A memorial service of special significance was held on Saturday 19 February 2011 at the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill. The beautiful and tranquil surroundings of the Wall of Remembrance painted the backdrop to the occasion, during which the casket containing the ashes of the late Sir Pierre and Lady Betty van Ryneveld were placed to a newly dedicated niche inside the Wall of Remembrance.

 After Van Ryneveld’s death in 1972, the founding father of the South African Air Force, was cremated and his ashes together with his wife’s placed inside a casket at the Koedoespoort Memorial. This memorial, erected close the actual landing site, commemorated the epic pioneering flight of Van Ryneveld and Brand across Africa from England, in March 1920. In recent years though the memorial suffered neglect and the casket containing the hallowed ashes were subsequently removed and kept in safe custody at Chief of the Air Force’s office at Air Command.

Through the efforts of Director Air Force Heritage, Brig Gen Derrick Page and the SAAF Association, plans were set afoot to “re-intern” the ashes to a more appropriate and safe environment, which at the same to would be more accessible to family and friends. The Wall of Remembrance at the SAAF Memorial was the obvious choice, honouring those that served in the Air Force.

Emphasising the importance of the event, the Memorial Service, was attended by Chief of the Air Force, several Air Force Board members, as well as ex Chief of the Air Force Lt Gen Dennis Earp. Padre Don Watson, in his eulogy, highlighted the many achievements of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld and the big investment he made through his gallantry conduct in the establishment of the South African Air Force ninety years ago.

Many proud members of both the Van Ryneveld and Brand family attended the memorial service. The granddaughter of Sir Pierre, Ms Linda van Ryneveld thanked Chief of the Air Force for the effort to save, not just the ashes, but also the memory and heritage of Sir Pierre and Lady Betty van Ryneveld. In his address, Tony van Rynveld, a nephew of Sir Pierre, made mention of his steely determination and fighting character, how he triumphed over several obstacles to establish the South African Air Force and ultimately during his tenure as Chief of General Staff of the Union Defence Force and the turbulent times of the Second World War.

After the placing of the casket, a lone trumpeter sounded the Last Post and Reveille, the niche was closed and a Dakota and Harvard from the SAAF Museum flew past in a fitting salute to the founding father of our South African Air Force.

Following the ceremony, tea and light refreshments were enjoyed by all at the SAAF College’s General House.

WHO WAS… SIR PIERRE VAN RYNEVELD ? THE FATHER OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN AIR FORCE

Helperus Andreas Van Rynveld was born in Senekal on the 2nd of May 1891. He was educated at Grey College, Bloemfontein and obtained a BA degree from the University of the Cape of Good Hope (today known as Unisa). Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War he studied and acquired a BSc degree from the University of London. With the outbreak of the 1st World War, Van Ryneveld initially joined the Royal North Lancashire Regiment, but transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1915 as a pilot. He attained the rank of Lt Col and Officer Commanding of 11th Army Wing within four years of service and earned the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross. His brother John, also a pilot, was killed during the First World War.

Van Ryneveld together with Quinton Brand were the first persons to fly from England to South Africa, establishing an air route across the African continent. Between 4 Feb and 20 March 1920, they flew in a Vickers Vimy called “Silver Queen”, a second Vimy dubbed “Silver Queen II” and eventually arrived in South Africa in a De Havilland DH-9 aircraft called “Voortrekker”. Both Van Rynveld and Brand were knighted for this feat.

At the same time he was commissioned by General Jan Smuts to organise the establishment of the South African Air Force with Kenny van der Spuy as his deputy in 1920. Van Ryneveld was appointed as Director Air Services (today known as Chief of the Air Force) from 1920 to 1933 and with his strong personality and practical approach was instrumental in the establishment of a well trained and equipped Air Force. He served as Director Air Services for a total of thirteen years! Today it is common practise for the Chief of the Air Force to serve in this capacity for five years. A true pioneer and aviator, Van Ryneveld became the first person to fly from Pretoria to Cape Town non-stop in 1927 and also the first person in South Africa to jump out of an aircraft with a parachute.

Van Ryneveld was appointed Chief of General Staff (today known as Chief of the SANDF) during 1937 and lead the South African war effort during 2nd World War until his retirement in May 1949. After retirement, he settled on his farm Spitzkop, in the Bronkhorstspruit area. He died on 2 December 1972 at the age of 81. He had one son, John van Ryneveld (also a SAAF pilot).

Captain Leon Steyn
Historian, Air Force Museum