By Peter Petter-Bowyer
A very colourful character in RRAF times was Noompie Phillips. He was one of a number of WW2 pilots who we, then junior officers, held in awe. I must say though that Noompie was seen to be something of a clown who never appeared to take life too seriously.
He was well known for his miners’ ‘Five Stamp Mill’ act in which occasionally he inveigled both willing and unwilling officers to participate after dinner on dining-in nights. As I recall, with referee’s whistle in hand and taking no notice whatever of rank (once including the Federal Governor-General), Noompie nominated a three man ore-face shovel gang, three men with sledge hammers to crush ore, two wheelbarrow pushers, five mechanical stamp mill crushers, a conveyer belt operator, two minders of the gold separating Jameson Table and three amalgam smelters who also filled gold ingot moulds. To each element was given the load noise applicable to their function such as ‘wa-doom’ to be shouted in turn as each of the five mill stamp crushers struck rock. At the sound of the Mine Manager‘s (Noompie's) first shrill whistle the diggers started their imagined thrust and throw of soil onto the barrows shouting ‘pagamisa – lasha’. The second whistle got the sledge hammers going followed by the barrow boys moving with loud screeching for un-oiled wheel axles – and so it went until the whole line was working and ‘noising’ loudly. Then came the mine manager’s exhortation to greater effort “checha wena – faga motto” whereupon everyone went up a pace or two.
Observing the mess-kit-clad mine manager Noompie and his working gang was akin to watching one of those now famous BBC Goon Shows. It was amazing to witness our Air Force Commander and other senior officers rushing about and shouting at ever increasing volume and pace until the final whistle blew and the order ”chaile” allowed breathless men to straighten aching backs and wipe volumes of sweat from brows. Whereas this allowed the likes of me to believe those crazy stories of WW2 mess games and antics, it certainly raised serious questions in the mind about leadership sanity within the very force I had chosen to serve.
I think I was a Flying Officer when I went to Noompie's office for some purpose that I cannot now recall. He was Station Adjutant (this was well before the post became know as Station Administration Officer). When I walked into his office Numpie was sitting behind his desk with brow in hand shaking his head. As I saluted him he rose abruptly, scooped up a large pile of files on the left side of his desk and, shouting loudly, threw them into the air with such energy that some actually impacted the high ceiling. Startled by his shouting, Noompie's secretary rushed from her office and looked upon the files scattered on the floor with an expression of amazement that must have equalled mine. Noompie very politely proclaimed, “I feel better now,” and asked his secretary to be a dear and sort out the mess. Then turning to me he asked, “So what is it I can do for you today?”
There are many untold stories of Noompie; though not one of them would ever involve threatening behaviour because he was a gentle individual whose ‘different’ thought processes caused him to occasionally act in a manner no other person could have dreamed up. In fact this trait undoubtedly worked extremely well for him when his Typhoon was shot downed behind enemy lines in 1945. So many years have passed since I first heard two separate accounts of this story; so my details may not be strictly accurate. Nevertheless I know the essence of what follows is correct.
Having parachuted and landed without injury, Noompie's immediate concern was to get as much distance as possible between his parachute and the near-by smoking wreckage of his aircraft. Unlike most other pilot, he also wanted distance between his uniform and all other items of clothing that might give him away to the German soldiers then moving towards his location.
Stark naked he went to the nearest farm and was met at the kitchen door by the farmer’s wife. Her natural surprise and embarrassment was quickly overcome by realisation of Noompie's identity. His knowledge of Afrikaans and hers of Flemish permitted a verbal interchange that allowed Noompie to understand he must hide in the barn and for her to know he wanted well-used working overalls and worn out boots. Once dressed in the items she found for him, Numpie collected four ordinary builder’s bricks which he arranged in a vertical stack then wrapped them in brown paper.
Assuring the woman he was suitably equipped to evade capture, and gratefully accepting her offer of a small parcel of food, Numpie set out to find the Germans who were looking for him. Uttering strange guttural sounds he walked directly to the senior man and greeted him in a screwed up manner that only Noompie could dream up and enact. The German saw this apparently dumb-mute half-crazed man, who placed a parcel on the ground and gesticulated an offer to sell his four prized bricks, as a damned nuisance. So the German chose to ignore him and simply moved on. Encouraged by this, Noompie approached every patrol and road block along his route with his huge crooked smile, grunts and waving arms to unwrapped the bricks which he always attempted to sell to the most senior man present. Every time without fail he was allowed to go his mad-man’s way and eventually came to the Dutch coast where he found a route back to Allied lines. Crazy maybe, but brilliantly successful.==================================================================================
Text by Peter Petter-Bowyer and photo by Noeleen Green daughter of Noompie. Thank you both.
Posted: May 22, 2008
I had to post this from the ORAFS website as it shows the true Rhodesian spirit that I recall so well. Real men!!!
Gordon Shaw thanks to Eddie Norris for his great site on what was a wonderful Rebel Air Force.
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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