The Forces Sweetheart & The Lady in White, two iconic women of WW2

On the 100th birthday of Dame Vera Lynn, we look at two iconic women from the Second World War, one British and one South African. both friends and both famed for singing to troops on quaysides. Here is Dame Vera Lynn (known to the troops as “The Forces Sweetheart”) on the left and Perla Siedle Gibson (Known to the troops as “The Lady In White”) on the right whilst Vera Lynn was on tour in South Africa in the 1950’s.

This photo was taken at the M.O.T.H. Headquarters in Durban (Warrior’s Gate), in the centre between these two iconic women is South African military veteran Harold William (Nobby) Clarke who was a Custodian of Warrior’s Gate.

Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917), widely known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart”, she is an English singer, songwriter and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War. During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “There’ll Always Be an England”.

She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the US and recording such hits as “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” and her UK Number one single “My Son, My Son”. Her last single, “I Love This Land”, was released to mark the end of the Falklands War. In 2009, at age 92, she became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart.

She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children, and breast cancer. She is held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War to this day and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

On 20th March 2017, Dame Vera celebrated her 100th birthday.

Perla Siedle Gibson was a South African soprano and artist who became internationally celebrated during the Second World War as the Lady in White, when she sang troopships in and out of Durban harbour.

Gibson was born in Durban in 1888. In the early twentieth century she studied music and art in Europe and the US and gave recitals in London and New York. Her youngest brother was Jack Siedle, the South African Test cricketer.

During World War 2 Durban was an extremely busy waystation for convoys of ships en route to the fronts in North Africa and the Far East. Gibson became famous among thousands of Allied troops when she serenaded them as their ships passed in and out.

She went on to sing to more than 5,000 ships and a total of about a quarter of a million Allied servicemen. Clad in white with a red hat, she would stand at a spot at the mouth of Durban Bay where ships entering and leaving the harbour pass quite close, and sing patriotic and sentimental songs through a megaphone from a torpedoed ship, which grateful British soldiers had given her.

She died in 1971, shortly before her 83rd birthday. The year later a bronze plaque donated by men of the Royal Navy was erected to her memory on Durban’s North Pier on the spot where she used to sing. In 1995 Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a statue of Perla Gibson near the Ocean Terminal in Durban harbour.

The debt of gratitude owed by a collective world free of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Facist Italy to both these women is massive – it cannot be accounted such is the value.

Travers Barret Photographer copyright and grateful thanks to Kevin Lamprecht for sharing his Grandfather’s photograph and memories.

Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – The Ossewabrandwag

History is always a three way prism. As with South African statute forces fighting “communism” on two fronts – the Angolan Border “Bush” War and the internal “struggle” movements in the 70’s and 80’s – so too during the Second World War, this time the “struggle” movement was a little different and South African statute forces were fighting Fascism, Nazism and “National Socialism” on two fronts, both on the international stage and on the domestic front at home.

Little is known of the domestic conflict during World War 2 as it was effectively shielded and even erased from the state’s educational history curriculum – to the point that little is known about it by subsequent generations of South Africans even to this day. By far the biggest of all the domestic fascist organizations in South Africa at this time was a movement called the “Ossewabrandwag”.

The feature image shows a Ossewabrandwag rally and its leadership along with an inserted emblem of the organization. Read on for a fascinating and relatively unknown part of South African military history.

The Ossewabrandwag (OB), meaning in English “Ox-wagon Sentinel” was an anti-British and pro-Nazi German organization in South Africa during World War II. It was officially formed in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939.

As a background to it, in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Britain conquered the Boer Republics. Germany supported the Boer cause. After the war, there was a general reconciliation between Afrikaners and Britain, culminating in the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, under the leadership of former Boer fighters such as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts (who was of Cape Dutch origin fighting on the side of the Boers). South African troops, including thousands of Afrikaners, served in the British and South African Union forces during World War I and again in World War 2.

Nonetheless, many Boers from the ex Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics remembered the extremely brutal tactics used by Britain in the Boer War and remained resentful of British rule. They were especially resentful of the concentration camp and scorched earth policies engaged by the British to bring to bring an end to the guerilla tactics used by “Bitter einders” at the close of the war.

In the 1930’s the chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism was the “Purified National Party” of D. F. Malan, which later became “National Party”. As in 1914, the Second World War appeared to a relatively small group of far right wing Afrikaner nationalists as a golden opportunity to establish Afrikaaner nationalist rule and move to make South Africa a republic independent of Britain.
‘We are now ceaselessly on the road to our goal: the Republic of South Africa – the only status under which we can truly exercise the right to self-determination as a country,’ said D.F. Malan on 6 September 1939 at the on-set of the Second World War.

Prior to this, 1938 was also the centennial anniversary of the Great Trek (the migration of Boers to the interior). The Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of the Trek. Most of the migrants traveled in ox-drawn wagons, hence the group’s name. The group’s leader was Johannes Van Rensburg, a lawyer who had served previously as Secretary of Justice under Smuts (as Minister) and was an admirer of Nazi Germany. The OB at the on-set of the centennial was loosely associated to Malan’s National Party.

There were however sharp differences between van Rensburg and D.F Malan over the right course of action to be followed when South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939. Both believed that everything depended on the outcome of the war, both believed that Germany would win it, however Malan relied on negotiation with Germany to achieve his objectives, van Rensburg on the other hand believed that at some stage freedom would have to be fought for and began to formulate a militant opposition to the South African government to undermine South Africa’s war effort.

At first, relations between the National Party and the Ossewabrandwag were cordial, with most members of the Ossewabrandwag belonging to the party as well. At the higher levels, National Party leaders like P.O. Sauer and F. Erasmus (later to be made Cabinet Ministers when Malan came to power) were members of the OB as were Ossewabrandwag Generals like C.R. Swart (later South Africa’s first State President) who was a member of the Groot Raad (Chief Council) of the Ossewabrandwag, whilst Eric Louw (later to become the National Party’s Foreign Minister) was also prominent in the organisation. Even PW Botha (future South African State President) joined the Ossewabrangwag but became disillusioned with the movement and denounced them at the end of the war returning to the more mainstream National Party.

Photo of the Cape Leadership of the Ossewabrandwag, note the young later Prime Minister and President – John Vorster and PW Botha.  The second photo is van Rensberg being sworn in during a Ossewabrandwag ceremony.

Combining the impact of the war and the very dynamic personality of van Rensburg, the Ossewabrandwag soon grew into a significant force, a mass movement whose membership at its peak was estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 members.

The relationship between the Ossewabrandwag and National Party at first was very well defined and D.F. Malan even met with OB leaders in Bloemfontein which resulted in declaration known as the ‘Cradock Agreement’. It specified the two operating spheres of the two respective organizations. They undertook not to meddle in each others affairs and the National Party endevoured to focus on Afrikanerdom in the party political sphere, while the Ossewabrandwag was to operate on the other fronts of the volk (Afrikaans peoples).

In 1940 the Ossewabrandwag created within in structures an elite organization known as the Stormjaers – the storm troopers of Afrikanerdom. The formation of the Stormjaers (English meaning: Assault troops) was in essence a paramilitary wing of the OB. The nature of the Stormjaers was drawn upon the lines of Nazi Germany’s army “Storm troopers”, as were the fascist rituals and salutes, this is evidenced by the oath sworn in a by new recruits (in some instances a firearm was levelled at them whilst they read the oath): “If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me” (Afrikaans: As ek omdraai, skiet my. As ek val, wreek my. As ek storm, volg my).

The Stormjaers were deployed in variety of military operations ranging from the defence of Nationalist political platforms to pure sabotage, they dynamited post offices and railway lines and cut telephone wires. Van Rensburg even wrote “The Ossewabrandwag regards itself as the soldiery of the (South African) Republic . . . the Ossewabrandwag is the political action front of Afrikanerdom.”

The ideologies of the Nazis were penetrating deep into right wing Afrikaner political identity. In 1940, directly after Nazi German decisive victories in Europe, Otto du Plessis (later to become Administrator of the Cape under the National Party) published a pamphlet – The Revolution of the Twentieth Century – in which he openly espoused the Ossewabranwag’s policy of totalitarianism.

Oswald Pirow also publicly identified himself with National-Socialist doctrines and Nazi Germany and established the Nazi expansionist “New Order” movement inside the ranks of the former Hertzogites.

There even existed South Africa’s own Nazi party called the SANP and it’s militant wing the “Greyshirts” led by Louis Theodor Weichardt (who later became the National Party Senator for Natal). This pure Nazi movement had 5000 odd loyal followers.

Van Rensburg from the OB had always professed National Socialist, as an open admirer of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler, the ideas and rituals of membership put forward by his organization had a distinctive Nazi leaning.

According to OB political thinking, Afrikaans would be the only official language in a free, independent, Christian-National Republic. The English speaking South Africans, regarded as an “un-national” element, would be condemned to an inferior status. Anti-Communism was an important backbone of OB policy in line with Nazi hatred of communism.

The emphasis of the OB was also on race and racial purity. Members were exhorted to ‘think with your blood’, and the creed of Blut und Boden was promoted as an OB value. ‘Family, blood, and native soil – that is, next to our religion and our love of freedom, our greatest and our most sacred national heritage’ (Die O.B. 28 October 1942).

The O.B. always displayed an exaggerated interest in physical culture and the need for discipline. “Give us a master ! Give us bonds which tie us to a stable way of life” ‘ wrote van Rensburg.

On issues of family value, the leaders of the OB proclaimed that the duty of the man was to work and fight and the duty of the woman to create and tend the home and family.

In essence the Ossawabrandwag was based on the Führer-principle, fighting against the British Empire, anti capitalist – they called for the expropriation of “British-Jewish” controlled capital, the communists, the Jews and the system of parliamentarism. All based on the principles national socialism.

From the outset of the war a series of violent incidents took place between statutory force South African soldiers and the Ossewabrandwag. This all cumulated on Friday 31 January 1941, when van Rensburg was due to hold a meeting at the Johannesburg City Hall when a riot broke out between OB Stormjaers and South African Union Defence Force soldiers who were determined not to allow van Rensburg to have a platform for his support of Nazi Germany – with whom they were now at war with.

The Stormjaers were armed with sticks,pipes, batons, knives, sjamboks and even bicycle chains, while the soldiers were for the most part unarmed and the battle raged in downtown Johannesburg for two days. Armoured cars were brought in while enraged UDF soldiers set fire to Nationalist newspaper offices and set police vans alight. Tear-gas canisters were hurled in every direction between the two antagonists and the Police.

Before a commission of inquiry on the Johannesburg riot, van Rensburg declared that it was only OB discipline and restraint which had prevented reinforcements in outlying areas from being brought into town and broadening the scope of the battle.

A number of arms cache’ and hiding places for OB Stormjaers can still be found, this is  graffiti is in a cave in the Excelsior area, of the Ossewabrandwag emblem, drawn and dated by member in hiding.

In support of OB activities the National Party even came out in direct support of the OB against Smuts’ government resolution to detain and ban members of the OB. Dr D.F. Malan defended the OB in a speech on 5 March 1941, saying:

“The Ossewabrandwag has been accused of lending itself to subversive activities and also of encouraging them. Now I say: Carry out your threat. Ban it. Prevent it and prevent its meetings. If the Ossewabrandwag decides to be passively disobedient and refuses to be dissolved . . . I shall share the consequences with the Ossewabrandwag. At this stage I am prepared to say to you that if the government decides upon that act and the Ossewabrandwag decides not to submit, I shall keep my pledge”.

It was a clear sign to Smuts’ government that unity in the ranks of the Afrikanerdom movements was as unified as ever since the outbreak of the Second World War.

One very predominant member of the Ossewabrandwag was Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, South Africa’s future Prime Minister and President. Along with likeminded OB colleagues he regarded the war as an opportunity to get rid of the hated domination of the United Kingdom of South Africa and welcomed the Nazis as allies in their fight.

The firebrand nature of the Ossewabrandwag appealed to Vorster more than the National Party, so while South African troops were helping to make the world safe from Hitler’s National Socialism, Vorster was appointed as a General in the Ossewabrandwag for the Port Elizabeth district to promote the National Socialism doctrine back home. On his politics he famously announced the Ossewabrandwag’s position on Nazism and said in 1942:

‘We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism. You can call this antidemocratic principle dictatorship if you wish. In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany German National Socialism and in South Africa, Christian Nationalism.’

Vorster was eventually arrested under the emergency regulations in September 1942, he immediately went on hunger strike and after two months was transferred to Koffiefontein internment camp as prisoner No. 2229/42 in Hut 48, Camp 1. B.J. Vorster was eventually released on parole in January 1944 and placed under house arrest.

Interned alongside BJ Vorster was another Ossewabrandwag member Hendrik Johan van den Bergh who eventually went on to found the Bureau of State Security (B.O.S.S.), an intelligence agency created under the National Party on 16 May 1969 to coordinate military and domestic intelligence. Van den Bergh was to become known as the “tall assassin” given his height.

To give an idea of sabotage and violent attacks, at the height of the Second World War – 1942, Ossewabrandwag Stormjaer activities included:

Explosions over a large area of mines at Klerksdorp, Vereeniging, Delmas and in Potchefstroom the OB blew up power lines – 29 January 1942. All telegraph and telephone communication between Bloemfontein and the rest of South Africa were dislocated in one attack in February 1942.

Railway, telegraph and telephone lines in various parts of the Free State where destroyed in February 1942. Fifty-eight Stormjaers were eventually charged with high treason, and a quantity of hand grenades were found. Stormjaers also blew up two telephone poles behind the Pretoria Central Jail, but were never captured.

Two other Stormjaers, Visser and van Blerk were convicted of a bombing at the Benoni Post Office, as a result of which an innocent bystander was killed, they were both sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

A few members of the OB were shot while trying to escape from internment camps or jails, the most known was the dramatic pursuit OB General, Johannes van der Walt, who was shot while on the run near Krugersdorp.

The German Nazis themselves saw the activities of the Ossewabrandwag as very positive to their fight. Van Rensburg was even played up over Zeesen radio as the real leader of the Afrikaner people.

In June 1941 Robey Leibbrandt was landed from a German yacht on the Namaqualand coast with 10,000 dollars, a radio transmitter, and instructions to make contact with van Rensburg and investigate the possibilities of joint action with the Ossewabrandwg. His mission, overseen by German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was Operation Weissdorn, a plan for a coup d’état to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts,

Leibbrandt was a South African Olympic boxer who later came a fervent Nazi follower. He joined the German Army, where he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger and glider pilot. Leibbrand was trained with comrades of the Brandenburgers at a sabotage training course of Abwehr II (Abwehrschool “Quenzgut”) near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin.

In South Africa he soon made contact with the Stormjaers and was brought to Pretoria to see van Rensburg.

Nothing, however, came of the negotiations. Leibbrandt’s megalomania was enough to deter anyone from cooperating with him, and van Rensburg refused to be drawn. At the same time Leibbrandt’s fanaticism attracted a number of members of the Ossewabrandwag over to his side, and within a short while Leibbrandt was leading his own group, whose members were bound to one another by a blood oath which partly read:

“All my fight and striving is for the freedom and independence of the Afrikaner people of South Africa and for the building up of a National Socialist State in accordance with the ideas of Adolf Hitler.”

The quite truce between Leibbrandt and van Rensburg quickly developed into open hostility. Leibbrandt, disappointed that the OB did not officially support his mission and its resultant failure began to attack van Rensburg as an agent of Smuts. This sealed his fate. After a few months in South Africa he was ‘sold out’ by insiders, his location now known he was the arrested, together with a number of leading Stormjaers. Placed on trial he was sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after much lobbying from Afrikaaner Nationalist organisations.

The Stormjaers sabotage activities were getting too violent for DF Malan’s National Party policy of negotiated settlement with Germany when (and if) they won the war. Many of these acts of violence were going too far for the majority of moderate Afrikaners, and Malan ordered the National Party to break all ties with the OB later in 1942.

The South African Union government then cracked down heavily on the OB and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war.

Summing up the achievements of the Ossewabrandwag’s campaign of sabotage, van Rensburg wrote this in his autobiography which was published after the war:

“I fought (Smuts’) war effort and I fought it bitterly with all the means at my disposal – which were considerable…. There is no doubt that they (the Ossewabrandwag) seriously hampered the government’s war effort. Hampered it because the government was forced to draw off considerable manpower to guard many strategic points and essential services. A not inconsiderable military element also had to be retained in South Africa as a strategic reserve for possible emergency.”

At the end of the war, the Ossewabradwag was absorbed back into the National Party and ceased to exist as a separate body, many of its members achieving political notoriety as members of the National Party government on their accent to power with the National Party electoral win over Smut’s United Party in 1948.

Imagine the sheer frustration felt by the veterans after “The War for Freedom” (as WW2 was known) had been fought with the massive cost in South African lives (literally thousands), to rid the world of Nazism and Fascism in the “good fight” – only to come home in 1945 and within three short years find the “home grown” pre-war pro Nazi Germany and pro Nazi philosophy politicians swept into government. The very men and their philosophy they had gone to war against in the first place.

By the early 1950’s the South African nationalist government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves as full blown National Socialists: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, F. Erasmus , C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing government policy.

Louis Weichardt left and Oswald Pirow (Right) during an unofficial visit to Nazi Germany

Louis Weichardt was the South African Nazi “grey-shirts” founder (later became a National Party MP) and Oswald Pirow (New Order founder) inspecting German Luftwaffe troops on a “unofficial” visit to Nazi Germany – later he became a key Public Prosecutor under the National Party.

Also by the 1950’s, this state of affairs led to open Anti-Apartheid protests from the South African military veterans community – in their tens of thousands, led by Adolph “Sailor” Malan and other returning war heroes in “Torch Commando rallies” (Torch) and it ultimately led to the marginalization of South African war veterans, their veteran associations and the ultimate suppression of anti Apartheid movements like the Torch by the National Party.

Images show Sailor Malan at an anti-apartheid Torch Rally in Cape Town attended by over 10 000 World War 2 veterans on protest.

In the interests of consolidating themselves in power and in the interests of securing the “white vote” both English and Afrikaans voters (especially English speaking white South Africans of British extraction) much of this legacy was a political “hot potato” for the National Party. Nazism, Fascism and National Socialism was purged from Europe with the loss of millions of lives, and exposed for what it is – a crime against humanity.

Political careers – especially those of future National Party State Presidents and Prime Ministers would not be helped if their associations to Nazi Germany, Nazi political philosophy and even anti British ideals was openly promoted. Especially when National Service was instituted and the National Party called on English speaking white South Africans (and even moderate or leftist Afrikaners) to rally behind their causes and serve in the armed forces.

So it was shielded – in formal secondary education it was at best trivialised if even taught at all and it was never really widely reported on national media mouthpieces. Little is left in the modern historical narrative on South Africa, surprising since this is all still in living memory of the old War War 2 vets still alive. In the end it disappeared into a politically generated one-sided narrative of South Africa’s involvement in the two world wars, and lost to future generations. It even remains a very dark and relatively unknown topic even to this day.

The irony is that the future “struggle” of South Africa’s Black people (and many White veterans too) against the political philosophy of these men would emulate the same “struggle” these men initiated against the philosophy of British Parliamentarian rule – and in both instances it carried with it armed insurrection, detention of “heroes,” imprisonment of a future President and the promotion of a political “ism”, albeit that “Communism” and “African Socialism” where diametrically opposite to “Nazism” and “National Socialism”” left and right of the political sphere. The net result is that “centre” balanced moderate politics in South Africa has been completely elusive since 1948.

 

References from South African History On-Line, Wikipedia and “The Rise of the South African Reich” written by Brian Bunting, “Echoes of David Irving – The Greyshirt Trial of 1934” by David M. Scher. “Not for ourselves” – a history of the SA Legion by Arthur Blake. Lazerson, Whites in the Struggle Against Apartheid. Neil Roos. Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961

Wartime beach defences and legendary hospitality

During the Second World War South Africa became a central destination for British, South African as well as other Commonwealth nurses, soldiers, sailors and airmen for a little ‘R&R” (Rest and Recuperation) – especially Durban and Cape Town. Seen here in this famous LIFE magazine image are servicemen on South Africa’s beaches enjoying some of the prettier sights and sun that South Africa has to offer.

In fact many veterans fondly remember South Africa’s hospitality during the war years as the country really opened their arms and welcomed them.

Note during wartime even both the strategic ports of Cape Town and Durban’s beaches were heavily guarded against invasion with barbed wire beach obstacles.

Image copyright – LIFE Magazine

 

2 minutes silence: a uniquely South African gift to Remembrance

Did you know that the two minutes silence and its association to Armistice Day (11/11/11) or Remembrance Sunday has a South African origin?

The featured image taken in 1942 is a rare and unique one, it shows a South African serviceman and civilians stopping what they are doing in the middle of Cape Town and standing to attention for two minutes silence, signalled when the noon day gun was fired.  Not common today in Cape Town but a daily occurrence during war years.  So how did this unique practice become a worldwide standard for remembrance?

Funnily it all started in Cape Town too. Read on and learn a little why South Africans should stand proud of what they have given the world; when on Remembrance Sunday and on Armistice day in November, the western world stands silent in remembrance for two minutes … and take heart that this entire ceremony has South African roots.

The end of Word War 1 – Armistice Day 11/11/11

At 05.30 in the morning of 11 November 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice Agreement in a remote railway siding in the heart of the forest of Compiègne. Soon wires were humming with the message : ‘Hostilities will cease at 11.00 today November 11th. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour…’.Thus, at 11.00 on 11 November 1918 the guns on the Western Front in France and Flanders fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare, warfare that had witnessed the most horrific casualties.World War One (then known as the Great War) had ended.

The time and date attained an important significance in the post war years and the moment that hostilities ceased became universally associated with the remembrance of those that died in that and subsequent wars and conflicts. The Two Minutes silence to remember all who paid the supreme sacrifice was a result of this expression… and it all began in Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town’s unique remembrance during WW1 

When the first casualty lists recording the horrific loss of life in the Battles of the Somme were announced in Cape Town, Mr JA Eagar, a Cape Town businessman, suggested that the congregation of the church he attended observe a special silent pause to remember those in the South African casualty list. It was the church also attended by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick the famous South African author of “Jock of the Bushveld”.

In May 1918, the Mayor of Cape Town, Councillor H Hands (later Sir Harry Hands) at the suggestion made by Mr. RR Brydon, a city councillor, in a letter to the Cape Times initiated a period of silence to remember the events unfolding on the battlefields of Europe and the sacrifices being made there. Mr Brydon’s son, Maj Walter Brydon, three times wounded and once gassed, was killed on 12 April 1918.

The pause would follow the firing of the Noon Gun, the most audible signal with which to co-ordinate the event across the city of Cape Town.The boom of the gun for the midday pause of three minutes for the first time on 14 May 1918 became the signal for all activity in the Mother City to come to a halt. Everything came to a dead stop while everyone bowed their heads in silent prayer for those in the trenches in Flanders.

As soon as the city fell silent, a trumpeter on the balcony of the Fletcher and Cartwright’s Building on the corner of Adderley and Darling Streets sounded the Last Post, the melancholy strains of which reverberated through the city. Reveille was played at the end of the midday pause.

Articles in the newspapers described how trams, taxis and private vehicles stopped, pedestrians came to a halt and most men bared their heads. People stopped what they were doing at their places of work and sat or stood silently. The result of the Mayor’s appeal exceeded all expectations. One journalist described a young woman dressed in black, who came to a halt on the pavement and furtively dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “One could not but wonder what personal interest she had in the act of remembrance”, he wrote.

A few days later Sir Harry, whose son, Capt Richard Hands, a member of ‘Brydon’s Battery’, had been mortally wounded in the same battle in which Maj Brydon had been killed, decided to shorten the duration of the pause to two minutes, “in order to better retain its hold on the people”.

In terms of the meaning of “two minutes” it was also argued that the first minute is for thanksgiving for those that survived and the second is to remember the fallen.

The midday pause continued daily in Cape Town and was last observed on 17 January 1919, but was revived in Cape Town during the Second World War. It had, however, become a pause throughout the British Commonwealth from 11 November 1919.

Step in Sir Percy Fitzpatrick 

Now, back to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.  He had been impressed by the period of silence kept in his local church after the horrific loss of life at Delville Wood became known and the casualty lists had been read out. He had a personal interest in the daily remembrance as his son, Maj Nugent Fitzpatrick, battery commander of 71st Siege Battery, was killed on 14 December 1917 by a chance shell fired at long range.

Sir Percy was understandably deeply affected by the loss of his favourite son and was also so moved by the dignity and effectiveness of the two minute pause in Cape Town that the date and time of the Armistice inspired him to an annual commemoration on an Imperial basis.

The King Decrees 

Sir Percy then wrote to Lord Milner and described the silence that fell on the city during this daily ritual. Taking into consideration that the guns of war finally fell silent at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month (November), Sir Percy felt that the idea of observing the two-minute silence at that time and on that date, would give the Act of Homage great impact, and proposed that this became an official part of the annual service on Armistice Day.

The meaning behind Sir Percy’s proposal was stated as:

It is due to the women, who have lost and suffered and borne so much, with whom the thought is ever present.
It is due to the children that they know to whom they owe their dear fought freedom.
It is due to the men, and from them, as men.
But far and away, above all else, it is due to those who gave their all, sought no recompense, and with whom we can never re-pay – our Glorious and Immortal Dead.

Sir Percy’s letter was received by Lord Milner on November 4, 1919, reviewed and accepted by the War Cabinet on November 5, and was immediately approved by King George V.

George V, then King of the United Kingdom, shortly afterwards on the 7th November 1919, proclaimed by decree.

“Tuesday next, November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the meaning of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of their feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice comes into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for a brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activitiy that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

Sir Percy when he heard the news that his suggestion had reached the King stated: “I was so stunned by the news that I could not leave the hotel. An hour or two afterwards I received a cable from Lord Long of Wexhall: ‘Thank you. Walter Long.’ Only then did I know that my proposal had reached the King and had been accepted and that the Cabinet knew the source.”

Later, Sir Percy was thanked for his suggestion of the two minute silence by Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary who wrote:

Dear Sir Percy,
The King, who learns that you are shortly to leave for South Africa, desires me to assure you that he ever gratefully remembers that the idea of the Two Minute Pause on Armistice Day was due to your initiation, a suggestion readily adopted and carried out with heartfelt sympathy throughout the Empire.
Signed – Stamfordham

And so the tradition of 2 minutes of silence during remembrance occasions was born, a unique South African gift to world, a simple peaceful gesture that in deep solitude remembers the end of all war – not the beginning.

Story and images researched by Peter Dickens

South Africa’s Nazi Spy or “Struggle Hero”? – Robey Leibbrandt

How history repeating itself in South Africa can be ironic at the best of times, the country’s ethnic diversity will always ensure that one community’s freedom fighter is another community’s terrorist.

This was as true of the Afrikaaner Nationalists during the Second World War, as much as it was true to the African Nationalists during the political and armed “struggle” in the more recent past. Both produced “traitors”, both had leaders incarcerated, both went on to ultimately govern South Africa and both produced Presidents who were themselves imprisoned as “traitors to the state”. Ironically – both went on to pardon their fellow activists and make heroes of them.

This is the story of one such South African – Sidney Robey Leibbrandt, who was led by the German military intelligence (Abwehr) during the Second World War under the pseudonym “Robert Leibbrand”.

Born in Potchefstroom Liebbrandt was a Afrikaaner Nationalist of both German and Irish decent. He was also a South African Olympic boxer, however his political ideology drove him to become a German secret agent and “freedom fighter” – primarily against the British influence and political power within South Africa.

Leibbrandt went to Germany in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics, and stayed on when war broke out. He joined the German Army, where he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger and glider pilot. Later a small number of other South Africans also joined the Wehrmacht. Leibbrand was trained with the Comrades of the Brandenburgers at a sabotage training course of Abwehr II (Abwehrschool “Quenzgut”) near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin.

The German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris ordered “Operation Weissdorn” a plan for a coup d’état to overthrow the South African government of General Jan Smuts and assassinate Smuts. Central to the plan was Leibbrandt, who left Germany on 5 April 1941 to lead and execute it.

In June 1941, under the code name Walter Kempf, Leibbrandt was dropped on the Namaqualand coast north of Cape Town (Mitchell’s Bay) by a confiscated French sailboat (the Kyloe) His mission was to make contact with the South African pro-Nazi movement, the Ossewabrandwag, and expand his ranks of “freedom fighters”.

In the 1930’s the chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism was the “Purified National Party” of D. F. Malan, (which went on to become the National Party as we know it today) and in 1938 the National Party celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Great Trek – the Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of the Trek, it was led by Dr Johannes Van Rensburg who was a lawyer and also a dedicated admirer of Nazi Germany.

The role of the Ossewabrandwag (OB) evolved to become a militant one – the nationalist members were unsympathetic to Britain because of the Boer War and became increasingly hostile when South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939. As sympathizers with Nazi Germany they felt their only solution was armed struggle.

Within the ranks of the Ossewabrandwag was a formation of Stormjaers (Assault troops). The nature of the Stormjaers was evidenced by the oath sworn by new recruits: “If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me”


The Stormjaers engaged in sabotage against the South African government. They dynamited electrical power lines and railroads, and cut telegraph and telephone lines (These types of acts were going too far for most Afrikaners and Malan later ordered the National Party to break with the Ossewabranwag in 1942)

Robey Leibbrandt, on landing in Mitchell’s Bay hoped to tap into this large resource of Afrikaaner “Stormjaers” in his plan to assassinate Smuts and overthrow the government. He made his way to Cape Town to meet and make arrangements with Dr van Rensburg. However, rather disappointingly he found van Rensburg unsympathetic to his plan.

Undeterred Leibbrandt continued in his attempts to drum up support from the Afrikaaner Nationalists winning converts from the Ossewabrandwag and the national party to support his cause with fiery speeches at meetings held in the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal. These converts took a Nazi style Blood Oath, and trained in bomb making and sabotage.

Leibbrandt’s small group of resistance fighters kept the South African goverment on high alert by committing various sabotage acts. After a confrontation and gunfight with soldiers in the autumn of 1942, Leibbrandt went on the run and evaded the police until he was betrayed by fellow nationalists and arrested in Pretoria in December 1942. (ironically the arresting officer was Claude Sterley, a fellow Springbok boxer and friend).

To get on top of all the warime dissent and armed resistance from the nationalists, the South African government also cracked down very heavily on the Ossewabrandwag and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war. Among the internees was future Prime Minister B. J. Vorster, who was a regional leader of the Ossewabrandwag.

On 11 March 1943 Leibbrandt was sentenced to death for high treason. Although Leibbrandt refused to give evidence at any stage in the trial, he claimed that he had acted “for Volk and Führer” and gave the German Salute (Hitler Salute) when he first entered the court, to which several spectators responded and calling “Sieg Heil”. After being sentenced to death, Leibbrandt shouted loudly and clearly “I greet death”. General Jan Smuts however later commuted his sentence to life imprisonment (confiding that he did not want another Jopie Fourie on his hands).

When the National Party was elected to rule in South Africa in 1948, D. F. Malan issued an amnesty over all their fellow “war offenders,” including the likes of Liebbrandt and the future President BJ Vorster. The National Party then folded the Ossewabrandwag and absorbed their members and structures into the party.

Leibbrandt left the prison and was greeted by crowds as a “folk hero”, and a local legend was born.

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Leibbrandt remained politically active in his later life, founding the organisation Anti-Kommunistiese Beskermingsfront (Anti-Communist Protection Front) in 1962, and producing a series of pamphlets titled Ontwaak Suid-Afrika (Wake up South Africa). He was also a passionate sportsman and hunter. Robey Leibbrandt, “Der treue Gefolgsmann” (the loyal follower) died on 1 August 1966 from a heart attack.

The irony is that once in power the rise of African Nationalism (ANC) and their decision to embark on armed resistance mirrors that of the Afrikaner Nationalism. Like the armed wing of the Afrikaner Nationalists – the Ossewabrandwag “terrorists” and “traitors” were imprisoned as enemies of the state, so too were the armed wing of the ANC – Umkhonto we Sizwe. Once in power the Afrikaaner Nationalists – the NP – behaved no different to the ANC – they built heroes and legacies around their military “heroes”, issued pardons and amnestys – and also renamed streets and institutions after them. But most ironic is that from the ranks of imprisoned ANC leaders emerged Nelson Mandela, and from the ranks of imprisoned National Party members emerged BJ Vorster – both of whom went on to become President. Strange how history turns and repeats itself.

Reference: Wikipedia and extracts from “Volk and Fuhrer” by Hans Strydom.

Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

Another rare and wonderful original colour photo. During WW2, Great Britain used the Commonwealth to train pilots from all over the world, under a scheme called the Commonwealth Joint Training Plan, a key part of this plan included Waterkloof in Pretoria.

Here a South African soldier from the ‘Native Military Corps’ (NMC) is seen on guard duty at No. 23 Air School at Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, January 1943. The NMC where attached to the South African Army and the South African Air Force in ‘non-combat’ roles.

Conventions of time excluded “Black” soldiers from been armed with firearms,  however “traditional” weapons (spears and assagais) where settled on as a compromise (see below UDF issued weapons for the NMC).

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At the time the government was only willing to utilise Black South African manpower in non-combatant roles such as drivers, mechanics, carpenters, chefs, engineers, stretcher bearers including medical aids and general administration roles. Although it was not uncommon in cases of emergencies that the members of the NMC where provided with firearms to defend positions from enemy attacks (especially during the North Africa and Italy campaigns).

Note the slouch hat worn by all Native Military Corps members (also worn by the South African Native Labour Corps in WW1) and the “Red Oath” Volunteer tabs on his epaulettes, worn by all members of the South African Armed Forces who volunteered to take part in WW2 and join the services (from all ethnic and cultural origins).

This picture is an excellent example of this corps weapon, uniform, dress and bearing.  The NMC insignia consisted of an African Elephant with the South African coat of arms and encapsulated in a wreath.

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As war was declared in 1939 the need for manpower from South Africa increased.  During 1939 at the ANC passed a resolution of Loyalty to the British Commonwealth and Black South African political and traditional leaders expressed their willingness to support Jan Smuts’ declaration of war against Nazi Germany and get behind South Africa’s war efforts, on the condition that they would be able to win concessions and greater political recognition for “Black” South Africans after the war.

The “Native Military Guards” (which went on to become the NMC)  was established in 1940 and had 4 Battalions:

1 st Battalion: amaZulu’s from Zululand now KZN
2nd Battalion: Africans from Northern Transvaal now Mpumalanga & Limpopo
3rd Battalion: amaXhosa from Transkei (Previous Homeland) Eastern Cape
4th Battalion (Witwatersrand Battalion) Were made up of Africans in Urban Areas

Unfortunately a few years after the war, in 1948, the National Party came to power and did not honour any concessions agreed by the ANC with the Smuts government – setting “Black” political representation in South Africa back somewhat and disregarding the fine legacy, sacrifice and history of the NMC and its members.

 

Image Copyright – Imperial War Museum Collection Copyright.

South African Pro Nazi movements – Oswald Pirow’s New Order

A little more South African “hidden” military history the Pro Nazi paramilitary organisations who sought to destabilise South Africa and the Union during the Second World War, three main movements existed which supported Nazi Germany and embraced its ideology, the Ossewabrandwag, the SANP “Greyshirts “  and the “pure” Nazi movement – The “New Order” – led by the well known South African Politician/Public Prosecutor – Oswald Prow.

Oswald Pirow is seen in the feature image in Nazi Germany, November 1938 being sent off in Berlin with soldiers from the Luftwaffe, to his left Wilhelm Canaris, to his right Ernst Seifert.

Oswald Pirow was born in Aberdeen (Cape Province, South Africa) on 14th August 1890, and was the grandson of a German missionary and son of a doctor. Pirow studied law in Potchefstroom, Germany and London, and then practised as an advocate in Pretoria.

He made several unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament and finally in 1924 he was elected for Zoutpansberg. Smuts defeated him in 1929 in Standerton but he returned to parliament and in the same year and he was appointed Minister of Justice in General Hertzog’s cabinet. As Justice Minister he passed the first anti-communist legislation in South Africa. In 1933 he was appointed Minister of Railways and Harbours, and from 1933 to 1939 he was Minister of Defence.

In 1936 Pirow attended the Olympic Games in National Socialist (Nazi) Germany and in 1938 again visited Europe, including Spain, Portugal and Germany. These visits confirmed his admiration for this new style of government in Europe and, in particular, for National Socialism. A vehement anti-communist – Pirow vowed to legislate communism out of existence, he also became an admirer of Adolf Hitler – especially after meeting him in 1933.

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Oswald Pirow ( left) at a reception of the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in conversation with Erhard Milch ( right) and Walter Hevel on November 19, 1938

During this tours he also met Benito Mussolini, António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco and became convinced that a European war was imminent, with Nazi victory assured.

When General Smuts committed South Africa to war against Nazi Germany, Pirow found his position in government untenable and he gave his support in 1939 to Hertzog’s neutrality policy and then resigned on the outbreak of war as a minister.

By September 1940 he had launched his own “New Order” group within the breakaway National Party – the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP), backing a Nazi style dictatorship.

This group took its name from his 1940 New Order in South Africa pamphlet in which he embraced the ideology.

To understand what the concept of the “New Order” was – the New Order (German: Neuordnung) or the New Order of Europe (German: Neuordnung Europas) was the political order which Nazi Germany wanted to impose on the conquered areas under its dominion. The establishment of the New Order was publicly proclaimed by Adolf Hitler and entailed the creation of a pan-German racial state structured according to Nazi ideology to ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race, massive territorial expansion into Eastern Europe through its colonization with German settlers, the physical annihilation of the Jews and others considered to be “unworthy of life”, and the extermination, expulsion, or enslavement of most of the Slavic peoples and others regarded as “racially inferior”.

D.F. Malan from the “Purified” National Party initially tolerated the actions of the New Order but soon came to see it as a divisive influence on the HNP and at the Transvaal party congress of August 1941 he forced through a motion ending the group’s propaganda activities, particularly their insistence on a one-party state.

Pirow and 17 of his New Order supporters continued to be associated with the HNP and continued to attend their caucus meetings. The group finally broke from the HNP altogether in 1942 after both Malan and Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom openly rejected the Nazis.

His political career within the Afrikaner Nationalist parties was effectively over, he returned to legal practice, and during this time became a friend of Oswald Mosley (an infamous British Nazi) and with him developed an idea for the division of Africa into exclusively black and white areas.

The two met after Pirow read a copy of Mosley’s book The Alternative and by 1947 they were in discussion over founding an anti-communist group to be known as the “enemies of the Soviet Union” (although this plan never reached fruition).The two co-operated during the early 1950s, with Pirow writing articles for the Union Movement journals Union and The European, some of which were reprinted in German magazine Nation Europa.

Very famously Pirow, in his legal guise also acted as a public prosecutor during the Treason Trial of 1956. The Treason Trial was a trial in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in South Africa in 1956.The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. Some of the defendants, including Nelson Mandela were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Following the trial Pirow largely lived in retirement, publishing several books, especially on JB Hertzog of who he was an admirer, he also wrote books on wildlife and adventure books for boys. He died of heart failure. He was cremated and his ashes are kept at his Valhalla Farm residence near Pilgrim’s Rest.

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Oswald Pirow’s influence in South African politics and Apartheid is far reaching. The Tomlinson Commission – which investigated the validity of the idea Apartheid was not a new creation, and its findings were based in part on findings made by the Native Economic Commission in 1932 and on preparatory work done by Oswald Pirow.

Very little is known in South Africa today of the frustration and disillusionment returning South African combatants from World War 2 felt and the motivation behind their eventual mass protests against Apartheid policies in the 1950’s (known as the “Torch” Commando rallies – attracting  tens of thousands of war veterans).

Effectively the returning South African statute force veterans had gone to war to rid the world of Nazism, only to come home and in a few short years find significant “home grown” Nazi’s in government or playing a key role in public prosecution (as was the case with Pirow) when the National Party narrowly beat Smuts’ United Party into power in 1948.

The likes of famous World War 2 heroes like Adolph “Sailor” Malan would have none of it and they took to the streets in the first mass protests against Apartheid and the Nationalist government who had only come into power a couple of years before hand and where already removing the cape coloured vote from the register.

The Torch Commando and veteran protests where ultimately suppressed by The National Party (including Sailor Malan) and the Nationalists where free to promote their heroes – Oswald Pirow had a major highway named after him in Cape Town as well as a strike craft – much to the disillusionment of many of South Africa’s war veterans, the disenfranchised voters and the South African Jewish community.

Feature photo copyright the German Federal Archives copyright. Reference Wikipedia.