Many of us may have met, or are acquainted with, persons who stand out from the crowd.
They maybe outstanding sportsmen or women, or possibly talented entertainers, or they just might be exceptional human beings whose exploits have earned them praise and recognition from the public at large. One such individual was Perla Siedle Gibson, a South African soprano and artist who became internationally celebrated during the Second World War as the Lady in White, when she sang troopships in and out of Durban harbour.
Gibson was the daughter of Otto Siedle, a prominent local shipping agent, businessman and musician of German extraction. In the early twentieth century she studied music and art in Europe and the US, and gave recitals in London and New York. [Her youngest brother was Jack Siedle, a South African Test cricketer].
During World War 2, Durban was a busy waystation for convoys of ships en route to the fronts in North Africa and the Far East. Gibson became famous among thousands of Allied troops when she serenaded them at the entrance to the harbour. Many of these vessels were ocean liners requisitioned to transport service personnel to theatres of war and they supplemented the Royal Navy’s efforts in this area.
Her greeting in song “was a wonderful sound to hear after thousands of miles dodging U Boats” said Sam Morley who as Leading Seaman Morley made several voyages to the Harbour. “When they heard the Lady in White sing I saw some very tough men with tears in their eyes. She was the Kiri Te Kanawa of her day.” Soldiers’ talk led to the fame of the Lady in White spreading around the world. A British army newspaper called Parade, dated 3 March 1945, described Gibson as a highlight of troops’ visits to Durban.
While the recent work that was carried out on the widening of the entrance to Durban Harbour was being undertaken, the statue was relocated to a site within the harbour area near the Ocean Terminal. Many persons are keen that it is returned to it’s former location. Many thanks to Bruce Souter for the photographic images.