Chapter 2


After the Declaration of War by Britain and France the British Dominions and Colonies followed suit within a short time.  South Africa was somewhat different as there was a large section of the population – mostly Afrikaners who were actually pro-German and anti-British, who wished to remain neutral. With such divergent views the Government of Generals Hertzog & Smuts had a bitter debate on the issue. After three days of intense lobbying General Smuts finally won with a very small majority and war was declared on Germany on Sept 6th 1939. Those were vivid days of expectancy and a nervous excitement as we listened to the BBC Radio broadcasts for War news. We were told of the first Air Raid warnings in London, the Barrage balloons and RAF activities. The first horrific disaster to our morale was the sinking of the Athenia by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. The ship was on its way to America with many women and children who were being evacuated from Britain.

There were many casualties. I remember being out on Survey near Young’s Field at Wynberg and I saw five Hawker Hurricane fighters for the first time. I had never seen planes fly so fast before as they sped low across the aerodrome. Unfortunately, tragedy struck as one of them crashed coming into land and the pilot was killed (See Neil Orpen’s comment in his book – “East African Campaign”). Military service was still voluntary in South Africa and no general mobilisation took place. Many of the Afrikaners, who were opposed to the war effort formed groups of Saboteurs and fifth Columnists who set about disrupting the war effort. The Afrikaner movement, the Ossewabrandwag was very active and the sadness of the situation was that families split down the middle. A son would join up against his family’s wishes and become an outcast. I met several chaps, later in the war, who had never received any letters or communication since they had left home. Robbie Leibrandt, a South African champion boxer, actually landed on the West coast from a German Submarine and did a great deal of damage to the war effort by spreading propaganda. His main object, however, was to assassinate Gen. Smuts but he was ultimately captured and, after a trial, was condemned to death but this was later changed to life imprisonment.

In Cape Town, the City Council built a new Survey office in the Newlands forest, above Newlands Avenue to house the staff of the City Survey Mapping project. In late 1938 the fledgling staff, under the direction of E.V.R. Bullock, moved there and set about training for the task and perfecting the methods of survey, which would produce a most detailed and exact large-scale map of Cape Town. We were a very keen and happy bunch of young fellows. Full of fun, eager sportsmen and, as the war clouds darkened the horizon, we all had visions of “joining up” when the time came.

A collections of tour poems and verses and office Christmas party doggerel written by Howard J. Bates