South African Military History Society


The 11 October society lecture meeting was dedicated to the subject of art in warfare, with both talks dealing with aspects and examples pertaining to the South African and southern African experience. The curtain raiser centred on the Museum's WW2 art collection, and the speaker was the curator of that collection, Alan Sinclair.

It has been an age-old tradition that artists should accompany the fighting men, and more lately women, to record their exploits and experiences for posterity. Before the advent of photography it was the only method available for doing so. But even in modern times a drawing, painting or sculpture can convey a meaning that a mere photograph cannot. South Africa failed to appoint any official war artists in WW1. But the omission was corrected in WW2, during the course of which a total of eight official artists produced approximately 850 art works, many of which are now on view at the Museum.

An article written by Alan Sinclair, and published in the June edition of the Military History Journal, featured the work of Leslie Thomas Burrage. The evening's talk centred on the work of two other artists, Neville Lewis and Geoffrey Long, chosen because, in the speaker's opinion, they were the most dynamic of the eight.

Lewis was already a well-established portrait painter when he was appointed as South Africa's first was artist, and the success of the war art scheme is ascribed primarily to him. As a portrait painter it was probably inevitable that his first job should be a study of South Africa's Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Forces C-in-C, Field Marshal Jan Smuts. It is recorded that Smuts welcomed his extended sitting as a period of peace and quiet during which be could give his undivided attention to some of the serious problems facing him at the time.

In the course of the war Lewis painted portraits of several famous military leaders, including Montgomery, Alexander, Tedder and Brink, along with those of lower rank representing particular branches of the services. He also designing postage stamps featuring the various branches of the Union forces and their activities.

Geoffrey Long is remembered for his interest in drawing some aspects of the many industrial activities driven by the war, and for the adventurous nature which prompted him to qualify for paratroop wings and have himself dropped behind German lines in Italy to join the partisans.

The human, tragic side of war, about which he felt intensely, particularly influenced him. At the end of the war he entered Germany with the British occupation forces and portrayed some of the damage done by the allied bombing.

Conflict, Weapons and Warfare in the Rock Art of Southern Africa, was the title of the main lecture of the evening, given by Bert Woodhouse.

The origins of weapons and warfare in southern Africa are to be found as far back as the Australopithecine inhabitants of the Krugersdorp area, around 300 000 years ago. The early chips and chunks of stone found along with the evidence of their occupation were refined over hundred of thousands years into the elegant hand axes of the Early Stone Age period. The technique of equipping pointed stones with shafts to make spears was typical of the Middle Stone Age. This period, some 20 000 years ago, was characterised by a "microlithic revolution", which saw the use of small chips as arrowheads for the newly-invented bow and arrow. It is probably about this time that the first rock paintings appeared, and these continued to be produced right up to the 19th century.

There are some 12 000 rock-art sites in South Africa, divided into petroglyphs (engravings in stone) on the Highveld, and paintings on stone in the more mountainous areas. Many of these include scenes of conflict and the use of weapons. Conflict scenes that show both sides using the bow and arrow may be between groups of similar people, or between people of different physique, using different weapons. At a number of sites Bushmen with the bow and arrow confront blacks with shields and assegais. Such scenes always included cattle being driven away from the blacks by the Bushmen. The animal most frequently hunted was the eland. But the Bushmen were also renowned elephant hunters, and a painting in the Queenstown District shows how they used implements resembling pangas to cut the tendons in the elephants' legs.

As blacks, and subsequently whites, depleted the herds of eland, the Bushmen had no choice but to develop into efficient rustlers of cattle. They used their local knowledge of the weather so that the afternoon storms obliterated the spoor of the cattle and horses being driven away into remote mountain valleys where pursuers would have difficulty finding and retrieving them. However, from time to time the pursuers were successful, and the resulting clashes are recorded in the paintings.



8 November
CR Avran Pelunsky - The Russo-Finnish War 1939-40
ML Flip Hoorweg - The Mexican War of 1846
13 December
CR Leslie Ayres - Women Dressed as Men in World War II
ML William Lane - The Anglo-Boer War Diary of Burgher Jack Lane - From Modder River to Paardeburg


8 November
DDH Prof. Mike Laing - Colonel Oscar W Koch
ML Bill Brady - Pearl Harbor: The 60th Anniversary

Cape Town

8 November
Bob Buser - The Bismarck Engagement

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

Contact number in Cape Town: John (Jochen) Mahncke (021) 797-5167

Contact number in Durban: Dr Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983

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