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Leonard Beyers
File:Leonard Beyers.jpg
Nickname Len
Born (1894-01-22)22 January 1894
Died 15 April 1959(1959-04-15) (aged 65)
Place of birth Kimberley, Cape Colony
Place of death East London, Eastern Cape
Allegiance  South Africa
Service/branch South African Army
Years of service 1913–1954
Rank Lieutenant General
Unit Royal Scots Fusiliers
Commands held Chief of General Staff, Union Defence Force
Battles/wars Bondelswart Rebellion
Relations Evelyn Alice Jess Hunter (wife), a son and a daughter

Lieutenant General Leonard Beyers was a South African soldier. Although he never saw active service in the field during the two world wars, he became Chief of the General Staff. He resigned after only a short time in this position citing the interference in military matters, by Minister of Defence FC Erasmus, as the reason for his resignation.[1]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Leonard Beyers was born in Kimberley, Cape Colony on 22 January 1894 to Pieter Gerhard Beyers and his wife, Anna Maria Elizabeth Bredell.[1]

Military career[edit | edit source]

After his schooling he followed a career in the army. In 1913 he was attached to the Royal Scots Fusiliers with whom he trained while they were at Roberts Heights. After his initial training he was commissioned in the Witwatersrand Rifles.[1]

In 1914, after four months service at the Military School in Bloemfontein, he was appointed to the Permanent Force with the rank of lieutenant.[1]

He served as adjutant of units in Bloemfontein, Standerton and Cape Town. In 1915, at the latter posting, he was promoted to the rank of captain.[1] He was stationed in Cape Town for the greater part of World War I.[1]

In 1917 he was transferred to Johannesburg and in 1918 he became deputy assistant adjutant-general at Defence Headquarters, Pretoria.[1]

While he was a staff officer to the Cape Peninsula Garrison in 1922, he saw active service on the only occasion in his entire life. He served as a member of the force which suppressed the Bondelswart Rebellion.[1]

He acted as aide-de-camp to the Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone in 1924–25.[1]

He then attended staff courses in England.[1]

On his return in 1927 he was appointed officer instructor at the Military College at Roberts Heights. In the next four years he acted on occasion as commandant of the College and of Roberts Heights. This gave him the opportunity to develop his abilities as a military leader.[1]

In 1928 he was promoted to the rank of major and as a result of his increased responsibilities he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1930.[1]

In 1931 he was appointed commanding officer of No. 5 Military District Pretoria.[1]

In 1932 was appointed director (military) of Prison Services. As a result of this move he was placed on the reserve of officers.[1] According to the 2005 Jali Commission, the military nature of the pre-1994 South African Prisons Service was put in place with the appointment of General Beyers as Director of Prisons during World War II (sic). The structure, mode of dress and the institutional culture was military in every respect, indicated by a rank structure similar to that used in the army and the requirement that non-commissioned members salute commissioned members.[2] The demilitarisation of the correctional system was finally effected by the post-Apartheid government on 1 April 1996.[3]

In 1937 he returned to the Permanent Force as assistant commandant-in-chief, Burger Commandos. Later that year he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general.

The outbreak of World War II he relinquished his post in favour of becoming director-general of the Defence Rifle Association, a post he held for almost a year before becoming Adjutant-general. He visited South African troops in the Middle East and acted as Chief of the General Staff when General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was in North Africa.

He gave up his post as Adjutant-general in 1945 owing to ill health and was placed on the retired list four months later.[1]

His retirement was short lived, however, for in 1949 he was appointed Acting Chief of the General Staff with the rank of lieutenant-general.[1]

On 2 May 1949 he succeeded Van Ryneveld as Chief of the General Staff. He only remained in this position for a short time, resigning on 15 March 1950. The reason for his resignation was the interference in military matters and appointment of staff without consultation by F.C. Erasmus, the Minister of Defence.

Before resigning he had lengthy correspondence with both Erasmus and the Prime Minister, DF Malan on the matter:[1]

My resignation was in fact tendered as far back as November 1949, in protest against the unconstitutional and unwarranted interference in the functions of the Chief of General Staff who, in fact and in law, is the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in South Africa. The facts are that the Minister sought to change the strategic dispositions of units and to appoint, promote, and transfer both officers and other ranks, without sufficient knowledge of their qualifications and without reference to the General Staff, of which I was the head. Without reference to me, he created posts for the absorption of persons in whom, irrespective of their unsuitability or otherwise, he personally reposed political confidence. Political ambitions ... should not be allowed to intrude into the responsibility of command and functions of military organizations..[4]

In 1954 he was once again placed on the retired list.[1]

The fact that at times he acted as Chief of the General Staff during World War II indicates that Van Ryneveld had immense trust in his abilities. However, Van Ryneveld was such a dominating personality that any meaningful delegation of his authority was never even discussed.[1]

Medals[edit | edit source]

During his career he was awarded the British War Medal for his services during World War I, and the War Medal 1939-45 and Africa Service Medal in World War II.[1] Probably because he never saw active service in the field during the two world wars he would not wear ribbons on his uniform.[1]

Family life[edit | edit source]

He married Evelyn Alice Jess Hunter and had a son and a daughter.[1]

Death[edit | edit source]

He died in East London, Eastern Cape Province on 15 April 1959.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Pierre van Ryneveld
Chief of the General Staff of the Union Defence Force
Succeeded by
C L de W du Toit

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