I spend most of my time weeping. Why? Because of the past, forgotten glory of South Africa, and about how my dying husband came to be treated as a consequence.
Jan Christiaan Smuts
It breaks my heart that Canadians are unaware of the fact that there were South Africans at Vimy Ridge and Delville Wood and so little is known about the part the South African ‘Cheetahs’ played n the Korean War. It surprises me that so very few of my North American friends, and possibly also the modern generation of South Africans, have ever heard of Field Marshall Jan Christiaan Smuts, the prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher who, in addition to holding various cabinet posts, served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948.
Smuts helped to create the Royal Air Force, became a Field Marshall in the British Army in 1941, served in the Imperial War Cabinet under Winston Churchill and became the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the First and Second World Wars. According to Wikipedia,
One of his greatest international accomplishments was the establishment of the League of Nations, the exact design and implementation of which relied upon Smuts. He later urged the formation of a new international organization for peace: the UN. In addition, he wrote the preamble to the United Nations Charter, and was the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and the UN. He sought to redefine the relationship between the United Kingdom and her colonies, helping to establish the British Commonwealth, as it was known at the time. This proved to be a two-way street; in 1946 the General Assembly requested the Smuts government to take measures to bring the treatment of Indians in South Africa into line with the provisions of the United Nations Charter and in 2004 Smuts was named by voters in a poll held by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (S.A.B.C.) as one of the top ten Greatest South Africans of all time.
The Only Allied Victory In The Opening Years Of The War
Hitler, it is said, laughed when he heard that South Africa had declared war on Germany. (Neither his sense of geography nor history could have been very well developed!) Without the Cape sea lane, the Allies would not have held Egypt, the Middle East or India. Probably, and ironically, the Mediterranean would have been lost. Perhaps Russia too, as the Axis swept up from what was then Persia, through the back door. Pearl Harbour might have been unnecessary for the Japanese if they had taken India; thus, according to experts, there would have been no USA involvement.
Despite low numbers, the South African Springboks bundled the Italians out of Abyssinia in months, thus also probably saving Egypt, the Middle East, and India. (The only Allied victory in the opening years of the war.) This enabled O’Connor to drive the Italians out of Libya (only to be chased out in turn by Rommel). For all Hitler’s derision, the South Africans went on to do yeoman work. There were South Africans in the Royal Navy; even on the county class cruiser which chased the Graff Spee in the River Plate.
MOST OF ALL I WEEP FOR TOM WARDER
Saying nothing about the vicissitudes of war, he told his children about how he had swum in the Mediterranean off the coast of Oran, but, not, until they were older, about how he and a friend had brought the body of an American soldier ashore. He sang the songs that he and his brother had sung on the ship, and played the tunes they had played in the squadron band, named The Venturians because the aircraft they flew were Venturas. His youthful listeners thrilled to hear about how he had once or twice had a chance to play with some famous musicians including Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller; but he was never able to talk much about how pilots, returning from anti-submarine reconnaissance to the hopelessly too short emergency airstrip at Kalafrana in Malta, on occasion misjudged the distance to the precipice at the edge of the towering cliffs.
The Warder Boys came home from the war in Europe, having signed up for further service in Burma; Tom to court his girl while they waited to be shipped out to the Far East. Fortuitously, before the order came for them to leave, peace returned to their world on V J Day. Tom joined a commercial airline, married and settled down to raise a family, remaining fiercely proud of his squadron. After emigrating from South Africa in 1978, he joined the Royal Canadian Legion and became a member of the Army Navy and Air force Veterans’ Association, retaining life membership of the South African Air-force Association. He gave his time, his energy and his money passionately, however, to help his wife establish an organization which has saved millions of lives in Canada and around the world by creating awareness of the most common genetic disorder of all: Hemochromatosis.
He has been described by physicians and patients alike as the “most courageous man” they have ever known. When, with dreadful suddenness, that same genetic disorder caught up with him and he learnt that he was dying, he was faced with two almost overwhelming problems: he might not have time to write “The Story of the Monarch,” as he had promised the children; and not only was the kind of money which a funeral might entail, frozen in South Africa but it would take too long to arrive in time to pay for his funeral
He turned to the Canadian Legion and was advised to apply to Veterans’ Affairs in Vancouver, which he did, one cold rainy afternoon in April 1992. Taking with him his medals, discharge papers and a letter of the kind most Commonwealth ex-servicemen had received from the King of England, he stood patiently and dripping wet, waiting until his turn came to state his case to the clerk behind the counter.
“I’m sorry,” said the young man, politely but firmly, shaking his head. “South Africa was never in the war!”
AN APOLOGY WOULD DO A GREAT DEAL TO ASSUAGE THE HURT
Tom Warder did not give up readily. His immediate need was great, but what was more important, his pride had been stung. He tried repeatedly to have his medals, discharge papers and other records of active service recognized. They were deemed to be inadequate, however, on the grounds that, although the month and the year were given, the exact dates of arrival and departure from war zones, for example, South West Africa (now Namibia), Oran and Malta, were not specified. Six weeks after his first visit to Veterans’ Affairs in Vancouver, in a greatly weakened state but determined to have his evidence validated, he managed, by utilizing his airline privileges, to make it back to South Africa. He followed up correspondence, sent ahead by him from Canada, with a personal visit to the records office in Pretoria. From there the necessary documentation was mailed to Canada, but he did not live long enough to know the outcome. He died in South Africa on July 9, 1992. Relevant documents were recently found among his personal papers; too late for his case to be resolved. One official document shows that his records had indeed been received; however, despite the numerous letters I have written to the department of Veterans’ Affairs, asking only for an apology, after all these years his file is still marked “Pending!”