A friend asked the Observation Post a question, what were Sailor Malan’s medals? So down the rabbit hole and here we are … Sailor’s medals. I’m no medal specialist but this is what I’ve managed to find so far. If I’m wrong please feel free to correct me and add to this.
Image: Sailor Malan’s medals on display at the Johannesburg War Museum in Saxonwald
Left to Right – from the highest value (the decoration/medal closest to the heart when the medal rack is worn on the left breast), to the lowest value decoration/medal (the one furtherest from the ‘heart’), and in the case of foreign decorations (other countries) in order of importance after the lowest ‘own’ country medal – Sailor has a few of foreign awards these too, and they are all ‘decorations’ so very important.
Distinguished Service Order & Bar (DSO)
OK, let’s start with Sailor’s DSO, the ‘& Bar’ bit means he was awarded this decoration not once, but twice. In Sailor’s case the DSO is awarded for bravery. Here are the citations for his Distinguished Service Orders:
Acting Squadron Leader Adolph Gysbert Malan, DFC (37604), Royal Air Force, No.74 Squadron. December 24th, 1940.
“This officer has commanded his squadron with outstanding success over an intensive period of air operations and, by his brilliant leadership, skill and determination has contributed to the success obtained. Since early in August 1940, the squadron has destroyed at least 84 enemy aircraft and damaged many more. Squadron Leader Malan has himself destroyed at least eighteen hostile aircraft and possibly another six.”
And on 22nd July, 1941:
Bar to the DSO
Acting Wing Commander Adolph Gysbert Malan, DSO, DFC (37604) Royal Air Force.
“This officer has displayed the greatest courage and disdain of the enemy whilst leading his Wing on numerous recent operations over Northern France. His cool judgement, exceptional determination and ability have enabled him to increase his confirmed victories over enemy aircraft from 19 to 28, in addition to a further 20 damaged and probably destroyed. His record and behaviour have earned for him the greatest admiration and devotion of his comrades in the Wing. During the past fortnight the Wing has scored heavily against the enemy with 42 hostile aircraft destroyed, a further 15 probably destroyed and 11 damaged.”
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
Again, the ‘& Bar’ bit means he was awarded this decoration twice, this is still a ‘decoration’ and not a ‘medal’ so it’s very high on the senior level, and in Sailor’s case both times it is awarded to exceptional flying and bravery. Here are the citations for his Distinguished Flying Crosses;
Flight Lieutenant Adolph Gysbert Malan. (37604), Royal Air Force. June 11th, 1940.
“During May 1940, this officer has led his flight, and on certain occasions his squadron, on ten offensive patrols in Northern France. He has personally shot down two enemy aircraft and, probably, three others. Flight Lieutenant Malan has displayed great skill, courage and relentless determination in his attacks upon the enemy.”
And on August 13th, 1940:
Bar to the DFC
Flight Lieutenant Adolph Gysbert Malan. (37604), Royal Air Force.
“Since the end of May, 1940, this officer has continued to lead his flight and, on many occasions the squadron, in numerous successful engagements against the enemy. During the Dunkirk operations he shot down three enemy aircraft and assisted in destroying a further three. In June, 1940, during a night attack by enemy aircraft, he shot down two Heinkel 111’s. His magnificent leadership, skill and courage have been largely responsible for the many successes obtained by his squadron.”
British and Commonwealth Medals
What follows after the decorations on Sailor’s medal rack are medals for World War 2 in order of seniority and these are:
1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp
Campaign medal awarded to all British and Commonwealth personnel who fought in any theatre of operations during WW2. The ribbon shows arms of service – Navy (dark blue), Army (red) and Air Force (light blue).
The ‘Battle of Britain Clasp’ on Sailor’s 1939-45 Star was awarded to those who were engaged in action in the Battle̴ of Britain between 10th July 31st July 1940
The Air Crew Europe Star with France and Germany clasp
The ACE medal was awarded for operational flying from the UK over Europe, between the period 3rd September 1939 to 5th June 1944 (outbreak of war until the start of Operation Neptune on the 5th June 1944, followed by the D-Day Normandy landings on the 6th, so the cut off date is actually 4 June, 1944 for ACE medal), the ribbon is light blue with black edges and yellow stripes, representing continuous service in the air (blue) by day (yellow) and night (black).
The France and Germany clasp was awarded to those who qualified for the France and Germany Star by having participated in land, sea or air operations in, or over, France, Holland, Belgium or Germany between 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945.
The Defence Medal
Campaign medal awarded for both Operational and non-Operational service during WW2 to British and Commonwealth service personnel (and civilians involved in Service to armed forces). The ribbon is symbolic of the fire bombing air attacks (Orange) on ‘this green and pleasant’ land (Green) of the UK during the ‘blackouts’ (the two thin black lines).
The War Medal (1939-1945) – with a mid Oak Leaf.
Campaign medal for British and Commonwealth personnel who had served full-time in the Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy for at least 28 days between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The medal ribbon is distinguished by the colours of the British Union Flag/Jack.
The Oak Leaf signifies that the individual wearing this medal was MiD (Mentioned in Dispatches). The Oak Leaf on Sailor’s ribbon of this medal indicates the award of the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
There are decorations issued by ‘foreign’ countries to Sailor Malan and they are worn in the more junior position of the medal rack regardless of the seniority of the decoration. Here Sailor Malan received the following:
Legion of Honour (France) Officer Grade
The ‘Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur’ or LdH is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit. There are three ranks; Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer) and Commandeur (Commander). Sailor has the Officer rank.
Croix de Guerre (France)
The French ‘War Cross’ is awarded either as an individual award or a unit award to those combatants who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.
Croix de guerre (Belgium) with bronze palm
This is the World War 2 variant of the Belgium ‘War Cross’, awarded for bravery or other military virtue on the battlefield. It was reestablished on 20 July 1940 by the Belgian government in exile for recognition of bravery and military virtue during World War 2.
The Bronze Palm means Sailor Malan was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ by the War Office specifically for a performing heroic or significant deed.
Czecho-Slovakian Military Cross
Ceskoslovenský válecný kríž 1939 is a military decoration of the former state of Czechoslovakia which was issued for those who had provided great service to the Czechoslovak state (in exile) during World War 2.
Awarded to Group Captain Adolph Gysbert Malan on March 5th, 1946 “In recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with the war.”
Now, that’s a lot of ‘Bravery’ and Sailor Malan counts as one of South Africa’s bravest, he’s got the decorations and medals to show for it. I’m no pro when it comes to medals, its a very complex field, so here’s waiting for the medal pros for more information … and go!
Image is from a Johannesburg War Museum PDF. Researched and written by Peter Dickens
Some hidden history – ‘Did you know?’- back of the Chappie gum wrapper facts. Did you know Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris – the famous Commander of RAF Bomber Command during WW2 was in fact a Rhodesian and he also had a very strong South African connection, here’s an interesting story and it involves a bugle, a bombing and a baronet.
At the commencement of World War 1, a unit called the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was formed in August 1914. In October it consisted of 500 volunteers. In November the Unit went to Bloemfontein and on to Cape Town by train. On Christmas Day 1914 the Regiment landed in Walvis Bay to join the 4th South African Brigade. After that there were marches and skirmishes against the German troops. One young man in this Regiment was the bugler.
After one skirmish, he got fed up and buried his bugle. They had marched and marched in blazing desert sun in German South West Africa (modern day Namibia), from January to June 1915, when the campaign finally ended. He swore he would never march another step into battle. The young man was Arthur Travers (Bomber) Harris and with this act he gave up foot soldiering into battle and took up flying into battle instead.
We have all heard about his exploits and management of RAF Bomber Command during World War 2, but few know of his lifelong connection with South Africa. In fact, he was even a founder member and General Manager of SAFMARINE.
First World War
Born in the Gloucestershire, England, Harris emigrated to Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) in 1910 when he was 17. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Harris did not learn of it for nearly a month, being out in the bush at the time. Despite his previous reluctance to follow the path his father had in mind for him in the army, and his desire to set up his own ranch in Rhodesia, Harris felt patriotically compelled to join the war effort.
He quickly attempted to join the 1st Rhodesia Regiment, which had been raised by the British South Africa Company administration to help put down the Maritz Rebellion in South Africa, but he found that only two places were available; that of a machine-gunner or that of a bugler. Having learnt to bugle at Allhallows School in Devon, he successfully applied for the bugler slot and was sworn in on the 20th October 1914.
The 1st Rhodesia Regiment briefly garrisoned Bloemfontein, then served alongside the South African forces in South-West Africa under South African command during the first half of 1915. The campaign made a strong impression on Harris, particularly the long desert marches—some three decades later, he wrote that “to this day I never walk a step if I can get any sort of vehicle to carry me”. South-West Africa also provided Harris with his first experience of aerial bombing: the sole German aircraft in South-West Africa attempted to drop artillery shells on his unit, but failed to do any damage. How prophetic that his next idea of a “vehicle” to carry him into battle would be an aeroplane.
When the South-West African Campaign ended in July 1915, the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was withdrawn to Cape Town, where it was disbanded; Harris was formally discharged on 31 July.
He felt initially that he had done his part for the Empire, and went back to Rhodesia to resume work at Lowdale, but he and many of his former comrades soon reconsidered when it became clear that the war in Europe was going to last much longer than they had expected. They were reluctant to join the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, which was being raised to serve in East Africa, perceiving the “bush whacking” of the war’s African theatre as inferior to the “real war” in Europe. Harris sailed for England from Beira at the Company administration’s expense in August, a member of a 300-man party of white Southern Rhodesian war volunteers.
He arrived in October 1915, moved in with his parents in London and, after unsuccessfully attempting to find spaces in first the cavalry, then the Royal Artillery, he finally joined the Royal Flying Corps as a Second Lieutenant in November 1915.
He served with distinction on the home front and in France during 1917 as a Flight Commander and ultimately CO of No. 45 Squadron, before he returned to Britain to command No. 44 Squadron on Home Defence duties, Harris claimed five enemy aircraft destroyed and was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) on 2 November 1918.
He finished the 1st World War a Major and remained in the RAF as a career choice. Although born British, he identified himself as a Rhodesian Intending to return to Rhodesia one day, to this sentiment Harris wore a “Rhodesia” shoulder flash on his RAF uniform.
Second World War
Much is written about ‘Bomber’ Harris in the Second World War and a lot of it very controversial. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Harris took command of No. 5 Group RAF in England, and in February 1942 was appointed head of Bomber Command. He retained that position for the rest of the war.
In 1942, a seminal paper was put to the British Cabinet advocating the idea of area bombing of German cities in a strategic bombing campaign. It was accepted by Cabinet and Harris was directed to carry out the task. It became an important part of the ‘Total War’ strategy waged against Nazi Germany.
At the start of the bombing campaign, ‘Bomber’ Harris famously justified the idea of area bombing by quoting the Old Testament:
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
Images: Colourised images by DB Colour and RJM of Bomber Command Lancaster and crew.
Winston Churchill regarded the idea of area bombing strategy with distaste, official public statements maintained that Bomber Command was attacking only specific industrial targets, any civilian casualties were unavoidable and were unintentional. By 1943, Harris urged the government to be honest with the public regarding the purpose of area bombing and said:
“The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany … the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.”
Harris pressed for raids on a much larger scale and launched the first RAF “thousand bomber raid” against Cologne in May 1942, his successes using this method of aerial warfare saw him promoted to Air Marshal and even acting Air Chief Marshal by March 1943.
The Butcher’s Bill
Leading up to and after D-Day, 6 June 1944, the bombing campaign continued to attract controversy, but the most controversial was the bombing of Dresden on the night of 13 February 1945. More than 1,200 heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city in four successive raids. An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the bombings and the firestorm that raged afterward. More than 75,000 dwellings were destroyed, along with unique monuments of Baroque architecture in the historic city centre. The scale of the death and destruction, coming so late in the war, along with significant questions about the legitimacy of the targets destroyed have led to years of debate about whether the attack was justified.
Image: Colourised Royston Colour image of Dresden post bombing.
This issue on whether Dresden qualified a military target or not and in fact may have been an unnecessary bombing continues to this day, with evidence even pointing to targeting the ‘old city’ for a firestorm rather than the industrial sector as was the officially stated objective. In either event, what is known is that area bombing by nature was very inaccurate and indiscriminate and the death toll extreme, and the RAF and Bomber Command would admit that the entire area bombing campaign including Dresden was ‘somewhat overdone,’ but this sentiment was wrapped in secrecy for many years after the war.
To see this Butcher’s bill in total, consider these estimates. Civilian deaths in Germany from Allied bombing was more recently estimated at 380,000. Bomber Command dropped 53 per cent of all the ordnance sent to Germany. Firestorms caused by Bomber Command’s incendiaries killed over 34,000 civilians in Hamburg in July 1943, 5,600 in Kassel in October 1943, at least 7,500 in Darmstadt in September 1944, 25,000 in Dresden and 17,600 in Pforzheim in February 1945 and 4,000-5,000 in Würzburg in March 1945: nearly 100,000 dead for the half-dozen deadliest raids.
The attitudes to this style bombing of Nazi Germany populace at the time were becoming very ‘hard’, an attitude exhibited by nearly all the Allied combatants involved in it, as the war had rung out an alarming butchers bill on civilians in all the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. Notwithstanding the Nazi Blitz campaign of British cities at the start of the war and Nazi ‘wonder weapons’ indiscriminately bombing London’s civilians towards the end of the war. This hard attitude was best surmised by a British Bomber Command air-crewman when he said this during a World at War interview:
“If you couldn’t get the Kraut in his factory, it was just as easy to knock him off in his bed, and (if) Granny Schicklgruber in the seat next door got the chop that’s hard luck!” (The sarcastic reference to Schicklgruber was Maria Schicklgruber, Adolph Hitler’s paternal Grandmother).
Image: Avro Lancaster Bomber ‘B’ MkI ‘Victorious Virgin’ crew showing the attitude of the day, this 4000 pound ‘cookie’ bomb was dropped on an Oil Refinery in Hemmingstedt in March 1945, near Heide in Germany. Colourised by Tom Thounaojam.
The culmination of Bomber Command’s offensive occurred in March 1945 when the RAF dropped the highest monthly weight of ordnance in the entire war, mainly on Berlin to support the Russian offensive to take the city. In all Harris was asked if strategic area bombing would work in winning the war at the beginning of the campaign and his reaction was “we shall see”. In hindsight, the campaign went a very long to way to ultimately break resolve and bring Germany to its knees economically, but it happened at a tremendous cost in human lives, not only civilian, lets examine the butcher’s bill on Bomber Command:
Of every 100 airmen who joined Bomber Command, 45 were killed, 6 were seriously wounded, 8 became Prisoners of War, and only 41 escaped unscathed (at least physically). Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed. Of those who were flying at the beginning of the war, only ten percent survived. It is a loss rate comparable only to the worst slaughter of the First World War trenches. Only the Nazi U-Boat force suffered a higher casualty rate. On a single night, Bomber Command suffered more losses than did Fighter Command during the entire Battle of Britain.
One must also caution here, whilst the figures on both sides of the Butcher’s Bill are high for British and American combined Bomber Command Ops, Germany by no means comes through smelling of roses – their campaigns and targeting of civilians is staggering – in all about 90,500 British civilians were killed and that’s nothing compared to the estimated civilian deaths in Yugoslavia of 1.2 million, Poland 5.7 million and USSR 7.0 million. To say that attitudes had hardened when it came to the combatants would be an understatement.
It would be unfair with a modern day sense of sensibility to look at Bomber Harris and the men of Bomber Command as a war criminals, one has to look them him in the context of their time and the great struggle surrounding them, especially the extreme choices taken to bring about an end to a war of this nature.
However, in his ‘Butcher’s Bill,’ one cannot help but note there is a ‘World War 1’ mind in Bomber Harris, but it’s not an uncommon one for a Commander in his time, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery can also be accused of the same. It is one whereby ‘attrition’ is used to gradually overwhelm using overwhelming odds, it rings true to the WW1 Battle of Verdun, a meat grinding approach to who runs out of resources, especially human resources first. It eventually wins wars, no doubt, but at a tremendous cost in human lives.
After the war Harris moved to South Africa where he founded and managed SAFMARINE, short for the South African Marine Corporation. Safmarine, is a South African business success story involved in international container shipping and break-bulk shipping services worldwide. It is now owned by its parent company, the Maersk Line.
In 1953 he returned to the United Kingdom to accept a Baronetcy, which strangely, Winston Churchill insisted he receive, and here he lived out the rest of his long life in Goring-on-Thames passing away at 91 years old in 1984. He even managed to see the creation of his much loved Rhodesia into Zimbabwe as a nation state.
In all, it’s a fact that Southern Africa in its harshest form would fashion the man into what Arthur Harris was to become, it’s also clear that the German South West African Campaign in World War 1 would fashion a steel willed and uncompromising attitude of endurance and perseverance in a world of hardships, and one in which he would look to aviation instead of marching into battle to ultimately win wars. With all the modern day accusations of Harris been a ‘war criminal’ for his actions against civilians I wonder sometimes if someone may eventually dig up his buried bugle in Namibia and what that would come to symbolise.
Images: Sir Arthur Harris GCB, OBE, AFC and the Green Park Bomber Command Memorial
To the opening statement, I hear some colleagues say “everyone knows he was a Rhodesian”, well nope- the reason I say his South African and Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) heritage and history is relatively unknown, and for that matter this includes a great many other Rhodesians and South Africans (including two Victoria Cross recipients – Wing Commander John Nettleton VC and Captain Edwin Swales VC) who were sacrificed whilst taking part in Bomber Command operations, is that when the Bomber Command War Memorial was finally unveiled in Green Park in London in 2012, not one South African or Rhodesian military veteran association member and not one dignitary from South Africa or Zimbabwe took part in it. From the Commonwealth, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, even West Indians – all got a nod, I watched the entire unveiling ceremony on BBC and not even a mention of a South African, not even the Victoria Crosses and numerous other decorations for valour won by them whist in Bomber Command.
Some may even say, given all the controversy, better not to have been there anyway. But that would be to dishonour a generation that sacrificed so much, physically and mentally, for our modern freedoms. Especially our countrymen in Bomber Command who found themselves in this most extraordinary and very tragic period of our wartime history, these are men who had to face hard and very fateful decisions, the world at times has forgotten our WW2 contributions, lest we forget them too.
Researched by Peter Dickens.
Large content and additional research with much thanks to Buskruit Burger.
Large extracts from wikipedia and Bomber Command Museum on line. Statistics referenced from Andrew Knapp: The Horror and the Glory: Bomber Command in British Memories since 1945 and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
Finally! This famous old gritty black and white photo has been colourised to bring this human tragedy into a modern context. This photo is one of the most published images of the Holocaust, the surviving children. So what’s in this iconic photograph taken during the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp by Soviet soldiers on 27 January 1945, what does it actually tell us?
There is a lot more to this than just a photo, it carries with it one of the greatest human failings, it also has a remarkable eye-witness testimony of what actually happened at Auschwitz – from both a survivor and a tormentor, and it even has a South African back story.
To answer, what’s in a photo! just for starters, there are two sisters in this photo, 10-year-old Eva Mozes and her twin sister Miriam Mozes. Miriam is on the extreme right and Eva is next to her sister slightly behind the boy with the cap.
Eva Mozes is still alive and gracefully with us and she has time and again provided a living testimony to horror – the fact is the Holocaust is still in living memory. She has recalled that her parents Alexander and Jaffa Mozes, together with their four daughters (her sisters) Edit, Aliz and her twin sister Miriam were among thousands of jews who were collected in the regional ghetto of Cehei and transported to their final destination – Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Upon their arrival, the Mozes family was immediately separated for extermination ―her father and Mother together with her sisters Edit and Aliz and twin Miriam were all taken aside to be taken to the gas chambers.
The twins survived the death camp thanks to a single trait, being ‘twins’. Eva revisited Auschwitz on several occasions after the war and stood at the same place where she saw her mother, father, Edit, and Aliz for the last time. She recalled;
“The SS was running from that direction, yelling in German, ‘Zwillinge, Zwillinge!’ which means ‘twins.’ We did not volunteer any information. He approached us, looked at Miriam and me, we were dressed alike, looked very much alike, and he demanded to know if we were twins.”
After this was confirmed, the two girls were taken away from their family, none of whom were ever seen again.
Eva (right) and Miriam (left), in 1949.
Another fate awaited the twins ―they were both subjected to gruesome experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele himself.
The Angel of Death
Dr. Mengele was known to the inmates at Auschwitz as Todesenge (English; Angel of Death). He was given a free hand in experimenting on human subjects, an approach unthinkable by any ethical standards in modern medicine. He was especially interested in twins, for his genetic research which revolved around improving the birth-rate of German ‘Aryan’ people.
Josef Mengele pictured outside Auschwitz in 1944
Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them.
A witness named Miklós Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes.
Eva and Miriam, who were 10 years old at the time, were injected with various substances and they were constantly compared and tested while living the harsh reality of the concentration camp.
Eva concentrated on how to survive the camp, despite all odds. She said “at Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full-time job.” Her first memory of the children’s barracks in which she was placed was the latrine, in which several dead children were piled up on the floor.
On one occasion, Eva said; “I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live ..”
Eva knew that the moment she died, her sister Miriam would become useless for experiments. She would be murdered with a lethal injection and sent for a comparative autopsy. This left no other option for Eva but to survive her illness, and after the two weeks that she wasn’t supposed to survive, she got better and started to heal.
What’s in a ‘hug’?
The Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, finding around 180 children among the survivors, most of them being twins. Eva and Miriam were captured on film that day, exiting the barbed wire corridor together with other children. On seeing the Russian liberators Eva recalled
A photograph of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp by Soviet soldiers in January 1945. Eva and her sister Miriam are seen holding hands
“We ran up to them and they gave us hugs, cookies and chocolate. Being so alone, a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human warmth that we were starving for. We were not only starved for food, but we were starved for human kindness. And the Soviet Army did provide some of that.”
The photographs and films taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Allied forces shocked the world, but oddly enough they knew exactly where the extermination camp was and exactly what was going on in there – and that is thanks to another photograph – and this one was taken by a South African aircrew who discovered the Nazi extermination camp and exposed it to Allied intelligence.
In the spring of 1944 a South African Air Force Mosquito XVI aircraft of SAAF No. 60 Squadron piloted by Lt. C.H.H Barry and his navigator Lt. I McIntyre discovered and photographed the Auschwitz concentration camp whilst reconnoitring a nearby rubber plant which was earmarked for bombing by the USAAF (USA Air Force)..
This image is an enlargement of part of a photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau taken by the SAAF on Sortie no. 60PR/694.
The Mozes twins made it, they had survived a holocaust, even though their parents and sisters perished in the gas chambers. The twins returned to Romania for a while, and in 1950, they both moved to Israel. Eva recalls that only after reaching Israel did she stop feeling the fear of being persecuted for her ethnicity. For the first time in a decade, she slept through the night.
In 1960, Eva married Michael Kor, who was also a concentration camp survivor. The pair moved to the U.S. and had two children, while Miriam remained and founded her family in Israel. While in the U.S., Eva established the Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) in 1984. The main purpose of this institution remains the education of young people about the horrors of the Holocaust. It also served as a place to reconnect the survivors of the infamous Mengele twins experiments.
The scars left by the 10 months spent in Auschwitz were not gone. In 1993, Miriam died from a kidney related cancer. Miriam’s kidneys stopped growing in Auschwitz, caused by an unknown substance that was injected into her as a child. She spent her life living with kidneys of a 10-year-old. Doctors were helpless in determining the true cause of the defect.
“A human being in a SS uniform”
Hans Wilhelm Münch at the time of his arrest
After Miriam’s death, Eva made contact with an unusual person – a former SS physician who worked in Auschwitz by the name of SS-Untersturmführer Hans Wilhelm Münch.
In addition to other duties SS physicians at Auschwitz were required to be present at the line selections of arriving Jews (and other ‘non Aryan’) to select (or deselect for that matter) Jews healthy enough to be kept for labour and those destined to go straight into the gas chambers. Most of the SS doctors viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, unlike their colleague Dr Josef Mengele who undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune.
In addition SS physicians were also required to oversee the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers.
Dr. Hans Münch was present at various exterminations at Auschwitz, but he was very different to the rest of his colleagues. He was so against going ‘selections’ which he viewed as “disgusting and inhuman” that he formerly applied to be removed from this duty (which although the application was dimly viewed by his colleagues in the SS he was given exemption). Then he did something completely at odds to the SS doctrine, but perfectly in line with his medical oath and his conscience – he started to save lives and filed ‘false’ experiments to by-pass the system and save people destined to be executed or maimed.
“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, May/June 1944
In 1945, after evacuating from Auschwitz, Münch spent about three months in the Dachau concentration camp. After the end of the war he was arrested in a United States internment camp after being identified by another Auschwitz physician.
Münch was extradited to Poland in 1946 to stand trial in Kraków with 41 other Auschwitz staff. However, quite remarkably, although accused of performing inhumane experiments injecting inmates, the inmates stood up for him – one after another testified in his favour calling him the “Good Man of Auschwitz” and referring to him as “a human being in a SS uniform”.
The court acquitted Dr. Hans Münch on 22 December 1947 with this statement; “not only because he did not commit any crime of harm against the camp prisoners, but because he had a benevolent attitude toward them and helped them, while he had to carry the responsibility. He did this independently from the nationality, race-and-religious origin and political conviction of the prisoners.”The court’s acquittal was based, among other things, on his strict refusal to participate in the selections.
No small matter, of the 41 Auschwitz staff tried in Kraków, 23 of them (including the Auschwitz commandant, Arthur Liebehenschel, the Political Department head Maximilian Grabner, and Women’s Camp Director Maria Mandel) were sentenced to death, the rest received heavy prison sentences. It was only Hans Münch who was acquitted and who walked away from the trial a free man.
“Silence helps the oppressors”
Eva Mozes-Kor and Hans Münch, two eye-witnesses to horror – one the Jewish victim and one the SS tormentor, both survivors of the Holocaust in their own way, met and agreed to attend the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995 arm in arm.
In an act of mutual catharsis Eva formally forgave Münch and her Nazi tormentors and Münch in turn formally apologised and attested the fact that he was part of the SS run systematic genocide machine at the same time also confirming the existence and use of gas chambers to fulfil this end. His document was intended to put to bed once and for all a growing revisionist lobby who try to deny that the Holocaust ever happened.
As living witnesses Hans Münch and Eva Mozes-Kor signed their respective public declarations regarding what had happened there and declared that such a thing should never be allowed to happen again.
Eva is a woman of substance, she has every reason to hate and demand retribution, but she refuses to be a labelled a victim, she is a survivor. In her journey she has realised that to purge herself of demons and monsters she would forgive them – and only in the act of forgiveness could she move on, she believes that; “Getting even has never healed a single person” and would go on to say “forgiveness is free. It does not cost anything to let go of grievances and remove the victim label from oneself”.
As to another Holocaust survivor, Leslie Meisels who said “silence helps the oppressors”, Dr. Hans Münch later felt compelled to further comment on Holocaust denial. During an interview Münch was asked about the claim that Auschwitz was a hoax, he wearily responded:
“When someone says that Auschwitz is a lie, that it is a hoax, I feel hesitation to say much to him. I say, the facts are so firmly determined, that one cannot have any doubt at all, and I stop talking to that person because there is no use. One knows that anyone who clings to such things, which are published somewhere, is a malevolent person who has some personal interest to want to bury in silence things that cannot be buried in silence”
Eva Mozes-Kor,and Hans Münch at the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Although Eva’s views stress we should never forget the Holocaust her views on forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust sits at odds with many in our modern-day who view the Holocaust differently and demand continual retribution and compensation for it. In many respects her view echoes in modern-day South Africa – where Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others (the principal victims of Apartheid) who whilst never forgetting Apartheid also sought reconciliation and peace through the act of forgiveness, and it was in this way they sought to remove the label of ‘victim’ which so crushes the human spirit – and not surprisingly their view is also at odds with modern South Africans who are still seeking continual retribution and compensation for Apartheid victimisation.
It’s a very sensitive subject and there are grounded issues on both sides of the argument, but a lot of learnings must be taken from the people who were ‘there’ and experienced a human failing like the Holocaust (or even Apartheid) at its very worst – first hand. Eva Mozes-Kor founded CANDLES to shine light on the both the dark and bright side of history, because the ‘human spirit’ must always prevail and as Charles Dickens once wrote many years before;
“There are dark shadows on earth, but the lights are always brighter.”
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens
References and extracts: Lessons from a Holocaust survivor by Tyler Tucky. The Jewish Virtual Libuary – article on Hans Münch. War History on-line article – SS Dr. Hans Munch, called the “Good Man Of Auschwitz”, How is That Possible? The Vintage NewsEva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor and a Mengele twin, chose to forgive the Nazis.
Today we highlight an act of bravery by a South African during the Battle of Britain which could have earned him the Victoria Cross but unfortunately did not – heralded and remembered in the United Kingdom, his act is hardly known of in South Africa.
Flight Officer Percival Ross-Frames Burton
So let’s have a look at this remarkable South African and his action, and lets remember what ‘sacrifice’ actually meant to the small group of South African airmen defending the last bastion European modern democracy and liberty against the invasion of a Nazi totalitarian tyranny.
There is truth in the words of Sir Winston Churchill when he said “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few” – and in truth Percy Burton’s death epitomises exactly the type of sacrifice made by these ‘few’. His action is astounding and it’s one which reflects the desperate nature of the fight between young men on both sides and in so it is as deeply tragic as it is liberating – this is the true ‘Price’ paid.
Percival (Percy) Ross-Frames Burton was born in 1917 in Cape Province, South Africa. A military man from the outset, during peacetime he initially joined the South African Coast Garrison and Citizen Force in 1935.
Before the start of the Second World War, Percy decided to read Jurisprudence at Oxford University attending Christ Church College in 1938. An active sportsman’ he took part in the University’s rowing team and boat races and was the reserve cox for the Oxford crew.
Whilst at Oxford, Percy Burton also learned to fly with the University’s Air Squadron. At the onset of war in October 1939 he volunteered and took up a commission in Royal Air Force Reserve (Service Number 74348), and after completing his training at Flight Training School Cranwell he arrived at 6 OTU, Sutton Bridge on the 22nd June 1940 to convert to Hawker Hurricanes.
After one month of training on hurricanes Flight Officer (F/O) Percival Ross-Frames Burton found himelf in RAF No. 249 Squadron. Just in time to walk straight into The Battle of Britain which kicked off in earnest from the 10th July 1940, and he was to fly alongside another great South African hero in the Battle of Britain – Albert ‘Zulu’ Lewis DFC and Bar.
249 Squadron – Left to Right P/O Percival Ross-Frames Burton; Flt/Lt Robert ‘Butch’ Barton; Flt/Lt Albert Gerald ‘Zulu’ Lewis; P/O Terry ‘Ossie’ Crossey; P/O Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil; P/O Hugh John Sherard ‘Beazel’ Beazley; Sqn/Ldr John Grandy C/O; P/O George Barclay Flt/Lt Keith Lofts. (Colourised by Doug)
A ‘successful’ days’ action
On the morning of 27th September 1940, No.249 Squadron was scrambled into action. Burton took off from North Weald in Hurricane V6683 at about 08:50am with eleven other No.249 Squadron Hurricanes.
RAF 249 Squadron’s Hurricanes rendezvoused with Hurricanes RAF 46 Squadron and they began to patrol Wickford before being vectored to the Maidstone area where enemy activity had been reported.
When they got to Maidstone they encountered German aircraft in two defensive formations heading south at low-level. A defensive circle of German Luftwaffe Bf 110s were spotted over Redhill and above them German Luftwaffe Bf 109 fighters were sighted higher up. Flight/Lt Butch Barton rallied No.249 Squadron into a diving attack the Bf 110 formation from out of the sun and individual combats (dogfights) then ensued. The German Bf 109 fighters flying top cover for some reason did not get into the ensuing dogfight – it was later assumed they had not seen the attacking RAF Hurricanes.
It was a successful day for 249 Squadron, when the Squadron’s Hurricanes returned to North Weald they claimed an impressive eight enemy aircraft destroyed and a further five probables, but it came with a price and Flying Officer Percy Burton had paid the ultimate price. However he had done so in a manner which simply breathtaking.
Cutting a Bf 110 in two
Hauptmann Horst Liensberger
During the action Percy Burton locked onto and vigorously pursued a Bf 110 flown by Hauptmann Horst Liensberger in a desperate engagement which covered a distance of about forty miles (64 kilometres), weaving around at an extremely low altitude, often little more than treetop height.
Percy Burton chased the Bf 110 at this low-level, until they arrived over Hailsham, Sussex when Burton’s ammunition had all been fully expended, with silent guns Percy Burton continued the chase and the two aircraft skimmed over the rooftops. The Bf 110 simply could not shake Burton off.
At this point Percy Burton was flying slightly above and behind the twin-engined BF 110 light bomber aircraft when suddenly, and in an unprecedented manoeuvre, he banked his Hurricane, dived down and collided with the Bf 110 in mid-air, literally chopping the Bf 100 into two.
The Bf 100’s Empennage (the tail assembly including the flying surfaces – rudder and elevator) dropped out of the sky and fell into a field, it was followed by the remainder of the severed enemy aircraft’ (the wings, dual engines and cockpit) falling uncontrolled out of the sky into the field – along with Burton’s wingtip.
The Bf 110 pilot Hauptmann Horst Liensberger his rear-gunner, Uffz Albert Kopge, were killed outright. Flying Officer Percy Burton’s Hurricane, now missing its wingtip was also out of control and he crashed into a huge oak tree on New Barn Farm. The impact of hitting such a large oak tree was so excessive it threw Burton out and clear of his Hurricane.
A powerful artists impression showing the ultimate sacrifice by Percy Burton of 249 Squadron as he rams the Stab-V LG1 Bf110C of Horst Liensberger/Albert Koepge.
Burton was killed and his Hurricane burned out. Eye-witness reports indicated that Percy Burton had deliberately rammed the Bf 110 in a final act of valour. Percy’s body was found riddled with bullets, which led to speculation that Percy Burton was severely wounded in the attack and had consciously pursued and rammed the Bf 100 knowing he was not coming back.
As to a conscious decision to ram the Bf 100, fellow RAF pilot Tich Palliser who had also witnessed the collision from the air reported:
“I saw his contortions, then I saw him straighten out and fly straight into the German aircraft. I was close enough to see his letters (squadron code-markings), as other pilots must have been who also confirmed the incident, which in itself caused me to realise that my young life and its future, if any, had jumped into another dimension.”
The German witness also tells a tale young lives sacrificed, A colleague and friend of the Bf 110 pilot, wrote at the time of the incident:
“I regarded Horst Liensberger highly as my commander and as a human being… Over the radio we heard his last message: ‘Both engines are hit … am trying to turn … it’s impossible … I will try to land.’ Then nothing more.”
Recommendation for a VC
As all the eye-witness reports indicate strongly that Percy Burton deliberately rammed the Bf 110 in an act of sacrifice. In a letter from Fighter Command to the Hailsham ARP Chief, Percy Burton was recommended that for this action, bravery and sacrifice at Hailsham that he receive a posthumous Victoria Cross.
However, because of the speculated issues surrounding his action, and much to the outrage, displeasure and disappointment of his fellow pilots in No. 249 Squadron, Percy Burton did not receive the VC or any gallantry award for that metter and he was only ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’.
If you wish to visit another brave South African in a foreign field, Percy Burton is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, Tangmere, England (Plot E, Row 1, Grave 480). In 1980 a road in a housing estate near the crash site was named ‘Burton Walk’ in his memory. There is also a humble memorial plaque dedicated to Burton’s memory at Hailsham near the oak tree that he hit.
The two German crew were initially buried in Hailsham Cemetery but were exhumed after the war and buried elsewhere.
Looking at this recently colourised image of Percy Burton by Doug, we are reminded of just how young these brave men were, Percy Burton was just 23 years old when he boldly sacrificed his life. In perspective he was the ‘millennial’ of his time, however it is very difficult to imagine a modern millenial facing the hardship, morality, bravery and sacrifice that this – the ‘greatest generation’ – faced.
No similar such acknowledgements or symbols of remembrance to Percy Burton exist in South Africa today, it’s also very possible that almost no South Africans even know of his existence or the brave action that nearly earned him the Victoria Cross – and he is not alone, the South Africans who took part in the Battle of Britain remain obscured and his story is one of many. Their stories left to the wayside after 1948 as seismic political forces over-shadowed these brave South Africans fighting to preserve a liberated world in the sky over England during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.
In our small way, The Observation Post hopes to keep this history alive, knowing in the full grace of time that these South African men and their very brave deeds are captured and not forgotten. The Observation Post salutes and remembers you Flight Officer Percival Ross-Frames Burton.
This beautiful war-bird turned 75 years old recently, hitting the 75th milestone in August 2018, still airworthy she’s been a regular on the Battle of Britain Heritage Flight line ups and air-shows for decades, she’s even a movie star, she made her most famous film appearance in what is regarded as the best WW2 film ever made ‘A Bridge Too Far’, where she flies over the young Dutch boy on a bicycle and waggles her wings.
Supermarine Spitfire IX – MH434 in flight
But little known to the tens of thousands of admiring fans in Britain that have seen her flying overhead in countless commemorations is her remarkable South African wartime heritage, she’s the Spitfire which saw one very brave South African fighter ace fly her into combat.
Little known to many South Africans, who do not have an airworthy Spitfire in any collection in South Africa anymore, is that there is in fact a South African’s Spitfire still flying today – they can take some comfort in that.
Royal Air Force Spitfire MH434 is arguably one of the most famous flying Spitfires around, she was built in 1943 at Vickers, Castle Bromwich. What’s remarkable about her? She is remarkably original, having never been subject to a re-build and still flying in her original paint scheme. For her inaugural flight in August 1943 was also noteworthy, MH434 was air tested by the legendary Alex Henshaw – a record-breaking pilot from pre-war days and Chief Test Pilot for Supermarine.
But what is more remarkable is her first war-time pilot, South African – Henry ‘Pat’ Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar and the Squadron she cut her teeth in – the Royal Air Force’s 222 Squadron – the ‘Natal Squadron’.
Flight Lieutenant Laurie of No. 222 (Natal) Squadron, Royal Air Force starting up Supermarine Spitfire Mark V, BM202 ‘ZD-H’ “Flying Scotsman”, at North Weald, Essex during WW2
222 (Natal) Squadron
Formed during WW1, 222 Squadron was reformed at the onset of WW2 at Duxford on 5 October 1939 and in March 1940 the squadron re-equipped with Spitfires. It initially took part in the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain. Later in the war it would participate in Overlord and the D-Day landings as well as Operation Market Garden.
The Natal Squadron is named as such as it was regarded as the Natal Province ‘gift’ Squadron to the Royal Air Force. During the war funds were raised to ‘sponsor’ Spitfires in Natal and equip this squadron. As a representative of the South African province and old British colony, the squadron emblem consisted of wildebeest which is Natal’s official animal and was represented in the Natal province emblem. The squadron motto was ‘Pambili Bo’ (Go straight ahead). The wildebeest also symbolises speed.
Flt Lt Henry ‘Pat’ Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar
Now, MH434’s first combat pilot was truly special, Pat Lardner-Burke was born on 27 June 1916 in Harrismith, Orange Free State, South Africa. He joined the Royal Air Force at the onset of the war in spring 1940.
Pat Lardner-Burke was posted to No.19 Squadron in early 1941 where he flew Spitfires and thereafter Hurricanes with No. 46 squadron. In June the Hurricane Squadron left the UK for Malta forming No.126 Squadron. In the extensive combat and defence of Malta, Pat would see considerable action in the air, mainly against Axis force Italian Regia Aeronautica bombers as they attempted to bomb Malta into submission.
On the 19th August 1941, flying his Hurricane high above Malta Pat sighted enemy aircraft flying at 23,000 feet, turning in to attack the formation of 12 Italian Macchi 200 fighters, Pat fired a short burst which saw one Macchi go down. Pat climbed out of the attack and engaged another Macchi shooting it down in addition to the first.
A week later Pat would destroy another Macchi 200 near Sicily, when the Italian fighter broke off from the its main formation and he pursued it in a steep dive towards the coast of Sicily, shooting it down.
Then on the 4th September 1941 he would claim another as nine Hurricanes met approximately 16 Macchi 200 fighters flying at 22,000 feet to the east of Malta. He spotted an enemy Macchi on the tail of a fellow Hurricane pilot in hot pursuit of another Macchi and destroyed it – effectively saving his colleague’s life.
Royal Air Force Hurricanes – Malta 1941
Bravery and survival in the extreme
On the 8th November 1941, Pat became an ‘Ace’ (which requires a tally of 5 enemy aircraft to qualify), but it came with a most extraordinary act of bravery and nearly killed him.
Pat’s Squadron was involved in one of the biggest dogfights seen over Malta. 18 Italian Macchi were intercepted whilst they were escorting their bombers bound for Malta. Flying Hurricane BD789 he engaged and shot down a Macchi 202 near Dingli, but as he was engaging the Macchi another one engaged him from behind. The result was a 12.7 mm bullet from the Italian fighter which penetrated his seat armour and passed out of his chest.
With a punctured lung and bleeding heavily, Pat drew on all his skill and managed to land his Hurricane at his aerodrome on Malta. A fellow officer, Tom Neil witnessed his landing, ran to the aircraft and pulled Pat free from the damaged Hurricane, he remarked later;
“The pilot still had his face mask attached but I recognised him immediately as Pat Lardner-Burke. I heard myself shouting, ‘Are you all right?’ – then knew immediately that he wasn’t. Pat’s head was bowed and his shoulders slumped”.
Pat was laid onto a stretcher, an ambulance took him to hospital. Tom Neil then took time to inspect Pat’s hurricane, several bullets that had hit the side of the aircraft behind the cockpit. However Tom was shocked as he noted one had punched a hole in the armour-plate and penetrated the back of the seat, where it had passed right through Pat and carried on through the cockpit’s dashboard and then through some more armour-plate in front. Neil and the other pilots in the squadron were literally shaken by the knowledge that the Italian’s were using some very powerful ammunition.
Pat survived and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, his citation reads;
Distinguished Flying Cross
Pilot Officer Henry Patrick LARDNER-BURKE (87449), RAFVR, No. 126 Squadron.
In November 1941, this officer was the pilot of one of 4 aircraft which engaged a force of 18 hostile aircraft over Malta and destroyed 3 and seriously damaged 2 of the enemy’s aircraft. During the combat Pilot Officer Lardner-Burke, who destroyed 1 of the enemy’s aircraft, was wounded in the chest and his aircraft was badly damaged. Despite this, he skillfully evaded his opponents and made a safe landing on the aerodrome; he then collapsed. Throughout the engagement, this officer displayed leadership and courage of a high order. He has destroyed 5 enemy aircraft over Malta.
Back in the fight
Fully recovered from his wounds in England by May 1942, Pat went strait back into the fight, initially as instructor in the Gunnery Instruction Training Wing.
Pat Lardner-Burke’s combat record in MH434
By August 1943, Pat Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar had transferred to 222 (Natal) Squadron as a temporary Squadron Leader and was allocated MH434 code letters ‘ZD-B’ as his regular mount. MH434 first took to the sky in anger on the 7th August 1943.
On the 27 August in the St Omar area over France, Squadron Leader Pat Lardner-Burke, flying in our heroine ‘Spitfire MH434’ clocked up her first kill, flying high escort cover he shot down a German Focke-Wulf FW-190 and damaged a second during a mission escorting USAAF B-17 bombers on their way to bomb the St. Omer Marshalling Yards.
During the mission, 13 Spitfires of No.222 Squadron and 13 Spitfires of No.129 Squadron spotted nine German Focke-Wulf 190s dive on the American B-17 Fortresses and engaged them. Pat shook a FW 190 off his bomber attack damaging it on the starboard wing and tail. Pat then turned onto another FW 190, and at close range he engaged it, shooting it down.
On the 5 September 1943, Pat again shot down another FW-190 in the Nieuport area, on this mission 222 (Natal) Squadron’s Spitfires were acting as high escort to 72 B-26 Marauders which were to bomb the Marshalling Yards at Ghent/Meirelbeke.
On completing the bombing run, the Marauders were attacked by approximately 20 German Focke-Wulf (FW) 190s. Pat climbed to head off half of the FW 190 fighters, one German FW 190 turned in front of his Spitfire’s nose and he promptly shot it down in flames and it went into the ground in an uncontrollable spin.
S/L Ernest “Cass” Cassidy, F/L Philip VK “Phil” Tripe and F/L Henry P “Pat” Lardner-Burke (left to right) of No 222 Squadron RAF and their ‘Natal’ squadron scoreboard
Again on the 8 September 1943 Pat claimed a half share in the downing of a Messerschmitt Bf-109G in Northern France. On this mission 25 Spitfires of 222 (Natal) squadron were flying as high cover to a formation of Allied bombers that were detailed to attack targets in the Boulogne area in France. They spotted and engaged 12 German Messerschmitt 109Fs, two of which dived away from their formation. F/Lt. Pat Lardner-Burke and his wing-man F/O. O. Smik dived down on the leading enemy aircraft taking turns firing on it until the starboard wing tip fell off and it dived straight into the ground.
Give the man a bar!
For his actions and bravery flying in 222 (Natal) Squadron – flying our heroine MH434, Acting Squadron Leader Henry ‘Pat’ Lardner-Burke DFC received a DFC Bar to his existing DFC decoration. His citation reads;
This officer continues to display a high degree of courage and resolution in his attacks on the enemy. Recently, he has led the squadron on many missions in the Ruhr area and throughout has displayed great skill and tenacity. Squadron Leader Lardner-Burke has destroyed seven enemy aircraft in air fighting. He has also most effectively attacked enemy targets on the ground.
Pat Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar received a new posting to Fighter Command’s Head Quarters, at Stanmore, serving with Group Captain Bobby Oxspring, DFC and two Bars, who said of his new South African recruit’s typical South African demeanour;
“The third desk was the domain of Pat Lardner-Burke, a rugged South African who, with Hornchurch sweeps and Malta behind him, displayed a refreshingly irreverent attitude to all senior officers with whom he disagreed”.
In April 1944 Pat took command of the Royal Air Force’s No.1 Squadron, and finally taking command of RAF Horsham St Faith airfield and then RAF Church Fenton as a Wing Commander.
Give the man another ‘bar’
After the war this remarkable South African fighter ace settled on the Isle of Man with his wife, Mylcraine, where they ran a pub (an English ‘Bar’). Pat tragically died at a relatively young age on the 4th February 1970 of renal failure.
MH434’s career after Pat Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar
In 1944 MH434 was transferred to 350 Sqn. Hornchurch, before being returned to 222 Sqn. Pat Lardner-Burke had by now been posted on, and the aircraft was next assigned to Flt Sgt Alfred ‘Bill’ Burge. He flew another 12 operational sorties in the aircraft before the Squadron’s existing Mk IXs were exchanged for a modified variant that could carry rockets. After over 80 operational sorties, MH434 was stood down in March 1945.
MH434 in a hangar at Imperial War Museum Duxford
Post War Movie Star
After the Second World War, Spitfire MH434 was transferred to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1947. After a crash-landing in Semarang, Java she spent some time in storage, repaired she flew again in Holland on the 10 March 1953.
The Belgian Air Force became the next owner of this Spitfire, on the 26 March 1956 MH434 was put up for sale and bought and brought back to Britain by airline pilot Tim Davies. Overhauled the aircraft was flown purely for pleasure and took part in its first movie role, Operation Crossbow.
November 1967 saw MH434 join the motion picture airforce of Spitfire Productions Ltd, where she starred in the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 1968. At the end of the movie MH434 was sold again to Sir Adrian Swire, Chairman of Cathay Pacific Airways, had the Spitfire painted in 1944 camouflage colour scheme with his initials AC-S, as squadron codes.
There were several film and television appearances during this period, including her iconic role in ‘A Bridge Too Far.’
The opening of a Bridge Too Far sees a young Dutch boy cycling along a road when MH434 does an extremely low fly over after reconnoitring a German Panzer (tank) placement nearby. To the entertainment of the young Dutchman she waggles her wings in acknowledgment of his waving . It’s an iconic firm history moment as to the boy the Spitfire symbolises liberty from German occupation – it’s his first sighting of ‘freedom’ and it arrives with its Merlin engine in full song – if you’ve not seen the movie here’s the clip:
In April 1983 MH434 was sold at auction to it’s most illustrious owner, Ray Hanna (Nalfire Aviation Ltd). MH434 has become a regular movie co-star and airshow performer and when not in make up for a role she is now flown in the authentic 222 (Natal) Sqn, with the Codes ZD-B, Squadron Leader Pat Lardner-Burke’s call sign.
A lasting legacy
Today Spitfire MH434 is located at the Duxford Imperial War Museum near Cambridge. MH434 is still painted in No.222 ‘Natal’ Squadron markings with the code letters ‘ZD-B’. The name ‘Mylcraine’ which Squadron Leader Pat Lardner-Burke christened her in August 1943 (named after his wife) is still painted on her, so too is Pat Lardner-Burke’s personal ‘scoreboard’ which have been painted on the port side of the cockpit – all to replicate this South African’s markings in 1943.
His victories, in all Pat Lardner-Black shot down five Italian MC200’s, two MC 202’s, three German FW 190’s and one German Me109 achieving the status of ‘fighter ace’. – one of a handful of South Africans to achieve this.
RAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX MH434 is and remains one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built, and we hope it continues bringing entertainment, joy and awe to thousands of admirers, but more importantly we remember her very proud South African legacy and a very remarkable South African hero whose soul lives on in her.
Researched by Peter Dickens, with additional assistance from Sandy Evan Hanes.
Related Work and Links – South Africans in the RAF
References include; Man and Machine by Christopher Yeoman 2011. Clip from ‘A Bridge Too Far” Joseph E. Levine Productions, United Artists. The Old Flying Machine Company – Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434, history on-line. Photo copyrights include Imperial War Museum and John Dibbs.
The mine-flail became a critical anti-land mine device during D-Day (Operation Overlord), it helped open the way for troops and armoured vehicles over the extensive minefields laid by Hitler’s forces to form ‘the western wall’ and prevent invasion. But did you know the mine flail was invented by a South African?
Inventing the Mine Flail
Technically a mine-flail is a vehicle-mounted device that makes a safe path through a mine-field by deliberately detonating land-mines in front of the vehicle that carries it. It was usually mounted in front of a tank hull to offer the operators the armoured protection they needed, use of its weaponry and the tracked system to deal with terrain.
Sherman Crab Mark II minesweeping flail tank, one of Hobart’s ‘funnies’, used to clear already identified minefields.
The mine flail consists of a number of heavy chains ending in fist-sized steel balls (flails) that are attached to a horizontal, rapidly rotating rotor mounted on two arms in front of the vehicle. The rotor’s rotation makes the flails spin wildly and violently pound the ground. The force of a flail strike above a buried mine mimics the weight of a person or vehicle and causes the mine to detonate, but in a safe manner that does little damage to the flails or the vehicle.
The idea is commonly attributed to a South African soldier – Captain Abraham du Toit. A test rig was constructed in South Africa and results were so encouraging that du Toit was promoted and sent to England to develop the idea.
Before Capt. du Toit left for England, he described his idea to Captain Norman Berry, a mechanical engineer who had been sent to South Africa in 1941 to evaluate the system.
Captain Berry later served in the British Eight Army during the North African Campaign. He had become an enthusiast for the mine flail idea; he lobbied senior officers to commission the development of a flail and carried out his own experiments with mine flails in the spring of 1942 to deal with the extensive minefields laid by Rommel’s forces in the desert campaign.
A Matilda Scorpion flail tank, 2 November 1942.
Later Major L. A. Girling was given the task of developing a similar device after it had been independently re-invented by another South African officer. When Berry heard of this, he handed over his work to Girling (who had no idea he was duplicating Captain du Toit’s current work in England, as that was still highly secret).
Meanwhile, back in Britain, Captain du Toit (as unaware of developments in North Africa as they were of his), working with AEC Limited developed the Matilda Baron mine flail, using a Matilda tank and a frail for demonstrations and training.
Captain du Toit’s work fell under a program known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’, which were a variety of unusually modified tanks operated during the by the 79th Armoured Division of the British Army or by specialists from the Royal Engineers.
A Sherman Crab flail tank coming ashore from an LCT during the invasion of Walcheren Island, 1 November 1944.
They were designed to overcome the problems that more standard tanks experienced during the amphibious landings and focussed on the problems of the Normandy D-Day landings. These tanks played a major part on the British and Commonwealth beaches during the landings. They were forerunners of the modern combat engineering vehicle and were named after their commander, Major General Percy Hobart.
A number of experimental flail tanks were produced, including the Valentine Tank, the M4 Sherman – the Sherman Mark IV and Mark V Scorpions and the “Sherman Lobster”. Eventually one of these, the Sherman Crab, went into full production and saw active service.
Sherman Crab flail tanks in front of burning buildings in Arnhem, 14 April 1945.
Captain du Toit himself had become a strong advocate of a concept called the parambulator mine flail – a self-contained device with its own engine, that could be pushed ahead of any tank that was available. However, the consensus of opinion favoured special-purpose tanks with a permanently mounted flail system and he returned to South Africa in 1943.
After the war ended, so vital was this contribution to the Allied victory and the war effort, that in 1948, Capt. Abraham du Toit would receive an award of £13,000 from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors for his work on the mine flail (a sizeable award in its day). Nine others (including four South Africans) would share a further £7,000.
And there you have it in truth – South Africa led the way on this most critical device for D-Day, and an old adage stands – faced with a problem like a mine-field – a South African makes a plan!
South Africans continued to ‘make a plan’ in developing and leading anti-mine vehicles which continued well into the Angolan Border War.
Researched by Peter Dickens
Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day
It was D-Day+6 when South African statesman, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, was also to cross over to Normandy, accompanying the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by his side. To this point Smuts had played a pivot role in not only the planning and strategy behind Operation Overlord and the Normandy campaign, he also played a central role as Winston Churchill’s personal advisor and using his considerable political skill, Jan Smuts was to keep Churchill in line with the wishes and objects of not only Overlord’s military commanders (mainly British and American), but also those of the King of Great Britain – George VI.
Churchill in the lead up to the Normandy campaign was not in favour of the entire operation, he felt that the focus should remain on the Italian campaign and maintained that any available resources should be concentrated to winning it by entering Germany and Austria via what he termed ‘the soft under-belly of Europe’ and not France. The truth of the matter was that the ‘soft-underbelly’ had turned into a slow and costly grind through mountainous terrain, and instead had become a ‘tough old gut’. Allied military planners now looked to open a third front to stretch the Axis the forces across an Eastern, Western and Southern front.
Smuts was to bring considerable expertise to win Churchill over to backing Operation Overlord and opening the third front via France, but he had another challenge, once won over Churchill insisted on meddling in just about everything to do with the invasion plans, bringing him into direct conflict with General Montgomery specifically. General Montgomery was assigned to command the 21st Army Group which consisted of all Allied ground forces that would take part in Operation Overlord, under the overall direction of the Supreme Commander, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Smuts was to stick to Churchill like glue, never leaving his side, not for a moment – he was to arbitrate and advise not only Churchill, but the entire supreme command, lending a guiding and experienced hand – before and during the campaign itself. In doing so Smuts was to cement a formidable international reputation as not only a sought after military strategist but also a very skilful politician in forming the vision for a post D-Day invasion Europe and the world at large post war.
Typically Churchill had insisted on personally hitting the beach-heads on D-Day itself (undoubtably Smuts, who was no stranger to danger, would have had no option but to be at his side). Churchill felt it important that as Prime Minister that he should be ashore with the assault forces leading from the front. His peers, the commanders and the King thought him quite mad and it eventually took an intervention from the King George VI to Churchill to insist he was too valuable to be risking his life on what would have amounted to a Public Relations antic. Ignoring this, as D-Day approached it took a further letter from King George to literally order Churchill to stand down at the last-minute.
Not to be outdone, Churchill did the next best thing, and with Jan Smuts at his side the two of them on D-Day itself – 6th June 1944 went to the port with journalists in toe to wish Godspeed to British and Canadian troops embarking for the liberation of Europe. The troops waiting on the quayside gave the two Prime Ministers (Smuts and Churchill) a hearty cheer as they went up the gangway.
This Pathé newsreel called ‘over there’ captures D-Day and the beach-head breakout (if you watch to the end you’ll see Churchill and Smuts).
In addition, prior to the departing troops on June 6th, the newspapers of the time noted the following as to Smuts and his involvement in the planning;
“General Smuts also accompanied King George V, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory on a visit to General Eisenhower at Supreme Headquarters on ‘D-Day’ and went to the operations room to follow the progress of the battle. Throughout the day General Smuts received independent reports from the highest quarters, of the progress of the invasion operations.”
It was at Eisenhower’s headquarters that, a few days earlier, that Smuts had met the French soldier and statesman General De Gaulle at “a quiet, tree-shaded spot” and that “General Eisenhower, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Eden were there as well.” The group had spent “nearly two hours together, largely in the war room tent of the Allied Supreme Commander, where the walls are hung with detailed maps and the planned liberation of France.”
Not able to keep Churchill and Smuts away from the action for too long, it was a short 6 days into the landing operations (D-Day +6) on 12 June 1944, that the two of them bordered a destroyer, the HMS Kelvin crossing over to France and into the teeth of the fighting.
12 June 1944, The boarding party with Field Marshal Jan Smuts (right), Prime Minister Winston Churchill (centre) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and Rear Admiral W E Parry (bottom right).” Crossing to France D-Day +6
The K-Class destroyer is the HMS Kelvin which reached the French coast at 9.30 a.m. and had steamed through the battle fleet during a bombardment and later joined in the shelling of the German north-east flank. Churchill and Smuts were then conveyed to the beach via a “DUKW” amphibious vehicle where they then met Field Marshal Montgomery, where-after they departed in a jeep for Montgomery’s headquarters for a de-briefing of the progress and offer him advise on the next phases.
Whilst at Montgomery’s head quarters, General Smuts took up the role of photographer (the reason he’s not in the picture) and he was to take this world-famous photograph. From left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy.
Smuts was rather lucky to survive his visit to Normandy, as both he and Churchill could very well have been killed while visiting Monty’s headquarters at Cruelly.
While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, “There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!”
And lo and behold, just two days later, two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Monty as well as Smuts), everything would have changed.
There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.
The below mage shows Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts with General Sir Bernard Montgomery at his headquarters, 12 June 1944 looking at aircraft activity overhead.
It is also really amazing when one considers that Smuts, an erstwhile enemy of the British empire during the South African War (1899-1906), was not only to reconcile himself to his former enemy over the succeeding years, but was also to be greatly respected by two British prime ministers: Lloyd George and Winston Churchill during the First and Second World Wars respectively and served on the appointed war councils in both. During the Second World War he was even appointed to the British King’s Privy Council – finding himself at the epicentre on how the war was to be conducted and fought.
Notwithstanding the fact that South Africa, with Smuts as head of state, played a very key role in the liberation of Europe, Smuts also represented the large contingent of South African Union Defence Force personnel taking part in Operation Overlord seconded to the Royal Air Force, flying all manner of fighters, transports and gliders and the South Africans seconded to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and serving on the many vessels used in the landings and in the ground invasion forces.
The King was even warm to an idea proposed by Jock Colville (Churchill’s Private Secretary) that should Prime Minister Winston Churchill die during the war (which very nearly happened in Normandy), Smuts would replace him, however this idea was never tested as Smuts would have to be a peer and British Parliamentary process would have prevented it. Smuts had also already refused a peerage and South Africa’s constitution would not have allowed him to do it anyway as he was already the Prime Minister of South Africa – and politics was such with his National Party opposition accusing him of being a ‘traitor’ at every turn, that Smuts in all likelihood would have refused outright lest he alienate his own very split Afrikaner community completely.
Whether possible or not it does give an idea of just how close Smuts was to Churchill and how indispensable he had become to the war effort – strategically, tactically and politically, he was South Africa’s greatest military export – without any doubt – his council sought by Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Field Marshals and Generals. His role in Overlord would rid the world of Nazism and pave the way to the ‘new’ western democratic order and United Nations order that we know today. Simply put Smuts can easily take up the same mantle as Churchill and can stand at the very epicentre of our modern values of liberty and western democratic freedoms.
Not many people in South Africa today know of South Africa’s involvement in Operation Overlord (D-Day) as the South African forces in Europe at the time were fighting in Italy and not in France. However there are a small number of South African Union Defence Force members who did take part in the D-Day operations, most seconded to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines Commandos and the Royal Air Force.
A number of South African Air Force fighter pilots served during Operation Overlord flying RAF Typhoons and Spitfires and because of the highly treacherous nature of the operations a handful of about five South African Air Force pilots lost their lives.
The first South African sacrifice during Operation Overlord and the D-Day Normandy beach landings was Robert Alexander Cumming, son of Gerald G and Dora E Cumming of East London, Cape Province, South Africa.
Lieutenant Cumming served with 229 Squadron Royal Air Force, 229 Squadron had been stationed in Malta, and was transferred in April 1944 to Britain and re-assembled at RAF Honchurch, on 24 April. During Operation Overlord (the allied invasion of France) it was equipped with the Spitfire IX operating from RAF Detling.
Lt Robert Cumming was providing cover to ‘day-time’ bombers in raids during the invasion period, and also over the beaches to assist the invading forces. Whilst flying Spitfire MJ219 on the 11 June 1944 (D-Day+5), he and his fellow pilot Flight Lieutenant George Mains flying Spitfire BS167 are believed to have flown into the cliffs at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in heavy fog.
The driver of a mobile canteen operated by the Church Army offers tea to a Spitfire IX pilot at Detling, Kent.
Robert Cumming can be found here, may he rest in peace, his name will not be forgotten:
Lieut. CUMMING, R.A. Robert Alexander 133975V Pilot SAAF 22 † Parkhurst Military Cemetery, United Kingdom Plot 11. Grave 207
Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day
Now, not too many South Africans will know that they can count one of their movie star exports as a D-day hero as well. This one is a special one, a highly successful actor who would land up disabled in the combat fighting in what was Operation Overlord (D-Day), losing an arm he would come back and re-ignite his acting career – becoming very famous in landmark Movies and Television (which unfortunately South Africa did not have until 1976).
A one-armed South African war hero movie/television star, Donald Grey was in his lifetime very well-known internationally but less so in his county of birth, he was born Eldred Tidbury to a humble beginning in South Africa and later changed his name.
Eldred Tidbury (Donald Gray) was born on 3rd March 1914 on an ostrich farm at Tidbury’s Toll near Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. A simple kid on a well to do African farm, but it was a talent contest would lead his life and career to some very extraordinary places with life changing twists and turns.
In 1933, Paramount Pictures to rejuvenate and diversify its contract players, launched a competition known as the “Search for Beauty”; heats took place in nations across the English-speaking world. Elred Tidbury entered in his native South Africa and was selected with Lucille du Toit, a dental nurse from Pretoria as one of the winners.
In total, there were 30 finalists worldwide who were screen-tested and of the 30, contracts were awarded to only 10, Tidbury was selected as the overall male winner with a bonus of USD 1,000 with which he bought a car. The overall female winner was Scottish actress Gwenllian Gill who later followed Tidbury to the United Kingdom and became engaged to him; however, their engagement was broken off during the Second World War.
By late 1935, Tibury wanted out of his ‘locked-in’ contract with Paramount Pictures in America and moved Britain and in 1936 changed his name to Donald Gray. He became an engineering salesman selling a boiler preparation, acted in repertory theatre and appeared in several films In 1936, he took leading role in ‘Strange Experiment’ and by the outbreak of WW2 in 1938, he was the young lead in famous Korda film ‘The Four Feathers’.
World War 2 and Operation Overlord (D-Day)
When war broke out in 1939, our movie hero decided to join the Army and volunteer, but he was initially turned down for military service due to a duodenal ulcer. Still determined to join up Donald Gray later managed to enlist in the Gordon Highlanders who had their barracks in Aberdeen, and succeeded in becoming what he called an “ordinary Jock” (having claimed some sort of Scottish ancestry).
In 1941, he was commissioned as an officer in the King‘s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), eventually becoming the battalion’s education officer. Donald Gray (Elred Tidbury) was even given brief leave to appear with Dame Vera Lynn as “Bruce MacIntosh” in the famous film ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (1943). Not to miss the ‘Big show’ that was D-Day, Donald Gray was back with his Battalion by July 1944 and ready to go to France.
He was with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers when they entered the strategic city of Caen and here he was severely wounded during the intense street to street, house to house fighting that was Caen in July 1944. His left arm was shattered by an anti-tank shell, the limb having to be amputated a few days later at an emergency hospital near the front line.
Here is his unit in action in Caen during July 1944, we see troops of 1 Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), 9th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, firing a captured Hotchkiss machine gun during street fighting in Caen, 10 July 1944.
To give an idea of the fighting which led to the loss of Donald Gray’s arm and casualty evacuation here is an extract from 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers war diary, for the 9th July 1944;
“The attack on Caen. The plan. The Canadians were to attack from the West. The RUR’s in the centre from the North and 1 KOSB from the East. The Bn moved off at about 0930 hrs over ring contour “60”, which was under shell fire, to FUP on the Eastern outskirts of CAEN. The ghostlike houses slowly came to life as civilians began to realize we were entering the town. They came running out with glasses and bottles of wine. As the Bn was forming up on the start line and trying to re-establish wireless contact with companies and Bde, four Boche were seen to withdraw towards the centre of the town. Soon afterwards out [our] HQ was mortared leaving 1 killed and 1 wounded. The Bn then proceeded to clear the town. Little opposition was met.
Progress was slowed down by snipers and an occasional MG. Much assistance and information was offered by eager civilians. Debris and cratered streets also made progress extremely difficult. We eventually reached the RV in the Old Town and established contact with the RUR and pushed forward patrols to the river. Patrols met quite heavy fire from across the river and a number of casualties were sustained.”
Here a colourised image witnesses the fighting of his unit in Caen as seen by Donald Gray and brings the fighting to vivid life. Here is a 6-pounder anti-tank gun of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, part of the 9th Brigade of the British 3rd Division, along with two Sherman tanks in Rue Montoir Poissonnerie near St-Pierre Church, Caen. 10 July 1944.
Acting Career continued …
After the war, a disability like only having one arm did not stop Donald, he chose to continue his career in film and stage acting and against the odds became even more successful at it. Donald toured South Africa with his own repertory company, appeared in other films, and was contracted by the BBC’s radio repertory company.
He left South Africa again to appear in Saturday Island (1952) and then returned to the BBC as an announcer. Then came his very big break. Donald Gray then starred as the one-armed detective Mark Saber in the British TV series of the same name which ran for 156 episodes from 1955 to 1961. It was originally titled Mark Saber, or The Vise in the United States, but was later known as Saber of London and Detective’s Diary. In 1957, The Vise was renamed, redeveloped, and transferred from ABC to NBC under the new title Saber of London.
Donald Gray would later provide the voices of Colonel White, Captain Black and the Mysterons in the 1960s TV series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
He later returned to South Africa, where he passed away in 7th April 1978. A truly extraordinary son of South Africa, we unfortunately just missed his whole rise to stardom on Television, because unlike in the USA and Britain, the government in South Africa in the 50’s, 60’s and right up to the mid 70s figured it was the ‘devils box’ and banned it (see and click link The ‘Devil’s Box’)
The bottom line most South Africans now have no idea who Donald Gray was and nor do they know why we should proud of this very remarkable D-Day hero – luckily for all of us media has moved on and his story can now be easily shared.
Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Images Imperial War Museum Copyright. Colourised image ‘War in Colour’ – Sergeant Christie No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit
(Source – Imperial War Museum) Trevor Jordan’s biography of Gray, Colonel White Meets Mark Saber, 2012.
What would be a surprise to many is that aside from the key-note planners of Operation Overlord (D-Day), three key Commonwealth Prime Ministers were included in the final planning sessions for D-Day – Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa, and it all took place in a secret railway siding in the middle of the quaint English countryside.
On the 2 June 1944, a quiet little railway siding in Hampshire – Doxford, became the location for a highly secret meeting in a specially converted train carriage. The special train was Sir Winston Churchill’s train and temporary Operational HQ called ‘rugged’, the meeting was to agree this next most critical stage of the war.
On this day, in this unassuming train station the “Council of War” convened to decide the outcome of the war for the Western Allies. The Allied Supreme Commander General D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, the Allied High Command General Staff and the Prime Ministers of South Africa – Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Canada – William Lyon Mackenzie King, New Zealand – Peter Fraser, Southern Rhodesia – Sir Godfrey Huggins and the Free French Army – General De Gualle – all assembled for the only time during the war to make their most momentous decision, and “D day was on”.
The occasion was commemorated by paperweights cut from the line (called ‘the Churchill line’ after the war) and issued by the Sadler Rail Coach Limited for Droxford Station.
So there you have it, both South Africa and even Rhodesia played a key role in agreeing Operation Overlord plans and signing off on this most critical date – D-Day, 6th June 1944 – the date which changed the course of Western Europe’s modern history.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. A big thanks you to Colin Ashby whose grandfather made the commemorative paperweights and provided the images.