A soldier’s dedication to Pat Kerr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFP (now the DA) anti-SADF conscription poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So young and yet so old

Three members of the SADF’s 61 Mechanised Battalion Group take a rest during the fighting on the Lomba river in Angola in 1987.

These young SADF national servicemen – most of them having just written a High School matric a year or two before and barely 18 or 19 years old – have just shattered the Angolan/Cuban coalition’s mechanised offensive, turning the tide at the height of this “cold war” in what was arguably one of the fiercest and most decisive mechanised battles fought on African soil since the Second World War.

These men – fighting in Ratel Infantry fighting vehicles against Russian T 55 Tanks knew that victory would boil down to strategy, innovation, decisiveness, leadership, teamwork, discipline and training – and not superior equipment or numbers.

Notice the presence of the “thousand yard stare” brought about from fatigue and extensive exposure to combat, ageing them well beyond their years.

Thank you to the 61 Mechanised Battalion veteran fraternity for the image.

Winner of the Honoris Crux Gold – TWICE! One of a kind … Remembering Maj. Arthur Walker HCG & Bar SM

Remembering a true South African military hero – the highest decorated South African Defence Force member and the legend that was Major Arthur Walker HCG and bar SM. Sadly Arthur passed away in March 2016 after a long fight against cancer.

Major Arthur Walker HC and Bar SM was a South African military hero of which there will never be an equal, he was South African Air Force helicopter pilot who was awarded the, not once – but twice, during the South African Border War.

The Honoris Crux Gold was the highest military award for bravery awarded to members of the South African Defence Force at that time – so his feat of obtaining two of them can never be repeated again.

Born 10 February 1953 in Johannesburg he matriculated from King Edward VII School in Johannesburg and went to the Army in 1971.

He obtained his pilot’s wings in 1977 and flew for 7 Squadron, Rhodesian Air Force, before re-joining the South African Air Force in 1980.

While flying Alouette III helicopters based at AFB Ondangwa in 1981 he was awarded the Honoris Crux Gold for risking his life during a night operation in Angola, by turning on the lights of his helicopter to draw enemy fire away from another helicopter.

The citation for the Honoris Crux Gold reads:

“During January 1981, two Alouettes, with Lieutenant Walker as flight leader, carried out close air support operations resulting in the Alouettes coming under intense enemy artillery and anti-aircraft fire. He only withdrew when ordered to do so. Later Lieutenant Walker returned to the contact area to provide top cover for a Puma helicopter assigned to casualty evacuation. Again he was subject to heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire. During the withdrawal the second helicopter developed difficulties and called for assistance. Yet again Captain Walker returned to provide top cover, drawing virtually all the anti-aircraft fire to his Alouette. His courageous act prevented the loss of an Alouette and crew.

Lieutenant Walker’s actions were not only an outstanding display of professionalism, devotion to duty and courage, but also constitutes exceptional deeds of bravery under enemy fire and makes him a worthy recipient of the Honoris Crux Gold”

In December 1981 he was cited for landing in enemy territory to search for and rescue the crew of a helicopter that had been shot down.
An Alouette III of the SAAF

The citation for the Bar to his Honoris Crux Gold reads:

“During December 1981 Captain Walker was again requested to provide top cover for the evacuation of a seriously wounded soldier. On take-off with the evacuee his number two helicopter was hit and crash-landed. Without hesitation and with total disregard for his personal safety, Captain Walker landed near the wrecked helicopter and immediately searched for the crew. Eventually the situation became suicidal, compelling Captain Walker and his crew to withdraw. When he was airborne he spotted the missing crew and yet again, without hesitation and despite the fact that virtually all enemy fire was now [aimed] in his direction, he landed and lifted the crew to safety.

Through this courageous deed he prevented the loss of two men. His distinguished actions, devotion to duty and courage make him a credit to the South African Defence Force in general, the South African Air Force in particular and makes him a worthy recipient of the Bar to the Honoris Crux Gold”

With sincere thanks to Arthur for sending us a full colour image of himself in uniform – Rest in Peace Arthur.  At the going down of the sun …we will remember you.

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

Here’s another interesting back of the chappie gum wrapper fact – Guess which is the correct South African flag South Africans fought under during WW1?  Bet most people will think of the old “Orange White and Blue” South African flag, but that would be wrong.

As a serving officer in the South African Army I had to be familiar with flag protocol and etiquette, it’s a key part of soldiering when national flags go on parade. However the funny thing in South Africa is just how poor our collective knowledge is of our own national flags.

These are in fact all of South Africa’s national flags:17309179_1539170599434728_8929150928988660165_nMany times in military veteran circles there is steaming debate on when to use the “old” national flag and in what context – however few people in South Africa know what flag to use, what they really mean and even less know what the first South African flag actually looked like.

Here is a classic case of the misunderstandings surrounding South African national flags – This is the painting the “Birth of the Union” James E McConnell.  The painting was so poorly researched he used the wrong flag.

Birth of the Union of South Africa

This is a modern day photo-shop version of McConnell’s painting and it shows his original on the left and a more correct South African Union flag at union on the right.

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The flag he used for his painting was the oranje-blanje-blou (known more commonly as the “OBB”) which all South Africans will recognise. However the flag of South Africa at the time of Union in 1910 at Union was the South African “ensign flag” (British Union Jack top left and the South African National Coat of Arms inserted bottom right). Known as a “Red Duster” – now not too many South Africans today have ever seen that flag.

To show what the first South African national flag, the “Red Duster,” actually looked like here it is:

threeIt is very doubtful that there would have been huge public elation of Boers and Brits embracing one another under this National Flag as depicted in the painting, although this was the National Flag that South Africa fought under during the First World War (there where two versions of this ensign flag which they used – one Red and one Blue).

Ironically, the Boer Commandos that joined the South African Union’s Defence Force at Union in 1910, used and fought under this “South African Ensign” in the South West African and the East African campaigns of World War 1 from 1914 to 1918.

As noted, there was another variant of the “Red Duster” which is an ensign with the respective nation’s emblem against a Blue Background and a British Union flag in the left hand corner (you’ll still see this variant used in New Zealand and Australia for their National flag).

Both South Africa’s “Ensign” flags – Red and Blue qualify as the de facto South African national flags from 1910 to 1928, however the Red one was more common.

The Red Duster variant was the primary flag adopted by South Africa and Canada (Canada used their ensign version during WW1 and WW2 – it was only changed to the Maple Leaf in 1965)

Slide4Given the Ensigns were the flags usually adopted for British “Colonies” and “Dominions”, the South African Union government (which was in fact an independent Parliament to Westminster and made its own laws) felt differently. To the South African Union the national flag of 1910 was “still born” and not reflective of the history of the Boer Republics which made up the other half of the “Union” nor did it adequately reflect on South Africa’s Dutch colony origins.

The oranje-blanje-blou (“OBB”) was adopted by the South African Union Parliament as the “new” national flag in 1928. It was proudly flown as the flag of “Union” representing the old British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the old Boer Republics of the Transvaal (South African Republic) and the Orange Free State. The use of the British Union flag inserted in the OBB, placed closest to the flag mast/pole (the most honoured and senior position for any “inserted” national flag on any flag format) ahead of the two Boer Republic flags, which take a lessor position, calmed down and appeased the “English” detractors who objected to such a dramatic flag change away from the standard Dominion Red Duster.

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However, confusion as to South Africa’s national flag to use even reigned at this time.  Here Jan Smuts makes the front cover of a late 1940’s edition of “Time” magazine with the National Flag in the background and this time they are incorrectly using the “old” blue ensign flag and should have been using the”new” OBB.

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So here’s another fun fact, the OBB is not the “Apartheid” flag, the National party when they came to power in 1948 put forward a proposal to have it amended and remove what they called the “Bloed Vlek” (Blood Stain) which was the British Union Flag inserted in the OBB. This was a National party pet hate as it reminded many Afrikaner nationalists of British decimation of Boer families and farms during the Boer war – the campaign to change the OBB flag was stepped up by the National Party under Hendrik Verwoerd when South Africa became a Republic and when he withdrew South Africa from the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

However broader public pressure at the time prevented the initial National Party proposals for a flag change from been passed by the South African Republic’s Parliament and the idea was eventually shelved. In effect the initial campaign to change the OBB died with Verwoerd in 1966, but the National Party attempts to change the OBB to a “new” Republic flag did not stop there.  In 1968, the National Party Prime Minister, John Vorster, again proposed the adoption of a new flag to replace the OBB from 1971, the rational was to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the declaration of a Republic.  Even though a National newspaper campaign was run asking the public for suggested flag designs, Vorster’s proposal did not get momentum in Parliament and the flag change never materialised.

Historically speaking, although the hardline National Party members hated the “OBB” and its inserted British “Union Jack”, but they disliked the original South African ensign “Red Duster” national flag with its massive “Union Jack” even more, so much it was literally erased from the South African collective consciousness and very few examples of it survive to this day. It certainly was not top of mind when McConnell painted his “Birth of the Union” painting in 1976.

That the flag of South African Union was kept during the implementation of Apartheid by the National Party from 1948 to 1994 is unfortunate as it detracts from it’s rich heritage as the flag of the South African “Union” and as such it is not the flag of the South African “Republic”nor was it ever intended to be a Republic’s flag – it especially detracts from all the kudos that South Africa received during World War 2 fighting alongside British and American forces under the South African Union’s OBB.

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The “new” (new) South African flag adopted in 1994 was actually  intended as a “five year interim” flag, however it proved so highly popular it became the national flag almost instantly and was officially adopted by the government of South Africa on the election day, 27th April 1994.

According to its designer Fred Bromnell – It is actually a combination of the two “Colonial era” flags – The national flag of the Netherlands (Dutch flag) – Red, White, Blue and the the British Union flag – Blue, White, Red.  Then the two former Boer Republic flags – the South African Republic (Transvaal) “Vier Kleur” – Green, Red, White and Blue and the Orange Free State Republic Flag (using the Dutch insert flag and the white) and then finally the African National Congress (ANC) Flag – Black, Green and Gold (colours also present in the Inkatha Freedom Party  and Pan African Congress flags).

The V symbolises inclusion and unification. In essence it is another flag of “Union” (unity) only this time acknowledging the county’s Black population and its historical heritage.  Symbols considered in the design of the “new” flag included Catholic and Anglican Priest’s Classic Chasubles, the universal symbol of Peace and the married Zulu female traditional head-dress.

There are some claims that the “New” South African flag is just a “design” with no meaning or symbolism – but that’s not the opinion of the man who actually designed it – Frederick Gordon Brownell.  Also, I find that whenever that when this argument is used  its usually to deny meaning to the new South Africa flag to degrade the country, describing it as “jockey Y front underpants,” when in fact the truth is the opposite and the flag is stuffed full of meaning and symbolism.

In fact the “New” South African flag reflects all the old flags of South Africa, these exist right there for all to see, plain as day to the trained eye (even the untrained eye) – symbolically placed in the new flag – and that’s an inconvenient truth to both the “new” flag’s detractors and the detractors of the old OBB.

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The funny thing is the “New” (new) flag was only meant to be an interim one, hence the mash of historical South African flags.  The irony kills me whenever I see the “new” South African youth and current South African political class with the flag they are now saluting, flying and even wearing – and it consists of their much despised “Colonial” Dutch, British and Boer Republic flags – irony lost on them but not on me.

Here’s the another irony – the “old” South African flag i.e. the “OBB” Union flag was born out of the ideals of Union led by Smuts and Botha. Not under the Apartheid ideals of Verwoed and Malan. I personally see a lot of irony when hard-line right wing Afrikaners slam Jan Smuts and brand his values of consolidation and union with the British as an act of treason to the Afrikaner people – when at the same time they fully support, and at times even fly, the very flag created in honour of his Unionist ideal – with its British “Blood Stain” symbolising Smuts’ reconciliation in full and proud senior position.

Furthermore it is ironic that after many years of trying to change the National flag after South Africa was declared a Republic, it was the National Party that finally achieved its goal in February 1994 when they, the National Party government, briefed Frederick Gordon Brownell at the government’s own heraldry department to design a new flag (funnily in some sort of déjà vu – they had to involve the National Herald this time after another newspaper campaign for designs from the public had failed, albeit 20 years later).  The result is the current flag we see today.  It was designed literally in a week and the only change in the decades long National Party narrative on changing the OBB this time was that both FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela had to approve the new design.

So, lump it or leave it – there is nothing in “Union” flags that appeal to “all” people and everything in “Union” flags that appeal to “all” people.

All I can say is that the “new” South African flag has been the most cross cultural flag ever composited in South African history and it has been the least controversial i.e. it has been the most universally accepted by all South Africans (the very vast majority) with the least amount of disgruntled political posturing to change it.

To the “old” South Africa OBB supporters I say:

  1.  The OBB was not the only South African national flag both Afrikaner and English South Africans fought under prior to 1994.
  2. The OBB pays a very high homage to The British Union National Flag in terms of the Vexillology of Flags and Flag Etiquette, especially in terms of the superior/senior position it takes relative to the two Boer Republic flags.
  3. The OBB symbolisers the Union of Afrikaners and English races – a central philosophy of Jan Christiaan Smuts and that of  “Union” Political Coalition partners and Governments.  Not those ideals of nationalist Afrikaners like Malan, Verwoed and Vorster, whose central political premise was that of an independent “Republic” and”Apartheid”.
  4. The OBB, although a flag of Union, is now very dated.  Times and history changed since South Africa declared itself a Republic, so too the demographic and even social landscape of South Arica.  It cannot work as a current national flag in modern South Africa, change was inevitable – even Smuts would have seen that, and knowing his way of governance he would have welcomed a new flag to reflect it had he been around (in his time he served and lived under four different national flags).
  5. Many key Commonwealth countries have traded in their “Colonial” ensigns and Union flags – Canada, Jamaica, Kenya, Singapore, Hong Kong to name a few, and those still holding onto theirs – Australia and New Zealand, are under strong popular pressure to change them ahead of changing times.

To the “new” South Africa, current National flag supporters I say:

  1. The OBB is the flag of “Union” and it is one of the two Union flags used to bring   South Africa into existence as a country on the central principles of “reconciliation” and “tolerance” between two previously warring races (Boers and Brits), it is not the flag of “Apartheid”- in fact it was developed long before Apartheid came into existence, even as an idea, and symbolically its the complete opposite of Apartheid.
  2. Even the hard line Apartheid Nationalists hated the OBB so much they wanted to change it – and eventually they did, and ironically it is the flag you now support, salute, fly and even wear – ironically designed by a brief from the outgoing Apartheid Nationalist government in its final throws of office.
  3. The “new” flag very strongly and powerfully associates the flags of South Africa’s “Colonisers” and “Boers” in its design and in fact it celebrates this history – in addition to celebrating the history of the Black peoples of South Africa.
  4. The “new” South African flag does an excellent job balancing South Africa’s history and is very relevant to the current time.  I can’t possibly think of a better solution, and if the ANC and EFF one day decide to change it because of its “colonial” and “white” legacy, I would hate to see what some Gupta owned design agency in India comes up with.

This is why I allow myself a wry ironic smirk every-time South African flags are so hotly debated.

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Featured image by James E McConnell, Watercolour on Board 1973, photo-shopped version and background information courtesy Nicholas Pnematicatos.

A little cheeky military humour

A little bit of “cheeky” military humour to see out the old year – please excuse the brashness but this is typical of military humour.

Here a South African Air Force Alouette III helicopter’s Flight Engineer/Gunner gives a typical response to fellow crew members flying alongside.

Not found in the Public Relations photographs in the SADF at the time. However in the light of combatants fighting  far away from home, and in need of some light banter to alleviate the seriousness of combat on the Angolan border, who can blame them  … “boys will be boys”.

Photo courtesy of the SAAF Alouette crew veterans fraternity.

SADF Propaganda and Psychological Warfare

No frills Propaganda

Propaganda was a means of Psychological Warfare was employed by all sides in the SWA/Angolan ‘Bush War’ Conflict – blunt and strait-forward in communication and tone so the message was clear.

Usually symbols of death (or images of death) accompanied this type of printed propaganda and they served to underpin the threat and drive fear – this is an example of a SADF leaflet distributed to warn the local population in South West Africa/Namibia and neighbouring states not to join SWAPO (the South West African People’s Organisation) against whose armed wing – PLAN the SADF and SWATF forces were in combat with.

The message is crude and strait forward, the image used is easily assimilated and understood, it’s a “brutal” communication designed to get the point across to the lowest common denominator, no need for frills, pretty fonts and logos.

Propaganda is a “weapon”

Please note, this is of historic importance as to the propaganda used in the Bush War. It is not intended to glorify either the SADF or SWAPO – the intention is to capture and keep alive a little of South Africa’s military history so often forgotten.

Propaganda by its very nature preys on emotions – its intension and its goal is an emotive response – in military terms it’s classified as a weapon, as that response can influence the fight, either by spurring it on motivating the combatants or by stopping it and demotivating the combatants.  In many ways Propaganda can influence the outcome of a battle or war as much, if not more that the actual use of bullets.  Believe it or not – all this power – and it can simply be boiled down to a crude message like the one shown here.

When reviewing propaganda from a historical perspective (or even military perspective) it must be dealt with objectively without emotion. If it triggers an emotional response then it has simply done it job and wins, that’s how this particular weapon works…