Category: Pretoria

Revisiting Bays Hill

One of my favourite memorials has to be the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria. It is a magnificent structure that epitomises “those who mount up with wings as eagles”. 


I recall going there as a toddler with my parents and an uncle. In those days the Book of  Remembrance used to be in a recessed holder, and it was in there that we looked for the name of my uncle that died in Egypt during World War 2.

The memorial was opened on 1 September 1963 by President CR Swart. Other additions have been the Garden of Remembrance, the Walls of Remembrance, and the recent addition of the Potchefstroom AFB Memorial.
Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

The futuristic and angular design of the building is unique and it does not have the heavy often morbid feel of a memorial, if anything it is light and airy, reminiscent of flight. 

Garden of Remembrance

Garden of Remembrance

The interior houses a small chapel as well as spaces for the Rolls of Honour and guest books, while not a large space still retains a aircraftlike feel with its angular windows. 
On the day of our visit the national flag was at half mast, probably to honour Chief Justice Arthur Chaskelson who had died that week. However, little did we realise at the time that the Air Force would loose an aircraft and its crew and passengers on the next day. Those names will be added to the thousands already inscribed on the Roll of Honour. 
Korean War Roll of Honour.

Korean War Roll of Honour.

It is a sombre place to visit, and seeing the names inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance always leaves one feeling humble, and as you leave this small haven of peace you may hear the sound of an aircraft flying overhead, and know that it is a kindred spirit of those who are remembered here.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016

The Air Force Museum

Due to an unplanned party, our usual Wednesday Pretoria trip took a detour, and one of the places I revisited was the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkops AFB. I had originally visited there in December 2008, and had been somewhat disappointed, but also enthralled by their collection of aircraft. Nothing I saw though would really compare to the collection I had seen at The National Museum of the  US Air Force in Dayton Ohio in 2000. That place was truly amazing.
As usual I did have an ulterior motive in my visit, I really wanted to see the P51 Mustang that had evaded me in 2008, and was hoping to spot a complete Vampire too, the last Vampire I had seen had been incomplete. The images in this blog post are really a mix from my 2008 visit and the 2012 visit, because there have been changes since I had first been here.  There are aircraft that I have not added images of, that is because I did not have a specific interest in them on this visit.
Inside the museum (2008)

Inside the museum (2008)

The main display area on the apron housed the larger aircraft, and my special favourite has to be the Shackleton. She had been moved from her original spot, and as usual was really worth seeing up close and personal. 
Also dominating the area was the SAAF Boeing 707,  I had never been lucky enough to see one of these up close and personal, and she is really the only one I have seen. 
Actually that is a fib because I have been on board the 707 at Wright Patterson AFB. That particular aircraft, Boeing VC-137C – SAM 26000 (Boeing 707) had served President John F Kennedy as the presidential aircraft (aka “Air Force One”) before it too was replaced by a 747. Personally I prefer Boeing aircraft, these new fangled Airbus aircraft don’t work for me.

Also on the apron is the DC4 Skymaster, She too had been moved from my last visit, and she is deteriorating rapidly, the fabric of her elevators and ailerons is falling apart and she really needs to be under cover and restored.

A new addition that had not been there on my previous visit was a Puma helicopter. There was another Puma (or Oryx?) doing circuits and bumps while we were visiting but I never got any decent footage of her. 

Most of the Mirage and Impala had been moved under cover which should protect them from the elements, but the larger aircraft are really in a precarious situation.  Even the sleek Canberra is looking somewhat faded.

I have not shown images of the C160 Transall or the Ventura or Super Frelon that are parked on the apron. Neither have I shown images of the aircraft parked under cover.

Moving indoors to the display hangers I was delighted to find my missing Mustang!

As well as the restored Vampire.

I was also hoping to get better images of the Sabre while I was there, and was delighted to find her in a much better position than previously.

Another addition that I had not seen previously was an SAAF trainer, I am not sure whether this is a Pilatus or the local derivative.

I was also hoping to get a better image of the Fieseler Storch but it lived in relative darkness so this is the best I could do…
There are a lot of other aircraft to view at the museum, like the wonderful Sikorsky S-51 which is a real blast from the past,

And the Communist Bloc era Mikoyan MiG21 BIS which ran out of fuel while on a flight over Northern South West Africa in 1988. (Returned to Angola in 2017)


Our own South African Air Force aircraft also feature strongly, and one of my personal favourites is the Mirage IIIBZ in her original delivery colours.

And, the Westland Wasp in her Naval colour scheme, hankering back to the days of our 3 frigates.

Unfortunately though the museum does not have a complete Harvard on display,  that stalwart trainer did our country very proud, and the snarl of their engines overhead is only a memory. Like most museums though, this one lacks funds and dedicated people to keep it going.  We are very fortunate to have this small collection available, and it would be tragic if we were to loose it. It is well worth the time and effort to go through to Pretoria for a visit, because if you are an air force and aviation buff, these are the machines that you may soon only read about.
A postscript. At the time of writing this, the Air Force had just lost a Turbo-Dak with all her crew and passengers in bad weather over the Drakensberg. This is the second Dakota that has been lost recently, maybe its time the museum acquired one for the collection before they too become extinct.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016

The National Archives in Pretoria

Having done a bit of genealogy in the past few years, I know about the National Archives and the potential they have for research. There are a number of archives in South Africa, and each houses material pertaining to activities in their provinces. It’s difficult to really describe what they are about though until one actually goes there and draws a file.  Most genealogists or researchers use what is loosely known as “Naairs” (National Automated Archival Information System  to look up files in the archives. It’s a slightly finicky way of doing things, but it is all that we have. The results returned often do not really say very much. An example would be:
TAB is the National Archives Repository (Public records of the former Transvaal and its predecessors, as well as of magistrates and local authorities), and it is in Hamilton Street, Pretoria.  There is a very good explanation on the Naairs website as to what all that mumbo jumbo in the results actually means. 
It is best to request files before heading to the archive; in my case I faxed them the day before and confirmed that they received the list and that would have as much ready for me as possible. The reading room contains desks and tables where researchers are able to photograph or collect information.  I was really there to take photographs of files for later research, and that is what I did. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the Cape Archives (KAB) which really makes things very complicated. 

What really amazed me was the information that is there if you really look for it or know what you are after. Amongst the material I was after was pre Boer War era material and one item I saw was a petition to Paul Kruger for a pardon. I did not really explore it more, but I am sure somewhere amongst the many signatures on it I  would have found that of Paul Kruger himself. 

 There we also a number of interesting old maps that somebody had requested. And amongst them was one from Johannesburg, dated 1896 and loosely described as “The Residents’ and Strangers’ Friend”.

It is a wonderful glimpse into Johannesburg of the past, and this was probably the original. It is interesting to see how the city had grown from when it officially became one in 1886 till then, and of course Braamfontein Cemetery was in use, and its register from that era is equally interesting.  

What I did find interesting is how well developed the machinery of filing and bureaucracy was, with its arcane language, revenue stamps and formal forms of address. SMSspeak did not exist in the civil service, and proper spelling was extremely important. You also “humbly begged to be your obedient servant” and signed your name with a flourish. Of course the occasional gem can also be found in those reams of  formality…
To say that my curiosity isn’t piqued would be an understatement, there is so much to discover at the archives, but like most things you actually need to have a distinct purpose when calling up files; whether they are for genealogy or curiosity, randomly choosing a file may not really be fruitful, and I am already contemplating what to look for next. 
I did find the staff very helpful, and the experience was an interesting one. There is much to see, and so much to discover hidden in that building that it should be a compulsory exercise for children in school. I just wish we had been able to do this when I was young. 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016