Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 16

Diary Contents Page | Previous Diary Page | Next Diary Page

13 September 2004

Today we've got a fantastic contribution from Bill Bizley in the shape of an article on the activities of U-Boats off the coast of Kwazulu Natal [and therefore Durban] during WWII. The piece is quite long but is very well written and highly informative on a subject which, as Bill explains, the authorities did their best to conceal from the general public. Click here to view the article.

As it turns out, Bill is presentling a talk on the U-Boats at the Hilton Festival this coming Saturday and I'll certainly be there.

26 September 2004

I've been offline for a bit as I was battling with my energy levels before discovering that my sleep apnoea does not agree with the sleeping pills I was taking. I managed to attend the lecture mentioned in my last diary entry and found it very interesting on the subject of the Enigma Codes used by U-Boats off our coast. I've done more research on whaling in Durban, been on a visit to the derelict remains of the whaling station and chatted to Reg Sweet, who was briefly stationed in Durban as a fighter pilot during WWII. Reg was also able to reveal what happened to the Speedbird [Imperial Airways logo] weather vane which once graced the terminal building at Stamfordhill Aerodrome.

All this will come out in the next few week and months but, in the meantime, my informant Jack Cann has lent me a good picture of the Ovington Court which beached herself in Durban off Addington Beach on 25 November 1940 and is still there. See the Ovington Court page for more details and, right at the bottom of the page, for an enlargement of the picture.

Picture courtesey Jack Cann

8 October 2004

I was very pleased recently when this website led to my being able to put branches of a family back in touch with each other after a long period when they had lost contact. The firm of Cornelius & Hollis built Durban's City Hall which I've mentioned elsewhere in these page together with the fact that I had spoken to Brenda Horner, William Cornelius' grandaughter, during the course of my research. Recently I received a mail from Ian Izzard in Tasmania:

Hi Allan, I was looking through web sites in relation to the Durban City Hall when I happened to hit upon your Diary site and read with great interest the articles about it, especially the item in relation to the letter you received from Brenda Horner. It would appear that Brenda's maternal grandfather, William Cornelius and my maternal grandmother, Ellen Elizabeth Cornelius were siblings. Family stories have it that William' s father, mother and a number of their children moved to South Africa seeking empoyment and that the men got work building the Durban City Hall. It has also been said that Ellen Elizabeth, who reputedly had a wonderful singing voice, winning many musical competitions in Victoria, Australia sang at the opening of the City Hall in 1910.

It is recorded that William (snr), his wife and daughters returned to Australia whilst the sons stayed on in South Africa. Unfortunately over the years any contact between the two branches of the Cornelius family has been lost and I was vey exited to read the article about the Durban branch of the family.

I would very much like to make some contact with the surviving members of the family in South Africa with the hope of sharing some family history with them. Could you please either give me Brenda Horners contact details so that I can make this contact with her or at least pass on my wish to make contact with someone there to fill in the gaps with respect to the branch of the Cornelius family in South Africa. Ian Izzard.

I have received an undated news clipping with a picture of the Aircraft Operating Company crews who flew the whale spotting flights mentioned on the previous page. The first aircraft used on the flights was a de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide but, by the time the picture, below, was published, two Cessna 310H machines were in use; the date of the changeover is still unknown to me.

Clipping courtesy Margaret Surmon
<== Click pic for enlargement.

As before, I appeal to anyone who know anything more about AOC, the whale-spotting flights, or Stamfordhill Aerodrome to drop me a line.

14 October 2004

Countless luckless vessels have come to grief near Durban over the years [see here for details of just one of them] and it seems that one still needs to be pretty careful when moored in our outer anchorage or approaching the harbour mouth. It was reported on the ports and shipping page in the Natal Mercury network section, yesterday, that a container ship, the Umfolozi, dragged her anchors last Friday in high winds and bashed into another vessel, the MSC Rebecca, which was moored nearby. Damage was minor but the incident follows one about a month ago when the Nordbeach collided with the MSC Lauren in similar circumstances. Another incident took place in the last few weeks when the vessel Dainty River collided with, and partially demolished, one of the concrete caissons which once supported the anti-submarine nets which protected the harbour mouth from incursions by unfriendly forces.

While on the subject of the harbour, I see that access control has now been implemented on parts of the docks, like Maydon Wharf, where the public could go and spend happy hours watching the loading and unloading of vessels. It's all part of a worldwide drive to tighten up port security in response to the terrorist threat. Next year the harbour mouth will be widened to almost twice its present width but the sad news is that we will no longer have access to the new pier which will be built. One of the most enjoyable things about Durban for me has always been sitting at one of the restaurants in that area and watching ships go by, literally a stone's throw away. I find it very sad that we'll no longer be able to do so.

15 October 2004

Over the last six weeks or so I've been doing a lot on whaling in Durban and the full fruits of this work will be published in full on this site in due course. One aspect of whaling was the use of aircraft flying from Durban as whale spotters. See the previous diary page for a picture of the crew that flew the early flights fromm 1955. I have now received two other items which may be of interest. On the left, below, is a picture loaned to me by John McDonald who was the last chief chemist of the Union Whaling Company, which ran a whaling operation from Durban for many years.

The picture shows a de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide** aircraft flying over the whale catcher Sydney Smith. The picture is thought to have taken on the occasion of the first time a whale was caught and killed with the help of a land-based aircraft from Durban. If that's true, it would put the date of the picture sometime in 1955. An interesting thing about the picture is that it has been altered at some point with the whale symbol on the tail of the aircraft and the figure at the bottom right having been glued onto the original print. We know that the figure pointing the way on the right is Abraham Larsen who was the first oberver on the flights.

We believe that the flights were undertaken from the start by the Aircraft Operating Company, which also did the first air survey of Durban. Allan Roy from the AOC [yup, its still operating] has pointed out that the aircraft in the picture does not have AOC markings which has made us wonder if the flights weren't begun by Ken Pinkerton in his private capacity and later taken over by AOC.

At some point the whalespotting operation expanded with a pair of Cessna 310H aircraft being acquired and more aircrews recruited - see the clipping on this page, above. We don't know when the Cessnas were first used and I'd welcome hearing from anyone who has details.

<== Click pic for wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px).

** The de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide was a six (or seven)-seater passenger aicraft which was launched in 1934 and looks uncommonly pretty to my eye. There are a number of examples still flying and you can find them easily by searching the Internet for DH89A.

27 October 2004

In the second edition of Facts About Durban I wrote:

The SAS Inkonkoni is a volunteer naval unit based in Durban which traces its origins to the Naval Volunteer Artillery (Natal) which was formed in 1885 to counter the threat of a Russian invasion. A popular legend had it that the unit was the first of its kind in the British Empire, but it seems that a naval volunteer unit was formed in Port Elizabeth in 1861 but that soon merged with an artillery unit. Whatever the truth of the matter, however, it is certain that the SAS Inkonkoni predates Britain’s own Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is freely acknowledged by that august body to be the senior unit!!

Gun batteries were built on Back Beach, where Battery Beach is today, and on the Bluff and were manned by the unit until the end of WWI. Men from the unit were involved in action during the Anglo Boer war in the siege of Ladysmith and in the relief column. One volunteer, Lieutenant Nicholas Chiazzari, was the first non-regular to be awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by Britain. The Naval Volunteer Artillery later later formed the Durban base of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in which guise it performed sterling service during WWII providing basic training for recruits to the South African and Royal Navies. In 1954 the unit was named SAS Inkonkoni, which is the Zulu for wildebeest, and it is still going strong.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the 'going strong' part!! Articles in the local press this weekend announced the demise of the unit. Its ensign was hauled down for the last time at a sunset parade on Friday, 22 October 2004. Commander Peter Rousseau [the unit's 18the commander] handed the ensign over to Rear Admiral Jan Radebe who was to take it back to Simonstown where it would be stored along with the volunteers' files much of the unit's memorabilia.

Navy PR Officer Commander Brian Stockton was reported as saying that SAS Inkonkoni was one of seven reserve units which were being closed in line with "national defence force transformation restructuring". He added that nobody was picking on SAS Inkonkoni. Commander Rousseau said that the decommissioning was part of the navy's drive to reduce its "footprint" and consolidate itself in Simonstown.

The decison to decommission the oldest naval reserve unit in the world may very well have been taken for sound pragmatic reasons but it took no heed whatsoever of emotion and pride. SAS Inkonkoni was the oldest unit of its kind in the world and nobody else could ever claim as much - not even Britain's Royal Naval Reserve [successor to the RNVR]. Surely to goodness it would have worth hanging on to SAS Inkonkoni for that reason alone, even if the unit had to be reinvented and given a new more relevant mission. An Inkonkoni Association has been formed to keep members in touch with each other, but that's scant consolation.

30 October 2004

Some time back I mentioned that I had heard from Peter Marsh in the USA on the subject of the sailing ship Tango. Peter has now sent me the picture of the vessel, below, which was taken as she left Astoria in Oregon in 1942 on her way to Durban with a cargo of timber.

Picture courtesy Larry Barber via Peter Marsh

Further details on the Tango and an enlargement of the picture are available here.

9 November 2004

Last weekend Durban was paid a visit by the SAS Mendi, one of the newest additions to the South African Navy. The ship was berthed at N Shed on T Jetty and was open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. I went along on Saturday and was very pleased to find that the crew were on hand to conduct guided tours of the vessel. The tour was very enjoyable even though we missed a bit because her armaments have not been fitted yet and we were kept out of some areas.

<= Click image to view wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px)


The SAS Mendi was built by Blohm and Voss in Germany as the last of four vessels which made up part of the controversial R43-billion arms deal meant to reequip the SANDF with the latest weaponry. Her sister ships are SAS Isandlwana, SAS Amatola and SAS Spioenkop. Even though allegations of corruption over the deal have flown thick and fast, implicating some of the highest authorities in the land, we at least have four very pretty warships to show for our money.

The SAS Mendi and her sister ships are referred to locally as Patrol Corvettes for some reason which presently escapes me, but which is doubtless very important. The ships are, in fact, MEKO A-200 Frigates and are extremely sophisticated with stealth technology and the capability of surviving chemical and biologogical attack. Their main armament will be MBDA MM 40 Exocet surface-to-surface missiles complemented by Umkhonto surface-to-air missiles, a 76mm Oto Melara gun and a 35DPG 35mm dual purpose gun which can shoot down incoming missiles. She will also carry a AgustaWestland SuperLynx helicopter.

I'm not sure what seaborne enemy we might concievably have to fight where such sophistication might be required but, then again, I'm no military planner...

The ship is named after the SS Mendi which was sunk during WWI carrying a large number of the South African Native Labour Corp on their way to France to serve in the war. The ship was accidentally rammed by the SS Darro in thick fog in the English Channel off the Isle of Wight on 21 February 1917. Only 211 of the 860 aboard survived and the rest died when the ship sank. The event was a tragedy but what made it really live on in memory is the courage shown by the men and how, under the prompting of the Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha, many of the black troops calmly accepted their fate and danced their death dance as the ship sank.

See the SA Navy's page for more information on the SAS Mendi.

11 November 2004

I paid a very interesting visit to my informant Reg Sweet yesterday during which he was kind enough to check a story I had written on the time he spent in Durban as a fighter pilot during WWII. He also let me loose in his photo albums and the story and a selection of pictures will soon go up on the site. In the meantime, however, I have put up a small taster from Reg's picture collection in the form of an aerial picture of the anchorage outside Durban sometime during 1942.

Picture courtesy Reg Sweet

This splendid picture of the anchorage off Durban was taken in 1942 and clearly shows the huge amount of shipping which the port handled during the war. The patrolling aircraft on the lookout for hostile forces is a Fleet Air Arm Walrus amphibian based at Stamford Hill Aerodrome in the city.

<= Click image to view wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px)

I, as much as any, have sometimes been guilty of writing Durban off as a backwater but, as the picture reminded me, we have played a major role in the affairs of the world and of our country, in particular. I can't even begin to imagine for example, what the allies would have done in both world wars without our port.

15 November 2004

Last week the Mercury carried a very interesting article on the person belived to have been the youngest baby ever to be carried as a passenger by South African Airways. The article, published on 9 November, told how Lyn Harrison was flown from Durban to Cape Town by her parents at the tender age of 14 days. You may be wondering what this has to do with a website concerned with Durban, apart from the fact that the flight began here.

It's easily explained by the fact that the aircraft in question was named the Sir Benjamin D'Urban and has been mentioned in these pages before. The flight took place on 15 October 1935 and there were only six other passengers apart from Lyn and her mother. The crew apparently rigged up a screen of blankets around her mother so that she could breast-feed her in private.

Picture courtesy Transnet Heritage Foundation

The Sir Bejamin D'Urban - ZS-AFD.

<= Click image to view wallpaper-sized enlargement (1024x768px)

The article quotes from a contemporary magazine which described the Sir Bejamin D'Urban's first arrival in Durban a few months earlier in 1935. "It caused a near riot on arrival. The crowd gasped at what was considered an immense size for an aircraft. The passengers could hardly alight from it because of the jostling crowds which pressed up close to inspect this giant." The aircraft was a German-built Junkers Ju52 and the last word in luxury. The Mercury article reports that the plane had been designed for 18 passengers but that SAA had removed four seats to make passengers more comfortable.

Catch them doing that today! Hah!!

A letter in today's Mercury from Peter Quantock says that his daughter Sian flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on 22 November 1972, when only two days old. It sounds as though Sian may be the youngest passenger outside the womb to have have flown with SAA, but even younger passengers would surely have flown after being born aboard; I'd be very surprised if nobody had ever been born aboard an SAA flight.

  • I took a look at the statistics for this website the other day and discovered that there were over 1200 visitors during both September and October. It would seem that you are no longer the fortunate chosen few, but a minor horde; still fortunate and chosen, of course.

Diary Contents Page | Previous Diary Page | Next Diary Page

Home | Contents | Diary | Orders | Site Search | Contact Us