Betty Quinn, the youngest recipient of the George Medal

Today we have a heartwarming story of a forgotten heroine of World War 2 which carries with it a South African twist.

1941: Betty Quinn, 17, the youngest recipient of the George Medal, at the Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. She saved seven people from a bombed air raid shelter while serving as an ARP Warden in Coventry during WW2.

Betty Quinn, a St. John Ambulance cadet, was awarded the George Medal for her bravery on 14 November 1940 during the heaviest night of the Coventry Blitz.  She was giving first aid at an ARP post when a shower of incendiary bombs fell in the district: “Without waiting for assistance she ran outside. AA batteries were putting up a heavy barrage and shrapnel was falling all round. Bombs began to fall and a man was injured by one. Miss Quinn assisted him to a private shelter. A report came in of an Anderson shelter receiving a direct hit and although bombs were still falling, Miss Quinn ran there and commenced digging in the crater with a spade. She assisted to dig out seven persons who had been trapped and then attended to their injuries. She stayed until all had been removed by ambulance, although shells were bursting overhead most of the time. She then returned to the post and carried on with her duties.”

Betty Quinn was tracked down in 2005 for an invite to attend the unveiling of the Women of WW2 Memorial, next to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Betty was living in Cape Town, South Africa where she had been living for 63 years, a direct result of what happened in 1940. Following her fame which spread throughout the Empire after her award, she received a marriage proposal from a South African, which was obviously too good to refuse.

gmIn 1940, during the height of The Blitz there was a strong desire to reward the many acts of civilian courage. The existing awards open to civilians were not judged suitable to meet the new situation, therefore it was decided that the George Medal would be instituted to recognise both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds more generally.

 

 


Photo by Keystone/Getty Images, reference British and Commonwealth Forces Facebook page.

German POW’s hitch a ride on a South African armoured car

Amazing image taken at Fort Capuzzo in Libya during WW2 – December 1941. Two German Afrika Corps soldiers – now Prisoners of War (POW) – hitch a ride into captivity on the front of a 2nd South African Division Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car.

The Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car was a series of armoured vehicles produced in South Africa and adopted by the British Army, other Commonwealth Forces (India used them) and South African army during World War II.  Highly popular as they could be adapted into all sorts of roles and configurations, some captured examples even made their way into the German army and other Axis forces during the war.

 

MarmonHerringtonMkIII

Marmon-Herrington Mk III

Featured image Copyright Australian War Memorial

 

‘Armed’ SA Native Military Corps in WW2 – this Corps screams out for a definitive work!

Now what is truly remarkable about this photograph?  Well it shows a bunch of armed South African soldiers during World War 2 who by all accounts never carried a firearm and by directive were not allowed to either.  These are members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC), and it’s proof positive that there is no such thing as skin colour or ‘Segregation’ legislation when under fire.

This photograph was taken by Warren Loader’s Grandfather Noel Edgar Fuller while serving with The Royal Durban Light Infantry (DLI) B Coy in North Africa during WW2. What makes this photo remarkable is the DLI L/Cpl is standing next to three armed members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC).

During the Second World War the South African government of the day held out that members of the NMC could only function in non-combatant roles, and where not allowed to carry firearms whereas funnily members of the Cape Corps (Cape Coloured members) where fully armed and enrolled in combatant roles.

All this political segregation and racial discrimination became quite irrelevant when serving in combat areas and in many instances serving Regiments, Units and Sections of the South African Army quite quickly issued firearms to their NMC ‘support’ members – and this photo stands evidence of such practice.

Thier lives – Black or White, depended on it, and logic prevailed.  As is often the case in combat, the man who joins you in the fight is your brother – irrespective of the colour of his skin – there is no such thing as racial segregation in a foxhole.

The caption written on this photo is “our Lance Corporal and his two native pals”. Quite a lot can be seen and said to this remarkable snapshot into the attitude of the time versus the attitude of soldiers.

It’s an often ignored fact and statistic – one which most certainly the National government after 1948 did not want widely published, lest national heroes be made of these ‘Black’ men.  Simply put the ‘Black’ contributions to World War 1 and World War 2 were quite literally erased from the narrative of the war after 1948 and dismissed by the incoming Apartheid government as ‘traitors’ (a tag also suffered by their ‘White’ counterparts) for serving the ‘British’.

Bear in mind when reviewing what this actually means to the prevailing opinions by many South Africans of the war (White and Black)  – approximately 40% of the standing South African servicemen in WW2 where persons of “colour”.  In all more than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks, and 2,500 people of mixed race served in the standing forces of the Union of South Africa at this time.  Mull that over for a minute.

The sacrifice of the men of the Native Labour Corps no less significant – if you think that as “non combatants” this corps came through unscathed by war, also think again – this is the honour role of those NMC members who laid down their lives during the war, their sacrifice is literally quite eye-opening:

In total approximately 1655 Native Military Corps members died during World War 2, read that again – One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Five ‘Black’ South African soldiers died during World War 2.  That’s almost three times the number who died on the SS Mendi during World War 1, and that’s only from one ‘Corps’.

Put into context, nearly as many South Africans died during the entire 23 years of fighting during the Border War in the 70’s and 80’s (approximately 2013 died) – from all arms of the military, yet the here we are talking about only one single Corps of South Africans.  Consider that the book shelves on South African history are stuffed full of books on the Border War and not one single book is dedicated to the history of the South African Native Military Corps in World War 2.  There is also almost nothing by way of definitive work on the unit history on the internet.

The history of the South African Native Military Corps needs to resurface – it’s screaming out for a proper definitive work and information access – this photograph alone calls for it.  We need to fundamentally rethink who and what has been sacrificed to military conflict by South Africans of all ethnic origins, we need to completely re-dress how we honour them and we need to take some serious perspective.

Written by Capt. Peter Dickens (Retired)

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NMC Corps Badge

Navy teaches disadvantaged children to ‘Roll with the Punches’

Did you know that the South African Navy in the 90’s spearheaded community outreach using the “sweet science”?  In 1998 the SANDF initiated the first boxing clinic on the West Coast to showcase local talent and generate role models for children who might otherwise gravitate to gangsterism.  Seen in the featured image are these children Shadow boxing with Jan Louwrens.

Boxing has always been a key sport in the South African military, with many of our great boxing heroes serving at one time or another in the armed forces, and nothing showcases this remarkable talent than a boxing outreach program to the community.

Equally, boxing has a long history of thriving in deprived areas. What better was to marry the two together by way of an outreach programme?

The first boxing outreach programme for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds ever to be held on the West Coast took place at the Navy base SAS Saldanha in 9 December 1998, with the positive after effects continuing to this day…

Like all outreach programs the purpose of the clinic was to motivate children, making them aware of the benefits of sport as a conduit to physical and mental wellbeing, to make them healthy, confident and self-assured; providing role models and thereby turning them away from negative adult behaviour – alcoholism, drugs and warn them against the evils of gangsterism.

This community outreach programme was organised by the then Chairman of the Military Academy Boxing Club, S/Lieutenant Claudio Chistè a combat officer in the South African Navy, with the support from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, South African National Defence Force (SANDF). More than 70 children attended the training and instruction session which featured boxing stars such as the former world Boxing Champion, Gary Murray, former South African light-middleweight champion, Coenie Bekker, top SANDF trainer and referee, Jan Louwrens. The aim of the project was not only to teach children how to box, but to teach life skills and to facilitate the community building process.

South African military’s proud boxing legacy

1_Gary Murray winning the word championship title

Gary Murray after winning the World Championship

The South African military has a very proud legacy of boxing.  Former World Welterweight Boxing Champion Gary “The Heat” Murray is a leading example of this.  Gary was just 12 years old when he started sparring, but after he knocked out the local champion, he was hooked.  Gary’s family moved from Scotland to South Africa and he boxed for both Scotland and South Africa as a youngster, winning the South African National Title in Cape Town.  He joined the South African military for two years of his national service and won the prestigious “Super Trooper” title for the fittest soldier in the defence force, as well as the crown of Best Boxer two years in a row. After Gary left the army, he turned pro sharing the ring with greats such as all time knock-out king, Buck Smith (120 knockouts to his name), Dingaan “Rose of Soweto” Thobela and tough as teak Rusty Derouen (the fight was billed “War on the Foreshore” and won the “Fight of the Year” award).

2_Coenie Bekker in his army days pre winning SA Light-middleweight title

Coenie Bekker before winning the SA Light Middleweight title

Former South African Light-Middleweight Champion Coenie Bekker had a similar story to Gary Murray.  His family moved to the rough suburbs of Cape Town and after getting into a street fight with a local gang member Coenie resolved to get formally trained as a boxer.  In a long and impressive amateur career Coenie had 87 bouts suffering only 6 defeats, he won many titles in this time which included the Western Province Title as a Junior and Senior and also the South African Coastal Title at Junior level and Senior. Coenie also boxed in the South African army during national service and won many fights while serving as well as representing the then OFS Province, (Orange Free State, prior to 1994). After completing his military service Coenie decided to turn professional, with career highlights being his famous duel with Charlie “the Silver Assassin” Weir (who also served in the SADF) and winning the national championship to be crowned South African champion.

Inspiration leading to first Community Outreach

One particular moment in the early part of Claudio’s life would prove to be rather poignant in demonstrating the power of the sweet science to bring a community together. Back in 1991 when he visited the then Ciskei with his grandmother, Selma, at the invitation of her close friend, the late Chief Lent Maqoma, Chief of the amaJingqi (for a period served as Acting Paramount Chief of the amaRharhabe Royal house after the death of Inkosi Enkhulu Mxolisi). During this visit,  they were invited by a local to a boxing match in nearby Mdantsane (where over 23 world champions and 50 national champions hail from, amongst them Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxagi, Vuyani “The Beast” Vungu, Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, Nkosinathi “Mabhere” Joyi).  The atmosphere was electric, with the community in full spirit behind the two sportsmen in the ring. The power of the sweet science was clear. Claudio’s dad, Diego, being a former Italian welterweight title contender, reinforced the affinity with the sport.

Claudio joined the South African Navy immediately after school, taking up boxing as a sport, going  on to have 10 bouts ranging from development tournaments in townships to representing the SANDF at provincial level. Being trained by top defence force coaches John Jantjies (former SA Kickboxing Champion & SA boxing contender, who had taken over from Steve Kalakoda as coach of the SA Navy team)  and Jan Louwrens,  with SA Kickboxing Middleweight Champion, Chad Alexander, as his sparring partner. Subsequently Claudio went on to win the Western Cape & Western Province championship.

3_Claudio being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar

Claudio Chistè being congratulated by world champion Gary Murray after beating provincial champion Heindrich Pienaar.

Legacy of Community Outreach makes social impact

It was these experiences which led Claudio to hold training camps for military personnel assisting in training aspiring paratroopers in preparation for their gruelling parabat selection, and to organise this community outreach programme which has since gone on to be an inspirational training ground for aspiring Olympic boxers and South African national champions. This project received praise from the University of Stellenbosch and the Military Academy, SANDF for community service in social upliftment, consequently promoting the perception of the defence force amongst the local community.

At the time, organiser Chiste stated with what now seems a prescient understatement, “I think it was very successful. There were about fifteen kids who really showed talent and if we got them interested, we’ve achieved our goal”, adding: “The idea was to let them have fun while learning a skill to exercise their bodies and develop their minds”. This laid the seeds for follow on outreach programmes, which indeed provided a learning environment for the acquisition of these skills. A case in point being  Gregory “The Hitman” Gans, where at the age of only 13 he attended one of the follow-on outreach programmes, showing tremendous talent. With extremely hard work and dedication he obtained his National Colours (Protea) for Kickboxing within the first year of starting with the sport. He won the SA Kickboxing Championships and was selected for the National Team where after he represented South Africa in an international bilateral competition against Mauritius and won his fight with a spectacular knock-out. He went on to represent South Africa in numerous international events, including two World Kickboxing Championships in 2012 and 2014 whereby he brilliantly achieved second place during both World Championships (1).

The link in South Africa with the military and boxing are deep rooted.

Fist-fighting as a sport came to South Africa only during the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795 (preceding even soccer and rugby 1862), with boxing as a sport being one of the legacies of colonialism. Bouts were conducted under the London Prize Ring rules for close on a century but illegal bare-knuckle fights-to-a-finish were common in military camps in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. In fact, one of the earliest references to boxing in South Africa is a report about the arrest of two characters, Japie and Mahmoud, after a fight in Cape Town in the early 1860s (2).

Perhaps the overall impact of this sport was best summed up by Professor Njabulo Ndebele who researched extensively the effect on the community when he said at a recent seminar, “What is also fascinating is to reflect on the contribution of boxing to one’s moral compass and character. The values espoused in the ring. The restraint of power. The demonstration of discipline and self-control. A code of conduct. These men have huge potential to injure but instead there is an instinct to protect – to win through technical skills, thought and the following of the rules”.


Sources:
Sunday Times, Die Weslander, Boxing World, Military Academy Yearbook, Department of Defence, Supersport.
(1) Source: http://www.dod.mil.za/defence_people/PteGans.htm
(2) Source: https://www.supersport.com/boxing/blogs/ronjackson/SA_boxings_Happy_Anniversary

A simple thank you would be nice!

This is a letter of thanks from Field Marshal Jan Smuts sent to every single South African who served in the armed forces during World War 2.  It formed part of his demobilisation debrief . This particular one belongs to my Grandfather – Sgt. Albert Edwin Dickens – and he cherished it so much that it survives to this day.

A simple thank you goes a very long way, decades later I was to serve in the South African Defence Force as a conscript and no such thank you letter was ever given to me – not even so much as a verbal thanks let alone in writing.  Not just me, generally thousands of South Africans called into service of country as conscripts (and even permanent force) received nothing for it by way of a thank you, or even a simple demobilisation debrief in many cases.

Some units in the ‘old’ SADF were a little better than others and some have received thanks from Unit, Regiment, Corps, Squadron, Ship or Battalion commanders, some even received a formalised demobilisation debrief, but many did not (in fact most).  As a result many South African military veterans are now left with deep-seated disgruntled attitude of “what was it all for”.  My Grandfather and his generation of military veterans had no such dilemma.

This simple letter of thanks from the Prime Minister goes a long way to demonstrate the vast difference in attitude between South African forces operated under the Union under Smuts as opposed to those who operated under the National Party.  It is not only the Nationalists, in 1994, I volunteered to remain with the newly formatted SANDF as a Reservist and to date have not received anything from a State President of South Africa or anyone else by way of a simple thanks.

Perhaps there is a lesson to the current SANDF to invest in a simple personalised pro-forma letter.   It will go a very long way to install pride and purpose in someone who has risked their life to serve in a South African uniform.

As is very much the custom in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, when next you see a SADF or SANDF military veteran on parade or veteran members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans and MOTH collecting funds for poppies of remembrance or participating in charitable contribution – be sure to walk up to them, shake their hands and give them a simple thank you, it will mean the world to them – because to date there is a very good chance nobody else has.

Capt. Peter Albert Dickens (retired)

Three times winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross – Johannes Jacobus Le Roux

Squadron Leader Johannes Jacobus Le Roux – DFC & Two Bars, Commanding Officer of No 602 Squadron RAF in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXb “Betty” MJ584 LO-A, at B11/Longues, Normandy. 10-12 July 1944

Le Roux, a South African, joined No. 73 Squadron RAF in France in 1940. He was shot down twelve times, but enjoyed better luck with No. 91 Squadron in 1941 and 1942, shooting down eight enemy aircraft before joining No. 111 Squadron RAF in North Africa. He ended his second tour in command of the Squadron. Following a rest from operations he was given command of No. 602 Squadron in July 1944. Le Roux is generally credited as the pilot who attacked and badly wounded Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel in his staff car on the road between Livarot and Vimoutiers on 17 July 1944, the day on which he also destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s and damaged two more to bring his victory score to 23.5.

He won the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) not once, but three times, here are the citations:

Distinguished Service Cross
Awarded 17th October 1941
Citation:

“This officer has carried out over 200 operational sorties which have included shipping reconnaissances, during which much valuable information has been obtained, and numerous attacks on shipping and enemy aerodromes in the face of heavy enemy fire. Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has destroyed 3 hostile aircraft in combat and at least 1 on the ground.”

Distinguished Service Cross – First Bar
Awarded 11th December 1942

Citation:

“Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has destroyed a further five enemy aircraft. In addition to his air victories he has attacked shipping and targets on the ground with considerable success. At all times Flight Lieu- tenant Le Roux has displayed a fine fighting spirit”

Distinguished Service Cross – Second Bar

Awarded 9th July 1943
Citation:

“Sqn. Ldr. Le Roux’s magnificent leadership has played a large part in the many successes attained by his squadron. He has personally destroyed 14 enemy aircraft and damaged many others, and has also inflicted much damage on enemy shipping.”

Ultimately, however, like several other truly great fighter pilots, he was not destroyed by enemy gunfire, but by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding a fateful cross-channel flight on 29 August 1944. It seems that he had taken off from France and was attempting to make his way through appalling weather taking alcohol back to his squadron at Tangmere. He never reached the coast and crashed into the Channel. According to Paddy Barthropp, ‘Chris’ Le Roux was without a dinghy and was sitting on numerous bottles of champagne, which, as Barthropp points out, do not float. It was indeed a tragic end to one of South Africa’s most popular and gallant fighter pilots.

His cheerful personality and good looks had made him one of South Africa’s most popular fighter pilots, and he was mourned by all who had known him. The No.111 Squadron Operations Record Book contains a magnificent “line” which remains as a fitting memory of one as young, as gallant and as gay (happy) as Chris le Roux. It quotes him as relating the story of his having made a good landing in very dirty weather and the mud described earlier, and finishes up: “I didn’t realise I was down until I heard the ground crew clapping!” He was a very worthy member of “the gayest (happiest) company who ever fired their guns in anger.”

Le Roux was to leave behind an English wife and two children, the family resident at the time in Shropshire.

(Image courtesy of the IWM, CL 784) Royal Air Force official photographer F/O A. Goodchild

(Colourised by Benjamin Thomas from Australia), caption courtesy WW2 Colourised photos

‘Bake-off’ South African style!

The politics of the jam tart. At one stage the politics of division between Jan Smuts’  politics of reconciliation’ and Barry Hertzog’s ‘politics of separation’ even entered into the kitchen, and this is one very hot political cup cake.

In 1924 during the General Election women showed their political support from the kitchen. During this time the little jam tart in honour of JBM Hertzog or the ‘Hertzoggie’ started to grace the tea tables of staunch  National Party supporting women.

Going head to head in the bake off with a jam tart of their own, women supporting Jan Smuts’ South African Party came up with the ‘Smutsie’ or the Jan Smuts Cookie (also known as a General Smuts cookie).

The irony is that they are baked in nearly the same way with an apricot jam filling, the difference is in the topping. The Smutsie cookie has a creamed butter and sugar topping (similar to a penuche frosting) whereas a Hertzoggie has a much paler macaroon-style of topping made of egg white and coconut.

It is said that those supporting the one style of cookie refused to bake or eat the opponents offering.  Such was the intense political rivalry and deep division between the two.

The recipe of the Smutsie seems to have varied over time and from what I can see the Sugar Butter topping has been lost from more recent recipes, whereas the Hertzoggie has been quite popular and commonly found. So, here’s a challenge to the bake-off enthusiasts out there – rejuvenate the Smutsie with its original topping!

This is one for the ‘The Great South African Bake-off  2017’ challenge I would love to see, one half doing a take on the Hertzoggie using ‘ouma se resepte’ and the other half sprinting around the kitchen frantically stealing each others recipes trying to figure out a Smutsie.  All the while both groups shout ‘veraaier’ at one another.  How South African is that!

A Smutsie with a penuche frosting as a topping, now that’s the Smutsie for me …. although I am told that a Hertzoggie made on a braai (yup, a braai – believe it) is to die for. As a ‘Soutie’ married to a ‘Boertjie’ to keep peace in the house I might just find the safe political middle ground and go with her excellent Springbok rugby player inspired  … Jan Ellis Pudding.