the war might have played a role.

***See Aviation section in Facts About Durban

15 August 2003

On the previous page of this diary I told of the strange tale of the Cooper Light Wreck whose origin is unknown and of the fact that it was once common practice to dispose of unwanted ships by towing them out of Durban harbour and then scuttling them. Researchers recently became convinced that the Cooper Light wreck was the Kate which was scuttled off Durban in 1931. This later proved not to be the case and so that mystery remains as does the Kate's location.

<==== Click to view an wallpaper-sized version (1024x768px).
Pictures courtesy Illovo Sugar Ltd.

Through the good offices of Jill Forrester I recently received a poignant series of pictures taken during the last hours of the Kate which I made into a wallpaper. The originals are located in the archives of Illovo Sugar and I'm indebted to the company for permission to use them.

18 August 2003

On a visit to the Warriors Gate Moth Museum I was lent a book by custodian Charlie van der Merwe. SAS Inkonkoni 1885-1985 by SHC Payne cleared up the mystery of how Battery Beach [in front of Natal Command] got its name and provided a couple of other facts besides. The SAS Inkonkoni is a volunteer naval unit based in Durban which traces its origins to the Naval Volunteer Artillery (Natal) which was formed in 1885 to counter the threat of a Russian invasion.
A popular legend had it that the unit was the first of its kind in the British Empire but Payne reports that a naval volunteer unit was formed in Port Elizabeth in 1861 but that it soon merged with an artillery unit. Whatever the truth of the matter, however, it is certain that the SAS Inkonkoni predates Britain's own Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is freely acknowleged by that august body to be the senior unit!!
Gun batteries were built on Back Beach, presumably where Battery Beach is today, and on the the Bluff and were manned by the unit until the end of WWI. Men from the unit were involved in action during Anglo Boer war in the siege of Ladysmith and in the relief column. One volunteer, Lieutenant Nicholas Chiazzari, was the first non-regular ever to be awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by Britain.
The Naval Volunteer Artillery later became the Durban base of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in which guise it performed sterling service during WWII providing naval recruits for the South African and Royal Navies with basic training. In 1954 the unit was named SAS Inkonkoni, which is the Zulu for wildebeest, and is still going strong..

I have two other stories on a marine theme and I would be very grateful if any reader can help with further information.

  • The first story was told to me by Joan Lousada who lived with her family in a block of flats (apartments) on the corner Gillespie Street and Tyzack Street in Durban during World War II. She told me that during one night in 1939 her mother, who was not usually wakeful, happened to look out the bathroom window towards the sea and spotted a large warship steaming at full speed close to the shore and belching smoke in all directions. The family was friendly with a British naval officer based in the town who confirmed that smoke cannisters of foreign make had been picked up along the coast and advanced the theory that the ship had been the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. If the story is true then Graf Spee, armed with two triple 11-inch gun turrets, could have made mincemeat of Durban. This is especially true of the military headquarters which had been built right on battery beach at the behest of Oswald Pirow, defense minister of the Union of South Africa, and dubbed Pirow's Folly by the locals.
  • The second story involves the steel-hulled sailing ship Tango which apparently arrived in Durban on 7th December 1942 and, as it was just about on its last legs, spent more than a year here in spite of attempts to leave.

19 August 2003

Facts About Durban was given a nice mention by Lindsay Slogrove in the Daily News yesterday.

<==== Click to view article. (89Kb)

Thanks Lindsay !!!

24 August 2003

Things have been getting a little out of hand lately but I have been hard at work gathering new facts. In the next few days I will be popsting a new page on the development of public transport in Durban complete with several world records. I will also soon be telling a story about a Royal Naval cruiser and the doctor who officiated at my birth. There'll also be more stuff on the first train in South Africa and details of the first seaplanes to reach Durban.

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Picture courtesy Doreen Monckton.

In the meantime we have the Bluff Lighthouse, above, which was built in 1867 and was the only lighthouse on the east coast of Africa at the time. The picture was taken in 1935 with one of the tiny figures at the base being my informant Doreen Monckton. The lighthouse was demolished early in WWII with some sources saying that it obstructed the field of fire of the guns in the Bluff Battery while others say that the practice firing from the battery was shaking it to pieces anyway. The Bluff Lighthouse was replaced by two lighthouses - the Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse [built 1953] and the Cooper Lighthouse [built 1954].

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