Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit

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The Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit is a unit founded during the Second World War to entertain South African troops.

Also referred to as the U.D.F. Entertainment Unit, UDF Entertainment Unit or the Union Defence Force Entertainment Group.

(The unit or group is also referred to as the South African Defense Force Entertainment Group by Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies in their online index (and possibly elsewhere), which is strange since the actual article by Swift referred to uses the name "The Union Defence Force Entertainment Group in South Africa". Possibly to adapt to the later name for the Defense Force and its entertainment branch, and to avoid misunderstanding by readers unfamiliar with the old name.)

For the general principle, see Military Entertainment

Origins of the Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit

During the early years of the second world war the South African Women's Auxilliary Services (SAWAS)[1] organised voluntary "concert parties" (the name used to refer to entertainment units housed within military units) at the various military camps in the Union. From this came the idea of having a formally and centrally organised entertainment unit for the entire Union Defence Force (UDF)[2]. According to Swift (1974) this was first suggested by a Colonel G. Newman, who felt that entertainment was a vital necessity in the battle against boredom which inevitably existed in military camps in the Union. He was supported in this by Major-General F.H. Theron, the UDF Adjudant General, and having found approval from Field Marshal Smuts, they appointed Major Myles Bourke, the founder of the Pretoria Repertory Theatre and a well known amateur actor, as the Chief Entertainment Officer for the UDF in 1940.

Originally designated as the No. 19 Reserve Transport Company,

In a memorandum outlining his scheme for troop entertainment, Bourke stressed that the main object of an entertainment unit was to ensure at least one good concert per week in every camp in the Union, and to ensure that the entertainment was of the highest quality. He pointed out that this was only possible if the entertainment was centrally controlled as a military undertaking, and not undertaken on a voluntary basis as before. It required a Chief Entertainment Officer at its head who could hold himself responsible for the type of entertainment offered and the discipline of the formally appointed artists. With one head the concert parties could visit all camps throughout the Union on specific itineraries, and not only those camps nearby the organizing volunteer company.


During February 1941, Bourke asked for the transfer of specified members of the Potchefstroom Camp Concert party, which he had seen in their famous revue "Springbok Frolics", which had contributed £3,435 to the war fund. They became the core of nucleus of the Entertainment Unit and consisted of Frank Rogaly, who was made Chief Production Officer, F. Stuart Needham, G. Marriott, Lionel Roche and G. Walker. Shortly after they were joined by Arthur Swemmer.

Two more concert parties, besides Springbok Frolics, were rehearsed at Bourke's residence. They were called the "Gypsies", who left on tour in April 1941, and the "Crazy Gang" (Swift lists them as the "Crasy Gang"), who left for a Union tour in May 1941.

In November 1941, Bourke flew from South Africa to Cairo to investigate the possibilities of sending South African concert parties to the Middle East. He was accompanied by Lieut Mrs Sybil Gaiger.

Founded in 1940 by Major Myles Bourke it employed entrepreneurs such as Frank Rogaly and Leo Quayle as organisers and directors. Rogaly’s first wartime revue, Springbok Follies was a produced at the Empire Theatre in 1941 and played to capacity, before it went north to the front. ***** Among the individuals involved in the Unit who would later return to make an impact on theatre in the country were Frank Rogaly, Gordon Mulholland, Sidney James and musical directors Leo Quayle and Harry Rabinowitz. Neville Phillips. Among the shows put on were ****.After the war, the Unit continued as ***??

See also

ENSA; ME Live Entertainments Committee; Union Defence Force Band; SAAF Band, SAWAS


Cliff Goodwin. 2011. Sid James: A Biography. London: Random House

Neville Phillips. 2008. The Stage Struck Me! Leicester: Troubador Publishing Ltd.

Swift, M.1974. "The Union Defence Force Entertainment Group in South Africa (World War II)". Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, [S.l.], feb. 2012. ISSN 2224-0020. Available at: <http://scientiamilitaria.journals.ac.za/pub/article/view/935/946>. Date accessed: 24 May. 2015.

Ivor Markman. "South African Women's Auxiliary Services"[[3]]


Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.


Temple Hauptfleisch (ed.). 1985a. The Breytie Book: A Collection of Articles on South African Theatre Dedicated to P.P.B. Breytenbach. Johannesburg: The Limelight press.[4]

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