The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 11 No 6 - December 2000

Geoffrey Long's artistic impressions of South Africa's industrialisation process during the Second World War

by Allan Sinclair

Allan Sinclair is curator of the military art collection at the South African National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg

The official war art collection located at the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg serves to commemorate the significant role played by South Africans during the Second World War (1959-1945). While important events undoubtedly took place on the many battlefields of the war where many people distinguished themselves in uniform, the importance of the Home Front, a critical front where important industries were developed to service the forces in the field, should not be overlooked. One South African war artist who took a particular interest in this local aspect of the war was Geoffrey Long (1916-1961). The following article will illustrate how Long used the visual arts to record the Home Front during the war.

First photo

Capt G K Long, War Artist
Portrait by Neville Lewis
(Cat 1768 SANMMH)

The industrialisation of South Africa

It has been said that Adolf Hitler laughed on hearing of South Africa's declaration of war on Germany on 6 September 1939. At that early stage, he may have had good reason to do so. In 1939, South Africa was ill-prepared to wage any war. The Union Defence Forces (UDF) were in a state of disarmament and the only industries really worthy of mention, apart from state industries such as ISCOR and ESCOM, were mining and agriculture. Most necessities were imported and there was no basic infrastructure for recruiting, supplying and training troops and labour. Yet, in time, 354 224 South Africans volunteered for service in the war and South Africa set up a training programme for pilots and other specialists and became an essential supplier of ammunition, vehicles and other equipment to the Allied cause.

The occupation of most of Europe by Germany led to South Africa losing many of her European trading partners. Britain, too, was in no position to continue to supply South Africa with necessities, which meant that the country had to become self-sufficient. As has already been mentioned, certain primary industries, such as ISCOR, ESCOM and the mines, were already in existence and, due to the highly developed system of roads and railways established to service the mines, secondary industries could be set up away from the main centres. South Africa was also in a position to utilise the expertise of people who organised, controlled and developed the technical and engineering resources available at the time. This was achieved through expanding existing industries to produce armaments and equipment alongside necessary civilian commodities which remained in demand.

ISCOR produced large amounts of iron and steel and the state railways took control of the production of explosives. These major industries laid the foundation for wartime production while the government called on other smaller industries to assist. Eventually, over 1 000 factories became involved in the war effort. The outcome ofthis was the eventual production of armoured cars, mortars, ammunition, howitzers, helmets, aircraft hangars, bridges, uniforms and other equipment. By the end of the war, South Africa had become a self-sufficient nation with a new economic infrastructure in a position to export finished products and manufactured goods.(1)

Geoffrey Long's interest in the industrialisation process

Geoffrey Kellet Long was an established artist by the time the war broke our. Even before his appointment as an official war artist in 1941, he had been commissioned by Dr H I van der Bijl, the Director-General of War Supplies, to undertake a series of drawings of the ISCOR steelworks.(2) Long took an interest in the birth of the South African industrial age, and wrote the following:

It is very evident from this that Long recognised just how important this subject was to the future of South Africa. As a result of the above, Long was given permission to undertake an artistic survey of the factories manufacturing war supplies. The completed paintings and drawings were then exhibited at various factories where the workers would be witness to their contribution to the war effort.(4)

Examples of Long's works of art

Of the examples of Geoffrey Long's artworks in the official war art collection which illustrate the industrialisation process in South Africa, five were selected for discussion in this article. Three ofthese are drawings, while the other two are oil paintings.

The first is a chalk drawing entitled Cutting armour plating. It depicts workers in a South African ordinance factory cutting armour plating to be used on armoured cars.(5)The second is a charcoal drawing entitled Dipping a gun barrel, and the scene is set in the same factory. Here molten metal, which has been poured into a gun barrel mould and has set but not yet cooled, is being quenched in a bath of oil to temper it. After this process has been completed, the newly produced gun barrel would be bored and rifled.(6)

Second photo

Cutting armour plating.
2/Lt Geoffrey Long, 1941
(Cat No 1616, SANMMH)

Third photo

Dipping a gun barrel.
Sketch by 2/Lt Geoffrey Long, 1941
(Photo: By courtesy: SANMMH)

The third drawing was also completed in chalk and is entitled Testing armour plating (ISCOR). This illustrates the testing of armour plating to withstand the impact of small arms fire and shrapnel.(7)

Fourth photo

Testing armour plating.
A sketch by 2/Lt Geoffrey Long
(Photo: By courtesy: SANMMH)

Moving on to the two oil paintings, the first is entitled Home Front. This painting is an example of Long's belief in the artist's ability to create aesthetically pleasing images out of industrial settings. It is a magnificent scene of steelworks at night and was probably completed as a result of the series of drawings of the ISCOR stedworks mentioned earlier in this article.(8)

Fifth photo

Home Front,
oil painting by war artist 2/Lt Geoffrey Long
(Photo: By courtesy: SANMMH)

The final work of art in the selection is entitled Key Man and illustrates what Long wrote about the man in overalls behind the machine. A key man was someone who volunteered for service in the Union Defence Forces, but, owing to the value of his civilian working skills, was not able to render active military service. These men were issued with a small key man lapel badge to signify their in-service status. The welder in the painting is working on bomb casings.(9)

Sixth photo

Key man,
oil by Geoffrey Long
(Photo: By courtesy: SANMMH)


Through his paintings and drawings, Geoffrey Long was able to bring home the importance of the industrialisation process in South Africa and the ordinary people involved in maintaining war production here. There are many works in the Second World War Art Collection which depict the important roles played by South Africans who fought in the infantry, artillery, engineer, tank and medical corps as well as the air and naval forces. It is hoped that, by bringing to light the works which have formed the subject of this article, the role of the workers and industries will also not be forgotten.


1. J L Keene (ed), South Africans in World War Two: A pictorial history, (Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1995), pp 17-44.
2. N P C Huntingford, The Official World War Two works of Geoffrey Long, (South African National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, 1986), History of the artist.
3. File 920 - Long G K: 'Paper written by Long about the machine and the man', in the South African National Museum of Military History Archives.
4. File 920 - Long G K: 'Statement issued by the Union Defence Forces, 9 January 1942, re inter-factory exhibitions', in the South African National Museum of Military History Archives.
5. 'Official World War Two Art Catalogue', Cat No 1616, at the South African National Museum of Military History.
6. 'Official World War Two Art Catalogue', Cat No 1630, at the South African National Museum of Military History.
7. 'Official World War Two Art Catalogue', Cat No 2003, at the South African National Museum of Military History.
8. 'Official World War Two Art Catalogue', Cat No 1709, at the South African National Museum of Military History.
9. 'Official World War Two Art Catalogue', Cat No 1745, at the South African National Museum of Military History.

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