A Rhodesian Services Association Inc. publication
Registered under the 2005 Charities Act in New Zealand number CC25203
Registered as an Incorporated Society in New Zealand number 2055431
PO Box 13003, Tauranga 3141, New Zealand.
Secretary’s e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s e-mail email@example.com
Phone +64 7 576 9500 Mob +64 27 545 8069
To view all previous publications go to our Archives
Happy New Year to you all and all the best for 2016.
Where does time go? Since our last issue of Contact! Contact! there has seemingly been non-stop Assn related activity from my perspective – CQ sales, Rhodesian Forces Archives Project, the Museum and HQ project, the October RV, hundreds of emails etc. etc., and then there is my business, private life and Christmas/New year.
Please be aware that a lack of regular newsletters does not mean we have forgotten you; it just indicates that we are so busy with Association matters that we are pressed for time to put the newsletter together. This Assn is no longer a group of people sharing a common interest. It has become, in essence, a business being run by volunteers who all have other commitments. We apologise for the current irregularity of publication and ask you to indulge us with your patience and understanding that a few of us are working very hard behind the scenes to build this Assn into a lasting legacy.
In this issue you will get a fascinating insight from Gerry van Tonder’s Dateline Rhodesia column into a few pieces of Rhodesian history. Having read that I hope you will all agree with me just how important the preservation of our history is. Gerry’s column highlights a portion of Lt Gen Keith Coster’s time as a prisoner of war in Germany’s Stalag Luft III – infamous for what became known as The Great Escape. Over 80 Allied POWs tunnelled their way out, but 50 of them were recaptured and then shot on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. The then Capt Keith Coster was part of that escape plan, but did not make it out of camp – fortunately for him. He was to be appointed General Officer Commanding the Rhodesian Army 24 years later.
Rhodesia had a very proud military history – not just domestically but globally, and we have every right to be proud of our heritage which we should preserve for future generations to be able to appreciate and learn from. This Association is at the forefront of addressing this. Those of you who are financial members will have recently received our 2015 Financial Accounts and will be fully in the picture regarding how strong we are. However, to move to the next level of success and own a building capable of housing our museum collection and to be our admin HQ, we need universal support.
We need every person who has links by way of heritage to or admiration of Rhodesia to support us. Verbal support is great but it is financial support that will win the day for us.
Members of the Committee, with assistance from supportive members, are currently engaged in an assessment of a business that we believe will provide the means to support a public museum. Since embarking on our dream of building a museum, we have always recognised that there has to be an associated business to provide the financial support. We have been observant of how similar projects have evolved and taken lessons from the successful ones.
We need strength of numbers by way of financial membership of our Association – our subs are nominal. Currently our subs are NZ$10 per annum. This will rise to NZ$15 per annum from 1 October 2016. Money raised by subscriptions will not be the make or break of putting up a building. What a big membership does achieve is demonstrate solid, committed support as well as a large support base from which to launch successful fundraising projects, such as a worldwide raffle that we have planned.
In particular we need an increase in participation and membership by the younger generations who have a connection to Rhodesia. We are fully supportive of these young people and we encourage them to learn of their ancestry and associate with the older folks.
Please do your bit to help this Association – every bit helps.
Lastly – from time to time we field questions from people who have received emails purporting to have been sent from one of our Association email addresses or from me personally.
‘Spamming’ is a universal problem. Anyone can use a fake return address – in this case ours, and send out links that they want you to click on so that they capture your address for further spamming or at worst infect you with a virus. Just because someone is using our address does not mean that we have had our security breached.
We will keep using our addresses as it is pointless to change established branding. Please use normal ‘net sense’ procedures. Emails from our Association are in a set format. The style used on our mass mailing system is always like one that you have received notification of publication of this newsletter. Email replies to you from The Editor or The CQ Store are always of a similar format with our signature line included at the bottom – all very recognisable. My personal style of writing is also pretty recognisable, I would have thought. I never greet anyone with “Hey” which seems typical of the greeting used in some of the spam emails that we have seen that appear to emanate from Russia.
I am in the process of grouping our address book into geographic regions in order to be able to better target areas of specific interest for our subscribers and members. For some years I have had New Zealand and Australian subscribers in specific groups. I am currently grouping the other addresses into regions. I am able to identify where most of you are from but there are a few who I will be emailing in due course to ask what country they reside in. It is a big task with over 2,000 addresses to deal with but at the end we will be able to provide a better service. Keeping us updated with any changes of email address is important, please remember to do this.
Rhodesian Services Association Purpose & Web Links
The Rhodesian Services Association Incorporated is an Incorporated Society as well as a Registered Charity under the New Zealand Charities Act 2005. The purpose of the Association is to provide benefit and education to the community. For detail and disclosure please refer to the opening page of our website www.rhodesianservices.org
This Association is committed to the preservation of Rhodesian military history. In order to do this we must build a museum and administrative centre in Tauranga, New Zealand.
Our current financial membership is 205; we have over 2,000 newsletter subscribers and over 2,000 Facebook group members; we need a bigger percentage of people subscribing to the newsletter and following Facebook to commit to financial membership.
Where there is a will there is a way. We need your support in every way possible. We need business brains to guide us and we need energetic, driven people to work with us.
If we all put our shoulders to the wheel we can do this.
Here are a few things that you can do:
Ø Become a financial member - we need a large percentage of our 2,000 plus listed subscribers to this newsletter, and the 1,900 plus members of our Facebook group to show their support and belief in our aspirations and make the small individual commitment of NZ$10 per annum (on current exchange rates approx. £5, US$7.50, R90) for financial membership. Email Assn Secretary, Chuck Osborne firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Ø Remember us in your Will.
Ø Purchase from our CQ Store.
Ø Encourage the younger generation and descendants of Rhodesians to become involved.
Ø Introduce philanthropic investors to our cause.
Our Facebook group is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/152017521536350/ . We have loaded a lot of photographs from various events, as well as others from our museum displays. We have found that Facebook is another platform assisting our purpose of preserving Rhodesian history.
Please use these links on our website www.rhodesianservices.org for the following resources:
Guest Book http://www.rhodesianservices.org/guest-book.htm
Guest Map http://www.rhodesianservices.org/guest-map.htm
On line auctions http://www.rhodesianservices.org/auctions.htm
Rhodesian Forces Archives Project http://www.rhodesianservices.org/rhodesian-forces-archives-project.htm
Rhodesian Services Association Museum
Memorial Pledge Challenge
In support of the Rhodesian Services Association initiative to build a museum in New Zealand, Bryony Bomford is pledging NZ$1000 if ten or more people will match or better her pledge.
You can pledge for a relative, friend/s or just for the museum – meet the challenge and lets preserve our history; tell the truth as it was, NOT what others want it to be. Save the history for our kids.
Bryony is making her pledge in memorial of Peter Bomford MC who died in New Zealand on the 22nd November 2001. During his life, along with his wife Bryony, he overcame the many challenges thrown at him – in war, farming in Rhodesia and moving to a new country to start again when he was 60 years old. Sadly he is not around to guide us through what is the greatest challenge for all Rhodesians and supporters of Rhodesia today – to preserve Rhodesian military history.
Terms and Conditions:
To accept the challenge please contact:
Hugh Bomford email@example.com or call 027 545 8069 or write to PO Box 13003, Tauranga 3141, New Zealand.
The Rhodesian Services Association holds a large Rhodesian flag for use at funerals. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange delivery if required.
The following obituary was received from this Association’s President, Grant ‘Grunter’ Robertson just prior to this newsletter was being published:
“Sad news - I have just heard this morning (27 January 2016) of the passing, of my dear Dad, Ross Robertson in Durban.
He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. He was a walking encyclopaedia concerning anything to do with rugby, Prince Edward School, sport and people in general.
He played rugby and water polo for Rhodesia.
Dad, I am going to miss your weekly calls discussing every aspect of the previous week’s rugby. Deepest sympathy to Liz Armitage and thank-you Liz for all you have done. I will miss your guidance Dad, till we meet again, fly high.”
L-R: Ross Robertson with his son Grant and nephew Rogan
October RV 9th to 11th October 2015
Before I write about the 2015 October RV please make the following note on your calendar: The 2016 October RV will be held from Friday 30September to Sunday 2 October 2016. The venue is not yet set. As soon as we decide on that you will be advised – it will either be Tauranga or Auckland.
We had another great RV in Tauranga beginning on Friday evening with a night of socialising at the Garrison Club with our hosts the 6th Battalion Hauraki Regimental Assn. I am not sure how many were there but it was a good night. It is very pleasant to catch up with folks and have a few drinks and listen to a few stories – stories which get better every year as the teller adds a few embellishments!
On Saturday two groups sought a morning of outdoor entertainment with the golfers having a hack and the walkers spending a few hours wandering around the Te Puna Quarry Garden Park.
Some of the ramblers at the Te Puna Quarry Garden Park
While others were walking and golfing (or travelling), Diana Bomford was slaving away in the kitchen preparing to feed the 50 or so attendees.
In the afternoon we got everyone registered and the welcome was kicked off by Hugh Bomford in the absence of Grunter Robertson who was on a short waiting list for an operation.
It is customary to present the person who has travelled furthest with a small gift. This year David Scott-Donelan who had travelled from Arizona, USA was the recipient.
Andy Telfer SCR then had the attention of the gathering, relating a couple of incidents from his recently published book Chibaya Moyo. There were a few tears shed during his speech, along with a few hearty laughs. That is the kind of book that it is and having Andy there in person was great (elsewhere in this newsletter you will find details of how to purchase a copy of the book).
Andy Telfer SCR relating a story from Chibaya Moyo
Des Anderson, president of the 6th Battalion Hauraki Assn then addressed the room and related a few tales of his past experiences with us. Apparently the following story is still a point of interest with our hosts –it goes something like this:
General Walls had visited the Garrison Club in 2003 and so Des had met and socialised with the general. During one RV (around 2009) it was mutually decided to call Gen Walls in South Africa. No one knew his number but after a few calls Paul Nes got a number and put through a call.
The phone was answered by Eunice Walls. She called to Gen Walls that there was a call for him. A gruff response could be heard over the speaker phone “I’m watching rugby – tell him to call back”. Eunice responded that the call was from the boys in New Zealand. You could almost see the general spring out of his chair, switch off the TV and exchange the remote control for the phone in a flash and a blur.
What followed is what the Kiwis found astounding. As Paul Nes’ phone was passed to each Rhodesian they automatically stood to attention and had a few words with the general (Editor’s Note: I was part of this - each person introducing himself with former rank and name – all riflemen and NCOs from memory). This was totally unprompted and was simply a natural reaction.
The Kiwis were incredulous that a bunch of former servicemen could, after 30 or so years post service a) call up their supreme commander on the other side of the world; and b) all brace up and show respect on the other end of a telephone.
(This just goes to show that we Rhodesians are different when it comes to holding old fashioned principals and also the esteem in which the late Lt Gen Peter Walls was held around the world.)
Des then declared the bar open.
During the course of the afternoon, prior to the annual auction, the golfers received their prizes. This year Paul Nes took away the winner’s trophy and John Glynn received the Colin Logie Memorial Trophy “Benzie” for having played the most golf.
Mike O’Rourke took up the auctioneer’s gavel and kept us entertained for the next 45 minutes at the end of which the Association had benefitted by around $1,500 – thanks to all who donated and purchased.
After the auction it was into the braai and the delicious meal that Diana had put together and had been cooked by Dave, Ray and company. The evening wound up around 10pm.
On Sunday we reconvened at Bruce and Beth Chapman’s for the AGM, followed by lunch. Minutes of the AGM together with Provisional Accounts were forwarded to all financial members within a few days following the AGM.
Tony Fraser and Tony Griffits give thanks for the AGM lunch and take photos of the caterers Beth Chapman, Sue Osborne, Tinka Mushett and Diana Bomford
ANZAC Day 25th April 2016
Full details to be found on our Events page with calendar at http://www.rhodesianservices.org/events.htm
If you are requiring any medals, berets, badges etc., please get your order in through our CQ Store ASAP to avoid a rush or disappointment.
PLEASE NOTE: A group of us from Tauranga intend to come up to Auckland on Sunday the 24th so we would be looking to catch up with as many others as possible at the Hobsonville RSA – emails will be sent out closer to the time. We will be booking into the Hobson Motor Inn across the road from the RSA.
People in NZ wanting to link up with others in their area to attend local parades:
Please note that there is now an organiser in Adelaide
People in Aussie wanting to link up with others in their area to attend local parades:
Cessnock, Hunter Valley, NSW - email Darryl Burlin email@example.com or ph (02) 4991-3317
Dateline Rhodesia 1890 – 1980
by author and professional researcher
Gerry van Tonder
I have been extremely busy the last couple of months working on my first UK publication, which has been very time-consuming. As a consequence, I have left out quite a few of my usual Dateline Rhodesia sections, but in return, this is a very special edition which will give you a remarkable, never-before-seen glimpse of the exemplary military career of one of Rhodesia’s own generals.
I am also indeed privileged to have found a new research colleague in Zimbabwe who shares my passion for Rhodesia’s military history, right from the early Pioneers. Mike Tucker, with camera in hand, has been trekking to the four corners of Zimbabwe writing up places of historical interest and importance in the country. Some of his finds have been nothing short of remarkable, finding long-forgotten and neglected graves from the 1890s. Two weeks ago, Mike sent me headstone details of almost 200 WWII graves in the Pioneer Cemetery, Harare. Another interesting find on his travels was the WWI and WWII War Memorial in Shamva, which most of us did not know even existed.
I never fail to become incredibly excited when forgotten or previously unseen pieces of our history come to light. As always, I remain true to my personal mantra: share what I find or am given.
The Foundation Years
By very kind permission from Mike Tucker, the following is an extract from his write-up on the military expedition to GuBulawayo to unseat the amaNdebele king, Lobengula. It is recorded that a Captain Campbell was the first casualty of the campaign, the circumstances of his death in action well documented. The biggest challenge, however, was to find his grave. In September this year, Mike and a friend were successful, allowing us to record and preserve an important find. This is Mike’s account of his search and the events at the time:
A contemporary map showing the route of the combined column to GuBulawayo
I just looked on the 1:250,000 map. I cannot see a Woodlands Farm, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one once, of course. Iron Mine Hill is marked on Uplands Farm, with Downlands Farm immediately north between the A17 and the railway line. Immediately west is Mackenzie’s Farm on the A17, with Finland Farm to the south. Jack Carruthers was writing a long time ago; I’m not really surprised that the farm name has changed. Local people called it Finland Farm, as does the 1:250,000 map, and the current owner’s widow (clearly the farm was jambanja’d [‘appropriated’ by Mugabe] after 2000).
Just a couple of days ago I was asked by a local historian to prove that Campbell’s grave was adjacent to the laager site. Well…! we know that they had +/- 34 ox-wagons (i.e. 544 oxen, also +/- 414 horses) so they needed a good water supply and John Campbell’s grave is 200 metres from a small stream which is consistent enough to feed a farm dam 800 metres away and south of the farmhouse. Also, we know Campbell was shot on the 15th and died that night and was buried next day and that the combined column moved off on the 17th. I cannot think of any reason why they should have buried Campbell any great distance from the laager site.
The combined laager would not have left any visible trace of their stay, except perhaps a few bully-beef tins. Maybe next time I’ll take a metal detector. Actually, down the hill from Fort Gibbs, we did find some rusted tins which were possibly bully beef eaten by the BSA troopers. At Fort Tuli, the ground is covered with them!
Rusted tins at Fort Tuli
Captain John Lamont Campbell’s grave has lain on the edge of a vlei [swamp] in a clump of msasa trees for over 120 years. Two other unmarked graves are nearby… we will possibly never learn the names of the occupants. They were all probably young men who came to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with high hopes and with a yearning for adventure, but may have been killed in the 1896 Matabele Rebellion, or died of malaria.
Situated some 58 kilometres from Gweru [what was Gwelo] on the railway line to Masvingo [was Fort Victoria] is a remote siding called Iron Mine Hill, named for the ancient iron workings on an overlooking kopje. When the BSA Company decided to mount its punitive expedition against the Matabele, the area was unoccupied country without roads. Iron Mine Hill is a prominent feature and it was chosen as the meeting point for the armed columns coming from Salisbury and Fort Victoria. The objective of the expedition was to overcome the Matabele and their King Lobengula and to annexe Matabeland to the BSA Company.
Capt Campbell’s overgrown grave in msasa woodland at Iron Mine Hill
The Salisbury Column under Major Patrick Forbes, who had overall command, set out on 5 September 1893 with 258 Europeans, 115 Mashona friendlies and 242 horses and 16 wagons. They spent three weeks drilling and training at Fort Charter before leaving for Iron Mine Hill.
The Fort Victoria column under Major Allan Wilson left on 6 October 1893 with 414 Europeans, 400 friendlies and 172 horses with 18 wagons.
A third column commanded by Lt.Col Goold-Adams with 448 Europeans, including 225 from Fort Tuli under Commandant Pieter Raaff, called the Southern Column, left Tati on the 19 October 1893.
The Salisbury and Fort Victoria Columns met on 16 October, but moved quickly to Finland farm, three kilometres west of Iron Mine Hill, because there was water for the considerable number of horses and oxen that the columns depended upon for transport.
The combined Columns moved off on 17 October in a south-westerly direction towards Bulawayo, each cutting its own route for the wagons about 350 metres apart. They moved cautiously, making separate but mutually supporting laagers each night and passed south of Gweru kopje on 21 October 1893.
Captain Campbell from Salisbury became the first BSA Company casualty of the war on 16October, after being badly wounded by a bullet in a skirmish the previous day with the Matabele. In spite of Dr Jameson’s efforts to save his life by amputating his leg, he died in the night and was buried the next day.
Capt Campbell’s neglected, lichen-covered headstone
We did not think the two unmarked graves relate to family deaths on Finland farm, as there are no grave decorations or inscription. The graves are simply mounds of earth covered in stone, but their burial close to Capt. Campbell, strongly suggests they were European. Of course, they probably each had a wooden cross with their occupant’s name originally, but this would have been eaten by termites. There are no reports of any other deaths other than Captain Campbell, which may indicate they were transport riders and died about 1896 in the Matabele rebellion (First Chimurenga) or from malaria, and were simply buried in the veld.
The headstone inscription on Capt. Campbell’s grave reads:
IN LOVING MEMORY
JOHN LAMONT CAMPBELL
LATE CAPTAIN RA
KILLED IN ACTION OCTOBER 1893
ERECTED BY HIS FATHER
OF SOUTHALL ARGYLESHIRE
The three graves lie within a peaceful grove of msasa trees with a gentle slope leading down to the small stream which flows into a farm dam south of the farmhouse.
The task of finding this grave in the veld was in theory going to be difficult, however, having arrived at a local store in the area, we asked the patrons if they knew of Finland farm and of an old grave. After four calls, our informant had spoken to the widow of the owner of Finland farm and established there were indeed three graves and one of them was a John. A young man was deputised to guide us and after some cross-country travel we arrived at Finland farmhouse and were conducted to the graves in the veld. This friendly reception and guidance is typical of Zimbabweans…they are ever willing to give what help they can, even to strangers.
GPS reference for Capt. Campbell’s grave: 19⁰22′41.35″S 30⁰13′30.54″E
Special Feature: Lt-Gen Keith Robert Coster SSAS, ICD, OBE: A Life in Uniform
Lt-Gen Keith Robert Coster SASS, ICD, OBE
Commander of the Rhodesian Army 1968–1972
In August 2015, the late former commander of the Rhodesian Army (1968–1972), Lt-Gen Keith Coster’s son, Steve, and daughter-in-law, Cindy, approached me, wanting to know if I would like to take custody of personal memoirs, photographs, letters, certificates, records and some items of uniform that had belonged to the general. It was their wish that the collection find a permanent home in a Rhodesian museum.
Suffice to say, I very readily accepted their magnanimous offer. In return, I promised them that I would construct a fact file on the military life of the general, so that a permanent record could be established.
The full-colour, coil-bound, 265-page file mainly comprises information and photos, much of which has never been in the public domain.
General Coster’s life in uniform, as I entitled it, was, for me, a massive revelation. I have now fulfilled my promise to the family who sent me this endorsement:
I have just downloaded your magnificent work on my dad. You have truly done a remarkable job of compiling all that history and information. It is amazing what you have unearthed, well over and above that we supplied you!
It will take me some time to go thru and absorb all the detail, but I wanted to say a huge ‘thank you’ for your efforts on behalf of our family. It will remain a fantastic legacy of his life.
I am sure that his grandchildren, other relatives and friends, will find the work fascinating, and will enjoy reading this detailed history of his life.
With grateful thanks,
In 1938, Keith Coster went into uniformed service in South Africa and earned his wings. In 1942, he was shot down in North Africa, and spent the rest of the war incarcerated in various Italian and German prisoner of war camps, including the famous Stalag Luft III of Great Escape fame.
At the end of the war, he transferred to the South African army, and from there, with the rank of major, left South Africa in 1955 to join the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, the King’s African Rifles, based in the then Nyasaland.
With the demise of the Federation in 1963, it was a natural progression for him to transfer to the Southern Rhodesian Army. In 1968, and with the rank of lieutenant-general, he was appointed General Officer Commanding the Rhodesian Army, a post he held until his retirement in 1972.
He then went back to South Africa, where he spent thirteen years serving as a ‘civilian officer’ in the top national security organs of that country, for which he was bestowed South Africa’s highest award, the Star of South Africa.
The file is brim-full of his personal accounts: pilot training, encounters with German aircraft, being shot down and taken prisoner; his experiences as a POW; the Rhodesian Army, including papers on security; a brush with a Russian spy while working for South African state security; and much, much more.
The cover of Gerry van Tonder’s fact file on Lt-Gen Coster (available for purchase – see below)
This amazing military life I now wish to share, as it is a vitally important part of Rhodesian military history. I have gone the private printing route, based on print-to-order. Currently I am making the file available to interested parties in the UK only, at a price of £29.00, inc. P&P. If you want a copy printed for you, please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
In order to illustrate the extraordinary detail that I have been able to include in this publication, I will share with you the following extract from a section of the fact file in which Gen Coster recalls, late in life, his experiences as a prisoner of war.
An extract from Capt. Coster’s POW record
Map of North Africa and Central Europe, depicting Capt. Coster’s journey as a POW, from Benghazi, through Italy and Germany, and finally his flight to England, a free man
(Map thanks to Dudley Wall)
During WWII, nearly 20,000 South African servicemen were taken prisoner, out of the 342,700 who had volunteered for service.
By far the largest single bag of South Africans taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians, was when Tobruk fell on 21 June 1942. Of the 30,000 Allied troops taken prisoner, no fewer than 10,722 were South African. Captain Keith Coster was to join those three weeks later in crude camps in North Africa, awaiting shipment to Europe. He was one of only 273 members of the SAAF taken prisoner during the war, out of a total of 44,569 who had volunteered to serve in the air force.
South African Sergeant Wally Wolhuter of Die Middellandse Regiment said this of having been captured:
“You are in the power of your enemy. You owe your life to his humanity, and your daily bread to his compassion. You must obey his orders, go where he tells you, stay where you are bid, await his pleasure, and possess your soul in patience.”
Chronology as a POW:
11 July - Shot down and taken prisoner at El Daba, Egypt. Held in transit POW camp in Benghazi.
20 July - Campo PG 75, Bari, Italy. This was both a transit and a permanent camp.
7 August - Campo PG 6III, Marinaro Aversa, Italy.
24 October - Campo PG 47, Modena, Italy.
1 November - Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany (now Żagań in Poland).
4 February - Marlag/Milag Nord, Tarmstedt, Germany.
7 May - Arrived in England after being freed.
27 May - Repatriated to South Africa.
Keith Coster relates his experiences as a WWII POW:
Two weeks before I was shot down, the desert fortress of Tobruk had surrendered to the Afrika Korps, and thousands of South African, Australian and British soldiers had become prisoners of war. They had been handed over to the Italians for safekeeping, who then began moving all POWs into the coastal town of Benghazi, from where they would be shipped across the Mediterranean to the Italian port and naval base at Taranto. I was also moved into Benghazi to join the vast number of South African officers who had arrived there from Tobruk.
POWs in the temporary Benghazi camp
One of the POWs I bumped into was an Australian lieutenant-colonel, who was wearing army boots, long flannel pyjamas and the Australian hat turned up at one side. He told me that he had been asleep in his slit trench, in his pyjamas, when he was woken and told to report immediately to some tactical headquarters in the desert. He slipped on his boots and his hat, and set off in his Jeep in the darkest of nights. Unfortunately for him, he inadvertently found a gap in the wire which marked the front line, went through it, and found himself in the German lines where he was immediately ‘bagged’!
I cannot remember when we left Benghazi, nor the name of the Italian ship that took us across the Mediterranean. However, when the war ended and I landed up in England, I went to stay with my uncle and aunt and my cousin David in London. David, who served in the Royal Corps of Signals in North Africa, was also captured in Tobruk. We discovered that we had both been in the same ship at the same time when we crossed the Med. to Italy. The voyage lasted a couple of days, until our ship docked at Taranto from where we were taken by train to Bari and chucked into a POW camp.
I can’t remember how long we were in Bari; not very long I think, as Bari was merely a transit camp. From there a train moved us across Italy from east to west. It was on this journey that I contemplated escaping by jumping from the train. The thought was that one would then wait in the dark beside the railway truck for a goods train to come by, and at the same place where the passenger train had slowed down, jump up onto the goods train and get as far north as possible. I had discussed this with a friend called ‘Bones’ Hobson, who had been my company commander when I joined the Special Service Company of the Royal Durban Light Infantry in Durban in 1937. By this time, I had caught him up and we were both captains. We got ready for the train to slow down and opened the compartment windows to jump out, but as we were about to go, some chap from the compartment ahead of us beat us to the jump. We expected the Italian guards to open up with their rifles on the man who we could see crouched beside the track with his spectacles glinting in the moonlight, and so we hesitated. Then the train started to pick up speed again and the moment was lost. We went on westwards across southern Italy, eventually arriving at a small town called Aversa, not all that far from Naples.
An Italian POW ‘campo’
This proved to be another transit camp [Campo PG 63] and I cannot recall how long we stayed there. All I recall is that it was summer and there were flies in their millions. The commandant of the camp was a small Italian lieutenant-colonel with a very short fuse. On one occasion when something upset him, he called a parade of all the officers in the camp: South African, British, some Australians, and a number of Indian Army officers. As he could speak no English, he harangued us in Italian, screaming and shouting, and punching the air with his fists. After about five minutes of this, he turned to his interpreter who said in English, “Gentlemen, the commandant is displeased with you.”
We all burst out laughing, whereupon the commandant really went crazy, and finally stamped off the parade ground.
We were not very long at Aversa before we were moved once again, this time quite a long way up north to a town called Modena, presently famous as the birthplace of opera singer Pavarotti, and the place in which the Ferrari factory is situated. For us it was the place in which Campo PG 47 was located. PG stands for Prigioniero di Guerra: prisoners of war (POWs). The camp was some way out of town, and was built in the form of a square, with all the buildings on the sides of the square, with a very large expanse of open ground in the middle. Our accommodation was in the form of large bungalows, each holding a substantial number of officers.
We soon settled into a routine, which revolved around food, efforts to escape, and sport. As far as the latter was concerned, we laid out all sorts of sporting facilities on the open ground in the centre of the camp. One of our most popular sporting activities was softball, as it was so easy to organise and needed a minimum of equipment. One of my closest friends in the camp was Les Payn from Natal, who was a brilliant cricket all-rounder and an especially good left-arm leg spinner. When he was captured at Tobruk, he had a cricket ball in his possession, which survived through to Aversa. During a routine search there, the Italians came across Les’s ball, about which they were highly suspicious and insisted upon cutting it open to see what he was concealing inside. Also when he was captured, he was wearing a Red Cross armband as he was in charge of African stretcher bearers (he spoke Zulu like a Zulu). His armband was to stand him in very good stead when a delegation from the International Red Cross visited the camp. They declared him a non-combatant and arranged that the Italians should repatriate him via Switzerland and the UK to South Africa. Back in the Union of South Africa, he went to see next-of-kin of POWs in our camp, and called on Molly to tell her that I was fine. After the war, Les became a Springbok cricketer and remained my very good friend until he died in the eighties.
In between our sporting and other recreational activities – I also played a great deal of bridge – we dreamt of escaping and getting back to our units while the war was still on. We never considered that it could go on for another three years. There was only one entrance to the camp, which was heavily guarded day and night. On the other side of the buildings, was a continuous perimeter fence of barbed wire: very high, and interspersed with mutually supporting sentry towers equipped with searchlights and machine guns. There were also 24-hour foot patrols moving along the perimeter fence, so there was no way out of that camp except through the front entrance, so our thoughts turned to tunnels.
Innovative tunnelling equipment
A tunnel is no easy thing to construct … or to conceal. You must start with a tunnel entrance, which must be in a building so that your activities are hidden from prying eyes, and where you can spot the approach of enemy sentries in time to close down tunnelling activity before they came upon it. Then your major problem is to get rid of the ‘spoil’: the earth that you excavate from the tunnel. You must keep the tunnel going in the right direction – easier said than done – or you may find it breaking out in the Italian commandant’s office! And finally, you have to contend with the technicalities of tunnelling such as ‘shoring up’ to prevent subsidence and ventilation as the tunnel increases in length. Digging a tunnel may take many months and then not be successful.
I was involved in two tunnels in Modena, which kept me busy for most of the time I spent in Campo PG 47. Both were eventually discovered before we had got very far. In the one case, the tunnel entrance was found during a routine search, despite it being very well concealed. In the other case, the spoil, which we distributed over the sports fields during the night, showed up a different colour in the light of day, alerting the Italians to the fact that a tunnel was under construction. They would then search for days until they found the entrance.
While we were busy with the second tunnel, I approached an air-force friend, Jeff Morphew, to ask him whether he would care to join our tunnelling team. Much to my surprise, he turned the offer down. What I didn’t know then was that Jeff and a friend of his were on the brink of a brilliant escape, which for security reasons he dared not tell anyone else about. Jeff and his friend were both small men. They had made themselves Italian soldiers’ uniforms, complete with wooden rifles, which looked just like the real thing. When the time came, their plan was to wait for dusk when the day guards inside the camp finished their shift and marched out of the front entrance to the compound. They would fall in behind the single file of departing guards and march out with them, hoping that there was no-one counting the number of guards who marched out – as it turned out, no-one was.
Jeff and his friend Coelgees were taken to be genuine Italian soldiers, and once out of the POW compound, they laid up until it was completely dark and then walked out of Campo PG 47 altogether. They then changed out of their Italian uniforms into civilian dress, and bought tickets at the local railway station to get as far away from Modena as possible.
Later, while they were en route to the Swiss border, they became separated and Coelgees was recaptured. Jeff, however, made it into Switzerland, where he met the girl he was eventually to marry. From there he was helped by the French underground to cross occupied France by train, thence through Spain to Gibraltar, which remained in British hands throughout the war. From Gibraltar, he was flown back to England where he was seconded to the RAF, finding himself back on operations against Germany. Jeff wrote a marvellous book after the war about his escape, which has now been published.
Probably the subject nearest the hearts of all POWs was food, as this was usually the most pressing problem. The food provided by our captors was never sufficient but fortunately, for us, the International Red Cross was a wonderful organisation that looked after prisoners of war of whatever nationality and wherever they were.
Red Cross parcel and contents
When everything was going well, we would receive a weekly food parcel from the Red Cross, with such wonderful delicacies as ‘Klim’ (powdered milk), condensed milk, biscuits, jam, ‘Spam’ (American tinned meat), sugar and tea, etc. When things were not going well, the Italians – and later the Germans – would withhold the Red Cross parcels in order to punish us. It was virtually impossible to live on the food provided by our captors, which usually consisted of a couple of slices of dry bread and a bowl of watery ‘soup’ per day. Now and again, we might be given a couple of shrivelled potatoes, or a piece of some ghastly vegetable called kohlrabi; also known as turnip-cabbage. There were also long periods when no Red Cross parcels could be delivered to the camps. During these periods, we really knew what hunger pangs meant. Now, some fifty or more years after the war, it is difficult to recall just how hungry one was most of the time, but I do know that even when the supply of Red Cross parcels was satisfactory, one was still perpetually hungry. It was not unknown for some POWs to give promissory notes for up to £100 – to be paid after the war – for the purchase of a Red Cross parcel.
I think it was in Modena that I received my first letter from Molly. When I was shot down, she was officially advised that her husband, Capt Keith Robert Coster was “missing, presumed killed in action”, which naturally came as a terrible blow to her.
As POWs, we were allowed to write only one letter-card a month to our next-of-kin, and it wasn’t until we got to Modena that we were given this privilege, so it was a couple of months before Molly learned that she still had a husband after all. Whatever we wrote was subject to censorship by the Italian military authorities, so there wasn’t much that we could say about how we really were and what we really felt. Nevertheless, it was a lifeline to which we clung tenuously, as it was our only link with home.
A typical Italian Campo ‘card-letter’. This particular one was written by Lt Charles Lewis from Campo PG 47, where Capt Coster also spent some time.
Despite being locked up and isolated from the outside world, we were always aware of the progress of the war. Every camp had a clandestine radio receiver, which listened in to the news bulletins from the BBC. We also got an occasional newspaper into the camp from ‘friendly’ guards, so we knew what was going on in Italy and indeed the rest of the world.
The year 1942 passed painfully slowly for us, but we knew that the tide had turned with the battle of El Alamein fought in the Western Desert in North Africa in October, between the British 8th Army under General Montgomery and the German Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Rommel. Rommel’s drive towards Cairo had been stopped at the Alamein line, and then turned round after the Battle of El Alamein. The Afrika Korps and their Italian allies were soundly defeated. They started a withdrawal to the west, which would eventually lead to their being forced out of Africa and back, firstly to the island of Sicily, and then on to the mainland of Europe. The last battle on African soil was fought on 12 May 1943, heralding the end of the desert war.
Then came the Allied invasion of Sicily. The writing was on the wall for the Italian armed forces. The Fascist leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini, was driven from office in July 1943. We began to get very excited when Allied forces entered Italy from the south, and as they began to move northwards with the intention of driving the Axis forces out of Italy altogether. At about this time, the Italian component of the Axis forces, realising that the war was effectively over for them, capitulated, leaving only the German armed forces to confront the advancing Allies, so we believed that it would not be very long before our camp was overrun and we would be released. Regrettably, I cannot now recall the dates on which things happened. I used to have a POW log in which I recorded the events that governed my life in those days, but this disappeared when I was living in Potchefstroom from 1949 to 1951.
It must have been August 1943 when it became apparent, that very shortly our POW camp would cease to be guarded by the Italians. It was our hope that the Allied forces would overrun our camp and set us free. However, the Germans had dug themselves in on various defensive lines across Italy, effectively holding up the progress of Allied forces. The British and American armies were trying to move up from the south of Italy to the north, into what Churchill referred to as “the soft underbelly of Europe”. So much so, that when the Italian capitulation took place and the guards disappeared from Campo PG 47, their place was taken immediately by the Germans, who entered the camp with the express intention of moving all the POWs out and transferring them to Germany.
Many of us in the camp had decided to get out the moment the Italian guards left. We were ready to do so, but then a message was received, via our clandestine camp radio, from the British HQ in Italy, to the effect that we should stay where we were and not leave the camp under any circumstances until we were relieved by the British forces. We were all summoned on to the parade ground and addressed by the senior officer in the camp, who was a New Zealand lieutenant-colonel. He said that he had received this instruction from the British HQ in Italy and advised no-one to disobey the instruction. Subsequently, when he realised that the great majority of the officers in Campo PG 47 had been moved to Germany because of following his advice, he very sadly committed suicide. The next morning, the Italian guards disappeared and the Germans marched in.
WWII cattle truck used by the Germans to transport both Allied POWs and hapless Jews
The following day we were marched out of the camp, and down to the Modena railway station where we were loaded into cattle trucks for the long train journey to Germany. On the railway platform, I witnessed one of the most horrible things I have ever seen. Italian civilians were also being sent to Germany as labourers. One young Italian lad was embracing a woman who presumably was his mother. She was crying and holding on to him, while a young German officer was yelling at him to get on to the train. The more the German yelled, the more the woman cried and clung to the young man. Eventually the German officer pulled out his Luger pistol, and without further ado, shot the young Italian dead in his mother’s arms.
When all the POW officers were loaded into the cattle trucks, the doors were bolted from the outside, and the train moved off. We had no water, there were no toilet facilities, and we were crowded to the point where no-one could lie down. It was hot and airless. We had no idea how long we would be incarcerated in the trucks. I think we spent two nights and two days in the gloom of the cattle trucks before the train stopped at Innsbruck in Austria. We were allowed out of the trucks and, being desperately thirsty, made immediately for a small stream that ran alongside the railway line. The water, which came down from the mountains towering above Innsbruck, was crystal clear and icy cold. It was the most refreshing thing I ever remembered. I fell in love with Innsbruck on that day in 1943, but never managed to get back there as a free man until September 1999, fifty-six years later.
We were soon back in the cattle trucks and on our way to Germany once again. Our next stop was at a town called Moosburg, where we detrained and were put into a transit POW camp for a few days. The Moosburg camp contained POWs from all the countries fighting Germany, including Russians. One of the bungalows housed only Russians, and on one occasion while we were there, the Germans ordered everyone to parade on the parade ground. The Russians refused to obey the order, so the Germans opened the doors at each end of the bungalow and sent in three or four German shepherd dogs to force the Russians out. The dogs were never seen again. The Russians killed them and ate them!
I cannot remember when or how long we stayed in Moosburg, but we were soon back in the cattle trucks and on our way to what was meant to be a permanent camp near Stuttgart. I remember virtually nothing of this camp either, or how long we spent there: it could have been weeks or months – probably a month or two.
Then the Germans announced that all captured air force officers were to be removed from the Stuttgart camp and transferred to an exclusively air force POW camp known as Stalag Luft III. Some of the South African Air Force officers decided that they would rather stay with their friends in Stuttgart and proceeded to rid themselves of anything – badges, buttons, wings, etc – that might identify them as airmen. My friends and I, however, decided that we had nothing to lose by going to Stalag Luft III. In due course we were marched out of the camp, down to the nearest railway station, and entrained for the longish journey to the east. Stalag Luft III was situated southeast of Berlin, near a village or small town called Sagan. This was probably in November 1943, because all I remember of the journey was that it was snowing heavily, it was bitterly cold, and did not present any opportunity for a possible escape from the train.
We duly arrived at Sagan, noting that the area was very flat and fairly heavily wooded with pine trees. Stalag Luft III was a large POW camp, divided into a number of compounds. We were put into the north compound, which consisted of a number of long, wooden bungalows with a central corridor running from end to end, with rooms on each side. Some rooms held four men, some eight.
An aerial view of Stalag Luft III. Capt Coster was quartered in the North Camp.
Our beds were double-decker wooden bunks with slats across – known as bed boards – which supported a thin and uncomfortable coir mattress. All the bungalows were raised off the ground so that the German security guards – known as ‘ferrets’ – could check on possible tunnelling activities.
The rooms had an iron pot-bellied stove that kept us warm in winter, and enabled us to brew-up tea which came to us in the Red Cross parcels. When the stoves were not lit, tea water was brewed-up in what we called a ‘stufa’, a very skilfully constructed little stove made from empty Klim powdered milk tins, which heated water very rapidly. Balls of paper were used as fuel. Klim tins joined together to form a pipe, were also used to convey air to the face of a tunnel for ventilation, while bed boards were used to shore up tunnels and prevent them from collapsing.
We soon settled into our new environment, making many new friends amongst the hundreds of fellow air force officers there. I suppose the majority were Royal Air Force officers, most of them shot down in night-bombing raids over Germany. Later we had a huge influx of Americans when the US 8th Air Force started daylight raids with [Boeing] B-17 bombers. This was before they had Mustang fighter [North American Aviation P-51] escorts to keep off the German [Messerschmitt Bf] 109s and Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.
There were also Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians, South Africans, Poles, Czechs, Frenchmen, Hollanders, Norwegians, etc. Jack Parsonson, who was there when I arrived, became my best friend, and we remained together until the end of the war. Other good friends I had there were Jack Robbs, who was on my course at the SA Military College, Johnny Eccles, and a senior cadet, Con Norton, a well-known South African war correspondent whose brother was editor of the Cape Times.
There was also Paul Brickhill, an Australian war correspondent who wrote the story of ‘The Great Escape’ (later made into a film starring Steve McQueen), Jim Verster who, after the war, became the head of the South African Air Force, Tony Parker, later to be the Secretary for Defence in Rhodesia, and many others.
I had an American chum called Jack Fielding who, in peacetime, had been a Golden Gloves lightweight boxing champion. He taught me a lot about boxing too. At one stage, we had an American lieutenant-colonel in our room called Jamie Murray. He was a delightful chap and very easy to get on with. He bailed out of his Flying Fortress [Boeing B-17] at 30,000 feet, and decided to free-fall most of the way before opening his parachute. He became so intrigued with the free-fall, that he only just got the parachute open in time. Also in the camp was an RAF Sergeant Alkemade, who was blown out of a Lancaster bomber without a parachute. He fell from about 16,000 feet and landed in a very deep snowdrift. He sprained his ankle and lived to tell the tale!
[RAF gunner Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade (21) was sitting in the tail end of a Lancaster bomber when a German fighter plane opened fire. His plane, Werewolf, began to go down in flames and the pilot addressed the crew over the crackly intercom, telling them to jump. Alkemade stood in the plane, flames licking his flight suit, and in the chaos was forced to make an unenviable decision. The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry, or jump to his death. He decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things, so he backed out of his turret and dropped away.]
[*RAF gunner Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade (21) was sitting in the tail end of a Lancaster bomber when a German fighter plane opened fire. His plane, Werewolf, began to go down in flames and the pilot addressed the crew over the crackly intercom, telling them to jump. Alkemade stood in the plane, flames licking his flight suit, and in the chaos was forced to make an unenviable decision. The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry, or jump to his death. He decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things, so he backed out of his turret and dropped away.]
When our intake moved into Stalag Luft III, there were three tunnels under construction. One was discovered, but the Germans knew nothing of the other two, so their construction continued throughout the winter. Some of us volunteered to join the tunnel crews and were assigned as ‘duty pilots’.
Our function was to watch for, and report on, the movement of ferrets. Our organisation was such that the position of every ferret was known at every minute of the day or night. If a ferret was known to be moving towards a bungalow from which a tunnel was being dug, the word flashed from one duty pilot to another, causing work to cease at the tunnel mouth, until the danger had passed. The same organisation worked to make it safe for the BBC news to be read out to all the occupants of a bungalow each day. A clandestine radio receiver, hidden well below ground, received the news.
Every morning all the POWs who were not in the camp hospital had to attend ‘apell’: a parade of every able-bodied prisoner, where we were counted and also addressed on any subject which the Germans wanted to convey to us. In the summer, this was no real hardship, but in the East German winters (we were not far from the Polish border), it was just plain hell. Sometimes, to punish us for perceived misdemeanours, we would be kept on apell for hours on end in the snow and the freezing wind.
Every day started with apell, and when it was over, we more or less had the day to ourselves. Some would talk, some would read, some would attend classes to learn German or French or any other language that was being offered. Some would be rehearsing for a camp play, others like Paul Brickhill and Con Norton, would be busy with the manuscript of a book. When the weather was good, many would indulge in physical exercise ranging from gymnastics to weight lifting. In the winter, it was so cold that we would make an ice-skating rink in no time at all. The fire buckets in each bungalow would be filled with water, and one would race out to the site at the skating rink and pour the water onto the ground where it froze instantaneously, before rushing back for another one. In thirty minutes, one would have a skating rink large enough to play ice hockey on. Skates were provided by the International Red Cross.
Probably the most popular pastime with the majority of POWs, was ‘pounding the beat’, which meant walking round and round the perimeter track that was overlooked at every point by the German sentries in the ‘goon boxes’ or ‘goon towers’, which were erected all around the compounds. One met airmen from every part of the Commonwealth, as well as from America, and those countries of Europe at war with the Germans. One of the friends I made at that time was a squadron leader from New Zealand called Len Trent. He told me, as we pounded the beat together, about how he came to be shot down. It was an incredible story, and when he had finished I said to him, “Len, what you have just told me sounds like a citation for a VC.” Much to my delight, when the war was over, I read in an English newspaper that Squadron Leader Len Trent of New Zealand had been awarded the Victoria Cross.
The large open space between the bungalows and the perimeter wire was used for sporting activities of all kinds, from rugby and soccer to gymnastics. On one occasion, we organised a huge athletics meeting between North America (the United States and Canada), the British Isles, Europe, Africa and the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand). The climax of the meeting was a medley relay race in which I ran the 440 yards (now 400 metres) for Africa. Despite being perpetually hungry, I was very fit. When I took over the baton, I was stone last, but I went off at a great pace and to my surprise eventually passed all the other runners on the track. I handed over to a chap from Kenya who had to finish by running the 880 yards. He was a superb athlete who had no difficulty in maintaining the lead that I had given him, and so Africa won the premier event of the day. Not a big deal as they say today, but very satisfying in those circumstances.
Allied POW stage production
Another very popular activity amongst the ‘Kriegies’ (short for kriegsgefangene, German for POWs) was that produced by the Dramatic Society who put on all the plays that were then on in the West End of London. There was some extraordinarily good talent to be found in the POW camps. A number of RAF officers who acted in the camps during the war became very well known on the London stage after the war. The big problem was that there were no women in POW camps, so all female parts had to be taken by men. In Stalag Luft III we had an RAF officer called ‘Junior’ Dowler who, when made up as the female lead for a play, was nothing short of incredibly beautiful, and many a POW found himself ‘in love’ with that gorgeous girl! On one occasion, the play being enacted by the Dramatic Society was ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. We were all very amused to hear that an American air force officer had arrived in the camp, having been shot down in a B-17, with tickets in his pocket for the London show of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. So, in the end, he saw it in Germany!
There seemed to be no possibility of escape from Stalag Luft III, except by tunnels from inside the compound, under the wire, and eventually coming up some distance outside. As I have already mentioned, when I moved into Stalag Luft III in November 1943, or thereabouts, there were three tunnels under construction. One was discovered and closed down by the Germans, while work on the other two continued. The tunnels were code-named Tom, Dick and Harry. Harry was the tunnel chosen for the ‘Great Escape’, which took place on the night of 24 March 1944.
Stalag Luft III POW Tom, Dick, Harry and George tunnel of The Great Escape fame
The plan was to get 250 POWs out through the tunnel before first light the next morning. Only a limited number of would-be escapers could be provided with suitable civilian clothing, money, maps and rations, so the selection was based on those officers who had been intimately connected with tunnel construction from its inception. The balance, if they managed to get out, would do the best they could in their air force uniforms and what rations they had saved up. No one expected them to get very far, but at least they would keep the follow-up forces busy looking for them, and perhaps help to take the heat off those who were better equipped for escaping. All of us who had had any hand in the escape organisation drew cards to establish the order of going through the tunnel. My number was such as to make it unlikely that I would get out that night. I was bitterly disappointed at the time, but said a silent prayer of thanks when the events of that fateful night unfolded.
Everything that could go wrong with the tunnel went wrong. It was late in ‘breaking’, coming up sixty feet short of where it should have come up. Some escapees were stuck fast in the tunnel when all the lighting went out in the tunnel because the RAF were raiding Berlin ninety miles away, so the Germans turned off all the electricity at Stalag Luft III. Instead of getting 250 men through the tunnel, about 80 got through. A couple of days later, we were informed that on the orders of Adolf Hitler himself, fifty of these were executed by shooting. Their ashes, in fifty small urns, were sent back into the compound for all the rest of us to see. The impact of such an outrageous action can well be imagined. Fifty hale, living men – our friends – two days ago, and now fifty small urns containing their ashes. Our hatred and detestation of the Germans knew no bounds.
The memorial at the Stalag Luft III site to the fifty Allied POWs who were executed after having been caught following their unsuccessful attempt at escape.
Eventually life, such as it was in a POW camp, returned to normal. By listening to the BBC news every day, clandestinely of course, we were aware that the tide of war was turning against the Germans. Hitler’s invasion of Russia – exactly as in the case of Napoleon’s invasion of 1812 – turned sour, forcing the Germans to start the long and terrible retreat from Russia back to their homeland. German losses in the battle for Stalingrad were enormous. At last the writing was on the wall.
RAF Bomber Command carried the air war to Germany, sending as many as 1,000 bombers a night to Berlin and many other major German cities. The US Air Force too, stepped up its daylight raids on the Reich. We often witnessed 1,000 or more B-17s spread across the sky from horizon to horizon, while air battles between the escorting Mustang fighters and the German 109s and 190s raged around the line of bombers. Then on 6 June 1944 came the invasion of the continent from Great Britain: Operation Overlord, the greatest seaborne invasion that the world has ever seen. The Allied forces, with Americans and British in the majority, landed in France. As they built up their forces in the bridgehead area, they turned east and swept towards Germany.
We all thought that the war would be over before Christmas 1944, and that we would be back home for Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. The war dragged on with the German forces being squeezed more and more between the Russians from the east and the Allied forces from the west. In the south also, the Allies, driving up through Italy, helped to squeeze the German forces back into the heart of Europe.
In the first months of 1945, Germany was in the grip of a harsh, bitterly cold winter, as well as being rolled up from both east and west as the Russians and the Allies closed in on the country.
Allied POWs on the march through Germany
On the night of 16 February 1945, it was snowing heavily over Stalag Luft III when, without any warning, we were told to pack our few belongings and be prepared to move out of the camp within an hour. We could at this stage hear the Russian and German guns as they engaged in an artillery battle on the River Oder, which was the border between Poland and Germany, about fifty kilometres to the east. It never occurred to us, though, that we would actually be moved from Stalag Luft III. However, every POW had some rations saved from Red Cross parcels for use in an emergency, so we packed these, together with any spare clothes we had, and a blanket each.
The Canadians, who were used to snow, suggested that we should try to provide ourselves with little sledges for carrying our belongings. Jack Parsonson, Jim Verster and I hastily knocked up a sledge using bed boards. We had the brilliant idea of cutting strips of metal from Klim tins, which we nailed to the sledge’s runners to obviate too much wear. We dressed in everything we had, packed the rest on the sledge. We were ready.
I think it was about midnight when the guards chased us out of our barracks and got us formed up in columns of three facing towards the exit from the camp. It was freezing. Not only was it snowing hard, but there was an icy wind blowing off the Silesian plains which introduced a wind-chill factor that dropped the temperature alarmingly. Then off we set, out of the camp we had been in since November 1943, before turning towards the west, away from the advancing Russian forces. We plodded on through the snow, with heads down to avoid the icy wind but beards and moustaches froze into solid ice and morale dropped to rock bottom.
When the first grey streaks of dawn lit the wintry sky, one could imagine that this was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. Two of us pulled the sledge with all our worldly belongings packed on it, while the third just plodded until his turn came round. Our sledge became more and more difficult to pull. We presumed that we were tiring, but we had to keep going. The awful weight of the sledge not only broke our backs, but nearly our spirits as well. Eventually after some hours, we decided to do without the sledge and backpack instead. It was when we offloaded the sledge that we discovered what the problem was. The Klim tin ‘runners’ on the underside had lost the nails that held them fastened to the wood. They had turned downwards into the snow, so that instead of helping the sledge to slide over the snow, they had become brakes, which made pulling virtually impossible. Once we had ripped the tin runners off, the sledge once more pulled normally, and off we went again.
The blizzard lasted all day and conditions worsened considerably. That night, nearly dead with fatigue, we slept beside the road in total blackness and on the snow. Jack Parsonson and I each had a blanket, so we put one down on the snow, then lay huddled together for what little warmth we could get from each other’s bodies, and put the other blanket on top. It was a night neither of us would ever forget. Years later Jack would delight in shocking people by telling them that Keith Coster was the only man he had ever slept with!
By the following night, we had reached a small German village, or town, called Muskau. To our extreme relief, billets were found for all the POWs on the march. Jack, Jim and I found ourselves billeted in a disused cinema, from which all the seats had been removed, so although we had to sleep on the floor, we at least had a roof over our heads, which held off the snow and the howling, icy wind. There were so many of us packed into the cinema, however, that we lay like sardines in a tin. If one had to get up in the night to go outside to spend a penny, one inevitably trod on some recumbent form in the total darkness, rewarded with a flow of invective the like of which one had never heard before.
We spent a few days at Muskau until the blizzard stopped and the weather began to clear a little. Then we were on the march again to a town called Spremberg, which was on the railway line. Here we would be crammed into cattle trucks for a long and desperately uncomfortable journey across Germany from east to west. One of our concerns was the possibility that Allied fighter aircraft would strafe our train, or that the British or Americans would bomb us when we were being shunted about in railway marshalling yards. However, this never materialised, and eventually we reached the destination that the Germans had set for us. It was a place called Westertimke on the outskirts of Bremen. We arrived there at night and in pouring rain. All we wanted was to get inside, even though it was another POW camp.
Strangely enough, the Germans were very tardy about letting us in, until Jim Verster went up to the gate and shouted for the commandant. When he appeared, Jim threatened him with harsh action after the war if he did not immediately open the gates and let us all in. This worked. Hundreds and hundreds of sick, cold, wet, hungry and weary POWs were permitted to get out of the rain and find a place to doss down for the night.
Our first journey was over. It commenced on 17 February 1945 and ended at Westertimke on the last day of February – a total of eleven days. The camp we were now in had a majority of naval and merchant navy officers, but we hardly had time to make friends there because the war was rapidly drawing to a close. Germany was shrinking in size, as the Russian forces closed in on Berlin from the east and the allied forces from the west. Our camp was close enough to Hamburg for us to be able to witness the night bombing of that city. It was a fearful sight to behold. The night was lit up almost like day from the fires caused by the bombing, and the casualties caused to the German people were terrible.
On April 15th, four days before my 25th birthday, the Germans decided to move us once more. This time we were to move eastward, away from the advancing Allied forces. We set off along country roads heading towards Hamburg, where we would cross the River Elbe into Schleswig-Holstein. By now it was early spring in Europe and there was plenty of blue sky and sunshine, added to which was the certainty that the war, which had been going for five-and-a-half years, would very soon be over. Our second march, by comparison with the evacuation from Stalag Luft III, was a pleasure. As we passed through villages and farms, we were able to do a little trading with the locals, exchanging chocolate and cigarettes from the Red Cross parcels for eggs and fresh vegetables. When you haven’t eaten an egg for three years, it becomes a very desirable and prized item. We slept in fields beside the road, where we were invariably kept awake by low-flying Allied aircraft which, even at night, kept up the air offensive against German targets. They would drop parachute flares that turned night into day, then strafed or bombed anything that moved. During the day too, we were constantly on the lookout for British or American aircraft that were very active over the sector in which we were moving, ahead of the advancing Allied forces.
There was at least one awful tragedy. A column of naval POWs just in front of us was strafed and sixty killed before the column could scatter. The senior British naval officer, very bravely, donned his naval jacket and cap and ran to the crown of the road, raising his arms into the air to display his British uniform, but he too was gunned down by one of the fighter aircraft and killed.
It took four days to move from Westertimke to Hamburg. We crossed the Elbe – I don’t remember whether by bridge or by ferry – coming out into beautiful farming country on the other side. The crossing of the Elbe was on my birthday. We continued to move slowly into the countryside of Schleswig-Holstein towards Lübeck. The German guards, who were looking after us, knew it was only a matter of days before we would be freed and they would become prisoners of war themselves. All their arrogance disappeared like mist in the morning, as they began to behave like friendly, fellow human beings.
About the end of April, we came to a really beautiful German farm, where our captors arranged with the farmer that we should be billeted at the farm for a couple of days. Accordingly, we moved in and found ourselves a place to sleep. Jim, Jack and I found a loft over a barn filled with straw. It was warm, dry, and very comfortable. I think it was 3 May 1945 when we snuggled into the straw to sleep.
We woke early in the morning to the sound of machine-gun fire, which meant that the Allied forces were no more than a few kilometres away. The German guards had melted away during the night. I was free after two years and eight months of captivity.
Some enterprising POW had erected a sign near the farm’s gate on the road, which read, “Good pull in for tanks”, based on the British sign “Good pull in for lorries” to indicate a stopover for lorry drivers. Well, no tanks pulled in to our farm, but a British army scout car, containing a private soldier and a corporal, saw the sign and drove up the access road to the farm buildings where we were billeted. The corporal gave us the news officially that we already knew: the German armed forces were in full retreat and that the war would be over in a couple of days. This was 4 May 1945, Mum’s [Molly] 26th birthday!
Humber scout car
We were all really too stunned to be wildly excited, so we just waited patiently for whatever would happen next. My memory of what did happen next is very vague. I think a POW liaison officer contacted us, and that he arranged transport to take us to an assembly area from which we would be flown to England. If my memory serves me correctly, we were taken in three-ton lorries from the farm in Schleswig-Holstein to Lüneburg where, in fact, the armistice was signed between the Allied and German forces, officially ending the war that had started on 3 September 1939, five years and eight months before.
What I do remember is that in the afternoon of 7th May, while we were waiting in Lüneburg to be flown back to Britain, three of us, myself, Johnny Eccles and Con Norton, decided to go for a walk. Don’t ask me what had happened to Jack Parsonson and Jim Verster at that stage. We walked out into the countryside, and were quite close to an aerodrome that had obviously been hurriedly vacated by the Germans, as it was quite deserted. We then saw a Dakota coming in to land on the runway. When the Dakota stopped, we climbed through the aerodrome fence and ran up to talk to the Dakota’s pilot. He was a Canadian flying officer who asked us where the hell he was! We told him and then got chatting to him. He told us that he had to go first to Brussels and then back to England that afternoon. We told him we were ex-POWs and asked whether we could hitch a ride back to the UK with him. He said, “Sure, hop aboard.” So we did just that.
Very soon we were in Brussels, where we spent about an hour before flying over the channel and over a green and beautiful English countryside to some RAF airfield in the Midlands, the name of which I do not now recall. Other POWs were arriving at the same airfield, where we found ourselves being taken to a hangar to be deloused, before being given a wonderful tea with cakes and cream scones, which we wolfed down.
Then we were put into three-tonners and driven down to the south of England to Brighton, where an organisation to receive South African ex-POWs had been set up. Johnny, Con and I were billeted with many other SA personnel in a Brighton hotel, which the South African Defence Force had hired for the purpose. I recall having a hot bath – the first in nearly three years – then drawing some money from the paymaster. I then went out with my mates in search of beer. It was the 7th May, the night before the armistice was signed, and we partied all night long! So did everyone else in Brighton and throughout the British Isles.
Below are three pages of a top-secret questionnaire that all liberated British and American POWs were required to complete:
Thus did my personal war come to an end. It was a very disappointing war for a Permanent Force officer and I will always rue the day that I was shot down. However, being a prisoner of war taught me many lessons, not the least of which was that I should give thanks every day of my life for that priceless state called freedom.
Though the war in Europe officially came to an end on 8 May 1945, it was to continue until August 1945 in the Far East, when the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan brought the war abruptly to a close.
It would make sense for me to close my war journal with my return to South Africa, from where I had departed on 13 April 1942. There is not much more to relate.
I went up to London from Brighton to stay with Uncle Ken (my father’s brother), Aunt Chel and my cousin David. Mum had posted a parcel to me containing my barathea uniform and cap, so I was able to turn out smartly. David was a signaller in the Royal Corps of Signals and we ‘did’ London together from Buckingham Palace on the one end, to the Windmill Theatre on the other. In the latter, we saw topless showgirls for the first time, and at the former, I was delighted to receive a salute from one of the Guards sentries who recognised me as a captain. From London, I caught a train and went up to Keswick in the Lake District where my Aunt ‘Dooley’ had a cottage. She was my father’s sister. I spent a few days with her in that most beautiful part of England, before returning to London to wait for transport back home. It was early in June, I think, that I was told that a Dakota would be leaving England for South Africa and that I had a seat on it.
DC3 Dakota in Normandy invasion livery
My memory of the Dakota trip is vague, but I know it took about a week. I can remember it landing in Paris, Rome, Athens, Cairo, and then all the landing grounds down through Africa, until we came to Pretoria. We finally landed at Zwartkop Air Station, where I had started my flying training on 7 September 1938. I caught a train from Pretoria to Cape Town, where Mum met me after an absence of three years and two months. The war, for me, was over at last.
This is just part of the whole story – if you want your own copy of the 265-page coil bound fact file on Gen Coster’s amazing military career please email email@example.com
At the Going Down of the Sun
In my column introduction, I made mention of the Shamva War Memorial, very kindly ‘discovered’ and photographed by Mike Tucker.
Shamva War Memorial
The memorial showing signs of vandalism
Whilst not acceptable, the state of disrepair and apparent vandalism is typical of Zimbabwe today.
The ornate WWI Roll of Honour, Shamva War Memorial
I have researched the names, and have found the following information concerning those named on the memorial pictured above:
BEAN, Henton Willard M., 1134, Private, 1st South African Horse, Missing, presumed dead, East Africa, 10 March 1916.
BROOKS, Reginald St. George, 2ndLieutenant, 97th Bde Royal Field Artillery, died on active service, 26 September 1915, buried in Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos, France.
COOKE, Henry Frederick, Lt, 7th Bn, Royal Sussex Regiment, previously Colour Sergeant, 1st Rhodesia Regiment, killed in action, the Somme France, 4 August 1916. Body never found.
EDGE, Albert Edward, Private, 1st South African Infantry, killed in action, 24 March 1918, the Somme, France. Body never found.
KOEN, Charles Michael, Private, 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, died on active service, 18 February 1917, blackwater fever, Salisbury Hospital.
MCCARTHY, William Offley, Captain, 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, killed in action, 26 August 1916, Battle of Wami River, German East Africa (Tanzania). A Company of RR under Maj Coker crossed the Wami River, and on the right bank engaged the Germans in an indecisive battle. McCarthy, Cox, Alexander, White and RA Seward were all killed in this action, buried in the Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania.
PUCKLE, Oswald, Private, 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, killed in action, 12 February 1916, in the action with a German (Schütztruppen) defensive position on Salaita Hill, British East Africa, buried in the Taveta Military Cemetery, Kenya.
RAWSON, Lionel Reginald MC, Captain, 6th Bn KRRC, formerly 1st Rhodesia Regiment killed in action, 23 October 1916, the Somme, France, body never found.
SMITH, Kenneth Carrington, Lieutenant, Royal Engineers, died from wounds received in action, 26 March 1919, buried in Codsall (St. Nicholas) Churchyard Extension, Staffordshire, UK.
TAYLOR, Hugh Glyn, Private, 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, died on active service, 06 August 1916, East Africa. Buried in the Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania.
TERRY, Charles Warwick, Private, Inns of Court Officer Training Corps, CQMS, RNR, 05 November 1918, died of influenza, East Africa, buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery, UK.
WOODGER, Frederick Neville, Sergeant, 3rd South African Infantry, killed in action, 18 October 1916, the Somme, France, body never found.
Visit www.rhodesianservices.org/The%20Shop.htm to see what is in store for you.
Please give our CQ Store consideration when buying a present for friends or family. Profits from the sale of these items go towards the Museum Fund. All prices are in NZ$ and do not include postage.
UK based stock
Gerry van Tonder is holding stock of the smaller CQ items in the UK. All items stocked in the UK are noted on our website with a Union Jack You can order direct from Gerry by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
NZ customers can pay by direct deposit with bank details being supplied on request
Overseas customers - we prefer payment by PayPal, personal or bank cheque. We can accept personal cheques from most countries with the exception of South Africa. If you elect payment by PayPal, we will bill you from email@example.com
Please note that we can only process credit cards via PayPal. Rest assured, if you want to make a purchase we will make a plan to enable you to pay!
Clothing - shirts, jackets, caps, beanies, aprons, and regimental ties.
Berets & Badges – most Rhodesian units available.
Medals & Ribbons – an extensive range available.
Posters & Maps – high quality reproductions.
DVDs & Phone tones – historical footage, unique cell phone tones.
Other goods - flags, bumper stickers, lighters, and more, as well as quality products direct from our contributing supporters.
After a 15 year gestation period, this long awaited book is now available:
Rhodesia Regiment 1899 – 1981 by Peter Baxter, Hugh Bomford, Gerry van Tonder et al. Published by the Rhodesian Services Association.
This book is a definitive record of the Rhodesia Regiment. It is being funded and published by the Rhodesian Services Association as part of a major historical record.
Queen Elizabeth II, Colonel in Chief of the Royal Rhodesia Regiment, posed for a photo for this book and graciously gave us her good wishes for the success of the project in 2011. She asked if she could have a copy of the book.
On Thursday 7 August 2014 a copy was delivered to Buckingham Palace by Gerry van Tonder and Hugh and Diana Bomford's eldest daughter. The book was duly delivered to the Queen who was in residence at Balmoral Castle at the time. A letter of thanks from Her Majesty was received a few days later. This was landmark event in the history of our country and for this, the largest literary project in the history of Rhodesia, a very proud moment.
Inscription in the Royal presentation book.
Contact these stockists for price details:
Worldwide sales ex New Zealand email firstname.lastname@example.org
South Africa email email@example.com
UK email firstname.lastname@example.org
Zimbabwe email email@example.com
Total 614 printed pages 300 x 220mm portrait made up as:
528pp x b/w text/photos
8pp x colour photo section
8pp x colour map section
56pp full colour Honours and Awards and Uniforms, Embellishments and Equipment sections
Appendices covering Honours & Awards includes numerous citations; complete Roll of Honour 1899-1981; Leadership Roll; Intake numbers and dates
2pp x tip-in page
Over 8,000 individual names in the book
Illustrations - over 1,500 photos, maps and drawings
Please note that we are handling the following book under contract to the compilers.
Chibaya Moyo – The Rhodesian African Rifles: An Anthology 1931-1981 compiled by Capt Andy Telfer SCR and Capt Russell Fulton.
Price NZ$45 plus P&P
Moyo, ‘Strike to the Heart’ in chiShona, is an anthology of stories from those who served with the all-volunteer black soldiers of the Rhodesian African Rifles, a proud African regiment that fought with distinction in two world wars, the Malayan Emergency and the Rhodesian bush war.
Chibaya Moyo brings together so many voices with tales of such vastly different topics that it is by turn fascinating, tragic, humorous, intense, sad and inspirational; above all it is honest. It is the story of a brotherhood that transcended race and tribe and is a lasting memory and testament to a fine regiment, its soldiers and their actions.
Chibaya Moyo is wholly dedicated to raising funds to assist those masodja who still live in Zimbabwe and struggle daily to eke out an existence. They were there when we needed them; let us now be there when they need us.
To order a copy of Chibaya Moyo email firstname.lastname@example.org with your delivery address.
Medals, berets, badges etc
ANZAC Day - 25th April 2016 will be upon us before we know it. We recommend that you get your order in to us in good time to avoid disappointment. We can re-mount medals or supply replacements. We also have a large range of berets and badges as well as numerous lapel pins, ties, RLI and RR bullion wire blazer badges and Rhodesia Regiment stable belts. (Some lapel pins and badges are held in stock in the UK).
Take your time and search through our CQ Store at http://www.rhodesianservices.org/The%20Shop.htm then to order email email@example.com for a full price including postage and methods of payment.
Please remember – when you support the Rhodesian Services Association CQ Store, you are helping to preserve Rhodesian history.
Books for Africa
I again remind you that all the books and audio visual disks that I stock and sell are listed at www.rhodesianservices.org/Books.htm These sales are my own hobby and income from sales is directed to me and not the Rhodesian Services Association. However, the Association does benefit indirectly from these sales. A great selection of books, many with a Rhodesian connection, can be found on the link above. All prices are in NZ$ and do not include postage.
A small sample of titles in stock at www.rhodesianservices.org/Books.htm
Our Supporters– please also view our webpage http://www.rhodesianservices.org/our-supporters.htm
This section is for individuals and businesses who support this Association either by giving us something for auction at the RV in October; by donations from sales generated from our listings of their product or service; by offering discount to buyers who mention the Rhodesian Services Association when making a purchase; contributing material to our Museum and Archives.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how you get a mention here.
The Association is very grateful to all our contributors; please reciprocate this support by supporting them in turn. Please don’t forget to mention where you saw their advert.
Buckles and Tees www.bucklesandtees.co.nz
Mike Vivier has a number of Rhodesian related lines which include the 'Advice to Terrorists' image on t-shirts and aprons as well this stunning Rhodesia Regiment belt buckle which sells for NZ$24.95 excluding postage. 100% New Zealand made.
Please note that Mike is down to his last two Rhodesia Regiment belt buckles and is unsure if he will do another manufacture run. If you want one – be quick – first in first served.
Mike donates a portion of his income from all Rhodesian related items sold to the Rhodesian Services Association. Please email Mike at email@example.com with your order or query or go to www.bucklesandtees.co.nz and do it on-line.
Gerry van Tonder Professional Research Services www.rhodesiansoldier.com For Service History Research, Copy Editing, Proofreading.
Gerry offers a professional, quality research service, specializing in the service history of Rhodesians who served in the two World Wars.
“It is amazing what information exists about your father, grandfather, or uncle, and as I have experienced with everyone for whom I have done what I call a Fact File, invariably information comes to light, which they were not aware of. Go to www.rhodesiansoldier.com and use the Research button to access samples and to make inquiries.”
The Global Forked Stick - Snippets and Requests
With grateful thanks to Vic MacKenzie for use of this illustration to better explain
the ‘forked stick’ connection for those who were not raised in Africa.
Seeking family of William Mitchell
The Rhodesian Services Assn museum was recently the recipient of a British War Medal. This medal had been awarded to Cpl William Mitchell who served in the Royal Army Service Corps during WWI. It was found around the year 2003 in the Greendale area of Harare, Zimbabwe.
We are interested to see if we can find out more about William Mitchell or even locate any relations of his.
People who lived in the Brickfields/Mount Hampden area in the late 1950’s may be of assistance to us if they remember the name.
Cpl William Mitchell’s British War Medal
Research student wants to interview Rhodesians
I received the following email and ask you to help Nicole please. As I have pointed out earlier in this newsletter – the encouragement and involvement of the younger generations is vitally important to our future retention of historical record.
“My name is Nicole Waller, and I am a student of History and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. I am currently in my last year of study and beginning to write my undergraduate dissertation. As I am a Zimbabwean (having been born and raised there, leaving when I was eighteen in order to further my studies) and as my grandfather was a member of the BSAP, I have always had a personal interest in the history of Rhodesia and the pride that all Rhodesians had (and continue to have) in their nation. I have decided to take this interest further in my dissertation and carry out a study of the Rhodesian diaspora with the hope of gaining some insight into what it is that continues to sustain the Rhodesian identity 35 years down the line, and how individuals use groups such as your own to remain in contact with other Rhodesians.
I find the sense of community and camaraderie amongst the Rhodesian diaspora extremely heartening, and would be interested in conducting a few email/Skype interviews with people willing to participate in order to ask them about their memories/experience of Rhodesia and their involvement in Rhodesian organizations/online communities and how these organizations allow them to retain a sense of community and identity.
I am available on email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
From Bryan Tichborne
“I’m an 'original Saint’ – I joined RLI (or the training unit at Brady Barracks) at the outset. I went on to Gwelo then Sandhurst for officer training and I was in the UK on Young Officers’ Courses at the time of the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I had been commissioned into 1KAR in Nyasaland but decided there wasn’t much future for me there. I was offered a commission in the Brit Army with the South Wales Borderers in Hong Kong. It was hard to turn that down, so I spent the next eight years worldwide with them.
During and after that time I followed the Bush War exploits of the RLI with great admiration and interest. I was proud to have served, albeit briefly with such a fine unit. As a part-Kiwi (and with a Kiwi wife) I eventually decided to leave the army and head to NZ to live. A decision I’ve never regretted.
We live in Akaroa, Banks Peninsula - an area hit quite hard by the earthquakes of 2010/11. Fortunately there were no deaths in our area but a lot of buildings were badly knocked about including our local War Memorial. I am on the local Returned Services Association committee and also the War Memorial committee. Ours is the only community owned memorial in NZ. To cut a long story short, we’ve been able to raise the necessary NZ$600,000 (insurance came up with the other $200,000) to repair the structure. The fundraising and repairs have taken four years.
On 23 October 2015 Governor-General of New Zealand, Lt Gen the RT Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO re-opened the war memorial. This was an auspicious day for our small town. As vice president of the Banks Peninsular RSA, I was in the welcoming party for the Governor General.
After the formalities Sir Jerry Mateparae headed straight for our little group of veterans - we still have some WWII and Korean War men in our branch, plus a few younger ones like me - I’m Malay Peninsula & Borneo. Sir Jerry spent time with each of us and I was at the end of the line. When he reached me he asked me what regiments I’d been in and when I included the RLI he straight away said “There is a very good book out on the RLI”. I was happy to tell him I had a copy. Apart from ex-Rhodesians living here, there wouldn’t be that many New Zealanders who know about the book. It was a real buzz to hear our top man mention it! I’d guess as an ex-NZSAS man he would have been interested in the RLI’s airborne operations.
All the best
This is not the first time that Sir Jerry Mateparae has “connected” with Rhodesia. In 2010 when he was Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force he sent a letter of condolence to Eunice Walls upon learning of the death of Lt Gen Peter Walls.
Governor-General of New Zealand, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO, Banks Peninsular RSA President, Jim Coubrough and Bryan Tichborne discussing the RLI
The newly repaired Banks Peninsular War Memorial – 23 October 2015
From Deryk Langman
“I am reading Greatest Stories of WWII - On Land by Robin Cross published by Castle Books 1994 ISBN 0-7858-0198-7100.
I found an interesting reference to a Rhodesian in chapter six - Road to Victory pages 182 – 191. It starts with an explanatory paragraph about Op. Market Garden and moves on to some recollections by Major John Waddy of the 156th Parachute Battalion and his part in the fighting at Arnhem. Major Waddy says that he gets hit and ‘I collapsed and lay doggo, until I heard a crashing through the bushes and a large Rhodesian Pvt Ben Diedricks (we had about 20 Rhodesians serving in our Batt. since our stay in the Middle East) picked me up in his arms and carried me back some 200 yds. to Company HQ’”
That’s all folks, so until next time – go well.
Celebrate ‘Rhodesia Day’* on the 11th November each year
*The concept of ‘Rhodesia Day’ originates from the late Eddy Norris and family. During the 90 year
life span of Rhodesia we experienced the best of times and the worst of times. I encourage everyone to use this
day to remember the good times as well as remembering those who are no longer with us.
Rhodesian Services Association donations.
You can make a donation to the Rhodesian Services Association by clicking on our 'Collection Hat' below which is a typical slouch hat of the type used by the Rhodesian Army up until the 1960’s. Click on the hat or this link: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=MLMB2B8Y2UY3G and if you are registered with PayPal the process will be immediate. If you are not a PayPal member you will be given instruction on how to make a credit card payment via PayPal. Thank you - every bit helps.
This newsletter is compiled by Hugh Bomford, Newsletter Editor of the Rhodesian Services Association. It contains many personal views and comments which may not always be the views of the Association or Committee.