Tribute to the SA Forces of World War 1 & 2

Springbok Record

Springbok Record of World War II




A proud tribute to the men and women of the Union of South Africa, who when the call came in the Second World War, followed the path of duty and self sacrifice. It is dedicated, too, in proud remembrance of those who laid down their lives in the service of their country...


"That I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George VI and to his heirs and successors according to law...That I will perform to the best of my ability the duties assigned to me as a volunteer member of the Union Defence Forces . . . That I will serve anywhere for the duration of the present war and for a period of six months thereafter unless otherwise legally discharged."



SPRINGHOK RECORD is the story of the men who bore the "'Orange Flash" of liberty on the battlefronts of the war against Nazi-Fascist tyranny. Blooded in Abyssinia, carried north to Egypt and the battles of the Western Desert, across the Mediterranean from North Africa to European fields, the orange flash on the shoulder tabs of South African volunteers was borne proudly in the van of battle. It soared in the skies with the gallant airmen of  the  S.A.A.F., it  rolled with the seamen of the "little ships" of the S.A.N.F. in the troughs of ocean battlegrounds.

A proud brotherhood of arms was born of the orange flash. In the six years of war there came to South Africans who served, and to those who backed them on the home front, a new comradeship and a pride of nationhood that overcame political and racial intolerances. When in 1939 the call to arms was sounded by General Smuts, city and platteland responded proudly. Springbok Record is a tribute to the men and women who rallied to the call. For service men and women it will carry the nostalgia of old campaigns and foreign lands, and will recall the spirit of service which carried them forward when victory seemed far. And for all South Africans of the "Orange Flash" it will be a reminder of the proud role played by the Union of South Africa in  the galant company of the United Nations.


"In taking part in this war, we are not merely defending ourselves, our country, our future. We are also   standing by our friends in the Commonwealth of Nations in all loyalty and good faith, as we know they will stand by us. But we are doing more: we are also safeguarding that larger tradition of human freedom, of freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and freedom of religion which is to-day threatened as never before in history by the Nazi menace. That tradition is the spiritual rock whence we were hewn. We have fought for our freedom in the past. We now go forth as crusaders, as children of the Cross to fight for freedom itself, the freedom of the human spirit, the free choice of the human individual to shape his own life according to the light that God has given him. The world cause of freedom is also our cause and we shall wage this war for human freedom until God's victory crowns the end.

"General Smuts in bidding farewell
to the first contingent of South African volunteers who sailed for Abyssinia, July 1940.



SOUTH AFRICA accepted Hitler's challenge to freedom on Wednesday 6 September, 1939, when the newly-constituted Union Government,  under the leadership of General Smuts, declared war on Germany. The Union was unprepared for war ; it had no army, no guns, no armour, but it had behind it the spirit of free people. For three critical days after Britain's declaration of war the Union's leaders debated South Africa's course of action.

The Cabinet was divided. Seven members of the thirteen, led by General Smuts, favoured war. The Prime Minister, General Hertzog, backed by six members of the Cabinet and the Nationalist Party Opposition, supported neutrality. While Zeesen propaganda boomed over the radio waves declarations of South Africa's neutrality ; while the powerful German minority in South West Africa and the potential fifth column within the Union awaited their moment, General Smuts fought the greatest battle of his honourable career in the Union Parliament.

On the night of 4 September, while the battle rolled over Polish plains, the Union Assembly made its decision. Hearkening to the words of General Smuts that the only course of honourable national living was to right Nazi Germany, the House voted by eighty votes to sixty-seven in favour of the declaration of war against Germany-General Hertzog tendered his resignation to the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Duncan, who called upon General Smuts to form a new government. On 6 September, 1939, the Union's Proclamation of War with Germany was promulgated. Together Boer and Briton strode forward on the path of unity and honour.

The country rallied magnificently. There was strong opposition where insidious Nazi propaganda had left its mark, but from platteland and city, from burgher commando and town regiment, messages of loyalty and support assured General Smuts of the powerful backing of the majority of the people. A hard course lay ahead. As later events were to prove, the Union was to be the clearing house for East and West when the virtual closing of the Suez Canal was effected by German and Italian action. To the north were massed Mussolini's armies on the Abyssinian border - a menace to British Africa. The Union Defence Force was unprepared, the citizen army was untrained and ill-equipped for battle. Industry had to be geared for war. The long South African coastline lay open and undefended.

Marshalling the brains and energy of the country. Smuts went forward on the task of moulding South Africa's war potential. Industry was mobilised for war production. The minute S.A. Air Force and the S.A. Permanent Force were trained to a high standard of efficiency to prepare for the raising of the Springbok army of volunteers which was to carry forward with distinction the proud traditions of South African arms.


War came to South Africa on 4 September, 1939, when in the House of Assembly, beneath Table Mountain, General Smuts led the majority vote against General Hertzog's neutrality motion. It was not until 6 September, however, that the Union officially declared war against Nazi Germany. Throughout the country silent, crowds awaited anxiously the fateful decision. Spontaneously, the bulk of the people rallied to the support of General Smuts and his war government in the common struggle of free men against Nazi oppression.


War came to South Africa on 4 September, 1939, when in the House of Assembly, beneath Table Mountain, General Smuts led the majority vote against General Hertzog's neutrality motion. It was not until 6 September, however, that the Union officially declared war against Nazi Germany. Throughout the country silent, crowds awaited anxiously the fateful decision. Spontaneously the .bulk of the people rallied to the support of General Smuts and his war government in the common struggle of free men against Nazi  oppression.



Standing, left to right. Dr.Colin Steyn, Minister of Justice ;   Mr. H. C. Lawrence, Minister of the Interior and Public Health ;   Senator A. M. Conroy Minister of Lands ;   Major P. van der Byl, Minister without Portfolio ;   Mr. C. F. Sturrock, Minister of Railways and Harbours ;   Senator C. F. Clarkson, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs and Public Works ;   Col. C. F. Stallard, Minister of Mines ;   Mr. W. B. Madeley, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare.

Sitting, left to tight. Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr, Minister of Finance and Education ;   General Smuts, Primt Minister, Minister of External Affairs and Defence; The Governor General, Sir Patrick Duncan ;   Col. D. Reitz, Minister of Native Affairs ;   Mr. R. Stuttaford, Minister of Commerce and industries, and Col Collins, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.




Mounted on shaggy Boer ponies, wearing their campaign ribbons of past wars, burghers pledge their loyalty and support to South Africa's leader in the new war. General Smuts, accompanied by General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, Chief of S.A. General Staff, inspects a burgher commando. The burgher commandos rallied immediately to the Union's declaration of war and, although unarmed by modern standards, they were the first South African units ready for action.


From the blast furnaces of Iscor, the great South African steelworks at  Pretoria, iron and steel poured to  the factories  where  weapons for Springbok fighters were forged.


Before the army could be mobilised, armed and equipped, industry had to be geared for war. In order to co-ordinate effort and to attain maximum results from the Union's industrial war potential, Genera! Smuts appointed Dr. H. J. van der Bijl as Director-General of War Supplies in November, 1939. Under his direction the peacetime industrial machine switched to war production. Factories were enlarged, machine tools and modern plants were installed ; men and women were taught the new trades of war.

From the furnaces of Iscor, poured the molten steel for the armour plating that was to sheath armoured cars, for shells and bombs, for gun-howitzers and tanks. Boots, clothing and supplies of all description were ordered to equip the held armies that were to be raised for service.
The South African Railways carried the expanding traffic and turned its workshops into arsenals. The gold mining industry on the Rand swung its vast machine to aid war production. Weapons of war started to roll from bench and factory, at first a trickle, but as the months passed, a growing volume of arms and equipment flowed to the forces waiting to set forth on the ominous, but necessary campaign of war...



The Union's iron and steel industry, founded in peace-time for the primary purpose of supplying the country's commercial needs was, during the war, thrown very largely upon its own resources and was called upon to undertake production in a widely diverse field of iron and steel manufacture. Despite theit inexperience in war production, Iscor's young South African engineers applied themselves to their new task and within a short time, the mills were producing armour plating for armoured fighting vehicles, for tanks, gun shields and ship repairs. Iscor produced steel for armour piercing shells and also many high quality carbon steels for the manufacture of small arms components, mortars and gun spares. This was in addition to increased demands for structural steel for war  purposes  and  the requirements of the South African Railways and South African industry.



The South African Railways and Harbour Administration responded with all its resources in preparing the country for war. Its workshops were turned into arsenals of munition and heavy armament production; its great railway network, its ports and harbours garnered the raw materials for arms that were to put South Africa in the forefront of the fighting nations.


Mortars and shells.   Shells for artillery
and mortars for infantry support rolled
en mass from South Africa's new-born
war industries.



The call to arms to the men of South Africa was sounded early in 1940, when the Union Parliament authorised the raising of a volunteer army for service anywhere in Africa. The volunteers were to he distinguished by the wearing of an orange flash on the shoulder tabs of their uniforms.
Even though Italy had not yet shown her intentions, and the great battles of Europe had not started, every thinking man knew that sooner or later the full might of the enemy would be thrown into the struggle.

There was still time to train, volunteers of the orange flash would be there when needed. From town and country, drawn from every walk of South African life, men and women responded to the call. Within a short time great training camps were established throughout the Union. Instructors had been in training at the S.A. Military College at Voortrekkerhoogte since the outbreak of war in preparation for this moment. Experienced officers of the last war \vere given refresher courses and sent out to mould the young army in the making. Men flocked to Active Citizen Force regiments and brought them up to strength.

At first there were no uniforms for many of them, but they paraded, nonetheless, in grey flannels and khaki drill shorts. Boys whose fathers had fought and died in the war of 1914-18, many whose grandfathers had fought against each other in the Boer War, now stood shoulder to shoulder in the new testing of South African nationhood. There were no racial or political differences in the Springbok Army, no barriers of language or creed. Veterans of Delville Wood, Gallipoli, of German South-West and German East African campaigns paraded again for service with the volunteer force.

The young South African Air Force spread its wings in preparation for the great tradition of service that was to be born in the skies of Abyssinia, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya, North Africa, Italy and over German-occupied Europe. Fishing trawlers were turned into minesweepers and in them the Springboks of the sea kept clear the ocean lanes oft the long South African coastline. Coastal air reconnaissance aircraft daily swept hundreds of miles out to sea in a ceaseless vigil for enemy raiders and submarines. Mighty gun batteries of the Coast Garrison Artillery were ready to blast any attacking force from the approaches to ports and naval bases. Bantu, Cape Coloured and Indian units were raised for labour and transport services. The country resounded to the clangour of arms and preparations for the battles and brilliant campaigns awaiting the Springbok volunteers.


To men and women of South Africa the call to arms went forth. It was to be a volunteer army of citizen soldiers, an army of men and women, of black and white, who were to fight to the end.


Women's Auxillery


Raw material for General Smuts' army of crusaders streamed from town and country to join in the fight.


They were representative of every class of the community, although light-hearted in appearance they undertook seriously the strenuous training period ahead.


From comfortable homes they moved into tent and bungalow camps and accepted with a grin, and soldier grouses, the discomforts and shortages of equipment attendant the first year of war.



Tribute to the SA Forces of World War 1 & 2

Springbok Record