One finds very little documented information on the forming of the South African Air Force Association. The original concept formulated in late 1944 was threefold; to continue the spirit and camaraderie of the South African Air Force generated during World War II; to perpetuate the memory of all brave Air Force men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice for their country; and in particular, to assist with the welfare of their widows and children.
Colonel Rod Douglas, a veteran pilot from the 1914/18 Great War, started the Christmas Cheer Fund during 1943, whilst serving as a senior staff officer at SAAF Headquarters. This Fund ensured that all SAAF squadrons and units serving outside the borders of South Africa would be treated to a sumptuous lunch or dinner on Christmas Day. Generous donations to this cause were received from SAAF units remaining in South Africa.
Colonel Douglas had experienced the aftermath of World War I with the plight of the widows and children, and demobilised airmen. He wanted to ensure that this would not happen again when World War II hostilities ceased. To this end, he gathered a group of like-minded airmen and set about creating the South African Air Force Association. Colonel Rod Douglas is acknowledged as the founder of the South African Air Force Association and he served as the first SAAFA National President guiding the Association during its formative years.
An initial meeting was held in Johannesburg on 11 December 1944. Many distinguished airmen were present to be elected as committee members. A draft Constitution was discussed and approved. Principles, objectives and projects were tabled and discussed. The first SAAFA meeting was held at the Inanda Country Club on 26 January 1945. This date is recognised as the founding date of the Association. At an Executive meeting held on 24 April 1945 Branches were approved in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Benoni and Windhoek. The first annual National Congress was held in Johannesburg on 15 June 1946.
Over the years Branches were formed in cities and towns throughout South Africa but some have closed due to lack of support. At present Branches exist in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East Rand, Johannesburg, Lower South Coast, Kimberley, the Lowveld, Windhoek, Outeniqua, Pietermaritzburg, Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Soutpansberg, Stilfontein, and the West Coast. Strong SAAFA groups exists in Dubai, UAE and Shenzen, China.
Close links are maintained with the SA Korean War Veterans Association, the RAF Association, the Council of Military Veterans Organisation and its affiliate military veteran organisations, the SA Legion, the Warsaw Flights Commemoration Committee, the Berlin Airlifters Committee and the Alpine 44 Club.
Soon after the war ended the young Association found itself deeply involved with numerous projects, some of which continue today.
- Numerous children of airmen, who had paid the supreme sacrifice, were educated at schools. In some cases funds were provided for a University or Teachers Training College education. Over the years the demand for the children’s education has diminished and programmes to assist chronic ill members and care of the aged were put in place.
- Welfare grants, food parcels and Christmas cheer have been made to dependants and members.
- Together with the SA Legion improvements in war pensions for ex-SAAF members and their dependants were negotiated. Successful applications for tax exemption for special flying allowances were negotiated as were many other issues requiring the Association to lobby with Government, Provinces and Organisations.
- The Air Force Fund was started during the War to provide funds to donate "Spitfire" aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the cessation of hostilities remaining funds were distributed to Branches and the RAF Benevolent Fund. The Association administered on behalf of the Air Force Fund, funds for the benefit of needy 1939/45 SAAF veterans.
- Housing memorials in the form of blocks of flats were built in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Ex-SAAF men and women in need occupied the flats at sub-economic rentals. These flats are still administered by the three Branches.
- At the suggestion of the Association the first Air Force Memorial was built at the entrance to Waterkloof Air Force Station in 1957. The site proved unsuitable for a number of reasons and again the Association suggested a national Air Force Memorial be built and agreed to contribute half the overall costs. Completed in 1963 the result is the magnificent Air Force Memorial situated on Bays Hill above the old Swartkop Air Force Station. Joint annual memorial services are held in May each year.
- At the suggestion of the Association to the SAAF, citizen force squadrons at Cape Town, Durban, Germiston, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria were formed.
- Continuous liaison and support to the SAAF in peace and conflict as experienced during the Berlin Airlift, the 1947 Royal visit, the Korean War and in South West Africa/Namibia. The interaction with the South African Air Force remains a high priority with the Association.
Today the South African Air Force Association continues the legacy to support ex-Air Force aged and needy; to perpetuate the memory of SAAF men and women killed in the line of duty; to foster Air Force camaraderie; to preserve our Air Force Heritage and to continue dynamic Air Force/Association interaction.