Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 30

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15 May 2010

I've got a lot to catch up on and I suppose the idea is just to start somewhere and go on from there. One of the errands I did run was to visit Stellawood Cemetery to look for the graves of the crew of Catalina H, which crashed at Lake St Lucia on 25 June 1943. Read the story of Catalina H here, and you'll find the new pictures I took at the bottom of the page.

15 May 2010

Concerned citizens have been fighting the good fight to save Vetch's Beach from the grasp of developers intent on building a small craft harbour and hotel adjacent to the harbour entrance. They have now put up a video explaining their case.

There is more information on the website here. I agree totally with those who oppose the development and have always said so. As one who keen on history, I know just how bad the weather outside Durban can be, which is amply proved by the number of wrecks lying in the area just outside the harbour. I have several times seen seas that would have posed a threat to the development. And that was before global warming made innundation even more likely.

20 May 2010

My informant Kevin Watkins has a copy of the official souvenir programme produced for the Royal Visit to Durban in 1947 and he was kind enough to scan each page and send them along for our reading pleasure. See the page here.

18 June 2010

I've had a note from Doug Ford who is head of Community learning at Jersey Heritage. He is researching TBF Davis, who was orginally a Jerseyman, before moving to Durban.He writes:

Hi Allan,

I am researching the life of Jerseyman Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis (1867-1942) for an exhibition here in the island at the Maritime Museum for next March. Davis moved to Durban about 1902 and by 1905 he had made enough money to build a house on the Berea (Port View, Cowie Road). He was involved in stevedoring all over southern Africa yet the records are a bit thin on the ground up here in the UK and the islands. He obvious was very successful as during the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s he gave away about £1 million sterling to various causes in both Jersey and South Africa.

Can you or any of your readers give me any information about his various business activities. His headquarters was Sivad Buildings on the Point and the parent company was known as Thomas BF Davis. He also operated as Messsrs Brock and Co Ltd in other ports.

I would also be most interested to know whether apart from the Modwena, did Davis' Natal Shipping and Trading Company own any other vessels?

When he died in 1942 his son changed the name of his company to Urda (SA) Ltd.

A final question concerns his son and that is which of his three Christian names did he go by Frederick, Thomas or Glenham.

I do hope you or your readers can help.

Best wishes

Doug Ford

Anyone who knows any more about Davis is welcome to contact me and I'll pass on the info to Doug. Pretty much all I know about him is that Howard College at the University of Kwazulu Natal was built with a donation from him, in memory of his son.

29 June 2010

I've had a contribution from Desmond Kelly, who was involved in the The International Arts League of Youth, and I've put it up on the bottom of the IALY page here.

Malcom Barker has been in touch to say that he lived in Durban during WWII and asks for information about a plague of locusts.

Hello, Allan

I'm working on something to send you for your website. But there is one area that has been a mystery for me all of these years. I have vivid memories of when we lived at Burlington Court on seafront, not only of the Ovington Court but also a plague of locusts.  As I recall, the sky was filled with locusts that then swooped down over some bowling greens. As they flew away there was hardly a blade of grass left! Strangely enough, all my efforts to verify this event have lead to zero. Yet I know I didn't dream it! Do you know anything about this? It would have been in 1940 or 1941. I read of Edith Sherry seeing locusts in 1937--obviously not the same swarm.


Malcolm is very interested in San Franciso's history and has a number of books on the subject. We'll look forward to his contribution to this site.

I recently received a picture from Trevor Jones of the SA Navy vessel SAS Durban, which has joined my page of other vessels which have been called Durban.

Mike Osborne has contributed a picture of the Little Top that used to be on the beachfront. I have put it up on the main beaches and entertainment page here.

I have had an enquiry from Ron Platt about Sea Cadets in Durban from 1920-1940. He wrote:

My father, Hugh Noel Hamilton Platt, was a member of the Sea Cadets in Durban at sometime prior to him and his brother, Ronald Manners Kidd Platt, signing on for service during the 2nd WW.

Unfortunately, Ronnie never made it back, dying in 1943 and is buried in Bootle Cemetery in Liverpool. However, after returning my Dad emigrated to Zimbabwe in 1946, I think, and remained there until 1981, living mainly in the Rand until returning to Durban with my Mom from about 2004 where they lived at the MOTH Care Home in Queensburgh.

He met my Mom in Harare and I, Ronald Hugh Platt, was born in 1949. I am my father’s only child. My Mom died in January 2009 and my father died on 30 April 2010, the sixtieth anniversary of their wedding. I am researching my family tree and am writing up my Dad’s life and am wondering if you know of, or can put me in contact with anyone who may access to, the records of the Sea Cadet in Durban for the 1920 to 1940 period. Any assistance or guidance will be appreciated.
Kind regards, Ron Platt.

Merleen Norland wrote in, commenting on the Entertainment & Cookie Look pages:

Hi Allan
Another nite spot for the after-club gigs was a place called the Blue Note in Cuckoo Lane. Most of the musos ended up there for the last rave and it was open for all to join in with their instruments. It was quite a cool venue, I would assume similar to some of the clubs in New Orleans, but on a much smaller scale. Sadly to say i would say that the majority of the cool dudes are no longer????
Hugs Merleen

Kevin Watson wrote in with a list of memories which would, undoubtedly, all be very interesting articles. His mail went:

Hello Allan

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your FAD book when I visited Durban recently. I grew up in this city from birth and now, more than 60 years later, I'm living in Scotland, the original home of my parents.

My school days were all spent on the Bluff before moving to Kloof, and I especially found your entry of the whaling station very interesting. Memories of those early years came flooding back, so I'll treasure your book whenever I wish to take nostalgic trips to a city that has seen so much change. If you produce future editions, I would be interested to see some photos and articles included on:

  • The Bluff Hill Climb: this took place on the southern end of Marine Drive on the Bluff. The most vivid memory for me as a young lad was the strong smell of burnt Castrol racing oil hanging in the warm air as a marshall stood at the finish line, holding a flag above his head. He would gaze down from his vantage point (a car park view point overlooking the oil refinery) to the starting point at the intersection of Tara Road and Badulla Drive. When he dropped the flag, the cars would race up the hill towards the Marine Drive view point. Snell Parade:
  • The motorcycle and side car races that took place on the Snell Parade. This was probably the same course as the Fairfield races, although I personally don't remember the Fairfield motor car races.
  • RAG parades: The Natal University annual rag day culminating in a float procession down West Street was certainly an event that gave Durban a very special place on the event calendar.
  • Gunston 500 surfing competition: I do hope the surfers get good coverage in your nest edition as I remember surfing on my long board at Garvies, Anstey's and Brighton Beaches on the Bluff as well as Durban's Golden Mile beaches that will forever be a memory of fabulous sunny days riding mountains of moving water together with friendly dolphin (especially on the Bluff beaches).
  • Newton's Arcade: those wooden buildings housing penny slot machines reminiscent of England's Blackpool amusement arcades of the same era, was such a popular haunt for us youg folk during the 1950/60's.
  • Treasure Beach: on the Bluff, Treasure Beach always captured my imagination since reading Eric Rosenthal's book "The Hinges Creaked" in which he described how the treasure had been located but never recovered in 1909 by a resident O. E. Bjorseth. Near Brighton Beach, this section of coastline became known as Treasure beach because of the alleged treasure lying in a huge copper clad cask lying amongst the treacherous rocks off the coast.
  • Island View treasure: also described in Rosenthal's book, an account is recorded how, in the 1890's, a fortune of gold sovereigns were buried in the sands of Island View on the Bluff by a bank teller who decided that it would be more in his interests to rob the bank he worked at, bury the dosh and, even if he was captured and imprisoned, he would still be released at some point and lay claim the fortune.
  • Mitchell Crescent treasure, Durban: Rosenthal describes an incident when a work gang of municipal labourers digging in Mitchell Crescent near the Greyville race course, unearthed gold sovereigns of the mintage of Queen Victoria. Only 75 sovereigns were recovered according to Rosenthal.
  • Durban Harbour treasure: once again, Rosenthal records an extraordinary incident that took place in 1939 in which an old gentleman died and his executors found a safe in the deceased home containing uncut diamonds and raw gold. Fearing that it was illicit material, they decided to dump it in the harbour, where it may still rest to this day!

Rosenthal's book "The Hinges Creaked" was published by Howard B Timmings, 58 Long Street, Cape Town and George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. London (1951); printed by Die Nasionale Pers Beperk, Capetown

Charles in Lincoln wrote in to say that he had been an eyewitness of the 1948 Fairfield Hanidicap Race on the beachfront and that he had been a passenger in a forced landing on beach. His mail went:

I was at the race track , at the snake park bend, aerodrome side of the road, and saw the ERA win. Three days after the race I went as usual on my days off from the fire service, to help a chap clean his light plane and to push it out onto the grass strip [at Stamford Hill Aerodrome], after which he took me with him on a trip around the city. This day, the engine developed a fault and, as we were pointing out to sea, the pilot decided to land on the beach, which he did, and I went across the road to report to the airdrome that we needed assistance. I did not see what happened next, but I think someone told me they had to take off the wings and tail to be able to tow it out of the sand before the sea came and washed it away.
One thing I must say, I have seen a lot of pictures of the modern Durbs, but I still think it was best in my days there, Totsiens.

13 July 2010

I happened to be down in the Point area last weekend and noticed that the gate to the new north pier was was open. It was doubtless naughty of me, but I took my chance and went in to see what was what.

Walking on the old pier was always of my favourite pastimes and I was back in my element. It didn't hurt that it was a great sunny Durban winter's day and, couple that with the odd passing ship to look at, it was really great.

I didn't see any sign of the Lady in White memorial having been replaced on the pier, but I didn't have all that long to look because I was disturbed by a polite Transnet representative, who said that the pier was not yet open to the public.

Luckily, I had taken a few pictures, which will have to tide me over for a while. I have put the pix up on the harbour page here.

22 July 2010

Today is quite a momentous day because it sees the launch of the Facts About Durban video channel on YouTube. I was recently given a selection of video clips from Durban's past and I have posted the first today. It's of the Ovington Court which ran aground on Addington beach on 25 November 1940. More information on the tragedy.

On the end of the clip is a brief sequence looking from the Umhlanga area back to the harour mouth, and showing the large number of ships waiting to be let into the harbour.

Thanks to Wim Kloek and the Walton family of Pietermaritzburg for the videos. More to come in the near future.

6 August 2010

As promised a couple of entries ago, reader Malcolm Barker has submitted some of his memories of Durban during WWII. I have put them up on a page here.

One of the interesting episodes that Malcolm remembers is a locust swarm which struck the beachfront. It's not something that can have happened too often in Durban, and we'd welcome hearing from anyone who knows anything more about it.

12 August 2010

Today, we've got a tale from Gavin Foster of the war medals belonging to a former mayoress of Pietermaritzburg and the devlopment of radar in South Africa during the early days of WWII. Read on to see what part Durban played in all of this...

22 August 2010

The first item on the agenda today is a request from Dulcie Ireland who wants to know if anyone has ever heard of Laddhouse (or, I suppose, Ladd House). It concerns a picture of her mother in law which was apparently taken at Laddhouse.

I've had a couple of very interesting e-mails from my informant Glynnis, who has set down some of her memories of the Durban social scene in the 1950s and 1960s. They have been posted on her page here.

3 October 2010

September seems to have passed me by completely so I'll have to make a special effort this month. The first item comes from my informant Glynnis, who sent along a couple of photos including one of the famous Le Macabre night spot at the Butterworth Hotel in Soldiers Way. I put them up on her page here.

I also received a contribution from Dave Sievewright at the NSRI concerning his experiences aboard the naval vessel SAS Durban. I have added them to the big page on vessels that have been called Durban.

My informant Ken Blackie sent in a list of Durban venues and bands from the 1950s and 1960s. I have put them up here on the Rock 'n' Roll (Cookie Look) page here, in the hope they'll spark more memories.

I received the following great 1961 picture from Etienne Du Plessis, showing the front of the Playhouse and beyond it on the corner of Aliwal Street, the Metro Cinema. I have put it up on the second cinemas page here.

Etienne was also kind enough to include this 1953 beachfront picture which I have put on the main Beachfront/Entertainment contents page here.

*** Does anyone know the whereabouts of Mervyn "Merve-the-Swerve" Gray, who used to hang out at the old Caister Hotel in Musgrave Rd?

10 November 2010

I've had another short contribution from reader Malcolm Barker. He writes of his memories of the Playhouse which he visited shortly before his family left Durban in 1946. He even still his cinema ticket from that day.cpmmemorating that day. I've posted the stuff on his page here.

David Rastall asks if anyone can remember a nightclub singer / piano player from 50's in Durban named Bill Williams. David used to have an LP of him recorded live at the Hotel Edward in 1959.

He would also be interested to know if anyone remembers a pop group, he thinks from Johannesburg, from around 1959, and called The Sillouettes. They were featured on the Radio Record Club a few times back then. I was able to put David onto a page on The Silhouettes on SA the Rock Encyclopaedia.

Added 7 October 2012: See here for a reply to David's first question.


Cathy Tosh wrote in with a few extra details about a Harvard crash on the Bluff in 1962. See here.


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