“Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

British20Navy20HMS20Edinburgh“Gold may shine, but it has no true light” is a quote by Kristian Goldmund Aumann to mean that glittering gold is false when compared to the importance of spiritual light, and nothing is more true in this statement when reviewing the sacrifice and loss on the HMS Edinburgh – it is the subject of a multi-million dollar treasure hunt for gold and the subject of supreme wartime sacrifice, including South African life.

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy (known as the South African Navy Forces) landed up serving on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Edinburgh was, inevitably there is an honour roll of South Africans. The sinking of the HMS Edinburgh also carries with it an intriguing story of gold … read on for their story.


Aerial view of HMS EDINBURGH, ‘Southampton’ class (third group) cruiser in Scapa Flow, October 1941. Imperial War Museum copyright


The HMS Edinburgh was a very heavily armed and armoured Town Class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, she saw extensive wartime service during World War 2, including the hunt for the German Battleship Bismarck, however our story picks up from August 1941 when she  escorted convoy WS10 to Simonstown in South Africa.

After some maintenance work in South Africa and taking on some South African Naval personnel the HMS Edinburgh sailed to Malta as part of Operation Halberd. She returned to Gibraltar shortly afterwards, departing from there on 1 October 1941, with supplies and prisoners of war aboard, and bound for the Clyde in Scotland.


The cruisers HMS EDINBURGH, HMS HERMIONE, and HMS EURYALUS, steaming in line abreast whilst they escort a convoy (Operation HALBERD – convoy not visible).

After repairs at Faslane she joined the Home Fleet on Iceland Forces Patrol duties and from November 1941 to April 1942 provided cover to Arctic convoys bringing aid to the Soviet Union (Russia).

On 6 April, she left Scapa Flow to escort convoy PQ14 to Murmansk. Of the 24 ships in PQ14, 16 were forced by unseasonal ice and bad weather to return to Iceland, and another was sunk by a U-boat. HMS Edinburgh and the remaining seven vessels arrived in Murmansk on 19 April.

Here she took on gold bullion to take back to the United Kingdom, a lot of it, 4.5-long-ton (4,570 kg). The consignment, which had a value of about £1.5 million sterling in 1942 (adjusted for inflation to 2017 pounds, £63,047,983), was a partial payment by the Soviet Union  for the supplies of war material and military equipment from the Western Allies. In total the ship had 465 gold ingots in 93 wooden boxes stored in the bomb-room.


On the return leg from Murmansk, HMS Edinburgh was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham Carter who was commanding the escort of returning Convoy QP 11 involving 17 ships.

On 30 April 1942, a German Submarine U-456 (under the command of Kapitanleutnant  Max-Martin Teichert) on her 5th patrol spotted the HMS Edinburgh and engaged her by firing a torpedo into her starboard side, hitting her just fore of the bomb room, which stored all the gold.

The ship began to list heavily, but the crew reacted quickly and competently by closing watertight bulkheads, which prevented the ship from sinking immediately. Soon after, U-456 put a second torpedo into HMS Edinburghs stern, wrecking her steering equipment and crippling her.


A photograph clearly showing the severe damage to the stern of HMS EDINBURGH caused by the German torpedo and her listing to port.

HMS Edinburgh was then taken in tow by escorting British ships, and tried to return to Murmansk along with the destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Forester and four minesweepers. Along the way she was hounded constantly by German torpedo bombers. On 2 May, as she progressed at a snail’s pace under tow and her own power, she was attacked off Bear Island by three large German destroyers – Z7, Z24 and Z25. HMS Edinburgh was cast off the tow, so that she started to sail in circles, fighting off the assault in a fierce sea battle , the Edinburgh even managed to cause such damage to one of the German Destroyers – Z7 Hermann Schoemann that it had to scuttled by her crew and sank.

HMS Edinburgh’s escorts eventually drove off Z24 and Z25, but she was struck by a torpedo amidships, exactly opposite the first torpedo hit from U-456. She was now held together only by the deck plating and keel, which was likely to fail at any time, so the crew abandoned ship. HMS Gossamer took off 440 men and HMS Harrier about 400. Two officers and 56 other ranks on HMS Edinburgh were killed in the attacks.

HMS Edinburgh was doomed at this stage and a last resort the British used HMS Harrier tried to scuttle HMS Edinburgh with 4 inch gunfire, but 20 shots did not sink her. Depth charges dropped alongside also failed. Finally, in a sad farewell to a very strong fighting ship HMS Foresight sank HMS Edinburgh with her last torpedo (the others having been expended against the German destroyers).


HMS Foresight (FL 4063) Underway.

In an ironic twist of history, HMS Foresight met a similar fate as HMS Edinburgh when she was torpedoed by Italian aircraft whilst on escort duty and had to be sunk by HMS Tartar after breaking her tow.

The fate of U-456, Z24 and Z25

The fate of the German submarine and warships involved in the sinking of HMS Edinburgh, U-456 was eventually sunk on the 12th May 1943 whilst hunting convoys off Ireland she was spotted by a RAF Liberator, she dived but was hit by a ‘new’ American Fido acoustic homing torpedo dropped by the Liberator. U-456 was badly damaged and forced to re-surface. On the following day she was depth charged and sunk on 12 May 1943 by HMS Opportune.

Z24 was a Type 1936 German destroyer and was attacked and completely destroyed and sunk by the Royal Air Force on the 25th August 1944 off Le Verdon.  Z25, also a Type 1936 survived the war and was taken over by the British on the 6th January 1946.

Salvaging the Gold


Keith Jessop with a gold bar from the HMS Edinburgh

After the war, the wreck of the HMS Edinburgh was classified as a war grave, making salvage operations for the gold which sunk with her difficult.  However ever anxious the British government pressed to recover the gold.  Ostensibly not just because of the value but also because of unscrupulous salvaging operations and because of tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and fear they might salvage it all.

In the early 1980s, Jessop Marine, with the support of Wharton Williams Ltd (a leading global diving company) and OSA (a specialist shipping company) won a contract from the British government to attempt a recovery.  The recovered gold would be divided up between the salvage consortium, the British Government and the Soviet Government.

Cutting into the wreck by divers to get to the bomb room was deemed more appropriate for a war grave than the traditional ‘smash and grab’ explosives-oriented methods. The consortium of specialist companies for the project was then formed on the proviso the recovery be done with dignity.

In April 1981, the wreck was discovered the wreck at about 400 kilometres NNE of the Soviet coast at the Kola Inlet at a very deep 245 metres (800 ft).  The wreck was mapped and on the 30th August 1981 the diving operation began in earnest, by mid September, 431 of 465 ingots had been recovered.

At the time, the 80’s, the haul was worth in excess of £40,000,000 sterling  (£63,000,000 by today’s standard). This bullion recovery project created a World Record in deep diving which stands to this day. A further 29 bars were brought up in 1986 by the Consortium, bringing the total to 460, leaving five unaccounted for.  They also recovered the all important ship’s bell. It was billed as the ‘Salvage of the Century’ and made a rich man the famous treasure hunter Keith Jessop and others, including some Southern African divers on the project.

However, some full credit to these divers, when reaching the wreck for the first time the lead diver on his own accord conducted two minutes of silence underwater in recognition of the war dead, despite the extreme dangers of saturation ‘deep bell’ diving.  They also preformed a wreath laying service at sea on completing the salvage.

The BBC captured this story in a documentary called ‘Gold from the Deep – The Salvage of the Century,’ its well worth a view and contains some outstanding eye-witness accounts of the HMS Edinburgh’s crew.

See YouTube link Gold from the deep – the salvage of the century

“Gold may shine, but it has no true light”

Now, we come back to the quote, “Gold may shine, but has no true light”.  The true light, the true treasure lost were the lives of the 58 Allied personnel lost on HMS Edinburgh in her desperate fight to bring convoys of equipment, food and aid to the Soviet Union in a very desperate time as the Russians soaked up the biggest cost in blood of the war fighting Nazi Germany,  the later Cold War of the 1980’s and gold booty aside, we remember these South African’s whose true light was extinguished in this fight:

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nSouth African Honour Roll – HMS Edinburgh 

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

Written by Peter Dickens, primary source and extracts from Wikipedia, photo copyrights to the Imperial War Museum

The ‘Devil’s Box’

Ever the scientific mind, Jan Smuts inspects a television camera just after World War 2 (cira 1948/9). Knowing Smuts’ he would have fully embraced this new medium given his nature and inquisitive mind, his opposition the National Party saw television very differently – they called it the ‘devils box’ and feared it would unleash corruption of the mind.

Their staunch National Christian principles demanded that television not be brought to South Africa and they resisted the introduction of television until 1976 – nearly 30 years after most the world embraced the technology. Rhodesia introduced TV in 1960 and Rhodesians though South Africa an oddity with no gambling and no TV.


Dr Albert Hertzog

Dr. Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs at the time, said that TV would come to South Africa “over [his] dead body,” denouncing it as “only a miniature bioscope which is being carried into the house and over which parents have no control.”

He also argued that “South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make Africans dissatisfied with their lot.” The new medium was then regarded as the “devil’s own box, for disseminating communism and immorality”.

The issue of whether to bring television to South Africa was back on the Parliamentary debate when South Africa was about the only country in the advanced world to completely miss Neil Armstrong’s famous worlds and landing on the moon – beamed live on TV to planet earth (except, inter-alia – South Africa) in 1969.  The moon landing and live Apollo missions to the moon into the mid 1970’s had sealed television as the primary media mouthpiece of the foreseeable future – it could simply no longer be ignored.

In 1971, the National Party appointed a “Commission of Inquiry into Matters Relating to Television”, headed by Piet Meyer, chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond and later of the SABC. itself.  A majority of its members, of whom nine were Broederbond members, recommended that a television service be introduced, provided that “effective control” was exercised “to the advantage of our nation and country”.


Still taken from ‘Television in Action’ the first Test Broadcast in 1975 which used the SADF as a subject.

Instead of fearing the advancement of communication via television, the National Party now embraced the power of television to mould the nation’s mind in favour their prevailing political narrative – if it was very carefully censored and controlled by the state.  Albeit that they were still very wary as is seen here is John Vosters’ opening speech on the first broadcast on the 5th January 1976.

In the English part of his short bilingual address BJ Vorster went on to say.

‘After years of thorough preparations, we have now reached the stage where television becomes a part of our daily lives,’ Vorster explained. ‘… It is still too early to say or even to predict what influence it is going to have on our daily lives. But what is clear, is that we are dealing with a medium that, as it has already been experienced by all other countries, can have a powerful influence, whether for good or for bad.’

Vorster then outlined his vision for South African television:

The approach should still be that we want to use the medium to provide fresh and correct information, and healthy entertainment, and to be part of the education of the nation … Objectivity and balance should still be our keyword. It is a big task, not only to bring the world to South Africa, but also (and perhaps especially) to show South Africa to the world as it is in its rich diversity and everything it has to offer.

The possibility of using television as a government propaganda tool was thus clear from the beginning. When TV was finally introduced is was very limited to a handful of hours at night for many years split equally between English and Afrikaans and heavily censored and controlled with heavy religious and Afrikaner nationalist cultural content.

Broadcasting started and ended with a Christian Bible reading and prayer which was then concluded with the playing of the national anthem before switching to the ever-present ‘test pattern’.

hqdefaultSunday broadcasts were dominated by a NG Church service streamed onto television and Afrikaans entertainment hours were dominated by ‘Boeremusik’ programming and showcasing ‘boere-orchestras’ and smiliar music shows.  The only news channel was ‘SABC’ News – which was very carefully managed.

In 1976, despite initially denying involvement of the SADF in Angola, world media and soldiers and their families themselves could no longer keep it a secret.  To take the high ground the National Party was very quick to jump on the TV bandwagon to publish a very politically and factually skewed ‘docu-drama’ in 1976 called ‘Brug 14’ to paint the forces of good (SADF) against the forces of evil (Cuban Communism) as an early foray into using the SABC as a propaganda tool.  It proved very successful and set the bench for docu-drama’s and documentaries to come.

By 1978, the British Actors’ Equity ban was extended to television programmes recorded on film.  The ban had first been put on South Africa in the 1960s in protest against Apartheid policies, and stated that Equity members would not perform in South Africa if they were not allowed to play to multi-racial audiences. When the boycott was extended to television, it meant that programmes using a performance by any Equity member could not be broadcast over South African television. This created difficulties in the procurement of shows from overseas, as Britain was an important source of material.

Ever resourceful to keep the ‘business as usual’ sanitised approach, the SABC managed to find their way around the ban by importing programmes from other countries and even by adapting British programmes, for example the animated children’s programme, Rupert the Bear. To get around the ban, the SABC dubbed the programme from English into English, as it originally featured performances by Equity voice artists.

Only by 1982 was television opened up to other languages and cultures, and Black South African audiences could finally enjoy some ‘sanitised’ content aimed at them. ‘Independent’ television from state-owned control – M-Net – was only finally launched in 1986, and only on the proviso that they were not allowed to have a news channel.  It was to be an entertainment channel only, the Nationalists continued to maintain a heavy grip on what South African’s could and could not see by way of how the Apartheid experiment was getting along.

cb_logo_defaultIn 1988, M-Net, keen on doing some kind of news actuality programming, found its way around the ‘no news channel’ clause with the launch of Carte Blanche (meaning ‘anything goes’) a once a week ‘Investigative journalism’ program which they billed as ‘entertainment’.  It is still South Africa’s only real source of real unbiased local TV news broadcasting having uncovered many of South Africa’s most famous scandals of human rights abuse, corruption and consumer affairs.

Very often, this website – The Observation Post, comes under criticism whenever it is mentioned that the Nationalist system skewed history or news or went about covering up tracks – one only has to cast your mind back to the heavy state control of media, especially mass media and the ‘blackout’ of anything broadcasted on a national basis which would counteract state policy.

South Africans were fed a careful diet of Nationalist Afrikaner dogma for decades, and as a result either have limited or no knowledge of our own contemporary history or if we do have some idea it is often connected with an equally skewed state ‘National Christian’ education policy and it is very biased and often very incorrect.

To get more in-depth as to this ‘influence’ on the general mindset of South Africans living under Apartheid, this documentary ‘SABC 20 years – the untold story’ is a must watch, it  looks at the start up of television in South Africa in 1976 and the manner in which it was directly controlled by the Nationalist Party Government to propagate Apartheid ideology.

Given the modern power of state-owned broadcasters and the advent of ‘fake-news’ in our current political narrative, with the SABC now firmly in the hands of the African National Congress (ANC), the ANC have proved themselves to be no different to the old ‘Nats’, as this powerful medium is once again wielded in favour of the prevailing political narrative – this time it’s all about ‘Black African nationalism’ and no longer ‘Afrikaner nationalism’.

The ANC have indeed learned from the previous ‘masters’ as to the power of manipulating TV media to mould the mind of the nation and we as a ‘rainbow’ nation of South Africans still await a truly politically uninfluenced free to air news channel, a full quarter of a decade into ‘true’ democracy later.

The ANC have even gone as far as launching their very own ’24 hour news’ channel in the form of ANN7 owned by the Gupta family which so blatantly biased towards ANC doctrine and their own news information it’s shameful.

In this sense Dr. Albert Hertzog was dead right – it is indeed the ‘Devil’s Box’ but as has been proved – it very much depends on whose Devil is in control of it.


Written by Peter Dickens, references and extracts from Wikipedia and ‘Television Comes to South Africa’ published by the University of Pretoria  – Bevan, C (2008).  Cartoon copyright Zapiro.  “SABC TV 20 YEARS – the untold story” 1996 copyright Kevin Harris

The iconic Hammersmith Bridge in London remembers a brave South African

74574Next time anyone walks down the iconic green Hammersmith Bridge in London, the halfway mark on the Oxford Cambridge Boat race on the Thames River, look out for and spare a thought for a very brave South African who is forever remembered on a historic plaque on Hammersmith Bridge itself.

So how do we have a South African’s name so honoured on such an iconic London Bridge?  Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood’s story is a very moving one of selflessness and bravery.

Born on 8 December 1891 in Bloemfontein, Charles Campbell Wood was drawn to the military as a young man when World War One broke out, he initially joined the South African Medical Corps as a Private and took part in the German South West African Campaign (now Namibia), for which he was awarded his World War 1, 1914-15 Star on 7 September 1914.

His aspirations later took him to the United Kingdom where he resigned from the South African Medical Corps and by 1919 he had already joined the 9th Brigade of the Royal Air Force as a flying officer and held the rank of Lieutenant.

Two days after Christmas in 1919, Lt. Charles Campbell Wood earned a small place in history, but he earned it the hard way. Near midnight on a cold London winter evening Campbell Wood heard a call for help from the Thames. Rushing onto the western, upriver side of the Hammersmith Bridge, he saw a woman in grave danger, she had fallen in the Thames River, which is a tidal river with a very fast flow.

Caught in the river’s rapid current she was at death’s door. Diving into the river to rescue her from the upstream footway of Hammersmith Bridge, was our hero, Lt Campbell Wood, who in turn saved the woman’s life. But in so doing, he also severely injured his head, this in turn caused him to contract tetanus (the Thames at the time was a known cesspool) and he died in hospital some days later in the new year on the 10th January 1920.

Today the only reminder of his story is a small brass plaque on a handrail, which marks the spot on the bridge where Lt. Campbell Wood dived into the Thames to risk his life to save the life of a complete stranger.


He was survived by his mother, Mrs Grace Ellen Wood who lived in South Africa and his estate forwarded to her. His death was registered, aged 28 years, in Barnet, Hertfordshire. If you would like to visit him he is buried in Plot I. 16. 136. at East Finchley Cemetery & Crematorium, 122, East End Lane, East Finchley, N2 0RZ.

An iconic space in London will always be the preserve of a selfless and brave South African, yet another one of South Africa’s brave servicemen who we can be eternally proud of, next time you are in London make the journey to Hammersmith and continue his memory.

Written by Peter Dickens with profound thanks to Derek Walker and Andrew Behan for the background research as well as additional reference from Sandy Evan Hanes.  Picture source of Lt Charles Campbell Wood: Record No.7786 of the Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates held at RAF Hendon as published on ancestry.co.uk, content reference www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk – Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood.

Also see War Graves Project Lt Charles Campbell Wood

Barney Barnato’s legendary grand-daughter


Barney Barnato

As South Africans many of us are familiar with Barney Barnato, the diamond and gold mining tycoon made rich in South Africa.  His legacy carries with it a rags to riches story in Kimberley, when he joined the diamond rush with barely a penny, he was so broke he had to walk the last leg to get to Kimberley.

What follows is a stella consolidation of mining plots, and he was best known for his competition with Cecil John Rhodes for overall control and consolidation of all the Kimberley diamond mines.  Rhodes’ cheque to Barnato to buy him out is in the economic history annuals as the biggest single instrument to settle a purchase, it made him a mining tycoon, and he was again at it making millions on the Rand’s Gold Mines in the Transvaal.  He even had enough financial clout to threaten Paul Kruger and his Transvaal government not to execute members of Rhodes’ failed Jameson Raid for treason, and won the day.

His mysterious death on the 14 June 1897 whilst on passage from South Africa to the United Kingdom carries with it all the intrigue of murder versus suicide, he ‘fell overboard’ and his body was later recovered.  The interesting part for this story is where his millions went.

So how was this great personal wealth generated by South African gold and diamonds spent, how do we as humanity benefit from Barnato’s legacy today?

Woolf Barnato 

Happily some of this financial legacy ends well, a significant part of the Barney Bernato estate went to his son, Woolf Barnato, who used part of the multimillion-pound fortune he inherited at the age of two, to become a pioneer racing driver in the 1920s.


Woolf Barnato

Woolf was one of the so-called Bentley Boys he pioneered racing engineering and speed.  He even went on to achieve three consecutive wins out of three entries in the 24 Hours Le Mans race.

During the war, from 1940 to 1945, Woolf Barnato was a Wing-Commander with the Royal Air Force responsible for the protection of aircraft factories against Nazi  Luftwaffe bombing raids.

This racing fuelled jet setting son of Barney, transferred his passion for pushing speed limits, record-breaking and the fearlessness needed to do it to his daughter, Diana – and it is here, in the grand-daughter of Barney that the Bernato legacy really shines through.

Diana Barnato Walker MBE FRAeS

Diana Barnato was born on 15 January 1918, she was destined to become a pioneering female aviator.  Diana Barnato and her sister, Virginia, enjoyed the pleasures of high society, though Woolf separated from their mother when Diana was four.

While their mother brought the girls up she maintained an amicable relationship with their father. Diana was educated at Queen’s College in Harley Street, London, until 1936, when she came out as a débutante and ‘did the season’ having been presented to King Edward VIII at Buckingham Palace.

From an early age, she became interested in aircraft and at age 20 she decided to become a pilot. Her initial training was in Tiger Moths at the Brooklands Flying Club, the aerodrome being located within the famous motor racing circuit in Surrey. She showed a natural aptitude for flying and made her first solo flight after only six hours of dual instruction.


In terms of family she had some legacy, as we know Diana’s father was Woolf Barnato (1895-1948), he eventually became the Chairman of Bentley Motors and his first wife was Dorothy Maitland Falk (1893-1961), an American from White Plains, New York, who were married at the Ritz Carlton in London.

As we know her paternal grandfather was Barney Barnato (1851–1897) and her maternal grandparents were American stockbroker Herbert Valentine Falk and Florence Maude Whittaker. While married from 1915-1933, her parents had two children, Virginia Barnato (1916-1980) and Diana.

Red Cross Service during World War 2 

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Diana volunteered to become a Red Cross nurse. In 1940 she was serving as a nurse in France before the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and later drove ambulances in London during the Blitz.

One of the ‘female few’: ATA Service 

In early 1941 she applied to become one of the first women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and successfully took her initial assessment flying test at their headquarters at White Waltham, Berkshire, on 9 March 1941 with the ATA’s Chief Flying Instructor, A.R.O. Macmillan, in the Tiger Moth’s rear seat.

Diana was admitted to the ATA’s Elementary Flying Training School at White Waltham on 2 November 1941. After a lengthy period of intensive flight instruction and tests in primary training aircraft, she joined her first ATA Ferry Pool (FP), No.15 FP at RAF Hamble, Hampshire, on 9 May 1942. She soon began to deliver low-powered single engine aircraft from factory or repair base to storage units and RAF and Naval flying units.


Further advanced training permitted her to deliver several hundred Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Tempests and other high performance fighter aircraft. After yet further training, Diana became eligible to deliver twin-engined aircraft and delivered Whitleys, Blenheims, Mosquitos, Mitchells and Wellingtons, normally flying solo when doing so. She continued intensive flying with the ATA until the organisation was disbanded in late 1945. By that time she had flown 80 types of aircraft and had delivered 260 Spitfires.

The ATA’s pilots ferried all types of military aircraft, from trainers to bombers, from factories to RAF stations or from maintenance units to squadrons. They had minimal pilot’s notes and no radios, and often flew in marginal weather conditions. 

Diana had her share of incidents. While flying a Supermarine Walrus air-sea-rescue amphibian, her least-liked aeroplane, from Cosford to Eastleigh on 19 September 1944, the windscreen was obscured by oil from the failing engine as she approached the Southampton balloon barrage at 1500 feet. Without power she could only push down the nose to prevent a stall and make a steep descent into the sea fog. Luckily she missed the balloon cables and emerged from the cloud a few feet above Eastleigh’s grass airfield.

Three weeks after Barnato first met the battle of Britain fighter ace Squadron Leader Humphrey Trench Gilbert in 1942 they became engaged, but days later he died in a flying accident. Two years later, on 6 May 1944, she married another pilot, Wing Commander Derek Ronald Walker, and was docked three months’ pay for making an unauthorized honeymoon flight to Brussels four months later in a Spitfire, accompanied by her husband in another. Derek Walker was killed in a flying accident shortly after the war’s end, on 14 November 1945.

Diana vowed never to marry again. For 30 years she was the lover of Whitney Straight, also a pilot and a pre-war champion racing driver, like her father. In 1947, the couple had a son and named him after his great-grandfather on his mother’s side: Barney Barnato Walker.

As part of the ATA Diana would have stood shoulder to shoulder with another famous and remarkable South African pioneer aviator Jackie Moggridge, for more on her, follow this link South African Battle of Britain Heroine -Jackie Moggridge

Women’s Junior Air Corps

After the war’s end, Diana continued to fly and gained her commercial flying licence. For many years she was a volunteer pilot with the Women’s Junior Air Corps (WJAC), later the Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets (GVCAC), giving flights to air-minded teenage girls to encourage them to enter the aviation industry. Here she accumulated many happy hours in the corps’ Fairchild Argus and Auster aircraft. 

On 11 July 1948, at White Waltham aerodrome in England, she had just taken off in a newly acquired Argus aircraft for the Air Corps when it burst into flames. Rather than bale out and lose a valuable aeroplane, she switched off the fuel and glided back to the airfield, where the flames were put out.


Diana Barnato Walker receiving the Lennox Trophy from Lord Brabazon, 1963

In 1963, for her work with the corps, she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird trophy, presented annually to a British woman pilot.

Air Speed Record 

On 26 August 1963 she flew a Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning T4 to Mach 1.6 (1,262 mph or 2,031 km/h) after convincing the Air Minister to let her fly it with Squadron Leader Ken Goodwin as her check pilot, and so became the first British woman to break the sound barrier. She also established by this flight a world air speed record for women.


Shortly after her record-breaking flight in 1963, Diana was found to have cancer, and subsequently had three operations, ultimately winning the battle against the ‘Big C’.


Diana Barnato Walker was awarded the MBE in 1965 for services to aviation, and was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In later years Diana Barnato Walker took up sheep farming and was master of the Old Surrey and Burstow foxhounds for thirteen seasons, while continuing to fly for the Women’s Junior Air Corps (renamed in 1964 the Girls’ Venture Corps). She also became commodore of the Air Transport Auxiliary Association. She died of pneumonia on 28 April 2008 aged 90 in a hospital near her sheep farm in Surrey, and was survived by her son, Barney.

There you have it, Barney’s decision to break the family poverty cycle and make his fortunes in South Africa has ultimately left us with a person who pioneered female equality and has become an icon for many women, especially those who have entered the field of aviation – what a wonderful journey we weave.


Researched by Peter Dickens, main source and extracts from Wikipedia.

Little known WW2 fact – the South Africans liberated Florence!

Did you know it was elements of South African armoured formations which were the first to enter the Italian city of Florence and given the honour of liberating it?  Chances are most people would not have a clue, the honour given to military formations of liberating capital and regional capital cities like Florence during World War 2 was a very big deal, but sadly in South Africa this very big feather in our military cap is lost to the majority.

The very fact that the iconic worldwide heritage bridge in central Florence – the Ponte Vecchio – still stands is thanks to South African armoured regiments who were the first to get to it and secure it, when all the other iconic historic bridges of Florence were blown into smithereens by the retreating German forces.


Civilians clambering over the ruins of the Ponte Alle Grazia, one of the bridges over the River Arno destroyed by the Germans before evacuating Florence.

The latter half the Italian campaign during World War 2 was all about the race of various units and ‘nations’ to liberate a city, a great emphasis was placed on the ‘honour’ that a particular formation would receive for doing it, the American’s had the honour of liberating ‘Rome’ it was given to the American 5th Army who secured the centre, the American 1st Armored Division (old ironsides) liberated Milan and Bologna’s liberation is given to the Eighth Army’s Polish II Corps’ 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division.

So, unknown to many South African’s our military has the honour of liberating Tuscany’s regional capital – Florence, an honour simply not placed on the country’s ‘national christian’ education curriculum of the old national party (who regarded the whole episode of South Africa’s WW2 campaign as one of Smuts’ folly and treachery) and now not even on the radar for any young South African studying our history.

In setting the narrative straight and re-kindling this honour, let’s have a look at what happened and ‘whodunnit’.

The Liberation of Florence

In a nutshell, the South African 6th Armoured Division, fighting at the crucible of the Italian campaign against Nazi German forces, spearheaded the Allied advance into Florence in August 1944. They were followed closely by the New Zealanders and then the British forces – as this short news clip from United News at the time recalls.

On 20 July General Kirkman XIII Corps commander, issued orders for a “…powerful thrust to seize all crossings across the River Arno to the west of Florence.” This effort was to be concentrated on the 6th South African Armoured Division front. The advance was to be led by the South African Division with the 4th Infantry Division to its right, supported on the flanks by the 6th British Armoured Division and the 8th Indian Infantry Division.

The Allies advanced through Greve and were stopped by the German 4th Parachute Division on the River Greve on 24 July. The Allies had, however, outflanked the German Parachute Division, who then withdrew during the night of 24/25 July, allowing the South African, New Zealand and Indian Divisions to advance to the Paula Line which was reached on 28 July.

General Kirkman again placed the South African and New Zealand Divisions as the spearhead of his Corps advance, this time to break the Paula Line and to take Florence. By the 3rd of  August columns of South African, New Zealand and 4th Infantry Divisions were advancing towards Florence. By 4 August, advance parties of South Africans and New Zealanders were exploring the outskirts of Florence to find that all bridges across the Arno River viable for military transport had been destroyed by the retreating Germans.


View of the damage to the Ponte Vecchio from the east. The German forces destroyed all of the bridges over the River Arno with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio before evacuating Florence.

A South African armoured patrol, made up of the South African Imperial Light Horse and the Kimberley Regiment raced into central Florence and found the smaller (and iconic) Ponte Vecchio bridge intact, they crossed it under heavy shelling, entering into the centre of the city at 4 am on the 4th August 1944, to be crowned as the first Allied troops to enter Florence.

This wonderful image captures the moment, here a Sherman artillery OP tank of the 22nd Field Regiment, South African 6th Armoured Division, enters Florence through the Porta Romano, 4 August 1944.


South African 6th Armoured Division entering Florence through the Porta Romano, 4 August 1944.

In Conclusion 

Over the years New Zealand have laid the claim of liberating Florence, and in that country it is a very big deal, however not to detract the New Zealand sacrifice (they were shoulder to shoulder with the South Africans in this particular fight) but is a sad fact is that nobody has really challenged New Zealand on this claim such is general apathy and lack of national pride in South Africa for our World War 2 sacrifice and battle honours.


South African tank crew in Florence, Italy on 7 August 1944 shakes the hands of cheering Italians welcoming liberation. From The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum

The truth (and historic fact) is that it was a South African armoured regiment that secured the Ponte Vecchio bridge and entered the city first, it was the South Africans who were charged with the main spearhead and it is on both the historical record and media record at the time that the South Africans have the honour of liberating Florence.

So there you have it, another ‘Inside the Chappie wrapper’ interesting fact for the day and another reason to stand proud of South Africans.  The beautiful and historic city of Florence, the jewel of Tuscany and its central pride, the medieval Ponte Vecchio – all now enjoyed by a grateful nation and the world at large as an international heritage site, and it’s largely thanks to a heroic bunch of South Africans.


Researched and written by Peter Dickens.  Primary sources – Wikipedia and the Imperial War Museum.  Images, Imperial War Museum copyright.

Movie Clip copyright.  National Archives and Records Administration – ARC 39132, LI 208-UN-1013 – Allies Liberate Florence (1945). Series: Motion Picture Films from “United News” Newsreels, compiled 1942 – 1945.

Africa’s greatest ‘Exodus’

August 16th 1975 Angola, in the feature image we see Portuguese refugees of the Angolan war housed in emergency SADF army tents at Grootfontein. To many who don’t understand why South Africa embarked on a war on the Angolan border with Namibia (then South West Africa), this tragedy – the largest exodus in the history of Africa, is very central to South Africa’s military “mission creep” and the prelude to Operation Savannah which saw South Africa invade Angola on a stabilising mission starting the next month Oct – 1975.  Read on for a real understanding of the “Border War”.

The Carnation Revolution 

The start of the war in Angola stated in earnest in April 1974, the trigger was the Carnation Revolution in Portugal which changed the politics of that country.

The Carnation Revolution was initially a military coup in Lisbon, Portugal on 25 April 1974 which overthrew the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo.  The revolution started as a military coup organised by the ‘Armed Forces Movement’ composed of military officers who opposed the regime, but the movement was soon coupled with an unanticipated and popular campaign of popular civil resistance. This movement would lead to the fall of the Estado Novo and the withdrawal of Portugal from all its African Colonies – including Mozambique and Angola.


Portuguese Armed Forces with carnations in their barrels during the Carnation Revolution of 25th April 1974

The name “Carnation Revolution” comes from the fact that almost no shots were fired and that when the population took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship and war in the colonies, carnations were put into the muzzles of rifles and on the uniforms of the army men.

The new government announced that it would grant independence to Angola on 11 November 1975; the three rival anti-colonial forces (UNITA, MPLA, FNLA) immediately began jockeying for control of the capital Luanda, with international intervention in support of the different factions.

In late 1966 the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) joined the fight against the Angolan colonial power of Portugal, who were already in conflict with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA).

UNITA was mainly active in southern and eastern Angola, while the MPLA and FNLA were mainly active in northern Angola. At the request of Portugal, South African Air Force helicopters were first sent to support the Portuguese Armed Forces in Angola against UNITA in 1967, thus beginning South Africa’s decades-long involvement.

The Exodus

In 1975, on the date stipulated for the independence hand over the war moved from being a war of Independence from Portugal to the Angolan Civil War. In fear of their lives the Portuguese civilians in Angola became refugees as the country entered full-scale war.

Regarded as the greatest exodus of a singular population group in Africa, the Portuguese population left Angola for safety and refuse in South West Africa (Namibia) and South Africa in their hundreds of thousands, and not just the Portuguese, hundreds of thousands of Angolans from various ethic and political divides found themselves resorting to refugee status too.


Portuguese civilians living in Angola stream across the South West African (Namibia) border to safety in 1974.

The Red Cross estimated that more than 500,000 Africans had been displaced by the fighting in ANGOLA. Because of the tribal basis of the three main nationalist movements, most of those caught in the wrong tribal area had resorted to flight. The Ovibundu who worked in the coffee plantations and diamond mines of the north have all gone home to their homelands on the central plateau.

The next to suffer were the southerners, mainly National Front supporters, who found themselves caught in the crossfire between the National Front and the Popular Movement; about 20,000 have left for the south, and others had taken refuge in empty buildings in the centre of the city Luanda.

Then it was the turn of the Bakongo northerners, also supporters of the National Front. Once their movement had been smashed in Luanda they were exposed to Popular Movement reprisals. During July 1975, about 15,000 of them gathered in front of the government palace with their possessions demanding repatriation to the north; they were provided with ferries and aircraft to transport them there.

But as for the half-million Portuguese and other foreign nationals in Angola, they had nowhere to go and a haven outside was hard to find.

South Africa initially did not exactly offer a welcoming face to thousands Portuguese despite their years in Africa, but were allowed to enter South West Africa (Namibia). Brazil was in theory, a better prospect but only the middle class could afford to go so far; and in July 1975, the Brazilian airline, Varig, ceased its flights through Luanda to Rio, which were already fully booked to mid-October.

Portuguese officials had planned to bring home between 250,000 and 300,000 people by the end of October. Up to 200,000 had left Angola already, in June and early July more than 6,000 a week were taking scheduled commercial flights on the Portuguese airline, TAP, and another 3,500 were flown home on military aircraft. Since then the Portuguese airline has been chartering whatever jets it could obtain.

The Portugal government had also chartered two ships, one to carry passengers and the other to carry the refugees’ luggage and cars.

But many Portuguese, fed up with the huge queues at shipping and airline offices and the up-to-four-month delay in getting a reservation, also with the war creeping closer , had taken matters into their own hands and left in convoys to South West Africa (Namibia).

The exodus had a devastating effect on Angola’s economy and administration. but this was more about a life struggle then economics.The Local government in Angola had collapsed.

The majority of Portuguese left Angola with only their clothes and a small suitcase, leaving everything else behind . A real tragedy in the making.

The Aftermath 

In the aftermath of this, the resultant regional instability and increased insurgency of military operations into South Africa’s Protectorate – South West Africa – by SWAPO (using the unstable and war-torn Angola as bases), forced the South African government to increase military presence and embark on what was in effect a regional “Police” action (Peacekeeping). Over the decades protagonists allied to one another in Angola started bringing in supplement Cuban and Russian military support, further exasperating South Africa’s fear of a Communist invasion of Southern Africa and an extended version of “The Cold War” in Africa was set to ramp up the war to a whole new level.  In modern military speak this is known as ‘mission creep’.

The exodus and the plight of the refugees, and specifically the unstable country, the armed incursions into South West Africa and communist threat, are the direct reasons underpinning Operation Savannah on the 14th October 1975, which saw South Africa, with the support of the United States of America, invade Angola on a stabilising mission and to effect regime change.  The mission was destined to fail as the United States and the surrounding African states supporting South Africa’s intervention withdrew their support, leaving the SADF with no other option other than to return to base in South West Africa (Namibia). 


Operation Savannah 1975, this rare photograph taken deep into Angola of a SADF Eland 90 Armoured Car of Combat Group Foxbat at the Re-Supply point at the abandoned Clinic at Santa Comba

Lets also talk about the real reasons for South Africa’s border war and not the mumbo jumbo political rhetoric so often heard from the current governments of Namibia and South Africa. South Africa did not invade Angola to ‘occupy’ the country. The intense military buildup had nothing really to do with the ‘ANC Liberation struggle’ in South Africa. None of South Africa’s actions in Angola were to ‘subjugate’ the people and implement Apartheid. All the South African actions where ‘tactical’ i.e. temporary with well-defined objectives – once completed South Africans returned to base, they were never ‘defeated’ or ‘turned around’ by ‘victorious’ liberation movements. No large-scale SADF action in Angola did not meet its overall military objective (all where successful to varying degrees). SWAPO’s PLAN (operating out of Angola) was never able to militarily occupy and hold any part of South West Africa (Namibia) prior to the democratic election process and implementation of UN Peacekeeping resolutions.

The Cold War (Western Democracy vs. Communism standoff) was a very different time and scenario to what the world is today, and from a purely military perspective, South African military veterans of Operation Savannah and all subsequent operations in Angola have every reason to hold their heads high.

Researched by Peter Dickens. Reference and thanks for main extracts to Mark Goller.

BOETIE gaan PD Skool toe!

BoetieLet’s enjoy some ‘old school’ South African military humour. “Boetie gaan Border toe” doubtful that it’s still on Arnold Vosloo’s top 10 now (he’s made a great Hollywood blockbuster “Mummy” since his debut as Boetie), but still, it’s a firm favourite amongst the old South African military veterans.

Filmed at Personnel Services School (Personeel Diens Skool), affectionately simply known as ‘PD School’ situated in Voortrekkerhoogte (or Roberts Heights or Thaba Tshwane, take your pick … we like renaming stuff depending on who is in charge), Boetie Gaan Border Toe is a 1984 comedy satire set during the South West African (Namibia)/Angola Border War.

Funnily many of the old SADF national servicemen during the time would not have made head or tails of the insignia used in the movie as it was basically restricted to Personnel Services Corps (PSC) whose graduates were often placed in administrative positions within the Command, Training Unit or Regiment structures and more often than not adopted that particular Command, Unit or Regiment’s insignia once deployed.


In terms of role, Personnel Services officers were usually posted to various units as Sports Officers, Operations Officers – handling SITREPS (Situation Reports) and often dealt in operation areas with mobilisation and demobilisation of troops in terms of number management and administration.  They also dealt with troop morale – mail and entertainment, public relations and at times they were also involved with the more sinister side and oversaw Prisoner of War (POW) registration, death notices and grave registration.

In general, the Personnel Services Corps (PSC) was also responsible for conscription and National Service call-ups, personnel in PSC Reception Depots in various commands often found themselves as convoy security moving fresh national service recruits around the country (see Conscription in the SADF and the ‘End Conscription Campaign’).

540084_10150927983551480_1637557049_nAs mentioned, the SADF often used PSC members to manage troop morale and public relations projects, arranging press and PR stunts such as various Miss South Africa pageant winner visits to troops on the border etc. so it made sense that the PSC training base would be opened for filming something like Boetie Gaan Border Toe and the actors provided with the necessary kit, insignia and military advise.

As an active training base it also provided a great backdrop with a number of unwitting extras undergoing current training seen marching up and down the parade ground (it would be of interest is any of them were paid – doubt it).

The movie expresses a time when national service was part of South Africa’s national fabric, so much so the movie industry could find profitable satiric comedy in it and make popular culture out of it.  

It has since come into criticism (there’s no surprise there), literary analyst Monica Popescu described Boetie Gaan Border Toe and its sequel, Boetie Op Manoeuvres, as works which essentially romanticised the South African Border War and devoted a disproportionate amount of emphasis to the “chivalrous conduct of SADF soldiers”. Whereas the University of Johannesburg recently criticised the film as “propagandistic”.

However, the truth be told, it would have been a stretch of the imagination then to see these movies as ‘propaganda’ pieces.  At the time, conscription for white South African male youth was normative in society and satire was often drawn from it which would extend across all sorts of media.  This satire included, amongst others, cartoon strips and caricature books, photo-story books (like Grensvegter), television commercials, Forces Favourites radio (see A soldier’s dedication to Pat Kerr), mainstream music and music video recordings and movies like the two ‘Boetie’ offerings.  


In short a movie covering the funny part of conscription was a popular proposition, which made it commercially viable and therefore profitable – and that would have been the main driving motive behind the Boetie movies, not propaganda.

To illustrate the satire and vast amount of ‘material’ available for humorous lampooning have a look at this snippet of the movie.  It certainly brings out that unique humour that only the ‘old’ South African Defence Force (SADF) had to offer.

This short snippet lampoons the extensive use of Afrikaans in the SADF which the English-speaking recruits simply did not at first fully understand, and even when they ultimately did get it they often used ignorance purposely to drive their Afrikaner instructors crazy.

Here Corporal Botes – played by Eric Nobbs, steals the show as the hapless and rather over zealous “paraat” instructor charged with training a bunch of misfits, facing just such a situation from a fresh English speaking recruit.

Enjoy this snippet from an old 80’s classic, it’s a bit of time warp to period not many fully understand now.



Editors note:  I’m loving the ‘Kapoen’ Personnel Services Corps beret, so named because it is orange/brown in colour and sarcastically referred to by those who have worn it (including me) as a cross between Kak (sh*t brown) and a Pampoen (pumpkin orange).

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 16.48.49

Written by Peter Dickens: Boetie Gaan Border Toe Director: Regardt van den Bergh. Writers: Johan Coetzee, Cor Nortjé. Stars: Arnold Vosloo, Eric Nobbs, Frank Dankert and Frank Opperman. Distributor and copyright Ster-Kinekor Pictures.