South African Military History 


Newsletter No 84 August/Nuusbrief Nr 84 September 2011

With 9 August being National Womens' Day, SAMHSEC's 8 August 2011 meeting opened with recognition of the contribution to the branch made by the 20% of its members who are ladies. A gratifying 36% of the participants in the August 2011 field trip were ladies. We look forward to increases in lady participation in branch actvities from 8% of speakers during 2011 and 0% on the committee.

The series on family member's military service was by Barbara Kinghorn on her father, Thomas Ramsay Vanston, who was a SAAF pilot his entire working life. Tommy Vanston loved flying and being a pilot defined his identity. Born in Dundalk, Ireland, in 1919, he came to South Africa at the age of three. He was educated at Graeme College in Grahamstown and matriculated in Vereeniging. When war was declared in 1939, my father made several unsuccessful attempts to enlist, with the MPs bringing him home each time because, as a trainee metallurgical chemist, he was a "key man". Eventually, because he was still not legally of age, his mother gave permission for him to sign up. His flying log books document his varied flying career: ab initio flying training on Tiger Moths and, during the war, conversions to Marauders and Mosquitos. As a member of 60 Squadron SAAF in Italy, he flew Mosquitos on reconnaissance operations over Europe in 1944. My father joined the SAAF permanent force at the end of the war. He participated in the Berlin Airlift in 1948 as a navigator on Dakotas. He was very disappointed at not being chosen to go to Korea in the early fifties. He was a member of the SA Contingent at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. A few years later, he flew Meteors on a night-fighter course in England. As a fighter pilot in 2 Squadron, "The Flying Cheetahs", he relished flying Vampires and Sabre jets in the late fifties. At the same time, for fun, he gave flying instruction for the SAAF Flying Club at AFB Swartkops on Tiger Moths, Piper Cubs and Piper Tri-pacers. In 1961, he was appointed OC 6 Squadron in Port Elizabeth, training Citizen Force pilots on Harvards. In the mid-sixties, he became a transport pilot in 28 Squadron, flying Hercules C130s. My father used to marvel at how, in the space of 30 years, his career had encompassed the history of aviation itself: from biplanes to supersonic jets and big transport planes. He pined for his flying life, even at the pinnacle of his career as OC AFB Swartkops and died at the age of sixty years and six months.

Ian Copley's curtain raiser was on his service on the Oceanos. The ship was an old lady when the first doctor, Ian, joined her in Piraeus in 1978 after her refurbishment, having been purchased as the Jean Laborde and several previous names and owners. She was built in Bordeaux in 1952 as a passenger merchant ship. The refurbishment did not include the hospital, which was in a bad state and required cleaning out and remodelling. The talk mentioned Ian's itinerary aboard all the different sized ships of the line round the Cyclades with extensions to historic sites in Turkey, Egypt and Israel. The longest passage was to Durban via the Suez Canal, encountering Cyclone Angela in the Moçambique Channel, when the captain admitted that he had "no more instruments than Christopher Columbus." In 1979 Ian encountered the last captain of the Oceanos, Jiannis Avranas, as officer of the watch on the Jason when the ship missed the opening to Santorini crater and hit the cliffs. Subsequently Ian was on the Neptune going to Istanbul when Avranas was captain. Amusing characters amongst officers and passengers added to the experience of life on board. The talk ended with a brief account of the sequence of events of the sinking and an analysis, from Ian Uys' book, of the rescue statistics, Ian's hospital was just about the last part of the ship to disappear beneath the waves. The Oceanos must be the only ship to have been sunk via the toilets!

The main lecture by Tiaan Jacobs was on the Pour Le Mérite Order which, despite the French name (French was the court language at the time of the order's inception), was the highest military honour of Prussia until the end of WW1. The basic design is a blue-enameled Maltese Cross with eagles with upswept wings between the cross arms based on the symbol of the Johanniter Order, the Prussian Royal Cypher, and the legend Pour le Mérite arranged on the arms of the cross. The order dates from 1667 with the founding of the l'Ordre de la Generosite by Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, as a military and civil order in recognition of outstanding service. In 1740 King Friedrich II converted the l'Ordre de la Generosite into the Pour le Mérite. In 1810 King Friedrich-Wilhelm III changed the Pour le Mérite into an exclusively military award. In 1813 gold oak leaves were added to recognize exceptional achievements by high-ranking officers. The original regulations called for the capture or successful defence of a fortification or victory in battle. In 1866 a Knights of The Order class was established for those who caused the retreat or destruction of an army. During WW1, the Pour le Mérite was awarded on all fronts and in all forms of warfare. On 12 January 1916 Max Immelmann was the first pilot to receive the award. After that it became unofficially known as the Blue Max. Notable recipients of the Pour le Mérite include Field Marshal Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, Manfred von Richthofen, Hermann Göring, Erwin Rommel, Kress von Kressenstein and Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Die Erfenisstigting bied op 20 en 21 Oktober 2011 'n konferensie en bewaringswerkswinkel by Fort Schanskop op die Voortrekkermonument Erfenisterrein te Pretoria aan oor die rol van plaaslike gemeenskappe in die bewaring van die land se konsentrasiekampe. Vir navrae kontak Estelle Pretorius of Leonie Marais-Botes 012 326 6770 of

Early warning is given of a field trip to be led by Richard Tomlinson on the morning of 12 November 2011 to the relics of the artillery and radar defences of Port Elizabeth harbour during WW2. The trip is to be followed by a lunch braai at the EP Veteran Car Club, which will be SAMHSEC's end of year function.

SAMHSEC's November 2011 meeting will take place on the afternoon of 12 November instead of on 14 November as originally scheduled.

Longstanding SAMHS member Johan Loock from Bloemfontein is welcomed as a SAMHSEC member.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 12 September 2011 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be Ships that Durban built by Peter Duffel-Canham. The main lecture will be by Brian Klopper on Thermopylae. The World at War episode to be shown from 1830 will be Stalingrad 1942 - 1943. The family member's military service series presentation will be by Fred Nel. The meeting will mark SAMHSEC's 7th anniversary.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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