Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day (November 11) are the two major annual reminders of those who paid the ultimate price in defence of their countries.
Their sacrifices are also marked by ware memorials and cenotaphs in the majority of South African cities and towns.
Kevin Jordan, deputy principal of Glenwood High School in Durban, has more than a passing interest in history and has spent the last 15 years researching, updating and correcting the three Glenwood Rolls of Honour. This is in addition to being in charge of the school museum and archives and teaching physical science.
According to him although at first not apparent there a many Great War memorials in Durban “If one knows where to look”.
“Besides the Cenotaph in Farewell Square, there are several scattered throughout the city. The two oldest boys’ high schools in the city – Durban High School (1866) and Glenwood High School (1910) – both have impressive memorials on their properties as well as dedicated Delville Wood memorials. The Citizen Force regiments, Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR) and the Durban Light Infantry (DLI) have outdoor memorials and impressive museums which can be viewed by prior arrangement. Three outlying districts of the original Durban (Pinetown, South Coast Junction/Seaview and Red Hill/Greenwood Park) all erected monuments in their area, paid for by local subscription. Finally there are the memorials in the older churches around Durban; St. Paul’s, St. Cyprian’s, St. Mary’s, Frere Rd. Presbyterian and St. Joseph’s to name just a few.”
Jordan sees a short walking tour in the Durban city centre as an opportunity to see four memorials but warns “it may be difficult to find a time when access to all is possible”.
The four are the Durban Cenotaph, St Pauls Anglican Church, the main entrance to Durban City Hall and the Durban Corporation Memorial at City Hall.
He has provided brief descriptions of each for defenceWeb to mark both Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.
The Durban Cenotaph was designed by architects Eagle, Pilkington and McQueen. It stands eleven metres tall and dominates the surrounding area. Opened in 1926, the neoclassical and Art Deco design was not without its critics who felt its design was more suitable for a cinema rather than a war memorial. As with other cenotaphs from around the British Empire, a metal statue of a soldier’s corpse lies stretched out on a plinth in front of the monument.
Over 700 names of local citizens who made the supreme sacrifice in WWI appear on the panels, each one with their own tragic story. Unfortunately, many of these stories have never been recorded and have thus been forgotten. The following is probably representative of many whose names appear on the panels.
Charles Felix Petsch was born in New Germany outside Pinetown in 1892. His parents immigrated to South Africa from Germany in search of a better life. Charlie was a talented sportsman, excelling in swimming. He won a silver medal in the 500 yards freestyle at the SA Championships pre-1914. He volunteered for service in German East Africa where he unfortunately caught malaria. In the meantime, his father had been interred in a camp along with many other German settlers. Charlie was repatriated back to Durban but he died a short time later in Addington Hospital.
St Pauls Anglican Church opened on its present site in 1855, even though the building was only completed in 1861. The church burnt to the ground in 1906 and was rebuilt by 1909. In 1921 a peal of bells were added and in1940 extensions were built.
There are some magnificent stained glass windows, including one featuring boy scouts Basil McCabe and Archie Lee who were both scouts and choir boys at St. Pauls. In addition, they were talented sportsmen, swimming for the Queens Park Club. Basil died of wounds received in Bernafay Wood in 1916 while Archie was killed in action at Gauche Wood in 1918. Both were still teenagers when they died.
The first City Hall (now the Post Office) was designed by 29-year old local architect Philip Dudgeon in a neo-classical style. The foundation stone was laid on February 1, 1883 and the building was opened by the Mayor in October 1885. By the start of the Anglo Boer War the hall, which had been designed to seat a maximum of 1200 people, was already too small for the town’s growing needs.
In 1903 the town council announced a new city hall needed to be built. The final design came from architect Stanley G. Hudson, who was inspired by the city hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Construction was completed in 1910 and it was seen as a fine example of Edwardian Neo-baroque architecture. The exterior features a dome which dominated the Durban skyline for many years. Inside the building there are polished wooden floors, intricate stained glass, wrought-iron balustrades, marble pillars and ornate arches.
There are also various Great War memorials on several of the walls. Unfortunately, several are poorly illuminated which makes viewing and photographing a challenge. Among the memorials are those to the Boy Scouts, the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, the South African Field Artillery and the Natal Field Artillery. On the NFA memorial is the name of Karl Otto Siedle, a talented sportsman who played both rugby and cricket for Natal. In addition he won a Military Cross whilst serving in the Royal Field Artillery.
Exiting the main entrance of the City Hall and heading east towards the sea, there is another memorial just before the Old Court House, opposite the Town baths. Entering the building, one is immediately struck by the elegance and grandeur of the surroundings; a marble staircase, wooden balustrades and a red carpet. Halfway up are two magnificent memorials to ex-employees. The Great War Memorial states:
TO THE MEMORY OF THESE THEIR
FELLOW SERVANTS OF THE DURBAN
CORPORATION WHO GAVE THEIR
LIVES IN THE WAR 1914-1919: THIS
TABLET IS ERECTED BY THE DURBAN
MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES’ SOCIETY.
Below are then listed the names of 39 men, many of whom served in British units. James Cornock was perhaps the first Durbanite to die in action, on November 12, 1914 whilst serving with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.