South African Military History Society

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The last Gauteng meeting of the year was well supported with 68 people present, including Dr Anne Sampson from the UK.

There were no notices but Chairman Ivor Little expressed the sympathy of those present to Committee Member Malcolm King whose father had passed away the day before, and to the family of Lt General J R Dutton, who passed away last week.

Ivor then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker, Colonel James Jacobs of the SA War College. Colonel Jacobs is a professional military historian who has spoken to the meeting previously. On this occasion his talk was on "Sir Garnett Wolseley's Pedi Campaign of 1879".

Using a detailed series of maps and illustrations, Colonel Jacobs commenced with the background to this little-known campaign towards the end of the 19th century.

In the century before that, the Pedi tribe had established a large kingdom stretching in modern day terms from the Soutpansberg westward as far as Pretoria and eastward to the Kruger Park. Conflict with the Matabele, Zulu and Swazis forced this kingdom to contract towards a valley in the Soutpansberg area between the Steelpoort and Olifants Rivers.

The arrival of the Voortrekkers and the establishment of the Transvaal in 1852 created a buffer between the Pedi and their black enemies. An agreement was reached on the borders between Boer and Pedi territory but, inevitably, they encroached on each other's territory. This led to open warfare in the Boer-Pedi War of 1876. The mountainous terrain and the prevalence of horse sickness in the Pedi area overcame any advantages that the Boers might have had and the war ended in a stalemate.

This problem, and the chaotic state of the Transvaal's administration, led to the Transvaal (South African Republic) being annexed by Britain in 1877. This made the Pedi problem a British one. Intermittent raids were carried out on each other by both British and Pedi and a number of British forts were established in Pedi territory but, by and large, the stalemate continued through 1878 and was exacerbated by the outbreak of the Zulu War in 1879. Eventually British patience ran out and Sir Garnett Wolseley was appointed commander of all British forces in South Africa.

As soon as the tempo of the Zulu War had declined to the point where he could shift troops across from Natal, Wolseley set about dealing with the Pedi. He organised a force of two columns. One, called the Northern Force, consisted of 2 000 British regulars and 900 native volunteers from the then Sekhukuniland, between modern-day Rustenburg and the Zoutpansberg district. It also had four guns. It was to advance from the Olifants River in a southerly direction to attack the Pedi capital of Tsate.

An Eastern Force, consisting of 8 000 Swazi troops with British liaison officers would simultaneously advance from Fort Byers in a south-westerly direction towards Tsate.

The operation started on 15 November 1879 and by 25 November the Northern Force reach Water Koppie, 5 km north of Tsate, while the Swazis were in command of the mountains east of the capital. On 26 November both forces launched an attack on Tsate. This was met with fierce resistance from the Pedi, who first retreated to a koppie in the centre of the capital and then stood their ground there in a series of caves which honeycombed the koppie and connected to the nearby mountains.

Resistance eventually ceased after the deaths of thousands of Pedi. The British lost 13 killed and eight wounded. An estimated 440 to 500 Swazis were killed, most lost when flushing the Pedi out of the caves in hand-to-hand combat. By 2 December 1879, the campaign came to an end with the capture of Sekhukuni and Wolseley returned in triumph to Pretoria with Sekhukuni in tow. To consolidate their victory, the British constructed a number of forts in the area and brought the Pedi area under British administration.

Ironically, the British had prepared the stage for the First Anglo Boer War. By removing the Zulu and Pedi military threat, the Boers were now free to rebel against the British annexation.

After a brief question period, Ivor then introduced the next speaker. This was Judge Kathleen Satchwell. She had addressed the meeting on previous occasions and her accounts of tracking down names on war memorials have always been received very favourably. On this occasion she spoke of being "In Search of 20 War Nurses".

Sometime last year (2010), Kathleen was sent a photo of a plaque in the Johannesburg Anglican Cathedral. It had been erected by the National Council of Women to the revered memory of the South African War Nurses of 1914 to 1918. There are 20 names on this plaque. Kathleen decided to research the lives of these women and at the time of her talk this self-imposed task was not yet completed.

Her modus operandi when researching is to put together a life story of her subject and this is what she has set out to do with these 20 nurses. Her material was the photo of the plaque and, until she could actually get a clear photo herself, this remained her primary source.

Kathleen then led us down the same fascinating trail which she was following, thus giving an insight into the depths of research required and glimpses of the lives of these 20 women. We went with her as one by one she tracked down these names. It was by no means an easy trail. To start with, there was no such thing as the "SA War Nurses", while the names used on the plaque were not necessarily the official names, nor was there any guarantee that the names were spelt correctly.

The trail started with research into Queen Alexandra's Military Nursing Service and the South African Military Nursing Service records of the time. In particular the application forms were a valuable source of information on the applicant's background. Once this had been established, the search widened out via publications, newspaper articles and diaries, until eventually photographs started coming to light and Kathleen could now put faces to the names. The trails led all over the world, into dusty archives and even Wikipedia. The nurses were tracked down to Australia and Windhoek and to Maitland and Plumstead cemeteries in Cape Town.

The National Archives at Kew were consulted with another nurse being found at Glasgow. Others died in hospital ships at sea and have no known graves and at least one succumbed to illness contracted in the course of her duties.

By the end of Kathleen's talk the audience felt that it knew these nurses intimately and were quite overcome by the gallantry and fortitude shown by these women, as brought to life decades later by Kathleen Satchwell.

At the conclusion of this most interesting and thoroughly researched talk, there were a number of questions from the floor before Ivor called on Committee Member Hamish Paterson to thank both speakers.

This done, the Chairman reminded all present that the next meeting would be on the third Thursday of January and closed by wishing all present a happy and joyous Festive Season.

Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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December 2011 Journals

Paid up members will have their December Journals posted during January. If you do not receive your Journal by the beginning of February please contact because you MIGHT be one of the handful of people who deposited directly into the Society account during 2011 without giving sufficient identification for the subscription to be correctly credited.

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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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Ivor Little
Chairman and Scribe.

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