From Tom Kendal
An unexpected trip to Durban.
First commission - 1969
On her way to Singapore Fearless had stopped off in Aden to unload various stores and personnel which had been brought out from England. We were suddenly ordered to sea without knowing our destination. Our LCM coxswains ( lead by CSgt Russell ) with their navigational expertise soon ascertained that we were heading southwards and the ‘buzz’ had it that we were to join the blockade of Mr. Smiths Rhodesia which had recently started.
After a suitable time at sea we were all informed of the real cause for our sudden departure.
The Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers ( later amalgamated into the Royal Irish Rangers) were either stationed or had been on exercise in Rhodesia ( I cannot remember which) and the declaration of Independence by Mr Smith had left them surrounded and with nowhere to go. We were to pick them up at Lourenco Marques in Portuguese Mozambique, we were not informed as to how they were to get there. That was the original plan but after, I imagine, a lot of very high level diplomatic negotiations permission was given for us to pick them up at Durban.
They were to travel by train direct from S. Rhodesia and the S. African authorities were going to give all the assistance necessary to get them on board.
A little aside here – I was in charge of the map store on board and had hundreds of maps of all the coast lines of the world in several scales. I had been informed that there were to be Skippers rounds the day after we sailed so I had painted the floor of the store in Pussers Red the evening before. When I came down to the store next morning I saw footprints in the dried paint and was able to follow them to the locker with the relevant maps for Mozambique. It was not too difficult a piece of detective work to determine that the AOO (Maj. Whitfield) had been to the store during the night as his shoes were splashed with red paint.
As the South African port authorities were to be responsible for all the loading of stores and vehicles in Durban the Amphibious detachment did not have too much to do in the way of work so there was plenty of shore leave, albeit in uniform. We were made most welcome by the locals( including the RMA) and in return we had open ship which seemed to be attended by just about the whole population of Durban. The ex- posty from Depot Deal (Mne Kerr ?) who was by that time a high executive for the Caterpillar Tractor Company came on board and very generously invited us to his home and subsequent festivities.
All good things must come to an end and we sailed after about five days in Durban. A very large number of locals came to the jetty to see us off and drove to the point at the harbour entrance, flashing their headlights as we sailed passed, whilst the pipe band of the Inniskillins played Auld Lang Syne – not a dry eye in the house !
During the war Allied troop convoys to the Far East and India had called in at Durban and when they set sail a local female opera singer had sung to the troops. Her trademark had been that she always wore a white raincoat – much to our surprise ‘The lady in the white raincoat’ appeared on the Jetty and sang us off , I don’t know if she was the original version and I didn’t hear what she was singing, but it was a nice gesture.
Although I cannot remember now I assume we took the troops back to Aden from where they were flown home.
There is no doubt that both sides tried to make the most good publicity out of the situation. As an incident in the history books it probably wouldn’t warrant a line and I don’t remember seeing any reports in the newspapers at the time, I’ve just taken up the challenge in Tony Langs newsletter in the hope that the incident will not be totally forgotten. Perhaps there is someone out there who can remember it better than I , I would like to hear from any ex Fearless Amphibious Detachment.