The beginning of the new year in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s (even the early 1990’s) meant the dreaded “January Intake” and thousands of white South African men would be starting the new year in uniform. This cartoon by Keith and Lorna Stevens in ‘Bytvas’ perfectly captures the surprise awaiting the new national servicemen at their respective intake mustering points.
In reality the yelling Army corporals at the mustering points were usually “campers” (civilian force members who had completed the initial national service period) from Reception Depot units (RCD/OVD) attached to the various regional commands – the RCD/OVD units were responsible for the two annual “intakes” and the security of the convoys of recruits to all the respective training units, the largest such unit was 15 RCD/OVD which was attached to Witwatersrand Command (the largest catchment area).
Such was the radical changeover from “civvie street” that to every person who ever served as a conscript in the SADF – the first day in the SADF is emblazoned in their memories forever.
“Tree Aan” is the Afrikaans command to “form up” on parade.
The feature image shows ‘Nancy’ the 4th Regiment mascot of the South African Forces, seen here at a drum head service at Delville Wood on the 17th February 1918 Delville Wood was the site of such huge South African sacrifice and carnage. The story of Nancy is quite extraordinary.
Nancy is the only animal in South African military history to be accorded full funeral honours and to be buried in an Allied war cemetery. This is the story of famous Springbok mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment who died of pneumonia at Hermeton in Belgium during the severe winter of 1918 during World War I.
No more appropriate mascot could have been found. The SA Brigade badge was a Springbok head, surrounded by a circle with the motto: “Union is Strength – Eendracht Maakt Macht”.
At her funeral, the firing party fired their volley. As the echoes died slowly away on this quiet afternoon, the regimental bugler, Private A E Petersen, stepped forward; a few seconds later the familiar notes of the Last Post sounded. Once or twice the bugler faltered but nobody seemed to notice. Bugler Petersen sounded the last note and there were tears in his eyes as the officers saluted, then trudged back to their cold and muddy trenches around the village.
Nancy began her army career in March 1915, when her owner, Mrs McLaren Kennedy of the farm Vierfontein in the Orange Free State, took her to Potchefstroom. Nancy was the family pet and was just over a year old when Mrs Kennedy volunteered her for war service.
“I feel,” she wrote to General Tim Lukin, “that if Nancy were adopted by a South African regiment as a mascot, she would keep the memories of South Africa alive.” A few days later she had a reply. It was a telegram from General Lukin: “Delighted with your offer,” it said. “Please bring her.”
And so began Nancy’s army training. She was put in the charge of Private Petersen and during the following six months was taught to respond to all the regimental calls, as well as conduct herself with dignity on the parade ground and on ceremonial occasions.
Photo taken of Nancy as the Transvaal Scottish arrived in France disembarking in Marseille.
At the beginning of September, the regiment was ordered to entrain for Cape Town prior to sailing in HMT Balmoral Castle for service overseas. Mrs Kennedy was invited to Potchefstroom to say farewell to Nancy.
On their arrival in England, the regiment continued its training, and set sail for Egypt early the following year. The heat and rolling sand dunes were more to Nancy’s liking than the English winter. At Mex Camp in Alexandria, where her unit was completing its training, Nancy was always the centre of admiring crowds.
And then one morning she failed to turn up for parade. She had parted her rope leash and was absent without leave. By midday, her disappearance was regarded as serious, she was posted up in regimental orders as AWOL, and the news of her absence had spread to all the camps in the area. That afternoon, Bugler Petersen was given a special pass to proceed to Alexandria, in case Nancy had made for the city. At sundown a despondent Bugler Petersen returned to camp, but he would not give up the search.
With Nancy still AWOL the following morning, the matter became serious – both from a sentimental and a morale point of view. All parades were cancelled and a house-to-house search was started. There had been a suspicion that Nancy may have met her end as dinner to some Egyptian family. The search ended at sundown when the men returned dejectedly to their camp. It was on the third day, as the men were parading for their midday meal, that the sound of cheering broke out in the lines. Earlier a `patrol` of skirling pipers was sent out; each piper went in a different direction into the desert in the hope that the music of the bagpipes would succeed where all else had failed. As all regimental calls in the camp had been sounded on the pipes and Nancy had already learnt how to step it out in an orderly fashion in front of the pipe band when on parade. The pipe music worked like magic.
The next moment Nancy appeared, prancing as if nothing was amiss. Where she had been remained a mystery, despite the fact that thousands of troops had kept a look out for her.
After the Egyptian campaign, Nancy accompanied the regiment to France and disembarked with them at Marseilles in April 1916. Owing to a contagious sickness which broke out on the Oriana, the regiment was put into quarantine until May, when they left for Steenwerck, the Brigade Headquarters. A month later, the regiment was moved to the village of Sailly-le-Sac, about two miles behind the front lines. It was here that Nancy, who had been under heavy fire on scores of occasions, became a casualty when the Germans began the heavy bombardments during the Battle of the Somme.
German soldier is overseeing the shell case dump opposite Delville Wood, gives an indication on just how heavily the South Africans were bombarded .Woerner Eugen Collection
While the SA Brigade had been near Armentieres, a shell had exploded in the transport lines where Nancy had been tethered close to the Quarter Master`s store. In fright she had bolted and broken her left horn against a wall. This horn was permanently out of alignment and started to grow downwards at an angle. However, there was no sick leave for Nancy, just “light duty”. They could not give her kitchen fatigues so she was allowed to roam about the headquarters.
The highlight of Nancy’s distinguished military career and war record happened on 17 February 1918 when she attended her last ceremonial parade. She proudly led four battalions of the South African Brigade to the first Delville Wood service, prancing on her thin little legs. It’s as if she knew that she was the darling of every soldier on parade and of those they were coming to honour.
The parade was not only the last for Nancy but it was also the last for General Lukin in France.
Nancy caught pneumonia during the severe winter of that year and, although devotedly cared for by Bugler Petersen and all the medical personnel of the headquarters, died on November 26. Her death was announced in General Orders – probably the only occasion in military history that this was done. All parades were cancelled. There were only a few of the original members of the regiment still on active service and they were detailed to form the firing party.
Nancy’s head and skin were sent to London to be treated, and then dispatched to Sir William Dalrymple who had it mounted and presented to the regiment. From the wall of the Officers’ Mess at the Transvaal Scottish Regimental Headquarters, she kept a critical eye over the officers. She has since been promoted and is now a member of the War Museum in Johannesburg.
Nothing drives home the peril of serving on a fighting ship harder than this British Pathe newsreel footage of the sinking of the HMS Barham, it is simply jaw dropping.
Made even more poignant for us as South Africans if you consider we are witnessing the loss of the following South African naval personnel in this tragedy.
BAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)
During the Second World War, South African Navy personnel – known at the time as the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) were seconded to serve on ships in the Royal Navy.
It is our duty as South African veterans never to let selective history and the mist of time obscure the brave contributions of our countrymen during this war, and it is our duty as South African military veterans to continually educate and keep this memory alive.
HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the Royal Navy She was sunk during the Second World War on 25 November 1941 by the German submarine U-331north of and off the coast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt.
Prior to this HMS Barham visited Durban, South Africa, in June 1941 for extensive repairs at the Victoria Graving Dock. The repairs where due to damage sustained in the Crete bombing. She sailed from Durban on the 31st July 1941.
Little known historic fact but it was a South African Air Force reconnaissance aircraft which first discovered and then photographed the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. This is one of the aerial photos.
Painting by Derrick Dickens of two SAAF Mosquito PR Mk XVI s of 60 Squadron.
Mosquito XVI aircraft of No. 60 Squadron South African Air Force operating from Foggia Airfield Complex, Southern Italy in 1944, carried out detailed large-scale photographic surveys of German held areas, eventually ranging over the Alps and deep into Germany and German occupied territory.
During one of these missions in Spring 1944, a SAAF 60 Squadron plane piloted by Lt. C.H.H Barry and his navigator Lt. I McIntyre photographed Auschwitz when they went to photograph the rubber refinery plant next to the camp. They were reconnoitring the plant which was earmarked for bombing by the USAAF (USA Air Force).
When the photos of the complex next to the plant were analyzed, they found rows of people lining up in the camp. The photos also showed chimneys and all the other characteristics of a camp for prisoners. This, with other intelligence, brought them to the conclusions that extermination camps existed.
This image is an enlargement of part of a photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau taken by the SAAF on Sortie no. 60PR/694.
Clearly seen on this image is the selection process of a recently arrived transport visible on the ramp has been completed, and those selected to die are being to taken to Crematorium II. Also visible is a cultivated garden in the courtyard of Crematorium II, the open gate into it, and Crematorium III. The basement undressing rooms and gas chambers of both complexes can also be seen.
When these photo’s were taken by 60 Squadron SAAF, the Squadron was working for the USAAF heavy bomber Squadrons in Italy, so the South Africans handed the film to the Americans to analyse and strategise. Kept secret for a long time, these annotated images of the film were only finally released by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1979.
Mosquitos mark XVI of No 60 Squadron South African Air Force, at San Severo Airfield, part of the Foggia Airfield Complex, Southern Italy, 1944. The red and white stripes on the tail fin (known as Barber Shop stripes) served as identification to Allied fighter pilots (especially American pilots) who mistook them for enemy aircraft, incorrectly thinking they where German Me 410’s.
Auschwitz was operational as an extermination camp from May 1940 to January 1945, it held mainly Jews as well as Poles, Romani and Soviet Prisoners of War. In all it is estimated that 1.1 million people were murdered there.
Extermination of human beings deemed undesirable to Nazi German doctrine began on an industrial level at Birkenau in March 1942 when the first gas chamber was established called the “red house” (called Bunker 1 by SS staff). A second brick cottage, the “white house” or Bunker 2, was converted some weeks later. These structures were in use for mass killings until early 1943. Himmler visited the camp in person on 17 and 18 July 1942. He was given a demonstration of a mass killing using the gas chamber in Bunker 2.
In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase the gassing capacity of Birkenau to an elevated industrial level. Crematorium II, which had been designed as a mortuary with morgues in the basement and ground-level incinerators, was converted into a killing factory by installing gas-tight doors, vents for the Zyklon B (a highly lethal cyanide based pesticide) to be dropped into the chamber, and ventilation equipment to remove the gas thereafter. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943, all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed using these four structures.
Towards the end of the war, Himmler, fearing the discovery of this most dark Nazi program of extermination and in need of labour for the German war machine ahead of the Soviet and Allied advances, ordered the evacuation of all concentration camps, charging camp commanders with making sure that “not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy.”
On 17 January 1945, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees, of whom two-thirds were Jews, were evacuated under guard, most on foot, in severe winter conditions. Thousands of them died in the subsequent death march west.
Auschwitz was eventually liberated on 26 and 27 January by the Red Army (Soviet Russian), the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Among items found by the Soviet soldiers were 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair.
The Auschwitz complex with its false Nazi message “arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free) stands today as a sinister reminder of the cruelty of man, it is a very dark stain on the human race.
Written by Peter Dickens, additional research from Sandy Evan Hanes. Painting by the late Derrick Dickens of SAAF Mosquito copyright Peter Dickens. Photo references and sources include Wikipedia.
Honouring South African heroes and this is one of South Africa’s greatest – in fact he is the highest decorated South African in our military history. Many people don’t know that South Africa has its own World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross winner, and this ‘small’ hero comes with some very ‘big’ credentials, he is regarded as the all time highest decorated South African in terms of sheer seniority of the bravery decorations he won (there is a distinction between ‘most’ decorated i.e. number of decorations and medals – and the ‘highest’ decorated).
Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor, known to his colleagues and friends simply as ‘Proccy’, was South Africa’s leading First World War flying ace, claiming a staggering 54 aerial victories to his name.
He was born on 4 September 1894 in Mossel Bay, South Africa, and was studying engineering at the University of Cape Town when war broke out. He joined the Union of South Africa Army – the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles and took part in the German South West Africa campaign, before being demobilised in August 1915 with an honorable discharge. He promptly went to work with the South African Field Telegraph and re-enrolled in university. He managed to complete his third year of college before re-enlisting again, this time with the Royal Flying Corps (he was one of “The Thousand” – the first South Africans to go to England for combat service on the Western Front).
Royal Flying Corps
Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor joined the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917, he was commissioned upon his arrival in England and underwent pilot training. Despite being only 5′ 2″ tall, so short that he had to use two leather cushions in order to see out of a standard cockpit, he proved an excellent pilot and on completion of training was posted to 84 Squadron in late July 1917. The squadron, commanded by Major William Sholto Douglas (who would later become OC Fighter Command during the Second World War) was equipping with the then-new S.E.5a.
On 23 September 1917, the 84 Squadron went to France and became one of the most effective scout squadrons in the RFC/RAF (Royal Air Force) during 1918. The squadron would be credited with a victory total of 323 aerial victories, and would produce 25 aces. However, Beauchamp-Proctor would be pre-eminent, with almost triple the number of successes of the second leading ace. He was not particularly esteemed as a flier, but was a deadly shot.
Beauchamp-Proctor’s piloting skills can be judged by the fact he had three landing accidents before he ever shot down an enemy plane. He continued to fly the SE5 with modifications to the aircraft’s seat and controls, something his Philadelphia-born American squadron mate, Joseph “Child Yank” Boudwin, who stood only two inches taller also had to use. The alterations to relatively primitive controls could have contributed to Beauchamp-Proctor’s poor airmanship.
His initial confirmed victory did not come until the turn of the year. On 3 January 1918, he sent a German two-seater ‘down out of control’. He then claimed four more victories in February, becoming an ace on the final day of the month. Only one of his five victories resulted in the destruction of an enemy; the others were planes sent down as ‘out of control’.
March brought four more victories; three of them were scored within five minutes on 17 March. He tallied one kill in April.
Among his 11 victories for the month of May were 5 on 19 May. On that morning, he knocked an enemy observation plane out of the battle; fifteen minutes later, he destroyed a German Albatros D.V. scout. That evening, at about 6:35 PM, he downed three more Albatros D.Vs. By 31 May, his roll had climbed to 21 victims—16 fighters and five observation aircraft. By this point, he had destroyed six enemy planes single-handed, and shared the destruction of two others. He drove ten down out of control, and shared in another ‘out of control’ victory. Two of his victims were captured. Certainly a creditable record, and like many other aces, with no conquests over balloons.
The next day marked a change of focus for him; he shot down an observation balloon. Balloons, guarded by anti-aircraft artillery and patrolling fighter airplanes, were very dangerous targets. Commonly they were hunted by coordinated packs of fighters. For the remainder of his career, he would choose to try to blind the enemy by concentrating on shooting down kite balloons and observation aircraft. Also notable is the drop in his “out of control” victories; from here on out, the record shows destruction after destruction of the enemy. His June string would only run to 13 June, but in that time, he would destroy four balloons, an observation two-seater and a fighter. Only one fighter went down out of control. On 22 June, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC).
July would pass without incident. On 3 August, he was granted one of the first ever Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC).
The break in his victory string lasted almost a month, as he went on home leave and helped a recruitment drive for the RAF. On 8 August, he returned and resumed with tally number 29, another balloon.
On 9 August, Beauchamp-Proctor was leading No. 84 Squadron on a patrol over their base at Bertangles, with the diminutive American Joseph “Child Yank” Boudwin and a ‘Giant’ – the six-foot-four tall fellow South African from Germiston – Hugh ‘Dingbat’ Saunders as his wingmen (‘Dingbat’ Saunders would go to become another South African ace, Air Marshal and Knight of the realm – but that is a different story for another day).
This unusual threesome of two very short chaps ‘Proccy’ and ‘Child Yank’ ‘and one very tall chap ‘Dingbat’ got involved in a heated engagement at 2:00 pm, that involved them in combat against Fokker D.VII fighters of JG I , led that day by the future Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.
After World War 1, Hermann Göring was to become Adolf Hitler’s right hand man and one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi party that ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and took Germany to its darkest place in history. But that was well in the future, over the western front battlefields of World War 1 Göring was a veteran fighter pilot, and fighter ace, he was even a recipient of the The Blue Max (the highest German bravery award). He was also eventually the last commander of the famous ‘flying circus’ Jasta 1, the fighter wing once led by ‘The Red Baron’ Manfred von Richthofen.
Unfortunately for both our two South Africans ‘Proccy’ and ‘Dingbat’ and the American ‘Child Yank’ – and the entire world really, none was unsuccessful at bagging Herman Göering and adding him to their kill totals.
‘Proccy’ would eventually claim an additional 14 aircraft, and by the end of the month of August with his claims list extended to 43. One memorable day was 22 August; he attacked a line of six enemy balloon over the British 3rd Corps front. He set the first one afire with his machine guns and forced the other five to the ground, the observers taking to their parachutes. His 15 kills for August would include 5 balloons, all destroyed, and two more two-seater planes. He was now up to 43 victories.
His September claims would be all balloons – four of them.
In the first few days of October, he would destroy three more balloons and three Fokker D.VII fighters, one of which burned. Another D.VII spun down out of control.
On 8 October, he was hit by ground fire and wounded in the arm, ending his front line service. In all ‘Proccy’ Beauchamp-Proctor’s victory total was 54; two (and one shared) captured enemy aircraft, 13 (and three shared) balloons destroyed, 15 (and one shared) aircraft destroyed, and 15 (and one shared) aircraft ‘out of control’ His 16 balloons downed made him the leading British Empire balloon buster.
On 2 November, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, followed by the Victoria Cross on 30 November. His Victoria Cross citation explains in detail:
Victoria Cross (VC)
Between 8 August 1918, and 8 October 1918, this officer proved himself victor in 26 decisive combats, destroying 12 enemy kite balloons, 10 enemy aircraft, and driving down 4 other enemy aircraft completely out of control. Between 1 October 1918, and 5 October 1918, he destroyed 2 enemy scouts, burnt 3 enemy kite balloons, and drove down one enemy scout completely out of control.
On 1 October 1918, in a general engagement with about 28 machines, he crashed one Fokker biplane near Fontaine and a second near Ramicourt; on 2 October he burnt a hostile balloon near Selvjgny; on 3 October he drove down, completely out of control, an enemy scout near Mont d’Origny, and burnt a hostile balloon; on 5 October, the third hostile balloon near Bohain. On 8 October 1918, while flying home at a low altitude, after destroying an enemy 2-seater near Maretz, he was painfully wounded in the arm by machine-gun fire, but, continuing, he landed safely at his-aerodrome, and after making his report was admitted to hospital.
In all he has proved himself conqueror over 54 foes, destroying 22 enemy machines, 16 enemy kite balloons, and driving down 16 enemy aircraft completely out of control. Captain Beauchamp-Proctor’s work in attacking enemy troops on the ground and in reconnaissance during the withdrawal following on the Battle of St. Quentin from 21 March 1918, and during the victorious advance of our Armies commencing on 8 August, has been almost unsurpassed in its brilliancy, and as such has made an impression on those serving in his squadron and those around him that will not be easily forgotten.
Capt. Beauchamp-Proctor was awarded Military Cross on 22 June 1918; D.F. Cross on 2 July 1918; Bar to M.C. on 16 September 1918; and Distinguished Service Order on 2 November 1918
The bravest of the brave
To make him the ‘highest’ decorated South African in history, as there is already a small group of South Africans who won the ‘highest decoration’ i.e. Victoria Cross in World War 1 (14 officially in total) and World War 2 (5 in total), Beauchamp-Proctor would also need to have another ‘next’ most senior decoration, he did this with obtaining a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and a Military Cross (MC). This puts him on the same level as Percy Hansen, who also won a VC, DSO and MC, the difference, the one which places Beauchamp-Proctor at the top, is that he won the Military Cross twice (with bar) in addition to another decoration – the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
The citations for these decorations are impressive enough on their own, there are as follows:
Military Cross (MC)
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While on offensive patrol he observed an enemy two-seater plane attempting to cross our lines. He engaged it and opened fire, with the result that it fell over on its side and crashed to earth. On a later occasion, when on patrol, he observed three enemy scouts attacking one of our bombing machines. He attacked one of these, and after firing 100 rounds in it, it fell over on its back and was seen to descend in that position from 5,000 feet. He then attacked another group of hostile scouts, one of which he shot down completely out of control, and another crumpled up and crashed to earth. In addition to these, he has destroyed another hostile machine, and shot down three completely out of control. He has at all times displayed the utmost dash and initiative, and is a patrol leader of great merit and resource.
MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918
Military Cross (MC) Bar
For the award of a Bar to the Military Cross ( MC ) i.e. winning a second Military Cross in addition to Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor’s first MC.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while leading offensive patrols. He has lately destroyed three enemy machines, driven down one other completely out of control, and carried out valuable work in attacking enemy troops and transport on the ground from low altitudes. He has done splendid service.
London Gazette, 18 September 1918
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Lt. (T./Capt.) Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, M.C. A brilliant and fearless leader of our offensive patrols. His formation has destroyed thirteen enemy machines and brought down thirteen more out of control in a period of a few months. On a recent morning his patrol of five aeroplanes attacked an enemy formation of thirty machines and was successful in destroying two of them. In the evening he again attacked an enemy formation with great dash, destroying one machine and forcing two others to collide, resulting in their destruction.
DFC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 August 1918
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
A fighting pilot of great skill, and a splendid leader. He rendered brilliant service on 22 August, when his Flight was detailed to neutralise hostile balloons. Having shot down one balloon in flames, he attacked the occupants of five others in succession with machine-gun fire, compelling the occupants in each case to take to parachutes. He then drove down another balloon to within fifty feet of the ground, when it burst into flames. In all he has accounted for thirty-three enemy machines and seven balloons.
DSO citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 2 November 1918
That’s a lot of hefty decorations for gallantry and bravery and it makes Beauchamp-Proctor ‘the bravest of the brave’ when it comes the very bravest men South Africa has ever produced.
He was discharged from hospital in March 1919 and embarked on a four-month-long lecture tour of the USA, before returning to England and qualifying as a seaplane pilot with a permanent commission as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF.
After his VC investiture at Buckingham Palace in November 1919 he was awarded a year’s leave, and this enabled him finish his BSc degree in Engineering.
Beauchamp-Proctor died during a training accident at RAF Hendon in England, on the 21st June 1921 whilst preparing for an air-show. His aircraft went into a vicious spin after performing a slow loop, and he was killed in the ensuing crash. At least one observer remarked that the loss of control and subsequent crash of the aircraft could have been linked to Proctor’s diminutive size, as noted earlier because of his size, Beauchamp-Proctor had to sit on a cushion to operate his aircraft and the cushion fell out during the loop, rendering him in a difficult position to adequately operate his aircraft and recover the manoeuvre. He was buried in Mafeking (his home town) in South Africa, following a state funeral.
There still exists a little confusion over Beauchamp-Proctor’s given name. For decades he was listed as “Anthony” but more recent scholarship indicates “Andrew”, which is the name on his tombstone. Whether ‘Proccy’ was an Andrew or Anthony, it matters not a jot, this man epitomised ‘dynamite in a small package’ – ‘Proccy’ was and still remains the bravest of all South Africans to have been awarded gallantry decorations – without any doubt – the ‘Bravest of the Brave’.
Links to other South African World War 1 Victoria Cross recipients
Image copyright Imperial War Museum Collection. Portrait by Cowen Donson, Imperial War Museum collection copyright. Painting Captain Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor by Ivan Berryman – Granston Fine Art. Colourised IWM portrait, thanks to Photos Redux
Job Maseko is a very notable South African hero of the Second World War. He was a member of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC) and was decorated with the Military Medal for gallantry. So how is it that a NMC member, a corps not allowed to officially carry firearms, gets to into the fight and wins this decoration. Simply put he single-handedly blew up an enemy ship. Read on for the story of a very remarkable man.
Job Maseko was employed as a delivery man in Springs before he volunteered for service in the Second World War and joined the South African Native Military Corps (NMC). After completion of basic training, he was sent to North Africa, attached to the 2nd South African Infantry Division. Members of the NMC took up any support role in the Division which did not require the handling of a firearm. They were given a vast range of different roles – anything from drivers, military cooks, engineers, stretcher bearers to bomb loaders. South African race laws at the time provided that serving ‘black’ men could not carry firearms, they were however issued spears as a ‘traditional weapon’ for guard and ceremonial duty, but that was about it (see related Observation Post Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps).
128 000 ‘Black’ South African soldiers volunteered to take part in World War 2 (nearly 40% of the standing army) and members of the NMC often found themselves in perilous circumstances and were exposed to the rigours and dangers of war as much as any another soldier. Some of these restrictions on the use of weapons quickly went out the window when in a combat zone, and somewhere along the line Job Maseko also learned a bomb making skill (see related Observation Post ‘Armed’ SA Native Military Corps in WW2 – this Corps screams out for a definitive work!).
The fall of Tobruk
In 1941 the Australians had held Tobruk for 9 months, until Rommel’s withdrawal of his Axis forces to the west. Tobruk secured, by 1942 the Allied Middle East Command decided to leave a smaller ‘temporary’ force to hold Tobruk while a new strike force was built up near the frontier. The task of defending Tobruk was left to the South Africans. The new garrison was to be formed by the 2nd South African Infantry Division with General Klopper, a farmer from the Orange Free State before the war, and a major general of only one month’s standing, given command of Tobruk. In addition, units of British and Indian detachments fell under South African command defending Tobruk. Into this deployment also fell our hero – Job Maseko.
It is generally understood that by this stage Tobruk’s defences were in a poor shape with much of the armour and artillery taken away to the new frontier, the Western and Southern sides of the port were well defended by the South Africans, but the East side was weak, and it proved to be fatal.
As usual, Rommel had devised a ruse for capturing Tobruk. Only his infantry approached the western perimeter, while his mobile forces swept on past, to give the impression that the German and Italian armour was heading straight for the Egyptian border (sending radio messages to that effect to complete the ruse). He then swung his mobile armoured forces around and attacked Tobruk from its weak point – the eastern perimeter.
Rommel’s zero hour was 05h20 on 20 June 1942. As dawn broke long black lines of tanks, trucks and infantry slowly started to move forward. As it grew louder and closer to Tobruk waves of German Stukas and Ju 88’s aircraft appeared overhead (Rommel pressed every single Axis airplane in service in North Africa into taking Tobruk).
As the heavy artillery began to fire, the planes released their bombs and quickly got out of the way for the next wave, operating a shuttle service between the defence perimeter and El Adem airfield, 10 miles away. They pounded a gap open 600 yards wide. Behind them, under cover of artillery barrage and half-hidden by smoke and dust, German and Italian sappers raced forward to lift mines and bridge the tank traps with tanks and infantry racing through the gaps. As they move forward, they lit green, red and purple flares and the Stukas dropped their bombs just ahead of the advancing, multi-coloured smoke screen while the other planes and artillery blasted the South African rear (the seaward side of the port) with shells and bombs.
Into this desperate fight for survival went everyone, including members of The Native Military Corps. Job Maseko worked as a stretcher bearer, doing profoundly dangerous work, rescuing wounded men, as the defence of Tobruk became more desperate, Job and other black colleagues were given rifles and expected to fight on the front line with everyone else.
Inside Tobruk the situation was chaotic. General Klopper – his HQ’s bombed out, his radio and telephone wrecked and his code booked destroyed, lost the last vestige of control. Tobruk fell by the evening. Job Maseko became a prisoner of war (POW) on 21 June 1942 when Major-General KIopper, surrendered to Rommel at Tobruk with 32000 men, including 10,722 South Africans of the 2nd Infantry Division, of whom 1,200 were members of the Native Military Corps. It was the single biggest capitulation of South African forces in the country’s history – before or since.
Job and many others were forced to march across the desert to an Italian POW camp. The Italian treatment of South African prisoners of war was nothing short of diabolical, however an even worse treatment was reserved for Black members of the South African Native Military Corps in captivity. German and Italian forces displayed a complete disregard for the rights of coloured or black POWs as they did not view them as regular troops.
One account recalls how black soldiers were shot by drunk German guards while been marched to the POW camp, and the account goes further to say that in Tobruk camp, black South African POWs were forced “under threat of death” to do war work, which was contrary to the Geneva Convention.
Another report claims Indian and Black prisoners at Tobruk were not allowed to take cover whenever the Allied bombers later bombed the port, furthermore their food was totally inadequate – they were only given one packet of biscuits per day and water rations were kept to a minimum.
There were also examples of Black South African POW escaping from the camp perimeter with their white counterparts to scrounge for food in the town, and Job Maseko was one. The Black POWs, as they were put to war work in the harbour (something most their white counterparts were excluded from) – mainly offloading ships. Desperate for food they would sometimes return to the camp with ‘acquired’ sacks of corn meal (mieliemeal), one account from De Lisle recalls that the unfortunate consequence was that hungry English and South Africans white POW would lay siege to their tents (the Black POW) at night to beg for their food.
The diabolical treatment of Black POW forced Job Maseko to taken action against his captors, to quote him “because of our ill-treatment by the enemy, especially the Italians, and because I felt it a duty in this way to assist my own people”.
As with his Biblical namesake, Job was made of tough stuff and with the help of some comrades whilst on mundane prisoner duties to go down to the docks, Job created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, cordite taken from bullets and an extremely long fuse.
Job placed his home-made bomb deep inside the bowels of a German freight ship (and “F” Boat) that was docked in the harbour at Tobruk. He skilfully placed it next to fuel barrels for maximum effect, lit the fuse and made good his escape. Had he been caught, as a Black POW, he would have certainly been put to death if not tortured first.
Job waited and later the ship shuddered from a huge internal explosion and sank almost immediately into the harbour. After the war Job Maseko was able to point out the exact place where the ship was berthed and sure enough divers found it on the sea bed.
He later escaped from Tobruk and walked, for three long weeks though the desert and through enemy lines, all the way to El Alamein, he intended joining the battle there as he had fixed an old German radio he had found which informed him about General Montgomery’s epic and tide turning battle at El Alamein. We still await the full historical account of this remarkable man as very little is known to this day, rest assured historians are now writing it.
For his actions, Job Maseko was later presented with the Military Medal (MM) by Major-General F H Theron. The following extract enshrines his heroism, bear in mind when reading this, it is made even more remarkable in that Job Maseko as a ‘black’ African could only be deployed in a non combat role:
The King has been graciously pleased to approve the following award in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the Middle East:-
Military Medal No N 4448 L/Cpl Job Masego [sic) – Native Military Corps
Citation For meritorious and courageous action in that on or about the 21st July, while a Prisoner of War, he, Job Masego, sank a fully laden enemy steamer – probably an “F” boat – while moored in Tobruk Harbour.
This he did by placing a small tin filled with gunpowder in among drums of petrol in the hold, leading a fuse therefrom to the hatch and lighting the fuse upon closing the hatch.
In carrying out this deliberately planned action, Job Masego displayed ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety from punishment by the enemy or from the ensuing explosion which set the vessel alight.’
The Victoria Cross Controversy
For his actions Job Maseko was initially recommended for a Victoria Cross but according to Neville Lewis, the first official war artist for South Africa during the Second World War, Job Maseko was awarded the Military Medal instead as he was ‘only an African’. It is hoped that actions currently been taken by the SANDF Military Attache in the United Kingdom to redress this issue with British government and re-open his case so it will be met with a correct interpretation of Job Maseko’s actions without the ‘race’ factor as part of the deliberation, and his actions considered as one worthy of the Victoria Cross or not (as may be the case).
Later in Life
After been released Lance Corporal Job Maseko returned to South Africa. “Apartheid” was to be implemented a few short years after the war ended in 1948 when the Nationalists came to power beating Smuts. Job Maseko’s legacy slipped away from the general consciousness – along with many deeds of South African servicemen in World War 2, black and white. He became a poor man and died in 1952 when he was accidentally hit by a train. He was so broke at the time he was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs. A very sad way to see the end of a national hero.
Today, to honour this unassuming hero, the community of KwaThema near Springs has a primary school in the township named after him. The main road linking the town of Springs to KwaThema Township has also been named after him. He is honoured at both the Delville Wood museum in France and the South African Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, A South African fighting ship the SAS Kobie Coetzee has also now been renamed the SAS Job Maseko in recognition of this very brave South African.
He can truly take the mantle of a proper South African warrior and stands shoulder to shoulder with all the other great South Africans who have earned the highest accolades of gallantry.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens, References wikipedia, The incredible true tale of Job Maseko – the man who sunk a ship whilst a prisoner by Stephen Liddell. Narratives from North Africa: South African Prisoner of War experience following the fall of Tobruk, June 1942 by Karen Horn. Artwork credits: . Job Maskeko official portrait by Neville Lewis. Job Maseko holding explosive by Tim Johnson, copyright Tim Johnson website: http://www.timjohn.co.za
South West Africa/Namibia border 1987, 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group and Charlie Squadron is joyriding in a SADF “Ratel” (honey badger) Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) .. the picture says a thousand words.
Some say, the driver is still getting an oppie .. all we know is he’s called the Stig!
This example stands testament to many instances of highly valued military equipment wrecked by 19 year old odd National Servicemen taking full advantage of having a little fun.
Those watching ‘The Great Escape’ re-run on British television this long Christmas weekend – thinking it was an all American and British affair, here’s some more back of the Chappie gum wrapper trivia – the mastermind behind it was a South African, and the escape had very little to do with Americans.
Here is another great South African (seen here at Stalag Luft III). Squadron Leader Roger Joyce Bushell RAF – AAF (30 August 1910 – 29 March 1944) was an Auxiliary Air Force pilot who organised and led the famous escape from the German prisoner of war camp, and also victim of the Stalag Luft III murders when participants in the famous escape were executed by the German Gestapo.
The escape was used as the basis for the film The Great Escape. The character played by Richard Attenborough, Roger Bartlett, is modelled on Roger Bushell. The story about the “Great Escape” was one of the most famous escape stories during WW2. The Great Escape movie is now an institution in The United Kingdom and the United States. Made famous by the swagger of Steve McQueen and his fictional attempted escape attempts culminating in a cross-country motorbike chase (McQueen’s preferred sport) with Nazi Germans in pursuit.
The backdrop of the movie is however a true story and it involves a South African as its leader and not a plucky Briton.
The Real Story of The Great Escape
In the spring of 1943, Roger Bushell masterminded a plot for a major escape of Prisoners of War from Stalag Luft III. Being held in the north compound where British airmen were housed, Bushell as commander of the escape committee channelled the escape effort into probing for weaknesses and looking for opportunities. Falling back on his legal background to represent his scheme, Bushell called a meeting of the escape committee in the camp and not only shocked those present with its scope, but injected into every man a passionate determination to put every energy into the escape. He declared,
“Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun… In North Compound we are concentrating our efforts on completing and escaping through one master tunnel. No private-enterprise tunnels allowed. Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick and Harry. One will succeed!”
The simultaneous digging of these tunnels would become an advantage if any one of them were discovered by the Germans, because the guards would scarcely imagine that another two could be well under way. The most radical aspect of the plan was not merely the scale of the construction, but also the sheer number of men that Bushell intended to pass through these tunnels. Previous attempts had involved the escape of anything up to a dozen or twenty men, but Bushell was proposing to get over 200 out, all of whom would be wearing civilian clothes and possessing a complete range of forged papers and escape equipment. It was an unprecedented undertaking and would require unparalleled organisation. As the mastermind of the Great Escape, Bushell inherited the codename of “Big X”. The tunnel “Tom” began in a darkened corner of a hall in one of the buildings. “Harry”‘s entrance was carefully hidden under a Stove. The entrance to “Dick” had a very well concealed entrance in a drainage sump. More than 600 prisoners were involved in their construction.
Bushell also organised another mass break out, which occurred on 12 June 1943. This became known as the Delousing Break, when 26 officers escaped by leaving the camp under escort with two fake guards (POWs disguised as guards) supposedly to go to the showers for delousing in the neighbouring compound. All but two were later recaptured and returned to the camp, with the remaining two officers being sent to Oflag IV-C at Colditz for attempting to steal an aircraft.
After the discovery of Tom, construction on Harry was halted. but it resumed in January 1944. On the evening of 24 March, after months of preparation, 200 officers prepared to escape. But things did not go as planned, with only 76 officers managed to get clear of the camp. Among those left behind was 21-year-old RAF Flight Lieutenant Alan Bryett, who refers to Bushell as “the bravest man I ever knew”.
Roger and his partner Bernard Scheidhauer, among the first few to leave the tunnel, successfully boarded a train at Sagan railway station. They were caught the next day at Saarbrücken railway station, waiting for a train to Alsace, which had been annexed from France by Germany.
Bushell and Scheidhauer were murdered three days later by members of the Gestapo. This was a breach of the Geneva Convention and so constituted a war crime. The perpetrators were later tried and executed by the Allies. Fifty of the 76 escapees were killed in the Stalag Luft III murders on Hitler’s direct orders.
It unfortunately was not just Roger Bushell as a South African to suffer this fate, three more South Africans participated and escaped with Roger Bushell in The Great Escape. Lieutenants Gouws, Stevens and McGarr (all South African Air Force) were also recaptured and executed illegally by the Gestapo.
Bushell was posthumously mentioned in Despatches on 8 June 1944 for his services as a POW. This award was recorded in the London Gazette dated 13 June 1946. His name also appears on the war memorial in Hermanus, South Africa, where his parents spent their last years and where they were buried.
Roger Bushell was born in Springs South Africa on the 30th November 1910. He was first schooled in Johannesburg at Park Town School but later moved to England, and in 1929 he spent his first year at Cambridge University where he studied law. His talents however extended far beyond a career in law, as an athlete he had the honour of representing the University, both as a skier and rugby player. He excelled at skiing and during the early 1930’s he was declared the fastest Briton in the downhill category.
In South Africa the memory of Roger Bushell lives on in Hermanus. His name is among those on the War Memorial above the Old Harbour, Roger’s parents were living in Hermanus at the time of his death and his parents also made a presentation to the Hermanus High School, in remembrance of their son who (incidentally) could speak nine languages. The two coveted Roger Bushell prizes for character are still awarded annually at the prize-giving of the school. One prize is awarded annually to the student who has shown the most exemplary signs of character during the year and second one is for the school boy chosen by his fellow students as the best leader.
Roger Bushell’s memorial plaque on the War Memorial in Hermanus, South Africa.
Researched by Peter Dickens, with reference and help from Buskruit Burger and Sandy Evan Hanes.
Loving this ‘Christmas card’ – it just oozes South African inventiveness, innovation and that unique brand of dark military humour soldiers the world over share and understand.
The soldier who sent this ‘Christmas Card’ home was Ronald Bidgood, 1st South African Irish, whilst fighting in East Africa during World War 2. Not having much in the way to make a Christmas card in a combat zone, he used a little imagination – his folks must have been quite amused when they received this.
So here is today’s Christmas card historical artefact – enjoy.
Sailor Malan – a true South African WW2 flying ace and national hero “in his own words” – and here is a very rare recorded interview with him.
This is a fantastic historical record of a personal interview with the great WW2 South African fighter ace Adolph “Sailor” Malan, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar.
Note in this recording, clearly taken as a public relations exercise to install confidence in the British public in the Royal Air Force and it’s pilots by the public broadcaster (there were a series of these interviews involving other pilots). Because of this, Sailor Malan comes across as a little over-confident and quite flippant. Its intentional and designed to make killing Germans sterile and combat adventurous.
He also adopts a very plummy British ‘officers’ accent so common to the tone and manner of speaking of this particular officer class during the war, both in Britain and in the Commonwealth. His ‘flat vowel’ South African accent sneaks in here and there, but in all Malan was a very well-educated and travelled man and his command of the English language was exemplary (as was his command of Afrikaans).
Also noteworthy is Sailor Malan’s WW2 era cultural expressions, delivery and sayings which were so typical to Allied Air Force officers at the time – terms like:
“Hun” – meaning Germans – a derogatory term insinuating barbarism dating to the First World War. “Squirt” – meaning a short burst of gun or cannon fire. “Jerry” – meaning Germans – a derogatory term pertinent to the Second World War. “Pumping Lead” – meaning a high rate of machine gun or cannon fire ‘pumped’ into the enemy to kill him “Tally Ho” – a British fox-hunting term meaning to spot a target and call to action. “Cut yourself a slice of cake” – a favourite term used by Sailor Malan (and other pilots) meaning to get into the fight and have a piece of the action.