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South African Historical Journal

ISSN: 0258-2473 (Print) 1726-1686 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rshj20

‘Their Finest Hour?' English-speaking South


Africans and World War II

John Lambert

To cite this article: John Lambert (2008) ‘Their Finest Hour?' English-speaking South Africans and
World War II, South African Historical Journal, 60:1, 60-84, DOI: 10.1080/02582470802287711

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02582470802287711

Published online: 14 Oct 2008.

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South African Historical Journal, 60 (2008), 60–84

‘Their Finest Hour?’


English-speaking South Africans and World War II1

JOHN LAMBERT
University of South Africa

Abstract
The article, part of a wider study dealing with white English-speaking identity, examines
English-speakers’ (hereafter the English) reactions to Britain’s declaration of war on
Germany in 1939. They displayed a remarkable unanimity of purpose during the war,
supporting what they saw as both a British and a South African war. The article discusses
their support for Smuts and the extent to which they volunteered for war service, in both
South African and Commonwealth forces. Their support is compared with that of Afrikaners.
7KH(QJOLVKVXSSRUWHGWKHZDUHIIRUWLQZD\VRWKHUWKDQ¿JKWLQJPDQ\PHQYROXQWHHUHG
for the national reserve while women were essential for the war effort, serving in both
the women’s auxiliary defence corps and the women’s auxiliary service. In the latter their
contribution was remarkable, providing care and support for over a million South African
and allied troops. The article examines reasons for English support for the war effort before
turning to a discussion of how they saw the war as a British/Commonwealth war. The
growth of South Africanist sentiments is then looked at, particularly among service men.
This is followed by growing disenchantment with Smuts and the war effort after 1943. The
DUWLFOHFRQFOXGHVZLWKDGLVFXVVLRQRIZKHWKHUWKHZDUZDVLQIDFWµWKHLU¿QHVWKRXU¶
Keywords: Britishness, Commonwealth, English-speaking South Africans, Great Brit-
ain, identity, MOTHS, South African Women’s Auxiliary Services, South
Africanism, Springbok Legion, World War II.

Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939 had far-reaching repercussions in


South Africa, shattering the consensus between the old National and South African Parties which
had combined as the governing United Party (UP) in 1933. For white English-speaking South
$IULFDQV%ULWDLQ¶VGHFODUDWLRQFDOOHGLQWRTXHVWLRQZKHUHWKHLUDOOHJLDQFHOD\WR¿JKWDORQJVLGH
Britain and the Commonwealth, or to accept that South Africa had no reason to become involved
in a British war.
Historiographically, neither Afrikaner nor English-speaking South African academic
historians paid much attention to the war in the second half of the twentieth century, leaving the

 7KLVDUWLFOHZDV¿UVWSUHVHQWHGDVDSDSHUDWWKH%ULWLVK:RUOG&RQIHUHQFHµ'H¿QLQJWKH%ULWLVK:RUOG¶DWWKH8QL-
YHUVLW\RI%ULVWRO±-XO\,ZRXOGOLNHWRDFNQRZOHGJHWKH¿QDQFLDOVXSSRUWRIWKH8QLYHUVLW\RI6RXWK
Africa.

ISSN: Print 0258-2473/Online 1726-1686 © Unisa Press


DOI: 10.1080/02582470802287711

60
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 61

¿HOGWRPLOLWDU\DQGSRSXODUKLVWRULDQV$VDUHVXOWZKLOHWKHUHDUHSRSXODUKLVWRULHVUHJLPHQWDO
histories, and eleven volumes of the Union War Histories and its successor, South African Forces:
World War II, few works place the war in its socio-political context. This has changed since the
ODWH V ZLWK D QXPEHU RI KLVWRULDQV H[DPLQLQJ WKH H[SHULHQFHV RI VSHFL¿F JURXSV /RXLV
Grundlingh discusses black people in the war, Albert Grundlingh Afrikaner volunteers, and Neil
Roos the Afrikaans- and English-speaking white working class.2 No attention has been paid to the
experience of white English-speaking South Africans as a group despite their important role in
the war. After 1948 the Nationalist government downplayed South Africa’s wartime experiences
and by the 1960s South Africa’s apartheid policies made it politically incorrect in Britain and the
Commonwealth to honour South Africa’s war dead or to commemorate the country’s role in the
war. In response, white English South Africans themselves began to downplay and ignore their
war experiences.
This article is part of a wider study dealing with white English-speaking South African
identity.3 Today the term embraces all South Africans who speak English. This was not so before
WKHPLGWZHQWLHWKFHQWXU\DQGWKLVDUWLFOHUHÀHFWVWKHIDFWWKDWXQWLOWKHQ(QJOLVKVSHDNHUVZHUH
predominantly white and overwhelmingly of British stock. A majority continued well into the
twentieth century to regard themselves as part of the British world and to see South Africa as
an integral part of it. Loyalty to the King and links with Britain remained strong. British values,
Britishness, retained a strong hold. They had strong links with their British kith and kin both in
the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the British Empire and Commonwealth where many also
regarded British as their primary identity.4 Because of this the study of white English-speaking
South Africans (hereafter referred to for brevity as the English), is as much part of the wider
British diaspora historiography as of South African.5
In the context of World War II, the great majority of the English believed that they were
¿JKWLQJERWKD%ULWLVKDQGD6RXWK$IULFDQZDU$VLVHYLGHQWLQWKHOLWHUDWXUH(QJOLVKVSHDNLQJ
South Africans displayed a remarkable unanimity of purpose during the war years. There were
obviously those who for various reasons opposed South Africa’s participation in the war or who,
like the handful of English-speaking communists, supported participation only once the Soviet
Union was involved in hostilities, but the great majority, whatever their political persuasions,
believed South Africa could not stand aside when Britain declared war on Germany. Included in

2. L.W.F. Grundlingh, ‘The Participation of South African Blacks in the Second World War’, (DPhil, Rand Afrikaans
University, 1987); A. Grundlingh, ‘The King’s Afrikaners?: Enlistment and Ethnic Identity in the Union of South
Africa’s Defence Force during the Second World War, 1939–1945’, Journal of African History, 40 (1999), 351–65;
N. Roos, Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939– 1961 (Aldershot: Ash-
gate, 2005).
3. For a list of works I have completed to date, see the bibliography.
4. See, for example, S. Ward, ‘The End of Empire and the Fate of Britishness’, in H. Brocklehurst and R. Phillips,
eds, History, Nationhood and the Question of Britain (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 247;
P. Buckner, ‘The Long Goodbye: English Canadians and the British World’, in P. Buckner and R.D. Francis, eds,
Rediscovering the British World (Calgary: Calgary University Press, 2005) 181–2; and K. McKenzie, 5HGH¿QLQJ
the Bonds of Commonwealth, 1939–1948 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 66.
5. A number of historians are currently writing on white English-speaking South African identity, In South Africa
these include Jonathan Hyslop, Robert Morrell, Paul Thompson, Christopher Saunders and Paul Maylam. In Britain
Andrew Thompson has written on British loyalists and John Mackenzie on the Scots in South Africa. For details of
their works, see the bibliography.
62 JOHN LAMBERT

their number were the members of the Union’s Jewish population which by 1939 had become a
middle-class, English-speaking, community.6
Although the Status Acts of 1934 had proclaimed the sovereignty of the Union parliament,
and the sovereign independence of the Union as a dominion within the British Commonwealth,
many English, particularly those, mainly in East London, Durban and on the Natal south coast,
who supported the Dominion Party, rejected this concept and argued that a British declaration
of war automatically involved the dominions. While most English supporters of the UP and the
small Labour Party accepted that the Union had the right to decide on participation, they rejected
neutrality as inconsistent with loyalty to the King and membership of the Commonwealth.7 They
were also aware of the dangers involved in neutrality. The Union was militarily defenceless;
while Prime Minister Hertzog stressed the Union’s independence, he had made no provision
for securing its defences. The Union had no navy and only a token army and air force and
a virtually non-existent munitions industry.8 Should Germany dominate Europe, her next step
would logically be to reclaim her colonies, including South West Africa. In such a case, the
Royal Navy (RN) and the joint protection guaranteed by Commonwealth membership would be
the Union’s safest shield and it was therefore in South Africa’s best interests to stand alongside
her fellow dominions in support of Britain.9
Most English agreed with Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies’s declaration that ‘there
can be no doubt that where Britain stands, there stand the people of the entire British world’.10
They were profoundly shocked when Hertzog supported neutrality in parliament on the grounds
that declaring war on Germany would be against the Union’s interests and incompatible with
South African independence.11 There were anti-German, pro-war demonstrations in Johannesburg
and individual English-speakers, municipal councils and associations cabled their members of
parliament (MPs) denouncing neutrality.12 The English-language press spearheaded a vigorous
protest. To Lewis Macleod, editor of the Rand Daily Mail, ‘[t]he duty of our country is clear. It
cannot stand idly by while the ideals of freedom are everywhere imperilled’. Mervyn Ellis of the
Natal Mercury declaimed: ‘[e]very hour of upbringing, every ounce of sentiment, every drop of
blood cried out to be on the side of those who are, through no fault of their own, faced with an

6. For a discussion on the English-speakers during the 1930s, see J. Lambert, ‘An Identity Threatened: White Eng-
lish-Speaking South Africans, Britishness and Dominion South Africanism, 1934–1939’, Kleio, XXXVII (2005),
50–70. For Jewish South Africans, see G. Saron and L. Hotz, eds, The Jews in South Africa: A History (Cape Town:
Oxford University Press, 1955).
7. For information on the three parties and on their attitude both to the Status Acts and to neutrality, see Lambert, ‘An
Identity Threatened’.
 7KH8QLRQ¶V3HUPDQHQW)RUFHFRQVLVWHGRIRI¿FHUVPHQDQGDQ$FWLYH&LWL]HQ)RUFHRISRRUO\
trained volunteers. See H.J. Martin and N.D. Orpen, South Africa at War…: South African Forces, World War II,
VII (Cape Town: Purnell, 1979), 27.
9. See Hansard, 36, 3rd Session, 8th Parliament, 1939, Smuts, 27–8; Sunday Times, 28 July 1939, ‘South Africa’s Coast
Defences in a Sorry Plight’; Pretoria News, 4 September 1939, Editorial.
10. A. Jackson, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006), 463; Prime
Minister Savage of New Zealand expressed a similar sentiment while the Canadian parliament declared war without
a vote, see McKenzie, 5HGH¿QLQJWKH%RQGVRI&RPPRQZHDOWK, 1–2. See also Natal Mercury, 4 September 1939,
‘Britain can Rely on Loyalty of Dominions’.
11. Hansard, 36, 3rd Session, 8th Parliament 1939, Hertzog, 17–24.
12. See Rand Daily Mail, 5 September 1939, ‘Wild Scenes as 2 000 Riot in City Centre’, ‘Neutrality Opposed: Many
Messages of Loyalty’.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 63

ordeal in which they will need the support and sympathy of everyone who is British’. George
Wilson of the Cape Times argued that it was South Africa’s duty and in its interest to ‘declare
unhesitatingly her adherence to the British Commonwealth’.13
Replying to Hertzog, the deputy prime minister, Jan Smuts, moved an amendment countering
Hertzog’s argument that it would be against South Africa’s interests to declare war on Germany.
In the following debate, English United, Dominion and Labour Party MPs advanced reasons for
participation, including inter alia that it was in the Union’s self-interest to support Britain, that
as British subjects the King’s declaration of war automatically involved South Africans, and that
neutrality was inconsistent with membership of the Commonwealth.14 The UP member, George
Heaton Nicholls, insisted that
[i]n the eyes of every English-speaking man in this country, South Africa is at war; and it does not require
any vote of this House, or any declaration by the Government of this country to determine whether we are
at war or not at war ... We are at war in the eyes of every British subject and if we are not at war, we cannot
be British subjects.15

This denial of parliament’s sovereignty reinforced the Afrikaner Nationalist belief that the
English were more concerned with British interests than South African and could have swung
the debate against participation. Nicholls’s fellow UP member, B.K. Long, however, followed
ZLWKRQHRIWKHPRVWLQÀXHQWLDOVSHHFKHVRIWKHGHEDWH+HDFFHSWHGWKH8QLRQ¶VFRQVWLWXWLRQDO
right to remain neutral but argued that South Africa’s freedom and security lay in standing united
with the Commonwealth. At the same time he defended the right of English speakers to support
Britain:
It is only natural that we English-speaking people should look at this war in Europe … with an almost ago-
nised anxiety … That does not mean that we do not love this country, that does not mean that our hearts are
QRWLQWKLVFRXQWU\WKDWGRHVQRWPHDQWKDWZHSXWWKHLQWHUHVWVRI*UHDW%ULWDLQ¿UVWEXWLWPHDQVWKDWZH
have a love for Great Britain and the British Isles that does not transcend but which is part of our love of
our own country … We would be craven and cowardly and despicable if we did not hold those sentiments
towards the country of our origin.16

There were 54 English and 26 Afrikaner MPs who supported Smuts’s amendment, while
only one English-speaker, S.C. Quinlan, and 66 Afrikaners supported Hertzog.17 Although the
governor-general, Sir Patrick Duncan, personally doubted the wisdom of using Poland as a
pretext for war,18 he rejected Hertzog’s advice that he dissolve parliament and called on Smuts
to form a government. Despite Nationalist accusations that he had acted as the lackey of the

13. Rand Daily Mail, 5 September 1939, Editorial; Natal Mercury, 5 September 1939, Editorial; Cape Times, 4 Sep-
tember 1939, Editorial.
14. Hansard, 36, 3rd Session, 8th Parliament, 1939, see in particular Marwick, 16; Madeley, 67; Burnside, 75.
15. Ibid., Heaton Nicholls, 34.
16. Ibid., Long, 43.
17. Ibid., 97–8. An English MP, J.G. Derbyshire, was not in South Africa but joined Smuts on his return. In 1942,
Quinlan switched his support to Smuts: A. Paton, Hofmeyr (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1964), 350
18. Royal Archives (hereafter RA), with appreciation for the gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen for the use
of this and other material from the Royal Archives, PS/GVI/C 051/049, Duncan to Hardinge, personal, 22 January
1940.
64 JOHN LAMBERT

British government, his decision was reached without seeking advice from the King or British
government.19 On 6 September the Union declared war on Germany.
Duncan believed there would have been bloodshed if he had agreed to an election.20 Although
this is debatable,21 the English were determined to participate in the war. The predominantly
English regiments were working out mobilisation plans, volunteers were queuing to enlist and
meetings were being held to discuss action should parliament vote for neutrality.22 In 1960,
%ULJDGLHU(3+DUWVKRUQFODLPHG8QLRQ'HIHQFH)RUFH 8') RI¿FHUVZHUHSODQQLQJIRUWKLV
HYHQWXDOLW\LQFOXGLQJPRELOLVLQJYROXQWHHUVDQGÀ\LQJ6RXWK$IULFD¶VIHZSODQHVWR5KRGHVLD23
Once the decision to go to war had been taken, the excitement that had marked the previous
days died down and, as the chief of the general staff, Sir Pierre van Ryneveld commented, after
years of uncertainty there was almost a feeling of relief that the die had been cast.24 Smuts
observed ‘[m]y stand of course has the unanimous approval of the English’,25 an observation
borne out in editorials and letter columns in English-language newspapers, and letters to Smuts
from English-speaking individuals, churches and associations. A common theme of these was
that Smuts had saved South Africa’s honour.26
Although the government retained minority Afrikaner support, it relied heavily on English
voters and MPs. With a majority of 13, the support of the eight Dominion and four Labour MPs
was essential and Smuts formed a coalition ministry including the leaders of the two parties,
Colonel Stallard and Walter Madeley respectively.27)RUWKH¿UVWWLPHVLQFH8QLRQWKH(QJOLVK
had an equal number of cabinet members as the Afrikaners, which gave the English ministers
greater prominence.
Smuts was very aware that the Dominion and Labour Party MPs were loyal to him personally,
rather than to his government. Durban, a stronghold of Dominion and Labour Party support in the
late 1930s, embraced him during the war, yet, after receiving a tumultuous welcome in Durban
in 1942, Smuts wryly commented ‘[f]or how long?’28 Until 1943, however, English-speaking
South Africans would not question Smuts’s leadership as they remained convinced that he was
essential to winning the war. 29

 1DWLRQDO$UFKLYHV3UHWRULD KHUHDIWHU1$3 3DWULFN'XQFDQ0LFUR¿OPV%&('XQFDQWR$OLFH'XQ-


can, 5 September 1939; RA PS/GVI/C 051/049, Duncan to Hardinge, personal, 22 January 1940.
 1$33DWULFN'XQFDQ0LFUR¿OPV%&('XQFDQWR$OLFH'XQFDQ6HSWHPEHU
21. See The Forum, 7 October 1939, letter from ex-serviceman, 1916–18, 21.
22. Roos, Ordinary Springboks, 27; Diamond Fields Advertiser $XJXVW  µ$UP\ 5HFUXLWV 6ZDPS 2I¿FHV
Sunday Express, 3 September 1939, ‘SA Decides Today’; Pretoria News, 4 September 1939, advertised meetings.
23. E.P. Hartshorn, Avenge Tobruk (Cape Town: Purnell, 1960), 6–18.
24. NAP, High Commissioner, London (hereafter BLO), 413, PS26/5, Lt-General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, ‘Back-
ground to South Africa’s War Effort’, 1. See also Natal Mercury, 5 September 1939, Editorial.
25. NAP, Smuts Archive, 246/223, Smuts to W.C. and A.B. Gillett, 21 September 1939.
26. NAP, Smuts Archive, 244/249, H. Blew to Smuts, 15 November 1939; 244/68, E. Cairncross to Smuts, 9 September
1939; 246/11, F.C. Slater to Smuts, 16 September 1939; 244/129, W. Eveleigh, Methodist Church, to Smuts, 6 Sep-
tember 1939. See also Cape Times, 5 September 1939, Editorial; Rand Daily Mail, 6 September 1939, ‘Union-wide
Loyalty to Gen. Smuts’.
27. Hansard, 37, 4th Session, 8th Parliament, 1940, iii. The previous cabinet had had nine Afrikaner and four English
members.
28. NAP, Smuts Archive, 249/99, Smuts to M.C. and A.B. Gillett, 8 June 1940; 257/237, Smuts to M.C. and A.B. Gil-
lett, 7 June 1942; 254/109, M. Ellis, Editor, The Natal Mercury, to Smuts, 5 June 1942.
29. W.K. Hancock, Smuts: The Fields of Force, 1919–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 382.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 65

Whether Smuts should have committed South Africa to Britain’s support knowing what the
consequences would be for Anglo-Afrikaner relations, is debatable. Despite minority Afrikaner
support for the government, the war deepened the divide between English and Afrikaner that
the fusion years had done much to lessen. Nationalist anti-war propaganda, accompanied by a
renewed commitment to establish an Afrikaner-dominated republic outside the Commonwealth,
was loudly proclaimed in parliament and the Nationalist press. Anti-war action, including attacks
on soldiers and acts of sabotage by the Ossewa Brandwag led to angry retaliations with the
English often taking the law into their own hands.30 The attitudes of both groups hardened.
Although he was exaggerating, there was a measure of truth in the assertion by George Calpin,
editor of the Natal Witness, that to Afrikaners, English-speakers had again become British jingoes
while English-speakers saw Afrikaners as Nazis.31
8QGHUWKH'HIHQFH$FWRIWKH8')FRXOG¿JKWRXWVLGHWKH8QLRQRQO\LIWKHFRXQWU\
was threatened. It was clear to Smuts, however, that the Union’s security depended on East
Africa remaining in British hands and that should Germany be successful in Europe, her Axis
ally, Italy, would attack the British colonies in the region.32 To counter this threat it was essential
for the Union to send troops north but because of Nationalist opposition to the war and his small
majority in parliament, Smuts had to move carefully before amending the Defence Act. The
8')DOVRKDGWRUDLVHDQGWUDLQWURRSVDVLWXDWLRQPDGHGLI¿FXOWDVWKH8QLRQKDGRQO\DOLPLWHG
manpower to call upon. The government ruled out black combatant military service and there
were only approximately 460 000 white men between 18 and 44 years in the Union.33 In addition,
with little chance of importing equipment from Britain once war began, the munitions industry
had to be built up from scratch, requiring many men who might otherwise have volunteered. The
prospect of internal unrest also meant that the UDF had to ensure that there were troops in the
Union to maintain internal security.34
Despite these concerns, as early as 22 September 1939, parliament approved plans for an
Air Force of 35 squadrons, 51 naval vessels, and an army of 120 000 whites in two divisions35
and authorised the Active Citizen Force (ACF) to recruit volunteers. The regiments began an

 7KHZDU\HDUVZHUHPDUNHGE\PDQ\¿JKWVEHWZHHQVHUYLFHPHQDQGVXSSRUWHUVRIWKHZDURQWKHRQHKDQGDQG
opponents of the war on the other. See Sunday Times, 19 May 1940, ‘Attempts at Sabotage Frustrated’; Pretoria
News, 3 February 1941, Editorial; The Forum, 3 and 10 August 1940, Editorials; H. Phillips, The University of Cape
Town, 1918–1948: The Formative Years (Cape Town: UCT Press, 1993), 231–2; P.J. Furlong, Between Crown and
Swastika: The Impact of the Radical Right on the Afrikaner Nationalist Movement in the Fascist Era (Johannes-
burg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1991).
31. G.H. Calpin, There are No South Africans (London: Thomas Nelson, 1941), 11, 330. See also Pretoria News, 2
November 1939, ‘Union’s Greatest Enemy’; 11 December 1939, Editorial; L. Blackwell, Farewell to Parliament:
More Reminiscences of Bench, Bar, Parliament and Travel (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1946), 97 and
G.H.L. Le May, The Afrikaners: An Historical Interpretation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 191.
32. Defence Force Documentation Centre (hereafter DFDC), Diverse GP1, 17, M(O), 3/1.
 7KLV¿JXUHLVEDVHGRQWKHDYHUDJHRIWKHDQGFHQVXVHV$OWKRXJKXQGHUWKH'HIHQFH$FWFLWL]HQVXSWR
60 were liable for military service, during the war volunteers aged 45 and over were usually enlisted into home
service. Union of South Africa, 2I¿FLDO<HDU%RRNRIWKH8QLRQDQGRI%DVXWRODQG%HFKXDQDODQG3URWHFWRUDWHDQG
Swaziland, (Pretoria: Government Printer), no. 21 (1940), 1011; no. 24 (1948), 1085. For attitude to arming blacks,
see Pretoria News, 16 April 1940, Editorial.
34. DFDC, Diverse GP1, 17, M(O), 3/1, 17.
35. BLO, 413, PS26/5, van Ryneveld, ‘Background to South Africa’s War Effort’, 2.
66 JOHN LAMBERT

all-out drive for recruits while committees were organised in the mainly English urban centres
to assist recruiting and raise funds for the regiments. Before the end of the year most regiments
were at full war strength36 and in February 1940, parliament authorised volunteers to take the
‘Red or Africa Oath’ committing themselves to serve anywhere in Africa. Volunteers wore a
GLVWLQFWLYHRUDQJHVFDUOHWµ2UDQJH)ODVK¶VKRXOGHUÀDVK DOVRNQRZQDVWKH5HG7DE WRLQGLFDWH
their status.37
English South Africans who were not prepared to wait for the Union to despatch troops
WR(DVW$IULFDDQGZKRVDZOLWWOHGLIIHUHQFHEHWZHHQ¿JKWLQJIRUWKH.LQJLQD6RXWK$IULFDQ
British or other Commonwealth unit, volunteered to serve in British and other Commonwealth
forces. Many past pupils (Old Boys) of the country’s elite boys’ schools were prominent among
these volunteers; those of King Edward VII School in Johannesburg served with so many
Commonwealth forces in so many war theatres that they quipped that ‘the sun never sets on Old
Edwardians’.38 As during World War I, the Royal Air Force (RAF) proved particularly popular
and 25 South African pilots fought during the Battle of Britain.39 Even when the introduction
of the Red Oath saw the number of volunteers for other forces drop, a shortage of British and
VXUSOXVRI6RXWK$IULFDQRI¿FHUVVDZPDQ\RIWKHODWWHUVHFRQGHGWR%ULWLVKXQLWV40 By 1945, 15
000 South African pilots and navigators had served in the RAF and 2 944 in the Royal Navy.41
The German invasion of the Low Countries in April 1940 and the capitulation of France
DQGHQWU\RI,WDO\LQWRWKHZDULQ-XQHFDWDSXOWHG6RXWK$IULFDLQWRWKH¿JKWLQJ:LWKLQGD\VRI
Italy’s declaration of war, the South African Air Force (SAAF) was bombing Italian targets in
East Africa and by July the Engineer Corps, the Medical Corps and the 1st South African Infantry
Division were in East Africa.42
The prospect of Britain being overrun and of an Italian thrust southwards from Abyssinia
VDZDODUJHXSVXUJHLQWKHQXPEHURIPHQYROXQWHHULQJDQGWDNLQJWKH5HG2DWKņIURP
in April 1940 to 97 762 by the end of the year.43 Despite this, with so few white men available
to serve (it was estimated that there were only 251 509 available in late 1940), recruiting was
GLI¿FXOW DQG EHFDPH HYHQ PRUH VR GXULQJ WKH IROORZLQJ \HDUV$OWKRXJK HODERUDWH UHFUXLWLQJ
rallies, ‘Liberty Cavalcades’, ‘Air Commandos’ and a ‘War Train’ were organised to encourage

36. See A.G. McKenzie, 7KH'XNHV$+LVWRU\RIWKH'XNHRI(GLQEXUJK¶V2ZQ5LÀHV± (Cape Town: Galvin


& Sales, nd), 65; B.G. Simpkins, Rand Light Infantry (Cape Town: Timmins, 1965), 65; N. Orpen, Prince Alfred’s
Guard, 1856–1956 (Port Elizabeth: Prince Alfred’s Guard, 1967), 167; H.H. Curson, The History of the Kimberley
Regiment (Kimberley: Northern Cape Printers, 1963), 165.
37. H. Klein, ed., Springbok Record (Johannesburg: South African Legion of the British Empire Service League, 1946),
18; J.S.M. Simpson, South Africa Fights (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1941), 79.
38. A.P. Cartwright, Strenue: The Story of King Edward VII School (Cape Town: Purnell, 1974), 117. See also D.E.
Cornell, The History of the Rondebosch Boys’ High School (Cape Town: RBHS War Memorial Fund Committee,
1947), 48–9.
39. The Battle of Britain memorial, Embankment, London. By comparison, 32 Australians, 121 Canadians and 127
New Zealanders fought in the battle.
40. G.J. Jacobs, Beckoning Horizons (Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 1985), 49; DFDC, Diverse GP1, 10, Commander
General Staff Conference, 2 June 1943.
41. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 348.
42. N. Orpen, East African and Abyssinian Campaigns: South African Forces, World War II, Volume I (Cape Town and
Johannesburg: Purnell, 1968), 6f.
43. NAP, BLO, 412, PS 26/5, 6 May 1940, 6 January 1941. See also Pretoria News, 5 June 1940, ‘3 400 Men Enlist in
Johannesburg’.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 67

YROXQWHHULQJ WKHUH ZHUH FRQVWDQW FULWLFLVPV WKDW PHQ ZHUH UHOXFWDQW WR ¿JKW44 Despite these
criticisms, by 1945, 34 squadrons, totalling 12 221 pilots and navigators, and four divisions had
been raised and 64 naval vessels, manned by 5 146 sailors, were operational. Total full-time
enlistments amounted to 334 314 men and women of all races, of whom 186 218 were white men
and 24 975 were white women.45 With approximately 460 000 white men aged between 18 and
44 years, about 40 per cent of men in this age group volunteered,46 a similar percentage to the
number of Canadians in the same group.47 Of the Union’s white population 9.3 per cent enlisted
compared to 12.5 and 13.2 per cent of the respective populations of Canada and Australia.48 This
VHHPVDVLJQL¿FDQWGLIIHUHQFHEXWEHDULQJLQPLQGWKHQXPEHURI$IULNDQHUPHQZKRRSSRVHG
the war, the historian, Eric Walker, argues that South Africa responded better than the other
dominions.49 Because of the fear of internal unrest, however, and later of a Japanese attack, far
too many troops were kept in the Union (one out of the four divisions). It is also an unfortunate
truth that the UDF seemed incapable of using its military manpower effectively. Thousands of
men, including complete regiments, never saw action outside the Union and there were never
more than 45 000 men up north at a time.50 And of these, far too many remained in reserve: as
Lieutenant Hawtayne of the 4th Field Regiment complained in Cairo in June 1942, ‘We have been
ORRNLQJIRUWKLVEORRG\ZDUIRU\HDUVQRZDQGVWLOOFDQQRW¿QGLW¶51 A comparison of mortality
¿JXUHVUHÀHFWVWKHQXPEHURIPHQZKRQHYHUVDZDFWLYHVHUYLFH2QO\6RXWK$IULFDQVRI
whom 6 003 were white, were killed or died compared to over 30 000 Australians and 45 000
Canadians.52
It is impossible to know how many servicemen were English-speaking. There are no statistics
on language groups and information is based on perceptions. Although the director of military
intelligence, E.G. Malherbe, believed that 50 per cent of volunteers were Afrikaners, an estimate
of 60 per cent is usually accepted,53 leaving English and Jewish South Africans to make up the
remaining 40 per cent, or 74 487 soldiers. This seems too conveniently based on the 60:40 ratio
of Afrikaners to English in the Union but if accepted then, calculated on home language and

44. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, passim; J. Keene, ed., South Africa in World War II: A Pictorial History
(Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1995), 20–3; Cape Times, 14 February 1942, Editorial; 29 June 1942, Editorial;
Pretoria News, 18 July 1942, Editorial; 2 March 1944, ‘Military Manpower Crisis in Union’; 28 June 1944, ‘Sixth
Division Let Down by Union’.
45. Union of South Africa, 2I¿FLDO<HDU%RRN, no. 23 (1946), chapter XXIX, 20. The number of white servicemen
included some 1 500 Rhodesians. See NAP, BLO 413, PS26/5, van Ryneveld, ‘Background to South Africa’s War
Effort’, 3; Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 348.
46. According to Smuts, by May 1943, 33 per cent of men between 20 and 60 years old had enlisted (Pretoria News,
25 May 1943, ‘Union’s Tremendous War Effort’.
47. Jackson, The British Empire, 65.
48. Ibid., 59; Hancock, Smuts: The Fields of Force, 330.
49. E.A. Walker, A History of Southern Africa, 3rd ed. (London: Longmans, 1968), 704.
50. The number peaked at 45 000 in late 1942 and of these almost 15 000 were prisoners of war. Martin and Orpen,
South Africa at War, 118–9,126, 231, 308; DFDC, Diverse GP1, 59, AG(7), Trad, 11, 4; Imperial War Museum,
London (hereafter IWM), 80/20/1, V.L. Bosazza, ‘The War in South Africa: Some Personal Experiences and Com-
ments’.
51. South African National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg (hereafter SANMMH), 920 J.F.G. Hawtayne,
Diary, June 1942.
53. Grundlingh, ‘The King’s Afrikaners?’, 354; NAP, Smuts Archive, 262/178, T.J. Haarhoff to Smuts, 26 August
1944.
68 JOHN LAMBERT

masculinity statistics, just over 41 per cent of the approximately 180 000 English-speaking men
between 18 and 44 would have volunteered. This is about one per cent less than the number of
English who served during World War I.54 Bearing in mind the overwhelming support they gave
to the war, a far higher volunteer rate could have been expected. There were repeated criticisms
during the war of young English men, particularly students, ‘funking’ service55 and indeed
during the war only 25 per cent of students at the University of the Witwatersrand volunteered
and only 600 to 700 at Cape Town University.56 Despite these criticisms, the literature suggests
on the whole a high volunteer rate for young English men. The British high commissioner in
6RXWK$IULFD/RUG+DUOHFKUHSRUWHGWKDW(QJOLVK\RXWKYROXQWHHUHGWR¿JKWµDOPRVWWRDPDQ¶57
while the military historian, James Ambrose Brown, estimates that most recruits in 1939 were
under 20.58 School records indicate that large numbers of Old Boys including recent matriculants
enlisted. Over 50 per cent of Michaelhouse Old Boys enlisted. Taking into account that this
number included men up to the age of 44, the percentage for young men would have been far
higher.59
English South Africa’s contribution to the war embraced far more than serving in the armed
forces. Many, including volunteers over 44 (some of whom had served in World War I), those
with physical disabilities or whose work, such as in the new munitions industry, precluded them
IURP¿JKWLQJHQOLVWHGDV1DWLRQDO5HVHUYH9ROXQWHHUV6RXWK$IULFD¶VHTXLYDOHQWRI'DG¶V$UP\
which numbered about 100 000 members by 1945. They too wore the Orange Flash and their
functions included quelling disturbances and protecting essential installations against the Ossewa
Brandwag.60
Far more so than in World War I, women were essential for the war effort, working in the
munitions and other industries and doing military, naval and air force work to enable men to be
spared for service.61 By 1945, 21 265 women, mainly from the predominantly English Red Cross
and St John’s Ambulance, and an additional 3 710 nurses in the South African Military Nursing
Service, had served in the South African Women’s Auxiliary Defence Corps in North Africa and
Italy as well as in the Union.62
Women also served in the South African Women’s Auxiliary Services (SAWAS). Founded in
1938 by Lucy Bean of the Cape Argus and Mrs E Kane Berman, the chief commandant of the SA

54. Estimates are based on home language and masculinity rates of the South African white population in the 1936 and
FHQVXVHV VHHIRRWQRWH )RU±¿JXUHVVHH-/DPEHUWµ%ULWLVKQHVV6RXWK$IULFDQQHVVDQGWKH)LUVW
World War, in Buckner and Francis, Rediscovering the British World, 293.
55. The Forum, 10 October 1942, ‘Boys Must not Enlist Too Young’, 16 and 17 October 1942, 30; B.K. Murray, Wits
at War (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1990), 15; Cape Times, 6 May 1940, Editorial.
56. Murray, Wits at War, 4; Phillips, The University of Cape Town, 225.
57. Information received from Kent Fedorowich.
58. J.A. Brown, The War of 100 Days: Springboks in Somalia and Abyssinia, 1940–41 (Johannesburg: Ashanti, 1990),
50.
59. A.M. Barrett, Michaelhouse, 1896–1968 (Pietermaritzburg: Michaelhouse Old Boys’ Club, 1969), 117. See also
P. Hawthorne and B. Bristow, Historic Schools of South Africa: An Ethos of Excellence (Cape Town: Pachyderm
Press, 1993), 90, 100, 118; Cartwright, Strenue, 123. See also discussion on schools below. For Jewish recruits, see
Saron and Hotz, The Jews in South Africa, 376.
60. IWM, 80/20/1, Bosazza, ‘The War in South Africa’, 16; A.M. Wood, Men of the Midlands (Pietermaritzburg: Natal
Witness, 1946).
61. NAP, Smuts Archive, 253/254, Smuts to M.C. and A.B. Gillett, 7 December 1941.
62. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 64, 346. Afrikaner women tended to belong to Die Noodhulpliga.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 69

Red Cross, there were 7 000 members when war broke out, a number that rose to 65 000 by 1945.
SAWAS members were drawn mainly from the English and Jewish communities and functioned
as an umbrella body for women’s organisations such as the British Empire Service League, the
Navy League Wartime Workers, Sons of England Women’s Association, the Victoria League
and numerous Jewish women’s organisations.63 While they recruited members for the Women’s
Auxiliary Defence Corps, much of their work centred on raising funds for South African, British
and Commonwealth troops, running soldiers’ clubs, canteens, convalescent homes and hostels,
knitting for the troops, and making up food parcels, affectionately known as ‘glory bags’, for
South African soldiers, for allied troops passing through South African ports, and for families of
British troops. A crucial part of their work was making up Red Cross parcels for prisoners of war,
many of whom would have experienced far greater suffering, even starvation without them.64
SAWAS also co-ordinated the committees in the port cities and near RAF bases which cared
for and entertained over a million South African, British, Commonwealth and allied troops. The
hospitality given to troops in Cape Town and Durban was remarkable while the abiding image of
South Africa to many servicemen and women was of the ‘Lady in White’, Perla Siedle Gibson,
‘an outpost of Britain, South Africa’s loyalty, symbol of the Empire family’, singing to troops at
Durban harbour.65
Men and children as well as women were also involved in raising money for South African
and Commonwealth troops, for the RAF and RN, and for victims of air raids.66 By 1945, the main
fund, the Governor-General’s National War Fund, had raised £7 782 783 direct from the public.67
In addition, in September 1940 they provided homes for 353 British children evacuees.68
The question now arises, why did so many English South Africans volunteer for service
or throw themselves so enthusiastically into war commitments? Much of the historiographical
attention paid to volunteering, particularly that of Albert Grundlingh and Neil Roos, concentrates
on Afrikaners or the working class, with Roos arguing that many English and Afrikaner working-
class men volunteered, particularly in 1939, for employment reasons.69
English-speaking South Africa was not only a working-class society, however, and reasons
other than those given by Roos have to be looked at. The following examines some of the
ways in which English of all classes were induced or persuaded themselves to support the war
effort. Propaganda, both South African and British, was particularly effective and was widely
disseminated in the Union, in print and on radio and screen. English-language newspapers and

63. Ibid., 63–5, 288–95; J. Crwys-Williams, A Country at War, 1939–1945: The Mood of a Nation (Rivonia: Ashanti,
1992), 43–9.
64. SANMMH, 920 Duncan. The crucial importance of these parcels is vividly brought home by Harold Duncan in the
diary he kept as a prisoner of war in Italy.
65. P.S. Gibson, Durban’s Lady in White: An Autobiography QS$HGL¿FDPXV3UHVV ,:00LVF
letters to Captain E.A.S. Bailey, editor of the SAWAS 1939–47 Book of Thanks; see also NAP, Smuts Archive, 254/5,
General H.R. Alexander to Smuts, 21 September 1942.
66. NAP, Smuts Archive, 253/226, Smuts to M.C. and A.B. Gillett, 27 May 1941; 254/120, M. Frames, convenor, to
Prime Minister’s Secretary, 12 June 1942; Pretoria News, 21 April 1943, ‘SOE War Work’; 14 October 1944, “Pre-
toria Prepares for Navy Week’
67. Crwys-Williams, A Country at War, 129; Simpson, South Africa Fights, 240–2.
68. NAP, BLO, 417, PS 26/15, Return of children from South Africa. There were many more offers of accommodation
but the British government believed the voyage was too dangerous.
69. Roos, Ordinary Springboks, 13. This was also true of Canada, see Morton, Canada and War, 105.
70 JOHN LAMBERT

journals were committed to the war effort. Described by Joel Mervis of the Rand Daily Mail
as ‘instruments of battle’,70 they effectively encouraged pro-war sentiments amongst English-
speakers. John Martin, chairman of the Argus group of newspapers, insisted that his editors
promote imperial interests and the Argus, and indeed all English-language papers, played a
notable part, encouraging volunteering, maintaining morale, disseminating propaganda, raising
funds for the British and South African armed forces, and encouraging both imperialist and
South Africanist sentiments.71
Despite anti-war elements in the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC),72
radio complemented the role of the press. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news and
SURJUDPPHVZHUHUHOD\HGGDLO\E\WKH6$%&7KH(QJOLVKVDZWKH%%&DVDV\PERORIGH¿DQFH
and listened to it ‘like junkies’.73 Morale-boosting comedies such as Tommy Handley’s ‘ITMA’
(It’s That Man Again) were particularly popular while recordings of wartime songs by Vera Lynn,
Noel Coward and other singers became part of the repertoire of South African entertainers.74
‘There’ll Always be an England’, especially the line ‘the Empire too, we can depend on you’,
was sung with great gusto, particularly by school children and during volunteer drives, often
because it riled Nationalists.75
The British and Union governments also realised the use of cinema for propaganda and African
&RQVROLGDWHG)LOPVSURPRWHGDQRI¿FLDOYLHZRIWKHZDUDQGFHQVRUHGIRUHLJQRYHUVHDVQHZV
reels.766RXWK$IULFDQ¿OPVOLNHµ7KH\6HUYHWR6DYH¶DQG%ULWLVK¿OPVVXFKDV1RHO&RZDUG¶V
‘In which we Serve’ (1942) and Laurence Olivier’s ‘Henry V’ (1944) proved very effective
propaganda while the American Twentieth Century Fox and particularly Sidney Franklin’s
+ROO\ZRRG¿OPVOLNHµ0UV0LQLYHU¶  DQGµ7KH:KLWH&OLIIVRI'RYHU¶  SRUWUD\HGDQ
idealised image of a Britain in which middle-class values remained secure and which was worth
¿JKWLQJIRU77
-XVWL¿FDWLRQIRUWDNLQJXSDUPVZDVDOVRSURYLGHGE\(QJOLVKDQG-HZLVKUHOLJLRXVOHDGHUVZKR
supplied chaplains to the forces, preached support for the war in their churches and synagogues,
and played a prominent part in the annual commemorations of Delville Wood and Armistice Day,
ZKLFKYDOLGDWHG(QJOLVKVSHDNHUV¶ZDUH[SHULHQFHVDQGMXVWL¿HG¿JKWLQJIRUDµQREOHFDXVH¶78

70. J. Mervis, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper Story (Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 1989), 224.
71. See Lambert, ‘“The Thinking is Done in London”: South Africa’s English-Language Press and Imperialism’, in
C. Kaul, ed., Media and the British Empire (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 46–7. For a discussion on South
Africanism, see below, 75f.
72. The Forum, 13 January 1940, Editorial.
73. Crwys-Williams, A Country at War, 57.
74. M. Bryant, As We Were: South Africa, 1939–1941 (Johannesburg: Keartland, 1974), 53–4.
75. J. Kros, War in Italy: With the South Africans from Taranto to the Alps (Rivonia: Ashanti, 1992), xiii. Information
also received from Paddy Boshoff, Diana Macaulay, Dawn Lambert and Pat Dickson. See also The Forum, 24
August 1940 and Die Vaderland cartoon, 24 August 1940, 3.
 1DWLRQDO$UFKLYHV.HZ KHUHDIWHU 1$. 'RPLQLRQ2I¿FH KHUHDIWHU'2 -'%ROG8QLWHG.LQJGRP
+LJK&RPPLVVLRQHU¶V2I¿FH3UHWRULD1RWHVRQ¿OPSURSDJDQGD6HSWHPEHU
 7KHSRSXODULW\RI¿OPVLVPHQWLRQHGE\%U\DQWAs We Were, 95–8. Information also provided by Dawn Lambert
and Gladys Devine. See also The Forum, 11 January 1941, ‘The Cinema in Wartime’; 18 January 1941, ‘SA Army
Films’ and G. MacDonald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World (London: Penguin, 1988), 223–33.
78. See Pretoria News, 27 November 1939, ‘Bishop’s Reference to the War’; 27 May 1940, Day of Prayer in Pretoria’;
Cape Times6HSWHPEHUµ-HZLVK&DOOWR6HUYLFHDQG6DFUL¿FH¶7KH6SULQJERN2I¿FLDO2UJDQRIWKH6RXWK
African Legion of the British Empire Service League, August 1942, ‘Delville Wood’s Phantasmal call’, 7.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 71

Ex-servicemen organisations such as the British Empire Service League (from 1941 the South
African Legion of the BESL) and the MOTHS had been formed in the 1920s. The BESL began
preparing for war and registering ex-servicemen from 1938 while MOTHS who had fought in
±ZHUHDPRQJWKH¿UVWPHQWRYROXQWHHULQ6HSWHPEHU7KH\FRQWLQXHGWKHLUHIIRUWV
throughout the war and also offered assistance to soldiers and their families.79 The efforts of
these organisations were assisted by the Union’s ‘patriotic societies’ such as the Sons of England,
the various Caledonian societies and freemason lodges and Jewish associations, all of which
worked for the war effort and encouraged recruiting.80 These commemorations and the activities
of the societies and ex-servicemen’s organisations had kept the ideal of military service alive
between the wars. In doing so they had perpetuated an ethos of patriotism among their members
that tended to glorify their war experience and manipulated an image of military masculinity that
was used after 1939 to encourage enlistment.81
The anti-German riots in Johannesburg in September 1939 were an isolated incident and few
English South Africans were motivated by the virulent hatred of the ‘Hun’ so evident during
1914–18. Newspaper editors were generally restrained in their references to the Axis nations.82
The excessive patriotic zeal of World War I was also more muted. Although ‘For King and
Country’ and ‘Forever England’ gravestones in military cemeteries bear witness to the survival
of imperial sentiments they were also less common than during the previous war.83 This could
have been because of the development of South Africanism among English soldiers as discussed
EHORZEXWDOVRUHÀHFWVWKHGHFOLQHLQMLQJRLVWLFQDWLRQDOLVPWKURXJKRXWWKH%ULWLVKZRUOGDIWHU
1918. English South Africans seem to have been less comfortable talking about patriotism;
PDQ\ZRXOGKDYHLGHQWL¿HGZLWKWKHREVHUYDWLRQE\0RRJ5HLGQXUVLQJLQ(J\SWWKDWHQOLVWLQJ
resulted from something deeper and more personal than patriotism.84 This did not diminish the
sense of responsibility they felt to Britain and the Commonwealth, and above all to their own
country.
0DQ\(QJOLVKVROGLHUVSRVVLEO\PRVWEHOLHYHGWKDWWKH\ZHUH¿JKWLQJIRUDULJKWHRXVFDXVH
to free the world from oppression; to quote a young volunteer subaltern, ‘like those older Johnnies
ZKRZHQWRXWWR¿JKWDJDLQVWWKHIRUFHVRIHYLOIRUHYHU\WKLQJWKDWLVFOHDQDQGGHFHQW¶85 Or, as
B. Silburn (SAEC) wrote in the Lybian Desert on 25 May 1942:

79. Pretoria News, 5 August 1939, ‘Scotsmen and Afrikaners’; Pretoria News, 24 March 1939, ‘National Defence’;
17 May 1939, ‘Ex-servicemen’s Register’; C.A. Evenden, Old Soldiers Never Die: The Story of Moth 0 (Durban:
Robinson, 1952), 252. See also The Springbok, January 1940, 3; and April 1940, 5; and Cape Times, 8 May 1944,
‘Sixth Division Recruits’.
80. J. Lambert, ‘Preserving Britishness: English-speaking South Africa’s Patriotic, Cultural and Charitable Associa-
tions’, Unpublished paper, South African Historical Association Conference, July 2006, 22–3
 $%ULWLVKVROGLHULQ'XUEDQLQWKRXJKWWKH027+KHDGTXDUWHUVWKH2OG)RUWERWKJORUL¿HGDQGVHQWLPHQWDO-
ised war, see IWM, 79/2/1, G. McFarlane, Diary, March–April 1943, 31.
82. Few newspapers followed the example of the Natal Mercury’s editor who castigated the ‘gangster leaders of a
gangster people’, describing the latter as ‘lying, unscrupulous, treacherous and brutal’ (11 May 1940).
83. ‘Forever England’ is on the grave of C.S. Gooden in Thaba-Tshwane (Voortrekkerhoogte) New Military Cemetery
whi8le ‘for my King and Country’ is on that of P.J. Allen in El Alamein Commonwealth Cemetery.
84. A.R. Lloyd, Bridging the Divide: The Story of a Boer-British Family (Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball,
2002), 309.
85. NAP, Smuts Archive, 249/145, M.O. Thompson to Smuts, 5 November 1940. See also University of Cambridge
Library, Royal Commonwealth Society, RCMS 113/75, A. Wilkie to Lord Clarendon, 5 October 1940; The Forum,
9 September 1939, 1, Editorial; Nongqai;;;, 6HSWHPEHU µ7KH6SLULWRI6DFUL¿FH¶
72 JOHN LAMBERT

Inspir’d by those brave souls who gave their all


In mortal combat with a ruthless foe,
Who forward went to meet, when clarion call
To arms did sound, much chaos, pain and woe,
Privation, suffering, sorrow, hunger, thirst,
And tribulations that a man beset
When turmoil, loosen’d by a storm that burst,
Brings fear, depression, ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’,
We take up arms, resolv’d with steady breath,
7REDWWOHJRRXUDLPWRVPLWHDQG¿JKW
Until the evil that did cause the death
Of these has been destroy’d by armed might.86

Loyalty could be more personal, to family and friends, both in South Africa and in Britain. To
Quentin Smythe who won a Victoria Cross in North Africa in 1942: ‘I honestly believe this war
is fought for the things I think worth while. My farm for instance, and my right to run that farm
as I think best.’87 For young men, a desire for adventure or companionship or the succumbing
WRSHHUSUHVVXUHFDQQRWEHUXOHGRXWZKLOH-HZVLQSDUWLFXODUZHUH¿JKWLQJIRUVRPHWKLQJYHU\
personal, for an end to anti-Semitism and genocide.88 Decisions to volunteer were also shaped by
the wartime environment. To many, for example, as in the other Dominions,89 the events of mid
1940 which brought the reality of war home, and the imminence of an invasion of Britain, were
a turning point. The survival of Britain was now at stake. Her survival was seen as a vital South
African interest but also aroused an instinctive emotional reaction among many of those English-
VSHDNHUVZKRÀRFNHGWRHQOLVW*X\%XWOHUUHDOLVHGWKDWµ>R@QHPXVWMRLQXSQRZRUQHYHU¶0\
uncle, John Cook, volunteered at the same time for similar reasons.90
The country’s English-medium schools, particularly the elite private and government boys’
schools, provided a fertile recruiting ground. Many teachers volunteered for service while a
number of boys volunteered before matriculating or ran away to enlist. Among the latter was 14-
year old Reginald Aspeling whose age was only discovered in Kenya.91 Most, however, remained
at school and became involved in fund raising and other war activities until, often following
in the footsteps of fathers or brothers, they enlisted after matriculation and by their example,
encouraging younger boys to do the same when they matriculated.92

86. Pietermaritzburg College Magazine, 80 (December 1945), 10.


87. Crwys-Williams, A Country at War, 262.
88. For a personal account of a Jewish family’s war, see B. Solomon, Time Remembered: The Story of a Fight (Cape
Town: Timmins, 1968), 147–53.
89. See Jackson, The British Empire, 477.
90. G. Butler, Bursting World: An Autobiography (1936–45) (Cape Town: David Philip, 1983), 124. Information on
Cook’s decision to enlist was provided by Dawn Lambert. Serving in the Royal Natal Carbineers, he was killed
south-east of Tobruk in June 1942.
91. Pretoria News, 6 January 1941, ‘Youngest Soldier in Kenya’
92. For a discussion of the schools and the war, see in addition to the books mentioned in previous and later footnotes,
J. Illsley, Pretoria Boys High: The Story of a South African School, 1901–2001 (Pretoria: Pretoria Boys High
School, 2001); J.J. Redgrave, J. Huttle and A.M. Pollock, Neath the Tower: The Story of the Grey School, Port
Elizabeth, 1856–1956 (Cape Town: Timmins, nd); S.M. Moran, The First 100 Years, 1882–1982: Durban Girls’
Model School, Durban Girls’ High School (np: np, 1982); D.H. Thomson, Not For School But For Life: The Story
of St Cyprian’s (Cape Town: St Cyprian’s Union, 1971).
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 73

Most of the elite schools saw between 1 000 and 2 000 of their Old Boys serving up north
and, as mentioned above, over 50 per cent of the number of Old Boys could have been the
norm.93 School Rolls of Honour show that many more of their Old Boys died than during 1914–
18, while they also appear to have received a disproportionately high number of military awards.
As during World War I, Bishops’ Old Boys headed the list with 284 decorations while the four
Victoria Crosses awarded to South Africans during the war went to Old Boys of South African
College School (Jack Nettleton), Selborne College (G.R. Norton), Durban High School (Edwin
Swales) and Estcourt High School (Quentin Smythe).94
6FKRRO PDJD]LQHV UHÀHFWHG D PRUH VRPEUH DSSURDFK WR WKH ZDU WKDQ GXULQJ:RUOG:DU ,
but contributions from Old Boys, usually downplaying the violence and cruelty of war, also the
sheer boredom of much of it, encouraged volunteering. In addition, the games ethic, the reading
of the Roll of Honour, and the annual commemorations of earlier battles and wars, encouraged
a patriotic and militarist ethos. Of particular importance was the emphasis on cadet training
DQGWKHDI¿OLDWLRQRIFDGHWFRUSVWRUHJLPHQWVZKLFKSURYLGHGDIHUWLOHUHFUXLWLQJ¿HOGIRUWKH
regiments (The Transvaal Scottish included at least 1 000 Old Edwardians) and ensured that the
JUHDWPDMRULW\RI2OG%R\VEHFDPHRI¿FHUV RI2OG(GZDUGLDQVZKRGLHGRQO\ZHUH
privates).95
The high regard in which the UDF’s regiments were held by English South Africans also
encouraged volunteering for service in these regiments and they experienced little shortage of
recruits.96 As during World War I, there was great support for the Scottish Regiments. A new
regiment, the Pretoria Highlanders, was formed in September 1939 at the initiative of the
Transvaal Caledonian societies and in 1940 the whole band of the Pretoria Caledonian Society
enlisted to form a regimental pipe band.97
Whatever made men and women volunteer, the decision would seldom have been easy,
especially for breadwinners. For many it meant disruption to families, careers and studies. The
enlisting of large numbers of men from English farming communities often left women and
old men to run the farms or saw boys having to leave school to help out.98 In the Graaff-Reinet
district where English farmers enlisted almost to a man, older men drove from farm to farm

93. See discussion above. For Old Girls who volunteered see Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School Magazine, XI (No-
vember 1941), 5; St Mary’s DSG Magazine, 43 (1941), Old Girls’ news, 38, 44; (1942), Old Girls’ news, 49–50.
94. Selborne College, The Ceremony of the Key (np: np, 2002); J. Gardener, Bishops 150: A History of the Diocesan
College, Rondebosch (Cape Town: Juta, 1997), 235; Hawthorne and Bristow, Historic Schools of South Africa, 26,
81, 109, 118, 129, 130, 140, 159, 162; H.D. Jennings, The DHS Story, 1866–1966 (Durban: DHS and Old Boys’
Memorial Trust, 1966), 240–5; Nuttall, Lift Up Your Hearts: The Story of Hilton College, 1872–1972 (Pietermaritz-
burg: Hilton Society, 1971), 265–6; R.O. Pearse, Sable and Murrey: The Story of Estcourt High School (Pieterma-
ritzburg: Natal Witness, 1946), 141–5. South Africans received 7 114 decorations (DFDC, Diverse GP1, 59, AG(7)
Trad, 11, 5. For a list of decorations and awards they received, see Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 347. See
also I.S. Uys, For Valour: The History of South Africa’s Victoria Cross Heroes (Johannesburg: np, 1973).
95. Cartwright, Strenue, 116, 176–7. See also Gardener, Bishops 150, 199; Nuttall, Lift Up Your Hearts, 76; Pearse,
Sable and Murrey, 94.
96. Pretoria News, 2 December 1939, Editorial.
97. See www.regiments.org/regiments/southafrica/volmil/inf/PretorHd.htm; also J. Hyslop, ‘Cape Town Highlanders,
Transvaal Scottish: Military “Scottishness” and Social Power in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century South Africa’,
Unpublished paper, British World Conference, University of Cape Town, January 2002, 17.
98. S. Haw, For Hearth and Home: The Story of Maritzburg College, 1863–1988 (Pietermaritzburg: MC Publications,
1988), 292.
74 JOHN LAMBERT

supervising while in Natal, vigilance committees were established to look after the farms and
a Farmer Soldiers Relief Fund was established so that farms could be managed with volunteer
helpers.99
World War II was, for English servicemen, very much a Commonwealth war. Their experience
in the ‘pan-Commonwealth’ Eighth Army with its British, dominion and colonial regiments
brought them into daily contact with troops from all over the Commonwealth, strengthening ties
with fellow English-speaking soldiers and reinforcing their view that the Union remained part of
the wider British world.100 The Natal historian, Paul Thompson, suggests that English-speaking
Natal never felt the imperial connection so strongly as during the war101 and this would have
been true for English-speakers throughout the Union. As was the case in the other dominions,102
the war generated an interest in, and enthusiasm for the Commonwealth with at least one
South African serviceman having ‘For the Commonwealth’ inscribed on his gravestone.103 The
liberal South Africanist journal, The Forum referred to the ‘precious links of Empire’ binding
&RPPRQZHDOWK VROGLHUV DQG WKH ZDU UHLQIRUFHG H[LVWLQJ DI¿OLDWLRQV EHWZHHQ 6RXWK $IULFDQ
British and Commonwealth regiments.104
$OWKRXJKFULWLFLVPRI%ULWLVKRI¿FHUVDQGPLOLWDU\VWUDWHJ\ZDVZLGHVSUHDGEHIRUHWKHEDWWOH
of Alamein in October 1942,105 South African servicemen grew to respect and even admire
the British army once the tide of battle turned in North Africa.106 Admiration for RAF pilots,
particularly during the Battle of Britain, amounted to hero worship.107 Even the naval disasters
in the Far East and the increase in the number of U-boat attacks on merchant shipping in South
African waters from 1942108 did not diminish respect for the RN, most English continuing to
accept that their continuing security and way of life was due to the navy. To Leonard Flemming
in 1944:
We on this continent have security;
Splendid our space within our guarded shore;
An Army shield up North; prosperity;

99. Information on Graaff-Reinet provided by Chippy Biggs. See also NAP, Smuts Archive, 247/2, H. Abrahamson to
Smuts, 20 June 1940.
100. Three-quarters of the troops were from the dominions and colonies, see Jackson, The British Empire, 2. In addition
to Jackson’s masterly study on the Empire during the war, see C. Somerville, Our War: How the British Com-
monwealth Fought the War (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1998). For South African views that the war was a
Commonwealth war and for relations between South Africans and other Commonwealth troops, see Wings: the Air
Force Magazine, 1, 1 (October 1941), ‘Our Airmen in the Desert’, 19; Cape Times, 18 September 1941, ‘Spring-
boks Pal Up with the Aussies’, 25 May 1944, ‘Comrades in Arms Praise Springboks’.
101. P. Thompson, The British Civic Culture of Natal, South Africa, 1902–1961 (Howick: Brevitas, 1999), 64.
102. McKenzie, 5HGH¿QLQJWKH%RQGVRI&RPPRQZHDOWK, 27.
103. See the grave of Laurie Roy Meintjes in Thaba-Tshwane (Voortrekkerhoogte) New Military Cemetery.
104. The Forum, 17 August 1949, 10–11, ‘The Empire Rallies’. See Cape Times, 24 May 1944, Editorial; Pretoria News,
20 November 1944, ‘Guards Honour Pretoria Regiment’.)RUWKHDI¿OLDWLRQRI8')%ULWLVKDQG&RPPRQZHDOWK
UHJLPHQWVVHH1$3*RYHUQRU*HQHUDO±DI¿OLDWLRQVRIUHJLPHQWVDQG5R\DO&RPPDQGHUVLQ&KLHI
105. Hancock, Smuts: The Fields of Force, 374; M. Coghlan, Pro Patria: Another 50 Natal Carbineer Years, 1945–1995
(Pietermaritzburg: The Natal Carbineers’ Trust, 2000), 38; SANMMH, 920 J.F.G. Hawtayne, Diary, 15 and 19 June,
13 September 1942.
106. See SANMMH, 920 J.F.G. Hawtayne, Diary, 5 November 1942.
107. See NAP, BLO 76, 116/99, Verses written by a wounded South African sailor in a Durban hospital.
108. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 192–211,255–65.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 75

Sweet air, untainted with the stench of war.


We have our daily bread; petrol in cars;
Freedom – and being free – freedom from fear;
Thus, nights of blessed peace ‘neath peaceful stars
All this – and more – because “THE NAVY’S HERE’.109

The generosity with which the English raised funds for Britain and provided for British troops
in the Union indicates their admiration for the British and particularly for the way in which they
ERUHWKHEUXQWRIWKHDLUUDLGVņµZHDOOWKRXJKW%ULWDLQZDVPDUYHOORXVWKHZD\WKDWFRXQWU\
stood alone for so long’110UHÀHFWVDFRPPRQVHQWLPHQW7KH5R\DO)DPLO\DQGWKHOHDGHUVKLS
offered by Churchill were important rallying points while there was a widespread feeling that
South Africans owed Britain a debt of gratitude, summed up in 1947 by ‘N.A.C.’ who had fought
in the RAF and whose wife had taken in two British evacuee children: ‘How much I admire the
British people ... how very much I feel in Britain’s debt. A debt we all owe, and which we never
will be able to repay’.111
These sentiments were not diminished by the British collapse in the Far East and despite an
LQÀRZRIUHIXJHHVDQGZRXQGHGWURRSVIHZ(QJOLVKVSHDNHUVVHHPWRKDYHUHDOLVHGWKDWLWZDVD
µGH¿QLWLYHHSLVRGHDPRPHQWZKHQWKH\ZHUHIRUFHGWRFRQWHPSODWHDIXWXUHRXWVLGHWKHLPSHULDO
IDPLO\DIXWXUHLQZKLFKWKH\ZRXOGKDYHWR¿QGIRUWKHPVHOYHVDQDWLRQDOLGHQWLW\DQGVHFXULW\
that Britain could no longer guarantee’.112 Despite the entry of the United States and the Soviet
Union into the war, most English-speakers shared an exaggerated view of Britain’s continuing
importance. Newspapers continued giving prominence to British victories and their readers could
be excused for believing that Britain remained powerful. The Natal Mercury devoted a half-page
editorial on Victory Europe Day to ‘Britain’s triumph’ without mentioning the United States or
the Soviet Union!113 Many young English South Africans grew up after 1945 believing that the
war had been ‘single-handedly won by an heroic and altruistic Britain’.114
To Afrikaner Nationalists, this admiration for Britain and these strong British sentiments were
evidence of disloyalty to South Africa. To the English the opposite was true. Long’s assertion
during the neutrality debate that the English love for Britain did not transcend but was part of
their love for their own country is indicative of the changes taking place in English-speaking
South African society; the gradual acceptance of a South Africanism I prefer to call Dominion
South Africanism, based on the acceptance by all white South Africans of a common sense
of white ethnicity overriding the differences between English-speakers and Afrikaners in the
Union and of a loyalty to South Africa within a wider loyalty to the Crown and commitment to

109. L. Flemming, A Fool on the Veld, 6th edition (Bloemfontein: A.C. White, 1944), 146. See G. Shaw, The Cape Times:
An Informal History (Cape Town: David Philip, 1999), 130.
110. Observation received from J. Claassen. See also Pretoria News, 27 May 1942, ‘This England’; Cape Times, 9 May
1945, Editorial; The Forum, 9 May 1942, 1, ‘Salute to the English’.
111. Pretoria News, 5 April 1947.
112. Somerville, Our War, 112, 316.
113. Natal Mercury, 8 May 1945, Editorial.
114. Observation received from Judith Tayler. See also Pretoria News, editorials and columns throughout 1944 and
1945.
76 JOHN LAMBERT

the Commonwealth.115 During the war, Edgar Brookes saw the upholding of British traditions
and ideals as an integral part of this South Africanist sentiment and as indispensable to South
Africanism ‘in its truest sense’.116
Despite this growing acceptance of South Africanism, the anti-nationalist sentiment stimulated
among English-speakers by Nationalist opposition to the war, and the activities of the Ossewa
Brandwag, often spilled over into a rejection of Afrikaners generally. Calpin’s observation that
English-speakers saw Afrikaners as Nazis has been mentioned. T.J. Haarhoff of the University
of the Witwatersrand and a director of The Forum, attacked this attitude as part of English-
speakers’
old-fashioned contempt for all that is South African … [and] an utter lack of interest in understanding the
sentiment and tradition of the Afrikaner … It implies a total disregard for the 60 percent Afrikaners who
PDNHXSRXU¿JKWLQJIRUFHV«,WLPSOLHVLQJUDWLWXGHWRWKRVH$IULNDQHUVZKRIROORZHGWKHH[WUHPHO\WKRUQ\
path of supporting the war – not because of facile sentiment but because they realised the principle at stake.
These Afrikaners saved English-speaking South Africa during the war.117

Yet the attitude of English-speakers was more complex than Haarhoff suggests. Most were
aware of their dependence on moderate Afrikaners for the successful prosecution of the war.
The jingoes were becoming a diminishing minority, even in the last outpost, Natal.118 As Guy
Butler, who served in Italy, wrote: ‘[we] were post-imperial English-speakers … with a fair
residue of British sentiment in us; but we rejected Jingoism … We had our own dreams for
our country’.119 While most English-language newspaper editors encouraged South Africanism,
Jack Cope of The Forum went further than most of his compatriots. He was a staunch supporter
RI WKH &RPPRQZHDOWK FRQQHFWLRQ EXW LQ  ¿YH \HDUV EHIRUH UHSXEOLFDQ PHPEHUVKLS ZDV
accepted by the Commonwealth premiers, he advocated a ‘compromise republic’ within the
Commonwealth as a way of ending the deadlock between English and Afrikaner.120
The acceptance of South Africanism was particularly evident among English and Afrikaner
soldiers up north and can be seen as building on a South Africanist sentiment in the UDF that
had its origins during World War I when the defence of Delville Wood by the South African
Brigade on the Western Front had been heralded as the birth of a united white South African
nation.121 Battles like Sidi Rezegh in November 1941 were seen as part of the Delville Wood

115. Lambert, ‘An Identity Threatened’; Rand Daily Mail, 19 June 1940, ‘Awake South Africa’. South Africanism has
received attention from, among others, Saul Dubow and Michael Cardo, for details, see bibliography. See particu-
larly S. Dubow, ‘Colonial Nationalism, the Milner Kindergarten and the Rise of “South Africanism”, 1902–10’,
History Workshop Journal, 43 (1997), 53–85; and Michael Cardo, ‘“Fighting a Worse Imperialism”: White South
African Loyalism and the Army Education Services (AES) during the Second World War’, South African Historical
Journal, 46 (May 2002), 14–74.
116. See Cape Times, 8 May 1941, Editorial. See also The Forum, 25 November 1944, Letter, 34. ‘As long as South
Africa remains a Dominion of the British Crown, I shall be proud of being a South African.’
117. NAP, Smuts Archive, 262/178, T.J. Haarhoff to Smuts, 26 August 1944.
118. NAP, Smuts Archive, 254/109, M. Ellis, Editor, The Natal Mercury to Smuts, 5 June 1942; D.R. Fuchs, Durban
During the Second World War, c.1939–1945: A Study of War and Social Change (MA dissertation, University of
Natal, 1990), 172.
119. Butler, Bursting World, 131.
120. The Forum, 1 January 1944, ‘Plan to End Racialism’, 15; 25 March 1944, ‘Our Place in the Commonwealth’, 1.
121. Lambert, ‘Britishness, South Africanness and the First World War’, 299.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 77

tradition.122 Despite defeats, hardships and disillusionment in North Africa and Italy, or perhaps
because of them, a spirit of cameraderie grew up between English-speakers and Afrikaners who
wore the Orange Flash. To the soldiers, wearing the Flash expressed their allegiance to South
Africa, uniting, as Smuts put it, ‘men of both races in the true South African spirit’, a spirit he
called the ‘Brotherhood of the Springbok’.123 The Australian, Phil Roden, found that their war
experience had made him and his mates ‘Australians fast; whether you liked it or not’.124 Many
South Africans would have empathised. English and Afrikaner soldiers drew together with the
former often discovering that, despite the close ties they developed with other Commonwealth
soldiers, they often had more in common with Afrikaners than with their Commonwealth kith
and kin.1255HVSHFWIRUWKH&RPPDQGLQJ2I¿FHURIWKHst South African Division, Major-General
Dan Pienaar, did much to encourage this.126
Serving up north also stimulated a nostalgia for South Africa which was given expression in
a number of poems including J. Freeman’s ‘Lines from the Lybian Desert’ which begins:
You cannot know, who do not know my land,
How much I love it, nor how much I feel
Its distance now. Nor understand why there
Lie all my dreams and more than half my heart.

How can you know, who do not love my land,


How much I love it, or what happiness
I once knew there? Or understand what peace
Its tranquil beauty brought my searching mind?127

This nostalgia seems to have been particularly pronounced amongst servicemen in non-South
African units. Bob Gaunt, the only South African on his Royal Naval warship, felt very isolated
and was sure this feeling was felt by many Commonwealth soldiers in similar positions.128
In 1941, Sir Patrick Duncan wrote to the King that he believed that the spirit of comradeship
among English and Afrikaner soldiers might ‘go far when peace returns to obliterate, or at any
rate alleviate, the political animosities which prevail among us here today’.129 In his 1939 speech
rejecting neutrality, Long had referred to the creation of a ‘real South Africanism … [that] looks
forward to the future of our country, and the future welfare of our country.’130 It was generally
agreed that the strengthening of South Africanist sentiments up north had to be transplanted

122. Sunday Times, 30 November 1941, ‘The Delville Tradition’.


123. Evenden, Old Soldiers Never Die, 253; The Forum, 11 October 1941, L. Africus, ‘Are there no South Africans?, 10;
-XO\µ5DFLDOLVP5HWUHDWVEHIRUHWKH6SULQJERNV¶-XQHµ%DWWOH¿HOG/HVVRQVIRU8QLRQ&LYLOLDQV¶
25.
124. Somerville, Our War, 165.
125. NAP, Smuts Archive, 249/124, Lt-Colonel Molyneux to Smuts, 16 April 1940; The Forum, 11 April 1942, ‘The Red
Flash Symbol of Samewerking’, 5.
126. Crwys-Williams, A Country at War, 262. See also Klein, ed, Springbok Record, 81–2; J.A. Brown, Retreat to Vic-
tory: A Springbok’s Diary in North Africa, Gazala to El Alamein, 1942 (Johannesburg: Ashanti, 1991), 178.
127. Durban High School Magazine, October 1942, 5–6.
128. Somerville, Our War, 152.
129. RA, PS GVI/C 051/067, Duncan to King George VI, 18 July 1941.
130. Hansard, 36, 3rd Session, 8th Parliament, 1939, Long, 43.
78 JOHN LAMBERT

back to the Union131 and to prepare the soldiers for doing this once the war was over, the UDF
introduced an Army Education Scheme. Lecturers and graduates from the country’s English
universities were prominent in the scheme which was intended to promote co-operation between
English and Afrikaner servicemen, to enable them to think for themselves, to understand why
WKH8QLRQDQG&RPPRQZHDOWKZHUH¿JKWLQJDQGWRHTXLSWKHPWREXLOGDGHPRFUDF\EDVHGRQ
South Africanist principles.132
Roos and Michael Cardo have examined the way in which the Army Education Scheme
and military service generally affected soldiers’ attitudes. Many of the scheme’s information
RI¿FHUVZHUHOLEHUDOVZLWKOLWWOHFRQ¿GHQFHLQWKHJRYHUQPHQW133 and they taught many soldiers
to begin to view South Africa in a new light. In 1941, some, including Sgt Vic Clapham of
the Cape Town Highlanders, founded the Springbok Legion which rapidly grew to 60 000
English and Afrikaner members.134 Whereas the South African Legion and the MOTHS were
non-political organisations,135 the Springbok Legion included mainly English-speaking liberals
and communists in its leadership and adopted a leftist political stance, calling for what were, at
the time, radical reforms, including conscription, and an end to inequalities of pay and living
conditions in the army.
6LJQL¿FDQWO\WKH\ZHUHDOVRDZDUHWKDWWKH8')GLGQRWFRQVLVWRQO\RIZKLWHYROXQWHHUV
Of the 334 314 fulltime enlistments during the war, 123 121 were black volunteers, comprising
77 239 in the Native Military Corps, 45 015 in the Cape Coloured Corps and 877 in the South
African Naval Force.136 These served as non-combatants and their conditions of service were
far inferior to those of white servicemen, causing widespread dissatisfaction.137 The Springbok
Legion took up their cause and its demands for reforms included the arming of black soldiers
and a non-differentiation between black and white volunteers.138 The latter demands pointing
to a liberal and democratic non-racial South Africanism which few whites, either English or
Afrikaner, were prepared to contemplate.
Not all soldiers were impressed with Smuts139 and the Springbok Legion represented popular
discontent with him and the government. It was an important vehicle for the articulation of
volunteers’ grievances, among which was a belief that South Africans at home were having a
very comfortable war and did not appreciate what the troops were experiencing.140 There was

131. The Forum, 30 December 1944, ‘South Africa in the Future’, 3–4.
132. Roos, Ordinary Springboks, 45–63; Cardo, ‘Fighting a Worse Imperialism’, 141–74; Murray, Wits at War, 4, 8,
21–2. Other Commonwealth countries had similar programmes, see P. Mandler, The English National Character:
The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006),
194; and V. Massey, On Being Canadian (London and Toronto: Dent, 1948), 6–7.
133. See Butler, Bursting World, 176.
134. NAP, Smuts Archive, 153/83, Memorandum on the Springbok Legion.
135. The Springbok, 26, 10 October 1943, 1–2.
136. Union of South Africa, 2I¿FLDO<HDU%RRN, no. 23, 1946, chapter XXIX, 20.
137. For Frank Sexwale’s account of the way in which Africans were treated, see Somerville, Our War. See also Martin
and Orpen, South Africa at War.
138. Roos, Ordinary Springboks, 49, 72–8; The Forum, 2 May 1942, ‘Liberalism Treks North’, 1; 7 November 1942,
‘The New Liberalism’, 1.
139. Brown, Retreat to Victory, 115–6.
140. Royal Institute of International Affairs, London (hereafter RIIA), 8/960, E.H. Keeling, ‘The Present Situation in
South Africa’, 21 July 1943, 1; The Pretorian: The Magazine of the Boys’ High School, January 1945, Letter from
L/Bbr John Veitch, 39; IWM, 79/2/1, G McFarlane, Diary, March–April 1943, 24; Pretoria News, 14 April 1944,
‘Complacency in the Union’.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 79

only some truth in this belief. Families with men, often breadwinners, at the front were only too
aware of what was happening. The two great South African disasters of the war, Sidi Rezegh in
November 1941 and Tobruk in June 1942 resulted in many deaths and almost 15 000 men taken
prisoner of war.141 As the MP, H. Abrahamson wrote to Smuts from Greytown , ‘nearly every
home has a husband or sons or other relatives either killed, wounded or missing in the disaster
DW7REUXN WKH¿JKWLQJLQWKH/\ELDQGHVHUW¶142 These disasters were, however, followed by
victory at El Alamein in October 1942 and, as the tide began turning, so the war temperature
dropped and English South Africans at home began relaxing their efforts. By mid 1943 the
Mediterranean was open to allied shipping again and the number of troop ships visiting the
Union’s ports diminished, reducing the need for hospitality and comforts.143
After Alamein it was decided that the 1st Division should return to the Union and be replaced
by the 6th Armoured Division to be trained and equipped in Egypt. To enable it to serve outside
Africa, parliament, in January 1943, approved a General Service Oath for service in any theatre
RIFRQÀLFW144 Bringing the 1st Division home proved disastrous to army morale.
While the Eighth Army was driving the Germans from North Africa, the UDF’s contribution
was reduced to the Air Force, Engineer Corps and Signalling Corps. Determined not to let their
&RPPRQZHDOWKDOOLHVGRZQPDQ\RI¿FHUVIURPWKHst Division volunteered for secondment to
British regiments.145 Smuts then made the even more disastrous mistake of breaking up the 1st
Division and calling for volunteers for the 6th Division. In the process, regiments including the
7UDQVYDDO6FRWWLVKDQGWKH'XNHRI(GLQEXUJK¶V2ZQ5LÀHVWKDWKDGEHHQWKH¿UVWWRPRYHQRUWK
in 1940 were combined and the Tanks Corps that had distinguished itself in North Africa, was
dissolved. The troop spirit and camaraderie built up during the previous years were dissipated and
General Pienaar’s untimely death in an aeroplane crash in early 1943, removed the one general
that all soldiers looked up to and were prepared to follow.146 Many returned soldiers, particularly
in the above-mentioned regiments which had never had a problem attracting recruits,147 were
bitter at their treatment, refused to take the new oath and often discouraged potential recruits.
In addition, by 1943, as the danger of an Axis victory retreated, the sense of urgency that had
inspired men to volunteer declined. Men who had served up north wanted to pick up their lives
DQGLWZDVGLI¿FXOWWR¿QGUHSODFHPHQWV148 Smuts had intended to send two armoured divisions
WR,WDO\EXWRQO\VXI¿FLHQWPHQDWWHVWHGWKHQHZRDWKIRURQHGLYLVLRQ149 The fact that the 6th
Division only saw action from April 1944 when it landed at Taranto in Italy also saw troop
morale plummet during training in Egypt.150

141. NAP, BLO 451, PS 26/29, South African publicity, 20 July 1942; Mervis, South Africa in World War II, 49 –58,
97.
142. NAP, Smuts Archive, 254/1, H. Abrahamson MP to Smuts, 18 July 1942. See also Natal Mercury, 27 June 1942,
‘This is Our Test’.
143. Hancock, Smuts: The Fields of Force, 412; RIIA, 8/960, Keeling, ‘The Present Situation’, 21 July 1943, 1; NAK,
DO, 121, 107, Harlech to Attlee, personal and secret, 6 March 1943.
144. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 223.
145. Klein, Springbok Record, 258, 232.
146. SANMMH, 920 J.F.G. Hawtayne, Diary, 3 October 1943; NAP, Smuts Archive, 262/2, F. Adler to Smuts, 18 April
1944, 7; McKenzie, The Dukes, 210; Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 226–8.
147. McKenzie, The Dukes, 66.
148. Kros, War in Italy, xiii.
149. Martin and Orpen, South Africa at War, 225–33; McKenzie, The Dukes, 210–211.
150. SANMMH, 920, J.F.G. Hawtayne, 3 October 1943.
80 JOHN LAMBERT

Conclusion
7KLVDUWLFOHLVFDOOHGµ7KHLU¿QHVWKRXU"¶,VWKLVDQDSWGHVFULSWLRQRI(QJOLVKVSHDNLQJ6RXWK
Africa’s response to the war? The literature read for this article and the information received from
people alive during the war, reveal an immense sense of pride in South Africa’s achievements
and a nostalgia for the war years, for a land and a way of looking at the world irrevocably
changed by the National Party victory of 1948. Implicit in this nostalgia is a belief that the war
ZDV(QJOLVK6RXWK$IULFD¶V¿QHVWKRXU
In many ways it was. Despite concerns about the number of men who did not volunteer,
particularly after 1942, many English South Africans, particularly young men, served in South
African, British and Commonwealth forces often, as seen, to the detriment of their careers and at
the expense of their families. The English played their part in the remarkable growth of industrial
production, gave considerable support to the ‘home guard’ and to organisations such as SAWAS
and were in the forefront of providing funds and comforts for the war effort. As many as 49
241 allied ships passed through South African ports and the predominantly English inhabitants
of those ports looked after over a million troops and military patients and provided hospitality
to refugees, acts that were remembered long after the war.151 They had taken great pride in the
Union’s fellowship with the other Dominions and felt that South Africa could hold its head up
KLJKWKDWLWZDVLQGHHGWKHLU¿QHVWKRXU152
But only too often they had squandered the opportunities offered by the war. A general election
had been held in 1943 which saw the governing coalition increase its seats to 105 while the
opposition’s number dropped to 43.153 This election victory gave the government an opportunity
to consolidate South Africanism and the English the opportunity both of consolidating their
position in the government and of strengthening their alliance with moderate Afrikaners. They
threw these opportunities away. Almost immediately, tensions began appearing in the government,
a situation that was not helped by Smuts spending more time in Britain concentrating on the
post-war settlements.154 Had Smuts had an able cabinet this would not have mattered but with
the prime minister out of the country it soon became apparent that the other ministers were
incapable of pulling together. The government’s only unifying factor was the war and ministers
were unable to agree on other policies, driving Smuts’s permanent secretary, Charles Forsyth, to
label the cabinet the ‘weakest and most discredited government South Africa has ever had’.155
Under agreements with the UP, the Labour and Dominion Parties were able to maintain
their position in the new parliament with nine and seven MPs respectively. Their support
among the electorate had plummeted however, and in both parties feelings against Smuts were
surfacing.156 The Dominion Party’s reactionary racial policies and ultra-British jingoism were an

151. E.A.S. Bailey, SAWAS, 1939–1947: Book of Thanks, 1980 (np: np, 1980).
152. See Diamond Fields Advertiser, 8 May 1945, ‘Victory Review: Springbok Grand Record’; Rand Daily Mail, 9 May
1945, ‘South Africa’s Part’.
153. Hancock, Smuts: The Fields of Force, 383. The three Native representatives and two independents could also be
counted on to support the government
154. Ibid., 422f.
155. NAK, DO, 121, 107, Harlech to Cranborne, secret and personal, 10 November 1943. See also British Library,
(PU\V(YDQV3DSHUV+DUOHFKWR(YDQVFRQ¿GHQWLDO-DQXDU\+DQFRFNSmuts: The Fields of Force,
422.
156. The Forum, 9 January 1943, ‘The Labour Party Conference’, 4; 5 August 1944, ‘Political Sun over Natal’, 15.
‘THEIR FINEST HOUR?’ 81

embarrassment to the government. Harlech described the latter as a ‘most regrettable, reactionary
and tiresome group which spends so much of its time misrepresenting English opinion’157 and
their presence in the government continued to repel Afrikaners.
In 1940 the editor of the Pretoria News had written that it was ‘unthinkable that South Africa
should go on after the war as it has up to now’.158 To returning soldiers, however, it was soon
obvious that little had changed for the better during the war and that, despite the efforts they
had put into the war, life remained easy and comfortable for most English-speakers and they
remained complacent about the future.159 They seemed incapable of visualising a changing South
$IULFDRUWKHLUSODFHLQLWDQGZHUHQRWSUHSDUHGWRPDNHWKHVDFUL¿FHVQHHGHGWREULQJDERXW
change, particularly if these involved entering public life.160 Their attitude to politics remained
dangerously detached; even their MPs were prepared to leave political leadership to moderate
Afrikaners. The young politicians in the cabinet, Harry Lawrence and Sidney Waterson, proved
themselves political lightweights incapable of becoming future prime ministers.161
In addition, the efforts of moderate Afrikaners and journals like The Forum to foster
understanding and co-operation between the two language groups had little success. The
coming together of English and Afrikaners up north was in many ways an aberration and a strict
segregation between the two groups at home remained the norm. The English press failed to
counter the nationalist ideological propaganda of Afrikaans newspapers or to promote South
Africanism among more than a minority of Afrikaners.162 It also did little to discourage the
English tendency to equate nationalism and Afrikanerdom. This, and the determination of
the Nationalists to condemn the war and blame the English for the Union’s participation in it,
militated against the success of South Africanism.
Equally serious, although many middle-class English believed that the soldiers up north
would play a role in reshaping South Africa on their return,163 neither the government nor English
organisations like the BESL and the MOTHS were prepared to accommodate their demands for
change. This ensured that many returned soldiers believed that both the UP and English South
Africa generally were insensitive to their needs.164 Most of all, few acknowledged the role played
by black non-combatants in the war and they were not prepared to accept that the new radicalism
UHÀHFWHGLQWKH6SULQJERN/HJLRQFRXOGEHXVHGWRHVWDEOLVKDWUXO\6RXWK$IULFDQLVWLGHQWLW\
which could embrace all races in the Union.

References
Bailey, E.A.S., SAWAS, 1939–1947: Book of Thanks, 1980 (np: np, 1980).
Barrett, A.M., Michaelhouse, 1896–1968 (Pietermaritzburg: Michaelhouse Old Boys’ Club, 1969).
Blackwell, L., Farewell to Parliament: More Reminiscences of Bench, Bar, Parliament and Travel
(Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1946).

157. NAP, Smuts Archive, 259/7, Harlech to Smuts, 11 January 1943.


158. Pretoria News, 8 August 1940, Editorial.
159. The Forum, 10 April 1943, ‘The Returned Soldier Looks at the Home Front’, 7.
160. NAK, DO 35, 588/1, Clark, Race Relations and Political Trends in the Union of South Africa, 1935–1940.
161. NAK, DO, 35, 1682, Extract from letter, C in C, South Atlantic, 21 April 1944.
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