The Saaf and the Warsaw Flights

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The Saaf and the Warsaw Flights

(This article was first published on 24 September 2008, by Anne Lehmkuhl)

THE SAAF AND WARSAW

Earlier this month, I was blessed to attend a very special remembrance day – that for the brave young men of the South African Air Force who flew to the aid of Polish citizens in Warsaw during World War II. This article was written to help keep their memory alive. If you have further information on these men, please let me know and I will add it on.

For five years after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Warsaw remained a Nazi-occupied city. Yet the underground Polish Home Army (AK) never stopped preparing for the day when it could rise against the Germans. This day arrived at 5pm on 01 August 1944 and for the next 63 days the men, women and children of the AK fought against the Germans. The AK believed the Russian Army would come to its aid, bit it didn’t. Within the first five days, the AK had re-taken most of the city, but without reinforcements and more arms and ammunition, they could not hold out. The Polish government in exile in Britain appealed to Winston Churchill for help.

The quickest way to help would be to drop supplies in, but the most direct route would take the Royal Air Force (RAF) over the most heavily defended parts of the Third Reich. Avoiding these areas would mean a round trip of 3520km. The only other alternative was over northern Italy but this too would involve avoiding most of the heavily defended German cities and a round trip of 3200km. Churchill was advised by his senior RAF officers that the task would achieve little militarily but cost high in life and equipment.

The 205 Group RAF at Foggia, Italy, was under the command of Major-General James (Jimmy) Thom DURRANT, a South African. The Group consisted of four Wings, three of which were RAF and the fourth was No. 2 Wing SAAF made up of 31 and 34 Squadrons equipped with Liberators.

On Sunday 13 August 1944, 10 crew of 31 Squadron were ordered to Brindisi for briefing and loading of special cargo. When they arrived in the Operations Room at Brindisi, they were greeted with a large wall map of Europe, marked with a thick black 3200 km route zig-zagging from Foggia to Warsaw. They were told that their mission was to fly at rooftop height over a heavily defended city and drop much-needed supplies. The flight route was long and zigzagged over a sea, high mountains and six enemy countries. Navigation aides were poor or non-existent, and the weather was usually foul. The four-engined Liberators would be heavily-laden. The supplies were packed in 12 canisters, each weighing 150 kg, on the bomb racks. Each canister was filled with light machine guns, ammunition, hand grenades, radio equipment, food and medical supplies. Each canister had a small parachute to break the fall. The first South African flight included Bob KLETTE (pilot), Lt. Alf FAUL (co-pilot), Lt. Bryan JONES (navigator), WO Eric WINCHESTER (radio operator), WO Herbert BROWN (air gunner), WO Henry UPTON (air gunner) and Smiler DAVIS.

There were 196 11-hour night flights from Brindisi and Foggia in Italy, to and from Warsaw from 04 August to early September. The aircraft crossed the Adriatic to occupied Yugoslavia before traversing Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Carpathian mountains. The low altitudes flights dropped light machine guns, ammunition, medical supplies, radios and food. The pilots flew in almost every night. Along the way, anti-aircraft batteries and German night fighters made it difficult for the heavily-laden Liberators. The most dangerous part of the flight was when the bombers made the drops by flying at rooftop level and at near stalling speed. The aircraft and crew came from two South African Air Force (SAAF) squadrons, 31 and 34; two RAF squadrons, 148 and 178; US Air Force bombers; and the Polish Special Duties Flight 1586. The cost was high – 168 airmen are buried in the Allied Airmen’s cemetery in Krakow, southern Poland, all killed in the six weeks of the airlift. Eighty of the graves are of South Africans. Of the 80 aircraft involved, 31 were shot down – 17 during the weekend of 13-16 August. Sixty-nine South Africans never returned. Twenty-five SAAF Liberators were shot down. Fifty percent of the aircraft were
from the RAF, and 36% of the total force was South African. Squadron 31 had 28 Liberators in the Airlift, the largest component. Eight were lost, 25 reached Warsaw dropping 228 canisters – the highest number of any squadron involved. Squadron 34 had three aircraft involved, one of which was lost. Many aircraft were so damaged when they had to force-land. The price was high. Air Marshal Sir John Slessors, the Allied air commander in the Mediterranean, later put the losses at one bomber lost for every ton of supplies dropped.

The uprising was over by 02 October, when the remainder of the AK surrendered. Seventeen thousand members of the underground, 3500 Polish soldiers and 5000 civilians had been killed. Six months later, the war in Europe was over. A Soviet regime took over and the Warsaw Uprising disappeared from Polish history. Many AK leaders vanished into the gulag and prisons.

In 1992 the Polish ambassador in South Africa, Stanislaf Cieniuch, presented the Warsaw Insurrectionary Cross to the 61 South Africans who took part in the Airlift. The presentation was at a parade held at Voortrekkerhoogte. Descendants of 37 of these brave young men who died during the war or afterwards, received the medal on behalf of their family member. One hundred and twenty South African pilots and aircrew were part of the Airlift. In 1992, only 67 of them, of whom 28 were still alive, could be traced. The Polish government in exile, already in 1945, wanted to honour the South Africans and others who helped. The South African government turned down the honour in 1945 and again in 1953, as it did not recognise the Polish government.

In South Africa, there were a number of Poles who had fought for the Allies and were invalided to South Africa to be treated for tuberculosis at Baragwanath Hospital. They formed the founding group of what became the South African Polish Association. In 1947, the first annual flypast and commemoration service commemorating the Warsaw Airlift was held at the Johannesburg Cenotaph. The Polish community in South Africa commemorated the Uprising and the Airlift every year with a Mass at the cathedral in Johannesburg, laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and holding a reception at the Polish Club. In 1981 the Katyn Memorial was erected at the James and Ethel Gray Park in Melrose, Johannesburg, and the annual commemoration moved there. The Uprising and Airlift, as well as the massacre of thousands of Polish professionals, intelligentsia, academics and military in the Katyn Forest in the spring of 1940, are commemorated here each year and organised by the South African Warsaw Flights Commemoration Organising Committee.

It was only in the 1980s that Poland saw some commemoration of the Uprising, when the memorial in Krasinski Square was erected. The bronze tableau shows a charge by the AK, and fighters disappearing into the sewers. It stands in the square which was Lieutenant BURGESS’ target drop zone on the night he won the DSO. A statue of a little boy in an oversized helmet with a carbine in his hands, pays tribute to the children who took part in defending their city. There is an Uprising Museum next door. In 1997 a plaque was unveiled at Okecie Airport in memory of the South Africans. A replica is in the SAAF Museum at Swartkop. There are seven memorials in Poland where Allied aircraft that took part in the Airlift were shot down.

Bronislaw Kowalski, on his own initiative and over a number of years, erected a shrine in the forest near the village of Michalin. The shrine marks the spot where a SAAF Liberator crashed on 14/15 August 1944. It honours the memory of Second Lieutenant R.G. (Bob) HAMILTON, and Sergeants Leslie MAYES and Herbert HUDSON. In his garden, Bronislaw built another shrine in which a light burns day and night and has done so for many years.

THE SAAF CREW

1) Captain Leonard Charles ALLEN
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 203161V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 27
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 4112/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Charles Edward ALLEN (died 1941, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 1455/41) and Louisa/Louise Sophia/Sofia ALLEN (maiden name ZEEDERBURG, died in 1936, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 95119).

2) Lieutenant Peter Herbert ANDREWS
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 542624V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 20
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5498/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Herbert William ANDREWS (died 1940, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 3115/40) and Frances Emily ANDREWS (maiden name BURRIDGE).

3) Lieutenant John Christopher BRANCH-CLARK
Observer, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 543022V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 18
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12312 Ref. 1921/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Frank and Joan M. BRANCH-CLARK of Plumstead, Cape Town.

4) Warrant Officer (Class I) Douwe Brandsma BRANDSMA
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 206784V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 21 or 24
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MSCE 2052/1945, dated 1944-1946 in Natal. Son of Jacobus Gerhardus Johannes BRANDSMA (born in the OFS, died 1954, Pietermaritzburg, Estate file: MSCE 828/1954) and Martha Ann BRANDSMA (maiden name HOMAN, born in Ficksburg, OFS, died 1966, Pietermaritzburg, Estate file: MSCE 4122/1966).

5) Warrant Officer (Class II) Herbert James BROWN
31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 328832V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 19
Buried at Malta
Estate file: MHG 3412/49, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of James BROWN and Edith Sabine BROWN (died 1965, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 790/1965) of Pretoria.

6) Lieutenant Oliver COLEMAN
Observer, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 328600V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 20
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 38211, dated 1945 in the Orange Free State. Son of Oliver Joseph Raymond COLEMAN (died 1934, OFS) and Angela COLEMAN (maiden name EGAN) of Bloemfontein. Angela’s second marriage was to a RICHARDSON. She died in 1972, Estate file: MHG 4788/72, dated 1972 in the Transvaal.

7) Lieutenant Cedric Arthur COOKE
Navigator, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 206267V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 30
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 4888/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery

Son of Arthur Vernon COOKE (died 1945, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12342 Ref. 2147/45) and Helen Isabel COOKE (died Jun 1955, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/23625 Ref. 2799/55) of Knysna.

Lieutenant percy Gordon COUTTS
Navigator / Bomber, 178 RAF Squadron
Service no. 329180V
Died 14 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MSCE 2129/1945, dated 1944-1948 in Natal. Husband of Sophia Otilie Konstanz Paula COUTTS.

9) Lieutenant Denis Osborne CULLINGWORTH
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 35379V
Died 16 Oct 1944, age 27
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5193/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of William Walter CULLINGWORTH (died 1944, Pretoria, Estate file: MHG 4738/55) and Constance Ellen CULLINGWORTH (maiden name FISHER, died 1974, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 4525/74). Husband of Elena Anna CULLINGWORTH (maiden name MEKISICH) of Pretoria.

10) Captain Eric Arnold ENDLER
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 102379V
Died 11 Sept 1944
Buried at Belgrade War Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12251, Ref. 1523/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province.

11) Warrant Officer (Class I) J.B. ERASMUS
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 328250V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 23 or 28
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Son of Johann and Johanna C. ERASMUS of Swellendam.

12) Lieutenant Keith FAIRWEATHER
Navigator, 178 RAF Squadron
Service no. 542974V
Died 15 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 38146, dated 1944 in the OFS. Son of Alexander FAIRWEATHER (died 1942, OFS, Estate file: MHG 34254) and Margaret C. FAIRWEATHER of Kroonstad.

13) Lieutenant Charles Searle Stuart FRANKLIN
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 206256V
Died 16 Oct 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12312, Ref. 1923/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Husband of Francis FRANKLIN (later STOCK) of Great Brak River.

14) Second Lieutenant Robert George HAMILTON
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 542957V
Died 15 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 1239/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal.

15) Lieutenant Arthur James HASTINGS
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 99671V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 23
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12248 Ref. 1505/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province, and MHG 4387/45, dated 1945 in the Transvaal. Son of Mrs. L. MOODY of Grabouw.

16) Lieutenant Grattan Chesney HOOEY
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 103846V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 25
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5297/45, dated 1945 in the Transvaal. Son of Samuel HOOEY (died 1944, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 4203/44) and Adela Sarah HOOEY (maiden name RICHARDS) of 201 Joubert Street, Volksrust.

17) Lieutenant Eric Ben Horton IMPEY
Observer, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 41252V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 25
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12312 Ref. 1926/45
Son of Ben Horton IMPEY and Hilda F. IMPEY of Cape Town. After packing his personal belongings, he sat down and wrote the Airman’s Prayer before going out to Warsaw never to return. He was the reigning South African high jump champion.

18) Lieutenant Walter KLOKOW
Observer, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 109210V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 27
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12309 Ref. 1902/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Lourens Cornelius GREYVENSTEYN and Anna C. GREYVENSTEYN of Molteno, Cape Province.

19) Lieutenant Ray Arras LAVERY
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 329117V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 25
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12312 Ref. 1928/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of James LAVERY and Edna B. LAVERY of Port Elizabeth.

20) Captain Gordon LAWRIE
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 102792V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 27
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5990/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of David Knox LAWRIE (died Jun 1956, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/24029 Ref. 3165/56) and Amy I. LAWRIE. Husband of Isabella Frances Travers LAWRIE (maiden name ALTSON).
At Lysa Gora, in a clearing in the forest, there is a neatly kept grave surrounded by a wrought iron railing. The tombstone bears the names of Capt. Gordon LAURIE and his crew who were shot down there. The nearby primary school twice a year weeds the area and plants new flowers, while hearing the story of the men from a far-off country who helped Poland.

21) Lieutenant Ralph Lawrence LAWSON
Pilot, 178 RAF Squadron
Service no. 328846V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 21
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12349 Ref. 2201/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Arthur John LAWSON (died Mar 1956, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/23941 Ref. 1307/56) and Millwood Grace LAWSON (maiden name LAWRENCE, died 1946, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12769 Ref. 1418/46). Step-son of R. CLARK of Kalk Bay. Arthur and Millwood divorced in 1931, and Millwood married Mr. CLARK.

22) Lieutenant Herbert Henry LEWIS
31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 136470V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 24
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12290 Ref. 1767/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Herbert Benjamin LEWIS (died 1957, Cape, Estate file: MOG Vol. no. 1/1/12 Ref. 226/57) and Ellen J.D. LEWIS of Middleton, Cape. Husband of Beatrice J. LEWIS.

23) Lieutenant James Arthur LITHGOW
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 79528V
Awards: D.F.C.
Died 16 Oct 1944, age 23
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5262/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of James Barclay LITHGOW (born in Scotland, died 1957, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 2290/1957) and Violet Bridget LITHGOW (maiden name FRASER, died 1961, Johannesburg, Estate file: MHG 3067/61).

24) Lieutenant Bernard Thomas LOXTON
Observer, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 329109V
Died 17 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MSCE 2009/1945, dated 1944-1946 in Natal. Husband of Leonore Alice Helen LOXTON.

25) Lieutenant Keith Brennand MACWILLIAM
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 117609V
Died 16 Oct 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 6657/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Husband of Elizabeth MACWILLIAM (maiden name RISSIK).

26) Lieutenant Harry Allpress Ruston MALE
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 21586V
Died 15 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 38378, dated 1945 in the OFS. Son of Harry John MALE (born in the UK, died 1966, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 727/1966) and Emily Anna MALE (maiden name RUSTON, born in England, died 1970, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 4954/1970) of Port Shepstone.

27) Lieutenant Allan Graham McCABE
Air Gunner, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 209194V
Died 11 Sept 1944, age 22
Buried at Belgrade War Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12267 Ref. 1617/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Frederick Liesching McCABE (died 1926, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/3015 Ref. 12342) and Kathleen L. McCABE of Graaff-Reinet.

28) Lieutenant Allan John McINNES
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 157105V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 22
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12290 Ref. 1768/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Allan McINNES and Ethel May McINNES (maiden name BARROW, died 1953, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/21940, Ref. 6961/53) of Cape Town.

29) Lieutenant Kenneth James McLEOD
Observer, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 47943V
Died 16 Oct 1944, age 27
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5232/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of George McLEOD and Johanna McLEOD of Kestell, OFS.

30) Warrant Officer (Class II) Joseph Arnold MEYER
Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 543206V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 21
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5233/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Adolf MEYER (died 1937, OFS, Estate file: MHG 28573) and Florence Augusta MEYER (maiden name LOMNITZ, died 1974, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 3672/74) of Pretoria.

31) Lieutenant Anthony James MUNRO
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 7011V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 20
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MSCE 892/1946, dated 1944-1946 in Natal. Son of David Butler Bowman MUNRO (died 1970, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 912/1970) and Ellen Alice Queenie MUNRO (maiden name HUNT, born in Port Elizabeth, died 1968, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 2385/1968) of Doornkop, Natal.

32) Major Izak Johannes Meyer ODENDAAL
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 202918V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 28
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Awards: Mentioned in Despatches
Estate file: MHG 1738/46, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Dirk Cornelius ODENDAAL and Catharina A. ODENDAAL of Harrismith.

33) Warrant Officer (Class I) Terence Desmond O’KEEFE
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 328854V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 20
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12320 Ref. 2003/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Michael O’KEEFE and Jeanette Walterina O’KEEFE (died 1949, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/16141 Ref. 3118/49) of Cape Town.

34) Warrant Officer (Class I) Douglas John PALMER
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 329040V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 23
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 4949/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of John PALMER (died 1943, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 3551/43) and Gladys PALMER (maiden name McINTOSH, died 1961, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 721/61) of Pretoria.

35) Lieutenant Gordon Bruce PITT
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 100685V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 20
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12313 Ref. 1931/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Alexander PITT and Mina G. PITT of Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. His brother, Lieutenant William George Alexander PITT, pilot with 34 Squadron, SAAF, died 23 Nov 1944, age 33. Service no. 206450V. Buried at Budapest War Cemetery. Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12320, Ref. 2004/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province.

36) Lieutenant George RAY-HOWETT
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 337473V
Died 16 Oct 1944, age 30
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 5349/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Herbert Arthur RAY-HOWETT (died 1949, Transvaal. Estate file: MHG 4740/49) and Frances Dorothy RAY-HOWETT (maiden name KNIPP, died 1972, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 4847/72) of Johannesburg.

37) Warrant Officer (Class I) Reginald Walter STAFFORD
Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 206770V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 26
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12313, Ref. 1932/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Reginald John STAFFORD (died 1935, Cape, Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/4699 Ref. 48406) and Louisa STAFFORD (maiden name HARVEY) of Cape Town. His parents divorced in 1935. Husband of Dorothy F. STAFFORD of Cape Town.

38) Warrant Officer (Class II) John Atholl Campbell STEEL
Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 543216V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 18
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 37986, dated 1945 in the OFS. Son of Robert John STEEL (died 1928, OFS, Estate file: MHG 21276) and Jane STEEL (maiden name CAMPBELL, born in Rogart, Scotland, died 1960, Natal, Estate file: MSCE 1235/1960) of Pietermaritzburg.

39) Lieutenant Brian Henry STEWART
2 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 103573V
Died 11 Sept or 08 Oct 1944, age 24
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery or Belgrade War Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 1368/45, dated 1944 in the Transvaal. Son of Vallance Meikle STEWART (died 1945, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 2504/45) and Edith Annie STEWART (maiden name HORNING, died 1957, Transvaal, Estate file: MHG 1083/58) of Bremersdorp, Swaziland.

40) Lieutenant Alan D’Egville STOTT
Navigator, 178 Squadron, RAF
Service no. 542708V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 24
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12334 Ref. 2093/45, dated 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Dr. William H. STOTT and H.A. STOTT.

41) Captain Nicolaas VAN RENSBURG
Pilot, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 102853V
Died 15 Aug 1944
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery

42) Lieutenant Thomas Tennant WATSON
Weapons Operator / Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 205946V
Died 17 Aug 1944, age 21
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MOOC Vol. no. 6/9/12228 Ref. 1342/45, died 1945 in the Cape Province. Son of Thomas S.T. WATSON and Hendrina M.K. WATSON of Blanco, Cape Province.

43) Warrant Officer (Class II) Ben Nevis WOODS
Air Gunner, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Service no. 543513V
Died 15 Aug 1944, age 36
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery
Estate file: MHG 4828/45, dated 1945 in the Transvaal. Son of Benjamin WOODS and Charlotte WOODS. Husband of Isobel Reid Ford WOODS (maiden name ANDERSON) of Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland.
Ben came to South Africa in 1939. He looked after the polo ponies of a South African jeweller. He joined the SAAF in February 1942. He attended 64 Air School in Bloemfontien. This was followed by 43 Air School in Port Alfred where he qualified as an Air Gunner on 31 July 1943. He was transferred to 31 Squadron in April/May 1944. Ben next went to 64 Operations Flight 1675 O.C.U in Lydda, Palestine. On 16 June 1944, he was transferred to Celone, Foggia, Italy. His aircraft, flown by Capt. Nicolaas VAN RENSBURG, was shot down and crashed at Goledzinow near Warsaw. All the crew died and were buried at the crash site. Four years later their remains were discovered and they were re-buried at Krakow Rakovicki Cemetery.

SURVIVED

Lieutenant William Frederick (Fred) AUSTIN
He joined the SAAF at age 17 as an Air Gunner, first with 17 Squadron and later with 34 Squadron. Died 21 June 2008. Married to Pat and had a son, Wayne.

Second Lieutenant Robert (Bob) BURGESS
Pilot, 34 Squadron, SAAF
Youngest and most junior SAAF officer to be awarded the DSO. On 31 Aug 1944 he was the co-pilot of a Liberator that was shot on the way back to Italy from a Warsaw flight. The pilot in command baled out. Bob, having never landed a Liberator on his own, ordered the crew to bale out. They refused, so he nursed the crippled aircraft, assisted by Sgt. Alan Bates (RAF – DFM, MBE) and Lt. Noel Sleed (DFC), until they crash-landed in a field, west of Kiev. Bob married Inez, an army nurse. They moved to the Brown & Annie Lawrence Retirement Home in Pinelands, Cape Town, July 2002. Inez passed away on 04 July 2007 and Bob on 14 July 2007. Their son and daughter immigrated to New Zealand. Bob’s son has kept his father’s scrapbooks, medals and other Air Force memorabilia.

Captain George Laurence COLEY. Lived at Blood River.

Lieutenant John R. COLMAN. Lived in Cape Town. Died 2007.

Smiler DAVIS

J. Pieter DU PREEZ. Awarded the DFC. Lived in Pretoria. Died 2007.

Lt. Alf FAUL. Pilot.

Major I.J.M. (Nick) GROENEWALD
He ordered his crew to jump after his Liberator was hit over Warsaw. While reaching for his parachute pack, the Liberator exploded. He managed to clip his parachute pack to his harness and opened it in time to land but suffered burns. At daybreak, he stumbled into a farmhouse and was taken to a secret hospital where Polish doctors repaired his face and arm burns with skin grafts. With false documents, he worked as a farm labourer before joining the AK. Russian troops found him and took him to Moscow where he was handed over to the British ambassador. Nick contacted his wife who, in the meantime, had been receiving a widow’s pension.

Lieutenant L.G. JACKSON. Lived in Cape Town.

Lieutenant Bryan JONES
Navigator, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Born 29 April. He was 17 when he joined the SAAF in 1942. Shot down over Warsaw in August 1944. His saving grace was hearing a voice telling him, twice, to put on his steel hat. He reached for it on the floor behind him, and put it on. His aircraft, piloted by Bob KLETTE, crashed nose first onto Warsaw airfield and he was knocked out, but all seven crew miraculously survived. They scattered in different directions before being captured. One of the gunners, Herbert BROWN, was mortally hit in the crossfire. Bryan made a promise that day that he would devote his life to God, in thanks for his life. After the war he held a number of senior managerial positions before becoming ordained as a pastor in the Rosebank Union Church. The prisoners were held at a local prison for about a week, before being taken to the Stalagluft POW camp, from where they could see Allied aircraft being shot down. The Russians finally occupied Warsaw in January 1945. The Germans released the South Africans much later. In 1994, Bryan and his wife flew to Poland with members of the Warsaw 44 Club. In 2001, Bryan and Col. Dirk NEL were invited to attend the concert in Atheneum Theatre, Warsaw, to rise funds for the refurbishment of the Michalin Monument. They were also made Honorary Members of the Robert Hamilton Boy Scout Troop.

Robert R. (Bob) KLETTE
Pilot
Attended Grey College. Flew through heavy anti-aircraft fire with three of the aircraft’s four engines hit. After dropping the cargo, he turned for home. The control panel was blank, all the gauges and instruments were broken. In the pitch dark night, he managed to make an emergency landing on a Warsaw airfield. The Germans took the crew prisoner. Died April 2001? in Somerset West.

Colonel Dirk Uys NEL
Commanding Officer of 31 Squadron during the Warsaw Uprising. Deemed too senior to fly in the Airlift. He was the youngest Colonel in the SADF history. He passed away at his home in Somerset West on 27 Dec 2008, age 91. He was born on 02 May 1917 and joined the military at age 19. Shortly after his 21st birthday, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. Initially he flew bombers with 24 Squadron. Two years later he joined 31 Squadron, one of the most successful Allied Forces squadrons. After WWII, he joined South African Airways (SAA) where he later became a Flight Commander and flew to the USA to bring back SAA’s first Boeings. While flying a SAA Lancaster from Johannesburg to London, Nel saved the day. Refuelling was done at Kano, but on this stop the refuellers made an error. While flying over the Atlantic Ocean, one of the engines became over-heated. Nel wanted to use the fire extinguishers, but found them empty. He brought the aircraft down to about 100 m above the sea, hoping the spray would help cool the engines. It helped and the rest of the flight over the ocean was flown in an up and down manner, until they landed safely in London. Forthis he was awarded a medal by the then Minister of Transport, Ben SCHOEMAN. Nel was married to Annette CONRADIE, a former flight attendant who later worked as a journalist for the Transvaler newspaper. They had a son and two daughters.

Dirk Uys NEL was a descendant of the famous Voortrekker UYS family that was involved in many battles.
His grandfather was Cornelius Lukas (nickname Bloustroom) UYS who was born in 1857 in the Utrecht district and died in 1941. Cornelius was a bittereinder in the Anglo-Boer War. He married Maria Magdalena SPIES (1864-1936). His sons served with Collins’ Scouts in South West Africa during WWI.
Cornelius was the son of Petrus Lafras (nickname Piet Hlobane) UYS born 1827 in the Humansdorp district, died 1879 at Hlobaneberg, Zululand, and his wife Maria Johanna VAN NIEKERK (1830-1870).
Piet Hlobane was the son of Petrus Lafras (nickname Piet Italeni) UYS born 1797 in Swellendam district, died 11 April 1838 at Italeni, Zululand, and his wife Alida Maria UYS (1799-1869). He was the Voortrekker leader whose son, Dirkie UYS born 1823, was also killed on 11 April 1838.
Piet Italeni was the son of Jacobus Johannes (nickname Koos Bybel) UYS born 1770 in Bredasdorp district, died July 1838 at Mlazirivier, and his wife Susanna Margaretha MOOLMAN (1777-1850).
Koos Bybel was the son of Cornelis Janse UYS born 1736 in Stellenbosch district. died 1811, and his wife Alida Maria SWART (1746-1811).
Cornelis was the son of Dirk Cornelisz UYS born circa 1698 in Leiden, Holland, died circa 1758 in Stellenbosch district, and his wife Dina Maria LE ROUX (1702-1740).
Dirk was the son of Cornelis Janszoon UYS born circa 1671 in Amsterdam, Holland, arrived in the Cape before 1700, died after 1714, married Dirkje Matthijse WESTERHOUT in Leiden.

Captain William E. (Bill) SENN
Awarded the DFC for flying a badly damaged Liberator from Warsaw to Foggia, while he was seriously wounded. His mid-upper gunner was also injured. The rudder controls were damaged, the elevator control partially cut, and the nose-wheel mechanism was hit. The tail gunner still managed to shoot out four searchlights. Capt, Senn ordered his crew to jump, the crew being unaware that he was hit. His parachute buckle had been shot away, so he knew he couldn’t jump.

Lieutenant Russel SEARLE
Died in May 1992. Lived in Great Brak River. Married to Dotsie SEARLE.

Lieutenant H.C.D. STEEL. Lived in Johannesburg.

Robert (Bob) STEELE
Pilot, SAAF. Died Aug 2007.

Warrant Officer Henry UPTON. Air Gunner.

Captain VAN DER SPUY

Major Jack VAN EYSSEN, DFC
In 1987 Jack visited Warsaw for the commemoration service at St Anna’s Cathedral, with his wife and Cmdt. Polla KRUGER, then commanding officer of 31 Squadron. He died in December 1999 at the age of 81, in Johannesburg, of cancer. He was made an Honorary Colonel of the disbanded 31 Squadron at Hoedspruit. He was the founding member of the SAAF Association’s Stilfontein branch, and a member of the Johannesburg branch since 1981.

Second Lieutenant L. Eric D. WINCHESTER
Radio Operator, 31 Squadron, SAAF
Eric joined the SA Army in 1940 at the age of 17 and was soon posted to East Africa. He wasn’t seeing much action and tried to join the RAF but was turned down because of poor eyesight. Two years later, he returned to South Africa where he eventually joined the RAF. He was posted to Cairo with 31 Squadron and was trained as an air gunner. Eric was in the first South African flight with Lt. KLETTE. During that flight, the aircraft lost height due to icing on the wing. A German night fighter flew beneath them without seeing them. Their cargo was to be dropped in the main square, but with 2 engines shot out and a fire in the under-carriage, the plane crashed landed. Eric was wounded in the head and arm. After the crew was captured, they were eventually taken by train to Frankfurt where he was held in solitary confinement for 3 weeks prior to his interrogation and being sent to a POW camp in Eastern Germany. When the Russians arrived, they kept him as a Russian prisoner. Eventually he escaped into the nearby forest. He spent three days in the forest and eventually crossed the Elbe River Elbe, arriving at an American camp. It was nine months since the flight to Warsaw. Eric wondered what had happened to his colleague who had been taken away in an ambulance after their capture. He looked for details and when he attended a memorial service in Johannesburg in 1950 he saw that his friend’s name was not listed. Fifty-four years later Eric finally found his friend’s grave at Krakow. It had the same name, but the wrong squadron and wrong date. Eric did not give up, and in 1999 the Polish Red Cross finally found the grave at Lodz. Eric became a Senator. Lived in Durban.

(Anne’s blog can be found at here.)


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