South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 429
November 2011

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031 561 5542
Society's web site address:

The Darrell Hall Memorial talk was presented by fellow member Brian Thomas on "Our Family in the Military 1799-1995." Our speaker has been a medal collector for over forty years, and he proceeded to talk about twelve medal groups in his collection received by members of his and his wife's families. The medals were awarded for service between 1877 and 1995, the last being his son Bryn's second medal received in 1992. At the end of his talk he outlined earlier service of other ancestors, where he had not been able to locate the medals earned. None of his ancestors had been heroes or high ranking officers. He stated that an interesting aspect of this avenue of research, was that it resulted in one learning more about the units, the battles and the campaigns in which his ancestors served. Amongst the resources which he had used in compiling the individual stories, were the SANDF Documentation Centre in Pretoria, National Archives both in London and Cape Town, regimental museums and published histories, libraries and the Internet, family photos. Apart for the two medals received by his son for service 1988-1992, Brian spoke about both his and his wife's fathers, all four grandfathers, a number of uncles and one great grandfather. The last being a Sergeant with the Cape Mounted Rifles, the only professional soldier of the twelve, with 21 years service 1881-1901. Discharged medically unfit after the Boer War, this man was to draw his military pension for 50 years, dying in 1952.Some of the interesting stories and facts mentioned were the significant part played by SAR&H employees in WW2, the 797 casualties suffered by the Wits/de la Rey Regiment which only saw action in Italy in the last year of that campaign, the S.A. seamen who served as gunners in the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, the importance of the part played by the Coastal Defence Corps and the National Volunteer Brigade men who served mainly part-time in WW2. Brian's son as an Intelligence officer with S.A.M.S. showed initiative in getting his girlfriend shipped together with supplies, to spend two weeks in Oshakati whilst he was based there.

Brian closed by telling of an ancestor who served with the 7th Hussars at Waterloo, and another who had 27 years with the 7th Dragoon Guards, serving in the Eastern Cape 1843-48 when he then took his discharge and settled in the Transkei. Brian's hope is that what he had to say would be an encouragement to members to research their own family military ancestry. He offers to assist members in this regard.

The main talk was presented by fellow member Anthony Coleman on "The Disputed Territory as a Cause of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879."

The aim of the talk was to enlighten the audience on the significance of the Utrecht district in the lead-up to the Anglo-Zulu War in an interesting way and not merely to give an historical account of it. The speaker focused on the relationships between the major protagonists in the war and the role they played in its outcome.

Few accounts of the Anglo-Zulu War give consequence to the events that took place in the Utrecht district and the so called "Disputed Territory"in the years preceding the War. No account accuratly investigates the poor agricultural and pastoral capacity of the region and relates these issues to the political events of the time. The people living in the region at the time, both indigenous and settler (Boer) , faced enormous problems of survival in the region due to a variety of reasons.

While the urgent desire of the Boers for an outlet to the sea is covered in many accounts , issues facing the ordinary burgher attempting to survive within the geographic limitataions of the Utrecht Republic are given little or no consideration. Similarly, the role of the Zulu is emphasised but the complexities of the existing tribal compositions in the region , their political alliances , the poor pastoral capacity and extended unfavourable weather conditions , are given scant attention.

A series of severe droughts affected Southern Africa early in the 19th Century, some lasting nearly a decade and all of them following the previous one within a short period. This affected the indigenous peoples at a crucial time in their history, when trading patterns were changing and militarism amongst the tribal groups was beginning. Consequently there was a realignment of tribes within the region with some becoming stronger and some becoming weaker.

This issue was further exacerbated by the entry of the Boers into the region and the subsequent allocation of the area between the Mzinyathi River and Ncome River to about 200 families in 1854, by the then ruler of the amaZulu, Mpande kaSenzangakhona. The republic became part of the Transvaal in 1859.

What the Boers were unaware of was that the soils of the region and the harsh winters severly hampered livestock production as well as crops and this issue coupled with the unfavourable climatic conditions at the time, made the situation serious. A solution, was to cross over the Ncome river, the boundary between them and their Zulu neighbours, to graze their cattle .

This led to an argument over who were the rightful owners of the area, which simmered for many years, and matters reached boiling point before the Lt.Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer, arranged for a commission to sit at Rorkes Drift in March 1878. The commission ruled in favour of the amaZulu. This was a serious embarrasment to the recently arrived High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, who saw the decision as one threatening the relative peace between the recalcitrant Boers, in the Transvaal which had been annexed in April 1877, and the British Colonials. He could not contemplate a war with the Transvaal given his mandate from the Colonial Office to bring about a Confederation of States in Southern Africa. A war with the Zulus would therefore have to happen.

Fellow member Lt. Col. Graeme Fuller presented a most detailed vote of thanks to both speakers for their well researched and comprehensive presentations.

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Thursday 10th November 2011 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

The Darrell Hall (DDH) Memorial Lecture will be presented by Lt .Col. Graeme Fuller on Delville Wood 2011 and the 3rd Battle of the Aisne 1918.

The Main Talk will be presented by Capt (SAN) Brian Hoffman on "The Attack on Pearl Harbour (NB- 70th anniversary)."

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: December 2011 - February 2012.
* 8th December 2011
DDH - The Battle of el Alamein - I was there by Gordon Manton, followed by our Annual Cocktail function.

* 19th January 2012 Third Thursday
DDH - The Giant Leipheim by Capt. Brian Hoffman
Main Talk - Zulu Military Systems by Ken Gillings.

* 9th February 2012
DDH - Jackie Fisher and the Dreadnaught by Rob Crawley.
Main Talk - The Work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by Capt.(SAN) Charles Ross.

Remembrance Sunday 12 November - The Society will lay a wreath of remembrance at the Cenotaph.

Poppy Day - Saturday 12th November 2011 The South African Legion needs volunteers to collect at various points throughout KwaZulu-Natal on Poppy Day, Saturday 12th November 2011. Should you be available, please contact Mrs Bev Smith at the Legion's Durban office in Old Fort Road on 031 306 7147 or 031 305 5888. Anyone living in the Westville area should contact the Old Bill of the Winston Churchill Shellhole, Johan Meiring, on 031 262 2671.

Annual Lunch will take place at the Westville Country Club on 20th November. The cost is R65,00 pp. Please contact Charles Whiteing on 031 764 7270 or 082 555 4689 to make payment arrangements no later than next meeting.

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South African Military History Society /