Author Archives: Charles Ross

Milan War Cemetery

Category : South Africa , WW2

On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side.

The Allied advance was stalled for two successive winters: in 1943 on the German defensive position known as the Gustav Line, stretching from the river Gargliano in the west to the Sangro in the east, and in 1944 on the Gothic Line in the northern Appenine Mountains.

On the night of 12/13 October 1944 16 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of 31 Squadron South African Air Force and 4 from 34 Squadron were detailed to drop supplies to Italian partisans in North-West Italy.

The weather unexpectedly turned very bad, with a change in wind direction, and very heavy cloud and rain. Of the 20 aircraft, only 3 located their drop zones and delivered their cargo successfully, 11 aircraft aborted the mission and returned to base safely, and 6 were lost, 5 crashed into the Alps and one is presumed to have crashed into the sea off the Ligurian coast between Genoa and la Spezia. This was the single largest loss of aircraft and men in a single day in the history of the South African Air Force. With 8 crew members per aircraft, a total of 48 men died. The 40 casualties from the 5 aircraft that crashed into the Italian Alps are buried in this cemetery. This tragic event is commemorated annually in South Africa on the Sunday nearest to 12 October by the Alpine 44 Club.

South Africans buried in the cemetery includes 15 from the South African Air Force (9 from the event of 12/13 Oct), 5 from the South African Artillery, 2 each from Royal Durban Light Infantry, South African Engineer Corps, South African Irish, South African Police and South African technical Services Corps and 1 each from Kaffrarian Rifles, Regiment Botha, Royal Natal Carbineers, South African Armour, South African Reserve Mechanised Transport, South African Tank Corps, Umvoti Mounted Rifles and Wits Rifles/Regiment De La Rey.

At the beginning of April 1945, the Allies launched their final offensive against the German positions spread out in a line across Italy, south of Bologna. German resistance was by now beginning to disintegrate and the Allies were able to fan out rapidly across the Po valley. Milan, already freed by Italian Partisans, was entered by the US 4th Corps on 2 May 1945, the day of the German surrender in Italy.

As Milan fell to the Allies largely without a fight, the Commonwealth forces suffered few casualties. Most of the graves in Milan War Cemetery were those of prisoners-of-war or airmen and were brought in from the surrounding towns and villages – places such as Bergamo, Boves, Carpi, Cicagna, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Turin and Val d’Isere – after the war.

Milan War Cemetery contains 417 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 27 of them unidentified. There are also six war graves of other nationalities.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross based on information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Data Base and Alpine Club 44. Photos by Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Remembrance Service at Lyttelton


During October 2015 the Saints Presbyterian Church approached the National Headquarters of the South African Legion of Military Veterans for assistance in planning their 2015 Remembrance Day Service. It was referred to the Public Relations portfolio and I contacted the church and got involved. One of the request was the provision of 200 Poppies, which the Pretoria branch obliged. Saints Presbyterian Church made a donation to the Legion.
Today, Sunday 08 November, Lgr Charles Ross and his wife Rina attended the Remembrance Day Service in the Saints Presbyterian Church in Lyttelton. Every member of the congregation attending the moving service conducted by Reverend Zolani Makalima received a Poppy on arrival.

Following the normal service the Remembrance Day part of the service commenced with the background to Remembrance Day. During this mentioned was made of the South African Legion of Military Veterans, who provided the Poppies, and the very important work currently being done by the Legion. This was followed with the reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields” and a address by Lgr Charles Ross on the importance of Remembrance Day post the Second World War.

The congregation was then called to Remembrance followed by the sounding (playing) of the Last Post on an electric guitar (this was a first for me, and obviously for many of the congregation), 2 minutes silence and the Reveille (a recording). The congregation was called upon to place flowers on a rugged cross covered with mesh wire, symbolizing the barbed wire of the First World War. This was a very interesting way of remembrance. Lgr Ross placed a flower on behalf of the South African Legion of Military Veterans.

The service concluded with the church choir singing the hymn “Plea for Africa”.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross with photos by Rina Ross.

Cullinan Military Cemetery


During World War 2 the Zonderwater area near Cullinan became a major assemble and training area for the troops of the Union Defence Force preparing for participation in the war “up North”.
The village of Cullinan serves the Premier Diamond mine. During the Second World War the Union Defence Force occupied virtually the whole village as the command structure for the adjoining Zonderwater troop concentration and training complex.

This is still evident on the hills surrounding Cullinan where some of the Regiments packed their Regimental badges in stones.

Midway through the war the largest prisoner of war camp for Italians captured in East and North Africa was established at Zonderwater and this is the site of a large Italian war cemetery, now situated within the Zonderwater prison grounds. The Italian Prisoner of War cemetery is maintained in immaculate condition and an annual memorial service is held on the first Sunday of November. The cemetery also houses a small museum where article made by the prisoners of war are exhibited.

The Cullinan Military Cemetery is on the outskirts of the town and 102 Commonwealth war casualties are buried in the cemetery. The cemetery is the responsibility of the South African Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The casualties buried in the cemetery comprises 54 members of the South African Native Military Corps, 18 members of the African Pioneer Corps (HCT) mainly from Basutoland (Lesotho) and Bechuanaland (Botswana), 15 members of the Cape Corps, 14 members of the South African Indian and Malay Corps and 1 member from the Essential Services Protection Corps.

A single Commonwealth war casualty is buried in the Cullinan (Premier Mine) Cemetery adjacent to the Military cemetery.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross with photos by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Cullinan Heritage Society.

World War One Hero

Category : Articles , WW1


Richard Annesley West was born in 1 Oxford Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 26 September 1878, son of Lieutenant Augustus George West, 76th Hindustan Regiment of Whitepark, County Fermanagh, Ireland and Sara (nee Eyre).  Richard was educated at the Channel View School, Clevedon, Monkton Combe School. Bath Somerset and the Uckfield Agricultural College.

It is not sure when Richard came to South Africa, but he participated in the South African War 1899 – 1902 (Anglo Boer War) initially as a trooper in the 45th Irish Hunt Company of the Imperial Yeomanry where he was later promoted as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  In November 1901 Richard was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts.  1902 he was appointed as Superintendent Transvaal repatriation Department and on 31 March 1904 Richard, as a Lieutenant, appointed as Assistant Adjutant of the Transvaal Horse Artillery Volunteers.  On 01 July 1910 Richard was transferred to Transvaal Reserve of Officers and in 1914 he returned to the United Kingdom.

On 11 August 1914 Richard joined the North Irish Horse, Cavalry Special Reserve as a Lieutenant and soon to France where he participated in the first retreat from Moms’ in Belgium where he was mentioned in dispatched in the first dispatch of the war by Sir John French. In July 1915 Richard was attached to the North Somerset Yeomanry as a Temporary Major. For his action at Monchy-le-Preaux on 11 April 1915 Richard was awarded the Distinguish Service Order (DSO) and on 07 November 1917 he is mentioned in dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig.

Richard was promoted to Temporary Major in the Tank Corps on 18 January 1918 and in July 1918 he returned to the United Kingdom for a short while before returning to France, where over the period 08 to 10 August 1918 he participated in the action at Guillencourt during the Battle of Amiens in France.  For this he was awarded the Military Cross.  

On 10 August 1918 Richard carried out a personal reconnaissance on behalf of the Cavalry and under heavy machine gun fire re-organized his tank crews. At the Battle of Albert in France on 21 August 1918 Richard assumed command when the Officer Commanding of the Light Tank Battalion was killed early in the attack.  For this he was awarded a Bar to his DSO.

During the British advance on 21 August 1918, the first day of the Battle of Albert, 6th Tank Battalion and 2nd Battalion The Suffolk Regiment, made for the railway running between the villages of Courcelles-le-Comte and Gomiecourt, north-west of Bapaume. It was foggy and the troops became disorientated. Acting Lieutenant Colonel R A West, 6th Tank Battalion, collected the men together and led the attack. After Bapaume had fallen to the British on the 29th, the British advanced on 2 September against the Germans east of Arras. At the southern end of this action, infantry and tanks attacked Vaulx Vraucourt, five miles north-east of Bapaume. West was killed while encouraging his men to withstand an enemy counter-attack near Lagnicourt, two miles to the east.

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery, leadership and sacrifice.  During an attack, the infantry having lost their bearings in the dense fog, this officer at once collected and re-organised any men he could find and led them to their objective in face of heavy machine-gun fire. Throughout the whole action he displayed the most utter disregard of danger, and the capture of the objective was in a great part due to his initiative and gallantry.

On a subsequent occasion it was intended that a battalion of light Tanks under the command of this officer should exploit the initial infantry and heavy Tank attack. He therefore went forward in order to keep in touch with the progress of the battle, and arrived at the front line when the enemy were in process of delivering a local counter-attack. The infantry battalion had suffered heavy officer casualties, and its flanks were exposed. Realising that there was a danger of the battalion giving way, he at once rode out in front of them under extremely heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and rallied the men. In spite of the fact that the enemy were close upon him he took charge of the situation and detailed non-commissioned officers to replace officer casualties. He then rode up and down in front of them in face of certain death, encouraging the men and calling to them “Stick it, men; show them fight; and for God’s sake put up a good fight”. He fell riddled by machine-gun bullets.

The magnificent bravery of this very gallant officer at the critical moment inspired the infantry to redouble efforts, and the hostile attack was defeated.

On 22 August 1918 Richard was promoted as Acting Lieutenant Colonel as Officer Commanding 6th Light Tank Battalion.

On 16 July 1909 Richard married Maude Ethel Cushing in Pretoria, Transvaal.  A daughter was born out of the marriage.

Richard is commemorated on his headstone in the Mory Abbey Military Cemetery in France, on the War Memorial and a plaque at Colebrooke Church, County Fermanagh, on the town War Memorial at St Ronan’s Church, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, memorial in Belfast City Hall, portrait in the Royal Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset and on the plaque in the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town where South African awarded the Victoria Cross during World War 1 are commemorated.

During his career Richard was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguish Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, Queen’s South Africa Medal 1899 – 1902 with Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape Colony clasps, King’s South African Medal with South Africa clasp, South Africa 1902 Medal, 1914 Star with clasp, British War Medal 1914 -20 and the Victory Medal with Mentions in Dispatches.

The Victoria Cross and the Bar to his DSO was presented to his widow at Buckingham Palace on 15 February 1919 by King George V.  His Victoria Cross is held at the Tank Museum in Bovington.   

Extract published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross.


Shot Down Over Pembury

Category : Articles , WW2


Received this from Rob Johnson.  It appeared recently in a Pembury Village Magazine.  Thanks to the South African War Graves Projects have learned that his brother also died in the war.

Charles Ross

Acting Lieutenant Colonel Jack Sherwood Kelly, VC CMG DSO

Category : media , WW1



This is a short tribute to one of South Africa’s most colourful characters of World War One and will focus on his military career.

During his leave Jack married Nellie Elizabeth Crawford on 22 April 1916. Early May 1916 saw jack recalled to the front once again in command of a battalion, this time the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as part of the 29th Division preparing for the upcoming Battle of the Somme. Leading his Battalion from the front during fighting in the Beaumont Hamel sector Jack was shot through the lung and saved by Jack Johnson until he could be evacuated back to London.

During a political rally by Jack in November 1923 a woman came up to Nellie and introduced herself as the mother of Stretcher Bearer Jack Johnson. A meeting was arranged between Jack Kelly and Jack Johnson. In an interview with the Derbyshire Times Jack Kelly said “good deal of handshakes and some tears”.
During July 1916 Jack and Nellie embarked on a recruiting tour to South Africa where Jack was received as hero. On his return to England in September 1916 Jack immediately reported for duty. Jack remained in England and on 29 November 1916 received his Distinguish Service Order (DSO) from King George V.

During November 1916 Jack was posted to the 3rd Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers as a Major. Very soon after arrival requested to be transferred to the 10th Norfolk Reserve Battalion
On 01 January 1917 Jack Sherwood Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Order of St Micheal and St George, Third Class or Companion, post nominal CMG. It is awarded for service to the Empire, probably for Jack’s recruiting drive in South Africa during 2016.

In February 1917 Jack was again posted to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as Officer Commanding. Early part of 1917 saw a new British offensive in Vimmy and Arras which was followed by offensives in Ypres and Passchendaele. A smaller offensive was planned for November 1917 in the Cambrai sector, using the new weapon “the Mark 1 Tank”.

On 20 November 1917, the opening day of the first Battle of Cambrai, 87th Brigade advanced on Marcoing, three miles south-west of Cambrai. 1st Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, crossed the Canal de St Quentin by the lock east of Marcoing copse. For his gallantry during the crossing of the canal and in leading the attack against the enemy defences on the far side, Acting Lieutenant Colonel J Sherwood-Kelly was awarded the VC. Meanwhile, two companies of 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, crossed the canal by the railway bridge at Marcoing and one at the lock by the railway station at the north-eastern outskirts of the town. Sergeant C E Spackman was awarded the VC for attacking a machine-gun which threatened this advance.

For this action Jack was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation reads as follows:

“For most conspicuous bravery and fearless leading when a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed on the bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing, reconnoitred under heavy rifle fire and machine gun fire the high ground held by the enemy.

The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective was held up by a thick belt of wire, where upon he crossed to that flank, and with a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position.

Later, he personally led a charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men, captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty six prisoners, and killed a large number of the enemy.

The great gallantry displayed by this officer throughout the day inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and it was mainly due to his example and devotion to duty that his battalion was enabled to capture and hold their objective”.

The Germans launched a counter attack which was successfully repelled by the 29th Division during which time Acting Captain A. M. Lascelles, another South African hero, of the 14th Durham Light Infantry was awarded a Victoria Cross. Jack returned to a hospital in London having been gassed again.

On 11 January 1918 the London Gazette reported that Jack had been awarded the Victoria Cross which he received from King George on 23 January 1918 at Buckingham Palace.

During February 1918 Jack once again returned to South Africa on a recruiting drive. Following a speech in east London in the Eastern Cape Jack was reported and recalled back to England where he was reprimanded and remained with the Norfolk Yeomanry.

In August 1918 Jack was put in charge of the troop ship HMS CITY OF KARACHI carrying South African troops. During the trip the Officers revolted sighting his bullying tactics and derogatory statements about South African troops. Jack apologised and narrowly escaped being court martial.

Jack served the rest of the war as Officer Commanding the Norfolk Yeomanry.

Extract published with the kind permission of The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen and The VC and GC Association in 2013.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross. via South African Legion

South African Legion Club Durban and District Branch


South African Legion Club Durban and District Branch

Just a quick update… We are now officially up and running here in Durbs after our 1st AGM Held at Stamford Hill Bowling Club. Our membership sits now at around 38 full members and 4 associate members so not too bad…

We are still having problems regarding the DLI premises so not much good news from that side.

Rick and his exec have really embraced the idea of this club and have helped us in every way to get off the ground so to speak. Our members are starting to buy Legion clothing & regalia so hopefully we will all look the part shortly.

Attached please find a group photo of us from last week thanks to Lgr Peter Shattock, our official war Correspondent “during peace time”

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross based on a report by Lgr Steve Leahy.

What is a Poppy?

Tags :

Category : Articles , poetry , WW1

The poem was written by a Grade 11 learner, Jessica Hepburn who lives in Johannesburg, and forwarded to the Chairman of the Kimberley Branch of the Legion.

Good to see that the younger generation are aware of the significance of the “Poppy”.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross

Benoni: 99th Commemoration of the Battle of Delville Wood

Category : Articles , WW1

About 100 Military Veterans and friends gathered at the cenotaph in Benoni on Sunday 19 July 2015 to attend the 99th Commemoration of the Battle of Delville Wood. A total of 17 wreaths were laid while 35 symbolic roses were placed by members of the public.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross with photos by Sergeant Kevin Fenton.

Legionnaire, Moth, Signalman Malcolm Dirk Kriel

Category : Articles , News

Friday 24 July 2015 Charles Ross attended the Memorial Service for Legionnaire/MOTH/Signalman Malcolm Dirk Kriel in the Westview Methodist Church in Wierda Park. The service was attended by many Military Veterans from various Veteran Organisations. Following a moving service by Pastor Wendy Walker the Legion and MOTH funeral rituals performed by Lgr Bazil Kriel and MOTH’s Dave Berry and Thinus Prinsloo. During the MOTH ritual the Last Post and Reveille was sounded while the Lament was played the Last Post and Reveille.

Malcolm was born in Bloemfontein and spent his youth at Tempe Military Base, Voortrekkerhoogte and the TEK camp in Snake Valley. Malcolm attended the Pretoria Technical College and loved building electronic gadgets, especially crystal sets.

After school Malcolm joined the South African Army Corps of Signals in 1962 where he qualified as a Radio Technician and spent brief periods in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth Signals Units before returning to Voortrekkerhoogte to serve both the School of Signals and 1 Signal Regiment. He was transferred to Cape Town as Warrant Officer at the Air Defence School Technical Workshop and later became the Regimental Sergeant Major of the Western Province Signals Unit. After this stint Malcolm was transferred to School of Signals in Heidelberg.

In the early 1980’s Malcolm was transferred to the South African Army Headquarters, Director Signals where he was selected as the Warrant Officer of the new night vision project. He served at Director Projects and was considered the night vision expert in the South African Army until retirement in 1992.

After retirement Malcolm worked for ELOPTRO, the Denel subsidiary of nigh vision equipment and final for Mechem until 2004.

Malcolm became a MOTH in the late 1970’s and served as Old Bill of Aerial Shellhole in the 1980’s. He became Chairman if the Pretoria Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans in 1989 and Provincial Chairman of the Transvaal Region in 1994. During the 1990’s he was instrumental in arranging the annual SS Mendi Memorial Services at the SS Mendi Memorial in Atteridgeville. Malcolm also served as Chairman of the Pretoria Ex-Serviceman’s Council. Malcolm was also a member of the Signals Association and was a very active radio amateur with call sign ZS-MDK. This call sign is now silent.

In 2004 Malcolm moved to Sasolburg where he served as a MOTH and the Sandy Shellhole, an active radio amateur and as Liaison Officer of the Free State Provincial Committee of the South African Legion of Military Veterans.
In 2010 he moved to Bloemfontein where resided at the South African Legion of Military Veterans village, Springbok Park. He joined the MOTH George Coombs Shellhole, Bloemfontein Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans and the Bloemfontein Combined Ex-Serviceman’s Organisation.

In January 2015 Malcolm was admitted to 3 Military Hospital with Dementia and Uniary Tract infection. During March 2015 Malcolm and his wife Sheila were moved to the MOTHWA Haven Frail Care Centre in Eloffsdal, Pretoria. Malcolm’s condition deteriorated and was Called to Higher Service in the early hours of the morning of 15 July 2015.

Malcolm was a well-respected Soldier, Mentor, Veteran and Radio Amateur. He was a person who had a passion for electronics and he always wanted to pass on his expertise to others, which included his juniors in the military, his apprentices and to the sons of his brother, Bazil. The latter being guided by Malcolm’s knowledge and enthusiasm as they spent many a June/July high school holiday with Malcolm where he taught them everything about radio and electronics.

He was known to fight for his apprentices and junior and did not hesitate to express his feelings to seniors if he believed that he was right. This earned him the nickname “Wooden Spoon” from his subordinates because he could stir.

In all the organisations that Malcolm served he always became involved and made things happen, he made a difference.

Malcolm will be sorely missed by his family, the South African Legion of Military Veterans, MOTH Order, Signallers and friends.


Today 24 July 2015 at the funeral service of the Late Legionnaire Malcolm Kriel I was most surprised when the piper was none other than Linda (nee Scorgie) who was a junior piper in the Kimberley Regimental Pipes and Drums when I was the Drum Major in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Last saw her in 1982 when I left to join the South African Navy. Well done Linda!!
Today 24 July 2015 at the funeral service of the Late Legionnaire Malcolm Kriel I was most surprised when the piper was none other than Linda (nee Scorgie) who was a junior piper in the Kimberley Regimental Pipes and Drums when I was the Drum Major in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Last saw her in 1982 when I left to join the South African Navy.
Well done Linda!!

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross based on the Eulogy by Lgr Bazil Kriel. Photos by Charles Ross