Author Archives: Peter Dickens

The youngest recipient of the George Medal

Today we have a heartwarming story of a forgotten heroine of World War 2 which carries with it a South African twist.

1941: Betty Quinn, 17, the youngest recipient of the George Medal, at the Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. She saved seven people from a bombed air raid shelter while serving as an ARP Warden in Coventry during WW2.

Betty Quinn, a St. John Ambulance cadet, was awarded the George Medal for her bravery on 14 November 1940 during the heaviest night of the Coventry Blitz. She was giving first aid at an ARP post when a shower of incendiary bombs fell in the district: “Without waiting for assistance she ran outside. AA batteries were putting up a heavy barrage and shrapnel was falling all round. Bombs began to fall and a man was injured by one. Miss Quinn assisted him to a private shelter.

A report came in of an Anderson shelter receiving a direct hit and although bombs were still falling, Miss Quinn ran there and commenced digging in the crater with a spade. She assisted to dig out seven persons who had been trapped and then attended to their injuries. She stayed until all had been removed by ambulance, although shells were bursting overhead most of the time. She then returned to the post and carried on with her duties.”

Betty Quinn was tracked down in 2005 for an invite to attend the unveiling of the Women of WW2 Memorial, next to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Betty was living in Cape Town, South Africa where she had been living for 63 years, a direct result of what happened in 1940. Following her fame which spread throughout the Empire after her award, she received a marriage proposal from a South African, which was obviously too good to refuse.

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images, reference British and Commonwealth Forces Facebook page. Posted for the SA Legion by Peter Dickens

133 Army Cadet Force

It’s not often that I’m moved to writing a post, but felt that I have to share my thoughts on the Royal British Legion – South African Branch’s affiliation ceremony with 133 Army Cadet Force in London on 2 December 2015.

This was my first interaction with cadets,(since school) and was a remarkable experience

We weren’t 100% sure what to expect on arrival at 133 ACF, but got of to a good start with a warm and cheerful greeting at the gate and directed where to proceed to. (Apologies to the young man on the gate, but his name completely eludes me. Probably because he was directing us to the pub and that information was more important at the time)

A spread of biscuits, cakes and refreshments awaited us and numerous helpful and happy faces to assist. After the niceties were over, and the formalities began I started to realise exactly what 133 is all about.

We were in the company of a good representative group of cadets, from new starters to some old stalwarts of 133. This was interesting as we witnessed the various stages of a youngsters transition from recruit to proud and “Paraat” ouman. To see the pride and unity amongst them was really great. Although unarmed, they are comparable to any Brothers in arms.

While socialising, we had a small glimpse of some of their backgrounds. These young men and women come from all walks of life and have their individual strengths and weaknesses. They also all have their individual home lives full of good luck and misfortune.

It was the sad story of the passing of one of our brothers in arms that was the catalyst to bring the South African Legionnaires and the 133 Cadets together.

This is the “raw” material that Lt Sealy has to work with and from where she tweaks out the best in them.

Such is their enthusiasm ,We were treated to displays of kit and a presentation on their research into the SA military history, with a personal touch by their SA member who’s father was a Sapper in the old SADF.

Lt Sealy and her 2ic, Sgt Reynolds, have done an incredible job in transforming these young men and women into the cadets they are now.

Cadet Cpl Black, who could compete with any RSM on drill, is an amazing testament to what can be done. This young man has already been recognised for his ability and was the recipient of a mayoral award for his work in the cadets. I would happily have served alongside men of his calibre during my time in the military. He has already decided that his future lies in the military, and I wish him all the success he deserves. I’m sure that he will rise through the ranks.

However, as was pointed out in the speeches, not all cadets will go on to a career in the military. What was obvious though, was that they will all leave cadets better for the experience. More disciplined and focused people with a better ability to work within a team. They will have experience that will help them to contribute more positively to society.

As I said, Lt Sealy and Sgt Reynolds are doing an incredible job and the evidence was there for us to see. We can be proud to have 133 affiliated to us, and I look forward to future interaction with the cadets.
I would urge all legionnaires to make every effort to engage with our new affiliates when ever combined events happen. These youngsters are part of our future, and I feel they have a lot to contribute.
Legion greetings

Many thanks to the Legionnaires in attendance – Russel Mattusheck, the Vice Chairman for inspecting the troops and his fine speech and poem. Peter Dickens, the Chairman for the officiating the signing ceremony as well as Theo Fernandes for the photographs and Cassandra Sealy for arranging the entire ceremony. Also thanks to Steve Moritz, Victor Ho, Simon McIlwaine, Graeme Scott, Tony and Ilona Povey

But most all thank you to the Cadets from 133CAF for such a special presentation and becoming part of The Royal British Legion.

(Peter Dickens)

The Second Battle of El Alamein.

Category : media , WW2


On this day in 1942. The Second Battle of El Alamein begins and this is how it looked from the start line for British, South African and other Commonwealth troops taking part in the battle – this image taken as the British night artillery barrage opened the battle on 23 October 1942.

Image copyright – Imperial War Museum, posted for the SA Legion by Peter Dickens

Captured Bush War Artillery

Tags :

Category : Bush War , media


Bush War in Angola, now here we have a serious piece of captured Soviet artillery, taken by the SADF during Ops Hooper in 1988.

One can only appreciate the size of this weapon when one stands next to it. The hardware in question is the Soviet manufactured 130mm M-46 Artillery Towed Gun is manually loaded and was used in the Soviet Army since the 1950s. The M-46 was first seen in public in May 1954 and originally was known in the West as the M1954. Operation of the M-46 towed gun revolves around a crew of eight personnel. The M-46 is no longer in service with the Soviet Army but is still used by many armies in the world, mostly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The M-46 has a barrel with a tied jaw horizontal sliding block breach with a ‘pepperpot’ muzzlebrake. The M-46 was developed from the M-36 130 mm naval gun used on ships and for coast defence. Ammunition included High Explosive Fragmentation, Armour Piercing Solid Shot, Smoke, Illuminating and Chemical shells. The High Explosive shells weigh some 33 kg. The maximum rate of fire for this gun is between 5 and 6 rounds per minute and about 70 rounds per hour over a maximum distance of 27,1km.

The barrel is mounted on a split-trail carriage, with deep box section trails and foam filled road wheels on the ground when firing and 50° (25º left and 25º right) of top traverse. The barrel can elevate from -2.5 degrees up to +45 degrees. The carriage is of the split trail type and is provided with a two-wheeled limber. The small armoured shield protects little more than the sights from the effects of muzzle blast and also provides a limited amount of protection from machine gun fire in anti-tank engagements. The gun has long and robust trails to provide stability when firing and a large detachable spade is fitted to the end of each when the gun is brought into action.

The gun is mounted on a two-wheeled split trail carriage with large sponge-filled rubber tires on each of the single wheels. For travel, it is provided with a two-wheeled limber and can be towed by a truck or armoured vehicle. The length of the gun is 5,4m, width is 2,2m and height is 1,8m. When travelling, the 130 mm barrel is withdrawn by a mechanism onto the right trail from battery to the rear to reduce the overall length of the weapon which can be safely towed by truck at a maximum speed of 50 km/h. The weapon weighs 8 450kg in the traveling position and 7 700kg in the firing position.

The M-46 towed gun has the OP4M-35 direct fire sight with a field of view of 11º and a magnification of ×5.5, as well as an APN-3 active/passive night sight. The M-46 fires case-type, variable-charge, separate loading ammunition.

Photo and caption thanks and courtesy to Graham Du Toit.

South African Air Force 34 Squadron Liberator


A South African Air Force 34 Squadron Liberator bomber’s stick of bombs (top left hand corner) on their way down onto the Marshaling Yards at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia during a 2 SAAF Wing Raid on the facility.

Copyright SAAF Museum Collection

Captured Soviet manufactured PMZ-4 Mine-layer


In case you are wondering why Angola is one of the most mined countries in the world, well this captured Soviet hardware goes some way to explain how mining land mines on an industrial level can be done.

Here we have the Soviet manufactured PMZ-4 Minelayer Trailer. Originally designated the PMR-3 “Pricepnoi Minnyi Raskladchik” meaning “towed mine layer (surface)”, this apparatus was the first Soviet minelayer capable of burying mines as well as laying them on top of the ground. It consists of a single chute and a plow attachment. The attachment provides the option of burying the mines or depositing them on the surface of the ground. The PMR-3 equipment designation was later changed to PMZ-4 “Pricepnoi Minnyi Zagraditel” meaning “towed mine layer (buried)” as this designation was more accurate in describing the task carried out by this piece of equipment.

The type of mines laid by this apparatus were the Soviet TM-44, TM-46, TM-57 or TM-62 series anti-tank mines. The mines could be spaced 4 to 5,5m apart depending on the control setting. If buried, the mines are placed at a depth between 6-12 cm while the vehicle traveled along at a speed of 5km/h. The trailer on its own weighed 1.8 metric tons. The towing vehicle could carry 120 to 300 mines depending on the capacity and type of vehicle. The SADF captured one of these trailers in Southern Angola during Ops Protea in 1981. The captured PMZ-4 minelayer trailer is seen pictured here while on display to the public at Oshakati.

Picture copyright Oswald Kruger, article courtesy and thanks to Graham Du Toit

Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate

Tags :

Category : media , WW2


A little snippet of relatively unknown South African history. Here’s another South African military veteran from the Second World War who went on to become a famous movie star.

Laurence Harvey (born Laruschka Mischa Skikne; 1 October 1928 – 25 November 1973) was a Lithuanian-born South African actor. In a career that spanned a quarter of a century, Harvey appeared in stage, film and television productions primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States. His performance in Room at the Top (1959) resulted in an Academy Award nomination. That success was followed by the role of the ill-fated Texan commander William Barret Travis in The Alamo (1960), produced by John Wayne, and as the brainwashed Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Harvey’s civil birth name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne. His Hebrew names were Zvi Mosheh. He was born in Joniškis, Lithuania, the youngest of three sons of Ella (née Zotnickaita) and Ber Skikne, Lithuanian Jewish parents.

When he was five years old, his family emigrated to South Africa, where he was known as Harry Skikne. He grew up in Johannesburg, and was in his teens when he served with the entertainment unit of the South African Army during the Second World War.

Image shows Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Source – Wikipedia, posted for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens

The Fire-Force on the Move

The Fire-Force on the move. (SAAF Museum Collection photograph) – courtesy and thanks to Graham du Toit

Derrick Dickens


Another South African Air Force artwork by renowned aviation artist Derrick Dickens’, part of his collection of South African Air Force paintings.
These are SAAF Beaufighters attacking German ships during World War 2. Acrylic on canvass.

Derrick passed away recently and is sorely missed by family, friends and the SAAF community.

Artwork copyright – Peter Dickens

Gerard Ross Norton VC MM (7 September 1915 – 29 October 2004)


Celebrating true South African heroes and here is another Victoria Cross recipient, this is his story whilst taking part in the Italian campaign during World War 2,

Gerard Ross Norton VC MM (7 September 1915 – 29 October 2004) was a South African recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Educated at Selborne College, East London (where he acquired his nickname) he was a keen sportsman excelling at cricket, rugby and tennis. After school, he joined Barclays bank at Umtata. After a short spell in the Johannesburg branch of the bank, he returned to East London. The hostel at Selborne College is named in his honour.

Norton’s peace-time military training was done with the Middelandse Regiment, but after the outbreak of the Second World War he was transferred to the Kaffrarian Rifles in East London. In 1943, he transferred in to the 1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment (later the Royal Hampshire Regiment)

On 31 August 1944 during the attack on Montegridolfo, Italy, Lieutenant Norton’s platoon was pinned down by heavy fire. On his own initiative and with complete disregard for his own safety, he advanced alone and attacked the first machine-gun emplacement, killing the crew of three. He then went on to the second position containing two machine-guns and 15 riflemen, and wiped out both machine-gun nests, killing or taking prisoner the remainder of the enemy. Throughout these attacks he was continuously under fire from a self-propelled gun, nevertheless he calmly went on to lead his platoon against the remaining enemy positions.

The award of the Victoria Cross was gazetted on 24 October 1944.

He later achieved the rank of Captain.

Later life
After the war he moved to Rhodesia, where he ran a large tobacco plantation and became a Rhodesian citizen. Gerard Ross Norton died on 29 October 2004.

Reference – Wikipedia, posted for the SA Legion by Peter Dickens