South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0676 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


The June meeting was opened by the Chairman, Ivor Little, who commenced the meeting with the usual monthly notices, two of which will be found at the end of this newsletter. He then called on past Chairman Bob Smith to come forward and give the details of the next outing.

This will take the form of a visit to Swartkops Air Force Museum on 11 September 2010. Bob gave details of the proposed visit and will keep the members informed as the time for the visit approaches.

Ivor then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker, who was committee member David Scholtz and well-known to the members. The title of David's talk was "Memorials to Major Edwin Swales, VC, DFC."

Using a power point presentation, ably handled by Colin Dean, David gave a brief but most interesting resume‚ of Swales' life.

Edwin and his twin brother, John, were born at Inanda, Natal, on 3 July 1915. Their parents, Harry and Olive Swales, farmed at Ntambanana, the present day Heatonville. They had an older sister, Joan, and a younger brother, Harry. After their father's death in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Mrs Swales and the four children moved to Durban.

Edwin was enrolled at Durban High School (DHS) and played in the 1st Eleven in cricket and second XV Rugby team, before joining Barclay's Bank in Durban. While in the bank he enlisted in the Active Citizen Force with the Natal Mounted Rifles. When World War II broke out, Edwin joined this regiment for service in Kenya and Abyssinia, before going on with them for service in North Africa with the 1st SA Infantry Division.

While serving in Egypt in late 1941 he applied for a transfer to the SAAF and was selected for training in Benoni, receiving his wings at Kimberley on 26 June 1943, as well as a commission as Lieutenant. In November 1943 he was promoted to Captain and seconded to RAF Bomber Command, where he distinguished himself by his competence and daring.

In July 1944 he was posted to the elite RAF Pathfinder Squadron and ultimately became a "Master Bomber". On 23 December 1944 Edwin took part in a daylight attack on the railway marshalling yards at Cologne, in the course of which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his gallantry and determination.

On 23 February 1945 Edwin Swales took part in a huge bombing raid on Pforzheim. Edwin acted as the Master Bomber, leading the attack as pathfinder and his 'plane was severely mauled by enemy fighters. While losing two engines and his tail guns in the action over Pforzheim, Edwin continued guiding his bombers in and then set out for home. He didn't make it, losing height in bad weather. However, his 7 fellow crew members were able to successfully bail out, while Edwin attempted a crash landing in Belgium. For his gallantry in sacrificing his life to save his crew, he was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). He is buried in Leopoldville Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Early in 2009, it was learnt that the name of a major road in Durban, which had been named "Edwin Swales VC Drive" after the city's famous son, was to be re-named "Solomon Mahlangu Drive". As a result a group of members of the society, including prominent members of the KZN branch, decided to do something positive to continue honouring Edwin Swales. After much deliberation, it was decided to erect granite memorials in his honour in the Memorial Courtyard of DHS, his old school, and on the Memorial Wall of the NMR, his old regiment. These plans were successfully carried out and David closed off his talk with a selection of photographs taken by Bob Smith at the unveiling of these two monuments.

After a short question period Ivor introduce the next speaker. This was the well-known and popular speaker, committee member and past chairman, Hamish Paterson, who spoke on "The Battle of Pharsalus, 48 BC".

Using an overhead projector and employing his own inimitable humorous style, Hamish commenced with a brief and simplified description of the ancient Roman constitution. He then showed how this far-from-perfect document led to flagrant political corruption and an undermining of Roman military strength, through stringent military service requirements.

Various Roman leaders attempted to alter this latter problem and one of them, Marius, finally pushed through legislation which did away with the restrictions for enlistment, thus allowing the Roman Army to be expanded dynamically by the use of foreign legionaries. This same Marius married Julius Caesar's aunt, thus defining Caesar's future political approach. He then became embroiled in the 1st Roman Civil War, which resulted in his demise and a man named Sulla becoming master of Rome.

The 1st Roman Civil War had the effect of bringing two generals, Caesar and Pompey, to the fore. Caesar had the Roman equivalent of the VC and was a proven campaigner. Pompey was a successful commander who had risen through being in the right place at the right time and by having a knack for self-glorification. Inevitably the two differed politically, with Caesar serving in Gaul and following Marius' political precepts and Pompey being a follower of Sulla. Eventually the political situation in Rome deteriorated to such an extent that Caesar felt obliged to intervene, by returning to Rome from Gaul. He marched south, famously crossing the Rubicon in the process. Pompey, who opposed him, fell back first on Rome and then to Brindisium, modern day Brindisi, eventually withdrawing with his army intact across the Adriatic to Greece. From there he posed a potential threat to Caesar.

Incredibly, Caesar did not follow Pompey across to Greece but instead moved west to deal with forces in Spain still loyal to Pompey. Defeating them, he returned to Brindisium, from where he launched a surprise winter attack, taking Pompey's navy by surprise. Then began a war of manoeuvre with Pompey falling back on Dyrrachiuum. Caesar encircled him there with a complicated series of entrenchments, but at the last moment Pompey broke out and moved south to Pharsalus, following Caesar as he withdrew. Both sides then deployed for battle at Pharsalus and after a week of marching and counter-marching, Pompey offered battle. He had the numerical advantage of six to one in cavalry and two to one in infantry.

Pompey's plan was to use his cavalry to overwhelm Caesar's and then roll up Caesar's infantry. However, Caesar outguessed him and placed six cohorts of veteran infantry in a concealed position behind his third "front line" of infantry. As Pompey's cavalry swung around Caesar's right flank, they ran into this hidden force and were broken and routed. Caesar's veterans then followed this up by turning Pompey's left flank and rolling up his infantry. The battle ended in an overwhelming defeat for Pompey, who fled to Egypt where he was subsequently murdered. The triumphant Caesar returned to Rome to meet his destiny during the Ides of March.

At the conclusion of this talk Ivor invited committee member Marjorie Dean to thank both speakers and then closed the meeting for tea.

Ivor Little,

* * * * * * *


One of our Durban members, David Bennett, has recently published
"A Guide to the History and Architecture of Durban", price R80.
Published by: Itafa Amalinde Heritage Trust (Formerly the Durban Heritage Trust). 2010
Contact him at e-mail Telephone: 031-564-2226 Fax: 031-564-2381
Details are on our website too...

* * * * * * *

Cpl Schiess VC

Honouring Corporal Schiess, the only Swiss citizen to be awarded the Victoria Cross. (Rorkes' Drift 22 January 1879)

A showcase dedicated to Corporal Schiess will be inaugurated on 14 October 2010 at 18h00 in "The Museum of the Swiss Abroad" at the Chataeu de Penthes, Geneva, Switzerland. For further details contact Ben Holt on e-mail at or on telephone 022-776-5003, cell 079-637-9154.

* * * * * * *

For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh: 021-592-1279 or 531-6781
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Ivor Little
For subscription or web-site queries contact Joan Marsh

* * * * * * *