South African Military History 


Newsletter No/Nuusbrief Nr 74 November 2010

SAMHSEC's 11 October 2010 meeting in Port Elizabeth opened with Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men. Staff Sergeant Fred Green joined Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard in April 1893. He took part in the Bechuanaland Campaign, for which service he was awarded the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal with clasp Bechuanaland. During the ABW, in January 1901, he was in command of a mounted patrol which was surrounded by Boers about 2 hours ride from Steynsburg. Green was shot through the shoulder blade and four men of his patrol were captured and stripped of their arms, ammunition and kit. Their horses were taken and they were set free. He survived this experience and served for the rest of the war, being promoted to S Sgt before its end. Green was awarded both the Queen's and King's South Africa Medals. The Queen's was presented to him by King Edward V11 and the King's by the Duke of Connaught. In 1902, shortly before the war ended, Green was one of seven from the PAVG in the Colonial Contingent representing the Colonies at the Coronation of King Edward V11. During this visit, he was presented with both the QSA and the Coronation Medal. After 20 years service, he was presented with the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal.

The curtain raiser by Yoland Irwin was on Queen Victoria's Chocolate Boxes. In 1899, Queen Victoria decided to send tins of chocolate to the troops fighting in South Africa. The tins held half a pound of chocolate each and the order was equally split between the three chocolate manufacturers in England at the time, namely Fry and Son, Cadbury and Rowntree. Originally 90,000 tins were ordered, later increased to 120,000 tins. The tins had to conform to a basic size and shape, with rounded edges so they could easily fit into knapsacks. The tins had the Queen's head embossed in the centre, with her crest on the left and "South Africa 1900" on the right. A message from the Queen was at the bottom of each tin - "I wish you a happy new year - Victoria Regina". They were sent out in late December 1899, arriving in South Africa by February or March 1900. Troops defending Kimberley and Mafeking lost out on receiving a tin during this time and an additional order of 3,000 tins was placed for them in October 1900.

John Stevens then spoke on The Confederate Medal of Honor. On 13 October 1862, the Confederate Congress approved the issue of a Medal of Honor for deeds of exceptional valour. Notice was sent to all units to nominate candidates. A list, known as the Roll of Honor, was returned and added to throughout the war, eventually numbering nearly 2,000. Disagreement on the concept of a medal and financial difficulties precluded the issue of a medal. After the war, a Confederate Veterans Association was formed and part of its mission was to preserve the memory of the men on the Roll of Honor, but due to the difficult circumstances of the times, was unable to do much in this respect. On 1 July 1896 a group chartered as the Sons of Confederate Veterans was formed to preserve the memory of Confederate soldiers, including those on the Roll of Honor. In 1977, Private Samuel Davis of Coleman's Scouts, became the first posthumous recipient of the Confederate Medal of Honor. Since then, 54 Confederate Medals of Honor have been awarded.

Pat Irwin then spoke of The Battle at Ntombe River Drift. The action took place at about 0500 on 12 March 1879, when a Zulu force of 800 - 900 men under Mbilini KaMswati, attacked British soldiers sleeping in their tents at a drift known at the time as Meyer's Drift on the Ntombe River. Caught unawares, it was all but over within 20 minutes and the British, with a loss of 79 men, had suffered a second major defeat after the defeat at Isandlwana five weeks earlier.

At the beginning of March 1879, the central invasion column had retreated and the southern column was besieged in Eshowe, which left only the northern column under Col Evelyn Wood as an active force. Among its tasks was the securing of the supply route from the Eastern Transvaal. On 7 March a detachment of the 80th Regiment (the Staffordshire Volunteers) under the command of Capt David Moriarty was sent from its base in Luneberg, nine km south of Meyer's Drift, to escort a supply column. Unable to cross the drift due to flooding, the detachment laagered on both sides of the river, with the main force under Moriarty on the north bank. On the south bank, Lt Harward had under his command Sgt Booth and 33 men. On 11 March, Maj Charles Tucker, OC of the 80th Regiment, visited the laager and expressed concern at the large gaps between the wagons, which was in violation of Lord Chelmsford's general order on the matter. He did not, however, order the gaps to be closed. That night, with no changes having been made by Moriarty, there were only two sentries and no outlying pickets posted. Although Harward alerted the north bank at 4 am when a random shot was heard and stood his men to, no preparations to receive an attack were made on the north bank. When the attack took place, the Zulus surged through the gaps between the wagons and most of the men on the north bank, including Moriarty, were assegaied as they emerged half-dressed from their tents.

From here the story diverges. It was alleged at the time that when 200 Zulus crossed the river upstream and advanced on the party on the south bank, Lt Harward fled the scene. A small group of men was rallied by Sgt Booth, who then conducted what was described as a 'fighting retreat' to Luneberg, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Although at first supported in his action by his OC, Maj. Tucker and by Lord Chelmsford, Harward was later censured, court-martialed and vilified, probably under pressure from other senior officers: in essence a scapegoat was needed. Harward was duly court-martialled, accused of cowardice and negligence. Although he was found not guilty and acquitted on all charges, Sir Garnet Wolseley, in command of British Forces in South Africa, refused to confirm the findings of the Court. In this, he was supported by the Duke of Cambridge, the C in C of the British Army, the latter having a statement condemning Harward's actions read out in front of every regiment in the army. Although Harward returned to his unit, his army career was effectively over and, a short time later, he resigned his commission and disappeared into obscurity. In the end, he was held responsible for deficiencies in Moriarty's and Tucker's conduct. Pat's talk was illustrated by photographs taken during a recent visit to the battlefield.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 8 November 2010 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Andre Crozier will speak on The Battle Of Grahamstown and Jock Harris on 32 Battalion.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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