Author Archives: Peter Dickens

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Your SADF Insurance Buddy

Category : Articles , Bush War

 

Remembering the days during South African National Service “ inklaar “, when if you arrived without having a bank account for your princely SADF pay, moenie worry nie….these good bankers from “Volkskas” (amalgamated with ABSA now) were right on hand to help you, with table and tannies (aunties) to sign you right on … and there’s more:-

At the same time you were also sold life insurance policies and asked to write a last will and testament. Can you imagine that in today’s youth – 18 or 19 years old and you operated a current account, had life insurance and a current will.

It also says a lot for the veterans today, whether they wanted to or not (National service was not voluntary), they signed their lives away to serve their country for the princely sum of R0.00 (zero), that’s quite a concept for someone whose never served to get their heads around today.

Other banks, insurance companies and building societies – like Sanlam and Allied Building Society (now also part of ABSA) also assisted with National Service banking and insurance requirements, this was a very different time when National Service was part of the social and cultural fabric for white South Africans.

You can argue that banks like Volkskas Bank operated a “cradle to grave” marketing philosophy and this was a “get them in when they are young” and keep them to retirement (selling appropriate banking along he way throughout ones life) ploy – a common marketing tactic for financial institutions world over.

However they did perform a vital service – as pay had to be paid in somewhere – meagre as it was. Pay by way of incentive was also increased when servicing on the Border as “danger pay,” as well as “short service” options for National Servicemen to stay on a little longer at the end of their two years national service – and many a returning serviceman where able to use the savings to buy their first cars or motorbikes.

Story for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens


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Joe Slovo, Signaller, WW2

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Category : Articles , WW2

 

This “rooigevaar” (Red Danger) communist was also a South African Army world war 2 veteran – Joe Slovo (left of picture). Serving as a Signaler in combat operations for the South African forces in North Africa and Italy. His story reflects some amazing twists and turns in South African military history, much of it very unknown.

Slovo was born in Obeliai, Lithuania to a Jewish family which emigrated to the Union of South Africa escaping Jewish persecution in Europe when he was eight.

Slovo first encountered socialism in South Africa through his school-leaving job as a clerk for a pharmaceutical wholesaler. He joined the National Union of Distributive Workers and had soon worked his way up to the position of shop steward, where he was responsible for organizing at least one mass action.

The Communist Party in South Africa has an interesting start and it’s not the “Black revolutionary” movement most people perceive it to be now, originally it was started by white South Africans – and in fact it initially concerned itself only with “whites only” workers rights.

The Communist Party of South Africa was founded in 1921 under the leadership of William H Andrews, a Briton who came to Johannesburg to work on the mines. The SA Communist Party first came to prominence during the armed insurrection by white mineworkers in 1922, so brutally suppressed by Jan Smuts’ government.

The large mining concerns, facing labour shortages and wage pressures, had announced their intention of liberalising the rigid colour bar within the mines and elevate some blacks to minor supervisory positions. (The vast majority of white miners mainly held supervisory positions over the labouring black miners.)

Despite having opposed racialism from its inception, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) supported the white miners in their call to preserve wages and the colour bar with the slogan “Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!”.

With the failure of the rising, in part due to black workers failing to strike, the Communist Party was forced to adopt the “Native Republic” thesis which stipulated that South Africa was a country belonging to the Blacks. The Party thus reoriented itself at its 1924 Party Congress towards organising black workers and “Africanising” the party. Not quite the vision William Andrews, the CPSA founder, had in mind as white worker party and he promptly resigned as the party’s National Secretary.

During World War 2, the attitude to Communism by moderate white South Africans was a little different. Communist Russia was an ally of South Africa during the war and all over the country South Africans rallied to the support of Russia’s war effort against Nazi Germany by donating food, medicine and blood in very successful national “Aid for Russia” collection programs.

Joe Slovo joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1942 and served on its central committee from 1953 (the same year its name was changed to the South African Communist Party, SACP). He avidly watched the news of the Allied fronts, especially the way in which Britain was working with Russia to aid her war effort against Hitler, so Joe Slovo volunteered for active duty, and served with South African forces in Egypt and Italy.

After the war he joined the Springbok Legion, a multiracial radical ex-servicemen’s organization which was essentially run by a group white war veterans who embraced Communist values. The Springbok Legion should not be confused with the South African Legion, it was a separate and very politically motivated veterans association – whereas the South African Legion was an apolitical veterans charity.

Being politically driven The Springbok Legion became one of key driving forces behind Sailor Malan’s “Torch Commando”, which was the first mass protest movement against Apartheid legislation and made up to a smaller degree by this political veterans association and to a far bigger degree of many members of the apolitical war veterans associations – ironically all mainly “white” South Africans (the franchise of been the country’s first mass protest movement against Apartheid does not belong to the ANC).

However it was the smallest of the war veterans associations – The “Springbok Legion” that took a direct “political” role – the Springbok Legion was founded in part by a senior South African Legion member – General van der Spuy (a pioneer of the South African Air Force), and its role took over from what he referred to as the South African Legion’s “painfully correct whisper of polite protest” and became a “shout” of protest instead.

The history of the Springbok Legion as a political entity is fascinating – initially formed in 1941 by members of the 9th Recce Battalion of the South African Tank Corps, along with the Soldiers Interests Committee formed by members of the First South African Brigade in Addis Ababa, and the Union of Soldiers formed by the same brigade in Egypt.

The aims and objectives of the Springbok Legion were enunciated in its ‘Soldiers Manifesto’. The Springbok Legion was open to all servicemen regardless of race or gender and was avowedly anti-fascist and anti-racist.

In collaborating with Sailor Malan’s Torch Commando (and by default Jan Smuts’ old United Party with which the Torch Commando was linked), The Springbok Legion had by now become a fully blown political entity, and the inevitable happened, as with any political party, The Springbok Legion gradually became politically radicalized. This was spearheaded by veterans who where also members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and who joined The Springbok Legion and served in its upper and lower structures.

The targeting of the Springbok Legion by the Communist Party was the result of the South African Communist Party believing that it could use the veterans to re-order “white” political thinking in South Africa along communist lines.

This eventually resulted in the fracturing of the Springbok Legion as a whole as moderate “white” members, who made up the majority of its supporters became disenchanted with its increasingly militant leftist rhetoric.

Notable SACP communist party veterans to join the Springbok Legion in a leading capacity where none other than ex-servicemen such as Joe Slovo, but also Lionel Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh, Jock Isacowitz, Jack Hodgson and Fred Carneso.

Aside from the Communists, Key members included future political and anti-apartheid leaders, such as Peter Kaya Selepe, an organiser of the African National Congress (ANC) in Orlando (he also served in WW2). Harry Heinz Schwarz, also a WW2 veteran eventually became a statesman and long-time political opposition leader against apartheid in South Africa and served as the South African ambassador to the United States during South Africa’s “transition” in the 90’s.

The National Party – which even as part of it’s pre-war make up had a fierce anti-communist stance was becoming increasingly alarmed by the rise of “white” war veterans against their policies – Sailor Malan’s Torch Commando at its peak attracted 250 000 followers – so they began seeking was of suppressing it. One of the mechanisms was to pass the Suppression of Communism Act.

The combined effect of the Act, and the broadening and deepening of the Communist rhetoric and politics was alienating the majority of Springbok Legion members rang a death knell for the Springbok Legion and the inevitable happened, the organisation folded as thousands of its “moderate” members left, returning to the either the apolitical MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) combat vets only order or the broader South African Legion which accommodated all veterans (or both).

The Communist Party members of The Springbok Legion who had played a pivot in its rise and its demise i.e. Joe Slovo, Lionel Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh, Jack Hodgson and Fred Carneso were now banned and left with little other option they all then joined the African National Congress (ANC) and, given their experience as combat veterans, they also all joined its military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe under the command of Nelson Mandela.

The story of Joe Slovo – as the National Party’s arch communist enemy, and the story of the East/West divide over communism and the resultant Cold War, of which the South African Border War along Angola and internal armed insurrection (the “struggle”) all qualify – is well known.

That Joe Slovo was eventually identified as military target, alongside his wife Ruth Slovo (a daughter of well known Communist supporter prior to the war, Joe had met Ruth at Wits University), and again the assignation of Ruth Slovo is also well known.

The irony for the National Party, is that is was this “public enemy number one”, “Rooigevaar” (as the National Party labeled communists and liberals) Communist that extended the olive branch to the National Party – it was Joe Slovo, who in 1992 proposed the breakthrough in the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa with the “sunset clause”. Slovo’s “sunset clause” allowed for a coalition government for the five years following a democratic election, including guarantees and concessions to all sides.

After the elections of 1994 Slovo became Minister for housing in this coalition government he proposed, serving alongside the National Party as they saw out their “sunset” until his death in 1995. His funeral was attended by Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

In a further twist of history, by 2005 the National Party closed shop and merged with the ANC, and by default they also joined the party which still remains in alliance with the ANC as a political dependent, none other than …. The South African Communist Party. Such is the cycle of history, go figure!

Story by Peter Dickens

Joe Slovo (left) is seen in his South African Army uniform (and Signaler insignia) in the feature image with fellow South African soldiers Mike Feldman and Barney Fehler (image courtesy of Mike Feldman)

References Lazerson, Whites in the Struggle Against Apartheid. Neil Roos. Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961. Wikipedia and “Not for ourselves” – a history of the South African Legion by Arthur Blake


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Major Arthur Walker HCG and Bar SM

 

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing this morning of 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. You will be missed by many in the veterans circles and beyond, may your family be embraced by the love and tender care of your heavenly father.

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 Honoris Crux Gold decoration, 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”

Posted for The South African Legion by Peter Dickens – with sincere thanks to Arthur for sending us a full colour image of himself in uniform only just a month ago – Rest in Peace Arthur, the world is a poorer place without you, and the South African Legion salutes you sir.

Our most sincerest condolences to his family and friends in this very difficult time.

At the going down of the sun …we will remember him.


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The Williams brothers from South Africa

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Category : Articles , WW1

 

Amazing when recruitment posters such as this one, among other reasons can motivate whole families to join the war effort in South Africa.

The Williams brothers from South Africa all served in the First World War in different roles, from the army, to the air force and the Merchant Navy. Their parents Classina Cornelia and Charles Danvers Williams lived in Papendorp and then Cape Town, South Africa.

They served as: British Army, Royal Engineers, Service #520018 Sapper William Harris Williams, Air Force (RAF/RFC), Service #308006 Clarence Louis Williams, South African Services, South African Infantry , Service #2526, Private Thomas Ralph Williams – killed in action at Ypes. Merchant Navy, Danvers Nicholas Williams.

Quite extraordinary (but not uncommon) to have four brothers from the same family volunteer to go and participate in World war 1.

This is part of an Imperial War Museum initiative to capture the personal history of all the men who fought in the war, visit “Lives of the First World War”

Posted for the SA Legion by Peter Dickens


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“Ouma” Smuts

Category : Articles , WW2

This is arguably the nations’s darling for many years in South Africa, especially amongst the military personnel, but also to the public at large – South Africa’s First Lady, none other than the much loved – Ilsie Smuts, affectionately just known to just about everyone as “Ouma” Smuts.
The South African Gifts and Comforts Fund was a benevolent fund that sought to give comfort and messages of motivation and support from the public in South Africa for all the tens of thousands of South African volunteers who went off to war during World War 2. It was created by Field Marshal Smuts, and administered by his wife “Ouma” Smuts and her “Band” of Voluntary Workers in co-operation with the Quartermaster-general.
Gifts to the servicemen and women during the war reminded them of home comforts and reinforced the moral support they were getting from home in their fight against European tyranny, Especially over times like Christmas when family and “home” became a yearning for anyone enduring the hardships of war. Known as “Glory Bags” at the time, these parcels contained all sorts of reminders from home, Christmas Cake etc and collectable items such as Christmas anniversary cigarette tins, which became highly popular – stamped with an image of both Jan Smuts and Ouma Smuts and giving good Christmas wishes.
You can even find some sold as collectables today. The concept would evolve later in the form of “Dankie Tannie” (Thank you Aunty) panels received from the Southern Cross fund for South African servicemen in the Border War. Any veteran today can attest how important receiving small gifts of support go a very long way to maintaining troop moral, and long may the tradition of volunteerism and support from home continue. To this day parcels of support from South Africa are sent to SANDF troops on Peacekeeping missions in Africa over Christmas.
Not much is remembered of Ouma Smuts in modern South Africa, but this was a true woman who stood by her husband’s side as an equal in solid conviction with the “good fight” in the “war for freedom” (as it was called then) and her contribution to the war effort makes her one of South Africa’s most predominant women.
Although her legacy is fading somewhat, over-shadowed by greater political events when the Smuts legacy came under such unrelenting attack after the ascent of the National Party in 1948. She however remains, to those who remember her and her contribution, a true daughter of South Africa.
This rare photograph of Ouma Smuts is courtesy (and copyright) to Philip Weyers, a direct descendent of Jan Smuts and part of the personal collection of the Smuts family.
Story for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens.

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Ek kan nie meer nie Korporal

Category : Articles , Bush War

Ek kan nie meer nie Korporal!!! …. (I can’t take it anymore Corporal).


Music to a Physical Training Instructor (PTI) Corporal’s ears telling him a simple stress position holding a rifle (in this case the R1) is going its job.


Note some of these “Roofies” (scabs), as you where referred to whilst new to the army doing basic training, are wearing “overalls” (boiler suite) which was the standard issue wear most the way through basic training (your “browns” i.e. combat fatigues remained neatly ironed in your “Kas” (cupboard) most of the time.


For the real old timers who remember these stress positions and who argue that they had it harder on them because the R1 assault rifle was heavier than the later (current) R4 assault rifle – the truth is “unloaded” there is almost no difference. The R1 weighed 4.31 kilos and the R4 weighed 4.3 kilos.


The purpose of such agonising stress positions was to build up weapon familiarity, strength required to carry them for long periods of time and at times to deliver a little corrective punishment.


Post for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens

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Sailor Malan – Freedom Fighter

Another inconvenient truth to the current political narrative of the “struggle”, the first mass anti-Apartheid protests where led by this highly decorated Afrikaner war hero – Adolph “Sailor” Malan – and the mass protesters were not the ANC and its supporters, this very first mass mobilisation was made up of “White” war veterans – read on for some fascinating “hidden” South African history.

Many people may know of the South African “Battle of Britain” Ace – Adolph “Sailor” Malan DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar – he is one of the most highly regarded fighter pilots of the war, one of the best fighter pilots South Africa has ever produced and he stands as one of the “few” which turned back Nazi Germany from complete European dominance in the Battle of Britain – his rules of aerial combat helped keep Britain in the war, and as a result he, and a handful of others, changed the course of history. But not many people are aware of Sailor Malan as a political fighter, anti-apartheid campaigner and champion for racial equality.

“Sailor” Malan can be counted as one of the very first anti-apartheid “struggle” heroes. The organisation he formed “The Torch Commando” was the first real anti-apartheid mass protest movement – and it was made up primarily of “white” South African ex-servicemen. Yet today that is conveniently forgotten in South Africa as it does not fit the current political rhetoric or agenda.

Born in Wellington, Cape Province, in 1910 Malan joined the Union Castle Line of the Mercantile Marine at the age of 15, from which service he derived his nickname “Sailor”.

He foresaw the onset of war with Nazi Germany, promptly went off to Britain and learned to fly at a flying school near Bristol, England where he received his pilot’s wings. In 1936, he was posted to No. 74 (Fighter) Squadron (known as the “Tiger Squadron”). It was his first and only squadron, and he is regarded as the squadron’s most famous fighter pilot of all time. In total Malan destroyed 27 Nazi German Luftwaffe planes and damaged or shared another 26 all the while flying the iconic Spitfire.

After the Second World War, Sailor Malan left the Royal Air Force and returned to South Africa in 1946. He was surprised by the unexpected win of the National Party over the United Party in the General Election of 1948 on their proposal of “Apartheid” as this was in direct opposition to the freedom values he and all the South African veterans in World War 2 had been fighting for.

What he and other returning World War 2 servicemen saw instead was far right pro Nazi Germany South African reactionaries elected into office. By the early 1950’s the South African National Party government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves as full blown National Socialists during the war as members of organisations like the Ossewabrandwag, the SANP Greyshirts or the Nazi expansionist “New Order”: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, F. Erasmus , C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing government policy.

This was the very philosophy the retuning South African servicemen and women had been fighting against, the “war for freedom” against the anti-Judea/Christian “crooked cross” (swastika) philosophy and its false messiah as Smuts had called Germany’s National Socialism doctrine and Adolph Hitler.

Some of these men had been detained during the second World war as “terrorists” (mainly for acts of sabotage against the South African Union in support of Nazi Germany – Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, Louis Weichardt and B.J. Vorster to name a couple), and now they where in office running the country as members of the National Party and governing elite.

In the 1951 in reaction to this paradiym shift in South African politics to the very men and political philosophy the servicemen went to war against, Sailor Malan formed a protest group of ex-servicemen called the “ Torch Commando” (The Torch). In effect it became an anti-apartheid mass movement and Sailor Malan took the position of National President.

The Torch’s first activity was to fight the National Party’s plans to remove “Cape coloured” voters from the common roll which where been rolled out by the National Party two years into office in 1950.

The Cape coloured franchise was protected in the Union Act of 1910 by an entrenched clause stating there could be no change without a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament sitting together. The Nationalist government, with unparalleled cynicism, passed the High Court of Parliament Act, effectively removing the autonomy of the judiciary, packing the Senate with National Party sympathisers and thus disenfranchising the coloureds. This was the first move by the National Party to secure a “whites only” voting franchise for South Africa (reinforcing and in fact embedding them in power).

The plight of the Cape Coloured voters was especially close to most White ex-servicemen as during WW1 and WW2, the Cape Coloureds had fought alongside their White counterparts as fully armed combatants. In effect forging that strong bond of brothers in arms (which so often transcends racial barriers).

The Torch Commando strategy was to bring the considerable mass of “moderate’ South African war veterans from apolitical organisations such as the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) and South African Legion (BESL) into allegiance with more “leftist” veterans from an organisation called the Springbok Legion – of which Joe Slovo, who himself was also a South African Army World War 2 veteran and was a key leader, his organization – The Springbok Legion, led by a group of white war veterans who embraced Communism was already very actively campaigning against Apartheid legislation and highly politically motivated.

The commando’s main activities were torchlight marches, from which they took their name. The largest march attracted 75 000 protesters. This ground swell of mass support attracted the United Party to form a loose allegiance with The Torch Commando in the hope of attracting voters to its campaign to oust the National Party in the 1953 General Election (The United Party was now run by J.G.N. Strauss after Jan Smut’s death and was seeking to take back the narrow margins that brought the National Party into power in 1948).

In a speech at a massive Torch Commando rally outside City Hall in Johannesburg, “Sailor” Malan made reference to the ideals for which the Second World War was fought:

“The strength of this gathering is evidence that the men and women who fought in the war for freedom still cherish what they fought for. We are determined not to be denied the fruits of that victory.”

The Torch Commando fought the anti apartheid legislation battle for more than five years. At its height The Torch had 250 000 members, making it one of the largest protest movements in South African history at that time.

DF Malan’s government was so alarmed by the number of judges, public servants and military officers joining The Torch that those within the public service or military were prohibited from enlisting, lest they loose their jobs – this pressure quickly led to the erosion of the organisation’s “moderate” members, many of whom still had association to the armed forces, with reputations and livelihoods to keep.

The “leftist” members of The Torch where eroded by anti-communist legislation implemented by the National Party, which effectively ended the Springbok Legion forcing its members underground (many of it’s firebrand communist leaders, including Joe Slovo, went on to join the ANC’s MK armed wing and lend it their military expertise instead).

In essence, the newly governing National Party at that time could not afford to have the white voter base split over its narrow hold on power and the idea that the country’s armed forces community was standing in direct opposition to their policies of Apartheid posed a real and significant threat – bearing in mind one in four white males in South Africa (English and Afrikaans) had volunteered to go to war and support Smuts – this made up a very significant portion of the voting public, notwithstanding the fact that there all now very battle hardened with extensive military training, should they decide to overthrow the government by force of arms.

There has also been some speculation that the Torch Commando untimely failed because it could distinguish the difference of being a mass Anti Apartheid protest movement or a political arm of the United Party. One political cartoon of the time lampoons The Torch Commando as a hindrance to the United Party.

Sailor Malan’s political career was effectively ended and the “Torch” effectively suppressed by the National Party, so he returned to his hometown of Kimberly and joined his local MOTH “Shellhole” (Memorable Order of Tin Hats – one of the apolitical veteran associations from which the Torch had drawn its supporters).

Sadly, Sailor Malan succumbed on 17th September 1963 aged 53 to Parkinson’s Disease about which little was known at the time. Some research now supports the notion that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can bring on an early onset of Parkinson’s Disease, and it is now thought that Sailor Malan’s high exposure to combat stress may have played a part in his death at such a relatively young age. Although he fought in the blue sky over England in the most epic aerial battle to change the course of history, one of the “few” to which Churchill recorded that the free world owes a massive debt of gratitude to, he lies today under an African sun in Kimberley – a true hero and son of South Africa.

It is to the embarrassment now as to his treatment as a South African WW2 military hero that all enlisted South African military personnel who attended his funeral where instructed not to wear their uniforms by the newly formatted SADF. The government did not want a Afrikaaner, as Malan was, idealised as a military hero in death in the fear that he would become a role model to future Afrikaaner youth.

The “official” obituary issued for Sailor Malan published in all national newspapers made no mention of his role as National President of The Torch Commando or referenced his political career. The idea was that The Torch Commando would die with Sailor Malan.

All requests to give him a full military funeral where turned down and even the South African Air Force were instructed not to give him any tribute. Ironically this action now stands as testimony to just how fearful the government had become of him as a political fighter.

A lot can be said of Sailor Malan as a brilliant fighter pilot, even more can be said of political affiliation to what was right and what was wrong. He had no problem taking on the German Luftwaffe in the greatest air battle in history, and he certainly had no problem taking on the entire Nationalist regime of Apartheid South Africa – he was a man who, more than any other, could quote the motto of the Royal Air Force’s 74 Squadron which he eventually commanded, and say in all truth:

“I fear no man”

The campaign to purge the national consciousness of The Torch Commando, The Springbok Legion and Sailor Malan was highly effective as by the 1970’s and 1980’s the emergent generation of White South Africans had never heard of them (especially in the Afrikaans community), and even more so to the Black political consciousness who knew even less about these early “white” mass protests against Apartheid.

This “scrubbing” of history by the National Party in aid of their political narrative strangely also aids the ANC’s current political narrative that it is the organisation which started mass protests against Apartheid with the onset of the “Defiance Campaign” on the 6th of April 1952 led primarily by Black South Africans. Whereas the truth of that matter is that the first formalised mass protests in their tens of thousands against Apartheid where in fact led by White South Africans and more to the point mainly white military veterans starting a year earlier in 1951. Another inconvenient truth – luckily history has a way of re-emerging with facts.

Authors note: the purpose of his article is not to have a bash at the politics of the National Party or the ANC, the purpose is also not to drag apolitical organisations like the MOTH or the SA Legion into political debate – the purpose is to set the historical record strait and highlight the veterans role in it, far too much is wrong in the way South African statute force military veterans (then and now) are treated or perceived – the facts and “truth” can yet yield some surprises.

Written by Peter Dickens

References: South African History On-Line (SAHO), South African History Association, Wikipedia ,Neil Roos: Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961.


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Pro Nazi movements in WW2 South Africa

The Ossewabrandwag History is always a three way prism. As with South African statute forces fighting “communism” on two fronts – the Bush War and the internal “struggle” movements in the 70’s and 80’s – so too during the Second World War, this time the “struggle” movement was a little different and South African statute forces were fighting Fascism, Nazism and “National Socialism” on two fronts, both on the international stage and on the domestic front at home.

Little is known of the domestic conflict during World War 2 as it was effectively shielded and even erased from the state’s educational history curriculum – to the point that little is known about it by subsequent generations of South Africans even to this day.

By far the biggest of all the domestic fascist organizations in South Africa at this time was a movement called the “Ossewabrandwag”. The feature image shows a Ossewabrandwag rally and its leadership along with an inserted emblem of the organization. Read on for a fascinating and relatively unknown part of South African military history.

The Ossewabrandwag (OB), meaning in English “Ox-wagon Sentinel” was an anti-British and pro-Nazi German organization in South Africa during World War II. It was officially formed in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939. As a background to it, in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Britain conquered the Boer Republics. Germany supported the Boer cause.

After the war, there was a general reconciliation between Afrikaners and Britain, culminating in the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, under the leadership of former Boer fighters such as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts (who was of Cape Dutch origin fighting on the side of the Boers). South African troops, including thousands of Afrikaners, served in the British and South African Union forces during World War I and again in World War 2.

Nonetheless, many Boers from the ex Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics remembered the extremely brutal tactics used by Britain in the Boer War and remained resentful of British rule. They were especially resentful of the concentration camp and scorched earth policies engaged by the British to bring to bring an end to the guerilla tactics used by “Bitter einders” at the close of the war. In the 1930’s the chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism was the “Purified National Party” of D. F. Malan, which later became “National Party”.

As in 1914, the Second World War appeared to a relatively small group of far right wing Afrikaner nationalists as a golden opportunity to establish Afrikaaner nationalist rule and move to make South Africa a republic independent of Britain. ‘We are now ceaselessly on the road to our goal: the Republic of South Africa – the only status under which we can truly exercise the right to self-determination as a country,’ said D.F. Malan on 6 September 1939 at the on-set of the Second World War. Prior to this, 1938 was also the centennial anniversary of the Great Trek (the migration of Boers to the interior).

The Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of the Trek. Most of the migrants traveled in ox-drawn wagons, hence the group’s name. The group’s leader was Johannes Van Rensburg, a lawyer who had served previously as Secretary of Justice under Smuts (as Minister) and was an admirer of Nazi Germany. The OB at the on-set of the centennial was loosely associated to Malan’s National Party. There were however sharp differences between van Rensburg and D.F Malan over the right course of action to be followed when South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939. Both believed that everything depended on the outcome of the war, both believed that Germany would win it, however Malan relied on negotiation with Germany to achieve his objectives, van Rensburg on the other hand believed that at some stage freedom would have to be fought for and began to formulate a militant opposition to the South African government to undermine South Africa’s war effort.

At first, relations between the National Party and the Ossewabrandwag were cordial, with most members of the Ossewabrandwag belonging to the party as well. At the higher levels, National Party leaders like P.O. Sauer and F. Erasmus (later to be made Cabinet Ministers when Malan came to power) were members of the OB as were Ossewabrandwag Generals like C.R. Swart (later South Africa’s State President) who was a member of the Groot Raad (Chief Council) of the Ossewabrandwag, whilst Eric Louw (later to become the National Party’s Foreign Minister) was also prominent in the organization.

Even PW Botha (future South African State President) joined the Ossewabrangwag but became disillusioned with the movement and denounced them at the end of the war returning to the more mainstream National Party. Combining the impact of the war and the very dynamic personality of van Rensburg, the Ossewabrandwag soon grew into a significant force, a mass movement whose membership at its peak was estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 members.

The relationship between the Ossewabrandwag and National Party at first was very well defined and D.F. Malan even met with OB leaders in Bloemfontein which resulted in declaration known as the ‘Cradock Agreement’. It specified the two operating spheres of the two respective organizations. They undertook not to meddle in each others affairs and the National Party endevoured to focus on Afrikanerdom in the party political sphere, while the Ossewabrandwag was to operate on the other fronts of the volk (Afrikaans peoples).

In 1940 the Ossewabrandwag created within in structures an elite organization known as the Stormjaers – the storm troopers of Afrikanerdom. The formation of the Stormjaers (English meaning: Assault troops) was in essence a paramilitary wing of the OB.

The nature of the Stormjaers was drawn upon the lines of Nazi Germany’s army “Storm troopers”, as were the fascist rituals and salutes, this is evidenced by the oath sworn in a by new recruits (in some instances a firearm was levelled at them whilst they read the oath):

“If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me” (Afrikaans: As ek omdraai, skiet my. As ek val, wreek my. As ek storm, volg my).

The Stormjaers were deployed in variety of military operations ranging from the defence of Nationalist political platforms to pure sabotage, they dynamited post offices and railway lines and cut telephone wires. Van Rensburg even wrote “The Ossewabrandwag regards itself as the soldiery of the (South African) Republic . . . the Ossewabrandwag is the political action front of Afrikanerdom.”

The ideologies of the Nazis were penetrating deep into right wing Afrikaner political identity. In 1940, directly after Nazi German decisive victories in Europe, Otto du Plessis (later to become Administrator of the Cape under the National Party) published a pamphlet – The Revolution of the Twentieth Century – in which he openly espoused the Ossewabranwag’s policy of totalitarianism. Oswald Pirow also publicly identified himself with National-Socialist doctrines and Nazi Germany and established the Nazi expansionist “New Order” movement inside the ranks of the former Hertzogites.

There even existed South Africa’s own Nazi party called the SANP and it’s militant wing the “Greyshirts” led by Louis Theodor Weichardt (who later became the National Party Senator for Natal). This pure Nazi movement had 5000 odd loyal followers. Van Rensburg from the OB had always professed National Socialist, as an open admirer of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler, the ideas and rituals of membership put forward by his organization had a distinctive Nazi leaning.

According to OB political thinking, Afrikaans would be the only official language in a free, independent, Christian-National Republic. The English speaking South Africans, regarded as an “un-national” element, would be condemned to an inferior status. Anti-Communism was an important backbone of OB policy in line with Nazi hatred of communism. The emphasis of the OB was also on race and racial purity. Members were exhorted to ‘think with your blood’, and the creed of Blut und Boden was promoted as an OB value. ‘Family, blood, and native soil – that is, next to our religion and our love of freedom, our greatest and our most sacred national heritage’ (Die O.B. 28 October 1942).

The O.B. always displayed an exaggerated interest in physical culture and the need for discipline. “Give us a master ! Give us bonds which tie us to a stable way of life” ‘ wrote van Rensburg. On issues of family value, the leaders of the OB proclaimed that the duty of the man was to work and fight and the duty of the woman to create and tend the home and family. In essence the Ossawabrandwag was based on the Führer-principle, fighting against the British Empire, anti capitalist – they called for the expropriation of “British-Jewish” controlled capital, the communists, the Jews and the system of parliamentarism. All based on the principles national socialism. From the outset of the war a series of violent incidents took place between statutory force South African soldiers and the Ossewabrandwag.

This all cumulated on Friday 31 January 1941, when van Rensburg was due to hold a meeting at the Johannesburg City Hall when a riot broke out between OB Stormjaers and South African Union Defence Force soldiers who were determined not to allow van Rensburg to have a platform for his support of Nazi Germany – with whom they were now at war with. The Stormjaers were armed with sticks,pipes, batons, knives, sjamboks and even bicycle chains, while the soldiers were for the most part unarmed and the battle raged in downtown Johannesburg for two days. Armoured cars were brought in while enraged UDF soldiers set fire to Nationalist newspaper offices and set police vans alight. Tear-gas canisters were hurled in every direction between the two antagonists and the Police. Before a commission of inquiry on the Johannesburg riot, van Rensburg declared that it was only OB discipline and restraint which had prevented reinforcements in outlying areas from being brought into town and broadening the scope of the battle.

In support of OB activities the National Party even came out in direct support of the OB against Smuts’ government resolution to detain and ban members of the OB. Dr D.F. Malan defended the OB in a speech on 5 March 1941, saying:

“The Ossewa Brandwag has been accused of lending itself to subversive activities and also of encouraging them. Now I say: Carry out your threat. Ban it. Prevent it and prevent its meetings. If the Ossewa Brandwag decides to be passively disobedient and refuses to be dissolved . . . I shall share the consequences with the Ossewabrandwag. At this stage I am prepared to say to you that if the government decides upon that act and the Ossewa Brandwag decides not to submit, I shall keep my pledge”.

It was a clear sign to Smuts’ government that unity in the ranks of the Afrikanerdom movements was as unified as ever since the outbreak of the Second World War. One very predominant member of the Ossewabrandwag was Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, South Africa’s future Prime Minister and President. Along with likeminded OB colleagues he regarded the war as an opportunity to get rid of the hated domination of the United Kingdom of South Africa and welcomed the Nazis as allies in their fight. The firebrand nature of the Ossewa Brandwag appealed to Vorster more than the National Party, so while South African troops were helping to make the world safe from Hitler’s National Socialism, Vorster was appointed as a General in the Ossewabrandwag for the Port Elizabeth district to promote the National Socialism doctrine back home.

On his politics he famously announced the Ossewabrandwag’s position on Nazism and said in 1942: ‘We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism. You can call this antidemocratic principle dictatorship if you wish. In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany German National Socialism and in South Africa, Christian Nationalism.’

Vorster was eventually arrested under the emergency regulations in September 1942, he immediately went on hunger strike and after two months was transferred to Koffiefontein internment camp as prisoner No. 2229/42 in Hut 48, Camp 1. B.J. Vorster was eventually released on parole in January 1944 and placed under house arrest. Interned alongside BJ Vorster was another Ossewabrandwag member Hendrik Johan van den Bergh who eventually went on to found the Bureau of State Security (B.O.S.S.), an intelligence agency created under the National Party on 16 May 1969 to coordinate military and domestic intelligence.

Van den Bergh was to become known as the “tall assassin” given his height. To give an idea of sabotage and violent attacks, at the height of the Second World War – 1942, Ossewabrandwag Stormjaer activities included: Explosions over a large area of mines at Klerksdorp, Vereeniging, Delmas and in Potchefstroom the OB blew up power lines – 29 January 1942. All telegraph and telephone communication between Bloemfontein and the rest of South Africa were dislocated in one attack in February 1942. Railway, telegraph and telephone lines in various parts of the Free State where destroyed in February 1942.

Fifty-eight Stormjaers were eventually charged with high treason, and a quantity of hand grenades were found. Stormjaers also blew up two telephone poles behind the Pretoria Central Jail, but were never captured. Two other Stormjaers, Visser and van Blerk were convicted of a bombing at the Benoni Post Office, as a result of which an innocent bystander was killed, they were both sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. A few members of the O.B. were shot while trying to escape from internment camps or jails, the most known was the dramatic pursuit O.B. General, Johannes van der Walt, who was shot while on the run near Krugersdorp.

The German Nazis themselves saw the activities of the Ossewabrandwag as very positive to their fight. Van Rensburg was even played up over Zeesen radio as the real leader of the Afrikaner people. In June 1941 Robey Leibbrandt was landed from a German yacht on the Namaqualand coast with 10,000 dollars, a radio transmitter, and instructions to make contact with van Rensburg and investigate the possibilities of joint action with the Ossewabrandwg. His mission, overseen by German Nazi Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was Operation Weissdorn, a plan for a coup d’état to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts, Leibbrandt was a South African Olympic boxer who later came a fervent Nazi follower. He joined the German Army, where he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger and glider pilot. Leibbrand was trained with comrades of the Brandenburgers at a sabotage training course of Abwehr II (Abwehrschool “Quenzgut”) near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin. In South Africa he soon made contact with the Stormjaers and was brought to Pretoria to see van Rensburg.

Nothing, however, came of the negotiations. Leibbrandt’s megalomania was enough to deter anyone from cooperating with him, and van Rensburg refused to be drawn. At the same time Leibbrandt’s fanaticism attracted a number of members of the Ossewabrandwag over to his side, and within a short while Leibbrandt was leading his own group, whose members were bound to one another by a blood oath which partly read: ‘All my fight and striving is for the freedom and independence of the Afrikaner people of South Africa and for the building up of a National Socialist State in accordance with the ideas of Adolf Hitler.’ The quite truce between Leibbrandt and van Rensburg quickly developed into open hostility. Leibbrandt, disappointed that the OB did not officially support his mission and its resultant failure began to attack van Rensburg as an agent of Smuts.

This sealed his fate. After a few months in South Africa he was ‘sold out’ by insiders, his location now known he was the arrested, together with a number of leading Stormjaers. Placed on trial he was sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after much lobbying from Afrikaaner Nationalist organisations. The Stormjaers sabotage activities were getting too violent for DF Malan’s National Party policy of negotiated settlement with Germany when (and if) they won the war. Many of these acts of violence were going too far for the majority of moderate Afrikaners, and Malan ordered the National Party to break all ties with the OB later in 1942.

The South African Union government then cracked down heavily on the OB and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war. Summing up the achievements of the Ossewa Brandwag’s campaign of sabotage, van Rensburg wrote this in his autobiography which was published after the war: “I fought (Smuts’) war effort and I fought it bitterly with all the means at my disposal – which were considerable…. There is no doubt that they (the Ossewabrandwag) seriously hampered the government’s war effort. Hampered it because the government was forced to draw off considerable manpower to guard many strategic points and essential services. A not inconsiderable military element also had to be retained in South Africa as a strategic reserve for possible emergency.”

At the end of the war, the Ossewabradwag was absorbed back into the National Party and ceased to exist as a separate body, many of its members achieving political notoriety as members of the National Party government on their accent to power with the National Party electoral win over Smut’s United Party in 1948. Imagine the sheer frustration felt by the veterans after “The War for Freedom” (as WW2 was known) had been fought with the massive cost in South African lives, to rid the world of Nazism and Fascism in the “good fight” – only to come home in 1945 and within three short years find the “home grown” pre-war Nazi and Neo Nazi politicians swept into government. The very men and their philosophy they had gone to war against in the first place.

By the early 1950’s the South African nationalist government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves as full blown National Socialists: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, F. Erasmus , C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing government policy. Also by the 1950’s, this state of affairs led to open Anti-Apartheid protests from the South African military veterans community – in their tens of thousands, led by Adolph “Sailor” Malan and other returning war heroes in “Torch Commando rallies” (Torch) and it ultimately led to the marginalization of South African war veterans, their veteran associations and the ultimate suppression of anti Apartheid movements like the Torch by the National Party. In the interests of consolidating themselves in power and in the interests of securing the “white vote” both English and Afrikaans voters (especially English speaking white South Africans of British extraction) much of this legacy was a political “hot potato” for the National Party.

Nazism, Fascism and National Socialism was purged from Europe with the loss of millions of lives, and exposed for what it is – a crime against humanity. Political careers – especially those of future National Party State Presidents and Prime Ministers would not be helped if their associations to Nazi Germany, Nazi political philosophy and even anti British ideals was openly promoted. Especially when National Service was instituted and the National Party called on English speaking white South Africans (and even moderate or leftist Afrikaners) to rally behind their causes and serve in the armed forces. So it was shielded – in formal secondary education it was at best trivialised if even taught at all and it was never really widely reported on national media mouthpieces.

Little is left in the modern historical narrative on South Africa, surprising since this is all still in living memory of the old War War 2 vets still alive. In the end it disappeared into a politically generated one-sided narrative of South Africa’s involvement in the two world wars, and lost to future generations. It even remains a very dark and relatively unknown topic to this day. The irony is that the future “struggle” of South Africa’s Black people against the political philosophy of these men would emulate the same “struggle” these men initiated against the philosophy of British Parliamentarian rule – and in both instances it carried with it armed insurrection, detention of “heroes,” imprisonment of a future President and the promotion of a political “ism”, albeit that “Communism” and “African Socialism” where diametrically opposite to “Nazism” and “National Socialism”” left and right of the political sphere. The net result is that “centre” balanced moderate politics in South Africa has been completely elusive since 1948.

Article researched and written by Peter Dickens drawing references from South African History On-Line, Wikipedia and “The Rise of the South African Reich” written by Brian Bunting, “Echoes of David Irving – The Greyshirt Trial of 1934” by David M. Scher. “Not for ourselves” – a history of the SA Legion by Arthur Blake


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The Stress Position

Many of the National Servicemen veterans will remember (or quickly try and forget) this “stress position” used during various phases of “Punishment” Physical Training – commonly known as a “Oppie” (colloquial military term meaning “op fok”).

This stress position was designed to build strength and familiarity when carrying an assault rifle, however what most of us will remember is the sweat, dust, heat and just how heavy a 4.3 kilo R4 assault rifle can become when held in this position for a long time.

This is not the average image you would find in a magazine or newspaper of the time, but it in many respects drives home exactly what basic training in the SADF looked and felt like.

Story for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens


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Air Chief Marshal Sir H.W.L. “Dingbat” Saunders GCB, KBE, MC, DFC & Bar, MM

Category : WW2

Many South Africans achieved high positions of command in British Armed Forces during World War 2 – and this is one of them – Air Chief Marshal Sir H.W.L. “Dingbat” Saunders GCB, KBE, MC, DFC & Bar, MM

Johannesburg-born Hugh William Lumsden “Dingbat” Saunders was educated at the Marist Brothers college in Johannesburg. Upon the advent of the first world war, Saunders initially served with the Witwatersrand rifles and South African Horse, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.

During the Second World War, Saunders was appointed commanding officer of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command (1942-1944), and in 1945 was appointed Air-Marshal commanding the R.A.F. in Burma. After the war, Saunders went on to become Inspector-General of the R.A.F.(1949-1950), being promoted Air Chief Marshal in 1950. In 1951, Saunders assumed the mantle of Commander-in-Chief of the Air Forces in Western Europe.

Post for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens


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