Is it possible for a South African to receive only the 1939-45 War Medal without the Africa Service Medal?

Medals to servicemen serving the South African Army in WW2 (Union Defence Forces) are always distinctive because of the inclusion of the beautiful Africa Service Medal (ASM) in their medal groups.    The ASM is found to everyone who served with the UDF, including the Rhodesians.

The ASM has always prized by the servicemen and woman and by collectors. Affectionally is known as “Oma’s Garter”, which referred to Gen Jan Smuts wife.  Oma means grandmother in Afrikaans. This medal struck in 800 silver depicts the map of Africa on the obverse and a leaping springbok on the reverse. 

But as collectors South African WW2 medals are always prized because they all officially numbered and named thus can be researched.  Research is the key to treasure in revealing the “man behind the medal”. A standard named medal may hide a fantastic story.

Until today it has always been assumed that all South Africans and Rhodesians serving with the Union Defence Forces received an ASM and its impossible to not received the ASM if one served 30 days.  Single ASM’s are found issued to the ACF, NVR and SAP (see previous articles on prefixes) but to date, I was aware that the WM can be issued without an ASM (Merchant navy excluded)

I am not one to quote regulations, but in summary, the ASM was awarded to Union Service Personnel who served at home and abroad during the War for at least 30 days.  BUT only to those who signed the Oath.Sometimes referred to as the “Red or Blood Oath”. This Oath is taken on attestation and is worthwhile to exoplain precisely what this Oath said.  What is not commonly know is that there are more than one version of this Oath 

Examples for Coast Garrison and Active Citizen Forces 

I ….. do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George VI and to his heirs and successors according to the law and I will perform to the best of my abilities the duties assigned to me as a whole time member of the ……. And that I will subject myself to the provisions of the South African Defence Act 1912, and to such rules and regulations as may be in force from time to time be made and promulgated under that Act, for the period of engagement to be four years from … of …..19.. or for the duration of the present War, which period is shorter, subject always to the provisions of Section 83 of the South African Defence Act 1912 – so help me G-d

This version is for four years and does not mention where you will serve.  However, there is another more standard version of this Oath that the volunteers signed.

I … make oath/solemnly declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty King George VI and to his heirs and successors according to law. That I will perform to the best of my abilities the duties assigned to me as a volunteer member of the Union Defence Forces.  That in accordance with the Resolution of Parliament I will serve in the South African Permanent Force/Coast Garrison Force / Active citizen Forces in Africa whether within or outside the limits of South Africa for the duration of the present War. That I subject myself to the provisions of the South African Defence Act 1912, as amended from time to time and to such rules and regulations as may be in force, or may from time be made and promulgated and are applicable to the South African Permanent Force/Coast Garrison /Active Citizen Force, and to the Union Military Discipline Codes so help me G-d

Note carefully the bold highlighted sections

What stands out is the clause in Africa, whether within or outside the limits of South Africa for the duration of the present War.  The attestation papers is a legal binding contract, in essence, an employment contract. 

This is the so-called “Red Oath”, and all South Africans volunteers who signed this contract wore small red tabs on their epaulettes.   It is clear that seeing this would remind them of the Oath they swore and the agreement they had entered into.  For interest, the Red Tab was worn until 1949 when new dress regulations under a new government removed it. 

The men who signed this Oath, correctly or incorrectly, understood that they signed to defend South Africa and territories north of the Limpopo River but within the continent of Africa.   Hence the ASM only depicts a map of Africa, not the world.   

When the South Africans volunteers entered the war, they served in East Africa against the Italians, Madagascar against the French, and then onto North Africa where they faced Rommel’s Afrika Corps.  But a huge problem occurred in 1943 at the end of the North African campaign. The War was far from over, and the demand for Allied troops in Europe and other theatres was growing. 

Parliament decided that South African Forces would continue to fight in all theatres where Allied forces were needed. Small problem, the majority of men had signed the 2nd versions of the Oath.   They had not signed up to fight in outside of the African continent.  Many of these men had lost family in the killing fields of France and Flanders during WW1 and in the current war, South Africa had lost a whole division at the disaster in Tobruk. SA did not want a repetition of the same again. So it is my understanding that General Smuts gave the SA troops an ultimatum, continue to fight outside of Africa other theatres of war, or he would leave them in North Africa doing nothing till the end of the War (their contract).

As such, when they came back to South Africa with their regiments many took their discharge, and this is why we see so many South African groups with only four medals, i.e. 1939-45, Africa Star, War Medal and Africa service medals.  Because of the discharges and battle losses, many of the regiments that served until 1943 were too depleted to continue to serve in their own right so they were amalgamated into new units.  Some regiments never took to the field of battle again, but others merged into composite regiments, eg. The First City (FC) joined the Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) and served as the FC/CTH in the Italian Campaign.

In previous articles, I have discussed the issue of the ASM to the South African Police that served in the Union only as opposed to those who served in North Africa, and how the style of naming appears on their single issue ASM.  However, it is a little known fact that individual serving police officers did not agree with the War against Germany or were pro-Nazi and refused to sign the Oath.  The majority of these men were interned.  This will be the subject of a further article as many of these men rose to positions of great power post-1948 when Smuts was defeated, and the Nationalist Government took control. 

The standard rule is that when we encounter a South AfricanWW2 medal group, one will always find an ASM in the group and if one is missing its either because he was in the Merchant Navy (they did not sign the Oath) or it has been melted down for its silver content and it is, therefore, a broken group.

But what happened to those who did not qualify for the ASM but still served.

It was only on the passing of Rod Bickley that I came into possession of some of the late Gordon Bickley’s files, including one titled “WW2 War Medal Only Issue”.  The contents of the record is “list of cases reviewed of European males in terms of Auth AG(3)1602/4 dd 23-5-49 and routine order 1491 dd 14-5-49

Ignoring the huge title, the file contains a review regarding the issues of medals to men who served but their entitlement to medals may be in question. The roll detail the block service number, name of the person, the reason for discharge, whether medals were authorized followed by a remarks column. 

But what is more interesting is that this roll shows the issue of numerous single WM’s only, or a reason for non-issuance of medals and includes the reason therefor.   The list contains details 11 954 men who were reviewed.  Pages from this roll are published below.  The remarks are self-explanatory but I believe this list has never been made public before. There is no intention to defame anyone in this article so only an extract is published.

Issues raised are :

Services no longer required (SNLR), Expiry of terms of engagement (ET), Insufficient service, Non-volunteer, Partial demobilisation, return to SAR&H…….

Then a few interesting ones :

False answers on attestation, in the interests???,cashiered, under age, with ignominy, unfit for duties in the Corps, did not assume duty, Inaccurate attestation, convicted by civil power, deserter, disgraceful conduct, robbery, incorrigible & worthless, bad military record……

The roll is in service number order and where a person re-enlisted the numbers are all recorded and tied together.

Page 1 of roll – note the medals authorised and remarks – The roll is in service number order.
Page 2 of roll

For the sake of this article let us explore a name on the list – example No 66 075 John Carl WINTERBACH. His number appear on the page below.

On 30 May 1949, his case was reviewed, although he was found medically unfit the board decided to award him a medal with the comment “Non-volunteer – war medal only”.  He was authorized to receive a single named War Medal.  No ASM. 

Roll showing No 66075 J C Winterbach Non Volunteer War Medal Only

I then reviewed the WW2 index card and found no 66075 John Carl Winterbach, aged 52 (born 25/3/1887) enlisted as a Private in the 1st SSR Bde ACF in Wynberg Cape Town on the 3 March 1940.   The card goes on to show he did something naughty on the 10 July 1940 Contra Sec 15 (2) MDC  – Military Discipline Code -and was discharged on 20 September 1940. I do not have a UDF MDC book handy to see what he contravened and if this was serious enough for him to be discharged, but suffice to say he was released and his card stamped discharged.

The index cards are an invaluable source of information and include details of what medals are awarded and when they were dipatched. Most surprising to see that Winterbach was only issued a War Medal 1939/45 – which was dispatched to him in 1955.   Therefore, a single War Medal is his only entitlement.   

Winterbach Index card showing only 1 medal entitled & dispatched

At first, I believed, the non-issue of the ASM could have been because he refused to sign the Oath, noting that on the outbreak of war South Africa was divided on being drawn into another World War that had nothing to do with them.  Resentment and hatred towards the British existed due to the poor treatment of the Afrikaans families by the British during the Boer War and coupled with the tremendous loss of life in WW1; not everyone wanted to go off to War so quickly.

I drew his attestation papers, and on page 2 I noted that he had signed the Oath.  So this was not the reason he just did not qualify.  In medal collecting, I have found that rules are meant to be broken.

I then came across what we would describe a straightforward group, being the a simple pair of WM and ASM. Something we regularly see in South Africa.  The medals were mounted, however, on closer inspection, I noted that although the initials and surname were the same, the service number was not.  The medals are named as follows:

War Medal 1939-45 – 61836 THW Webster 

Africa Service Medal ACF 148668 THW Webster 

With the ACF (Active Citizen Forces) prefix, I would instantly assume that this is father and son or two brothers, mixed group.  That the war medal is to one person who enlisted in Field Force Brigade (block numbers match) and another member of the family was serving with the ACF during the War and I assumed the medals got mixed up.

But then I reviewed his files …….I was wrong, it’s the same man.  So how is this possible?

Thomas Hendry William Webster was born 2 November 1913, he enlisted as a private in the 1st Btn FFB in Ladysmith on 21 March 1940 and was discharged on 15 May 1940.  All this information is contained on his index card including the issue of a single WM which was dispatched to him in 1955.  With the Gordon Bickley roll in my possesion I found his name together with the comments “ET at his request”, medals authorized but only a WM.  ET means Expiry of Terms of engagement, i.e. ending of his contract to serve. 

THW Webster – Indez card – showing medal issues

So where does the ASM come from?   In the SADF archives, there are index cards for the ACF and bingo we find card no 148558 to Thomas Hendry William Webster born 1913 with the same address as the WW2 index cards.   His medal would be named 14558 ACF.   It is not the father or brother; it’s the same man.

THW Webster ACF Index card – note his number 148558, which appears on his medal

The card shows he enlisted in the ACF on the 20 May 1941 and served with the 1st Bn NVB until discharged medically unfit on 25 June 1942.  This service qualified him for a single ASM with ACF prefix. 

Again, I would have believed it possible that Mr Webster had refused to sign the Oath and therefore did not qualify for the ASM with his service with the FFM.   His attestation papers solve this problem as page two of the documents clearly shows he signed the early 1st type Oath.

Attestation Papers – Page 1
Attestation Papers – Page 2 – note signed the Oath
Medal Claim page

How did this happen?  I believe its the Military, and the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing, so two separate medals were issued complete with sperate entitlement slips, marked, one for the WM and another for the ASM.  Below are the SADF issued entitlement slips with each award clearly marked, one medal on each.

So now, after so many years of collecting, I learnt something new.  That a single WM could be correctly issued, without its matching ASM pair and be a South Africans sole entitlement.   I will again look at single War Medals medals laying in dealers’ trays, and not immediately think they are from broken groups.

The roll is too large to publish, but you are invited to message me, and I can check the roll for you. 

The single WM issue must be considered a considerable rarity and I trust that more will now be discovered and recorded.

My thanks go to the late Gordon Bickley who preserved this roll.