Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Liberty Cavalcade

Amongst the numerous fund-raising events held during WW2, the most impressive was the Liberty Cavalcade in July 1943. This 5-day fair, at which each of the Allied countries had a stand, was officially opened by General Jan Smuts.

Main picture: A Miles Master II prepares to give an acrobatic display at the Liberty Cavalcade

Described as the “most colossal spectacle ever seen in the Midlands,” the Liberty Cavalcade was held in St George’s Park from the 29th July 1943 to the 2nd August. Joburg and East London had already held similar successful events in aid of the Governor-Generals’ War Fund. Commencing in March 1943, a team of artists and architects spent several months painting the sheets of gypsum board which transformed the Park.

Scene from the Liberty Cavalcade

They created the stalls and booths run by the various organisations and groups involved. The swimming bath buildings became the Cavalcade Club and the Crusader Grounds was utilised for arena displays. On the day of the opening, shops, factories and schools were closed at noon. More than 100,000 people visited the Cavalcade and £65,000 was raised.

Prime Minister Smuts with the Mayor in 1943, Alfred Charles Thomas Bloe

Attending the parade was the brass band of 42 Air School and the bugle band of the Air Force Station. As part of the proceedings, a Miles Master 11 plane did a magnificent aerobatic display over the park. At 4pm, the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Union Forces, presented “Wings” to the cadets of the South African and Royal Air Forces.

The white lines demarcate the area used for the Liberty Cavalcade


Amongst the SA Defence Force displays was a Messerschmitt Bf109 that had force landed during the Battle of Britain. This aircraft is now on display at the War Museum in Saxonwold in Joburg.

During the opening parade, the harsh roar of the Miles Master II was heard pulling out of a steep dive. This was the prelude to an exciting aerobatic display. The Miles Master was a training aircraft used before the arrival of the Harvard.

Notice of the Order of Ceremony of the Wings Parade

Probably the most impressive and colourful ceremony of the opening day of the Liberty Cavalcade on July 29, 1943, will be the presentation of “Wings” to the cadets of the South African and Royal Air Forces who have been passed out. 

The Scottish stall at the Liberty Cavalcade

The ceremony will take place on the arena at 4pm and it will be the first occasion on which the general public will witness such an important and impressive ceremony by Prime Minister Jan Smuts, who will pin the brevets on the uniforms of the successful candidates in his capacity of Commander-in-Chief of the Union Forces.

The participating units will form up in a hollow square of airwomen and airmen. In the centre of the hollow, lined up in front, will be three squads of successful trainees as follows: SAAF Air Gunners from Port Elizabeth. RAF Air Navigator Cadets from Port Elizabeth. RAF cadet-air bombers from Port Elizabeth. Behind these will be lined up squads of cadets who are still under instruction. All cadets will be under arms.

Attending the parade will be the brass band of 42 Air School, Port Elizabeth, and the bugle band of the Air Force Station, Driftsands, who will play the general salute in honour of the Prime Minister and the march past. These events will take place in the following order: The Prime Minister arrives, general salute with band; he inspects the parade, march past, advance in review order, general salute with band, presentation of brevets, march off with band.

On the arrival of the Prime Minister on the dais the officer in charge of the parade brings them to “present arms” and gives them the general salute.

 Air Commander LG Croke, CBE, will ask the Prime Minister to inspect the parade. After this all the cadets will march past and they first return to the formation. After this the order is “advance in review order,” they are played forward by the band, and another general salute is given.

Then follows the actual pinning on of the brevets which will take from 15 to 20 minutes. In the final stage the successful cadets are marched off and the remainder of the cadets come to the “present” as a mark of courtesy to them. Then the whole of the hollow square is marched off.



Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging Pty Ltd, Port Elizabeth)

A Portrait of Military Aviation in South Africa by Ron Belling (1989, Struikhof Publishers, Cape Town)

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