Category Archives: South Africa

South African Gifts and Comforts Fund Cigarette Tin

Like all the other nations in the Empire, South African troops were supported by a charitable sector in their homeland that supplied troops with little gifts to make their time away from home more bearable. The South African Gifts and Comforts Fund supplied a small tin of cigarettes to troops every Christmas throughout the war and tonight it is the 1943 comforts cigarette tin we are looking at:imageThe tin is printed with a design featuring a springbok (generally regarded as the animal of South Africa), a ‘V’ for victory, the images of the Prime Minister Jan Smuts and his wife and ‘Christmas’ in both English and Afrikaans:imageThe rear of the tin has the details of who had supplied the tin of cigarettes, again in both English and Afrikaans:imageInside the tin is printed the signatures of both Jan Smuts and his wife, sadly quite badly damaged in this example:imageThe South African Legion’s website gives more details of the work of the South African Gifts and Comfort Fund:

The South African Gifts and Comforts Fund was a benevolent fund that sought to give comfort and messages of motivation and support from the public in South Africa for all the tens of thousands of South African volunteers who went off to war during World War 2. It was created by Field Marshal Smuts, and administered by his wife “Ouma” Smuts and her “Band” of Voluntary Workers in co-operation with the Quartermaster-general.

Gifts to the servicemen and women during the war reminded them of home comforts and reinforced the moral support they were getting from home in their fight against European tyranny, Especially over times like Christmas when family and “home” became a yearning for anyone enduring the hardships of war. Known as “Glory Bags” at the time, these parcels contained all sorts of reminders from home, Christmas Cake etc. and collectable items such as Christmas anniversary cigarette tins, which became highly popular – stamped with an image of both Jan Smuts and Ouma Smuts and giving good Christmas wishes.

South African Made Greatcoat

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:s-l1600This greatcoat conforms broadly to the British 39 Pattern Greatcoat, without the later expansion pleat in the rear of the coat:s-l1600 (1)The coat is made from khaki dyed heavy grade woollen fabric, with a half lining made of cotton inside covering the shoulders:s-l1600 (5)The original owner’s name ‘C Roberts’ is inked into this lining at the back of the neck:s-l1600 (4)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:s-l1600 (2)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:s-l1600 (3)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.

South African Made 37 Pattern Holster

Tonight my thanks go to Wojciech Musial who has very kindly sent me pictures of a South African made 37 pattern webbing holster. This example was made in the Union of South Africa during World War Two and is identical in form to the British made examples:181119154740_25657A-south-african-union-defence-force-pattern-37-webbing-gun-holster (1)The official 37 pattern manual describes the holster as:

Pistol Case- This consists of a woven article finished to accommodate the 0.380 revolver. It is lined with smooth webbing and the flap is closed by a snap fastener. Two double hooks are provided of the back for attachment to the waist belt and a similar hook is fitted horizontally at the top for connecting to the ammunition pouch when the article is to be carried over the pistol case.181119154711_25657A-south-african-union-defence-force-pattern-37-webbing-gun-holster (4)Of interest is the particularly crude stitching around the end of the muzzle part of the holster. This is completed with a blanket stitch, although it is unclear if this was the way the holster was manufactured or if it is a later repair. The C-Hooks are made of a base metal rather than brass and this was most likely an economy measure to save a strategic metal for other more important purposes. The holster was made by Daniel Isaac Fram and the maker’s stamp is on the underside of the holster flap:181119154725_25657A-south-african-union-defence-force-pattern-37-webbing-gun-holster (6)South African webbing is always hard to find and pieces rarely come on the market so it has been great to be able to share Wojciech’s item on the blog.

Military Uniforms of the British Empire Overseas Cigarette Cards (Part1)

Tonight the blog starts the first of a five part series covering the Player’s Cigarette Card set ‘Military Uniforms of the British Empire Overseas’:SKM_C284e18091908162This set was issued in the late 1930s and covers a wide range of the different combat and ceremonial uniforms of the militaries of the Empire. Each week we are going to look at ten of the cards, with the captions drawn from the back of the cards themselves:

Cape Town Highlanders

 137. Cape Town HighlandersUnder the Defence Acts of the Union of South Africa, every citizen between seventeen and sixty years of age is liable for military service in any part of South Africa, whether within or outside the boundaries of the Union. There is also a liability to compulsory service for all citizens between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. The Permanent Force is recruited on a voluntary basis, service being for a period of three years; re-engagement for periods of two years is permitted up to the age of forty-five for privates and fifty for non-commissioned officers. We show a Regimental Sergeant Major of the Cape Town Highlanders; the Town Hall, Cape town, appears in the background.

Kimberley Regiment

 138. Kimberley RegimentPrior to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the four self-governing Colonies of Cape Colony, Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State each maintained volunteers and militia. Under the present Defence Acts of the Union, every citizen between the ages of seventeen and sixty is liable for military service in any part of South Africa. During the Great War, the union nobly played its part in defence of the Empire, and over 221,000 men served in the various theatres of war. Our illustration shows a sergeant of the Kimberley Regiment, with Kimberley Town Hall in the background.

Witwatersrand Rifles

 139. Witwatersrand RiflesThe Union of South Africa Defence Force is divided into (a) the Permanent Force, which is recruited on a voluntary basis; (b) the Coast Garrison Force, supplementing those portions of the Permanent Force detailed for this purpose; (c) the Active Citizen Force, which corresponds to the Territorial Army in Great Britain; (d) the Commandos, formed form members of the Defence Rifle Associations; and (e) the Reserves. Enrolment into the Active Citizen Force is for a period of four years and re-engagement for periods of one year is permitted. Our picture shows a Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Witwatersrand Rifles: a view of Johannesburg appears in the background. The Witwatersrand, of which Johannesburg is the centre, is a region rich in gold-fields.

Regiment Louw Wepener

 140. Regiment Louw WepnerThe Orange Free State, to which this regiment belongs, was one of the four self-governing Colonies which maintained Volunteers and Militia before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Military re-organization was then carried out by the Government in which General Louis Botha was Prime Minister and General Smuts the Minister of Defence. At the present time, the Defence Force of the Union is divided into five categories…We show a Sergeant of the Regiment Louw Wepener; in the background may be seen the Provincial Legislative Chamber (formerly the Raadzaal), Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State.

The Rhodesia Regiment

 145. Rhodesia RegimentThe Southern Rhodesia Defence Force originated with the early Pioneers and 1892 developed into a Volunteer force which served in the Matabele War and Rhodesia Rebellion. In 1899 it became the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers, with units in the principal centres and Rifle Companies in outlying districts. Volunteers therefrom served in the Boer War and the Great War. In 1926 the Defence Act was promulgated, instituting compulsory peace training, and the Rhodesia Regiment- of two Battalions- was formed from members of the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and other citizens in the larger towns. We show a Sergeant of the Rhodesia Regiment in Drill Order, standing in front of the Drill Hall at Salisbury, S. Rhodesia.

The British South African Police

 146. British South African PoliceThe police force of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia was originally recruited to accompany the Pioneers in the Occupation of Mashonaland in 1890, and later saw service in the Matabele War of 1893, the Matabele and Mashona Rebellions of 1896 and the Boer War. The Force was then known as the B.S.A. Company’s Police, after the Charter Company which was responsible for the government of the territory. The B.S.A. Police saw service in German East Africa (1915-18), and was also responsible for the capture of Schuckmansberg in German South-West Africa in 1914. We show a trooper (full-dress) in front of the Regimental Institute, B.S.A.P. Depot, Salisbury, S Rhodesia.

The British South Africa Police: Native Askari

 147. British South African Police Native AskariThe Native Police of Southern Rhodesia are recruited from the Matabele and Mashona tribes of the Colony, and from the adjoining territories of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. Although forty years ago their ancestors were uncivilised, the present day recruits reach a high standard of discipline and efficiency. They work in co-operation with European members in all branches of the Force, while a special platoon of Askari performs guard duties at Government House. The H.Q. and Training School are at Salisbury. During the Great War numbers of them saw service in German East Africa. The background shows the Municipal Offices, Salisbury, S. Rhodesia.

Australian Light Horse

 148. Australian Light Horse

Members of all the Australian Light Horse Regiments served in the South African War and sixteen Regiments carry battle honours for the Great War. The members of the Light Horse Regiments, which are mostly drawn from the country areas, are volunteers who provide their own mounts. The regiments are numbered a far as possible with those of the Australian Imperial Force, but they also retain their old titles, “Royal New South Wales Lancers,” “Victorian Mounted Rifles,” etc., by which they were known before the Commonwealth took over control of defence matters in 1901. We show a trooper of the Australian Light horse; the City Hall, Brisbane, appears in the background.

Royal Australian Artillery

 149. Royal Australian ArtilleryIt is interesting to recall that “two pieces of ordnance” were erected in Sydney in 1789 at the time when the garrison in New South Wales was composed of British troops. From this small beginning has grown the Royal Australian Artillery, which includes Field, medium, Heavy, Anti-Aircraft and Survey Units. Like the other arms of the Commonwealth Military Forces, the Artillery is mainly composed of Militia enlisted on a voluntary basis. The uniform shown is worn by the Militia Field and Medium Batteries. Prior to the Great War, Australian Batteries saw service in Suakin, 1885, and in South Africa. The background shows the Residence of the State Governor, Sydney, N.S.W.

Australian Infantry

 150 Australian InfantryThe Battalions of Australian Infantry, which are composed of voluntarily enlisted Citizen Forces, are numbered to correspond with those of the Australian Imperial Force, and every effort is made to maintain the traditions established in the Great War. Battalion areas are allotted on a territorial basis throughout Australia. In addition to their numbers, the Regiments have territorial titles e.g. the 1st Battalion is The East Sydney regiment and the 6th is The Royal Melbourne Regiment. The uniform depicted us typical, but some battalions wear uniforms similar to those of British Regiments. All battalions carry battle honours for the Great War. The Town Hall, Melbourne, appears in the background.

South African Lewis Gun Pouches

When one thinks of a British Empire light machine gun for World War II, it is the Bren that springs to mind and it was certainly the most common weapon in service in this role. It was not the only one though and whilst the Indians used the Vickers-Berthier, the venerable Lewis gun was to see extensive service as well. Fir the British this was a second line weapon, used by the Navy, airfield defence units and the Home Guard. For the South Africans however it was their main light machine gun at the start of the war and was to remain so for a number of years. As such specialist webbing pouches were issued to carry the weapon’s distinctive magazines:imageUnfortunately I only have two of the pouches (four were needed for a full set) and the connecting strap is Indian rather than South African made, we will look at the strap in more detail separately. The pouches were designed to be worn so that there were two at the front and two at the rear as in this reconstruction:CaptureEach individual pouch is made of webbing in a circular shape to match the magazines themselves:imageThe design is a very close copy of the British WW1 Lewis pouches, however instead of a Sam Browne style stud and button hole fastener, these use blackened metal press studs to secure the top flaps:imageThese press studs are particularly poor quality and were probably made in South Africa. Opening them, the pouch splits about exactly half way to give easy access to the magazines carried within:imageNote the large flaps on the side to wrap around the edges of the magazine to help protect them further from the elements. A large metal buckle is sewn to the top of each pouch and is typical of South African manufacture, being made of a simple metal stamping, painted gold:imageThis then allows the pouch to be attached to the yoke strap. Looking at the rear we can see that on the left is a tab with a metal chape, and on the right a corresponding Twigg buckle allowing the pouch to be attached to the others in the set:imageThe underside of the top flap is stamped with the manufacturer’s name, Daniel Isaac Fram of Johannesburg, and the date 1941:imageRon Myburgh was a South African who served as an Anti-Aircraft gunner at Kizingo Camp and used Lewis guns:

We were eight men to a bell tent in the cold Transvaal winter for a little over three weeks learning rifle and marching drill and how to cure the 21 “stoppages” of the WW1 Lewis machine guns with which we were going north to East Africa to do battle… Our Battery was lodged in Tudor Camp on Mombasa Island while the other two went north to a camp outside Nairobi. I developed a high temperature here and was placed in hospital; they thought I had malaria, until a blood test showed that it was merely influenza. When I was discharged I was posted to a sandbagged position on top of the Rex Hotel [Kilindini Road] with a twin Lewis gun. We were spoilt here as we slept in a hotel bedroom and dined in the dining room. However, after a couple of weeks we were moved to a position on the South side of the entrance to Kilindini Harbour where we had to excavate three gun pits in solid coral for our “triangle” of harbour defence guns.mombasa-ron-mybur-1940-1-with-artillery-(right)My thanks go to Arthur Cook for helping me add these to the collection.

DI Fram Manufactured South African 37 Pattern Basic Pouch

Back in 2016 we looked at an example of a 37 pattern basic pouch here that had been manufactured in South Africa by ‘SAPAW’- South Africa Proving and Weaving Company Ltd. It has taken me eighteen months, but I have finally found a second south African produced basic pouch, however this example is manufactured by the other webbing producer in Johannesburg, D.I. Fram & Co – David Isaac Fram and Company Ltd:imageI hope you will forgive me coming back to a topic we have already covered, but the manufacture of this pouch is sufficiently different from the earlier example that I felt it warranted its own post, especially as all examples of South African webbing are very rare so the more information available for collectors the better. The most obvious thing to note about the pouch is its colour, it is far greener than normal South African Production, and I believe it has been blancoed at some point in its life. This is particularly evident on the rear, where the colouring fades out towards the centre:imageIt is worth noting the way the ‘C’ hooks are sewn to the body of the pouch, with two small pieces of webbing, one for each hook and sewn very close together. The positioning of the hooks is also higher than on the SAPAW example:imageThe design of the attachment for the top buckle is also radically different, with the DI Fram example having the buckle fitted much closer to the main body of the pouch:imageThe quality of the DI Fram pouch is far higher than that of the SAPAW version, and the webbing material is much stiffer, this is very noticeable in the front view:imageThe top flap of the pouch does not have the blank round loops of the SAPAW version, but is nicely stamped with the maker’s mark and a purple /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark indicating acceptance into South African service:imageThe difference in manufacturing between the two South African webbing companies is marked, and whilst both are pretty poorly made, the DI Fram pouch is clearly a superior product. I still have a way to go until I have a full set of South African 37 pattern, but it is starting to come together:image

South African 37 Pattern Supporting Straps

My thanks go to my good friend and fellow collector Michael Skriletz for tonight’s post. South African webbing is generally considered to be the poorest quality and scarcest of all the Empire produced 37 pattern sets. I have slowly been building up my collection and can now count a small pack, water bottle holder, single basic pouch and one shoulder brace in my collection. Now I also have a selection of supporting straps for the set:imageThe 37 pattern webbing manual describes the straps as:

These are interchangeable and each consists of a strip of 1-inch webbing, fitted with a buckle at one end and an eyeletted tip at the other.

This description is certainly correct for these straps, but a number of distinctive Sou African features are worth noting. The webbing is made of two thin layers and has distinctive stitch lines running the length of the strap to reinforce it:imageThe buckle is not made of brass, but off a metal I believe is steel, that has now corroded slightly:imageThese were frequently painted gold when new. The eyeletted tip is again made of a metal that easily corrodes, as witnessed by the staining to the webbing:imageA South African acceptance stamp is marked on the straps in a redish-purple ink, consisting of a /|\ mark inside a ‘U’:imageAll of these straps were made by Daniel Issac Fram of Johannesburg, and we can see two distinct styles of manufacturer’s mark on the straps:imageLike all the other items of South African 37 pattern webbing, these are not easy to find and I am very pleased to have added another piece to the puzzle!