South African Military History Society




The September meeting of the Society started on a sombre note. Our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin announced the sad news that two very distinguished and long serving members of the Society - one from Johannesburg and the other from Durban - had died since the time of the last meeting. KEMSLEY COULDRIDGE, an ex-National Chairman of the Society and until his death a member of the Johannesburg committee, died suddenly in early September. He was just 57 years old. He had visited Durban in August 1996, and gave us an excellent talk on the Battle of Bannockburn, with a promise to visit us more often after his retirement. Now that will not be.

Then Durban committee member Dave Matthews gave a moving address on his friend GEORGE CHADWICK, who had just died at the age of 85. George had a distinguished and wide-ranging career in KwaZulu-Natal. He was a founder member of the local Branch of our Society in 1968 and as a recognized expert on KZN history (and much else besides) he had much to do with the growth of the Society in its early days. Perhaps his finest hour came as recently as 1999 when, as Chairman of the Durban Branch of the KZN Anglo-Boer War Centenary Committee, he was personally involved in ensuring the success of all the centenary commemorations held in the city last year. All members present stood in a minute's silence in memory of both men.

Our DDH talk was on the subject of "The Scott Naval Guns" and was given by fellow-member and former Scribe, John Yelland. It was a great pleasure to welcome John back after illness has kept him away from recent meetings. Using photographic and overhead slides as illustrations, he described how the British Army had started off in the Anglo-Boer War being at a distinct disadvantage when it came to artillery. Their best guns could not match either the range or weight of shell of the Boer guns which included the 75mm Krupps QF, 75mm Creusot QF and the famous 155mm Long Tom guns. Fortunately, for the British, a certain Capt. Percy Scott, RN, who was in command of HMS Terrible, steamed into Southern African waters at the start of the war. He was his way to the Far East China Station via the Cape. He was also the Royal Navy's top gunnery expert and, immediately upon arrival at Simonstown, set about rectifying the problem.

He took the barrels from his l2pdr l2cwt QF anti-torpedo boat guns and mounted them on timber trails, which, in turn, were mounted on to a pair of Cape wagon wheels. These guns were known as the "Long 12's". Initially neither the Royal Navy nor the British Army was interested, but after the hasty withdrawal of his forces to Ladysmith in Natal, Gen. Sir George White, VC, requested that, as a matter of extreme urgency, the Royal Navy provide him with some long-range guns capable of keeping the heavy Boer artillery at bay. Capt Scott obliged by mounting a 4.7in coastal defence gun complete with pedestal on a timber platform comprising railway sleepers bolted together at right angles. To the dismay of both the Navy and the Army, it was successfully fired on the hills overlooking Simonstown and sent post-haste to Ladysmith together with the Long 12's and their respective gun crews. They arrived just before the Boers encircled the town, but unfortunately the number of shells sent with them was limited. Nevertheless, they were instrumental in keeping the heavy Boer guns at bay and saved the town's water supply by successfully shelling Boer attempts at damming the Klip River.

Scott then designed and made a number of mobile 4.7in field guns, which were used initially in the Defence of Durban of which he had been appointed Military Commandant and subsequently by Buller in the various battles along the Thukela River through to the Relief of Ladysmith and in Northern Natal. Scott also designed a 4.7in gun mounted on a railway truck and a heavy 6in gun that was used in the Battle of Pieters Hill. Other inventions included a towing target (drogue) for naval gunnery practice and a searchlight signalling system that was used to communicate with both the besieged towns of Ladysmith and Kimberley.

For his untiring efforts in the field of naval gunnery, Scott was awarded various honours, which ultimately included a KCVO and KCB. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, but due to his abrasive nature, did not last long in his one and only Flag Command. He had predicted the dangers imposed by the use of both submarines and aerial bombing and had fallen foul of his superior officers by stating publicly that the heavy battleships, which at that stage were the pride and joy of the Royal Navy, were consequently obsolete. He had a baronetcy conferred on him when he was retired in 1913, but was brought back into service soon after the start of the Great War. He was largely responsible for the formation of the AntiAircraft Corps that was established to counter the Zeppelin bombing raids on London in 1915 and also for the introduction of Royal Navy's antisubmarine measures. He died in 1924.

It was a pleasure for us all to listen to the enthusiasm John has for this subject, and to remind ourselves of the thanks we all owe him for being the main driver in getting the replica Scott Gun transferred from Portsmouth (UK) to Durban in time for the centenary commemorations in October 1999. That replica is now on permanent display outside the Workshop shopping centre in central Durban and is well worth a visit.

This September marks the l25th anniversary of the birth of Sir Eric Geddes, and Major John Buchan chose the life of this most remarkable man as the subject for our main talk of the evening. Geddes was born in 1875, at Agra in India where his father was involved in the construction of the Indian railways. The family returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880, but young Geddes education led to him being expelled from 6 of the 7 schools he attended. All these schools later regarded him as one of their most distinguished former pupils. His eventual career in railways started in 1895, in India, with narrow gauge Systems. He returned to the UK in 1904 to join the North East railways, where his superb organizing ability and dynamic personality resulted in a meteoric rise by 1911 to Deputy General Manager. In May 1915 he was released to join Lloyd George in the establishment of the much-needed Ministry of Munitions. In June, when assessing machine gun requirements, Lord Kitchener documented for him that the 1892 levels of 24 guns per battalion "should remain". Geddes, the non-soldier, ignored that instruction and arranged large orders and subsidies to increase production. In December 1915 he headed the National Filling Factory Programme for artillery shell production, and his successful implementation of this to meet the deadline of the Somme offensive (1 July 1916) earned Geddes a knighthood.

Then Kitchener's death, in June 1916, resulted in Lloyd George replacing him as Secretary of State for War. A precondition of his appointment was that Geddes and his team would join him. Over initial army opposition, Geddes was appointed Director of Military Railways and a member of the Army Council. Haig shortly requested Geddes to have added responsibility as Director of Transport in France with the rank of Major General. This resulted in large-scale improvements to harbour facilities, inland waterways, roads, mainline railways and the introduction of a narrow gauge railway system between the railhead and the front. In December 1916, Lloyd George - now Prime Minister - created a Ministry of Shipping as a response to the increasing losses from U-boats. When, in April 1917, a visit by Lloyd George to the Admiralty highlighted the unacceptable conditions in naval dockyards and the shipbuilding program, he decided to bring in a civilian with a proven record. Geddes was appointed Controller of the Navy in May 1917, with the added responsibility for civilian shipbuilding as well. The post involved a seat on the Naval Board and at Jellicoe's insistence, naval rank. As Haig still requested transpert advice for the pending Passchendaele offensive, Geddes was, for a few months, both an Admiral and a General.

The continued decline in naval affairs led to Geddes being installed on 17 July 1917 as First Lord of the Admiralty in place of Carson, and as a result convoy systems were extended and general efficiency improved. At this time Geddes also found the time to be elected as MP for Cambridge. In 1918 Geddes was a Privy Councillor and member of the War Cabinet. He made a trip to Northern Russia and then in October 1918 to Washington where he discussed possible peace terms with President Wilson in the White House. In mid December 1918 Lloyd George requested him to co-ordinate the transport logistics for the remaining 3.75m members of the armed forces. He did not return to the navy as in February 1919 he was appointed as Britain's first Minister of Transport and the key task of restructuring the nationalized railway companies was successfully completed when the Railway Act was passed in August 1921. Geddes left public life in February 1922 to become Chairman of Dunlop. In April 1924 he was requested to become the first Chairman of Imperial Airways on a part time basis. In 1937, the Short G class Flying Boats commenced the Empire Mail Service based in Southampton and with Durban as the South African terminus. It is worth remembering that during the 2nd World War, those same Empire Flying Boats flew the famous Horseshoe Route from Durban to Sydney via India, after the closure of the Mediterranean, and provided a valuable transport service.

Sir Eric Geddes died on 22 June 1937 and his ashes were scattered over the English channel from the Flying Boat Canopus. John Buchan ended his fascinating, and at times humorous talk, with an interesting thought on what might have happened to the career of this exceptional man if he had survived to the 2nd World War. As Chairman of Imperial Airways, his involvement in aircraft production and the RAF would have been a certainty and he would have attained high success and high command. This would have meant that this exceptional man would have reached high command in all 3 services, a unique achievement. Having listened to John's talk, all present had no doubt that it would have been an achievement richly deserved.

After a lively question time, in which more interesting facts arose about the life of Sir Eric Geddes,Charles Whiteing gave a warm vote of thanks on behalf of all members present who had enjoyed an unusual and worthwhile evening.


We apologise for the late delivery of the newsletter this month, but a number of delays have occurred that were all beyond our control. We hope you all understand!!

The main talk will be given by Colonel Franz Verfuss and is another example of the wide range of topics that have been a feature of the Society's programs in recent years. He will talk to us on the Psychological War in Border Conflicts. It has been said "Modern Warfare is Psychological Warfare" - and that troops are only used to occupy territory already conquered by psychological action. During SA's border war, psyops played a key role, but due to their political nature, as well as the negative connotations linked to them, very little has ever been written about the war to win the "hearts and minds" of people. Having been involved with psyops since its earliest days, Franz has seen its development from being a purely civic action activity aimed at assisting local governments, to it becoming part of the overall strategy during operations. As a result Franz will be sharing his thoughts on these operations and developments and his talk to us will mainly focus on Sector 10 (Owamboland) and cover the period 1976 to 1988. Should be fascinating.

Our Vice Chairman - Bill Brady - will give the DDH talk and this will be the last in his series of talks on Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, VC. He has a remarkable story to tell. From his home in Umhlanga Rocks, Bill has persuaded his (and Campbell's) home town of Saltcoates in Scotland, to honour their only VC. The ceremony took place in April this year and like all stories of success this one has a marvellous final twist in the tale. Do not miss it!!

THE ANNUAL DINNER: Thursday 14 December 2000

The last gathering of the Society this year will be our Annual Dinner. It is being held, at Lord's Ground on the second Thursday in December. It will be a braai, which will reduce the price from previous gatherings at restaurants and clubs. More details will be provided at the next meeting. Those wishing to attend should make their names known at the next meeting, or contact PAUL MLMARTIN (561 2905 h, 082-449-7227 cell, or 268 7400 w) or BILL BRADY (561-5542) in order to book their places. Again we are hoping for a good turn out of members and friends at what we are sure will be a pleasant and sociable evening.


Please note in your diaries that we have 2 more meetings before the end of the year and our annual dinner. They are:
9 November, where the main talk will be The Battle of Holkrans, and on 11 November (Saturday) for the annual Armistice Day ceremony, starting at 10.30am at The Old fort Shell Hole. See you all there.

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983

South African Military History Society /