South African Military History 


Newsletter No 70 July /Nuusbrief Nr 70 Julie 2010

The SAMHSEC Tour to Hofmeyr, Norval's Pont & Colesberg from 28 to 30 May 2010 was attended by 25 members and guests. If you weren't one of them, you missed something!

SAMHSEC's annual meeting in Grahamstown on 5 June 2010 was preceded by a morning visit to Salem. The afternoon session opened with Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men. Colour Sergeant L.B. Westaway was the soldier chosen because of his service in both Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth units. Lionel Beare Westaway attested in the 1st City Volunteers in Grahamstown as an 18 year old. In 1897 he was in the 2nd contingent for service in the Bechuanaland Campaign. For this service, Westaway was awarded the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal, clasp Bechuanaland. On his return, Westaway relocated to Port Elizabeth, joined Prince Alfred's Guard and was promoted to Corporal. At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he volunteered for service and did line of communication duties in the Cape Colony, which was recognised by award of the Queen's SA Medal, clasp Cape Colony. At the outbreak of WW1, Westaway was a Colour Sergeant in PAG and accompanied the Regiment to Cape Town. Extended garrison duties resulted in mutiny by some troops as they felt they were missing out on the War and two companies of the Regiment were paid off. The remainder of the now under strength Regiment, including Westaway, were posted to Simonstown, where they remained until July 1915. His only medal for that war was the British War Medal. In 1917 he was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal for 20 years service.

The curtain raiser by Rick van Heerden was on the the M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, which was the primary tank used by the US during WW2. It was also distributed to allies via lend-lease. Evolved from previous medium and light tanks, it was the first American medium tank with the main gun mounted on a fully traversing turret. Production of the M4 medium tank exceeded 50,000 units and its chassis served as the basis for numerous other armoured vehicles, such as tank destroyers, tank retrievers, and self-propelled artillery. Only the Soviet T-34 tank was produced in larger numbers. In the United Kingdom, the M4 was given the name Sherman after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, following the British practice of naming their American-built tanks after American Civil War generals. Subsequently the British name found its way into common use in the US.

The original Shermans were powerful enough to defeat the German tanks they faced when first deployed in North Africa. But later, the Shermans were often pitted against Tiger I and Panther tanks, which had heavier armour and more powerful guns, and the Sherman tanks had to rely on numbers and mobility, often suffering heavy casualties. America's most advanced tank of the war was the M26 Pershing, but it was developed too late to play a significant role, as the US emphasized volume production of more Shermans. Post-war tank development built upon the M26, but the Sherman and its variants continued to be used in training and combat into the late 20th century.

The main lecture on Poems from South African Wars by Malcolm Hacksley, recently retired director of the National English Literary Museum, highlighted a less conventional aspect of the military engagements in which South African soldiers have been involved in the course of the past century and more. It sometimes seems in hindsight that war is a matter of glamorous heroics, clever strategy and even cleverer technology, but the young men caught up in these conflicts perceived the reality rather differently. Since those who survive sometimes practise selective forgetting, Malcolm reminded us how many of them actually felt and what they in fact said during the wars. Rather than on heroics, he concentrated on the hardships, the anger, fear, pain, boredom, frustration and the sardonic humour of the troops. He presented war from a human point of view, not from a political, strategic or nationalistic perspective.

To do so he referred to numerous battles and engagements from the First and Second Boer Wars, WW1, the Spanish Civil War, WW2, the Bush War in Rhodesia and the Border War in Angola, in all of which South African soldiers were involved. He illustrated his references by quoting poems showing how troops and others described their perceptions of these conflicts. By quoting the often moving and stirring words of 30-odd poets, some still famous, others almost completely forgotten, he showed how in contemporary verse vengeful and jingoistic sentiments gradually gave way to critical comment about conventional military training and tactics and to sardonic expressions about imperial intentions and practice. He noted that several poets assumed the tones and dialects of the common soldiery, thus identifying not with their own class, but with the less articulate and suffering masses. Among the many themes which emerged in his talk were the bitterness of shame, the agony of innocent suffering, resignation in the face of the inevitable, personal and national tragedy, the fury of betrayal, the horror of human slaughter, soldiers' humour, the humiliation of defeat, frustration, compassion, boredom, war-induced insanity, the senselessness and futility of war. He ended by reading in full the Port Elizabeth poet Margaret Gough's compelling account of her visit to a South African War Graves Cemetery near Bologna: "Castiglione dei Pepoli - 30 years later."

Mike Boyley is welcomed as a SAMHSEC member.

Two fellow members are congratulated on the recent publication of their respective books: Ian Uys on the sinking of the Oceanos and Blackie de Swardt on Springfontein in the ABW2.

The full text, maps and diagrams in PDF format of fellow member Dermot Moore's doctoral thesis on The role of the SAAF in the Korean War 1950-1953 is available on It may be of interest that 25 June 2010 marks the 60th Anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The USAF Museum website gives details of commemorative events and exhibitions as does the SAAF Museum website

Members interested in contributing to an EIA regarding proposed development in Stutterheim which might effect remnants of Dohne Post and the foundations of Baron von Stutterheim's residence are requested to contact Louise Jupp at

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 12 July 2010 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser An overview of the Anglo-Zulu War 1879 by Pat Irwin will be followed by the main lecture on The Battle of Isandlwana 22 January 1879, also by Pat Irwin

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /