South African Prisoner-Of-War experience during and after World War II : 1939-c.1950

Horn, Karen (2012-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis narrates and analyses the experiences of a sample of South Africans who were captured during the Second World War. The research is based on oral testimony, memoirs, archival evidence and to a lesser degree on secondary sources. The former prisoners-of-war (POW) who participated in the research and those whose memoirs were studied were all captured at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh in November 1941 or during the fall of Tobruk in June 1942. The aim of the research is to present oral and written POW testimony in order to augment the dearth of knowledge regarding South African POW historical experience. The scope of the research includes the decision to volunteer for the Union Defence Force, the experiences in North Africa, capture and initial experiences in the so-called ‘hell camps of North Africa’, the transportation to Italy and life in the Italian prison camps, events surrounding the Italian Armistice and the consequent escape attempts thereafter. For those POWs who did not escape, the experience of captivity continued with transport to Germany, experiences in German camps, including working in labour camps and the Allied bombing campaign. Lastly, the end of the war and the experience of liberation, which in most cases included forced marches, are dealt with before the focus turns once again towards South Africa and the experience of homecoming and demobilisation. The affective and intellectual experiences of the POWs are also investigated as their personal experience and emotions are presented and examined. These include the experience of guilt and shame during capture, the acceptance or non-acceptance of captivity, blame, attitudes towards the enemy and towards each other, as well as the experience of fear and hope, which was especially relevant during the bombing campaign and during periods when they were being transported between countries and camps. The thesis concludes with an analysis of the POW experience which looks at aspects relating to identity among South African POWs. The final conclusion is drawn that the POW identity took precedence over national identity. As a result of the strong POW identity and their desire for complete freedom and desire to claim individuality, the POWs did not, on the whole, display great interest in becoming involved in South African politics after the war even though many of them strongly disagreed with the Nationalist segregationist ideologies that claimed increasing support between 1945 and 1948.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis beskryf en ontleed die ervarings van dié Suid-Afrikaners wat tydens die Tweede Wêreldoorlog gevange geneem is. Die navorsing is gebaseer op mondelinge getuienis, memoires, argivale bewysmateriaal en, in ’n mindere mate, op sekondêre bronne. Die voormalige krygsgevangenes wat aan die navorsing deelgeneem het en wie se memoires bestudeer is, is almal in November 1941 by die Geveg van Sidi Rezegh of in Junie 1942 met die val van Tobruk gevange geneem. Die doel van die navorsing is om mondelinge en skriftelike getuienisse van krygsgevangenes aan te bied ten einde die gebrekkige kennis ten opsigte van Suid-Afrikaanse krygsgevangenes se historiese ervaring uit te brei. Die omvang van die navorsing sluit die besluit in om vrywillig diens te doen vir die Unie-verdedigingsmag, die ervarings in Noord-Afrika, gevangeneming en eerste ervarings in die sogenaamde “helkampe van Noord-Afrika”, die vervoer na Italië en lewe in die Italiaanse gevangeniskampe, gebeure rondom die Italiaanse wapenstilstand en die daaropvolgende ontsnappingspogings. Vir die krygsgevangenes wat nie ontsnap het nie, het die ervaring van gevangenskap voortgeduur deur vervoer na Duitsland, ervarings in Duitse kampe, waaronder strafkampe, en die bombarderings deur die Geallieerdes. Ten slotte word aandag gegee aan die einde van die oorlog en die ervaring van vryheid, wat in die meeste gevalle gedwonge marse behels het, voordat die fokus terugkeer na Suid-Afrika en die ervaring van tuiskoms en demobilisasie. Die affektiewe en intellektuele ervarings van die krygsgevangenes word ook ontleed, aangesien hul persoonlike ervarings en emosies ondersoek en aangebied word. Dit sluit die ervaring van skuld en skaamte tydens die gevangeneming in, die aanvaarding of nie-aanvaarding van gevangeskap, blaam, houdings teenoor die vyand en mekaar, sowel as die ervaring van vrees en hoop, wat veral belangrik was gedurende die bombarderingsveldtog en vervoer tussen lande en kampe. Die tesis sluit af met ’n ontleding van aspekte wat verband hou met identiteit onder die Suid- Afrikaanse krygsgevangenes. Die bevinding is dat die krygsgevangene-identiteit voorrang geniet het bo die nasionale identiteit. Verder het die sterk drang na volkome vryheid en die begeerte om hul individualiteit terug te kry daartoe gelei dat die voormalige krygsgevangenes na die oorlog oor die algemeen ’n ambivalensie jeens Suid-Afrikaanse politiek openbaar.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/71844
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