World War II pilot Michael Welchman celebrating his 100th birthday with his wife Betty.
World War II pilot Michael Welchman celebrating his 100th birthday with his wife Betty.

World War II air force veteran flies high at 100

By Siphokazi Vuso Time of article published Sep 9, 2020

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Cape Town - World War II recce pilot Michael Welchman was treated to a birthday cake and presents fit for a centenarian alongside his wife Betty when the South African Air Force Association (SAAFA) Whale Coast branch hosted a brief celebration outside the care centre where he lives in Kidbrooke, Onrus.

Welchman, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, joined the SAAF in 1940. He was a second-year medical student at Wits University when World War II broke out.

He obtained his wings a year later, flying Hurricanes and Tomahawks after qualifying as an SAAF pilot.

He was demobilised and sent back to university but he persuaded the SAAF command to be re-enlisted.

Subsequently he was sent to North Africa in September 1941, where he was posted to No 40 squadron.

His eldest grandson, Kieron Alston, said despite being frail and hard of hearing, when his grandfather saw a book about ex-flying colleague Bob Rogers he got excited and said: “Oh, that’s just what I want!”

Welchman’s eldest daughter Jenty Young Welchman, who lives in the UK, described her father as a wonderful storyteller who had enthusiasm for life and interest in people and the world around him.

“It’s also what made him an amazing artist. His career might have been medical, but he almost had a second career in retirement and his paintings are now in homes around the country and the world.

“My parents have been married for nearly 75 years and in all that time we have never heard a harsh or unkind word. They are still in love, and still devoted to each other. We cannot thank them enough for an upbringing that was always caring and peaceful,” she said.

SAAFA Whale Coast branch chairperson Marthie Visser said Welchman’s birthday coincided with the South African Air Force’s centenary celebration of air power/military aviation as well as the 75th birthday celebration of the association.

“It is unfortunate that we will not be able to celebrate this very special day with Michael and Betty in traditional ‘party mode’ due to Covid-19. May every minute of your 100th birthday be filled with everlasting joy and pleasure. You are a very special air force veteran who will always be thought of in the warmest way,” Visser said.

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