The Black Watch and the Delville Wood Lament

If you think you are tough, try taking up bag-pipes again after been wounded through both cheeks – now that’s eye-watering tough. Men and women of the 1st World War generation were are cut from an entirely different cloth, and Bag Pipers in particular are something else,

With South Africans honouring the centenary of World War 1, we should remember this particular action and this man – as this is what honour truly is all about – and it’s why the Pipes and Drums and their traditions are such a key part of military life and remembrance.

Relief of South Africans holding Delville Wood

45831688_2276883062540679_4739443793491656704_oOver 100 years ago at the Battle of Delville Wood, the hellish action for the South Africans holding the wood had finally ended, and they were played out by Black Watch bagpipes in honour of their heroism and bravery – this is the story of Pipe Major Sandy Grieve and the role he played that day.

On the 20th July 1916 the British 3rd Division’s 76th Brigade finally managed to link up with the beleaguered South African Infantry Brigade ‘Springboks’  holding Delville Wood and the first to do so were the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Eventually leading elements of the Suffolks and the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment reached the South African positions.

The shattered, bloodied, shell-shocked Springbok soldiers who had held the wood since the 15th July ‘at all costs’ aroused such pride in the British soldiers relieving them they formed an honour guard to lead them out the wood.

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Abandoned German trench at Delville Wood 1916

121 officers and 3 032 men of the South African Infantry Brigade had gone into the wood to hold it and a smattering of this force was left after they were subjected to volley after volley of enemy artillery attacks (400 shells per minute), and wave after wave of German attacks, the fighting so desperate that some resorted to hand to hand combat.

The tiny group of South Africa survivors were now led out of Delville Wood in honour to the shrill of the Black Watch’s bagpipes, the two wounded officers in front of the 140 remaining members of the Brigade. When General Lukin took the salute as the men filed past, he didn’t only return the salute; he removed his cap and wept.

The honour still remains in The Transvaal Scottish Regiment who had fought at Delville Wood, and you can see it to this day, since 1938, members of the Transvaal Scottish have worn the Black Watch’s ‘red hackle’ on their khaki  tam o’ shanter as a symbol of South Africa’s connection with this very famous Regiment and the honour attained.

And history also preserves a picture for us on this day,  here are the men who piped the South Africans out of Delville Wood. 8th Battalion, Black Watch being issued a rum ration, 20 July 1916, Delville Wood France.

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The Black Watch Highland Brigade pipers were in fact led by Piper Sandy Grieve, and he had first met South Africans in completely different circumstances when he took part in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and had fought against the Boers as part of the Highland Brigade,  During the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th December 1899, he would not forget the Boers in a hurry, as he was wounded through both his cheeks. Imagine going back to playing the bagpipes after that injury.

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Black Watch Red Hackle

Now part of the South African Scottish Regiments who had bravely held onto Delville Wood, It was this very man who now took the honour of playing the South Africans out of the Delville Wood on his pipes along with those of the Black Watch.

Sandy Grieve went on to honour the South Africans again, at the Drum Head service held at Delville Wood in France after the war in 1918, he played the lament of his own composition called ‘Delville Wood’

Now, Sandy Grieves’ history and connection with South Africa is a deep one. he immigrated to South Africa after the 2nd Anglo Boer War, joined the South African Armed Forces and served in both the First World War and Second World War with the Cape Town Highlanders – this is one very extraordinary man and here is a short video on him and well worth anyone’s time to meet him.

Honour

Looking at this video you cannot but only agree on two things, that the men and women of the 1st World War generation were cut from an entirely different cloth to the rest of us, and the traditions of honour forged in blood and battle should be forever preserved and never be underestimated or simply disregarded for this or that political whim in the 21st century.

When standing to remembrance on armistice day (1918-2018), remember Delville Wood, remember the ‘Piper’s Lament’ and remember just what it means when fellow soldiers of different musterings, traditions and wars honour the sacrifice of  our ‘brothers in arms’ 100 years ago.

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The Red Hackle of The Black Watch in South Africa. 12 Red Hackles seen on the men and women in the Transvaal Scottish at Heidelberg Shooting Range


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Reference – Ken Gillings’s Bush & Battlefield Tours, National Museum Scotland for the video profile on Sandy Grieves.

Related Links:

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

Battle of Delville Wood 400 shells/min fell on the Springboks … “the bloodiest battle hell of 1916”

A Colonel who single-handedly rushed machine gun posts; Harry Greenwood VC

Honouring South African World War 1 heroes who have won the Victoria Cross for Valour, the ‘VC’, the highest British decoration for bravery.  When it comes to Victoria Crosses, the British government (and VC Trust) recognises ‘South African’ Victoria Crosses as those VC decorations won by South Africans in South Africa’s own Armed Forces (pre Republic) or recipients from other countries who won the VC whilst under South African Command, or recipients born in South Africa, or those recipients who made South Africa their home prior to the start of the war.

As to the last definition, this officer’s ‘South African’ VC is something else, as a senior officer, a Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col.), he led from the front single handily taking out machine gun nests and setting a supreme example of bravery and leadership to his men – and he did this time and again.

His story dispenses with a typical myth surrounding WW1, that the officers sat behind the lines in safety and comfort as their men ‘went over the top’ and chewed through lead and barbed wire fighting in the blood and mud on the western front.  The opposite is in fact true, British and Commonwealth commissioned officers, senior and junior, fought and died in their droves advancing on German defences side by side with their men. In fact your chances of surviving the war were significantly less if you were an officer. This is the story of one of these officers, Lt Col. Harry Greenwood VC, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC.

Background

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Lt Col. Harry Greenwood VC, DSO & Bar, OBE, MC.

Henry “Harry” Greenwood (1881-1948) was born on 25th November 1881 in Victoria Barracks, Windsor Castle, England, where his father was serving with the Grenadier Guards. He was the eldest of nine children born to Charles Greenwood of Nottingham and Margaret Abernethy, who hailed from County Tipperary, Ireland.

He enlisted in the British Army in 1899 to take part in the 2nd-Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 (The ‘South African War), arriving in South Africa from January 1900. After the Boer war ended, he returned to the United Kingdom demobilised and then headed straight back to South Africa to make a new life, whilst in South Africa he put his military skills to use and he joined the South African Constabulary.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to the United Kingdom and re-enlisted in the Army as a Reservist officer joining the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Western Front

Harry Greenwood was to serve in the front-lines on the Western Front literally from the outbreak of the war to the end of it.  In his time he took part in just about every offensive The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry took part in – from the Battle for Loos to the final battles in 1918 and along the way he was wounded three times – missing the odd offensive to recover, he was mentioned in dispatches three times and he also managed to pick up a number of gallantry decorations including amongst others – the Victoria Cross.

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Men of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry fuse Stokes trench mortar shells near Wieltjie, 1 October 1917.

MC

MilitaryCrossWW1His string of remarkable acts of bravery began when he was awarded the Military Cross (MC)  in January 1916, recognising his gallant actions on 26th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos (25 September – 8 October 1915) near Hill 70, Loos, France.

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His MC was followed up with higher acclaim – the DSO (Distinguished Service Order). In July 1918, he was awarded his DSO for devotion to duty during two heavy attacks by the German on The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry’s positions.

The enemy attack was made under cover of mist and it was repulsed by the British, however a hostile enemy machine-gun detachment succeeded in getting within 50 yards of the British line causing significant carnage and sending machine gunners, officers and men into cover.

Distinguished_Service_Order_correctHarry Greenwood’s battalion was by this stage very short of machine gunners owing to casualties, Harry Greenwood, along with an Non-Commissioned Officer rushed out from their defences with total disregard to the incoming enemy fire, he found a fellow British officer and some men hiding in a hollow with a heavy machine-gun, Greenwood then ordered them to carry it back to his lines, being all the time under intense fire. The gun was then used on the enemy to very great effect.

Bar to his DSO

Harry Greenwood DSO, MC was to win the Distinguished Service Order again (Bar to his first DSO), again taking on enemy machine gun nests. His Bar to his DSO (London Gazette, 2nd December 1918) was for conspicuous gallantry during an attack. Although ill, Greenwood refused to leave his battalion and led the first line to the attack.

During the attack, when capturing he first objective he was injured by a shell burst. Carrying the injury he elected to continue and take the second objective of the attack. On reaching the second objective he re-organised his battalion along with another battalion, and took up a defensive position from which he beat off two enemy counter-attacks.

He continued to hold his ground until relieved. The very next day, the British advance was held up by very heavy machine-gun fire, he made a daring individual reconnaissance of the enemy positions, spotting a weakness he returned and then inspired his men by successfully leading them around the enemy’s flank. 

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Battle of Tardenois. Men of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (62nd Division) examining a captured German Maxim 08/15 (Spandau) machine gun with French and Italian officers. Bois de Reims, 24 July 1918. French officer’s regimental markings were obscured by the military censor.

Victoria Cross

Over two days of fighting from 23rd to 24th October 1918, Lt Col. Harry Greenwood was to win the Victoria Cross.  His battalion was to advance eastwards towards Ovillers in northern France – the target was Dukes Wood.  Early in the morning of 23rd the Harry Greenwood’s Battalion advance was stalled by an enemy machine gun post which had not been mopped up by the advancing unit on the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry – 9th. battalion’s right flank, and the battalion started taking heavy casualties from the German machine gunners.

At this point Harry Greenwood decided enough was enough and he jumped up and single-handed rushed the German machine gun post which was firing at point-blank range, he then proceeded to kill all four of the machine gun’s crew.

With the machine gun out nest of the way the advance was back on again, Harry Greenwood’s battalion arrived at the village of Ovillers where they encountered yet another enemy machine gun post at the entrance of the village, which again held up the advance. Once again Lt Col. Harry Greenwood rushed the machine gun, with two of his men this time, and they proceeded to kill all the gun’s crew.

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Battle of Tardenois. Sentry of the 2/4th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry looking out for the enemy in the Bois de Reims. Note corpses of dead horses on the road.

On reaching the objective, Dukes Wood, Harry’s 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had lost contact with the two units advancing on their left and right flank.  Lt Col. Greenwood and 250 of him men found themselves isolated and surrounded by enemy machine gun posts of significant strength.

The Germans, upon seeing Lt Col. Harry Greenwood’s force almost isolated immediatly counter attacked on the right flank and succeeded to getting within 40 yards of Harry’s battalion’s position before the attack was broken up by the besieged British.

Lt Col. Greenwood then inspired his men, who were now well in advance of their own covering artillery barrage, to push through and take the final objective – they swept forward cheering as they went and took German positions in Dukes Wood.  In taking the German defences they captured 150 prisoners, 8 machine guns and one field gun.

Not resting on their laurels of Victory for too long, the very next day the 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was back in the thick of it, and so to Lt Col Harry Greenwood – there’s more to his Victoria Cross than the 23rd October 1918.

On the 24th October, the 9th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were given the objective of taking a ‘Green line’ south of Poix Du Nord.  Once gain as the Battalion advanced they were held up withering fire from enemy inter-crossing ‘wired’ machine gun posts positioned along a ridge.

Lt Col. Greenwood decided to do a personal reconnaissance and he discovered that a part of the ridge that was held by one enemy machine gun only.  Again, he demonstrates unbelievable bravery when he once again rushes this machine gun nest single-handedly and kills all the gun’s crew, so close and perilous was this  individual charge that they were firing at him at a range of just 20 yards.

Lt Col. Greenwood then advances his men into this gap he now created by disabling the machine gun nest. The whole flank of machine gun posts on the ridge was turned and the British advance proceeded through Poix Du Norn, with Lt Col Greenwood’s Battalion sweeping aside a further line of  machine gun posts that were encountered just north of the town.

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Men of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, cleaning up a captured German trench at Bois de Reims during the battle of Tardenois, 23 July 1918.

Upon finally reaching their objective, the Battalion came under intense enemy machine gun and artillery fire. The Battalion started to take heavy casualties and their line position and line ‘wavered’ under the intense enemy counter-attack.  However Harry Greenwood was going to hold his ground and in full view of the enemy and under withering enemy machine gun fire he jumped up and walked up and down his line, encouraging his men to hold their line and beat off the counter-attack which they subsequently did.

During the afternoon of the 24th October, Harry’s Battalion was given another objective on Grand Gay Farm Road, and once again his advanced was hampered by heavy machine gun posts not cleared up by Battalions advancing on his battalion’s flanks.  He pushed his men to take their objective and silence the machine guns in front of him and then swung the battalion to the right flank to take the machine guns allocated as the objective of his flanking battalion – thus securing his objective and that of the right flank for the Division.

Citation

For his example set during the two days fighting Lt Col. Greenwood’s  utter contempt for danger, bravery and inspiring leadership won him the Victoria Cross. London Gazette, 26th December 1918.

Lt Col. Henry (Harry) Greenwood VC, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry,  Ovillers, France 1918

medalWhen the advance of his battalion on the 23rd October was checked, and many casualties caused by an enemy machine-gun post, Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood single-handed rushed the post and killed the crew. At the entrance to the village of Ovillers, accompanied by two battalion runners, he again rushed a machine-gun post and killed the occupants. On reaching the objective west of Duke’s Wood his command was almost surrounded by hostile machine-gun posts, and the enemy at once attacked his isolated force. The attack was repulsed and, led by Lieutenant Colonel Greenwood, his troops swept forward and captured the last objective, with 150 prisoners, 8 machine-guns and one field gun. During the attack on the Green Line south of Poix Du Nord, on 24th October, he again displayed the greatest gallantry in rushing a machine-gun post, and he showed conspicuously good leadership in the handling of his command in the face of heavy fire. He inspired his men in the highest degree, with the result that the objective was captured, and, in spite of heavy casualties, the line was held. During the further advance on Grand Gay Farm Road, on the afternoon of 24th October, the skilful and bold handling of his battalion was productive of most important results, not only on securing the flank of his brigade, but also in safeguarding the flank of the division. His valour and leading during 2 days of fighting were beyond all praise.

Second World War

Harry Greenwood was invested with the Victoria Cross, and the Bar to his DSO, by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 8th May 1919. In 1919, Lt. Col. Greenwood retired from the Army, having been wounded in action three times and mentioned in despatches three times, and resumed his career as a company director, however when World War 2 broke out their was still more soldering in this Anglo Boer War, South African Police, First World War veteran and he but served with the Pioneer Corps during the Second World War.

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Harry Greenwood after receiving his Victoria Cross, and the Bar to his DSO from King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 8th May 1919.

For his service in the Second World War, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1944.

Remembrance 

Harry Greenwood died in his house just after WW2 at 77 Home Park Road, in Wimbledon, South London on 5th May 1948, and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.

Because of his history in South Africa prior to World War 1 and the specifications surrounding the Victoria Cross, Harry Greenwood’s VC is shared by both the United Kingdom and South Africa.

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In 2013, in order to correctly address South Africa’s Victoria Cross winners, as the issue of South African VC winners in British Regiments had taken a back seat whilst the Afrikaner Nationalists were in power.  It was bad enough for the Nationalists to recognise VC winners, but worse still to recognise those South Africans winning it in British units – so in all – of all the South African VC’s won in World War 1 and World War 2, the government of the day at the time would only recognise 4 recipients, that is, only those who served in South African Regiments/Units – out of a total of 20 South African VC winners in all. In the UK the lack of South Africa’s resolve to promote and remember all thier VC winners (unlike Australia and Canada) led to a gradual decline and loss of the historic record.

To clear up the matter, and honour VC winners of South African heritage or those who had made South Africa their home prior to the war, The Victoria Cross Trust and the UK government approached  South African Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to confirm the number of South Africans that were awarded the Victoria Cross during World War One.

To correct the matter, the British then officially listed all recognised South African Victoria Cross winners on a special VC commemoration plaque which they shipped to South Africa.  The plaque was unveiled by the British High Commission at a ceremony in Cape Town in late 2014 at the Cape Town Castle, where it is proudly still accessible to the public – and it includes the name of Lt Col Harry Greenwood VC.

In the United Kingdom, Harry Greenwood VC is recognised with a Blue Plaque at his place of birth, it’s located in Windsor at the Victoria Barracks in Sheet Street and reads “Lt. Col. Harry Greenwood VC DSO OBE MC 1881-1948 Born in Victoria Barracks Awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery at Ovillers, France in 1918 serving with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry”.

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Even more recently in the United Kingdom, special Victoria Cross stones honouring recipients at their places of birth have been installed in ceremonies all over the country in the lead up to the centenary of World War 1.

They are unveiled in public spaces by the respective councils on the day that the VC was won exactly 100 years.  Harry Greenwood’s ceremony took place a couple of weeks ago, his Victoria Cross citation was read out by Colonel Dan Reeve MC, late of the Rifles. Then the vice-Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire Jeffery Branch unveiled the stone. Harry Greenwood’s great-nephew Michael Greenwood read out a list of names of members of his ancestor’s battalion who died over those two days in 1918. He described his great-uncle as someone who never stayed behind as his men went over the top but went with them, doing his best to protect them.

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The Great Great Grandaughter Clara Levacy of WW1 VC Winner Harry Greenwood honours him in Bachelors Acre, Windsor – Picture: Mike Swift.

At a small ceremony held in Doncaster on the 17th July 2002, the family of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Greenwood donated his Victoria Cross medal group to the Regimental Museum of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in Doncaster.

His medal group consisting of the VC, DSO and Bar, OBE, MC, Queens South Africa Medal 1899-1902 with four clasps, King’s South Africa Medal 1902 with two clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935 and King George VI Coronation Medal 1937.

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Story Researched and Written by Peter Dickens

Related work and Links

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

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

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

William Hewitt VC “There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Clement Robertson VC Under deadly fire he directed his tanks to their objective … on foot! Clement Robertson VC

Oswald Reid VC “Bravery in the face of desperate circumstances” Oswald Reid VC

References 

Large extracts published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013. with sincere thanks to Charles Ross from The South African Legion. Additional Reference and extracts – The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross and George Cross – on-line.  Images copyright Imperial War Museum where indicated.  The recommendation by Brigade commander C V Edwards for Temporary Major (acting Lt-Colonel) Harry Greenwood DSO, MC.  Mike Swift and Francis Batt from the Royal Borough Observer.

 

“Bravery in the face of desperate circumstances” Oswald Reid VC

Honouring a son of South Africa and one of our greatest and bravest World War 1 heroes, receiving his Victoria Cross for valour holding out against all odds in a part of the war often overlooked – Mesopotamia (now modern-day Iraq), in a war against the Ottomans (Turks)  – Captain Oswald Austin Reid VC. This is his story.

Early Life

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Captain Oswald Reid VC

Oswald Reid was the third child in a family of seven, he was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 2nd November 1893. He was the eldest of three sons, the others being Victor and Clifford, and he also had four sisters. His father, Harry Austin Reid, was a pioneer architect of Johannesburg and formerly a captain in the commander in chief’s bodyguard regiment (Lord Roberts’ Regiment), having fought in the 2nd Anglo Boer War.

Oswald’s mother, Alice Gertrude Reid, was also well-connected, being a pioneer of both Johannesburg and Kimberley. She was the daughter of George Bottomley JP, Mayor of Kimberley, Cape Colony and member of Legislative Council for Griqualand West.

Oswald was educated at the Diocesan College, Cape Town, and later at St John’s College, Johannesburg and at Radley College, England. He arrived at Radley in 1910, and although he was only 17, he could be mistaken for 21. He soon earned the nickname “Kaffir Reid” (because of his South African origins, now considered a derogatory term), and was captain of the rugby and cricket teams, and was a senior prefect. He was also a Colour Sergeant in the college Officer Training Corps.

Oswald became an agricultural student and in 1913 he went to the Netherlands to learn Dutch and study law with a view to working in the Transvaal, thereafter was later given a position in the Agricultural Department in South Africa.

Western Front – World War 1 

The outbreak of war interrupted Oswald’s career in Agriculture in South Africa, he shipped out at the start of the war and volunteered to join the British Army on 14th August 1914 as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment.

Oswald Reid was promoted to Full Lieutenant on 5th March 1915 when his battalion left for Le Havre, arriving the next day, and he began his service as a bombing officer. His battalion was part of Sirhind Brigade, and saw action at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

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The King’s Liverpool Regiment moving along a communication trench leading to the front line; near Blairville Wood, 16th April 1916.

A month later he was wounded by a gunshot to the scalp and in the left cheek from a grenade during the Second Battle of Ypres on 27th April.

Lt Oswald Reid initially suffered from headaches from his injury, but they gradually relented and he appeared before medical boards. On 28th August he was back in France, this time with 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division, he was again wounded in face again when serving with the 1st Battalion at Arras, he left France on 6th May 1916 to recover from his wounds.

Once fit again, and now promoted to Captain he was transferred to Peshawar (modern-day Pakistan), India on 21st August. He took part in the Mohmand campaign until November 1916, when he embarked for Mesopotamia, (modern day Iraq) take part in the operations at Kut-el-Amara, Baghdad, and Samarrah fighting against the Ottomans (modern day Turks).

The Mesopotamian Campaign

The Mesopotamian campaign was a campaign fought in the Middle East theatre of World War 1, between the ‘Allies’ represented by Britain and Empire troops from Australia and India and the Ottoman Empire troops, mainly Turkish and Arab troops which had aligned themselves with Germany and the ‘Central Powers’.

The Ottoman Empire had conquered the most of the Middle East in the early 16th century, and ruled through local proxy rulers.  As with the later modern-day Gulf Wars, the central cause of the Mesopotamian campaign revolved around the same ‘black gold’ – oil, with the same urgency to secure oil supply to nations depending on it for their economies and war effort.

Also like the later Gun Wars in Iraq, the operational area of the Mesopotamian campaign for the British was limited to the lands and areas watered by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  The prize, as was the prize in previous wars in the region was the capital – Baghdad.

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As other soldiers run for the cover of slit trenches, an Indian Lewis gun team engage an enemy aircraft, Mesopotamia 1918. During the long and arduous campaign along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, from Basra to Baghdad and beyond, over 29,000 Indian soldiers perished in what was their most significant contribution to the British war effort of WW1.

Victoria Cross

Captain Oswald Reid received his Victoria Cross fighting on the Diyala River, south-east of Baghdad, Mesopotamia (now Iraq) – between the 8th to the 10th of March 1917

In the push to take the City of Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks, under heavy fire from the defending Turks the British experienced a costly set-back trying to cross the Diyala River just south-east of Baghdad, on the night of 7th March 1917 – using pontoons to ferry their troops they failed to cross.

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Turkish infantry launching a counter-attack. Mesopotamian Campaign

The British made a second attempt to cross the river the following night on the 8th March. The pontoons again came under very heavy Turkish fire and of nearly 1,000 British troops trying to cross the river, only 110 got across.

Captain Reid was the only surviving senior officer to make it, now attached to the 6th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, Captain Reid succeeded in gathering together the three separate pockets of troops on the far side of the river opposite the main body of British still unable to cross the river.

After Captain Reid’s lines of communication had been cut by the sinking of the pontoons. He maintained this position for 30 hours against constant attacks by bombs, machine-guns and rifle fire, with the full knowledge that repeated attempts at relief had failed and that his ammunition was all but exhausted. It was greatly due to his tenacity that the crossing of the river was effected the next night. During the operations he was wounded (this was the third time in his military career).

Captain Reid and the men with him held out until the third and successful crossing of the Diyala by British troops early in the morning of 10 March. By then Reid’s force had been reduced to about thirty men.  Captain Reid had literally held his position at all costs under the most perilous of circumstances, his actions had turned the tide of the battle in favour of the British, the road to Baghdad was now open.

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A British artillery battery crossing a pontoon bridge over the River Diyala near Baghdad in March 1917. This bridge was completed by the 71st Field Company, Royal Engineers, at 11am on 10 March, following a night river crossing by the 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, 88th Field Company, Royal Engineers, and the 8th Welch Pioneers to secure a bridgehead on the Turkish held side of the river.

Realising that Baghdad could not now be defended against the British Expeditionary Force, the Turkish army evacuated the city on the 10th March and retreated northwards. The British entered the city the following day on the 11th.

For his leadership and bravery in the most extreme of circumstances, Captain Reid was Mentioned in Dispatches by General Maude on capture of Baghdad and subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for Valour. With this he walked into history as the first Johannesburg born VC recipient.

Victoria Cross Citation:

For most conspicuous bravery in the face of desperate circumstances.

By his dauntless courage and gallant leadership he was able to consolidate a small post with the advanced troops, on the opposite side of a river to the main body, after his line of communications had been cut by the sinking of the pontoons.

He maintained this position for thirty hours against constant attacks by bombs, machine gun and shell fire, with the full knowledge that repeated attempts at relief had failed, and that his ammunition was all but exhausted. It was greatly due to his tenacity that the passage of the river was effected on the following night.

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British soldier signalling (by means of heliograph) across Baghdad from the roof of the old Turkish artillery barracks.

Whipping up Support

Oswald Reid was promoted to Acting Major, and on in October 1917 he was back in action and was wounded again (4th time in his career). Whilst on the mend and on leave from all his wounds he returned to South Africa to drum up support for the war effort.  Whilst in Johannesburg he attended a civic reception and visited St John’s College, where he talked to the boys about the Mesopotamian campaign.

His war not yet done, Acting Major Reid VC returned to Mesopotamia and in December 1917 he was again ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’.

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British ‘Tommy’ gives one of the starving Turks a bit of his biscuit. Mesopotamian Campaign.

Fighting Bolsheviks

After the First World War, Captain Reid received his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22nd February 1919 and was accompanied by Victor, one of his younger brothers, who was training as a pilot with the Royal Air Force.

With more soldering to come for this South African, in April 1919 he left for Russia as part of General Allenby’s Allied intervention force in north Russia. He was to take part in the Russian campaign on as a member of the Slavo-British Legion Force sent to relieve the White Russians in their struggle against the Bolsheviks.

Discharge 

On 6th February 1920 he was finally discharged of his duties from the military and Oswald returned to Johannesburg. On the 1st April 1920 he resigned his commission with the British Forces and obtained a substantive commission as a Captain serving with Transvaal Scottish in The Union of South Africa’s forces.

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Early South African Legion (BESL) badge

Oswald Reid VC became the Secretary of the Comrades of the Great War League – a veterans association to assist returning WW1 veterans (the ‘Comrades’ marathon is named after this organisation).  In 1921, under the guidance of General Jan Smuts, the ‘Comrades of the Great War ‘was amalgamated with other veteran associations to form The British Empire Services League – South Africa (BESL), this organisation is now known as The South African Legion of Military Veterans (SA Legion) and continues the work of Remembrance and veteran assist.

Later on Oswald Reid VC decided to take up politics and in March stood unsuccessfully for the Troyeville constituency in Johannesburg.  Then, at the very young age of 26 tragedy struck.

Death

There is little doubt that his many wounds and service in the First World War had undermined his health, and in the autumn he became ill with gastroenteritis and pneumonia. He was unable to fight it off and died in hospital on 27th October 1920. He was buried in Braamfontein Cemetery, and two years later, a VC memorial was unveiled in the cemetery.

In addition to the VC, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Medaglia Al Valore Militaire and was Mentioned in Despatches. His medals are held by the Ditsong National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.


Researched by Peter Dickens

Related work and Links

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

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

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

William Hewitt VC “There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Clement Robertson VC Under deadly fire he directed his tanks to their objective … on foot! Clement Robertson VC

References

Large extracts published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013. with sincere thanks to Charles Ross from The South African Legion. Additional Reference and extracts – The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross and George Cross – on-line.  Images copyright Imperial War Museum.

Under deadly fire he directed his tanks to their objective … on foot! Clement Robertson VC

Honouring South African WW1 heroes who have won the Victoria Cross for Valour, the highest British decoration for bravery. This South African qualifies to stand head and shoulders above his countrymen – Captain Clement Robertson VC. Here is his story.

10451890_396153847221020_4866528425500856967_nEarly Life

Clement Robertson was born on 15 December 1890 (15 November 1889 is indicated in the Haileybury school register) in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa as the son of Major John Albert Robertson Royal Artillery and Frances Octavia Caroline (nee Wynne). Clement was one of five brothers (William Cairnes, Albert John, Frederick Wynne and Charles Wyndham).

Clement was later educated at Hill House School, Filsham Road, Hastings, at the East India Company College (Haileybury College) from 1904-1906 and Trinity College, Dublin (BA BAI Engineering 1909). He and his four brothers were keen golfers and were founder members of the Delgany Golf Club. Clement won the President’s Cup in the first year it was played for in 1908. In 1911, he was a boarder at Croft House, part of Cotherston, Darlington while an articled pupil to a civil engineer engaged on waterworks. He was employed as a civil engineer with the Egyptian Irrigation Service for three years and returned to England on the outbreak of war.

World War 1

He enlisted in 19th Royal Fusiliers (2nd Public Schools) on 8th October 1914 and joined at Epsom. He applied for a commission on 30th December 1914 and was commissioned on 16th January 1915 in 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He was attached to the Royal Engineers from June 1916 to February 1917, then the Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps from March 1917 and was attached to the Tank Corps from September 1917 as a Tank Commander.

During the Battle of Messines in Belgium Clement had a narrow escape when on 7th June 1917, his tank A56 was hit by a 5.9” shell, which killed Sergeant Clegg and wounded two other crew. Although A56 was badly damaged, he brought it back to base and was later appointed to command 12 Section in 3 Company and made an Acting Captain of A Battalion.

Victoria Cross

In the British advance on 4th October 1917 at Zonnebeke, Belgium, Captain Robertson led four British tanks of 12 Section in attack under heavy shelling as they pushed forward east of Polygon Wood towards Reutel, between Zonnebeke and Gheluvelt.

Robertson, was Section Commander of 12 Section. The advance would need to cross the Reutelbeek. Although only a small stream it posed a formidable obstacle for the tanks.

Conditions on the battlefields of Passchendaele were terrible. Thick mud made any kind of movement difficult, and shelling had badly damaged most of the roads. When they’d been used earlier in the battle many tanks had ended up hopelessly bogged.

Robertson was determined this wouldn’t happen. For three days prior to the assault from Sunday 30th September onwards Captain Robertson and his ‘batman’, Private Cyril Allen, worked tirelessly to mark a safe route up to the front line for the 28 ton tanks. They struggled across the shattered ground under constant shellfire to lay out lengths of cotton tape for the crews to follow. They successfully finished the job and returned to the tanks late on the evening of the 3rd October.

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The type of tape used by Captain Robertson and Private Allen to guide the tank assault.

Almost immediately Robertson turned round and began moving forwards again, leading the tanks to their starting points. They were in position by 3am on the 4th of October.

The attack began at 6am. The ground in No Man’s Land was just as bad, so Robertson, accompanied by Allen, broke cover from the armour and continued on foot, walking in front of the tanks to guide them forwards. The German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire was intense, but he refused to take cover, as he knew his tank crews needed to be able to see him.

The tanks were to cross the Reutelbeek using a narrow bridge. One by one Robertson guided them safely across. As they continued forwards Robertson was shot and killed. His tanks fought on, helping to successfully drive the Germans back.

In so guiding these four tanks carefully towards their objective he must have known that this action would almost certainly cost him his life, however his skilful leadership had already ensured success, and for this he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.  

For his brave actions in support of Captain Robertson, Pvt. Cyril Allen received the  Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and was tragically killed later in the war on 20th November 1917, Cyril Allen’s DCM citation reads; “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He twice marked out routes under heavy enemy barrages, though on the first occasion he was blown up and badly shaken. Later he accompanied the tanks into action on foot, showing magnificent courage and contempt of danger”.

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A knocked out British tank half submerged in mud and water near St Julien, 12 October 1917. IWM Copyright

Captain Roberts’ Victoria Cross Citation:

For most conspicuous bravery in leading his tanks in attack under heavy shell, machine-gun and rifle fire, over ground which had been heavily ploughed by shell fire. Captain Robertson, knowing the risk of the Tanks missing the way, continued to lead them on foot, guiding them carefully and patiently towards their objective, although he must have known that his action would almost inevitably cost him his life. This gallant officer was killed after his objective had been reached, but his skilful leading had already ensured successful action. His utter disregard of danger and devotion to duty afford an example of outstanding valour.

Death and Remembrance 

Clement’s body was recovered and he was buried in Oxford Road Cemetery, Ypres. As he never married, his VC was presented to his mother by Brigadier General C Williams CB, Commanding Dublin District, at the Royal Barracks Dublin on 27th March 1918. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals are held privately.

Captain Robertson VC is commemorated on the Haileybury College Memorial, his photo is in the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset while there is also a memorial plaque in the Christ Church, Delgany.

Captain Robertson is also remembered in a Tank Corps flag raising ceremony in Ypres which takes place every year on 4 October at the Tank Memorial Ypres Salient.


Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work and Links:

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

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

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

William Hewitt VC “There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Extract published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013. Also with reference to a large extract from Victoria Cross and George Cross, a complete history on-line, Tank 100 Tank Museum on-line , thanks also to Charles Ross from the South African Legion.

“There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it” destroying a German Pillbox single-handedly – William Hewitt VC

Lance Corporal William Henry Hewitt VC, (aged 33) of 2nd South African Infantry Regiment is a very special South African, seen here he maintains his traditional wry smile, he had lost some teeth in heroic actions which earned him the Victoria Cross and he figured women wouldn’t think him attractive if he smiled. All we can say is smile, you of all people really earned it!

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L/Cpl William Hewitt VC – Note his two ‘wound stripes’ on his sleeve

William was an exceptionally brave man, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for action near Ypres, Belgium, on September 20, 1917.  These extracts from “The Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Crosses” and “How I won the Victoria Cross” the story of Major William Hewitt from the Hermanus historical society outline a very colourful life and the depth of character that was William Hewitt VC, read on and learn about one very remarkable South African.

Consider his own recollection of the action that earned him the Victoria Cross and you’ll have the measure of the man and his off the cuff ‘dark’ military humour:

William Hewitt’s platoon was ordered to demolish a German pillbox, manned by 15 enemy soldiers. Within a minute of advancing his entire platoon was killed by an artillery shell, William was luckily the sole survivor. He advanced alone and threw a grenade into the pillbox. A “jampot” (Improvised Explosive Device) was thrown at him and hit him in the face. Of the resulting explosion he said:

‘Apart from blowing off my gasmask and half my clothes, knocking out four teeth, breaking my nose, giving me a couple of black eyes, with a lot of little cuts here and there and knocking me backwards into a convenient shell-hole, it didn’t really do any damage – only made me damn mad’.

William Hewitt went round the back of the pillbox and pushed his last grenade though a breathing hole. It exploded inside, killing all the occupants. He ran around the front to deal with any survivors, only to hear a Sergeant of a relieving platoon say: ‘There’s fifteen in there Sir, and they’ve all had it.’

The “jampot” is what would now be regarded as a IED – an improvised explosive device in a modern context, back in World War 1, it was exactly that. Literally, it was a jam pot (or tin), taken out of the rubbish dump, filled with nuts and bolts, with an explosive device and then thrown at the enemy if all else had failed.

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A wounded South African soldier is given a hot drink by a padre after the attack on ‘Potsdam’, a German stronghold near Zonnebeke, during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge near Potijze, 20 September 1917 (same day and attack in which William Hewitt won his VC).

Now that is some account to earn a Victoria Cross, let’s have a look at this man and how he came to taking out a pillbox single-handedly.

Origins

William Henry Hewitt (1884-1966) was born on 19th June 1884 at Copdock, near Ipswich, Suffolk. His father, also William Henry Hewitt, was born in London, and was a farmer of 80 acres at Preston Farm, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex. William (junior) had six siblings, including a brother George, who was killed serving in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900.

 William Hewitt (junior) emigrated to South Africa in 1905 and served in the South Africa Constabulary and later the Natal Police, including during the Zulu Rebellion in 1906. He later became a farmer in Natal.

World War 1

William volunteered to take part in World War 1 and enlisted in the Union of South Africa Defence Force on 24th November 1915. He went to France on 12th July 1916 and joined the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment on 15th July.

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He fought at the very deadly Battle of Delville Wood were he was very lucky to survive and later he also fought at the Butte de Warlencourt as a Lewis Gunner in 2 Platoon, B Company. Having been wounded in the leg on 12th October, he was evacuated to England on 24th October, where he was treated at Tooting Military Hospital. He returned to France in April 1917 and was promoted to Lance Corporal the following month.

Victoria Cross

On 20th September 1917 east of Ypres, the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment (2nd SAI) had to ‘leapfrog’ the 4th South African Infantry Regiment and advanced towards Bremen Redoubt. The 2nd SAI came under enfilading fire from Hill 37 and Tulip Cottages. In the meantime, the terrain became a quagmire, with men struggling waist deep in the mud. It was during this second stage in the battle that L/Cpl William Henry Hewitt captured a pillbox single-handedly.

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Destroyed strong concrete redoubt, in the Ypres sector in Belgium, during the battle on 20 September 1917. Same day and same attack that William Hewitt won his VC.

He threw a grenade into a doorway, but the Germans threw a improvised bomb back at him that blew off Hewitt’s gas-mask and knocked out four of his teeth. He was furious because he was engaged to be married and now feared that his fiancée might no longer find him attractive, Hewitt reached the rear of the pillbox. He tried to lob a bomb through a loophole, but missed and had to dive for cover. With only one bomb remaining, Hewitt crept right up to the loophole and, from beneath it, pushed the grenade through, receiving a shot in his hand as he did so. He eventually succeeded in arresting a number of Germans. Fifteen others lay dead in the pillbox.  William, a simple farmer from Natal had earned the Victoria Cross.

William Hewitt was evacuated due to his wounds on 1st October, and was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 16th January 1918 and was appointed Acting Sergeant on 1st April.  His Victoria Cross Citation reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery during operations. Lance Corporal Hewitt attacked a pill-box with his section and tried to rush the doorway. The enemy garrison, however, proved very stubborn, and in the attempt this non-commissioned officer received a severe wound. Nevertheless, he proceeded to the loophole of the pill-box where, in his attempts to put a bomb into it, he was again wounded in the arm. Undeterred, however, he eventually managed to get a bomb inside, which caused the occupants to dislodge, and they were successfully and speedily dealt with by the remainder of section.”

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Three German prisoners, one wounded, captured in the attack on Vampire Farm near Potijze by South African and British forces, during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, 20 September 1917 (same day and attack in which William Hewitt won his VC).

A life less ordinary

William married Lily Ollett in October 1918. She was a shorthand typist. They had met when he was a patient at Tooting Military Hospital in October 1916. William returned to South Africa on RMS Durham Castle on 22nd April 1919 and was discharged the following day. He continued farming until 1925, when they moved to East Africa. He ran a coffee farm there until he sold it in 1939 to rejoin The South African Union Defence Force as a Commissioned Officer at the on-set of World War 2. 

During World War II, William Hewitt VC, now promoted to a Major fought the next World War in Mombasa, East Africa were he acted as a liaison officer and later as an assistant provost-marshal.

William and Lily were living in Nairobi in 1952. When his health started to fail in 1950, he retired to Hermanus on the Cape Coast and finally became a South African citizen in 1955. He returned to Britain to attend the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park, London. In the late 1950s, he had been diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had to have his larynx removed in Cape Town. In the operation, they found shrapnel embedded there. Shortly after the operation, he developed Parkinson’s Disease

Lily brought him back to Britain in 1961 in an attempt to find a cure with a Parkinson’s specialist in Edinburgh. He fell badly twice in his later years and had two severe bouts of pneumonia. Although crippled, unable to speak and almost helpless, he continued the best he could.

William died at Delancey Hospital, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 7th December 1966. He was cremated at Cheltenham Crematorium on 10th December and his ashes were returned to South Africa where they were scattered at sea off the beautiful Hermanus Cliffs in South Africa on 2nd January 1974, this scenic location is famous for whale-wacthing and annually South Africa’s migrating Southern Right Whales are seen close to the cliffs as they calve.  It is also the appropriate location for Hermanus’ war memorial.

What a fitting place for one of South Africa’s bravest to laid to rest.

William Hewitt VC – medals

In addition to his Victoria Cross (VC) , William was also awarded the Natal Rebellion Medal 1906, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The VC was presented to Framlingham College by his widow in May 1967. It was held in the Chapel until the College loaned it indefinitely to the Imperial War Museum on 23rd April 2004. It is displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery. The Castle Military Museum in Cape Town owns four of his campaign medals. The other medals’ location are unknown.”

Related Work and Links:

Reginald Hayward VC  “Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

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

Sherwood Kelly VC “…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

Percy Hansen VC One Lucky Charm wins the Victoria Cross; Percy Hansen VC, DSO, MC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Extracts from “How I won the Victoria Cross – Story of Major William Hewitt” – Hermanus Historical Society and Dr Robert Lee.  Image of L/Cpl Hewitt copyright IWM Colour Image Colourised by Doug UK. Extracts and later images of William Hewitt taken from ‘The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria and George Cross’ on-line.  Images as shown copyright Imperial War Museum.

 

A ‘Star of David’ in defiance of Göring

During World War 1 a non-Jewish German fighter pilot did something very unusual, he painted a ‘Star of David’ – the Magen David, the modern symbol of Jewish identity on the side of his aircraft.  The act was in defiance of anti-Semitism and it has a very unusual South African connection.

Leutnant (Lieutenant) Adolf Auer was the German fighter pilot and he did this defiant act because he disliked Hermann Göring’s anti-Semitism and anti-semitic comments.  Auer’s wingman was a German Jew and also a highly decorated German WW1 fighter ace, his name was Willi Rosenstein.

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The Star of David clearly be seen on Auer’s aircraft

anti-Semitism 

Before Hermann Göring became the infamous right hand man to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War he was a very successful fighter pilot during World War 1, he shot down 22 enemy aircraft making him an Ace and was even eventually appointed as the successor to Manfred von Richthofen – the legendary Red Baron – as the commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 (‘The Flying Circus’) on 14th July 1918.

Between the 17th May 1917 and 28 July 1918 Leutnant (Lieutenant) Herman Göring was the Commanding Officer of Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 27 (Jasta 27) hunting group, Willi Rosenstein was also part of Jasta 27 and at the time flew as Göring’s wing man.

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Hermann Göring in the cockpit of his bi-plane fighter

During the First World War the anti-Jewish issue in Germany was a latent one but simmering, many Jewish Germans served with distinction in Germany’s armed forces in WW1 and it was just Hermann Göring personal anti-Semitism at the time that he clearly carried with him into the Second World War.

In late 1917 an incident occurred in which Rosenstein became very upset after Lt. Goering made an anti-Semitic remark in front of several people; Rosenstein requested an apology but when Göring refused, Rosenstein asked for a transfer out of Jasta 27.

Willi Rosenstein then joined Jasta 40, and flew as the wing man to Adolf Auer.  In defiance to anti-Semitism and to derogatory comments Hermann Göring had made as to Rosentein whilst he was his wing-man, Auer painted a Star of David on the side of his fighter, this was done to annoy Herman Göring and stand up for his fellow Jewish comrade, he famously said that he would rather be saved by a Jewish pilot than die in a plane crash.

Simply put Göring hated Jews and was an unabashed anti-semitic, after WW1 he joined the Nazi party and rose to become a key leader of Hitler’s Third Reich.  His intense hatred of Jews would eventually lead him to become one of the architects of the Holocaust in the Second World War, even ordering a high-ranking Nazi official to organise the solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ – which in reality meant the extermination of the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and in front of firing squads.  A keen art enthusiast Göring even went as far as illegally appropriating important art work from Jewish victims of the genocide.

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Adolf Auer

Lt. Adolf Auer’s combat record in WW1 is however very short, he scored one victory during the war and was wounded in action when he was brought down on 28th October 1918 and taken Prisoner of War

When World War 2 broke out, Adolf Auer joined the German Luftwaffe, which by this time was headed up by Hermann Göring and although Göring rose to become one of Adolf Hitler’s closest advisers and the second-most-powerful Nazi during World War 2, it appears Göering did not penalize Auer for his antics of painting a Star of David on his aircraft during World War 1 (it was a different time).  However if he had pulled the same stunt in World War 2 he would surely have been severely punished (it could have led to his arrest or even execution in the Second World War).

German Jewish Fighter Ace

Rosenstein-in-Uniform

Willi Rosenstein

A different matter for Willi Rosenstein who went on to become a rare thing in WW1 – a German Jewish fighter Ace.  He initially volunteered to fight for Imperial Germany in the army, but transferred to De Fliegertruppen (the budding army version of the German Air Force) on 24 August 1914.   As a fighter pilot he won the Iron Cross, Second Class in March 1915 and was also awarded the Silver Military Service Medal.  By February 1916 he was commissioned as a Leutnant (Lieutenant), in April 1916 he was wounded in action during the Battle of Verdun, and eventually received the Iron Cross First Class  having flown 180 combat sorties to that date.  Upon recovery, he reported to the 3rd Army as a Fokker pilot. He became one of the founding members of one of Germany’s brand-new fighter squadrons, Jasta 9 on 23 September 1916.

He moved on to Jasta 27  on 15 February 1917. However, it would not be until 21 September that he scored his first aerial victory, when he shot down an Airco DH4 over Zonnebeke while on a morning patrol. Five days later, his victim was a Sopwith Camel, he scored his third aerial victory on 26 June, when he downed another DH.4

On 2 July 1918, he received his final war posting, to Jasta 40 where he promptly shot down a SE 5a on 14 July. On 28 September, he received the Knight’s Cross 2nd Class with Swords of the Order of the Zahringer Lion. The following day, he began a run of five victories that took him through 27 October 1918.

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Willi Rosenstein’s bi-plane fighter with its distinctive white heart

The South African connection

After World War 1, Willy Rosenstein became a glider pilot sportsman. Because of growing anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazi Party (and the likes of Hermann Göring) in the 1930s, and despite being a war hero with 9 British kills, he feared for his life and that of his family and fled to South Africa.

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Hermann Göring as head of the Luftwaffe –  WW2

Rosenstein settled in South Africa and took to farming, though he kept his interest in aviation. His son Ernest took to his father’s love of flying and became a fighter pilot for the  South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and attained the rank Lieutenant.  Lt. Ernest Willy Rosenstein was tragically killed in action over Italy on 2 April 1945 fighting for the Allies, ironically fighting against his father’s country of birth with its now deeply evil anti-Sematic Nazi manifestations and Herman Göring’s Lufwaffe  – he was aged only 22.  He is buried at the Milan War Cemetery in eternal memory on the SAAF honour roll.

Willy Rosenstein survived both his son and the war. He was killed on 23 May 1949 in a midair collision with a student pilot over his farm in Rustenburg, South Africa.

In Conclusion

Although many Jews served in the German army during WWI, it still appears incongruous to see a Fokker biplane with a Star of David alongside the German Iron Cross in a fighter squadron – Jagdstaffel 40. Adolf Auer was certainly a man who stood by his convictions and his comrades and that is highly commendable by any military code.

Not so commendable is Hermann Göring, now in the annuals of history as one of the most evil men to walk the planet.  After being found guilty after World War 2 of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide the night before he was to hang for his crimes.

Willy Rosentein enters the annuals of history as a war hero, a fighter ace with an impeccable record.  He’s not only a hero for Germany, but also as a representative of his faith remains a stand out icon and role model.  In the end, as a converted South African citizen we now also have in our midst of military history another remarkable individual whose sacrifice to South Africa’s contribution to modern freedom came in the form of his son.

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Lt. Adolf Auer and his gunner

Related Work and Links:

South African fighter Ace’s of WW1

Dingbat Saunders: Sir ‘Dingbat’ the Knight

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor: ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

Andrew Cameron “Dixie” Kiddie:  Kimberley’s local baker was also a WW1 Flying Ace


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Extracts and references taken from Mail On-line, The Times of Israel and German Jewish World War 1 Aces on-line. Adolf Auer’s images from his collection.

 

The first man to land on an aircraft carrier at sea was a South African

A South African holds a very prestigious place in the world of aviation firsts.  Edwin Dunning was the first man to land an aircraft on a moving ship adapted to carry aircraft, a feat that at the time was near impossible, and the practice of landing aircraft even today on an aircraft carrier takes supreme skill and is reserved for the ‘best of the best’ pilots, such is the hazard.  Unfortunately for his pioneering endeavour his efforts were to end in tragedy.

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Squadron Commander E H Dunning climbs out of his aircraft on the flying-off deck of HMS FURIOUS after the first successful landing on an aircraft carrier underway.

Edwin Harris Dunning was born in South Africa on the 17th July 1892, the second child of Sir Edwin Harris Dunning and was later educated at Royal Navy Colleagues in the United Kingdom.

A very skilled aviator, he took to pioneering naval aviation.  He rose to a high rank within the Royal Navy’s newly born Air Service or RNAS (which was to evolve into their ‘Fleet Air Arm’).  During World War 1 the Army and the Navy ran separate Air Services under their own Command. During the war the Royal Navy began to look at how aircraft can be operated from fighting ships.

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Squadron Commander E H Dunning

Previously the Royal Navy had used catapults to launch the aircraft from ship decks but landing them was a different matter – early naval aircraft types were fitted with pontoons (sea-plane or ‘float’ plane) and ‘landed in the ocean next to the vessel to be hoisted back on.  This posted a number of difficulties, sea conditions and time and manoeuvring of the aircraft and ship for hoisting for starters.  Also, they could only operate one aircraft from a ship and it was usually used for one thing – ‘spotting’ i.e. reconnaissance work.

The solution lay in an adapted fighting ship with a runway from which a number of aircraft could take-off or be catapulted from and could land directly on the ship again, this could then bring the formidable nature of air-power – striking targets anywhere in the world within range completely at will into the realm of sea-power.  The concept of the aircraft carrier was born (a concept that to this day divides a super-power from an ordinary country).

However, you needed people with considerable skill and courage to try this idea out, that it was dangerous to land on a ship in high winds and rolling seas is an understatement – think of runway that is always moving around.  They found such a man in our hero, one very brave South African aviator.

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HMS Furious with the original flight deck conversion in the front

The Royal Navy decided to convert a Courageous-class Battlecruiser, the from a fighting ship into a fighting aircraft carrier by removing her forward gun and a flight deck was added to the bow in its place.  A difficult proposition to land on as the approaching aircraft had to manoeuvre around the superstructure to land (much later on they removed the rear gun and extend the flight deck to compensate for this, but it look a tragic learning).

Squadron Leader Edwin Dunning, aged just 25, flying a Sopwith Pup bi-plane marched into the history books at Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, Scotland during test exercises in the Flow.  He became the first person to land on a moving aircraft carrier at sea.  He completed this landmark aviation feat on 2 August 1917.

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A colourised image captures Dunning’s milestone.  Note naval personnel ‘catching’ his aircraft

The landing was extremely perilous – whereas now arrest wires would bring a plane to a halt, Dunning was relying on the deck crew of the Furious to grab the wings of his Sopwith Pup to bring it to a halt.

Five short days later, after completing his milestone, Dunning endeavoured to do it again.  However tragedy struck during his third landing of the day. On approach, his aircraft stalled and he came down on the deck of the Furious at too steep an angle. Dunning was knocked unconscious, his port wing lifted as the plane went over the side of the ship and he drowned in the cockpit.

 

Recognition

Edwin Dunning is buried at St Lawrence’s Church, Bradfield in England. A plaque in the church says just about everything in recognition of his contribution to naval aviation.

It reads:

“The Admiralty wish you to know what great service he performed for the Navy. It was in fact a demonstration of landing an Aeroplane on the deck of a Man-of-War whilst the latter was under way. This had never been done before; and the data obtained was of the utmost value. It will make Aeroplanes indispensable to a fleet; & possibly, revolutionise Naval Warfare. The risk taken by Squadron Commander Dunning needed much courage. He had already made two successful landings; but expressed a wish to land again himself, before other Pilots did so; and in this last run he was killed. My Lords desire to place on record their sense of the loss to the Naval Service of this gallant Officer”.

In memory of Edwin Dunning, the Dunning Cup is given annually to the officer who is considered to have done most to further aviation in connection with the Fleet for the year in question. In the 1950s and 1960s it was awarded to Royal Air Force squadrons which achieve the highest standard on courses at the Joint Anti-Submarine School.

A memorial stone was also unveiled at Swanbister Bay in Orkney in 1992 in recognition of Dunning’s feat.

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On the occasion of the centenary of Dunning’s feat the British marked the occasion in Orkney with a Hawk flypast and a new plaque was unveiled.  Lt Cdr Barry Issitt, Commanding Officer of 736 Naval Air Squadron, paid tribute in August 2017 to mark the centenary, he said;

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The new plaque has been produced by local craftsman Stuart Wylie, of Orkney Crystal – 2017.

“The event itself is of particular significance to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm as it marks the first successful landing of a fixed-wing aircraft on a ship under way at sea; a moment that would be the genesis for the establishment of the pre-eminence of aircraft carriers.

“It is all the more poignant considering the current regeneration of the UK’s carrier capability, with HMS Queen Elizabeth currently conducting sea trials not far from the location of Dunning’s landing, with Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron operating from her flight deck.”

In Conclusion

As is typical to South Africa’s lack of recognition to countrymen who attained greatness serving in the ‘hated’ British forces (as was the case with the old National Party) or in the case of the ‘colonial’ forces (as is the current case with the ANC), even if the feat was an international aviation milestone.  So it passed unnoticed and no such flybys, plaque unveilings, awards, centenary mark or national salutes were given to our pioneering hero in South Africa – and that’s more tragic than the tragedy itself.

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Cdr Chestnutt is presented The Edwin Dunning Trophy on the pride of the Royal Navy, the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth

Related Work and Links 

Fleet Air Arm – South African sacrifice ; South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

Fleet Air Arm – Dick Lord; Dick Lord – the combat legend who took learnings from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to the SAAF

South African Navy sacrifice in the Royal Navy; The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Source and Extracts – Wikipedia and BBC News