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Historia

On-line version ISSN 2309-8392

Abstract

BOURHILL, James  and  PRETORIUS, Fransjohan. How the story of the South African experience in the Italian campaign was recorded - and distorted. Historia [online]. 2012, vol.57, n.2, pp. 350-377. ISSN 2309-8392.

Despite the best efforts of professional historians attached to the 6th South African Armoured Division, the demands of morale building overwhelmed those of historical accuracy and the true story of the ordinary South African soldier has been left untold. Unsurprisingly, after 67 years individual memories have become distorted, but the cleansing of the national memory began as events were happening. This article explains how the story of the war in Italy was conveyed to the South African public and how propaganda and censorship contributed to the misconceptions which became inculcated in the national consciousness. Contemporary accounts were subjected to censorship and accentuated the positive and post-war literature does little to change these perceptions. Conflicting accounts of the Battle of Chiusi illustrate how language transformed events from a defeat into a triumph of the indomitability of the human spirit. Taboo topics of sexuality, alcohol use, atrocities and battle fatigue are mostly absent from the literature. Conventional wisdom regarding enlistment and the unwillingness to serve is challenged by arguing that almost all formations within the 6th South African Armoured Division, apart from rifle companies, were over-subscribed. An analysis of casualty statistics revealed that the life of an infantryman was indeed precarious, whereas for the ordinary member of the division, death or injury was typically caused by accident.

Keywords : 6th South African Armoured Division; Italy; Second World War; propaganda; censorship; social memory.

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