South African Military 
History Society


It is with deep regret that we announce the death of Bernard Kemsley-Couldridge, a long-serving committee member of the society and a former chairman. Kemsley died on 3 September 2000. He was noted for the many lectures he delivered to the society on the more esoteric aspects of warfare, and particularly for those touching on the love lives of great commanders. Our society will sorely miss his wit and dedication.
Hamish Paterson, Chairman.

Committee-member John Murray gave the curtain raiser at the 14 September lecture meeting. His subject was the one-and-only meeting of the two leading British commanders of the Napoleonic era, Lord Nelson and Major General Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. They were the heroes of that long-drawn-out struggle of Britain and its continental allies, against the empires of revolutionary France and the great soldier who became its emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.

The autumn of 1805 was a time of great peril for Britain. For two years she had been standing alone against the might of the French emperor and the most powerful army in the world. Britain's own army was miniscule by comparison, and would have been unable to withstand the invasion that had been threatening since the war with France had resumed two years before. All that stood between Britain and defeat were the storm-lashed ships of the British Navy, and the resolute determination of its greatest commander, the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, son of a humble Norfolk clergyman.

At the very pinnacle of his powers and popularity, Nelson's reputation was founded on his two spectacular victories over the French at the Nile and Copenhagen. On 19th August he had stepped ashore for the first time in two years of blockading and chasing the numerically superior, but inadequately trained and disciplined French fleet. His one remaining objective in life was to annihilate his country's enemies at sea. This he was to achieve only a few weeks later off Cape Trafalgar, at the cost of his own life.

The 36-year-old Major General Arthur Wellesley was 11 years Nelson's junior. He was the third son of the 2nd Lord Mornington, a heavily-indebted Irish Peer, and younger brother of the 3rd Lord Mornington, Governor-General of India. The young Major General had arrived from India only two days before, where his nine years of victorious service had earned him little publicity in Britain, but enough wealth to make him independent of immediate employment. Both Wellesley and Nelson were waiting for an audience with the secretary for war, Lord Castlereagh, when they met in the early afternoon of 12 September 1805 in an ante-room to the right of the main entrance of the Colonial Office. Nelson was to leave the day after the encounter for his date with destiny, so we only have Wellesley's version of events. He had recognised Nelson, but not been recognised in return, and the meeting was off to a poor start when he was treated to a typical display of the great sailor's egotism. Shortly afterwards Nelson left the room to ask the identity of the haughty, aristocratic, young soldier. On finding out, his attitude changed completely, and for the rest of their time together the two discussed those questions of military and naval strategy that eventually let to the great allied victory at Waterloo a decade later.

December 1900 was a critical period in the career of Lord Kitchener, the newly appointed British General Officer Commanding Africa. Having recently taken over from Lord Roberts it was vital to his hopes of being appointed C-in-C of the Indian Army that he bring the war to a victorious conclusion with all possible speed. He made a dismal start, with three defeats sustained in his first month, the worst being at Nooitgedacht west of Pretoria. To make matters worse, this reverse was largely due to serious inadequacies on the part of his favourite general, Broadwood, and the staff at GHQ over which he, Kitchener, presided. The situation called for a cover-up, which Kitchener proceeded to engineer with considerable ingenuity and total lack of regard for the military reputation of Major General RAP Clements, the officer commanding at Nooitgedacht. His plans were, however, endangered by a boisterous debate in the British House of Commons which led to the issuing of an order to court martial Clements and the officer commanding the forward guard at Nooitgedacht, Captain C Yatman. Because such a public investigation would have been disastrous for his ambitions, Kitchener proceeded to plead with the War Ofice, in cypher, that the order be rescinded. He succeeded, and both accused were deprived of their right to clear their names.

Clements' force, whose objective was to clear the valley at the foot of the Magaliesberg range, had been seriously depleted by the time of the battle, and he had made this clear to headquarters. But his plea for the return of his detached units, and for other reinforcements, was disregarded until it was too late for them to make any difference to the outcome. Captain Yatman, whose forward picquets on the crest of the mountains were inadequate in strength and numbers to cover ground allocated to them, was forced to surrender to the attacking Boers without offering the resistance expected of him. Both considered themselves the victims of other people's bungling.

Kitchener went on to achieve his ambitions. On leaving South Africa he took up the long-coveted appointment of C-in-C India, was promoted to Field Marshal in 1909 and Minister of War in 1914. This was an odd position for a man whose greatest weakness was his neglect of paper work and lack of interest in administration, the very shortcomings mainly responsible for what happened at Nooitgedacht. Had the truth of what happened there been known it is doubtful whether Kitchener could have achieved such heights. Fortunately for him, the truth was to lie buried in the archives until long after his death.



12 October
CR Louis Wildenboer The Paris Gun
ML Hamish Paterson Clive of India: Calcutta to Plassey
9 November
CR Leslie Ayres Women Disguised as Men in War
ML Dr Walter Murton Star Wars


12 October
DDH John Yelland Scot Naval Gun in the Anglo-Boer War
ML Maj. John Buchan Sir Eric Geddes in World War One

Cape Town

12 October
Major Helmoed-Roemer Heitman Africa in Turmoil

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /