Hermanus, everyone agrees, is a seaside town. The names tell you that: the Old Harbour, the New Harbour, Voelklip Beach, Harbour Road, Poole's Bay, Kwaaiwater, the Klein River and Onrus lagoons – the list goes on.
We are used, now, to the rugby players of Western Province and the Stormers visiting Hermanus for training at the start of the annual competitions. Like any other sporting codes coming to our town to exercise and train, they bring revenue into many businesses and boost the image of health, outdoors and ‘clean air’ that attracts many other tourists as well.
Between 1910 and 1943, five “Governors-General” represented the British reigning monarch in South Africa. Each Governor-General played the role of the personal representative of the British King, while the “High Commissioner” interacted with the South African government on political, economic and diplomatic issues.
One of the obvious features of Hermanus history is the large number of famous and well-known people who visited the town during the 20th century. Some came only once, for instance the internationally known English woman pilot, Amy Johnson, who rested for a few days at the Marine after her record-breaking solo flight from London in the 1930s.
The Adelphi Cinema was built by the Allen family in 1916 and was owned and managed by Simon Allen, one of the sons of David Allen and a grandson of the original Allengensky. The first member of this family to come to South Africa was Adel Allengensky, who arrived in Hermanus from Latvia, via Cape Town and Greyton early in the 1890s.
A soldier who would one day retire in Hermanus surprised himself by earning the highest British military award. He is William Henry Hewitt who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 and who lived in Natal, South Africa between 1905 and 1915 and in Hermanus in the 1950s. He returned to the UK only when he was terminally ill early in the 1960s, but left instructions that his body should be cremated and the ashes cast into the sea at his favourite resting place along the Hermanus Cliff Path.
The Balcony Building (numbers 58-62 Main Road) is today mainly associated with The Factory Shop, which was opened in this building in 1983 and has expanded over the years to occupy most of the building. It was owned by a Swiss national, Jörg Friedrich, who managed it until 2013. The present owner, Fransien Koegelenberg took over at that time and has expanded the business further. Fransien was kind enough to show me the interior of the building.
In recent years, the coastline of the Overstrand Municipality has become closely linked with whales. The ‘Cape Whale Coast’ logo appears on virtually every website for tourists from Pringle Bay to Danger Point and beyond. Hermanus has promoted itself as having ‘the best land-based whale watching in the world’.
Another process of research, another unlikely link uncovered between Hermanus and events of world significance a long way away. This time it is the “Burma Campaign” that took place in the country we now call Myanmar between 1942 and 1945. It started with the Japanese invasion of Burma in preparation for the final target – the invasion of India and access to natural resources to sustain the Japanese military campaigns.
Fifty five years ago Hermanus experienced its longest and most high profile contact ever with the Royal Navy. The famous aircraft carrier HMS Victorious officially visited the town for two incident-packed days that galvanised the whole population.
Among the finished compositions that Berdine Luyt left in her papers is a file titled “Letters from Hermanus: 1942-1945”. The file contains 36 lengthy letters from Berdine Luyt, the eldest daughter of P John and Joey van Rhyn Luyt, owners of the Marine Hotel, Hermanus (hotel pictured above). Many servicemen stayed at the hotel while on shore leave from Cape Town and the Luyts (two other daughters were also involved in running the hotel) went way out of their way to entertain the men.
We are very excited to publish this detailed article on the life and achievements of Sir William Hoy. The piece was compiled by Dr Robin Lee of the Hermanus Historical Society (click here to view details of the important work carried out by the society). Main image - Hoy's home in Parktown (Wanooka).
We are honoured to publish this in depth article by Dr Robin Lee on the history of radar in the Overstrand area during World War II. Robin is a retired academic and founder member of the Hermanus History Society which is dedicated to the identification and preservation of heritage sites in the area.