memoirs were orginally published in the journal of the SA
National Society in 2002 and are reproduced here by kind permission
of the author and the Society. At the foot of the memoirs,
the author makes the disclaimer that the events he describes
are ordered as he remembers them and that the
dates have not been cross-checked for accuracy. You
should therefore proceed with caution if you want to quote
from this story. I have marked known errors with [notes in
square brackets]. Allan Jackson.
Nicholson.txt to download a printer-friendly
version of this story.
the 4th September 1939; we were lined up in our classes in
the quadrangle of Keate St. School, Ladysmith. Miss Sparks,
our class teacher, was at the head of our line; we were waiting
for Mr. Maaschalk, our headmaster, to address us.
"Boys and girls," Mr. Maaschalk said, "I am
sorry to tell you that yesterday England and France declared
war on Germany. I am afraid we will also be at war in a few
As little boys, we were delighted; just imagine, a war! It
was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us.
We looked around fully expecting to see soldiers, tanks, aeroplanes
etc. but there was nothing exciting, everything was just as
boring as before. Two days later S.A declared war on Germany.
One of our farm neighbours had sons old enough to join the
army and, in boyish enthusiasm asked one if he was going to
join the Air Force. "Certainly not ," he said, "I
don't intend being shot at like a bloody guinea fowl."
A short while later, my father sold his farm and we all moved
to Durban. We rented a flat in King's Mansions in Acutt Street;
this was very central, close to all the big cinemas, City
Hall, museums etc. We spent hours at the museum and played
"cowboys and crooks" in the internal gardens of
King's Mansions with all the other children in Acutt Street.
The Albany Parking garage bordered on to King's Mansions and
had only recently been built and was almost completely empty,
except for a few cars jacked up with their wheels removed.
There were also two private aeroplanes with wings removed
also stored there. On rainy days the top floor was a fine
undercover play area; we especially enjoyed playing cricket
My father, who was not qualified for anything except farming,
took a job in the railway workshops as a crane driver, as
he could not face being cooped up in some sort of office job,
being an outdoor person all his life.
The war at this stage was not affecting us very much; if it
had not been for the cinema and radio news we would not even
realised it was going on. The shops were still full of food
and goods, the average price of food being as follows: Milk
2-l-d a pint, bread 7d a loaf, butter 9d a pound, meat(steak)
between 1/- and 1/6 a pound, ice cream cones 1d each, meat
pies 2d to 4d each, large cold drink 4d, milk shakes 4d (large),
sugar 2-l-d a pound.
In today's age, these prices seem ridiculous; our flat cost
£8 per month and was considered rather expensive, but
it should be remembered that the average family man's salary
was about £30 a month at this time.
My brothers and I contracted whooping cough and as we had
not yet started school in Durban, we had to wait about three
weeks to recover before my mother enrolled us at Addington
Primary school. I was put into Std. 3; our teacher was Mr.
Buckland and our Headmaster Mr. J.B. Hudson. Something that
surprised us was that at 10 AM every child in the school was
given a pint of milk and you were expected to drink it. About
2 weeks later we wrote exams and after missing so much school
that year, I only managed to be promoted to Std. 4B.
now in Std. 4B. Our teacher was a plumpish Jewish graduate
from the University; his name was Mr Schauffer, who had the
unenviable task of controlling some of the toughest kids in
Durban, born and bred in the Point area. Some of them were
as much as 18 years of age and only slightly better than animals.
Even the army did not want them. Some of the younger ones
were also extremely naughty and usually received six cuts
from the Headmaster most days, as well as a few cuts from
"The Doctor" - Mr Schauffer's cane.
I must say that looking back, Mr Shauffer controlled the class
in a masterful manner, toning them down and even getting most
of them to learn enough to pass the year and exams. I still
rate Mr Schauffer as the best teacher I have ever had.
The war was still pretty remote to us, life going on as usual.
A new skyscraper (Trust Building) had just been completed;
it was fifteen storeys high, situated on the corner of Gardiner
and West Streets and was the highest building in Central Durban.
My maternal grandfather, Charles Smith, had been appointed
as caretaker of this new building. He had a penthouse flat
on the roof and we used to enjoy going up there to look down
on the city all around us.
A terrible storm hit Durban in April. Very high winds capsized
many yachts in the bay, blew off roofs, broke windows and
uprooted trees; a number of people were injured by broken
Two popular songs of the day were "We're going to hang
out the washing on the Siegfried Line" and "Run
rabbit run." This was of course before Dunkirk.
The war became a little more real to us as we all marvelled
at the fleet of little boats from England that mobilised to
save the soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.
The Ossewabrandwag movement, mainly among Afrikaners who were
those opposed to the war with Germany, became very troublesome
and started to commit acts of minor sabotage; some of them
were caught and locked up in Internment Camps.
During the year we as schoolboys were shocked to read in the
newspapers of a boy from Michaelhouse attempting a dive from
Howick Falls; he was killed in the attempt.
.Near the end of the year, as we alighted from the school
bus on the beachfront, we were amazed to see a cargo ship
beached almost in front of our school. The ship in question
was the "Ovington Court," an armed British merchantman.
School was completely forgotten as the whole school crowded
the beach to the water's edge. Four members of the crew were
rowned; their bodies lay on the beach under a canvass cover.
During the day a small tug manoeuvred to the stern and removed
the gun mounted there. At about 10am our Headmaster and teachers,
issuing dire threats, managed to round us up and get us back
After school we immediately headed for the wreck and as it
was low tide, we were able to wade out to about 10 yards from
the ship, but around the hull there was a deep channel, we
Soon swam across this and clambered up the sides and explored
the interior. It was not clear what the cargo was as the cargo
holds were under water; the beach however was littered with
piles of timber, and perhaps this was the cargo. Inside the
ship. thousands of coconuts were floating around and many
large bottles of pickled onions were stacked. Many of us boys
took a bottle of pickles and swam to shore to be immediately
confronted by customs officers and the pickles were confiscated.
In the deep channel around the hull over the next few days
on several occasions we saw shark fins circling the ship but
this did not deter us from going on board again and again.
the year the war became more real and began to hurt; some
of the economy measures put into force were as follows:
Only brown bread was manufactured, a type of vitaminised loaf
called provita, consisting of wheat bran and vitamins; if
not eaten immediately it became spongy and soggy. Having to
eat it every day made into school sandwiches was something
you did not look forward to; I will always remember it as
terrible; even today I am not keen on normal brown bread.
Postage stamps were reduced in size, newspapers were reduced
in volume and size, butter was in short supply, one day a
week was set aside as a meatless day, I think it was a Wednesday.
Butchers were closed on this day as normal meat was in short
supply; our butcher had a sign in his window which said, "Beef
or mutton we ain't got nothing." At one stage, whale
meat was sold but we found it to be uneatable. Petrol restrictions
were brought into force and motorists received coupons only
enabling them to travel 200 miles a month; you had to have
a very good story or be engaged in war work if you required
a new tyre or tyres.
All letters between soldiers and family were censored. The
shops, previously so well stocked, were beginning to look
decidedly empty. If a shop received, say, a shipment of cups,
saucers and crockery, a riot almost took place as people fought
for their share. A shipment of nylon stockings and women's
bathing costumes from Brazil arrived at one stage; the stockings
created a rash on the wearers' legs and the bathing costumes
dissolved in salt water. Some embarrassing situations occurred!
At school I was now in Std. 5A. Our teacher was a previously
retired older teacher, a Miss Taylor. We never found out if
in fact she was a Miss or Mrs; in any event, she was an excellent
When she kept me in sometimes to do corrections or penalties
for poor work, often as late as 5 PM. I really hated her for
this but, on reflection, she created a sense of getting things
right and not being careless. I had a lot to thank her for
in later life.
About this time the first evacuees from Ismalia and Malta
started arriving at our school. Most of them settled in the
numerous small private hotels in Gillespie Street and other
nearby areas. Our school received by far the bulk of these
The docks were still open to members of the public and some
big convoys of troops were beginning to arrive, bound for
the Middle East. We watched as Perla Sielde Gibson, dressed
in white with large hat and megaphone, sang to the troops
on their arrival and departure; she later became world famous
as the "Lady in White." As children we sometimes
crowded around her and she used to say, "get away you
kids, you're worrying me."
Durban docks were now full of naval and troopships. A beautiful
new British cruiser, H.M.S. Gloucestershire, and two destroyers
came into harbour docking at Maydon Wharf; we heard they were
open to the public. Naturally all the boys in our circle went
on board and explored the ship; it was a most beautiful modern
ship, one of Britain's newest heavy cruisers. When the three
ships left a few days later, we were not told all three were
sunk in the Mediterranean sea about two weeks later.
During the year the allies captured Tobruk with the help of
A few weeks later, thousands of Italian Prisoners of War began
to arrive in Durban; a large P.O. W. Camp was built where
the suburb Woodlands now stands. Many Italians mostly officers
were allowed to walk freely in the city. I remember they had
gaudy braid and medal bedecked uniforms; they had been placed
on parole on giving the assurance they would not attempt to
At night they had to go back to camp. I never saw any German
P.O.W.s that were allowed out of the camp, presumably because
of the anti-war pro-German group in S.A.
In May we were all very intrigued to read of Rudolph Hess,
Hitler's deputy, parachuting into Scotland, evidently attempting
to surrender. He was imprisoned and died in prison long after
the war ended; perhaps there is an intriguing unpublished
story here. . About the same time we were dismayed to read
that the battleship HMS Hood, England's largest warship, had
been sunk by the Bismarck. It happened that a shell from the
Bismarck had struck the Hood's magazine and the whole ship
had exploded; there was only one survivor from a crew of well
over a thousand.
In the S.A. internment camps for German sympathisers the newspapers
reported that escape tunnels, radio sets, and weapons had
been found; this was something the country did not need, a
fifth column in our midst. More pro-Germans were rounded up
and interned and security tightened up.
Near the end of the year, we were proud to hear that Springbok
troops had been in a battle at Sidi Rezegh against German
tanks and had acquitted themselves well and had been highly
America declared war against Japan in December after Japan
had attacked Pearl Harbour in a surprise attack. It was also
reported that German troops were being withdrawn from Russia,
defeated by the hell of the Russian winter.
We were now living in a 3rd storey flat at the corner of Stanger
and Smith Streets; it was about this time that my brother
and I had a narrow escape. We used to catch the bus on the
corner of West and Stanger Streets to go to school. On this
morning we were slightly late and as we were crossing the
road, the double-decker trolley bus pulled off and left us.
As we waited for the next bus we heard a terrific crashing
sound and, looking down West Street we saw that the bus had
capsized a few hundred yards from us where the old Point railway
line crossed West Street. There was always a bit of a bump
here and the bus must have hit this bump at speed and crashed
on to its side.
A few minutes later when we arrived breathless at the crash
site, bystanders had already pulled most of the passengers
out; some were unconscious and bleeding and were taken to
hospital by ambulance. Normally we sat upstairs and if we
had been there this day we would certainly have been seriously
injured or worse.
was now becoming a busy wartime part and since America had
declared war against Japan drastic steps were being taken
to secure the city against a possible Japanese invasion.
The harbour was closed to all except army and navy and the
whole Victoria Embankment (Esplanade) was fenced off. Barbed
wire entanglements were built right along the beach northwards
as far as you could see. If you wanted to swim you had to
creep through zigzag openings in the wire. Many of the public
benches along the beachfront were excavated behind and machine
guns installed to fire from behind and these seemingly innocuous
public sitting places. No photographs were allowed to be taken
of the beachfront or the harbour. Most vacant plots of land,
traffic islands etc had "Bofors" anti-aircraft guns
mounted thereon, the most guns were situated near Stanford
Hill Airport and the harbour entrance.
Aircraft were constantly in the air; "Avro Anson"
reconnaissance aircraft flew from the airport patrolling the
sea in search of submarines. Longer range "Catalina"
and" Sunderland" flying boats landed and took off
from the bay patrolling the coastline and outer sea. I noticed
a number of radial engine fighter planes at the airport; they
were called "Mohawks." I asked an airforce friend
if they were any good, he replied "bloody useless."!
At certain times the sea was covered with ships waiting their
turn to enter harbour to discharge troops or supplies. The
harbour entrance was fortified with gun batteries on both
the North and South piers. The scenic attraction called cave
rock on the bluff side of the harbour had to be blown up as
it interfered with the traversing of the guns at the foot
of the Bluff. Heavier calibre guns were situated on the bluff
Caissons were built in the harbour entrance and antisubmarine
nets strung in between.
Blackouts were brought into force; everyone had to have heavy
black curtains or keep your lights out. Blackout wardens patrolled
the streets and shouted through loudhailers "put out
that light" and, if necessary, arrested the offender.
There were no street lights and motor car headlights were
covered so that only a small slit of light showed downwards.
This and the absence of street lights made cars almost invisible
and the accident rate of pedestrians knocked down soared.
One newspaper reported that more people at home were being
killed than soldiers on active service.
At school I was now in std 6A and a lot of our time was being
taken up with war activities. We had never stopped doing army
cadet drill and now with our wooden rifles we marched up and
down in the schoolyard much to the hilarious merriment of
the wounded soldiers and sailors watching from the upstairs
windows of the adjoining Addington Hospital. Everyday the
girls in our class were instructed in first aid and we boys
were organised into fire fighting teams of four to deal with
incendiary bombs and fires. One member of the team carried
a metal dust bin lid as a shield and a stirrup pump, another
carried two buckets of water, another carried two sandbags
and the last member's duties were to shovel sand onto the
fire, replace buckets of water and assist pumping the stirrup
pump. During lessons several times a day the air raid warning
siren would sound and we would immediately clamp a rubber
or a pencil between our teeth and crouch under our desks.
After a short while we would file out of our classroom in
an orderly manner to a place near the toilets covered by a
re-inforced roof which was deemed to be safe.
Another task we performed was for the anti-waste drive; this
consisted of teams carrying sacks collecting waste from wherever
we could find it. My team's area was the beachfront and we
collected all the used tin cans from the hotel kitchens as
well as anything else such as newspapers, cardboard etc.
We always collected a lot from the Hotel Edward and a Card
Club nearby. Packs of playing cards were only used one or
twice and then discarded, we collected them and then sent
these almost new cards to the army recreation centres for
use by the troops.
Hundreds of child evacuees from Egypt and Malta were now arriving
and in our class we had more evacuees then local children.
The classes were large, our class had more that fifty pupils.
A large number of evacuees arrived from Poland but as there
was no more room for them here they were sent to Pietermaritzburg.
The same thing happened as thousands of additional P.O.W.s
arrived and they were sent to Q camp at Oribi next to the
Durban-Pietermaritzburg main road.
I was friendly with a boy in my class named Nicky Gerber.
We used to go up to his flat in Gainsborough Court to try
to build model aeroplanes, we tried to glue the balsa wood
together with nail varnish as model aeroplane glue was long
gone from the shops. It came as a terrible shock to our class
that Nicky, feeling sick one day, went home and died some
We were not told why he died but later I heard that he suffered
from Leukaemia. His parents were so heartbroken that his father
donated a Trophy to the Life Saving Association to be known
as the Nicky Gerber Cup to be competed for by Lifesaving Teams
each year, that cup is still competed for to the present day.
Massive convoys of troops were now arriving en route to the
Middle East. One convoy of Troops doubled the normal population
of Durban, spot messages were broadcast asking everyone to
please conserve water and electricity as the city could run
Durban rickshaws seemed to have a particular fascination for
the Imperial Troops. Usually in a spirit of fun they would
put the Zulu puller into the rickshaw and pull him around
the streets themselves. \Unbelievable hospitality was extended
to these troops by the local population, many took them into
their own homes and those who had motor cars took them on
sight seeing tours of the city and surrounds.
Large canteens for the troops were opened, one in the old
court house building and run by the ladies calling themselves
the Victoria League. At any time of the day or evening a serviceman
could get a free meal, a cup of tea, cold drink or sandwich.
There was a number of these clubs, the main ones I remember
being the Victoria League at the rear of the Central Methodist
Church in the Wesley Hall, also the Church and Hall on the
corner of Commercial Road and Albert Street.
As boy scouts, which we had become a few years previously,
we helped these ladies in the Victoria League by collecting
crockery and washing dishes etc. we were also not adverse
to accepting a free cold drink or cake offered.
Of course the largest tavern in Durban was the Playhouse consisting
of the Palm Court, a large undercover drinking area, the Tudor
Room for meals and drinks and the downstairs grill room were
enormously popular and patronised by thousands of troops eager
to get something different to the normal army food.
The normal bar and hotel lounges also did a roaring trade
resulting in a good number of drunken soldiers lying around
everywhere. Not much crime took place apart from some fistfights
over girls and women aptly named "Convoy Cuties".
Meanwhile the war to the North and East of us was progressing,
Singapore fell to the Japanese with 60 000 British troops
being captured. Tobruk was retaken by Rommel and hundreds
of S.A. troops captured. Rommel's advance into Egypt in October,
however, was checked by Dan Pienaar's S.A. Brigade at EI Alamein,
allowing reinforcements and a counter attack by the 8th army
to take place.
The Afrika Korps was routed and the 9th Army and S.A. Troops
pushed on to Tobruk. S.A. armoured cars were the first to
re-enter Tobruk and recapture it.
My Aunt, who was married to the Chief of the Dutch owned oilfields
in Java (Indonesia),was captured by the Japs and put into
a Jap prisoner of War Camp. We never heard from her again
and assumed she and her husband were dead. After the war we
were pleasantly surprised to hear they had both survived and
were coming to S.A. In later years she related to me the incredible
hardships she endured just to stay alive. Many times she said
on waking up in the morning, women sleeping on either side
of her would be dead from starvation.
Near the end of the year Sergeant Quinton Smythe from Estcourt
won the V.C. It was the Natal Carbineers 1st V.C and the first
won by S.A. in the war. When we farmed at Ladysmith we knew
A terrible scandal and manhunt occurred near the end of the
year due to an Imperial Soldier raping and murdering an 11
year old Montclair girl. The soldier in question, I think
his name was Smith, was caught after a manhunt lasting about
a week. I won't reveal the little girl's name for fear of
causing embarrassment to her family but I remember her as
her grave was very close to my Grandfather's in Stellawood
the year of shortages, shortages, shortages, you name it and
it was sure to be in short supply.
The general population seemed to be gripped by a psychosis
of suspicion, spies and spying, !
everywhere there were posters saying "don't talk about
ships or shipping." "Keep it under! your hat - you
don't know who could be listening." Taking photos near
military installations, the docks, beachfront etc. were strictly
prohibited. During the blackout, if a light was seen flashing
from a tall building, people were sure it must be a spy signalling
a submarine out at sea.
Undoubtedly there were spies amongst us, borne out by the
sometimes accurate information " broadcast by German
My father always thought that radio was the most wonderful
invention of the age. Consequently we possessed a very powerful
all-wave radio that could pick up most stations in the world.
Nightly we would listen to "Daventry" to hear the
B.B.C. news and after that if the atmospherics were not too
bad we would tune in to radio Zeesen; this was the German
propaganda station mostly used by "Lord Haw Haw"
(William Joyce), a British traitor broadcaster. He always
started his programme by saying "Jarmany Calling"
"Jarmany Calling" and then gave graphic details
of Allied losses and great German victories; occasionally
he would refer to S.A. with a snippet of information that
only a spy could have related, for example: "I hear you
boys in the Ladysmith camp have just got a new commanding
officer and the food you have been complaining about has improved."
Or, "We wish all the S.A. Troops aboard the liner Isle
de France at present in Durban harbour a pleasant journey
when you leave on Thursday morning."
This was the type of propaganda that caused people to see
spies under every bush.
Even with the worry of spies, patriotism and faith in the
allies was at an all time high. At the cinema when pictures
of allied leaders were screened, wild applause would erupt
in stark contrast to pictures of the enemy who were booed
and hissed as was everything German, Italian and Japanese.
Most films were of the war, thinly disguised propaganda of
course, but we loved them. Musicals featured Betty Grable
who was the undisputed glamour queen at this time, comedy
was provided by artists such as Jerry and Judy Colona, the
three stooges, George Formby and Gracie Fields. We went to
the cinema or bioscope as we called it as often as we could;
it was cheap and there really wasn't anything else to do.
Children under 12 cost 7d and short of producing our birth
certificates we were always under 12 even when we were at
high school. At the conclusion of a show everyone had to stand
while "God save the King" was played, then the doors
Regarding patriotism I remember an unfortunate motorist in
West Street who had his car
torn apart by the public simply because it was a German made
I was now in Std 7 at the Technical High School, in these
days it was a private school, the fees being very much more
expensive than other high schools; many boys had to leave
as their parents could not afford them.
Between 200 - 300 boys were taken in at the beginning of the
year, of which about 60 - 70 survived to progress to Std 8
(N. T.C 1) the dropouts usually being apprenticed as motor
mechanics, builders and other trades.
The popular notion was, if you were good with your hands you
went to tech, the reality was if you were not good with your
brains after Std 7 you became an apprenticed artisan of some
The subjects we studied were purely technical with the exception
of English, Afrikaans, Maths and Physical Science, which were
compulsory. All exams were national exams, everyone writing
the same paper at the same time throughout the Union of S.A.
In the year-end exam on theory of Building Construction, I
managed to obtain one of the highest marks in the Union much
to the joy of our lecturer, an Irishman, Mr Dixon.
At the beginning of the year a Natal regiment, I can't remember
which one, came home on leave. They marched up Stanger Street
from the harbour looking fit and tanned with their red shoulder
tabs very conspicuous in the morning sunlight, they also looked
bigger than the IImperial Troops we were used to seeing. Everyone
was very proud to see our own troops making such a good showing.
As I have previously said, everything was in short supply,
even the pubs were closing early due to a shortage of beer;
newspapers reported that Durban was suffering the worst food
and meat shortage in 50 years and that the road casualty rate
was higher than that in the war zone.
Robey Leibrandt, an S.A. Nazi sympathiser, was sentenced to
death for treason, this sentence was later commuted to life
The R.A.F. dam busters destroyed two German dams, bringing
the Industrial Ruhr to a standstill. Mussolini was placed
under house arrest by Italian partisans and in September the
Allies invaded the Italian mainland. German General "Paulus"
surrendered with 90 000 men to the Russians, 35000 of whom
were destined never to see their homeland again. At the end
of the year the Teheran conference took place between Churchill,
Roosevelt and Stalin, the general feeling being that at last
the Allies were winning and the end of the war was distantly
baths, an enclosed swimming pool in West Street opposite the
City Hall, was a complex of swimming bath, Turkish baths (sauna)
and massage rooms, all housed under a roof and used by women
and men separately on alternative days. As schoolboys we were
allowed the privilege of swimming there on Wednesday nights
with the tech swimming club free of charge. On one freezing
night we swam there and the sirdar in charge took pity on
us and allowed Us to have hot showers to thaw us out; they
really felt good after the cold water we had been swimming
in. Unfortunately I had to walk home in a cold strong wind
as a cold front was passing through Durban.
The upshot of this preamble was that a few days later I contracted
double pneumonia. Without going into details, I was delirious
for 2 weeks and could only sit up in bed after a month. There
were no wonder drugs then as we have now and Dr Bromberg who
visited me every day said when I was on the mend that I had
been very lucky.
In June we heard about the D-day landings of Allied troops
on the beaches of France; surely now, we felt, the war must
be coming to an end in a short while.
Durban harbour was very busy and although we were not supposed
to talk about ships and shipping, we all knew what ships were
in port. Frequent visitors were the three funnel cruisers
H.M.S. Cornwall [The ship referred to cannot have been
HMS Cornwall which had been sunk in 1942. Ed.]
and Shropshire: the old 1st World War battleship H.M.S. Barham
was tied up at the T Jetty for months being repaired, she
sailed at last and we heard was sunk by enemy action a short
At the dry dock I saw either H.M.S. Rodney or Nelson with
a hole in her side a whale could swim through. Rodney and
Nelson were sister ships and in the large battleship class
and were difficult to tell apart. It always amazed me that
sailors from naval ships had their ships' names on their caps;
it was no secret then that a particular ship was in port whether
we talked about then or not.
The skies over Durban were now swarming
with aircraft. There was a squadron of Kittyhawk fighters
at Isipingo and some at Stamford Hill airport as well. These
Kittyhawk fighter pilots were very daring and reckless, flying
along the beachfront a few feet above the water, skipping
over the West Street groyne and then climbing and rolling
over the bluff.
One morning a few friends and I on our bicycles were in Argyle
Road which was at the end of the airport runway, when a Kittyhawk
fighter taking off struck a clock on a steel wicker work tower
not more than 50 yards in front of us on the airport perimeter.
The aircraft disintegrated and crashed in the road in front
of us, petrol ran down the gutters like water and the road
was littered with wreckage and 0.50 calibre cartridges. We
were too stunned to do anything although we would have liked
to grab a few cartridges as souvenirs. The pilot was killed
instantly - a 21 year old lieutenant of the S.A.A.F. We did
not see his body as it was encased in the crumpled fuselage.
Almost immediately an air force crash fire engine / truck
arrived on the scene and we were told in no uncertain manner
to "get the hell out of here" by the crash crew,
which we did. [Further informattion on this particular
crash and a picture is available
doing my homework in the kitchen one evening about 8pm a terrific
sound of anti aircraft gunfire erupted overhead. I immediately
ran to our front flat windows and looked up to see an aeroplane
zig-zagging across the sky caught in a searchlight beam with
shells exploding all around it. The plane came from the Point
area and proceeded over Stamford Hill airport and out to sea
and vanished. We did not know if it had been damaged or not
or if it was an enemy; we never found out and it was always
known as Durban's unidentified aircraft. It was nice to know
that our air defences were alert enough to fire on an enemy
at such short notice.
There was an outbreak of polio and smallpox and everyone had
to be immunised. A vaccine for polio had not yet been discovered
so we-just hoped we would not catch it and were only re-vaccinated
Food shortages were increasing; meat, butter, rice and potatoes
were almost unobtainable. Certain shops hoarded supplies and
only supplied friends, good customers or sold on the black
market. A rumour circulated that a certain store had received
a shipment of butter yet insisted they had none. A hundred
or more housewives banded together and threatened to tear
the shop apart unless they got butter, the shop decided discretion
was the better part of valour and each housewife was allowed
to buy two pounds. Potatoes on the market were being unscrupulously
bought up by large dealers leaving none for housewives and
others. A riot at the Warwick Avenue market took place one
morning; potato pockets were slashed and housewives and others
A convoy of Australian troops arrived, to say they were wild
and undisciplined would have been the understatement of the
year; they decided to take over the Playhouse for their exclusive
use including all the food and liquor there. Guards were stationed
at all entrances and exits, only letting in Australians. This
state of affairs went on for about a week until they left.
We never heard whether the Australian Army paid for the food
and liquor consumed or whether it was just laughed off by
the Playhouse owners.
At school I was now in Std 8 (NTC 1); all that was left of
the previous year's intake being two classes of Std 8 of about
thirty boys each. Our English teacher was Mr Tom Leyden, the
brother of the famous cartoonist. He too had the gift of drawing
and seldom needed to explain anything in words on the blackboard,
he just drew a picture, which illustrated the point exactly.
Mr Leyden went on to become our headmaster and a few years
later Director of Education in England. All our other teachers
were exceptionally good and dedicated; we all had our pet
names for them, some being "Roaring Bull", "Scientific
Joe", "Swart Slang", "Bogem" (the
sound made by baboons in the kranties), "Joey Brown"
and "Gqmie." These were the most outrageous names
but they were not given in a spirit of contempt but more in
affection, but as we all know, schoolboys are notoriously
Indians in Durban were embarking on a policy of passive resistance
due to the Pegging act which restricted them from acquiring
property in white areas and the central business area. Few
Indians had enlisted in the S.A. Army, preferring to stay
at home and make money from the war. They were now in a position
to buy property from impoverished white families whose main
breadwinner was still enlisted in the army. This was the main
reason for this act.
We could all feel that the war was now drawing to a close;
the Allies had liberated a great deal of France and were racing
the Russians to see who could be in Berlin first.
years on our bicycles we saw everything and got to places
the general public had no conception of. If there was a military
display a parade or something of interest we were there. I
honestly believe we knew more about what was going on than
most people. We cycled to Isipingo, Amanzimtoti and even Umkomaas
on one occasion, sometimes just to have a swim.
Once at Inyoni Rocks, swimming in the tidal pool, we spotted
a shark that must have been in a high tide and could not get
out. A local fishing nearby managed to catch it; when he pulled
it out it was only a hammerhead shark about four feet long
and not supposed to be dangerous.
Over the years there had been a number of shark attacks off
Durban and the South Coast; about a dozen I think in the last
five years, some of them fatal and of the others horrific
injuries being inflicted to the victims.
There were no shark nets so you swam at your won risk, not
that it worried us much. On Durban South beach one day, a
crowd of us on surfoplanes were floating about 200 yards out
talking amongst us and sunbathing when a large black rose
out of the water; we all broke the olympic record to shore
that day. On another occasion I noticed a commotion near the
West Sreet groyne; two boys were helping another out of the
water. His upper arm was lacerated and bleeding profusely;
he had been bitten by a shark. He was a boy I knew slightly,
Earnie Thompson, having raced against him in school swimming
galas a few times; he was taken to hospital. I believe he
lost the use of his arm.
The world was saddened to hear the death of President Roosevelt
of the U.S.A. The deputy . president Harry S. Truman now became
Durban boy, Capt. Edwin Swales, was awarded the V.C. for gallantry
after ordering his crew to bale out of their badly damaged
bomber while he remained at the controls until it crashed.
It was the first V.C. won by a member of the S.A.A.F. in the
Mussolini was executed by Italian partisans; we were not very
sorry to see the end of him.
May the 8th was a great day; it was the end of the war V.E.
day (Victory in Europe). Celebrations continued well into
the night, people crowded the streets in festive mood and
a variety concert, speech etc. took place on a hastily constructed
stage on the City Hall steps. The town gardens were so crowded
that if you were there you could not get out; every statue
had people clinging to them, one reveller even sat on the
shoulders of the statue of Harry Escombe.
Something that saddened us all was the Springbok Troops killed
in a series of air crashes returning home at Kisumu in Uganda.
Genera! Dan Pienaar was also killed coming home but I don't
know if it was at Kisumu. It all seemed so unfair that surviving
the war they were killed coming home.
We were all horrified by the revelations that surfaced about
the German Concentration Camps at Auschwitz, Belsen and others,
where thousands of Jews were systematically exterminated.
A film depicting the atrocities was shown and we all made
a point of seeing it. The Jews surviving made a mass exodus
from Germany to form a new state of Israel.
Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler had already committed suicide
before the Nuremberg war trials commenced; most German leaders
were sentenced to death and other received long prison sentences.
William Joyce (Lord HawHaw), whom I have previously mentioned,
was brought to England and hanged.
Walking up West Street, I saw that the shop windows were almost
completely empty; big shops like Greenacres, Payne Brothers,
John Orrs etc. were standing with empty windows. There was
nothing to sell and nothing to buy, food was even scarcer
than before, hotels were not allowed to serve bread after
3pm and the making of toast was outlawed, the official reason
being that toast was wasteful and as the bread so unappetising
it tasted better if toasted; toast also wasted butter. At
school I was now in std 9 (NTC II) and we were also feeling
the shortages of stationery, books, pens etc. In the metal
workshops if someone broke a hacksaw blade a dead silence
immediately ensued with everyone waiting to see if the culprit
was going to survive.
In subjects like machine construction and drawing, electrotechnics,
mechanics etc. we needed good drawing instruments. scales
and slide rules. I had a most terrible old brass drawing set
which I had found in an Indian shop in Sea View. I also had
a set of cardboard scales; these, though not the best, were
useable. What we really needed though was slide rules as it
was quite impossible to do technical calculations by long
division and multiplication or even logarithms. Our salvation
dawned one day when one of our classmates found the C. T.C.
bazaar had received a small shipment of compressed cardboard
slide rules; we all rushed to buy them, they cost one shilling
and sixpence each. I still had mine nine years after finishing
Even though the Nazis had capitulated, Japan still kept on
with the war until Harry S. Truman, the American president
whom I always thought a lot more ruthless then Roosevelt,
sanctioned the use of the Atomic bomb which was dropped on
Hiroshima and a short while later on Nagasaki. Almost immediately
Japan surrendered and the war ended on August 16 VJ Day (Victory
against Japan). A re-run of the celebrations of VE Day took
place and everyone's
thoughts started to turn to getting on with their own lives.
A few weeks after V.J. day a huge display took place at Albert
park called the Thanksgiving Cavalcade; almost the whole of
Albert Park was turned into a gigantic show of military equipment,
naval ships, aircraft and even goods manufactured in South
Africa which was the forerunner of our manufacturing industry,
as previously everything had been imported.
Although the war was over it would take quite a few years
before shortages were eliminated and everything was back to
normal; in fact in 1948 the United Party (Smuts party) lost
the election to the Nationalists because they refused to give
the public white bread and the Nationalists promised they
Events in the above story have not been researched to give
exact time, place and event; consequently, some of the events
described may not be completely accurate time-wise. However,
this is how I remembered them and experienced them, not as
the newspapers reported them.