1941 Long Week-end that nearly ended in Tragedy.

1941   Long Week-end that nearly ended in Tragedy.


In deference to Mavis, wife of my cousin Billy Buckle, I refer to him as “Billy” rather than his nick name “Tootie”.


The incident occurred at Lamports Bay on the sea side of the Durban Bluff, opposite the present site of Durban’s main Airport. In those days the Airport, Bluff cutting and oil refinery did not exist. Billy Buckle, Hugh Robertson, Barry Brunskill and I, had taken a train from Durban Station to Isipingo Rail on a Saturday morning. We walked from the station to Isipingo Beach carrying our fishing gear and food for the long week-end.


After crossing the Isipingo River and Reunion beach northwards, we followed the long rocky pathway to Lamport’s Bay. About a mile from our destination, we passed a gun emplacement construction site where convicts were digging with picks. Reunion rocks are sandstone and honey-combed with holes evidenced at low tide by water spouts. These holes provide underwater habitats for crayfish and eels. We would soon learn that similar holes, in exposed rocks, provide habitats for land animals such as rats and snakes. Camp was set up in a rock cave overlooking Lamport’s Bay. Near the entrance was a huge rock with multiple holes, visible from within the cave.


Whilst unpacking we saw a three foot green snake emerge from one of the holes. Barry wanted to kill it but Hugh identified it as a harmless Natal Green Snake, and would not hear of it. This difference of opinion developed into an altercation with bad feelings that worsened the stress awaiting us.


We spent a restless night in the rat infested cave. The weather next morning was perfect for catching crayfish. The method for catching crayfish in day-light was feeling blind under rocks and hoping not to be bitten on the hand by an eel. Flippers, wet suites, masks and snorkels had yet to be invented. Low tide was at 11h00 and we commenced “feeling” for crayfish at about 10h30. Whilst kneeling with his right hand in a hole and face out of the water, Billy located a crayfish he could not remove. After releasing his grip on the crayfish, his hand remained stuck. We were unconcerned. until the tide turned and occasional waves came over his head. Only then did the terrible predicament become apparent.


Barry drew the lot to run for help to the gun emplacement site. After he left, the situation worsened. Hugh and I decided to use his Michaelhouse snake-buckle school belt as a tourniquet if it became necessary to cut off his hand or arm. When it got to the stage of having to hold Billy’s head above water for every wave, we conveyed to him that we would forcibly move his feet, soles together, onto the rock face. In desperation we mustered the strength to achieve this whilst under water, enabling him to straighten both legs and remove his badly lacerated arm. After his release Barry returned without having found help.


It was paramount that immediate medical help be sought to treat the injury and trauma suffered by Billy. Fortunately we discovered a winding bush path leading over the Bluff to a swamp on the landward side. Barry was acquainted with the swamp as he had previously been there on a duck shoot hosted by the Ogle family, from an adjacent farm. The climb over the Bluff with full gear was tortuous, particularly for Billy. There was a roadway in knee deep water through the reeds of the swamp, where progress was slowed, because of having to remove devil thorns from our bare feet as we waded.


We arrived at the Ogle farm house in the late afternoon where Bubbles Ogle (who happened to be experienced) competently treated and bandaged the damaged arm. She then took us by car to the Reunion station in time to catch a train back to the Durban main station. Billy soon recovered after medical intervention, but the experience would live in our minds for years to come.

Sailing is great