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HMS Durban visit to Durban - December 1926

By Allan Jackson - June 2005

Sometime ago I was fortunate to be able to acquire a copy of the Souvenir Programme produced to mark the visit of HMS Durban in December 1926. The booklet, issued on behalf of the Durban Town Council by the Durban Publicity Association, is in remarkably good condition for its age and is packed with interesting information.

HMS Durban

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The booklet kicks off with a welcome by Durban's Mayor, Cllr. H.L. Buzzard, to Captain Guy L Coleridge, Officer Commanding HMS Durban, and his Officers and Men. The language of the welcome is wonderful, as shown by these extracts:

"The Royal Navy is to us all a perpetual witness to the strength of those common ideals which bind together all the wide flung peoples and Dominions of the King ... We have hitherto watched with more than ordinary interest the career of your gallant ship, and you may be assured that after thus meeting you in person and actually seeing our name-ship, your future progress and welfare will be a matter of even greater intereest to the Citizens of Durban."

Official Programme

The programme was to begin at 12:30pm on Wednesday, 15 December, with a parade in front of the Town Hall. Amongst the many other events were:

  • The show High Jinks hosted by the Bachelor Girls Club at the Theatre Royal.
  • A Naval and Military Sports Meeting in Albert park.
  • A Dance Social.
  • A number of tours to different locations.
  • A yacht race and many other sporting events including cricket, boxing, swimming, rifle shooting.

On Tuesday, 21 December, there was to be a march through the town ending at the Old Fort, where Captain Coleridge was to unveil a memorial tablet to Lieuts. King and Farewell, the first British settlers at Port Natal. The last event was to be a Farewell Merry Evening, on Wednesday, at Ocean Beach with Bands and Open Air Dancing. The ship was to leave Durban the following day, on Thursday.


It sounds as if the people of Durban threw open their hearts to the ship with many clubs and organisations offering either freebies or concessions to the ship's crew.

  • All except officers were offered free travel on Durban's trams and free bathing in the Bathing Enclosure at Ocean Beach.
  • Officers were offered honorary membership of the Durban [now Royal Durban] and Country Club Golf Clubs.
  • The Durban Bowls Club offered their facilities to all members of the crew and promised to provide shoes and bowls.
  • Petty Officers and Warrant Officers were offered the use of the Union Club during the visit.
  • The Greyville Cinema and the Alhambra Cinema Theatre offered free admission to the men in the evenings, except on Saturday, while the Empire Theatre and Crierion Theatre offered reduced prices.

The Navy League and HMS Durban

This section of the booklet contains information on the relationship between the ship and her name town. The Town Council originally discussed the possibility of making a presentation to the ship in 1919 and asked the Ladies' Section of the Navy League to raise funds. The ladies apparently managed to raise £400 which went to buying silver for the ship as well as the Borough Coat Of Arms carved in oak, for her quarterdeck. The Ladies' Section also presented the ship with instruments for the band, a silken ensign and Jack, and two cups, to be competed for the ship's Lower Deck. The various bits and pieces were presented to the ship by Dr A McKenzie in a ceremony in the offices of the High Commissioner for South Africa.

In 1923 Lieut. King Hall of HMS Durban suggested that the ship should have a South African marching tune for use by the ship's band on ceremonial occasions. A prize was offered for the best marching song and, after the entries were judged by the Borough Musical Director and a Sub-Committee of the Navy League, the winning song was forwarded to the ship. I must say that I would be most intrigued to know what it was.

Delightful Durban

The rest of the 72-page booklet is devoted to extolling the virtues of Durban and running through all this is the palpable sense of pride with which Durbanites viewed their town. There is a section on the history of Durban and on the cosmopolitan nature of the town. There is much on the busy harbour and on plans to incororate the outlying areas, such as Mayville, into the borough. Durban North had been established and a £60,000 1,270-foot bridge was being built across the Umgeni River to link to the new suburb.

There is a long section punting Durban's status as the premier holiday destination in the country and describing the ammenities on offer. It mentions that the open air swimming bath on the beachfront was one of the largest in the world with sheltered bathing conditions while still offering visitors the "bouyancy and exhilaration" of bathing in sea water.

The graving dock is mentioned as having been opened the year before [1925]. The Municipal Broadcasting Station in the City Hall is mentioned along with the fact that it was only municipal broadcaster in South Africa. The station apparently served much of Natal, East Griqualand and sections of the Cape province and the booklet notes that experiments were underway aimed at linking up South African radio stations in a national broadcasting organisation, thus "ensuring perfection in service combined with economy in working".

The Municipal Power Station in Alice Street was providing all the electricity for Durban and the Corporation was doing everything in its power (Ha Ha!!) to encourage the use of electricity. Measures ranged from the supply of stoves and geysers on hire purchase to "competitive cookery exhibitions" to encourage the use of electric stoves. There were over 6000 telephone subscibers in Durban, which had the only purely municipal telephone service in the country. The municipality had installed two automatic exchanges on the Berea, with a capacity of 2000 lines each, but the central exchange was still manual owing to the high cost of conversion.

Some other interesting things in the booklet include the fact that the estimated population of the Borough of Durban was 110,041 made up of 53,356 Europeans [whites], 1881 Coloured [mixed race], 38000 Native [black] and 16,804 Asiatic. Another 71,620 people lived in the Suburbs and the nett rateable value of Durban had risen from £482,569 in 1875 to £21,454,580 in 1926.

The Motor Taxi fares between the Post Office and Albert Park and the Post Office and Tollgate were given as 2 shillings and 6 shillings respectively, while the ricksha fares for the same trips were sixpence to Albert Park and either 2 shillings for the trip up the hill to Tollgate or 1 shilling for the trip into town to the Post Office. The charge for the hire of ladies or gents swimming costumes at the bathing enclosure and beach swimming bath was sixpence while the hire of a towel was threepence.


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