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New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds
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Author:  Dean [ 21 Apr 2013, 12:28 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

28 Mar 2013: Mail & Guardian

Soaring on memories

Former and current members of the air force give personal insights into the history of the SAAF.

Maureen Brady

TUMULT IN THE CLOUDS: Stories from the South African Air Force 1920-2010 compiled by Dean Wingrin (30° South Publishers and Helion & Company Ltd)

Disclosure: I am an air force brat. I grew up in the South African Air Force (SAAF) during the 1950s and 1960s, mostly on a very special air force base, Langebaanweg, in the Western Cape. In my teens, I wanted to be a pilot, but they didn’t take girls in those days. I still get a visceral thrill when I hear a lone Dakota or a flight of Harvards flying over my house. I therefore have a personal interest in the subject matter of this book. Growing up, I knew many of the contributors. I called them “Uncle” Porky and “Oom” Daantjie, among others, and went to school with some of their children. My elderly mother recognises even more names than I do. She recalls, for instance, that “Monster” Wilkins’s wife dressed for their wedding in our house at Ysterplaat. I wish my late father could have made his own contribution: he was a great raconteur, especially about the Western Desert, Italy and Korea. Many of the photos in this book could have come from his own photo album.

My father, Martin Wilson Taylor Bellingham Brady (later shortened to just Martin Brady, because, he said, it was a helluva handle to write out on forms — and there are a lot of forms in the defence force), was of the generation that had their young lives disrupted by the Great Depression. His father lost all his money and so, with just standard 7 (grade 9), after a few years of doing odd jobs, my dad was in the first intake into the Special Services Battalion, which was formed on May 1 1933. Its aim was to give training to young unemployed (white) men between 17 and 23. After a year’s basic training, these trainees could choose to join one of the three arms of the defence force. Many, like my dad, opted to join the youngest arm, the SAAF, just 13 years old at the time. So, barely 18, in October 1934 he was sworn in as Number 791, as an “appy” (apprentice) air mechanic.

The SAAF, the second oldest air force in the world after the British one, was set up by legendary flying ace Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, though it was the successor to the South African Aviation Corps, an idea first mooted in 1912 by General Jan Smuts.
The first planes my dad worked on, a gift from the British government after World War I, were mainly Avros, and deserved the appellation “kites”, because they were flimsy biplanes made of wood, canvas and wires. Think of the Red Baron and you get the idea!

Reminiscing about their adventures

As the subtitle indicates, however, Tumult in the Clouds is not a history of the SAAF, but a collection of first-person memoirs from former and current members of the air force, both pilots and ground crew (and at least one other “brat”). It is divided into nine sections: the formation of the SAAF, World War II, the Berlin Airlift, Korea, Rhodesia, the Border War, the post-war years, post-1994 and display flying.

My main interest was in the sections up to the late 1960s, because I “left” the SAAF after I matriculated. It came as a shock to realise I was actually a “civvy” (civilian). So it was with envy that I read Mosepedi Manaka’s account of her training as a pilot. They do take women now (since 1996).

Reading these stories, I was taken back to so many afternoons in my childhood, of being among a bunch of “types” sitting on stoeps, beer mug in hand, reminiscing about their adventures, each one trying to top the other. We children were very much to be seen and not heard, so I would sit quietly and just listen, except occasionally to prompt my father to tell one of his choicer stories: Daddy, tell about Chappie James (a black United States Air Force colonel in Korea, one of my favourite characters).

Soldiers seem to have a natural bent for storytelling, so if, in reading these accounts, you wonder about how the teller can remember so much in fine detail, it’s probably because the stories have been polished over the years by many retellings. And, besides thrilling tales of near-crashes and other disasters, what I remember most is how funny they were.

As Dean Wingrin notes: “A common thread that struck me during the compilation of this book is that despite all the tragedy and horrors of war, it is the lighter moments that shine through. Humour is considered to be a vital survival mechanism, enabling an individual to endure extreme conditions. The human mind has a tendency to shut out the bad memories while celebrating the good. This book is not here to glorify war, but to celebrate man’s ability to overcome difficulties and hardships, to honour ingenuity and the ‘love of flight’.”

On a less salubrious note: three appendices give a selection of pub songs from various eras. That’s something else soldiers seem to love doing: singing. I reckon the songs given here have been cleaned up. Because I recall, aged about seven, overhearing far more risqué songs coming from the pub of the officers’ mess at the ’Baan. At the time, I was eating grapes off the pergola just outside. Then, when I later asked my dad: “What’s the whore of Babylon?”, I got my mouth washed out with soap!

My dad would so have enjoyed these stories. He retired with the rank of major in 1972 and died in 1984. He would have turned 98 this year, just eight years older than the SAAF itself. In salute to him and to his former colleagues, let me quote from a hymn we used to sing at air force memorial services: “They fly forgotten, as a dream/ Dies at the opening day.”

Not so forgotten, after all, thanks to Tumult in the Clouds.

Author:  Roulof [ 21 Apr 2013, 18:27 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

Very nice review Dean!

Author:  Tally-ho [ 02 Jan 2024, 18:09 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

Dean, in addition to your own brilliant book, have you read this? I've not, but am obviously most interested. Thoughts?


Author:  Dean [ 03 Jan 2024, 08:47 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

Whilst I've not read the book, I've only heard very good comments about it and it is highly recommended.

Author:  Stefaan [ 03 Jan 2024, 13:29 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

Brilliantly written, by both authors.

Author:  Tally-ho [ 03 Jan 2024, 15:07 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds


Thank you for the endorsements guys - it's into my Kindle library. Happy days! :smt023

Author:  Mars [ 01 Feb 2024, 23:56 ]
Post subject:  Re: New SAAF book: Tumult in the Clouds

The image is has been removed. But if it is Tumult in the Clouds by James Goodson, it is an essential read.

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