History of Rhumbelow Shellhole
(if you have any old pics are articles of events at the Rhumbelow over the last 50 years - please contact us, as we are trying to build up the history of the venue)
In regard to the origins of Rhumbelow Shellhole, Moth
Charles Kent (Old Bill 1931/1932) recorded the following:
As far as I can remember … the Rhumbelow Shellhole came into being following
a meeting at the Criterion Theatre of a number of members to organise
Shellholes. Among them I can remember as present at the meeting were
Kingston Russell, (Editor of the Natal Mercury), Evo, Bert Constable,
Gardyne Greenberg, Dunning, Wight of the Tramways, the writer and others. We
gave in our names and occupations and agreed to form Shellholes in our
I drew up a poster and pinned it up on the Old Tramway shelter at the tram
terminus at Umbilo, and U may mention in passing that this poster was the
cause of the only opposition to the movement I know of during all these
The first letter of the word ‘Shellhole' was pencilled out to read
‘hellhole' possibly by some irate housewife who saw in these meetings an
excuse for the old man to get out occasionally among his wartime pals.
The poster called on all ex-Servicemen in the district to fall in at the
terminus and, as far as I can say, it was about the middle of 1928. It
mentioned Footsloggers, Poultice, Wallopers, Mudlarks, Contemptibles, and
other regimental nicknames.
We then marched onto the back veranda of Mr G Donald's house that stood at
the corner of Bartle Road and Drake Road. It was one of the old pioneer
homes and had one of the few slate roofs at that time in Durban. He was the
first OC. One of the two brothers Keating, present on that occasion, was
later made OC. The writer was for a long time Secretary or Scribe, as now
known. We only had one meeting at Mr Donald's house, because we were given
permission by Mr Bevis Snr to use an old cowshed as our headquarters. It was
about where some flats in Marigny Road now stand. We could make as much row
as we liked there and did we, with Chinese bombs at 3 d each. I well
remember the first night when Moth Warwick fell over some barbed wire in the
dark, and said it really was like old times. He later took Holy Orders. The
quarter bloke was the keeper of the local tearoom. I forgot the name but
Jimmy Byrnes (who later died as a result of his Delville wounds) were hard
workers in the cause of getting local members into line.
It was Kimmy Byrnes who designed the first Shellhole banner – “Game to the
end” with the East African Infantryman, as he said picking winners with an
Army grey back. The motif was a play on a well-known cartoon of the time by
a cartoonist on the staff of one of the Johannesburg papers who was with the
“Creamy Ninth” in GEA. “The name of the Shellhole was a play on the words
‘Rum' and ‘Umbilo'.
After the cowshed period we took over, by permission of Phillip the builder,
his old workshop in Prospect Road, which, prior to being a builders hop, was
known as the Umbilo Town Hall. It was then that stalwarts like Allan, Bill
Baillie, etc, made their weight felt by organising any sort of scheme that
would get money into the kitty for a new hall of our own. We were indeed
lucky when My Byrne Snr came to light with a donation of a hall site in
Cunningham Road, and the Hall opened on September 1st 1929.
The scrounging of the material for this hall was the result of army training
in the gentle art of winning. Nearly everything we wanted for the hall was
obtained this way. That fine sailor Willy Leuchars donated all the timber.
Bill Baillie was OC construction and fatigue every Saturday afternoon and
the co-operation by one of the happiest bunch of old sweats was something to
be seen to be believed.
Most dignified residents of Umbilo were seen digging, sawing, painting, etc,
which even the best of wives could not get them to do in their homes. And on
top of it all, we levied ourselves so much a month for the few costs there
were. I was away in Zululand at the time, but I believe the Hall was opened
by Col Molyneux and the Band of the Nazareth House Boys' Home was present
(Coincidence - the pianos acquired recently for the Theatre are from
Nazareth House, and the theatre made a donation to Nazareth House – Roland).
The subsequent history of the hall and the Shellhole is a matter of records
in minute books after this time. Some of the documents in my possession make
interesting reading after all these years. There is the printed BOF (Baptism
of Fire) for the admittance of a new recruit to a Shellhole. It lays down a
most detailed procedure and was a great source of humour, especially the MH,
TC and SM. Then there is the Moth Certificate of Attestation (mine is 192)
and more fine clean humour. If contained the rules of the movement, and I
consider a revival of this real humour by some of the Shellholes would be a
good thing. We are likely to loose touch with the ideals of the original
spirit of the movement.
I have a letter from Mademoiselle of Armentieres, sent to me wishing the new
Shellhole Good Luck. The younger members of the Shellhole might like to know
that she was a very real little lady, and not quite like the person in song
and quip. There is also a copy of the first set of rules drawn up about this
When Colenso, Lyle, Allen, Joliffe, Geo Byrnes, Hines, Dear and or course
‘Chesty' got going the Shellhole went ahead rapidly. I cannot remember them
all but there were Coombes, Penny, Jelley, Squibs, Wratten, Teague, Taylor
The subsequent struggle to repay the members who made loans was finally
carried out and we must not forget the Ladies who worked so hard in these,
the early days of Rhumbelow Shellhole.
Comment from a website "This is a quirky community theatre sustained by volunteer love and labour,
and benefitting many charity organisations in the surrounds. It has a casual
atmosphere – you can smell the braai (South African name for barbeque)
outside – and the walls are adorned with wartime memorabilia as befits its
location in the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) Hall. It is a popular
venue for local cabaret and is home to the ever popular Drag comedy group
called THE FAMILY PLAYERS."