NEWSLETTER NO. 310
PAST EVENTS: Fellow-member, Charles Whiteing, gave our DDH talk for February and he spoke on "Ian Smith", the former Prime Minister of what was known as Rhodesia. However, our speaker did not venture into the political arena, so to speak, but concentrated on Ian Srnith's early career in the RRAF and RAF. Our speaker gave a brief outline of Ian Smith's schooling where he excelled at sports at the expense of academics. He finished his schooling at Chaplin High School where he was captain of the First Rugby, Cricket and Tennis teams and Head Prefect. He then went on to Rhodes University in 1938 where he read for a B.Com degree, but with the outbreak of WW2 and peer pressure, he joined the RRAF. He did his ab initio training at Guinea Fowl and graduated as a Sergeant Pilot from Thornhill in 1942. In 1943, he was seconded as a Pilot Officer to 237 Squadron (Rhodesian) RAF in Iran, which later formed part of the air defence system for Alexandria in North Africa. Unfortunately, on 4th October that year, the wing of the aircraft he was flying, clipped a line of sandbags on take-off and he crashed. He sustained severe mechanical injuries to his face and legs and, but for his exceptional fitness, would have died.
In May 1944, after a long convalescence, he rejoined his squadron on the island of Corsica and was back in action two days later. However, on 22 June 1944, after a train- and convoy-busting sortie, his Spitfire was hit by flak and he had to bale out into the mountains north of Spezia. After a series of lucky escapes in which he managed to evade capture, he met up with an Italian peasant who led him to safety in a cave near Vallescura and, although he was offered sanctuary by a wealthy Italian milliner, he preferred to join the partisans and took part in their operations for the next five months. At that stage he met up with an escaped English POW and together with three other escapees, trekked north over the Alps to join up with the American forces in the south of France. After a 23-day ordeal, during which time he suffered frostbite of the feet, they reached the American lines. Although he could have been repatriated to Southern Rhodesia at that time, he once again preferred to go on active duty. After a brief refresher course in Shropshire with the RAF, he was appointed to 130 Squadron which flew missions over Denmark and Germany. His squadron was later posted to Norway as part of the British Liberation Army (BLA) and, although hostilities ceased on the 8 May 1945, his squadron still had to give cover to the British troops who were engaged in flushing out the last pockets of German resistance in that country.
In 1946 he went back to Rhodes University to finish his B.Com degree and after he had graduated, returned to Southern Rhodesia to take up farming. He entered politics in 1948 and became Prime Minister of Rhodesia after that country's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1964.
Our main talk for the evening was entitled "A Summary of the Anglo-Boer War in 1900" and was given by our former Chairman, Ken Gillings. Many will recall his original talk given at the beginning of 2000 on the opening stages of that War and his continuation was yet another masterpiece. Using photographic slides as illustrations, our speaker succeeded in covering in detail the wide-ranging events of the year 1900. However, so comprehensive and detailed was his talk combined with his "skiet-mekaar-los" style of presentation that there is no way this brief summary can do it justice. In consequence, only the broad outlines of the various actions will be recorded. The beginning of 1900 saw Britain trying to reconcile the disasters of "Black Week" and desperately seeking ways and means of turning the tide against the rampant Boer forces. On the Western Front, Gen. French succeeded in dislodging the Boers in the Colesberg area and Col. Pilcher capturing a Boer laager at Sunnyside in the Northern Cape, thereby preventing the rebellion from spreading across the Orange River to the Cape Dutch population. However, on the same day, Kuruman surrendered and Cmdt. Piet de Wet (Christiaan's brother) beat off a night attack by the Suffolk Regiment on Green Hill just north of Colesberg. In Natal, the besieging Boers attacked Ladysmith at Wagon Hill (Platrand), but after a day of heavy fighting, were finally driven back by the Devonshire Regiment with the aid of a timely thunderstorm.
On the 10 January, Lord Roberts who had succeeded Buller as Commander-in-Chief arrived in Cape Town and set about re-organizing the British Army in Southern Africa. However, on the same day, Buller left Chieveley on his second attempt to relieve Ladysmith which resulted in yet another British disaster at the Battle of Spioenkop on the 24/25 January. Back on the Western Front, February saw the launch of Roberts's attempt to relieve Kimberley. First there was the diversionary attack on Koedoesberg Drift to the west of Modder River followed by Robert's eastward flanking movement which saw the capture of the vital drifts over the Riet and Modder Rivers and culminated in the Great Cavalry Charge which saw the Relief of Kimberley on the 15th, but the combination of excessive heat and hard riding wrecked the cavalry as an effective unit. This nearly allowed Cronje, who had straddled the railway line to Kimberley at Magersfontein to escape back to Bloemfontein. However, his slow moving column of cumbersome wagons hindered his withdrawal and he was caught at Paardeberg and, after a battle which lasted until the 27th February, was forced to surrender. Roberts continued his advance on Bloemfontein, which surrendered on the 13th March. Meanwhile, in Natal on 10th February Buller changed his tactics from frontal attack and started his third attempt to relieve Ladysmith at Vaalkranz, but ended up by "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!" This was to be followed by the great Battle of the Tugela Heights (or the Battles of the Hills) which lasted until the 27th (Majuba Day) and which culminated in the Relief of Ladysmith.
Both Buller and Roberts had to stop in Ladysmith and Bloemfontein respectively to consolidate their victories and re-organize their forces and it was not until the beginning of May that they were able to continue their prime objective, namely the capture of Pretoria. Also Mafeking still had to be relieved. This was accomplished on the 17th May and the resultant jubilation in Britain and the Empire saw a new word enter the English language, namely "maffick" - meaning, "to exult riotously!"
Roberts's progress through the Free State Colony and into the Transvaal was slow and hampered by the ever moving Boer forces who constantly threatened his supply lines, but he finally entered Pretoria on the 5th June. Meanwhile Buller had outflanked the Boer line along the Biggarsberg at Helpmekaar and after recapturing Glencoe and Dundee, occupied Newcasde on the 18th May. Once again he outflanked the Boer line at Lang's Nek and broke through at Botha's Pass and Alleman's Nek to occupy Volksrust on 11th June. Roberts imagined that the war would be over with the capture of Pretoria, but the Boers would not surrender. Instead they retreated all along the railway line through the Eastern Transvaal offering resistance first at Diamond Hill and finally at Bergendal in the last set piece battle of the War. Thereafter, although Kruger had retreated across the Transvaal border to Delagoa Bay and there was no effective Government in the Transvaal, those Boers that had escaped capture at Komatipoort took to the mountains and continued the War using hit-and-run tactics to attack the British forces wherever they could. The guerrilla war phase had started. Meanwhile in the Orange River Colony and the Western Transvaal, mopping up operations continued, but De Wet continued to outwit the British forces. However, a large number of Boers was captured in the Brandwater Basin when Prinsloo was forced to surrender, but President Steyn, who had escaped the British in the Eastern Transvaal, joined up with De Wet and continued the fight in the Orange River Colony. And while the British concentrated on the latter, De la Rey wreaked havoc with the British supply lines. These successes attracted hundreds of burghers to their cause, so much so that De Wet decided to form a new commando and invade the Cape, but a flooded Orange River put a temporary stop to that idea. In Britain a General Election saw the return of the Conservative Party to power at the beginning of the last quarter of 1900, but it was one of the bitterest elections ever fought. In a subsequent Cabinet reshuffle, Roberts replaced Wolseley as Commander-in-Chief at the War Office. Britain wanted an end to hostilities as a top priority. Kitchener took over command and Roberts left for England at the end of November. In a farewell speech Roberts said that the war was virtually over, but Kitchener had inherited a nightmare. De Ia Rey had succeeded in regrouping the Boers in the Transvaal and had been joined by Beyers and Smuts. On the 13th December, they captured a large British convoy containing vital supplies in the Magaliesberg, killing or wounding 637 men and capturing 120 wagons. Then in the then South-Eastern Transvaal, Botha attacked Lancaster Hill outside Vryheid and, although the Boers did not succeed in capturing it, they caused havoc. And to add to the British difficulties, a Boer commando under Generals Kritzinger and Hertzog entered the Cape in an attempt to raise the Cape Dutch in rebellion. Finally on the 28/29 December 1900, Gen. Viljoen slipped through the British lines at Helvetia and overwhelmed the British garrison of 200 men. Such then was the succession of British disasters that marked the second New Year of the Anglo-Boer War that had resulted in almost as many casualties as those during the Black Week of December 1899.
For the first time for many a long year, so comprehensive was our speaker's talk that members were stunned into silence when it came to question time. Fellow member, Professor Mike Laing did the honours of thanking both our speakers for a most interesting and informative evening.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
THURSDAY 8 MARCH 2001
PLEASE NOTE: As with February 2001, so again in March 2001 when it is one of those months when the 2nd Thursday is at its earliest possible date. So please make a special note of the 8 MARCH 2001
The March meeting will have 2 Society "Firsts" and 3 speakers. Last October saw the final of a splendid local schools initiative called The Young Historians Competition, and our Chairman and Vice Chairman were invited as judges for the finals. To represent the Grade 11 finalists, we have invited ALLANAH PUGH-JONES from Crawford College, La Lucia to repeat her winning 10 minute address on BRITISH EVASION OF RESPONSIBILITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST. This is a first and we hope that we will be able to invite winning speakers to the Society from each year as the competition develops. We are certain that all members will be impressed by the high standard that was set in this competition.
The main talk in March will be given by another of our guest speakers who actually took part in the subject and actions he will be presenting. BRIGADIER JIM PARKER, British Army retired, will talk to us on THE NORTHERN IRELAND CONFLICT. The Brigadier served in the Light Infantry and was posted to Northern Island on 10 separate tours of duty from the rank of 2nd Lieutenant to Brigadier. He was posted to South Africa as Defence Advisor to the British High Commission in 1993 and at the end of his army career, decided to retire here. He is now based in Mooi River where he runs a tour company. Among his other activities, Brigadier Parker chaired the Commemoration Committee of the Anglo-Boer War Centenary Committee in KwaZulu-Natal.
This will be a another first for the Society, as Northern Ireland has not been covered before, so this is a talk that is long overdue.
PHILIP EVERITT will give the DDH and his subject will be SIDI REZEGH - A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE. Philip will cover the personal story of Private Philip Everitt (our Philips's uncle) who fought in this well known 2nd World War battle. For future reference Philip will provide a full talk on the battle at our June meeting (see Future Society Dates below).
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : April to June 2001
Please Note that due to the clash of dates with Easter 2001, the special
Isandlwana Meeting in April will be held on the 3rd Thursday of the Month,
on 19 April 2001.
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983