Joe Tennant was born in Armadale, a small town between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland in1922. At the age of 4 the Tennant family moved to Cape Town, South Africa where his father was appointed General Manager of CT Tramways.
Schooling for Joe was at one of South Africa’s best – Rondebosch Boys High School – where he obtained his Senior Certificate (Grade 12). After completing School Joe was enrolled on the S.A.T.S General Botha – ex Royal Navy Cruiser used for Merchant Navy Training in SA – for a 2-year Course graduating successfully at the end of1939.
Following the outbreak of WWII Joe was one of the first to volunteer to serve in South Africa’s Seaward Defence Force. Joe’s introduction to Navy life was as an Ordinary Seaman on a converted South Atlantic Whaler – patrolling the rough seas around Cape Town and Simonstown.
Soon after his first sea time Joe successfully completed a Telegraphist/Radio Training Course in East London and that was followed by a most uncomfortable voyage on a Troop ship packed tight with mainly SA Military personnel destined for North Africa.
Disembarking in Alexandria, Egypt, Joe had no idea that he would spend the next 5 years serving aboard various South African Minesweepers and Sub Chasers – all of them either South African or Scandinavian converted Whalers.
Joe’s story is the story of amateur sailors, in a fledgling Navy, forged in the unforgiving crucible of WWII. Pitted against the experienced professionals of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the harshly contested waters of the Mediterranean these young men progressed from novice to veteran but, on the way, many paid the ultimate price for their patriotism.
Joe’s service included the escort of supply convoys in support of the Australian Divisions besieged in Tobruk, and magnetic minesweeping ahead of supply convoys in support of the advance of the 8th Army along the coast of North Africa to El Alamein. The invasion of Sicily was also made possible by the minesweeping performed by Joe and his fellow South Africans.
Joe was one of only 10 survivors (23 crew) when HMSAS Parktown was sunk in the Mediterranean by Italian Motor Gun Boats. The Wikipedia article on the sinking of HMSAS Parktown – link below – provides a detailed account of this action as well as background to South Africa’s involvement in the Mediterranean.
The excellent painting of the sinking HMSAS Parktown – the original proudly hung in Joe’s unit – provides details of this tragic event.
Although seriously injured from a badly broken leg during a skirmish on the rugby field whilst representing the SA Navy – Joe survived WWII intact and returned to South Africa where he started working at the Standard Bank. Joe then completed his Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Cape Town, topping in several subjects.
Between1946 and 1948 and he married Susanna Schurink in 1949 and they had three children Lynne in 1952 and twins Margot and James in 1955.
Joe had a very interesting civilian career between 1949 and 1983, first in the South African Diplomatic Service, serving in Washington as 3rd Secretary and a highlight of this posting was his introduction to the President of The United States of America. He was later posted to Athens, Pretoria, Elizabethville, Pretoria again, and then Rome.
In 1964 he immigrated with his family to Melbourne, Australia to join the Commonwealth Public Service, serving in the Departments of Labour and National Service and later, Transport.
In spite of his WW II injury, Joe was a highly accomplished Veteran athlete. Between 1972 and 1981 Joe was the Australian Veterans sprint Champion 6 years in a row in the 55 to 60 age group and in 1974 he set a World Record for the Veterans 200 meter sprint – 23.4 seconds. As far as Joe and his son James are aware this Record still stands. Joe came 2nd in the 100 meters at the first ever World Masters Games in Toronto.
Joe has written 4 Novels, including “The Red Diamond Navy”. Joe’s first effort at story telling commenced in the 1990’s when he learned of the Department of Veterans Affairs Story writing and Art Competition through the Inverloch Library. Joe won 1st Prize in SWAC’s True Wartime Experience category and the Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop Memorial Award in2007 for his story “Young Love in War”.
In 1980,Joe married Josephine Peterson and they built their home in Inverlock, where they retired. During this time, Joe wrote twelve semi-autobiographical books and collections of stories.
Josephine passed away in August 2011 and a year later Joe moved to BUPA, Donvale, where he passed away 15 months later.