South African Military History Society



September 2001

PAST EVENTS: The August meeting was very much in line with the Society's recent record of providing excellent speakers covering a wide range of interesting and unusual subjects. At this meeting our two speakers, Brian Thomas and Fiona Barbour related the exploits of two undoubtedly brave but very different men: Second Lieutenant (later Captain) George Garnet Green, MC and bar, and Sergeant Thomas Lane, VC.

Brian Thomas gave the opening DDH talk entitled The last man to leave Delville Wood. When General Louis Botha's offer to provide a South African contingent for Europe in the 1st World war was accepted, an Infantry Brigade of four battalions was decided upon, as well as five batteries of Heavy Artillery, a General Hospital, a Field Ambulance and a Signal Company. Infantrymen were drawn from the Cape (1st S.A. Infantry), Natal and the Orange Free State (2nd S.A.I.), Transvaal and Rhodesia (3rd S.A.I.), while the 4th S.A.I. was the Scottish Regiment - mainly drawn from the 1st and 2nd Transvaal Scottish and the Cape Town Highlanders. The bloodiest battle in which South African forces were involved throughout the whole war, and probably any subsequent war, took place during the Battle of the Somme. The Battle of Delville Wood (or "Devils Wood" as it became known) saw fighting rage for six consecutive days, from 14 - 20 July 1916.

On 14 July 1916, the Scots of the 26th and the 27th Brigades of the 9th Division were tasked to take Longueval village, adjacent to Delville Wood. In both these places there was a considerable German presence. The Scots failed to take the village completely, and the S.A.I. was ordered to reinforce the Scots and to take and then hold Delville Wood "at all costs". Progress was slow because of the nature of the terrain and the ferocity of the battle. The casualties at Longueval and Delville Wood were vast. According to Lieutenant - Colonel E.F. Thackeray, who commanded the 3rd S.A.I battalion, 80% of his men were casualties. This compares with the casualty figures provided by Ian Uys, a present day historian who has specialised in the battle, who gives the estimate that 62% of the force were casualties. According to the official historian John Buchan, of the 121 officers and 3032 men involved, only 3 wounded officers (Thackeray and two others - see below ) and 140 other ranks emerged from the wood on 20 July. However wounded and unwounded moved in and out during the battle and, according to Buchan, about 750 men assembled in Happy Valley on 20 July. The frontispiece of John Buchan's The History of the South African Forces in France shows the appalling reality of the devastated wood where many men still lie in the trenches and shellholes where they died.

Brian then focused on Second Lieutenant Garnet Green. He was born in 1889 in Dundee, Natal and went to school there. He joined the Natal Carbineers as a trooper and saw service in the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. In 1914 he re-enlisted with the Natal Carbineers and saw action in German South West Africa in 1914 - 1915. From January to March 1916 he fought in the 2nd S.A. Regiment against the Senussi in Egypt. With the South African Infantry, Green was involved in the Battle of Delville Wood, where he was wounded and was "the last to leave the trench when relief arrived" as stated in the recommendation for the award of the MC. Thackeray and Lieutenants G.G. Green and E.J. Phillips were the only officers to leave Delville Wood alive on 20 July. Green and Phillips were both awarded the MC for their part in the action. Thackeray, whose father won the VC during the Indian Mutiny, was recommended for a VC, but was awarded the DSO. In 1917 Brigadier - General W.E.C. Tanner, in command of the 2nd S.A.I., recommended Green for the DSO, but instead he was awarded a bar to his MC. Green was promoted to Captain in January 1918.

On 23 March 1918, Green was killed in action. General Louis Botha praised him in the South African parliament. Green is one of the fifteen South African captains in the 1st World War who have no known grave. Brian Thomas, with his particular interest in Captain Garnet Green, ended his fascinating talk by showing a photograph to all present of the complete set of Green's medals.

Fiona Barbour gave the main talk of the evening on the career of the roistering, adventurous Irishman, Sergeant Thomas Lane VC, who won the VC in 1860 during the so-called Opium Wars. She described him as "restless in death as ever he had been in life" and supported this view when she regaled us, with considerable humour, with his exploits in various wars in different parts of the world.

Lane was born in Cork in Ireland in 1836 or 1837. When he was about ten years of age the disastrous potato famine devastated the people of Ireland. From that time especially, the British army recruited many of its soldiers from Ireland, and no doubt Lane enlisted as part of this drive.

In 1853, not quite seventeen, Lane was with the 47th Regiment in the Crimean War, seeing service at the Battle of Alma River, at Inkerman and at Sebastopol. He is known to have been nursed in Scutari hospital and perhaps met Florence Nightingale when there. Three years later, he was in India immediately after the Indian Mutiny had ended. In 1859 he went to China and in 1860 won his VC in the storming of the Taku Forts. From 1865 - 1866 he was in Hong Kong before being sent for rest and recurperation to South Africa. He was off again in 1866 to New Zealand where, he claimed, he took part in the Maori Wars.

Lane spent the last three years of his life in South Africa. In 1879 he enlisted with Hamilton - Browne's Unit in the Anglo-Zulu War and fought at Isandlwana. With Hamilton - Browne and his Natal Native Contingent he would have been at Rorke's Drift after the battle, and he became part of Hamilton - Browne's Natal Horse. In 1881 Lane enlisted in Landry's Horse during the Basuto "Gun Wars", but spoilt his record by absconding with his horse, rifle and other kit. Not surprisingly, he spent time on various occasions, in both military and civilian prisons. However, he was described as "likeable".

In 1882 he was in Pretoria jail for tearing down the Transvaal Flag, but was allowed soon afterwards to take the place of a Boer, van Veen, in the Staatsartillerie. The Pretoria jail must have appreciated his dubious qualities, and for a time he was a warder of this jail and his wife was the matron. Lane accused the chief warder of having designs on his wife, which ended that chapter of his life. Lane's last exploit seems to have been to join the Cape Police in Kimberley and he was no doubt there, when the disastrous fire of 1888 broke out. In 1889 he died in Carnarvon Hospital, of inflammation of the lungs, and was given a full military funeral attended by great pomp, with the fire brigade joining the cortege.

The question of Lane's VC has puzzled researchers for many years. The award was presented to him in Shanghai in 1862. He seems to have forfeited it, perhaps after deserting with his kit from Landry's Horse in April 1881, since in May of that year Landry suggested that his VC annuity be stopped. Lane was sentenced for desertion in July 1881 but, undismayed, he appealed for his pension to be updated. Altogether eight VC's have been forfeited, with none of them formally reinstated. However in February 1883, an order came from South Africa that Lane's VC be restored. In 1884 Captain J. Tennant of Landry's Horse wrote that the medal had been forwarded to Lane. In the colonial files is a letter from a Mr. Jones to Captain Tennant, declaring that he had the VC in his possession and was attempting to track down Lane as the owner. In 1920, King George V was of the opinion that that the VC could not be forfeited, and this was documented by his private secretary. Three VC's, supposedly belonging to Lane have cropped up from time to time. One is held by the Horse Guards authorities and another which turned up in a Pietermaritzburg pawn shop. A third copy was claimed by a Mr Field from Zimbabwe who was certain that he was in possession of Lane's VC. The Royal Hampshire Regiment now holds two of the "VCs", and they must wonder which, if either, is the original, and so genuine VC medal.

Recently, Fiona Barbour was present in Kimberley when a ceremony was held in which a libation of Irish whiskey was poured over Lane's grave - an appropriate gesture. Her mention of this event completed a perfect ending for an entertaining talk on a most amazing and unusual military figure from the past, who fought with distinction in many places around the world, but has South Africa as his final resting place.

Ian Southerland proposed an enthusiastic vote of thanks to the two speakers for tbeir fascinating investigations, with particular thanks to Fiona Barbour for making the long journey from Kimberley to address the Society.


The Society will be entering new territory with the September meeting. For the first time in the 33 years of our existence, we will be having a main talk on THE INDIAN MUTINY, and for most of us coverage of this subject is long overdue. The mutiny was a major military and historical event that had an overwhelming impact on the history and development of the sub continent of India, and on Britain and her Empire. GANES PILLAY, as our speaker, will cover the initial period of British entry into India, the first successful years of peaceful co-existence, the British political approach to its overseas forces - particularly to the Indian Army, the causes of the Indian Mutiny and the resultant fighting. He will then close with the long-term impact of the mutiny on the relationship between India and Britain through 2 world wars to independence in 1947.

A first for the Society and one not to be missed.

The DDH will be another of our very special "we were there" talks, the second one this year. Lt. COLONEL CLEM CHANING-PEARCE, now 85 years old, served in Burma as a Gunner in the 2nd World War. His subject shows a slight change from the original program and will now 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

The plans to revisit Majuba and to climb the hill, after the rains spoilt that part of the Society's February Battlefield's Tour, are now in place. About 30 members have confirmed their attendance to climb the hill on the morning of Saturday 15 September, with approximately a dozen plus staying overnight at Majuba Lodge on the previous Friday night. The final details were published in the last newsletter and remain unchanged. If anyone wants to join at the last minute and so enjoy another of Ken Gilling's famous climbs, or to find out the trip details, please ring CHARLES WHITEING on 082-555-4689. We are keeping a list ot attendees to ensure tnat we start with a full party.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : October to December 2001

11 Oct 2001
DDH Rudolph Hess: His Flight to Scotland Paul Kilmartin
MAIN Conflict in the Crimea Robin Smith
8 Nov 2001
DDH Colonel Oscar W. Koch Prof. Mike Laing
MAIN Pearl Harbour - The 60th Anniversary Bill Brady
13 Dec 2001
(2nd Thursday)
Annual Dinner at Westville Country Club Main Restaurant (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 /