The story of Durban's trropship revolt was culled from Gerry R Rubin's Durban 1942: A British Troopship Revolt. The book was published by the Hambledon Press in 1992 and is valuable resource on the convoy system and Durban as a transhipment point for troops in WWII. There is also a valuable assessment of the political situation in South Africa at the time.
A Troopship Revolt

By Allan Jackson - June 2007

Elsewhere, I have told of the major role played by Durban as a transit point for the movement of troops and materiel during both world wars. Most of the time the process went smoothly and the men and women of the armed forces arrived, spent some time here and left, without any major incident having occurred.

One exception to this happened in 1942 when about 200 personnel refused to board the troopship they had been assigned to for the trip to Singapore. The troops arrived in Durban on January 8, 1942, aboard Convoy WS14 from the UK.
They spent an idyllic couple of days billeted at Clairwood Camp, formerly the Imperial Forces Trans-shipment Camp (IFTC), which was a huge tented camp overlooking Clairwood Racecourse, where most of the forces passing through Durban stayed.

On January 12, a party who were mainly RAF ground crew and No. 4 Ordnance Store Company, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, boarded the vessel City of Canterbury for the next stage of their voyage to Singapore. The men were dismayed to find that the conditions aboard were appalling and this led directly to the revolt.

The accommodation had been cleaned prior to the embarkation of the men but it was found to be filthy with coal dust and infested with bugs. The vessel was berthed at the Point Docks and the troops were allowed shore leave until midnight of January 12. Three to four hundred men staged something of a riot ashore and did not reboard the ship until much later.

In the morning, the men were back on quayside and refusing to sail aboard the vessel. Air Commodore Frew inspected the ship and found many of the complaints to be justified. He told the men he would make an official complaint but that they would have to go aboard anyway. In the end, some of them did so but 160 airmen and 28 soldiers remained adamant and the City of Canterbury sailed without them.

The mutineers, if you can call them that, were taken to Clairwood Camp and kept under arrest while the authorities debated what to do with them. It was decided to charge them with joining in a mutiny and try them in Field General Courts-Martial in batches of 30.

The first trial of RAF personnel began on January 26, with Wing Commander Hooper presiding, and ended on February 4, with a verdict of not guilty, after the court rejected the claim that an order to embark was given and disobeyed. The trial of the army personnel began on February 8 and they were eventually found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour, in the case of the sergeant, and 18 months in the case of the other ranks.

The charge for the remaining 130 airmen was altered to being absent from their place of duty and they were found guilty and sentenced to a year's hard labour. All the sentences, except that of the army sergeant, were suspended and the men left Durban on February 16, aboard Convoy WS 15 bound for Bombay.

Singapore was under attack when the City of Canterbury arrived and only 150 RAF personnel and the contingent from the RAOC were disembarked. Many of these were taken prisoner by the Japanese while the others, who were taken to Batavia, shared the same fate. Ironically enough, their fellows, who had remained behind in Durban, mostly served out the war in India in much quieter and safer circumstances.

As a final aside, it is interesting to note that, with the arrival of Convoy WS 14 in Durban, the number of sea-going vessels at the port reached 75, with 27 of them being accommodated in the outer anchorage.

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