Field Marshal Jan Smuts, at the invitation of Winston Churchill addressing both houses of the British Parliament in 1942. This speech is historic, never before was any Commonwealth Statesman given the privilege of addressing both houses of Parliament (the Commons and the Lords), and the results are astounding – not only was Smuts publicly praised by Winston Churchill at the end of his speech, the entire Parliament breaks into hoorays and sings “he’s a jolly good fellow” in praise of the man and his life’s work.
Two great South Africans have the privilege of statues outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, both having addressed this house at Westminster, and they stand in Westminster square for good reason. This was a period when Jan Smuts took his broken country from the Boer War, unified it and built it into a international powerhouse – at this occasion Smuts receives the praise due a visionary world leader.
The vast majority of both English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans backed Smuts at the time, however his legacy – like any great man’s legacy – is tainted by his opposition – The National Party, who, when they came into power served to demonise him over decades – so much so that he remains an enigma to many South Africans today. Except when you find gems like this film clip – which can bring him back into living memory.
Look out for Smut’s comments on the necessity to rid the world of Nazism, his insightful summary of Hitler’s policy in Europe and for his views on he formation of the United Nations – to which he is founding signatory.
To think that Smuts was a South African War Boer General, and both he and General Louis Botha understood that the salvation and re-building of their shattered people lay with their former enemy. Their vision of unity built South Africa from a fractious grouping of colonies and tiny states into a significant and unified nation – a regional economic power-house. The fact that his former enemy stood up in praise of this man and his achievement speaks volumes.
Jan Smuts is literally the “father of the nation” that is South Africa today and it’s a great pity he is so misunderstood. As anyone who watches this video will see, thanks to this remarkable man, South Africans by the end of World War 2 stood with heads held high, chests swollen with pride, praised by the free world and revered by great men.
History unfortunately would dramatically change course for South Africa a couple of years later, when in 1948 the National Party narrowly edged its way into power in the general elections with a proposal called Apartheid. South Africa has swung from ‘Pariah State’ far right racial politics to ‘Junk Status’ economic leftist politics in response to the secular race politics – with very little regard for Smuts’ centralist or “centre ground” reconciliatory politics since.
Footage copyright – Pathe.
The interesting part of digging up all the “hidden” history of the South African veteran movements after World War 2, is that occasionally you come across some hidden history about the military veterans organisation which you belong to. Did you know that both Jan Smuts AND Winston Churchill are both members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans?
Well – they are. Field Marshal Jan Smuts was awarded the “Gold Life Membership Badge of the South African Legion of the BESL” in November 1945, and Sir Winston Churchill recieved the same Gold Life Membership Badge to the South African Legion in July 1948.
And here they are – two fellow Legionnaires, the two great prime ministers of Great Britain and South Africa, Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts, at the British Embassy in Cairo, 5 August 1942.
Above is a standard South African Legion lapel Badge with “Kings crown” from the 2nd World War period. Note BESL – which stands for the “British Empire Services League” – the South African Legion along with the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion and Returned Services League Australia are all founder members of it. Today it is called the “Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League” (RCEL) having received recognition by the Britain’s Royal family for its work all over the world supporting destitute military veterans who have rendered service to the “crown” – including South Africa.
Modern South African Legion badge – note the use of modern BESL the RCEL “Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League” and Queen’s Crown” for Queen Elizabeth II who is a Patron.
Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum. Reference “Not For Ourselves” – a history of the South African Legion by Arthur Blake.
Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts accompanied one another just after the D Day landings to General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944.
Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Here these Allied commanders are seen looking up at aircraft activity overhead.
An interesting snippet of history happened during this visit by Smuts and Churchill to Monty’s headquarters. 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 low 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 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 very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.
Reference: Nicholas Rankin “Churchill’s Wizards”. Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum.