South African Army Band, somewhere in Italy, 1945.Fred Daniels
Trooper Fred Daniels (standing at right) and comrades from The Duke's Scottish Regiment, 6th South African Armoured Division, at a rest camp in Santa Margareta, Italy, 1945.Fred Daniels
Three comrades from the 6th South African Armoured Division, Turin, Italy, May 25, 1945. From left to right: Joe Vawyk, Al Hilderbrand, Trooper Fred Daniels.Fred Daniels
Souvenir display showing Trooper Fred Daniels (inset), the Italian Peninsula, and the badges of the units who served in the 6th South African Armoured Division.Fred Daniels
Document (in Afrikaans) noting the medals awarded to Trooper Fred Daniels for his Second World War service with the South African Army.Fred Daniels
"[It] has always been on my conscience, even up until today, I think about it. I think, why? I don’t know, maybe that wasn’t meant for me but that was one of the sad moments"
I had two brothers, they were serving in the western desert. The one was in a Medical Corps [South African Medical Corps], the other one was with the Engineers. And of course, I was at that time still at school and when you see your big brothers in the army and you still at school, then you also have that strong desire to want to join the army.
And then of course, when I got to the age of 17, all my friends, and they were in war much older than what I was, they were about 17, 18, and the oldest of that was a fellow by the name of Harry Nickimson. It was five Hebrew boys and two other boys like myself. Now, Harry Nickimson, he was second year medical student. And we were close together, we used to hang out together, while we came home on embarkation leave in South Africa, we always went to parties, I went to visit with him at their homes and so on and when we got to Italy, we still were all together.
And one of the occasions was on a Christmas day. And this was in 1944, I just don’t know the exact date, I know it was Christmas. And we were going out on a recce [reconnaissance] I’m sure you know what that is, a tour, and so Harry says to me, he says, “Fred, you’re Christian and I’m Jewish, why don’t I take your spot today and you take my spot next week, New Years Day?” So I said, “oh, that’s fine, Harry.” So of course, Harry took my place on this particular day. I remember it was Christmas Day, 1944. They went out and I think the late afternoon, we got news that Harry was shot in the head. They rushed him to the field hospital but they couldn’t do anything for him, he was just done. We as a group, we were very, very, sad and that has always been on my conscience, even up until today, I think about it. I think, why? I don’t know, maybe that wasn’t meant for me but that was one of the sad moments that I very very well remember.
Our unit was moving, the whole unit, Bren gun carriers, the officers, we were just on our way to take up another position and then we heard the over the line that the war is over. So that was quite an experience because everybody was saying, “boy, we didn’t see too much action but the war is over.” And then during that time, we were given duties to perform, to look after, now I don’t know if you heard about that partisans, the Italian partisans, they killed Mussolini and Clara Petacci and some of his henchmen, I think there was about five or six of them altogether. And they hung them upside down in one of the garages and we had the duty of having to keep the people away because people were just hitting them with the iron bars and defacing the pictures, you know. So that is one of the nasty experiences that I also had.
I have a sad memory of my friend, Harry Nickimson but I also found that being a youngster in the army, I think I learned quite a lot by becoming, from joining the army as a boy, I came out of the army as a man. Because you can understand when you join the army, you are billeted with men that are old enough to be your father. And because you get a lot of learning from the older guys, sometimes not good but sometimes quite valuable. And I think I’ve experienced that when I came out of the army, I had quite an experience in becoming a man instead of coming back out of the army as a boy.