The SA Air Force Association (SAAFA) this year marks its 75th anniversary with a number of events, the first taking place later this month (January).
SAAFA has 18 branches across South Africa with the newest – the Whale Coast – established last year. According to the Association’s website there are branches in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East Rand (Benoni), Johannesburg, Kimberley, Lower South Coast (Margate), Laeveld (Hoedspruit), Namibia (Windhoek), Outeniqua (George/Knysna), Pietermaritzburg, Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Stilfontein, Soutpansberg (Machado/Louis Trichardt) and Weskus (Langebaan/Vredenburg). The SA Korean War Veterans Association enjoys SAAFA branch status.
Apart from being a meeting place for members, SAAFA actively promotes the image of the SAAF and its members. The twofold activity of having fun while raising funds produced and still produces excellent results, the organisation said, with funds raised distributed via the Association’s Care of the Aged programme.
“Membership brings participation in many activities, enjoying life, wining and dining, raffles, sport events, special outings, regular luncheons where distinguished people from industry and commerce speak and chat afterwards. Golf, horse racing, bowls and “Fly-in-Braai” days are among other events at branch level ensuring the camaraderie continues and funds are raised for good causes,” the organisation said.
“Members are entitled to wear the distinctive SAAFA tie, blazer badge and other insignia and participate in all SAAFA branch activities. They are also encouraged to participate in ongoing Association projects. Less fortunate SAAFA members and dependents are assisted in their wellbeing. An ever-increasing percentage of funds raised are channelled to the SAAFA Care of the Aged programme.”
There is, according to SAAFA, “very little documented information on the forming of the South African Air Force Association” available.
The original concept formulated in late 1944 was to continue the spirit and camaraderie of the SA Air Force generated during World War II; to perpetuate the memory of all brave air force men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice for their country; and particularly, to assist with the welfare of their widows and children.
“Colonel Rod Douglas, a veteran pilot from the 1914/18 Great War, started the Christmas Cheer Fund in 1943, while serving as a senior staff officer at SAAF headquarters. This Fund ensured all SAAF squadrons and units serving outside the borders of South Africa would be treated to a sumptuous lunch or dinner on Christmas Day. Generous donations to this cause were received from SAAF units remaining in South Africa.
“Douglas experienced the aftermath of World War I with the plight of widows, children and demobilised airmen. He wanted to ensure this would not happen again when World War II hostilities ceased. To this end, he gathered a group of like-minded airmen and set about creating the SAAFA Association.
“Colonel Rod Douglas is acknowledged as the founder of the SAAFA Association and served as first SAAFA National President guiding the Association during its formative years.
“An initial meeting was held in Johannesburg on 11 December 1944. Many distinguished airmen were present to be elected as committee members. A draft Constitution was discussed and approved. Principles, objectives and projects were tabled and discussed. The first SAAFA meeting was held at the Inanda Country Club on 26 January 1945. This date is recognised as the founding date of the Association. At an Executive meeting held on 24 April 1945 Branches were approved in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Benoni and Windhoek. The first annual National Congress was held in Johannesburg on 15 June 1946.
“In addition to links with the SA Korean War Veterans Association SAAFA has links with the RAF Association, the Council of Military Veterans Organisation and its affiliate military veteran organisations, the SA Legion, the Warsaw Flights Commemoration Committee, the Berlin Airlift Committee and the Alpine 44 Club.
“Soon after the war ended the then young Association found itself deeply involved with many projects, some of which continue today.
Numerous children of airmen who paid the supreme sacrifice were educated. In some cases funds were provided for a University or Teachers Training College education. Over the years the demand for children’s education diminished and programmes to assist chronically ill members and care of the aged were put in place.
“Welfare grants, food parcels and Christmas cheer are made to dependents and members. Together with the SA Legion, improvements in war pensions for ex-SAAF members and dependents were negotiated. Successful applications for tax exemption for special flying allowances were negotiated as were other issues requiring the Association to lobby with Government, Provinces and Organisations.
“The Air Force Fund was started during the War to provide funds to donate Spitfire aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the cessation of hostilities remaining funds were distributed to Branches and the RAF Benevolent Fund. The Association administered on behalf of the Air Force Fund, funds for the benefit of needy 1939/45 SAAF veterans. Housing memorials in the form of blocks of flats were built in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Ex-SAAF men and women in need occupied the flats at sub-economic rentals. These flats are still administered by the three Branches.
“At the suggestion of the Association the first Air Force Memorial was built at the entrance to Waterkloof Air Force Station in 1957. The site proved unsuitable and again the Association suggested a national Air Force Memorial be built and agreed to contribute half the cost. Completed in 1963 the result is the magnificent Air Force Memorial on Bays Hill above the old Swartkop Air Force Station.
“Joint annual memorial services are held in May each year. At the suggestion of the Association to the SAAF, citizen force squadrons at Cape Town, Durban, Germiston, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria were formed.
“There is continuous liaison and support to the SAAF in peace and conflict as experienced during the Berlin Airlift, the 1947 Royal visit, the Korean War and in South West Africa/Namibia. Interaction with the SAAF remains a high priority for the Association.
“Today the South African Air Force Association continues the legacy to support ex-Air Force aged and needy; to perpetuate the memory of SAAF men and women killed in the line of duty; to foster Air Force camaraderie; to preserve our Air Force Heritage and to continue dynamic Air Force/Association interaction,” SAAFA said.
SAAFA 75 kicks off on 26 January with as cocktail function at the Inanda Hotel, north of Johannesburg.
The official banquet celebrating the 75th anniversary will, aptly, be held in Hangar 5 at AFB Zwartkop on 16 May as part of the SAAFA annual congress.
The SA Air Force (SAAF) this year marks its centenary with a number of events planned including the force’s “birthday” on 1 February 1920 and the accompanying Air Force Prestige Day. September’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof will also see the centenary celebrated.