Corporal Benjamin John Jooste
1905 - 1970
By Peter Chapman
Upon the outbreak of war, Ben was still working as a cinema projectionist for African Caterers. Having a family did not deter him from 'doing his duty', as he saw it, and in 1940 he attempted to enlist. To his dismay, he was rejected as unfit for military service, when a routine medical examination detected that he suffered from an irregular heartbeat, a condition he had not even been aware of until then.
Resigned to staying at home, he returned to his family and work, enlisting in the local N.V.B. (National Volunteer Brigade), a group of men unfit for military service who performed duties such as guarding local installations. Then, in June 1942, events again caused him to attempt to enlist a second time.
In June 1942 the South African forces in North Africa suffered a catastrophe, when the entire 2nd Division were overrun at Tobruk and captured by the Germans. Among the prisoners of war taken at Tobruk were two of Ben's brothers-in-law, Bill and Karl. Their capture cast a pall over the Jooste household, with Ben's wife Tillie anxious about the welfare of her missing brothers (both fortunately survived the war).
Now more than ever determined to do his part, when recruits were again sought in July 1942, Ben approached his local pharmacist and took the latter into his confidence about his heart murmur. The pharmacist in turn gave Ben some medication to regulate his heartbeat, at least for the duration of any medical examination, and this did the trick.
Having passed his medical examination, Ben enlisted in Johannesburg on 3 July 1942, and was attested and posted to the South African Air Force, due to his technical knowledge gained as a projectionist. He reported to 100 Air School in Roberts Heights, just outside Pretoria, on 17 July and completed his basic training there over the next two months.
On 5 September 1942 he was posted to 70 Air School in Kimberely, there to be a Fitter Mechanic (Electric). Whilst in Kimberely however, he and the other recruits were vaccinated and the latter had a serious side effect on Ben. He contracted pneumonia and was very ill for a time. On 8 April 1943, seven months later and with his training all but complete, he was transferred to 1 Air School at Baragwanath, which was closer to his home. Here he was stationed for two months, before being transferred once again on 15 June, this time to 21 Air School at Alexanderfontein.
On enlisting, Ben had signed a waiver, volunteering to be posted overseas on active service if needed. With the formation of No.26 Squadron SAAF in 1943, for maritime patrol duties in West Africa, Ben was transferred to M.A.F. on 2 November 1943 and from there assigned to the new squadron later that same month. Having travelled by rail to Wynberg in the Cape, he and the other men were embarked on ship and sailed north, duly arriving in Takoradi, West Africa on 22 November 1943.
Takoradi was a Royal Air Force station, with the South Africans being accommodated there to assist the RAF anti-submarine effort in the Atlantic. Over the next 13 months Ben served in Takoradi as a member of the 26 Squadron SAAF ground crew, although his exact duties, particularly as far as aircraft maintenance with the squadron, are a mystery to me still. I do know that he learned to drive whilst stationed at Takoradi and was at one stage assigned to drive the station chaplain and men to Dakar for church services.
Among his surviving records is a programme from a show put on by the RAF at Takoradi during 26 Squadron's stay. The latter was called 'Careless Palaver" and seems to have consisted of a number of skits, performed by various officers and men.
In March 1944, Ben again contracted pneumonia, and was ill enough to be posted home, where he recuperated for three months before returning to Takoradi in June that year. During his time with the squadron he was promoted to Corporal, a rank he held until his discharge the following year. With squadron operations winding down towards the end of 1944, Ben was posted home on 16 December, to M.A.F.D. in Pretoria.
In early February 1945 Ben was posted to 68 Air School at Roberts Heights, where he remained for six weeks. On 20 April and by now in poor health due to his continual bouts of pneumonia, he was again posted, this time to the Air Force Station at Congella, in Durban. He was only there for a few months before being transferred again, this time to Langebaanweg in Saldanha Bay, where he ended up in Wynberg hospital.
At this point I have been presented with another mystery which I am so far unable to solve. On 27 June 1945, Ben received a Mention in Despatches. For a ground crew Corporal this would have been quite an achievement, but to date I have been unable to find the Despatch in which he was mentioned, or what he received the MiD for. Suffice it to say that his service record and medal card show him being entitled to this award. Personally, I would suspect that the MiD was for work done with 26 Squadron in West Africa, but I cannot say it is definitively so. What makes me suspect the latter is that his MiD is British, an Oak Leaf on the War Medal (1939-1945), rather than the South African MiD at the time, which was a Protea emblem that was worn on the Africa Service Medal.
His health now so bad that he was of no further use to the SAAF, Ben was transferred for the final time on 4 September 1945, to the Discharge Depot at Hector Norris Park, in Johannesburg, where he was discharged as medically unfit for further service on the 13th of that month, three years and 42 days after enlisting.
For his service in World War Two, Ben was awarded the Defence Medal (British), the War Medal (1939-1945), the Africa Service Medal and the Oak Leaf emblem, to denote his Mention in Despatches. These medals are today in the authorís possession.
Intermittent poor health continued to dog Ben in later years and in 1960, 15 years after his discharge, he was declared medically unfit to work due to Parkinsons Disease. He lived in forced retirement for another ten years, passing away peacefully at South Rand Hospital, Johannesburg on 1 April 1970, at the age of just 65, leaving behind his wife Tillie and nine children, plus his many grandchildren.
My late grandfather, Benjamin John Jooste, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 21 September 1905, the youngest of 13 children.
In a family as large as this, not uncommon at the time, money was always in short supply, and he received very little formal schooling before being compelled to seek work. Most of his schooling took place between the ages of nine and twelve.
By age 13 he was working for African Theatres, as a 'bioscope operator', or projectionist. Five years later tragedy struck the family, with the death of his father.
In February 1926 he met his future wife, Sarah Matilda ('Tillie') Peterson. At the time he was 20 and she just 16. They married later that same year, on 2 December 1926, at which time he had just reached 21 and she was 17. Over the next few years their family grew, so that by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, they had been blessed with no fewer than six children, three sons and three daughters, of which my own mother was the youngest at that time.