The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 14 No 6 - December 2009

Memorials to
unveiled in Durban on 11 November 2009

Photographs by Mr Bob Smith,
SA Military History Society

The memorial before the unveiling

The unveiling of the Major Edwin Swales, VC, DFC, Memorial at Durban High School.
From left to right: Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano, Chief of the South African Air Force, Professor Edwina Ward,
niece of the late Edwin Swales, David Bennett (biographer) and David Scholtz (SAMHS committee member).

On Armistice Day 2009, two fine granite memorials to Major* Edwin Swales, VC, DFC, were unveiled in the Memorial Courtyard of Durban High School (DHS) and on the Memorial Wall of the Natal Mounted Rifles (the NMR) in Durban by his niece, Professor Edwina Ward, and Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano, Chief of the South African Air Force (the SAAF). Edwin Swales was one of only four South Africans to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War (19391945). He was awarded his VC posthumously for his heroic deed on the night of 23 February 1945, which saved the lives of his seven crewmen on his stricken Lancaster bomber, but which cost him his own life.

[* Edwin Swales was an acting major when he flew his Lancaster bomber over Pforzheim, Germany.]

After the Second World War, a broad avenue in the City of Durban was named Edwin Swales VC Drive in honour of the City's famous son. Some time ago, the South African Military History Society (SAMHS) received news that the avenue was to be renamed Solomon Mahlangu Drive by the Ethekweni Municipality. It seemed to many of us who care about this country's military history that it was important to have a permanent memorial to Edwin Swales in his home town, to ensure that his courage and bravery were not forgotten.

The DHS school piper

The DHS school badge

The memorial after the unveiling and once wreaths had been laid

SAMHS committee member David Scholtz took on the task of seeing what could be done, and of putting together a team to work on the project from both the Johannesburg and Durban branches of the Society. Those most closely involved were Edwin Swales's niece, Professor Edwina Ward, David Bennett (biographer of Edwin Swales and a DHS old boy), Paul Kilmartin and Ken Gillings, prominent members from the Durban branch of the Society, the headmasterof DHS, David Magner, DHS's archivist, Jeremy Oddy, SAMHS Chairman Bob Smith and David Scholtz himself. The Society would like to express grateful thanks to them for bringing this project to fruition after careful planning and organisation over many months.

After some debate, the task team decided that the two most suitable sites for the memorials to honour Edwin Swales would be:
The Memorial Courtyard at DHS, where his name already appears on the School's Roll of Honour; and the Memorial Wall of the NMR, with whom Swales served in East Africa before joining the SMF and later being seconded to the RAF.

The Memorial Wall at the headquarters of the Natal Mounted Rifles, Durban.
Edwin Swales served in the regiment in East Africa before joining the South African Air Force.

The task team invited the chief of the SAAF, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano, to unveil the memorials jointly with Professor Ward. He kindly agreed to do so. Special dedication services, which were well attended by military dignitaries and historians as well as members of the public, were held on Armistice Day, 11 November 2009.

The new Edwin Swales memorial stone mounted on the Memorial Wall of the Natal Mounted Rifles in Durban.

In addition to Lt Gen Gagiano and his wife, members of the Defence Force who attended the unveiling included Col Steve Bekker, the Officer Commanding Air Force Base Durban, Brig Gen Ken Snowball, President of the SAAF Association, and Lt Col Mike Rowe, Commanding Officer of the NMR. The representative of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in South Africa, Captain Charles Ross, also attended the ceremonies.

Wreaths laid at the Memorial Wall

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