South African Military History 


Newsletter No 77 February/Nuusbrief Nr 77 Februarie 2011

SAMHSEC's 10 January 2011 meeting in Port Elizabeth opened with Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men. Sergeant John George Harrington was born in London of Irish parents in 1879. He settled in Port Elizabeth as a young man and and worked as a wheelwright. He joined Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard for service in the Bechuanaland Field Force in 1897. On his return, he relocated to Grahamstown and joined the 1st City Volunteers, with whom he initially served in the Anglo-Boer War. He later transfered to the Colonial Light Horse, an irregular unit formed specifically for the war. In 1904 he attested with the Cape Police in the 14th Cape Eastern Division and served with the Police until his retirement in 1929. He died in 1970, aged 91 years. He was awarded the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal (clasp Bechuanaland), the Queen's SA Medal (clasps Cape Colony & Orange Free State), the King's SA Medal (clasps 01 & 02) and the SA Police Long Service Medal. (Scribe's note: Mike's series ends in March. Anyone interested in doing a follow-on series on a subject of their choice is invited to make their interest known to the Scribe).

The curtain raiser by Stephen Bowker was on his ancestor, Holden Bowker, who came to South Africa with his family as a child in 1820 and grew up on the family farm Tharfield, near Port Alfred. Holden Bowker participated the 1828 campaign against the M'fecani. He served as a Lieutenant in the First Battalion of the Provisional Colonial Infantry in the Eastern Cape during the Sixth Frontier War of 1834-35. His journal during this time records he came into contact with some memorable personalities, including Colonel Somerset, George Southey, the Xhosa Chief Hintsa and the hot tempered Colonel Harry Smith and that he felt the brunt of this temper one day when he was reprimanded for riding his horse too fast. During the War he was stationed at Fort Willshire and later assisted in the building of Fort Wellington. He was an eye-witness to the killing of Chief Hintsa by George Southey. He served as a Captain in the Grahamstown Native Levy in the Seventh Frontier War of 1846-47 and as Commandant of Burghers at Whittlesea in Eighth Frontier War of 1850-53.

He was Resident Magistrate Kat River Settlement in 1848 and Member of the House of Assembly from 1854 to 1863. As an archaeologist, he was noted for his work in discovering and excavating prehistoric stone implements near the Fish River in the 1850s. His collection and notes on entomology are housed in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. He founded the town of Queenstown, where Bowker's Park and Bowker's Kop are named after him. He was offered the Presidency of the Orange Free State in 1863, but did not accept. He later became a Government Agent at Kimberley.

The main speaker was Tiaan Jacobs, whose topic was Jan Adriaan Grobbelaar, DTD. Tiaan explained that he was still a youngster when his grandfather died and left him his World War 1 Trio medals. Since he can remember, Tiaan was interested in our country's history, especially the Anglo-Boer War. Years later he rediscovered his grandfather's medals and decided to start collecting war medals as a hobby. He also started researching the service records of the recipients of each of the important medals he obtained, starting with his grandfather's group.

The most significant and satisfying study he undertook, apart from his own family, was that of Jan Adriaan Grobbelaar, who received the Decoratie voor Trouwe Dienst (DTD) during the Anglo-Boer War. This was awarded to officers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State in recognition of distiguished service. An interesting feature of the DTD was that Free State recipients wore the identical medal and ribbon reversed to the way it was worn by Transvaalers. When a medal collector has an item of this status, there is a natural desire to meet the man behind the medal, but where does one start? All Tiaan had was the recipient's initials and surname engraved on the medal rim. Research revealed that there were 3 possible recipients. Tiaan followed each of these trails and in the process covered almost 1,000 kms. He repeatedly visited the Deeds Office, the Master of the Supreme Court, the Government Archives, the Public Library and the Boer War Museum. Using old Deeds of Transfer, Death Certificates and other documents he was able, by means of elimination, to eventually track down his recipient as Commandant Jan Adriaan Grobbelaar of the farm Waschbank, district Rouxville.

Jan Adriaan Grobbelaar was born in Bethulie on 29 July 1877. At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, he joined the Bethulie Commando as a burgher under Commandant Du Plooy. He participated in the Battle of Stormberg and the Siege of Wepener. Very little is known of Jan Adriaan's involvement in the war. In spite of his reputation for standing during contact with the enemy, he was never wounded. When cautioned to take cover, he just replied that the English bullet with his name on wasn't yet manufactured. He distinguished himself as a leader under difficult, at times perilous, circumstances and was promoted to Assistant Field Cornet. He was captured at Palmietfontein on 1 October 1901 and sent to India as a POW. After the war, he returned to his family farm Groot Marsfontein, district Trompsburg, and continued to serve his community with distinction, inter alia, as Officer Commanding the Rouxville Commando and as an Elder in the Church at Rouxville. Being a genealogist, Tiaan also compiled and presented Jan Adriaan's family tree and history.

Michael Irwin is welcomed as a SAMHSEC member.

Members may be interested in Anglo-Boer War tours offered by Outeniqua Adventure Tours ( Contact Cheryl Griffiths, tel/fax 044 871 1470,

Notice is given of SAMHSEC's AGM to be held during the 14 March 2011 meeting in PE.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 14 February 2011 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Ian Copley on the story of a piece of shrapnel and the main lecture on the The Fall of France 1940 Part 1 by Rick van Heerden (part 2 of 2 to follow in March). The World at War series will be screened from 1830.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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