South African Military History 


Newsletter No 66 March/Nuusbrief Nr 66 Maart 2010

In the tenth talk in his series on British fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War, Richard Tomlinson covered a selection of forts built by British regiments and colonial town guards/district mounted troops. The former tend to be irregular in plan to fit ground contours and include rock outcrops, whilst the latter are often more regular. Both types were built of unmortared stone and were generally not roofed. In the first category, he illustrated Eagles Nest south-east of Johannesburg, a fort to the north-east of Heidelburg (which incorporated 3 corrugated blockhouses) and Fort Rosmead near Middelburg, E Cape, built by the Coldstream Guards. The town guard forts at Jansenville (a large rectangular structure on a prominent hill above the town), Knysna (like a small medieval castle overlooking the lagoon) and Montagu (4 small rectangular forts and a smaller circular one) were described with plans and photographs. They were all successful in deflecting Boer attacks, by Smuts' Commando at Jansenville, Kritzinger at Knysna and Scheepers at Montagu.

The curtain raiser by Peter Duffell-Canham concerned his uncle, Richard Duffell-Canham's service in WW2. Peter briefly summarized his two previous talks on his family's war service, namely his father John in the fledgling SA Navy on mine sweepers in the Mediterranean, and his uncle Alfred as a survivor of the sinking of the battleship HMS Barham.

Richard first served on the armed merchant cruiser HMS Alcantara, which was a passenger liners seconded to the Royal Navy due to a shortage of convoy escorts. As with all these ships, she was lightly armed with 4" and 6" guns and very little armour plating. Fortunately her only ship to ship gun battle was with a similar German vessel, which broke off the engagement. After heavy losses, the Royal Navy reverted to using these vessels as troop ships.

Richard then went to Combined Operations. There are no records in the family of his precise activities, except for a few photographs taken when the three brothers met up, the captions mentioning that he was on leave after a rough time during landings in North Africa and Italy, when he was part of the beach party ahead of the main troop landings. At the end of the war Peter's grandmother counted herself lucky to welcome her three sons home.

The main lecture was on the First Crusaders by Ian Copley. When Alexius, Emperor of Byzantium, in 1095, appealed for help from the West, being assailed by the Seljuk Turks and having lost half of his empire, including Jerusalem, Pope Urban II responded by calling for a crusade to recover Asia Minor and Jerusalem. He was influenced by Peter the Hermit reporting defilement of holy places. The Pope's tour of France in 1095/6 appealed to the Franco-Norman population.

First off the mark was Peter the Hermit with the People's Crusade in March 1096. Starting from Cologne with a rag-tag peasant army, who managed to massacre Jews on the way, it ended up as a pile of bones at Nicea in Asia Minor. Next to set off was Geoffrey de Bouillon in August 1096, whilst the Papal Legate Aldhemar le Puy departed in October 1096. Some five different armies, totalling 220 000 horse and foot, struggled across Europe to converge on Constantinopolis, crossing the Bosporus and assembling for their first action against the infidel at the siege of Nicea in June 1097. In the heat of summer a further battle occurred at Dorylaeum in July. By October they laid siege to the city of Antioch, in time to enjoy the privations of winter in a siege lasting to the following June 1098. The city was taken by means of a ruse just in time to be besieged in turn by the Syrian army of Kerboga, Atabeg of Mosul. Morale required the (convenient) discovery of the Holy Lance beneath a church in Antioch. Kerboga allowed the much diminished army, with only 200 horsemen still fit for battle, to leave the city, intending to finish them off in the open. However, a shower of rain and the display of the Holy Lance appeared to give the Crusaders miraculous immunity from the Turkish arrows, so the Turks fled, leaving all their supplies and equipment.

The Crusade, now supported from the sea, did not get under way again for a further six months. Some 50 000 of the men had died or deserted, so that, at the siege of Jerusalem, only about 20% of the original force remained and even fewer returned home. The siege of three weeks did not start until June 1099, when heat and water shortage were again a severe trial.

The West benefited in many areas from the exposure to a different culture, notably hospitals, medicine and surgery, whereas the infidel gained nothing, other than hate, and progress stagnated in the Middle East for the next 800 years.

SAMHSEC's tour to Hofmeyer, Norval's Pont and Colesberg from 28 to 30 May 2010 is on track. Anyone not already registered as a tour particpant who wishes to join the tour, is welcome to do so and should contact the Scribe.

Early warning is given of a SAMHSEC tour to the Kingwilliamstown and East London areas in August 2010. Richard Tomlinson's availability to coordinate this tour is recorded with appreciation.

Members are reminded that membership subscriptions for 2010 are now due. Should a member not have renewed membership by 31 March, it will be assumed that there is no intention to do so.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 8 Marrch 2010 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. After the last in Richard Tomlinson's series on British Fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War, the SAMHSEC AGM will be held in lieue of a curtain raiser. The main lecture will be by Jock Harris on Operations Hooper and Packer.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /