Author Archives: Cameron Kirk Kinnear

South Africans Commonwealth War Casualties buried across the World – Part One

Category : WW1 , WW2


South Africans participated in almost every theatre of war during both the First and Second World Wars. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Data Base 7 290 (includes 607 unknown) First World War casualties and 9 986 (includes 84 unknown) Second World War casualties are buried in 1 207 cemeteries while 2 959 First World War and 2 005 Second World War casualties are commemorated on 48 memorials.

With South Africans having served far and wide it is not surprising that you would find single or small group graves in cemeteries across the world. Here are some of those cemeteries where one or a very small group of South Africans are buried.


Allied troops made a series of landings on the Algerian coast in early November 1942. From there, they swept east into Tunisia, where the North African campaign came to an end in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis forces.

The cemetery was originally an Allied war cemetery, but was taken over as a civilian cemetery by the municipal authorities when most of the non-Commonwealth war graves were moved to other burial places.

El Alia Cemetery now contains 368 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War. Eight war graves of other nationalities remain in the Commonwealth plot and there are also 15 non-war graves, mostly of merchant seamen whose deaths were not due to war service.

Lieutenant Charles Cross, South African Air Force, who died on 12 June 1943 is buried in this cemetery.


La Reunion Cemetery


Allied troops made a series of landings on the Algerian coast in early November 1942. From there, they swept east into Tunisia, where the North African campaign came to an end in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis forces.

Bejaia (formerly Bougie) was the landing place of the 36th Infantry Brigade Group on 11 November 1942.

La Reunion War Cemetery contains 211 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.

Second Lieutenant C. H. G. Ruddle, South African Air Force, who died on 21 January 1944, is buried in this cemetery.



Allied troops made a series of landings on the Algerian coast in early November 1942. From there, they swept east into Tunisia, where the North African campaign came to an end in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis forces.

The assault landings in the harbour at Oran failed, with heavy casualties, but landings east and west of the port were successful.

Le Petit Lac Cemetery contains 200 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 50 of them unidentified, and ten war graves of other nationalities. There are also 14 non-war burials, all of merchant seamen whose deaths were not due to war service.

The cemetery also contains ten First World War burials which were brought here from Oran (Tamashouet) Cemetery in 1959. These include seven casualties of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, who died as a result of a submarine attack on the transport ‘Mercian’ in November 1915.

South Africans buried in this cemetery are:

Captain Philip Cohen, South African Medical Corps and Lieutenant Denis Oswa Bilse, 216 Squadron Royal Air Force. Both were killed on 03 June 1944.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross based on information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Casualty Data Base and photos of the cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This is not the time to play games!

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Category : media , WW1

Imperial War Museum

Let us remember rugby’s War Dead

Category : Automated , media , WW1 , WW2

Today’s image celebrates a game of rugby played between South African and Australian military personnel in Beruit, Lebanon.

In less than a month the World will again watch as the top Rugby playing Nations battle it out for the William Web Ellis Trophy as the Rugby World Champions of 2015.

Maybe we should pause for a moment and remember the numerous rugby players from all nations that died during the two World Wars.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a special pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” that deals exclusively with the topic. Included in the pamphlet is one South African Jacky Morkel.

Jan Willem Hurter Morkel, better known as “Jacky” was born on 13 November 1890 in Somerset West where he attended the “Hottentots- Holland” school. He later made his debut for Western Province as Outside Centre.

At age 22 Jacky was selected for the 1912 – 1913 Springboks tour of the United Kingdom and France as Outside Centre and played in all five tests:
23 November 1912 against Scotland at Inverleith, Edinburgh. Springboks won 16 – 0.
30 November 1912 against Ireland Aviva Stadium (Lansdowne Road), Dublin. Springboks won 38 – 0. Jacky scored two tries.
14 December 1912 against Wales at Millenium Stadium (Cardiff Arms Park), Cardiff. Springboks won 3 – 0.
04 January 1913 against England at Twickenham, London. Springboks won 9 – 3. Jacky scored a try.
11 January 1913 against France at Le Bouscat, Bordeaux. Springboks won 38 – 5. Jacky scored 1 trya and two conversions.

The 1912 – 1913 Springbok side was the first Southern Hemisphere team to achieve a “Grand Slam” of five wins against the four Home Nations and France.

When the first World started in September 1914 Jacky, although employed in an industry deemed essential to the war effort, joined the South African Mounted Commando’s as a Private and served with the 1st Mounted Brigade. Van der Venter Scouts, Mounted Commandos, S.A. Forces in German East Africa.

“Men and women from all over the Commonwealth answered the “call to arms” during both wars. Many of them died fighting in remote regions or in smaller campaigns that were equally important to the overall war effort. No matter where or how they died, their graves, memorials and names are still cared for by the Commission.

Sickness and disease were a constant problem for troops fighting in this harsh environment and on the 15 May 1916 Jacky died of dysentery. He is buried in Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery in Tanzania. The entry for him in the International Roll of Honour shows how highly he was thought of: “He upheld in the worthiest possible manner the teachings of the rugby game….and his case will stand for all time as a shining example to his countrymen.”

Other International Rugby players killed during the World War and included in the pamphlet are:
Major Blair Inskip Swannell – Australia. Served with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Gallipoli Campaign during World War One.

Vice Admiral Norman Atherton Wodehouse – England. Served as Gunnery Officer on board HMS Revenge during the battle of Jutland with the Royal Navy during the First World War. During the Second World War he was recalled and in 1941 was commanding a convoy to South Africa when the convoy was attacked by German Submarines. He ordered the convoy to scatter and his ship was never seen again. He is commemorated on the Liverpool Naval Memorial.

Lieutenant Marcel Burgun – France. Saw service in Europe with the French Air Force during World War One.

Captain Robert Alexander – Ireland. Saw service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Europe during the Second World War.

Pilot Officer Donald Gordon, Cobden – New Zealand. Saw service with the Royal Air Force during World War Two.

Surgeon David Revell Bedell-Sivright – Scotland. Saw service with the Medical Unit of the Royal Naval Division during the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War.

Lieutenant John Raymond Evans – Wales. Saw service with the Parachute Regiment in North Africa.

Please down load the pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website.  It is a must read for every rugby lover.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross based on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” and the “Springbok Rugby Hall of Fame”.

SA Legion Medal Parade

I recently had the good fortune to happen upon the Military Museum in Johannesburg. 
I’d been eager to see the 61 Mech memorial needle and of course the Lomba bell, centrepiece of what is known as the Hind memorial, so named because of the one significant loss by Charlie Squadron during the destruction of FAPLA’s 49th Brigade on 3 October 1987.

During my visit to the museum I noticed a bunch of oaks turning up in jackets and ties. 
Turned out I just happened to be there during an SA Legion medal parade. There were at least 100 medals being awarded by Godfrey Giles and Demetri Friend, among other Legion heavyweights.

What a privilege to sit in on this remarkable event in which families of national servicemen from three decades ago got a tiny sense of the commitment their men made for our nation.

The opening speeches left me in no doubt as to the immense value that such events mean to families and veterans alike. The pride of a grand daughter or the reflected honour of a veterans son cannot be overstated. And, of course, the state sponsored jewellery will be passed down the generations, a tangible connection to a lost era of significant sacrifice.

Another valuable lesson from the experience was the restatement by the Legion’s president of the value for every one of us to get involved at some level, to support fellow brothers in arms, to break bread (or braai) occasionally with guys who did what you did. 
This does not necessarily mean monetary involvement but rather emotional support or even more valuable… Just a bit of your time. 
We were apparently three quarters of a million boys conscripted, just a fraction of that number coming together have the power to make a huge difference as a collective force. 
The dominee at 32 Battalion Savate day parade at Voortrekker monument recommended we look out for our brothers and encouraged us to “give them a hug”. Sometimes that’s a literal hug, but sometimes that’s just a bit of support to see them address some uphill challenge (not tomorrow’s comrades marathon – I mean uphill challenges that last more than a day).

I feel richer for giving some of my time to these things. Encourage your veteran pals to get a little more involved. 
We only have each other.

Salute and respect. 
Dave Mannall
“Not for ourselves …”

South Africans in the RAF

Category : Newsletter , WW2

(Imperial War Museum)

Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan, born in Wellington, Cape Province. (Imperial War Museum)

One of the RAF’s leading aces, and one of the highest scoring pilots during the Battle of Britain was Adolph “Sailor” Malan DFC, an RAF pilot since 1936, who led No. 74 Squadron RAF at the height of the Battle of Britain. Under his leadership No. 74 became one of the RAF’s best units. Malan claimed his first two victories over Dunkirk on 21 May 1940, and had claimed five more by the time the Battle started in earnest. Between 19 July and 22 October he shot down six German aircraft. His “Ten Rules for Air Fighting” were printed and pinned up in crew rooms all over Fighter Command. He was part of a group of about 25 pilots from South Africa that took part in the Battle, eight or nine of whom (depending on sources) died during the Battle.

(SAAF Museum)

Albert Gerald Lewis, born in Kimberley, Northern Cape (SAAF Museum)

Other notable pilots included P/O Albert “Zulu” Lewis, who opened his account over France in May with No. 85 Squadron, shooting down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s in one action. With No. 85 in August, and then in September with No. 249 Squadron under Squadron Leader (later Air Chief Marshal) Sir John Grandy, at North Weald. Lewis flew three, four and five times a day and 15 September 1940 got a He 111, and shared in the probable destruction of another. On 18 September he got his 12th confirmed enemy aircraft. By 27 September, flying GN-R, Lewis had 18 victories.[31] He was shot down and badly burned on 28 September. Lewis missed the rest of the Battle and his recovery to flying fitness took over three months. 

Basil Gerald “Stapme” Stapleton, with several probables to his credit, survived a crash on 7 September, trying to stop bombers getting through to London. Both men would later command RAF squadrons.

Air Vice Marshall Sir Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand, born in Beaconsfield, Northern Cape. (SAAF Museum)

Air Vice Marshall Sir Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand, born in Beaconsfield, Northern Cape. (SAAF Museum)

The most senior officer of South African origin during the Battle was Air Vice-Marshal Sir Christopher J. Quintin-Brand KBE, DSO, MC, DFC, Air Officer Commanding No. 10 Group RAF covering the South-West; a long service RAF officer, he had joined the RFC in 1916.


Private Beleza rests in a home fit for heroes

Category : News , WW1


This article was published in the Cape Argus on 17th July 2014 under the title “Private Beleza rests in a home fit for heroes” and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the Cape Argus

By Jackie Loos


Caption: The chaplain of the SANLC camp at Dannes, 13km south of Boulogne, March 1917 (© IWM (Q 4883).


The recent reburial of the remains of Private Myengwa Beleza of the South African Native Labour Corps in a special sarcophagus at the Delville Wood Museum in France is to be welcomed. Private Beleza was one of a contingent of about 21 000 Africans who volunteered to serve in France to assist the faltering Allied war effort in 1916 and 1917.


Thousands of black men had already seen service with the South African forces elsewhere in Africa – approximately 35 000 non-combatants in German South West Africa and 18 000 in German East Africa.


The plan to send a labour corps to France was extremely controversial and General Botha would not have gained the go-ahead if South Africa – rather than the Imperial Government – had been required to foot the bill.


Volunteers were recruited all over the country to serve one-year renewable contracts under South African officers. Their wages were £3 per month, rising to £6 for well-educated interpreters and chaplains.


Four battalions totalling 8 000 men were despatched to France in 1916, where they served under British command. The South African Government wanted them to live in segregated compounds to prevent the possibility of fraternisation and the assimilation of dangerous new ideas, but this was sometimes impractical.


They were not allowed to bear arms but worked as stevedores, quarrymen, road builders, and forestry workers, and they cheerfully loaded and unloaded ammunition, petrol and provisions, in difficult conditions. A total of 313 men died in France, mostly from lung diseases, and were buried in cemeteries near their camps.


Private Beleza, son of Beleza of Tsolo, was one of the first to succumb. He died of pneumonia in No. 2 General Hospital on 27 November 1916 and was buried in the communal cemetery at Bleville, a village about 3km north of the port city of Le Havre.


Beleza was the only black South African buried there. The main SANLC memorial is 110 km away in the Arques-la-Bataille British Cemetery near Dieppe, where 260 members of the Corps are buried, including Lance Corporal Frank Mfana, son of Xinish of Queenstown, who died of heart disease in April 1917. Like other cemeteries cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it is immaculate.


The remains of Private Beleza were transported 225 km to Longueval for the recent ceremony. This is the site of the CWGC cemetery near Delville Wood, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of an unspeakably bloody war.


So many South African soldiers died there that the SA government purchased a piece of French land in 1920 and erected a memorial and museum which have since been adapted to commemorate South Africans who fell in other external wars. The site is presently managed by the SA Department of Public Works.


Private Beleza’s new grave symbolically represents all the members of the South African Native Labour Corps who died during World War One and are buried elsewhere.



Category : Articles , News , poetry


Nkosi, we scream,
And I taste the thunder
Of our feet.

Nkosi! And brandish high
Our bloody assegays.

He stands, 
The Great Bull-Elephant
And raises his hand.

The White-Mother
Sent us boys
Who still stumble.

Boys to fight men,
We will humble
Their pride.

Raise high
My Impies,
Your assegays,

Let us make
The English Mothers
Cry in their huts!

Let us take back
The place
Of Shaka’s Stand!

But the boy
I killed did cry.

He had eyes
Pale and watery blue
And he gripped my hand.

My blade in him
And he gripped
My hand.

And parted those 
Pale strange lips
As if he did not understand.

He did not undertand,
Nkosi, I saw in his eyes
They told him lies.

His hand was hot on mine
And his blood was hotter
His breath rushed out.

He did not believe
We were sharing
His death, this kiss.

So tonight, Nkosi,
On my mat
I lie with my woman;

And tonight
In the shelter of her moon-eyes
I too will cry.

Maria Manuela Cardiga

South Africans in D-Day


Remembering D Day and the extreme bravery of quite a number of South Africans who took part in it.

Two South Africans seconded to the Royal Marines were awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on D-Day. This is the citation for one of them Lieutenant Cecil Arthur Douglas Bircher, South African Forces (attached to the Royal Marines).

“Lieutenant Bircher was Officer Commanding Troops in a Landing Craft Tank known as a LCT(A) carrying part of his troop. The craft engines broke down and it was towed from a position off the Isle of Wight to the assault area by a LCT and a LCI. On 6th June 1944 when approaching the beach at Bernieres-sur-Mer these craft had to cast off the LCT(A) which was left drifting sideways in a strong tide about 150 yards from the beach. Although there was a heavy sea running and the beach was still under close range fire, Lieutenant Bircher, without hesitation plunged into the water and swam about 100 yards to the shore with the beach lines.

On arrival on the beach he secured the lines to some stakes, enabling his craft to beach, and disembarked his section of Centaur tanks. He subsequently led his section from the Canadian Sector in which he had landed into the sector of the 50th (N) Division to which he was attached although enemy opposition still persisted between the two sectors . Throughout the operation Lieutenant Bircher showed personal courage of the highest order and unflinching determination in the most adverse conditions to get his guns into action at the right time and place.”

The chosen image shows Royal Marine Commandos of 47 (RM) Commando coming ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. LCTs unloading priority vehicles of 231st Brigade, 50th Division, can be seen in the background.

This is pretty much the situation Lt Bircher would have found himself in with his unit of Royal Marines and their tanks in a LCT awaiting to disembark.

Image copyright – Imperial War Museum. Caption and citation reference ‘South Africa’s D Day Veterans’ by Cdr W.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum

SS Mendi Parade Report

Category : Articles , WW1


The Parade to commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi took place at Hollybrooke in Southampton on the 23rd February 2014.

The parade was jointly hosted by The Friends of Dellville Wood and the South African legion – United Kingdom Branch.

John McCabe – Friends of Delville Wood
Colonel ND Tshiloane – SANDF Deputy Defence Adviser
Legionnaire Peter Dickens – Chairman of the SA Legion UK branch
The sermon was led by John McCabe

Guests and wreath laying
The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Southampton – Councillor Ivan White
South Africa:  Brigadier General Sithabisa Mahlobo – SANDF
United Kingdom: Lt Cdr Lee Blackburn
India: Commodore Sandeep Beecha
Pakistan: Commodore Mustaq Ahmed
France: Lt Cdr Arnaud Valentin
Canada: S Lt Nathan Schnarr, A/S Lt Nicolas Denutte
Australia: Lt. Cdr Craig Lavers
New Zeeland: Lt Josh Aperahama
Commonwealth War Graves Commission  Mr Bernie Doran
Friends of Delville Wood Mrs Cindi Paul Byrom
Royal British Legion – National Branches District – Mr David Street
Royal British Legion St James Branch – Mr Adrian de Villiers
Royal Navy Association – Shipmate Rod Fraser
African Quest poem read by Legionnaire Jeff Coleman
South African Legion wreath – Legionnaire Paul Duncan
Act of Remembrance read by Mr David Street – Royal British Legion

Standards present 
South African Legion
Royal Navy Association
Fleet Air Arm Association
Royal Marines Association

Message from Lgr Peter Dickens on the SS Mendi
A foggy morning, around 05:00 on 21 February 1917, in the English Channel, in freezing weather loomed a recipe for a shipping disaster which caused barely a blip amid the chaos and carnage of the First World War … but has had consequences which have reverberated down the years in South Africa.
The SS Mendi a South African troopship operated by the British and African Steam Navigation Company was accidently rammed and sunk by the SS Darro.The Darro – three times heavier than the Mendi, was disobeying maritime rules travelling ‘full ahead’ in fog – and not using her fog horn – the Mendi, was following all regulations and travelling slowly .. on spotting the Darro she immediately sounded the whistle and tried to go “hard to-starboard.” But it was too little and too late.

The Darro rammed the troop ship at a right angle with such force that the Mendi was resting on the sea-bed within 25 minutes. The violent impact left a gaping 20ft tear amidships instantly trapping more than 100 soldiers below decks who were unable to escape the rapidly rising water as the ship quickly listed quickly to starboard.

Her crew failed to launch sufficient life rafts for the 811 strong contingent of 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps.  In the dense fog an inadequate rescue effort followed, so many remained aboard the ship, unwilling to commit an icy plunge into the sea..

In spite of this the men, by all accounts, behaved with remarkable fortitude. There was no evidence of panic. One person’s act of leadership helped to keep the men calm. This was a cleric, one Reverence Isaac Dyobha, a Xhosa, who held up his arms and loudly addressed the men with these words:

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our weapons at our home, our voices are left with our bodies.”

After this stirring speech the men left on the Mendi, took off their boots, and did a traditional African war dance on the tilting deck of the sinking ship. A uniquely African act of bravery in the face of danger, men In full song slipping away to their deaths – an African chant echoing in the English fog.  There were many more individual acts of bravery and individual selflessness.

A catalogue of failures sealed their fate, the Darro made no effort at all to rescue the men in the water and steamed on, combined with the fact that many of these men could not swim and the extended exposure to the freezing February waters – all these factors resulted in a very high death toll.

Fewer than 200 men aboard the SS Mendi survived.  In all 616 South Africans perished – 607 of them black South Africans.

Convention and prejudice of the time meant this dreadful tragedy was not afforded appropriate recognition by respective Governments – both in the United Kingdom and in South Africa .  South African officials demonstrating their unwillingness to highlight black people’s wartime contributions by withholding medals, not erecting memorials to them, excluding them from parades, excluding the from veteran facilities on the basis of colour and preventing reasonable post-war compensation for ‘non-combatant men’ – deemed somehow less valuable.

Particularly poignant was that South African Labour Corps men had readily volunteered their services to support the British Crown’s war effort on the Western Front in the hope it would win them greater political concessions at home. The reality was that remarkably little changed for the next 7 decades whilst they remained disenfranchised and excluded.

The contributions of black South Africans to both the world wars remains relatively unknown, but the sacrifice and valour no less.

To put this tragedy into its correct historical context – in WW1 – as many (more in fact) South Africans died on the Mendi than at the Battle of Delville Wood in France – a sad statistic in its own right as Deville Wood is equally as tragic – but its very telling as the true tragedy was yet to come – Forgotten Valour.

Forgotten valour due to he conscious effort in South Africa after the World Wars to forget about these men – and all South African men of colour serving in WW1 and WW2. Simply because of pure racial prejudice and party political agendas of the time.

Many people in South Africa still perceive the World Wars as a ‘white mans’ contest – with a smattering of black Africans in non combatant roles merely digging trenches. But nothing can be further from the truth.

In all, in WW1 – 83 000 black South Africans and 3 000 Cape Coloureds answered the call – in all 85 000 men of colour complemented the 146 000 white servicemen – serving in all sorts of roles, ranging from policing, driving, stretcher bearing, cooking, engineering… the list goes on. Bottom line 42% of the serving South Africans in WW1 where men of colour.

And in World War 2, the statistics are pretty similar. 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 Cape Coloureds. Again 42% of the serving South Africans in WW2 where men of colour.

That’s a staggering amount of servicemen – who – after both world wars – where effectively completely marginalised.

As South Africans it is now our responsibility to address this fundamental miscarriage and remember the sacrifice of all South Africans – and do our upmost to reinstate the valour and recognition so long overdue.  Our eternal hope is that history will not repeat itself, and we will honour all South Africans who have fought for the country – be they black, white or brown.

SA Veterans to march in Cenotaph Parade

Category : Articles , News


Remembrance Day Special: SA Veterans to march past Cenotaph in main parade!


On 10 November 2013 we will pause once more to remember the countless brave men and women who over so many generations have sacrificed everything for country and comrade.



In addition to the traditional Remembrance Day marches organised by SA Legion UK in Glasgow and London, this year, for the very first time, a contingent of South African veterans will participate in the Whitehall parade. 


Chairman Peter Dickens said, “It goes without saying that this invitation is a massive honour for SA veterans, I also recognise that by inviting us in, British authorities have afforded a unique opportunity to showcase the intertwined, sometimes complex, military histories of two proud nations.”


SALUK President Norman Sander was keen to extend a warm invitation to South Africans of all stripes to come out and support SALUK’s main London event at Commonwealth Gates, Constitutional Hill. He said, “Some vets will be televised marching past the Cenotaph which will be an incredibly proud moment for the South African diaspora, but should not deter friends and family from wrapping up warm and showing their support our veterans at numerous other parades. We had great support last year and hope to see even more folks this time, whatever the weather!” Sander also added, “SA Legion Scotland Branch has been given the great honour of leading Glasgow’s main parade this year, so even if you only make it as far as the sofa on 10 November, make sure to look out for our vets who’ll be marching just behind the Colour party.”



Lest we forget.