"The Gelib White Flag Incident" 1941





The following comes from Dave Matthews (South African Military History Society) and his talk was entitled "The Gelib White Flag Incident".

It concerned the "craven act of treachery" perpetrated on the Royal Natal Carbineers during the Abyssinian Campaign of WW2. The incident took place on the 22 February 1941 at a place called Gelib, which was an important road junction and river crossing on the Juba River. It occurred during the Allied assault on the Juba River Line and involved a patrol of the Royal Natal Carbineers which was advancing to intercept an enemy force believed to be retreating towards the Juba River. Perhaps too eager for a fight, they advanced through typical bush country until they encountered a platoon of Askaris (the name given to black colonial troops) about 250 yards ahead of them across an open cultivated field. Their white officer was waving a white flag, obviously intending to surrender. Instead of waiting for the enemy to come to them, three members of the RNC patrol went over to them to accept their surrender. They then refused to hand over their weapons. All of a sudden, a concealed enemy force on the left flank opened fire, ultimately killing thirteen members of that ill-fated patrol. Those remaining managed to regroup and, under very heavy fire, withdrew to call in reinforcements, firstly from the mortar squad that was attached to their platoon and then from their HQ which was located some four miles to their rear. Unfortunately, help was not immediately forthcoming and, until it came in the form of some armoured cars, an intense firefight raged. When the enemy finally surrendered their death toll was in the region of 100. The capture of Gelib signalled the collapse of the Italian's Juba River Line and marked the beginning of the end of their occupation of Somaliland..

However, an RNC officer, Capt. Charles Eustace, who was not actually involved in the incident, pocketed some seeds from an acacia tree at Gelib. These were later planted on his farm in the Loteni Valley as a living memorial to those thirteen Carbineers who died in that "White Flag Incident" way back in '41. Those trees are alive today under the care of the KZN Parks Board.

Seven of the thirteen Carbineers were brave Old Collegians! I interviewed Ian Gordons' brother, Major Peter Gordon, in 2011 and he still blames the Carbineers' deaths on the lack of training given to the South African troops. According to Major Gordon, the Carbineers were not taught how to approach surrendering troops.


A map highlighting Gelib and the Juba River


1) Name: BERLYN, CLIVE GERALD (1935)
ls: C G
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Age: 20
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4480
Additional information: Son of Ernest P. Berlyn and Ethelwyn M. Berlyn; ward of Mr G. D. M. Bowles, of Harding, Natal, South Africa.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 3.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY





2) Name: COWAN, JOHN ARTHUR (1933)
Initials: J A
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4384
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 7.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY






3) Name: GORDON, IAN ALEXANDER (1932)
Initials: I A
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Age: 22
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4411
Additional information: Son of Alexander O. Gordon and Annabel Gordon, of Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War DeadGrave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 8.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY






4) Name: HORNBY, BRIAN MELVILLE (1933)
Initials: B M
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4481
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 9.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY

 





5) Name: McCULLOUGH, DONOVAN BERTRAM (1935)
Initials: D B
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service:
Age:18
Date of Death:22/02/1941
Service No:4433
Additional information:Son of Bertram R. McCullough and Dorothy N. McCullough, of Clifton, Mid Illovo, Natal, South Africa.
Casualty Type:Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference:2. F. 10.
Cemetery:NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY

6) Name: MUIR, JOHN HAROLD (1935)
Initials: J H
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4536
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 11.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY







7) Name: VARTY, HERBERT REX BOYD (1933)
Initials: H R B
Nationality: South African
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Royal Natal Carbineers, S.A. Forces
Unit Text: 1st
Age: 21
Date of Death: 22/02/1941
Service No: 4497
Additional information: Son of Herbert A. B. Varty and Nellie Varty, of Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. F. 13.
Cemetery: NAIROBI WAR CEMETERY









Photos of the Carbineers' Graves at Gelib


 
 
 
 
 
 

4 comments:

  1. Old walls echoed to their cries.

    They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
    Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
    They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
    They fell with their faces to the foe.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.

    RL Binyon

    ReplyDelete
  2. https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-witness/20100222/281943129039090

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  3. https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-witness/20140221/281509339094117

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  4. My dad, Douglas Kitchin, was a bren gunner with the RNC at Gelib. He was severely wounded in the incident with a bullet passing through his chest millimeters from his heart. He used to tell the story that he knew if he spat blood, he was done for. He survived and was repatriated to SA. He was a strong, principled and fearless man.

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