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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.