From the unpublished diary of Berdine Luyt come both some moving and light-hearted stories of wartime Hermanus and the hospitality trade of those long ago years. She was one of the five daughters of John and Joey Luyt and assisted her mother in running the Marine Hotel after her father’s death. The following extracts are from her diary, edited by the author with permission from Berdine’s niece, Sue Blyth, the owner of various manuscripts. Berdine Luyt was born in Hermanus in 1916, and lived a full and interesting life. Besides the diary, she left an unpublished manuscript on the life of her mother which is for the most part the story of Hermanus. She dedicated the stories to her mother Joey Luyt, that most unusual woman. Berdine died from cancer in Hermanus in 1980. Some of these stories appeared in a special series in the “Hermanus Times” in 2006.
Hospitality in Hermanus
During the years 1940-47 Hermanus was really busier than it is nowadays during the whale festival. It was popular among South Africans and with the troops on leave. Hermanus was then still mainly a seasonal resort, without the large residential population of today. In those years even the winters were busy.
My mother ran the Marine Hotel with us, her daughters. We worked hard and long hours. All of us in the village gave our free time, such as it was, to war work, raising money for war funds, and to entertaining the troops. We never knew who of all the brave boys we met would have their last "good time", on this earth.
Hermanus was crowded with sailors, soldiers and airmen - many of them merely on holiday from the camps and in transit to or from the battle-fields of the world. Many were wounded, convalescent, but many were ill, disabled, shocked, or trying to heal.
Cape Peninsula Hospitality Scheme
Under the Cape Peninsula Hospitality Scheme, those who joined agreed to act as hosts, taking one or more men for leave granted. Those who could not supply accommodation, helped with entertainment, particularly when large batches of overseas troops were sent to our village either in transit or convalescent from the hospitals.
At the Marine, we kept four single rooms permanently available, even through the peak of the season, for those sent from the Hospitality Scheme's headquarters.
When joining, Mother was told that she could specify whether we would take only officers or ratings.
"Naturally you will want officers only," said the secretary.
"On the contrary," Mother told her, "I'll only take ratings."
"But the Marine is a first-class hotel:" the secretary was startled.
"And why shouldn't the men get first class accommodation?" demanded Mother. "Many of my children's friends have joined up as privates", and she added, with a twinkle, that she felt sure that many more homes in the Peninsula, particularly among the wealthy, were open to officers. Further, she felt that all the boys are fighting this war, irrespective of rank, and especially those who had been in the forefront of battle, were entitled to the best we could provide.
The secretary beamed. "You are a wonderful woman, Mrs Luyt," she said. "Be sure I'll only send you the nicest boys:"
"I don't care if they are nice or not," Mother said firmly, "Just send me boys who need a good holiday, and I'll see that they are well looked after."
We did not accommodate just four men at a time of course, but took as many as we could, depending on what other rooms we had available, both ratings and officers - although the four single rooms were reserved for ratings only. And these were seldom empty all through the years of war.
Frequently, too, boys who had stayed with us came again on their own initiative whenever they had a weekend or a few days free, hitch-hiking from Cape Town. These we put up wherever we could; often, when the hotel was full, in our own private sitting room upstairs and in the sitting rooms of obliging guests who had suites. We once had six sailors sleeping in the billiard room on camp stretchers for a week.
Article extracted from SJ du Toit – Whale Capital Chronicles III, Page 10.
Should you wish to use any of her stories please contact SJ du Toit directly.