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Welcome to Durban

By Allan Jackson - August 2008

Publications put out by the Durban Publicity Association have been a valuable resource during my research into Durban's past. One was a leaflet put out for the benefit of the many servicemen and women passing through here during WWII. On the cover are drawings of smiling members of the armed forces and a nurse, and the texts 'Welcome to Durban', 'Khaki and Blue we welcome you', and 'Durban is glad to see you'.

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The 55x44cm leaflet is packed with information, from the location of the many servicemen's clubs and canteens, to the prices that the troops would typically have had to pay for meals and transport. It kicks off with a welcome and then gives a greeting in a number of languages including American; 'Glad to know you, Cousin', and Yugoslavian; 'Dobro dosli vojnici u Durbanu'.

Some interesting statistics were that the city was then 43050 acres [67 square miles] in size and had a population of 280526. It apparently enjoyed an average of 2401 hours of sunlight per year and a speed limit, in most places, of 30m.p.h..
Service personnel were warned against spending too long sunbathing on midsummer days. The leaflet adds that visitors can smear Vaseline, or other pomade, on their shoulders, arms and legs, before bathing. Other potential hazards facing the visitors were drinking on an empty tummy and trying to board moving busses; the former resulting in the latter, presumably.

There were at least 25 different canteens and clubs where the visitors could socialise and get refreshments, including Victoria League Club, at 209 Pine Street, the YMCA in Beach Walk, the Free French Club at 112a Commercial Road, above Liptons, the Stand Easy Club at the Pavilion Tea Room on the Corner of Old Fort Road and Marine Parade, and the American-Canadian Club, offering Coca Cola and cookies, in Security Buildings at 345-347 Smith Street.

Entertainment on offer included performances of the Durban Municipal Orchestra, the Theatre Orchestra, and Dance Band in the City Hall, the Town Gardens, and the Amphitheatre Gardens on the beachfront. These entertainments were provided free by the municipality to members of the armed forces and the merchant navy. Free dances were put on every afternoon at the Athlone Gardens Hotel [now Riverside Hotel] and, at 'Tops' Palais-de-Danse, at 131 West Street, dancing partners could be provided for visitors without one.

Officers were automatically made honorary members of the Durban Country Club, the Royal Durban Golf Club, The Royal Natal Yacht Club, The Mercantile Club, The Southern Club and the Merchant Navy Club.

Food and refreshments were plentiful and un-rationed and I imagine that the visitors must have gone to town. Tea and coffee would have cost between four and sixpence, as would Tomango orange or lemon juice and water. A meal of cold meat and salad or fish and chips with tea or coffee, typically cost one shilling and sixpence, while you could get a mixed grill for two shillings and sixpence. A pint of beer cost a shilling and one-pence and South African cigarettes cost between a shilling and four-pence and a shilling and nine-pence for 50..


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