“Superhuman powers of endurance and courage” Reginald Hayward VC

29060739_2111661739062813_6833898184469216994_oThis South African’s Victoria Cross turns 100 on the 21/22 March 2018, so today we honour another true South African hero and Victoria Cross recipient, and this man, Captain Reginald Frederick Johnson Hayward VC MC & Bar is one very extraordinary South African.

“Bravery” is an often over used word, then you read about a South African who won the Military Cross for Bravery, not once but twice and then goes on to win a Victoria Cross. Now this Hilton College old boy is a “brave” man cut from a different cloth, “superhuman” in fact (as is noted in his VC citation) and this is his story.

Reginald Hayward, was the son of a stockbreeder family, Frederick and Gertrude Hayward, he was born on 17 June 1891 at the Beersheba Mission Station near Swartruggens, East Griqualand in South Africa.  He was educated at Hilton College and represented Natal against English Rugby teams in 1911. Serving with the cadets he became Regimental Sergeant Major.

After leaving school Reginald attended  Durban Business College from 1909-1910 and continued to excel as sportsman especially in rugby, football and cricket. In May 1912 he travelled to England and began studying at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and captained their Rugby XV in 1913. He also played for Rosslyn Park Club and for Middlesex.

When the 1st World War broke out be volunteered and in May 1912 Reginald arrived in the United Kingdom and joined the 6th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 29 September 1914.

The Somme Offensive 1916

Later the same year he was promoted to temporary Lieutenant and in March 1915 joined the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in France where during October 1916 he was involved in action at Stuff Redoubt, Thiepval, France during which he was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and initiative, gazetted on 8th October.

Wounded during the action he briefly returned to London to have the piece of shrapnel removed from his eye.


Officers and men of the 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, after their return from the fighting at Thiepval, photographed at Bouzincourt, September 1916

On 19 December 1916 Reginald was promoted to Temporary Captain and on 22 December 1916 was promoted to the substantive rank of Lieutenant. During the battle of Messines Ridge in Belgium on 07 June 1917 he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross which was gazetted on 18 September.

The Spring Offensive 1918

On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring offensive against the section of Front manned by British Third and Fifth Armies running from Roeux on the River Scarpe east of Arras in the north to the River Oise west of La Fere in the south, as the crow flies a distance of about 50 miles, but over double that on the ground. 6th Corps held the British Line south of Arras. From the previous evening, German troops had begun probing British positions at this point. 13th Battalion Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment) were in the line from St -Leger, just east of the road south from Arras to Bapaume, along the road south to Mory.


Captured British tank with German markings crossing a trench. Note a biplane flying over the battlefield during the German’s Spring Offensive of 1918

It was here on the morning of 21 March 1918 that Temporary Second Lieutenant E F Beal gallantly repelled a German incursion, helping to stabilize the situation until he was killed. However, German pressure was relentless and the British were pushed back. As the enemy advances steadily towards Bapaume, 1st Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment was moved to the north of Fremicourt, a village east of Bapaume and just south of the Cambrai road. 4th Corps was trying to hold a line between Vaulx and Morchies to the north of the road. It was for his gallantry in the fighting which followed that Acting Captain R F J Hayward was awarded the VC.

On 21/22 March 1918 near Fremicourt, France, while commanding a company, Captain Hayward displayed almost superhuman powers of endurance. In spite of the fact that he was buried, wounded in the head and rendered deaf on the first day of operations and had his arm shattered two days later, he refused to leave his men (even though he received a third serious injury to his head) until he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Throughout this period the enemy were attacking the company’s front without cessation, but Captain Hayward continued to move across the open from one trench to another with absolute disregard for his own safety.

Here is his citation and it says everything about the action and his courage:

For most conspicuous bravery in action. This officer, while in command of a company, displayed almost superhuman powers of endurance and consistent courage of the rarest nature. In spite of the fact that he was buried, wounded in the head, and rendered deaf on the first day of operations, and had his arm shattered two days later, he refused to leave his men (even though he received a third serious injury to his head), until he collapsed from sheer physical exhaustion.

Throughout the whole of this period the enemy was attacking his company front without cessation, but Captain Hayward continued to move across the open front from one trench to another with absolute disregard of his own personal safety, concentrating entirely on re-organising his defences and encouraging his men.

It was almost entirely due to the magnificent example of ceaseless energy of this officer that many determined attacks on his portion of the trench system failed entirely.

The surviving Wiltshires, three officers and 54 NCO’s and men, were gathered at Bihucourt, north-west of Bapaume, on 24 March. Hayward had been evacuated with the other wounded the night before.

When the German offensive had opened on the 21st, 8th Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment mounted an unsuccessful counter-attack at Doignies to try to contain the enemy advance south of the Cambrai-Bapaume road. They were then withdrawn west to Velu Wood. By the 23rd, the German advance had reached this point and the Glosters, together with the 10th Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was ordered to cover the further withdrawal of British forces. Bapaume itself was abandoned to the Germans.


Composite battalion made up of surviving troops of the Wiltshire, Warwickshire Regiments, Northumberland Fusiliers and others at the end of the first phases of the German Spring Offensive. Seen here resting by the roadside. Caestre, 17 April 1918.

Post World War 1

The war would grind on for a couple of more months and end in November 1918. Reginald survived his injuries and the war and in 1919 he became the Adjudant of the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and later that same year, along with Lieutenant S. J. Parker MC DCM carried the 1st Battalion’s Regimental Colours at the Peace Parades in London and Paris.

Over the period 1919 to 1921 he served in Dublin, Egypt and Palestine and on 27 September 1927 he was promoted to the substantive rank of Captain. On 04 April 1935 he was transferred to the Reserves. On 09 July 1938 Reginald marries Linda Angus (nee Bowen in the Christ Church, Burbage, Buxton, Derbyshire.

World War 2

When the Second World War started in 1939, Reginald was called back into full-time service and served as Commander of the Royal Army Service Corps Anti-Aircraft Command (CRASC). Over the period 1945 to 1947 he was Commandant of Prisoner of War Camps where after he retired on 09 July 1947 as an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

Later Life

10999432_417568698412868_2379871863135790696_nReginald worked at the British Broadcasting Corporations (BBC) Publications Department from 1947 to 1952 and as games manager of the Hurlingham Club from 1952 to 1967.

His Victoria Cross investiture, along with his Military Cross, was on 24 October 1918 by King George V at Buckingham Palace. His Victoria Cross is held at the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment Museum in Wiltshire.

Apart from his Victoria Cross and Military Cross with Bar he was awarded the 1914 – 1915 Star, British War Medal 1914 – 1920, Victory Medal 1914 – 1919, Defence Medal 1939 – 1945, Coronation Medal 1937, Coronation Medal 1953 and Territorial Efficiency decoration.

Reginald died on 17 January 1970 in Chelsea, London and was cremated on 23 January 1970 in the Putney Vale Crematorium, London while his ashes are scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. He is commemorated in the St Mary’s Church, Limpley Stoke, Wiltshire. His medals are now held at The Rifles Museum, Salisbury, Wiltshire.


Original content courtesy Charles Ross, additional research and content by Peter Dickens

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.  Information obtained from VC on-line (The comprehensive guide to Victoria Cross and George Cross).  Images were referenced IWM Imperial Museum Copyright.

Mast image shows The Wiltshire Regiment on the advance over trenches at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme.  Copyright Imperial War Museum.

Jackie; The South African Baboon soldier of World War One

World War 1 and Jackie the Baboon is seen here on top of a carriage … here’s another famous South African mascot.  Jackie cut an odd figure amongst the British and Empire troops in Wold War 1, for only the South Africans could conjure up an African Baboon as a Regimental mascot, but this was no ordinary Baboon, intelligent and intuitive Jackie would achieve fame and become an iconic war hero in both South Africa and England, here is his story.

An odd choice of Mascot


Commemorative Postcard with Pvt Marr and Jackie

The story starts in August 1915, just over 100 years ago, at the Marr’s family farm ‘Cheshire’ in Villeria just on the outskirts of Pretoria.  Albert Marr found a Chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) on the farm, named him Jackie and adopted his as a beloved family pet.

World War I broke out and along with many other young South African men Albert Marr volunteered for military service. He was mobilised on the 25th August 1915 at Potchefstroom, allocated the rank of Private (Pte), his service number was 4927 and he was allocated to the 3rd (Transvaal) Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, a Brigade which was earmarked to fight in France.

The 3rd South African Infantry Regiment, was under the Command of Lt Col E.F. Thackeray and raised mainly from the Transvaal (now Gauging) and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  The Regiment was generally known as “The Transvaal Regiment.” B Company were mostly from the Witwatersrand Rifles while C Company were men from the Rand Light Infantry.

Distraught a leaving Jackie behind Pte. Marr figured it would be a great idea if his pet Baboon could come along with him, so he approached his superiors and (rather surprisingly) got their permission. At first Jackie’s presence was generally ignored, but he was so well-behaved and had such an impressive bearing that he was soon stuck out and the troops took notice of him.  In a short time Jackie was officially adopted by all as the mascot of the 3rd South African Infantry (Transvaal) Regiment,

Once officially enlisted Jackie was given the rank of ‘Private’ and a special uniform was made for him complete with buttons, a cap and regimental badges.  As with any enlisted soldier he also received a pay book and his own rations. He also drilled and marched with his company and would generally entertain the men – and such entertainment would prove invaluable in the months to come as a morale booster, especially to relieve the boredom caused by the stalemate of trench warfare once the 1st South African Infantry Brigade (and the Transvaal Regiment) reached France.

Jackie wore his uniform with some panache, he was also known to light up a cigarette or pipe for his ‘pals’.  He also had a sharp salute for any officer passing him. He would stand at ease when commanded to do so, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back in the military style. At the mess table he used a knife and fork as well as a tea-cup in the proper manner.


At War

Albert Marr and Jackie became and odd pairing, absolutely inseparable and for all intents and purposes they became friends.  The two of them first saw action during the Senussi Campaign.

The Senussi were a religious sect resident in Libya and Egypt, who were allied to the Ottoman and German Empire.  In the summer of 1915, the Ottomans persuaded the Grand Senussi, Ahmed Sharif es Senussi to declare jihad and attack British-occupied Egypt.

The 1st South African Infantry Brigade along with other British forces was dispatched to Egypt to put an end to the Senussi Jihadi uprising.  At the battle of Agagia, on 26 February 1916, whist fighting the Senussi, Pte. Albert Marr was shot and wounded in the shoulder.

Whilst waiting for the stretcher bearers to arrive, a distraught Jackie became desperate to do something to comfort Pte. Marr as he lay on the ground, so he went about licking the wound. By this simple action of trying to comfort a fallen comrade, Jackie became more than just an animal mascot and pet in the eyes of the men in the Regiment, he had now become a fellow comrade.

Albert Marr recovered his wound and rejoined his Regiment.  Both Albert and Jackie then spent three years, on and off, in the front line that was the ‘western front’ in Europe fighting in the mud and blood of the trenches in France and Flanders.  Jackie was even reported to go “over the top” (advancing by breaking cover from the trenches) with the rest of the 3rd South African Infantry (Transvaal) Regiment during the heavy fighting in which they were engaged.

His sharper animal instincts proved highly valuable at night when on guard duty with Albert, he was particularly useful because of his keen eyesight and acute hearing. He would give an early warning of enemy movement or an impending attack by barking and tugging on Pte. Marr’s tunic.

Wounded in Action

Up to now he and Albert had come through the war in Europe relatively unscathed but in April 1918 that all changed, nearing the end of the war the 1st South African Infantry Brigade found itself been heavily shelled as they withdrew to Reninghelst in Belgium during the Battle of Passchendale.

To protect himself, Jackie was seen to be frantically trying to build a wall of stones about himself, as a rudimentary cover from shell fragments and shrapnel which were bursting all around him.

He never properly completed his protective wall and a jagged piece of shrapnel wounded him in the arm and another nearly severed his leg. At first Jackie refused to be evacuated by the stretcher-bearers; instead he tried vainly to continue building his protective wall, hobbling around in excruciating pain on what had once been his leg held in place by just sinew.

What happens next is best described in the words of Lt-Col R N Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corps who was the attending Doctor.

jackie-mascotIt was a pathetic sight; the little fellow, carried by his keeper, lay moaning in pain, the man crying his eyes out in sympathy, “You must do something for him, he saved my life in Egypt. He nursed me through dysentery”. The baboon was badly wounded, the left leg hanging with shreds of muscle, another jagged wound in the right arm.

We decided to give the patient chloroform and dress his wounds. If he died under the anaesthetic perhaps it would be the best thing; as I had never given an anaesthetic to such a patient before, I thought it would be the most likely result. However, he lapped up the chloroform as if it had been whiskey, and was well under in a remarkably short time. It was a simple matter to amputate the leg with scissors and I cleaned the wounds and dressed them as well as I could”.

He came around as quickly as he went under. The problem then was what to do with him. This was soon settled by his keeper: “He is on army strength”. So, duly labelled, number, name, ATS injection, nature of injuries, etc. he was taken to the road and sent by a passing ambulance to the Casualty Clearing Station.

It was unsure if the chloroform and the operation would kill Jackie, but funnily it was reported that when the Officer Commanding the Regiment went to check up on him at the Casualty Clearing Station, Jackie sat up in bed and saluted him.


Jackie and Lt. Col R N Woodsend after his amputation.


It was the end of active service for both Pte. Marr and Pte. Jackie, the war ended shortly afterward on the 11th November 1918. They were both shipped to England, where Jackie immediately became a media celebrity in the English newspapers.

Jackie’s proudest moment in London was to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Day Procession (the featured image at the top shows Jackie and Albert Marr in this parade). From early September to 14 February 1919, Jackie and Private Marr were lent to the Red Cross by the War Office and the South African Government for the purpose of collecting money for sick and wounded soldiers.

They managed to collect a huge amount of money for the Widows and Orphans Fund by allowing the public to pay half a crown to shake Jackie by the hand and five shillings to kiss the baboon.


Back in South Africa, Jackie was officially discharged at Maitland Dispersal Camp in Cape Town on 26 April 1919.  A proper war veteran now, on his sleeve Jackie wore one gold ‘wound’ stripe and three blue service chevrons, indicating three years of frontline service.

At Maitland Jackie received his official discharge papers, a military pension, plus a Civil Employment Form for discharged soldiers. By the 5th May 1919, both Jackie and Albert were on their last leg of their journey home to their cherished family farm near Pretoria.

After their arrival home, Jackie was again feted over and became the centre of attention.  He was front and forward on his official welcome home parade, and again lead the homecoming victory parade of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, and again he was present at the Peace Parade in Church Square, Pretoria on 31 July 1920, where he proudly received the Pretoria Citizen’s Service Medal.

Albert Marr and Jackie returned to their family farm to recover from ‘shell shock’ (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome PTSD), but the fragile state Jackie was in from the terrors of war tragically killed him on the 22nd May 1921. During an unusually intense highveld thunderstorm, he suffered a heart attack when an intense thunder-clap went off close by.

A sad end to one of South Africa’s most remarkable mascots.  He was mourned and much missed, especially by his friend, comrade and close companion, Albert Marr, who went on to live a long life and passed away at the age of 84 in Pretoria in August 1973.

Jackie now enters the annuals of some very remarkable South African military mascots, which amongst others include Nancy the Springbok (see. The story of Nancy the Springbok), Able Seaman Just Nuisance the Great Dane (see. Able Seaman “Just Nuisance”) and Teddy the Lion (see. Teddy the Recce).

Researched by Peter Dickens.  Extracts and sources include Jackie: The South African baboon soldier by Wildlife TV, August 19th 2013 Military History Journal Vol 16, 2nd December 2013 JACKIE, THE BABOON MASCOT OF 3 SAI DURING THE GREAT WAR, 1914 – 1918 By Sarel Rossouw and Wikipedia.

The Christmas Truce

Just over 100 Years ago, on the 25th December, a remarkable Christmas Day Truce took place during World War 1. The two belligerent armies facing one another in the trenches of the western front heard Christmas carol singing in the opposing trenches and simultaneously and spontaneously approached one another for an informal and impromptu truce – a brief peace to extend a hand of goodwill and mutually enjoy Christmas together.

As this informal truce played out, the men from both opposing sides, initially very weary of one another, gradually ventured out from the safety of their defences and gathered in the middle, known as “no mans land” (or otherwise known as the killing zone).  A true Christmas miracle was beginning to unfold.


British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial Christmas truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector).

Here in the middle of what was a place of absolute slaughter they exchanged gifts and played games of football.  Items swapped as gifts included things like insignia, wine, food and chocolate, there is no record of who won the football games (not that it mattered at all), just that games all along the front were enjoyed between both sides using impromptu goal posts.

This remarkable photograph survives of the occasion British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. London Rifle Brigade with troops of the 104th and 106th Saxon Regiments.


They all returned to their respective trenches to continue the wholesale slaughter that was the Western Front in WW1, but for a short Christmas Day, the spirit of Christmas prevailed and shone a light of hope and peace in what was most certainly the deepest hell of war.

Such is the power of the Christmas spirit and quite remarkable that the sentiment of this day – the power of goodwill and humanity to all – still prevails, and that is quite something.

Sadly things reverted to normal the next day and the carnage of World War 1 trench warfare continued, but this day stands testimony of the natural goodwill of man and the goodness of this most special day on the Christian calendar.

This commercial made in conjunction with the Royal British Legion and Sainsbury’s in 2014 captures this most wonderful moment of man’s goodwill and triumph over adversary and destruction.


Merry Christmas from The Observation Post and may we all remember the true spirit of Christmas which shone through so powerfully on this remarkable day.

Written by Peter Dickens. Image copyrights to the Imperial War Museum. Commercial video copyright, Sainsburys.

Do you recognise this flag?

If you’re a South African you should know exactly what flag this is – but we’re guessing most South Africans won’t have a clue.

What if we told you it is the South African national flag as it was during World War 1.  Read a previous Observation Post which outlines the inconvenient and hidden history of South African National Flags – just click on this link:

The inconvenient and unknown history of South Africa’s national flags

Posted by Peter Dickens. The image is – TO VICTORY! “UNION IS STRENGTH!”, “EENDRACHT MAAKT MACHT!”. Part of a set of 6 Postcards promoting the Commonwealth countries commitment to partaking in World War 1. The series focussed primarily on the dominions, including South Africa – this one carries the then National Flag of South Africa.

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

This is arguably one of the most highest decorated and bravest South African characters you’ll ever meet, a man with a true warrior’s heart.


Lt. Col John Sherwood Kelly VC, CMG, DSO.

Lieutenant Colonel John “Jack” Sherwood Kelly VC CMG DSO joined the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in July 1915 when he was a Major.  The entry into the Regimental history reflects an extraordinary character and neatly sums him up:

“A new Major has joined us. The new Major was a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

The four-times-wounded Kelly was not a Regular officer but a formidable and experienced commander with a combat record going back to the 1896 Matabele Revolt. During his military career he achieved fame and notoriety for his mixture of heroic exploits and explosive temperament.

His Story, the early years.

The twin sons John Sherwood Kelly and Hubert Henry Kelly were born on 13 January 1880 in Lady Frere in the Cape Colony in South Africa as the son of James Kelly of Irish decent. James Kelly was at one time mayor of Lady Frere and believed in justice for all and was himself a hero. On 08 December 1876 James Kelly saved the lives of 25 people when the Italian ship, SS Nova Bella, ran into trouble at the St John’s river mouth.

John (also called “Jack”) attended the Queenstown Grammar School, Dale College in King William’s Town and St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown. At school John was keener on the outdoor activities such as horse riding and boxing, in which he excelled, than school work. During this period John first lost his mother, with whom he had a very close relationship, when he was only 12 and a year later in 1893 he lost his twin brother Hubert in a riding accident.

The 2nd Anglo-Boer War and the Matabele Revolt

In 1896, age 16, John enlisted in the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and saw action in the Matabele revolt in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). With the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902) he enlisted in the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and saw action as a Trooper in the Relief of Mafeking as a Private in Colonel Plumer’s Column.


Boer Forces with a 94 Pounder ‘Long Tom’ besieging Mafeking

On 08 January 1901 John was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Imperial Light Horse (ILH) and later joined Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts as a Lieutenant and saw action in Rhodesia, Orange Free State and Transvaal. He was twice mentioned in despatches during this time.

After the Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902) John returned to civilian life were he worked in his father’s store, but this was not what John had in mind, he was a warrior at heart  – and what he does next is an extraordinary journey which sees him take part in battles all over the world.



The ‘Mad’ Mullah

Having resigned his commission he volunteered to serve with the British forces again in Somaliland for the 3rd Expedition against Haji Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (known to the British as Mad Mullah) over the period November 1902 to July 1903.

South Africa sent a British Mounted Infantry Company (141 men) from the 4th Bn The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, commanded by Captain G.C. Shakerley, and a Boer Mounted Infantry Company, known as the Somaliland Burgher Corps (100 men) commanded by Captain W. Bonham DSO.   The men brought their own horses and 50% spares for remounts.  In a strange twist, John Sherwood-Kelly joined the Boer Corps. During the period he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

In 1904 he was reduced to a Trooper again and returned to South Africa where he worked at first as a trader and later as a recruiter of native labour in the Transkei. In 1905/6 he again saw action during the Zululand Bambatha Rebellion.

Over the period 1906 to 1912 John was involved in the family business in Butterworth which was involved in the recruiting labour for the mines.

The Irish ‘Home Rule’ Crisis 

Finding a lasting solution for the Irish crisis remained a challenge for the British and in 1910 another attempt failed. The situation deteriorated and by 1912/13 the call went out for “all unionists” to return to Ireland. Being from Irish descent John and another brother of his, Edward answered the call and travelled to Ireland where they both joined the Ulster Volunteer Force.


Ulster Unionists gather during the Home Rule Crisis in 1910

With war clouds gathering over Europe late 1913 and early 1914 the Irish crisis dropped on the list of priorities and by July 1914 John and Edward travelled to London. John being a man that liked adventure saw the gathering of war clouds as an opportunity for him to become involved.

John soon joined the 2nd Battalion King Edward’s Horse as a Private. With a chest full of medals it was not long before John was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. During this time John met Nellie Green and soon John and Nellie were active in the London social life.

Gallipoli Campaign and his DSO

During the Gallipoli campaign a Jack Sherwood-Kelly, would command the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and would be decorated with a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions.


Kings Own Scottish Borderers on the offensive during the Gallipoli Campaign

On 21 October 1915 John’s lungs got badly burned by gas from the Turks and he was evacuated to the hospital, but returned to the frontline on 28 October. After his return John led his men to in a frontal attack to capture a Turkish trench that was threatening his own forces. Only 6 men returned and John was wounded three times. For this John was awarded the Distinguish Service Order (DSO). The first South African to be awarded the DSO during World War One.

During his leave to recover his wounds, John married Nellie on 22 April 1916. Early May 1916 saw John recalled to the front once again in command of a battalion, this time the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as part of the 29th Division preparing for the upcoming Battle of the Somme.

The Somme Offensive

In France, leading his Battalion from the front during the fighting in the Beaumont Hamel sector John was shot through the lung and he was saved by Jack Johnson until he could be evacuated back to London.


Officers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers take a tea break during the Somme Offensive

During July 1916 John and his wife Nellie embarked on a recruiting tour to South Africa where John was received as hero. On his return to England in September 1916 John immediately reported for duty. John remained in England and on 29 November 1916 received his Distinguish Service Order (DSO) from King George V.

During November 1916 John was posted to the 3rd Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers as a Major. Very soon after arrival requested to be transferred to the 10th Norfolk Reserve Battalion

On 01 January 1917 John Sherwood Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Order of St Micheal and St George, Third Class or Companion, post nominal CMG. It is awarded for service to the Empire, partly for his recruiting drive in South Africa.

Ypres and Passchendaele

In February 1917 John was again posted to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as Officer Commanding. Early part of 1917 saw a new British offensive in Vimmy and Arras which was followed by offensives in Ypres and Passchendaele. A smaller offensive was planned for November 1917 in the Cambrai sector, using the new weapon “the Mark 1 Tank”.

On 20 November 1917, the opening day of the first Battle of Cambrai, 87th Brigade advanced on Marcoing, three miles south-west of Cambrai. 1st Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, crossed the Canal de St Quentin by the lock east of Marcoing copse.


Men of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers advancing in the Cambrai sector 20th November 1917

For his gallantry during the crossing of the canal and in leading the attack against the enemy defences on the far side, Acting Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood-Kelly was awarded the highest accolade for bravery – the Victoria Cross. (VC)

Two companies of 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, crossed the canal by the railway bridge at Marcoing and one at the lock by the railway station at the north-eastern outskirts of the town. During the action Sergeant C. E .Spackman was awarded the VC for attacking a machine-gun which threatened this advance.

In the same action John was also awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). His citation reads as follows:

“For most conspicuous bravery and fearless leading when a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed on the bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing, reconnoitred under heavy rifle fire and machine gun fire the high ground held by the enemy.

The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective was held up by a thick belt of wire, where upon he crossed to that flank, and with a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position.

Later, he personally led a charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men, captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty six prisoners, and killed a large number of the enemy.

The great gallantry displayed by this officer throughout the day inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and it was mainly due to his example and devotion to duty that his battalion was enabled to capture and hold their objective”.

The Germans launched a counter attack which was successfully repelled by the 29th Division during which time Acting Captain A. M. Lascelles, another South African hero, of the 14th Durham Light Infantry who was also awarded a Victoria Cross (VC). John returned to a hospital in London having been gassed again.

On 11 January 1918 the London Gazette reported that John had been awarded the Victoria Cross which he received from King George on 23 January 1918 at Buckingham Palace.

North Russia

After the end of World War 1, John Sherwood-Kelly took command of the second Battalion of the Hampsire Regiment in the North Russian Campaign in July 1919.  Here he came under criticism from the British Command in Russia, firstly for withdrawing his troops from an attack against the Bolsheviks at Trotsia, he cited improper terrain to attack (it was a mash), no communication and stiff resistance from the Bolsheviks.

But the criticism did not stop there, in 1919 the British developed a new and more effective gas, they chose to trial it on the Bolsheviks. John Sherwood-Kelly was now in command of a very mixed outfit on the railway front as part of the Vologda Force, and he was ordered to carry out the attack on the Bolsheviks under the cover of a large ground discharge of this new poisonous gas.  John objected, possibly because of his experience of gas and wounds he had sustained from it, but also because he felt the objects of the raid could be achieved by other means which did not put his men to overt risk.


Troops of the Hampshire Regiment in Vladivostok 1919

The gas attack did not take place, and John was relieved of his command and returned to Britain.  On arrival, he promptly went to the press and publicly criticised the British campaign in North Russia in the Daily Express and Sunday Express.

Incensed that such a highly decorated officer should be so critical, Churchill wanted an example made, and against all advise not to , John Sherwood Kelly was court marshalled on the 6th October 1919 on the grounds of contravening The Kings Regulations (which restricted officers from dealing with the media on military matters).

John pleaded guilty, but also entered a plea in mitigation, which read:

“I plead with you to believe that the action I took was to protect my men’s lives against needless sacrifice and to save the country from squandering wealth it could ill afford.”

He was found guilty and severely reprimanded. A man of very strong principle he resigned from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel just two weeks later and entered politics.


John Kelly-Sherwood stood for the Conservative Party and took part in two General Elections for the constituency of Clay Cross in Derbyshire. His controversial and outspoken style even struck a chord among hardened socialist supporters in this largely mining seat. He was defeated in the 1923 elections and again in 1924. However, true to his character, during the election rallies, Kelly again hit the national headlines having thrashed some hecklers at Langwith.

In later years, Kelly worked for Bolivia Concessions Limited building roads and railways across Bolivia and went big game hunting in Africa where he contracted malaria and died on the 18th August 1931.  He was granted a full military funeral and is buried at Brookwood Military cemetery in Surrey, England.

An incredibly brave man who stood head and shoulders above his peers, his military career and military exploits are nothing short of impressive, a proper leader of men and a pure South African warrior of the highest order. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg for anyone who wants to learn more about South Africa’s finest.

Researched by Peter Dickens with extract from The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen, The VC and GC Association in 2013, Wikipedia and Charles Ross’ article for The South African Legion with grateful thanks. Image copyrights – Imperial War Museum.


Centenary of the ‘Smuts Report’, the instrument which gave birth to the Royal Air Force

August 2017 marks the centenary of the report to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), the idea of an independent Air Force from Navy or Army control is now officially 100 years old, and one key South African statesman, General Jan Smuts, gave birth to it.

smuts ww1

Smuts in WW1

Today, if you walk into the Royal Air Force Private Club in Mayfair, London you are greeted by a bust of Jan Smuts in the foyer, it stands there as an acknowledgement to the man who founded what is now one of the most prestigious and powerful air forces in the world – The RAF.

So how did it come to be that a South African started The Royal Air Force and why the need to have a separate and independent arm of service?

Simply put, during World War 1, the British Army and the Navy developed their own air-forces in support of their own respective ground and naval operations. The Royal Flying Corps had been born out of the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers and was under the control of the British Army. The Royal Naval Air Service was its naval equivalent and was controlled by the Admiralty.

However, the use of air power in World War 1 was developing beyond the immediate tactical use of aircraft by the Navy and the Army. In Great Britain the civilian population had been on the receiving end of extensive German bombing raids dropped from flying Zeppelin airships, the public outrage and the psychological effects of this bombing was having a significant impact on British politicians.

In reaction to this, the politicians proposed the creation of a long-range bombing force both as a retaliation and also as a means of disrupting enemy war production. There were also continuing concerns about aircraft supply and priorities between the services.

The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George asked General Jan Smuts to join his War Cabinet (the supreme authority governing Great Britain and her Empire’s forces in World War 1). Lloyd George then commissioned General Jan Smuts to report on two issues:

Firstly to look into arrangements for Home Defence against bombing and secondly, air organisation generally and the direction of aerial operations.  Smuts is generally accredited with improving British air defence and answering the first priority.

7960001505000118_fillHowever it was ‘Smuts report’ of August 1917 in response to the second of these questions that led to the recommendation to establish a separate Air Service. In making his recommendations Smuts commented that

“the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate”.

Given this new dimension he commented that it was important that the design of aircraft and engines for such operations should be settled in accordance with the policy which would direct their future strategic employment. On these grounds he argued there was an urgent need to create an Air Ministry and that this Ministry should sort out the amalgamation of the two air services.

The War Cabinet accepted this recommendation to amalgamate the two separate air forces under one single and independent Air Force.  Smuts was then asked to lead an Air Organisation Committee to put it into effect. The Air Force Bill received Royal assent from the King on the 29 November 1917, which gave the newly formatted Air Force the prefix of ‘Royal’ (up to that point the idea was to call it the ‘Imperial Air Force’).

Imp Cabinet WW1

The War Cabinet during WW1, Smuts seated bottom, far right

The RAF was officially formed on the 1 April 1918 with the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and  the Royal Flying Corps. Following which Lord Rothermere was appointed on 3 January 1918 as the first Secretary of State for Air and an Air Council established.

To emphasise the merger of both army and naval aviation in the new service, to appease the ‘senior service’ i.e. the Navy, many of the titles of officers were deliberately chosen to be of a naval character, such as Flight Lieutenant, Wing Commodore, Group Captain and Air Commodore.

Royal Air Force WW1

Royal Air Force

The newly created Royal Air Force was the most powerful air force in the world on its creation, with over 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel (including the Women’s Royal Air Force). It now qualifies as the oldest independent Air Force in the World.

General Smuts was to take his recommendations and findings across to form an independent South African Air Force (SAAF).  Smuts appointed Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld as the Director Air Services (DAS) with effect from 1 February 1920 with instructions to establish an air force for the South African Union. This date is acknowledged as marking the official birth of the SAAF.  The SAAF now qualifies as the second oldest independent Air Force in the world.


South African Air Force

In a nutshell, both the RAF and SAAF as we know them today, were given to us by Jan Smuts as a founding father.  Funnily, Smuts was often criticised domestically as ‘Slim’ Jannie (clever little Jan), a term Smuts hated as it was coined by the Hertzog Nationalists to mean that Jan Smuts was too clever for his ‘volk’ (peoples) and therefore out of touch, it was done for political expediency at Smuts’ personal expense.  Smuts disliked the term as it as it ironically belittled the Afrikaner and positioned his people as ‘simpletons’, something Smuts fundamentally disagreed with, and something they most certainly are not.

That said, domestically Smuts’ political adversaries in the opposition National Party carried on with this belittling ‘Slim Jannie’ nickname to further criticise his ability to command at a strategic level, stating that his approach was too ‘intellectual’ for effective command.

All modern military strategy is formulated on joint arms of service with an independent air arm. You only have to look to any modern military construct of any military superpower today to see just what a visionary and strategist Jan Smuts was. The proof of his ability to command strategically is in the pudding.  Smuts’ ground-breaking report in August 1917 now guides all modern strategic military planning by simple way of how the arms of service are now constructed (Army, Navy, Air Force i.e. ground, sea, air), how they co-ordinate with one another and how they are commanded.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References – Birth of the Royal Air Force (Royal Air Force Museum), Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia.  Images copyright, Imperial War Museum.

Connecting Zeppelins, Marlene Dietrich and South Africa’s favourite biscuit – Romany Creams!

Grab your packet of Romany Creams from the pantry, bite into South Africa’s top-selling chocolate biscuit then settle down and to read some very rich South African World War 1 history.  History is often connected by remarkable ‘golden threads’ and this one takes you on a wonderful journey – all the way from shooting down Zeppelin’s bombing England to your favourite tea time ‘choccy biccy’.

Our story starts with a young South African, Ian Vernon Pyott.  Ian was the son of a Scotsman named John Pyott. John, was born in Dundee, Scotland and was a baker’s apprentice at aged 10.  Due to ill-health, John was advised to move to a better climate – so he packed off to Cape Town, South Africa and in 1880 he moved to Port Elizabeth where he manufactured sweets, cakes and jams before later moving into bread and biscuits. On 1 December 1900, Pyott converted his business into a limited liability company and named it “Pyott Limited”.  Highly successful, between 1898 and 1924, the Company was to receive no fewer than 70 medals at various exhibitions across the country

Captain Ian Vernon Pyott DSO


Capt. Ian Pyott DSO

Ian Pyott was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on August 31, 1895. He grew up in Port Elizabeth. He was educated at Grey High School, South Africa and Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Scotland, returning to South Africa after completing his education here he trained as a miller in the family owned ‘Pyott Limited’ business.

At the outbreak of hostilities which was to become World War 1, Ian Pyott returned to England in February 1916, enlisting in the Machine Gun Corps ‘MGC (Tanks)’. He transferred into the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) three months later in June, after attending flying school, he was posted to 36 Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight, based at Seaton Carew and assigned to fly a two-seater Royal Aircraft Factory BE 2c, No 2738 biplane.

Little did he know that in a couple of months he was about to become one of the heroes of the war.  He was about to meet a German Zeppelin airship on a high altitude night bombing raid, November 27, 1916, designated number L-34.

Two groups of Zeppelin airships set out from Germany to bomb England that fateful night, with the first group of five ships crossed into England near Scarborough while the second group of four flew toward the Tyne River mouth.

Zeppelin L-34 was massive, 148 metres long and a diameter of about 15 meters (on average).

Lt. Ian Pyott was flying out of Seaton Carew aerodrome, he was on his second patrol of the night. Tasked with looking for Zeppelin airships and destroying them, he took off at 10.30pm and although his BE 2C normally carried an observer he flew solo this time, this  weight saving allowed him more fuel and therefore more flying time.


L34 Caught in Search-Lights

L-34 crossed the coastline into England in the neighbourhood of Blackhalls, a handful of miles north of Hartlepool.  Turning Southwards towards Tees it was spotted and searchlights brought to bear on it.  Once spotted L-34 immediately started dropping bombs in an attempt to neutralise the search-lights.   In all it dropped 13 bombs near Elwick – a little village just west from West Hartlepool.  The bombing proved ineffectual with minimum damage on the ground (two cows were injured).

Now under attack from anti-aircraft fire L-34 turned seawards ​passing over the thickly populated area of West Hartlepool. At this stage Lt. Pyott had been in the air for 1 hour when he saw the Zeppelin heading in his direction.

He reported that he was at 9800 feet and the Zeppelin was a couple of hundred feet below him, he attacked the Zeppelin at right angles to the middle of the airship, firing all the way and then flying underneath it. The airship turned east and Pyott and the Zepplin’s machine gunners dueled for about 5 more miles.  Eventually Pyott got some tracer rounds into left side of the Zepplin’s envelope and the Zepplin was rapidly engulfed in frames.  On fire, it continued east over Hartlepool, broke in half and plunged nose first into the Trees river mouth.

The virtually instantaneous combustion of 45,000 cubic metres of hydrogen on board used to inflate the airship ensured there were no survivors, only two bodies were found, the rest sadly incinerated or lost.


Death of L 34

Shooting down a Zeppelin was a very big deal in World War 1, they were heavily armed, flew at incredibly high altitudes for the day and very formidable.  When Pyott landed, all the members of his base ran out to cheer him, he promptly collapsed, not due to injury, but because he was frozen stiff from fighting at such a high altitude.  They took him from the cockpit and carried him aloft on their shoulders in victory, taking him off to warm up no doubt.

Following the victory Ian Pyott was to become a national hero, wined and dined by the British elite.


Lt. Ian Pyott besides the BE 2c he was piloting when he shot down Zeppelin L34

Just over a week later, 15th December 1916, it was announced in the press that Pyott had been awarded a ‘Companion of the Distinguished Service Order’ (DSO), in part his citation read “in recognition of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty connection with the destruction of an Enemy Airship”.

Pyott was also promptly promoted to Captain. His proud father, the Bakery owner of Pyotts Limited in Port Elizabeth, sailed from South Africa to be present when King George V presented Capt. I.V. Pyott his DSO at Buckingham Palace.

488658_c201ce2a008c406ca35dc5c7993f99d3~mv2Such a big deal was made of this victory, that a special commemorative coin was even stamped to celebrate Capt. Pyott’s actions and resultant DSO.  Zeppelins were so feared by the British public they were branded ‘Baby Killers’ as the bombing of civilians carried with it such a public outrage. The commemorative medal carried Capt Ian Pyott’s profile, the year and the letters DSO, it was presented to him at Hendon Aerodrome in England by none other than General Jan Smuts.

But there was more to come from this very brave South African. He was again Mentioned in Despatches (London Gazette 25 January 1917), whilst subsequently serving with No 55 Squadron on the Western Front. He also claimed another air victory on 23 April 1917 while returning from a bombing raid, a formation from No 55 Squadron was attacked by nine hostile aircraft that dived upon them. Pyott and his observer, 2nd Lt A D Taylor, in DH4 A2147, claimed an German Albatros scout plane over Boue.

Marlene Dietrich


Marlene Dietrich

So where does the Hollywood Superstar actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich, fit into all of this?  Simply put the Commander of Zeppelin L-34 on that fateful night in September 1916, was Marlene’s uncle.

Kapitanleutnant Max Dietrich commanded Zeppelins in his short career, and was regarded as a particularly experienced commander, in all he had a total of 41 sorties in Zeppelins.  Because only two bodies were recovered from L-34, Marlene and her family lived for a little time in the hope that Max Dietrich could somehow have survived.

She said of the incident,

“We knew the Zeppelins had gone out on an errand of war, but we did not know their destination. My uncle never came back. My aunt was broken-hearted, but she would not believe her husband had really gone. She insisted that he would come back. But the years passed, and there was no news. At last she lost hope and bowed to the hand of fate. It is very sad but of course, in Ger­many my Uncle Max was mourned as a hero. He gave his life for his country”.


Max Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich, was born in Berlin and came from a strong military family. She was a Hollywood superstar actress and singer who held both German and American citizenship.  Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930) brought her international fame. Marlene Dietrich starred in many Hollywood films, significantly Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932), and Desire (1936).

During World War 2, she became the ‘darling’ for both British and German troops, whilst holding this rather unique position she recorded a popular German love song by Lale Andersen called ‘Lili Marleen’ in English, it was done as a morale boost for American, British and Commonwealth troops and it became an instant hit.

marlylyEspecially for the South Africans, The song was published in South Africa in a wartime leaflet, with an anonymous English translation, as ‘Lili Marleen: The Theme Song of the Eighth Army and the South African 6th Armoured Division’ (quite ironically).

In a wonderful turn of fate, it was not unusual in the Second World War for British, American and South African troops to be heard singing along to the English version of Lili Marleen on a record player and for German troops to be singing along to her German version on the opposite lines within hearing distance of one another.

Romany Creams

So how do Romany creams fit into this story?  Well, after the war our hero Capt. Ian Pyott returned to South Africa and took up a position in his Dad’s bakery business.

John Pyott died in 1947. His other son, Robert, became Chairman and held this position until his death in 1964. During this period, the decision was made to concentrate solely on biscuits and from October 1949, Pyott Limited thus specialised, enabling it to increase its biscuit range even further. Following Robert Pyott’s death, his brother, our Zeppelin shooting hero, Ian Pyott, was appointed to the position of Chairman and Managing Director.

The early 50s saw the beginning of the fight for market share between the three major competitors in the biscuit industry – Bakers, Baumanns and Pyotts.

Under Ian Pyott, in mid 1965, Pyott Limited collaborated with Cadbury’s Chocolates in Port Elizabeth to produce a chocolate variation of a traditional English treat known as “Gypsy creams”, which consisted of two round-topped biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy white filling. Gypsy Creams were not a very big seller for any of the British manufacturers.

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 18.20.47Innovative as ever, the biscuit part was shaped the same as for “Gypsy Creams”, but the biscuit part (referred to as the shell) was improved and it was sandwiched with a chocolate filling instead, no doubt provided by Cadbury’s Chocolates.

The line immediately proved a winner.  They chose the name “Romany” to carry the ‘Gypsy’ connotation across from Gypsy Creams (named after the Romany travelling community).

Bakers Ltd then made a competitive product and called it Tuscany Creams, but it was Pyott’s Romany Creams that really held the market.

In 1969, Ian Pyott, was now getting old and he resigned from the position of Managing Director of Pyott Limited. He died shortly afterward in 1972 whilst the company was been sold to Nabisco Inc.  Many buy-outs and takeovers later, what was Pyott Limited found itself part of the Anglovaal Industries Group.

In 1994 Bakers, Pyotts and Baumanns were regrouped under the collective title of “Associated Biscuits”. In 1996, the member companies of National Brands Ltd. (NBL) were combined into a single company. This transformation included combining Willards with Associated Biscuits to form the Biscuit and Snack Division of National Brands.


Today, the familiar Pyott’s logo on Romany Creams has been replaced with their old competitor’s logo – the Baker’s logo. The range of flavours has expanded and the packaging design has changed, but the ‘original’ flavour chocolate Romany Creams developed by one dapper, Zeppelin shooting South African fighter pilot and war hero, Capt. Ian Pyott DSO, are still the best seller.

In Conclusion

I’ll bet the modern Marketing Managers at National Brands have little to no idea of the heritage this product has. Wouldn’t it be nice, if in the centenary of the end of WW1, that a special commemorative packaging be designed to Capt. Ian Pyott DSO and his legacy re-presented to a South African public largely unaware of the WW1 heroes this country has, and what they have given to the country.

I hope you have munched your way through the entire packet of Romany Creams by now and richer in chocolate and sugar no doubt, but you also are much richer in the knowledge now that you bitten into the type of fantastic journey South African military history has to offer. History that often lies so hidden away because seismic political events in South Africa have over-taken it.  Think of it as a ‘secret filling’ that will make for an interesting titbit to impress your friends with, next time the Romany Creams appear on a coffee table.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens

Enjoyed this, have a look at another famous South African military history treat, the Hertzoggie vs. the Smutsie.

‘Bake-off’ South African style!

My sincere thanks to Sandy Evan Hanes for pointing out this interesting golden thread to me.  References: Wikipedia, Shooting Down of Zeppelin L-34 by Ivor Markman.   On-line discussion forums.  South African Legion Facebook group forum.