The story of Second Lieutenant Robert George Hamilton 2/Lt South African Air Force as told by Travis Koggel at the 2018 Remembrance Service.
Lieutenant Robert Geog Hamilton was a Jeppe Boy who attended the school from 1936 – until 1940. He was born on the 23 of May 1923, he went to Jeppe prep and lived at 4 Medusa street in Kensington. Robert joined the South African Air Force straight out of school and obtained the rank of 2/Lt in the 31st bomber squadron.
The story of Robert George hamilton’s death is one of sacrifice, bravery and rembrance.
On the first of August 1944, the Polish Home Army rose up against the occupying forces of the 3rd Reich in what has become known as the Warsaw Uprising which was to last until the 2nd of October with their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Nazis . The uprising was part of a nationwide uprising called Operation Tempest, launched at the time of the Soviet Lublin–Brest Offensive. The main Polish objectives were to drive the Germans out of Warsaw while helping the Allies defeat Germany. An additional, political goal of the Polish Underground State was to liberate Poland’s capital and assert Polish sovereignty before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control.
During the uprising, the allied forces including the South African Air Force (SAAF) which was at that time-based in Brindisi (Italy) carried out missions of mercy by airdropping supplies to the besieged Polish Home Army. One of the Squadrons was the 31st SAAF Squadron Of Which Robert George Hamilton was part, being a co pilot of a Flying Liberator B-24 bomber.
Late on the evening of August 14, 1944, Robert Along with other members of 31 and 34 Squadron took off on a supply drop mission for Warsaw. While on route to Warsaw his plane came under fire from 6 anti aircraft guns at 1200 feet above Prague and again when approaching Warsaw. They reached Warsaw just before dark. The crew received an order to take a flight from the south to the north along the Vistula river. After passing 2 bridges along the river: the diametrical and Kierbedzia, it was necessary for the plane to turn leftover central Warsaw and make the supply drops.
While flying In the vicinity of the Cathedral, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire (Apparently from the Russians and not the Germans). After the cargo was dropped over Grzybowski Square, the commander of the plane Captain Jack Van Eyssen seeing the damage to the plane decided to head to the areas occupied by the Red Army. During this time, two crew members were hit by bullets and where killed. The second engine started to burn over Skaryszewski Park and the decision was made to abandon the plane. During this time 4 Crew members managed to parachute out of the plane but the plane was losing altitude very quickly dropping from 1000 to 400 feet.
During this time it was noticed from the people on the ground that the plane was in trouble and made a noticeable effort to steer the plane away from a built-up area and direct it to an open park away from civilians. After the plane was redirected co-pilot Robert George Hamilton and the first pilot Jack Van Eyssen jumped from the plane.”
Having spent the extra time steering the plane from the built-up area to the park there not enough altitude as Robert’s parachute took longer to open than expected and he fell to his death. His captain had more luck and managed to parachute to safety behind the Soviet lines. The body of Lieutenant Hamilton and the charred bodies of his fellow two pilots from the same plane were buried in the area where their plane eventually crashed in a forest called Józefów just outside Warsaw. Later his and his fellow crew mates were transferred to the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow.
During the Warsaw uprising, the Polish scout movement was heavily involved in attempting to through off the yoke of Nazi oppression during the uprising and one of the troops was based in the same forest where there plane crashed. It was this troop that later built a monument to honour the South African Pilots who assisted in the Warsaw uprising but in this specific case, they took it a step further by renaming there troop the Robert George Hamilton Scout troop.
The reason for this is that it came to be know that by steering his plane away from the built-up area, not only had Robert and his pilot saved the lives of civilians by this act but Robert had also paid the ultimate sacrifice in this last act of his. The monument built marks the exact spot where a SAAF Liberator crashed in flames at midnight on 14 August 1944. It was erected to the memory of three airmen who died there that night.
In 2008 the school received a surprise visit by the Robert George Hamilton Polish Scout troop.
Up until that point, the school did not know the story of how Robert died or the fact that a Polish scout troop had named itself after him. It was through their action and further research we where are to provide to you his personal record.
The scouts at the time wanted to know why a person would put themselves at risk to help people they do not know, it was during their research they came across the motto of Roberts school “Nothing is to difficult for the brave” and see the school that produced such a brave person and in a small way wanted to share his story and sacrifice in the hopes that the world never has to have such sacrifice happen again.
2nd/lt Robert George Hamilton SAAF. Jeppe High School for Boys class of 1940 Duiker House
We will remember them.
- L.Isemonger. “The men who went to Warsaw” African Aviation Series No.12.
- Jeppe High School for Boys Museum Archives pupil register.