Barney Barnato’s legendary grand-daughter

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Barney Barnato

As South Africans many of us are familiar with Barney Barnato, the diamond and gold mining tycoon made rich in South Africa.  His legacy carries with it a rags to riches story in Kimberley, when he joined the diamond rush with barely a penny, he was so broke he had to walk the last leg to get to Kimberley.

What follows is a stella consolidation of mining plots, and he was best known for his competition with Cecil John Rhodes for overall control and consolidation of all the Kimberley diamond mines.  Rhodes’ cheque to Barnato to buy him out is in the economic history annuals as the biggest single instrument to settle a purchase, it made him a mining tycoon, and he was again at it making millions on the Rand’s Gold Mines in the Transvaal.  He even had enough financial clout to threaten Paul Kruger and his Transvaal government not to execute members of Rhodes’ failed Jameson Raid for treason, and won the day.

His mysterious death on the 14 June 1897 whilst on passage from South Africa to the United Kingdom carries with it all the intrigue of murder versus suicide, he ‘fell overboard’ and his body was later recovered.  The interesting part for this story is where his millions went.

So how was this great personal wealth generated by South African gold and diamonds spent, how do we as humanity benefit from Barnato’s legacy today?

Woolf Barnato 

Happily some of this financial legacy ends well, a significant part of the Barney Bernato estate went to his son, Woolf Barnato, who used part of the multimillion-pound fortune he inherited at the age of two, to become a pioneer racing driver in the 1920s.

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Woolf Barnato

Woolf was one of the so-called Bentley Boys he pioneered racing engineering and speed.  He even went on to achieve three consecutive wins out of three entries in the 24 Hours Le Mans race.

During the war, from 1940 to 1945, Woolf Barnato was a Wing-Commander with the Royal Air Force responsible for the protection of aircraft factories against Nazi  Luftwaffe bombing raids.

This racing fuelled jet setting son of Barney, transferred his passion for pushing speed limits, record-breaking and the fearlessness needed to do it to his daughter, Diana – and it is here, in the grand-daughter of Barney that the Bernato legacy really shines through.

Diana Barnato Walker MBE FRAeS

Diana Barnato was born on 15 January 1918, she was destined to become a pioneering female aviator.  Diana Barnato and her sister, Virginia, enjoyed the pleasures of high society, though Woolf separated from their mother when Diana was four.

While their mother brought the girls up she maintained an amicable relationship with their father. Diana was educated at Queen’s College in Harley Street, London, until 1936, when she came out as a débutante and ‘did the season’ having been presented to King Edward VIII at Buckingham Palace.

From an early age, she became interested in aircraft and at age 20 she decided to become a pilot. Her initial training was in Tiger Moths at the Brooklands Flying Club, the aerodrome being located within the famous motor racing circuit in Surrey. She showed a natural aptitude for flying and made her first solo flight after only six hours of dual instruction.

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In terms of family she had some legacy, as we know Diana’s father was Woolf Barnato (1895-1948), he eventually became the Chairman of Bentley Motors and his first wife was Dorothy Maitland Falk (1893-1961), an American from White Plains, New York, who were married at the Ritz Carlton in London.

As we know her paternal grandfather was Barney Barnato (1851–1897) and her maternal grandparents were American stockbroker Herbert Valentine Falk and Florence Maude Whittaker. While married from 1915-1933, her parents had two children, Virginia Barnato (1916-1980) and Diana.

Red Cross Service during World War 2 

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Diana volunteered to become a Red Cross nurse. In 1940 she was serving as a nurse in France before the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and later drove ambulances in London during the Blitz.

One of the ‘female few’: ATA Service 

In early 1941 she applied to become one of the first women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and successfully took her initial assessment flying test at their headquarters at White Waltham, Berkshire, on 9 March 1941 with the ATA’s Chief Flying Instructor, A.R.O. Macmillan, in the Tiger Moth’s rear seat.

Diana was admitted to the ATA’s Elementary Flying Training School at White Waltham on 2 November 1941. After a lengthy period of intensive flight instruction and tests in primary training aircraft, she joined her first ATA Ferry Pool (FP), No.15 FP at RAF Hamble, Hampshire, on 9 May 1942. She soon began to deliver low-powered single engine aircraft from factory or repair base to storage units and RAF and Naval flying units.

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Further advanced training permitted her to deliver several hundred Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Tempests and other high performance fighter aircraft. After yet further training, Diana became eligible to deliver twin-engined aircraft and delivered Whitleys, Blenheims, Mosquitos, Mitchells and Wellingtons, normally flying solo when doing so. She continued intensive flying with the ATA until the organisation was disbanded in late 1945. By that time she had flown 80 types of aircraft and had delivered 260 Spitfires.

The ATA’s pilots ferried all types of military aircraft, from trainers to bombers, from factories to RAF stations or from maintenance units to squadrons. They had minimal pilot’s notes and no radios, and often flew in marginal weather conditions. 

Diana had her share of incidents. While flying a Supermarine Walrus air-sea-rescue amphibian, her least-liked aeroplane, from Cosford to Eastleigh on 19 September 1944, the windscreen was obscured by oil from the failing engine as she approached the Southampton balloon barrage at 1500 feet. Without power she could only push down the nose to prevent a stall and make a steep descent into the sea fog. Luckily she missed the balloon cables and emerged from the cloud a few feet above Eastleigh’s grass airfield.

Three weeks after Barnato first met the battle of Britain fighter ace Squadron Leader Humphrey Trench Gilbert in 1942 they became engaged, but days later he died in a flying accident. Two years later, on 6 May 1944, she married another pilot, Wing Commander Derek Ronald Walker, and was docked three months’ pay for making an unauthorized honeymoon flight to Brussels four months later in a Spitfire, accompanied by her husband in another. Derek Walker was killed in a flying accident shortly after the war’s end, on 14 November 1945.

Diana vowed never to marry again. For 30 years she was the lover of Whitney Straight, also a pilot and a pre-war champion racing driver, like her father. In 1947, the couple had a son and named him after his great-grandfather on his mother’s side: Barney Barnato Walker.

As part of the ATA Diana would have stood shoulder to shoulder with another famous and remarkable South African pioneer aviator Jackie Moggridge, for more on her, follow this link South African Battle of Britain Heroine -Jackie Moggridge

Women’s Junior Air Corps

After the war’s end, Diana continued to fly and gained her commercial flying licence. For many years she was a volunteer pilot with the Women’s Junior Air Corps (WJAC), later the Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets (GVCAC), giving flights to air-minded teenage girls to encourage them to enter the aviation industry. Here she accumulated many happy hours in the corps’ Fairchild Argus and Auster aircraft. 

On 11 July 1948, at White Waltham aerodrome in England, she had just taken off in a newly acquired Argus aircraft for the Air Corps when it burst into flames. Rather than bale out and lose a valuable aeroplane, she switched off the fuel and glided back to the airfield, where the flames were put out.

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Diana Barnato Walker receiving the Lennox Trophy from Lord Brabazon, 1963

In 1963, for her work with the corps, she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird trophy, presented annually to a British woman pilot.

Air Speed Record 

On 26 August 1963 she flew a Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning T4 to Mach 1.6 (1,262 mph or 2,031 km/h) after convincing the Air Minister to let her fly it with Squadron Leader Ken Goodwin as her check pilot, and so became the first British woman to break the sound barrier. She also established by this flight a world air speed record for women.

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Shortly after her record-breaking flight in 1963, Diana was found to have cancer, and subsequently had three operations, ultimately winning the battle against the ‘Big C’.

Legacy

Diana Barnato Walker was awarded the MBE in 1965 for services to aviation, and was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In later years Diana Barnato Walker took up sheep farming and was master of the Old Surrey and Burstow foxhounds for thirteen seasons, while continuing to fly for the Women’s Junior Air Corps (renamed in 1964 the Girls’ Venture Corps). She also became commodore of the Air Transport Auxiliary Association. She died of pneumonia on 28 April 2008 aged 90 in a hospital near her sheep farm in Surrey, and was survived by her son, Barney.

There you have it, Barney’s decision to break the family poverty cycle and make his fortunes in South Africa has ultimately left us with a person who pioneered female equality and has become an icon for many women, especially those who have entered the field of aviation – what a wonderful journey we weave.

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Researched by Peter Dickens, main source and extracts from Wikipedia.

Londoners sheltering during the ‘Blitz’ owe their saving grace to a South African engineer.

During the Second World War, Londoners used the “Tube” underground rail system for air raid shelters, highly effective the tube system saved thousands of lives, but did you know that Londoner’s owe their saving grace to a South African – James Henry Greathead (6 August 1844 – 21 October 1896)?

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James Henry Greathead

Greathead was born in Grahamstown, South Africa; of English descent, Greathead’s grandfather had emigrated to South Africa in 1820. He was educated at St. Andrew’s College, Grahamstown and the Diocesan College private school in Cape Town. After migrating to England in 1859, he completed his education from 1859 to 1863 at the Westbourne Collegiate School, Westbourne Grove.

He returned briefly to South Africa before finally moving to London in 1864 to serve a three-year pupilage under the civil engineer Peter W. Barlow, from whom he became acquainted with the shield system of tunnelling.

He spent some time (around 1867) as assistant engineer on the Midland Railway between Bedford and London (working with Barlow’s brother, William Henry Barlow).

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Barlow-Greathead Shield

Soon after, in 1869, he rejoined Barlow and they began work on designs for the Tower Subway, only the second tunnel to be driven under the river Thames in central London. Barlow was the engineer for the tunnel and Greathead was in charge of the actual drive.

The tunnelling shield for driving the Tower Subway, while designed by Greathead, was inspired by Barlow’s ideas for a circular tunnelling shield which he had patented in 1864 and 1868.

The Barlow-Greathead shield consisted of an iron cylinder 7 ft 3 in (2.21 m) in diameter fitted with screw jacks which enabled it to be jacked forward. In use, the shield was inched forward as the working face was excavated, while behind it a permanent tunnel lining of cast iron segments was fitted into place, itself an important innovation.

Greathead patented many of his improvements including the use of compressed air and forward propulsion by hydraulic jacks, both of which are now standard features of tunnel construction.  Without Greathead and his patents, London would simply not have the underground tube system it has, and it was this very system that ironically also provided ideal shelter from German bombing raids on London.

The tube tunnel system was accessible from just about anywhere in central London, the stations were well-known to just about every Londoner and it was deep enough so as to provide ideal cover from bombing.

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The mage shows a London Underground Station during the “Blitz”. This was one of London’s most popular shelters is that which is to be found in a section of the London underground system which has been converted by tearing up the tracks. The advertisements remain pasted on the wall. Hats and coats are hung on nails which have been driven in between the bricks on the wall. People sleep on the platform and on the space which was formerly the track, this part stretching for a quarter of a mile.

The featured image shows London’s Aldwych underground tube station being used as a bomb shelter in December 1940. The image illustrates just how basic and uncomfortable the facilities were, but considerably safer than being above ground during the London Blitz.

During the war, Aldwych station was a major air raid shelter which could accommodate up to 1500 people and was equipped with first aid facilities and a canteen. The train service to Holborn was suspended on the 22nd September 1940 from when the station was used as a shelter.

In all 79 tube stations were used as air raid shelters by Londoners.


Researched by Peter Dickens. Photo – Imperial War Museum copyright, reference Wikipedia. Colourised featured IWM Photo – Colourised by Royston Leonard, copyright

A USA claimed South African born ‘Battle of Britain’ Fighter Ace

In all the United States lay claim to eleven (11) American pilots who took part in Battle of Britain, but one of them is a pilot who was not born or educated in America at all, he was born in South Africa and he took up British citizenship after he was educated in England.  The link, both his parents were American – so by default he’s an American too. Not to detract at all from the praise of any of these pilots by splitting hairs over birthright and citizenships, all of them deserve our highest acclamations regardless, so let’s look at another South African born military hero.Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 17.51.57

Flight Lieutenant Carl Raymond (Ray) Davis DFC (30 July 1911 – 6 September 1940) was a South African born flying ace of The Battle of Britain, having claimed nine enemy aircraft (and one shared) destroyed, four (and one shared) probably destroyed, and four damaged, before he was himself shot down and killed in action.

Early Life

Ray was born in Krugerdorp, South Africa to American parents, he was educated in England at Sherborne School and read a Bachelor of Arts at Trinity College Cambridge.  He continued his studies at McGill University in Canada qualifying as a mining engineer.

53412846_1496615028When he turned 21 in 1932, he applied for and became a British citizen.  From a very well to do family background he met and married Anne Hope, Anne was the sister of Sir Archibald Hope. The marriage was celebrated in the local media such was the profile of the families.

601 Squadron

d386c471cd5f723b8f0bf177e9b09b7bRay learned to fly whilst visiting his sister in New Jersey and returned to the United Kingdom in 1935.  Living in London he joined 601 squadron, to serve along with his now brother in law, Sir Archibald Hope. He was commissioned in 601 Squadron in August 1936.

The Royal Air Force’s 601 Squadron was something apart from other RAF Squadrons, it was known as the ‘Millionaires Squadron’ and some notable pilots flew in it, Roger Bushell, another South African who became ‘Big X’ in The Great Escape (see earlier Observation Post article on him The Great Escape … led by a South African!), Billy Fiske another American who was a Bobsleigh champion and Max Aitken, the future Chairman of the Express Newspaper Group.

601 Squadron was formed when a group of wealthy aristocratic young men, all of whom were amateur aviators, decided to form themselves into a Reserve Squadron of the RAF after a meeting in White’s Club, London. The original officers were picked by the first commanding officer, Lord Edward Grosvenor, youngest son of Hugh Grosvenor, the 1st Duke of Westminter.  Grosvenor tested potential recruits by plying them with alcohol to see if they would behave inappropriately as gentlemen when drunk. They were required to consume a large amount of port. Gin and tonics would follow back at the club.

Grosvenor wanted officers of sufficient presence not to be overawed by him and of sufficient means not to be excluded from his favourite pastimes, eating, drinking and White’s (Gentlemen’s club).

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Ray Davis in 601 Squadron

The nickname “the millionaires squadron”, was gained because of the Squadron’s reputation for filling their ranks with the very ‘well-heeled’, and not just aristocrats but also sportsmen, adventurers and self-made men.

There would be no time for petty rules or regulations. But Grosvenor was nonetheless intent on creating an elite fighting unit, as good as any in the RAF and the pilots took their flying and fighting very seriously. Had it not been their reputation as very good, effective and efficient fighting unit, they would never have got away with all the flamboyant antics they got up to (some wealthy enough to buy cameras, the pilots even took to filming their escapades).

Most of these affluent young pilots had little regard for the rigid discipline of the regular service; they lined their uniform tunics with bright red silk, wore red socks and wore blue ties rather than the regulation black. They played polo on brand-new Brough Superior motor cycles, drove fast sports cars and most of the pilots owned their own private aircraft.

Becoming a ‘Ace’

When war broke out Ray Davis was called to full-time service on 27 August 1939. On 27 November 1939, he flew one of the six 601 Squadron initial Blenheims (they were later equipped with Hurricanes), which attacked the German seaplane base at Borkum.

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The feature image above shows “Hurricane Mk I UF-K of No 601 Squadron RAF while it is been serviced on the perimeter dispersal at RAF Exeter in mid-September 1940. This aircraft saw success with both Sgt Leonard N Guy and F/O Carl Raymond Davis.

On 11 July 1940, he shot down his first German Messerschmitt Bf110, and he added two more Bf 110s a month later on 11th August 1940 and quicky followed that with three more Bf 110s on the 13th August 1940.  With that his status of ‘Ace’ was secured.

Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

DFCLGHe awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross later that month on the 30th August 1940.  His citation reads:

“Flying Officer Davis has been engaged on operational service since 3rd September 1939.  He has taken part in nearly all patrols and interceptions carried out by his squadron.  He has been a section leader for the last two months, and on several occasions led his flight. F/O Davis has personally destroyed six enemy aircraft, and severely damaged several others. He has shown great keenness and courage”.

Ray went on to down five more German aircraft before his last fateful mission.

Ray’s last flight

F/O Carl Raymond Davis DFC was killed in action on the 6th September 1940.  Combat took place over Redhill, Gatwick, and Hayfield.  11 Hawker Hurricans from 601 Squadron were on patrol, including Ray flying in Hawker Hurricane P3363 code UF-W.

About 9am in the morning 50 German Messerschmitt 109’s were spotted at 20 000 feet, no enemy bombers were in the area.  The weather was very good and the 601 Squadron RAF fighters climbed to attack, a series of dog fights followed.   Ray was shot down by one of the Me109’s, he was killed instantly by two bullets to the head, his Hurricane crashed while inverted, with this his aircraft burned out in the back garden of Canterbury Cottage at Matfield near Tunbridge Wells. He was 29 years old.

He is buried near his family home in Storrington, West Sussex at St.Mary’s Church.

A brave man, a son of South Africa and one of Churchill’s ‘few’ who laid down his life for freedoms we enjoy today.  Lest we forget.

 


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Sources, Wikipedia, Aircrew remembers and 601squadron.com.  Featured image Imperial War Museum copyright, Colour By Doug Banks

 

South African Battle of Britain Heroine -Jackie Moggridge

jackie-moggridge-woman-pilot-close-3-useThis is a very special South African military heroine. Jackie Moggridge (born Dolores Theresa “Jackie” Sorour), during the Second World War she left South Africa for England and joined the ATA Hatfield Ferry Pool on 29 July 1940, being the youngest of the female pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain, aged just 18.

The ATA “The Air Transport Auxiliary” was charged with delivering new and repaired aircraft to front-line Royal Air Force squadrons and were flown by civilian commercial pilots and female pilots excluded from flying roles deemed as “combative” service at the time.

The initial plan was that the ATA would carry personnel, mail and medical supplies, but the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940 the ATA had taken over transporting all military aircraft from factories to Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941 the ATA took over all ferrying jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilots for combat duty. At one time there were 14 ATA ferry pools as far apart as Hamble,  Southampton, Portsmouth, and Lossiemouth near Inverness in Scotland.

The ATA recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm by reason of age, fitness or gender. A unique feature of the ATA was that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job, thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted and one-eyed pilots, humorously referred to as “Ancient and Tattered Airmen”. However, most notably, the ATA allowed women.

Initially, to comply with the Geneva Convention, as many of the ferry pilots were nominally civilians and/or women, aircraft were ferried with guns or other armament unloaded, however I due course after encounters with German aircraft in which the ferried aircraft were unable to fight back, RAF aircraft were ferried with guns fully armed.

As part of unique and very brave bunch of pilots, mainly women, Our South African hero, Jackie safely handed over 1,500 aircraft during the war, 83 different types and 200 more than any other ATA pilot.

She had a very lucky escape on 5 January 1941 when ferrying an Oxford Mk I to RAF Kidlington, Oxfordshire, with no R/T to meet up with 1st O Amy Johnson who was bringing one in from Blackpool. Both went off course in adverse weather conditions, with Johnson following the rules, bailing out and drowning in the Thames Estuary. Sorour went down to a few hundred feet and found herself over the Bristol channel with 20 minutes fuel remaining. She claimed that she did not want to take to the chute because she had broken her leg during a parachute jump in 1938.

16195937_1899005106995145_1188220574573390828_nJackie also encountered a V-1 flying bomb in the air over Surrey while flying a Tempest. She altered course, fully intending to attempt to topple it with her wing tip but failed to catch up to it.  The standard practice in dealing with a ‘doodlebug’ (as the V1 was nicknamed) was a wingtip topple, it threw the flying bomb’s gyro off its intended target and sent it into open countryside instead of a city.  However the trick was to fly faster than the rocket to do it.  The picture featured shows this remarkable manoeuvre between a Spitfire and an unmanned V1 flying bomb.

Jackie was also the first woman in South Africa to make a parachute jump. (4,000 feet). She was South Africa’s youngest pilot of her time age 17 years. November 1959 was awarded Jean Bird trophy as Woman of the Year . She flew Lancasters, Spitfires and a variety of other planes as a RAF pilot during World War 2. She logged over 4,000 hours flying over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

She is best described by her Daughters “Jackie was like two women in one: artistic, romantic, forgetful and disorganised, but when she climbed into an aeroplane she became focused, calm and very capable – not our mother at all! She loved many things: singing, dancing, sewing and painting, but her main passion in life was flying. Up in the sky is where she belonged.”

“She really was two women in one. She was a real battler for women to get on in life and just could not imagine that there was anything she could not try to achieve. But she knew, and said, that as a woman she had to have the best results to be taken seriously.”

21265949._UY630_SR1200,630_She was a member of one very elite group and one of only five women to be awarded full RAF wings during the war, Jackie even campaigned to become the first woman to break the sound barrier but was prevented from doing so by the powers that be.

The actions of the ATA are best summed by Lord Beaverbrook in 1945 who said;

“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”

After she died, aged 81, in 2004, Jackie took to the skies one last time, for her ashes were scattered from the ‘Grace’ Spitfire ML407.

She is now proudly acclaimed as one of ‘The Female Few’ whose actions in The Battle of Britain and for the duration of the war brought us the freedoms we know today.


Reference Jackie Moggridge’s obituary and Wikipedia.   Researched by Peter Dickens

‘Waffen SS’ uses the Boer War to recruit the Dutch

An interesting Nazi propaganda poster from the Second World War, with a South African spin.

Waffen SS Propaganda and the Netherlands

At the beginning of the war, the idea of the 3rd Reich and Nazism was not central to Germany, furthermore the idea of a united Europe under the discipline and economic policies of Fascist ideologies and concepts like the 3rd Reich was widely accepted by large communities in countries like France (mainly in the South), Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands (including ‘Holland’), Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.

This poster, with the clever use of propaganda and imagery is a recruitment poster for the Waffen SS, aimed at Dutch Nationals (Netherlands Legion). It forms part of a propaganda poster campaign which asks Dutch nationals to question themselves on who exactly is a true Dutch patriot, implying the ones that join Germany in the fight against Bolshevism (“Communism” and Russia) are the true Dutchmen.


It pulls at a strong emotional trigger amongst the Dutch which was still very prevalent at the beginning of World War 2, which was the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Dutch sentiment during the Boer War sided with the Boer Republics (driven by historical, language and cultural bonds) and many in the Netherlands where quite appalled by the way the British had conducted the war and the atrocities committed against Boer women and children. 

Thus the clever use of Paul Kruger, “speaking” a well-known phrase in Afrikaans (and Dutch) ‘Everything Will Be All Right” and this leads into a call to action in Dutch “Fight Bolshevism with the Waffen-SS”. At the time Paul Kruger (the last State President of the ‘Transvaal Republic’ i.e South African Republic) was internationally known as the face of Boer resistance against British occupation during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

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Johannes Brand

The phrase “alles sal reg kom” (everything will be all right) is also clever as it was coined by another Boer Republic State President – this time the Orange Free State, Johannes Brand who said in “Cape” Dutch – “alles zal recht komen als elkeen zijn plicht doet” (all will be well if everyone does his duty) and this entered popular culture as “ALLES SAL REG KOM” – both in the Netherlands and South Africa.

Subtle, but implied in the Poster by the use of Paul Kruger is the call to action to fight not only Bolshevism (Russia) but also their “allies” in the war which was the United Kingdom – so hated by many Dutch for their treatment of their “brother nation” – the Boer nation.

To really understand the Waffen-SS, it needs to be known that it was not really part of the German Army, instead it was a “political” armed wing of the German Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS, “Protective Squadron”).  The ‘SS’ and ‘Waffen SS’ are two separate entities joined at the hip.  The Waffen SS comprised military formations which were formed to include men from Nazi Germany and volunteers (and later conscripts in some cases) from both occupied and un-occupied lands.

Waffen SS Foreign Divisions

The Waffen-SS targeted occupied countries for man-power. Reason being the SS itself was limited in Germany to a very small percentage of the yearly German call up and outside of Germany they had no such restrictions on them if recruiting for the ‘Waffen’ SS.

To this end the Waffen SS initiated very strong propaganda campaigns calling members of the occupied countries to fight with them, essentially against the ‘Communist or Bolshevist Onslaught’ of Soviet Communism.  The Dutch proved the most fertile ground for this campaign, in total 25 000 Dutchmen volunteered to serve in the Waffen SS.

The Dutch by percentage of population made up the biggest number of volunteers in Europe to join the Waffen-SS. Many volunteering within six weeks of the occupation of their country by Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler resisted integrating the Waffen-SS into the army, as it was intended to remain the armed wing of the Nazi Party and his plan was for it to become an elite police force once the war was won.

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Dutch and French Waffen SS

Initially, in keeping with the racial policy of Nazi Germany, membership was only open to people of Germanic origin (so-called Aryan ancestry). The rules were partially relaxed in 1940, although groups considered by Nazis to be “sub-human” like ethnic Poles or Jews remained excluded.

Hitler authorised the formation of units within The Waffen-SS largely or solely compiled of foreign volunteers and conscripts. Foreign SS units were made up of men from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium (both Wallonia and Flanders), Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Galicia, Georgia, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia (including Cossack and Tatar, Turkic SSR Republics), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Asian Regiment, Arab Regiment, the United States (15–20 volunteers) and British (27 volunteers – which included Commonwealth members and even included 5 South Africans).

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Waffen SS foreign unit badges

The Waffen SS grew from initially 3 Regiments to over 38 Divisions in World War 2, serving alongside the ‘Heer’ (regular German Army) and the Ordnungspolizie (uniformed Police) and other security units.

Images show French and Flanders (Belgium) Waffen SS

Although having a fierce reputation in conventional fighting alongside the German army all over Europe – East and West fronts, at the post-war Nuremberg trials the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organisation due to its connection to the Nazi Party and involvement in numerous war crimes.

Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy). An exception was made for the Waffen SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because they were not volunteers.


To read up a little more on South Africans involved in the Waffen SS, please feel free to follow this link to a previous Observation Post article.

South African Nazi in the Waffen SS

Researched by Peter Dickens with added research from Sandy Evan Hanes – reference Wikipedia.  Images – colourised Waffen SS, ‘Colour by Doug’ copyright.

As they like to say in the military “Karma is a Bitch!”

There’s a sarcastic saying in the military – “Karma is a bitch!” It’s a flippent manner of saying they had it coming, what goes around comes around – and this is an example of it.

The featured image is that of Gestapo member Johannes Post, executioner of Sqn Leader Rodger Bushell (known as ‘Big X’ as he masterminded “The Great Escape”), the moment the death sentence was announced at Post’s post war trial. He was hanged.

Roger Bushell’s story is nicely summed up by Buskriut Burger in his dedication to him;

Roger Bushell was born in Springs, South Africa in 1910. Paul Brickhill, who met Roger in Germany (POW) and later wrote THE GREAT ESCAPE, stated that “at the age of six, he (Roger) could swear fluently in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa and spit an incredible distance.”

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Roger Bushell (left), Janet Montagu and Paddy Green

Roger was educated in England, became a barrister and spoke fluent French and German. As a pilot in the RAF, he rose to the rank of Squadron Leader (equivalent to a Major in the South African Air Force). On 23 May 1940 he was leading 601 Squadron (12 Spitfires) over Dunkirk, when they were attacked by 40 German (Messerschmitt) aircraft.

Before being shot down, he destroyed two of the attackers. He bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). During the next four years, he was a thorn in the flesh of his captors. Only his experience as a barrister saved him from being shot for habitually escaping, insubordination, resisting arrest and alleged spying and sabotage charges.

Sandy Hanes adds to this;

Roger Bushell is also oddly connected to Reinhard Heydrich’s assisination, he was recaptured due to it and worked over by the Gestapo as they believed he was involved in it (which he was not). The people sheltering him were executed for doing so.  It is suspected that this is when he began to hate the Nazi Germans with a passion.

In his final escape Roger masterminded, organized and orchestrated the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944. He was one of the 76 prisoners who escaped through the tunnel, and also one of the 73 recaptured. Squadron Leader Roger Bushell (RAF) and three South African Air Force airmen were among the 50, whose execution was ordered by Hitler.  Lt Johan (Boetie) Gouws, Lt Rupert Stevens and 2/Lt F.C. McGarr. Their names appear in the the South African Air Force Roll of Honour.  

For an in-depth story in Roger Bushell, please feel free to read up on him in a previous Observation Post The Great Escape … led by a South African!

Roger Bushell’s ‘Great Escape’ was fictionalised to a degree in the movie “The Great Escape”. The character played by Richard Attenborough, Roger Bartlett, is modelled on Roger Bushell.

Karma is indeed a bitch – certainly for Johannes Post.  Roger Bushell is remembered on three war memorials, notably the one in Hermanus, South Africa.  Johannes Post has no such memorial and instead occupies a black stain in the annuals of history.


Insert picture of Roger Bushell thanks to Tinus Le Roux.  Composition article by Buskruit Burger, Sandy Evan Hanes and Peter Dickens

Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

Remember the shattering opening of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks commanding US Rangers as they storm ‘Omaha Beach’ and take out the German positions pinning everyone down on the beach during D Day?

Well, there was also one South African D Day hero and DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) recipient for gallantry in the centre of that specific firefight. Lieutenant Royston Davis Turnbull who had served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Cape Town before the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, on Omaha Beach itself.

His citation reads:

“This officer showed a magnificent example to his Flotilla when very heavily opposed whilst landing the 2nd Battalion United States Rangers near Vierville. Seeing three of his craft stranded on the beach and being subjected to intense mortar and machine-gun fire, he returned to their help. His hard work before the operation and his courage and leadership in the assault was an inspiration to all”.

Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of 2nd US Rangers were landed along with the 5th Rangers, the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. Their action was fought near and at Vierville-sue-mer.

Rangers, Lead The Way!

During D Day the 2nd and 5th US Rangers on Omaha beach found themselves coming to the aid of elements of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division who were pinned down by murderous machinegun fire and mortars from the heights above. It was there that the situation was so critical that General Omar Bradley was seriously considering abandoning the beachhead, instead of sending more men to die. And it was then and there that General Norman Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, gave the now famous order that has become the motto of the 75th Ranger Regiment: “Rangers, Lead The Way!”

The 5th US Rangers broke across the sea wall and barbed wire entanglements, and moved up to the pillbox-rimmed heights under intense enemy machine-gun and mortar fire and with A and B Companies of the 2nd US Rangers Battalion and some elements of the 116th Infantry Regiment. They advanced four miles (6 km) to the key town of Vierville-sur-Mer, thus opening the breach for supporting troops to follow-up and expand the beachhead.

The magnificent eleven 

The feature photograph is one of the “magnificent eleven” photos taken by Robert Capa and shows this exact firefight as landing US troops are pinned down on Omaha beach, seen here taking cover behind the beach obstacles from the highly effective machine gun fire coming from a nearby German pillbox. The landing craft that would have concerned our hero – Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull are similar to those seen in the background.

This opening sequence of the beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan” was so accurately played by Tom Hanks and his men acting as the 2nd US Ranger Battalion, landing on Omaha beach and taking out these pillboxes, that the actual surviving veterans of the beach landing could not sit through it. Such was the intensity and accuracy of the harrowing memory it brought back to them.

To think that we had our own South African in the middle of this epic moment in history earning a decoration of gallantry is quite something, and we should stand very proud of Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull DSC.


Image copyright Robert Capa, and has been colourised. Story by Peter Dickens with assistance from Sandy Evan Haynes.  Film sequence copyright Paramount International. Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.