A soldier’s dedication to Pat Kerr

To the untrained eye this is a dull grey ‘government’ envelope, to the trained eye it is SO MUCH more.  This is a “SABC” envelope and it contains one simple thing, a message from a SADF troop serving on the Border to a loved one and a song request.  It has been through the army censor (see stamps) and is on its way to a true radio legend in her time – Pat Kerr, host of “Forces Favourites” on the SABC’s English Service to be read out on air.

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To the troop who penned the note, the request meant everything, cast your minds eye to solitary SADF soldier fighting on the Angolan border, exhausted, weary and writing a note of love to his sweetheart back home, hoping it would be read to the nation and that his girlfriend would be tuned in on her radio to the English Services at the allotted time.  It would certainly “make his day”.

The sad thing is that “Forces Favourites” was an iconic radio show in its time, it was the voice for English speaking national servicemen, and Patricia (Pat) Kerr was a leading radio personality, however her passing and the radio show she championed has slipped into obscurity.

1960098_10152055619561234_1409976751_nThen known as a voice of South Africa, Pat’s authoritative tones later echoed across Farnham in England when she settled there in 1992.

When 90-year-old Patricia Murray Chinnery – stated by a former colleague to be ‘an institution on South African radio’ passed away at her home at Headley Down on February 4th 2015, very few people were aware of her death – yet she was known by millions of radio listeners in the country of her birth – South Africa – and many more in Farnham.

Pat, who used her maiden surname of Kerr for broadcasting purposes as well as Scully and Chinnery surnames of her two husbands, both of whom pre-deceased her) had an unforgettable voice.

An actress, as well as a presenter of radio programmes, Pat Kerr was also a character voice (that of Enid Blyton’s Noddy) in countless episodes of Little Peoples Playtime on South Africa‘s English Service.

She was best be remembered for her programme Forces Favourites on South Africa’s English Service from 1962 to 1989.  Her service to the armed forces cannot be underestimated, Pat Kerr was even awarded The Order of the Star of South Africa Knights Cross (Civil Division), by the then State President, P.W. Botha. The award notification appeared in General Orders 177/81 dated 27 November 1981. This was awarded to civilians for outstanding service to the country.

Her obituary was covered in the local Farnham Newspaper in England, and other than actions by a close friend to notify the SABC, her passing would have gone absolutely unknown in South Africa, in fact this article will come as shocking news to many in the military veterans fraternity.

Her show “Forces Favourites” was disbanded at the end of hostilities on the South West African Border in 1989, and programming format changes at the SABC have left this unique part of South African broadcasting history slip.   A nationwide phenomenon which if you did a “Google Search” on it now would reveal very little.

To give some insight to her personality and love for the “troops” these are her words on compilation album called “Soldier Boy” which she worked on with The Johnson’s Group.

soldier_boy“It was with some trepidation that I approached the task given me by Brigadiers Records of selecting what I thought were the most popular tunes in “Forces Favourites” . Although I have been presenting this programme for a number of years on the English Service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and have come to know the tastes of the young people who listen to this programme (which is broadcast to the young men doing their National Service, their families and girl-friends) it is always difficult to pick a short list of favourite songs …. The boys do their National Service every year, and there are so many men in the Permanent Defence Force, to whom these songs mean a great deal. I hope you will all enjoy the selection, whether you are in uniform, or not, and that my special friends in the Flying Squad, the Police Forces everywhere, the Army, Navy and Airforce personnel, and Top Brass, will remain listeners to this record “Soldier Boy, and other Forces’ Favourites” as long as the grooves last”.

Pat‘s funeral was held at the Guildford Crematorium in England, March 10th 2015. Well Pat, the “grooves” still stay with us veterans.  Thank you for your service and may you Rest In Peace in the full knowledge that you “made our day”.

South African sacrifice in The Battle of Britain – P/O Frederick Posener

P/O Frederick Hyam POSENER, born on the 11th August 1916 in East London South Africa, a Jewish lad, son of Jack and Cissie Posener.  His father was an insurance agent and the family traveled regularly between South Africa and the Great Britain. He was educated at St. Andrew’s College, Grahamstown.

15284901_10210159757088884_3824330762325074957_nIn 1938 Frederick moved to Great Britain and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) on a short service commission as part of the Empire Flying Training Wing.

He trained at 3 Flying Training School, South Cerney flying Hawker Harts, on completing his training he joined No. 152 squadron on the 1st October 1939, which was equipped at the time with Gloster Gladiators.

No 152 Squadron became the gift squadron of Hyderabad and took as its badge the head-dress of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Motto “”Faithful ally”

Frederick Posener was one of the first seven Pilot Officers to join the Squadron, and on the 25th November 1939 the “Blue Section” of B Flight, 152 Squadron went to Sumberg to reinforce the Orkney Islands 100 Wing.

On the 15th December 1939 Blue section at Sumberg was handed over to Coastal Command, however in the same month, on the 23rd December, whilst flying Gloster Gladiator N5701, Posener overshot on landing and spun in from 100ft, he was seriously injured in the accident and on recovery he rejoined 152 Squadron at Acklington.

Posener transferred with the Squadron on the 12th July 1940 to the forward Fighter Station at RAF Warmwell in Dorset, the squadron by this time had been equipped with Mk 1 Spitfires.

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Taking a break: July 1940, Pilots of 152 squadron based at RAF Warmwell in Dorset

Death

On the 20th July 1940 in Spitfire K9880 P/O Frederick Posener took off at 12:45 as “Green 3” of B Flight to cover petrol convoy Bosom just off Swanage, 7 miles south east of the coast line in the English Channel, he was acting as a “weaver”.

He was seen still in his position at 10,000ft as the convoy was reached, he was about 200 to 300 yards behind RAF Spitfire “Green 2”.  At this position he was shot down by Oberleutnant Homuth flying Messerschmitt Bf 109 3/JG 27, the lasts word heard from him was “tail”, he then baled out of his Spitfire which then crashed into the sea. He was seen to land on his parachute in the sea near to the convoy but to the rear and starboard of it, this went unseen by the convoy and he was never seen again, he was 23.

Gerhard_HomuthOberleutnant Gerhard Homuth was one of the top scoring German Luftwaffe aces in the Second World War. He scored all but two of his 63 victories against the Western Allies whilst flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109, especially in North Africa, he was later promoted to the rank of Major.  He was last seen on 2 August 1943 in a dogfight with Soviet fighters in the Northern sector – Eastern Front whilst flying a Focke Wulf 190A. His exact fate remains unknown.

P/O Frederick Posener is named on the Runnymede memorial, Panel 9, one of the “South African FEW”, lest we forget.

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Reference: The Kent Battle of Britain Museum and Battle of Britain London Monument and Wikipedia.  The featured image shows P/O Frederick Posener on the left, E.S. Hogg and W. Beaumont are to the right of him.

‘Stapme’ the handlebar moustached South African & Battle of Britain icon

Squadron Leader “Stapme” Stapleton DFC Dutch FC was born on May 12th 1920 in Durban, South Africa, he died on April 13th 2010, aged 89.  He was truly one of the most remarkable characters ever to fly for The Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, D Day and Operation Market Garden, as this Daily Telegraph “Aircrew Remembered” obituary column outlines:

1307_10153714899566480_6236182998249877025_n“Tall, blond and sporting a splendid handlebar moustache, Stapleton was the epitome of the dashing fighter pilot. As the Battle of Britain opened in July 1940, he was flying Spitfires with No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and saw action off the east coast of Scotland. He shared in the destruction of two German bombers before his squadron moved to Hornchurch in late August as the Battle intensified.

Within a few days Stapleton had engaged the enemy fighter force escorting the Luftwaffe’s bombers, and was credited with probably destroying two Messerschmitt Bf 109s. By the beginning of September No 603 was one of the most heavily involved squadrons, and Stapleton accounted for a Dornier bomber on September 3 and a Bf 109 two days later – the latter flown by Franz von Werra, who later became famous as “The One who Got Away”, being generally regarded as the only Axis PoW to escape from Canada and make it back to Germany.

On September 7 Stapleton’s Spitfire was hit by enemy fire, but he managed to force-land his badly damaged aircraft. A young couple having a picnic in an adjacent field gave him a restorative cup of tea before driving him back to his airfield.

On September 15 (Battle of Britain Day) Stapleton shot down a Dornier bomber and damaged a fighter. By the end of the Battle on October 31, he had destroyed two more Bf 109s and probably a further three. On November 11 he gained his final success when he shot down a Bf 109 over Ramsgate. A few days later he was awarded a DFC.

During that summer of 1940, 13 of his colleagues were killed and others seriously wounded – including his friend Richard Hillary (later the author of The Last Enemy), who was badly burned.

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A day with No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Fighter Squadron who have 128 German aircraft to their credit. The picture shows: Pilots of City of Edinburgh Squadron with their latest addition, a Spitfire presented by natives in Persia.

When reflecting on the Battle in later life, Stapleton observed: “Despite the casualties, when I look back, I recall we also had great fun. It was an exciting time and we made the most of our opportunities to live it up. We tended to treat each occasion as if it were our last.”

Basil Gerald Stapleton was born in Durban, South Africa, on May 12 1920 and educated at King Edward VI School in Totnes, Devon. He entered the RAF on a short service commission in January 1939 and, after a brief spell flying Blenheim night fighters, joined No 603 Squadron.

It was while he was with 603 Squadron that Stapleton got his nickname, “Stapme”. It derived from the exclamation habitually uttered by the newspaper cartoon hero “Just Jake” whenever he spotted an attractive girl. Much to the irritation of his flight commander, Stapleton would pin the daily cartoon strip to the squadron’s notice board.

Stap Me

Captain A.R.P Reilly-Ffoull was from the wartime cartoon strip ‘Just Jake’. Just Jake ran for 14 years in the Daily Mirror newspaper.

In March 1941 Stapleton was rested, but he soon volunteered to fly Hurricanes catapulted off the deck of a merchant ship sailing with the North Atlantic convoys. He completed four trips without seeing any action before embarking on a second tour of operations as the flight commander of a Hurricane squadron (later Typhoon), flying bomber escort operations over France.

In August 1944, after a period as a gunnery instructor, he was put in command of No 247 Squadron, operating from advanced landing grounds in Normandy – where he discovered ample supplies of Calvados; he not only enjoyed drinking it, but also found it effective fuel for paraffin lamps and his Zippo lighter.

He soon arranged for the squadron intelligence officer, an excellent artist, to paint a logo on the nose of his Typhoon. It showed a Nazi swastika topped by a burning eagle – the result of a strike by a 60lb rocket in the centre of the swastika. He named it “Excreta Thermo”, but the more prudent intelligence officer did not include this wording in case Stapleton crash-landed in enemy territory. In the event, this proved a wise decision.

Stapleton flew his first operation on August 27, when his rocket-firing Typhoons attacked barges on the river Seine. Within days, No 247 started heading eastwards to occupy abandoned German airfields as the Allied armies advanced towards Paris and Brussels. Stapleton and his pilots attacked enemy transports and armour against fierce anti-aircraft fire.

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Ground crews loading 3-inch rocket projectiles onto Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, MN317 ‘ZY-B’, of No. 247 Squadron RAF at B2/Bazenville, Normandy.

On September 17 the squadron was briefed for “a very important task”: the support of the airborne operations at Nijmegen and Arnhem. Stapleton led the initial attack by eight Typhoons against German gun positions threatening the British Second Army’s advance along the road to Eindhoven.

Over the next two days Stapleton led more formations against the enemy, but bad weather forced some sorties to be aborted. The squadron then moved to Eindhoven, where the Typhoons landed between the bomb craters.

After a rowdy night, when much champagne was consumed, his Jeep ran out of fuel returning from the officers’ bar and he had to jump clear as the following vehicle failed to stop in time. Stapleton hit his head on the kerb and needed eight stitches above his eye.

For the next two months Stapleton led many formations against gun emplacements, road and rail traffic and ferries before the German Army launched its counter-attack in the Ardennes on December 17. For days the weather prevented any flying; but finally it cleared sufficiently for eight Typhoons to carry out an armed reconnaissance sortie on December 23.

Despite still dreadful weather, Stapleton pressed on and attacked a train at low level with rockets; but the flying debris from the exploding steam engine punctured the radiator of his Typhoon and his engine failed. He was fortunate to find an area of open farmland in which to make a forced landing.

He had come down two miles on the wrong side of the battle lines and was taken prisoner. He was taken to Stalag Luft I, and remained a PoW until May 2, when the camp was liberated by the advancing Russian Army.

On January 1 1946, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands awarded Stapleton a Dutch Flying Cross for his part in the operations at Arnhem. A month later he left the RAF, believing that he would not fit in with a peacetime air force.

Stapleton joined BOAC, flying West African routes for three years before returning to South Africa. There he spent six years as a technical representative with Dunlop, then seven years as works engineer with Sprite Caravans. Whilst living in Botswana he escorted tourists on photographic safaris in southern Africa before returning to Britain in 1994.
DSC_0208_galleryTo many people Stapleton was one of the real “characters” to survive the war. His favourite aircraft was the Spitfire, and when a colleague described it as “beautiful and frail, yet agile, potent and powerful” Stapleton responded: “I always wanted a lady like that.”

He was a great supporter of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and in 2007 one of the Flight’s Spitfires carried his personal markings. He was also a regular at many Battle of Britain commemorative events; but his greatest devotion was to the No 603 Squadron Association. With his flamboyant ties, large floppy hat and luxuriant moustache, he was immensely popular at the many events he attended.

A biography, “Stapme” by David Ross, was published in 2002″.

Reference Daily Telegraph Obituary Column, wikipedia, Image copyright Imperial War Museum

Witnessing a true statesman, Jan Smuts addressing the British Parliament – 1942

Field Marshal Jan Smuts, at the invitation of Winston Churchill addressing both houses of the British Parliament in 1942. This speech is historic, never before was any Commonwealth Statesman given the privilege of addressing both houses of Parliament (the Commons and the Lords), and the results are astounding – not only was Smuts publicly praised by Winston Churchill at the end of his speech, the entire Parliament breaks into hoorays and sings “he’s a jolly good fellow” in praise of the man and his life’s work.

Two great South Africans have the privilege of statues outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, both having addressed this house at Westminster, and they stand in Westminster square for good reason. This was a period when Jan Smuts took his broken country from the Boer War, unified it and built it into a international powerhouse – at this occasion Smuts receives the praise due a visionary world leader.

The vast majority of both English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans backed Smuts at the time, however his legacy – like any great man’s legacy – is tainted by his opposition – The National Party, who, when they came into power served to demonise him over decades – so much so that he remains an enigma to many South Africans today. Except when you find gems like this film clip – which can bring him back into living memory.

Look out for Smut’s comments on the necessity to rid the world of Nazism, his insightful summary of Hitler’s policy in Europe and for his views on he formation of the United Nations – to which he is founding signatory.

To think that Smuts was a South African War Boer General, and both he and General Louis Botha understood that the salvation and re-building of their shattered people lay with their former enemy. Their vision of unity built South Africa from a fractious grouping of colonies and tiny states into a significant and unified nation – a regional economic power-house. The fact that his former enemy stood up in praise of this man and his achievement speaks volumes.

Jan Smuts is literally the “father of the nation” that is South Africa today and it’s a great pity he is so misunderstood. As anyone who watches this video will see, thanks to this remarkable man, South Africans by the end of World War 2 stood with heads held high, chests swollen with pride, praised by the free world and revered by great men.

History unfortunately would dramatically change course for South Africa a couple of years later, when in 1948 the National Party narrowly edged its way into power in the general elections with a proposal called Apartheid.  South Africa has swung from ‘Pariah State’ far right racial politics to ‘Junk Status’ economic leftist politics in response to the secular race politics – with very little regard for Smuts’ centralist or “centre ground” reconciliatory politics since.

Footage copyright – Pathe.

PFP (now the DA) anti-SADF conscription poster

So here’s an interesting poster doing the rounds in military veteran social media groups, with all the South African veterans branding it as a ECC (End Conscription Campaign) poster with the usual ho-hum “they ran away to the UK” and “where are these liberals now that the country has dipped to junk status” rhetoric.

But again I despair as its NOT a ECC (End Conscription Campaign) poster. This time its a PFP (Progressive Federal Party) youth league i.e. “Young Progressives” poster. The PFP as many know is the predecessor (Grandfather) of the Democratic Alliance – the DA, the same organisation most these military veterans now vote for and strongly support … go figure!

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The Progressive Federal Party (PFP), formed in 1977 advocated power sharing in federal constitution in place of the National Party’s policy of Apartheid.  Its leader was Colin Eglin, who was succeeded by Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and then Zach de Beer.  It held out as the official political “white” opposition to Apartheid and the National Party for just over a decade and its best known parliamentarian was Helen Suzman.

The Democratic Party (DP) was formed on 8 April 1989, when the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) merged with the smaller Independent Party and National Democratic Movement.  The DP contested the 1994 elections as the mainstream democratic alternative to the ANC, the IFP and the National Party.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) was formed when additional parties were added to the Democratic Party (DP) in June 2000 to form a bigger alliance against the ANC.

For reference, these are “End Conscription Campaign” posters, note the ECC logo comprising symbolically of a broken chain:

Like the PFP’s “Young Progressives”, The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was another organisation made up of primarily “white” anti-apartheid supporters.  The ECC was a university/student organisation allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors and supporters in opposition to serving in SADF under the National Service Conscription regulations laid out for all “white male adults”.

The ECC served to undermine the SADF by finding loopholes in the laws which enabled legal objection to conscription and targeted South Africa’s “English” medium universities during the 1980’s.

The irony now, is that where the country’s “centre” democrats so dogmatically fought the Apartheid government they now fight the ANC government with the same veracity.  So to answer the old SADF military veterans questions of “where are all these ‘libtards’ (liberals) who refused army service now that the country is in the toilet after hitting junk status?” Well, many are still in South Africa in the form of the DA, still very active in anti-ruling party politics, still driving centre democratic political philosophy, still holding rather large “Anti-Apartheid” credentials (whether the ANC and EFF like it or not) and funnily if you regularly put a Big X next to the ‘DA’ in an election – you are now one of them.

Many of odd twists and turns of inconvenient South African history that makes it so very interesting.

Comrades legend, Springbok and war veteran – the remarkable Bill Payn

So, which Springbok rugby player and war veteran also has a top ten Comrades finish running in his rugby boots and then went on to play a game of rugby the next day?  This is one very remarkable man and he comes from a time when men were cut from a different cloth, read on for the story of the legendary Cecil “Bill” Payn.

Bill Payn was born on 9 Aug 1893 in Harding, South Africa, he was christened Cecil, the son of James Herbert Payn. He was a very well known personality, a much loved teacher, and a sportsman. He taught at Durban High School for boys for 40 years or more, only having a break during his army service in the First and Second World Wars. He was particularly well known in Natal and Rhodesia and was described as big hearted and kindly “Big Bill” and stood 6 ft 3 in in his socks. He was a battle-field hero and an ex PoW.

His life was dedicated to helping others, whether his fellow prisoners of war, team mates, school pupils or every day friends and acquaintances. He was a Springbok rugby player and at cricket bowled with distinction. He was a boxer, an athlete and shone at baseball. He was truly a great and kindly man, he died suddenly at age 66 on the 31st Oct 1959.  Ever generous he even left money for his friends to have a drink after his funeral.

Top 10 Comrades finisher in his rugby boots

In summary of his Comrades achievement, Bill came 8th in the 1922 Comrades Marathon. A Springbok rugby player, he ran one of the most famous races in the history of the Comrades.  Bill Payn hosted Arthur Newton the evening before the race, and after a number of stiff drinks, was persuaded by Arthur to enter (Arthur went on to win the race).

Bill arrived on time for the start, wearing his rugby boots. At Hillcrest he stopped for the first time to take in a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Not much further a fellow runner, “Zulu” Wade, invited Payn for a chicken curry. This they consumed and then continued on to Drummond, where they celebrated reaching the halfway mark by drinking a beer at the hotel. Wade didn’t continue, but Payn did. A lady spectator en route helped him keep his energy levels up by providing him with oranges, peach-brandy, water and tea. He finished eighth. On the next day Payn took part in a club rugby match, but because his feet were blistered from the long run in rugby boots, he elected to play the match in his running shoes.

The first Comrades Marathon race was a down run from Pietermaritzburg whilst the first up run from Durban to the provincial capital took place in 1922 and consisted of a field of just over 100 athletes.  In those days the Comrades took place on mainly sand and gravel roads (which in part was more conducive to wearing studded rugby boots).

World War 1

Bill Payn played provincial rugby over a period of eighteen seasons losing four years whilst serving overseas in the First World War. He did have the opportunity then of representing South Africa in the Imperial Services Tournament held in Britain before returning home. In all, he represented Natal in fifty nine matches.

An “all rounder”

Bill had a natural affinity for all sports, a true “all-rounder,” attaining provincial colours in five sports, he represented Natal at cricket, boxing, baseball and athletics in addition to his main sport of rugby. However sport was but one of his interests, he was an outstanding English scholar and a leading South African expert in the science of Etymology.

Bill Payn also received Springbok colours and played in two tests on the flank in the 1924 series but later after his own playing days were over he was to have an important role in the development of a post World War Two Springbok rugby legend.

The 1922 Comrades Marathon in Bill’s own words

Bill Payn’s own words on the 1922 Comrades Marathon are now legendary and well worth the read, an abridged version of that day by Bill goes as follows:

`On a bleak May morning I toe’d the line at the start when some civic dignitary fired a pistol and then very sensibly buggared off back to his warm bed. When the shot rent the air, off we sped – like a crowd of Armenian refugees fleeing from the wrath of the Turkish army. Shall I ever forget that infernal run. It was not very long before I realised that I was prey to an all consuming thirst, so clamant indeed, that I could not refuse any man who offered me a drink. At Hillcrest my feet were giving me so much pain that I took off my rugby boots and found a mass of blisters had formed on the soles of both feet, some kind follower provided me with brilliantine with which I anointed my feet and then repaired to the hotel for a huge plate of bacon and eggs. This done and much refreshed I ran up Botha’s Hill where at the top I found a friend who was also taking part, but he was in a very bad state so we sat down next to the road and exchanged notes and took stock of ourselves and the situation we were in. I fear that we did not move with the freedom of young athletes but rather resembled two old ducks, suffering from some distressing gynaecological disorder.

Fortunately at that stage my friend’s supporter arrived on the scene with a wicker basket which contained a delicious curried chicken set on a huge bed of rice. This we shared equally and then set off together in happy companionship for Drummond and here we bent our steps to a pleasant oasis – the pub – where I lined a dozen beers up on the counter determined not so much to celebrate a victory but rather to drown our sorrows. Whilst we were busy at this, one of the camp followers arrived on the scene and urged us both to continue as there were only five runners in front of us. My friend could not continue so I set off alone for Pietermaritzburg.

Somewhere along Harrison Flats I noticed a frail little woman with pink cheeks standing at the side of the road. She held up in one hand a bottle and in the other a glass. I stopped, and with old world courtesy bowed low saying `Madame your servant to command’. `Tis peach brandy’, she volunteered, `and I made it myself’. I gulped down a full tumbler of this home-made brew and in a second realised that I had swallowed a near-lethal dose of the rawest liquid I had ever tasted. I am still convinced that to this charming little woman must go full credit for inventing the first liquid fuel for jet engines. Fortunately I was facing Maritzburg and I was propelled along the way. I was too far gone in my cups even to ponder on whether this assistance did not breach the prescribed laws of amateur marathon running.

On the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg I was hailed by my wife’s family who were taking tea on the veranda. I went off the road and joined them in their tea and cakes. While we were thus happily engaged, two of my ‘hated’ rivals went past and so it was that I ended the course number eight. In the changing rooms I discovered that the soles of my feet were now two huge pads of blood blisters. My brother-in-law then arrived and he had the uncanny insight to my most immediate needs, for he gave me a bottle of champagne, for which I was most grateful. Shortly thereafter a rugby friend arrived and chided me as to whether I had forgotten that I was due to play a first league rugby match the next day and that our team needed me. Cadging a lift on the back of his motorbike we went back down to Durban and on the following day I played full back in a pair of old `tackies’.

This account by Bill Payn does not appear possible but it has been vouched for in every detail by Arthur Newton, the friend who persuaded Bill to enter the race in the first place and who was himself destined to become a legend in the world of marathon running.

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Arthur F. H. Newton, winner of the first “up” version of the Comrades in 1922 in a time of 8:40:00.

Bill Payn’s description of the race is filled with humour which so characterised his outlook on life. To illustrate this aspect there is a classic story told of Bill when he was captaining his club’s first cricket side in the premier league and they were not having a very good season with the bat. He placed an advertisement in the local Natal newspaper which read,

“Join Stanford Hill and bat twice on a Saturday afternoon”

His Passion for Rugby

Of all his sporting interests, rugby was his greatest love and he devoted many years of his life to the administration of the sport and coaching young players in the enjoyment of the game. He was the founder of Natal schools rugby and became a father figure to organisation serving on its executive from 1933 – with a gap for the war years – right through until he passed away in 1959. It is interesting to note his thoughts on the game of rugby and why people are keen to play the game.

Quoting him again `Why do men love to play rugby, is I feel sure, that it is the simulacrum – in simple terms it means an image of – of war as waged in the medieval days when battles were marked by the two cardinal virtues of courtesy and courage’.

His very close friend and fellow schoolmaster, Isak Van Heerden, who was to become the Springbok coach in the 1960’s, when commenting on Bills outlook on the game said

“He looked upon the game as a friendly and controlled war, feeling that man still has his primitive instincts and one of the strongest is the love of a good fight, which no amount of civilisation has been able to eradicate. Bill saw the game merely as a natural desire of a healthy man to pit his strength and skill against that of another and that rugby was the best possible outlet. He worshipped the game for the companionship amongst friends and for the opportunities that it allowed for comaradieship with opponents after the match was over”.

Cecil “Bill” Payn’s Test summary: Tests: 2 Tries: 0
First Test: 16 Aug 1924 Age:31 Flank against Britain at Kingsmead, Durban
Last Test: 23 Aug 1924 Age:31 Flank against Britain at Wanderers, Johannesburg

World War 2

Bill Payn was very much a man of Natal being educated at Maritzburg College and after qualifying as a teacher spent much of his working career teaching at Durban High School for Boys, but in 1939 ,at the age of forty six he once again set off for war serving as a gunner in North Africa.

Whilst in action in the Western Desert he was awarded the Military Medal, receiving a personally signed letter of commendation from the Commander-in- Chief of the Allied Forces, General Alexander.

General Harold Alexander (right), pictured here in 1942 as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, surveys the battlefront from an open car and the Military Medal warded Payne (left).

Taken as a Prisoner of War (POW)

Later in the campaign the Allied troops were forced to retreat from Gazala back towards El Alamein. With the German Army closing in around them Bill made two desperate efforts to escape but was captured on each occasion, imprisoned first at Benghazi in Libya, he was struck down with acute dysentery and lost substantial weight, he eventually recovered and was transferred to a POW camp near Rome.

Bill’s strength of character was such that he looked on prison life as a challenge refusing to be restricted and to quote him again

“Life is always life if one can laugh and that captivity is what your heart makes of it.”

He accepted the conditions of imprisonment refusing to acknowledge their limitations, preferring to see in them an opportunity for fulfilment, the enrichment of character and to be of service to his fellow prisoners.

Using his ability in developing mental pursuits he kept many of his fellow inmates highly amused and was in great demand as a speaker with a range of subjects stretching from discussing the complete works of Shakespeare, a set of which he had with him in camp, to his talk on whales and their habits which was also a great favourite. He continued to teach, and was again in demand, conducting classes for those Prisoner’s of War who were taking correspondence courses.

A fellow prisoner wrote of him that his most outstanding characteristic was his unquestionable spirit which knew no bounds. Although he was no longer a young man, when the Italian war effort collapsed, Bill and two companions managed to escape into the mountains of Italy and were on the run for over two weeks, diverting enemy troops from the front, to search for them. Eventually they were recaptured by German troops and sent to prison camps first in Austria, then Poland and eventually to Germany itself.

Whilst he was busy keeping the spirits of his fellow prisoners up intellectually, his love of sport also played an important role in their well being with Bill forever arranging rugby and cricket matches, even teaching the prisoners from the other Allied nations the art of jukskei!.

Informal “Tests” between “Springbok” and “All Blacks” POW

It was while they were in Stalag XX-A near Thorn (Toruń) in occupied Poland which contained an equal number of young New Zealanders and South Africans crazy about their rugby that Bill Payn’s organisational ability was shown off at its very best.

A rugby ball was received through the Red Cross and Bill proposed a series of `test’ matches between the rugby worlds greatest rugby rivals. He roped in two able assistants, Peter Pienaar, the son of the 1921 Springbok captain to New Zealand and Billy Millar Jnr, whose father led the 1912/13 Springboks to the United Kingdom.

With Bill Payn as the driving force, they arranged practices and made up the jerseys, and served on the `Springbok’ selection panel. The making Springbok jerseys is a story in itself, with Red Cross vests being boiled together with the olive green Russian battle dress which were freely available, to obtain the green. The gold was more problematical but an ingenious solution was found, the S.A. Medical staff boiled up a solution of anti-malaria tablets to achieve the right result. It was important to look the part. The rugby field was marked off with yellow clay lines on the vast sandy parade ground and with army boots considered too lethal, the players played with bare feet in the middle of the Polish winter.

Aaron “Okey” Geffin

It was during this period that Bill came across another young South African who had been playing for the Pirates Rugby Football Club in Johannesburg before the war, and he had been captured at Tobruk. He was a strong, talented prop forward who also had a useful boot on him.

Bill encouraged him to work hard at this aspect of his game whilst stuck in the POW camp and to concentrate on his accuracy with his place kicking. The young soldier was none other than `Okey Geffin’ who five years later was to become a legend in the annals of South African rugby as well as an immense thorn in the flesh of the 1949 All Black side under Fred Allen.

Ockey Geffin 49

Aaron “Okey” Geffin (28 May 1921 – 16 October 2004), considered the greatest Jewish rugby player of all time,nd he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

While in Stalag XX-A Okey Greffin said of Bill Payn,

“We used to scrum for hours on end, and he coached me. Payn arranged rugby games in camp: South Africa against the New Zealanders. Our gear was dyed underpants and vests, but no boots. We played barefoot. Payn encouraged my development and told me I would be a Springbok if I continued to play after the war.”

He spent three years in POW camps in Italy and Germany, as well as Poland, where he practised his kicking barefoot near a mass grave of Polish victims of the Nazis.

Geffin was one of the few prop forwards in the game to kick for goal. The Springboks won ten matches in a row, including a 4–0 whitewash of New Zealand on their 1949 tour to South Africa. Prop Okey Geffin helped kick the Springboks to victory—they won all four Tests despite the All Blacks scoring more tries in three of them.

Back to Bill Payn’s story, and his personal account of the Comrades Marathon which reflected both his humour and his tenacity. It was his friend, Izak van Heerden who perhaps summed Bill up best of all when he said, `

He was always seeing a humorous situation and playing upon it. He was a merry companion, a real friend and a great champion of the game of rugby‘.

References:  Maritzburg College Old Boys Association, wikipedia.  Main reference article – author unknown.

“… I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man”

Jan Smuts’ history is well documented but let me share something that is less known about the man himself.

It’s a common misconception that Jan Smuts and Mahatma Gandhi’s relationship was one of animosity. It is a little known fact that both men actually respected each other, remaining life long admirers of one another.

Gandhi tried, at all times, to look for the positive in Smuts and said of him that he had a “high place among the politicians of the British Empire and even of the world”.

Rather famously, when Gandhi finished his work in South Africa and left with his wife in July 1914, just before he departed, he sent General Smuts a gift of a pair of sandals he made himself.

Gandhi had learnt to make sandals at Tolstoy Farm, a cooperative colony he set up near Johannesburg, from which he ran his campaign of satyagraha (non-violence).

Jan Smuts wore the sandals every summer at his farm, next to the town of Irene, and then returned the sandals to Gandhi on Gandhi’s seventieth birthday, remarking:

“I have worn these sandals for many a summer, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man”.

Smuts went on to say:

“It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom, even then, I had the highest respect”.

A replica of the sandals can be found at the Constitution Hill Museum in Johannesburg.  Appropriately and oddly enough a statue of Jan Smuts stands just opposite a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Parliament Square in London, in recognition of two world visionaries and their impact in the development of the modern political sphere.