Shellhole turns 80

2008-08-28 00:00

The Allan Wilson Shellhole in Alan Paton Road marks the 80th year of its founding this weekend.

This is one of several shellholes in Pietermaritzburg belonging to the ex-servicemen and women’s club known as Moth — Memorable Order of Tin Hats. The organisation was founded in 1927 when Charles Evenden and a group of ex-servicemen who had served in World War 1 held the first meeting in Durban on July 4.

The next day Fitzroy Breakall, the then editor of The Natal Witness and himself an ex-serviceman, started signing on ex-soldiers in Pietermaritzburg and very soon afterwards the Nurse Cavell Shellhole was formed as a meeting place. As other ex-servicemen got to hear of this organisation, more and more signed on and more shellholes were formed. These included Inky, Plug Street, Chatty, Lukin, Earl Haig and Listening Post as well as Hell Fire in Howick, Old Time in Dalton, Saliata in Kokstad and Lead Swinger in Franklin.

The formation of these 11 shellholes led to the formation of a central controlling committee and it was decided that Nurse Cavell become a district dugout and members split up to form four new shelloles, namely Gunga Din, Unknown Warrior, Captain Fryatt and Major Allan Wilson.

The inaugural meeting of Allan Wilson Shellhole was held on March 27, 1928, at a building in Longmarket Street. There were 16 foundation members. The constitution drawn up for the shellhole states that the shellhole is “national, non-sectarian and non-political” and its objectives are to “bring together for sociability all ex-servicemen of any war, any service”. Meetings were to be held on the first Tuesday of every month.

The name Allan Wilson was chosen in order to associate the new shellhole with an incident in southern African history. Major Wilson was the leader of the Shangani Patrol that was annihilated during the First Matabele War in 1893 while attempting to capture King Lobengula.

Over the years Allan Wilson Shellhole members met at various venues but in 1964 a fundraising scheme was launched to build a permanent home. They joined forces with the former Woodburn Bowling Club, renamed the Allan Wilson Bowling Club, and built new premises alongside the bowling greens.

Building got under way in May 1968 and the first sod was turned by the then Old Bill, or head, of the shellhole, Albert Mason, who had been blinded during World War 1. The formal opening ceremony was held on February 13, 1969.

Starting 80 years ago with only 16 members, the Allan Wilson Shellhole has grown to be the largest shellhole in the Moth Order with 125 members.

“The Tin Hat”

The formation of the Moths (the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats) was inspired by a cartoon captioned “The Tin Hat” drawn by Charles Evenden. The idea behind the Order, then and now, is to help fellow comrades in need, either financially or physically, and to remember all servicemen who have died, both in war and peace time. Membership is for those who have served their country in a time of war including World War 2 and the operational areas, namely Namibia, Angola, Mozambique or the South African borders. (Check the website

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