Even the Nazis could not prevent a Rugby “International” from being Played

White South Africans are addicted to rugby. Whether it is as a player or a spectator, through trying experiences I have learnt that this relationship may not be tampered with, as these rugby addicts cannot resist the lure of the game. Soccer might be endowed with the sobriquet “The Beautiful Game” but rugby is definitely the macho man’s game. This fact is attested to when the South African POWs during WW2 arranged an “International” Rugby game in a German POW Camp. It is a matter of record that in spite of most of the items required to hold an authentic rugby match were not readily available, ingenuity and improvisation were the mothers of invention. 

As if to confound their critics, this game was held in Stalag IV-B conforming to the dress code and rules of the games. It was that spirit that embodies the game.

Main picture: Springbok Rugby Team at Stalag IV-B in 1944. Back row, left to right: Oehley, Van Huyssteen, Kaplan, Timm, Coetzee, N. Hinds, Boet Wessels, Heydenrych, Youngleson, Foster, Chapman, Rahl. Middle row: Fabricius, Moore, Ackermann, Major Ochse (medical officer), Fiks van der Merwe (captain), Katzeff, Van der Westhuizen, Ritchie, Hultzer, Zietsman. Front row: Marais, R. Hinds, Sephton.

Introducing Mervyn Lawrence Moore

Incontestably the person who personified that spirit was Mervyn Lawrence Moore who ran a Trader called Blackhill, 15kms outside Qumbu in the Transkei. Having been born on 12th December 1915 at the height of the Great War, as WW1 was called in those days, little did he know that at adulthood Europe would yet again be embroiled in a World War. Being brought up in the Transkei, he was honoured by the Xhosa people living around him and awarded their ‘clan’name of Majola!

 

Being raised in the Transkei where few schools were available, so the siblings were schooled by a Governess at Moore’s Post Trading Store, in Qumbu.  Thereafter, he went to St Charles College, Catholic school in Pietermaritzburg, Natal

On finishing school, he inherited his father’s Trading Store which he ran until he joined the Army. Mervyn was an excellent sportsman, playing rugby for Natal & Border at Centre, gymkhana, polo (horses) and tennis but ultimately became fanatical about bowls. Eventually he even had to quit playing bowls as his war wound was causing too many problems.

After the war, Mervyn returned to Blackhill and traded until 1967/68 when Paramount Chief Kaiser Mathanzima expropriated all the white traders in the Transkei.  They were paid out a pittance.  Mervyn and Mary relocated to East London where he bought a smaller store near Gonubie which was similar to the Qumbu Store.  After that, he worked for East London Auctioneers before finally retiring.

Entrance to Stalag IV-B

Entrance to Stalag IV-B

The fraternal white conflict in the Union

Hitler’s baleful decision to invade Poland on the 1st September 1939 would not only shatter the fragile peace which the apprehensive Neville Chamberlain so earnestly desired to maintain but also that of a far-off land at the tip of the African continent. On the 6th September 1939, the South African government under the Boer General Smuts voted by a wafer thin majority of six votes to join England in declaring was against Nazi Germany.

Internally this would herald the split in the Unity Government. With the antipathy of the Afrikaners to the British Colonisers, the Purified Nationalist Party now became the political home of the Afrikaners. More menacing than the political realignment was the formation of an extremist paramilitary force known as the Ossewa Brandwag – The Ox-Wagon Sentinel – under Dr Hans van Rensburg.

Dr Hans van Rensburg- Head of the Ossewa Brandwag

This force posed a serious threat to the stability of the Union. With all its troops shortly to be posted on military duty wherever they were required outside the Union, this would leave South Africa vulnerable to the military wing of the Ossewa Brandwag known as the Stormjaers.

Into a milieu of palatable tensions inside South Africa with the polarisation of the white population into pro and anti German elements, most English speaking citizens of military age volunteered for military service. It was an era of stark choices & no neutral positions were tolerated.

Sometime after the declaration of war by South Africa, Mervyn was even badgered into joining the army by being offered a white feather. This practice had originated in the UK during WW1. This gesture indicated that the recipient was too unpatriotic and cowardly to join in the defence against German aggression. This unwelcome gift was calculated to provoke an outraged response by family and bystanders.

Mervyn Lawrence Moore

Mervyn Lawrence Moore

Mervyn’s capture at Tobruk

Mervyn’s introduction to the Western Desert was this arrival at Suez in Egypt on the 17th August 1941. His hopes of a “good war” were dashed when 10 months later, on the 20th June 1942, Mervyn was reported missing at Tobruk.

In a letter dated 23rd February 2007, one of his Army friends, Butler van der Vyver, wrote a eulogy on his death, which confirmed how Mervyn had been captured at Tobruk.

Mervyn Moore in turretless Marmon Herrington Armoured Car at El Alamein in 1942

Mervyn Moore in a turretless Marmon Herrington Armoured Car at El Alamein in 1942

I first met Mervyn when I was posted to the First Field Artillery Regiment of which he and Basil [his brother] were members. I was a twenty one year old [whereas Mervyn was 25 years old] and sent to Second Battery Headquarters (Control Post) where I was lucky enough to be with Mervyn and other older soldiers. I was made at home and Mervyn was always there to give advice when necessary. There were five or six of us, who were in very close contact all day, but with different duties. We cooked together, ate together, so got to know each other very well.

 When we left Gazala (then the front line in the desert) for Tobruk, we had to drive there at night [with] no lights on, and a small light on the [rear of] vehicle in front of you [as] your only guide. Mervyn was in an armoured car, looking out of the turret, followed by me driving a Radio ¾-ton truck.

h-b-klopper-comh-b-klopper-commander-2nd-sa-inf-div-at-the-surrender-of-tobrukmander-2nd-sa-inf-div-at-the-surrender-of-tobruk

General Klopper Commander of the 2nd South African Infantry Division at the surrender of Tobruk

In the dark, the armoured car went off the narrow tarred road and I followed it and the next thing my truck was lying against a bank with two wheels off the ground.

[When] Mervyn saw this.  [He] stopped, in spite of being told by some to go on, he refused, saying he was not going to leave us behind. He got into the truck and we pushed on one side to get it on its wheels, which we eventually did.

To me, that is something that I always appreciated.

mervyn-moore01 

At Tobruk we saw the whole attack and those on the guns getting direct hits. Mervyn passed a lot of messages to me, which I passed on to higher authority. We spoke a lot in Xhosa, and eventually Mervyn told me [that] there would be no more messages as he was about to be captured. This was on a Saturday and I was captured a little bit later.

Mervyn and Basil linked up and I saw them [climb] onto an Italian truck on the Sunday and I never saw Mervyn again until after the war”

Battle of Tobruk

Battle of Tobruk

From Tobruk to Stalag IV-B

Mervyn recorded his experiences from his capture by the Italians at Tobruk until his arrival at Stalag IV-B near Mühlberg on the Elbe River.

I was captured in Tobruk in 1942 with many others in the same boat. Being wounded I was placed in our field hospital in Tobruk where the field inspected mu wounds. [He had been wounded in his lower back] Immediately I was transported by ambulance to the Port Derna where I was transported to a hospital ship and taken to Naples [in] Italy by lorry to a military hospital.

Mary Moore - wife of Mervyn Moore

Mary Moore – wife of Mervyn Moore

When my wounds healed, I was sent to Camp 54 North of Rome at Fara Sabina in Italy. We did not stay long in Camp 54 as 500 of us South Africans were detailed to go to Sardinia. We were then taken by to Bastia, [a] northern port of Corsica and [then] by train through Corsica to Sardinia where we were billeted at Bacu Wabis (sp) P.O.W. Camp just north of Cagliari.

We stayed there quite a while picking che ches (chickpeas), cutting wheat with a sickle and bundling the wheat and cleaning out orchards. Later some of us were selected to work in a brick and tile factory. [It was] four miles to the factory and four miles back to camp. Then six of us POWs were detailed to move huge girders with three crowbars.

When Sicily was invaded [by the Allies] we were transported back to Bastia Northern Part of Corsica and then shipped back to La Spezia in Italy. From there we were taken to Camp 82 Florence, past the Tower of Pisa [at which time] I was lucky to see it from the train.

Mervyn Moore

Mervyn Moore 

[We] stayed in Florence for a while and [were] then shipped in [railway] cattle trucks for almost a week to Germany. [Our destination was] Stalag IV-B camp [which was situated at] Mühlberg on the Elbe River. [On our journey we travelled] via Brenner Pass.  

The Springboks in action

Over the years a number of reports and articles have been published about this test series. Three of these have been included verbatim at the end of this blog. This report is an almost exact copy of an article which appeared the newspaper The Outspan on the 14th June 1946 as I was unable to report it any better.

There is one Springbok team that will not appear in any official record of South African rugby. Yet, in its way, it did as much towards enhancing the reputation of South African rugby as any overseas touring side.

Mervyn Moore's Post Card from Alexandria in 1941

Mervyn Moore’s Post Card from Alexandria in 1941

 It is the team that took the field wearing green and gold jerseys and won every match that it played in a prison camp in Germany in the spring of 1944. The team was selected from only 700 South Africans in a total camp strength of 10,000, and this was its record:

springboks-match-record-at-stalag-iv-b

springboks-match-record-at-stalag-iv-b

Firstly, a word about the Stalag IV-B Springboks that did so well. The team included eight players who had represented their provinces in South Africa – two Natal, two Eastern Province, two Border, one Northern Transvaal, one South-Western Districts; and first league players from Police, Crusaders (Port Elizabeth), Hamilton – Sea Point, Buffaloes (East London), Diggers (Johannesburg), Albany (Grahamstown) and many from the country districts.

The captain was “Fiks” van der Merwe who had played for Natal. He started in the IV-B Springboks as scrum-half and finished as an eighth man, and was always the most outstanding rugby player in the camp. 

 No sooner had the prisoners-of-war, who had been transferred to from Italy to Stalag IV-B in Muhlberg Germany settled down, and recovered from their disappointment than their thoughts turned to sport. There had been an expectation amongst the Allied prisoners in Italy had they would been freed shortly as the Allies had invaded Italy. This was not to be as the German forces occupied Italy. In this process, they incarcerated the Italian military forces and transferred the Allied prisoners to Germany.

 

South African Artillery

South African Artillery

A “Hut” Rugby League was formed and committees and referees appointed. Approximately 30 huts entered teams and the players were men from all parts of the British Isles, the Dominions and the United States – each team playing under a name such as Wanderers, Rovers, United, Barbarians, Rabbits, Swift etc.

Just when everything was ready and the planned date imminent, than epidemics of infectious diseases culminated in a ban being placed on all sporting activities. It was during this lull that the South Africans had an inspiration. They understood that the time would come when international rivalry would arise, and they intended to be ready. So a selection committee of three was appointed at a meeting attended by a South African representative from each hut.

During the period of waiting, drew up a comprehensive list of every South African rugby player in the camp and verified their records. By the time that the snows melted and the quarantine ban was lifted, they were ready to go to work. No selectors in South Africa ever seeded their players more carefully, and at every inter hut match, only the South African players occupied their attention.

Signature of all the Springbok Team members

Signature of all the Springbok Team members 

When the “international” fixtures were announced, the South African was to be against the Anzacs. Thirty South Africans were chosen to play in the trials. A week before the match, the first Springbok Team was announced through the South African camp newspaper, “The Union Express,” amidst  great excitement and the usual crop of unofficial forecasts. The team was handed over to the captain, and for the remainder of the week, these fifteen men had little time to bemoan their lot as prisoners-of-war.

medals-of-mervyn-moore

In the meantime, behind the scenes, furious work was being done on the black market. Green and gold dyes were purchased for cigarettes, stencils were cut and white vests supplied by the Red Cross were transformed into Springbok jerseys, complete with gold collars, cuffs and badges. Even hose tops were dyed and white shorts produced from somewhere. The South African Team that took the field against the Anzacs looked worthy of the name Springboks.

The Anzac game was an easy win – 21 to nil – but the selectors were dissatisfied. Their disquiet arose due to the fact that the Springboks did not get sufficient possession. The front row was completely changed and a new scrum-half came in amidst howls from the “armchair critics.” Why change winning side? Nonetheless the changes paid off and the team displayed an improved performance against combined England, Scotland and Ireland team, whom they beat 14-3.

 413132_140819180512_p1060313

It was at this stage that the South Africans grew ambitious and visualised the possibility of being able to challenge the rest of the camp. It was a tall order, but they were confident of the team. To this end and a stratagem was formulated to stage this match on Union Day – May 31st – and to make it an all South African day.  However that may be, the Springboks still had to play Wales, and until we had beaten them, they dare not issue a challenge to “The Rest.”  The Welshmen were confident that they would win. They were small but fleet-footed, and played in the traditional Welsh style of rugby: robust hustling tactics with quick breaking forwards. Furthermore, they counted on speed to beat the Springboks. Indeed, many fancied them to win.

Quite simply, the Springboks had to beat the Welshmen as their chances of challenging the rest of the camp depended upon it. With the bit between the teeth and pride at stake, the Springboks trained harder than ever before, their coach being Noel Robertson. The Springboks won much to the Welsh’s chagrin. The way was now open to issue the challenge to the “Rest” for a match to be played on Union Day.”

South African Artillery officers moving wheel cap badge during WW2

South African Artillery officers moving wheel cap badge during WW2 

 That day was to be an all South African day in Stalag IV-B. Firstly a church service in the morning, followed by a PT display given by picked South Africans, then the main event – the match –  in the afternoon, and concluding with a social given in the Empire Theatre – a hut that the South Africans had specifically kept vacant, in spite of crowding in other huts. This hut was reserved for concerts, other events and the like. Elaborate plans were formulated for a Zulu war dance to precede the match. For weeks the South Africans from Natal rehearsed and trained their “Impis” up to concert pitch.

Thousands of cigarettes went to the black market to buy black grease paint and the various odds and ends to equip the Zulu warriors. Amateur carpenters and tailors worked long hours making shields, assegais, and all the trimmings and trappings required. In addition, even the German camp photographer was “bought” to be in attendance.

Marmon Herrington Armoured Car

Marmon Herrington Armoured Car 

Apart from the natural desire to win that day, no South Africans could but feel the spirit of his own nation stirring within him – even though thousands of miles from home and behind barbed wire. Finally when the Springboks run onto the field, all South Africans could collectively feel their pride welling up. As one, they willed and shouted for their team to win. It was more than just a game that day; it was national pride. 

The Springboks won without too much trouble by nine points to nil, and proved to some thousands of men of all nations that the Springboks of Stalag IV-B could emulate their famous forefathers. At the social in the Empire Theatre that evening there was no alcohol or even beer, only tea in tin mugs and snacks of German bread and biscuits from Red Cross parcels. But what a fitting tribute and an apt banquet to an stupendous international match. Finally the celebrations concluded to the strains of Sarie Marias. 

Mervyn Moore in Potchefstroom in 1940

Mervyn Moore in Potchefstroom in 1940

This story should have ended there but it has a strange epilogue, one which explains why an extra match was played against Wales, and why the score was so low. The Welsh had never been quite convinced of their defeat and challenged the Springbok to a return match at the close of the season. Then shortly after the invasion [at D-Day], the Red Cross parcel issue was cut by half and very soon the physical condition of the prisoners began to deteriorate. Slowly but inexorably, a weakness could be felt and lack of energy and stamina became noticeable – and the bigger the man the more he felt it.

Collectively the committee felt that the large heavy players in their lethargic condition would never keep pace with the litheWelsh terriers, but the match had to be played. This time there was no training. All energy had to be conserved, and when the match took place, it was a very different spectacle to that gay day of May 31st. The Springboks were a shadow of their former selves, while the Welshmen seemed to play with more dash, verve and determination than ever before, and accepted impression of that game will always be that of a large tired dog being worried by a skittish terrier. It was a grim business for the South Africans, and just when they had reconciled ourselves to defeat, “Fiks” van der Merwe pulled the game out of the fire. He played like a demon, a man possessed. Finally by sheer brute force and determination, he crashed his way through half the Welsh team to score the one and only try of the match.

Marmon-Herrington (South African Reconnaissance Vehicle) - Wheeled Armored Scout Car

Marmon-Herrington (South African Reconnaissance Vehicle) – Wheeled Armored Scout Car

There were to be no more international matches in Stalag IVb, but those who saw the IV-B Springboks will always regret that they never had a chance to play once more when they reached England.

What with tufted fields in place of hard, corrugated ground (once the lime pits of buried Russians) and real boots with real studs and showers of beer afterwards, they would have given a great account of themselves.

 The spirit of the IVb Springboks and the difficulties [that] they overcame was worthy of the green and gold jersey.

Gymkana held on 31-05-1944 at Stalag IV-B by South African POWs

Gymnastics display held on 31-05-1944 at Stalag IV-B by South African P.O.W.s

Sources:

Interview with Mervyn Moore (ex CFA and P.O.W.) about his experiences in WW2 conducted by Hamish Paterson and Rowena Wilkinson on 15 July 1998:

https://soundcloud.com/clayton-hawkins/interview-with-mervyn-moore

 

Newspaper Articles:

The Daily News dated Friday 23 April 1971 entitled Rugby Roundabout by Reg Sweet

The Daily Despatch dated Friday 23 July 1971 entitled Border’s Boiled Jersey Springboks

The Outspan dated 14 June 1946 entitled Springbok Side that does not appear in Official Records by Eric Cowling

 

mervyn-moore-military-record

 

legend

Article from the newspaper The Daily News dated Friday 23 April 1971 entitled Rugby Roundabout by Reg Sweet

Just a while ago, the Pietermaritzburg manager of a national insurance company was rummaging around the old bits and pieces that so many of us rake out every now and then, the things we brought back from the war.

Let us get him orientated, for a start: Ross Hinds – Corporal Ross Hinds as he was back in ’44. And what he dug out was a rugby collector’s gem. He did not think so at the time, but he told and friend and here we are.

What Mr. Ross Hinds, for Border scrum-half unearthed was a photograph so rare that it ought to be insured. It was a picture of the “Springboks” of Stalag IV-B in Germany, taken in 1944.

Mervyn Moore playing a ukelele in 1999 1 selected Clear Insert into post Choose Files

Mervyn Moore playing a ukelele on 24th March 1999 at the Buffs [Buffaloes] Club in East London

Classic Series

They played a classic rugby test series against the captive All Blacks, the Welsh, and the English and the rest of them.

What was more, they won.

Obviously, you cannot play rugger without some sort of equipment. So how did these chaps manage? For a start, their jerseys were prepared by a POW tailor from Red Cross issue vests.  This meant that the kriegsgefangene had to account for their original issue vests, obviously. I understand that they begged, they borrowed and they stole!

Next step: How to simulate the Springbok green?

mervyn-moore-stalag-id

This ID record was created when Mervyn arrived at Stalag IV-B after being on the cattle train with no facilities or food for days

 

Boiled it

There were plenty of Russian battledresses around. So the Prigioneri, as they used to be known in Iti-land before the cattle truck journey through the Brenner Pass, boiled up the Red Cross vests with olive Ruski battledress. It worked.

Presto! Springbok jerseys.

And the same with the stockings.

What about those cuffs, collars, the Springbok badge and hose tops? How the devil do you reproduce gold in a POW cage?

I said that they were ingenious. They sent them along to the Regimental Aid Post, and a willing SAMC bloke did the rest.

map-of-tobruk

 

Just as good

He boiled them with a solution of anti-malaria tablets and out they came, as good as you know what. It seemed terribly important. The Boks just had to look the part.  You have to salute those PPW fellows. But how in the name of William Webb Ellis did they ever get around to rugger boots?

No need to laugh. They took the normal army issue boots. They removed the heels and from their heels fashioned studs. That left bootlaces. Long ones, for rugby.

Piece of cake: They whipped the string out of the next Red Cross parcel and that was it.

The problems had hardly ended. There had to be shorts, of course. What did they settle for? Iti underpants.

And I am told that a shriek or two inevitably indicated that yet another Springbok POW had appropriated what he felt he needed most for the field of play.

Let us get back to that picture below.

Tobruk burning

Tobruk burning

How did they have it taken?

Jerry fell for it. A Stalag IV-B guard with a camera and suitably bribed with Red Cross fags, was no different to the rest of them.

Good men

The ravages of time (and do not ask me where they found the hypo and the rest of it) will not make for good reproduction of the picture we show here.

But you will see that the Boks of IV-B vintage had good men. There is the skipper in the second row, “Fiks” van der Merwe, Springbok flanker against Fred Allen’s All Blacks in 1949. And you may recall that Fiks started his provincial career as a scrum-half for Natal.

You will find Gus Ackermann, a Transvaal full-back, and several other provincial players.

 

Stalag IV-B “Springboks:

Back row, left to right: Oehley, Van Huyssteen, Kaplan, Timm, Coetzee, N. Hinds, Boet Wessels, Heydenrych, Youngleson, Foster, Chapman, Rahl

Middle row: Fabricius, Moore, Ackermann. Major Ochse (medical officer). Fiks van der Merwe (captain), Katzeff, Van der Westhuizen, Ritchie, Hultzer, Zietsman

Front row: Marais, R. Hinds, Sephton.

Springbok Match Souvenir Brochure-reverse side

Original Springbok Match Souvenir Brochure-reverse side

 

Article from the newspaper The Daily Despatch dated Friday 23 July 1971 entitled Border’s Boiled Jersey Springboks

I see from the columns of our Queenstown contemporaries, the Daily Representative, that I missed identifying one of the Border “Springboks”” who played in the Stalag IV-B Prisoner of War camp  test series against fellow prisoners  from other countries in Germany in 1944.

Mr. Mervyn Schaefer, vice-president of the Swifts Rugby Union was the fourth Border member of that side – the other three, mentioned in this column on July 14, were Ross Hinds, Mervyn Moore and Eric Chapman.

Mr. Schaefer, like Hinds and Moore, had previously represented Border at rugby – before the war – and Chapman as a first-team player for Old Selbornians.

Springbok - Mervyn Schaefer

Springbok – Mervyn Schaefer

When Mr. Schaefer read the Chiel column on July 14, he dug-out the home-made “Springbok” jersey he had played in [while] in the prison camp and which he brought back to  South Africa when he was released. The picture in this column today shows him holding the jersey fashioned from  Red Cross vests dyed green by boiling them with Italian battle-dress with collars, cuffs tailor-made from other material and dyed gold by boiling them in anti-malaria tablets. The elements of the Springbok badge were also cut out by camp tailors and dyed in the same way.

 

The result was impressive, the readers will agree after studying the picture.

 

Mr. Schaefer, I understand, has only one problem with his jersey. It cannot be washed for fear of the dye running.

 

Article from the newspaper The Outspan dated 14 June 1946 entitled Springbok Side that does not appear in Official Records by Eric Cowling

 

“Yet, in its way, it did as much towards enhancing the reputation of South African rugby as any overseas touring side.”

 

There is one Springbok team that will not appear in any official record of South African rugby. Yet, in its way, it did as much towards enhancing the reputation of South African rugby as any overseas touring side.

Mervyn Moore's SS armband that he acquired at the end of the war

Mervyn Moore’s SS armband that he acquired at the end of the war

It is the team that took the field wearing green and gold jerseys and won every match [that] it played in a prison camp in Germany in the spring of 1944. The team was selected from only 700 South Africans in a total camp strength of 10,000, and this was its record:

 

Beat Anzacs   21 – nil

Beat England, Scotland and Ireland   14 – 3

Beat Wales    14 – 3

Beat the Rest   9 – 0

Beat Wales    3 – 0

 

A word about the Stalag IV-B Springboks that did so well. The team included eight players who had represented their provinces in South Africa – two Natal, two Eastern Province, two Border, one Northern Transvaal, one South-Western Districts; and first league players from Police, Crusaders (Port Elizabeth), Hamilton – Sea Point, Buffaloes (East London), Diggers (Johannesburg), Albany (Grahamstown) and many from the country districts.

 

The captain was “Fiks” van der Merwe who had played for Natal. He started in the IVB Springboks as scrum-half and finished as an eighth man, and was always the most outstanding rugby player in the camp.  Go to work

Springbok Match Souvenir Brochure - front

Original Springbok Match Souvenir Brochure – front

No sooner had the prisoners-of-war, who had been transferred to from Italy to Stalag IV-B in Germany settled down and got over their disappointment than their thoughts turned to sport. A “Hut” Rugby League was formed and committees and referees appointed. Approximately 30 huts entered teams and the players were men from all parts of the British Isles, the Dominions and the United States – each team playing under a name such as Wanderers, Rovers, United, Barbarians, Rabbits, Swift etc.

Just when everything was ready and the [unreadable] came and epidemics of infectious diseases brought a ban on all sport. It was during this lull that the South Africans got an idea. They knew the time would come when international rivalry when spring up, and they intended to be ready. So a selection committee of three was appointed at a meeting attended by a South African representative from each hut.

map-of-the-fall-of-tobruk

During the period of waiting, this committee of which I was one, drew up a comprehensive list of every South African rugby player in the camp and verified their records at home, and when the snows melted and the quarantine ban was lifted, they were ready to go to work. No selectors in South Africa ever seeded their players more carefully, and at every inter hut match, only the South African players occupied their attention.

When the “international” fixtures were announced, the South African was to be against the Anzacs. Thirty South Africans were chosen to play in the trials, and a week before the match, the first Springbok Team was announced through the South African camp newspaper, “The Union Express,” amidst  great excitement and the usual crop of unofficial forecasts. The team was handed over to the captain, and for the remainder of the week, these fifteen men had little time to bemoan their lot as prisoners-of-war.

Rats of Tobruk

Rats of Tobruk

In the meantime, behind the scenes, furious work was being done on the black market. Green and gold dyes were purchased for cigarettes, stencils were cut and white vests (supplied by the Red Cross) were transformed into Springbok jerseys, complete with gold collars, cuffs and badges. Even hose tops were dyed and white shorts produced from somewhere. The South African Team that took the field against the Anzacs looked worthy of the name Springboks.

The Anzac game was an easy win – 21-nil – but the selectors were not satisfied; we did not get the ball enough. The front row was completely changed and a new scrum-half came in amidst howls from the “armchair critics.” Why change winning side? But the changes paid off and the team put up a better performance against England, Scotland and Ireland whom they beat 14-3.

It was at this stage that the South Africans grew ambitious and visualised the possibility of being able to challenge the rest of the camp. It was a tall order, but we were confident of our team, and a plan was formulated to stage this match on Union Day – May 31st – and to make it an all South African day.

But we still had to play Wales, and until we had beaten them, we dare not issue a challenge to “The Rest.”  The Welshmen were confident that they would win. They were small but fast, and played the traditional Welsh style of rugby. Robust hustling tactics with quick breaking forwards; and they counted on speed to beat the Springboks. Indeed, many fancied them to win.

So we had to beat the Welshmen – our chances of challenging the rest of the camp depended upon it. And the Springboks trained harder than ever before under Noel Robertson, the Border [indecipherable] we won, [indecipherable] entitled to challenge “The Rest, the match to be played on Union Day.”

That day was to be an all South African day in Stalag IV-B – a church service in the morning, followed by a PT display given by picked South Africans, the big match in the afternoon, and winding up with a social given in the Empire Theatre – a hut [that] we had specifically kept vacant, in spite of crowding in other huts, for concerts etc. Elaborate plans had been made for a Zulu war dance to precede the match and for weeks South Africans from Natal rehearsed and trained their “Impis” up to concert pitch.

Thousands of cigarettes went to the black market to buy black grease paint and the various odds and ends to equip the Zulu warriors. Amateur carpenters and tailors worked long hours making shields, assegais, and all the trimmings and trappings required. In addition, even the German camp photographer was “bought” to be in attendance.

Apart from the natural desire to win that day, no South Africans could but feel the spirit of his own nation stirring within him – even though thousands of miles from home and behind barbed wire. And when the Springboks took the field, we could all feel [that] they were there to win. It was more than just a game that day.

They won without much trouble by nine points to nil, and proved to some thousands of men of all nations that the Springboks of Stalag IV-B could emulate their famous forefathers. At the social in the Empire Theatre that evening there was [  ] and no beer – only tea in tin mugs and snacks of German bread and biscuits from Red Cross parcels. But it was a fitting banquet to an international match and wound up to the strains of Sarie Marias.

This story would end there but it has a strange epilogue, which explains why an extra match was played against Wales, and why the score was so low. The Welsh had never been quite convinced of their defeat and challenged us to a return match at the close of the season.

Then shortly after the invasion [at D-Day], the Red Cross parcel issue was cut by half and very soon the physical condition of the prisoners began to deteriorate, and slowly but surely a weakness could be felt and lack of energy and stamina became noticeable – and the bigger the man the more he felt it.

We all felt that our big heavy players in their lethargic condition would never keep pace with those little terriers, but the match had to be played. This time there was no training. All energy had to be conserved, and when the match took place, it was a very different spectacle to that gay day of May 31st.

The Springboks were a shadow of their former selves, while the Welshmen seemed to play with more dash and determination than ever, and my impression of that game will always be that of a big tired dog being worried by a skittish terrier. It was a grim business for us, and just when we had reconciled ourselves to defeat, “Fiks” van der Merwe pulled the game out of the fire.

He played like a man possessed, and finally by sheer brute force and determination, crashed his way through half the Welsh team to score the one and only try of the match.

There were to be no more international matches in Stalag IVb, but those who saw the IVb Springboks will always regret that they never had a chance to play once more when they reached England.

What with tufted fields in place of hard, corrugated ground (once the lime pits of buried Russians) and real boots with real studs and showers of beer afterwards, they would have given a great account of themselves.

The spirit of the IVb Springboks and the difficulties [that] they overcame was worthy of the green and gold jersey.

 

Article from the newspaper The Daily Representative dated Thursday July 19, 1962 entitled International Series Played in German POW Camp

As rugby fever rises to its zenith with the second Test Match against the Lions only hours away and many ardent followers wonder with apprehension whether the Springboks will finally be crashed from their pedestal, a Queenstown man fondly remembers the days when their position was unassailable – and he was one of them.

But it is doubtful whether his name or their splendid record will be found preserved for posterity in any of the official records. For it was during the dark and doubtful war days of 1943-44 when the Allies were as unsure of their chances as many rugby fans are of the Springboks today.

However, in a German prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag 4B, at Meulburg-on-Elbe, near Berlin, Mr. Mervyn Schaefer, of Queenstown, an infantryman in the Kaffrarian Rifles was one of 15 Springboks who were riding to victory every week. Captured at Tobruk, Mr. Schaefer found himself in the camp with thousands of Allied troops of every nationality, and all had a common problem – how to relieve the boredom of camp life.

 “National Teams”

It was discovered that there were many rugby devotees in the camp and soon “National” Teams were being formed by the English, Scots, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. The logical sequel was “Test” series between the different countries. This was greeted with as much enthusiasm and anticipation as any Test since.

Reminiscing recently, Mr. Schaefer said that hundreds of prisoners would take benches out to the touchlines of the sandy field the day before a match and wait up all night to ensure [that] they had a good position.

The atmosphere was a lively and friendly as that in the overnight queues outside modern stadiums before an important match.

To watch and cheer

On the day of the matches, thousands upon thousands of prisoners would come to watch and cheer on their countries. Their applause and encouragement would have done justice to any crowd at an international match at Ellis Park.

The keenness among the players was also acute and they took as much pride in their camp “Springbok caps” as any player would today.

Mr. Schaefer recalled that the South Africans beat all comers in Stalag 4B, including “The Rest,” after winning the Test Series.

Trained hard

He said [that] they trained hard and friends would give them some of their precious rations to help them build enough strength to beat their opponents.

They took pride in their appearance too, and taxed their ingenuity to field a team that had the true appearance of a Springbok side with the material available.  The main problem was always coloured jerseys. The South Africans solved theirs by dying army vests green and their collars yellow with acriflavine. A springbok head was stencilled over the left breast.

Mr. Schaefer still has his jersey and believes it is one of the few – if not the only one – that has been preserved.

Souvenir

He said that he has met many of the men who played with him since the war, but not a single one still has his jersey. Whenever he has let it be known that he still has his, they have asked him to give, lend or sell it to them, but he refuses to part with the perhaps unique souvenir.

However, Mr. Schaefer has agreed to lend the jersey to the Daily Rep. for a week and it will be on display in a window at our offices from this evening.

Mr. Schaefer says that he cannot recall the full team which represented South Africa at Stalag 4B, but names that did come to mind were those of Athol Hustler of Queenstown and Edgar Sephton of Barkly East, who played fly half and scrum half.

Captain

The captain of the side was “Fiks” van der Merwe, who later won his “second” Springbok colours to play against the All Blacks at flank in the 1949 Test series.

Others were Gus Ackerman, a Transvaaler, van der Westhuizen from the Western Province, who played on the wing, and Mervyn Moore, a Buffaloes and Border centre.


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