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Career of Chief Yeoman of Signals George Smith, DSM, Royal Navy 1904-28




by his grandson, Gordon Smith,

George Smith, 2nd from left at Durban, South Africa, December 1926
(click photographs for enlargements)




My grandfather appears to have been one of two "official" ship's photographers. His captions are included. Added notes are in brackets






Most of the (incomplete) movements are from The Times archives, for which I am most grateful. Dates reported in the press included "planned", "due", arrived and departed. Plans change, due dates move, and neither may always agree with reported actuals. In addition, dates from the photographs (in brackets) also may not match. However, the general movements of DURBAN can be followed in outline.




31 August - left Hong Kong for UK


24 or 25 October - (Capt J C Hamilton) arrived Devonport from China Station after nearly five years there. To pay off




2 November - Due to recommission for further Far East service in 5th CS, China Station, Capt G L Coleridge in command


6 November - Left Devonport for St Vincent (presumably Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands)


14-16 November - St Vincent approved


24 November - arrived St Helena, South Atlantic


26 November - departure from St Helena approved




8 December - week's visit to Durban, first ever to the ship's namesake, returning to China Station via Cape


12 December - left Simonstown, near Capetown


15 December - arrived Durban, east coast


(15 December - Colours trooped and march-past, Durban)


16 December - was due to leave Durban for Colombo, but delayed due to stay in Simonstown having been prolonged


23 December - now due to leave Durban on this date for Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong


24 December - left Durban




29 December-2 January - Colombo approved




14 January - arrived Singapore (3 day stay originally approved)


15 January - Hong Kong approved




22 January - due to arrive at Hong Kong, restoring 5th Cruiser Squadron (CS) to five units, including CARADOC, EMERALD and ENTERPRISE


11 February - "Merchant Navy Signalling Practice" - DURBAN noted for her efficiency on the China Station


18 February - left Hong Kong with CARADOC for Wusung


21 February - arrived Wusung


(15 March - at Shanghai)


25 May - left Shanghai for Hankow


(4 June - foreign warships in Chinese waters, including DURBAN)


(11 June - cricket match in Hankow)


28 July - left Hankow for Wei-hai-wei


31 July - arrived Wusung and left for Wei-hai-wei


27 August - left Wei-hai-wei for Hong Kong


4 September - arrived Hong Kong


19 November - left Hong Kong for Shanghai


22 November - arrived Shanghai


24 November - left Shanghai for Nanking


26 November - arrived Nanking, greater part of winter stationed there


(27 November to 6 March - stayed in Nanking)


(27 December - football match in Nanking)




CHINESE WATERS - continued


20 January - arrived Shanghai


3 February - left Shanghai for Nanking


4 February - arrived Nanking; as of this date, destroyer KEPPEL has taken the place of DURBAN at Nanking


 16 March - left Shanghai for Nagasaki




17 March - was due at Kobe after visiting Inland Sea and Kure


18 March - arrived Nagasaki and left for Miyajima


22 March - was due to leave Kobe


22 March - should be at Miyajima


23 & 24 March - should be at Takamutsu


24 March to 4 April - should be at Yokohama


24 March - arrived Kobe


29 March - left Kobe for Foochow


CHINESE WATER - continued


2-6 April - should be at Foochow


6 April - left Foochow


7 April - arrived Swatow


7-11 April - should be at Swatow in course of last cruise with 5th CS


14 April - arrived Hong Kong to await arrival of heavy cruiser BERWICK


21 April - should be relieved in 5th CS by BERWICK, proceed to Bermuda and join 8th CS, America & West Indies Station


24 April - due to leave Hong Kong


29 Apr - 6 May due to call at Yokohama, Japan


30 April - left Hong Kong




1 May (confirmed) - left Hong Kong (Capt G L Coleridge, being relieved on China Station by BERWICK, to replace CAIRO on America & Indies Station)


5 May - arrived Yokohama (spent week there)


13 May - due to leave Yokohama


17 May - due to reach Honolulu, Hawaii


22 May - arrived Honolulu


29 May - left Honolulu for Esquimalt, British Columbia (BC), Canada


6 June - arrived Esquimalt from Honolulu. Now reached A & WI Station which includes Pacific waters, travel via Panama Canal from main base at Bermuda. To visit British Columbia ports over next two months.


12 June - left Victoria BC for Kodiak




18 June - arrived Kodiak


19 June - left Kodiak


21 June - arrived at Valdez


24 June - left Valdez


26 June - arrived Juneau


30 June - left Juneau for Sitka


5 July - left Sitka


10 July - left Wrangell




11 July - arrived Port Simpson


16 July (Monday) - should be at Prince Rupert until 18 July


23 July - left Port Alexander


30 July - left Nanaimo


30 July - arrived Ladysmith


3 August - left Ladysmith


3 August - arrived New Westminster


17 August - due to leave Esquimault


17 August - arrived with DESPATCH at Comox


22 August - due to visit Comox until this date


22-29 August - due to be at Vancouver




25 Aug - Prince George joined at Vancouver


29 August - due to leave Vancouver


29-31 August - due to stay at Esquimault




31 August - due to leave Esquimault for Bermuda via Panama Canal


4-8 September - due to visit San Diego


21 September - due to pass through Panama Canal


28 September - due to arrive at Bermuda


8 October - arrived Bermuda


15 October - first time in several months, 8th CS and attached sloops should be assembled at Bermuda today - DESPATCH (flag) from Pacific, DURBAN already there, CAPETOWN from Trinidad, CARADOC from England, sloops HELIOTROPE and WISTARIA from Halifax




4 June 1927 - Foreign warships in Chinese waters, including DURBAN



Foreign Warships in the Yangtze (FROM OUR NAVAL CORRESPONDENT).


With the arrival, announced in The Times on Thursday, of the destroyer Wishart at Shanghai, the total number of warships of the Powers at this port was 51 at the end of May, including three lying off Woosung. This was an increase of eight over the total at the end of April. The list is as follows:-


GREAT BRITAIN - Hawkins (flagship), Emerald (cruisers); Keppel (flotilla leader); Petersfield (minesweeper), Cockchafer, Cricket, Mantis, Widgeon (gunboats); Wishart (destroyer) ; and at Woosung, Despatch (cruiser) and Argus (aircraft-carrier); total 11.


UNITED STATES - Pittsburg (flagship), Richmond (flagship) (cruisers) ; Bulmer, Hart, Noa, Parrott, Paul Jones, Pillsbury, Pope, Preble, Preston, Pruitt, Truxton (destroyers); Black Hawk (destroyer tender); Elcano (gunboat); Chaumont and Henderson (transports); and at Woosung, Marblehead (cruiser) ; total, 18.


JAPAN - Tone (flagship), Hirado, Tenryu, Yahagi, Yakurno (cruisers); Kashi, Take (destroyers); Torpedo-boats 10, 16, 18; Seta, Toba (gunboats); Tsurumi (oiler); total, 13.


FRANCE - Jules Michelet (cruiser, flagship), Cassiopee, Craonne, Marne (dispatch vessels); total, 4.


PORTUGAL - Republica (sloop).


SPAIN - Blas de Lezo (cruiser).


ITALY - Libia (cruiser); E Carlotto (gunboat); Volta (submarine depot) total, 3.


The Netherlands cruiser Sumatra bas gone from the list since leat month.


Ascending the Yangtze, the distribution of the naval forces of the Powers, according to the latest available information, is as follows: At Chinkiang, there is the British destroyer Verity, American destroyer Simpson, and Japanese gunboat Sumida. At Nanking, there is the British cruiser Carlisle and destroyer Seraph, the American destroyer McCormick, and perhaps a Japanese gunboat. At Wuhu, there are the British cruiser Caradoc and two Japanese destroyers. At Kiukiang, there are the British destroyer Wild Swan and gunboat Woodlark, and the Japanese gunboat Katata and torpedo-boat No. 12. This gives a total of warships in the river between Shanghai and Hankow of 14.


The naval forces at Hankow at the end of May included 31 vessels, a reduction of seven on the total a month ago. The list was:-


GREAT BRITAIN - Durban, Vindictive (cruisers); Bee (flagship); Scarab, Teal, and Mantis (gunboats); Veteran, Wanderer and Witherington (destroyers); total, 9.


UNITED STATES - Cincinnati (cruiser); Isabel (flagship), Monocacy, Palos, Villalobos, and Penguin (gunboats); Edsall, Peary, Stewart (destroyers); total, 9.


JAPAN - Sendai (cruiser); Ataka, Hira, Hodzu (gunboats): Amatsukaze, Hinoki. Tokitsukaze, Urakaze, and Yanagi (destroyers); total, 9.


FRANCE - Algol and Bellatrix (dispatch vessels): La Grandlere (gunboat); total, 3.


ITALY - Muggia (destroyer).


Certain warships have again advanced above Hankow. and the French gunboat Doudart de Lagree was reported at Chunking; another French gunboat. the Alerte, being on passage up river, as well as the dispatch vessel Algol. The British gunboat Gnat and armed steamer Kiawo have gone to Ichang, where the French gunboat Balny is also reported.


As will be seen from the foregoing, the grand total of warships and their attendant vessels actually in the Yangtze at the end of May was about 102, of which one-half were at Shanghai.




see also

Naval Service Record 1904-28

North Russian Expeditionary Force 1919

HMS Vanquisher, Baltic Cruise 1921

HMS Curlew, America & West Indies 1922-25

Point Honda Disaster 1923

Royal Naval Shore Signal Service 1929-48



HMS Durban - date and location not unknown

reviews Ultrarade Froce4Him

December 1927


Dockyard, Simonstown


in drydock, Simonstown




Cheer ship Durban


Trooping colours, Durban


March past the Mayor outside Town Hall, Durban, South Africa, 15 December 1926


Durban, S.A., 15/12/26. These have just arrived from Durban. I’d just received your cablegram while this one was being taken. The blot is my photo oppo


Pietermaritzberg, inland of Durban


On road


January 1927 - April 1928


Hong Kong from the Peak, Kowloon in distance, cruiser alongside in foreground (believed carrier Hermes on right)


Hong Kong by night








HMS Emerald at Shanghai with Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt’s (C-in-C China Station) yacht alongside


Alongside at Shanghai 15/3/27


Shanghai side


Across river from ship


Customs House and Bund, Shanghai


Queens Road West, Shanghai


One of our daily visitors. When I took his photo I gave him 10 cents. He said no good, want 1 dollar. He got it - Shanghai


Soochow Creek to interior, Shanghai




Start of the General Strike when the Cantonese (the Southern Nationalists) captured Shanghai. Taken from our quarterdeck showing all riverside coolies typing up their boats during the middle of the afternoon
Signalmen ready for landing at Shanghai – 1 Yeoman (George Smith, but in ratings uniform?), 2 L Sig, 2 Sig, 2 boys

A view of the front Hankow I took from the bridge with the stand camera last Sunday. The tall building is the National City Bank of New York. The other is the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank which is deserted and used by us as a beer bar. The small building is alongside the British Consulate. In normal times the river should be as high as the bottom of the walls that lines the roadway.
CPO’s Cricket Team, Hankow Race Course, Sunday 11 June 1927



The ancient Chinese Manchu Empire came to end in 1911 when Yuan Shih-kai took over as an authoritarian Prime Minister in Peking (Beijing), while at the same time Sun Yat-sen was proclaimed President of a new republic in Nanking. Sun was leader of the Koumintang (a nationalist party dating from 1891, which wanted a democracy based on parliamentary majority). However to avoid civil war, Sun stepped down in favour of Yuan. It was at this time that the six-year old Pu Yi was forced to abdicate - the subject of the 1987 film, "The Last Emperor".


Although the Koumintang won a majority in parliament, Kuan wanted to be more than a figurehead, outlawed Sun and his party and dismissed parliament. Sun regrouped in the Canton area where he set up a rival government. In 1916 Yuan died, a weak government was established in Peking, the Koumintang managed to hold onto Canton, but most of China fell into the hands of rival, lawless war lords. China gained little profit or prestige from entering World War 1 as an ally. A few Chinese turned to the new Soviet Union for help and in 1921 formed the Chinese Communist Party. They even persuaded Sun Yat-sen to accept Soviet help and within a year the Koumintang and Communists were working together. A Nationalist army was created, the authority of the Koumintang around Canton consolidated, and a start made on helping the poor and resisting foreign exploitation.


Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek emerged as his successor in 1926 and lead Koumintang forces north, and in 1927, occupied Nanking. In their advance, his troops seized foreign property, especially British and American, and routed the war lords. Chiang was a nationalist, Japanese Army-trained, and had studied the Russian military in Moscow in 1923, but did not approve of communism nor the Chinese Communist's treatment of businessmen and landlords. When the Nationalist Army took Shanghai in 1927, he turned his forces against the communists and their supporters in the Koumintang in a bloody purge which killed many. The Communists retired south while Chiang headed north and entered Peking in June 1928. Chiang set up the Koumintang government in Nanking.


China had a government, but largely in the east, while the communists reorganised in the south, the Japanese were in Manchuria, and large parts of central and western China remained untouched. By 1930, Chiang had decided to eliminate the growing communist presence, by which time a certain Mao Tse-tung had entered the scene. By 1934, Mao was leading The Long March to escape the Nationalists.

(Paraphrase from "Success (Studybooks) in Twentieth Century World Affairs" by Jack Watson, 3rd edition 1985, pp277-8 - an excellent series of books)


The dates of the photographs in this period and the sequence of events are not known and require further research. They include a visit to the ship by Major-General John Duncan, North China Command who was succeeded by Major-General A E Wardrop around 25 January 1928, whether at Shanghai or not is not known. Also the landing of a Naval force from HMS Durban at Nanking.


Onboard ship


Lt Cmdr Agnew (Gunnery Officer, later commanded Force K in the Med in WW2), Gen Sir John Duncan KCB, Capt ?Kitton MC. Watching gun loading competition. Sent to Illustrated London News


Inspecting ship. Sent to Times

Photo sent to the Times



NANKING, including Naval landing party
27 November 1927-6 March 1928

View of ship alongside International Export Co Wharf. Taken from top of building. Note the broken bridges


Naval landing party on forecastle (not known if Shanghai or Nanking)


Inspecting Naval landing party. Sent to Times (possibly General Duncan)


Landing Party, International Export Co, Nanking


The attack
Battle Royal

After the scrap

Guard of Beds & Herts Regiment behind first barricade

(the 1st Battalion mounted the guard of honour when General Duncan's successor arrived in Shanghai on 25 January 1928)



View of Managers House showing damaged windows and verandah, taken last Sunday

International Export Co, Nanking, where “Cooks Farm Eggs” are manufactured. Stayed from 27/11/27 to 6/3/28. HMS Keppel going alongside to relieve us





A number of photographs are not included - "One of the Rebels hung by the Federals behind the Refinery, copied from one of the officer’s photos" and beheadings.


And in stark contrast ........


Officers v CPO’s fancy dress walking football match, International Export Co’s compound, Nanking, China, Xmas day




March & May 1928

Miyajima, sacred island
Where East meets West taken in Museum grounds, Kyoto

Outside the largest shrine in Japan at Kyoto. I’m just winding up my camera consequently no can see face
Entrance to the park, Yokohoma

With my chop sticks & sushi, Kirin beer (brewed from 1907 and still around. Note the US sailors)
Group taken at shrine on the mountain side
June/July 1928

At anchor in Thumb's Cove, Resurrection Bay, near Seward. This is the one I took for an Xmas card


Resurrection Bay



Sitka (This and other post-cards produced at the time by the Photoshop Studio are now in the Alaska State Library collection)





three sailors on glacier





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revised 08/04/09