‘Springbok Valour’… Somme 100 & the Delville Wood Centenary

South African Legion of Military Veteran’s parade and speeches on the Centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood which fell part of the Somme 100 Commemorations in 2016, this commemoration was held at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme in France and was hosted by The Royal British Legion.

To watch the entire ceremony on video as broadcasted by The Royal British Legion please click on the video link below, to read the speech only please scroll down:

Thiepval Memorial, France 10th July 2016

Springbok Valour – Speech by Peter Dickens, Chairman of the Royal British Legion South African branch, in commemoration of 100 years of South Africans on the Somme and Battle of Delville Wood. Held at the Thiepval Memorial, France on 10th July 2016.

14495490_644871705682565_2175144210739678305_n“On behalf of The Royal British Legion South African Branch I would also like to welcome all here today, it is our privilege to honour the South African sacrifice during the Somme offensive – especially at Delville Wood just a short distance from this memorial.

We started this memorial service, with short blasts from World War 1 replica whistles, this was the signal blown by individual officers to send their troops “over the top” during the Somme Offensive and aside from the gun and artillery fire this is the last mechanical sound thousands of soldiers heard.

Frightening isn’t it? The sound of these whistles had some men literally freeze in pure terror. What a harrowing and poignant start and to consider that it was a sound that was going to repeat itself again and again all along the Somme salient.

Why is the Thiepval memorial significant to South Africans? It’s a surprise to many in The Royal British Legion and in South African veteran and military circles, but the official designation of this memorial is the “Memorial to the 72, 195 British and South African servicemen, who died in the Battle of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 – 1918, with no known grave”.

This memorial is built right across the front lines as they stood on the 1st July 1916, the very same day the British Army suffered 20 000 men killed and a further 40 000 wounded – it’s literally on this very ground that we are standing on now that much of this massive bloodletting took place. Humbling – no doubt!

This memorial however, speaks not simply of that first day but of the whole Battle of the Somme. On stone panels around the memorial’s arches are recorded the names of the men of the United Kingdom, 71,336 and 858 South Africans.

There is also one Irish born South African Victoria Cross recipient listed – Captain Alexander Young, awarded the Victoria Cross during the Boer War, Young served with the South African Scottish Regiment and was killed in action in October 1916.

To, think – these are only the ‘missing’ from the battle of the Somme – men who have no known grave, or on whose gravestone is inscribed the words “unknown soldier”. As to names on actual headstones, around us are thousands. The Somme Offensive is off the scale – it is the most bloodiest battle in the entire history of mankind, – the sad truth – it advanced only 10 km along the front with the grim total of 1 million men dead or wounded from both sides littered in its wake.

And it all began with a Bang!, a very big one. Soldiers of the British Forces here and soldiers of the South African forces just over the way at Delville Wood witnessed the biggest explosion ever seen until then – The Lochnagar mine explosion was so big that debris from the explosion hit a British spotter plane 4000 ft up in the air, the detonation of this large mine and 8 others under German positions was said to be heard as far as England, and it was the start of carnage on a epic level.

On the South African side of the Somme Offensive things started off remarkably well, the 1st South African Brigade was ordered to advance and to capture Delville Wood on the 14th July and “hold it at all costs”.

At first the attack progressed smoothly and by the end of the day the South Africans had secured the wood, now spread along the perimeter in groups forming machine gun nests.

But, rather than having “secured” the wood, the brigade was now in a trap, with only the south western base in contact with the 26th Brigade in Longueval. All troops were equipped with spades but digging within the wood was made extremely difficult by roots and tree trunks, preparation of proper trenches was impossible, the South made do with shallow burrows. With these unprepared trenches just over 3000 South Africans faced over 7,000 German troops, holding the wood was going to be extremely difficult!

The Germans launched one of the heaviest artillery bombardments of the war in an effort to dislodge the South Africans. At its peak the rate of firing exceeded 400 shells per minute and to think this relentless volley of shelling for days on end, and it was into a wood no bigger than a square kilometer in size.

There is a reason there as so many “missing” South Africans listed on this memorial – this rate of artillery fire literally vaporized these men or blasted them beyond recognition. This is why Delville Wood itself is such a humbling experience – many of these men listed HERE are still THERE, unfound even to this day.

Of the 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade who launched the initial attack, only 29 officers and 751 men eventually walked out. These men held the wood at a massive cost, even reverting to hand to hand combat at stages – the depth of bravery required to do this under this sort of fire power is simply too staggering to contemplate. The losses sustained by the South Africans were one of the greatest sacrifices of the war.

The South African Brigade suffered 80% loss, yet they managed to hold the Wood as ordered. This feat has was described then as “… the bloodiest battle hell of 1916.”

But something very important also happened during the Battle of Delville Wood – the South African nation as we know it today was born. It was out of this horrific baptism of fire, of South Africans from across ethnic, language and cultural divides – fighting as one in union and strength, that the newly formed Union of South Africa’s national identity was forged for the years come.

“Nancy” the Springbok, the South African Scottish mascot on the Somme, had been the symbol of home for all the men during the fighting, she proudly led four battalions of the South African Brigade to the first Delville Wood drum head service after the battle in 1918.

Prancing on her thin little legs, it’s almost as if she knew that she was the darling of every soldier on parade – and of those they were coming to honour – because from here on out these South African fighting men had walked into history as a force to be RESPECTED and the legend of the fighting Springbok was born.

The veterans bond

14502685_644871315682604_1764889988260960146_nI would like, if I may, to talk about why is the Battle of the Somme, something that occurred 100 years ago, is so important to us as veterans?

Forgive me if I read an abridge version from these very poignant memoirs. One from a South African who had just survived Deville Wood in France in 1916, one from a survivor of the SS Mendi in 1917 and the other is from a South African who survived an air attack during Ops Modular in Angola in 1987.

Lance Corporal Frederick Charles Lee, the only surviving NCO in his company to come out of Delville wood.

“After five days of absolute awfulness poor Angus Brown, my pal, died of wounds after about three hours awful suffering. He had both feet blown off by a shell. I saw him a little while after he was hit. I gave him a drink of water, and the only complaint he made at that time was “My God, Fred, the pain is awful “. With that I ran down to the dressing station and got the doctor to give me some Morphine. When I got back Angus was just about finished’

The next from Matli, a survivor of the SS Mendi

“George Mathibe said to me when I found him, we are about to die, but one of us will live to tell at home how members of the tribe had died with the ship Mendi, and I hope it will be you” at that point Matli gave Mathibe his warm great overcoat, promised to return to him but was unable to do so.

70 years later, Cpl Dave Mannall, writes the following from Ops Modular after the Ratel 90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle next to his took a direct hit from a Mig fighter jet ‘s parachute retarded bomb:

“Frikkie De Jager died from multiple shrapnel injuries before the helicopters arrived, his death was extremely hard for us boys, watching that death slowly unfold over eight hours took a far greater toll on our morale, especially for all of us who had become brothers in arms with him during our year in 61 Mech”.

Although separated by 70 years, all these brave South Africans – Angus Brown, George Mathibe and Frik De Jager share a bond between themselves and that same bond is shared with us as their brothers in arms.

They all died in excruciating circumstances brought about by War but, most importantly, they all died in the arms of men would have gladly given their lives for them instead … and that is a very special bond indeed.

That bond of brotherhood stretches in countless names from Frikkie all the way to Angus, before and after. It is a bond that we all share, and it’s a bond that is never broken.

It really is not the job of Politicians to carry the flame of remembrance for our brothers, nor can they really understand the bond we have for them. There is no political currency to be made out the war dead, to do this is to absolutely dishonor them.

Because of this unique bond – It is our job – the job of the Veterans to carry this solemn flame of remembrance – this RED Poppy – it is our duty to carry that unique thread that links us here today with the men buried in the ground we are standing on and with those South Africans who where sacrificed nearby at Arques-la-Bataille or on the SS Mendi – even those who lie in graves far off in countries like Angola and Namibia from a forgotten war … and we prepare to stand by those who WILL fall in the years to come.

Today! – our bond remains with those South Africans who fell in Delville Wood and those who where never found during the Battle of the Somme and are immortalized on this very monument – and after 100 years OUR bond is as strong as ever.

Lest we forget”

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Related links and work

In Flanders Fields (Afrikaans) ‘In Flanders Fields’ translated into Afrikaans for the Somme 100 commemoration, July 2016

Delville Wood 400 shells/min – upwards to 600/min fell on the Springbok positions, imagine “the bloodiest battle hell of 1916”

William Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC


Speech written by Peter Dickens.  Video copyright – The Royal British Legion.

Betty Quinn, the youngest recipient of the George Medal

Today we have a heartwarming story of a forgotten heroine of World War 2 which carries with it a South African twist.

1941: Betty Quinn, 17, the youngest recipient of the George Medal, at the Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. She saved seven people from a bombed air raid shelter while serving as an ARP Warden in Coventry during WW2.

Betty Quinn, a St. John Ambulance cadet, was awarded the George Medal for her bravery on 14 November 1940 during the heaviest night of the Coventry Blitz.  She was giving first aid at an ARP post when a shower of incendiary bombs fell in the district: “Without waiting for assistance she ran outside. AA batteries were putting up a heavy barrage and shrapnel was falling all round. Bombs began to fall and a man was injured by one. Miss Quinn assisted him to a private shelter. A report came in of an Anderson shelter receiving a direct hit and although bombs were still falling, Miss Quinn ran there and commenced digging in the crater with a spade. She assisted to dig out seven persons who had been trapped and then attended to their injuries. She stayed until all had been removed by ambulance, although shells were bursting overhead most of the time. She then returned to the post and carried on with her duties.”

Betty Quinn was tracked down in 2005 for an invite to attend the unveiling of the Women of WW2 Memorial, next to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Betty was living in Cape Town, South Africa where she had been living for 63 years, a direct result of what happened in 1940. Following her fame which spread throughout the Empire after her award, she received a marriage proposal from a South African, which was obviously too good to refuse.

gmIn 1940, during the height of The Blitz there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.

 

 


Photo by Keystone/Getty Images, reference British and Commonwealth Forces Facebook page.

German POW’s hitch a ride on a South African armoured car

Amazing image taken at Fort Capuzzo in Libya during WW2 – December 1941. Two German Afrika Corps soldiers – now Prisoners of War (POW) – hitch a ride into captivity on the front of a 2nd South African Division Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car.

The Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car was a series of armoured vehicles produced in South Africa and adopted by the British Army, other Commonwealth Forces (India used them) and South African army during World War II.  Highly popular as they could be adapted into all sorts of roles and configurations, some captured examples even made their way into the German army and other Axis forces during the war.

 

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Marmon-Herrington Mk III

Featured image Copyright Australian War Memorial

 

“We fought as one, black and white”; the South African Native Military Corps ‘at arms’

Now what is truly remarkable about this photograph?  Well it shows a bunch of armed South African soldiers during World War 2 who by all accounts never carried a firearm and by directive were not allowed to either.  These are members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC), and it’s proof positive that there is no such thing as skin colour or ‘Segregation’ legislation when under fire.

sanmmc

This photograph was taken by Warren Loader’s Grandfather Noel Edgar Fuller while serving with The Royal Durban Light Infantry (DLI) B Coy in North Africa during WW2. What makes this photo remarkable is the DLI L/Cpl is standing next to three armed members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC).

So, visual proof that .303 Lee Enfields were issued to some members of the NMC, but what is the validity of this rare photograph?

Official Policy

163497_146794905490250_702739084_nDuring the Second World War the South African government of the day held out that members of the NMC could only function in non-combatant roles, and were not allowed to carry firearms whereas funnily members of the Cape Corps (Cape Coloured members) where fully armed and enrolled in combatant roles.  In terms of the race politics of the day, on the arming of Black soldiers at the beginning of war, Smuts’ government had to bow to the pressures of his opposition, the Nationalists, led by DF Malan.

The Nationalists were vociferously opposed to black South Africans in the army at all, even unarmed. As Dr D.F. Malan was to be quoted in Parliament: “To every Afrikaner, the use of black troops against Europeans is abhorrent.”

Faced with all this opposition in Parliament from the official opposition bench Smuts had little choice, he needed men to fight, and had to tap South Africa’s black population for resources.  So he found a way by striking compromise, they could carry traditional weapons in the form of spears and knobkerries.

The president of the ANC in the war years, Dr AB Xuma, responded: “They are expected to fight aeroplanes, tanks and enemy artillery with knobkerries and assegais. What mockery.”

Arming the Native Military Corps with Spears 

So, in a counter-intuitive move to the National Party’s objections and statements to the Smuts government, the Native Military Corps were trained in traditional weapons (other than firearms) which they were allowed to carry.  This was a long spear, and bear in mind spears are very deadly (as the British fighting at the Battle of Isaldwana found out) – but lets face it, spears were very out of date in the context of modern war, but they pressed on and in training the South African Native military corps even trained to charge with the spear, even through tear-gas screens.

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South African Native Military Corps members charging with traditional spears into a teargas screen

Secretly arming the some Native Military Corps members with Firearms 

All this political segregation and racial discrimination became quite irrelevant when serving in combat areas and in many instances serving Regiments, Units and Sections of the South African Army quite quickly issued firearms to their NMC ‘support’ members – and this photo of DLI members stands testament of such practice.

Thier lives – Black or White, depended on it, and logic prevailed.  As is often the case in combat, the man who joins you in the fight is your brother – irrespective of the colour of his skin – in combat there is no such thing as racial segregation in a foxhole.

The caption written on Noel Edgar Fuller’s photo is “our Lance Corporal and his two native pals”. Quite a lot can be seen and said to this remarkable snapshot into the attitude of the time versus the attitude of soldiers.

Job Maseko MM

Job-Maseko

Job Maseko MM

In addition to snapshots like Noel’s one, there are actual accounts of South African Native Military Corps getting into the fight at the Fall of Tobruk, and it produced one highly decorated South African from the SA NMC.

During the Fall of Tobruk, over 1200 NMC members found themselves in a frontal attack by Rommel and his Axis forces.  Many of them were quickly issued rifles and ammunition and got into the fight alongside their white compatriots. Job Maseko was one and he ferried ammunition to the other NMC members who had been issued rifles and were in the thick of the fighting.

After the Fall of Tobruk (South Africa’s greatest capitulation of arms, Job found himself and other NMC members taken prisoner of war.  Made of stern stuff, whilst been put to work by the Germans on the Tobruk dock loading and off-loading Axis suppliers, Job secretly created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, cordite taken from bullets and an extremely long fuse.  His intention, sink a ship!

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.

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.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini

Now consider this remarkable first hand account of armed Native Military Corps soldiers in the thick of the fight at El-Alamein

The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns, we pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … (we were in the) 8th Army led by (British Field-Marshal Bernard). Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. We fought as one; black and white soldiers.” — Sergeant Petrus Dlamini speaking about the battle of El Alamein to filmmaker Vincent Moloi

After 1948 this history was held back from the ‘White’ population and to a very large degree from the ‘Black’ population for political expediency ,it is only been recounted now with the very few remaining NMC members.  In effect South Africans were denied the opportunity to know their own history.

All that is starting to change now. From their recollections we know that, although black soldiers left South Africa armed only with spears, when they got “Up North” (to the North and East African campaigns) many were armed with rifles.  We also know now some even fought alongside white soldiers in the thick of battle.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini spoke of being at Sidi Rezegh, Mersa Matru, Tripoli, Garowe in then Abyssinia and El Alamein before he went by boat to Italy with the South African 1st Division. He remembered doing guard duty in North Africa.

He says: “There, at Garowe, we were guarding as a sentry. We were guarding with assegai.” But just a few months later, Dlamini adds: “It was said — I heard a rumour — that the superiors [commanding officers] of South Africa, England and Australia said we must be given guns. Those guns were taken from the Italians in Kenya. They gave them to us and we were taught how to put ammunition and we were training with guns”.

Lee enfield

Short Magazine .303 Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk 1, standard issue

“Then we went to El Alamein and they took these [Italian] guns that were not right and they gave us short magazine Lee-Enfield .303. We got them at El Alamein.”  The Lee-Enfield .303 short magazine was the standard rifle issued to all British and Commonwealth troops.

This has been verified in an article in the South African Historical Journal by historian LWF Grundling, who says: “Recruits received rifle musketry training, which was seriously handicapped by the defective Italian rifles with which they were issued.”

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General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld

According to this research it was General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld himself who instructed the commanding officers in North Africa to arm black soldiers with Lee-Enfield rifles before El Alamein.  No small player, General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was the Chief of General Staff (which today is known as Chief of the South African National Defence Force) and led the South African war effort in the Second World War.

But this does not seem to have been mentioned in despatches (possibly because of the petty race political ramifications back in South Africa of the Nationalists).

Sergeant Dlamini said: “In the front line we were accompanied by whites. When we go to fight the Germans we were mixed.”

He spoke vividly of the battles he was in. Moloi recorded his description of the battle of El Alamein.

“It was like bees, those German planes together with our planes, the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. Many died there. Shots were like falling rain. They would hit here and here where you are sitting. When you are sleeping in your trench you would hear sounds of bombs all the time, when you wake up you would see those injured and those who are dead.”

Dlamini says they were with the 8th Army. as they pushed the Afrika Korps and Axis forces out of Africa, he goes on “It [the 8th Army] pushed. Ai! Man! It was terrible, soldiers were lying dead, black and white, but the Germans were retreating and we kept following them. The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns. We pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … 8th Army led by Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. They went down together with the Italians you see.”

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Rare original colour photograph of a NMC Field Kitchen in North Africa campaign, note the high degree of integration of the South African soldiers represented.

Dlamini added: “We were one. We fought as one; black and white soldiers. Here in South Africa (before we went up north) we were treated differently. Blacks were sleeping this side, whites on the other side. When we arrived in Egypt we mixed. If we made a queue, in front would be a white person, behind would be a black person then a white person. We were one.”

And, perhaps explaining why he had not spoken of his experiences before, he added: “You know the heart of a soldier. Your feelings die. You are always angry.”

Besides Moloi’s interviews with Dlamini, and with several other black World War II veterans, almost no records of the wartime experiences of black soldiers exist. And as it’s probably too late now to collect more, Moloi’s transcribed and translated interviews are a national treasure.

Lucas Majozi DCM

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Lucas Majozi DCM

Adding to Job Maseko’s gallantry, another NMC man was to attain hero status during the Second World War was Lucas Majozi, a man who performed a feat very similar to Pvt. Desmond Doss (who has a movie ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ made over his gallantry and US ‘medal of honour’), and like Doss, as an unarmed medic Lucas time and again exposed himself and walked into the hell of machine gun fire as an unarmed medic to rescue a large number of critically injured ‘white’ South African soldiers on the battlefield during the Battle of El Alamein, so much so he became riddled with bullets himself and eventually collapsed.

This is South Africa’s own ‘hacksaw ridge’ and movies should be made of it, Lucas Majozi should be elevated to the highest accolades of gallantry we have to offer today.  He remains the NMC with the highest decoration to this day – the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Politically inconvenient ‘Sacrifice’

600x951It’s an often ignored fact and statistic – one which most certainly the National government after 1948 did not want widely published, lest national heroes be made of these ‘Black’ men.  Simply put the ‘Black’ contributions to World War 1 and World War 2 were quite literally erased from the narrative of the war after 1948 and dismissed by the incoming Apartheid government as ‘traitors’ (a tag also suffered by their ‘White’ counterparts) for serving the ‘British’.

Bear in mind when reviewing what this actually means to the prevailing opinions by many South Africans of the war (White and Black)  – approximately 40% of the standing South African servicemen in WW2 where persons of “colour”.  In all more than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks, and 2,500 people of mixed race served in the standing forces of the Union of South Africa at this time.  Mull that over for a minute.

The sacrifice of the men of the Native Military Corps no less significant – if you think that as ‘non combatants’ this corps came through unscathed by war, also think again – this is the honour role of those NMC members who laid down their lives during the war, their sacrifice is literally quite eye-opening:

In total approximately 1655 Native Military Corps members died during World War 2, read that again – One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Five ‘Black’ South African soldiers died during World War 2.  That’s almost three times the number who died on the SS Mendi during World War 1, and that’s only from one ‘Corps’.

Put into context, nearly as many South Africans died during the entire 23 years of fighting during the Border War in the 70’s and 80’s when approximately 2013 South African service personnel died – from all arms of the military …. yet, here we are talking about only ‘one’ single Corps of Black South Africans and only five years of conflict.  Consider that the book shelves on South African history are stuffed full of books on the Border War and not one single book is dedicated to the history of the South African Native Military Corps in World War 2.  There is also almost nothing by way of definitive work on the unit history on the internet.

In Conclusion

It must be noted that this policy of arming NMC was not a universal one and only seemed to have been actioned with certain members in front line units or when combat situations demanded it, in reality reason finally prevailed.

It also seems that once high intensity combat operations abated these rifles were handed back. For the most part many NMC members went through the war in non-combatant roles and unarmed in roles like supply truck drivers, medics, chefs, bomb loaders, engineering labour (rail and bridge-building) etc.

It is unfortunate that after the war, and when the Nationalists ascended to power in 1948, that the NMC was disbanded and history scrubbed.  They were excluded from national parades and would sit under a tree and tell their stories to anyone prepared to listen.  Their stories really becoming fable in the Black community only, any record of NMC using weapons was generally written out the state’s historical narrative, interviews with them disregarded and these priceless historical nuggets are only starting to re-surface now in a post Apartheid epoch.

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NMC Insignia

The history of the South African Native Military Corps needs to resurface – it’s screaming out for more definitive works and information access – this featured photograph alone calls for it.  We need to fundamentally rethink who and what has been sacrificed to military conflict by South Africans of all ethnic origins, we need to completely re-dress how we honour them and we need to take some serious perspective.

Related Work and Links:

Native Military Corps Dress and Bearing: Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

Job Maseko; Job Maseko; one very remarkable South African war hero.

Lucas Majozi; “With bullets in his body he returned … into a veritable hell of machine gun fire”; Lucas Majozi DCM

Skin colour in combat;  Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!

Native Military Corps honour roll;  NMC Honour Roll, Delville Wood official website


Written by Peter Dickens.  Image copyright of NMC members holding weapons to Warren Loader, used with his kind permission.  Paintings of Job Maseko and Lucas Majozi by Neville Lewis copyright.  Quotes obtained from ‘Memories of black South African soldiers who bore arms and fought in War II’ by Marilyn Honikman

Navy teaches disadvantaged children to ‘Roll with the Punches’

Did you know that the South African Navy in the 90’s spearheaded community outreach using the “sweet science”?  In 1998 the SANDF initiated the first boxing clinic on the West Coast to showcase local talent and generate role models for children who might otherwise gravitate to gangsterism.  Seen in the featured image are these children Shadow boxing with Jan Louwrens.

Boxing has always been a key sport in the South African military, with many of our great boxing heroes serving at one time or another in the armed forces, and nothing showcases this remarkable talent than a boxing outreach program to the community.

Equally, boxing has a long history of thriving in deprived areas. What better was to marry the two together by way of an outreach programme?

The first boxing outreach programme for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds ever to be held on the West Coast took place at the Navy base SAS Saldanha in 9 December 1998, with the positive after effects continuing to this day…

Like all outreach programs the purpose of the clinic was to motivate children, making them aware of the benefits of sport as a conduit to physical and mental wellbeing, to make them healthy, confident and self-assured; providing role models and thereby turning them away from negative adult behaviour – alcoholism, drugs and warn them against the evils of gangsterism.

This community outreach programme was organised by the then Chairman of the Military Academy Boxing Club, S/Lieutenant Claudio Chistè a combat officer in the South African Navy, with the support from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, South African National Defence Force (SANDF). More than 70 children attended the training and instruction session which featured boxing stars such as the former world Boxing Champion, Gary Murray, former South African light-middleweight champion, Coenie Bekker, top SANDF trainer and referee, Jan Louwrens. The aim of the project was not only to teach children how to box, but to teach life skills and to facilitate the community building process.

South African military’s proud boxing legacy

1_Gary Murray winning the word championship title

Gary Murray after winning the World Championship

The South African military has a very proud legacy of boxing.  Former World Welterweight Boxing Champion Gary “The Heat” Murray is a leading example of this.  Gary was just 12 years old when he started sparring, but after he knocked out the local champion, he was hooked.  Gary’s family moved from Scotland to South Africa and he boxed for both Scotland and South Africa as a youngster, winning the South African National Title in Cape Town.  He joined the South African military for two years of his national service and won the prestigious “Super Trooper” title for the fittest soldier in the defence force, as well as the crown of Best Boxer two years in a row. After Gary left the army, he turned pro sharing the ring with greats such as all time knock-out king, Buck Smith (120 knockouts to his name), Dingaan “Rose of Soweto” Thobela and tough as teak Rusty Derouen (the fight was billed “War on the Foreshore” and won the “Fight of the Year” award).

2_Coenie Bekker in his army days pre winning SA Light-middleweight title

Coenie Bekker before winning the SA Light Middleweight title

Former South African Light-Middleweight Champion Coenie Bekker had a similar story to Gary Murray.  His family moved to the rough suburbs of Cape Town and after getting into a street fight with a local gang member Coenie resolved to get formally trained as a boxer.  In a long and impressive amateur career Coenie had 87 bouts suffering only 6 defeats, he won many titles in this time which included the Western Province Title as a Junior and Senior and also the South African Coastal Title at Junior level and Senior. Coenie also boxed in the South African army during national service and won many fights while serving as well as representing the then OFS Province, (Orange Free State, prior to 1994). After completing his military service Coenie decided to turn professional, with career highlights being his famous duel with Charlie “the Silver Assassin” Weir (who also served in the SADF) and winning the national championship to be crowned South African champion.

Inspiration leading to first Community Outreach

One particular moment in the early part of Claudio’s life would prove to be rather poignant in demonstrating the power of the sweet science to bring a community together. Back in 1991 when he visited the then Ciskei with his grandmother, Selma, at the invitation of her close friend, the late Chief Lent Maqoma, Chief of the amaJingqi (for a period served as Acting Paramount Chief of the amaRharhabe Royal house after the death of Inkosi Enkhulu Mxolisi). During this visit,  they were invited by a local to a boxing match in nearby Mdantsane (where over 23 world champions and 50 national champions hail from, amongst them Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxagi, Vuyani “The Beast” Vungu, Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, Nkosinathi “Mabhere” Joyi).  The atmosphere was electric, with the community in full spirit behind the two sportsmen in the ring. The power of the sweet science was clear. Claudio’s dad, Diego, being a former Italian welterweight title contender, reinforced the affinity with the sport.

Claudio joined the South African Navy immediately after school, taking up boxing as a sport, going  on to have 10 bouts ranging from development tournaments in townships to representing the SANDF at provincial level. Being trained by top defence force coaches John Jantjies (former SA Kickboxing Champion & SA boxing contender, who had taken over from Steve Kalakoda as coach of the SA Navy team)  and Jan Louwrens,  with SA Kickboxing Middleweight Champion, Chad Alexander, as his sparring partner. Subsequently Claudio went on to win the Western Cape & Western Province championship.

3_Claudio being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar

Claudio Chistè being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar.

Legacy of Community Outreach makes social impact

It was these experiences which led Claudio to hold training camps for military personnel assisting in training aspiring paratroopers in preparation for their gruelling parabat selection, and to organise this community outreach programme which has since gone on to be an inspirational training ground for aspiring Olympic boxers and South African national champions. This project received praise from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, SANDF for community service in social upliftment, consequently promoting the perception of the defence force amongst the local community.

At the time, organiser Chiste stated with what now seems a prescient understatement, “I think it was very successful. There were about fifteen kids who really showed talent and if we got them interested, we’ve achieved our goal”, adding: “The idea was to let them have fun while learning a skill to exercise their bodies and develop their minds”. This laid the seeds for follow on outreach programmes, which indeed provided a learning environment for the acquisition of these skills. A case in point being  Gregory “The Hitman” Gans, where at the age of only 13 he attended one of the follow-on outreach programmes, showing tremendous talent. With extremely hard work and dedication he obtained his National Colours (Protea) for Kickboxing within the first year of starting with the sport. He won the SA Kickboxing Championships and was selected for the National Team where after he represented South Africa in an international bilateral competition against Mauritius and won his fight with a spectacular knock-out. He went on to represent South Africa in numerous international events, including two World Kickboxing Championships in 2012 and 2014 whereby he brilliantly achieved second place during both World Championships (1).

The link in South Africa with the military and boxing are deep rooted.

Fist-fighting as a sport came to South Africa only during the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795 (preceding even soccer and rugby 1862), with boxing as a sport being one of the legacies of colonialism. Bouts were conducted under the London Prize Ring rules for close on a century but illegal bare-knuckle fights-to-a-finish were common in military camps in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. In fact, one of the earliest references to boxing in South Africa is a report about the arrest of two characters, Japie and Mahmoud, after a fight in Cape Town in the early 1860s (2).

Perhaps the overall impact of this sport was best summed up by Professor Njabulo Ndebele who researched extensively the effect on the community when he said at a recent seminar, “What is also fascinating is to reflect on the contribution of boxing to one’s moral compass and character. The values espoused in the ring. The restraint of power. The demonstration of discipline and self-control. A code of conduct. These men have huge potential to injure but instead there is an instinct to protect – to win through technical skills, thought and the following of the rules”.


Sources:
Sunday Times, Die Weslander, Boxing World, Military Academy Yearbook, Department of Defence, Supersport.
(1) Source: http://www.dod.mil.za/defence_people/PteGans.htm
(2) Source: https://www.supersport.com/boxing/blogs/ronjackson/SA_boxings_Happy_Anniversary

A simple thank you would be nice!

This is a letter of thanks from Field Marshal Jan Smuts sent to every single South African who served in the armed forces during World War 2.  It formed part of his demobilisation debrief . This particular one belongs to my Grandfather – Sgt. Albert Edwin Dickens – and he cherished it so much that it survives to this day.

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A simple thank you goes a very long way, decades later I was to serve in the South African Defence Force as a conscript and no such thank you letter was ever given to me – not even so much as a verbal thanks let alone in writing.  Not just me, generally thousands of South Africans called into service of country as conscripts (and even permanent force) received nothing for it by way of a thank you, or even a simple demobilisation debrief in many cases.

Some units in the ‘old’ SADF were a little better than others and some have received thanks from Unit, Regiment, Corps, Squadron, Ship or Battalion commanders, some even received a formalised demobilisation debrief, but many did not (in fact most).  As a result many South African military veterans are now left with deep-seated disgruntled attitude of “what was it all for”.  My Grandfather and his generation of military veterans had no such dilemma.

This simple letter of thanks from the Prime Minister goes a long way to demonstrate the vast difference in attitude between South African forces which operated under Smuts as opposed to those who operated in the statute forces under the National Party. Herein lies a key difference between the United Party under Jan Smuts and the National Party under P.W. Botha. When it came to serving the country, the one displayed gratitude the other often displayed arrogance.

Jan Smuts even went further, at the end of the war he sent a thank you letter to all the South African families who had lost loved ones during the war along with a special commemoration plaque, here’s an example of it.

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In addition to these letters and brooches, Jan Smuts also issued commemorative plaques to families who lost members in the war bearing the person’s name.

As to arrogance, it is also not only the Afrikaner Nationalists, in 1994, I volunteered to remain with the newly formatted SANDF as a Reservist and to date have not received anything from an African National Congress State appointed State President of South Africa by way of a simple thanks.  As to a signed letter from the State President sent to other SANDF members demobilising – I’ve not yet seen one issued to anyone.

We, as South Africans generally treat our veterans very badly.  The National Party threw the South African Union Defence Force (UDF) members and their military reputation, colours and victories under the bus in 1960, they again threw their reformatted South African Defence Force (SADF) members and thier honours under the bus in 1994, the ANC is now doing a good job throwing the current South African National Defence Force (SANDF) under the bus by under financing it and tainting it with corruption.  In all of this, South Africans in general have no special regard for anyone who has worn the country’s military uniform.

Perhaps there is a lesson to the current SANDF to invest in a simple personalised pro-forma letter.   It will go a very long way to install pride and purpose in someone who has risked their life to serve in a South African uniform.

 

As is very much the custom in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, when next you see a UDF, SADF or SANDF military veteran on parade or veteran members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans and MOTH collecting funds for poppies of remembrance or participating in charitable contribution – be sure to walk up to them, shake their hands and give them a simple thank you, it will mean the world to them – because to date there is a very good chance nobody else has.

Capt. Peter Albert Dickens (retired)

P.S. A sincere thank you to Maureen Lindsey Paine for allowing me to share her Mother’s letter and brooch which she now wears with pride every Remembrance Day. 

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Three times winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross – Johannes Jacobus Le Roux

Squadron Leader Johannes Jacobus Le Roux – DFC & Two Bars, Commanding Officer of No 602 Squadron RAF in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXb “Betty” MJ584 LO-A, at B11/Longues, Normandy. 10-12 July 1944

Le Roux, a South African, joined No. 73 Squadron RAF in France in 1940. He was shot down twelve times, but enjoyed better luck with No. 91 Squadron in 1941 and 1942, shooting down eight enemy aircraft before joining No. 111 Squadron RAF in North Africa. He ended his second tour in command of the Squadron. Following a rest from operations he was given command of No. 602 Squadron in July 1944. Le Roux is generally credited as the pilot who attacked and badly wounded Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel in his staff car on the road between Livarot and Vimoutiers on 17 July 1944, the day on which he also destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s and damaged two more to bring his victory score to 23.5.

He won the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) not once, but three times, here are the citations:

Distinguished Flying Cross
Awarded 17th October 1941

Citation:

“This officer has carried out over 200 operational sorties which have included shipping reconnaissances, during which much valuable information has been obtained, and numerous attacks on shipping and enemy aerodromes in the face of heavy enemy fire. Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has destroyed 3 hostile aircraft in combat and at least 1 on the ground.”

Distinguished Flying Cross – First Bar
Awarded 11th December 1942

Citation:

“Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has destroyed a further five enemy aircraft. In addition to his air victories he has attacked shipping and targets on the ground with considerable success. At all times Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has displayed a fine fighting spirit.”

Distinguished Flying Cross – Second Bar

Awarded 9th July 1943

Citation: 

“Sqn. Ldr. Le Roux’s magnificent leadership has played a large part in the many successes attained by his squadron. He has personally destroyed 14 enemy aircraft and damaged many others, and has also inflicted much damage on enemy shipping.”

His cheerful personality and good looks had made him one of South Africa’s most popular fighter pilots, and he was mourned by all who had known him. The No.111 Squadron Operations Record Book contains a magnificent “line” which remains as a fitting memory of one as young, as gallant and as gay (happy) as Chris le Roux. It quotes him as relating the story of his having made a good landing in very dirty weather and the mud described earlier, and finishes up: “I didn’t realise I was down until I heard the ground crew clapping!” He was a very worthy member of “the gayest (happiest) company who ever fired their guns in anger.”

Le Roux is also associated with allegedly ending Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s war – for more on this please follow this link: The South African fighter ace who allegedly ended Rommel’s war

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Le Roux was to leave behind an English wife and two children, the family resident at the time in Shropshire.


Researched by Peter Dickens

(Image courtesy of the IWM, CL 784) Royal Air Force official photographer F/O A. Goodchild

(Colourised by Benjamin Thomas from Australia), caption courtesy WW2 Colourised photos

‘Bake-off’ South African style!

The politics of the jam tart. At one stage the politics of division between Jan Smuts’  politics of reconciliation’ and Barry Hertzog’s ‘politics of separation’ even entered into the kitchen, and this is one very hot political cup cake.

In 1924 during the General Election women showed their political support from the kitchen. During this time the little jam tart in honour of JBM Hertzog or the ‘Hertzoggie’ started to grace the tea tables of staunch  National Party supporting women.

Going head to head in the bake off with a jam tart of their own, women supporting Jan Smuts’ South African Party came up with the ‘Smutsie’ or the Jan Smuts Cookie (also known as a General Smuts cookie).

The irony is that they are baked in nearly the same way with an apricot jam filling, the difference is in the topping. The Smutsie cookie has a creamed butter and sugar topping (similar to a penuche frosting) whereas a Hertzoggie has a much paler macaroon-style of topping made of egg white and coconut.

It is said that those supporting the one style of cookie refused to bake or eat the opponents offering.  Such was the intense political rivalry and deep division between the two.

The recipe of the Smutsie seems to have varied over time and from what I can see the Sugar Butter topping has been lost from more recent recipes, whereas the Hertzoggie has been quite popular and commonly found. So, here’s a challenge to the bake-off enthusiasts out there – rejuvenate the Smutsie with its original topping!

This is one for the ‘The Great South African Bake-off  2018’ challenge I would love to see, one half doing a take on the Hertzoggie using ‘ouma se resepte’ and the other half sprinting around the kitchen frantically stealing each others recipes trying to figure out a Smutsie.  All the while both groups shout ‘veraaier’ at one another.  How South African is that!

A Smutsie with a penuche frosting as a topping, now that’s the Smutsie for me …. although I am told that a Hertzoggie made on a braai (yup, a braai – believe it) is to die for. As a ‘Soutie’ married to a ‘Boertjie’ to keep peace in the house I might just find the safe political middle ground and go with her excellent Springbok rugby player inspired  … Jan Ellis Pudding.


Written by Peter Dickens

A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts

Did you know that Jan Smuts has a kibbutz named after him because of his support in founding the state of Israel, and that this kibbutz was at the centre of the 1948 Arab Israeli War (or sometimes known as the Israeli War of Independence)?

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The Balfour Declaration

Jan Smuts was a supporter of the Balfour Declaration, first adopted in November of 1917 and then again reaffirmed in 1922 in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine which set forth British policy towards the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.

Smuts became personal friends with Chaim Weitzman, who would go on to become the first President of Israel and Smuts and he saw to it that his government voted in the United Nations in support of the creation of the State of Israel. As a consequence of this a Kibbutz near Haifa is named after him, Ramat Yohanan.

Smuts’ relationship with the idea of a Jewish state started when South African supporters of Theodor Herzl contacted Smuts in 1916. It was in London that met and became friends with Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann went on to become the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952.

In 1943 Weizmann wrote to Smuts, detailing a plan to develop Britain’s African colonies to compete with the United States – essentially a United States of Southern Africa – something which appealed to Jan Smut’s ideology of “Union” of former colonies and states in Africa for the greater good of all (his philosophy of Holism at work).

When South Africa became a “union” in 1910 it was originally envisaged that Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) would also form part of the newly created South Africa.

Political manoeuvring (mainly by the British) meant it was not to be and South Africa forged ahead as a union of the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the two Boer Republics – the Orange Free State and Transvaal (South African Republic) only. The idea of a regional superpower union was never really lost though and only fully put to bed when the National Party came to power in 1948 effectively ending any further union ideas with commonwealth countries in Southern Africa.

During his service as Premier, Smuts also personally fundraised for multiple Zionist organisations.

Now to Ramat Yohanan (Hebrew: רָמַת יוֹחָנָן, meaning Yohanan Heights), a kibbutz in northern Israel, named after the then South African Prime Minister and wartime leader – Jan Smuts.

It was the location of the Battle of Ramat Yohanan during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. In April 1948, The Druze Regiment of the Arab Liberation Army was engaged by Jewish Haganah soldiers in a hard fought battle at the kibbutz.

The Druze attacked Ramat Yohanan and other neighbouring kibbutzim in order to try to take the roads leading to Haifa. The attack was unsuccessful and the Druze withdrew to their base in Shefa-‘Amr with a high number of casualties, this action led to a non-aggression treaty which was signed by the Haganah with the Druze. Throughout the kibbutz, there are still scattered defence towers used by the kibbutz to defend itself.

The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization operating in the then British Mandate of Palestine, which went on to become the core of the Israel Defence Force (IDF).

As an interesting fact, in 1941, Yitzhak Rabin joined the Palmach section of the Haganah during his stay at Jan Smuts’ kibbutz – Ramat Yohanan. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995.

Today, the kibbutz grows produce including mainly avocado, lychee and citrus fruits, raises both meat and dairy cattle, and is the home of a Palram plastics factory. They also produce a small quantity of olive oil and dairy products, much of which is used and sold on the kibbutz. For several years, Ramat Yochanan has run an ulpan program that serves primarily American and Russian students.

Modern day Shavout festival at Ramat Yohanan

The last official act Jan Smuts carried out before leaving office in 1948 was to recognise the independent State of Israel, fulfilling his long standing commitment to Chaim Weitzmann.

Most of Jan Smuts’ history has been downplayed significantly in the years since his death, his politics and endeavours largely glossed over by a Nationalist government and overshadowed by the implementation by the Nationalists of Apartheid in 1948.

This history lies largely forgotten to most South Africans today, but the fact remains, that other than Nelson Mandela, not too many South African leaders since Smuts have had such a presence and role in shaping world politics as we know it today,

The featured image today shows Jan Smuts and Chaim Weitzmann and early IDF soldiers using adapted South African designed and manufactured Marmon-Herrington Armoured Cars – as well the flag raising of the Israeli flag once independence was fully established.

A lost SAAF legacy

Rare colour image of South African Air Force 22 Squadron Venturas on the right in a formation flight over Table Bay in 1959.  Of interest, if you look closely is that their markings have just been changed, compare it to the SAAF Ventura on the left.

These three on the right are seen flying in the revised SADF livery which had just been introduced at the time i.e the Springbok inside an image of the Castle of Good Hope – introduced a year earlier in 1958 – which replaced the traditional Commonwealth aircraft identifier roundel – which had an orange Springbok in the centre of it.

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Commonwealth aircraft rondel markings, left to right – Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa.  Note, Australia and New Zealand still use this rondel marking to this day as a nod to maintaining their Commonwealth heritage.

These Ventura are Ventura PV-1 an American aircraft made by lockheed and were extensively used during World War 2 by the Allies. The SAAF also operated the aircraft during the war and continued to do so after the war for many years.

The changes formed part of the Nationalist government’s wish to break the SADF’s military identity and association from its British Commonwealth historical legacy. The changes where far reaching and included insignia, rank terminology, uniform changes, disbandment and reformulation of infantry regiments, renaming of institutions and bases, military hardware deals, new medal orders etc. etc.

Note: these changes to the defence force livery occurred before South Africa ‘resigned’ from the Commonwealth of Nations, so the plans to make this change were entirely domestically driven by the government of the day.

Note, the Springbok in the centre was further changed again to an eagle in line with the new SADF composite mark.

Funnily, and rather tragically to many parts of our military heritage and legacy – this is a process which seems to repeat itself historically whenever South Africa changes political dynasties.  The SAAF livery was changed again in response to the new SANDF re-branding the armed forces – literally everything connecting the past has to go (rank, uniform, medals etc), the military structures changes again (the Commandos went), the ruling edict is to break its connection and legacy with National Party’s “Apartheid” South Africa.  These changes were initiated in 2003.

I can’t but think that military tradition is been lost through the political epochs and this initial fundamental re-vamp of the SAAF emblems by the National Party and their resignation from the Commonwealth means that the new revamp, done when South Africa had re-joined the Commonwealth, has lost sight with its very rich military tradition and legacy.

When the emblems came under review in 2003 no consideration to the proud legacy of South African involvement in WW2 (and especially our Air Force) was given at all, so far had it receded from collective consciousness by this stage.  Again, I can’t but think that the loss of general public awareness and the military of this very proud moment in South African history is nothing short of tragic – especially considering the sacrifice of Black and White South Africans alike to it.

‘Tradition’ and maintaining ‘memory’ of those who have served is a fundamental cornerstone of soldiering, but unfortunately this was not a political priority – to either National Party or to the African National Congress.