Four ships are at the heart of The Girl from Simon's Bay. Each is real, each played a distinguished part in World War 2, and each passed through Simon's Town for repair or refuelling during that time. Their painted badges can still be seen on the side walls of the dry dock.
The cruisers HMS Durban, HMS/HMNZ Achilles, HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cumberland became the wartime home of the fictional David Horrocks in the book. He was a young Sub-Lieutenant on HMS Durban before the war, and then moved into Gunnery. His early war action on Achilles, at the Battle of the River Plate, was inspired by the real-life heroism of Lt Richard Washbourn, DSO. David then transferred to the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire which was diverted to join the chase for the German battleship, Bismarck, in the North Atlantic. Dorsetshire fired the final torpedoes that sank the Bismarck. Dorsetshire's days were numbered, though, and it was later sunk by Japanese bombers off Ceylon in 1942. I listened to recordings of the survivors to create David's account of the sinking in his letters and war logs. His final posting of the war was to HMS Cumberland, part of the Eastern fleet, involved in action off Sumatra and the surrender of Japan.
Sometimes David surprises me... in the passing slide of blue eyes, the timbre of a man's voice, the line of a warship slicing across the bay.
"Wait!" I stared at the dockyard, trying to make out the ships.
Durban, Achilles, Dorsetshire, Cumberland