To millions of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in World War II, Perla Siedle Gibson, “The Lady in White” was a living legend.

There were more than three million men who passed through Durban on their way to the battlefront and there are few among them, who will ever forget the sight of a motherly figure in white, standing alone on the quayside, her arms outstretched towards them, singing familiar songs like “Land of Hope and Glory” and “It’s a long way to Tippereray.”

Image source: vintagewings.ca

Having sailed thousands of miles in U-boat infested seas, Allied warships, troop ships, supply ships and hospital ships arrived off the Port of Durban and as each convoy passed through the narrow harbour entrance, there she was, standing alone on North Pier, singing a welcome to them in her rich soprano voice. Momentarily, each man was able to forget the unknown terrors, the unspoken fears, that the immediate future held for them in some distant corner of the world where the fight for freedom was being waged.

From April 1940 to August 1945, whether in the early dawn, wind, rain or the blazing sun, she never missed one convoy. Not even the one that sailed out on the day when she learned that her eldest son had been killed in action, while serving with the Black Watch in Italy.

A fund-raising appeal was launched in Britain by Sam Morley and some of those millions of veterans who had heard her sing, to commission, Barbara Siedle, Perla’s neice and artist in her own right, to produce a full size bronze statue of “The Lady in White” in March 1995.

On August 15th 1995, VJ day, the Monument was officially unveiled by Perla’s two surviving children Joy Liddiard and Barrie Gibson, on T jetty next to the Portnet offices. There it stayed and was enjoyed by the public for 21 years and was relocated to the Maritime museum on the 27th September 2016.

4 Comments

  • Bryan D Potgieter says:

    i read the book on her .. called Durban’s lady in white – it was her auto biography

  • martin nichols says:

    She sang to us as we entered and left Durban in 1971. I believe we were the last ship she sang to.

  • Shirley Phillips says:

    My husband witnessed her wonderful tribute to the servicemen in Durban on her 80th Birthday. He speaks of it often.

  • Roger Davis says:

    She sang to the men on the ship that my father was on, on his way up to Aden in 1944. I think the ship was The Duchess of Gloucester. In 1980 I bid at an auction of her house in Durban which was full of her paintings. I am also in possession of her Autobiography “The Lady in White” which I think was published around 1969.

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