The South African who won a Victoria Cross fighting for Australia against the Japanese

Charles Groves Wright Anderson VC, MC  (12 February 1897 – 11 November 1988) was a South African born soldier and Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross ‘For Valour’. This is one very brave individual who received a Military Cross in the East African campaign during World War 1, and he went to receive a Victoria Cross in the Malaysian campaign fighting against the Japanese as an Australian in World War 2, During the Malaysian campaign he became a POW and survived Japanese enslavement on the Burma “death” railway.

This is one very remarkable man, read on for his story.

Early Years

Charles Anderson was born on 12 February 1897 in Cape Town South Africa, to Scottish parents. His father, Alfred Gerald Wright Anderson, an auditor and newspaper editor, had been born in England, while his mother, Emma (Maïa) Louise Antoinette, née Trossaert had been born in Belgium. The middle child of five, when Anderson was three the family moved to Kenya, where his father began farming. He attended a local school in Nairobi until 1907, when his parents sent him to England. He lived with family members until 1910, when he was accepted to attend St Brendan’s College in Bristol as a boarder.

The First World War – Kenya and the Military Cross

He remained in England until the outbreak of the First World War. Returning to Kenya, in November 1914, Anderson enlisted as a soldier in the local forces, before later being allocated to the Calcutta Volunteer Battalion as a gunner. On 13 October 1916, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. He fought with the regiment’s 3rd Battalion in the East Africa Campaign against the Askari soldiers of the  German Colonial Forces  Anderson was awarded the Military Cross for his service in this campaign.

The_National_Archives_UK_-_CO_1069-144-3Following the war, having reached the rank of temporary captain, Anderson was demobilised in February 1919 and lived the life of a gentleman farmer in Kenya, marrying Edith Tout, an Australian, in February 1931.

He remained active as a part-time soldier and was promoted to substantive Captain in 1932.

Australia 

In 1934, accompanied with his Australian wife, he moved from Kenya to Australia where the couple purchased a grazing property in Australia near Young, New South Wales.  In 1939, foreseeing the onset of world war again, he joined the Australian Citizens Military Forces, keeping his commission he was appointed a Captain in the 56 Infantry Battalion.

World War 2

Following the outbreak of the World War 2,  Anderson was promoted to the rank of Major.  In June 1940, he volunteered for overseas service by joining the Second Australian Imperial Force

2276275_1200xBy July 1940, Anderson was assigned to the newly formed  part of the 22nd Brigade of the 8th Division and deployed to Malaya to reinforce the Australian garrison there against concerns of Japanese military build up.

In an odd way Anderson’s experience fighting in East African “Jungles” seemed to qualify him as the right man to tackle fighting in “Malayan Jungles” and he was charged with training troops to treat the jungle as a “friend”.   The Japanese used the jungle to their advantage and “Europeans” were up against a steep learning curve to lean “jungle warfare” and put themselves on a equal footing against the Japanese.

He was quite successful at jungle training that just one month later he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took over as Commanding Officer of the Australian 2/19th Infantry Battalion.

The war in the Pacific began in earnest on 7 December 1941 when Japanese landed on the north-east coast of Malaya and launched thrusts along the western coast of the Malay Peninsula from Thailand. By mid-January, the British Commonwealth forces had retreated to Johore, and the 2/19th was sent into the frontline to support the hard-pressed battalions of ‘Westforce’, an ad hoc formation consisting of Australian and Indian troops.

The Battle of Muar

From 18–22 January 1942  Anderson and his Australian Infantry Battalion took part in  The Battle of Muar (fought near the Muar River).  Anderson’s  force had destroyed ten enemy Japanese tanks, when they were cut off.  Anderson led his force through 24 kilometres of enemy-occupied territory to get back to the Allied line at Parit Sulong.  During the entire retreat they were  repeatedly attacked by Japanese air and ground forces all the way, at times Anderson had to lead bayonet charges and even got into hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese.

Once reaching Parit Sulong, Anderson famously went on the attack against the Japanese which opened the way for the Allies to retreat further to Yong Peng to meet up with the main force heading for Singapore.

However the main bridge at Parit Sulong, had fell into Japanese hands with a Japanese machine gun nest defending the bridge, this blocked his advance and Anderson’s force was eventually surrounded, and a heavy battle then ensued for several days.  Allied troops now at Yong Peng attempted to break through the Japanese lines to reinforce Anderson’s men but were unsuccessful in getting to the surrounded men.

Without reinforcements, unable to get across the bridge and heavily outnumbered, Anderson’s Australian and Indian troops were attacked and harassed continuously by Japanese tanks, machine gun, mortar and air attacks and suffered heavy casualties. Yet they held their position for several days and refused to surrender. During the battle, Anderson had tried to evacuate the wounded by using an ambulance, but the Japanese would also not let the ambulance pass the bridge.

Australian and Japanese artworks (left to right respectively) depict the action at Parit Sulong.

The Victoria Cross

Although Anderson’s detachment attempted to fight its way through another 13  kilometres miles of enemy-occupied territory to Yong Peng, this proved impossible, and Anderson had to destroy his equipment and attempted to work his way around the enemy. Anderson then ordered every able man to escape through the jungle to link up with the retreating main force in Yong Peng heading for Singapore. They had no choice but to leave the wounded to be cared for by the enemy, assuming the Japanese would take care of the wounded. But unfortunately, the Japanese unit at Parit Sulong later executed the approximately 150 wounded Australian soldiers and Indian soldiers next to the bridge of Parit Sulong, in what is now knowns as the Parit Sulong Massacre.

After the war, General Takuma Nishimura of the Imperial Japanese Army, was tried and hanged by Australia in relation to the massacre in 1951.

For his brave actions and leadership in Muar and the difficult retreat from Muar to Parit Sulong and the subsequent difficult battle at Parit Sulong led by Anderson, he was awarded the highest and most prestigious decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy – The Victoria Cross

His VC citation, gazetted on 13 February 1942, states: “…for setting a magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage. He not only showed fighting qualities of very high order but throughout exposed himself to danger without any regard for his own personal safety”.

Anderson got his remaining troop  to Singapore, and shortly afterwards he was hospitalised.  As the situation became desperate in Singapore, on 13 February, Anderson discharged himself and returned to the heavily-mauled 2/19th, by then down to just 180 men from its authorised strength of 900. He led them until Singapore surrendered to the Japanese two days later.

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Lt General Arthur Percival, led by a Japanese officer, walks under a flag of surrender on 15 February 1942, the largest surrender of British led forces in history.

POW and the ‘Death Railway’

Anderson spent the next three harrowing years of the war as a Prisoner of War under the  Japanese, and he was subjected to the same grisly fate that nearly all British and Commonwealth soldiers captured at Singapore had to endure.

He was shipped with a the group of 3,000 other Allied POW to Burma and they were used as slave labour to build the 415 km railway link between Nong Pladuk in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma.  This is the infamous “Death” railway and “Bridge over the River Kwai” episode of World War 2, a blot on the landscape of humanity.

Throughout his time on the “death railway”, Anderson is noted as working to mitigate the hardships of other prisoners, leading by personal example and maintaining morale.

The construction of the Burma Railway is counted as a war crime over 3,000 POWs died constructing it. After the completion of the railroad, most of the surviving POWs were then transported to Japan.

After the end of the war, 111 Japanese military officials were tried for war crimes because of their brutalization of POWs during the construction of the railway, with 32 of these sentenced to death.

Also at the end of the war, Anderson was liberated and he repatriated back to Australia. His appointment in the army was terminated on 21 December 1945 and he returned to his property in New South Wales.

Later life and Politics 

ander5Charles Anderson entered into Australian politics in 1949 winning House Representative for the Division of Hume as a member of the Country Party – twice between 1949 and 1961.   A career as a politician he served in parliament as a member of the Joint Committee on the ACT (Australian Central Territory) and also for foreign affairs.

Anderson owned farming properties around Young, New South Wales, and following his retirement from politics in 1961, moved permanently to Red Hill   in Canberra, where he died in 1988, aged 91.

He was survived by three of his four children. There is a memorial stone and plaque for Anderson at Norwood Crematorium, Australian Capital Territory.

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Anderson’s medal set, note Victoria Cross and the Military Cross followed by his “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” WW1 medal set and WW2 medals which follow them including the Pacific  Star.

Source: Wikipedia and the Australian War Memorial

The South African pilot who earned ‘Ace in a Day’ – TWICE! Albert ‘Zulu’ Lewis DFC and Bar

Second to Sailor Malan, Albert Gerald Lewis was the next best performing South African pilot flying for the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.  To earn the title “Ace in a Day” a pilot had to shoot down 5 or more aircraft in a single day.  Only a handful of Allied pilots achieved this during World War 2, and “Zulu” Lewis is one of them.  He is on the top ten Royal Air Force Ace list, having shot down 6 aircraft in 6 hours.

Albert Gerald Lewis ended the war with the rank of Squadron Leader and for his bravery earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). He was born in Kimberley South Africa on 10 April 1918 and the  attended Kimberley Boys’ High School, he had an interest in flying and took private lessons in South Africa before taking his pilot licence to Britain to join the RAF.

He was gazetted as a Acting Pilot Officer with effect from 29th of October 1938 and posted to No. 616 South Yorkshire Squadron Auxiliary Air Force, which had been formed on 1st of November 1938 as a Bombing Squadron.

When he arrived, the Squadron flew Gauntlets, Tutors and Battles. After some time he was transferred to an even duller job as a ferry pilot in No 12 Group Ferry Pool.  On 16th of December 1939 Lewis was transferred again. This time to No 504 Squadron, Debden. The Squadron flew Hurricanes, which was a great leap upwards for Lewis.

30th of January he flew the first of many single “Trawler Patrols”. This day marked his first meeting with the enemy, when he spotted and chased a German Blohm & Voss Seaplane.

France – 85 Squadron RAF

“The Phoney war” in France had changed to real war and Lewis was transferred to No 87 Squadron the 26th of April 1939 – only to be transferred the day after to No 85 Squadron under Squadron Leader “Doggie” Oliver.

Under intense stain of combat flying during “The Battle for France” on the 12th of May flying VY-E, Lewis shot down – not only his first enemy aircraft – but also his second:
A Messerschmidt 109 and a Heinkel He111.

First: Ace in a Day

18th or 19th of May – due to all the Squadrons reports got lost in the evacuation of the Squadron a few days later, there is some differences here – flying AK-A (an aircraft borrowed from 213 Squadron) he got 5 confirmed kills in a day:

Two Messerschmidt 109s on the first patrol in the morning and three more on the evening patrol. This fight had been witnessed by his CO and the squadron.  This action resulted in his first DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for bravery:

Awarded on: June 25th, 1940, the  Citation reads:

“Pilot Officer Lewis has, by a combination of great personal courage, determination and skill in flying, shot down five enemy aircraft, single-handed, in one day. He has destroyed in all a total of seven enemy aircraft, and by his example has been an inspiration to his squadron.”

On the 21st of May Lewis flew back to England in one of the only 3 Hurricanes still usable from 85th Squadron.

Lewis in the Battle of Britain

28th of June the Squadron moved to Castle Camp – a satellite airfield to Debden, which were to be their base for the early part of the Battle of Britain. Lewis is now flying VY-Z.
Peter Townsend became CO of the squadron and soon gave Lewis his nickname: Zulu, as he had also christened his great chum, South African Caesar Hull in No. 43 Squadron, from which Townsend came.

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Lewis and his fellow 85 Squadron chum Richard “Dikie” Lee DSO (Lee was sadly lost on the 18th August 1940).

From 1st of July operations started in earnest, and three or four sorties a day were flown, usually convoy patrols from Martelsham Heath. On 18th of August – flying VY-D on a solo patrol, Lewis destroyed a Me110 and on 31st of August –-flying VY-N – he got a Me 109 after being scrambled in a hurry.

By 5th of September, 1940 the 85 Squadron was exhausted and rotated out of the battle line, but not Zulu Lewis who still had still some fighting ahead of him. Squadrons in the south of England were in desperate need of veteran pilots and Lewis went south again, joining 249 Squadron.

England – 249 Squadron RAF

14th of September Lewis was posted to the top scoring 249 Squadron at North Weald.
It was all out action at North Weald – sorties three, four or five times a day when Lewis arrived – and the very first day in the new Squadron, he shot down a Heinkel He111 and shared a probable destruction of another.

The day was one of the hardest days in the long hot summer, and were by many regarded as the turning point of The Battle of Britain.  By the 18th of September Lewis got his twelfth confirmed enemy aircraft.

Ace in a Day – Second time: 6 confirmed kills and two probables

27th of September – flying GN-R – he shot down eight enemy aircrafts in one day!

Lewis combat report from the morning:
“Sighted circle of Me110’s over area near Redhill. Attacked out of the sun and fired two short bursts into e/a following a Hurricane down. He billowed smoke and went down steeply.

Again attacked circle and put a burst into another Me110 – starboard engine out of action and on fire. Climbed into the sun again delivered attack on remains of circle. Hit one who dropped out of fight, heading towards coast and, with starboard engine out of action, tried to get home. Forced him down in vicinity of some hills near Crowhurst. He burst into flames on landing at farmyard”

Once rearmed and refuelled, seven Hurricanes lead by Lewis, (The Squadron Leader was reported Missing in Action) were ordered to patrol Maidstone before carrying a sweep of Hawking to Canterbury along with 46th Squadron.

Lewis combat report:
“As 249 Leader, sighted formation of Me109’s to north-east of Estuary. Climbed to 15.000 feet to 20.000 feet but were attacked by second 109 formation from above.
In ensuing dogfight was attacked by two 109’s, one of which I hit in belly as he passed overhead. He crashed into wood near Canterbury. Put burst into second 109, which attacked soon after the one I shot down, also in belly.

I did not observe this one hit the ground but went down smoking, whereafter smking fires near the wood in vicinity of Canterbury could have been other aircraft destroyed, as there were no bombers.”

Later the same day.

Lewis combat report:
As green Leader, attacked formation of Ju88’s with Blue Section, and one just dropped out with starboard engine damaged. Closed in and carried out two beam attacks from slightly above and put engine on fire. Keept after it as it went down steeply toward coast near Selsey Bill. Crashed into sea just near coast.

Shot down one Me109 which crossed my sights after engagement with Ju88. Went down in flames, then followed a second Me109 down which I attacked from above and it crashed in woods near Petworth. This is confirmed by Sgt. Hampshire of Green Section.
Fired short bursts of approx two to three second bursts at Me109’s and a faily long burst at another Ju88.”

Lewis was awarded his second DFC for this day. Awarded on October 22nd, 1940, the Citation reads:

“One day in September, 1940, this officer destroyed six enemy aircraft; this makes a total of eighteen destroyed by him. His courage and keenness are outstanding.”

Awarded as a bar for on the ribbon of the first DFC.

He thus got 11 confirmed victories in two days – 19th of May and 27th of September.
Which is believed to be a record for single-engine British fighters.

Shot down – England

28th of September – only the very next day – the Squadron was flying patrol over Maidstone, and Lewis was shot down in flames while flying the same aircraft GN-R.

The Squadron was in a gentle dive, with Lewis weaving above them, when he was hit from behind by cannon shells and set on fire.  Lewis baled out of his burning Hurricane. Jimmy Crossey following him down, circling the parachute to prevent him being shot at.

Lewis landed safely, but was severely burned and was taken to Faversham Cottage Hospital. Blind for two weeks, with a piece of schrapnel in his leg and severe burns on the face, throat, hands and legs.

He received his little golden caterpillar with his name engraved on the back while in hospital,which confirmed his membership of the selected band of pilots who had saved their lives by parachute.

He returned to the Squadron in December, 1940, having been promoted Flight Lieutenant on 29 November. He was flying by 17 January 1941, and became “A” Flight Commander, and was awarded a bar to the DFC.

Overseas Service

Lewis volunteered for overseas service and was posted to 261 Squadron in January 1942.
Via Sierra Leone he went to Tricomalee in China bay, Ceylon to take command of 261 Squadron – a Squadron famous for it’s defence of Malta earlier in the war.

Lewis recalls that the force consisted of himself as CO, 6 Flt Lts, 3 FOs, 8 Pos, 1 WO pilot and 34 Sgt. Pilots. Most of the force were Australians and New Zealand pilots with a few Canadians and an American.

China Bay was a grass airfield – or rather – a clearing in the jungle. Everything was “under construction” and very primitive. Malaria was bad. Typhoid was caused by foul water supplies and after a Japanese bombing, all waterborne sanitation was smashed and cholera added to their troubles.

Shot down – China Bay

On the 9th of April – the day before his 24th birthday, Lewis led his Squadron to intercept a Japanese raid and as he was taking off, his aircraft was hit by fire from one of the Japans Zeros. He was wounded in the left shoulder and can not use his arm.

On fire – once again – he bales out at only 200 feet, with his parachute opening just in time. He could see his base was under heavy attack and for six hours he lay suffering from shock until he was found by some natives, who revived him with coconut milk, and helped him back to the base.

In June 1942 he returns to Britain via South Africa.

After the war

Lewis left Royal Air Force on 16th of February 1946, having been an Acting Squadron leader since 22nd of April 1943. After the war Lewis started farming. First in Britain – but in 1947 he went back home to South Africa. He also became deeply religious, joining  The Church of the Latterday Saints (Mormons).

To quote his religious convictions at the end of his life:

“As my mind reflects on The Battle of Britain and on the many wonderful characters who formed a part of that scene and died a quarter of a century ago in order that the world might be a better place to live in – as did those in The First World War – and indeed all righteous people from the beginning of time – I wonder, have we achieved lasting peace?

If we are not to disappoint ourselves and all of those who have come before, we need a plan – one that is practical and embraces all mankind. I sincerely believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only plan which can embrace the world so that all who desire to – may live in peace.”

Albert Gerald Lewis died 14th of December 1982 – 64 years old.

The featured image shows King George VI conferring a Bar to Flying Officer A G Lewis’s DFC in an awards ceremony at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Lewis had just returned to service with No. 249 Squadron RAF, after being shot down and badly burnt on 28 September 1940.

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Peak of battle in the ‘Battle of Britain’, South African Pilot Officer Albert G Lewis of No. 85 Squadron grabs his flying helmet from the tailplane of his Hurricane, P2923 VQ-R, as a member of the ground crew warms up the engine prior to a sortie, Castle Camps, July 1940. Photo Copyright IWM Collection.

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Hawker Hurricane Mk I, P2923, VY-R, flown by Pilot Officer A G Lewis landing at Castle Camps, RAF Debden’s satellite airfield, July 1940.

Sources:  Wikipedia, www.thefedoralounge.com, Hurricane 501 (website), Brian Cull: “249 at War.”Short history

 

 

South Africans at war against the Japanese! … the story of Pik van Noorden

South Africans in special forces units in the Second World War. The Advance on Rangoon March – May 1945 and here Gurkha paratroops check their equipment before being dropped around Rangoon during the Burma campaign. Now, what have these legendary Gurkhas and South Africans in combat have in common?

Involved in this drop and attached to the Gurkhas for their attack on Elephant Hill against the Japanese was one of South Africa’s most remarkable soldiers, a man who subsequently went on to command 5 South African Infantry Battalion after the war and become the SADF’s Director of Infantry.

“Pik” van Noorden served in North Africa during World War 2 as an artillery officer, firing at German tanks over open sights at Tobruk, escaping as the garrison fell, fighting at Alamein and then volunteering for the Royal Marines.

Trained as a commando, he led his platoon ashore on D-Day with 47 (Royal Marine) Commando and was involved in some heavy fighting as they executed an independent task. Later withdrawn to undergo parachute training, he was dropped behind German lines to carry out a secret mission.

Next he was posted to 42 (RM) Commando in India and participated in the amphibious assault on the Japanese at Myebon in Burma, as well as the subsequent bitter battle for Hill 170 near Kangaw.

Later, van Noorden was attached to the Ghurka parachute battalion that jumped at Elephant Point during the capture of Rangoon (see picture of the said Ghurka airborne which accompanies this article). During the battle the Gurhka battalion reached Elephant Point, and close-quarters fighting then took place, with flame-throwers being used against several Japanese bunkers guarding the battery. About forty Japanese soldiers and gunners were killed during the assault, and the battalion also sustained several casualties. After the battery had been secured the battalion dug in around Elephant Point and awaited the arrival of the relief force.

After the war van Noorden commanded 5 SA Infantry Battalion and the Infantry School, became Director of Infantry and retired as a Major General. His medal group is also of great interest because it includes the France & Germany Star and the Burma Star, as well as the Union Medal and the Pro Patria.

Article reference – The South African Military History Society – Eastern Cape Newsletter – primary contributor and with thanks to McGill Alexander, supplementary information – Wikipedia. Image copyright and caption reference -The Imperial War Museum.

South African Navy at war against …. Imperial Japan!!

Many people don’t know it – but a small historic fact, the South African Navy was involved in direct engagements with Imperial Japan during the Second World War.

Here ML 475 leads motor launches of the Arakan Coastal Forces in line ahead up the Naaf River on their way to bombard Japanese shore defences and cut cross river communications.

These Coastal Forces were made up of the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Navy, South African Naval Forces and Burma RNVR and they had covered nearly 30,000 miles in over 40 operations.

Harrassment of Japanese lines of communication and bombardment of shore defences were carried out between the Naaf River and Ramree Islands. Briefed in a Basha hut in their well hidden base, commanding officers return to their ships hidden in the up-river creeks for the nights operations.

Image and caption copyright: Imperial War Museum