Durban Diary: apartheid, mate-ship and a rifle as big as a daisy air gun

diary 11 12 13 Feb 41






diary 13 14 Feb 41






Durban postcard

Durban postcard



Tues 11th

Planes from Durban fly over convoy – sun shines hot and early – sea more blue than ever – land sighted – binoculars focus on Durban.  Steam slowly into Harbour.  Wonderful sight.  Business blocks and hotels and residential areas in striking contrast to old world architecture and city engineering of England.

1.30pm.  Tie up at Maydon Wharf – Congenni (?) – Cars come down as far as wharf barrier – S African guards at barrier.  Chaps throw pennies to niggers – mad scramble – Tommies and nurses from other ships go on leave – sentry does some saluting with rifle as big as daisy air gun.  Word passed around at mess that there would be leave from 6pm – thought only wishful thinking – confirmed by Mr Mills – pay parade – issue of leave passes – ashore at 8pm – got a taxi to city – Graham Watts, Jim Hocking, Aggie Lloyd & self – First drink in Durban at River Hotel – went out to native quarters – came back had some more beer – went to Indian quarters – feed at roadside cafe.

12th Feb

Watch airmail plane Cooee take off – muster parade.  Talk by Hamburger Bill.  Mount guard at 12 o’clock.

13th Feb (Thurs)

Get leave at 1.30 to to town with Jack Reinke & Johnny Black, Chas Lewis, Pete McCowan.  Post office post letters to home & Scotland.  Few beers at pub – lovely.  Leave mob and go to jewellers – buy mother compact, Anne serviette ring  Pick up with Frank Dredge, Mene & Doran.  Tea at Anzac Cafe few beers in town.  caught tram to Marine Parade – Empress Hotel.  Indian waiters line up behind Mene – told them he was Australian.  had a couple of drinks and decided to go for a swim at Baths (opposite hotel) not allowed in because CM – same at amusement park – went back to Empress Hotel – some more beer off the ice – CM cynosure of all eyes – CM & Frank Dredge went outside – called the lounge to order and explained his position – Jim McDonnell and Viv Abel came in from bar – got well sozzled – met Claude Geeves – came back to boat in taxi.


Called at Randalls the Jewellers for compact and serviette ring.  Flora Hirst one of the shop assistants wrote to mother – Registered articles and posted.  Went with Claude Geeves to Empress – few beers – tea (?).  Went to Anthlone Gardens – very nice but very quiet – went for drive round city.  Marine Parade – a fine plan – miles of tourist & residential hotels, swimming baths, amusement centres – came back to Empress – left Empress 11.30 – walked along Parade with McDonnell & Dredge – went to sleep on beach – woke up at 2.30 – woke others – wouldn’t come back.  Tried to get taxi – eventually picked up by private car.  Driver said going to docks – puncture – mended by niggers.  Went to sleep in back of car – finished up at Franconia – set out to walk to ship.  Walked about 1 1/2 miles

15th Feb

finished the journey.  Ricksha – arrived back at Nea Hellas at 6.30 just in time for muster parade.  Ship sailing.  Pickets went ashore to pick up AWL’s – Jim McDonnell & Frank Dredge picked up where I left them – held temporarily in gaol on land – brought aboard about midday and put in detention room.  I suffered a bad day recovering from beer and home sickness.  At two thirty tugs took us into the stream – watched the city fade behind – as we passed signal station a woman signaller flashed messages of goodwill.

Few observations on SA.  Colour line very strict but within their own communities Blacks and Indians every bit as well off as people in slums of England and Australia.  Before anyone can get a job in Hotel must know the history of everyone in the city – no coloureds allowed to drink.  Wonderful place for whites – SA the brightest future of any of Dominions.


The Diary pages

I’m not scanning every page, due to technical issues, but thought use of glasses for scale might emphasise the fact that it was a memo book.  Later, the writing gets minuscule – I’ll certainly share some of that.

Rifle as big as daisy air gun

I’ve searched in vain to find details about a large gun called a daisy air gun – those I can find seem to be a pretty standard size, and of American manufacture which is another reason I seem to be on the wrong track – I can’t imagine Dad would have had anything to do with Amercian weapons at this point in the War.  Any ideas, readers?

Airmail plane Cooee

For an interesting article about the flying boats’ war service, consult this article by David Levell:   It must have been quite a sight – many of the servicemen would presumably not have seen a flying boat before.

This is an extract from the article :

Unfortunately, with war looming, the flying boats’ triumph was destined to be brief. With WWII declared just 14 months into the service, Corio and Coorong were requisitioned, and the airmail reduced to twice-weekly. In June 1940, Italy’s entry to the war cut off the UK-Egypt sector.
Releasing Coolangatta and Coogee to the RAAF, Qantas put Carpentaria and Cooee on an arduous alternative route – Sydney to Durban via Singapore and Cairo.   Flown to South Africa, the mail could then proceed by sea to the UK. The aircrew switch was modified, with Qantas now piloting all the way to Karachi. Called the “horseshoe route” (from its shape on a map), this solution lasted until Singapore fell to Japan in February 1942, severing the UK air link altogether.

Athlone Gardens

Athlone dining card outer

Dining card, complete with several signatures..

J J Doran QX 398

CS Geeves TX 1134

C Mene  QX 6555

F Dredge QX 6550

Athlone dining card inner

C Henders QX 4808





Some of those who signed the card were not listed in the group – maybe they were all there, maybe not!

At the Jewellers

The letter written by the shop assistant and the compact Dad bought for his mother will be shared in my next blog entry.

No Coloureds allowed to drink

Charlie Mene, a Torres Strait Islander, was a member of Dad’s platoon.  He is referred to in these entries as Mene or CM.  The incidents referred to in these diary entries are described more colourfully in later letters, but according to Dick Lewis, Dad didn’t just ‘call the lounge to order’- he stood on a table and left the patrons and staff in no doubt as to the possible consequences of not treating Charlie in the same way as the rest of the Australian soldiers. ( Dick was not present at the time, so the story he heard could certainly have been embellished.)  Later that year, in Gaza, Charlie asked Dad to have a photo taken with him.  This is that photo:

Dad and Charlie Mene

This entry was posted in Africa, leave, Uncategorized, unit and personal diaries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Durban Diary: apartheid, mate-ship and a rifle as big as a daisy air gun

  1. Elizabeth Helm says:

    A Daisy air gun is an American gun, but it was sold here (and in SA apparently – probably worldwide). It is a small gun, primarily an entry level firearm for children. My cousin had one when he was a teenager. They fired pellets, which could put an eye out, and would probably kill a rabbit at fairly close range.


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