South African Military History Society

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July's lecture evening was again well supported, with attendance around the average of 70 per meeting.

The Chairman, Ivor Little, welcomed all those present, particularly Marlene Hugo (all the way from the USA) and asked that those present remember member George Duxbury, who had recently passed away. George was a former director of the Museum and his obituary can be found in the latest issue of the Journal.

Ivor then gave out the usual monthly notices. The attention of members was drawn to this month's unveiling of the memorials to Pieter Bouwer and Adolf van Emmenis, near Villiers on Saturday, 27 August, at 10h00. This has been circularized widely but for further details please contact David Scholtz at 011-530-5353(B) or 011-646-8236 (h).

Members are also invited to participate in the Fugitive's Trail Run/Walk on 20 August. This is a cross-country run/walk following the route taken by the survivors of Isandlwana and down to Rorke's Drift, a distance of 14 kms. For further details contact Ian at 011-892-5626 or

Members were also informed of the opening of a brand-new exhibition at the Voortrekker Monument, entitled Galary 20.20. This is an exhibition dedicated to former Prime Ministers and Provincial Administrators between 1910 and 1961, and is open on a daily basis.

Notification was also received of a "Koop 'n Afrikaans Boek dag" on 13 August. Most major booksellers are offering substantial discounts and prizes for Afrikaans books purchased on that day.

Members have also been invited to attend a "Kimberley Siege Weekend". This will take the form of an historical and social week-end with battlefield tours, unveiling of memorials and a series of evening lectures and talks on the siege of Kimberley. The activities will run from Friday, 14 October, through to the afternoon of Sunday, 16 October. For further details contact Steve Lunderstedt on 083-732-3189 or at

Because of a technical hitch involving the Society's computer, Ivor then decided to switch the order of speakers and thus introduced the main speaker of the evening. This was Tony Ford who had come from Northern Victoria in Australia to address the meeting.

Tony is a keen student of Australian military history and has written two books on the subject, with a third in the pipeline. He recently explored the Rustenburg-Mafeking area where his great-uncle, Trooper Joseph Hillier, served in the Australian forces during the Anglo-Boer War. The title of his talk was "Trooper Joseph Hillier - an Australian in the Boer War".

Tony commenced by giving a short background of Australia in 1901 and of the Hillier family, which had arrived in Australia in 1854. The subject of his talk, Joseph Hillier, was born in 1879 and was one of seven children. With the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, the Victorian government (Australia was not yet a Federation) provided state funding for raising contingents of "Bushmen" (an Australian colloquial term for someone living in the "outback"). This was matched by private funding and a number of contingents were raised.

The 3rd Victorian Bushman's Contingent called for volunteers, no previous military experience necessary, and when the applications closed on 18 January 1900, 1 500 volunteers had come forward to fill the 250 places available. The 250 lucky (?) ones were formed into two squadrons of company size and, after training, were transferred to Port Melbourne. From there they sailed, on 10 March 1900, aboard the Blue Funnel liner Euryalus for a 2-1/2 week voyage to Beira, via Cape Town.

They were assigned to the Rhodesian Field Force and from Beira moved across, via Bamboo Creek (where Joseph was hospitalised with "fever"), Marandellas and Bulawayo to Mafeking. In June 1900 the Boer General de Wet embarked on a policy of giving up trying to defend towns and instead concentrated on controlling the countryside. The British, who controlled Rustenburg and Mafeking, then had to control the line of communication between these two towns. The 3rd Victorian Bushman's Contingent found itself patrolling and convoying along this road.

One of the staging posts along this route was at Eland's River and on 18 July 1900 part of the contingent was caught there while convoying 58 wagons. They were completely surrounded by Boer forces. Young Joseph Hillier was in this group as an orderly to Captain Ham, its commander. The Australians were soon under a state of siege, a situation which lasted until 21 August 1900 and which entailed all the unpleasantness of being shelled and suffering from shortages of food and water. Relief came from the British forces chasing de Wet. The post was abandoned and the Australians foot-slogged the 85 miles to Mafeking, all their horses having been lost in the siege, together with 66 casualties. Joseph was not one of these but was wounded on the following day, during a skirmish at Vaal Kop. He was taken on to Mafeking and thence to hospital in Kimberley where the wounds to his knee and right arm were treated. So severely was he wounded that his right arm was amputated and for the rest of his life he also walked with a pronounced limp.

Joseph was invalided to the UK in March 1901 aboard the Kildonan Castle and, after a period in Netley Hospital near Southampton, was placed in the care of Lady Dudley for convalescence. He was shipped home in the Orient liner Oroya and arrived back in Melbourne on 18 December 1901 to a hero's welcome. His later years were spent in a variety of jobs with his family businesses, including farming and community service. It was a short, nasty war for Joseph, which left him permanently maimed, although he never allowed this to affect the full life he led.

Ivor thanked Tony for his most interesting and well-presented family tale and then, while the computer was being set up, asked past Chairman Bob Smith to brief the audience on the forthcoming tour of Pretoria in September. Ivor was also pleased to announce that Bob, together with Heinrich Jantzen and members of the Durban branch, had represented the Society at the recent Ladysmith Festival. In fact Bob had addressed a large audience of school children and had been awarded the Ladysmith Festival Literary Prize for his recently published novel "A Legacy Fulfilled".

Once the computer was hooked up the second speaker for the evening was introduced. This was none other than the well-known radio personality, Peter James-Smith, who for many years presented a popular food and wine programme on "The English Programme" aka SAfm. He is still actively engaged in the food production business and, not surprisingly, his talk was entitled "Professor Liebig's Miraculous Invention or the 19th Century Military Food Revolution".

Using a colourful and comprehensive Power Point display, Peter used his broadcasting experience to give a masterful and humorous account of the development of military rations for soldiers in the field. It is known that, as far back as the 1st Century AD, Chinese soldiers had a carefully calculated daily ration of dried meat and millet. The Romans also had a sophisticated supply and ration system for their troops. Roman garrisons had huge granaries and warehouses stocked with dried sausage and meat; dried fish and fish sauce; hard cheeses and biscuits. One portable mill was provided for every eight men, together with 1,5 kg of grain per day which was baked with salt and olive oil to make a "hard tack". They also ate dried bacon, sour wine and preserved olives, lentils, beans or rice.

By comparison, the Vikings carried dried fish and the Mongols solid blocks of dried milk. This pattern of dried meat; fish and meal continued down to the 15th Century, after which the pattern of "foraging" or "living off the land" emerged. This was a disastrous policy which reached its peak with Napoleon. He left the land in the Army's wake completely devastated and this led to periods of famine and privation. The situation altered when a chef and confectioner named Nicholas Appert (born in 1750) living in Chalons-Sur-Champagne invented a technique of filling champagne bottles with fruit and vegetables, sealing them with corks and submerging them in hot water to sanitize them. He and a backer set up a factory at Massy and turned out the first bottled food on an industrial scale. In 1795 a prize was offered to anyone who could preserve food for the Army. Appert had his bottled foods tested by the Navy and in 1810 collected the prize of 12 000 Francs. He was declared a "Benefactor of Humanity" in 1822 but he died a pauper in 1841.

Three months after Appert won his prize, Peter Durand patented a technique for sterilizing cans. This was taken up by John Hall and Brian Donkin and in 1813 Donkin & Hall was producing tin plate cans for the British Army. In 1841 Downes Edwards, a Surrey farmer, produced dried and extruded potatoes. Dried potatoes retain some vitamin C and so act as an anti-scorbutic. It came into extensive use by the British Army, Navy and emigrant ships. Attempts were made with other vegetables and, in 1847, this led to Symington's Desiccated Soups. In 1855 Alexis Soyer invented the military field stove for use in the Crimean War by the British. He also investigated various recipes which could be cooked on this stove, including dried vegetable cakes. A variant of Soyer's stove was in use by all field forces until the end of the 20th century.

Before that, in 1848, Baron Professor Dr Justus von Liebig, a professor of Chemistry at, of all places, Liverpool University, invented a "concentrated beef juice" which proved very popular in hospitals ad nursing homes. In 1862 Liebig met George Giebert, a civil engineer who had been working in South America and who told Liebig of the tons of discarded meat left to rot in Uruguay and Argentina after the carcases had been flayed for their hides. Leibig promptly established a factory in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, where he manufactured von Liebig's Extract of Beef. This became extremely popular and was used extensively by Polar expeditions and as military rations. However, it was the American Civil War which really got the canning industry going. In 1861, at the outbreak of the War, the production figure was 5 million per year. By the end of the War, it was 30 million per year.

This pattern of growth carried over to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Liebig sold his product to both sides but got into an argument with Louis Pasteur over the nature of yeast. This let to the rival development of a product made from surplus yeast in the brewing industry, namely Marmite. Other people got in on the act and John Lawson-Johnson obtained a French tender to supply cans of Johnson's Fluid Beef to the French army. This followed Liebig's idea but contained added ground beef and was thus more nutritious than Liebig's version. This was known colloquially as "Bully Beef". In 1886, Johnson launched Bovril and in 1899 Liebig retaliated with the first meat cubes - OXO. Today we have advanced to the "retort pouch", also known as a "tetrapack" and armies march and subsist on chemically manufactured foods unheard of even a few years ago, but Bully Beef, Marmite, Bovril and OXO are still with us.

The Chairman then called for a brief question time before asking John Parkinson to thank both speakers. This done, the meeting adjourned for refreshments.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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June 2011 Military History Journal

The June Journal has been posted to paid up members and reminder invoices will be sent to those who are listed as not yet having paid.

If you HAVE paid, but do not receive your copy by mid-August, please contact Joan as there are four people who made deposits which cannot be assigned. This is why you are asked to use your surname as the reference - the bank statement which states e.g. "Kloof" or "Subs" or "SAMHS" cannot be tied up to a specific member...

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KZN in Durban:

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Cape Town:

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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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