South African Military History 

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Our speaker on 10 February 2011 was Dr the Reverend David Christie whose topic was the Scottish Jacobite Uprising in 1689, the Cameronians, the battle of Dunkeld and religious freedom in Scotland. Dr Christie was a serving officer of The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) at the disbandment of the Regiment in 1968. He saw active service in Malaya, Borneo and Aden and was the first British officer to qualify as a US Airborne Ranger. He was one of the founders of The Malaysian Rangers. He emigrated to South Africa in 1968, became a Presbyterian Minister and served as a SA Police Chaplain. The subject of study for his D.Th. thesis was "The Cameronian contribution to freedom of religion". He subsequently moved to Villiersdorp where he became highly successful in the property market.

Dr Christie introduced his talk by giving us a brief outline of Scottish history prior to 1689. He explained that Scotland was a separate nation until 1707 and showed us a slide of a painting of the battle of Blenheim in 1704, with the Cross of St Andrew (white cross on blue background) clearly visible on a flag.

He then gave us a brief introduction to the history of Scotland during those turbulent times. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Stewart rulers of Scotland and England attempted to enforce Royal absolutism on both countries. This included ecclesiastical pressure on the Scottish Presbyterians and gave rise to a movement known as the Covenanters. Their services were known as Conventicles, held in secret, frequently on the moors. As persecution increased, worshippers went armed to these Conventicles for self-defence in case of attack during the services.

Royal efforts to impose Episcopalianism on Scotland intensified after the Restoration of 1660. These were resisted by force and, in 1666, open revolt broke out - known as the Pentland Rising - which was put down with great severity after the Covenanters were defeated at Rullion Green.

Open revolt broke out again in 1679, when some Covenanters defeated a small royalist force at Drumclog, but they were soundly defeated by the royal army at Bothwell Brig shortly afterwards. The covenanters split into two factions, moderate and extreme, the extreme element becoming known as the Cameronians after the martyred covenanting preacher Rev Richard Cameron, "The Lion of the covenant".

Subsequent to Bothwell Brig, the Covenanting movement virtually collapsed in Scotland. The leaders fled to Holland and the common people who remained were severely persecuted. In 1680, two ministers, Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill returned from Holland to preach in the fields against Erastian limitations on doctrine, worship, discipline and church government. They were hunted down and killed. Their followers, now called Cameronians, formed their own church known as the United Societies, separate but not sundered from the Church of Scotland (the Kirk).

The Cameronians became a small but vociferous group, not only persecuted but denigrated by moderate Presbyterians. Throughout the "Killing Times" they ensured a considerable degree of freedom of religion for themselves despite the ever intensifying persecution. Their stance was vindicated at the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688/9. One outcome was the raising of a guard and a regiment of Cameronians. This enabled a period of comparative calm and safety to prevail, thus allowing Parliament and the General Assembly to finalise the Revolution Settlement for both Church and state without any external threat from Jacobitism.

During these turbulent times the nobility who owed their titles and lands to the king remained loyal to him. King Charles II was succeeded by his brother King James II in 1685. He alienated the Parliaments of England and Scotland. England seemed to be drifting into civil war. When the Prince of Orange, whose wife Mary was heir to the British throne, landed in England with a cosmopolitan army of 24 000 men, King James sent his wife to France and followed her on 11 December 1688. In April 1689, King William III and Queen Mary were crowned joint sovereigns.

In July 1689 Viscount Dundee raised the Scottish Highlands for the Jacobite (supporters of King James) cause. At that time Scotsmen were serving in the armies of both France and Holland. Dundee's army totalled some 2 000 men while Gen Hugh Mackay's pursuing force had 3 500 men.

The two armies met just north of the pass of Killiecrankie on 27 July 1689. A short but bloody battle took place as evening was drawing near. Mackay's brigade fought in the continental fashion firing volleys but, when the highlanders charged them, they fixed bayonets and could no longer fire their muskets as the bayonet was inserted into the muzzle of the musket to form a sort of pike. This was no match to the highland claymore and Mackay's brigade was cut to pieces. They fled pursued by the highlanders until they reached the baggage train! Loot became more important than pursuit! Dundee had been killed earlier in the battle.

Mackay regrouped his force and the Cameronians were sent by their political masters with some cavalry to Dunkeld, a nearby town. This was done under very suspicious circumstances - a conspiracy for their destruction was a possibility.

They arrived at Dunkeld on 17 August 1689 and were joined by Lord Cardross' cavalry. The regiment deployed to defend the town and its river crossing. Their commander was Lt Col William Cleland, the son of a gamekeeper, described by his general as "not much of a soldier!" A large Jacobite force arrived and the battle commenced on 20 August 1689.

Dr Christie showed us a plan of Dunkeld with Cleland's dispositions marked on it. The unit was in well chosen positions - behind walls and in ditches. Half of his men were armed with flintlock muskets and the other half with pikes, a good combination with the pikemen holding off the enemy while the musketeers were reloading. The cavalry attempted to cut the Jacobites off from their communications. This did not work out and the cavalry retreated and returned to Perth. The retreat of the cavalry horrified the Cameronians who were outnumbered five to one. The troops thought that the officers would leave the men as well, seeing that they were mounted. So Cleland announced that the horses would be shot and he would kill his horse first. This convinced the troops who were then ready to fight to the death. The battle lasted for two days. Cleland and his second in command were both killed and Capt Monroe took over.

Each position was defended until it became untenable and a retreat to the next position became essential. There was thus a slow retreat to the inner perimeter but carefully controlled. When they ran out of musket balls the lead gutters on the town buildings were pulled down, melted down and made into musket balls. The Cameronians fought with such courage and determination that the Jacobite army eventually withdrew. The defenders had won a significant victory which broke the back of the first Jacobite rebellion. Stability was guaranteed and this enabled many major social and religious changes in Scotland.

The little-known victory at Dunkeld has been largely overshadowed in history by the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie, but, in terms of lasting effect on Scottish history, the results of Dunkeld are far more significant.

The resemblance of Killiecrankie and Dunkeld to Isandhlwana and Rorkes Drift respectively are very clear, as pointed out by our speaker.

The regiment continued in the service of the British army for nearly 300 years, a tough fighting regiment rendering distinguished service but not much loved by the other Scottish regiments. They were a Lowland regiment. What no enemy could achieve was achieved by the British Army itself. During one of the many reorganisations in modern times (for "reorganization", read "reduction"!), it was decided that the Scottish Division should be reduced by one regiment. The axe fell on the Cameronians and they were disbanded at Douglas on 14 May 1968 after nearly 300 years of service.

The disbandment parade took the form of a conventicler. Picquets had been posted. The picquet officer had reported to the chaplain. The two wings of the regiment stood under arms, forming a V with the regimental communion table at the apex. On the table were the Regimental Cross and the sword of William Cleland. A congregation of several thousand were present with the ruins of Castle Dangerous behind them Nothing much had changed since 1689. The regiment had come home to die.

In the words of General Graham, Colonel Commandant of the Scottish Division:

"You have never yet yielded to enemy swords. You have to yield now to the stroke of a pen in Whitehall!" Despite being betrayed and deserted at Dunkeld, the Cameronians had gone on for nearly 300 years to make a name for themselves as exceptional fighters.

Not a bad heritage for a unit whose general had described himself as "not much of a soldier"!

Cdr Mac Bisset thanked Dr Christie for an enthralling talk and presented him with the customary gift.



Our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences are extended to our committee member Derek O'Reilly and his family on the loss of his wife Hilary who passed away on 13 February 2011.

We extend our best wishes to Brig-Gen Dick Lord who was hospitalised again a couple of weeks ago. It would appear that the doctors finally laid their fingers on the main problem which has hopefully been resolved. Gen Lord is still in hospital for observation. Mrs Lord indicated that he should finally be home again by the end of this week. Gen Lord sends his regards to all the members and an appreciative "thank you!" for all the calls and messages wishing him well, that he received during his illness. On behalf of our members and the Society we wish him a speedy and full recovery.

We welcome new members Rear Admiral (JG) A Cole and Messrs R Kriel and G Gooderham who have joined since the beginning of the year. We hope to see them at our monthly meetings.



A reminder that the Cape Town Branch will have its Annual General Meeting in April, to coincide with the talk of the 14th of April. The AGM will start promptly at 20:00, to be immediately followed by our scheduled talk. The notice of the meeting will be mailed /or sent by electronic mail to all members, together with the April Newsletter. The agenda and audited statements of income and expenditure will also be included, as well as made available at the meeting. Matters for consideration or points to be discussed must reach the Secretary not later than 12:00 on the day of the meeting (please refer to his contact details at the end of the newsletter).



It is with great sadness that we have to report that Brig KWM (Ken) Snowball, the National President of the SA Air Force Association, passed away on 4 March due to cancer of the liver.

Five of our members have attended the opening ceremony of the restored De Waal Battery on Robben Island on the 4th of March, 2011. Col Lionel Crook was one of the speakers at the ceremony (he is also the author of the forthcoming book, Island at War, detailing the island's history as a defensive bastion for Table Bay and the sea routes around the Cape. Major Tony Gordon and Cdr Mac Bisset have been invited (under the auspices of the chairman, Johan van den Berg and Brig Gen John Del Monte's heritage consulting and facilitation firm, Cape Heritage Development Concepts cc.) in recognition of their decades-long, dedicated involvement in military heritage in and around Cape Town. (Brig Gen John Del Monte could unfortunately not attend.) Last, but not least, was fellow-member Glenn Von Zeil (SANR), who was also present.

The ceremony involved the unveiling and demonstration of the No 3 Gun of the battery of three "Ordnance BL 9.2in Coast Defence Guns". The gun in question, an "Ordnance BL 9.2in Coast Defence Gun on a Mk VII mounting", has been restored as a moving display, with all the hydraulics working, enabling the turret to be fully traversed through 360°, the gun being elevated to 25° and the loading/ ramming mechanism operating as on the real thing. South Africans, and especially military historians and heritage conservationists, have reason to be proud of the achievement: Of the original ninety-eight (98) 9.2 inch guns that did service worldwide during WWII, only about twenty remain. Of these twenty, twelve are in South Africa, the De Waal Battery being the only battery in the world that has been restored as a static display, with the No. 3 gun being the only gun in the world that has been restored as a moving display! (Plans are afoot to also restore the Scala Battery at Simon's Town as a static display in due course). One of those rare and perfect early autumn days that nature blesses the Cape with from time to time, only added to the pleasure and the enjoyment of the event. The limelight of the unveiling of gun No. 3 was seriously challenged by the sprightly presence and participation of Maj-Gen Graham Dunbar Moodie, who commanded the battery during WWII. Gen Moodie made an impromptu speech because, as he put it, "the youngsters were not getting the facts right" - a performance appreciated by all and sundry present, all the more because of the fact that he is 99 years of age! Also present were Cdr Bob Sharpe (96) the Technical Officer serving under Gen Moodie, and some other WWII veterans who had a link to the Cape Coastal Batteries: Mrs. June Bates, Mrs. Lucy Edwards and Mrs. Anne McMurray (all three were WW2 SWANs serving on Robben Island); Mrs. Joan Rabkin (WWII AS WAAS on Robben Island & served on mainland batteries as bombardier), as well (retired) WO1 James Stemmett (served in SA Navy during WWII).

(Picture Credits from top to bottom, courtesy of CHC: 1) Gen Moodie, (Ret) Cdr Bisset, (Ret) Adm (JG) Arne Soderlund; 2) (Ret) Adm (JG) Arne Soderlund, Lt-Col McKinney, Col Crook; 3) Maj Gordon, WO1 Wessels (SANS), WO Croome (SANS); 4) Maj Gen Moodie, and 5) Gun No. 3, De Waal Battery, Robben Island)

A number of books of SA Military interest were recently published locally, being:

1) Shearing Taffy & Shearing, David (eds): From Jo'burg to Dresden - A World War II Diary by E.B "Dick" Dickinson: Mossel Bay (South Africa), 2010, 180x258mm, Rigidbound Paperback, illustrated, 165 pp.
2) Shearing, Hilary Anne: The Cape Rebel of the South African War, 1899-1902: Stellenbosch, 2010, 210x293mm, Rigidbound Paperback, Map, 252 pp. (Commercially available copy of Dr Shearing's Ph.D. thesis, 2004)
3) Brent, Winston: Douglas C-47 Dakota in SAAF Service - A Pictorial History 1943-2010 (African Aviation Series No 15): Nelspruit (South Africa), 2010, 210x 2997mm, Rigidbound Paperback, colour & b/w illustrations, 160 pp.

A particular distinction has befallen Col. Jan Breytenbach, author of Eagle Strike! - The Story of the Controversial Airborne Assault on Cassinga, 1978: His book has been translated into German and is commercially available in Germany under the title Adlerstoss! - Die Geschichte eines kühnen Luftlandeunternemhems (Borsdorf, (Deutschland, 225 S.). The book is a paperback and in Rigidbound format, illustrated, in an edited, expurgated edition, but similar to the original English edition in format and cover design. "The Battle of Cassinga" (Operation Reindeer), as the airborne assault on the SWAPO base on 4 May 1978, is normally referred to, have not received a wide coverage in terms of military history internationally, unlike the political white-washing that is more prevalent. This about to change: The distinguished British military historian, Robert Kershaw, himself a Colonel who has served with the British Parachute Regiment - "The Red Devils" - recently penned a popular history of airborne operations during the 20th Century. Mainly known for his excellent WWII histories, and his brilliant book on Gen Custer of Little Big Horn fame, his first venture into airborne warfare, called Sky Men: The Real Story of the Paras (London, 2010, 392 pp.), gives an impartial, synoptic account (12 pages) of the battle, no doubt stimulated by the appearance of Col Breytenbach's book in 2008. Hopefully more international accounts from military historians will follow, to describe events at Cassinga, as well as such pivotal battles as Cuito Cuanavale, from a factual, non-political point of view.




17 MARCH 2011: First In, Last Out: The South African Artillery in Action in Angola, 1975-1988, by Lt-Col Clive Wilsworth.

Our forthcoming speaker is the author of a recently-published a book on the history of the South African Artillery's role in the Border War and in Angola. The title of the book, First In, Last Out: The South African Artillery in Action, 1975-1988*, reflects the subject of our talk for March. Lt-Col Wilsworth's military career was inextricably linked to artillery from his call-up for National Service in 1969, to his retirement from the military in 1994. The years in between were spent in the field, consecutively in 4 Field Regiment, six years with the Natal Field Artillery and subsequently with 14th Field Regiment (as a Regular). Between 1978 and 1988 he was a battery commander and intelligence officer, spending most of the time on the border and being involved in most of the major operations during this period. He was also involved in the development of new weapon systems. Ultimately, he was posted to Army HQ as a staff officer where he was in planning and implementation of artillery projects till his retirement.
* Lt-Col Wilsworth's book was published in August 2010 in paperback-format, illustrated, maps, 416 pp. by 30° South Publishers in Johannesberg.

NOTE: Due to the fact that Lt-Col Wilsworth's visit do not coincide with our normal scheduling of meetings, we saw it fit to amend the schedule to accommodate him. The chairman has had the opportunity to attend a similar lecture by our guest speaker in August 2010 in Johannesburg and he thought it fit to suggest to the branch committee to amend the schedule so that our members can also have the benefit of enjoying an excellently-prepared and -delivered presentation on a topic of great historical relevancy and interest.

14 APRIL 2011: XENOPHON: In the Footsteps of the Ten Thousand, by Dr Dan Sleigh
(SECOND Thursday of the Month)
Our speaker for April, Dr Dan Sleigh, historian and author, is no stranger to us. Dr Sleigh has lectured to the society on a number of occasions in the past. His last lecture, a few years ago, dealt with the Attica-born historian, Xenophon, who chronicled the expedition led by Cyrus the Younger against his older brother, the emperor Artaxerxes II of Persia, in 401 BC. Xenophon participated as young man in this expedition and shared the same trials and tribulations suffered by Cyrus' ten thousand followers in their epic march through Asia Minor, largely located in modern-day Turkey and Iraq. This feat has so intrigued and fascinated Dr Sleigh, that he undertook an expedition himself, together with his daughter, to retrace as much as possible of the footsteps of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand..... His experiences and reminiscences will be the subject of an illustrated lecture to supplement his previous talk and is surely an event not to missed...... (Dr. Sleigh's fascination with this intriguing subject, has, in his characteristic style, evolved into a book of note. Utilising Xenophon's famous Anabasis as foundation, he has built a historical novel around the epic event. Currently only available in Afrikaans, Afstande [lit. trans. as "Distances"] is issued in hardcover, 617 pp., published by Tafelberg, Cape Town)

12 MAY 2011: The Alamo, Slide-illustrated Talk by Stan Lambrick.
The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 - March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, the ending of which saw its 75th anniversary only this past Sunday, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio, Texas). All but one of the Texian defenders were killed, which included such famous names as Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett amongst the fatalities. Santa Anna's perceived cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians to join the Texian Army. Seeking to revenge the wanton slaughter of the Alamo's survivors, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution.


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