South African Military History Society

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Seventy-two brave souls turned out on a cold Highveld evening in July to attend the last meeting. The meeting was chaired by Past Chairman, Bob Smith, standing in for Marjorie Dean, and Bob started with the usual monthly notices. Among these was a request from an editor of a publication in Belgium who is looking for any original Great War 1914-1918 poetry to be included in an anthology currently under compilation. If any member has any example of this type of poetry, please contact either the Secretary, Joan Marsh, or Chairman, Marjorie Dean.

Bob also announced the next Society tour, which is scheduled for 13th October. This will take the form of a bus tour to Boekenhoutsfontein, Paul Kruger's old farm, and to the nearby Kedar Country Hotel, with its fine collection of Boer War memorabilia. The tour will be entitled "Following in the Footsteps of Paul Kruger" and will cost R250 per head, inclusive of the services of the bus company and a dedicated guide. For further details, please contact Bob Smith.

Members will be pleased to know the regular sale of second-hand military interest books will be resuming in either August or September.

Bob then introduced the first speaker for the evening, Dr John Bleloch. John is a retired specialist surgeon and a keen amateur historian. He is also a qualified KwaZulu-Natal battlefield guide. The subject of his talk was "Lord Milner - Villain or Hero?" Using an overhead projector to illustrate his talk, John commenced by tracing Alfred, Lord Milner's family tree.

Born in Giessen, east of Bonn, in 1854, his mother was an English widow who employed Charles Milner, a medical student, as a tutor for her 2 sons. After his mother's death, when he was 15, Arthur was educated in London. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, where he was very successful and made many friends. 4 years later, after leaving Oxford having won many prizes, he was called to the bar but after a year left law practice for a career in journalism. He became assistant editor of the Pall Mall magazine and persisted as a journalist for 10 years. He met Lord Goschen, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who befriended him and placed him as Director of Accounts in Egypt. He had become an excellent Civil Servant and wrote a book "England in Egypt" which went to 13 editions. In 1892 he was recalled to London as Chairman of the Board of Revenue.

In 1897 Alfred became High Commissioner for the Cape. He studied the situation throughout Southern Africa, including the Uitlander vs Kruger problem. 18 months later he returned to London and apprised Chamberlain of the situation in South Africa, particularly in regard to the Uitlander problem. This stemmed from the fact that Kruger would not grant the vote to the Uitlanders. They were naturally disgruntled as they were, as gold miners, responsible for producing 90% of the Transvaal revenue but had no say in local or national government. There were many other grievances. Milner came to the conclusion that Kruger would have to be "screwed into a corner" to force him to allow the Uitlanders to have a say in government, or a war would be inevitable.

Milner returned to South Africa and, in May 1899, attended a conference with Kruger, organised by President Steyn in Bloemfontein. Both were strong-willed and no agreement was reached. Milner broke off negotiations and left the meeting. In October 1899, the Boers presented an unanswered ultimatum to the British and found themselves at war with Great Britain.

During the Second War of Independence which followed, the British initially suffered reverses but Roberts and Kitchener, with overwhelming force, eventually prevailed, capturing all the main towns and railways. The war dragged on for a further two years, as a guerrilla war fought in the far veld. As the Commandos received their support from the farms, the British resorted to a "scorched earth" policy, destroying 33 000 farms. The destitute women, children and black labourers were collected into concentration camps where poor housing, contaminated water, malnutrition and disease caused 42 000 to die.

When peace was signed in May 1892, Milner set up the famous Kindergarten, consisting of a cadre of brilliant, mainly Oxford, men to restore the OFS and Transvaal after the devastation produced by war and, particularly, the scorched earth policy. These men very quickly restored order by repatriating prisoners and settling them again, with assistance, on the farms. Town councils were formed and commissions established to restore policing, justice, education, agriculture, etc. A customs union was formed and railways extended and repaired.

Milner returned to England in 1905 when a liberal government was elected. He served in the Imperial War Cabinet during the 1914-1918 war and retired in 1921. He and Lady Violet Georgina Cecil were married in the same year. They retired to Sturry Court in the country. In 1921 Milner, on a visit to South Africa, was bitten by a tsetse fly. He died of sleeping sickness in 1925 and was buried at Salehurst, near Canterbury Cathedral.

At the conclusion of this most interesting talk there was a short question period and then Bob introduced the next speaker, the immediate Past Chairman, Ivor Little, who referred to his spell as a naval officer attached to the Diplomatic Corps, in a talk entitled "Snippets from the Life of a Military Attache".

Ivor's talk covered the period of his career from 1985 to 1989 when he was Military, Air and Naval Attache‚ in Argentina and South African Defence Force Representative in Italy.

He commenced by describing the job of an attach‚ as a military liaison officer between two countries and what that implied, and then went on to describe the rigorous selection process for becoming an attache. Once selected, the applicant is attached to the Foreign Relations section of the Defence Force for allocation to a host country and then to language training. In Ivor's case it was Argentina where, as it turned out, he and his family were to spend only five months. Two of the highlights during this time were the funeral of the Argentine Minister of Defence, Minister Carranza, and the visit of the South African Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Adriaan Vlok. In the case of the first, Ivor described the humorous result of not being fully proficient in a foreign language, in this case Spanish. In the second he spoke of having to deal with Ministerial tantrums and the career-ending pitfalls involved.

On 18 May 1986, the South African Defence Force (SADF) launched Operation Kodak against Zimbabwe, by staging a raid on ANC locations in Harare. This was followed by a similar raid on Gaberone in Botswana and Lusaka in Zambia. The international community, led by the League of Non-Aligned Nations which was to hold a meeting in Zimbabwe, took grievous exception to these raids. This was particularly true of Argentina which, at that time, harboured ambitions for its President, Raul Alfonsin, to become leader of the Non-Aligned Nations.

On an initiative led by Argentina's Foreign Minister, Dante Caputo, Argentina closed down the South African Embassy in Buenos Aires and expelled the Charg‚ d'Affairs, Pieter Wolvaardt, and the Military Attach‚, as personae non grata, with 48 hours to leave the country. This 48 hours was later extended to six days and Ivor described the event around this expulsion and how it was dealt with by the South African authorities.

On returning to South Africa, and spending some time in hiatus while awaiting re-deployment, Ivor and his family were re-assigned to Italy, this time "under cover", to enable Italy to theoretically comply with a ban on military links with South Africa, as imposed by the United Nations. Being under cover entailed working in civilian clothes, as First Secretary at the Embassy. Being under cover and maintaining a cover story is not always easy, but after one or two false starts at setting up contacts Ivor, with the help of his Italian local staff, made the breakthrough to getting in touch with the Italian Secret Service (SISMI). They had an interest in possible links between the Southern African Liberation movements and their own terrorist group, the "Red Brigade". They had a particular interest in Mozambique, because of Agip's oil exploration activities, and thus were eager for information from South Africa. The South African military authorities were able to cement this relationship by providing the transcript of the Black Box recording of the Samora Machel air crash, which had just occurred. This was passed to the Italian Air Force and the answer from them was definitely "pilot' error" as the cause of the crash.

There were also official visits to Paris and Delville Wood as part of President P W Botha's entourage, and the opportunity to host the then Leader of the National Party, F W de Klerk. An incident which raised a few laughs (and eye-brows) was the attempt by one Italian gentleman to be appointed Honorary Consul for South Africa in Padua and the lengths to which he was prepared to go to get it.

Two further incidents which stood out were, firstly, the prediction, back in 1989, by the Spanish naval representative at a NATO conference in Naples, that the Russian Empire would collapse and the next threat would be Muslim extremism in North Africa. This was pooh-poohed by the US representative as being unrealistic! The second was an official visit by members of the Italian Air Force to Ivor's office. Dressed in full uniform, plus medals, they called to say thank you for the South African Air Force's co-operation, help and friendship during the UN Force's deployment in Namibia.

Shortly after this, Ivor was relieved by Colonel Johan Rankin of the South African Air Force and he and his family returned to South Africa and a posting at Naval Headquarters in Pretoria.

There then followed a short question period, after which Committee Member David Scholtz thanked both speakers. The meeting then adjourned for tea and refreshments in the lobby.

Ivor Little,


Contact details:
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh 021-592-1279 (am)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676

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