Another rare and wonderful original colour photo. During WW2, Great Britain used the Commonwealth to train pilots from all over the world, under a scheme called the Commonwealth Joint Training Plan, a key part of this plan included Waterkloof in Pretoria.
Here a South African soldier from the ‘Native Military Corps’ (NMC) is seen on guard duty at No. 23 Air School at Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, January 1943. The NMC where attached to the South African Army and the South African Air Force in ‘non-combat’ roles.
Conventions of time excluded “Black” soldiers from been armed with firearms, however “traditional” weapons (spears and assagais) where settled on as a compromise (see below UDF issued weapons for the NMC).
At the time the government was only willing to utilise Black South African manpower in non-combatant roles such as drivers, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, engineers, stretcher bearers including medical aids and general administration roles. Although it was not uncommon in cases of emergencies that the members of the NMC where provided with firearms to defend positions from enemy attacks (especially during the North Africa and Italy campaigns).
Note the slouch hat worn by all Native Military Corps members (also worn by the South African Native Labour Corps in WW1) and the “Red Oath” Volunteer tabs on his epaulettes, worn by all members of the South African Armed Forces who volunteered to take part in WW2 and join the services (from all ethnic and cultural origins).
This picture is an excellent example of this corps weapon, uniform, dress and bearing. The NMC insignia consisted of an African Elephant with the South African coat of arms and encapsulated in a wreath.
As war was declared in 1939 the need for manpower from South Africa increased. During 1939 at the ANC passed a resolution of Loyalty to the British Commonwealth and Black South African political and traditional leaders expressed their willingness to support Jan Smuts’ declaration of war against Nazi Germany and get behind South Africa’s war efforts, on the condition that they would be able to win concessions and greater political recognition for “Black” South Africans after the war.
The “Native Military Guards” (which went on to become the NMC) was established in 1940 and had 4 Battalions:
1 st Battalion: amaZulu’s from Zululand now KZN
2nd Battalion: Africans from Northern Transvaal now Mpumalanga & Limpopo
3rd Battalion: amaXhosa from Transkei (Previous Homeland) Eastern Cape
4th Battalion (Witwatersrand Battalion) Were made up of Africans in Urban Areas
Unfortunately a few years after the war, in 1948, the National Party came to power and did not honour any concessions agreed by the ANC with the Smuts government – setting “Black” political representation in South Africa back somewhat and disregarding the fine legacy, sacrifice and history of the NMC and its members.
Image Copyright – Imperial War Museum Collection Copyright.