NEWSLETTER NO. 315
This year, by the kind favour of the Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel Pat Accutt, MMM, JCD, 43 members visited the Headquarters of one of KwaZulu-Natal's oldest and most distinguished regiments - The Natal Mounted Rifles. The N.M.R was founded in 1854, and has served South Africa through every campaign since then. We were privileged to be given free access to the HQ and their newly opened Regimental Museum, both of which are now housed in the historical Old Stamford Hill Aerodrome Buildings, close to the Durban Country Club.
We were welcomed by Warrant Officer A. May, and then by Lt. N. Lewis-Walker, who addressed us on the history of the Natal Mounted Rifles, especially referring to diaries written during the Bambatha Rebellion and to a range of letters he is currently studying. The N.M.R dates its inception from a meeting held on 23 March 1854 when a force of 8 officers and 40 men was formed. At this time, Durban was a place of swamps, sand and bush. Durban proper centred around the Old Fort area, while the Point, Congella, and Umgeni were outlying settlements. The white population was 1, 204 but the number of African residents was not recorded.
Earlier, short-lived units had been raised to provide a military presence. These included the Durban Mounted Rifles and the Victoria Mounted Rifles and they led to the establishment by Lieutenant Governor Pine, and assisted by James Proudfoot, of volunteer units such as the N.M.R. The training of the NMR at that time took place on horseback in the market square, while shooting practice was carried out on the racecourse. A drill sergeant from the 45th Regiment directed operations. The Ranger Race and the Ranger Ball provided social occasions.
The N.M.R first saw action against Chief Mdushane of the Baca people, when the chief was accused of stocktheft. A show of force, led by Pine, resulted in his being fined over 1,000 head of cattle. In 1888 various coastal units, namely the Victoria Mounted Rifles, the Alexandria Mounted Rifles, the Durban
Mounted Rifles, and the Umzimkulu Mounted Rifles, were amalgamated into the NMR with the strength of one regiment. Colonel Friend Addison commanded the right wing and Colonel Bru-de-Wold the left wing.
At this point, Lt. Lewis-Walker skipped the involvement of the N.M.R in the Anglo-Zulu War (at Nyezane) and the Anglo-Boer War (during the siege of Ladysmith). Later, during our tour of the museum we saw an old photograph, in excellent condition, of the N.M.R troop that guarded General Sir George White at Ladysmith. Instead, our speaker then went on to consider N.M.R action during Chief Bambatha's Rebellion in 1906, since he was studying diaries written at the time. During this rebellion, the N.M.R, all local volunteers, fought at the Mome Gorge where Bambatha Zondi was killed and decapitated.
The beginning of World War I saw the N.M.R as the 3rd Mounted Rifles (N.M.R), in action against German troops in South West Africa. The name N.M.R. was eventually reinstated in 1932. The N.M.R. men were all mounted infantry, armed with swords and rifles. They also used Maxim and later Vickers
machine guns. Between the two World Wars, the N.M.R. became a mechanised unit.
World War II saw further action for the N.M.R and had an anti tank troop added to its resources. The regiment campaigned against Italian forces as it moved through Abyssinia and then against German troops in the Western Desert. There they opposed Rommel in armoured cars and with Stewart and Sherman tanks, and were involved in all the main battles. During question time reference was made to the part that Warrant Officer Edwin Swales (as he then was) made as an infantryman in this campaign, and who later won a famous VC as an SAAF Captain when seconded to RAF Bomber Command as a Pathfinder Master Bomber. Most of the regiment moved on to fight in the Italian campaign and it was in Italy that the war ended for the N.M.R. Post World War II saw the N.M.R return to the safer world of peacetime operations, with training camps, gymkhanas, shooting competitions and the training of both Pipe and Brass bands. Hostilities in Namibia and Angola later involved the N.M.R. with some members of the regiment being the first to enter Angola, by mistake.
The N.M.R. went through a lean time after national service was abolished. There were no regulars coming forward and only a skeleton staff was maintained. However, 4 years ago plans were afoot to train a leader group with a view to the introduction of voluntary national service. A candidate for this service would be required to have a matriculation certificate, appear before a selection board and would, if successful, receive training locally. Every regiment would be responsible for recruiting and training, especially in tank warfare. On this basis we can expect to see the firm re-establishment of this illustrious regiment, and our speaker ended on this note of optimism.
The meeting took place in an elegant room, which not surprisingly had a very military feel about it. When our speaker had finished, he found that he had a very knowledgeable audience and a most interesting question time rounded off this part of our visit to the N.M.R HQ.
Before we went to visit the newly opened Regimental Museum, Lt Lewis-Walker explained the efforts that had been, and were still being made to ensure that the regiments legacy, in terms of old photographs, medals, uniforms, maps, letters, and much more besides, were kept safe and in good order. He then told us all the sad story of some recent damage caused to their valuable effects by heavy rain. Powerful rain storms had caused water to get through their flat roof and had caused damage to a number of their old displays. Worse than this was that many of the regiments prized possessions had been stored in their basement, as plans were being put in place for them to go on future display. With the rains the basement was flooded and many of the effects had been damaged beyond repair. Despite that unfortunate background, the visit to the Regimental Museum was impressive. What they have is well set out and many old uniforms, paintings, maps, medals, military equipment and photographs, including the one in Ladysmith mentioned above, gave us all a real sense of the reality of the history of the N.M.R that we had just listened to. After lingering at the museum, the members were then entertained in the sergeant's mess, which also has an excellent display, and before the social part of our excellent evening became too loud, our chairman, Paul Kilmartin, gave a heartfelt vote of thanks to our hosts from the N.M.R for their generous hospitality and another successful Base Visit.
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : September to November 2001
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
THURSDAY 16 AUGUST 2001
PLEASE NOTE : Due to the 2nd Thursday in August (9th August) being a Public Holiday, the August meeting of the Society will be held on the 3rd Thursday - 16th August.
Once again it will be a real pleasure to welcome FIONA BARBOUR as our main speaker for the August meeting. FIONA is an expert on all history related matters in Kimberley and she is coming to talk to us about an unusual soldier who is buried in Kimberley. The title of her talk is "Sergeant Thomas Lane ('ex' VC)". Sergeant Lane is one of only eight winners of the VC who, on committing a crime after winning the VC, was forced to forfeit his award. However, after the 1st World War, King George V announced in 1920 that "no matter the crime ... the decoration should not be forfeited". He added "...even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the scaffold".
One of those so pardoned was Sergeant Lane and it will be fascinating to listen to all the research that FIONA has done on this unusual soldier. She is travelling all the way from Kimberley to give this talk, and will receive a warm welcome from our members.
The DDH will be given by one of our expert members - BRIAN THOMAS. He is one of the regular speakers on our battlefield tours, when his specialist knowledge on medals adds a different dimension to the battle details. In August he will be giving a talk that should fascinate us all, particularly as we have just passed the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Delville Wood. His talk will be "The Last man to leave Delville Wood - July 1916".
BATTLEFIELDS TOUR 2001: (P.T.O. for more details)
Due to the untimely rain experienced during our February Battlefield's Tour to Majuba, it was decided to make a second visit to the area and complete the original programme as far as climbing up Majuba, to the scene of the action. This has now been booked for Saturday 14 September. The names of members who have stated that they want to join the climb are given on the reverse side of this sheet. If you have put your name down, but it is not on the list, or other members and friends who want to join "another of Ken Gilling's famous climbs", please ring CHARLES WHITEING on 082-555-4689 to add your name to the list.
In the last newsletter we reported that our program of speakers has already been filled for 2002 and that we already have 8 speakers booked for 2003. We then stated that your committee are keen that we ask regular members who have not given a talk before, or who have not spoken for some time, to offer their services as speakers. The result of that appeal was that 3 members have contacted our chairman and we now have 11 speakers for the 2003 program, which means that we are over 50% full for 2003. That is excellent news. However we are still inviting any member who is interested in giving a talk in 2003 to contact the chairman on 082-449-7227, 268-7400 (o) or 561-2905 (h) to discuss the subject of choice, or to ring Bill Brady on 561-5542, as the chairman will be overseas during August.
SEE YOU ALL ON THE 16th AUGUST!!!
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983