South African Military 
History Society


March 2005

PAST EVENTS: The Society's February 2005 meeting was dedicated to the memory of Major Edwin Swales, VC, DFC, SAAF, who died 60 years ago on 23 February 1945. Before the talks started a number of special guests were introduced, including: Captain Ted Howes, DFC, SAAF who flew 28 raids over Germany or German occupied Europe as a Lancaster pilot (with 5 of those raids as a Pathfinder) and who was one of Edwin Swales closest friends in the SAAF; his wife Esme Howes, who as Lieutenant Thompson, SAAF was one of the instructors who trained both Swales and her future husband prior to their getting their wings and SAAF commissions; Cobus Victor, the Old Bill of the Edwin Swales Shellhole - who was joined by a number of the members of the Shellhole; and Jeremy Oddie, the archivist of Durban High School and who arrived with a video camera to record the 3 talks of the evening to add to the already considerable Swales memorabilia held by the school.

In addition to having 3 speakers, instead of the usual 2, there was a special and most fascinating display table which allowed another large Society audience to look closely at Swales' miniature medals, an copy set of the full size Swales medals, a set of framed certificates, but most important of all, a rare silver model of the Lancaster bomber. This silver Lancaster was one of only 10 ever made, with one each presented to the 7 pilots and 3 aircrew, or their families, who won their VC flying in a Lancaster. The one on display was presented to Mrs Olive Swales (Edwin's mother) at a special ceremony in Durban after the end of World War 2. The Society was particularly grateful to Durban High School for allowing the miniatures and the silver Lancaster to be on show at the meeting.

The DDH talk was given by a guest speaker, who had the most extraordinary story to tell us. Pieter Zeeman was born in Holland and after the invasion of his country by German forces in 1940, he was captured and sent to Germany to do forced labour. He now lives in Durban but on the night Edwin Swales died, our speaker was in the town of Pforzheim - the target for the raid - and his talk was entitled I Was Under the Bombs Dropped by Swales. Pforzheim was described as being a very pretty town, surrounded by forests and similar in size to Pietermaritzburg. Although geared for war, it was rarely disturbed by passing aircraft until the night of 23 February 1945. He heard the sound of a bomber approaching (Swales Lancaster) and at about 7.10 pm German time he suddenly saw what he described as a "Christmas Tree" descending on the middle of the town and he knew that was the marker for an air raid. As he rushed to the nearest shelter, some phosphorous from the "tree" fell on his overcoat, which he immediately threw away. In the shelter, our speaker heard the bombs falling close by and although he knew that this was a serious raid and knew that he had to escape from the shelter, he waited until he heard the planes depart. As he went outside he met some girls he knew and led them away by the banks of the local river. On a nearby road the tarmac was on fire. Everywhere they went they saw buildings burning and the wind that was blowing created a firestorm that made the temperature rise sharply, and Pieter believes that he and the girls got away just in time. They slept in the open that night and returned the next day to find that the town was almost completely destroyed (post war analysis showed that 83% of Pforzheim was destroyed that night) but the fires lasted for 2-3 days. Pieter spoke from the heart and without notes to a rapt and silent audience. They knew that this was an "I was there" story with a difference, given by a man who, even now, has vivid memories of the events of that tragic evening of 60 years ago. His unique and sometimes disturbing story gave us an unusual and a very special start to our memorial evening.

The second speaker for the evening was fellow member David Bennett, an old boy of DHS and a medal collector, who spoke to us about; How the Swales' Miniatures and The Silver Lancaster were returned to South Africa. He was in a special position to know, as he was the man who made the return possible. In mid 2004, a friend suggested that he look into the Internet to see something he might find of interest. It was lot 890 and the items sold were the miniatures and the silver Lancaster that were now on show at our meeting. He immediately e-mailed the auction house - they took just 20 minutes to respond - and they agreed to pass his e-mail to the purchaser. In August 2004 the buyer rang our speaker from London and after listening to the story of Swales and DHS the buyer, who has strong business links with South Africa, agreed to sell lot 890 back for the same price he originally paid. By 10 September David had made contact with the DHS Old Boys Association and the School and he had confirmation that the money would be available to complete the transaction. On the 2 November the buyer arrived in Johannesburg and on that same day the miniatures and the silver Lancaster were handed over and these were officially presented to Durban High School after the Armistice Day service at the school on 11 November 2004. The school intend to build a special display cabinet for the silver Lancaster and the miniatures as a permanent tribute to their distinguished old boy - Edwin Swales.

After the interval the MAIN talk was given by our Chairman Paul Kilmartin and was entitled The 60th Anniversary of The Death of Edwin Swales. Paul has spent a great deal of time researching the life of Swales, mainly due to the number of local people he has spoken to who say they "know about Swales" - due mainly, perhaps, to the road - but do not know anything of his career and how he won his VC. Based on a large number of original documents and records - including logbooks by Swales and one of his crew - on meetings with the Swales family and friends of the family, on regular meetings in London with a member of Swales crew, many discussions with Ted Howes (mentioned above) and on personal accounts written by other members of the crew, our speaker was able to give us a full and accurate account of the 29 years of Swales' life. Born on 3 July 1915 - the second of 4 children - he moved to Durban in 1919 on the early death of his father. Educated at DHS, he was more interested in his sport than academic life, but eventually he matriculated and joined Barclay's Bank and the NMR. He stayed with the NMR for 4 years, reaching the rank of Warrant Officer II, but rejoined on 4 September 1939, the day after Britain declared war on Germany. He saw active service in Kenya, Abyssinia and Egypt until on 17 January 1942 he transferred to the SAAF. Training was delayed but he finally obtained his wings and his commission on 26 June 1943. He left South Africa on 27 August 1943 to "go north" - a journey that went via South America and took 10 weeks - and undertook another 6 months of intensive training in England before he was posted to 582 Squadron for operational duties. Remarkably, and perhaps uniquely, Swales was posted directly to a Pathfinder Squadron before having any experience as a Bomber Command pilot and his first raid was on the 12 July 1944. Paul went into the detail of a number of his 43 raids, particularly the ones on Duisburg on 14 October and on Cologne on 23 December 1944. Mention was made of his sporting activities and being the model for a portrait of a South African bomber pilot, but it was all building up to that fateful night of 23 February 1945. Swales was awarded the DFC for his part in the daylight raid on Cologne and the award was gazetted on 23 February - the same day as the planned raid on Pforzheim. Photographs were shown of Swales and his crew taken on that same morning, obviously to celebrate the DFC. By now Swales had undertaken 42 raids and had become the only South African to be appointed a Pathfinder "Master Bomber" - he had reached the elite of Bomber Command. As the Master Bomber on the raid on Pforzheim, Swales arrived 10 minutes before the main stream and was immediately attacked by a German night fighter that inflicted great damage to the aircraft. Despite that, Swales stayed over the target, guiding the main bomber force to its target and only when the last plane left did he try to get home himself. After 1 hour they finally reached allied occupied France, the crew baled out successfully but Swales was unable to get free and died when the plane crashed. His award for a posthumous VC was gazetted on 24 April 1945 - the last South African and the last member of Bomber Command ever to win the highest award.

The story ended on the question of rank; virtually all the books on the history of the RAF and the VC - and many other examples apply - all give Swales the rank of Captain. But from his research, Paul was able to show that the SAAF have referred to him as Major Edwin Swales since, at least, 31 May 1950, that his grave has his rank as Major, he quoted a letter stating that the SAAF authorities confirmed his rank as Major in December 1958 and that his mid upper gunner in a personal summary of his career quoted his pilot as Major Swales. He ended the talk with the comment that in the future we must always refer to this remarkable and very brave man as Major Edwin Swales, VC, DFC, SAAF.

Before an enthusiastic vote of thanks to all 3 speakers by Professor Mike Laing, there was a special presentation; the Society had digitally enlarged photographs taken of the original MOTH's membership card belonging to Edwin Swales. These had been framed and were presented to the Old Bill of the Edwin Swales Shellhole - a fitting end to an evening dedicated to the memory of Major Edwin Swales in the month of his death, 60 years ago.



FRANK BULLEN - a member of the Society but based in Johannesburg, will give the MAIN talk for the March 2005 meeting. This will be the second time that FRANK has travelled down to Durban to address us; he was our MAIN speaker in March 2000 when he gave a talk entitled ALL THE QUEEN'S HORSES and ALL THE QUEEN'S MEN, which was a fascinating account of the origins, essential nature and role of the troops of the Household Division - The Guards. This time FRANK will speak to us on his personal war service from 1943 to 1946, including active service in North West Europe in the 2nd. Battalion of the Scots Guards, (Guards Armoured Division) as part of XXX Corps. The talk will be entitled NO SCARLET - NO BEARSKIN. A GUARDSMAN IN BATTLEDRESS, and could well be the first "I was there" given as a MAIN talk.

A man who is best known in the Society as our Battlefield Photographer - DAVE MATTHEWS - will give the DDH. He should be better known as a co-author of the book A WARRIORS GATEWAY - Durban and the Anglo-Boer War, 1899 - 1902. Perhaps he will be after his talk on THE DIARY of A MILITARY PHOTOGRAPHER - DURBAN 1899.


Subscriptions for 2005 are now due. Membership has been increased by R10, to R130 per year for Single membership, and R150 for Family Membership (for a maximum of 2 members of the same family). Please send your subscription ASAP to Joan Marsh in Johannesburg, or directly into the Society Account at FNB Bank, Park Meadows Branch, A/c 50391928346, Branch code, 25-66-55, Name: South African Military History Society.


Due to a printing misunderstanding there was an error in the last newsletter. The intention was to send requests for members contact details ONLY to those whose contact details we do not have. So (hopefully) if you receive a form with this newsletter it means we do not have your full contact details. Please fill in the form and send it to INGRID MACHIN. Many thanks!


We have received a received a notice from Colonel Pat Acutt, who heads the Reserve Force Division's KwaZulu-Natal Regional Office (and a recent speaker to the Society) about a Drumhead Church Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in Europe (along with similar services around the Country). The details are as follows:

Date Time: Sunday 8th May 2005. Time: 10h00 for 10h30
Venue: Lord's Ground, Old Fort Road, Durban.
Dress: Military Members 1B / Navy 1A without sword. Ladies appropriate.

For veterans / other interested organizations: Regimental Blazer with medals, lounge suit with miniatures. Spouses / partners are welcome to attend. Tea and refreshments will be served after the service.


During the introductions to the November 2004 meeting, we invited David Fox to mention the celebration plans being made for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Nottingham. A full report on David Fox's comments was given on page 3 of the December newsletter.

This is a final reminder for you all, of the Fort Nottingham Anniversary Fete which is taking place on Sunday 13th March 2005 in Fort Nottingham, next to the remains of the original fort. Celebrations include the unveiling of a commemorative plaque by an officer of the Sherwood Foresters, and entertainment by the Pietermaritzburg Pipe Band, the Natal Carbineers, a camp re-enactment by the Oranje Vrystaat Artillerie Corps and the SA Miniature Cannon Club, plus wagon rides, archery, face painting, craft stalls and an antique road-show where family heirlooms can be evaluated. Make a note in your diaries!!!

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : April 2005 - June 2005

14 April 05
Base Visit to 1 Medical Battalion Group
Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller
12 May 05
DDH Prof. Philip Everitt - The Devil of a Gentleman
MAIN John Parkinson - Vice Admiral Nagumo in the Indian Ocean: Apr '42
4/5 June 05
The Annual Battlefield Tour - The Ladysmith Siege Battlefields
Ken Gillings - Organiser
9 June 05
DDH Bill Brady - The Death of Adolf Hitler
MAIN Dr. Gus Allen - The Spanish Armada 2: The Naval Battles

10 MARCH!!

South African Military History Society /