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238354 Sapper
ANDRIES HENDRIK Mc PHERSON
South African Engineer Corps

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2001. All Rights Reserved

1. INTRODUCTION

Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were obtained from the soldier’s service papers. Mc Pherson did not join the Union Defence Force of South Africa until early in 1942. In addition to joining up late, he spent quite a bit of time absent without leave and serving time for his absences. He did not see active service until early in 1944; hence, his medal entitlements do not include the Africa Star, the entitlement to which ended in May of 1943.

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Andries Hendrik Mc Pherson was born on the 13th of March 1919 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His given names are of Dutch origin, while his surname is definitely Scottish. His family apparently was a mixture of British and Boer ancestry, perhaps dating back to the South African War of 1899-1902 or even before.

Prior to enlisting in the Army in 1942, Mc Pherson worked as a handyman and a sailmaker. His employer was the Gourock Rope & Canvas Company of 14-16 End Street in Johannesburg.

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Andries Hendrik Mc Pherson at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1942:

Apparent Age:

22 years

Height (without boots):

5 feet 7 inches

Weight:

138 pounds

Distinctive Marks:

None [1]

Religious Denomination:

Dutch Reformed Church [2]

Complexion:

Fresh [3]

Eyes:

Hazel

Hair:

Brown

Chest Measurement (deflated):

33 inches

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Mc Pherson enlisted as a Private, Army Number 238354, in the Union Defence Force (Volunteers) at Johannesburg on the 19th of February 1942. At the time of his attestation he indicated that he had no prior military service and has never been convicted by Civil Court. His wife, Mrs. P.J. Mc Pherson, was living at 77 Park Road in a suburb of Johannesburg.[4] The Mc Phersons had no children at the time of his enlistment.

When he enlisted, Mc Pherson agreed to serve with any branch of the Union Defence Forces anywhere in Africa during the war.

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Immediately following the approval of his enlistment, Mc Pherson was posted to the Central Army Training Depot for basic training as a soldier. On the 5th of March 1942 he was assigned to the Engineer Reserve Training Depot (ERTD) at Pietermaritzburg and then on to the Engineer Training Center (ETC) at Sonderwater, where his rank was changed from Private to Sapper and he became a member of the South African Engineer Corps. While at the ETC he was reclassified as an Artisan Class "C", Sailmaker's Mate.[5]

On the 1st of April 1942 Sapper Mc Pherson was posted from the ERTD to ‘A’ Reserve Field Company located at Premier Mine in Cullinan. He remained there for a little over a month and was then reassigned to the 89th Armoured Brigade Field Company at Piet Retief on the 16th of May 1942. From this point on to the 13th of March 1943, Sapper Mc Pherson’s military service consisted mostly of being absent without leave and serving time in confinement in a Military Detention Centre. He did not seem to make the adjustment to military life very well and seemed to prefer being elsewhere rather than at his appointed place of duty.

On the 13th of March 1943 it seems probable that his company commander had had just about enough with regard to his illegal absences. Mc Pherson was posted on that date back to the ERTD at Pietermaritzburg, where he was assigned to "F" Company of the Training Depot. Perhaps it was felt that he was in need of further "training" before he could be assigned to a field unit. On the 13th of May 1943 he left "F" Company and was posted to "FA" Reserve Field Company, which was also at the ERTD. His illegal absences continued. On the 9th of June 1943 he left "FA" Reserve Field Company and was assigned to "ZY" Reserve Field Company at the ERTD. And his illegal absences continued, this time escalating to a point where he was actually posted as a deserter.

Mc Pherson was transferred from the ERTD to the Sub Base Depot at Hay Paddock Camp in Pietermaritzburg on the 23rd of August 1943. He managed to serve there without an illegal absence offence until the 19th of October 1943 when he was posted back to the South African Engineer Corps. At this point it appears that he received orders to leave South Africa and to deploy to Egypt. This probably was not at all to his liking, so on the 1st of November 1943 he again absented himself and was posted as a deserter. By all accounts this was an attempt on his part to avoid serving outside of South Africa even though he had agreed to do so when he enlisted.

On the 3rd of January 1944 he was apprehended and returned to military control. This was a unique situation in his military career to date, as it seems on all previous occasions he voluntarily returned to his unit. The fact that he had to be apprehended this time indicates that he was probably serious about remaining away permanently. Although he was due some serious punishment for absenting himself for over a period of two months, his punishment had to be delayed until he reached his destination in Egypt. On the 12th of January 1944 he was taken on the strength of the Base Depot at Durban and then placed on the South African Engineer Corps General List [6] is preparation for deployment to the Middle East. On the 30th of January he transferred to the port of embarkation at Durban and on the same day he embarked for Egypt on board S.S. Orbila. One might suspect that he was being closely supervised to ensure that he did not take off before boarding the ship.

Mc Pherson reached Suez, Egypt on the 19th of February 1944 and it was not long after disembarking that he was admitted to the Union Defence Force Detention Barracks on the 6th of March to serve his sentence for his last illegal absence. During this time he was struck off the "X4"[7] list and placed on the "X3"[8] list. He remained in detention until the 13th of June 1944 when he was released and placed back on the "X4"list.

On the 25th of June 1944 Sapper Mc Pherson was posted to his first operational unit since joining the Army. He was transferred to the South African Engineer Corps General List and posted to the 36th Water Supply Company. This unit was located in Tripoli and was engaged in supplying water to the Allied troop units that remained in North Africa after the defeat of the German and Italian forces.

Mc Pherson remained in Tripoli until the 27th of July 1944 when he was posted to the 156th Works and Construction Company at Ataka. The 156th Works and Construction Company moved to Fanara on the 7th of August 1944 and Sapper Mc Pherson remained with the unit until the 21st of January 1945 when he was posted to the 112th Artisan Works Section located at El Alamein. He stayed with this unit until the 11th of April 1945 when he was transferred to the 83rd Engineer Stores Base Depot and moved back to Fanara. This last move was really in preparation for his return home to South Africa. On the 14th of April 1945 he was placed on the South African Engineer Corps General List and then on the "X4" list. He left Egypt by air on the 15th of April bound for home. During all of the time he had been serving in North Africa he was not absent without leave.

Mc Pherson was taken on the strength of the Base Depot at Voortrekkerhoogte on the 17th of April 1945 and remained at the depot until the 16th of June when he was transferred to "WR" Reserve Field Company at the ERTD. He was transferred from this unit to the 84th Base Works Company on the 14th of August 1945. This company was also at Voortrekkerhoogte.

The day Mc Pherson had long been waiting for finally came on the 15th of October 1945 when his discharge was authorized. On the 31st of October he was transferred to the Discharge Depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg, where he was discharged from the Army on the 9th of November 1945.

For his service during the war, Sapper Mc Pherson was awarded the Defence Medal, the War Medal, and the Africa Service Medal.[9] Because of his late arrival in North Africa, he was not awarded the Africa Star.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Mc Pherson was not promoted during the time he spent in the Army. He enlisted as a Private and was converted to the rank of Sapper when he was posted to the South African Engineer Corps on the 5th of March 1942.

b. Conduct: Mc Pherson received no Good Conduct Badges during his time in service. Although he seemed to be constantly in trouble for being illegally absent from his unit, his overall conduct was rated as "Good" when he was finally discharged. The following table provides a listing of the disciplinary actions taken against him during his military service:

Date

Offense and Punishment

19 May 1942

Offense Unknown: 96 hours of confinement at a Military Detention Centre, Piet Retief.

26 May 1942

Confinement in a Military Detention Centre, Piet Retief.

23 Aug 1942

Confinement in a Military Detention Centre, Piet Retief.

1 Oct 1942

Confinement in a Military Detention Centre, Piet Retief.

8 Oct 1942

Illegally absent from 89th Field Company. Returned to unit on 10 Oct 1942.

2 Nov 1942

Confinement in a Military Detention Centre, Piet Retief.

24 May 1943

Confinement in a Military Detention Centre, Pietermaritzburg.

16 Jun 1943

Illegally absent. Posted as a deserter. Confinement in a Military Detention Centre.

1 Nov 1943

Illegally absent. Posted as a deserter.

3 Jan 1944

Apprehended.

6 Mar 1944

Admitted to the Union Defence Force Detention Barracks at Suez, Egypt. Struck off the "X4" List and placed on the "X3" List.[10]

13 Jun 1944

Release from Detention Barracks. Struck off the "X3" List and placed on the "X4" List.

27 Jul 1945

Disciplinary problem, but no charge made against him.

During his time in the Army, Sapper Mc Pherson was absent without leave, including confirmed desertion, for a total of 81 days. He spent a total of 46 days in detention for the offence he committed. It is interesting to note that he spent less time in detention for his absences than the total number of days that he was absent. It appears that during war time in the South African Army, crime did pay.

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: There are no indications in Mc Pherson’s military records of any certificates of education earned by him during his time in service.

b. Qualifications: Sapper Mc Pherson did receive the following qualifications while in service:

Date

Qualification

5 March 1942

Reclassified as a Sapper from Private after being assigned to the South African Engineer Corps.

5 March 1942

Classified as an Artisan Class "C" Sailmaker's Mate

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

The following medical information was taken from Sapper Mc Pherson’s service records during his time in service:

Location

Date of
Admission

Ailment

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Johannesburg

23 Mar 1943

Unspecified

Unspecified

Fanara

18 Sep 1944

Unspecified

Placed on the S.A.E.C. "X2" List. Discharged on 20 Oct 1944. Struck off "X2" List and place on "X4" List.[11]

Johannesburg

31 Oct 1945

Medical Evaluation

Placed in Medical Category "A" prior to discharge.

9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Mc Pherson was married at the time of his enlistment, but had no children. At the time of his discharge from the Army in 1945, Mc Pherson indicated that he was married and had two dependents. Apparently, Mrs. Mc Pherson had a child sometime during the period that her husband was in the Army. There is no indication in Sapper Mc Pherson’s service papers regarding the date of birth of the child.

At the time of his discharge from the Army in November of 1945, the Mc Phersons were living at No. 6 3rd Street in Kempton Park, Transvaal. In 1947 when he received his medals for his war service, the documents accompanying the medals indicate that his address was 43 Maxwell Street in Kempton Park. Kempton Park was a suburb of Greater Johannesburg, located to the northeast of the center of the city.

10. DISCHARGE

Sapper Mc Pherson’s discharge from the Army was authorized on the 15th of October 1945. On the 31st of October he was transferred to the Discharge Depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg for the final processing of his discharge. At that time his Sobriety, Efficiency and Conduct/Character were rated as "Good."[12] Mc Pherson was discharged from the Army at Johannesburg on the 9th of November 1945. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Home

19 February 1942 to 30 January 1944

North Africa and Middle East

31 January 1944 to 16 April 1945

Home

17 April 1945 to 9 November 1945

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

2 years and 186 days

Service Abroad

1 year and 75 days

Total Service

3 years and 261 days

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

Little is known about the life of Andries Hendrik Mc Pherson after he left the Army in November of 1945. His service records do show that he resided at two addresses in Kempton Park as previously discussed.

REFERENCES

1. Soldier’s Service Papers consisting of the following documents:

  1. Attestation in a Volunteer Unit of the Union Defence Force.
  2. Record of Service (D.D. Form 293).
  3. Application for Campaign Medals (1939-45 War).
  4. Details of Service (D.D. Form 872).
  5. Annexure to Form D.D. 873 (Discharged Personnel).

2. ORPEN, N. and MARTIN, H.J. Salute the Sappers. South African Forces: World War II, Volume 8 – Part 2. Sappers Association, Johannesburg, 1982.

 ENDNOTES

[1] His enlistment paper is rather illegible in the Description on Attestation section. The entry under "Distinctive marks" appears to be "None," but it is very difficult to read.

[2] The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa was established in 1652 and has its headquarters in Pretoria.

[3] Again, the enlistment paper is hard to read, but the entry looks like "Fresh."

[4] Mc Pherson’s attestation paper includes the name of the town where his wife was living. Unfortunately, the handwritten name of the place is illegible. The address was probably located in or near Johannesburg.

[5] This is a rather strange classification for an engineer soldier. One wonders what need there could have been for sailmakers in the South African Engineer Corps.

[6] A man on the South African Engineer Corps General List was serving in the SAEC but was not yet assigned to a specific field unit.

[7] The "X4" list was used to designate men in transit, unassigned to a unit or on a general list.

[8] The "X3" list was used for men who were in detention or in confinement.

[9] These medals are in the author’s collection.

[10] Confinement in the Detention Barracks at Suez was probably punishment for his illegal absence from the 1st of November 1943 to the 3rd of January 1944. It almost looks like he intended to desert in order to miss deployment on active service. His punishment was delayed so that he would not miss his embarkation date for deployment to Egypt.

[11] The "X2" list was the sick list.

[12] Given his horrible record of being absent without leave for a total of 81 days and being in detention for 46 days, it is difficult to see how his conduct could have been rated as "Good."