Remembering SAS Donkin and the Navy in Eastern Cape


Gqeberha’s involvement with the SA Navy (SAN) via Naval Station Port Elizabeth (NSPE) and a former part-time force unit saw the Officer-in-Charge of the SA Naval Museum visit to assess possible transfer of historic items to Simon’s Town.

“A number of paintings, photos, memorabilia and books safely kept in storage at the unit were identified for future transfer to the museum,” according to Commander Leon Steyn.

“The visit also afforded an opportunity to view a historic building in the vicinity that once housed Naval Base Port Elizabeth, SAS Donkin and before that, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) detachment in Port Elizabeth.

“The current naval station is no longer lodged in the derelict 83-year-old building which remains the property of the Department of Defence (DoD). A number of photos were taken of the building for the naval museum’s own records and included images of the two prominent foundation stones at the entrance.”

Closer inspection of old photos in storage, Steyn writes, “revealed a magnificent set of black and white images featuring the laying of the foundation stones on 4 September 1938. In the photos, Vice-Admiral George Lyon, Commander-in-Chief of the Africa Station in Simon’s Town can be seen officiating the ceremony and laying the foundation stones of the new building. Among those present were the Commanding Officer of the light cruiser and flagship of the C-in-C HMS Amphion (later HMSAS Perth), Captain R.L. Burnett, Commanding Officer of the Port Elizabeth RNVR detachment, Lieutenant Commander Russel Paterson and the Mayor and Mayoress of Port Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs W.C. Adcock.

“The opening of the new building provided the RNVR and later SAS Donkin with a modern and large facility used for training and accommodation especially during the Second World War (1939-1945). As such, the RNVR provided the nucleus of personnel for the embryonic Seaward Defence Force and SA Naval Forces during the war, while several local RNVR personnel were seconded to the Royal Navy. After the war the base reverted to its reserve status with SAS Donkin maintaining a small, but recognisable naval presence in Eastern Cape for more than 50 years. A naval station was established on 23 March 2003 in the run-up to the disbandment of all SAN reserve force units. SAS Donkin was finally decommissioned on 6 November 2004.

“Although the unit no longer exists, its heritage lives on. The recovery of SAS Donkin memorabilia from NSPE is aimed to preservation of its memory in Simon’s Town.

“An exhibition depicting the history of the Citizen/Reserve Force units of the SAN is planned for 2023,” Steyn writes.