Once again my thanks go to Wojciech Musial for his kid permission to include another rare South African item from his collection on the blog. The South African textile industry in the 1930s was very small, with most items of civilian and military clothing imported from overseas. Much as in India however the requirements of the military during the Second World War were to boost the union’s manufacturing requirements and capabilities leading to a massive expansion in this area. In 1938 50% of clothing purchased in South Africa was of local manufacture, by 1948 this market share had risen to 86%. South African manufactured uniforms of the Second World War are generally held to be of the roughest quality of any nation, the fabric being even coarser than that produced in India. Tonight we are looking at an extremely scarce South African produced greatcoat:This greatcoat conforms broadly to the British 39 Pattern Greatcoat, without the later expansion pleat in the rear of the coat:The coat is made from khaki dyed heavy grade woollen fabric, with a half lining made of cotton inside covering the shoulders:The original owner’s name ‘C Roberts’ is inked into this lining at the back of the neck:The coat is secured with brown vegetable ivory buttons, each bearing the armorial coat of arms of South Africa as used by the Union form 1910 until it was replaced by a new design in 2000:The inside of the coat has a simple label indicating that it was manufactured by ‘The African Clothing Factory (Ensign) Ltd and is a size 4:South Africa made a massive contribution to the Second World War, both in terms of men and equipment, although this is largely forgotten now both in the UK and indeed in South Africa itself. Les Dwight was one of many who lived in South Africa and joined up:
I joined a youth training brigade in South Africa in July 1942 as a volunteer at the age of fifteen. At the medical during the eye test a man with a glass eye on the right side, was asked to read the chart, covering an eye at a time. The first time he covered his right eye with his right hand and then covered the same eye with his left hand for the second test! Everyone was so keen to join up and do their bit. I was big for my age and so no questions were asked.
I completed infantry weapons training and elected to transfer to the South African Corps of Signals in 1943, where I was trained on radio telephony for armour and artillery work and transferred to an Armoured Signal Squadron. I was drafted to the Middle East for further training and sailed to Taranto, in Southern Italy. I was transferred to a mobile field radar unit and worked my way up through Italy to the North. This was under the command of the Royal Air Force and for security reasons it was known as an air ministry experimental station, to conceal its identity as radar development was extremely secret at the time. I was actually working as a wireless telegraphist by then, which was a long way from the training I had received in South Africa!
I had four years active service and was only just nineteen when I was demobbed in 1946. The price I paid was missing a lot of education, which took some years to catch up on.
I still have no regrets in doing what I did and am proud to be able to relate this story today.