South African Military History Society

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


April is, of course, the Annual General meeting month and it is pleasing to report that this important meeting went off very well. There was a surprisingly good quorum of 44 members present and these were welcomed by outgoing National Chairman, Bob Smith, in his usual friendly style.

Bob started off with the usual monthly notices, which included fore-warning of the Ladysmith Gun Run the following weekend-end, as well as the Honeyguides' Fugitive Trail Run in August. He then formally opened the AGM and called on the Secretary/Treasurer, Joan Marsh, to read the minutes of the last AGM. There were no comments or matters arising and Bob moved on to his own Chairman's Report.

In his report Bob paid tribute to each serving committee member, highlighted major society events in the past year and alluded briefly to future projects and plans. Three ladies who had distinguished themselves in society work over Bob's term of office, Joan Marsh, Lyn Mantle and Marjorie Dean, each received a bouquet of flowers as a gesture of appreciation and a presentation bottle of wine was presented to Susanne Blendulf for the sterling work she has done in producing the Journal. A very nice touch.

The Secretary/Treasurer then presented a very satisfactory Financial Report, which was passed with no queries as the Society is financially very stable.

Bob then called upon Colin Dean to announce the winner of the George Barrell Memorial Prize for the best "curtain-raiser" lecture. This went to Ivor Little for his talk "Project Dobbin". Colin then announced the winner of the Felix Machanik Memorial Prize for the best Main Lecture of the year. This was awarded to Judge Kathleen Satchwell for her lecture "From the Frontier to the Trenches". The next step was the election of the new chairman. There was only one nomination received and this was Ivor Little, who was elected unanimously.

Ivor then took over the running of the meeting and thanked the outgoing Chairman for the two years of devoted effort he had put into the Society. Other elections followed. The committee was re-elected en bloc and the Accounting Officer, Gavin Moore, was also unanimously re-elected. This brought the AGM to an end and the new Chairman, Ivor Little, then introduced the main speaker for the evening, Philip Weyers.

Philip is a leading figure in the South African world of military aviation and has held a number of prestigious posts in various South African Air Force organisations. He is the great-grandson of General J C Smuts and thus very active in other organisations associated with the Smuts family and Smuts House in Irene. He combined these two fields of interest in a talk entitled "General Smuts and the formation of the Royal and South African Air Forces".

Using a very professional Power Point display, Philip started his lecture with the beginning of the 20th century and the early aviation attempts in South Africa. One thing became apparent immediately and this was the willingness of the former Boer horsemen, such as Smuts, to see the potential of the aeroplane and it's military usage. Smuts, Botha and Christiaan Beyers all grasped the concept of air power and their ideas were spurred on by Cecil C Paterson who, in 1911, flew demonstration flights in South Africa in a Paterson bi-plane. Two replicas of this aircraft currently exist, one in the SAAF Museum in Pretoria and the other in Kimberley.

In 1912 Brigadier General Beyers was sent across to the UK and Europe to visit military aviation centres and this resulted in the first South African military aviators being enlisted in 1913. These were trained at the Paterson Flying School at Alexanderfontein. Five of these pilots were then sent for further training in the UK.

With the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent invasion of German South West Africa, Louis Botha immediately brought the fledgling SA Aviation Corps into action and, flying Henri Farman "Shorthorn" bi-planes, the Corps soon proved the value of aerial reconnaissance and spotting. Further expertise and experience was gained when Smuts also employed aircraft in his campaign in East Africa.

In 1916 Botha sent Smuts to London and he then became a member of the British War Cabinet. As the only member of that august body with combat experience, he naturally also assumed a leading role in British military policy, through the medium of the War Cabinet. Thus it was not surprising when, in 1917, the German Zeppelin bombing raids became a real problem, Smuts, together with David Lloyd George, was assigned the job of countering these raids. Lloyd George left it to Smuts, who produced his report in less than two weeks. Smuts' suggestions were successfully implemented.

Smuts then went further. Noting that the Royal Flying Corps was responsible for the Western Front and Royal Naval Air Service for the English Channel and that this resulted in a divided command. Smuts produced the single most important document in military aviation history on 17 August 1917.

Foreseeing the need for a strategic bombing capability and air superiority, Smuts put forward the idea of an independent air service under its own Air Ministry. This idea was welcomed by the War Cabinet and, on 1 April 1918, the RAF was established. At the same time Smuts was placed in overall charge of the British industrial war effort.

Among the South Africans serving in the newly formed RAF was Pierre van Ryneveld, who later distinguished himself by becoming the first person to fly from the UK to South Africa. He was identified by Smuts to head up a planned SAAF and, in 1919, was recalled from service in Germany to do this.

For her services in World War I South Africa was granted an Imperial Gift of 100 aircraft of mixed types, together with the necessary logistical back up. Swartkops Air Force Base in Pretoria was established and the new SAAF commenced operations on 1 February 1920. Thus the SAAF is the second oldest Air Force in the world.

Since 1920 it has participated in World War II, the Korean War and the Bush War. Today it is involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations but is desperately short of funding, in fact the future looks very bleak for this proud service.

After a short question period, committee member Malcolm King thanked Philip for an excellent talk and the meeting was adjourned. Immediately thereafter the committee assembled for a short meeting at which Mrs Marjorie Dean was elected Vice-Chairman of the Society.

Ivor Little


Seventeen members of the Society gathered at "The View" in Parktown, Johannesburg, on Saturday, 10 April, for a guided tour of the headquarters of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment.

It was a beautiful day and, after gathering in the garden and then enjoying a light lunch on the terrace, the group was welcomed by Captain Peter Digby, the Regiment's historian. Bob Smith then presented him with a presentation bottle of wine before Captain Digby led the group on a comprehensive and thorough tour of "The View".

This building is one of Parktown's historic mansions and is a treasure trove of military memorabilia relating to the Regiment's history. At the close of this fascinating visit, Captain Digby was thanked by Ivor Little, the Chairman, for a most entertaining day.

This tour was well up to the already high standard of tours set by our tour organiser, Bob Smith, and thoroughly enjoyed by all those who took part.

Ivor Little,


Freddy Ogterop, 021-761-8756 or e-mail, a consultant at the Visual History Archive, e-mailed the Society as follows:

"I am writing to you in the hope that one of your members might have some information about a documentary entitled "Zonderwater, city of prisoners" ("Captivi Italici in Sud Africa") directed by Steve (Stefano) Moni. It was shown at the Weekly Mail Film Festival in 1989 and then vanished. It seems to have been a very comprehensive overview, as it apparently ran for three hours. We re very keen to track down a copy for the Visual History Archive and the African Studies Library at the University of Cape Town.

Another project is the creation of a comprehensive database of South African film, from the very beginning to the present day. To this end I've been writing to individual filmmakers, archives, sponsors, television companies, etc. all over the world in order to discover what was made and what actually survives. If any of your members have or know of material that needs a safe home, we'd be very pleased to hear from them. We're working closely with Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town Libraries and are getting archival space on the UCT campus."

Please contact him directly if able to help.

* * *


* * * * * * *

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 contact (Joan Marsh)

* * *

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /