Petition launched to award Victoria Cross to black WWII hero

Petition is launched to posthumously award Victoria Cross to black South African WWII hero who snuck aboard Nazi ship and blew it up with bomb he built from a tin of condensed milk – but was denied medal due to his race

  • Job Maseko planted home-made bomb in German freight ship at Tobruk harbour
  • Was awarded the Military Medal for ‘ingenuity’ and ‘disregard of personal safety’
  • British generals nominated him to receive Victoria Cross but move was blocked 

A campaign has been launched to see a black South African Second World War hero who blew up a Nazi ship with a homemade bomb be awarded a Victoria Cross.

British generals nominated Job Maseko for a VC but his South African commanders found the idea of a black man receiving such a prestigious medal ahead of his white peers alarming. 

Instead, he was awarded the Military Medal – the lowest bravery honour at the time – for his ‘ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety’ after he sank the German ship in Tobruk harbour in 1942. 

Now a Somerset man, Bill Gillespie, is fighting to right what he sees as a massive injustice and has started a petition.  

Job used his experience as a miner before the war to make the bomb himself – out of a tin of condensed milk, a long fuse and gunpowder. 

A campaign has been launched to see a black South African Second World War hero be awarded a Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest military honour. British generals nominated Job Maseko for a VC but his South African commanders found the idea of a black man receiving such a prestigious medal ahead of his white peers alarming

Job, who died in 1952 at Springs in the province of Transvaal, served with South African forces as the Allies fought against Rommel’s troops in North Africa. 

Job came from a humble background – when the war broke out he was working as a delivery man 30 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa’s capital. 

Africans were not allowed to enlist in South Africa’s armed forces but the need for large numbers of men to fight prompted a change.

Even though black, Indian, and mixed-race troops were then allowed to enlist from 1940 onwards, their roles were strictly non-combatant.

It meant that only the white troops were initially given military training with actual firearms and rifles.

The only weapons the African troops of the Native Military Corps were allowed to handle were spears – which they used while on guard duty. 

South Africa was then a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, meaning it had full control over its armed forces. 

Instead, he was awarded the Military Medal – the lowest bravery honour at the time – for his ‘ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety’ after he sank a German ship. Now a Somerset man, Bill Gillespie (pictured), is fighting to right what he sees as a massive injustice and has started a petition

Black men were later given rifles and ordered to fight on the frontline despite having a lack of ammunition and training.  

When Tobruk, in Libya, fell to the Germans in June 1942, Job and his comrades were taken prisoner and were tortured by camp guards. 

The Germans separated their prisoners by race – the white troops were sent to Prisoner of War camps in Europe and non-white prisoners were held in Italian camps in Africa.

They were forced to work as manual labourers under horrific conditions. 

The VC is the highest and most prestigious award in the British honours system (file photo) 

Job hatched his bomb plan when he was sent to Tobruk harbour to offload German ships laden with military hardware, ammunition and vehicles. 

He persuaded three fellow prisoners to distract guards while he went below decks to make his bomb. 

Mr Gillespie, of Milverton, Somerset, said: ‘Job created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, some cordite and an extremely long fuse. 

‘On the evening of July 21, 1942 and before they were due off the still overloaded ship, Job placed his home made bomb deep in the hold. 

‘He lit the fuse and ran to join his friends on the dock. 

‘Job waited and a few hours later there was an almighty explosion, Apparently, the ship almost sank immediately.

‘It was a large vessel and would have resulted in a significant depletion of German equipment destined to oppose Montgomery at El Alamein. 

‘It is anyone’s guess, but this small act by a very brave man could well have assisted in the decisive Allied victory by Mongomery’s troops barely three months later. 

‘I think this incident concerning Job Maseko requires addressing and redressing. 

‘I am therefore starting a petition for him to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.’ 

The VC is the highest and most prestigious award in the British honours system. 

It is given for bravery ‘in the presence of the enemy’.  

Job later escaped from the Italian POW camp in Tobruk and walked for three weeks though the desert and enemy lines to El Alamein.

In October 1942, he became a stretcher bearer with the 1st South African Infantry Division in the Second Battle of El Alamein.

He attained the rank of lance corporal during his service.

After the war the Apartheid system, which began in 1948, meant he received a much smaller military pension than his white colleagues.

Maseko was struck and killed by a train on March 7, 1952.

An extract from Job’s Military Medal citation details how Job ‘sank a fully laden enemy steamer – probably an ‘F’ boat – while moored in Tobruk harbour’. Pictured: A file photo of a German F boat

At the time of his death he was so poor that his funeral was paid for by borrowed and donated funds.

He was buried in the Payneville Township Cemetery in Springs, South Africa.

In his honour, the township of KwaThema near Springs has a primary school named after him. The main road linking Springs to KwaThema is also named in his honour.

In 1997, the South African Navy renamed the missile attack craft SAS Kobie Coetzee as SAS Job Masego.

In 2007, South African director Vincent Moloi made a documentary about Job and the South African 2nd Infantry Division called ‘A Pair of Boots and a Bicycle’.

An extract from Job’s Military Medal citation details how Job ‘sank a fully laden enemy steamer – probably an ‘F’ boat – while moored in Tobruk harbour’. 

It adds: ‘This he did by placing a small tin filled with gunpowder in among drums of petrol in the hold, leading a fuse therefrom to the hatch and lighting the fuse upon closing the hatch.

‘In carrying out this deliberately planned action, Job Maseko displayed ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety from punishment by the enemy or from the ensuing explosion which set the vessel alight.’   

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