Pte Max Hickman
13th Feb 1941
After nearly five weeks at sea we’ve arrived at a modern seaport- you’ve no idea mother what a wonderful sight the lights of a modern city make after nearly eight months of Blackout. The city looks very interesting and I’m keen to get ashore and have a look round. From the quay it makes a fine sight – ranged along the waters edge are residential hotels and blocks of flats and beyond these towering above them the eighteen and twenty storey business blocks and on the flanks the modern dwellings complete a picture in striking contrast to the old world architecture and unplanned cities of England.
Most of the Battalion had leave yesterday and are telling some good stories this morning of good food and good beer – that is the extent of most of their interests. I was on guard duty on the ship yesterday and have just been dismissed (eleven o’clock) and we’ve been promised leave from one o’clock.
To continue the story Mother I’ve had two half days leave and have had a good look round. The city as such is all it promised it’s well laid out and boasts some very fine buildings. There’s a beautiful waterfront about six miles long on the other side of the road facing the sea are hundreds of hotels. Feeling against the coloured people is very strong. The Indians live in one section of the town the blacks in another section and the whites separate again.
I went to a jewellers to buy you a souvenir – they had some beautiful things there but of course funds were limited. I hope you like the little compact. I also bought Anne a serviette ring with the city’s coat of arms. The girl who served me is engaged to a chap whose [sic] away with the South African Army – she was very interested in the war and asked me if I’d like her to write you – and when I went back yesterday she had the letter written – quite a nice letter too.
I met Dick Schultz and Ken Jenkins – it was the first time I’d seen either to speak to for some time. They both looked fit as fiddles and wished to be remembered to you and the pater. They were well cashed up – got a roll out of two up. They had been AWL ever since the ship tied up.
We’ve had a great trip so far – the weather was very hot but it was a welcome change from the cold of England and Scotland. My platoon have done the Anti Ac work on the ship and have spent nearly all our time on the decks – when not on duty we played cards – crib and five hundred. Of an evening when off duty there were picture shows, concerts and community singing – nearly every night after tea the chaps gathered on the boat deck for an hour sing song.
Wherever we’re going mother I hope there’ll be some mail – Its months and months since I had any letters from you – however mail should be more regular now. I’m going to try and get this letter ashore and posted so will say goodbye for the present.
Love to all
W Crooks on Durban
It is interesting that the official Battalion history speaks of a ‘carefree populace’ and makes no reference to racial tension (p22):
During the five day stay in Durban, prolonged due to necessary boiler repairs on some of the older ships, the battalion had leave nearly every day, half the battalion getting leave at a time. This very hospitable and delightful city, which had no blackout, was a memorable interlude. With delightful spring weather, a friendly and at that time carefree populace, (the city’s) large parks, gardens, open air hotels and cafes together with no blackout or rationing, combined to provide a unique experience the battalion had not experienced since leaving Australia the previous May.
The South African Army
The jewellery shop assistant’s fiancé would have been a member of the 2nd infantry division of the South African Army. According to Wikipedia:
The South African 2nd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the armyof the Union of South Africa during World War II. The Division was formed on 23 October 1940 and served in the Western Desert Campaign and was captured (save for one brigade) by German and Italian forces at Tobruk on 21 June 1942. The remaining brigade was re-allocated to the South African 1st Infantry Division.
In The Footsoldiers, W Crooks describes the embarkation onto the Nieuw Amsterdam (a ship in their convoy) of a Transvaal Scottish battalion of the South Africa Second Division :
Marching in threes, from the city and down the street to the wharf, at the slope, with their pipes and drums at the head, this battalion halted as one on the command from their CO at the stairway of the gangplank…They then ordered arms and, at the ‘short trail, quick march’, filed up the gangplank in single file by platoons, to the accompanying music of their pipes and drums, completing their embarkation in twenty five minutes. Such efficiency was not lost on the watching Tommies and Aussies who applauded the effort.
The little compact
I inherited the little compact. It is 5cm (2″) square and still has its powder puff and mirror: