The South African Air Force founder and aviation pioneer, Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was the object of much historical attention at the Air Force Museum Swartkop recently. DSTV’s Kyknet channel recently commissioned a documentary series featuring the life and times of many famous South Africans, now deceased. The documentary series entitled “Wie lê daar…” is presented by the “undertaker” and musician Piet Botha of Jack Hammer fame and produced and directed by Gustav Kuhn, who also produced the film “Die ongelooflike avonture van Hanna Hoekom” recently. For three months the film crew trekked across the country to find and film the abodes and sacred last resting places of many famous (and infamous) South Africans, including Shaka Zulu, Mahatma Gandhi, Ingrid Jonker, André Stander, Bles Bridges, Tolla van der Merwe, Hansie Cronje and many others.

   The Historical Research Officer at Swartkop assisted Gustav and his team throughout and provided the producers with a rich historical foundation that tells the fascinating story of van Ryneveld’s life and times in the Air Force. The wonderful visual setting at the museum and collection of photographs and artefacts made a big impression on the film crew. The episode featuring Sir Pierre van Ryneveld promises to be the highlight of the series, which will be aired on DSTV’s Kynet channel during March 2011.

WHO WAS… SIR PIERRE VAN RYNEVELD ?

FATHER OF THE AIR FORCE

  • Born in Senekal on the 2nd of May 1891
  • Educated Grey College, Bloemfontein
  • BA degree University of the Cape of Good Hope (today known as Unisa)
  • B Sc degree University of London
  • Joined the Royal Air Force in 1915 during the 1st World War.
  • Attains the rank of Lt Col and OC of 11th Army Wing within four years of service and earns the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross.
  • His brother John, also a pilot, is killed during the war
  • First person together with Quinton Brand to fly from England to South Africa in a Vickers Vimy called “Silver Queen” in 1920, establishing an air route across Africa.
  • Commissioned by Gen Jan Smuts to organise the establishment of the SAAF, with Ken van der Spuy as his deputy in 1920. • Served as Director Air Services (today known as Chief of the Air Force) from 1920 to 1933 – a total of thirteen years!
  • First person to fly from Pretoria to Cape Town non-stop in 1927 and the first person in South Africa to jump out of an aircraft (with a parachute).
  • 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.
  • Died on 2 December 1972 at the age of 81.

He had one son, John van Ryneveld (also a SAAF pilot). Sir Pierre van Rynveld was cremated and today his ashes are in the custody of Chief of the Air Force at Air Command. Plans are afoot to re intern his ashes to the SAAF Memorial’s - Wall of Remembrance - at Bays Hill during early 2011.

Captain Leon Steyn