South African Military History Society

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The Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, opened the September meeting by welcoming all present and remarking how pleasant it was to once again see such a large crowd present. She noted that in the last few years the average monthly attendance has grown from 56 to 83 - not bad for a lecture society competing against television.

Marjorie then gave notice of coming events. Prominent among these, but apparently passing unnoticed, is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein. On a more local note, she reminded members of the upcoming tour to the Kruger Museum at Kedar Lodge, outside Rustenburg, on 13 October. The KZN Branch has organised a tour based on Eshowe and taking in points of interest associated with the Bambatha Rebellion in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This will take place over the period 27/28 October. For further details contact She also reminded members of the half price tour to St Helena on the MSC Sinfonia in January 2013. Contact Bob Smith on 082-858-6616 or - for the cruise and Kedar Lodge day trip details.

The curtain-raising speaker was then introduced by Marjorie. This was Mr Terry Willson, a well-known arms collector and expert who has spoken to the Society on several previous occasions. His topic on this occasion was entitled "The British Lee Enfield - a Century of Service" and dealt with the remarkable run of service by the British Lee Enfield rifle. Terry had brought along with him several Lee Enfields from his own collection and was able to use these as exhibits to demonstrate his talk as he went along.

Terry traced the history of this rifle to the early days of the 19th Century when the British established their first government arms factory on the river Lea, at a place known as Enfield Lock. By the 1879s, when Britain found herself caught up in the European arms race, the Enfield factory had become the main supplier of arms to the War Office.

In response to developments in France and Germany, the basic design of James Lee, a Scotsman living in the United States, was developed at Enfield and adopted in 1889 as the .303" Lee Metford rifle. This was the first in a line of rifles which, following introduction of Enfield pattern rifling in 1895, became known as the Lee Enfields. As such they were to remain in service until the closing years of the 20th Century.

Terry then followed the Lee Enfield's early battle history, commencing with the Sudan at Omdurman and culminating in the design's first major challenge in South Africa during the Boer War. As a result of experiences at the hands of the Boer and his Mauser, improvements were made, which resulted in the first of the Short Magazine Lee Enfields, the No. 1 Rifle. This was to serve the Empire and Commonwealth through two World Wars, Korea and other conflicts.

So effective had the design now become that it remained virtually unchanged throughout the severe test of the First World War and it was only in the early 1940s that modifications were introduced. These merely facilitated mass production and improved accuracy and the rifle, unaltered in its .303 calibre, remained in service until 1993. This gave the basic design 104 years of service, during which time almost 17 million had been produced.

The Lee Enfield has been considered the most successful military rifle of its type ever made.

After a brief question period, Marjorie introduced the next speaker. This was Professor Maeve Jacobs, a Professor of Oral Microbiology at Pretoria University and a keen member of the Society. Her talk was entitled "Emily Hobhouse" and she approached her subject by the novel method of quoting from Emily Hobhouse's letters from South Africa to her family in the UK. Before doing this, however, she gave the background of this remarkable woman.

Emily Hobhouse was born on 9 April (Easter Monday) 1860 in the parish of St Ive, where her father was the Vicar. She had a happy childhood in this upper-middle class environment, with frequent visits to aristocratic family relatives. She stayed in the parsonage for 34 years, the last few being blighted by a broken romance, having been forbidden to marry a local farmer. When their mother died, Emily and her sister Maud took over the running of the Parsonage. Maud married and left and for the next six years Emily looked after her father, until his death in 1885.

Finding herself free of all obligations and alone at the age of 34, Emily packed up and left St Ive for Minnesota in the USA. There she met and became engaged to William Jackson, a local trader and Mayor of the City of Virginia, Minnesota. He turned out to be a real rotter, stringing Emily along; fleecing her financially and, in the end, convincing her to join him in Mexico City to get married there. When she arrived there, complete with trousseau and wedding dress, he was nowhere to be found. In 1899 she returned to London and settled in Chelsea.

Her brother, Edmund, was a member of the Liberal Party and through him Emily met the Liberal MP Leonard Courtney, just after the Anglo Boer War broke out that October. He invited her to join the Women's Branch of the South African Conciliation Committee. Once news of the establishment of concentration camps in South Africa got about and the plight of the women and children interned in them became widely known, Emily reacted by starting the Women and Children Distress Fund in July 1900. On 7 December 1900 she sailed to South Africa to see for herself, arriving in Cape Town on 27 December 1900.

Although she was made very welcome by some of the leading families of the Cape, no doubt because of her aristocratic connections, she was given the official "run-around" until, on 8 January 1901, she finally got to see Sir Alfred Milner. Strangely enough, she hit it off very well with him and formed an unusual friendship with this influential man, which helped her future movements. It took her until 20 January to get Lord Kitchener's permission to proceed to Bloemfontein and she occupied herself by visiting wounded Boer prisoners at Wynberg Camp and by meeting prominent Afrikaans ladies in the Cape Town area. After an arduous train journey through the war-devastated countryside, she arrived at Bloemfontein where she was housed by Mrs Fichardt, a leading Boer citizen of the city.

Notwithstanding the disruptive effects of General de Wet's guerrilla activities in the area, Emily managed to visit the Aliwal North, Norval's Pont, Springfontein, and Nouport concentration camps, finding that conditions varied between camps but were universally sub-standard. She identified the shortcomings and set about rectifying them, either by supplying food, bedding and other requisites herself, or by nagging and bullying the camp authorities into the required action. In this she had the support of Lord Milner, but not Lord Kitchener who considered her an infernal nuisance and avoided her at all costs. She continued her rounds of the camps, extending her activities to Kimberley, Warrenton and Mafeking. She also tried to get further north to Kroonstad and Irene but these moves were blocked by the authorities.

Emily decided that she had seen enough and, on 28 April 1901, left Bloemfontein and returned to Cape Town. From there she took a passage back to the UK in the RMS Saxon, arriving in Southampton on 3 May 1901.

Maeve ended her lecture at this point, but it is worth adding that Emily Hobhouse campaigned tirelessly in the UK for conditions for women and children in South Africa to be improved and even made another visit to South Africa, where the authorities turned her around in Cape Town and sent her straight home again.

At the conclusion of this most interesting lecture, Marjorie called on committee member Malcolm King to come forward and thank both speakers. This was done with aplomb and Marjorie then invited all present to not only view the display of second-hand books for sale by Margaret and Peter Rush, but also to enjoy the fine selection of biscuits provide by Maeve Jacobs. This closed the evening.

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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