South African Military History Society

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November's meeting coincided with Remembrance Day and the Chairman drew attention to this by quoting a few relevant lines from "The Fallen" and calling for a moment of silence, in remembrance of those who fell in the service of South Africa.

This done, the usual notices were covered, with a special note of thanks to the Secretary, Joan Marsh, for representing the Society at the Italian Remembrance Service at Zonderwater the previous Sunday. Thanks were also due to Jan-Willem Hoorweg whose generous donation of a set of DVDs to raffle raised R740 for our support project for the Military Museum Library.

Ivor then called upon our tour organiser, Bob Smith, to give the details of a tour planned for either 12 or 19 March 2011. This would be "The Miners' Strike" and would take in various points of interest in the Fordsburg area. Judging by the show of hands signifying support, this tour will attract a large number of participants.

The first speaker of the evening was then introduced. This was Lt. Col. Clive Wilsworth, an ex-gunner with operational service in the South Africa Artillery. He is a business process analyst and the author of "First In, Last Out - The South African Artillery in Action : 1975 to 1988". His particular military interest is the Battle of Bakenlaagte and, in addition to studying this battle in which his grandfather participated, he conducts tours of the battlefield.

The Battle of Bakenlaagte took place on 30 October 1901, during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Using an excellent PowerPoint display, Clive took us through the events of this battle, illustrating his talk with maps and photographs of both the actual battle and the battlefield as it is today.

It was the final clash between the Commandos, under the command of General Louis Botha, and a pursuing British column, under the command of Colonel G E Benson. The pursuit had developed into a five-day running battle which ended with this final clash, spread between Middelburg (Transvaal) and Bethel. Up to then Benson's column had been extraordinarily successful in routing the widely dispersed commandos in the Eastern Transvaal and had become known as "the scourge of the Transvaal" by the Boers. Louis Botha decided "enough is enough" and assembled 1 200 men with which to get rid of Benson finally. Clive then led us through the events of the day, which ended when darkness fell, with Benson and over 100 of his men dead; two British guns captured from the Royal Artillery and a decisive victory for Botha.

The next speaker was Michael Tatalias, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern African Tourism Service Association (SATSA) and a leading member of South Africa's tourism industry. His subject was "Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor - WWI Hero and Aviator".

Michael also used a PowerPoint presentation, by far one of the best we have yet seen, to illustrate his talk, with contemporary photographs and documents of the life of this amazing South African flyer. Proctor was a brilliant flyer and fighter ace who is largely forgotten today, but in his time was lauded as a national hero.

Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor (pronounced "Beecham") was born on 4 September 1894 at Mossel Bay in the Southern Cape. His father, J J Proctor, was a school master who was teaching at Beaconsfield, Mossel Bay, at the time and then went on to become Warden of College House at Bishops; a headmaster in George and, then, finally in Mafeking.

The family was an old one, a predecessor, J J Vos, was President of the Burgher Senate in Cape Town, and Andrew's father, J J Proctor, had a distinguished volunteer military as well as academic career. He had served as a lieutenant in the Basutoland Rebellion in 1880 and he had also served in the Second Anglo-Boer War as officer-in-charge of the prisoner of war camp in Simon's Town, had administered the oath of allegiance to Boer prisoners on St Helena; and was OC of the Colonial units represented at Queen Victoria's funeral.

His son, Andrew, followed his father to the schools at which he taught but remained on as a boarder at Bishops when the family moved to Mafeking. He was a tiny little chap, only 5'2" when fully grown, but had the guts of a lion. He was not a good sportsman but was an enthusiastic swimmer and took part in soccer, cricket and the school Cadet Corps. He was also a hardworking scholar and became the prefect of his residence before matriculating in 1912. He then did first year engineering at UCT before enlisting as a signaller with the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In 1917 he became interested in flying and was recruited for the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic, 3rd Class, on 12 March 1917. On arrival in the UK he was sent for basic officer's training with the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion but his previous military experience counted here and after only 17 days he was moved to the School of Military Aeronautics. After a further 40 days he earned his "wings" and was promoted to 2nd Lt. for advanced training and, on 24 July 1917, he joined 84 Squadron at Beaulieu, near Southampton in England.

The OC of the Squadron was Major William Sholto-Douglas (later to become Air Chief Marshall) who had revolutionary ideas regarding aerial combat and under his leadership 84 Squadron was to prove highly successful.

Proctor fitted in easily and started flying on the Sopwith Canal and then the new Royal Aircraft Factory SE-5. He was an ideal team player, excellent pilot and a deadly shot. Because of his diminutive size his plane had to be specially modified so that he could reach the controls.

On completion of working up, the squadron moved to France and established itself at Estree Blanche-Vlaadere where it was "blooded" in aerial combat. It then moved on to do daily patrols over the trenches during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 and then to Flez in January 1918. There they flew operations over the Somme and Proctor emerged as an "ace", destroying six enemy aircraft and shooting down numerous observation balloons. For this he was awarded the Military Cross (MC). The situation became more hectic as a German counter-attack led to the Battle of St Quentin and to a frantic battle for air supremacy. Proctor gained a Bar to his MC and, in May 1918, was promoted to Captain. In June he became one of the first to win the newly promulgated Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

At the end of the war, Andrew Proctor was selected to go the United Stated on a campaign to raise War Bonds, after which he returned to the UK to receive his medals from the King. He joined the Metropolitan Police on being de-mobilised from the RFC and was granted a year's study leave to complete his degree at UCT. This done, he joined the newly-established Royal Air Force and, keen to get back in to flying, he talked his way on to the display team for the first Air Show at Hendon on 21 June 1921. Time did not allow for his aircraft to be modified and he improvised by packing his seat with cushions. While doing aerobatics, his cushions became dislodged and Proctor lost control of the Sopwith Snipe and spun into the ground at Upavon, where he was buried.

There was a huge public clamour that South Africa's most highly decorated warrior ever should be exhumed and brought back to South Africa with full military honours. This was done and Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor was re-buried at Mafeking, where his grave can be found today, even though he has long since been forgotten in the memory of the general public.

At the conclusion of Michael's talk Malcolm King came forward, thanked both speakers and presented each with a memento of the evening. The meeting was then closed and all adjourned for refreshments.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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Subscriptions for 2011:

Fully 76% of the Society's expenditure is for the Journal and newsletters plus distribution thereof. While about 300 members receive newsletters by e-mail the other 200 still receive the posted hard copy.

It is therefore necessary to increase subscriptions as follows:
Single membership for 2011 R210
Family membership R230

Invoices will be posted in January for the 2011 financial/calendar year.

Joan Marsh

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Happy holidays, safe travelling and a prosperous 2011 to all members.

May the Christians among us enjoy a specially blessed Christmas!

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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279(am)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010 237 0676

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