South African Military History Society

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The March meeting drew a good attendance of 73 members and was opened by the Chairman, who welcomed all present. First up to the podium after that was tour organiser, Bob Smith, who gave final details and instructions for the following week-end's historical tour.

After the normal notices the Chairman introduced the "curtain-raiser" speaker. This was Ian Thurston, who spoke on "Great Yarmouth in the First World War". This was an appropriate choice of subject as Ian was born in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk in the UK and for this talk had researched the town's military history to combine with his local knowledge. Starting with a short history of Great Yarmouth and an overview of it's geographical position, Ian then gave a most interesting and humorous account of the town's role in World War I.

Because of its position on the North Sea as the closest point of the UK to Germany, Great Yarmouth was an attractive target for sea and airborne raids by the Germans. It also served as a British submarine base for the disruption of German coastal shipping. Starting on 3rd November 1914, Great Yarmouth was bombarded three times by German battle cruisers, cruisers and destroyers. The 1914 attack was the first attack on the British mainland for 250 years and was an effort by Admiral von Hipper to lure the British naval forces in the vicinity into a battle in the North Sea. The effort was unsuccessful and little of strategic value was achieved, although the town was damaged and the British submarine D5 was sunk by a mine.

The second raid, on 24th April 1916, was timed to coincide with the expected Easter Rebellion by Irish Nationalists. The naval objective was once again to lure the British navy into a North Sea action. The nearby town of Lowestoft was included in this raid as it was serving as a mine-laying and -sweeping base.

The naval operation was supported by eight Zeppelins acting as the eyes of the fleet. Both Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth were attacked, with fairly heavy damage to the former, but with few casualties. The British did in fact react and in the course of the action HMShips "Conquest" and "Laertes" were badly damaged. Otherwise the operation was a failure as once again the British called off the chase before the German fleet could approach.

The final raid, on 14th January 1918, was a minor one in which a German destroyer squadron bombarded the town but with limited damage and few casualties. Great Yarmouth was also the target of the first air raid on Britain. On 19th January 1915 the Germans sent over three Zeppelins but with little effect. The damage was minimal but Martha Taylor and Samuel Smith became the first air raid fatalities in Britain and the effect on the British morale was considerable. Britain was no longer invulnerable to attack from the Continent.

Great Yarmouth was also a Royal Naval Air Station and produced its own air hero in Lt Bert Cadbury (of chocolate fame) who shot down two Zeppelins. It was also a Q-ship base, being home to the decoy ship HMS "Inverlyon" - an armed sailing smack which distinguished itself by sinking the German U-boat "UB40" off the town - the only time a sailing ship has succeeded in sinking a submarine.

Ian closed his lecture with a list of Great Yarmouth "firsts" which were quite a revelation to the audience and included such items as the first speed camera in the UK.

After the usual question period the Chairman, Ivor Little, introduced the main speaker of the evening, Robin Smith. Robin is well-known for his talks on the American Civil War and has spoken to the Society on this topic before. On this occasion the subject of his talk was "Sherman's March to the Sea".

Using a set of superb maps and concentrating on the personalities involved, Robin commenced with a brief biography of William Tecumseh Sherman, the famous United States Federal General in the US Civil War. Born in 1820 in Lancaster, Ohio, and one of eleven children whose widowed mother was financially unable to provide for her large family, Sherman was adopted by his neighbour, a wealthy Senator. He was sent to West Point, graduated in 1840 and then spent the next four years in Florida fighting the Seminole Indians. After thirteen years as a soldier, he resigned, and after a failed business career found his niche as Superintendent of the Louisiana Military Seminary. He was serving in that capacity when the Civil War broke out. He then returned to Ohio and, through family influence, was appointed a Brigadier General in the Federal Army.

His career got off to a rocky start after a run-in with the press but took a lucky turn when he found himself serving under Ulysses S Grant. Grant and Sherman were to form a formidable team and, after the battle of Shiloh, Sherman was promoted to Major General for his part in that battle. After a spell as Governor of Memphis, Tennessee, where Sherman proved to be ruthless in his treatment of the enemy, he was given a field command by Grant for an advance on Vicksburg.

Robin then led us through the vicissitudes of this campaign as Grant and Sherman smashed their way through the Southern States. Sherman continued to display a ruthless streak and adopted the technique of a "scorched earth" policy, leaving a swathe of destruction behind his army as he pushed through Tennessee and Mississippi and into Georgia and the Carolinas. He is probably best remembered for his march through Georgia and the burning of Atlanta. After a last confrontation with the Confederates under General Johnston, Sherman ended up in Raleigh, North Carolina and a few days later the South surrendered.

After the war, Sherman was an international figure and he was in great demand as a public speaker. He died on 4 February 1891 from asthma, after coming home from the theatre in severe weather. He was given a huge state funeral and is buried in St. Louis.

After the usual question period, Ivor called upon Committee Member Marjorie Dean to thank the speakers and then closed the meeting. Tea and refreshments were then served.

Many of those present were among those who gathered again on Saturday, 12th, for a tour of the scene of the 1922 miners' strike. Sixty-four people filled the tour bus for a most interesting tour of the older and less well-known areas of Johannesburg. It was a most interesting morning, which ended with a picnic lunch at the Military Museum. All involved were unanimous that this was a really worthwhile tour and look forward to the next one.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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This serves as a reminder that the 45th AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 14th April 2011.

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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279(am)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676

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