South African Military History Society



There may have been a number of members who had every intention of travelling to Pietermaritzburg to attend the August meeting of the Society, but for some reason or other decided not to go at the last minute. Distance, we know was one reason why some chose not to attend. However, those who did make the effort, all enjoyed an excellent evening. The Natal Carbineers made the Society most welcome and our meeting was held in the comfortable and very military surroundings of the ante-room of the Officers Mess. In the next room was a bar, ably and efficiently manned by fellow member Major Keith Archibald, and the 33 members who attended were all in jovial form.

Our first speaker (we did not have our normal routine of a DDH to start) was Glenn Flanagan, and she gave a fascinating and detailed talk on The Prince Imperial. Louis Napoleon was the last hope of the Bonapartists and our speaker took us through his life and all the places connected with his short 23 years and the later memorials to him. Glenn's enthusiasin, supported by excellent slides and a masterful narration, made it clear why La Route du Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon and all associated places are so important to the tourism map of KwaZulu-Natal.

Louis Napoleon was born in 1856, the only son of Napoleon III, (who was the nephew of Napoleon I) and his wife - the glamorous and virtuous Spaniard, Eugenie de Montijo. She informed Napoleon III, when he propositioned her, that the only way to the bedchamber was through the chapel !! As Emperor, Napoleon III involved himself in city planning, but his reign was ineffectual and he and his family were forced into exile in England. Prior to the exile, Empress Eugenie encouraged the silk weavers of Lyons by wearing their fabrics in gowns fashioned by the House of Worth. Napoleon III's desire was to incorporate his son, The Prince, into the army, and the child was paraded at military functions from an early age. In exile this was pursued further, by his attending The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he excelled at riding and fencing.

When the news of the British defeat at Isandlwana reached England, The Prince Imperial wrote to the Duke of Cambridge - the Commander-in-Chief of the army - requesting that he be allowed to go to Zululand in the British army. Here he would prove his worth as a soldier. Queen Victoria, who had befriended the family in exile, and ex-Empress Eugenie, supported him in this, and the Prince joined the British expedition to Zululand as an observer and an extra aide-de-camp on Lord Chelmsford's staff. On the fateful 1 June 1879, on a reconnaissance patrol led by Lieutenant J.B. Carey, Louis was caught in an ambush on the Ityotyozi River and killed. All seventeen of the wounds he received were in the front of his body. In England the shock occasioned by his death exceeded that of Isandlwana. Lt. Carey was courtmartialled.

The horse that The Prince Imperial had been riding was Percy, a grey bought in Durban from Meyrich Bennett, who warned that the horse was skittish. The Prince's second horse was ominously called Fate. It was Percy, plunging in alarm, which the Prince was trying to mount when the Zulu's attacked. A saddlebag strap broke as the Prince clutched at it for support. The next day, when the Prince's body was recovered, the first funeral rites were held at Itelezi camp. With an escort of Natal Mounted Police, the body was taken to Pietermaritzburg where it lay in state in St Mary's Church before being shipped back to England. The ex-Empress Eugenie made a pilgrimage to Zululand in 1880 to visit the scene of her son's death.

Glenn continued her talk with a wide range of beautifully prepared slides, which enabled her to illustrate places and objects in KwaZulu-Natal with a French connection. This included the statue of Piet Retief, who was of direct French Huguenot descent, and, near the site of the Prince Imperial's death, the Uqweqwe Secondary School which has benefited substantially from those interested in maintaining the French connection and where the French language is taught to students at the school. The slides brought to an end a talk that was infectious in its commitment to the memory of The Prince Imperial.

After the break, our second speaker Steve Watt gave his talk on a Statistical Analysis of the Deaths of the Imperial Soldiers in the Anglo-Boer War. Much of the content of this talk was taken from Steve's own book "In Memoriam" which was recently published by The University of Natal Press. Our speaker started his talk with a summary of the Anglo-Boer War, which he described as the largest war in which Great Britain was involved between the Crimean and the First World Wars. It was a war that had a profound effect upon the lives of all the people of South Africa, as despite both sides believing that it would be over by Christmas 1899, it developed through three phases into the largest war fought on what later became South African soil. The three phases were firstly the initial Boer offensives, then secondly the relief of the besieged towns of Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking and the subsequent British offensives to take the Boer states of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and finally after the British thought that they had already won the war, the prolonged phase of guerilla warfare.

Steve used these different phases to identify the various casualty rates, not only of the Imperial soldiers but included detail on the deaths of both the Boers and the blacks. In particular he referenced the total impact on the black population, who worked for and fought for both sides in the conflict, despite an initial agreement by both sides that black men would not play an armed combatant role. Those not involved directly with the war also suffered severely. Thousands were thrown out of work due to the closure of the gold mines, and many thousands of others had their livelihoods destroyed by the scorched earth policy in phase three. By the end of the war 116,000 blacks were taken to concentration camps to clear the country and to obtain labour for the British forces and it is estimated that at least 14,000 black people died in the camps. At the same time it is estimated that nearly 27,000 Boers ( men, women and children ) died in the camps during phase three, compared with the total male Boer deaths on commando of 7,000 throughout the whole war.

Steve, however, concentrated on the deaths of Imperial soldiers and how these deaths occurred. Imperial soldiers came from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa and total deaths reached 23,000 with a further 1,500 deaths from wounds in the years after the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging. Medical support for the Imperial soldiers was underestimated from the outset. The Royal Army Medical Corps had only been established in 1898 and its first test in a major conflict highlighted its inefficiency, before 500 civilian surgeons were appointed together with a large number of medical and nursing volunteers. Responsive medical help to the wounded and dying was impacted by a massive outbreak of enteric ( now known as typhoid ) fever. This became the major killer of the army during the war with two out of every three deaths due to the fever. Steve explained that typhoid fever was caused by the high risk of contamination of food and water when large numbers of troops were held in standing camps or were part of a slow moving army. He quoted the Battle of Magersfontein when there was a long period when British troops were static at the Modder River Station, and later at Paardeberg. By the time that the army marched on Bloemfontein, between 4000 - 6000 men were hospitalised with the fever, out of a force of 34,000 men. The conditions under which the men were treated led to a British MP sending emotional letters to The Times newspaper m London. That publicity led to a Commission of Enquiry, which heard its evidence before the end of the war, and this led to considerable improvements in the organization of British medical support in the field.

Our speaker also gave details on how the British army buried their dead and how they made special arrangements to draw up a list of all graves showing the names and numbers of those buried in each grave. As this was done, the graves of Boer soldiers were included. The sites of all cemeteries were documented, a plan drawn and a list of names compiled. It was made clear that it was not always easy to identify each soldier prior to burial, so the records at the time were not always accurate. After the war a number of organizations were established in order to provide records of fallen soldiers and to care for the graves of both sides. These included the Guild of Loyal Women of South Africa and The Soldiers Graves Association. Later, during the 1940's new bodies were formed like The Historical Sites and War Graves Advisory Committee, which was eventually taken over by the South African War Graves Board. Steve also covered the work done by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The National Monuments Council.

Looking at The Anglo-Boer War from its medical aspects, gave us all a different perspective on the war. Steve ended his talk with a fascinating set of graphs, which provided death comparisons from action in battle, accident and from disease by location, rank, cemetery, etc. These included, for example, the details of accidental deaths with 250 drowned, 60 accidentally shot, 95 in railway accidents, 60 hit by lightiring, 30 from alcoholic poisoning etc. The comparisons between "klled in action" ( KIA ) and "died of disease" ( DOD ) proved even more interesting. For example in Bloemfontein cemetery there are 1,655 graves, of which DOD were 1625 and KIA just 30. The comparisons showed that non-commissioned soldiers had a much higher chance of being DOD, although of the 450 Lieutenants that died in the war, 350 were KIA and 150 DOD. Of the 250 Captains that died, 190 were KIA and 60 DOD. From March 1900 to May 1902, there were only 2 months when the total forces KIA was higher than DOD, a poignant thought to end a most thought provoking and fascinating talk.

Our Vice Chairman, Bill Brady, ended the evening with a vote of thanks to the Natal Carbineers for their generous hospitality, to all who had made the effort to attend ( especially those from Durban ) but particularly to our 2 speakers who provided all at the meeting with two very different, but equally enthralling subjects for their presentations.After our meeting in Pietermaritzburg last Month, the September meeting returns to our regular meeting place at the University of Natal.


Major John Buchan will give the main talk of the evening. His subject will be Sir Eric Geddes, who had a highly influential role during both World Wars. During the 1st World War he was appointed to control the supply of munitions under Lloyd George and was responsible, for example, for correcting the major shortfall in the number and quality of artillery shells and corrected the short supply that had dogged the campaigns of Field Marshall Sir John French in 1915. After the War, his career included a time as 1st Lord of the Admiralty, but he specialised in the development of air transport, work that was to have a highly beneficial impact during the 2nd World War. He also had a substantial influence in Natal, due to his role with flying boats and the development of Durban as a major centre for flying boat activity during that war. To day he is a little remembered figure in history, but in his time he was a distinguished and influential figure, and it is right that his career should be reviewed for the Society.

The DDH will give us all a chance to welcome John Yelland back to our meetings. John, who for many years was the Society's excellent scribe, was present at our meetings on a most regular basis. As many of you will know, John has been too ill to attend our meetings for about a year, and after being the guiding influence in getting the replica gun installed outside The Workshop in Durban in time for the 1899 centenary last year, he will talk to us on The Scott Naval Guns of the Anglo-Boer War.


14 September DDH: Scott Naval Guns in the Anglo-Boer War John Yelland
MAIN: Sir Eric Geddes Maj John Buchan
12 October DDH: F.O. Kenneth Campbell VC, Remembered Bill Brady
MAIN: Psychological War in Border Conflicts Col. Franz Verfuss
9 November DDH: General Patton's Poems and Prayers Prof. Mike Laing
MAIN: The Battle of Holkrans Johan Wassermann
11 November Armistice Day Ceremony, with The MOTHs Paul Kilmartin
(Saturday) - at Old Fort Shellhole (10.30am)
8 December ANNUAL DINNER: A Braai at Lord's Ground 7.00pm for 7.30 pm
Further details in next month's newsletter

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

South African Military History Society /