A war memorial in Cape Town which saves children’s lives

Today we look at a small miracle in South Africa which even has the attention of the Princes William and Harry, and it’s a miracle that really captures the imagination.  This miracle is a very special type of war memorial.

Over the years there has been many debates on how to commemorate those who have paid the supreme sacrifice for the country in war. Should a concrete or granite memorial be erected, a wall of remembrance be constructed, maybe a sport pavilion or a ‘living memorial’ that will continue to serve a community.

image3-300x294In South Africa we have two ‘living memorials’, one for the First World War, the annual running of the Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and another for the Second World War, the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. Sadly commonly referred to as the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, so not many people know of its wartime origin and its true intention.

The story of this iconic Cape Town landmark originates from the final days of World War 2, when South African ex-servicemen were waiting to return home from Italy. They had been so moved by the plight of war-torn children, that they contemplated what could best serve as a living memorial to their fallen compatriots.

The idea of a children’s hospital – a place of healing – captured people’s imaginations and gained popularity. Many of the servicemen donated two days of their pay towards this ideal and these funds were held in trust by the South African Red Cross Society who began to champion its establishment.

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Since the Hospital first opened its doors, thousands of desperately sick children have been given back their childhood. Just as the returning World War 2 heroes fought for a better world, brave children at this incredible Hospital fight their own battles every day, to return home to their families and live the lives they were destined for.

The hospital is a beacon of hope and excellence in Cape Town, it is the largest, stand-alone tertiary hospital in sub-Saharan Africa dedicated entirely to the care of sick children. Children are referred from all over the African continent for medical intervention from the dedicated specialists who work tirelessly to heal and cure.

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Diana – a three-year old toddler, who pulled over boiling hot water on herself in 2010 and was hospitalised at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

So how exactly did this miracle unfold?

The South African Red Cross Society started planning the building at a cost of £700 000. The building committee’s chairman, Vyvyan Watson, was the driving force behind its construction and fundraising. The first public appeal outside the war veterans contributions was launched and a generous response from the Cape Town public resulted in a contribution of £207,000. The rest of the funding was provided by the Cape Provincial Administration.

Building began late in 1953 and the Hospital officially opened its doors in June 1956 with a 90-bed capacity. By 1957 rapidly increasing patient loads necessitated the opening of all the remaining beds, bringing the total to 176 beds, with inpatient admissions at just over 1000 and 36 000 outpatients treated.  This expansion continued with the kind support of private initiative well through the 1980’s and 1990’s to the fine institution and beacon it has become today.

The hospital even has the attention of the Royal family in the United Kingdom, and hosted a visit by both Princes William and Harry on a visit to the hospital in June 2010.

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The hospital’s purpose is best summed up in a memorial plaque at the entrance, it states;

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital has been established by the Cape Region of the South African people in World War II 1939-1945. It is hoped that future generations, in their thankfulness for the benefits of this hospital, may be mindful of those in whose memory it has been erected.

In the forecourt of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital stands a bronze statue of Peter Pan, and it is the location where war veterans annually lay wreaths in memory and appreciation.  The Peter Pan statue was commissioned by the parents of Peter Watson, a four year old who died of diphtheria at a time when there was no specialist children’s hospital in Cape Town.

Related Work and links

Comrades Marathon; A ‘Living’ War Memorial, The Comrades Marathon

Comrades Marathon; Why the Comrades Marathon is called the ‘Comrades’


Researched by Peter Dickens with much thanks to Charles Ross, images of wreath laying thanks to Liz Linsell.

Another Major Accomplishment

Congratulations to Major Suzanne Dempsey on becoming the first female in the world to fly the Rooivalk Combat Attack Helicopter. Major Dempsey went solo on Rooivalk and now flies with a weapons systems operator. Now the hard work starts as she will be trained to use this deadly to its utmost capability.

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Denel AH-2 Rooivalk Attack Helicopter

As firsts go in the advancement of female aviators in the South African Air Force (SAAF) she now joins Major Nandi Zama, who became the first female to fly a SAAF C-130.  To see her accomplishment follow this link:

Nandi Zama; One Major accomplishment!

Bravo Zulu Major Dempsey on breaking new ground for female pilots the world over.  You exemplify the fine values and traditions of 16 Squadron and the South African Air Force.


Posted by Peter Dickens with reference to Capital Sounds, Rooivalk helicopter image courtesy militarytoday.com

 

 

VE – Day’s flags of honour

8th May 1945 – Victory In Europe Day, also known as VE – Day – the war in Europe is declared over. VE Day is a day to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.

Just a few days before the designated ‘VE-Day’ on 4 May 1945 just east of Hamburg, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, Commander of the 21st Army Group accepted the unconditional surrender of key German forces in Western Europe.

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The surrender preceded the end of World War 2 in Europe, which was later signed in a tent at Montgomery’s HQ on the Timeloberg hill at Wendisch Evern. A second German Instrument of Surrender ahead of the official ending World War 2 in Europe was signed on 7 May at Reims in France and signed again on 8 May with the Supreme High Command of the Red Army (Soviet Union), French and United States representatives in Berlin.

The 8th of May was declared as VE – Day, and an intensely proud day celebrated by the Allies the world over followed, including South Africa (Russia celebrates it the day after on the 9th).  The ‘V for Victory’ sign used to drive support for the Allied cause throughout the war made a full appearance everywhere, and so did the great nation’s flags who had fought so hard, and with such sacrifice to get to this day.

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If you examine the picture of Whitehall closely, all the key nations in support and Allied with Great Britain, massive flags proudly flown from Whitehall next to one another – they included the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the Soviet Union.

In sequence the flags of the key commonwealth countries who had committed so much in resources, people and lives are also seen, these included Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa, and you can see it here, the ‘Orange, White and Blue’ flag of the Union.

Winston Churchill appeared in Whitehall on he Ministry of Heath balcony to address the masses of people assembling there, in part be said;

11050253_445187798984291_7988015998947365041_n“I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.” Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy.”

His views were echoed by King George VI when Winston Churchill appeared alongside him,  the Queen mother and a young Princess Elizabeth (soon to be Queen Elizabeth II) in her uniform.  She had joined the war effort as a subaltern in the women’s Women’s Auxiliary Territorial ServiceKing George said;

“I thank with a full heart those who bore arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air; and all civilians who, shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without complaint.”

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What followed was two solid days of partying in central London and the world over.  It had been South Africa’s war too, and South Africans were right at the centre of this massive party in London  – and rightly so. This still from colour film footage shows the street party and general revelling at Piccadilly Circus in London – and it’s marked by some South Africans in the centre proudly waving the South African Union national flag and rejoicing the end of the war in Europe.

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Some people (in fact many) in South Africa would say, oh no not THAT flag (referring the Orange, White and Blue or ‘OBB’)!  But that is to completely misunderstand what this flag meant to the world in 1945 and not 1994.

The South African Union flag was the flag of Smuts’ Union and not really the preferred flag of Malan’s Republic, in fact between Verwoed and Vorster both had proposed re-designing the South African Union flag in line with their ideologies and those of the ‘Republic’ state they created and not Smuts’ despised ‘Union’ (many in Nationalist caucus literally hated the British Union “Jack’ on the flag, they called it the ‘blood-vlek’ as it reminded them of the sufferings of the Boer nation under the British in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War and wanted it removed); for more on this rather ‘inconvenient’ history of South Africa’s national flags see the link at the end of this article.

In fact it’s a great pity the Apartheid government didn’t follow through with their endeavours to change the flag in 1961 and 1971 respectively, when they drove at issue of the Republic they created.  In 1945, South Africa was a Union and a Dominion in the British Commonwealth and this flag, along with Smuts as Head of State was honoured and highly respected the world over, especially at the end of World War 2.

At the time the South African Union flag stood for the almighty sacrifice of South Africans and Jan Smuts’ call to fall behind the Allied nations to rid the world of Nazi and Fascist tyranny. A war against what Smuts referred to as Hitler’s ‘Crooked Cross’ (swastika) an unchristian ideology and heinous symbology.

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The South African Union Flag in 1945 also stood for freedom and victory over ‘violence and tyranny’ as Churchill had aptly referred to in his speech on VE Day, at the time it stood firmly behind this ideal and was flown proudly. That the flag was to be carried over and soiled by the Nationalists and their Apartheid ideology after the war from 1948 and now stands as a symbol of ‘hate’ is unfortunate history.

Old flags have their place, and the South African Union flag should have ended with the Union in 1961 as it symbolised that time, with all its own ups and downs and its own forms of ‘race’ politics, but also its greatest achievement which won it high acclaim – and that was ‘VE-Day’, the Union epoch was in fact very different to the Apartheid epoch in just about every respect.  Also lets face it the Nationalists didn’t bathe themselves in glory with a pinnacle of achievement anywhere close to ‘VE – Day’.

Also,  South Africa is also not alone in this line-up at Whitehall in VE Day of having its flag changed – the flags of the Soviet Union, India and Canada all changed in the wake of new politics and social orders after World War 2.

In any event, we stand on the 8th May and remember Smuts’ South African Union and the lofty role it performed in bringing peace and freedom to the world in 1945, a ‘little country’ by comparison standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest men and super-powers in the world, on an occasion that changed the destiny of almost every country around the world.  A day many South Africans stood with their heads held high and applauded the world over.

12549123_10153755844686480_5840912786017399781_nA beacon of fire symbolising this freedom was lit in Trafalgar Square on VE – Day, by a bunch of very happy and inebriated Canadian servicemen burning war bond advertising boards, it burned so bright, so strong and was so hot it cracked a part of the granite base of Nelson’s Column, a subtle reminder to this day, if you look carefully, to the sheer magnitude of the occasion and what it meant to a relieved and ecstatic British public, Commonwealth and Allied nations and the world at large.

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In conclusion, this short Associated Press news reel captures VE-Day perfectly:

Related Work

The South African National Flag; The inconvenient and unknown history of South Africa’s national flags

Churchill’s Heroes; Churchill’s Desk


Written by Peter Dickens.  Reference and thanks to the ‘British and Commonwealth Forces’ Facebook page.  Image of Churchill at Whitehall from the Imperial War Museum. Video commercial copyright Associated Press.

Churchill’s Desk

Walk into the average teenager’s room and it would be adorned with posters of people they are fans of.  People, usually music stars, that they look up and admire, and more importantly people to which they role model.  These people are powerful icons which shape them psychologically.

ChurchillTo an adult, after a more experienced life, the icons who have moulded them – their role models, the people they admire most usually end up in picture frames or as small statues on mantels, desks and tables, very often family but very often also great thinkers, leaders who have step-changed their world and great sportsmen and women (even the odd music star from their teens might even make an appearance).

It’s no different with Winston Churchill, his desk at Chartwell is the most telling of who shaped him as a person, who he admired the most, who he loved and who he looked to for inspiration when writing his accounts of history, his epoch changing speeches and his great works on shaping the future of Great Britain.

Churchill suffered from great bouts of depression, which he called his ‘black dog’ and it is  in these people represented on his desk that he would also find light and drive, these are very important individuals to him.

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In and amongst his family portraits on his desk, he positioned three non-family members in the middle of his desk – his ‘heroes’ looking strait back at him for inspiration – Napoleon, Nelson and, believe it or not, Jan Smuts.

One Englishman, one Frenchman and one Afrikaner … now that’s a strange combination for someone who epitomised everything British and her Imperial Empire.  Horatio Nelson you can understand, but two great former enemies of Britain, that’s odd.

So let’s understand why Churchill was such a big fan of Nelson, Napoleon and Smuts and examine why these specific people shaped him as a leader, a man who was to be voted by the British in 2002  as the greatest Briton in their history ahead of a nomination of 100 others in a BBC survey.  A man, whether some like it or not, who is one of the most influential men to have shaped our 21st Century’s social, political and economic landscapes.

Horatio Nelson

horatio-nelson-george-baxterPerhaps owing to Churchill’s role as First Lord of the Admiralty (a position which he held twice) Churchill developed a serious love of Nelson. A bust of Nelson sat on his desk at Chartwell and Churchill had a grey cat which accompanied him on trips to Chequers during the war which he named for the great Napoleonic Wars admiral.

One of Churchill’s favourite movies was Lady Hamilton, a film about Nelson’s mistress. Churchill also wrote about Nelson in History of the English Speaking Peoples.  Lets face it he was a fan.

But not just Churchill, in the BBC vote for the greatest Briton, Horacio Nelson also made the short-list.  The British we such fans of Nelson they went further than a small busts of him, they erected a column (which extends the full length of the HMS Victory’s mast) in the middle of their most famous square in the centre of London and put him on the top.  Nelson still towers over London on his ‘column’ to this day.

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What Nelson did to get all this admiration is he ‘saved Britain’ whilst at the ‘helm’ of the Royal Navy by destroying the French Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and this is really why Churchill found inspiration in him.  Churchill was to emulate his hero exactly when he too ‘saved Britain’ at the ‘helm’ of the Royal Air Force by destroying the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

That is why Nelson sits on Churchill’s desk.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Churchill had a fascination and an immense respect for Napoleon. His bust also sat on Churchill’s desk at Chartwell, but was slightly larger and more prominently placed than Nelson’s – in fact it sits dead centre and dominates his desk.

Churchill enjoyed reflecting on Napoleon’s military genius, perhaps wanting to emulate the French emperor. After all, like Churchill after the Dardanelles, Napoleon made a significant comeback. Churchill even hoped to write a biography of Napoleon but never found the time.

More than that, he hated it when people would compare Hitler to Napoleon. “It seems an insult to the great Emperor and warrior,” he said, “to connect him in any way with a squalid caucus boss and butcher”.

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But most of all, during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902) it was Napoleon’s quote that came to his mind when he surrendered to Boer forces once he found him isolated from an armoured train which the Boer’s attacked.  Of the incident when a Boer horseman pointed a rifle at his head and waved it to signal he should come out, Churchill considered his idol – Napoleon who said, “When one is alone and unarmed, a surrender may be pardoned.”  So he obeyed the Boer’s signal to surrender or die and walked out. Napoleon had literally saved his life.

However, Churchill’s admiration of Napoleon is a lot deeper, what Churchill saw in Napoleon was a reformer. Napoleons influence on the modern world brought liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled. His Napoleonic Code has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. British historian Andrew Roberts summed up Napoleon very well;

“The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire”

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With France capitulating to Nazi Germany early in World War 2, Europe’s great bastion of liberty forged by Napoleon was no longer in contention, and Churchill saw Britain as the last hope to carry this flame and become the next great reformer of Europe, and it has manifested itself in the creation of the European Union, the roots of its creation and thinking can be traced to none other than Churchill when after the 2nd World War he called for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’.

That is why Napoleon sits on Churchill’s desk.

Jan Smuts

Jan Smuts’ portrait sits to the left of Napoleon’s bust on Churchill’s desk at Chartwell, sitting alongside what is arguably the two greatest military strategists known – Nelson and Napoleon. Here Churchill viewed Smuts as an equal to two of the biggest hitters in European history. But why this lessor known Afrikaner General, why Smuts?

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Some would say it was Churchill’s close personal relationship with Smuts as his advisor during World War 2, that he was simply Churchill’s ‘friend’ with loads in common.  But that too would be incorrect, Smuts was the extreme opposite of Churchill, Smuts was a near teetotaler whereas Churchill was seldom sober, Smuts was an early to bed early riser, Churchill was a night-owl, Smuts maintained a stringent diet whereas Churchill was a glutton, Smuts enjoyed exercise and long walking and climbing treks and Churchill hated the very idea of it.

So, nothing in common as friends go then.

Less informed people in South Africa would venture it’s because Smuts turned ‘traitor’ on his people and turned ‘British’.  But that’s both grossly ignorant and entirely wrong as the rather inconvenient truth to these detractors is that Winston Churchill admired Jan Smuts precisely because he was a ‘Boer’.

Churchill emulated and admired Smuts, because Smuts had been his great adversary during the South African War (1899-1902).  He was a fan of Smuts’ strategic and tactical military capability and leadership in the field.  Churchill, like many of his peers and the general population in England, admired Smuts preciously because he epitomised the legacy of a great Boer fighter.

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There is credit in the arguments which expose certain officers and South African based British politicians for ‘Boer hatred’ during The South African War (1899 to 1902), it’s true in some cases and there is no denying that – but it is not generally true of the whole, in fact it’s entirely the opposite.  Across the English-speaking world, in Britain and America particularly the Boer fighter would take an on almost legendary and mythical status.

Consider this famous influential Briton’s admiration of the Boer nation.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, said of the Boers after the South African war;

“Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots, who gave up their name and left their country forever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes . The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon the face of the earth. Take these formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances in which no weakling could survive; place them so that they acquire skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman and the rider. Then, finally, put a fine temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual and you have the modern White Boer.”

IMG_104Smuts found thousands admirers for his speeches, in the general public, political circles and even in the British Parliament who received him with a resounding ovation, all of them within living knowledge of the South African War and the extremely hard time tenacious Boers, including Smuts, had given the British during the war.

The value of the ‘little guy’ standing up to the giant and giving it a bloody nose resounds very well in the English-speaking world.  So too the very British value of ‘pluckiness’ which the British saw in a tiny Republic taking on a Superpower, you just had to admire it.  Again, the Boer cause strikes the British value of ‘fortitude’, the ‘stiff upper lip’ required for supreme perseverance against intense adversary – and the Boer fighter amplified this value in buckets.

The 2nd Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) was the single biggest event to ‘shape’ the young Churchill as a character, it forged him into who he became and his exploits in South Africa directly contributed to his success as leader.  He was time and again to encounter the Boer fighting spirit and strategic and tactical capability, the Boers made a POW of him, shot his horse out from under him and so narrowly killed him on so many occasions that Churchill would describe the sonic wakes of Boer bullets so close to blowing his head off they ‘kissed his cheeks’, his survival of Boer military assaults and marksmanship he puts down to his own sheer luck and nothing else.

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General Jan Smuts in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

What’s not to admire about these ‘pesky’ Boers made up of small groups of simple farming folk in their thousands using skilful military manoeuvrability and marksmanship to keep an entire professional army expeditionary force in their hundreds of thousands at bay with their heads down.

But not in his home country, Smuts would not find hordes of adoring fans, instead the nationalists spin-doctored this fame and admiration to further reinforce their argument that Smuts had turned ‘British’ and split him from his voter base and people. Not that this mattered a jot for Churchill in his worship of Smuts and the Boers, to him the ‘National Party’ was nothing more than a relatively small bunch of misled Nazi sympathising politicians, their brand of politics in countenance to just about every fibre in this body and they had nothing at all to do with the values he so admired in the Boers and Afrikaners in general.

It’s precisely because Churchill considered Smuts an ‘enemy’ and not a ‘friend’, that he was ‘Boer’ and not a ‘Brit’ that he found so much admiration in Smuts, that he thought himself an equal military strategist to wrestle his ideas with his old foe, to grapple with this formidable ‘Boer’ General for strategic perspective and in so not make the kind of mistake he made with the Dardanelles operation and the resultant, rather disastrous, Gallipoli campaign in World War 1.  Smuts tempered Churchill throughout World War 2 advising against his intrinsic disposition for impulsiveness with sheer reason.  Smuts ‘balanced’ Churchill perfectly.

It was the sheer fortitude of the Boer fighter that Churchill admired so much, the little guy giving the big guy the old two-fingered ‘Agincourt’ up-yours ‘mate’ salute the English archers gave the superior French forces in 1514 in defiance of them, a salute which Churchill (and even Smuts) would later turn around in a double-entendre of the gesture to indicate ‘Victory’ without losing its actual meaning.

Simply put – he admired all the ‘Boer’ traits of fortitude, versatility and mental toughness in Smuts, and it manifests itself in Churchill in just about every speech he made and work he did.

Richard Steyn in ‘Unafraid of Greatness’ sums this up very well;

“Yet the great paradox of (Smuts’) life was that – as Leif Egeland pointed out – it is precisely because Smuts was a Afrikaner and a Boer soldier that he built up such a formidable reputation world-wide.  On his many visits abroad and in his personal life, he kept the image of the Boer general, ‘one of the most romantic and bravest figures in history’. Whilst many of his countrymen described him for being an Englishman at heart, in Britain and around the world ‘General Smuts’ was respected and revered for being a true and patriotic Afrikaner – the finest example of his tribe”.

That’s why Smuts sits on Churchill’s desk.

Related work and Links

Churchill and The South African War; Churchill’s epic ‘Boy’s Own’ Adventure in South Africa

Smuts; “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.

Smuts’ speech to the Houses of Parliament; A true statesman, Jan Smuts addressing the British Parliament – 1942


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

References include ‘The National Trust Collections’ Chartwell, Jan Smuts reconsidered by Hermann Giliomee 26 January 2016, Richard Steyn’s Smuts: Unafraid of Greatness 2015.  ‘Who were Churchill’s heroes’ by Warren Dockter, historian 2015.  Horatio Nelson portait by George Baxter,  Image of Smuts and Churchill – Imperial War Museum

 

The incidental ‘terrorist’

Not too many people are fully aware of the story behind the bombing of the Koeberg nuclear plant in 1982, it made the news alright, big news, but who really knows the real story behind it? Now, if you’re not familiar, you are going to need a stiff drink and sit down, this story is guaranteed to make you laugh and cry all at the same time.

It’s actually a very comical and random sequence of events which led to the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) getting this one right, and it’s one that will leave you simply astounded.  It’s also an inconvenient story to the general narrative, as the bomber is in the same category as Hein Grosskopf, who bombed Witwatersrand Command – he was also ‘white’.

It gets better, not only was he ‘white’ he was also a serving Citizen Force Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the South African Defence Force (now that’s very inconvenient news to many SADF veterans). However, it gets even better than that, unlike Grosskopf he was a ‘English South African’ in origin, a South African national sporting champion and a free-thinking liberal soul, a little like the archetypal ‘hippy’.

He’s was not your typical MK cadre at all, in fact nowhere close. MK didn’t even need to train him (the SADF did) and he randomly arrived on their doorstep in Zimbabwe with Koeberg blue-prints under his arm, his proposition was so ‘out there’ MK thought he was a spy and initially laughed him off.

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Koeberg Nuclear Plant

The bombing of Koeberg is now posted by MK as one of their ‘Top Achievements’ on their website, but the inconvenient truth is that it was not really theirs to start off with, it was more about the bombers own politics in resistance to Apartheid than the African National Congress’ (ANC) politics and the ‘operator’ was pretty much in his own ‘cell’ with his equally free-spirited girlfriend who in reality was a speech therapist. MK just provided some very ‘unstable’ limpet mines and helped pin-point the placement targets.

So audacious was the attack that the South African security forces at the time suspected the operation was the work of a ‘group’ of highly trained saboteurs. But in fact, and here’s a military truism, never under-estimate the ability  of a ‘single’ corporal in the South African Defence Force (SADF) to wreak havoc.

The bombing of Koeberg Nuclear Plant reads like the ‘Incidental Tourist’, stuff just randomly falls in place with loads of luck and even though it is a very serious matter it even comes across as comical at times, you just could not make it up  – so let’s have a look at a pair of ‘hippies’ Rodney Wilkinson, South Africa’s fencing sword fighting national champion and his side-kick, his girlfriend, Heather Gray, the speech therapist.

‘Planning’ the Koeberg bombing

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Rodney Wilkinson taken in 1995

The Koeberg operation was born of sheer chance in 1978. Rodney Wilkinson was living in  a ‘hippy’ commune near Koeberg. The commune ran out of money and Rodney, a student of  building science and UCT drop-out, rather reluctantly mind, had to take a job at the nearby nuclear plant which was under construction.

Whist working at the plant for nearly two years he was privy to the building plans and blue-prints. With a strong anti-Apartheid sentiment and liberal conviction he was encouraged by his girlfriend Heather to steal a set of them. But what to do with them?

They came up with an idea, give them to the African National Congress (ANC) so they might find them handy and conduct an attack on the nuclear station.  Buoyed up with this idea they both trekked off to the newly independent Zimbabwe to hand over the plans to the ANC in exile there, job done.

Not really.  Rodney pitched up randomly on the doorstep of the ANC office and told them he was in possession of plans to one of the most secure and secret facilities in South Africa.  The ANC took one look at the hapless hippy in front of them and dismissed him out of hand as a government spy.

The ANC were very circumspect of him, but Rodney was persistent so they agreed to take the plans from him and have them authenticated first.  After many delays with Rodney hanging about, during which time the stolen plans were shown to Soviet nuclear scientists and an investigation into Rodney Wilkinson himself was done. Eventually the ANC reverted. Great news – all vetted, job done, they’ll take the plans, Rodney and Heather figured they now could head off home.

Not so fast snowflakes!  The ANC then threw a curveball at Rodney and told him that the only way the job could really be done is if he carried out the attack himself.  By his own admission he was initially taken aback by all this, as becoming a MK operative really wasn’t in his plans, however he pondered their proposal and eventually agreed.  The operation was code-named Operation Mac (named after Mac Maharaj).

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SADF Koeberg Commando flash

No military training required, luckily the South African Defence Force (SADF) had already provided all that when he was called up as National Servicemen conscript, completed his two years of training and deployment and he was now serving out his Citizen Force commitments with the rank of Corporal.

In fact he had even served duty on the Angolan border and at one stage wrecked a truck going AWOL and landed up in hospital, he was not prosecuted by the SADF and not demoted.

Therein lies the hazard of conscription, not everyone agreed with the government of the day and moreover many didn’t buy into the ‘whites only’ Afrikaner Nationalist government’s program of conscription at all, especially many of the ‘English’ conscripts and certainly not Rodney, but it did produce very proficient soldiers in any event.

‘Dirty weekends’ in Swaziland 

To Rodney’s own surprise, more luck, Koeberg Nuclear station wanted him back at work on mapping emergency pipes and valves at the plant.

The ANC appointed a ‘Dolphin’ MK commander in Swaziland as Wilkinson’s ‘handler’, he was Aboobaker Ismail. So once a month Rodney and his girlfriend trekked off to Swaziland, the small independent kingdom which allowed gambling (banned under Apartheid South Africa), before Sun City was built, this was the premier destination for thousands of white South Africans to go gambling on weekend getaways and not unusual ‘movement’ of white people over a border at all.

Whilst in Swaziland, Rodney and his handler thrashed out the strategy, it was designed to maximise embarrassment to the South African government while minimising the risk to human life – this after all was a nuclear facility and required ‘careful’ thinking.

Aboobaker and Rodney then drilled down the targets onto which limpid mines would be placed. It was suspected at the time that Koeberg Nuclear plant would be used to produce plutonium for the construction of atomic bombs, so to avoid a radioactive fall-out, the attack had to happen before the plant went on-line.

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Soviet era SPM Limpet mine commonly used by MK

Limpet mines were to be placed on the two reactor heads, yup – read that again, the reactor heads – they figured as these were made of 110 tones of steel the limpet mines were not really going to really harm them, also they figured there would be fantastic PR and media value in it for the ANC.  Other mines were planned for the control room and a containment building, designed to do as much damage as possible.

The date for the attack was deliberate and designed to humiliate the government – it was set for 16th December, the National Party’s ‘Day of the Covenant’ – ‘Dingaan Day’ to others and ‘MK Day’ to members of the ANC.  That the attack happened on the 17th December is another event of haplessness and chance.

The arms ‘cache’

To anyone with a military background, the arms ‘cache’  is where the story gets comically scary, as if blowing up a plutonium nuclear plant is not scary enough.  Rodney and Heather were directed to the arms cache, and it was not where you would expect, nope this cache consisted of four very old and unstable limpet mines left next to a road side in the middle of the remote Karoo.  Makes you think what else is still ‘out there’ in this quirky part of South Africa.

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SADF Corporal holding a Soviet era SPM limpet mine

So, how to smuggle them unnoticed?, No problem to Rodney and Heather, they dug them up and simply hid them in decanted wine boxes – the good old box wine ‘doos’ now makes another unusual entry into South African history folklore.  They jump into their little Renault 5 and head to their home in the tranquil up-market, very ‘white’ suburb of Claremont in Cape Town.  If you have not yet reached for your stiff drink now is a good time.

Now enter the worst co-conspirator ever!  Their puppy dog, Gaby.  Gaby had been pretty efficient digging holes all over their garden, so thanks to her labours they buried these old and unstable limpet mines in the holes.

From there Rodney smuggled the mines one by one in a hidden compartment of the Renault through the perimeter security fence at the nuclear installation. But were to hide them in order that nobody would dare to look?  No problem Rodney simply put them in his desk drawer in his prefabricated office.  Now, to get them into the main building and past all the heavy security, no problem again he simply walked in carrying one at a time hidden in his overalls – so much for the ‘heavy’ impenetrable security on South Africa’s most vital, most prized and most secretive Nuclear Plant.

A series of mishaps 

s-l300So on to the attack itself and it’s marred by a series of mishaps. It started with an unrelated accidental short-circuit which started a cable fire. The incident was reported in the local press.  Now enter the ANC’s President-in-exile, Oliver Tambo, who had been made aware of the operation but not really the details of it, like timing.  So he released a statement immediately claiming the fire as an ANC victory.  All this did was prompt a security scare and clamp down at the plant and gave the National Party some ammo to ridicule the ANC for unsubstantiated claims.

Then, in November the firm hiring Rodney informed him that they were laying him off at the end of the month, so much for timing.  Luckily for Rodney they changed their minds and asked him to stay on for another month.  As fortune would also have it, he turned the security scare to his advantage and told them he would stay on, but only till the 17th December, thereby obtaining an official alibi and cover for his planned disappearance.

Here is where he missed the deadline of the 16th December, as previously stated the limpet mines were old and unstable.  Rodney placed the mines in the pre-determined targets setting 24 hour fuses on the 15th December (a Friday) so they would blow on the public holiday (a Saturday), thereby assuring minimal casualties to his fellow contractors as nobody would be there.

Here’s the kicker, as his contract was ending, his fellow contractors and engineers liked this young man and decided to throw Rodney a farewell party at the plant on the Friday evening just after he had been busy planting the bombs.  Rodney had to sit through his impromptu ‘going-away’ party stressing endlessly that the bombs would not go off prematurely.

He had no real need to worry, as said these limpet mines were old and they would not go off on the Saturday either in fact they eventually went off a day after the target date on the Sunday. The springs on the firing mechanism proved to have been brittle and the devices also exploded over a period of several hours instead of simultaneously.

Rodney’s ‘Great Escape’

Reach for that stiff drink again, you’ll need it for this next part of the story.  Instead of bolting it out the country with a keen sense of urgency, as the other ‘white’ lone wolf MK cadre did – Hein Grosskopf who high-tailed it directly into Botswana after bombing of Wit Command on his motorbike, not even looking back for a nano-second.  No, not our ‘hippy’ would casually, get this, ‘cycle’ out of South Africa on a bicycle, yup you heard right … a bicycle.

He took a domestic flight to Johannesburg and was driven with a borrowed bicycle to a point near the Swaziland border where he jumped on the bicycle and then casually cycled through the border post into exile.

Aftermath 

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Oliver Tambo at a news conference in exile (left) Gallo Image

A few days beforehand South African special forces had attacked ANC targets in the kingdom of Lesotho, Oliver Tambo claimed the Koeberg attack was an act of retaliation carried out by a MK ‘unit’ (one chap in reality and as propaganda goes his efforts had nothing to do with the Lesotho raid at all).

How close to nuclear fall-out did we come? Take a big sip that stiff drink again.  Not part of Rodney’s plan but unbeknown to him enriched uranium fuel had been moved into to the plant when the attack took place and was due to come on-line in the reactors.  Luckily for all of us (and here we include the entire planet) it was in dormant storage.

The attack delayed the commissioning of the plant by about 18 months and cost the Apartheid government millions of rand.  This is why this attack sits as No. 2 on their all time greatest achievements (No. 1 is the Sasol bombing and No.3 is the rather controversial and bloody Church Street Bombing).  Although there were no deaths attributed to the bombing, that it nearly cost thousands of lives in the entire city of Cape Town is lost on this particular MK ‘highlight’.

Rodney flew on to Maputo where he met Oliver Tambo, the two exchanged a warm and tearful embrace.  Rodney’s girlfriend Heather was already in Maputo having flown out a week beforehand.  The two jumped on a flight to the United Kingdom and further into exile.

They married one another in Woodbridge, Suffolk, before returning home to South Africa following the general amnesty and unbanning of all ‘liberation’ movements. The TRC rewarded the Wilkinsons and Aboobaker Ismail full amnesty in April 1999. Given the nature of this MK ‘cell’ it seemed a little unlikely that the ANC and its brand of politics is quite Rodney and Heathers bag, anti-apartheid, yes but unlike Carl Niehaus we don’t find him regularly wheeled out in a PEP store set of camos with the other ‘struggle heroes’ and he lives a life in relative obscurity.

A happy ending to our ‘Incidental terrorist’ and an equally and far more happy ending to just about every Cape Town and Western Cape resident, South Africa as a whole, the entire South African tourist trade, the local bio-sphere and the green planet in general. We can now all universally breathe a sigh of relief that the entire Cape Peninsula is not a radioactive ‘Chernobyl’ no-go zone thanks to the African National Congress.

If you chose not to have a stiff drink reading this article, nows a good time to really start.

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Related Work and Links

Wit Command Bombing; The truth behind the bombing of Witwatersrand Command

Struggle ‘Heroes’; Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

Rocketing of Voortrekkerhoogte; The not so ‘spectacular’ MK attack on Voortrekkerhoogte


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  Primary source, an interview with Rodney Wilkinson by a daily mail staff reporter in December 1995 and photograph.  Published news snippets, MK official web-page. TRC references. Image references – general net search. Nuclear terrorism in Africa: The ANC’s Operation Mac and the attack on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in South Africa. Jo-Ansie van Wyk

 

Whose land is it anyway?

It’s a thorny issue in South Africa, the taking of farm land without compensation.  However the Anglo-Boer Wars (both of them) and even the Voortrekker Zulu War carry with them some interesting history and it asks the question ‘whose land is it anyway’ One significant and conveniently overlooked answer lies in the grounding history and cause of the South African War 1899-1902 (also known as the 2nd Anglo-Boer War).

This answer makes the case for the giving of annexed land by the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics (The Boers) back to the black indigenous peoples of South Africa who existed in those two republics prior to The South African War, and it ALSO makes a case which reinforces the ‘white’ Boer ownership of vast tracks of land in the two old Boer Republics annexed by the British during The South African War.

To many South Africans the chief cause of the Second Anglo-Boer War is completely misunderstood, it is shrouded by a National Party narrative and bias caused by the fierce sense of Afrikaner Nationalism created by this party’s ideology.   Dismiss for a minute the whole Nationalist idea that all the land was ’empty’ or bartered and traded for fairly during the Great Trek. Also, dismiss for a minute also the whole idea that the 2nd Anglo-Anglo Boer war was all only about ‘gold’ and ‘diamonds’ and British greed for it. Finally, dismiss the idea that the Boer concentration camps of The South African War were systematic ‘extermination’ camps designed to rid the British world of the Boer nation in its entirety (Nazi style).  All of these Nationalist fuelled ideas are either falsehoods or at best only half-truths.  When putting these into correct context and in the ‘inconvenient’ truth that the case for ‘who owns the land’ is found.

Let’s start with the real underpinning reason for the 2nd Anglo-Boer war (The South African War), which is the 1st Anglo-Boer War (The Transvaal War).  Like World War 2 is World War 1, Part 2, so too a key underpinning cause of  the 2nd Anglo-Boer War was the 1st Anglo-Boer War.   In effect ‘Boer War’ 2 is ‘Boer War 1’; Part 2.

1st Anglo-Boer War

The 1st Anglo-Boer War (Transvaal War) is an enigma to most South Africans, barely understood even today, the events and outrages of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War completely cloud it out, and it’s an inconvenient war to look at as it throws up these thorny truths which don’t suit the political narrative:

  • The Transvaal Republic was at one stage a British Colony BEFORE the 2nd Anglo- Boer War
  • The Transvaal Republic ‘raad’ handed their Republic, with all its wealth and their state coffers (tax), their flag and their independence to the British in April 1877 – willingly and WITHOUT one single protest or shot fired.
  • ‘Native Land’ and ‘Protection’ were also a central reason why the Transvaal Boer Republic INVITED the British to colonise their Republic.

In 1876 the tiny Boer population of the ‘Transvaal’  people was under threat from a much bigger population of warring African tribes in the Transvaal Republic and on the Republic’s borders (remember this was before the discovery of gold in 1886 and before the future ZAR Republic was rich in arms and munitions).

The reason why the Transvaal Boers were under threat is that they were annexing tribal land by force and demanding tax from various tribal groups for the land (and forcing labour) on land they were allowed to occupy. This had stirred up the Pedi, led by Sekhukune I and resulted in a war in 1876 which is recorded as a Boer defeat.  To the East the very powerful Zulu kingdom was also making claims on ‘Transvaal’ territory.

This ‘Black African’ uprising was one the Boers could not cope with alone.  So the Boers INVITED the British to Colonise their Republic and protect them.

The Black Africans in the Transvaal Republic felt they had a case too, and they too called on the British to help them from what they saw as Transvaal Republic aggression, land grabbing and subjection.  They also INVITED the British to protect them.

All good then, invited by EVERYONE in the Transvaal Republic the British moved into the Transvaal on the 12th April 1877 to settle the peace, annexed it as British Colony,  with no resistance they took down the ZAR ‘Vier-Kleur’ and hoisted the Union Flag (Jack) over Pretoria and erected a British government.  In doing so the ex-Boer Republic also handed   over the money, tax would now be collected by the British – all tax, the taxes on mining and the taxes on land.

In addition, to protect the ex-Boer capital they built forts around Pretoria (Johannesburg did not really exist as a complete mining city and some of these forts in Pretoria are still there as an inconvenient reminder of this history). For their efforts, the British got to expand their territory in Africa (more land for them) suiting their expansionist Imperialism agenda right down to the ground, everyone happy right?

But not for long, the British had crushed the Zulu threat in 1879 (Anglo-Zulu War), with the threat gone, it did not take long before the British policies on Black African land rights and their policies of taxation of Boer land became an issue with the resident Boer population.  It all came to a head with the Boers when the British confiscated one Boer’s wagon in lieu of his backdated tax, which he refused to pay.  This brought them into direct conflict with a Boer Commando drafted to help the farmer and simply put the Boers now wanted their old Republic back and the British OUT.  This then kicked off the 1st Anglo-Boer War, the ‘Transvaal War’ in November 1880.

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The Siege of Rustenburg, 1st Anglo-Boer War

So what was the issue really – it can’t just be one wagon?  We have to ask ‘whose land is it anyway’ and ‘who really needed it protected from who’?  The Boer case lies in two events in history which occurred more or less at the same time, the ‘Great Trek’ and the ‘Mfecane’.

The turbulent early 1800’s

Its complicated history, but in a nutshell in the early 1800’s are the key, specifically the period 1819 to 1838 – this was the epicentre of events in South Africa which were to shape the problem we have in South Africa today, especially as to ‘freedoms and land’.

It all started in one part of the country on the 1st December 1834 when the British took the bold decision to ban slavery in the Cape Colony and in addition gave franchise (the ‘vote’) and property ownership rights to all its inhabitants – Black and White (Setter, Coloured and Indigenous) on an equal footing.  This did not sit well with the  mainly Dutch (with a blend of French and German) farmers many of which found themselves in an intolerable situation as ex-slave owners and they chose, just a short 6 months later, in June 1834, to up-sticks and leave the British colony and their endless meddling in their social structures, beliefs and social spheres.  At the same time taking with them into South Africa’s hinterland their ideologies of racial servitude, ideologies which would underpin the future Boer Republics which they formed.  They would also form a new nation an ‘Afrikaner’ one, with an Afrikaans language both named after their ‘land’ in ‘Africa’ – essentially a ‘White African Tribe’.

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The Great Trek – artists impression

Around the same time, in another part of the country Shaka Zulu and the Zulu nation  was born.  In 1819 Shaka Zulu managed to unite, through force and war, a number of small tribes into a newly established ‘Zulu nation’.   Like the Boer ‘Afrikaners’ their nation did not exist as a ‘Zulu’ one prior to the early 1800’s.

The 1st ‘depopulation’ of land

So when and how did these northern ‘Black African Tribes’ establish themselves in South Africa? The answer lies in the Mfecane (meaning ‘the crushing’), also known by the Sesotho name Difaqane (scattering, forced dispersal or forced migration).  This great  displacement of Black tribal people took place between 1815 and about 1840.

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King Shaka – artists impression

As King Shaka created a very militaristic Zulu Kingdom (situated in the territory between the Tugela River and Pongola River) his forces expanded outwards in a wave, subjecting or simply annihilating all other peoples.  This expansionism also became the prelude to  the Mfecane, which spread from this Zulu epicentre. The forced movement of peoples caused many displaced tribes to wage war on those in other territories, leading to widespread warfare and death as well as the consolidation of various tribes.  Notably, it brought up the Matabele actions who dominated in what was the ‘Transvaal’ when Mzilikazi, a king of the Matabele, who between 1826 to 1836 ordered widespread killings and reorganised his territory to establish the new Ndebele order. The death toll is estimated between 1 to 2 million people (it cannot be satisfactory determined), however the result can, as simply put was massive swaths of land in the region became depopulated, either entirely or partially.

Now, enter the trekking ‘white tribe’ Afrikaner Boers, who in 1836 whilst all this is taking place arrive in the same place as the Mfecane, and to survive as nation and not be ethnically cleansed  themselves in addition to the other tribes, the Boers take on by force this warring Matabele nation and then they take on the warring Zulu nation by force of arms, the cumulation was the Battle of Blood River on the 16th December 1838.

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Artists impression of the Battle of Blood River – artist unknown

The Battle of Blood River is significant, not just for the Boers, but for all future Black South Africans who are not of Zulu or Matabele ethnic origin.  In effect the Boers, by decimating the Matabele army and then the Zulu army put a temporary end to their respective fighting capabilities and therefore put an end to the Mfecane, they ended what is South Africa’s first and only mass genocide and ethnic cleansing.  It’s an ironic twist but the very existence of any of these ‘Black’ South Africans in South Africa today (other than the aforementioned Matabele and Zulu), and the very fact they are even identified as tribes and exist as nations, is largely thanks to the Afrikaner Voortrekkers – the ‘white tribe’ Boer nation.  They literally owe them their lives and nationhood.

Now, as to the old ‘half truth’ the land was ’empty’ or ‘traded fairly’ so the Boers could occupy it.  In part there is truth, some of the land had been depopulated by the Mfecane also many tribes welcomed the Voortrekkers giving them parcels of land in trade and in grateful thanks for their ‘protection’ against been slaughtered by Matabele or Zulu armies. All good right – fair is fair?  Not so, it’s only partly true.  There’s a more sinister side to the formation of the two Boer Republics, not all the land was fairly settled, the two Boer Republics also embarked on expansionism to establish borders and forced various tribal Africans from some of their land at the same time as annexing land belonging to various chiefdoms and putting it under Boer ownership.

1820 Settlers 

To be fair the Boers, the British in the early 1800’s were also securing and expanding their own borders and territory (land) and endeavoured to repel the southward migration of the Xhoza tribe, driven very much by the Mfecane up north.  This issue came to a head around Grahamstown, on what was known as the ‘Border’.

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British 1820 Settlers arriving in South Africa

In the UK, the end of  the napoleonic wars at the Battle of Waterloo 18 June 1815 posed a problem, they had massive unemployment, especially soldiers who were no longer needed and rising debt from fighting the wars.   They solved this by offering citizens, who were to become the ‘1820 Settlers’, their own land, and it was land which they needed reconciled on the ‘Border’ of the Cape Colony.  After a number of small wars were fought with indigenous tribes settling the ‘border’ issue – the British then went about reconciling the land under deed, some farm land was even given under deed to Black African farmers, but others remained controversial and it still is.

The even more turbulent late 1800’s

Now, fast forward to the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and a year later to the 1st Anglo-Boer War of 1880.  The African chiefdoms in the North and West Transvaal have recovered from the Mfecane, and have been armed in part by missionaries and traders trading rifles.  Whilst at the same time the Zulu Chiefdom bordering the ‘Natal Colony’ settled by the British and the newly minted British ‘Transvaal Colony’ also now settled by the British, is again back up to fighting strength.  ‘Land’ becomes the central problem again (the Zulu’s were really not that interested in gold).

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President Thomas Burgers

Consider for the underpinning tensions leading up to the 1st Anglo-Boer War  (The Transvaal War) in 1880.  The British annexed the Transvaal in 1877 at the invitation of the out-going ‘Boer’ Transvaal President, Thomas Burgers.  President Burgers laid squarely the blame for bringing the British to the Transvaal at the future President, Paul Kruger and his cabal.  His  blame and anger is expressed with this most extraordinary outburst and it is most illuminating:

“I would rather be a policeman under a strong government than a President of such a State. It is you—you members of the Raad and the Boers—who have ruined the country, who have sold your independence for a drink. You have ill-treated the natives, you have shot them down, you have sold them into slavery, and now you have to pay the penalty.”

The missionary, Rev John Mackenzie, gives us another example. Here is how Mackenzie described the motives behind the First Boer War: 

“The Transvaal rising (1st Anglo Boer War) was not dictated, as was believed in England, by a (Boer) love of freedom and preference for a (Boer) republic rather than a limited monarchy (Great Britain). It was inspired by men who were planning a policy which would banish the English language and English influence from South Africa. Their action was a blow directly dealt against freedom, progress, and union of Europeans in South Africa.”

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Paul Kruger

After Kruger et al regained control of the Transvaal, another missionary, the Rev John Moffat, was tasked with giving the news to some of the black tribal leaders who would again be abandoned to their tender mercies: 

“for the most part there was the silence of despair. One gentle old man, Mokhatle, a man of great influence, used the language of resignation, ‘When I was a child, the Matabele came, they swept over us like the wind and we bowed before them like the long white grass on the plains. They left us and we stood upright again. The Boers came and we bowed ourselves under them in like manner. The British came and we rose upright, our hearts lived within us and we said: Now we are the children of the Great Lady. And now that is past and we must lie flat again under the wind—who knows what are the ways of God?’”

The thoughts of a few more African leaders are equally illuminating:

In response to the endless violent expansion of the pre-annexation Transvaal into their territory, Montsioa Toane, Chief of the Barolong, requested that Great Britain take his people under imperial protection. In a letter addressed to ‘His Excellency Her Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner, Sir P. Wodehouse, KCB’, the chief requested “refuge under your protecting wings from the injustice of the Transvaal Republic, whose government have lately, by proclamation, included our country within the possessions of the said Republic”.
He went on to explain: “…without the least provocation on our side, though the Boers have from time to time murdered some of my people and enslaved several Balala villages, the Transvaal Republic deprives us, by said proclamation, of our land and our liberty, against which we would protest in the strongest terms, and entreat your Excellency, as Her Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner, to protect us.”

Chief-khama-IIIIn 1876, King Khama, Chief of the Bamangwato people from northern Bechuanaland, joined the appeal: 

“I write to you, Sir Henry, in order that your queen may preserve for me my country, it being in her hands. The Boers are coming into it, and I do not like them. Their actions are cruel among us black people. We are like money, they sell us and our children. I ask Her Majesty to defend me, as she defends all her people. There are three things which distress me very much: war, selling people, and drink. All these things I shall find in the Boers, and it is these things which destroy people to make an end of them in the country. The custom of the Boers has always been to cause people to be sold, and to-day they are still selling people.”

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King Cetshwayo

Even King Cetawayo of the Zulu laid the blame for the tensions which led to the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 against the British squarely at the feet of the Transvaal Boers, now this is ironic from the leaders of Zulu themselves, he said: 

“This war (the Zulu War) was forced on me and the Zulus. We never desired to fight the English. The Boers were the real cause of that war. They were continually worrying the Zulus about their land and threatening to invade the country if we did not give them land, and this forced us to get our forces ready to resist, and consequently the land became disturbed, and the Natal people mistakenly believed we were preparing against them.”

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John X Merriman

Just prior to the 1st Anglo-Boer and the British annexation of the ‘Transvaal Colony’, in 1885, the liberal Cape politician, John X. Merriman described Kruger’s newly independent, and ever-expanding, republic as follows: “The policy of the Transvaal was to push out bands of freebooters, and to get them in quarrels with the natives. They wished to push their border over the land westwards, and realize the dream of President Pretorius, which was that the Transvaal should stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The result was robbery, rapine and murder.”

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Dr Abraham Kuyper

The ZAR ‘Transvaal’ Republic’s main-cheerleader in Europe, Dr Kuyper, commented enthusiastically on the racial policies of the Republic: “The English prided themselves on protecting the imaginary rights of the natives… The Boers are not sentimentalists, but are eminently practical. They recognized that these Hottentots and Basutos were an inferior race.”

Majuba

Things came to a head in the 1st Anglo-Boer War at The Battle of Majuba Hill (near Volksrust, South Africa) on 27 February 1881.  This was the main and decisive battle of the 1st Anglo-Boer War (Transvaal War). It was a resounding victory for the Boers and the battle is considered to have been one of the most humiliating defeats of British arms in history.

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It sent the British back over their border to Natal, but it also resulted in a very uneasy ‘peace’ as to the British ‘Transvaal Colony’.  In the aftermath of the war the South African Republic (Transvaal) regained its independence. The Pretoria Convention (1881)  and the London Convention (1884) laid down the terms of the peace agreement.  In terms of land the Pretoria agreement settled the Transvaal’s borders and re-established an independent Boer Republic again, but it still had to have its foreign relations and policies regarding black people approved by the British government.  The new version of the Boer Transvaal Republic was also not allowed by the British to expand towards the West (and link with the Atlantic Ocean).

These policies meant that the Transvaal was still under British suzerainty or influence. In 1884 the London Convention was signed. The Transvaal was given a new Western border and adopted the name of the South African Republic (ZAR). Even then, the ZAR still had to get permission from the British government for any treaty entered into with any other country other than the Orange Free State.

An ‘uneasy’ peace

The Boers saw this as a way for the British government to interfere in Transvaal affairs and this led to tension between Britain and ZAR. This increased steadily until the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War in 1899, especially with the on-set of gold mining. which saw tens of thousands of British miners settle in the Transvaal.  Gold mining was done under concession from Kruger’s government.  Kruger took the position that his people, the Boers, were farmers and not miners, so he gave British mining concerns a mandate to mine and pay the ZAR government a hefty tax for the privilege. Initially mining in the Transvaal was an all British affair – from the mining concerns, to the infrastructure (rail and buildings) and even right down to the labour.  Again ‘land’ had been conceded by the Boer Republic to British miners and companies.  As inconvenient truths go, they already ‘owned’ the gold at the onset of the 2nd Boer War and had no reason to ‘steal’ it.

The unsettling problem for the British and the Boers was a demographic and representation one, there were more Britons on the reef than Boers.  These British citizens were denied political representation and citizenship qualification periods became an issue (Kruger realised if he allowed citizenships after 5 years residency he would lose his state).

Also the Boer State was crushing political protest on the reef in a jack-booted and heavy-handed manner using their Police, known as ZARP. Things came to a head with a privateer raid (supported privately by Rhodes) called the Jameson Raid in 1895 which was planned in the billiards room of the Rand Club in Johannesburg (and not by British Parliament in Whitehall as is incorrectly assumed – in fact to British politicians the whole affair came as uncomfortable surprise).  The Raid, financed by the mine owners and not the British government, was intended to trigger a simmering civil revolt on the reef. The revolt was crushed by the Boers.

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Jamesons Last Stand The Battle Of Doornkop 1896.

This unrest and uneasy peace established after the 1st Anglo Boer War all came to a another head when negotiations on citizenship and political representation of the Transvaal Britons broke down.  To settle the dispute the Boers declared war on Britain and invaded the British colonies late 1899 – in effect they wanted a swift victory whilst British forces were weak and unsupported by any substantial expeditionary force – as they did at Majuba and weaken the British negotiation hand, re-set the table so to speak.

It backfired. The mandate given to the Boers to re-establish their ‘British Transvaal Colony’ as an independent Boer Republic lasted barely 15 years after the London Convention peace agreement which properly ended the 1st Anglo-Boer War and finally established the ZAR territorial borders.

To the British, there was an ‘old’ score to settle with the Transvaal Boers, and it had nothing to do with ‘gold’ and everything to do with territory – ‘land’.  It is best summed up by Churchill who reflected on the 1st Anglo-Boer War as “a disgraceful, cowardly peace” – and now they wanted their Colony back.

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Graffiti scrawled by both sides in a house recaptured by the British in the 2nd Anglo Boer War. The Boer graffiti reads: ‘Don’t forget Majuba, Boys’. British graffiti reads: ‘No fear, Boere, no fear’.

1st Anglo-Boer War – Part 2, the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

Now, as ‘Boer War’ 2 is the logical expansion of ‘Boer War’ 1, consider that these tensions over land and the whole of the Transvaal had by the late 1800’s escalated somewhat.  In the intervening period between ‘Anglo-Boer War’ 1 and ‘Anglo-Boer War’ 2,  gold was discovered in the Transvaal, and in addition to this the local Black tribes flourished, with no more large wars to fight and no Mfecane and aided by the introduction of medicine by missionaries, this mounting black population of the Transvaal added to the hundreds of thousands of mainly British immigrant mine workers now settled in the Transvaal.

Now, with a ‘old score’ to settle over the Transvaal territory, along with a simmering revolt of miners over their rights to the land, the Boer declaration of war against the British, provided a ‘Casus Belli’ to the British to again wage war them again, and so began the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902). To give perspective of how long the ZAR lasted, from the time the British Union ‘Jack’ was taken down over Pretoria to the time it was put up again took a mere 16 years.

The 2nd ‘depopulation’ of land

Back to the issue of land.  During the 2nd Anglo-Boer war the British, after winning the ‘conventional’ war phase were forced into a second and more bitter phase,  guerrilla war with disposed Boer governments now ‘in the field’ and running their Republics from the veldt, a moving and endlessly fraught war where Boer forces relied on their communities and families for supply to keep the fighting.

Lord Kitchener in an attempt to bring the war to rest adopted a policy depriving the Boer forces of supply, and so began a policy of ‘concentration camps’.  This can be better described as ‘forced removal’ from land and the placing of citizens in ‘deportation camps’, it involved rounding up of both White and Black civilians in demarcated conflict zones and effectively ‘depopulating’ the land and moving all the people to isolated camps.  The policy which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and people deprived of their land leaves a deep scar on many South Africans, and not just the white Afrikaners, the black South Africans caught up are equally traumatised.

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So, now we have an interesting dilemma for the current citizens of South Africa who own vast tracks of land in the Republic, the inconvenient truth is that not only was it ‘depopulated’ by the Zulu Kingdom in the early 1800’s, it was depopulated again by the United Kingdom – eighty or so years later.

The international case

Now here is where the issue of land ownership gets interesting, and funnily it is in line with the issues now surrounding the Palestinian question and Israel (and best illustrated by this case as it surrounds ‘land’ ownership and war).  Many people are not familiar with the underlying problem of land under occupation in Israel.  In international law an occupying force can do anything within limitations on the land it occupies as long as a state of war exists.  This has become a thorny issue with the Palestinians who, like the Boers, were deposed of their land by war – land which the British sold to Palestinians under title-deed whist Palestine was a British protectorate (those pesky British again), and this land is now under private title deed is owned by Palestinians and occupied by Israelis – and it makes up massive portions of modern Israel.

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If given back to the legal owners it will most certainly unseat Israel as a state and put millions of dollars invested in land at risk.  The only way Israel can hold onto the land legally is to be in a constant state of war with the Palestinians (not really the other way round – see annual Palestinian protests when the bring the house keys and title deeds to their land to the fore – which over the border are now occupied by Israeli families or developed into multi-million dollar property estates and shopping malls).

How does this odd bit of International law apply to South Africa’s farmers. Simply put they were deposed of their land during the 2nd Anglo-Boer war, it came under British control under the edicts of war.  Unlike the Palestinians the Boers were allowed to return to the land, land on which families were decimated and could not be re-settled was re-allocated by the British and the Union governments after the war, the last ‘legal’ owner of this land expropriated during the war were in fact the British.    In the subsequent years after The South African War, as a colony of Britain and then under British administration and dominion as a Union, the country went about formalising land title and ownership from the old Boer Republics and concluding war repatriation and re-settlement.

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Palestine ‘Keys’ and ‘Deeds’ protest symbolised by their old keys to their houses in Israel

So, in our modern day, if this land is now taken away without compensation, the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma and the annual ‘keys’ protest rears it head, where the ‘British’ issue is now again at the forefront of title deeds and like the Palestinians, the dispossessed modern Boer family will want to turn to Britain for an answer, adding to the many dispossessed Zimbabwean white farmers with a similar case.  That would be a nasty surprise for the modern British Foreign Secretary.

Here’s another interesting question over South African land located in the Centre and Northern  provinces and the two seismic events that depopulated much of it, not to mention the British sale of land in the Cape, especially in contested ‘Border’ region which they purposely ‘settled’.

Would a claim now for restitution or compensation for land ‘re-appropriated without compensation’ be laid at the feet of the Zulu King or at the feet of the British Queen?

In Conclusion

All very complicated this land reformation business, now an almost impossible job to simply unbundle through declarations of ‘mine – you stole it’ and simply grabbing it.  A case example here is the land grabbing which recently took place in Midrand and Hermanus, this land has nothing to do with the disputed historical African territories unseated by the expansion and creation of the old Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and Cape Colony borders, and the people occupying it are not all the proper ancestors anyway.  This is a political grab using a very bent interpretation of history.

There is value in identity of having a ‘homeland’, but whose people are we referring to when we say ‘our people’, the ‘homeland of the Afrikaner nation is also Africa. By all means look at the land taken by force of arms from various Chiefdoms as their tribal land borders and were they stood after the Mfecane, and the resultant occupation by Zulu, Matabele, Brit and Boer alike and not the land ‘sold’ to the Boers or the British for that matter for trade or protection.   Present the historical evidence showing which families and grouping were unseated by force of occupation and how this ‘stolen’ land was then put under plough by the occupiers.  There’s not much to go by in the way of arable and profitable ‘land’ here, but lets challenge it properly.

Generally the historically contested farm land is nowhere near the bulk of multi-million rand privately owned title-deed farms – so really of no political value.  Unless you provide the argument that all land was occupied by whites, and this is not historically true at all.  In which case everybody who has a white skin can have his property simply taken away – now we are into a ludicrous argument, and one used to incite racial disharmony and hatred.

Urban land, depopulated by Apartheid policy only really accounts to small areas located near Johannesburg and Cape Town city centrals,  Land, which now, because it worth literally millions of Rand, is under contention, the reason for the slow progress is that multiple families are making claims to the land, families which actually own it and families which rented it.  District 6 is a prime example, it really is a political quagmire as its now vastly profit driven and less about the ‘home’ it once offered.  Also in reality it cannot be settled by huge numbers of the ‘people’ offered by the EFF – they want the nice well run profitable farm land which is under title-deed and owned for decades by private individuals (who are not Black) – whether it’s under real historic contention or not, so it’s entirely wrong of Cyril Ramaposa to cite District 6 in his SONA address as a key underpinning social cause of the ANC’s entire land without compensation drive.

The biggest dilemma facing the proposed amendment to the Constitution is that in reality the land everyone in the ANC and EFF wants and is highly productive – and its land which has not only been depopulated once, its been depopulated twice and resettled twice over after the end of the Mfcane and 2nd Anglo-Boer War respectively.

The lands negotiated with and allocated to the Zulu kingdom are even a more thornier question and we might want to ask is the Zulu kingdom is going to pay for land depopulated by their expansionism and militarism, so too can the same question be asked of the Matabele.  There another human trait here, one that will not go away once this particular monkey is out the cage, it’s called greed, and it’s an intrinsic human condition the ANC has been indulging itself in, time and again.  Here is where the Zulu have drawn the line when Mangosuthu Buthelezi rightly accused the ANC and EFF of ‘playing with fire’.

The simple truth is this.  ‘Land’ ownership in South Africa has been defined by war and armed ‘struggle’, and not just war between ‘Blacks and Whites’, war between ‘Blacks and Blacks’ and even war between ‘Whites and Whites’.  The burning question is, will it be defined again by another ‘war’  – another armed ‘struggle’?

Related articles and Links

Concentration Camps; To fully reconcile The Boer War is to fully understand the ‘BLACK’ Concentration Camps

Concentration Camps; I’m not pro Boer, I’m British, this isn’t OUR way!

Majuba; Boers; ‘Don’t forget Majuba, boys’. Brits; ‘No fear, Boere, no fear’.

Winston Churchill; Churchill’s epic ‘Boy’s Own’ Adventure in South Africa

Kruger and Victoria; Kruger “blunders” and declares war on the world’s Superpower!


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References from Wikipedia, the South African History Association on-line, quotes gleaned from ‘getting to the source’ by Chris Ash. Colourised 2nd-Anglo Boer War photograph copyright Tinus Le Roux.

The first man to land on an aircraft carrier at sea was a South African

A South African holds a very prestigious place in the world of aviation firsts.  Edwin Dunning was the first man to land an aircraft on a moving ship adapted to carry aircraft, a feat that at the time was near impossible, and the practice of landing aircraft even today on an aircraft carrier takes supreme skill and is reserved for the ‘best of the best’ pilots, such is the hazard.  Unfortunately for his pioneering endeavour his efforts were to end in tragedy.

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Squadron Commander E H Dunning climbs out of his aircraft on the flying-off deck of HMS FURIOUS after the first successful landing on an aircraft carrier underway.

Edwin Harris Dunning was born in South Africa on the 17th July 1892, the second child of Sir Edwin Harris Dunning and was later educated at Royal Navy Colleagues in the United Kingdom.

A very skilled aviator, he took to pioneering naval aviation.  He rose to a high rank within the Royal Navy’s newly born Air Service or RNAS (which was to evolve into their ‘Fleet Air Arm’).  During World War 1 the Army and the Navy ran separate Air Services under their own Command. During the war the Royal Navy began to look at how aircraft can be operated from fighting ships.

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Squadron Commander E H Dunning

Previously the Royal Navy had used catapults to launch the aircraft from ship decks but landing them was a different matter – early naval aircraft types were fitted with pontoons (sea-plane or ‘float’ plane) and ‘landed in the ocean next to the vessel to be hoisted back on.  This posted a number of difficulties, sea conditions and time and manoeuvring of the aircraft and ship for hoisting for starters.  Also, they could only operate one aircraft from a ship and it was usually used for one thing – ‘spotting’ i.e. reconnaissance work.

The solution lay in an adapted fighting ship with a runway from which a number of aircraft could take-off or be catapulted from and could land directly on the ship again, this could then bring the formidable nature of air-power – striking targets anywhere in the world within range completely at will into the realm of sea-power.  The concept of the aircraft carrier was born (a concept that to this day divides a super-power from an ordinary country).

However, you needed people with considerable skill and courage to try this idea out, that it was dangerous to land on a ship in high winds and rolling seas is an understatement – think of runway that is always moving around.  They found such a man in our hero, one very brave South African aviator.

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HMS Furious with the original flight deck conversion in the front

The Royal Navy decided to convert a Courageous-class Battlecruiser, the from a fighting ship into a fighting aircraft carrier by removing her forward gun and a flight deck was added to the bow in its place.  A difficult proposition to land on as the approaching aircraft had to manoeuvre around the superstructure to land (much later on they removed the rear gun and extend the flight deck to compensate for this, but it look a tragic learning).

Squadron Leader Edwin Dunning, aged just 25, flying a Sopwith Pup bi-plane marched into the history books at Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, Scotland during test exercises in the Flow.  He became the first person to land on a moving aircraft carrier at sea.  He completed this landmark aviation feat on 2 August 1917.

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A colourised image captures Dunning’s milestone.  Note naval personnel ‘catching’ his aircraft

The landing was extremely perilous – whereas now arrest wires would bring a plane to a halt, Dunning was relying on the deck crew of the Furious to grab the wings of his Sopwith Pup to bring it to a halt.

Five short days later, after completing his milestone, Dunning endeavoured to do it again.  However tragedy struck during his third landing of the day. On approach, his aircraft stalled and he came down on the deck of the Furious at too steep an angle. Dunning was knocked unconscious, his port wing lifted as the plane went over the side of the ship and he drowned in the cockpit.

 

Recognition

Edwin Dunning is buried at St Lawrence’s Church, Bradfield in England. A plaque in the church says just about everything in recognition of his contribution to naval aviation.

It reads:

“The Admiralty wish you to know what great service he performed for the Navy. It was in fact a demonstration of landing an Aeroplane on the deck of a Man-of-War whilst the latter was under way. This had never been done before; and the data obtained was of the utmost value. It will make Aeroplanes indispensable to a fleet; & possibly, revolutionise Naval Warfare. The risk taken by Squadron Commander Dunning needed much courage. He had already made two successful landings; but expressed a wish to land again himself, before other Pilots did so; and in this last run he was killed. My Lords desire to place on record their sense of the loss to the Naval Service of this gallant Officer”.

In memory of Edwin Dunning, the Dunning Cup is given annually to the officer who is considered to have done most to further aviation in connection with the Fleet for the year in question. In the 1950s and 1960s it was awarded to Royal Air Force squadrons which achieve the highest standard on courses at the Joint Anti-Submarine School.

A memorial stone was also unveiled at Swanbister Bay in Orkney in 1992 in recognition of Dunning’s feat.

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On the occasion of the centenary of Dunning’s feat the British marked the occasion in Orkney with a Hawk flypast and a new plaque was unveiled.  Lt Cdr Barry Issitt, Commanding Officer of 736 Naval Air Squadron, paid tribute in August 2017 to mark the centenary, he said;

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The new plaque has been produced by local craftsman Stuart Wylie, of Orkney Crystal – 2017.

“The event itself is of particular significance to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm as it marks the first successful landing of a fixed-wing aircraft on a ship under way at sea; a moment that would be the genesis for the establishment of the pre-eminence of aircraft carriers.

“It is all the more poignant considering the current regeneration of the UK’s carrier capability, with HMS Queen Elizabeth currently conducting sea trials not far from the location of Dunning’s landing, with Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron operating from her flight deck.”

In Conclusion

As is typical to South Africa’s lack of recognition to countrymen who attained greatness serving in the ‘hated’ British forces (as was the case with the old National Party) or in the case of the ‘colonial’ forces (as is the current case with the ANC), even if the feat was an international aviation milestone.  So it passed unnoticed and no such flybys, plaque unveilings, awards, centenary mark or national salutes were given to our pioneering hero in South Africa – and that’s more tragic than the tragedy itself.

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Cdr Chestnutt is presented The Edwin Dunning Trophy on the pride of the Royal Navy, the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth

Related Work and Links 

Fleet Air Arm – South African sacrifice ; South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

Fleet Air Arm – Dick Lord; Dick Lord – the combat legend who took learnings from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to the SAAF

South African Navy sacrifice in the Royal Navy; The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Source and Extracts – Wikipedia and BBC News