Maj. Edwin Swales VC – a true South African hero’s legacy now under threat

A very notable South African hero and Victoria Cross winner, Captain Edwin (Ted) Swales VC, DFC (pictured in the centre with his crew) was born in Inanda, Natal, South Africa, he went to Durban High School (DHS) and then joined Natal Mounted Rifles, seeing action in Africa before he transferring to the South African Air Force and then went onto serve with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In 1945, while with the RAF Pathfinders (No. 582 Squadron), Captain Swales was the Master Bomber and captain of Avro Lancaster III PB538. On 23 February 1945, the very same day as his D.F.C. award was gazetted, Swales led the bombing raid on Pforzheim, Germany.

Swales’ Victoria Cross citation:

“Captain Swales was ‘Master Bomber’ of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23, 1945. As Master Bomber he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers in his wake.

Soon after he reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy aircraft and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey for further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales’ aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose.

It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war. Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home.

After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bail out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety.

Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls. Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live”

Citation ends:

Although often referred to as being a “Captain” at the time of his last flight,  Swales was in fact an ‘Acting’ Major. The S.A.A.F. was using the army ranking system, hence the ranks of ‘Captain’ and of ‘Major’. At the time of his death on 23 February 1945, Swales was aged 29 years. In 1958, the British Air Ministry wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission informing them that the South African Air Force authorities had confirmed that at the time of his death, Swales had in fact held the rank of Major.

A Personal View

It is a great pity that in South Africa that the main Highway in Durban – Edwin Swales Drive has been renamed in support of some of other political narrative rather than to continue to acknowledge such a massive contribution to South Africa’s “honour” by this truly international hero – in whose memory the naming of the highway was originally intended.  This is how South Africa’s military heritage is destroyed and it’s how the country’s multi cultural fabric is insidiously removed to support one groups political ideology over that of another.

My personal view.  Part of the problem is also the “allowist” nature of South Africans with British roots for whom this man is a hero, they would rather put the issue into a “too hard box” and pursue individual security instead – they themselves are “allowing” this insidious rot to fester rather than really challenging it in a manner South African politicians today are accustomed.

Take a leaf out of the “Student Handbook” if you want things changed in South Africa – I’m not condoning violence in any way – but as a community, students really know how to mobilise in the digital and media age and challenge the status quo. People who want things like this changed and would like to impact a real difference should take a leaf out of that book.

2 thoughts on “Maj. Edwin Swales VC – a true South African hero’s legacy now under threat

  1. Major Swales sounds like an exceptional man; as for the re-naming of the Drive named in his honour, it is perhaps refreshing to know that SA bureaucrats are as insensitive and gutless as their British colleagues.


  2. Pingback: The Royal Air Force’s 100th Birthday and its founder – Jan Smuts | The Observation Post

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