South African Military History 


Newsletter No 76 January/Nuusbrief Nr 76 Januarie 2011

SAMHSEC trusts you had a blessed Christmas and wishes you a prosperous New Year.

SAMHSEC's 13 December 2010 meeting in Port Elizabeth opened with Mike Duncan's series on medals awarded to Port Elizabeth men. Private W.E. Carthew was born in Brazil in 1879 of British expatriate parents. On their death, he was sent to live with his uncle, Brig Carthew-Yorstan, in Scotland. At the age of 18 he attested in the Queen's 16th Lancers, much to the displeasure of his uncle, who had served in The Black Watch. He served with his Regiment in India for 3 years. On the outbreak of the Boer War, the 16th Lancers were deployed to South Africa, arriving in January 1900. They served under General French in the Cavalry Division and took part in the Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg and the battle of Johannesburg. On 1 June 1900 Carthew, together with his Squadron Commander, was captured by the Boers and spent some time as a POW, thereby missing the final battles that the 16th Lancers took part in, namely Diamond Hill and Wittebergen. In 1903 Carthew bought his discharge, came to Port Elizabeth, joined the Cape Mounted Police and served for 26 years, retiring in 1929. He served in many out-of-the-way places in the Eastern Cape, including Bolo, Committees Drift and Steynsburg. In 1917 he was in charge of the jail in Grahamstown. On retiring from the Police, he joined Netherlands Bank in PE, where he worked until his death in 1946. He was awarded the medals Queen's South Africa (Clasps Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Johannesburg), King's South Africa (Clasps South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902) and the Police Long Service & Good Conduct.

The curtain raiser by Gerda Coetzee was on The Woman of the Pen: Emily Hobhouse. Scarcely remembered in her own country today, she is of special memory in South Africa, particularly amongst Afrikaners. Emily Hobhouse was an Englishwoman both reviled and revered for her controversial role in the Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War and her forceful and imaginative involvement in the ruined former republics after the war. Records of her achievements are largely through her spirited on-the-spot letters to various prominent correspondents. That her letters were as influential as they were is the more remarkable given that hers was an age when women did not have the vote, that she did not come from a privileged background, had limited financial resources and had had only one term of formal schooling. In addition, she suffered from ill-health while in South Africa and her freedom of movement was severely restricted by the resentment to her efforts felt by the British authorities in South Africa at the time. Emily Hobhouse was able to have the impact that she did in South Africa largely due to her mastery of the pen.

In his main lecture Blessed are the Peacemakers, Barry de Klerk discussed William Schreiner, Hans Blix and Neville Chamberlain, all much criticised peacemakers who failed to keep the peace. Often objects of derision, peacemakers are sometimes not quite as foolish as they are made out to be. It is often stated that appeasement leads to war. The opposite is, however, often true.

Prime Minister Schreiner of the Cape Colony was criticised for not preparing the defences of the Colony in 1899. He was, however, trying to prevent a war others seemed keen to provoke. In addition, he was dependent on Afrikanerbond support and in no position to support imperialist ambition. It is questionable whether Cape troops would have made much difference anyway, given the number of Imperial troops in South Africa. The buildup of troops was precisely what provoked the ZAR ultimatum and the declaration of war.

Hans Blix spent years looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. The US government and its allies chose to believe what turned out to be unreliable intelligence and went to war with Iraq. No such weapons were found - Blix had been right after all.

Neville Chamberlain will forever be associated with a failed policy of appeasement. While it is true that he believed that he could trust Hitler and that Germany had legitimate grievances, describing the Munich Agreement as a treacherous disaster is not as straightforward as it might appear. As Prime Minister, Chamberlain initiated one of the largest re-arming programmes in British history. By the end of the 1930s Britain had the biggest aircraft carrier and battleship building programmes in the world. The army was being renewed and new tanks ordered. The most important re-equiping was of the RAF. In 1938 the standard fighter of the RAF was the Hawker Fury, a biplane too slow to intercept the He-111 or even the Douglas DC-3. The somewhat more modern and faster Gloster Gladiator biplane entered service in 1937, as did the Hurricane, followed by the Spitfire in 1938. Unlike the former, the latter two types could compete with the Me-109, which totally outclassed the older RAF fighters. In addition, the Air Defence System, including radar and a system of plotting rooms and controllers, was developed. New airfields were built with all-weather instead of grass runways. Vast aircraft production and pilot training schemes were initiated. None of these programmes was going to have much effect until the early 1940s. There was great relief in the RAF when war did not break out in 1938. One could describe the Battle of Britain as Chamberlain's victory, although he had by then been removed from office.

When Chamberlain entered negotiations with Hitler regarding Czechoslovakia, it was France, not Britain, which had treaty obligations towards the Czechs. The French were unwilling, if not unable, to fight. Britain could not even be sure that the Commonwealth would join in a war. It has been stated Germany was itself very weak in 1938. This opinion is an example of perfect hindsight. No-one outside Germany knew that the Germans were not as strong as they appeared to be. Britain made good use of the months gained by not going to war in 1938.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on 10 January 2011 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Stephen Bowker will speak on his ancestor, Holden Bowker, who played a prominent role in the Frontier Wars and Tiaan Jacobs, whose special interest is the Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst, on J.A. Grobbelaar, DTD. The first of the World at War series will be screened from 1830.

Please remember that membership subs for 2011 are due on 1 Jan 2011.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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