The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 3 No 4 - December 1975

Museum News


South Africa is proud of its treatment of prisoners-of-war in World War II. The Museum has decided that it is time the rest of the world is made aware of this achievement in the field of human relations, which will stand to South Africa’s credit for all time, and has built a Prisoners-of-War section depicting some of the aspects of a prisoner’s life.

The display was opened by Major-General J.C. Lemmer, MC, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, who was ‘put into the bag’ at Tobruk and therefore spoke with conviction when he said, "... The words, ‘For you the War is over’ or ‘Für dich der Krieg ist vorbei', or their equivalent in any language, spoken by a victor are probably the most demoralising that any soldier worthy of the name could hear", and again, "Those who have not endured the torment of incarceration can never know, or visualize, to what depths of despair a prisoner can sink, nor the heights to which his morale can rise at the slightest prospect of escape."

The man largely responsible for the treatment and care of prisoners in South Africa was the late Colonel H.F. Prinsloo, a bronze bust of whom was unveiled by his widow to form part of the exhibition the opening of which was attended by over a hundred guests among whom were many ex-prisoners of war including Italians who were incarcerated in South Africa. The bust was in fact sculptured by the well known ltalian sculptor Eduardo Villa whilst incarcerated at Zonderwater and who has since settled in Johannesburg.

Prinsloo Bust
Mrs H.F. Prinsloo unveiling bronze bust of her late husband, Colonel H.F. Prinsloo, OBE, ED.
On the left is Maj-Gen J.C. Lemmer, MC, Chairman, Board of Trustees who opened the display
and on the right the Director, Col G.R. Duxbury

Another fine exhibit is a model of Zonderwater Camp made by Italian prisoners. This camp was opened at Zonderwater in February 1941 and by the end of 1942 held 63 000 prisoners. It was a big camp consisting of 14 Blocks, each of four camps. There were 24 miles of roads within the prohibited area.

The exhibition at the Museum is to be permanent but due to lack of space is restricted to a few of the important aspects of the daily life of a POW. There is also an excellent diorama of a bungalow and a working model of an attempted escape via a tunnel dug beneath the bungalow stove.

In his address General Lemmer mentioned skills developed by POWs which they would previously have considered unattainable. There are some fine examples on show. POWs have always aspired to and reached great heights in the field of art and here, too, the Museum has been most fortunate in acquiring some excellent work some of which has never before been exhibited publicly.

The display is well worth seeing and should draw many viewers thereby adding to the already large number, in the region of 190 000, that visit the Museum each year.

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