Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 5

Diary Contents Page | Previous Diary Page | Next Diary Page

26 August 2003

I've had further news of the two zebras [first mentioned on the previous page] which used to live in Durban and roam freely around the Old Fort and beachfront area. My informant Doreen Monckton has told me that she used to work in the area and that the zebras used to come to the window of her office around lunch time to share her sandwiches.

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

I've also found out more about the locomotive Natal which drew the first train in South Africa and I've put up a page on it here.

Payne Bros. was the second of Durban's major department stores [after Greenacre's] having been founded George and John Payne in 1869.

  • Early in the twentieth century the firm had cloth made especially for them in Yorkshire and this Pyramid Serge soon got a reputation for being very hard-wearing. It was so hard-wearing, in fact, that a Mr Larson was able to attend the 1957 relaunch of the enlarged Payne's store wearing a Pyramid Serge suit he had bought fifty years previously.
  • Payne's was completely rebuilt in 1938 and then contained the largest escalator in the Southern Hemisphere. My informant Doreen Monckton tells me that Durban kids used to visit the store especially to ride the escalator.
  • In 1947 it was the first store in Durban to introduce a self-service food hall.
  • At the time of Payne's centenary in 1969 it had on its staff Mr Sid Rainsbury who had joined the store in 1909 and Mr Gazi Makanya who joined in 1925. Mr Rainsbury worked in the boys' schoolwear department and by by 1969 was fitting fitting the grandsons of his original customers with their school uniforms.
  • Payne's Centenary Grand Parade in 1969 was the first time that a West Street Deparment Store had been allowed to open at night since before WWII and over 50000 people attended to get their share of the merchandise which was selling at up to 50% off the usual price.

Payne Brothers is now sadly no more but the Payne's Building is still one of the landmarks in West Street.

31 August 2003

Not much in the diary today but I haven't been idle. You can take a look at a big new page I've put up on the History of Public Transport in Durban. My thanks go to Kevan Mardon for all his help in preparing it.

03 September 2003

The amount of material awaiting my attention and the list of people to phone has grown to frighteningly large proportions but I'm trying to keep my head and keep on tackling things one at a time. Today I received an incredibly interesting packet of aerial photographs taken of Durban in 1932 and 1948 and I'm waiting on permission to reproduce them. I've also ordered a book by an ex-Durbanite who was a crewman on a ship which called in Durban regularly during the early part of WWII and was later involved in an epic of survival at sea; he also delivered me for which he deserves either praise or censure, depending on your point of view.

Today, however, we turn our attention to Durban's first traffic light or robot as they often referred to locally. [Please note that robot can be pronounced 'robot', as in robotics, or as 'robo', as in robo-soccer, if you're being posh.

1930: Following considerable excitement and much discussion in the press Durban's first traffic signal is installed in the middle of the intersection of Pine Street and Field Street on an experimental basis and is switched-on on 12 May. A Natal Mercury reporter writes the next day that he had thoroughly tested the robot during which time he had crossed Pine Street on foot in company with a smiling band of pedestrians, seen two frivolous young things in a sports two-seater blowing kisses to the "steel policeman", and had driven through the intersection so often that the flesh and blood pointsman still on duty assisting the robot had suggested he give others a turn.

A report from the Borough Council's General Purposes Committe dated 8 September 1930 hails the traffic signal experiment as a success and suggests that they should be installed in 15 locations around the borough. Twelve tenders are received and it is decided in 1931 that 14 units and a master controller should be ordered from Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Export Company for the sum of £1040.00.

In 1933 the first Electromatic Traffic Signal with buried sensors is errected on a trial basis at the intersection of St Thomas' Road and Musgrave Road. The signal allows traffic the right of way if there is no other traffic crossing the intersection.

*** I've finally managed to pick up a copy of last Friday's Kwana newspaper and I see that Facts About Durban has received a very nice mention from editor Karen Lotter.

<== Click to read article.

Thanks Karen!! I will be certainly be trying to make Facts even better.

07 September 2003

On 12 August in this diary I told of the story of U-Boat officer Hermann Kolditiz who caught his first glimpse of Durban through the periscope of his U-Boat during WWII and ended-up settling here. The U-Boat, U-171, was reponsible for sinking the ship Nova Scotia on 28 November 1942 only 150 miles from Durban.

The Nova Scotia was a small liner [6796 tons] belonging to the Furness Withy Group and was converted into a troop carrier during WW II. She was a frequent visitor to Durban being employed mainly in ferrying troops from Durban up the West Coast of Africa to Suez and bringing Italian prisoners of war back to South Africa.

The Nova Scotia was carrying 765 Italian POWs, 134 British and South African guards, and 118 crew when torpedoed. There were 825 lives lost in the tragedy which apparently still ranks as South Africa's worst maritime disaster and some of the bodies were washed ashore on Durban beaches. Alfonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguese ship from Lourenco Marques, rescued 190 survivors late the following day with one more being picked-up up by a destroyer on the third day and another fortunate Italian flaoting ashore on a raft at Mtunzini on the Zululand coast a fortnight after the sinking.

I have no confirmation from any other source but my informant Doug Thomas, who knew Hermann Kolditz well, said he had told him that the U-Boat had surfaced among the survivors to find out which ship they had sunk. Kolditz recalled that the German crew had been appalled by scenes in the water as the survivors tried to scramble aboard the U-Boat 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 forces and particularly, by the flying boats operating from nearby Lake St Lucia.**

** Since writing the above I have learned that the U-Boats had been ordered not to assist survivors since an incident the previous month [on 16 September] when U-156 had been attacked in the Atlantic by an American Liberator bomber while towing four lifeboats filled with survivors from the torpedoed Laconia. The attack took place in spite of the fact that Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein [U-156's captain] had twice broadcast a radio message in English giving his position and promising not to attack any ship which came to the survivors' aid.


Warrior's Gate Moth Museum

This fine little combined militaria museum and M.O.T.H. Shrine is located in the grounds of the Old Fort in Durban opposite Kingsmead Cricket Stadium. I take the opportunity of mentioning it here because it needs all the visitors it can get and because custodian Charley van der Merwe was the one who mananged to track down a little booklet containing information on the Nova Scotia.

I'm indebted to the same booklet for news of an exciting incident which started in Durban on 10 June 1940. See below:

The Timavo Incident

On 10 June 1940 Italy was about to declare war on the Allies but nobody in Durban knew that except the crews of the Italian ships Timavo and Gerusalemme who had received a coded radio signal to that effect.

The two ships put hurriedly to sea at noon with papers faked to make it seem as if they were bound for Cape Town but, as soon as they were over the horison, they altered course for Lourenco Marques which was a neutral port and which offered sanctuary from the allied forces.

Later that night the news of Italy's declaration of war reached Durban and South African airforce planes began to search for the two ships. The Timavo was found 150 miles north-east of Durban during the night and headed at full speed towards the Zululand coast after a bomb was dropped and warning shots were fired.

The Timavo later grounded herself about 5 miles north of St. Lucia Bay and her crew was captured and brought back to Durban. The ship herself could not be salvaged but some of the cargo was saved. The Gerusalemme, in the meantime, managed to reach Lourenco Marques where she was interned until the Italian surrender after which she returned to Durban to be converted into an allied hospital ship.

Diary Contents Page | Previous Diary Page | Next Diary Page


Home | Order | Sample | Diary | Contact Us