During January 1938, the pre-WW1 German ex-battleship, now training ship, paid a visit to Port Elizabeth. The young German cadets were invited to attend a party Woodridge School. In retrospect that innocent invitation ultimately became an embarrassment to the school for reasons soon to be revealed. One year and nine months later on the 1st September 1939, this self-same ship would fire the very first shots of WW2.
Main picture: The cadets from the Schleswig Holstein display the swastika emblem over the balcony at the Woodridge school
Up until 1942, Prince Alfred’s Guards had always been an infantry unit. This was to change after the Battle of Alamein when it was converted into an armoured unit forming part of the 6th Armoured Division. It was at this juncture that Lt. Arnold (Coley) Colenbrander was posted into this Port Elizabeth unit as a tank commander. This blog covers the miraculous escape by Coley when his tank, an M4 Sherman, was destroyed by a German 75mm anti-tank gun outside Celleno in northern Italy, killing three of his crew.
Main picture: Coley’s Sherman after the battle at Cellano on 10th June 1944. Coley was in the turret when the shell struck the tank
Mustard gas was only used twice in warfare; first in WW1 and secondly during the Iraqi-Iranian war. Yet in the immediate aftermath of WW2, numerous people in Port Elizabeth were to endure the effects of mustard gas. How did this occur and why was mustard gas stored in Port Elizabeth during WW2?
Main picture: Gas warfare during WW1
Many of Port Elizabeth’s sons and fathers have served with distinction in the Prince Alfred’s Guards including many of my uncles. This blog shines a spotlight onto one of the remnants of that once proud unit, its historic Drill Hall.
Main picture: Prince Alfred Guard’s Drill Hall or Shed in PAG parlance
It was not only during the six long years of WW2 that the “routine and normal” had all but disappeared, but also thereafter, with its continuing shortages and years of hardship. What the war years did engender, was a sense of connectedness, solidarity and responsibility. It was this civic mindedness which drove the community to surmount these challenges.
How did those years, fraught with possible dangers, or loss of a brother, father or even uncle in the crucible of war up north, as it was euphemistically referred to, affect one school at the heart of the community in Port Elizabeth?
Main picture: Senior Collegiate Girls School, Bird Street, May 1924
Over the past century and a half, a number of members of the Sherman family have left their mark on the Friendly City. This blog serves to record these long forgotten individuals. Finally their connection to the McCleland family is made.
Main picture: Howard Sherman 1861-1935
Against of backdrop of sleaze and malfeasance of the 1920s mobster era, two heroes would arise, their tales so extraordinary that one almost judges them as “fake news.” It is not just because of these two men’s undeniable bravery that these tales need to be read. Moreover, it is how these disparate events could be so inextricably linked that is the clincher.
Main picture: Al “Scarface” Capone
Some years ago I first received an email claiming that these stunning photographs were only found in a Brownie Box Camera recently. The photos are real but the astonishing claims made were a figment of somebody’s imagination.
Maybe the battlefields were thousands of kilometres distance, yet far-off Port Elizabeth was affected in numerous ways from the mundane to the deadly. Apart from the direct effect on the town, numerous of its citizens, such as my father and many of my uncles, volunteered for active service.
The focus of this blog is on Port Elizabeth itself, both as regards military establishments, training and enemy actions.
Main picture: The Fortress Observation Post at Seahill, Cape Recife
In all respects, WW2 was a war of superlatives. From the number of people killed to the quantum of destruction of civilian property, it easily outranks all previous wars combined. Of all other wars, it was truly waged on an industrial scale.
This blog presents those statistics that will amaze, astonish and often make one reflect on why in the mid 20th century, man’s primal instinct was still to murder, annihilate and plunder.
Main picture: Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war