Reader Vernon Varty wrote in with some of his memories:
Thank you for such a wonderful website … as some famous person once said: “There’s nothing like the Good Old Days.”
We moved from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in 1941, long before I started proper school. One of my very clear memories of the early 1940’s was standing in a queue with my mother, waiting for the 3-ton truck to arrive with rations … we got powdered eggs, horrible-tasting white margarine, unsifted flour, dried peas and so on. Apparently nobody was allowed to make white bread. We had a little wood and cloth contraption with a small crank-handle that could turn, and we would take turns at sifting the flour so that we could and did have white bread. We had to paint all our windows black, and shut them at night because of the blackout.
I started school in 1945, and my dad told me that something called “The War” was now over, and that something called a Spitfire was going to fly all over Durban. We waited and waited, and finally this speedy and noisy little aircraft flew over … I was enthralled. Some months later there was a big military exhibition at Albert Park, and there stood a Spitfire in front of my eyes. I was allowed to go over and touch it. That was the start of my lifelong love of aviation. We used to walk down to the flying boat base at Congella to gawk at the Sunderlands, and were often lucky enough to watch one of these magnificent machines either arriving or taking off. I became an aviation fanatic, collected pictures of aircraft, watched a Movietone News film which showed an amazing new invention … it turned out to be a Gloster Meteor and could fly at unheard-of speeds.
At an air show at Stamford Hill Aerodrome (can’t remember the year) I saw my first Vampire jets, flown by Pikkie Rautenbach et al. It was a special day. Three Harvards did a formation display which began by taking off side by side, and tied together with 18 feet of red ribbon. The idea was to do the whole display without breaking the thin fabric, and at the end they did a spectacular vertical climb, at the top of which they finally separated, the ribbons easily parting. Precision flying indeed. On the same day, the organisers placed five 5-lb bags of flour in a long straight line stretching almost the whole length of the ‘drome. Then the huge wonderful Sunderland did an unforgettable beat-up, bursting at least 3 of the 5 bags WITH ITS KEEL. Only years later did I begin to realise what an incredible piece of flying that was.
I spent my high school years at Mansfield High, near the Botanic Gardens. One day in 1953, on a school lunch break, we heard the most amazing sound, and suddenly 2 impressively huge aircraft flew past, almost directly overhead. Immediately afterwards, 2 more came by, and we later learned that these were Mk.2 Avro Shackletons, on a visit from the RAF. The more I read about these spectacular planes, the more I fell in love with them. This sales visit would result in the SAAF taking delivery of 8 of these wonderful machines in 1957.
My matric year was in 1955, and we had no subject to write on Thursday 25th so I pedalled from our house at Montclair down to the new airport, due to have its official opening that afternoon. I saw Lt Fletcher’s Vampire belting in from the Isipingo end of the runway, and watched in total disbelief as it suddenly dived into the ground, making a horrible explosion. I will never forget the black mushroom cloud as the fuel went up. One of our Montclair neighbours was Capt Goulding, a fire chief who was on duty. He told us afterwards that trying to clear up after the crash was one of the saddest jobs he had ever done.
Somewhere in the above timeline Durban was treated to the arrival of the beautiful De Havilland Comet, piloted by John “cat’s eyes” Cunningham. Security at airports in those days was very trusting, the terminal building being separated from the aircraft apron only by a low wall, which served mainly as a long planter for colourful flowers. So after the flight party had disembarked and gone in to the terminal, I strolled over to the amazing Comet and actually touched one of the large tyres, before a Railway Policeman told me to go away.
In 1967 my love of aviation finally got the better of me, and off I went to the Durban Wings Club to learn to fly. I remember very well some of the people mentioned in your aviation pages because they were all members at the time. Names like Peter Riley, Mike Hartley, guitar-playing Denis Bishop, who became the South African aerobatic champion, and Arthur Morris, who painted the huge and happy indoor aviation mural inside the clubhouse. From your Fairfield Handicap page I remember Les Miller, who was the club’s chief flying instructor.
Coming soon: Vernon’s Musical Memories.Share this: