South African Military History Society


The main Lecture of the evening "The Gurkhas" was given by John Murray, a committee member of the Society. His subjects are unique in terms of their small stature (average height 1,62 metres); their superb temperament which means that crime, cowardice and desertion in and from the ranks are virtually unknown; their unequalled fighting record that has earned them over 6500 awards and citations for gallantry, as well as caused them to sustain almost 200 000 casualties (including 45 000 dead) in their 184 years of service to the British Crown; and the fact that they come from the impoverished Hindu kingdom of Nepal, which has no record of allegiance or subservience to Great Britain. Unique too is their relationship with their hand-picked British officers (all of whom must learn Gurkhali), which military history records as having been an unrivalled partnership of which the best evidence is that the Brigade's 26 Victoria Crosses have been shared equally between officers and men.

The recruitment of Gurkhas, initially into the army of the British Honourable East India Company and, after 1858, the British Army, commenced in 1816, following the 14 month war between Nepal and Britain, born of the strong mutual regard that developed between tthe adversaries. Their first vital contribution to the Imperial cause was in assisting with the suppression of the Indian mutiny, when the wholesale revolt of Indian sepoy soldiers (the Gurkhas fellow Hindus) left the British precariously outnumbered in the ratio of 11:1. Subsequently 200 000 and 250 000 Gurkhas enlisted in the First and Second World Wars respectively, during which they fought in the great majority of the theatres in which the British were engaged (for which they had invaluable training policing the North West and North East frontiers of India - to and between the World Wars). Nowhere did they serve with greater distinction than in the 1942-5 Burma campaigns in which, although numerically less than 10% of the magnificent Indian Army, they won almost a half of its VCs.

Since the division of the Brigade of Gurkhas between the armies of Britain and India, upon the independence of the latter in 1947, the British entity has made outstanding contributions to ultimate success in the 12 year Malayan Emergency, the four year Indonesian Confrontation and the Falklands War in 1982. Notwithstanding that the Brigade's strength has declined drastically from the 45 infantry battalions of WW2 and the 36 000 men of post-Indian independence to less than 3 400, 300 Nepalese young men still compete for every vacancy in the Brigade during the annual recruiting process in the Himalayan foothills.

Tour report On Saturday, 8 April, a tour took place to the Potchefstroom area with reference to the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 The tour leader was local historian, Professor Gert van den Bergh. The first battlefield visited was that at Frederikstad near the old railway station and adjacent to the old river bridge. Here in October 1900 De Wet planned a brazen but ill-executed attack on General Barton's forces which were at that tinie poorly positioned on two unconnected Koppies in the vicinity. We visited the Boer monument to those killed in the attack. In Potchefstroom we visited the area of the old cemetery (recendy refurbished for the centenary), where the British dead from the area are recorded and where those remaining gravestones have been preserved. A picnic lunch was enjoyed at the historic gold rush town of Venterskroon in the Vredefort Dome area following which a visit was made to the Tygerfontein battlefield where, in September 1900, General Methuen attempted to catch De Wet's commando on the first of his succession of sorties across the Vaal River and into the Transvaal. Our last visit was to the Danie Theron Monument at Elandsfontein where we heard a fascinating account of the circumstances of his death. Following this tour, several requests were received for a repeat visit with Professor van den Bergh to cover Potchefstroom's association with the first Anglo-Boer War and the famous 1880-1881 siege. This will be programmed for later in the year.

Forthcoming Tour - a tour to the Swartruggens/Rustenburg area is scheduled for 13 May. Details will also be on the Website and anyone wanting to join in, is welcome to contact the Scribe or Mike Hardisty (the Tour organiser) at (011)447-8574.


Johannesburg 11 May CR Lyn Miller An Anglo-Boer War Lantern Slide Show


9 March
Philip Everitt The Engineers at War
Frank Bullen All the Queen's Horses and all the Queen's Men

Cape Town

9 March
Major Anthony Gordon The Battle of Pieter's Hill and the Relief of Ladysmith

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

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