The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 13 No 4 - December 2005

OBITUARY: Commandant B G 'Bertie' Simpkins, JCD, MM 1914-2005

Photo: By courtesy, Photographic Archives of the SA National Museum of Military History.

We mourn the death of our dear friend and companion, Bertie Simpkins, who passed away quietly on 21 June 2005, aged 90 (nearly 91) years.

Commandant B G Simpkins, JCD, MM, was born in Sydney, Australia, on 30 July 1914, and came to South Africa at the age of three months. He began his distinguished military career as a private in the Rand Light Infantry (Active Citizen Force) in July 1933, and finally rose to the rank of commandant and commanding officer of the Regiment for the years 1966 to 1969.

During the Second World War he was Mentioned in Despatches and received the Military Medal for bravery during the Battle of El Alamein as a company sergeant-major in 1942. He held the Efficiency Medal and Bar and the John Chard Decoration and Bar, having completed 33 years of efficient and distinguished service. The citation for his Military Medal is as follows:


For courage, coolness and leadership during attack at El Alamein 23 October 1942 and while acting as platoon commander Warrant Officer Simpkins has on many occasions taken charge of patrols and, when in contact with the e.nemy, has displayed great courage and has been an inspiration to the men under his command.
During an advance by his company on 23/24 October 1942, Warrant Officer Simpkins, by example, led his men forward at a time when they were sustaining heavy casualties.
Twice, when it was essential to maintain contact with the flanking Regiment, he ran the gauntlet of heavy enemy fire to achieve the duty assigned to him.
His handling of offensive patrols and his reliability in tense situations is an inspiration and example to all ranks.

Bertie compiled a detailed history of the Rand Light Infantry, which was published in 1965, and which had involved a great deal of research and the revisiting the battlefields of Bardia, Tobruk and El Alamein. It was a very fine historical record indeed.

After his retirement from Southeby's Auctioneers, he joined the staff of the South African National Museum of Military History, where he worked for a number of years.

Bertie was a founder member of the Military History Society, vice-chairman of the first Executive Committee, and the second chairman for the years April 1969 to April 1971. He was a member of the Executive Committee for many years and took an active interest in all the Society's affairs. He lectured at meetings of the Society on at least three occasions, and was the 'Scribe' of the monthly newsletter for the period 1972 to 1979.

We remember Bertie not only for his distinguished military career but also for his contribution to the success of the Military History Society, his very pleasant personality with his happy face and ready smile and his spontaneous sense of humour with always a joke of some merit. We remember his wonderful company on Military History Society tours and the jokes he played on others, particularly the one of leaving the hotel early on the morning of the departure for home and standing on the roadside dressed up as a dear old lady and then being picked up by the coach, much to the surprise and delight of all. On one occasion, someone stopped to offer the poor old dear a lift, only to be met with the response, 'No thanks, I'm waiting for a bus'.

May he rest in peace.
Nick Kinsey
SA Military History Society, Johannesburg Branch

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