Reclaiming half a century lost at a Centennial!

On the 11/11/2018 – exactly 100 years after the end of World War 1 on the 11/11/1918, at the exact minute the guns were silenced on the Western Front in 1918, i.e. 11 am, a group of South African veterans stood to attention in London.  They were all taking part in the ‘Cenotaph Parade’ and whilst Big Ben tolled 11 times they reflected during the two minutes silence.

The minutes of reflection and silence was signalled by Artillery Guns whose shots reverberated over London as they marked the beginning of the silence period and the end. The guns had been fired from the Horse Guards Parade Ground by The King’s Troop – just opposite the South African contingent now standing in file in Whitehall with all the other arms of service, regiment, veteran and remembrance associations waiting to march past the Cenotaph.

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Guns of the King’s Troop fired from the Horse Guards Parade Ground to signal 2 minutes silence at the Cenotaph Parade 2018

The retort of the gun literally shattered the cacophony of London’s noise, bringing absolute silence and in so bringing into sharp focus why the South African veterans were there – honouring countrymen who had given their all during World War 1 and in the future wars to come – and it also put perspective on the seven-year long journey they had taken to get there. Nothing in life is simple and nothing can be taken for granted – and the representation of South Africans on this specific parade, on this specific date was no different.

The historical journey of South African veteran contingents marching past the cenotaph in London had not been a continuous one, the early footsteps left by South African First World War veterans in recognition of their comrades lost had been reaffirmed by their Springbok brothers of the Second World War.  However by the 1960’s the footprints came to an abrupt end and the South African veterans were no longer seen at this parade for the next 5 full decades to come, the story of South African commitment and sacrifice to crown during World War 1 and World War 2 fading quickly in the British collective memory.

For these veterans, to stand on this parade in London on this day in 2018, represented as a South African military veteran, proudly wearing the insignia, blazer and beret of South African Legion of Military Veterans is something.  Think about it, and put it fully in perspective, they finally stood to commemorate South African sacrifice at the Centenary of the end of World War 1,  when for a full half Century of that Century there had been no proper annual South African contingent at this prestigious parade – at all.

Here, on the Centenary of the World War 1’s Armistice in London – the South African Legion stood proud in its rightful place as the primo (the first) South African Veteran’s Association  (the SA Legion is also nearly 100 years old itself).  It was also the only South African affiliated veteran association at this climax to the centennial celebrations – the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade.  A lot as to representing South African sacrifice was on the shoulders of this relatively small contingent of South African Legion veterans wearing the Legion’s (and country’s) green and gold.

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South African veteran contingent in 2018 at the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade to commemorate 100 years since the guns fell silent in 1918

So what happened to the South African representation in the past – why did it stop for five decades? How and when was it re-started? Why only the Legion? Why only now and what does the future for South African representation at this parade hold?

More to that, who in South Africa should care, so what – what is the importance of London’s Cenotaph to South Africans anyway?

Why London’s Cenotaph?

So what’s so important about London’s Cenotaph in relation to the other World War 1 monuments the world over, including many in South Africa itself?  Look at it this way, the Cenotaph in Whitehall is the epicentre of ‘remembrance’ of the First World War – for everyone, the world over.

Before the end of World War 1, based on the Red Cross officer Fabian Ware’s recommendation in 1917 the British government and The Imperial War Office, made an extraordinary decision, no British or Commonwealth fallen would be repatriated back to their country of origin.  They would be buried in the country where they fell and their graves, honour roll and monuments would be looked after by a Graves Registration Commission – which we now know as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

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A South African nurse places a wreath on her brother’s grave during the South African Brigade’s memorial service at Delville Wood, 17 February 1918.

This decision was controversial and it caused absolute consternation, the United States of America repatriated their war dead from the western front back to the USA, even the French war dead were repatriated back to their villages or towns.  It was ‘back home’ that family, friends and community could look after their dead – conduct a burial, and the grave could stand as a physical presence of the loved one to pay respects and remember.

With British and Commonwealth war dead now not ‘coming home’ – how were people to remember? Where could family and friends go – not everyone could go to France, Belgium, Turkey and the myriad of countries the British and her Empire fought the war in to visit their lost loved one?  There’s more, even to people who could afford to repatriate their dead to the family plot could no longer do so, let alone those who could not – and officers and men were now buried side by side, with no distinction given to rank, class or race – for a society breaking down Imperial barriers this was revolutionary thinking – but for a part of that society still bent on class differentiation it was an outrage.

A solution to tangibly meet this need and bring the entire remembrance ritual and service back to the United Kingdom was urgently needed, and it needed to be one which remembered all who were sacrified in the service to crown – Great Britain, the Dominions (Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) and all the other British Colonies, Protectorates and Territories.

The solution came in an unintended format, a temporary cenotaph monument, made from plaster and wood had been designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected for the London Victory Parade on the 19th July 1919 (to commemorate the Treaty of Versailles). There would be a ‘hollow square’ formed around the structure (as would happen in the field when soldiers hold a drum head service) and the Cenotaph would then act as the ‘Drum head’ – symbolising a tomb.

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Sir Edwin Lutyens’ temporary Cenotaph for the Victory Parade in 1919

The temporary structure with its words ‘The Glorious Dead’ surprisingly met with great public enthusiasm desperately seeking a place to mourn, it became an icon, a beacon – finally there was a physical structure in England itself to which they could remember all the dead, lay wreaths and flowers to lost comrades, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.   After the parade finished and for some time to come the base of the temporary structure was continuously covered with flowers and wreaths by members of the public. Public pressure mounted to retain it, and the British War Cabinet decided on 30 July 1919 that a permanent replica memorial made of  Portland stone should replace the wooden version and be designated Britain’s official national war memorial.

The permanent stone structure  of the Cenotaph in Whitehall was unveiled in a ceremony by King George V on the 11th November 1920 with the arrival of gun carriage bearing the coffin of an ‘Unknown Warrior’ at 11 am.  In another groundbreaking move to symbolise remembrance a grave marking an ‘unknown’ british soldier was randomly selected (and it could have been anyone, even possibly someone from the Commonweath in a British unit – who knows) and opened in France, this simple soldier, a ‘commoner’ known only unto God was repatriated to England to be buried amongst Kings at Westminster Abby and he was afforded a King’s funeral procession from the Cenotaph

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Now in the west end of the Naive at Westminster Abby, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior has two fine traditions – you cannot walk over it and at any Royal wedding that takes place in Westminster Abby, the bride’s wedding bouquet is always left by the bride on the tomb itself – it’s this lucky chap who gets to catch the royal bouquet.  The text inscribed on the tomb is taken from the bible (2 Chronicles 24:16): ‘They buried him among the kings, because he had done good toward God and toward his house’.

The ‘Cenotaph’ in Whitehall is literally the epicentre of ‘Remembrance’ – it is the central grave marker that remembers all the names of British and Commonwealth fallen who were not repatriated ‘back home’ – and the central Whitehall Cenotaph was to be replicated in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa (Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg all have their own ‘cenotaph’) as the concept fanned out.

In  the United Kingdom the South Africans were special, a South African hospital complex existed in Richmond (west London) treating WW1 wounded, and in addition to commemorating South African sacrifice at the main Cenotaph in Whitehall, a second Cenotaph – to the design of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ one in Whitehall, with a South African UDF ‘Springbok’ emblem on the top and ‘Our Glorious Dead’ in English and Dutch written on it was erected in Richmond and unveiled by Jan Smuts.

All of this, the concept of the Whitehall cenotaph and even the South Africa’s own cenotaph in London would eventually be lost to South Africa, for half a century, and it’s still lost to many South Africans  – so how did that happen?

South African Pilgrimages 

After World War 1 ended, a number of various returned services i.e. veterans associations came into existence all around Britain and the Commonwealth.  These were all consolidated in a historic meeting held by a newly formatted umbrella body – The British Empire Services League (BESL), and the inaugural meeting took place in Cape Town, South Africa in 1921.  Two people were to play a key role in this consolidation of veteran associations and to a large degree centralising ‘remembrance’ under one guiding body – Field Marshal Earl Haig and General Jan Smuts.

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Field Marshal Haig and General Smuts at the inaugral meeting of The British Empire Services League in Cape Town 1921

This makes South Africa the epicentre of what is now the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services Leagues (RCEL) and the founding partners are the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion, Royal Legion Scotland, South African Legion, Returned Services League Australia and the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association.

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Relevance to the Cenotaph in Whitehall?  Well, it’s the Royal British Legion, the brother association of The South African Legion, which manages the Whitehall Remembrance Sunday Cenotaph parade and all the key associated remembrance activities in the United Kingdom.

After the South African Legion was formed in 1921 it went about conducting annual ‘pilgrimages’ for veterans of The First World War and families of the South African fallen to go to Europe and make the ‘connection’ with their loved ones who did not come home.

0800_O_2The South African Legion’s pilgrimages to the United Kingdom often took place over the Remembrance period in November, this sometimes involved a parade in Portsmouth at the memorial there to the men lost on the SS Mendi.  They regularly held a parade at the South African Cenotaph in Richmond London, and annually, on Remembrance Sunday they participated in the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade as guests of The Royal British Legion and laid a wreath.  The pilgrimages were almost always linked up with visits to Delville Wood in France and Menin Gate in Belgium.

These SA Legion pilgrimages expanded after the Second World War somewhat, and South African veterans of both World War 1 and World War 2 in the 1950’s regularly took part in the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade on Remembrance Sunday as well as visiting the chapel and South African cenotaph in Richmond.

Half a century of wilderness 

The annual laying of a South African wreath and veteran participation as a south african contingent at the Whitehall Cenotaph parade on Remembrance Sunday came to an end from 1961.

In 1960, H.F Verwoed and the Afrikaner Nationalists, now in consolidated power in South Africa having changed the constitution, pressed for a ‘Republic’ referendum which they won on the narrowest of margins by gerrymandering the vote – ensuring that whites only, and Afrikaner whites in particular, had the only decision on the future of South Africa’s status in the world, and especially its relationship with the United Kingdom – all the other communities in South Africa, the vast majority of her people – coloured, Indian and Black were excluded from the decision to change South Africa’s Dominion status – and all of them, including Nelson Mandela expressed solid opposition to it.

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Opposition to the establishment of a South African Republic and subsequent removal from the Commonwealth

This was followed one year later in 1961 when as a newly minted independent Afrikaner Republic, the Afrikaner Nationalists removed South Africa from the British Commonwealth of Nations amid heavy criticism of their Apartheid policies by all the member states.  The Sharpville Massacre had just taken place in 1960, opposition political groupings had been banned in the wake of Sharpville and the beginning of the 1960’s saw South Africa embarking on an internal armed struggle.

How did the British establishment react to it all in relation to their Cenotaph Parade? The answer – no differently to the way they now deal with Zimbabwe as a ‘rogue’ state outside the Commonwealth.  They simply removed South Africa’s status from the Dominion and Commonwealth High Commission wreath layer line up at the beginning of parade.  If you consider that they had no choice really – South Africa was no longer a Dominion and no longer part of the Commonwealth ‘club’ – so had no place, and given Apartheid South Africa could not really be afforded a special status on a world stage – such was the politics of the day.

In the end it was the Nationalist South African goverment who removed the country from the Commonwealth, not the other way round and it was the government of South Africa who paid scant regard to this sacrifice – seeing it as and act of treachery in support of the hated British instead, not the other way round.

But what about sacrifice and veterans remembrance – here the Royal British Legion came to the rescue in what was turning out to be bad news all around for South Africa and agreed that in the absence of South African representation they would lay the wreath on behalf of South Africa.

What followed was an unprecedented absence of over fifty years, in South Africa the SA Legion as the ‘national body’ for veterans and all related veteran organisations with Commonwealth and British links and shared heritage, including the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH), all went into steady decline.  The newly reconfigured South African Defence Force under the ideals of Republic went on to insidiously remove or relegate to secondary status all the deeds of bravery, heroes, insignia, heritage, history, medals and any other links to the United Kingdom.  In effect the South African veterans of World War 1 and World War 2 now found themselves marginalised by the government – victims of Apartheid in effect.

This short Pathé Newsreel of the time explains the gravity of the decision to leave the Commonwealth and make South Africa a Republic very well, take the time to watch it.

The removal of South Africa from the Commonwealth spurred ‘The Springbok’ magazine, the South African Legion’s mouthpiece to lead with a headline ‘What Now!’ The truthful answer – not much!  Government finances were gradually squeezed off, recruits from the armed forces were squeezed off, the poppy appeal gradually losing its momentum and relevance in South Africa as catastrophic and seismic political events in South Africa over took it.

In this general decline in relevance outside the commonwealth, decline in national party government support for old ‘union defence force’ veteran affairs and decline in public finance from donations – was the decline in SA Legion’s annual Pilgrimages to Europe, and with that general decline in just about everything, eventually also went the annual laying of the South African veterans wreath by the Royal British Legion at the Whitehall cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

1994 is significant in many ways, South Africa rejoined the British Commonwealth of Nations and was reinstated in things like the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade – and today the South African high commissioner joins the wreath party with all the old and current dominions i.e. Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand and given first honour to lay their wreaths ahead of all other Commonwealth member states.  It stands to reason – these were the key contributors to the British military advance – in World War 1 and World War 2 (missing from this line up is Zimbabwe – which continues to be controversial as they continue to remain outside the Commonwealth – as South Africa had).

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But what of the South African military veterans component of the Whitehall Cenotaph Parade itself – the critical connection of this contingent to the remembrance of their brothers in arms’ sacrifices –  marking the recognition of their graves on foreign soil by passing the epicentre memorial of Remembrance in London – even as late as 2011, no South African identified contingent of veterans was properly represented.  The Canadians and even the USA, Czech Republic and Poland have had representation in the past 50 years – but not the South Africans.

Why?

Reconstituting South African veteran representation in the UK

I arrived in the United Kingdom in 2010 after a stint in Australia, whilst in Australia – as a South African military veteran – I had joined SAMVOA, the South African Military Veterans of Australasia and I was amazed at the camaraderie and inclusion South African veterans received from the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL), we were happily included in the annual state ANZAC Day parades and afforded all the privileges of RSL members.  The historical military links between South Africa and Australia forged during WW1 and WW2 remembered and stronger than ever.  The open gratitude of the Australian community expressed to all veterans – Australian and just about anyone who has served in a statute force with a link to Australia was something to behold.

MOTHOn arrival in the U.K. I tried to make contact with a South African Council of Military Veteran Organisation affiliated SAMVOA equivalent to participate in the London Cenotaph Parade, only to discover that no such organisation existed.  I watched the cenotaph parade on telly, gob-smacked to see visiting US Marine veterans on parade and not a South African in sight.  Advances to find out the status of MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) shellholes in the UK were met with disappointment – they had no marketing and were closing down shellholes hand over foot and had even done away with the enshrined regulations behind the order – that is it was a ‘Order’ for ‘Combat/Operational statutory force military veterans’ only.  However civilians and veterans alike could now join the MOTH Order in the U.K. on an equal level – a change in enshrined MOTH qualifying criteria done to try to keep the order afloat in the U.K, which in its own odd way also serves to undermine the principles of the order.

In 2011, after contacting the Royal British Legion to take part in the Cenotaph parade and been declined, I found myself as a single solitary South African veteran in a Trafalgar Square Royal British Legion (RBL) side-show for the general public laying a wreath in one of the ponds, and I noticed a single solitary MOTH member doing the same.  That was the sum total of  South African veteran representation in London on Remembrance Weekend.

Something had to be done, South African representation had slipped into nothing, general amnesia as to South African inclusion in any key state driven veteran or remembrance activity had set in across the entire establishment in the United Kingdom. Half a century of exclusion does that.

It also was not helped by the fact that from 1961 until that point in 2011 the South Africa embassy in the United Kingdom’s military attaché had not taken to much public Remembrance Representation work, nor had they established any significant links with The Royal British Legion or the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.   The old guard SADF attaché wanted nothing to do with these organisations and by the time the new guard SANDF attaché had come in they had no context or knowledge of the historical links, nor is it a current priority of theirs to reforge them (all too ‘colonial’ frankly).

As a result neither the South African military establishment or veteran associations were on the United Kingdom’s ‘remembrance Calender’ radar – at all.  Not ‘recognised’ = not ‘invited’ = not ‘represented’.

bokclear3In 2012 I colluded with a fellow South African veteran, Norman Sander, to address the matter, and looking at the history, links and association between The South African Legion and The Royal British Legion we felt a branch of The South African Legion in the United Kingdom was the route to go.  Godfrey Giles, the then National President of The South African Legion agreed and a branch materialised in the U.K.

All good right, representation at last – not on your nilly, there was a long and hard road to come.  In 2012 we approached the RCEL and received our contingent tickets for  the Cenotaph parade with open arms – then a mere two days later an apology arrived from a faceless bureaucrat to say that the Royal British Legion was ahead of itself in issuing the tickets and they had to be retracted – as South African Legion we were not ‘recognised’ (their term exactly).

This ‘non-recognition’ was utter balderdash, codswallop of the highest order and It was clear to us that within the British establishment there existed concern over South African military veterans – the whole ‘Apartheid legacy’ and ‘leaving the Commonwealth’ issue had extended its tentacles into an area where it had no place whatsoever – Remembrance of the Fallen.

EBQYPI5XC5G2RLQJ7OTLOFGWNUHighly annoying, and before it blew up out of proportion, to overcome the problem a solution was presented by The Royal British Legion themselves.  Come into the fold as a Royal British Legion branch, advance the relationship and values of The South African Legion and the Royal British Legion as a brother organisations, work up the credibility as veterans after a 50 year absence, create a South African presence at the Cenotaph parade and become ‘Recognised’ from within the establishment itself.

Norman headed off to Africa to take on a new life, so the establishment of the South African Branch of the Royal British Legion and the formatting of the South African Legion in the United Kingdom fell on my shoulders.  The Royal British Legion (RBL) had in effect thrown the South Africans a life-line and its a life-line the RBL would come through for the South African Legion and South African veterans time and again.

Back in the fold

Things had changed when it came to the annual Whitehall Cenotaph Parade in the past decade.  It had become a well oiled institution with an unchanged parade order developed and refined over decades – and the same BBC announcer rolls off the ceremony with the same camera positions, year after year.  No upstart ‘new-comer’ is going to reinvent this process in a hurry.

The parade is run in two parts by three separate institutions working together. In essence there is a ‘front part’ involving the Royal Family, Representatives of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Representatives of the House of Commons and House of Lords and the Representatives from all the Commonwealth states i.e. High Commissioners – including South Africa.   They conduct the ceremony of wreath laying in the ‘hollow square’ around the Cenotaph i.e. in accordance with a drum head service.  This bit is run by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.

The second part, the ‘back part’ which is the ‘march past’ the Cenotaph is generally run by The Royal British Legion.  There are four general parts to it.

Firstly – British Service Associations (Regiment Associations and the like) who have served the ‘crown’ in the past and who continue to serve ‘crown’.

Secondly – Guests of the Royal British Legion, these are associations allowed to parade from time to time because of their links to Britain – and here we find a mixed bag of Polish veteran associations and Czech contingents (because of their association to The Battle of Britain) as well as invited US Marine veterans etc (D-Day association). ‘Guests’ come and go based on ticket demand (there is a limited allocation) and changing circumstances, and as our MOTH colleagues unfortunately found out at the centennial cenotaph parade this year when their tickets were not issued – a ticket in this category is by no means an assured one for annual parading.

Thirdly, there is the Royal British Legion themselves and their branches – and as an international brotherhood it is into this category that the South African Legion veteran contingent falls (and other countries represented within the RBL’s shere of influence itself  – the Canadian Legion and veterans are a case in point).

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South African Legion contingent march past the Whitehall Cenotaph in 2017

Finally there is a section open to the general public to participate, and in the case of the centennial this fell to a ‘ballot system’ to randomly select applications from members of the public for what is known as the ‘people’s march’.

The disappointment of 2012 behind us, 2013 found the South African veteran contingent represented for the first time as South African Legion when a handful of about 10 tickets were allocated to The RBL South African Branch, and this spiked a greater demand – and with that unfortunately came controversy within the South African veteran community in the U.K.

By 2014 there were 50 South African veterans represented as SA Legion at the Whitehall Cenotaph parade – a huge honour and reflection on the hard work been done to get South African representation at this parade over the line.  The Royal British Legion had provided a ‘life boat’ for the South Africans towing it along in what was going to be a very troubled sea – and this RBL lifeboat would eventually even save the Delville Wood Centenary Parade in France for all South African military veteran associations in 2016.

Troubled seas ahead, and typically the South Africans were making waves in their own tub. From October 2014 to May 2015 the South African Legion in the U.K. found itself marred by a number of veterans wanting to pull the organisation in all sorts of conflicting directions.  The old adage came true – put two South Africans in a room and they will come up with three political parties, and it all essentially boiled down to individual members trying to shoe horn Legion values (and even things like Legion dress code) into the values and codes of other veteran associations or even into their own individual perceptions and needs.  The net outcome of this is that a few good men decided to jump out the life boat and try to swim it alone, highly regrettable and the unfortunate outcome is that they took their eyes off the ball, and none of them made it to the finish line on 11/11 at Whitehall.

Re-dedication of South Africa’s own Cenotaph in London

2014 saw more significant advances in bringing South African representation back to its rightful place in the UK – and that was the rededication of South Africa’s own Cenotaph in Richmond, London – and it was literally a case of ‘Lost and Found’.

The South African Hospital was established in Richmond Park in London in June 1916. In July 1918, it was amalgamated with the Richmond Military Hospital, to form the South African Military Hospital, in order to provide care for the large number of South African troops serving in the First World War.

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Rededication of the South African War Memorial in Richmond London by The South African Legion

The South African Hospital and Comforts Fund Committee decided to erect a memorial to commemorate thirty-nine South African soldiers who were buried in Richmond Cemetery, which was at that time known as ‘soldiers corner’. The memorial carries an inscription in both English and Dutch (which was at the time a recognised official language of SA). Called ‘The South African War Memorial’ it was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and derives from Lutyens’ Cenotaph in Whitehall. Yes, the same one that rises to prominence on Remembrance Day in London.

The South African War Memorial was unveiled by General Smuts in June 1921 and it became the focus of South African pilgrimage throughout the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. Since then it became neglected and lay forgotten until 1981, when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) agreed to take on the maintenance of the memorial on behalf of the Nationalist South African Government – who had expressed no interest in it whatsoever and did not even acknowledge it on the SADF’s list of South African war memorials overseas.

In 2012 the South African War Memorial in Richmond was awarded a ‘Grade II’ status and was added to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. However, still, no South Africans in authority were even aware of its existence. To that point, the last parade held at the memorial had taken place there more than 70 years ago.

Tom Mason, a member of The South African Legion in the United Kingdom, came across this memorial whilst members of the CWGC were cleaning it.  The history of it pricked Tom’s interest and he brought it back to the South African Legion.

In quick time the South African Legion U.K. arranged a rededication service for the memorial and notified General Andersen of the SANDF of the monuments existence. The monument is now proudly again listed on South Africa’s official war memorials as outlined by the SANDF.  The monument is now also the central location for annual South African Pilgrimages as well as regular South African memorial parades in London.  The South African Legion’s emblem was proudly unveiled at a centenary parade in the Richmond Cemetary Chapel in thanks to renewed interest in the site.

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By May 2015 the Royal British Legion – South African branch also brought the site to the attention of the RBL. The RBL SA Branch standard was officially dedicated in a ceremony held at the Richmond Cemetary Chapel and South African War Memorial Cenotaph next to it – the dedication took place with numerous branches of the RBL and other veteran organisations in attendance.   This South African RBL standard now proudly carries three scrolls on it – it has twice won ‘The Churchill Cup’ as a branch for dedication, growth and reputation and it took part in GP 90 in 2018 and carries the ‘Ypres 2018’ scroll.

Throwing out a significant life-line

rblegion_displayBy November 2015, a large South African Legion veteran contingent of 40 odd veterans found themselves on parade at Whitehall during the Remembrance Sunday Cenotaph parade, the HMS RBL bravely toeing the South Africans along.  However a bigger challenge was looming – much bigger, and it would be the Royal British Legion to the rescue again – not just for South African Legion veterans in the U.K, but for all South African veteran organisations and formations in South Africa itself – and it took place in France.

In the beginning of 2016 arrangements in South Africa were going on swimmingly for the marking of the centenary and the extensive South African sacrifice in The Battle of Delville Wood in France in July 1916.  An entire South African pilgrimage had been arranged for this centenary event in France – consisting of family members, high school students, all South Africa’s regimental and armed forces associations which fall under the banner of the SA Council of Military Veteran Organisations and all veteran associations – including the South African Legion and Memorable Order of Tin Hats –  leave, flights, hotels and busses – all booked.

Then step in the former South African President Jacob Zuma, who decided that the Centenary commemoration date of the Battle of Delville Wood itself did not suite his travel plans.  So he changed it, with a couple of months to go ,then he ordered the military and high commission to toe his line, closed the site to his date only and threw everyone else’s plans out the window.

The long and short, it was impossible to move the entire South African pilgrimage to the Somme and The Battle of Delville Wood for the Centenary to suit the President’s new date.  Help was needed for the hundreds of South Africans which were going to be stranded on the Somme with no commemoration to attend – and it came from The Royal British Legion working in conjunction with the Royal British Legion’s South African Branch, The South African Legion and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to use of the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme in France as an alternate venue.

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2016 Delville Wood and Battle of the Somme Centenary Parade and Pilgrims – Thiepval memorial – France

In this way all The South African pilgrims in France could celebrate the centenary of the full commitment and sacrifice of South Africans to the Somme offensive including, but not exclusive to Delville Wood.

Thiepval was also relevant, although it’s the ‘British’ go-to memorial on the Somme it is also a South African memorial – the official designation of Thiepval is the “Memorial to the 72, 195 British and South African servicemen, who died in the Battle of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 – 1918, with no known grave”. The Thiepval Memorial records the names of 858 South Africans lost during the Somme offensive – including all the ‘missing’ from The Battle of Delville Wood.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) events division jumped in – keen to assist, and they blocked one of their daily “live broadcast” Somme Parades and dedicated the 10th July to a specific South African day.

The Delville Wood Centenary Remembrance at Thiepval parade went ahead on the proper date – and it went ahead to achieve high acclaim from all South African veteran associations and it marked a great success all round – especially to the family members of South Africans lost on the Somme and to South African High Schools and Youth Organisations attending the Somme centenary – who otherwise would have had nothing at all.

and … ‘across the line’

In 2016 and 2017 the South African Legionnaires continued their representation at the annual Whitehall Cenotaph Parade on Remembrance Sunday.  In 2017 the South African Legion also formalised an annual pilgrimage parade at the Richmond South African Cenotaph on ‘Poppy Day’ which is the annual Saturday preceding Remembrance Sunday.

By the time the centenary of the end of World War One came around on the 11th November 2018 (1918-2018) at 11am – the South African Legionnaires were front and forward.  Attending the parade in the South African branch lifeboat, which had come through and carried the South African contingent over the line.  It had been one heck of journey, along the way the bonds and ties between the two Legion’s had been deepened and secured, the South African veterans had risen to show their true colours of leadership and determination winning both Royal British Legion accolades and respect. The presence of the South Africans now ‘recognised’ and the relationship between the two organisations stronger than ever and growing.

46414873_2282468318648820_3105975316011548672_nAs to the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH), a South African veteran order with a root in both countries – the U.K. and S.A.  As a combat brotherhood, many South African Legionnaires on the Cenotaph Parade in Whitehall are also members of the order, so too many Legionnaires – most representing their specific shellhole. The MOTH has benefited from the resurgence of the SA Legion in the U.K. as they now have an avenue to present themselves at Legion led South African commemorative parades – such as the Remembrance Parade now held regularly on ‘Poppy Day’ in Richmond at the South African cenotaph located there.

The future looks bright as long as the ‘special relationship’ with the Royal British Legion is kept, trying to swim it alone in a foreign country in the hopes that the British establishment will somehow bend their entire remembrance culture to suite this or that South African idiocracy is a foolish endeavour, and that unfortunately has been proved time and again, and it stood in stark proof to all present at the Centenary Cenotaph Parade in London.  A better course is to stand in unity and with singular voice, demonstrating values acceptable to the host – and the Royal British Legion’s South African Branch is the ideal vessel to do this – sink this particular boat and the rest will ultimately all slip away.

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South African Legionnaires on the march during the centenary cenotaph parde 11/11/2018

You can see now why a lot was on the shoulders of the South African veteran’s at the Whitehall Cenotaph when that gun signalled the silence during the Armistice Day Centenary Parade, they stood to proud attention as the only South Africans represented there aside from the High Commissioner.

46486079_10156609075626480_8970198184500396032_nIt had been a journey starting a century ago when the guns were silenced on the western front, and it had been a journey to correct half a century of silence as South Africa stood in exclusion.

Here these veterans finally stood in recognition of South African sacrifice at the very epicentre of the entire Remembrance movement started here one hundred years previously – soundly in memory of those South Africans who ‘did not come home’.


Written by Peter Dickens

Related work:

Delville Wood 100 ‘Springbok Valour’… Somme 100 & the Delville Wood Centenary

Great Pilgrimage 90 South Africa was represented at the Great Pilgrimage 90

Photos of SA Legion courtesy Theo Fernandes and Karen Dickens, colourised photographs copyright Imperial War Museum and DB Colour.  Pathe clip ‘South Africa Goes’, YouTube sourced.  Legion marching video thanks to Catherine Dow.

 

Thanks a Million!

Whoo-hoo … my blog, The Observation Post just hit the 1,000,000 views mark!

I started this blog after my father’s death around this time in Hermanus, South Africa – fondly known locally as ‘Prof Dickens’ to many locals, it was just three short years ago and in a way it is a homage to the library of military history books he left to me to reference, his passion for the subject and it was really set up in his memory.

In my small way I wanted to capture the joint passion for the subject we both felt, debated and endlessly discussed over a glass of whiskey – very often overlooking Schulphoek bay from his art gallery surrounded by all his military aviation and maritime artworks.

The work in essence was a cathartic experience for me at the difficult time of my Dad’s death as it gave vent to all the knowledge and nuggets of South Africa’s military history imparted to me or inspired by my Dad, and I’m extremely happy to share all his legacy, he would have been pleased as punch with it – there are now 323 stories published, 57 stories currently been ‘polished’ waiting to go and well over 200 more stories in basic draft pending.

Both my Dad and I were Marketing people in our time and The Observation Post can now be found in multimedia, it has a blog with an e-mail subscription, a linked Facebook ‘Page’ (just click like and click the prompts to follow it), a linked Twitter account and even a Facebook ‘Group’ discussion forum were you can interact with me directly and share your own interesting historical nuggets with like-minded people.

Blog: https://samilhistory.com

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/samilhistory/

FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1987664881245816/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/samilhistory

Aside from my Dad, ‘Thanks a Million’ to you, all the avid followers of the blog, the readers of the material, it’s your support which keeps it going and it’s your feedback that motivates me to bring more historical nuggets so often gleaned over, written out of the school history books and ignored for political expediency in South Africa.

Here’s to another Million Dad – Cheers!

Peter Dickens

Remembering a South African killed in the Vietnam War

Yup, you’ll find the South African connection in nearly every major modern-day conflict, even in the Vietnam War,  Today we remember a South African of dual nationality who died during the Vietnam War, Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr. We’ll also recall the  tumultuous events surrounding his death, as this was the peak of the Vietnam War around period of the ‘Mini Tet’ offences which took place some months after the main ‘Tet offensive’ in 1968.

Background

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1st Lt John Louis Molynaeux Jr

John Louis Molynaeux Jr was born in Australia on the 13th January 1946 and grew up in South Africa as a naturalised South African – going to St. Charles College, Pietermaritzburg, Natal before returning briefly to Australia.  At the onset of the Vietnam War he went to the United States and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps.

He was mustered into the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, known as 1/5 , these US Marines were deployed to some of the heaviest fighting in Vietnam. The 1/5 participated in action around Chu Lai, Danang and Quang Nam.  During the war Lt Molynaeux found himself as a Junior Commissioned Officer in A Company 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, III MAF.

Tet 

The Tet Offensive was a series of surprise attacks by the Viet Cong  (rebel forces sponsored by North Vietnam) and North Vietnamese forces, on scores of cities, towns, and hamlets throughout South Vietnam.  The Tet Offensive was the most defining battle of the Vietnam war, where planning and infiltration of North Vietnamese Army regulars into South Vietnam continued relatively unnoticed over an extended period of time, and it resulted in a multi-faceted and well-coordinated attack designed to destabilise the South and enact a complete people’s overthrow of South Vietnam, with all its American and the Allied forces included. It all kicked off on a day the American and South Vietnamese forces least expected it – on the evening of the 30 January 1968 during the Tet holiday festivities (the Vietnamese New Year).

The Tet Offensive was audacious to the say the least and it even included the ‘safe’ capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon – where insurgents even breached the embassy of the United States. The Tet offensive was to cumulate in the historic city of Hue, with its iconic Citadel and Imperial Palace as a backdrop.  The battle at Hue was a gruelling street to street, house to house affair not seen since World War 2 and it took place mainly between the US Marines alongside the South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) fighting in a ferocious battle against North Vietnamese Army regular troops (NVA) and Viet Cong irregulars. It was a desperate battle which literally flattened the beautiful city of Hue.

The intensity of the US Marines’ battle for Hue is seen in this short video clip.

In the middle of the battle for Hue, on 12 February 1968 was the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines as they joined the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN), moving into the city from the north by helicopter and landing craft. The Marines went in on the left flank; the 3d ARVN Regiment was in the center, and the Vietnamese Marines, who had replaced the airborne battalions, were on the right flank. The attack ground inexorably forward. On 22 February, the Marines seized their final objective, the southeast wall of the Citadel.

By prior agreement, the Marines stayed out of the fight for the Imperial Palace. At dawn on the 24th, the South Vietnamese flag went up over the Citadel; and that afternoon, the Black Panther Company went into the now deserted Imperial Palace. Mopping up of the NVA remnants went on from 25 February until 2 March when the battle was declared over.

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Marines assaulting Dong Ba Tower in the City of Hue, Feburary 15, 1968. Photo By John Olson. (Photo Courtesy Atlantic Monthly Press)

Mini Tet

After the failure of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong irregulars withdrew into the country side and regrouped.  By mid to late 1968 a second Tet Offensive opened up, phase 2 of the Tet Offensive, especially in areas surrounding the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). These offensives became known as ‘Mini Tet’.

The US Marines initiated two key operations using the 1/5 Marines (and other Marine Battalions) to seek and destroy the enemy during Mini Tet just south of Danang, Operation Allen Brook which was quickly followed by Operation Mameluke Thrust.

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Members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division Regiment on patrol (Marine Corps/National Archives).

From the 1st to the 31 August 1968, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines found themselves taking part in Operation ‘Mameluke Thrust’ in the Southern part Dai Loc and northern part of Duc Duc districts in the Quang Nam Province.  Known generally as ‘Happy Valley’ by the Marines  the ‘operation took place just southwest of Danang in August 1968

KIA

1-5_battalion_insignia1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr was tragically Killed in Action towards the end of Operation Mameluke Thrust on the 31 August 1968 when he detonated a Viet Cong ‘Booby-trap’ (now know as an Improvised Explosive Device or IED) whilst on patrol in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. He was 22.

The US Marines took a heavy toll during Operation Mameluke Thrust, in all the Marines had suffered 269 dead and 1730 wounded, however in the standard of the time of counting ‘death toll’ or ‘body count’ they saw it as a victory claiming the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong lost 2,728 killed and 47 captured.

Remembrance

Today 1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr (service number 0103695) is remembered by both The United States of America and Australia.   His name can be found on the Vietnam War memorial –  45W LINE: 015 for anyone to pay respects to him.

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard takes a rubbing of John Louis Molynaeux Jr’s name the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC.

The then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington on March 7, 2011 and she took the special time to take a rubbing of his name.  Sadly, no such tribute or recognition has been paid to him by his other country of naturalisation – South Africa.

USMC-Officer-EmblemNext time you are in Washington and visit the Vietnam War Memorial, be sure to look him up, the Observation Post salutes you John Louis Molynaeux Jr, may your memory be forever kept alive, under all the nation’s flags with whom you served and made your home, including South Africa.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

With thanks to Graham Du Toit for his on-going work in keeping memories of these brave South Africans alive on digital media.  Mast image shows marines on patrol in ‘happy valley’ in mid 1968 during ‘Mini Tet’ – Operation Allen Brook, it would have been on a similar patrol that John Louis Molynaeux Jr would be KIA by triggering a IED.

 

A farewell tribute to General Gotze LdH

On the 8th September 2018 in Hermanus, South Africa, the South African Legion, Memorable Order of Tin Hats and South African Air Force Association said farewell to General Albie Gotze LdH in a fitting way,

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For those who wish to read my tribute at his service, and learn a little more about him, here it is:

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Farewell to General Gotze

I first met Albie in my role of Chairman of the South African Legion of Military Veterans in the United Kingdom. Along with Tinus Le Roux we obtained a mobi-chair for him from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund – it was the start of a friendship and a bond that is central and very specific to all military veterans.

I have a personal pledge to any veteran I meet who fought in World War 2 – I buy them a beer – it’s a simple gesture and a fellow warrior’s thanks to another who has sacrificed so much in what was the greatest bloodletting war mankind has ever seen – before or since.

Like Albie, I am also a pilot and we connected with our joint love of flying. I had borrowed a very powerful 745 BMW from my buddy ‘Aussie Matt’ – you guessed, he’s Australian, I figured I would take Albie to the Gecko Bar for his beer on me in Matt’s beamer. Driving there I realised Albie, as a pilot would still harbour in him that basic truth to all pilots – THE NEED – THE NEED FOR SPEED.

On the backroads, with Albie’s permission and a very tempting massive engine we decided to give the BMW a full whellie and put the boot to it – I opened up the BMW’s 4.5 Lt engine to full throttle, maximum torque, pushed back in the seats I noticed Albie’s right hand push an imaginary aircraft throttle to full tilt, and instead of scaring the heck out him all I saw was a massive smile on his face and sheer joy – in Albie’s mind he was back in one of the most powerful single engine war-birds ever built.

There’s a lot to be said for a person like Albie, but in his heart was an extremely courageous man, completely unafraid of danger – a fighter pilot – the bravest of the brave, and even in his twilight years a man still built of stronger stuff than most mortals would ever aspire to.

We got talking over that beer, and one story stands out – it’s one which demonstrates just what a man he was and his wry sense of ‘dark humour’ – a humour military veterans share as it comes from extreme adversary.

During the Second World War, Alibe had transferred from flying Spitfires during D-Day – the liberation of France, to flying the extremely fearful all rocket firing fire breathing Typhoon – in his quest to liberate Belgium and Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.

Both the Typhoon and Operation Market Garden were BEASTS in the extreme, the Typhoon was unforgiving on pilots, its massive engine, body frame and incredible amounts of power and torque took special pilots, and the Typhoon on its own claimed some of them. But the biggest claim on Typhoon pilots was Operation Market Garden, it was one of the most bloodiest encounters of the war, the toll on Typhoon pilots was extreme. Albie would later say that the fact he did not die he put down to a basic human dichotomy experienced by all men who have seen war;

… I survived because of sheer luck alone … with God’s grace.

During Operation Market Garden Albie served with RAF 137 Squadron and almost always operated at low altitude (“on the deck”) mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel. For this reason alone, flying in the Typhoon squadron was dangerous and high risk.

Please excuse the language in the house of God, but this comes from a warrior fighting a war in the  extreme speaking to military truisms. According to Albie, flying the Typhoon at this time was regarded by Allied officers as – and I quote;

“the most dangerous job that these buggers could ever have volunteered for”.

The losses and dangers were extreme. To illustrate just how dangerous this was, Albie said

“we lost a 151 pilots flying this thing (Typhoons), on Operation Market Garden alone, in just one single day we lost 21 pilots on Typhoons”.

Combat was brutal in its simplicity, according to Albie it was as simple as;

“That guys gotta be shot down (the enemy), not me!”

The Typhoon missions, although very dangerous were also very formidable. Albie describes that aside from the rocket firing capability it could also deliver a wall of lead, consider his own words

“Can you imagine yourself flying over there, in Typhoons you have two 20mm guns, each one has 4 bloody spouts .. now, the 20mm shoots 600 shots a minute, can you imagine 600, 4 of them, that’s 2400, and there’s not just that one, there’s another Typhoon behind him (the wingman), that is 4800 bullets you have coming at the enemy”

Albie’s aircraft was hit on many occasions and he made a few crash landings with damaged aircraft. He recalled on such incident as if they were yesterday, this is a very brave account of combat flying, honest, harrowing and even a little funny (in the darkest manner of ‘military humour’).

“I got shot one day, as a matter of fact I was watching this guy shooting at me, with a 88 mm, he shot at me and I looked and I said to myself ‘this bastard is going to kill me’ … he shot me at the back of the fuselage, but, the 88mm did not explode for some unknown reason, God must have said ‘I not gonna put this fuse on’, But it did cut my trim-wire to my rudder and all it does is that your aircraft just rolls over and you go strait in, but fortunately I was able to ‘catch it’ (arrest the aircraft roll with opposite ailerons);

… but I could only fly at an angle a friend radioed and said ‘Albie are you in trouble?’, I said to him ‘yes’, I can’t see out, at this time as I got down into the cockpit and grabbed hold of the rudder bar in order to keep on flying, otherwise I would go down. He said “I will fly on top of you”, been down there you can’t see out of the cockpit, all I could see was up, he brought me home like that, him flying on top (as a visual marker), me underneath. When I did the crash landing, that scoop on ‘the typhoon’ is full of oil and it sparked and catches fire quickly, I was so scared, before the plane came to a stop, I was out of the cockpit and I ran so fast that the ambulance could not catch me”.

Wow, there’s everything in that story, drama, bravery, camaraderie, action and comedy … and this was one of many many simiar stories Albie could relate, not just from WW2, but the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Angolan Border War … this was a man who had truly seen life and death, he had endured some of the greatest blows in history and survived. His testimony is the testimony of true Christian soldier, one of God’s most fearsome and most benevolent of men.

Albie was one of the last of the ‘few’ as Winston Churchill called the brave pilots who saved Britain and liberated Europe and the world of Nazi tyranny, he was also one of a small number of South Africans to take part in D-Day and he’s one of only three South Africans to receive France’s highest award – the Legion de Honour in recognition and grateful thanks from the entire country of France for the freedom they enjoy today. This was a very special man and as a Legionnaire I was extremely proud to be involved in the granting of the Legion de Honour to him.

It is always appropriate when a pilot passes on, for a fellow pilot to recite a poem written by a Royal Air Force pilot – John Gillespie during World War 2 It’s called High Flight and he penned just before he was tragically killed in combat over France in his Spitfire … and I am honoured to read it for Albie today;

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

You would have witnessed today military people saluting Albie – but what is the salute? The British style of salute – long way up and short way down with open palm has an ancient medieval root – it was used to signify to another warrior that you do not have your sword in your right hand, its empty – you honour a fellow warrior by recognising him, you mean no harm to him and you come in peace. You are a friend.

Brigadier General Albie Gotze Legion de Honour . May you Rest In Peace, your memory will not be forgotten as long as the bond of brotherhood and friendship exists between military personnel. It is in this peace – and with this honour mind, that I as a fellow officer wish you well in your final flight to touch the face of God …. And I salute you.

Peter Dickens

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Links to Albie on the Observation Post “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Painting of ‘Typhoon Full Frontal’ on the masthead, artist Derrick Dickens, copyright Peter Dickens

South Africa was represented at the Great Pilgrimage 90

G and wreathOn the Wednesday, 8th August 2018, The Royal British Legion recreated its 1928 pilgrimage to World War 1 battlefields for thousands of Legion members (90 years on). Great Pilgrimage 90 (GP90) was the Legion’s biggest membership event in modern history. This Great Pilgrimage ended with in a Remembrance Parade held at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.  The South African sacrifice was acknowledged and remembered at the Great Pilgrimage by the Royal British Legion – South African Branch who laid a special national wreath on behalf of the South African nation as a whole.

To see the original Royal British Legion Great Pilgrimage of 8th August 1928 held 90 years ago, here is an old Pathé ‘silent movie’ newsreel of it (movies did not have sound in 1928), when viewing it note the extent that the Royal British Legion has grown since then:

Menin Gate Parade – GP90

The South African branch of the Royal British Legion was up-front and present in a massive march past, in this sea of standards The South African Branch standard flying proudly with its Churchill Cup scrolls. A special ‘South Africa’ wreath was laid on behalf of South Africa at the Menin Gate itself.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial dedicated to the British, South African and other Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient in World War 1 and whose graves are unknown.

There are 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers’ names etched into the gate acknowledging the ‘missing’ who were never found or lie in a grave known only unto God, of which 564 are from South Africa’s forces.

A commemorative service at the Gate mark the centenary of the start of the series of battles that claimed thousands of British, Commonwealth, Allied, enemy and civilian lives during the ‘Last 100 Days’ of the First World War.

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The branch received special permission from the Royal British Legion to lay their wreath on behalf of the country South Africa, as a national wreath (and not a branch wreath). The South Africa wreath was laid in a wreath laying ceremony which saw 1,152 Royal British Legion branch representatives lay a wreath, each containing a message from their community.

38536411_1628560113922305_3087323600189915136_nThe South African wreath contained a message which read “we will always remember them” in some of the key languages of South Africa on the message (space permitting) – English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, North Sotho, South Sotho and Siswati.

The wreaths were arranged into a display within the Menin Gate grounds and will remain in place for public viewing for at least two months. Prominent in the parade were The Last Post Association (LPA), which was also founded in 1928. From that day its members have performed the Last Post at Menin Gate. The only interruption to this homage to the fallen of the First World War was during the Second World War. Everyday, the Last Post Association’s buglers sound the last post at the memorial. It was most fitting  that they lead the GP90 service with ‘the last post’.

Following the parade, everyone there were encouraged to join together to take part in an afternoon of comradeship and entertainment in the Great Square, where there were tableaux, stalls, exhibits & music.

38735944_1846743388736513_606755359960334336_nFor those who did not see it live this video will give you an idea of just how prestigious the parade at Menin Gate was and what a military veteran’s association of magnitude in full colour looks like on parade.

Note: There are over 1,100 Standards from various Royal British Legion Districts, Counties and Branches on parade, a statement of remembrance like this has yet to be replicated on this scale by any single military veterans association anywhere in the world, it’s simply stunning.

It is with immense pride that South Africa was represented and the branch can now add the coveted ‘Ypres 2018’ scroll to the South African Branch Standard.

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Delville Wood Parade No. 1

Prior to the Remembrance Parade at Menin Gate, the Royal British Legion conducted a guided Battlefield tour for all participating members and family.  Over the two days prior to Wednesday’s march (described above). They visited two different general areas, Ypres and the Somme.

Whilst on the Somme the Royal British Legion visited the Delville Wood battlefield, the same wood which saw such tremendous South African sacrifice and bravery when they were ordered to ‘hold it at all costs’.

It was with great honour that Royal British Legion South African branch was able to conduct two small parades in honour of South African sacrifice.

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Parade No.1 at Delville Wood

The first parade was conducted by the South Africans themselves in honour of South African and Rhodesian sacrifice in the wood. The Exhortation and Kohima epitaph was conducted by Robert Perkins from the RBL Gloucestershire County District and RBL Gloucester City Branch.  Graeme Scott attended Standard Bearing duties.

Once again a special wreath was made for the South African branch’s parade at the Delville Wood.  The wreath was laid by Major Herb Cameron from the Royal Logistics Corps and a member of RBL Wotton-Under-Edge Branch.  Maj. Cameron was born and educated in Bulawayo and Plumtree, Zimbabwe to Shona and British heritage.

The message on the wreath says a lot about the sacrifice at Delville Wood and Remembrance, it was an extract from “A Soldiers Song” by Lt. Frederick C. Cornell and it reads:

wreathSleep soft, ye dead,
for God is good –
And peace has
come to Delville Wood!

Battlefield Pilgrimage – Parade No.2 at Delville Wood

The second parade was conducted by four Royal British Legion branches at Delville Wood who asked the South African branch to participate with them in their parade, which they were deeply honoured to do.  Delville Wood remains a key site for British sacrifice as after the South Africans were withdrawn from the wood was handed to British regiments to hold.

In this parade the Parade Marshal was Tony Eglin from RBL Ulverston Branch, ex 4th Bn Kings Own Royal Border Regiment. The bugler was Andy Edgar from RBL Kendal branch, ex 7th Parachute regiment, Royal Horse Artillery.

The Standards on parade – left to right – Rod Eglin from RBL Bransty branch, Janet Eglin from RBL Ulverston Branch and Graeme Scott from the RBL South African Branch.  It is appropriate that we end the battlefield tour by this most prestigious remembrance organisation with a two minutes of silence at Delville Wood from a video taken at this parade.

The Royal British Legion is a sister organisation of The South African Legion and we share a common root as founders of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.

As Branch Chairman of The Royal British Legion South African branch I would like to express my sincere thanks to Graeme Scott and Merle McArdle who represented the branch – Graeme proudly carried the Standard and Merle laid the wreath. Bravo Zulu to you both. Graeme is also a proud Legionnaire of The South African Legion.  Also thanks go out to Tony Povey, the Vice Chairman, David Watt, the Secretary and Paul Gladwin, the Treasurer for their hard work behind the scenes.  In addition thanks to Lawrence Butler-Perks, the National Branches District Secretary for his hard work and the support of the National Branches District, especially the National Memorial Arboretum Branch for their exceptional support.

You have all done a nation proud.


Written by Peter Dickens – Branch Chairman, Royal British Legion South African Branch

Related work and links:

Delville Wood 100 Centenary: ‘Springbok Valour’… Somme 100 & the Delville Wood Centenary

In Flanders Fields – Afrikaans: In Vlaandere se Velde

The common root between the Royal British Legion and The South African Legion: Legions and Poppies … and their South African root

Video taken by Johan Moors on YouTube.  Images copyright Royal British Legion, original movie copyright Pathé news.  Video of SA Parade at Delville Wood taken by Alf Forrester, RBL Hardwick and district branch.  Second parade video at Delville Wood taken by Merle Scott of the RBL South African Branch.

Delville Wood’s ‘Weeping Cross’

crossThere is a poignant and very mystical annual occurrence in South Africa that reminds us every year of the blood sacrifice of South Africans during The Battle of Delville Wood. Every year, in July on the anniversary of the battle itself, a cross made from wood recovered from the shattered tress of the battlefield inexplicably ‘weeps blood’

In Pietermaritzburg there is Christian cross that becomes tacky with red resin just a few days before the anniversary of the massacre of thousands of South African soldiers at the Battle of Delville Wood during the Somme offensive of 1916.

The ‘weeping’ cross has wept these resin “tears” almost every single year, and this phenomenon only coincides with the anniversary of the bloody battle that started it in the first place on July 14, 1916.

The Legend

At the end of World War 1, on return to South Africa, the Commanding officer of the South African Infantry Brigade in France, General Lukin brought back some timber cut from surviving Pinus Sylvester Pine tree (Scots pine) which had grown in abundance at the Delville Wood battleground before much of it was shattered and razed. This wood was to be used to make three crosses to serve as war memorials located in Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Durban to commemorate the Battle of Delville Wood (other Christian crosses commemorating the battle are also found in Pretoria at the Union Buildings and Johannesburg and St John’s High School). The ‘Pietermaritzburg’ cross is the only one on the three crosses that “weeps” and this phenomenon has baffled experts for years.

The sticky red resin makes its usual annual appearance from a crack near the inscription and knots in the wood on both sides of the crossbar, and over 100 years after the battle, scientists still find it difficult to come up with explanations for the leaking resin.

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Known as the “Weeping Cross of Delville”, this cross became a sensation in Natal over many years.  The weeping of ‘blood’ came to symbolise the tremendous bloodletting of World War 1 and the Battle of Delville Wood.  A legend developed, with people believing that the wood ‘weeps for all the lost soldiers.’   For many years folklore and legend also stated that it would weep until the last survivor of Delville Wood answered the ‘Sunset Call’; however when the last survivor died some years back the cross continued to weep ‘blood’.

The legacy

In the opening weeks of the Somme Offensive in July 1916.  On the 14th July 1916 the South African Infantry on the Somme were ordered to protect British troops who had just taken the village of Langueval and hold the adjacent wood about a square mile in size (dubbed ‘devils wood’), and hold it against German attack “at all costs”.

Of the 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade who launched the initial attack in the wood, only 29 officers and 751 men eventually walked out only six days later on the 20th July 1916. These men held their objective at a massive cost, even reverting to hand to hand combat to hold the wood   when the endless barrages of German artillery file abated – artillery fire rained down on the South African positions at 500 shells/minute razing the wood to just shattered tree stumps (in fact only one original tree survives to this day) – the depth of bravery required to do this under this fire power is simply staggering to contemplate. The losses sustained by the South Africans were one of the greatest sacrifices of the war.

Of the dead and missing, only 142 were given a proper burial and only 77 of those were able to be identified.  Most the dead still lie unmarked and unidentified in the wood to this day, exactly where they fell, it is this that makes a visit to Delville wood such a solemn and heart-breaking experience.

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Major-General Sir H T Lukin, commanding 5th Division, presenting decorations at the South African Brigade’s memorial service at Delville Wood, 17 February 1918.

Pietermaritzburg’s cross originally stood at the intersection of Durban and Alexandra Roads but was seen to be a traffic hazard and was moved to the Natal Carbineers Garden. In July 1956 it was moved to the MOTH Remembrance Garden in Pietermaritzburg, where it has been ever since.  The Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) ‘Allan Wilson’ shell-hole oversees its good keeping in conjunction with The South African Legion’s Pietermaritzburg branch.

 

In terms of the two other Delville Wood crosses, one is located at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and the other is located at The Castle in Cape Town, as said – neither of them “weep”.

Some explanations 

Some explanations have been offered for the mysterious ‘weeping’ of the Pietermaritzburg Delville Wood Cross, Chemists who analysed samples of the substance in the past found traces of lower linseed oil fragments and pine resin. This was expected as the carpenter, William Olive, soaked the cross in linseed oil before he worked on it. However, the phenomenon baffles forestry experts as it is unusual for wood to continue producing resin for such a long time – especially considering it has now been doing this for over 100 years.

What adds significantly to the mystery of the weeping cross is that Pietermaritzburg’s cross is the only one of the three that weeps at this exact time every year.

Also adding to the mystery is the fact that existing Pine trees in France ooze this resin during the heat of summer, while the cross situated in Pietermaritzburg does so only in winter and specifically over the period of the anniversary of the Delville Wood battle.

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“Devil’s Trench” in Delville Wood on the Somme battlefield photographed on 3 July 1917, a year after the fighting.

One suggestion offers the opposite to the ‘expansion’ only experienced by the Pine in France in summer-time and puts forward that is the dry, cold weather experienced around Pietermaritzburg in winter-time, which would cause the wood to shrink and hence forces the resin out.

However, all these suggestions aside, experts like Dr Ashley Nicholas from the school of Biology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville campus have maintained that it still remains an absolute scientific mystery and all theories put forward to date are sheer guess-work.  His position has also been backed up by the Forestry Department’s scientific research council who maintain that no one has yet been able to provide concrete insight into it.

In Conclusion

As long as the legend of the weeping cross continues, it will continue to keep us mindful of the sacrifice at Delville Wood, and the forge it stamped on our young nation’s identity as a ‘South African’ one in 1916.  When it will stop nobody knows, and here is where the cross’ current caretakers i.e. the war veterans in the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) and South African Legion of Military Veterans (SA Legion) are possibly right – perhaps it will only stop ‘weeping’ when true peace is found and all wars end.

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Chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg branch of the SA Legion  Peter Willson (right) and vice chairperson Dean Arnold view the refurbished Garden of Remembrance that houses the Delville Wood weeping cross.

Related links and work

Springbok Valour – Battle of Delville Wood Centenary ‘Springbok Valour’… Somme 100 & the Delville Wood Centenary

In Flanders Fields (Afrikaans) ‘In Flanders Fields’ translated into Afrikaans for the Somme 100 commemoration, July 2016

William Faulds VC Taking gallantry at Delville Wood to a whole new level; William Faulds VC MC

A Diary from Delville Wood A South African soldier’s diary captures the horror of Delville Wood

Mascots at Delville Wood: Nancy the Springbok Nancy the Springbok

Mascots at Delville Wood: Jackie the Baboon Jackie; The South African Baboon soldier of World War One

The Battle of Delville Wood 500 shells/min fell on the Springboks … “the bloodiest battle hell of 1916”


Researched by Peter Dickens.

Reference Maritzburg Sun, The Witness – Kwa Zulu Natal.  Image copyrights – The Witness and The Imperial War Museum.

The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

There is a very big elephant in the room when it comes to the South African Naval fraternity’s commemoration and remembrance undertakings.  Very often in the veteran fraternity and South African Navy circles there’s a raging argument – why does the South African Navy and SANDF only commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi during World War 1 when scant attention is given to the sinking of the SAS President Kruger?  It’s ‘political’ is the universal chant of disbelief and failed honour, a travesty of the African National Congress’ (ANC) rhetoric of constantly vanquishing the ‘old’ navy and SADF statutory forces.

But they are ignoring a very big ‘elephant’, something that began as a travesty long before the ANC came to power in 1994.  It’s an elephant that sits squarely at the door of the old Apartheid Nationalist government and is entirely their doing.  When they came to power they began vanquishing anyone who supported ‘Britain’ during World War 2 as some sort of traitor, made worse because the South African Navy was so intrinsically tied to the Royal Navy via the Simonstown agreement that they never really instituted memorials or commemorations to honour them.  To the old Afrikaner nationalists, especially when it came to the Navy, this was ‘Britain’s problem’ to remember any sacrifice prior to 1948 or even prior to 1957 for that matter when the naval base at Simonstown was formally handed over by Britain to South Africa.

As a result the scope of our World War 2 sacrifice barely gets a mention in the ‘Mendi vs. President Kruger’ argument.   In fact the scope, the size of this sacrifice will come as a surprise to many South Africans – including our Naval veterans fraternity and current Navy personnel.

The ‘elephant’ of sacrifice 

To give you an idea of just how BIG this ‘elephant in the room is, lets cover the Honour Roll – it far outstrips any South African Naval sacrifice in the post world war era.  Yet the South African Navy and the current government gives absolutely no attention to it, not at all – not one single official South African Navy (SAN) parade or ceremony.  Not even a dedicated Naval memorial is given to these men.

We start with South Africa’s own ship’s lost in World War 2, all of them minesweepers. (Note on the honour roll when reading it SANF means the member was part of the ‘South African Naval Forces’ and MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’).

The first South African ship lost in the Mediterranean near Tobruk was the HMSAS Southern Floe with its remarkable tale of a single survivor (see this link for a full story – click here: The HMSAS Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss & it carries with it a remarkable tale of survival.).

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HMSAS Southern Floe

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the HMSAS Southern Floe as follows:

ANDERS, John, Steward, 69637 (SANF), MPK
BOWER, Robert, Stoker 1c, 69935 (SANF), MPK
BRAND, Leslie A, Able Seaman, 69828 (SANF), MPK
CAULFIELD, Patrick, Steward, 69802 (SANF), MPK
CHANDLER, Charles R D, Cook (S), 69613 (SANF), MPK
CHENOWETH, Richard, Stoker 1c, 67420 (SANF), MPK
FAIRLEY, Alexander E, Sub Lieutenant SANF, MPK
FRIEDLANDER, Cecil A, Able Seaman, 114703 (SANF), MPK
GARDINER, Elliott, Able Seaman, 67260 (SANF), MPK
GREENACRE, John H, Leading Seaman, 69677 (SANF), MPK
HEASMAN, Gratwicke E E, Engine Room Artificer 4c, 69784 (SANF), MPK
HOGG, Roy S, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
INNES, Ian Mck, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
LEWIS, John Edward Joseph, :Lieutenant, 70019 (SANF), MPK
MARSH, Reginald H Y, Able Seaman, 69911 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William N, Able Seaman, 69787 (SANF), MPK
NEL, Eloff R, Able Seaman, 69635 (SANF), MPK
NICHOLSON, Douglas O, Able Seaman, 66833 (SANF), MPK
PUGH, John R, Able Seaman, 66877 (SANF), MPK
RYALL, David R, Able Seaman, 69999 (SANF), MPK
SHIMMIN, William, Leading Stoker, 69661 (SANF), MPK
SIENI, Joseph F, Able Seaman, 69788 (SANF), MPK
SNELL, Harold W, Leading Telegraphist, 69827 (SANF), MPK
STANLEY, Gordon J, Able Seaman, 66963 (SANF), MPK
WALTON, Dudley N, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK

The second ship lost was the HMSAS Parktown, which went down fighting during the Fall of Tobruk in Libya, with the HMSAS Bever fighting at her side out the port (see this link for a full story – click here: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown).

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HMSAS Parktown

The Honour Roll of sacrifice when the HMSAS Parktown sank on 21 June 1942 as follows:

BROCKLEHURST, Peter S, Able Seaman, 70457 (SANF), MPK
COOK, John A, Stoker 1c, 70256 (SANF), MPK
JAGGER, Leslie J, Lieutenant SANF, 70016 (SANF), MPK
MCEWAN, William A, Steward, 69686 (SANF), MPK
TREAMER, Arthur P, Petty Officer, 71109 (SANF), MPK

The third ship to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown’s sister ship, the HMSAS Bever which went down later in the war during the liberation of Greece when it struck a mine, and carries with its story a tale of miraculous survivors (see this link for a full story – click here“Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever).

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HMSAS Bever

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on 30 November 1944 when the HMSAS Bever sank as follows:

ARMERANTIS, Sideris, Stoker 1c, 282953 V (SANF), MPK
DE PACE, Luigi S, Petty Officer, 66539 V (SANF), MPK
DE REUCK, Leslie B, Telegraphist, 75320 V (SANF), MPK
DREYER, Peter, Leading Cook (S), 585236 V (SANF), MPK
HIGGS, George E, Stoker 1c, 562712 V (SANF), MPK
HUSBAND, Charles A, Stoker 1c, 280098 V (SANF), MPK
KETTLES, John D, Engine Room Artificer 3c, 562458 (SANF), MPK
LAWLOR, Robert J, Act/Chief Motor Mechanic 4c, P/KX 127225, MPK
LINDE, Carl M, Able Seaman, 71194 V (SANF), MPK
LYALL, John D R, Stoker 1c, 562179 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, William R, Leading Wireman, 562794 V (SANF), killed
PHILLIPSON, Joseph H, Signalman, 181160 V (SANF), MPK
RODDA, Harold J, Stoker 1c, 70451 V (SANF), (served as Harold J Andresen), MPK
SCRIMGEOUR, Quintin, Petty Officer, 69691 (SANF), MPK
TRUSCOTT, E (initial only) W, Able Seaman, 585184 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Claude, Leading Seaman, 586420 V (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Desmond, Able Seaman, 70433 V (SANF), killed

The final minesweeper to be lost was the HMSAS Treern, it was tragically lost right at the end of the war with only one single survivor, and it remains the last South African vessel to be lost in action, even to this day, yet hardly anyone is aware of her history (see this link for a full story – click hereThe last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern).

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HMSAS Treern

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the 12 January 1945 when HMSAS Treern sank follows:

ANDERSON, Robert D, Engine Room Artificer 2c, 71067 V (SANF), MPK
BARKER, Ronald E, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
BLAKE, Robert E, Petty Officer, P 6572 (SANF), MPK
BROWN, Ian H, Able Seaman, 71719 V (SANF), MPK
BYRNE, Patrick, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
DAVIE, William, Stoker 1c, 70681 V (SANF), MPK
ENGELBEEN, Leslie C, Able Seaman, 562235 V (SANF), MPK
JACOBZ, Frank H, Stoker 1c, 70374 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, George A, Stoker 1c, 70728 V (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, William G, Cook (S), 585360 (SANF), MPK
MCLARTY, William D, Leading Stoker, 562246 V (SANF), MPK
MCLEAN, Godfrey, Able Seaman, 562455 V (SANF), MPK
NILAND, St John E, Able Seaman, 209905 (SANF), MPK
PERRY, Desmond A, Petty Officer, 71211 (SANF), MPK
REID, Kenneth H, Signalman, 562143 V (SANF), MPK
SALCOMBE, Francis R, Stoker 1c, 58589 V (SANF), MPK
STAPELBERG, Willem J, Steward, 562221 V (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, Donald A, Able Seaman, 70426 (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, George A M, Leading Seaman, 586403 V (SANF), MPK
TRAFFORD, William O, Able Seaman, 71222 V (SANF), MPK
VILJOEN, Dennis A, Telegraphist, 70984 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Charles W, Petty Officer, 562200 V (SANF), MPK
WULFF, Emil F, Leading Seaman, 562466 V (SANF), MPK

Then there is the loss of Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax, the most senior South African Naval Officer to be lost during World War 2, he counts himself as one of the founders of the modern South African Navy and yet he is hardly remembered at all. (see this link for a full story Guy Hallifax, the most senior African Naval officer lost during WW2).  He is recorded here:

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Director of South African Forces

HALLIFAX, Guy W, Rear Admiral, SANF, air accident, killed

Then, consider these South African Naval Force casualties on other South Africa ships and in other South African operations during the war:

LUCAS, E W R, Chief Engineman, 66756 (SANF), died 4 October 1939
NICOLSON, Andrew, Cook, 63827 (SANF), died 13 October 1939
BESTER, A T, Leading Stoker, 6640 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Africana
HUGHES, T J, Stoker, 71383 (SANF), died 10 May 1941
CASSON, William, Able Seaman, 252935 V (SANF), died on the HMSAS Tordonn
HOLT, Albert E, Telegraphist, 69576 (SANF), killed on the HMSAS Southern Maid
VAN NOIE, Norman, Able Seaman, CN/72134 (SANF), died 20 September 1941
ST CLAIR-WHICKER, Willie H, Able Seaman, 67292 (SANF), died on 21 September 1941
SMITH, P, Able Seaman, CN/72263 (SANF), died 7 April 1942
RUITERS, Walter, Stoker, CN/72081 (SANF), died 21 July 1942
MURPHY, J, Able Seaman, CN/72256 (SANF), died 16 August 1942
FROST, M L, Able Seaman, CN/71804 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Receiffe
PETERSON, W J, Able Seaman, CN/72184 (SANF), died 4 September 1942
REHR, Cecil, Able Seaman, 69877 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Roodepoort
CARLELSE, Frederick, Able Seaman, CN/72004 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Soetvlei
PETERS, Norman, Leading Stoker, 66847 (SANF), died 3 January 1943
DELL, Rodney, Able Seaman, 68866 (SANF), killed 24 March 1943
HENDERSON, Alexander P, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 562099 (SANF), killed at Benghazi, Libya
JAMES, H, Steward, CN/72252 (SANF), died 9 May 1943
ORGILL, C B, Able Seaman, CN/71947 (SANF), died 14 May 1943
LA CHARD, Edwin, Lieutenant Commander, SANF, died 20 May 1943
LUCAS, A W, Able Seaman, 152875 (SANF), died 28 May 1943
BATEMAN, T, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 71627 (SANF), died 30 June 1943
ROBBERTS, Kaspar, Petty Officer, P/5285 (SANF), died 1 July 1943
BOSHOFF, Christofel J, Able Seaman, 70339 (SANF), killed on HMSAS Blaauwberg
LENZ, William, Able Seaman, 69544 (SANF), died on 29 August 1943
BESTEL, Emmanuel A N M, Lieutenant, SANF, died on 21 September 1943
HARLE, Paul A, Petty Officer, 71796 (SANF), died on 3 October 1943
STEELE, Ewen, Able Seaman, 71272 V (SANF), killed on HMSAS Southern Sea
BETTS, Robert, Able Seaman, 68900 (SANF), died 18 November 1943
PAGE, Robert, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, died 29 November 1943
MCLEAN, Richard, Stoker, 562567 (SANF), died 29 November 1943
HARRIS, R H, Telegraphist, 330488 (SANF), died 16 December 1943
NICHOLLS, John, Yeoman of Signals, 66824 V (SANF), died 19 December 1943
FLORENCE, John, Stoker, CN/71982 V (SANF), died 18 January 1944
DANIELS, Adam, Stoker, 72034 (SANF), died 28 January 1944
RAVENS, Albert, Able Seaman, CN/72213 V (SANF), died 31 March 1944
DE KLERK, John, Ordinary Seaman, 585868 V (SANF), died 4 May 1944
BOTHA, Herkulas, Cook, 562093 V (SANF), died 8 May 1944
BISSETT, Alexander, Lieutenant, SANF, died 16 June 1944
JENKINS, Edward G, Engine Room Artificer, 66720 V (SANF), died 14 September 1944
KEMP, Thomas, Able Seaman, CN/71015 V (SANF), died 20 September 1944
WATSON, George, Lieutenant, SANF, died 15 October 1944
BOSWELL, Louis F W, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 69756V (SANF), MPK on the 14 November 1944 on the HMSAS Treern
ABRAHAMS, Henry, Able Seaman, CN/719204 (SANF), died 19 November 1944
BERMAN, Nicholas, Ordinary Seaman, 616728V (SANF), died 22 November 1944
DIXON, Robert, Able Seaman, CN/584276 (SANF), died on 11 January 1945
TREISMAN, Gerald, Steward, 584730 V (SANF), died on 10 February 1945
LAMONT, J, Steward, 71402 (SANF), died 24 February 1945
HORNE, P D, Chief Petty Officer, 66661 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
POVEY, Leonard, Able Seaman, 71182 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
PFAFF, C E, Petty Officer Stoker, 562721 V (SANF), died 20 April 1945
CHRISTIAN, J W, Able Seaman, CN/71965 (SANF), died 5 May 1945
SIMON, Frederick, Stoker, CN/72046 V (SANF), died 8 May 1945
VAN AARDT, S, Stoker, CN/721490 (SANF), died 22 May 1945
CLARE, Frederick W, Chief Petty Officer, 69599 V (SANF), died 3 June 1945
KEOWN, R J, Able Seaman, CN/71845 (SANF), died 9 June 1945
WELCOME, J J, Able Seaman, CN/72270 (SANF), died 19 July 1945
VAN WYNGAARDT, F A, Able Seaman, 585610 V (SANF), died 21 July 1945
HEARD, George A, Lieutenant, SANF, died on the HMSAS Good Hope
COOK, W, Leading Stoker, 70527 V (SANF), died 8 August 1945

As if the above loss of South African Navy personnel is not large enough and the lack of recognition by the Navy not bad enough, there is an even bigger ‘elephant in the room’, a key factor completely overlooked by the South African Naval fraternity and the Navy itself, and that’s the South African Navy personnel seconded to the British Royal Navy and lost in the Royal Navy’s ships and shore facilities during the Second World War.

South African Naval personnel were lost on the following significant British vessel losses. Consider this very big ‘elephant in the room’ for a minute, because its getting BIGGER.  The losses of these Royal Navy ships carries long lists of South African sacrifice.

We start with all the ships containing South African Naval Forces personnel sunk during the Imperial Japanese Air Force ‘Easter Sunday’ raid on the British fleet in Colombo (this is regarded as the British ‘Peal Harbour’ just off modern day Sri Lanka) and it’s the darkest hour in terms of losses for South African Navy, yet it is neither recognised as such nor is it remembered.  (See this link for more depth:  The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated)

During this attack Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers flying from the Japanese Imperial fleet, dropped their bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire, who had a very large contingent of South African Naval personnel, she simply blew up when a  detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

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HMS Dorsetshire

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Dorsetshire sank follows:

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

The second British ship in this particular Japanese air attack, on the same day and within range of one another was the HMS Cornwall, also stuffed full of South African Naval personnel seconded to her. The HMS Cornwall was hit eight times by the same dive bombers who sank the Dorsetshire and sank bow first in about ten minutes.

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HMS Cornwall

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Cornwall  sank follows:

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

In earlier incidents on HMS Cornwall two South Africans lost their lives they are also remembered here:

AINSLIE, Roy, Petty Officer, 66382 (SANF), died on 5 September 1940
HAWKINS, Reginald D, Able Seaman, 66700 (SANF), died of illness 4 March 1942

The Easter Raid later offered a great prize for the Japanese, an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, this massive aircraft carrier was sunk a week later by the Japanese near Colombo (now Sri Lanka), the pride of the British Pacific fleet became an inferno after it was dived bombed a number of times.  It too had a long association with South Africa and a very big contingent of South African Naval Personnel. (see this link for a in-depth article on the South African Navy sacrifice abound her “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes).

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HMS Hermes

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hermes  sank follows:

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included is also a South African who served with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

Next on the list of ships lost during the Easter Raid which contained a high number of South African Naval personnel on board was HMS Hollyhock, sunk on the same day as the HMS Hermes by the same Japanese Dive Bombers on the 9th of April. Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking  “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

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HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hollyhock sank follows:

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

It was not just the Japanese Imperial Fleet, the German Navy also took its toll on the Royal Navy, and once again we find South African Naval Personnel seconded to serve on these famous ships sunk during the war.

We start with the HMS Gloucester lost on the 22 May 1941 during action off Crete. They HMS Gloucester, along with HMS Greyhound and HMS Fiji were attacked by German “Stuka” Dive Bombers. The Greyhound was sunk and Gloucester was attacked and sunk while they attempted to rescue Greyhounds survivors in the water (see this link for a full story – click here A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester).

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HMS Gloucester

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 22 May 1941 when HMS Gloucester sank follows:

ANGEL, Walter J H, Able Seaman, 67351 (SANF), MPK
AUSTIN-SMITH, John R, Ordinary Seaman, 67336 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAW-SMITH, Philip R, Ordinary Seaman, 67337 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAWE-SMITH, Sydney Q, Able Seaman, 68454 (SANF), MPK
BARBER, Edgar F, Able Seaman, 67302 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, John, Able Seaman, 67355 (SANF), MPK
CARTER, Frederick G, Able Seaman, 67345 (SANF), MPK
CHILTON, Ronald H D, Ordinary Seaman, 67335 (SANF), MPK
EDWARDS, Ronald E, Ordinary Seaman, 67384 (SANF), MPK
ELLIOT, Edward R, Leading Seaman, 66584 (SANF), MPK
GERAGHTY, Herbert C, Able Seaman, 67338 (SANF), MPK
GROGAN, Graham B, Able Seaman, 67343 (SANF), MPK
JAMES, Victor F, Ordinary Seaman, 67303 (SANF), MPK
JENSEN, Niels P, Able Seaman, 67347 (SANF), MPK
MCCARTHY, Henry F, Ordinary Seaman, 67223 (SANF), MPK
MOORE, Albert, Able Seaman, 67416 (SANF), MPK
SLATER, Bryan M, Able Seaman, 67358 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Matthew S, Able Seaman, 67359 (SANF), MPK
SONDERUP, Arthur W, Able Seaman, 67356 (SANF), MPK
STADLANDER, Rowland C, Stoker 1c, 67400 (SANF), MPK
STOKOE, Cyril A M, Act/Leading Seaman, 67264 V (SANF), MPK
SYMONS, Maurice M, Able Seaman, 68245 (SANF), MPK
THOMPSON, Walter E H, Able Seaman, 67360 (SANF), MPK
VAN DYK, Cecil H, Able Seaman, 67404 (SANF), MPK
WEBBER, Reginald, Able Seaman, 67361 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Dastrey S, Leading Seaman, 67047 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Gerald V, Act/Ordnance Artificer 4, 67375 (SANF), MPK

The HMS Gloucester was involved in earlier combat on the 8 July 1940 when it was bombed, the South African casualties are remembered here:

ALLISON, Oswald H, Able Seaman RNVR, 67349 (SANF), killed
NOWLAN, Francis C, Able Seaman RNVR, 67409 (SANF), DOW

Tragedy struck the South African Naval Forces seconded to the HMS Barham when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-331,  Three torpedoes hit HMS Barham’s port side causing it to list heavily and spread fire towards the ammunition storages. Only 2 and a half minutes passed from the torpedo impact until the ship rolled onto its side and capsized as the aft magazine exploded in an almighty explosion (see this link for a full story – click here “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!)

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HMS Barham

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 25 November 1941 when HMS Barham sank follows:

BAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)

The Italians also took a toll of British shipping, again with ships with a South African contingent and this is brought to home on the 19 December 1941, when the HMS Neptune, struck four mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield. Neptune quickly capsized (see this link for a full story – click here South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune).

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HMS Neptune

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 19 December 1941 when HMS Neptune sank follows:

ADAMS, Thomas A, Able Seaman, 67953 (SANF), MPK
CALDER, Frank T, Ordinary Seaman, 67971 (SANF), MPK
CAMPBELL, Roy M, Able Seaman, 67318 (SANF), MPK
DIXON, Serfas, Able Seaman, 67743 (SANF), MPK
FEW, Jim, Able Seaman, 67744 (SANF), MPK
HAINES, Eric G, Able Seaman, 67697 (SANF), MPK
HOOK, Aubrey C, Able Seaman, 67862 (SANF), MPK
HOWARD, Harold D, Signalman, 67289 (SANF), MPK
HUBBARD, Wallace S, Able Seaman, 67960 (SANF), MPK
KEMACK, Brian N, Signalman, 67883 (SANF), MPK
MERRYWEATHER, John, Able Seaman, 67952 (SANF), MPK
MEYRICK, Walter, Ordinary Signalman, 68155 (SANF), MPK
MORRIS, Rodney, Ordinary Signalman, 68596 (SANF), MPK
RANKIN, Cecil R, Signalman, 67879 (SANF), MPK
THORP, Edward C, Signalman, 67852 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Francis D, Able Seaman, 67462 (SANF), MPK
WILD, Ernest A, Able Seaman, 67929 (SANF), MPK

Other South Africans who had enlisted into the Royal Navy were also lost on HMS Neptune, these include (and by no means is this list definitive) the following:

OOSTERBERG, Leslie W, Stoker 1c, D/KX 96383, MPK
TOWNSEND, Henry C, Stoker 1c, D/KX 95146, MPK

On the 30 April 1942, on her return leg from Murmansk, the HMS Edinburgh was escorting Convoy QP 11 when a German Submarine U-456  torpedoed into her. The Edinburgh was carrying gold in payment by the Soviets for war equipment and she is the subject of a remarkable gold salvage after the war.  Again, she had a compliment of South African Naval Personnel (see this link for a full story – click here “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh).

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HMS Edinburgh

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 30 April 1942 when HMS Edinburgh sank follows:

DRUMMOND, Valentine W, Able Seaman, 68043 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed
VAN DORDRECHT, William H, Able Seaman, 67851 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed

On the 12 November 1942, the HMS Hecla was torpedoed by a German submarine, U-515 hitting her in the engine room. The U-boat then hit the ship with three coups de grâce sinking the vessel west of Gibraltar.  Again there is South African Naval casualty list (see this link for a full story – click here “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla).

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HMS Helca

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 12 November1942 when HMS Helca sank follows:

BENNETT, John F, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330351 (SANF), MPK
LLOYD, George H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330353 (SANF), MPK
PEERS, Charles V, Able Seaman, 562653 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Ian R, Electrical Artificer 4c, 68478 (SANF), MPK

And there’s more …. many South Africans served on a variety of Royal Navy ships and many were lost, here’s an indication which just captures South African Naval Forces personnel alone, let alone those who volunteered directly for the Royal Navy, the Honour Roll follows:

ANDERSON, Richard W N, Able Seaman, 86082 (SANF), killed 21 May 1941 on HMS Syvern
WESTON, Grant E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68498 (SANF), killed 27 August 1941 on HMS Phoebe
RASMUSSEN, Victor J S, Leading Telegraphist, 66920 (SANF), MPK 24 November 1941 on HMS Dunedin
ADAMSON, William D, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 69001 (SANF), MPK 10 December 1941 on HMS Repulse 
BECKER, Stanley H, Able Seaman, 67474 (SANF), road accident, killed 5 January 1942 on HMS Carnarvon Castle
DRURY, Frederick, Ordinary Seaman, 68315 (SANF), MPK 29 January 1942 on HMS Sotra
SCOTT, Clifford, Ordinary Telegraphist, 66973 (SANF), MPK 26 March 1942 on HMS Jaguar
BUCHANAN, Alexander, Able Seaman, 67934 (SANF), died 20 April 1942 on HMS Birmingham
COMMERFORD, Terence, Ordinary Seaman, 330258 (SANF), died 21 June 1942 on HMS Express
PRICE, David, Able Seaman RNVR, P/68529 (SANF), MP 6 July 1942 on HMS Niger
TROUT, A (initial only) N, Able Seaman, CN/72133 (SANF), died 4 August 1942 on HMS Stork
JOHNSTONE, Henry N, Lieutenant Commander (E), SANF, 66727, died 18 August 1942 on HMS Birmingham
BAWDEN, Wilfred R, Stoker 2c RNVR, 330425 (SANF), DOWS 16 September 1942 HMS Orion
NIGHTSCALES, Norman, Writer, 68148 (SANF), MPK 30 December 1942 on HMS Fidelity
GITTINS, Victor L, Ordinary Seaman, 69325 (SANF), died 27 January 1943 on HMS Assegai (training base)
PLATT, Ronald M, Petty Officer, 67160 V (SANF), accident, killed 26 February 1943 on HMS President III (shore establishment)
CROSSLEY, Alfred H, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
DE KOCK, Victor P De C, Ty/Lieutenant, SANF, MPK7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
LOUW, Joseph, Stoker, CN 72175 (SANF), illness, died 2 December 1943 on HMS Stork
ATKIN, William B, Lieutenant SANF, illness, died 26 January 1944 on HMS Northern Duke
SHIELDS, Eric E M, Lieutenant, SANF, died 12 April 1944 on HMS Pembroke IV
HOWDEN, Russell K, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 4 January 1945 HMS ML 1163, Harbour Defence Motor Launch
CLARKE, Reginald E, Ty/Lieutenant Commander, SANF, air crash, MPK 24 July 1945 on HMS Adamant
LIDDLE, John, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 8 August 1945 on HMS Barbrake

Then lets consider the South African Naval Personnel serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (the Royal Navy’s own Air Force separate to the Royal Air Force), and here the following South Africans are on the FAA Honour Roll (excluding Air Mechanic Riley from the Fleet Air Arm, recorded on the HMS Hermes loss).  For a full story of these South Africans lost in the FAA see this link – click here South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

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BOSTOCK, R S, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 800 Squadron, HMS Ark Royal, died 13 June 1940
BROKENSHA, G W, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 888 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 11 August 1942
CHRISTELIS, C, Sub/Lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve FAA 803 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 1 August 1942
JUDD, F E C, Lieutenant Cmdr, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 880 Squadron, HMS Indomitable, died 12 August 1942
LA GRANGE, Antony M, Sub Lieutenant (A), SANF, Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)1772 Sqn HMS Indefatigable, air operations, MPK 28 July 1945
MACWHIRTER, Cecil J, Ty/Sub Lieutenant (A), Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 851 Squadron HMS Shah, air crash, SANF, MPK 14 April 1944
O’BRYEN, W S, Sub/Lt Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 762 Squadron, HMS Heron, died 26 November 1942
WAKE, Vivian H, Ty/Lieutenant (A), FAA Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 815 Squadron HMS Landrail, air crash, SANF, MPK 28 March 1945

Finally there are South African Naval personnel found in the Merchant Navy, to which they were also seconded and again the Honour Roll lists:

SS Tunisia, ship loss
ADAMS, Douglas E H, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 66378 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
ST La Carriere, ship loss
DORE, Frank B, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 67218 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Laconia, ship loss
ROSS, Robert, Stoker 2c, 69119 (SANF), (Victory, O/P), DOWS
SS Llandilo, ship loss
CRAGG, Ronald F, Able Seaman (DEMS), 66488 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Ceramic, ship loss
MOSCOS, John G, Leading Writer, 66786 (SANF), (SANF, O/P), MPK
SS Empress of Canada, ship loss
COCHRANE, Joseph, Engine Room Artificer 3c, P 68947 (SANF), (Pembroke, O/P), MPK
SS Empire Lake, ship loss
FLINT, John M, Act/Able Seaman (DEMS), P 562749 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK

More names…

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavyNow consider this, we have not even begun to scratch properly at the honour roll, this above list is still highly inaccurate with many names missing.  We have no real idea of the thousands of South Africas who volunteered and died whilst serving in The Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Navy itself, in fact we’ve barely got our heads around it.  Fortunately a handful of South Africans are working on it, almost daily, but it’s a mammoth task as these names are found on Royal Navy honour rolls and it’s a matter of investigating the birthplace of each and every British casualty.  The records of South African volunteers joining the Royal Navy lost to time really.

In conclusion

The only other ship the South African Navy has lost since the HMSAS Treern at the end of the Second World War in a more modern epoch was the SAS President Kruger, and unlike the Treern, whose loss was in combat, the Kruger’s loss was due to a tragic accident at sea (see “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK).

PK

These combat losses were one thing, however the same erasing of history is currently happening with the accidental loss in more recent times of SAS President Kruger (the PK), the ‘old’ SADF were very embarrassed by the loss (in effect by tragedy and circumstance we sank our own flagship) and the SADF never really got around to undertake a National Parade to commemorate and remember it.  Also in comparison to the bigger picture the loss of 16 South African Navy personnel on the PK is very small indeed, however no less important – and here’s the inconvenient truth, they were ‘swept under the rug’ by the old SADF and remain conveniently swept under the rug by the new SANDF.

On the World War 2 losses, the incoming ANC government from 1994 have fared no better than the old Nat government – they have merely lumped all the wartime combat losses of the HMSAS Southern Floe, the HMSAS Parktown, the HMSAS Bever and the HMSAS Treern into a ‘colonial’ issue not of their history or time, and as for the SAS President Kruger that was part of the ‘Apartheid’ forces in their minds, and as such to be vanquished.

The net result is the South African Navy simply does not have any national parades to commemorate or recognise any of its major losses at sea.  The South African Army at least has the Delville Wood Parade (the South African Army’s biggest singular combat loss, a WW1 incident), the South African Air Force has the Alpine 44 Memorial Parade (the SAAF’s biggest tragedy, a WW2 incident), the South African Navy …. nothing!

Instead the South African Navy (SAN) focuses on the loss of the Mendi as a SAN Maritime loss, even though the Mendi was under commission to the Royal Navy, and rather inconveniently the South Africa Navy did not really exist in World War 1, it was only really created just before World War 2.  Then again, the SS Mendi was also carrying South African Army troops in the form of the South African Labour Corps, not South African Navy personnel (the SAN didn’t exist in any event).

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The Mendi is a both a wartime and political tragedy,  The silence and subsequence recognition is a national healing one (see Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard ).  As such it’s now a National Memorial Parade, part of ‘Armed Forces Day’ and one for the entire SANDF to commemorate and remember – and rightly so.  But is it a SA Navy specific commemoration – not really – no.

In all this the Navy still dogmatically refuses to host its own National Commemoration to its own naval actions and tragedies, it’s just too politically inconvenient, and wouldn’t it be nice if South African Navy can see past it and see its Naval sacrifice on its own ships, and those of SAN personnel on Royal Navy ships and finally just institute an ‘All at Sea’ Naval Memorial Parade in Remembrance or erect a full Naval memorial (similar to the erected by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth)?

Very small ‘All at Sea’ commemorations are done by the odd South Africa Legion branch and odd MOTH Shellhole, on a very local basis – driven by a tiny group of individuals.  Nobel in their undertakings no doubt, but these remain very small private initiatives attended by only a handful and is it really enough?

As demonstrated, The South African Navy’s honour roll for World War 2 is a staggering and very long list – it’s an elephant, a very big one at that and it’s a growing elephant, even to this day.  It’s well time we seriously look at ourselves, examine our values as to what constitutes sacrifice for the greater good of man and acknowledge it properly.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  The honour roll extracted from ‘Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2’ by Don Kindell.  Additional names gleaned from honour rolls published by Col Graham Du Toit (retired).