South African Military History Society

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The Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, opened the meeting by welcoming all those present and, in particular Marlene Hoorweg, a visitor from the United States. She then moved on to the monthly notices. Members will be pleased to know that November's foyer donations for Poppy Day brought in R821-65, the largest amount of any South African Legion "tin" for Armistice Day.

The Society now has 503 members nation-wide, which is not at all bad for a cultural organisation. Thanks to some diligent book-keeping by the Secretary/Treasurer, Joan Marsh, the subs will remain at the same level as last year, i.e. R215 per person or R230 per family. Marjorie closed off the notices by asking all present to remember the deceased involved in the recent SAAF Dakota air crash in Natal and their families. She then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker for the evening. This was supposed to be Malcolm King but, as he had been called away to Durban on urgent business, his paper was read by his fellow committee member, Hamish Paterson.

The subject of Malcolm's talk was "The Private Papers of Tony Weber". Tony Weber was born in London in 1919 to a Swiss father and a British mother. He proved an excellent scholar at school and upon graduating entered his father's bakery. With the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted in the infantry and was a member of the British Expeditionary Force despatched to France. After surviving the evacuation of Dunkirk, Tony volunteered for the Royal Air Force. With his good scholastic record he was chosen for pilot training, qualifying as "above average" on 1 October 1942. He was posted to 405 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force and was immediately involved in Pathfinder duties for bomber raids on Flensburg and Aachen.

He was a meticulous and innovative pilot, bringing his aircraft and crew home, even though he was wounded on two separate occasions when his bomber was shot up on bombing missions. His crew also shot down a German ME 109 in retaliation. In due course Tony was granted the qualification of Master Bomber.

On completion of his first operational tour, Tony and his crew volunteered for a second tour. Their first target was Turin and on the way home, over Bayeaux, their Lancaster was hit by flak. Although badly damaged, they managed to limp across the Channel and crash-landed at Beaulieu in England. They received scant sympathy and the next day, in a different plane, took part in the famous raid on Peenemunde. The casualty rate on this raid was extremely high but, once again, their luck held and they returned safely. In September 1943 Tony was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He flew his last operational sortie in October 1943, a raid on Hanover, marking 390 hours spent operational over enemy territory. He spent the rest of the war as a navigation instructor at Upwood and then as a test pilot at Wyton, before taking part as a pilot engaged in repatriating prisoners of war from Italy to England.

After the war Tony bought a two-seater aircraft and with his first wife flew out to South Africa, taking nine days to complete the journey. In South Africa he made his living as an extremely inventive engineer and skilled entrepreneur. After losing his first wife to cancer he married again, also to outlive his second wife and finally passing away at the age of 88. His death was marked by the Royal Air Force Association holding a memorial luncheon in his honour to which members of his family were invited.

At the conclusion of this most interesting talk Marjorie thanked Hamish for his excellent delivery of a colleague's paper and then asked Marlene Hoorweg to draw the winning number for the night's raffle. The prize was a boxed set of DVDs of the BBC History Channel production entitled "The Boer War" and this was won by ticket number 75, bought by member Mike Hoepper.

Marjorie then introduced the main speaker for the evening, Judge Kathleen Satchwell, who has addressed the Society on a number of occasions. This time her topic was "The Great War and Remembrance" and using this title Kathleen brought home the mourning, bereavement and commemoration of the SA war dead who said their good-byes at railway stations or harbours and were never seen again.

The first stage of bereavement was that of discovery when friends and relatives heard, through newspapers, magazines and telephone calls, the awful news of great battles with many casualties. Then came the telegrams from the military authorities, followed by confirmation in the horrifically long casualty lists published in local newspapers. In many case there was lengthy uncertainty as relatives were listed as "Missing", the worst situation of all.

Because of the unnatural order of things, with sons and brothers dying before their parents and while still in the flower of youth, there was an overwhelming need for their short lives to be commemorated in some way. Whole communities joined in the grief felt by individual families, through the medium of death notices in the local newspaper, and this in turn led to commemorative services, plaques, stained-glass windows and permanent memorials. The problem of the grief experienced was that it could not be expunged by a funeral, as in most cases the body could not be repatriated, as it had been obliterated in the mud or simply could not be identified.

The problem was largely resolved by an officer by the name of Fabian Ware who, as a Red Cross volunteer, started recording burial spots; finding bodies; collecting personal items and mapping grave- sites. His efforts gave rise to the Imperial War Graves Commission, now more familiarly known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Kathleen then expounded on the work of the Commission and how the bodies of these young men (and women) were gathered into the beautiful cemeteries, which are today so much a feature of parts of Europe. The need to have tangible memorials also led to families erecting elaborate monuments in local churchyards and cemeteries, even though there was no body to bury. Schools and churches also memorialised past pupils or members of the congregation by erecting memorials or dedicating buildings, while eventually whole towns, villages and cities erected monuments and cenotaphs. These were usually in the centre of the community where they were passed and seen by the daily throng.

Throughout this moving and interesting talk Kathleen showed illustrations of battlefields; those involved; the many memorials to them and eventually ended her talk with photographs of the battlefields and cemeteries today.

At the conclusion of this excellent talk Marjorie Dean called upon committee member Jan-Willem Hoorweg to thank both speakers. She then reminded members of the Rush book sale in the foyer, wished all present a happy and safe Christmas then closed the meeting.

Ivor Little


All paid-up members will receive a posted copy of the December 2012 Journal as part of their 2012 member benefits - however as at 8 January these have not yet been received from the printers...


For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279 (am)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676


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