The origin of SAAF 1 Squadron’s nickname – “Billy Boys”

Spitfire Mk IX of South African Air Force’s 1 Squadron preparing for take-off from a Sicilian airfield, perhaps Pachino on 1943, these are the famous “Billy Boys”.  How they got their nickname is actually quite interesting and distinctively South African.

This squadron had an incredible success rate and whenever one of it’s pilots had an aerial victory shooting down an enemy aircraft his fellow South African pilots would all shout “Jou BIELIE” down their radios.

The term “bielie” is an Afrikaans term for a prime example e.g. ‘n bielie van ‘n bul, meaning a prime example of a bull. Calling someone “‘n bielie” is a term of recognition of something special. Calling a pilot that after a successful aerial shoot down would have been equal to saying that he is a prime example of a fighter pilot. “Jou bielie van ‘n skut” meaning “you cracking shot”.

The British Royal Air Force pilots who where on the same frequency as the South Africans where slightly perplexed by the term thinking they where calling out “Billy” instead of “Bielie”, so they quickly started to refer to the SAAF 1 Squadron pilots as “Billy Boys”. The nickname stuck.

To give an idea of the success rate 1 SAAF Squadron total for the war was 165.5 kills, the highest scoring SAAF squadron.

Here are South African Air Force 1 Squadron Hurricanes taking off from Msus, Libya. Image copyright Imperial War Museum.

10649706_376892759147129_7713225561556526636_n

Feature image of SAAF 1 Squadron Spitfire Mk IX colourised and copyright to Tinus Le Roux

Spionkop shaped 3 future leaders – Churchill, Botha & …. Ghandi

A little more unknown military history on just how South Africa has shaped some of the greatest men of our time, this time we focus on Mahatma Ghandi, the famous Indian political reformer and spiritual leader.

Ghandi’s formative years where in South Africa and he even took part in the 2nd Anglo Boer War. He was present at the battle of Spionkop as a stretcher bearer.

Spionkop is such as significant battle that three future heads of government where present, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi and Louis Botha. Amazing how South Africa, and that battle in particular, moulded contemporary history of the world in the years to come.

During the battle, Ghandi performed the role of a medic, Churchill acted as a courier to and from Spion Kop and General Buller’s headquarters and General Botha led the Boers holding the Tugela River and Buller’s advance.

In the header image is Gandhi as a medic on the side of the British this time, seen in this photo with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War, South-Africa cira 1900.

Standing: H. Kitchen, L. Panday, R. Panday, J. Royeppen, R.K. Khan, L. Gabriel, M.K. Kotharee, E. Peters, D. Vinden, V. Madanjit.

Middle Row: W. Jonathan, V. Lawrence, M.H. Nazar, Dr. L.P. Booth, M.K. Gandhi (Mahatma Ghandi), P.K. Naidoo, M. Royeppen.

Front Row: S. Shadrach, “Professor” Dhundee, S.D. Moddley, A. David, A.A. Gandhi.

The Battle of Spion Kop (Dutch: Spionkop; Afrikaans: Slag van Spioenkop) was fought about 38 km (24 mi) west-south-west of Ladysmith on the hilltop of Spioenkop along the Tugela River, Natal in South Africa from 23–24 January 1900. It was fought between the South African Republic and the Orange Free State on the one hand and British forces during the Second Boer War campaign to relieve Ladysmith. It was a resounding Boer victory against the numerically superior British.

The British took in 20 000 men and 36 Field Guns and sustained 243 killed and 1,250 wounded, whilst the smaller Boer force of 8000 men and 4 Field Guns and 2 cannon only sustained 68 killed 267 wounded.

Pride in “Rooi Lussies”(red tabs), branded “Rooi Luisies” (Red Lice) by some.

WW2 South African propaganda poster, promoting the ‘Red Oath’ and the special volunteer epaulette flash worn by all who took the oath and volunteered for service during World War 2.

This poster is designed to swing opinion in the Afrikaans community where the wearing of the red flash was seen as an oath to the British and viewed by some as betrayal. In these sections of the Afrikaans community they where called ‘Rooi Luisies’ (Red Lice) instead of ‘Rooi Lussies” (Red Tabs), as a means of degrading those who volunteered.

The Red Oath was devised by the Union government to legally allow South African Forces to serve in the war.