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Mervyn Mitton

Lt. Col. M.E.Whitaker - KIA - S.A.AirForce

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I am going to be showing the Officer's medals + all of his other equipment. This will be a long thread and it may-be

that I will have to do it in stages - I will see how my hands hold-up. Very rarely do all of the accoutrements of a senior

rank remain with the medals and I think you will find this of interest.

I will split the post into three parts - Introduction - Lt.Col. Whitaker & his medals and equipment - and finally, 27 pages

taken from his file. I do not normally give praise - however, this research was made possible by Audrey (Rhino Research)

who lives in Johannesburg and is one of our members. Because of the length of the article I will 'pin' it for a while. Please

remember, that Brian and I are always looking for good articles, within the British sections, that we can pin and award an

Administrators' Certificate of Merit.

.................................INTRODUCTION.............................

Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Edward Whitaker was born in Britain in 1895. From his papers

he was a man of fairly humble origins and after a basic education was apprenticed as a motor

mechanic in a garage. Remember , this was about 1910, so the very early days of vehicles.

Around 1912 he joined the Territorial Army and was posted to the 5th. King's Own Yorkshire

Light Infantry (KOYLI) - a famous Regiment. With the outbreak of War in 1914 it appears

that he became a Regular and is shown as serving from 4/8/1914 to 14/7/1916 with the 2nd

West Riding Ambulance Corps. This would have been attached - or, was part of the KOYLI.

He served in France and would have been a stretcher bearer - one of the most dangerous

of jobs.

On 14/7/1916 he was transferred to serve as a Fitter with the British Royal Flying Corps. There

was no gap between units. His former occupation of motor apprentice was of value and he

served with the RFC until 19/2/1919 when he was demobilised



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I have a feeling from reading his papers that he found civilian life difficult - and there was

a serious depression in Britain at that time as men - newly de-mobbed - found it difficult to

find jobs. Although , in his case he was employed by several firms as a fitter and who later

gave him excellent testimonials.

The newly founded South African Air Corps had been started early in the War - I will go into a

brief history of the unit later. However, early in 1920 they became the South African Air Force.

Whitaker seems to have heard about this and paid for himself to come out to South Africa

where he wrote from the Eastern Cape to apply for a job. His copy letter and copies of testimonials

he supplied will be shown later.

He was immediately taken on and brought to the Transvaal and the first SAAF airfield. Known

then as Robert's Heights (Field Marshall Lord Roberts - commander in the Boer War) but, this

was later changed to Vootrekkerhoogte. He was a Private on admission, but within a year was

promoted Corporal. Being a trained mechanic/fitter and with service with the RFC / RAF he

was a most welcome addition to their limited numbers.

Pte. Whitaker joined the SAAf on August 10th 1922. His records show that he moved- up the

ranks fairly quickly - although the numbers of the Force remained small at this time of his

service. He is shown as being a Sergeant, a staff sergeant and a Warrant Officer 2nd class in

the early 1930's . In 1934 he received his LSGC for 20 years service - interestingly this type had

been changed by the British in 1930 - however, Sth. Africa must have still been using-it. I

think it is one of the better British LSGC's - named as "For the Permanent Forces of the Empire

serving beyond the Seas". We still had an Empire in those days.

I am going to give a short history of the SAAF in the section. This will give you a little background

on what was, a small Dominions airforce.

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The South African Air Force was first established by the S.A.Defence Act of 1912. By April of

1914 6 Prob. Lts. in the ACF (Active Citizen Forces) were sent for training to Britain. 5 joined the

Royal Flying Corps. in 1914 and took part in early recon. and Artillery spotting. Quite a number

of other men joined them, however, they were withdrawn to SA to take part in actions in German

South West Africa and in the campaign in East Africa.

The South African Air Force was established on 1 Feb. 1920. They had 113 aircraft - 100 donated

by Britain and 13 from other sources. Following training No. 1 Squadron came into being , using

two trained flights. By 1923 - soon after Whitaker was on strength - thay had a total of 17 officers

and 218 o/r's. With the early date of their founding, they are the 2nd oldest airforce in the World.

1935 saw expansion planned to have 1000 pilots and 1700 air mechanics. 1939 there were 100 aircraft of different designs , 160 officers (of whom Whitaker was a Lt.) 5 Officer Cadets and 1500 o/r's.

There was great expansion with the start of WW2 and by 1941 the SAAF had 1709 aircraft, a total

strength of 31,204 - and included in this,956 pilots.

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The SAAF obviously thought highly of W/O 1 Whitaker. You will see in his papers that he was sent to Britain to under-go a course on aviation mechanics. He also was sent to visit airfields - this was

possibly a high level delegation , of which he formed a part. He was issued an official diplomatic

passport and visas show that he visited Germany, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Poland. I presume they

were checking to see how things would be if war was declared. I have never seen this type

of passport.

He was promoted to the rank of temp. Lt. in early 1939. With the expansion on the declaration of War he was promoted temp. Captain on the 1/8/1939. Exactly a year later he was promoted to

Acting Major. On the 22/12/1941 he was made a temp. Lieutenant Colonel. All of these were

engineering ground appointments. He was at Air HQ in East Africa on the 3/1/1941 and was O.C.

No.9 Air Depot on the 22nd Dec. 1941.

He was destined for high appointments and had he lived we might have been surprised at his Rank

and possible awards. He was appointed as SAAF Engineering Officer attached to the South

African High Commission in London and was travelling by transport ship to take-up the appt. in

March of 1943. He died in the water, on 16th March 1943.

From small badges it would appear that he was a passenger on His Majesty's Transport ship

Devonshire. The family story is that he was torpedoed by an Italian submarine off the coast of

Algeria. There is a most moving 5 page letter from a fellow officer who helped him on a life

raft. He later wrote to Col Whitaker's wife to give her the details of his death. I will probably, also

post this on the Lounge for members who do not read British Forums. If anything tells you of

the futility of War , it is this letter.

I have been unable to find any details of the transport Devonshire being sunk (remember, there

was also HMS Devonshire , a County class cruiser) The nearest ship to the date he would have been

sunk was off the Canaries in the Atlantic. Strangely, his records do not give details

I will continue now with photos of his equipment - and also some details from the SAAF Roll of

Honour - where he is commemorated.

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............................Lt. Colonel M.E.Whitaker...............

The South African Air Force Memorial -

.......................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-49051600-1363535499.jpgclick......................

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...............................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-72178200-1363536313.jpg..........................

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..................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-35259400-1363536504.jpgclick...............................

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For reference - SAAF badges from the earliest period

.....................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-47906800-1363536727.jpgclick..................

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..........................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-26526100-1363536859.jpgclick....................

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SAAF Badges and Insignia from the 1920's and 30's. Top rigrht is the first badge from 1922.

....................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-58617400-1363536988.jpgclick............................

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.......................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-89549100-1363537227.jpgclick...........................

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I am open to correction, however, I think only South Africa issued Bronze memorial plaques

for the fallen in World War 2 ?

...................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-52452900-1363537742.jpgclick.................

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...................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-26324200-1363538070.jpgclick..............................

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His group of 9 medals. From left - WW1 trio - issued by the RAMC. He served first with

them before joining the RFC. These are shown in his papers as their issue. Followed by the

1935 Jubilee Medal for King George 5th. This and the LSGC are shown correctly mounted at

the end of the bar. The LSGC is the lovely old style from 1908 for the "Permanent Forces of

the Empire Beyond the Seas " In the middle are his 39/45 Star, Africa Service Medal, War

Medal and his Africa Service Medal. These were issued to his wife after the War .

...............................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-74352600-1363538196.jpgclick.....................

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Naming for WW1 Star

.........................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-56185700-1363538708.jpgclick................

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Naming for 2nd WW Star

..................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-92272400-1363538826.jpgclick................

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LSGC

.......................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-98562800-1363538953.jpgclick............................

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Naming on LSGC

........................................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-66555500-1363539056.jpgclick......................

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Some of his badges - originally gilt. Lt.Col. shoulder rank on left. At top the two small badges

for HMT Devonshire - perhaps he travelled on her on a previous occasion.

...........................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-66179600-1363539184.jpgclick......................

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For ceremonial occasions pre-war he would have worn the pattern of pith helmet that was

peculiar to Sth. Africa. It was called a Polo Helmet and these are the gilt fittings for the

helmet. The Top is a winged Springbok and the badge is larger then the ordinary cap one.

These hats are rare now - but when I find one at least it can be put together.

....................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-88927700-1363539478.jpgclick..................

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This shows a longer perspective

.....................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-56582600-1363539777.jpgclick................

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This is the seven page letter written to the Col's wife by a fellow officer on the life raft. I

don't suppose his bravery was ever reported - but in my book he deserved a high decoration

for saving as many as he did - and in comforting the dying. 7 in one night taken and eaten

by sharks.

....................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_03_2013/post-6209-0-94518300-1363539995.jpgclick..................

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