A schoolboy's reminiscence of the war years in Durban
1939 - 1945


These 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.

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By Leon Nicholson


It was 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 days time."
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 there.
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.


I was 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 glass.
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 to school.
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.


This was 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 teacher.
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 evacuees.
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 S.A. troops.
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 escape.
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 praised.
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.


Durban 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 itself.
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 time later.
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 out.
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 the family.
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 Cemetary.


This was 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 propaganda stations.
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 were opened.
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 D.K.W.
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 type.
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 imprisonment.
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 in sight.


The city 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 while later.
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 here. Ed.]

While 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 against smallpox.
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 helped themselves.
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 callous.
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.


Over the 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 president.
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 war.
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 school.
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 would.

April 2002.

Author's Note
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.


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