Welcome to the Army … TREE AAN!

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.

Image copyright – Keith and Lorna Stevens

The story of Nancy the Springbok

‘Nancy’ the 4th Regiment Mascot of the South African Forces. Delville Wood. 17 February 1918. The story of Nancy is quite extraordinary.

Nancy is the only animal in 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.

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.

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.

Reference SAMVOA website.  Image copyright – Imperial War Museum

SA Navy losses as HMS Barham explodes

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.

Video copyright British Pathe

The South African Air Force discovered Auschwitz extermination camp

Little known historic fact but it was a South African Air Force reconnaissance aircraft which first discovered and then photographed Auschwitz extermination camp. This is one of the aerial photos.

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 60 Squadron’s 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. When the photos 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.

This annotated image was released by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1979.

South Africa’s own WW1 Flying Ace

Honouring South African heroes and this is one of South Africa’s greatest. Many people don’t know that South Africa has it’s own World War 1 flying ace and Victoria Cross winner, and this is him!

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor was the highest scoring South African ace during the First World War, claiming 54 victories. He was an engineering student at Cape Town University when war broke out, but left his studies to join the the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles, seeing action in German South-West Africa before being discharged in 1915.

After completing his studies, Beauchamp-Proctor joined the Royal Flying Corps, going to France with 84 Squadron in September 1917. He claimed his victories in 1918 and was particularly known for destroying German observation balloons. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his many victories and excellent service record after also being awarded the DSO, MC and bar, and DFC. He died in a flying accident in 1921.

Image copyright Imperial War Museum Collection.

A true South African hero – Job Maseko

Notable South Africans in the Second World War – Job Maseko of the South African Native Military Corps and winner of Military Medal for gallantry.

Maseko was employed as a delivery man in Springs before he volunteered for service with the Native Military Corps. After completion of basic training, he was sent to North Africa with the 2nd South African Division. Maseko became a prisoner of war (POW) on 21 June 1942 when Major-General Henry Belsazar KIopper, a former farmer from the Orange Free State, surrendered to Rommel at Tobruk with 32 000 men, including 10 722 South Africans of the 2nd Division, of whom 1 200 were members of the Native Military Corps. Job Maseko was later presented with the Military Medal (MM) by Major-General F H Theron.

The following extract is appropriate here, and this is made more remarkable in that Job Maseko as a ‘black’ African could only be deployed in a non combat role due to racial policies of the time:

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.’

According to Neville Lewis, the first official war artist for South Africa during the Second World War, Job Maseko was recommended for a Victoria Cross but, being ‘only an African’, he had received the Military Medal instead. Lance Corporal Job Maseko died in 1952 and was buried with borrowed money in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs.

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.

Drunk Ratel ….

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.