A road to democracy called ‘the egg’!

800x450Colin Eglin, the long-time anti-apartheid campaigner and long-time leader of the opposition Democrats in South Africa has recently had a road named after him … but so what! Many streets and roads are named after various politicians in South Africa, especially the anti-apartheid campaigners in recent times … however, this one is different, very different.

Why? Because Colin Eglin Road is not in South Africa, it’s in Italy.

Most modern South Africans who can even recall him, just know him as part of the last vestige of ‘white liberals’ in a ‘whites only’ Parliament trying to hold the juggernaut of the National Party and its Apartheid policy to account.  A tiny voice calling for full democracy in a sea of National Party (NP) rural ‘afrikaner-bloc’ gerrymandering which overtook him and pushed the ‘official opposition’ i.e. the PFP (now the DA) and the more liberal ‘english-bloc’ urban voters calling for an end to Apartheid into complete political irrelevance.

Note – this gerrymandering (the weighting and re-drawing of constituency boundaries to create a favourable political bias) which the NP used to destroy Colin Eglin and the PFP using the ‘rural bias’ is now happily used by the ANC and this last significant footprint of Apartheid has been put to good effect keeping the DA’s ‘urban’ vote ineffectual.

So, gerrymandering has resulted in well-regarded South African politicians been side-lined – what it did to the ‘democrat’ opposition bench then, it also does to them now. You may now even have to ask ‘Who is Colin Eglin anyway?’ and  how is it that Colin Eglin became so revered that the Italians have named one of their roads after him?

That bit has a lot to do with Colin Eglin’s status as a military veteran and his tireless campaigning for South African military veteran recognition and the causes they fought so hard for in the mountains of Italy.

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Now, who even knew Colin Eglin was a 2nd World War veteran? Let’s examine what drove this most complex war veteran turned political campaigner.

Background 

Colin Wells Eglin was born on 14th April 1925 in Sea Point, Cape Town, at a young age he moved to live with his aunt, outside Hobhouse, Eastern Free State when his father died after a long illness. Colin attended the Hobhouse School where he was the only English–speaking  pupil – “I found myself the only rooinek (red neck, or English-speaker) in the village school.” he later lamented and he very quickly came to learn of the ‘Afrikaner politics’ and tension between the National Party supporters of DF Malan and those of Barry Hertzog – politics which began to deeply affect him. It also him the rare advantage of being fully fluent in both English and Afrikaans.

Colin was a bright and highly intelligent pupil and he left the Orange Free State and attended the De Villiers Graaf High School in Villiersdorp where he matriculated in 1939 at the very young age for a matriculant – only 14 years old.

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Colin Eglin during WW2

South Africa had gone to war when Colin matriculated, at 14 years old he was too young to join the army, so in 1940 (now aged just 15) Colin Eglin registered for a Bachelor of Science degree in quantity surveying at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In 1943, now finally at the recruitment age of 18 he interrupted his studies at UCT to fulfil Jan Smuts’ call to go to war, and he voluntarily joined the army.

World War 2

Colin initially became a full-time instructor in the anti-aircraft unit in Cape Town. He was then sent to a similar unit in Egypt and transferred to Italy in 1944 joining the 6th South African Armoured Division fighting in the Italian Apennines around Florence. Now a 19-year-old ‘rookie’ soldier, he was to be baptised in the last significant combat operations of the war and was front and forward in the South African assault on Monte Sole.

Colin Eglin had joined ‘D Company’ of an amalgamated Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) and First City (FC) from Grahamstown unit which had formed a combined regiment for service in the 6th South African Armoured Division.

The Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) and First City (FC), known collectively as ‘FC/CTH’ had just previously acquitted themselves very well under the command of Lt Col. Angus Duncan in the taking of Monte Stanco from strong German positions and at this stage the war had entered a static winter period before the next big push onto Monte Sole.

As Colin had completed four years university study at UCT in quantity surveying it was felt that he had sufficient qualification for ‘Battlefield Intelligence’ and he was put on a course to become ‘D’ Company’s intelligence corporal (the military –  then and now  – often displays this odd logic for placing individuals civilian qualifications for military needs).

Colin was taken to the ‘Pink House’ near Grizzana, a farm building that was also the operational HQ of ‘C’ Company for a crash course of two weeks training in ‘Battlefield Intelligence’ and then back to D Company.

‘D’ Company had its headquarters in a cluster of farmhouses, named the ‘Foxhole’, on the slopes of the mountain overlooking Grizzana.  As it was in the line of fire of enemy positions, ‘Foxhole’ was a tough, cold and miserable posting. Colin found himself in a forward observation post (OP) located at the cemetery at Campiaro.  The OP overlooked the town of Vergato which was the centre of the German defences in the area.

In the freezing weather, snow and mud guard duty and patrols by D company in the area were a miserable affair.  Patrols were sent out at night, and they almost always hit fierce and lethal contacts with the German defenders.  In these patrols and observations Cpl Colin Elgin became adept at map reading and at recognising, and noting, the sounds and sights of warfare.

Much needed ‘Rest and Recuperation’ (R&R) came around every two weeks when ‘D Company’ members would go to nearby Castiglione dei Pepoli,  the South African 6th Division HQ was located there and they could shower, get fresh supplies and spend some time relaxing.  Known to the South African soldiers as ‘Castig’ the town of Castiglione dei Pepoli was to become a central feature in Colin Eglin’s life for years to come.

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The South African 6th Division in the town square of Castiglione dei Pepoli – 1945.

In the valleys around Monte Sole, between the 29th September and 5 October 1944 the Italian resistance kicked into action, this then spurred the defending German forces into an extreme action to control the area.  They embarked on massacre, and proceeded to try to wipe out all Italian civilians around Monte Sole – resistance, men, women and children (all of them – it mattered not a jot).  The town of Marzabotto alone commemorates the massacre of 770 individuals, mostly the elderly, women and children.

With the static winter period over, by the spring of 1945 the South African 6th Division could advance on Monte Sole.  In April 1945 Colin Eglin joined a CTH/FC forward party for a briefing on the assault on Monte Sole by Colonel Angus Duncan.

Colin noted “In a few weeks’ time the Allied spring offensive would commence. The Sixth Armoured Division had been given the task of opening the road to Bologna. To do this, the Twelfth Brigade would have to capture the mountain massif formed by Monte Sole, Caprara and Abelle. The Highlanders had been assigned to capture Monte Sole. Suddenly that mountain we had gazed at all winter from a safe distance was in front of us. Forbidding, frightening, challenging. Casualties were likely to be heavy. Yet there was a sense of pride that our regiment had been chosen for this pivotal battle task, and quiet determination to show we could do it”.

The South African 6th Division attack in Spring 1945 was a two-pronged affair, the Cape Town Highlanders and First City (FC/CTH) were to take Monte Sole – regarded as  the most formidable of the German Army defences, and Witwatersrand Rifles/Regiment de la Rey (another amalgamated unit) i.e. WR/DLR were to take Monte Caprara.  The idea was to eventually push through and capture the crossings of the River Po and break out into the vallies and plains beyond the mountains.

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Looking more like partisans than regulars, a First City/Cape Town Highlanders patrol sets out in the italian Apennines – 1945. SANDF Archive

To prepare for the attack on 15th April 1945, the German defensive positions were bombed from the air and shelled by artillery.  In taking Caprara, the WR/DLR suffered heavy casualties right from the start and in desperate fighting which at time even involved hand-to-hand combat, they took the mountain. Counter-attacks by German forces were effectively fought off by the South African tenaciously holding on to their win.

Colin Eglin was assembled at the start-line for FC/CTH attack on Monte Sole at Casa Belvedere (two kilometers from the peak of Monte Sole).  He had just celebrated his 20th birthday the day before.

Both ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies of FC/CTH advanced along two farm tracks leading up to the summit on Monte Sole.  They re-assembled 800 meters from the crest of Monte Sole.  The area was heavily mined by Germans, but despite this the South Africans of C and D company advanced under the command a 20-year-old rookie officer with only 12 days front line combat exposure.  2nd Lt. Gordon Mollett led the charge up the approach with only five men and ‘with total disregard for his life’ wiped out the machine gun posts on the crest of Monte Sole with the loss of one of his men.

So swift was the assault on the German’s position that they were completely unprepared for proper defence or the bayonet charge, and with that 2nd Lt Mollett walked into South African history with a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his actions and the rest of C and D companies of the FC/CTH took the crest and won the day.

Preceding the final attack on Monte Sole, Colin Eglin had been tasked to install telephone lines as far up the route as possible.  Highly dangerous work, on his way up to Monte Sole the soldier walking just behind him stood on a German anti-personnel Schützenmine 42 mine.  Also known as a Schuh mine (shoe mine) it is a simple wooden box with a hinged lid containing a 200-gram block of cast TNT and a ZZ-42 type detonator, and it blew off part of the South African soldiers foot.

Colin applied an emergency field dressing to his wounded comrades foot, administered first aid and called for a stretcher-bearer. Even with the threat of mines now highly apparent Colin and couple of ‘D’ Company platoons continued to press forward to the summit. Colin was able to get to the top and rigged up his field radio under fire, only to have its aerial cut in two by all the shrapnel and bullets flying around, thus rendering it useless.  So he scrambled down the mountain to the HQ, it was here that he took in the news of the tragic death of his Commander – Lt Col Angus Duncan.  He was killed the foot of Monte Sole when his jeep was blown up.

It is thought that the jeep carrying Lt. Col Duncan hit a mine, while other witness accounts suggest an artillery round fired from a German 88 mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun across the valley hit the vehicle.

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Officer Commanding First City/Cape Town Highlanders, Lt Col Angus Duncan, addressing his men before the assault on Monte Sole. He was killed shortly after this photograph was taken, while driving to his brigade’s position.  SANDF Archive

Many years later in Peter Elliott’s interview with Colin Eglin (then Colin was 88 years old and this was his last visit to Italy), whilst the two of them re-traced the steps of FC/CTH at Monte Sole, Colin recalled how the strain of war impacted two completely different soldiers and comrades, Jan and Peter.  Jan was a tough outdoors man, an extrovert and he relished army life prior to the battle. Peter was a indoors man, an introvert who just endured army life out of a sense of duty. During the battle for Monte Sole it was Jan, the extrovert whose nerves snapped, and he had to be withdrawn from battlefield. Colin found Peter, the introvert some time later still in his slit trench.  He had been under intense mortar fire during a number of German counter-attacks, but remained resolute.  He was exhausted but even cheerful and shouted across at Colin triumphantly, ‘Corporal, we made it!’

Even though the taking of the crest had been swift, the Battle for Monte Sole was heavy and hard going, in all FC/CTH suffered heavy losses – a total of 31 men killed and 78 men wounded. The extent of contribution of the two Regiments to the battle and victory can be seen in the bravery – in all twelve gallantry medals and awards were won.

The capture of Monte Sole by FC/CTH opened up the road to Bologna and beyond the Po Valley, within two short weeks on 2 May 1945, the Germans formally surrendered in Italy.  For the South Africans it was effectively war over!

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‘D’ Company FC/CTH HQ Melzo, Italy, a week after war ended in May 1945. Colin Eglin is fourth from right, back row.

But a new struggle was emerging for these newly minted war veterans, certainly for Colin Eglin. After the War Colin remained in Italy for nine months, he was stationed at Castiglione dei Pepoli, the town located near Monte Sole remained the South African 6th Armoured Division’s headquarters and it now became a depot and clearing station for the entire division (in fact the main South African military burial ground in Italy is located there).  During this period, whilst waiting to be demobilised he undertook extra-mural courses in Archaeology and Town Planning.

The entire event had made an indelible impression on Colin’s soul, it was the Italian Campaign that was to deepen his commitment to democracy and liberty. Monte Sole was a shrine for him as he returned there on many occasions during the next sixty-eight years to stand gazing at the mountain where, as a young man, he quickly became an adult. During these trips he was also to build a lasting relationship with the towns-people of Castiglione dei Pepoli.

A military veteran’s legacy

In his autobiography, “Crossing the Borders of Power – The Memoirs of Colin Eglin,” Colin mentions the discussions that took place among the South African soldiers in 1945, whilst in Italy waiting to be repatriated to South Africa. Colin noted:

“The dominant view was that there should be a memorial, but that this should be a ‘living’ one that served the community, not merely a monumental structure. The servicemen, in overwhelming numbers, volunteered to donate two days’ pay towards what was to become the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.”

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For more on the Red Cross War Memorial Children Hospital follow this link to the related Observation Post; A war memorial in Cape Town which saves children’s lives

The children’s hospital was to be built as a memorial to those who had contributed by sacrifice, suffering and service in the Second World War, the soldiers felt that children had been the innocent victims of the war and the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital was devoted to the relief of the suffering of children.

The building of the Children’s Hospital in Cape Town commenced in 1953 under the guidance of the South African Red Cross Society and remains a ‘living war memorial’ helping the most vulnerable of the community – our children – and Colin Eglin was to play a leading role in making it happen.

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Colin Eglin speaking at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town on Remembrance Day

During his life-time Colin returned to the Italian Apennines and Castiglione dei Pepoli over ten times. For his work on Remembrance and maintaining the links of this part of Italy with their liberators – South Africa – he was even made an honorary citizen of the town of Grizzana Morandi.

But why was an opposition party leader elevated to such a significant position in Italy and not a government one?  We all know the answer to that, as the Nationalist Party had no really sincere intentions on commemorating South Africa’s war against Nazism and Fascism in Italy, before and during the war they had supported the ideals of Nazism and Fascism.  They were not going to change their stance on Britain, British Allies, Smuts, World War 2 or even Fascism.  So this key task on building on the South African sacrifice in Europe, lest it all be in vain, was left to that part of the South African mainstream party political spectrum which supported Smuts and all the ‘liberals’ who went to war against Nazi Germany – and that part of the party political spectrum in 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was Colin Eglin’s turf.

The political path for Post War veterans 

In 1946 Colin returned from the Italian theatre of Military Operations to South Africa, here he picked up where he left off and continued with his studies, graduating the same year with a B.Sc in Quantity Surveying from UCT.

He became involved in civic affairs and started the Pinelands Young People’s Club which helped set up a sister organization in the neighbouring Coloured village of Maitland. In 1951 he became chairman of the Pinelands Civic Association and was elected to the Pinelands town council.

The electoral loss of the Jan Smuts’ United Party in 1948 to the National Party and their Apartheid proposals sent shock waves into South Africa’s war veteran community.  The war for liberty and democracy they had conducted overseas in places like Italy, against the same forces of fascism which had now come home to roost in South Africa.  This spurred The Torch Commando in the early 1950’s led by Sailor Malan and Colin Eglin as a returning war veteran joined The Torch Commando and started to become very politicised.

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The Torch Commando was the first anti-Apartheid mass protest movement, and it was made up of returning war veterans.  It was primarily a ‘pro-democracy’ movement and was crushed by the National Party because of the military threat it posed – and it was done by using ‘anti-communist’ legislation designed to curtail any ideology in opposition to Apartheid.

The Torch Commando was linked to the United Party, who tried to leverage it for the ‘service vote’ and wrestle power back from the National Party. In 1953 Colin decided to enter in formal political party opposition to Apartheid in addition to protesting with The Torch Commando – and he joined Smuts’ United Party (Smuts had just passed away in 1950).  Almost immediately he became the political campaign manager for his friend Zach de Beer who was the United Party (UP) candidate for the parliamentary seat of Maitland.  Colin Eglin and Zach de Beer were to form a friendship and political bond which would transform itself into what is now the modern “Democratic Alliance’, of the two Helen Suzman would say “Zach was clever, but Colin was sounder”.

160px-Verenigde_Party_logo_1In 1954 Colin himself was elected unopposed as the UP provincial councillor for Pinelands. In addition to that, he became chairman of the UP’s Cape Peninsula Council and then in 1958 Eglin became the Peninsula MP.

By August 1959, following the United Party’s congress in Bloemfontein, Colin broke from the UP ranks, the new guard in the UP instead of following  Smuts’ vision of universal suffrage and holistic reconciliation in South Africa, still humoured the more conservative elements of the party who wanted a limited franchise and some restrictive movements for South Africa’s black migrant working population – a sort of ‘Apartheid Lite’ if you will.

In 1959 this was clearly no longer the direction needed or in any way relevant for liberal and democratic opposition parties in South Africa. Colin was one of UP rebels who issued a declaration of dissent (the others included Zach de Beer and Helen Suzman).

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Helen Suzman at a Progressive Party meeting

In November that year he was one of the 11 members of parliament who formed the nucleus of the new Progressive Party (PP).  It was a bold move, it would ultimately spell the end of the United Party and the conservative element within it, also by fractionating the official opposition (the UP) it certainly bolstered the National Party.  What it did however also do was draw the line in the sand of ‘white politics’ – on the one side, the whites who supported Apartheid and a whites only vote and on the other side whites who did not support Apartheid and wanted a democratic vote for all.

All through this Colin Eglin never wavered from his adherence to liberal, democratic values, he aimed to reform the system from the inside; and by balancing criticism of race discrimination with political pragmatism he sometimes found himself the subject of attack from both black and white communities.

The ANC would argue that by participating in the apartheid political system, no matter what his stance, Eglin helped perpetuate it. Yet by participating Eglin was also able to work against the Apartheid government machine and make important political gestures – such as his visit to the black activist Steve Biko, or sending ‘official government opposition’ delegations to promote the dismantling of Apartheid in the so-called ‘independent’ Bantustan ‘homelands’ and promoted dialogue with urbanised black leadership.

By 1966 Colin Eglin became chairman on the National Executive of the Progressive Party (PP) and in 1971 he became the party leader succeeding Jan Steytler. In an attempt to attract Afrikaners to the PP, he initiated ‘Deurbraak’, the first journal of verligte (enlightened) opinion in South Africa. Colin Eglin also initiated a dialogue between the PP and Black homeland and urban leaders. He was also instrumental in establishing Synthesis, a non-party political study and discussion group, which became an important tool for information and contact across the colour bar. He also held a symposium of 50 Afrikaner academics in 1971, from which a non-party-political movement, Verligte Aksie, was formed.

In 1974 the PP won six seats in the general election with the seventh coming from a by-election a few months later. In 1975 Eglin negotiated the merger with members of the Reform Party, which led to the formation of the Progressive Reform Party (PRP). In 1976 he called an Extraordinary Parliamentary session to discuss the Soweto Uprising and call for the resignation of the Minister of Bantu Affairs, M.C. Botha.

A combination of gerrymandering by the National Party and totalitarian crack-down by the Apartheid State of South Africa’s liberal ‘democratic’ politicians, gagging many of them by way of banning and sending many into exile after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, saw liberal politics in a racially segregated and conservative Afrikaner biased voting sphere become absolutely irrelevant – and the PP would eventually lose all its seats, except one – Helen Suzman – who remained a lone voice of official opposition to Apartheid in Parliament for many years.

Also for many years, while she was the Progressive’s sole MP,  Colin Eglin acted as Helen Suzman’s link with extra-parliamentary activities. He travelled extensively in Africa, Europe, America and even China. During visits to 15 African countries, as official government ‘opposition’ to the National Party he met many heads of state to drive international opposition to Apartheid – and he did this using official and politically legal channels – without having to resort his party to violent opposition.

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Criticism of the PRP by the National Party as they tried to brand then as a “Tool of Communist agitators.” was swiftly put in place by Suzman who said .. “it’s really a joke, isn’t it? Because, quite clearly, we are a party of real moderates. It just shows how little they understand.”

In 1977, following a merger with the Committee for United Opposition that had also broken away from the United Party the PRP became the Progressive Federal Party (PFP). By 1979 Colin stepped down as leader in favour of Dr F van Zyl Slabbert and became Shadow Foreign Minister, a post he would hold until 1986.

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In 1986 Colin Eglin found himself at the reigns of his party again following the shock resignation of Van Zyl Slabbert from the PFP. Ironically van Zyl Slabbert had one crucial deficiency, which Eglin had in spades – staying power. Eglin, on one occasion described the pursuit of the liberal cause on the stony soil of South Africa as “the politics of the long haul”. And when Slabbert, despairing of making any change to the Apartheid machine quit the leadership in a fiery act of self-implosion it was again to Eglin that his shell-shocked colleagues turned to give the lead.

1200px-Progressive_Federal_Party_logoHe remained party leader until 1988, however he didn’t have the best people skills to sustain this type of leadership. Affectionately known as ‘the Egg’, Colin Eglin had a sharp tongue and bit off many heads. His long-time colleague Helen Suzman admitted that his manner “put off a lot of people. Yet we all came back to “the Egg”, not only because he was a role model for progressives, or because of his intelligence and measured political judgment, but because he was a decent, very warm-hearted man, whom we held in great affection.

In 1988 his old UP friend, a veteran of democratic politics – Zach de Beer, took over from Colin as the newly elected party leader of the PFP. With seismic political changes on the horizon, in 1989 Colin Eglin focused on preparing his party enter into a meaningful role in South Africa’s democratic evolution, to do this he knew he needed other democratic bodies in coalition with the PFP – so he negotiated with the Independent Party and National Democratic Movement to bring together a new opposition to the National Party in parliament.

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This resulted in the formation of the Democratic Party (DP) in 1989 and the dissolution of PFP.   Colin was subsequently elected chairperson of the DP’s parliamentary caucus, and Zac de Beer took control of the reigns of the DP as leader.

Building Democratic opposition in a new epoch 

180px-Democratic_Party_SA_logoIn 1991, as the Democratic Party (DP) stalwart, Colin participated in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served in its working group. Described by Nelson Mandela as “one of the architects of (South Africa’s) democracy”, Colin Eglin played a leading role in the drafting of the country’s post-apartheid constitution.

It was in CODESA at Kempton Park that Colin came into his own.  It has been said that it was as though his life to then had been preparation for just this moment. Much of South Africa’s much praised liberal constitution is due to Colin’s clear grasp of the principles of liberal democracy and the constraints and provisions of those institutions charged with protecting and advancing these.

codesa_logo_s_0Colin’s negotiating prowess was recognised by Joe Slovo in particular and, when an impasse was reached, the two would get together and generally find a way forward and eventually, a worthy constitution was to emerge. His intellect, presence and engaging manner were recognised and respected by all in those crafting the new democratic Constitution and Bill of Rights in the tumultuous years of 1990 to April 1994.

Colin Eglin continued to serve in the segregated House of Assembly until it was abolished in 1994 after the historic democratic transition and vote in South Africa, and Colin then served in the multi-racial National Assembly as a DP Parliamentarian.

In November 1994, at the end of the first session of South Africa’s first democratic Parliament, a small group of Democratic Party MPs had lunch in Pretoria with President Nelson Mandela to discuss some challenges affecting the new legislature.

On arrival, in the dining room at the official residence, Mandela arranged the seating with this instruction: “Colin, you sit at the head of the table – you are the senior man here in terms of service.” 

Mandela was giving recognition to a veteran anti-Apartheid stalwart, a person who had first been elected to Parliament fighting Apartheid tooth and nail some 36 years before this luncheon and a person whose Parliamentarian career would even outlive Nelson Mandela’s own after the luncheon was over. It was some acknowledgement to ‘the Egg’ and South Africa’s democrats and Mandela knew it.

1200px-Democratic_Alliance_(SA)_logoIn 2000, the DP merged with other groups to become the Democratic Alliance (DA), which survives as the current official ‘democratic’ opposition to an African National Congress (ANC) government.

Whilst in the DA, Colin turned his attention on the new ‘Nationalists’ in Parliament, where the Afrikaner Nationalists (NP) were his previous foe, the African Nationalists (ANC) were his next.  To Eglin – nationalism almost always meant one-upmanship of one nation over that of another, he had learned a bitter lesson in nationalism and all its inherent evils in the freezing hills of Italy in WW2.

His foresight to NP politics then were as applicable to his foresight on ANC politics now. Colin felt that the ANC government should focus almost entirely on decreasing the poverty gap in South Africa – and in so do two things – unleash the forces of enterprise to reduce unemployment and focus government spending on housing and education … and not on self-enrichment – here he felt the flawed ANC driven BEE ‘transformation’ programs only served to transform a ANC political elite to a ‘super-class’ and the ‘under-class’ and poverty-stricken would simply be left behind.  He also fought the ANC’s bills and amendments to press freedoms believing them to be “a cover up of corruption, incompetence and nepotism”.

Colin-Eglin-1024x788In one his final speeches, Colin Eglin is nothing short of pure prophesy – consider this when he said “Ironically the (ANC) government’s Black Economic Empowerment policy has contributed to the widening of the (poverty) gap, by creating a new rich elite, often of persons with strong political connections, and by leaving the millions of impoverished out of the empowerment process.  These factors are having an impact, turning people away from the values that underpin our constitutional system, and eroding confidence in our democratic institutions.  They are driving people towards populism as a cure for their problems.  In short, they are undermining our new democracy.”

Colin Eglin retired from the DA and opposition democratic politics in 2004 and in the same year was made an Officer of the Order of the Disa, conferred on him by the Western Cape Provincial Government.

In April 2013, the South African Government conferred the Order of the Baobab, Category II (Silver) on Eglin for serving the country with excellence and for his dedication and courage in standing up for the principles of equality for all South Africans against the unjust laws of the past.

Colin died at 88 years old on the 30 November 2013, his long time wife Joyce had died some years before of cancer in 1997 and he left his new partner Raili, three daughters and five grandsons.

As a leading politician and WW2 veteran of The Cape Town Highlanders (CTH), he was afforded a military funeral with draped coffin and the Guard of Honour was provided by the CTH.  This short video captures his life and death and the respect he gained in opposition to the National Party and the ANC alike.

The peaceful road to democracy  

Today, there seems to exist an opinion in the new political class in South Africa, that if you did not take up arms to fight ‘the crime of humanity’ that was Apartheid you were somehow derelict in your duty as a South African and somehow complicit in upholding Apartheid instead. This rhetoric is aimed at blaming white people for all of South Africa’s ills and demanding financial reparations from them.  It’s an ANC and ECC narrative devised to whip up Populism and cover up their own inadequacies, crime and corruption – and its a narrative which is entirely misplaced.

The truth is that many ‘struggle’ organisations other than the ANC alliance fought against Apartheid, and not all of them had to resort to armed conflict to do so, Desmond Tutu and the Council of Churches, The Black Sash, the Progressive Federal Party, The Torch Commando, The Liberal Party, The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the United Democratic Front (UDF), the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), the Council of South African Students (COSAS), Jews for Social Justice, The South African Congress of Democrats, The Federation of South African Women. Temple Israel, The Boycott Movement, The Natal Indian Congress and many many more all worked within the confines of the Republic’s constitution and the law to bring Apartheid to an end.

This included South Africa’s white progressives and democrats – starting with the United Party in 1948 and ending with the Democratic Party in 1994 who felt that the system in the long run could be changed from within if they stuck to it and fought it tooth and nail. Here’s the inconvenient truth – they were correct, in the long haul their work was as effective in removing Apartheid as any armed struggle, if not more so. Bold statement but its the real truth.

The truth of the matter is that an armed struggle did not really end Apartheid, the ballot did.  There was no MK led ‘military victory parade’ over defeated SADF/SAP forces – and that’s because there was no military victory.  The victory in the end was a moral one, and it was one in which democracy loving white South African’s played a key role – the first time white people were given a proper representative vote since 1948 (without National Party gerrymandering of proportional representation playing any factor whatsoever) occurred in 1992.  The ‘white’ electorate  calmly, with no overt pressure whatsoever voted Apartheid OUT and voted a full and representative democracy for all South Africans IN – and the did that in the Yes/No referendum of 1992 – two years before the so-called ’94 miracle’ – and they voted for Colin Eglin’s  ‘democrats’ and enlightened National Party ‘progressives’ who backed the ‘Yes’ vote by a majority of 70% – that is a truth.

Without this ‘YES’ vote the CODESA negotiations would have been scrapped and South Africa would have continued on its ‘Apartheid’ trajectory – fact. It was white people using the peaceful means of the ballot which ended Apartheid and not the ‘armed struggle’, and they used it within the Apartheid ‘whites only’ parliamentary process – fact. Colin Eglin, Zach de Beer, Helen Suzman and the DP played a key role in this referendum and their life’s work ultimately ended Apartheid – without firing a shot – fact.

Who do you think you are!

If you had to play a game of heritage along the lines of the BBC’s ‘who do you think you are’, the DA’s political pedigree starts with Smuts’ United Party and the war veterans like Colin Eglin who fought for liberty and freedom and returned to South Africa only to become politicised when the National Party came to power in 1948.  This is the epicentre of the DA’s beginning, a proud cocktail of the ‘democratic’ fight against Nazism, Fascism Apartheid and Nationalism.  Colin Eglin is the ‘golden thread’ that links the DA to its wartime beginning and its modern values.

In July 2018, the townspeople of four villages in the mountains Italian Apennines acknowledged Colin Eglin, for his work in keeping the sacrifice of South African in Italy alive and relevant in South Africa.  For his work in creating a living war memorial to the children in South Africa, for his ties and diplomacy with the Italy authorities looking after the South African war dead and keeping their legacy alive in the years of Apartheid’s isolation and for his tireless political work to bring peace and democracy to South Africa.

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The unveiling ceremony was attended by Mayors of the surrounding Italian towns in the Apennines where the South Africans fought, Italian Military and Police officials, the South African Ambassador to Italy, and the South African National Defence Force Military Attaché to Italy all attended.  In addition, 73 years on, the extreme gratitude of the Italian people (including their modern-day children) to the South Africans is still palatable – and it is all in honour of South African sacrifice and the values of the men who brought liberty to this far-flung part of Italy.

In addition to the named road, the town of Castiglione dei Pepoli has a war museum dedicated to the South African 6th Armoured Division, and a special display is in the museum to Colin Eglin and his long-time  association with the town’s remembrance and historical preservation of South Africa’s fight against Nazism and Fascism – in his capacity of a long time South African MP and as a veteran of the Battle of Monte Sole himself.

The South African war museum Castiglione dei Pepoli is a jewel and must visit, to see more visit this link: Castiglione dei Pepol South African war museum

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Display dedicated to Colin Eglin at the war museum in Castiglione dei Pepoli, Italy.

In conclusion

The ‘Egg’ literally epitomised the road to democracy in South Africa. A road is anything that connects two points and Colin Eglin Road in Italy connects South Africa with Castiglione dei Pepoli in Italy, and under the title ‘Colin Eglin’ is a description in Italian ‘uomo di pace’ meaning ‘a man of peace’ – and nothing could be more descriptive of Colin Eglin and his politics.

He was a man who had seen war and chose to use peaceful means to fight Afrikaner Nationalism and Apartheid and won, eventually becoming a founding father of South Africa’s democratic constitution  – a true democrat in every sense. South Africa now has a strong set of multi-racial democrats in the form of the DA still holding African Nationalism (now in a state of racial reverse) in South Africa to account, and it’s all a result of the road Colin took.

It’s highly appropriate that a road is now named after him where his political journey started, in the midst of the mud, death and misery of Smuts’ war against despot nationalism and the South African sacrifice to rid the world of it – and it really is a very long road which begins in the mountains of Italy and continues to South Africa, even to this very day.

DA


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work:

The Torch Commando The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!

The White Struggle The ‘White’ armed struggle against Apartheid

Large reference and thanks to Peter Elliott and his article and photographs in the Military History Journal, Vol 16 No 2 – December 2013 ‘FOREVER A PIECE OF SOUTH AFRICA’  A return to the area of Monte Sole in the Italian Apennines By Peter Elliott.

References also include ‘Tony Leon remembers great soldier Colin Eglin’ by Tony Leon Colin Eglin’s speech Presented to the Cape Town Press Club A TRIBUTE TO COLIN EGLIN – HELEN SUZMAN FOUNDATION – Peter Soal , December 2013

My sincere thanks to the curators of the South African Military Museum at Castiglione dei Pepoli for the personal tour, insights and assistance, especially to Mauro Fogacci.

A bad ‘driver’ and an equally bad ‘siren’ suit

Looking at this image I’m reminded of two things not known to many people about Smuts and Churchill and both are equally bad.  That Winston Churchill invented some bizarre things, including the rather unflattering ‘siren suit’ and Jan Smuts as a family man, whose entire family would vanish whenever he got close to his automobile.

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Taken on the 23rd August, 1942 in the gardens of the British Embassy, Cairo, this photo shows Winston Churchill in his infamous siren suit and wearing yet another odd hat.  The small boy is Victor Lampson, the son of the British Ambassador to Egypt, who seems uncertain as to whether he wants to pose for Jan Smuts’ camera (seen in his left hand) as Churchill looks on in cheerful mood. Photo: Birmingham Mail and Post

Jan Smuts and automobiles 

So, lets kick off with Jan Smuts’ ability to make his family collectively disappear whenever he proposed driving them somewhere in his car.  Simply put, this Reformer, Prime Minister, Lawyer, Philosopher, Military Strategist and Botanist – with all his unsurpassed intelligence just could not get his great intellect around the simple idea of safely driving a modern automobile.

Smuts used to head off from his home in Irene, just outside Pretoria, with his grandchildren on the back seat of his car.  Whilst driving along some or other interesting idea would enter his mind and he would take his hands off the steering wheel, turn around – taking his eyes off the road completely and address the kids on the back seat on the subject at hand.  Much to the collective terror of everyone in the car except Smuts, the car would then veer off the road and careen into the veldt and fields until Smuts paid attention to it again and brought it back onto the road.

So whenever Smuts proposed going anywhere in the car, with him driving it, his family, in fear of their lives would suddenly make themselves very scarce.  Clearly he was more comfortable riding a horse, which by all accounts during the Second Anglo-Boer War he was very good at.

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Jan Smuts’ Cars – taken at the Smuts House Museum near Pretoria. The black car is his 1946 Cadillac which he used when he was Prime Minister. The other car looks like a 1948 Buick, photo thanks to Brian Parson.

Thank you to Philip Weyers, Jan Smuts’ great grandson, for that interesting insight into his family.

Winston Churchill and siren suits 

As to another intellectual giant, Sir Winston Churchill, note Winston Churchill’s “siren suit” and wide-brimmed hat (he loved hats) which he used when resting to totter around the garden in, building walls, painting but he also unabashedly wore them meeting Presidents, Cabinet Ministers and Generals.

Similar in style to boiler suits or overalls worn by many workers including mechanics, brick layers and tank crews to protect their standard clothing, the ‘siren suit’ was a more upmarket version of a boiler suit and is said to be invented by Churchill as an original leisure suit in the 1930s.

Churchill played a large part in popularising his all-in-one suit as an item of clothing during World War 2, wearing it regularly, including when meeting other important people such as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and even Joseph Stalin.

During the Second World War it was marketed as a one-piece garment for the whole body which is easily put on or taken off, originally designed for use on the way to and whilst in air-raid shelters. The suit solved the problems of warmth and modesty encountered when seeking shelter during night-time air raids.  It was said to be roomy and could be put on over night-clothes quickly when an imminent air raid was announced by the city’s warning sirens.  Hence the term ‘Siren Suit’.

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They are perhaps more commonly associated with pop starlets and reality television stars – but the true pioneer of the onesie was Winston Churchill. Photo Life Magazine

Winston Churchill had a number of these gormless ‘onesie’ siren suits, and some of them were even designed for him by the best tailors of his time – a pin stripe version which he wore during the war years and then for portraits was made by Oscar Nemon and Frank O. Salisbury.   After the war in the 1950s another siren suit, made of bottle-green velvet, was created for him by Turnbull & Asser. It is also claimed that Austin Reed made a siren suit for him.

In Conclusion

So there you have it, the awful ‘onesie’ was pioneered by Winston Churchill and Jan Smuts was an awful ‘driver’. For all the intellectual brilliance both these men represented, both men were just that – men, and they both had the usual flawed human traits and odd quirks.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Posts and Links

Churchill and Smuts on D-Day: Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

Churchill and Smuts’ friendship: Churchill’s Desk

A Mountain of a Man – Literally! Mount Smuts

We know that Jan Smuts around the world has a Kibbutz named after him in Israel, but did you know he also a Mountain named after him?  This ‘mountain’ of a South African, with his love for Botany, Nature and Mountain hiking in addition to his credentials as Statesman, Philosopher, Reformer, Lawyer, Botanist and Warrior  – also has his own Mountain – and its located in the Canadian Rockies.

It is for good reason that Smuts has a mountain in his name, he once said of his love for mountains when unveiling the Mountain Club War Memorial at Maclear’s Beacon on the summit of Table Mountain in 1923;

“The Mountain is not merely something eternally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us … From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain”

Canadian Rockies – Mount Smuts

A number of peaks in the Canadian Rockies in the vicinity of Kananaskis Lakes in Canada carry the names of Admirals, Generals and others directly related to the military during the two World Wars.

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Mount Smuts is exceptional and very special as it was named after a Field Marshal and Prime Minister of South Africa who had a very special feeling for mountains. For this reason it was argued that Mount Smuts is a particularly appropriate name for a mountain peak, and this honour does not only extend to the mountain peak, the peak is located between the upper Spray River Valley and Smuts Creek Valley and the North buttress to Mount Smuts is also named Smuts Pass.

Mount Smuts is also not for the weak hearted, the mere mention of this peak is enough to make a serious mountain scrambler weak in the knees. This peak is debatably the most difficult scramble in the Canadian Rockies as it represents more of a mountain ascend than a scramble, many climbers attest its closer to an Alpine lower 5th class rated climb.  For a fit climber the accent time takes 5 hours and the total trip time about 8 to 10 hours.   The peak stands at 2940 meters.

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View of Mount Smuts from Smuts Pass

The ‘Oubaas’ liked a challenge in his mountain scrambles – Smuts would disappear for hours on end with long treks in the wilderness and he climbed Table Mountain more than 70 times, even at the age of 70. There is no doubt Smuts would have sprung at the opportunity to climb Mount Smuts and disappear for a day to do it.

Holism and Mountains 

Consider this when reviewing Smuts and his attraction to Mountains. As a young boy Jan Smuts had a mystical experience on the Riebeek-Kasteel mountain top (near the farm on which he was born in the Western Cape). He described it as a feeling of complete unity with all of nature around him.

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Jan Smuts on Table Mountain, South Africa

Jan Smuts experienced his surrounding nature so intimately that it felt like an extension of himself. And yet he experienced at the same time a distinct sense of ‘self’.  It was this idea of ‘transcendental self’ that was to form the base of his philosophy of holism.  To Smuts, the ‘transcendental self’ was the tendency of nature to cohere into greater hierarchies of unified wholes. The holistic process would culminate in its fullest expression in the human personality.  To this revelation on a mountain top Smuts once said:

“When I was young I saw a light, and I have followed that light ever since.”

His focus on unification of wholes led Smuts to reconcile the Boer and British nations after the bitterness of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. It would cumulate in the Union of South Africa in 1910, to bring together the former Boer Republics of Transvaal (ZAR Republic) and Orange Free State into union with the former British Colonies of the Cape Colony and Natal. Smuts went further with holism and the unification of wholes when he advocated the transformation of the British Empire into a Commonwealth of self-governing Nations to King George VI (ending the ideals of ‘Empire’ – in fact Smuts coined the phrase ‘Commonwealth of nations’). This same philosophy of joining wholes led to the formation of the League of Nations after World War 1, and subsequently in the formation of the United Nations after World War 2. It was this simple ‘epiphany’ on a mountain top as a boy that ultimately led Smuts to draft he Preamble to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

To his ideals on mountains and holism, on the 25th February 1923 during the unveiling of a memorial to members of the Mountain Club who had fallen in the 1st World War (1914 -1918) on top of Table Mountain, Smuts gave a landmark speech titled ‘The Religion of the Mountain”, take the time to read it in full, it’s a lesson to humankind.

The Religion of the Mountain

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Contemporary statue of Jan Smuts at the Company’s Garden, Cape Town

The Mountain is not merely something externally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us. It stands for us as the ladder of life. Nay, more, it is the great ladder of the soul, and in a curious way the source of religion. From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain.

What is that religion? When we reach the mountain summits we leave behind us all the things that weigh heavily down below on our body and our spirit. We leave behind a feeling of weakness and depression; we feel a new freedom, a great exhilaration, an exaltation of the body no less than of the spirit. We feel a great joy.

The Religion of the Mountain is in reality the religion of joy, of the release of the soul from the things that weigh it down and fill it with a sense of weariness, sorrow and defeat. The religion of joy realises the freedom of the soul, the soul’s kinship to the great creative spirit, and its dominance over all the things of sense. As the body has escaped from the over- weight and depression of the sea, so the soul must be released from all sense of weariness, weakness and depression arising from the fret, worry and friction of our daily lives. We must feel that we are above it all, that the soul is essentially free, and in freedom realises the joy of living. And when the feeling of lassitude and depression and the sense of defeat advances upon us, we must repel it, and maintain an equal and cheerful temper.

We must fill our daily lives with the spirit of joy and delight. We must carry this spirit into our daily lives and tasks. We must perform our work not grudgingly and as a burden imposed upon, but in a spirit of cheerfulness, goodwill and delight in it. Not only on the mountain summits of life, not only on the heights of success and achievement, but down in the deep valleys of drudgery, of anxiety and defeat, we must cultivate the great spirit of joyous freedom and upliftment of the soul.

We must practise the Religion of the Mountain down in the valleys also.

This may sound like a hard doctrine, and it may be that only after years of practise are we able to triumph in spirit over the things that weigh and drag us down. But it is the nature of the soul, as of all life, to rise, to overcome, and finally attain complete freedom and happiness. And if we consistently practise the Religion of the Mountain we must succeed in the end. To this great end Nature will co-operate with the soul.

The mountains uphold us and the stars beckon to us. The mountains of our lovely land will make a constant appeal to us to live the higher life of joy and freedom. Table Mountain, in particular, will preach this great gospel to the myriads of toilers in the valley below. And those who, whether members of the Mountain Club or not, make a habit of ascending her beautiful slopes in their free moments, will reap a rich reward not only in bodily health and strength, but also in an inner freedom and purity, in an habitual spirit of delight, which will be the crowning glory of their lives.

May I express the hope that in the years to come this memorial will draw myriads who live down below to breathe the purer air and become better men and women. Their spirits will join with those up here, and it will make us all purer and nobler in spirit and better citizens of the country.

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In Conclusion

Mount Smuts can be located at 50.8075N -115.387W for anyone wanting to find it – a Mountain which represents a man who was a mountain in his own right.  He once said of holism;

“(Concerning) the principles of holism…in this universe we are all members of one another…selfishness is the grand refusal and denial of life.”

Its a magnificent lesson and a great tribute.

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Mount Smuts in the Canadian Rockies

Related Work and Links:

Jan Smuts’ Kibbutz A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts

Jan Smuts’ Barracks Smuts Barracks; Berlin

Jan Smuts Life “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Reference, ‘Peakfinder’ Your source of information on the Peaks of the Canadian Rockiesby Dave Birrell and Politics today – exploring Jan Smuts’​ transformative ‘Religion of the Mountain’​ by Claudius van Wyk.  Photo credit ‘Our Journey’ Blog and Peakfinder.  A special thanks to Rheiner Weitz who brought this to our attention.

About Turn! Smuts’ bust and portrait to remain in place

It has been an interesting couple of days with some very quick ‘damage control’ public relations statements in response to The Sunday Times’ article on the University of Cambridge’s decision to remove Jan Smuts’ bust and portrait from its public spaces.  The good news in all this media spin-doctoring – reason has prevailed and we are assured the portrait and bust of Jan Smuts will remain in public view in their original places.

The Sunday Times Newspaper in London published two articles on Sunday 5 August 2018.  One by Cambridge students topple bust of Britain’s wartime ally Jan Smuts” and this was followed up by a related article by Tony Allen-Mills titled “Fall of Boer hero Jan Smuts would have made Churchill squawk”.  Sian Griffiths referenced her University of Cambridge source stating that “Cambridge confirmed both Smuts pieces had been moved”.

On Monday morning 6 August 2018 The Observation Post published a blog to the above effect titled “To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!”.  By Monday afternoon the University of Cambridge was in damage control mode and quickly published a statement to the effect that the bust and portrait are to remain in place, spinning ‘fake news’ by the Sunday Times as the rally point in an article published by Rosie Bradbury titled “Fact check: Jan Smuts portrait and bust were not ‘toppled’ by Cambridge students” in ‘Varsity’ the University of Cambridge’s official news portal.

The University of Cambridge’s joint statement from Christ’s JCR President Grace Etheredge and JCR Vice-President Oliver Jones read “general consensus has been for portraits to remain”, but that historical context of controversial figures should be added outlining “the good and bad of what they did so as to not white wash college history”.

The movement of the portrait was explained by a washy statement which read “the portrait had been temporarily taken down a few years ago, but that the College had swapped it back again.”

They went on with their spin-doctor strategy to still paint Smuts in a poor light by stating; “Smuts publicly denigrated the black population of South Africa” – which is a baseless and unsupported comment.  From a balance point of view, if Cambridge was accusing the Sunday Times of peddling falsehoods, they managed to peddle a falsehood in their response, which ironically would now discredit both Cambridge and the Sunday Times in our eyes.

Now, The Sunday Times is a very well-regarded newspaper, both Sian Griffiths and Tony-Allan Mills are very reputable journalists and to date The Sunday Times has not published a retraction and have stood by their articles and their journalists, and there is something to be said for that.  It is also clear that the University of Cambridge went into counter measure and damage control mode against the backlash the articles created.

To make sure, the Observation Post approached the Smuts family for clarity, and we are assured that the portrait and bust are currently in their rightful place.  We trust and hope that the University takes on board the very negative backlash from the broader community that it serves when considering removing portraits again and continues to be leader in history that it is and serves to honour the people who have served it – especially Jan Smuts.

In this we are glad that for the time being the University has avoided succumbing to the new trend to ‘Revolutionist history’ touted by far left radical ‘anti-colonial’ students. Finally – Reason has prevailed in what has been a sea of insanity,  caused by a very violent counter-history movement in South Africa, the ripple effect of which is now spilling over to the Old Schools.  We ‘doff’ our caps to the University of Cambridge for rectifying and/or maintaining its artworks of Jan Smuts, whichever way it may be.


Written by Peter Dickens

Related article: To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!

 

To the University of Cambridge’s eternal shame!

To the eternal shame of the University of Cambridge, the bust and portrait of Britain’s wartime ally and its first real foreign Chancellor – Jan Smuts – was removed from public view at Christ’s College.  It’s an act of political correctness gone all wrong, and a foreboding sign of things to come – The University of Cambridge has fallen foul of its own history and Jonathan Swift’s quote rings true “Some men when weeding out prejudices, eradicate virtue, honesty and religion”.

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Field Marshal Jan Smuts

Cowering to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall ‘campaigners – a bunch of zealot, racist and militant far left radicals based in South Africa who very controversially removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue from the University of Cape Town, the University of Cambridge has now capitulated and quietly removed the portrait and bust of Field Marshal Jan Smuts from their public spaces and insidiously placed them out of sight.

The act of removing Smuts came from pressure from a bunch of ‘anti-colonial’ students – and since removing Smuts from the public area of the Old Schools building, which houses the main university offices, the Old Schools has carried posters from the first election after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 – making an anti-apartheid political statement.

So what’s odd about this act?  For starters Jan Smuts and his party were the opposition party to the National Party and their tenets of Apartheid, so they have got the history completely wrong and have incorrectly painted Smuts with an Apartheid brush.  The University of Cambridge simply does not even understand the history and has bowed to a skew and incorrect version been banded about buy these ‘anti-colonial’ students.

So what’s wrong with being an anti-colonial student and banishing statues of Colonialism in England?  Well, if we agree this precedent we’ll have to remove every single statue of every single great British and Colonial icon involved in Imperialism and Colonialism.  It’s a foreboding sign when a leading learning institution like the University of Cambridge does this and sets the precedent.

The same group of zealot anti-colonial students a year or so ago attempted to get Cecil John Rhodes’ statue removed from Oxford University and we rightly told to get lost – but not the University of Cambridge, they have succumbed to this growing modern trend of re-writing history with 21st Century hindsight and removing those bits they think are ‘offensive’ from it.

So whose next?  Winston Churchill cut his political teeth in South Africa and was the Colonial Secretary who along with Smuts ushered in the newly formed state of South Africa, with all its 19th Century Imperialist tenets and race laws, stamped by The House of Commons.  Do we now remove statues of Winston Churchill?  But why stop at Churchill?  What about all the other British Colonialists involved in South Africa – Sir Alfred Milner, Sir John Cradock, Sir John Sprigg, John Xavier Merriman, Lord Charles Somerset, Lord Kitchener, Field Marshal Buller, Lord Roberts and even Field Marshal Haig.

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Jan Smuts shoulder to shoulder with King George VI, the Queen Mother and the future Queen Elizabeth II

But why even stop at the Colonial ‘masters’ of South Africa and the Field Marshal’s of the South African War (1899-1902)?  What about the Royalty who guided colonial policy in South Africa? So lets remove Queen Victoria, King George V, King George VI and even Queen Elizabeth II who was the reigning monarch when South Africa was still a Union and the country fell under her dominion.  In 1947 preceding her father’s death, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth visited South Africa to give support to Jan Smuts and his government (and to give support to Smuts for the landmark 1948 General Elections so as to prevent the Apartheid nationalists from taking power and losing South Africa as a Dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations – which unfortunately for all of us the Apartheid Nationalists won).

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Smuts’ acceptance speech after he was made a Chancellor at the University of Cambridge

The academic elite at the University of Cambridge are at best very naive, even as to their own academic history of Jan Smuts. Smuts was elected the University of Cambridge’s Chancellor in 1948 and a memorial fund in his name was set up when he died two years later.  As Cambridge Chancellor he was the first ‘foreign’ Chancellor of the University not of Royal stock in its very long history of 800 years.

Aside from a Prime Minister and British Field Marshal, Smuts was also an accredited philosopher, his work on Holism brought him high acclaim from his Philosopher peers.  Holism can be defined as “the fundamental factor operative towards the creation of wholes in the universe” and was published in 1926.  For Smuts it formed the grounding behind his concepts of the League of Nations and United Nations – both institutions he helped form.

Whilst studying law at Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge, he was rated as one of the top three students they have ever had (Christ’s College is nearly 600-year-old).  The other two were John Milton and Charles Darwin. Smuts graduated from Christ’s College with a first-class degree in law in 1894 and is regarded as the brightest legal mind ever to read law at the University of Cambridge.

His intellect was unsurpassed, to pass an exam at Cambridge he learnt Greek (fluently) in just 6 days. His wife was no intellectual slouch either, later in life Jan Smuts and his wife ‘Ouma’ Smuts used to tease one another when one would recite a Bible verse and the other would be expected to recite the following one, from memory, in Greek!

The University of Cambridge’s ‘Smuts Memorial Fund’ was established after the death of Jan Smuts to support the advancement of Commonwealth Studies. A range of funding opportunities are available to both staff and students for this purpose including research grants, PhD scholarships and library grants. A number of Fellowships across the University are supported by the Fund including the Smuts Visiting Research Fellowship.  It is with extreme irony that some of these ‘anti-colonial’ students are supported in their studies and funded by the very man whose memory they eradicate.  Talk about hypocrisy – there it is right there!

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The removal of Rhodes’ statue from UCT by the same student movement. The Rhodes foundation is a primary financial supporter of the University and also issues Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University to disadvantaged students.

Whats next for the academia line up of the University of Cambridge’s Chancellors whose pasts are tainted by a British Imperialist upbringing and held the mainstream views at the time on race – or better still those Royal Chancellors who promoted serfdom and servitude under Royal rule prior to historical reformations?  By the time they have finished removing all these Chancellors who reigned over the last 800 odd years of the University of Cambridge – the University will be bare of any history.

But what about Smuts’ unwavering support of the United Kingdom when it was at its own urgent crisis.  Smuts took South Africa to war in support of Great Britain in both World War 1 and World War 2, the result is sacrifice from South Africa to retain the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and modern democracy – sacrifice of literally tens of thousands of South Africans in battlefields all over the world, lying along-side their British comrades in arms – the cold headstones of the Commonwealth War Grave’s Commission stand solemnly in testament.  All done in honour of Smuts’ commitment to democracy, liberty and humanity.

Without Smuts the United Kingdom would not have the original founder of the Royal Air Force, which celebrates it centenary this year, it would not have the Statesman who stood shoulder to shoulder with Winston Churchill on D-Day and the liberation of Europe, the very man who tempered and guided Churchill and acted as the King’s liaison at the most critical phase of the war.  Smuts even came up with the concept of Commonwealth of Nations and guided King George VI and Great Britain out of its edicts of ‘Empire’ when dealing with a ‘new world’ Commonwealth and its Colonies post war.

 

Smuts was the only foreign Statesman to receive a standing round of applause from both houses of Parliament and the first foreign statesman to address both houses  – there is very good reason that his statue stands next to Churchill’s on Parliament Square.  Has the United Kingdom completely lost sense of its history and politics, and now bows to a small and vocal bunch of ‘anti-colonial’  students – the tail wagging the dog?  It seems so.

What happened to open debate in a University environment?  Where all stakeholders are consulted and put their arguments forward before a key decision is made on the removal of a historical figure, a leading University like the University of Cambridge made no such effort to approach the Smuts foundation and family in South Africa.  Instead a unilateral decision was taken by a minority of elitist academics imposing their views on others, now that is not the ‘open’ and democratic society which the University is meant to represent.

The University’s official response reads like a piece of political correct pandering. The response from the university’s governing council: “In retrospect, there are often once-lauded ideas and individuals whose standing, reputation and behaviour assume different and usually uncomfortable contemporary significance.”

Again – whose next in the ‘uncomfortable’ figures from the past who lauded ideas not palatable in a modern context, Churchill called Gandhi a “Half Naked Fakir”.

The removal of Smuts at the University of Cambridge is an offence to the thousands of South African men and women who have sacrificed their lives to serve crown in South African forces, and the tens of thousands of South Africans who also served in British Armed Forces.  It is the darkest day in the University’s history when it expunged its own heritage in the name of ill-considered political correctness and disgraces an entire generation of South Africans who held Smuts’ ideals of liberty and freedom in their hearts. It is a warning to come – shame on Christ’s College and shame on the University of Cambridge.


Written by Peter Dickens

Reference:  The Sunday Times The Sunday Times “Cambridge students topple bust of Britain’s wartime ally Jan Smuts”

Related work links:

Jan Smuts’ death: “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.

Jan Smuts and Churchill – Operation Overlord:  Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

Winston Churchill admiration of Smuts: Churchill’s Desk

Forgotten history – South Africa at its humanitarian best – the ‘Berlin Airlift’

Currently the 70th anniversary of The Berlin Airlift is in full swing, but did you know that as South Africans we can also hold our collective heads high, having played a key role in saving the civilians of war-torn Berlin from starvation and death after the Communist ‘Iron-Curtain’ descended?

For those unaware of what The Berlin Air Lift was, and why it was so important as the saviour of West Berlin’s civilians from certain starvation and death, and even how South Africa played a role of in averting this humanitarian crisis, here’s a quick overview.

Background to the ‘Berlin Air Lift’

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Germany was divided into control zones by the victorious Allied armies so as to prevent Germany from ever re-starting another world war, however, the very act of dividing Germany did start another world war, this time “The Cold War” – and this ideological and economic war to be fought between ‘Eastern’ Communism and ‘Western’ Capitalist Democracy.

The Cold War is misunderstood to many today, as they see it as an ideological one and not a deadly one, a ‘war’ as such was never declared – and by the time the millennium came around the new generation could not understand why such a big deal was made of it.

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However truth be told  – The Cold War was very deadly and was to be fought in proxy wars all over the planet, and it resulted in the greatest stand-off of mutually assured  nuclear annihilation ever seen – with zero dialogue or even a simple telephone line between the main belligerents – Russia (and it’s bloc Allies) one the one side and the United States of America (and its bloc Allies) on the other.  The epicentre of the ‘Cold War’ began with the act of the Berlin blockade in 1948 and subsequent Airlift, and the very first casualties of the Cold War in terms of sacrifice of members of statute forces – also began with the Berlin Airlift.

So what’s with the divide?

Simple put, at the conference on the 5th February 1945 towards the end of World War 2 between the ‘Big Three’ (The US, UK and Russia) at Yalta, Stalin made it clear to America and Britain that Russia was never to exposed to an attack from ‘the west’ again, they had endured the French when Napoleon invaded Russia and then endured the Germans when Hitler invaded Russia, with a massive bloodletting.  In fact Russian bloodletting and sacrifice in World War 2 exceeds the British & Commonwealth, the French and American bloodletting all combined.  Simply put, Stalin wanted a ‘buffer’ between Russia and Europe and everything East of Germany would become a satellite communist state to provide exactly that – with Moscow calling the shots.

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The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

With that the independent Parliaments, Kingdoms and Democracies of ‘liberated’ small states like Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia and Poland all but disappeared into a block of ‘puppet’ Communist satellite states.

In dividing up Germany to manage it post war, the ‘Western’ coalition of British, French and American Zones effectively made up what was to become ‘West Germany’ and the ‘Eastern’ Russian coalition zone (the Soviet Union) made up what was to eventually become ‘East Germany’.  The capital of Germany – Berlin, was strategically important to Germany itself and although it was located well inside the ‘Soviet’ bloc it also needed to be divided into ‘West’ and ‘East’ in a similar way.

So Berlin itself had a Western sector which was divided into control zones by the Western allies – The United Kingdom, France and the United States of America, and an Eastern sector which was controlled by the Russian coalition the USSR – The Soviet Union.  As Berlin was 100 miles into ‘Communist’ territory it was fed by a secured road and rail corridor which stretched from West Germany well into East Germany.

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Berlin’s zones as defined after the end of WW2

Berlin, with its ‘western sectors’ was a ‘blot’ in the middle of Stalin’s ‘buffer’, it undermined his complete communist barrier splitting Europe in half (a barrier Churchill tagged very aptly as ‘The Iron Curtain’). Berlin was an island of Capitalism in the middle of a sea of Communism, a beacon of Western democracy contrasting to the ideals of socialist conformity – it simply had to go.

The ‘Trigger’

In June 1948, Britain, France and America united their zones into a new country, West Germany. On 23 June 1948, they introduced a new currency – the Deutschmark, which they said would help trade and aid West Germany’s war debt repayments by pulling it out of recession and the ‘cigarette economy’ it was in.

The Soviets, however, hoping to continue the German recession, refused to accept the new currency, in favor of the over-circulated Soviet Reichsmark. By doing so, the Soviets believed they could foster a communist uprising in postwar Germany through civil unrest. By March 1948 it was evident that no agreements could be reached on a unified currency or quadripartite control of Germany. Both sides waited for the other to make a move.

 

The Soviets, trying to push the west out of Berlin, countered this move by requiring that all Western convoys bound for Berlin travelling through Soviet Germany be searched. The “Trizone” government (Britain, France and the USA), recognising the threat, refused the right of the Soviets to search their cargo. The Soviets then cut all surface traffic to West Berlin on June 27. American ambassador to Britain, John Winnant, stated the accepted Western view when he said that he believed “that the right to be in Berlin carried with it the right of access.” The Soviets, however, did not agree. Shipments by rail and the autobahn came to a halt. A desperate Berlin, faced with starvation and in need of vital supplies, looked to the West for help.

The Soviet Union’s unprecedented move to prevent the introduction of the new currency and cut off East Germany from West Germany by way of a blockade – was the ‘trigger’ and less so the ’cause’, the much-anticipated Soviet Communist ‘Iron Curtain’ finally fell dividing the whole Europe.

As Berlin sat in East Germany, the blockade isolated the western half of the city from supply of vital coal and fuel (for heating and transport) and food. The Western Allies saw this blockade as an aggressive and ‘illegal’ Soviet move to absorb West Berlin into the Soviet Union, and the precursor to starting a 3rd World War with the Western Allies (the Cold War had begun in effect).

The Plan 

The restrictions prevented the supply of food and materials by road from the British, American and French occupation zones in West Germany to their zones in West Berlin. So the Western Allies overcame the problem by creating an air bridge instead and came up with a very ambitious plan to ferry in supplies using transport aircraft – the air-space over East Germany to Berlin was not contested, and the Allies gambled that the Soviet Union would not make the error of initiating an act of war against the West by shooting one down.

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British and American air force officers consult an operations plan giving routes and heights of all aircraft in and out of the Berlin area during the Airlift.

An airlift on this scale had never been attempted before (and has never been achieved again).  It required military transport aircraft to fly into Berlin round the clock for weeks on end, until the Soviet resolve was broken.  It was also critical, the city of Berlin had been destroyed during the Second World War, many of its citizens living hand to mouth.

Logistics 

Nothing short of a logistics miracle to heat and feed West Berlin by air and during the around-the-clock airlift (in the end some 277,000 flights were made), many at 3 minute intervals, flying in an average of 5,000 tons of food and fuel each day.

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Air corridor map to Berlin from the Western Allied controlled part of Germany to the Berlin in the Soviet controlled part of Germany.

The American military government, based on a minimum daily ration of 1,990 kilocalories (July 1948), a total of daily supplies needed at 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In all, 1,534 tons were required each day to sustain the over two million people of Berlin. Additionally, for heat and power, 3,475 tons of coal, diesel and petrol were also required daily.

To complete the task the Western Allied Command turned to the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and South African Air Force (SAAF) for the ‘British’ contribution, the French Air Force (FAR) for the ‘French’ contribution and the United States Air Force (USAF) for the American contribution.

This would be the greatest humanitarian mission ever implemented, and South African pilots, navigators and other air-crew were right at the centre of it.

The Airlift

Operations began on 24 June 1948. The order to begin supplying West Berlin by air was approved by U.S. General Lucius Clay on June 27 with USAF AC-47s lifting off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo, including milk, flour, and medicine. When the blockade first started, the city of Berlin had around 36 days worth of food.

The first British aircraft flew on 28 June 1948. At that time, the airlift was expected to last three weeks.  Nothing would be further from the  truth, the Airlift was to progress through a very cold winter to come.

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Short Sunderland GR Mark 5 of No 201 Squadron, Royal Air Force, moored on Lake Havel in Berlin, Germany. Lake Havel was used by Coastal Command Sunderlands from July until mid-December 1948, when the threat of winter ice suspended further use.

President Truman, wishing to avoid war or a humiliating retreat, continually supported the air campaign. Surviving the normally harsh German winter, the airlift carried over two million tons of supplies in 277,000 flights, and would continue well into the new year, only to finally officially end in September 1949.

To keep the aircraft coming in at the rate of supply needed, fast turnaround was expected on the ground in Berlin.  Pilots and crews generally did not leave their aircraft and were provided with snacks and meals. The German civilian population got into ensuring the airlift was a success and to make up for shortages in manpower. Crews unloading and making airfield repairs at the Berlin airports were made up of almost entirely by local civilians, who were given additional rations in return for their assistance.

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USAF Dakota transport with a cargo of flour during the Berlin Airlift

As the crews experience increased, the times for unloading continued to fall, with a record set for the unloading of an entire 10-ton shipment of coal from a C-54 in ten minutes, later beaten when a twelve-man crew unloaded the same quantity in five minutes and 45 seconds.

The Candy Bombers

At the very beginning of the air-lift Gail Halvorsen, and American pilot arrived at Tempelhof on 17 July 1948 on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft and handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum to the children.

The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could, even passing around the wrapper for others to smell. He was so impressed by their gratitude and that they didn’t fight over them, that he promised the next time he returned he would drop off more. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over. He replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”

The next day on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that, the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon, there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier”.

The Allied Command was so impressed by this gesture of goodwill and its ‘public relations’ value that the mission was expanded into “Operation Little Vittles”.  Up to this point the children of Berlin only knew that American and British aircraft brought bombs, fire, death and destruction.  Now, in a pure expression of humanity the aircraft would bring happiness to children in what was to them a break and traumatized time, the Western Allies would now drop candy instead of bombs.

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Children of Berlin wave to a ‘Candy Bomber’ to get the attention of the air crew.

The other air-lift pilots joined in, and when news reached the United States, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, major candy manufacturers joined in. In the end, over twenty-three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin the “operation” became a major propaganda success. German children christened the candy-dropping aircraft “raisin bombers”.

On December 20, 1948 “Operation Santa Claus” was also flown from Fassberg, with gifts for 10,000 children.

Sacrifice 

The airlift was not without its hazards, with that many aircraft on that type of complex operation flying in all sorts of conditions – instrument and visual, and weather, so there we bound to be accidents.

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There were 101 fatalities recorded during the Airlift. The number includes 40 British and Commonwealth air-crew and 31 American air-crew. The majority died as a result of accidents resulting from hazardous weather conditions or mechanical failures. The remainder is composed of civilians who perished on the ground while providing support for the operation or who lost their lives when aircraft accidents destroyed their homes. As aircraft losses go 17 American and 8 British aircraft crashed during the Berlin Airlift.

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In honor of the pilots and aircrews who were lost the Berlin Airlift Monument was created from a fund established by the former Federal Republic of Germany and private donations. It was dedicated in 1951. All together there are three matching monuments: at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, at Wietzenbruch near the former British airbase Celle, and at the Luftbruckenplatz (Airbridge Place) Berlin-Tempelhof airfield. The base of the monument at Tempelhof reads, “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service for the Berlin Airlift 1984/1949.” The location at Tempelhof is presently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

South African service personnel in the airlift

The full list of South African pilots and aircrew is hard to come by as the commitment of South Africans in the Berlin Airlift is not generally part of the South African national consciousness anymore – whereas in countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada it is.

On the 27th September 1948, Union government of South Africa committed 50 South African Air Force (SAAF) crew to the Berlin Airlift, in all the SAAF would provide two contingents of air-crew to the air-lift, most seconded to RAF Transport Command and even one SAAF registered C-47A Dakota transport aircraft (No. 6841) made its way to Berlin to be put into service.

South Africans known to us at the moment who took part in the Berlin Airlift include Steve Stevens, who participated in WW2 as a SAAF Beaufighter pilot, Albie Gotze who participated in WW2 as a seconded SAAF pilot in RAF Typhoons and Spitfires.  Joe Hurst, John Clifford Bolitho, Duncan Ralston, Jenks Jenkins, Pat Clulow, Tom Condon, Johnnie Eloff, Mickey Lamb, “Shadow” Atkinson, Jannie Blaauw, Piet Gotze, Wilhelm Steytler, Vic de Villiers, Mike Pretorius, Nic Nicholas, Jack Davis,  Dormie Barlow, Tienie van der Kaay ‘Porky’ Rich, Ian Bergh (flying Sunderlands in the RAF) are all South African and SAAF pilots and air-crew recorded as taking part.

In addition SAAF pilot Joe Joubert also took part and was even commemorated for his actions during the Berlin Airlift.  Joe Joubert flew as a navigator in the Berlin Airlift and on the 9th July 1949 he and the radio operator were ordered to jettison 63 sacks of coal as the aircraft could not gain height in a severe thunderstorm. This was achieved in a remarkable six and a half minutes and he received a commendation for this remarkable act. This act was certainly helped by the fact that in his spare time Joe practiced weight lifting.

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Joe Joubert (right) – a SAAF pilot in the Berlin Airlift to earn a special commendation

Flt Officer Kenneth Reeves is South Africa’s only casualty during the Berlin Airlift, and he symbolises the greatest sacrifice we as a nation can give.   Kenneth was a navigator on board a RAF CD-3 (Dakota) which crashed in the Soviet Zone near Lübeck, killing all the crew.

Light at the end of the tunnel

By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union finally realised the futility of the road and rail blockade of West Berlin and lifted it, however tensions remained.

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Air crew of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and South African Air Force (SAAF) enjoy an off-duty drink in the officers’ bar at RAF Lubeck. IWM Copyright.

The airlift however continued until 30th September 1949, at a total cost of $224 million and after delivery of 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies. The end to the blockade was brought about because of countermeasures imposed by the Allies on the Soviet blockade by way of the airlift and because of a subsequent Western embargo placed on all strategic exports from the Eastern bloc. As a result of the blockade and airlift, Berlin became a symbol of the Allies’ willingness to oppose further Soviet expansion in Europe.

In conclusion

There can be little doubt that the Airlift was a success on many levels. It saved millions of lives and preserved the freedom of the city of Berlin. Veterans’ groups world over still celebrate the victory by gathering around the bases of the monuments and laying wreathes and flowers in memorial for those who paid the ultimate cost.  This act of remembrance made even more important on the 70th Anniversary.

However little recognition is given to the Berlin Airlift in South Africa, These are truly “unsung” heroes of South Africa we can be very proud of and not to be forgotten. The South Africans who took part in the Berlin Airlift are icons in Germany, and hardly known in South Africa, such is the strange politics we as South Africans tend to weave.

The Berlin Airlift marks South Africa’s first sacrifice in the ‘Cold War’ – further sacrifice was to come in the other future ‘Cold War’ proxy wars  – fought by South African statute forces against Soviet Allies in Korea, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique.

To many of the South African air-crew and SAAF members who took part in this momentous period in world history, the saving of a city from near starvation, the Capital City of a former enemy now vanquished by the war, with this act of sheer human philanthropy and benevolence was to really end South Africa’s “war” on a very humane high.

We leave the Cold War where it started and in one fitting epitaph the last British pilot to leave Berlin had chalked on the side of his aircraft the words, “Positively the last flight…Psalm 21, Verse 11” That psalm reads:

If they plan evil against you, if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.”

Related links and work

Jan Smuts Barracks Berlin Smuts Barracks; Berlin


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

Source The South African Air Force Museum.  The Imperial War Museum.  Image copyrights (see watermark) – Imperial War Museum.

Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

It was D-Day+6 when South African statesman, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, was also to cross over to Normandy, accompanying the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by his side.  To this point Smuts had played a pivot role in not only the planning and strategy behind Operation Overlord and the Normandy campaign, he also played a central role as Winston Churchill’s personal advisor and using his considerable political skill, Jan Smuts was to keep Churchill in line with the wishes and objects of not only Overlord’s military commanders (mainly British and American), but also those of the King of Great Britain – George VI.

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Churchill in the lead up to the Normandy campaign was not in favour of the entire operation, he felt that the focus should remain on the Italian campaign and maintained that any available resources should be concentrated to winning it by entering Germany and Austria via what he termed ‘the soft under-belly of Europe’ and not France. The truth of the matter was that the ‘soft-underbelly’ had turned into a slow and costly grind through mountainous terrain, and instead had become a ‘tough old gut’.  Allied military planners now looked to open a third front to stretch the Axis the forces across an Eastern, Western and Southern front.

Operation Overlord

Smuts was to bring considerable expertise to win Churchill over to backing Operation Overlord and opening the third front via France, but he had another challenge, once won over Churchill insisted on meddling in just about everything to do with the invasion plans, bringing him into direct conflict with General Montgomery specifically. General Montgomery was assigned to command the 21st Army Group which consisted of all Allied ground forces that would take part in Operation Overlord, under the overall direction of the Supreme Commander, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Smuts was to stick to Churchill like glue, never leaving his side, not for a moment – he was to arbitrate and advise not only Churchill, but the entire supreme command, lending a guiding and experienced hand – before and during the campaign itself.  In doing so Smuts was to cement a formidable international reputation as not only a sought after military strategist but also a very skilful politician in forming the vision for a post D-Day invasion Europe and the world at large post war.

Typically Churchill had insisted on personally hitting the beach-heads on D-Day itself (undoubtably Smuts, who was no stranger to danger, would have had no option but to be at his side).  Churchill felt it important that as Prime Minister that he should be ashore with the assault forces leading from the front. His peers, the commanders and the King thought him quite mad and it eventually took an intervention from the King George VI to Churchill to insist he was too valuable to be risking his life on what would have amounted to a Public Relations antic.  Ignoring this, as D-Day approached it took a further letter from King George to literally order Churchill to stand down at the last-minute.

Not to be outdone, Churchill did the next best thing, and with Jan Smuts at his side the two of them on D-Day itself – 6th June 1944 went to the port with journalists in toe to wish Godspeed to British and Canadian troops embarking for the liberation of Europe. The troops waiting on the quayside gave the two Prime Ministers (Smuts and Churchill) a hearty cheer as they went up the gangway.

This Pathé newsreel called ‘over there’ captures D-Day and the beach-head breakout (if you watch to the end you’ll see Churchill and Smuts).

In addition, prior to the departing troops on June 6th, the newspapers of the time noted the following as to Smuts and his involvement in the planning;

“General Smuts also accompanied King George V, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory on a visit to General Eisenhower at Supreme Headquarters on ‘D-Day’ and went to the operations room to follow the progress of the battle. Throughout the day General Smuts received independent reports from the highest quarters, of the progress of the invasion operations.”

It was at Eisenhower’s headquarters that, a few days earlier, that Smuts had met the French soldier and statesman General De Gaulle at “a quiet, tree-shaded spot” and that “General Eisenhower, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Eden were there as well.” The group had spent “nearly two hours together, largely in the war room tent of the Allied Supreme Commander, where the walls are hung with detailed maps and the planned liberation of France.”

Not able to keep Churchill and Smuts away from the action for too long, it was a short 6 days into the landing operations (D-Day +6) on 12 June 1944, that the two of them bordered a destroyer, the HMS Kelvin crossing over to France and into the teeth of the fighting.

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12 June 1944,  The boarding party with Field Marshal Jan Smuts (right), Prime Minister Winston Churchill (centre) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and Rear Admiral W E Parry (bottom right).” Crossing to France D-Day +6

The K-Class destroyer is the HMS Kelvin which reached the French coast at 9.30 a.m. and had steamed through the battle fleet during a bombardment and later joined in the shelling of the German north-east flank. Churchill and Smuts were then conveyed to the beach via a “DUKW” amphibious vehicle where they then met Field Marshal Montgomery, where-after they departed in a jeep for Montgomery’s headquarters for a de-briefing of the progress and offer him advise on the next phases.

Whilst at Montgomery’s head quarters, General Smuts took up the role of photographer (the reason he’s not in the picture) and he was to take this world-famous photograph. From left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy.

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Smuts was rather lucky to survive his visit to Normandy, as both he and Churchill could very well have been killed while visiting Monty’s headquarters at Cruelly.

While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, “There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!”

And lo and behold, just two days later, two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Monty as well as Smuts), everything would have changed.

There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.

The below mage shows Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts with  General Sir Bernard Montgomery at his headquarters, 12 June 1944 looking at aircraft activity overhead.

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It is also really amazing when one considers that Smuts, an erstwhile enemy of the British empire during the South African War (1899-1906), was not only to reconcile himself to his former enemy over the succeeding years, but was also to be greatly respected by two British prime ministers: Lloyd George and Winston Churchill during the First and Second World Wars respectively and served on the appointed war councils in both.  During the Second World War he was even appointed to the British King’s Privy Council – finding himself at the epicentre on how the war was to be conducted and fought.

Notwithstanding the fact that South Africa, with Smuts as head of state, played a very key role in the liberation of Europe, Smuts also represented the large contingent of South African Union Defence Force personnel taking part in Operation Overlord seconded to the Royal Air Force, flying all manner of fighters, transports and gliders and the South Africans seconded to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and serving on the many vessels used in the landings and in the ground invasion forces.

In conclusion

The King was even warm to an idea proposed by Jock Colville (Churchill’s Private Secretary) that should Prime Minister Winston Churchill die during the war (which very nearly happened in Normandy), Smuts would replace him, however this idea was never tested as Smuts would have to be a peer and British Parliamentary process would have prevented it. Smuts had also already refused a peerage and South Africa’s constitution would not have allowed him to do it anyway as he was already the Prime Minister of South Africa – and politics was such with his National Party opposition accusing him of being a ‘traitor’ at every turn, that Smuts in all likelihood would have refused outright lest he alienate his own very split Afrikaner community completely.

Whether possible or not it does give an idea of just how close Smuts was to Churchill and how indispensable he had become to the war effort – strategically, tactically and politically, he was South Africa’s greatest military export – without any doubt – his council sought by Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Field Marshals and Generals. His role in Overlord would rid the world of Nazism and pave the way to the ‘new’ western democratic order and United Nations order that we know today. Simply put Smuts can easily take up the same mantle as Churchill and can stand at the very epicentre of our modern values of liberty and western democratic freedoms.

Related Work and Links

Churchill’s desk and Smuts; Churchill’s Desk

Jan Smuts; South Africa’s role in giving D-Day the green light

Jan Smuts; “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.


Written by Peter Dickens.

Photo copyright Imperial War Museum – caption thanks to The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek. Nicholas Rankin,“Churchill’s Wizards, British Genius for Deception 1914-1945”.  Colourised photo by Redux: https://www.facebook.com/Photos-Redux-2505400816200782/