South African Military History Society



October 2001

PAST EVENTS: The September meeting was held in a sombre mood, just 2 days after the terrorist attack in the USA. Speaking quietly, but with passion to a hushed meeting, our Chairman Paul Kilmartin started the meeting with his comments on the tragedy. He said that there was no question but that the world had changed forever on 11 September 2001. He gave his reasons based on what it meant to everyone in terms of the definitions in their lives. Words that were used on the previous Monday in a military history context suddenly had very different meanings: words like safety, security, military attack, and declaration of war, etc. The attack on the USA, which he described as a "military" attack, could lead to the decline and even the end of traditional military formats, such as our current understanding of the structure of an army.
He asked what today's modern army could do when a group of young men, less in number than the size of a platoon and based 6-7000 kms away, can destroy two of the largest and most famous buildings in the world, cause immense damage to one of the world's best protected buildings, and then kill many thousands of people without carrying even 1 gram of explosive. Our Chairman felt that on the previous Monday this suggestion would have been regarded as unrealistic Hollywood fantasy and an impossibility in real life. On Tuesday it was reality. As a result the 11 September 2001 would be recognised in history as the start of the decline in traditional military values and structures and that it would be the day when thought processes around the world would evolve military thinking and tactics into a new and revolutionary direction. A minute's silence was then held in memory of those who had died as a result of this tragedy.

The DDH provided a change in our advertised program. The meeting was told that Lt. Colonel Clem Chaning-Pearce had been taken ill just prior to our meeting and would be unable to give his talk on his personal experiences in Burma in 1944. He has agreed to give his talk to a future meeting.

We were, therefore, very grateful to Professor Mike Laing, who stood in at very short notice and gave a talk entitled The Photographs that lost America the Vietnam War. Our speaker had spent some time in the USA, as a university lecturer, and was in an excellent position to watch how the media reported the war and how that reporting, and the photography in particular, changed public opinion to the war. As he summarised, the army did not lose the war on the ground in Vietnam, it was lost in the minds of the America population.

Afler covering how the war began under the guidance of President Kennedy, how it was expanded under President Johnson and then finally ended under President Nixon, our speaker then showed 12 photographs and used them to demonstrate how their publication gradually changed the attitudes of the American public, and the university students in particular. He questioned the mentality that allowed American and European photographers to accompany army operations and then publish photographs that showed the men of the USA in a bad light and the enemy soldiers as heroes. He showed published photo's of young looking Viet Cong soldiers, of a Buddhist monk burning himself to death in Saigon as a protest against the very government that the USA were supporting, and of an old Vietnam woman standing with an American rifle to her temple. On seeing these photographs the American public began to ask why. Photographs were shown of marines storming ashore, to be greeted by holidaymakers offering them garlands, and these were compared with photos of students on campus parading peacefully against conscription, with soldiers at arms length distance pointing rifles at them. The public at large knew that university studentls were not conscripted and that only failed or non-students were called up and that made the confrontation all the more bizarre, and their thoughts all the more uncertain.

Then the serious photographs were shown. The American forces defeated the Tet Offensive of January 1967, but photographs of dead Viet Cong in the grounds of the American embassy in Saigon raised more doubts in people's minds than news of the victory. The famous photograph of the Chief of Police shooting a suspect in the head, was followed by another that showed all the dead bodies of the villagers at My Lai. As Mike Laing said, if there was any military reason to take out a whole village, why take your own photographer with you and so make it a public slaughter. The confrontation at Ohio State University showed more students confronting troops who this time had armed rifles with bavonets fixed and were wearing gas masks. The photograph of the student shot dead by those same troops with a sobbing girl poised over the body followed this and was shown in every newspaper and magazine in the USA and the public mood was suddenly one of "now is the time to get out". But it went to the bitter end and the final photograph, perhaps the most famous of all, was shown of 3 young girls, running naked down a road with napalm burns and watched by 3 disinterested American soldiers who were strolling behind them.

It is always a pleasure for the Society when a member of long standing, and a regular attendee at our meetings, gives his first talk. Ganes Pillay gave our main talk in September on the subject of The Indian Mutiny - the first time this subject has been covered in the Branch.

In introducing his subject Ganes referred to the first Sepoy Mutiny of 1806 in Madras State, which was put down by Colonel Gillespie. This occurred against a background of earlier waves of invasion from outside India and the establishment of centres of power set up by such invaders as the Moguls, Muslims, Marathas, and later by the British, French and Portuguese. Added to this were internal tensions, the rise of Brahminism, the organisation of the caste system and the importance of the control exercised over land by the talukdars. The British and French East Indian Companies competed for trading power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Each supported puppet indian rulers. After the "Black Hole of Calcutta" incident, Lt. Col. Robert Clive of the British East India Company army, defeated the French-supported Nawab of Bengal, Suraj-ud-Dowlah, at the Battle of Plassey in June 1757. French power in India waned and the British established their ascendancy.

Lord Dalhousie, governor-general of British India 1847-1856 introduced bills to bring about "democracy" in India. British commercial interests were dependent on the great Rajahs, whose estates were managed by the British and whose taxes they collected. Dalhousie struck at the heart of their succession, forbidding the inheritance by an adopted son, of his fathers estate. By the law of lapse, the estate was theen annexed by, and for, the British. The resentment of such men as the adopted Dundu Pant (Nana Sahib) helped to fuel the coming mutiny. In 1856 the new Enfield rifle replaced the old Brown Bess musket. The cartridges for this new firearm were wrapped in greased paper which had to be bitten off before use. The cartridge papers were rumoured to be greased with the fat of pigs (abhorrent to Muslims) or of cattle (abhorrent to Hindus).

A hundred years after Plassey, against a background of rising discontent, the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858 broke out. A seemingly trivial incident triggered off the first actions. At the Dum-Dum arsenal, a man of the "untouchable" caste asked a high caste Brahmin for a drink of water from his brass water bowl. He pointed out that all castes were now to be equal. Disobedience on the parade ground followed, Sepoys (Indian soldiers in European service) were encouraged to mutiny and such men as the Maulvi of Faizabad preached against the British. Sepoys refused to handle the new cartridges, and a young sepoy, Mangal Pandi, of the 34th appeared on the parade ground armed witin a musket instead of the regulation Enfield. After a scuffle, in which he was shot and wounded, he was arrested and hanged.

In May, the sepoys at Meerut and Delhi mutinied and set up Bahadur Shah of the old Mogul dynasty as Emperor of all India. The 3rd Light Infantry rose and took countrol of the bridge of boats leading to Delhi. Given heavy sentences for mutiny they became the rallying point. The 60th Rifles also mutinied and this was followed by attacks on the British, including women and children. The mutineers reached Delhi and released prisoners, including fellow mutineers, from the jails. The arsenal at Delhi was well stocked and manned by 3 Indian battalions of tine 38th, 54th, and 74th. A young subaltern, Lt. Willoughby, prepared to defend the arsenal. When this appeared impossible with the small loyal group remaining, he then planned to blow up the arsenal.. He signalled to Buckley (rank unknown), who in turn signalled to Scully (again rank unknown), to fire the magazine, which was destroyed with a great loss of life, although Lt. Willoughby survived. The city of Delhi fell into the hands of the mutineers.

Looting and rioting followed and, in addition, many Indo-European Christians were killed. In June 1857, Nana Sahib marched to Lucknow in Oudh, which was controlled by Sir Henry Lawrence and laid siege to the city. Cawnpore, too, was besieged and surrounded in June. Although the British army was short of supplies, troops were brought in from Hyderabad, Peshawar and Sind. Brig. General John Nicholson, led the Punjabis and Major Reid the Gurkhas to the rescue. The "King" Bahadur Shah surrendered, but his sons were put to death.

In 1858, Sir Hugh Rose opened the central Indian campaign in the districts south of the Ganges. In June he besieged Jhansi, ruled by the Rani (Queen) of Jhansi, who was of a very old dynasty. Jhansi fell, and after moppinig-up operations against guerrilla bands, the Indian Mutiny was finally stamped out. British India came under the direct rule of the British Crown and remained so until 1947, when it obtained its independence ninety years after the Mutiny.

Professor Philip Everitt thanked both our speakers for an excellent evening, which provided all members present with two well-researched subjects not previously covered by the Society. His vote of thanks to the two speakers was warmly endorsed.


Not for the first time this year, the Society will have the pleasure of welcoming a guest as our main speaker for the evening. ROBIN SMITH will be travelling up from Cape Town to address us with the main talk for the October meeting. His subject for the evening was originally to be CONFLICTS IN THE CRIMEA, and he has decided to keep to the main subject but to change the emphasis in order to add some important local KZN flavour.
ROBIN intends to use the information he has on Corporal Joseph Malone VC, as the main theme of the evening. Malone was a hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade and as we all know was later promoted to Captain and is buried in Pinetown. Consequently the talk will be called CORPORAL JOSEPH MALONE VC, of the 13th LIGHT DRAGOONS. The talk will cover the Crimean Wars, including World War 2 briefly, but emphasis will be on the Charge. This will be another fascinating talk and again on a subject rarely covered by the Society.

There will be a change to the DDH. Our Chairman PAUL KILMARTIN has to go into hospital for an operation on his neck and will not be available to give his talk on RUDOLF HESS - HIS FLIGHT TO SCOTLAND. It will be given at a later date. We will, therefore be able to welcome our "missing" DDH speaker from last month, Lt. COLONEL CLEM CHANING-PEARCE, who was unable to address us last month due to illness. CLEM is now 85 years old, served in Burma as a Gunner in the 2nd World War. His talk will be entitled ON THE CHINWIN RIVER, BURMA. It will be an honour to listen to an "old" soldier and his experiences in this most difficult of campaigns.

BATTLEFIELDS TOUR 2001: Majuba Revisited

Once again the weather beat our plans to revisit Majuba. Some of the worst snowstorms for some years hit the Natal Midlands, on exactly the week end of our planned revisit to climb the hill. Watch this space !!

ARMISTICE DAY: 11 November 2001

Unfortunately, this year the Society's annual meeting with the MOTH's at Old Fort on Armistice Day will have to be cancelled. In 2001 Armistice Day will fall on a Sunday and will be on the same day as Remembrance Sunday. The MOTH's will be on parade at 1100 hours on that day and we suggest that all members who would have attended the Society/MOTH's ceremony at Old Fort, go instead to the Cenotaph and watch the official service and parade.


8 Nov 2001
DDH Colonel Oscar W. Koch - Prof. Mike Laing
MAIN Pearl Harbour - The 60th Anniversary Bill Brady
13 Dec 2001
(2nd Thursday)
Dinner at The Cockpit Restaurant, Virginia Airport (Bill Brady - organiser)

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

South African Military History Society /