Newsletter no. 411
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ('DDH') was given by former Chairman Paul Kilmartin with a talk entitled "The Life and History of the first winner of the VC in the Anglo-Boer War". The talk started with a broad summary history of British Royalty from 1066 onwards, in order to explain how the House of Hanover became part of British history and how this led to the link with the first VC of the Anglo-Boer War.
Towards the end of the long reign of King George III (1760 - 1820) the second in line to the throne was his second son, the future King William IV (1830 - 1837). Over 30 years before he became king, and with the title of The Duke of Clarence, he set up home with an Irish stage actress (Dorothy Bland), whose stage name was Mrs. Dorothea Jordan. In their 15 years together they had 10 illegitimate children, but as the sons and daughters (5 of each) of a future king they were given aristocratic status and all were given the surname of FitzClarence.
Through the elder of these children, Major-General the Earl of Munster and then through one of his sons, Captain the Honourable George FitzClarence, RN, four more sons were born, two of whom were twins. They were born in Ireland on 8 May 1865 and it was one of the twins Charles FitzClarence - a great grandson of King William IV and great, great grandson of King George III - who 34 years after his birth was destined to become the first winner of the VC in the Anglo-Boer War.
Charles FitzClarence was commissioned in the Royal Fusiliers on 10 November 1886 and after service in the Sudan and now a Captain, he was sent in 1899 on special service to command B Squadron of the Protectorate Regiment in Mafeking, reporting to Major-General Baden Powell. There, on 14 and 27 October and later on 26 December 1899 he carried out actions of great leadership and personal bravery for which he was awarded the VC. The detailed citation was read out, which mentioned that in two of these actions FitzClarence was wounded and severely so in the December attack.
FitzClarence recovered from his wounds, was transferred to the Irish Guards and in 1902 returned to England to attend Staff College. He was a fighting soldier and unlikely to succeed as a staff officer, but passed the college anyway and in the run up to World War I he was given three commands - 5the Brigade at Aldershot, 1/Irish Guards and then command of the regiment all based at the Curragh. On 4 August 1914 he was given command of the 29 Brigade (part of the 10 Division) which was held in reserve and not yet involved on the Western Front. On 22 September 1914 he was promoted to Brigadier-General and given command of the 1st Guards Brigade in Belgium, reporting to 1st Corp and Lt. General Sir Douglas Haig. He arrived in time to face the major assault by the German 4th Army against 1st Corp at what became known as 1st Ypres.
On 31 October 1914, when the Prussian Guards drove British forces out of the village of Gheluvelt and took control of the defensive trench lines it seemed as though the battle would be lost. However, at a crucial time FitzClarence ordered an attack over open ground by 2/Worcesters - an attack which successfully regained the village and the trenches and the day was saved. It was one of the most critical moments of the battle and as it proved of the whole war and FitzClarence received great credit for his decisive action although only after his death.
The main talk was presented by fellow member Robin Smith and entitled Christiaan de Wet's last fling, Langverwacht - 23rd / 24th February 1902. On the farm Langverwacht there is a monument to the 23 New Zealander soldiers, who died in an encounter with a Boer commando on the night of 23rd and 24th February 1902. Sometime in 2000 the monument was destroyed by a falling tree, one of the two oak trees planted around the site of the mass grave. A grass fire had damaged and weakened the old oak. A high wind sometime later did the rest. Built from local stone, cut to shape on the site, the cairn had remained intact for 99 years from 1903 when it was erected. A small gathering paid tribute to the combatants of both sides. Willem Naudé from Vrede arranged the ceremony and, in spite of making contact with the New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria, nobody from New Zealand was able to attend. The New Zealand Government Heritage Ministry are the custodians of New Zealand's war graves but this is no longer a war grave. The remains of those buried in a mass grave at the foot of the monument were re-interred in a Garden of Remembrance in the Town Cemetery in Vrede in 1965. However, the fact that Langverwacht was the first occasion when a significant number of New Zealand soldiers lost their lives in a war on foreign soil was a deciding factor. The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, in fact ordered the rebuilding. The rebuilding of the structure was completed in November 2008. The two pieces of the white marble plaque were joined together and replaced. A further plaque has been placed to show the part played by the government of New Zealand in bringing this project to completion. On 22nd February 2009 the monument was rededicated in a ceremony attended by almost 80 people. The last post was played and wreaths were laid on the monument as well as at the cemetery in Vrede. New Zealand was the first of the colonial governments to offer troops for service in the war that seemed imminent between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic. Prime Minister Richard Seddon's motion to the House of Representatives received overwhelming support. Following the motion's adoption the members rose to sing "God Save the Queen" and gave three cheers for Queen Victoria. Seddon referred to New Zealanders' duty "as Englishmen to support the imperial cause." New Zealand sent almost 6500 men and 8000 horses to South Africa. The First Contingent arrived on 23rd November 1899 and was quickly followed by four more contingents early in 1900. When it appeared that the war was likely to be prolonged beyond the optimistic forecasts of the middle of 1900, further fresh troops were sent, the Sixth Contingent arriving in East London on 13th March and the Seventh in Durban on 10th May 1901.
It was in the Orange Free State where one of the most successful of the Boer guerrilla leaders, Christiaan de Wet, operated. De Wet may be said to have been the first to advocate and demonstrate the hit-and-run strategy that the British always found very difficult to counter. With the capture of Bloemfontein, and later Pretoria, by Lord Roberts's "steamroller" the Boers became very dispirited. It was Christiaan de Wet and President Marthinus Steyn who roused the hopes of their people by a brilliant revival of the form of warfare which was carried on by the Boers with varying success all over South Africa until the end of the war in May 1902. In December 1900 Lord Roberts, in Durban and on his way back to England, told a gathering that the war was practically over. President Kruger, after living some weeks as a fugitive in a railway carriage, had left for Europe aboard a Dutch warship. However, Louis Botha, Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet were still at large with bands of guerrilla fighters. Roberts had given orders that Boer farms were to be burnt as a way of denying them food. The war was practically over - the war of set-piece battles. But a new war, just as costly in time and human lives, and far more bitter, had only just begun.
In deciding to wage guerrilla warfare, the Boers took note that they were well-mounted and possessed of the best modern weapons. They were unconvinced of any tactical inferiority to the invaders of their countries. They undertook what became a long, heroic struggle adapted to the existing military organization of the two Republics. Throughout this new war, for that is what is was, the political and military control of their forces remained intact. The Boers retained their tactical superiority wherever numbers were even approximately even. For the British, this required the development and application of an entirely new technology and strategy. Apart from the monument on the burial site at Langverwacht, there are several places in New Zealand where their men are remembered. Farrier Leonard Retter was from Johnsonville, now a suburb of Wellington in the North Island where his father was the blacksmith. Two of his other sons served in New Zealand contingents in the Anglo Boer war. A monument now stands in Moorefield Road in Johnsonville and a short distance away are memorial gates at the entrance to a public park. In Amberley, a small town north of the city of Christchurch in the South Island, there is a monument to Farrier Sergeant O.H. Turner. The inscription reads "To thine own self be true" which was written on a piece of paper found on his body. Hamlet Act I scene 3: Polonius's advice to his son Laertes. No monument exists for the Boers who died at Langverwacht but the names of those members of the Vrede commando who died in various places during the war are inscribed on the monument in the garden of the Vrede Dutch Reformed church. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Porter, Commanding Officer of the 7th Contingent was given the honour of becoming a Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. All the men of the Seventh Contingent earned a South African War campaign medal with clasps reading "South Africa 1901" and "South Africa 1902".
Captain Brian Hoffman delivered a vote of thanks to both speakers. Former chairman Paul Kilmartin has presented his final talk to the society and this was described as a masterful performance. Paul was thanked for all the good work he has done for the society over the years.
The AGM was conducted by vice chairman Dr. John Cooke and the existing committee was re elected.
Chairman: Bill Brady
Vice Chairman Dr. John Cooke
Committee Members: Ken Gillings, Prof. Mike Laing, Prof. Philip Everitt, Dr. Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller, Maj. Gen. Chris Le Roux, Charles Whiteing.
Donald Davies was proposed and seconded to be on the committee.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
Thursday 13th May 2010 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be presented by guest speaker Aubrey Short on "How we protected Durban from the Japanese."
The Main Talk will be presented by fellow member Charles Whiteing on "The Battle for Le Pont de Hoc, Normandy 1944."
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: June - August 2010:
DDH - 'D-Day - I was there' by Eric Colmer.
Main Talk - 'Normandy then and now; a Power-Point Presentation' by Bill Brady.
DDH - 'A Bridge called Pegasus' by Charles Whiteing.
Main Talk - 'The Role of Indian Troops During the Anglo-Boer War' by Ganes Pillay.
DDH - 'Allied Operations in Syria, Persia & Iraq, May to Sept. 1941' by Capt Brian Hoffman
Main Talk - "The Raid on Medway" by Jesse Wesseloo.
2010 Battlefield Tour:
This will take place over the weekend of the 18th / 19th September 2010. In response to several requests from our members, this year we will focus on the Central Column's invasion of Zululand in 1879 and cover the Battle of Isandlwana and the Defence of Rorke's Drift. For those who wish to, we'll also follow the Fugitive's Trail from Isandlwana to Fugitives' Drift. NB: This will entail a three hour walk followed by the crossing of the Mzinyathi River and should only be attempted if you are fit. For those who do not wish to walk the trail, we'll need you to ferry the vehicles from Isandlwana to Fugitives' Drift.
A list will be circulated with effect from the next meeting.
Accommodation has been reserved at the Elandsheim Lutheran Church Retreat at Elandskraal and they will soon require a deposit. Please let Ken Gillings know if you wish to attend the tour by e-mailing him on firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like to contribute to the lectures on site, please indicate this in your e-mail, giving details about your topic.
The following accommodation is available at Elandsheim:
Dinner B&B is R320.00 per person per night.
Self catering: Huts with en suite and Rooms under the oak tree are R220.00 per room per night.
Huts with shared ablution are R180.00 per night.
Camping is R100 per site (max 6 per site). We can offer Breakfast for R40.00pp. If bedding is required, add R40 extra per person.
Ideally, we need to arrive at Elandsheim on the night of Friday 17th September 2010 to enable us to make an early start on Saturday 18th September. The itinerary will be as follows:
SATURDAY 18TH SEPTEMBER 2010: 07h30 departure from Elandsheim. Briefing on the background to the Anglo-Zulu War on the bank of the Mzinyathi River at Rorke's Drift. Continue past Masodjeni to the area of Chief Sihayo's homestead, 'kwaSogekle' ('the rooster's comb') before continuing to the Nyoni Ridge for the next stage of the briefing. We'll then proceed to Mangeni for stage 4, then to the Mabaso for a discussion regarding the discovery of the main Zulu army, ending at Isandlwana for the details of the battle. We need to commence walking the Fugitives' Trail by 14h00, so the abovementioned arrangements may be curtailed or amended to ensure that this takes place. ETA Elandsheim 18h00.
SUNDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER 2010: 09h00 departure from Elandsheim, proceeding directly to Rorke's Drift for a detailed description of the famous Defence. It is anticipated that the tour will end by midday, enabling members to return home by 17h00.
NB: MEMBERS WILL HAVE THE OPTION TO CATER FOR THEMSELVES OR ORDER MEALS FROM ELANDSHEIM. PLEASE NOTE THAT YOU WILL ALSO BE REQUIRED TO PAY R20 EACH TO ENTER ISANDLWANA, FUGITIVES' DRIFT AND RORKE'S DRIFT (R60 PER PERSON).
South African Military History Society / email@example.com