Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Great Britain Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates, 1910-1950

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz

On April 26, 2012, one of the pioneers of Israeli Air Force, Dr. Boris Aubrey Senior, a former South African, passed away.  His passing made me think of the wonderful contribution Jewish South Africans made to the formation of Israeli aviation.  His exploits are recorded in his book which can be read online: New Heavens: My Life As A Fighter Pilot And A Founder Of The Israel Air Force ]


As Boris Senior was part of Machal, those Jews from around the world who fought for Israel, his accomplishments are included in another online resource, the World Machal site.  This incorporates stories and photos of the Machalniks.


Additionally, another resource for sharing information about South African aviators such as Boris Senior is the rewarding database on Ancestry.com, the Great Britain Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950, which includes Jewish and non-Jewish aviators.  The database contains 28,000 certificates and an accompanying 34 photograph albums with 13,000 photos of aviators who were issued flying licenses.  These included the first military flyers and covers the period of World Wars I and II and just afterwards.

The certificates include the following information:

  • Name
  • Birth Date
  • Birth Place
  • Nationality
  • Rank/Profession
  • Date/Place of Certificate
  • Certificate Number
In checking out the South African-born Jewish certificate holders, I found that there were approximately 12 listed out of 562 aviators who were born in South Africa:
ABRAHAM, Cecil, MD, Port ElizabethALBU, Walter George, JohannesburgALPERSTEIN, Hugo, King WilliamstownARONSON, Joseph Gustave, King WilliamstownBENJAMIN, Maurice Arthur, Port ElizabethCOHEN, Roland, BarbertonHERSOV, Basil David, JohannesburgHOFFMAN, Aaron Archibald, South AfricaLEVIN, Harry Herbert, Cape TownMARKS, Joseph Mordechai, PretoriaOSPOVAT, Leon, JohannesburgSENIOR, Boris Aubrey, Johannesburg

It is possible that there were more than these 12 South African Jewish aviators in the database.  Some of the reasons there may have been more are:

  • They may have Anglicized names that I did not recognize in the list.
  • There may have been some who were born outside South Africa (such as in England) and therefore were not contained in the search perimeter of “Born in South Africa” that I utilized.  One of those born in England, Diane Barnato Walker, was the daughter of Woolf Barnato and the granddaughter Barney Barnato.  She was the first British woman to break the sound barrier. 
  • It is possible that many may not have gotten certificates from this source such as Harold “Smoky” Simon, Simon Eliastam, George Cohen, Cecil Lionheart, and others.  In regard to Harold “Smoky” Simon, he survived his aviation exploits and you can listen to his history which includes his training and participation in the battle of El Alamein .  However, the two other South African Air Force volunteer aviators mentioned were killed.  Simon Eliastam was killed in a training mission, July 22, 1942, his body was never found and his name is inscribed at the El Alamein Memorial in Matruh, Egypt.  One can find Lt. George Cohen’s  grave too at:  He was killed on September 27, 1942.  Lastly, Cecil Lionheart was killed over the Somme in France on July 1, 1916.
  • Others may have gotten certificates later than the 1950 end date of the database.
It is interesting to note that there were 10,000 South African Jewish recruits in World War II out of a Jewish population of 103,435 and 357 of those were killed in action.  The first South African Jewish death in World War II was Harold Rosofsky who was killed in the opening days of the war.  He is one of many aviators who served alongside volunteers from various commonwealth nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the like.  Many times, one will find the record of the individual’s military career in sites devoted to the volunteers from particular countries.


England had declared war on September 1, 1939, and Harold Rosofsky, scheduled to fly over Germany, never even got there at all as his plane crashed after takeoff not far from his airbase in England on September 8, 1939.  The finale of Harold Rosofsky’s aerial wartime career is to be found in the following New Zealand resource: http://adf-serials.com.au/nz-serials/nzwellington.htm.


Apparently, Harold was flying with a primarily New Zealand crew and the report of their demise was noted on the site.  The following information was provided . . . “1939: 8th September; Plt Off H Rosofsky. Air-firing Ex.  Hit trees while low flying over Berners Heath range and crashed near Elveden, 4 miles south-west of Thetford, Norfolk“.


In addition, an interesting resource for some South Africa aviators is the following Aerodrome site for flying aces of World War I.  An example is the military record of Maurice Arthur Benjamin of Port Elizabeth.


According to the site: Maurice Arthur Benjamin was the son of Michael and Rose Benjamin and although he is listed as being born in South Africa, he and his family were resident in Paddington in 1901 as were his parents in 1911.


  • NAME - Maurice Arthur Benjamin
  • COUNTRY - South Africa
  • RANK - Captain
  • SERVICE - Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force
  • UNIT - 48
  • VICTORIES - 8
  • BORN - July 10, 1883
  • PLACE OF BIRTH - Cape Colony
  • DIED
  • PLACE OF DEATH
The record also stated that Maurice Arthur Benjamin was awarded a Military Cross - 2nd Lt. Maurice Arthur Benjamin, R.F.C., Spec. Res.  For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He helped to attack two large hostile machines, one of which was seen to crash to the ground. Previously he helped to engage three hostile scouts, one of which was destroyed and the remainder dispersed. He has helped to destroy four hostile machines in all.  From the Supplement to the London Gazette, 18 July 1917 (30188/7221).

His eight victories are enumerated below:

Victories
Date
Time
Unit
Aircraft
Opponent
Location
1
06 Apr 1917
48
Bristol F.2a 1
EA (OOC)
Douai
2
09 Apr 1917
a.m.
48
Bristol F.2a 1
Two-seater (DES)
E of Arras
3
23 Apr 1917
48
Bristol F.2a 1
Albatros D.III (OOC) 2
Vimy
4
25 Apr 1917
48
Bristol F.2a 1
Albatros D.III (DES)
E of Arras
5
27 Apr 1917
48
Bristol F.2a 1
Two-seater (DES) 3
Vitry, SW of Douai
6
26 May 1917
1945
48
Bristol F.2b (A7119) 4
Albatros D.III (DES)
SW of Douai
7
26 May 1917
1945
48
Bristol F.2b (A7119) 4
Albatros D.III (OOC)
SW of Douai
8
15 Jun 1917
1940
48
Bristol F.2b (A7117) 5
Albatros D.III (OOC) 6
Fampoux


1
2
Shared with Fred Holliday & Capt AHW Wall, Roger Hay, William Winkler & Ernest Moore
3
Shared with Roger Hay
4
Pilot Lt J W Warren
5
Pilot Lt HM Fraser
6
Shared with Harold Pratt & Hugh Owen

Further resources are:

  • National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, South Africa,.  The Lt. Gen. A. M. L. Masondo Library at the museum has a remarkable collection of over 70,000 books, periodicals, primary archival materials and photographs, all of which can be researched.
An example of a World War II aviator who was not in any of the online site mentioned was Ernst Rosenstein, the son of German World War I ace Willie Rosenstein who settled in Rustenburg, South Africa.  Willie Rosenstein’s career can be seen here  Further information on Ernst and his family can be found by clicking here

  • ROSENSTEIN, Lieutenant (Pilot), ERNST WILLY, 328895V. 185 Sqdn, South African Air Force,  April 2, 1945, Age 22, Son of Willy and Hedwig Rosenstein, of Rustenburg, Transvaal, South Africa V.A.5.
  • ROSENSTEIN, Lt. ERNST., (February 20, 1923 – 1945), a pilot of the British Royal Air Force was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea in combat action during World War II.
Ernst is included in a listing on the following site as well, with the discussion under the “MILAN WAR CEMETERY.”On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side. The Allied advance was stalled for two successive winters: in 1943 on the German defensive position known as the Gustav Line, stretching from the river Gargliano in the west to the Sangro in the east, and in 1944 on the Gothic Line in the northern Appenine mountains.
At the beginning of April 1945, the Allies launched their final offensive against the German positions spread out in a line across Italy, south of Bologna. German resistance was by now beginning to disintegrate and the Allies were able to fan out rapidly across the Po valley. Milan, already freed by Italian Partisans, was entered by the US 4th Corps on 2 May 1945, the day of the German surrender in Italy. As Milan fell to the Allies largely without a fight, the Commonwealth forces suffered few casualties.

Most of the graves in Milan War Cemetery were those of prisoners-of-war or airmen and were brought in from the surrounding towns and villages - places such as Bergamo, Boves, Carpi, Cicagna, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Turin and Val d'Isere - after the war. Milan War Cemetery contains 417 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 27 of them unidentified. There are also six war graves of other nationalities.

Three further resources provide information on Jewish aviators and/or soldiers are:

  • This is a movie in process which will memorialize many of the Jewish aviators’ contributions.  It is the story of 150 aviators from around the world who served in the Israeli Air Force in 1948, many of whom were from South Africa.
  • This is an on-line portal for a Museum of Jewish Militaria (1790 – World War II).   These medals awarded to Jewish soldiers include seventeen South Africa soldiers who served in World War II:  Max Appel, Miss Estelle Barnett, Robert Reuben Blumenthal, Lionel Louis Davin, Ralph Deitch (South African Air Force Air Gunner), Sydney Feinson, Philip Garb, Max Harris, Erwin Jonas, Clarence Kaplan, James Kroll, Hyman Rubin Lipchin, Richard Michael Myers, Douglas Montefiore Phillips, Jack Popelsky, John Derrick Schwartz, and Teddy Waks.  This site also contains information regarding Jews who served in the Boer War.
There are so many other things to be found on the Internet about aviators, South African Jewish aviators and Jewish soldiers.  One has only to look carefully.  As an example, a final aviation resource provides information on the first professional Jewish aviator in America, the remarkable Al Welsh, born in Kiev, Ukraine, who served in World War II.

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