The memoirs of Private Frederick Pendall

Durban was a very important transit point for the movement of troops during WWI and WWII and many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them visited here in passing as they went about their grim business of war. Frederick Pendall was one of these and spent time in Durban during February 1916 while resting during a sea voyage from the UK to India. He left a diary of his wartime experiences and I have been given gracious permission by his descendants to reproduce the section of the diary dealing with Durban. The balance of the diary may be read on Nigel Pendall's website.


The diary extract you are about to read is very interesting but it does contain one instance of the racially hurtful N-Word. I decided not to censor it because the diary is an historic document and I feel that it is morally wrong to suppress and/or rewrite bits of history that you don't like. Allan Jackson.

Frederick Pendall
Picture courtesy Sonia Minney

Feb 8th. Left port [Cape Town] for Durban at 6 o'clock in the morning very rough and heavy sea, worst we've had.

Feb 9th. Engine broken down and we had to stop and repair pipe.

Feb 10th. Held ships sports, still very heavy sea, land is in sight nearly all the way from Capetown to Durban high mountains all the way.

Feb 11th we were all too excited over landing at Durban that i forgot my own Birthday.

Feb 12th. Landed at Durban at 6 in the morning and marched to rest camp. At 11 o'clock arrived there in time to have dinner which we enjoyed very much, after living on board ship for 7 weeks. We had very little to eat on board, we only had bread and butter for tea and breakfast 2, 4lb loaves for 16 people with about 1/2lb butter for each meal. We had meat and potatoes for dinner but nothing to drink. 1/2 pint tea with no sugar for tea and breakfast- and our sleeping was none too good - as our hooks for hanging hammocks were only 15 inches apart. We had nothing much to do on the ship , if we had we could not have done it on the food we got. we only did 1/2 hours parade and 1/2 hour PT each day. We had to get up at 6 breakfast at 7 and then all on top deck, first parade at 1/4 to 10. PT at 1/2 past 10. Dismiss at 11 o'clock when we had finished for the day.

We found it a pleasant change to get into camp as we were fed much better and we had a grand YMCA Hut where we could buy tea etc. at 1d per cup - minerals @2d buns etc. Notepaper free. We were allowed out at night after 6 o'clock. We found that soldiers were treated much better in Africa than in England, in the 1st place we could ride on trams free of charge. It was on the beach where our camp was situated, it was a lovely place. We were on the side of the tram lines where our tents stood, and we were lit up by the electric lights on the tram lines, it was a monstrous great camp, about 50,000 soldiers in camp all sorts - black ones - white ones - Australians and several 100 of sailors.

Feb 13th. We were allowed in town from 2 till 10pm. We went for a tram ride, to the Wesley Hall where we had some sandwiches and tea, fruit grapes etc all free, then we went for a tram ride round the town 8 miles free, it was a glorious ride such lovely trees and flowers, I have never seen anything so beautiful. When we got back we went to the Army and Navy Hall where we had a wash etc. and then we had a shop window randy. We could not buy much as everything was so dear. We returned to the beach by tram and watched the bathers until 10 o'clock lights out at 10-15.

Feb 14th. We went out at 2 o'clock and took at tram to the zoo where I had a good look round and to the public gardens and museums which were all free to soldiers. We were very much surprised to see the means they have of getting about, there are very few horses, nearly all the work is done by small mules and instead of cabs or taxi's they have rickshaws drawn by niggers, they are all dressed up with a pair of horns and feathers in their heads and will seem like stags, quite as fast as a horse, for miles with 3 or 4 soldiers in the rickshaw and they don't charge very much. I should like to have ridden in one but we had no money in the Norfolks. All the other regt's were paid every week but we were not. The Australians were drawing 6/0s per day. We were only worth 6 pence and that we could not get. We had drawn 15/0s in 8 weeks and there was always something we wanted, such as soap, tobacco, matches, polish for boots etc, and if i had not done a bit of hair cutting etc. I should have been very hard up, but I was never really broke - only once - I then had some owing to me, but the fellows could not pay.

As regards our camp life here, it was a rest camp and we used it as such, we got up at 6am washed, shaved etc bathing parades at 7.00. not in the sea as it was not allowed on account of sharks and sharp ..........

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Them living in main streets are white, the natives live in their own quarter and their dresses are all the colours of the rainbow, with rings on their fingers, on their toes and in their ears and through their nose. they are most of them fruit sellers the women, but it is so dear that we cannot buy it. Pears are 1d to 2d each, apples 1d each, bananas are cheap 4d per doz. Tobacco is very cheap 1/0d per 1/4lb. tin navy cut. boer tobacco 1/0d per lb bags. everything else is very dear, ice cream not less than 9d. and sweets are only marked up by the pound and terrible dear.

Feb 17th. Saturday, bathing parade, route march, wash our clothes out at 2 to go to the races, lovely racecourse here and good racing. It came onto rain so we went to the Wesley Hall where we had a good feed, then to the museum and library, a magnificent place. Arrived in camp at 6pm. Went to concert at YMCA at 7.30pm to hear the Durban Follies which were very good indeed, in fact there is a good concert every night. The Wesley Hall is a large hall belonging to the Wesleyan Chapel and everything is free to soldiers and sailors and there is no waiting for it. They make as many as 8 thousand cups of tea and 20 thousand sandwiches in a day, besides pastry etc. and fruit. There are writing rooms, paper etc. all free of charge. Raining in torrents all night.

Sunday 18th Feb. Bathing parade 6 o'clock, breakfast at 8.00 Church parade at 8.45 open air service on the beach, thousands attended service and the sun enough to scorch you. At 2 o'clock we went out till 1/4 to 5. At 6pm we had the order to pack up ready to board ship, not the same ship, but we are to be ready to leave camp at 7am. Durban on the whole is a very nice place, you would hardly know that you were not in London only by the heat and the lovely flowering trees. I wold not mind living in Durban, all the same I shall be glad to be getting to India, as it is now 2 months since we boarded the Pakeha.

Feb 19th. Marched out of camp down to the docks where we found a ship waiting for us, it was a big ship and my word it was a dirty old thing and on our deck it was nearly dark and the smell of mice was awful and we could not have the portholes open as they were too near the water line, so it does not look like a very pleasant voyage to india. We boarded the ship at 10.30am and moved out into the bay at 12 noon and anchored there. I have not at present found out the name of it, but it is an old ship taken from the Germans in the early part of the war and we are told by the crew that she will run to Bombay in 14 days and I hope she will do it as I am longing to get a letter from home and hear that things are going on alright. At 12 noon we had dinner it was a dinner too, meat and potatoes just about enough to give a rat a good feed. At 2o'clock we set sail, we stood on deck and watched Durban go out of sight, 4 o'clock we had tea, a small piece of bread and butter, 3 loaves for 18 men and at 8 o'clock lights out. We were nearly starved on the Pakeha but this is worse than ever.

Frederick Pendall was born on 11 February 1880 in Norfolk and spent his early years in a viilage there called Blo Norton. He worked as a gardener and, in 1927, accepted the post of gardener to the Barnard family in Cople in Bedfordshire and moved there with his wife Frances and their six children. He died in Cople on 29th April 1972.

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