So, I saw a lapel pin with a Torch on it been promoted as a “Torch Commando” pin on a collectors site, I have one like it in my collection, and I sincerely thought that although not Torch Commando it was a related civic association concerned with the Constitutional Crisis of the 1950’s. Turns out I was wrong! At times I’m very happy to be proved wrong, and the investigation into this simple “torch” pin led me down a rabbit hole to uncover some history that really is “lost” to most South Africans (certainly to the collectors of war-time memorabilia). For in this search for the truth .. we find .. “The Truth Legion”.
Image: Truth Legion pin and propaganda (left) and Torch Commando pin and propaganda (right).
The Truth Legion … what the heck was that all about? Well, it’s origins all point to Nazi Germany.
Nazification of the Afrikaner Right
It turns out that at the beginning of World War 2, Jan Smuts and his government needed a vehicle to promote the “truth” about why South Africa went to war and to counter-act far right Nationalist and Nazi propaganda streaming into South Africa via radio stations like Radio Zeesen (a Nazi German propaganda service radio station broadcasting in short wave in eighteen different foreign languages including Afrikaans) and via the German intelligence service of the Ober Kommando Wehrmacht (German High Command) called the “Abwehr”, which had been engaged in coordinating direct operational intelligence and the spread of propaganda in the Union of South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia).
If foreign influence was not enough, domestically political organs like the South African Nazi ‘shirt’ movements – Louis Weichardt’s South African Christian Nationalist Socialist Party or “Greyshirts” and Manie Wessels’ and Chris Havemann’s ‘Democratic Movement’ or “Blackshirts”. Other Nazi ‘shirt’ organisations included the Volksbeweging (People’s Movement) or ‘African Gentile Organisation’ which was established by H.S. Terblanche. Johannes Bruwer also founded ‘The Bond van Nasionale Werkers’ (National Workers Union) which became known as the “Brownshirts”.
The Greyshirts’ organ of communication, a newspaper called oddly enough “Die Waarheid” (the ‘truth’), “Ons Reg” (Our Right) was published by the “Blackshirts” and the “Terre Blanche” (White Land) published by the People’s Movement. They nailed their colours literally to the mast – Die Waarheid and Terre blanche both used a swastika on their mastheads indicating their pro-Nazi and National Socialistic sympathy.
Image: Die Waarheid – note masthead
Added to this was the Ossewabrandwag led by a Nazi devotee – Dr J.F.J. van Rensburg who transformed the Ossewabrandwag from a predominately Afrikaner cultural movement surrounding the 1938 Great Trek Centenary into a militarised, totalitarian, anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi movement operating under the guise of an Afrikaner cultural movement. Dr Johannes van Rensburg would even go as far using the Ossewabrandwag and its structures to directly assist Nazi Germany in espionage and intelligence operations in South Africa. During the war a secret wireless transmitter was installed in on Dr van Rensburg’s farm near Vryburg. The wireless service was run by Nazi spy, Lothar Sittig (codename Felix), a South African with German roots, and assisted by Dutch journalist, Henri Jacques (Hans) Rooseboom, who was inserted into the Union by the Nazis in October 1939.
In addition, the National Party’s Defence Minister, another Nazi devotee, Oswald Pirow inspired his organisation – the Nazi ‘New Order’ and its leaflets and even the National Party itself, with its communication organs – the ‘Transvaaler ‘and the ‘Burger’ towing Nazi German sympathises and ideologies – all this added to the heady mix of Nazi propaganda and Nazi German sympathies streaming into South Africa. All targeting white Afrikaners primarily with the purpose of de-stabilising South Africa’s war effort and even trying to effect regime change to a Nazi German friendly South African ally.
So, to counter act all of this, Jan Smuts, now very concerned about the unchecked growth of Nazism in South Africa and South West Africa, and particularly the spread of “propaganda, falsehood, delusion and fomenting of strive carried on by foreign agents” – in response Smuts promoted Dr Ernst Gideon Malherbe, one of South Africa’s foremost academic minds, to the head of Intelligence and gave him the rank of Colonel. He then went about structuring the intelligence and counter-intelligence services to meet war-time objectives. In the main, three propaganda agencies were conceived, the Bureau of Information (BOI), the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Union Unity Truth Service (UUTS).
Now, that badge and symbology sending us down the rabbit hole is the “Union Unity Truth Service (UUTS)” or “Truth Legion” – so who and what then are the UUTS?
Union Unity Truth Service (UUTS)
The Union Unity Truth Service was a “Non-state” propaganda service, in other words it operated “outside” state institutions like the Intelligence Services and Union Defence Force. The purpose was to develop an institution in which ‘loyal’ civilians, concerned with the rise of Nazi propaganda and extremism in South Africa would establish a “Truth” Service to counter-act it.
The Union Unity Truth Service (UUTS) was established in September 1939, literally in the same month that Smuts rose to Prime Ministership and declared war against Nazi Germany. It was inspired by Sir James Rose Innes, Brigadier General HNW Botha, Colonel Sir W Dalrymple and Sir Charles Smith.
They appealed to the public for a “publicity fund to finance a nation-wide campaign to support Smuts’ Government … to deal with propaganda from abroad and misrepresentations at home … to promote mutual understanding between all sections of people”. The fund, known as the Union Unity Fund underpinned the objectives of the UUTS movement, which were defined as “providing intellectual, moral and political support for Smuts and the national government in the prosecution of the war”.
The South African public was called upon to both support and contribute financially to the Unity Fund and the UUTS. It’s Head Quarters were based in Johannesburg, Thomas Robertson – a Rand Daily Mail journalist was appointed as the Director of the UUTS and he positioned it as “The New Crusade” with General Jan Smuts as its Commander in Chief. In line with Union policy (and objectives) all UUTS communications, emblems, merchandising, books, leaflets etc would be bi-lingual in English and Afrikaans. An advisory Committee sat behind the Director, and it was headed up by a United Party Senator – Mr G. Hartog.
As it operated “outside the state” fundraising would take place via a ‘Field Unit’ called “The Truth Legion” which consisted of a literal ‘army’ of Smuts loyalists who called themselves “Truth Legionnaires” – they would go about canvassing and raising funds through the sale of Jan Smuts’ books, badges and speeches. Here are two examples of books sold by the “Truth Legion” – “Why the Union is at war with Nazi Germany” – speech by General Smuts, Nov 1939 and “Greater South Africa – Plans for a better world” – the speeches by General Smuts , Nov 1940. Note the ‘Publisher’ details in both books comprises the Truth Legion’s torch emblem and their details.
Other Truth Legion activities consisted of the production of Afrikaans-language film “Noordwaarts” (Northwards), the publication of an illustrated magazine called “Libertas”, they also got behind the ‘Peace through victory’ campaign (essentially to counter campaigns advocating peace with Nazi Germany).
The Truth Legion also operated an underground radio station called “Mystery Radio Freedom” to counter-act the Afrikaans broadcasts of Nazi German’s “Radio Zeesen”. In addition, they also compiled an released a patriotic song, selling the records to raise funds, and here’s an example of the record and song-sheet, note again the “Truth Legion” Torch emblem.
Images: Free South Africa recording and song sheet
By 1940 the UUTS/Truth Legion established a School of Propaganda and Political Education at the Kero Hotel in Johannesburg. It marketed a ten day course on propaganda and politics – primarily aimed at university students – the lecturers of the course were all powerhouse academics and government officials – Advocate G Saron lectured on ‘Nazism and the Fifth Column’, Professor Leo Fouché lectured on ‘propaganda history’, Dr Malherbe – the head of the Intelligence Service lectured on ‘film propaganda’ – they were accompanied by the likes of Professor Hoernlé, Professor T Haarhoff, Professor ID MacCrone and Dr S Biesheuvel – all of who formed part of the military’s education programme, the AES.
In addition to all of this, according to Fankie L Monama’s publication ‘South African Propaganda Agencies and the Battle for Public Opinion during the Second World War, 1939–1945’. “The UUTS also brought in the head of the Bantu Press, BFG Paver, whose company was tasked to produce propaganda newspapers for blacks. In some instances, the UUTS liaised with OWI (United States) and MOI (Britain) for supplying propaganda material from those countries for distribution in South Africa. The activities of the Truth Legion were also extended to other parts of Africa to generate “sympathisers” to the Allied cause, particularly in Portuguese East Africa”.
It’s amazing what a simple ‘lapel’ pin find can unravel, because this is all a very “hidden” history and there is preciously little for the ‘armchair’ amateur historians, commentators, journalists and collectors to find – and its hoped that any future confusion between ‘The Torch Commando’s’ Torch emblem and the Truth Legion’s Torch emblem, which is a war-time emblem and pre-dates the Torch Commando and its post war Anti-Apartheid protests by 12 years is now cleared up. The war-time contribution of South Africa remains a highly unknown area, as these structures and even intelligence files were all but collapsed and even destroyed by the incoming Afrikaner Nationalist government in 1948.
Consider this, in July 1948, mere months after the National Party won the election, Colonel Malherbe’s successor Colonel Charles Powell (Colonel Malherbe was by the time the Vice Chancellor of the University of Natal), was sitting in the National Intelligence archive and in came none other than the National Party’s new head of Defence – Frans C. Erasmus – who promptly dismissed Colonel Powell on the spot with a 24 hours notice. He then proceeded to remove “two lorries” worth of documentation outlining the National Party’s affiliations with Nazi Germany and flirtation with Nazism from the Intelligence archive – not to be seen in ‘public’ again – well – not for a very long time.
Fortunately in recent years, historians now unshackled by old Apartheid restrictions have started challenging these old archives and intelligence files (in South Africa, Germany and the United Kingdom), and it’s a treasure trove of information, so organisations like “The Truth Legion” have started to re-surface, and we are all now richer for it.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens
Main consultation sources include:
Wartime Propaganda in the Union of South Africa, 1939 – 1945 by Fankie Lucas Monama 2014
South African Propaganda Agencies and the Battle for Public Opinion during the Second World War, 1939–1945 – Fankie L Monama
National Socialism and Nazism in South Africa: The case of L.T. Weichardt and his Greyshirt movements, 1933-1946 By Werner Bouwer
The South African Greyshirts – follow link: South Africa’s Nazi Party; The ‘Gryshemde‘
Oswald Pirow’s New Order – follow link: South Africa’s Nazi ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow
Ossewabrandwag – follow link: “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag
South African National Socialists – follow link: Blood Oaths on the Führer principle
Fascinating article. The extent of the press freedom that allowed this to carry on even in the run up to war and in wartime, compared to the squeeze on press freedom in the apartheid years, is impressive. And it makes it clear that the the later denials of actual support of Nazism by Vorster et al, were as untrue as many suspected.