R.D.Rathbone # 1017 – 1938/39

Mrs Rathbone sent us a newspaper clipping from the Daily News:

London, Thursday – Two South Africans took part in the sinking of HMS Durban, which is one of the ships used to form a breakwater for the great artificial harbours built off the Normandy beaches for the invasion of the Continent. They were Lieut. Richard Dennis Rathbone, of Durban, and AB SM MacFadyen, from Johannesburg.

Lieut. Rathbone told me: “For three months before “D” Day, we had a race against time to get the old cruiser stripped and the bottom fitted with explosives. When the great day dawned, we went in immediately and the assault troops and landing craft got a holding on the beach. We came in on the West bank of the River Orne at the mouth to form an Eastern side of the breakwater and then blew out the ship’s bottom.

“The explosion shot me five feet into the air. We had not expected it to be so big, so we stayed aboard.” The men were stationed behind the bridge for protection in case the mast came down. A few had burn injuries. They were all black and blue. The men transferred to a merchant ship for transportation to England.

Lieut. Rathbone went on to say; “All we brought with us was an army pack*, a gasmask and a water-bottle each, so while waiting for our merchant ship to sail, we camped on deck and lived on our emergency rations. We anchored half a mile from the beach for four days, and from this ringside seat had a good view of the preliminary work of setting up the dock, laying the foundations and sinking the concrete caissons.”

All the time the battle raged fiercely around them. From Allied ships and from the shore a terrific ack-ack barrage was put up, and at night coloured tracers and bursting shells made a wonderful “Guy Fawkes” display. The navy’s bombarding craft came in in turn and dropped anchor, let go their shells and went out again to make room for others.


Mrs Rathbone also sent in a caption to an old photograph of the ship’s bell. The bell now hangs in the chapel of the Old Fort in Durban and a plaque underneath gives a little of the old warship’s history. It Reads: “Ship’s bell of HMS Durban, a cruiser launched at Greenock in 1919, which made its first visit to Durban in 1926. Served throughout the Seven Seas in the Second World War and had an honourable end in 1944 as one of the block-ships sunk to form Mulberry Harbour for the landings in Normandy in 1944.”

*Instructions for the use of “The 24-hour ration”

Here are the details of the rations that the men were issued with. Every fighting man who took part in the invasion of Normandy took with him a specially prepared 24-hour ration pack in a waterproofed box. The box measured 53/4″ long, 43/4″ wide and 21/2″ deep and contained the articles and a closely printed instruction card and suggested menus.

This box contains the full rations (in concentrated form) for one man for one day as follows:

10 biscuits;
Two sweetened oatmeal blocks;
Tea/sugar/milk blocks (may be wrapped together);
One meat block (may be several wrapped together);
Two slabs or raisin chocolate;
One slab of plain chocolate;
Boiled sweets;
Two packets of chewing gum;
One packet of salt;
Meat extract tablets;
Four tablets of sugar and
Four pieces of latrine paper.

Suggested Menu

Two oatmeal porridge blocks, two biscuits, tea blocks (one half of quantity provided). After breakfast, remove two or three biscuits, chocolate, chewing gum and sweets and place in convenient pockets for use during action, thus being more readily available when required.

Meat blocks(s), biscuits, blocks (one half of quantity provided), any sweets, chocolate, etc left over from the day.

To prepare a hot meal, crumble the blocks up finely into a mess tin. Add water to a depth of about 1/2″ (1/2 pint) for the two oatmeal blocks and the meat block(s) and about 1″ (1 pint) for half the quantity of tea blocks provided.
Boil while stirring for 3-4 minutes. If circumstances make heating with water impossible, the oatmeal and meat blocks can be eaten dry – in which case.
(1) Eat them slowly.
(2) Chew them well,
(3) Drink some water at the same time or soon after.

(a) The amount of water suggested is only approximate.
(b) Cook the meat and porridge (oatmeal) carefully or they will burn.
(c) Broken biscuits and meat-extract tablets may be added to the meat stew if required.
(d) After boiling, leave the tea for a few minutes so that the leaves can sink to the bottom of the mess-tin. Add sugar if required.
(e) If you want more hot drink cook up the broken bar of plain chocolate with water or dissolve the meat-extract tablets in hot water.
(f) It is more economical for men to cook in pairs and make the larger part of the mess tin full of tea to give nearly two pints (using all tea blocks in one pack). It is essential to use cookers away from all draughts – using a tin as a shield, or by making a small slit trench.