South African Military History 


Newsletter No 91 April 2012 / Nuusbrief Nr 91 April 2012

This is the last Newsletter which will be sent out under the old address system. From No 92 onwards it will be distributed only through ‘Google Groups’. If you are not yet part of this, see the box at the end of this Newsletter.

The ‘family member’s military service’ series having reached its conclusion, the slot on this occasion was filled by a video of the Grey High School Remembrance Ceremony on 11th November 2011 shown by Ian Pringle.

This was followed by the AGM in lieu of the curtain raiser. The following committee was elected for 2012/2013:

The main lecture was given by Donna Cilliers on ‘Wartime animals – mascots and friends’. Donna noted that she had selected just a few of the most interesting animals of the many which had been military mascots.

Two canine recruits were Just Nuisance and Sinbad. Able Seaman Just Nuisance was a Great Dane regularly sighted around the naval dockyard in Simons Town. Lying in awkward places and insisting on riding the train to Cape Town without a pass (despite many passengers offers to pay his fare), the train conductors threatened to have away with this hound, but he was just too much of a character and his human friends proposed his enlistment into the Royal Navy as an alternative solution. He assisted the war effort in various ways including the auctioning off of two of his offspring, attendance at functions and enemy submarine spotting with a pilot at Wingfield Air Base. Discharged from the Royal Navy in 1944, Just Nuisance suffered thrombosis after a motor vehicle accident and was put to rest by the naval surgeon. His burial with full military honours took place at Klaver Camp; a simple granite headstone marking his final resting place.

Sinbad was a mixed breed who served aboard the US Coastguard Cutter George W Campbell throughout WWII. Surviving anti-submarine warfare and strafing attacks by enemy aircraft, he was considered an essential crewman in his service. His biography, Sinbad of the Coast Guard, saw him become the first published coastguardsmen. Medals Sinbad was awarded included the American Defence Service and Campaign Medals, WWII Victory Medal and the Navy Occupation Service Medal. He spent his retirement at Barnegat Light Station, where he is buried, having died peacefully in December 1951.

Nancy was the springbok mascot and companion of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (SA Scottish) with whom she served through WWI in North Africa and on the Western Front. Sustaining injury to her horn after the shelling of transport lines at Armentieres in 1917, Nancy was placed on light duty, even befriending the General’s mule. She led the four battalions of the SA Brigade to the first Delville Wood service in her final parade on 17 February 1918. She died after contracting pneumonia shortly after the Armistice and at her funeral was accorded full funeral honours. Living on through taxidermy, Nancy is mounted in the SA National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.

From a buck to a bear: adopted by the 22nd Artillery Supply Co. of the Polish II Corps. in 1942, Wojtek the Syrian brown bear was officially enlisted as a Private, helping move ammunition in the Battle of Monte Cassino. The Polish Army HQ even approved a bear holding a shell as the official emblem of the 22nd Transport Company thanks to his efforts. Demobilized in 1947, Wojtek retired to Edinburgh Zoo, passing away at age 22 in 1963. Memorial plaques in Edinburgh Zoo, the Imperial War Museum and the Canadian War Museum as well as a sculpture in Sikorski Museum (London) commemorate this special bear.

The tradition of having a goat in the military has its roots as far back as 1775 during the American Revolution. Billy the Kashmir goat, coming from a ‘royal’ line of his own, was presented to the 1st Bn Royal Welsh by the Queen in 2001. Serving as a Lance Corporal except for three months in 2006 where he was demoted to Fusilier for inappropriate behaviour on parade, Billy retired to his birthplace, Whipsnade Zoo, in 2009.

Many cats have been documented in military history – particularly for their usefulness on ships as rodent controllers. One cat that earned the respect of sailors aboard HMS Amethyst was Able Seacat Simon. Starting his life as an undernourished kitten, he would catch rodents on the ship. Along with many of his fellow crew members, Simon suffered injuries (in his case burns and shrapnel wounds) when the Amethyst was trapped in the Yangtze by the Chinese communists in 1949 (‘the so-called Yangtze Incident’) and was not expected to recover. He did, however, and his recovery boosted the morale of his fellow shipmates, aiding their recuperation after the same incident. After the ship’s escape, Simon was feted wherever the ship put into port and his subsequent popularity saw the appointment of a ‘cat officer’ delegated to deal with all his fan mail. Upon the ship’s return to the UK, Simon’s earlier injuries became infected and despite every effort to save him, he died. His funeral was attended by the entire crew of the HMS Amethyst. He is the only cat to have been awarded the Dickin Medal (the animal VC) and also received the Blue Cross medal and the Amethyst campaign medal.

Future meetings and excursions

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 9th April 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. It was decided at the AGM to replace the family member’s slot with an ‘open house - come and tell’ series in which members are invited to come and share something of interest to them for five minutes. If you have something to share, reserve a slot with Andre Crozier so that we can avoid clashes and duplication. The curtain raiser will be ‘The mystery of Veldtkornet Cornelius F Kruger’ by Ian Copley. The main lecture will be by Barry de Klerk on ‘How (not) to procure arms’.

Matters of general interest

Members’ activities

There is nothing to report for this month. Please let the scribe know what interesting activities of a military historical nature you have been involved in.

Some notable anniversaries

1st April 1922: The SA Permanent Force Navy was established as the SA Naval Service, later to become the SA Navy.
5th April 1942: HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire sunk by Japanese aircraft south of Ceylon. Of the 424 men who lost their lives, 41 were South Africans, many of them from Port Elizabeth. 70 years ago.
6th April 1652: The 360th anniversary Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape.
22nd April 1819: The 193rd anniversary of the Battle of Grahamstown, a small but decisive battle in the context of South African history.

Websites of interest

World War II
A Dornier 17 bomber found off the coast of Kent.
David Wilkes Mail online 8/4/2011

Fascinating colour photos of WWII aircraft of the SAAF, RAF, RRAF, RAAF, RNZAF and RCAF.
Etiennedup February 2012

The Allies at war: uneasy relationships, conspiracy and mistrust
Simon Berthon BBC History 17/2/2012
Mike Thomson BBC Radio 4 19/3/2012

The Falklands War
How France helped both sides in the Falklands War
Mike Thomson, BBC Radio 4 5 March 2012

The War in Afghanistan
US drone crash in Afghanistan: RQ-170s still flying: Some interesting perspectives
James Dunnigan, Strategy World 5 February 2012

The Vietnam War
The Battle of Long Tan: Forgotten Australian and New Zealand participation in the War.
Based on an Award-winning documentary it includes a 14 minute video and some interesting comments from participants.

‘Cyber warfare’ in one form or another is a growing field of endeavour.
Robot wars ‘still a long way off’
BBC Click 4/10/11

Naval history
The USS Enterprise – 50 years old – on its final deployment
Brock Vergakis 12/3/2012

For those interested in the aftermath of war and/or war and health, Al Jazeera has offered a perspective we don’t often get.
Fallujah Babies: Under a New Kind of Siege
Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera 6/1/2012

Fallujah Babies: Birth Defects Blamed on US Weapons
Friday 6 January 2012
Dahr Jamail , Al Jazeera English | News Report 6/1/2012

Books of military historical interest
Wallace Marion and Kinahan John 2011 A history of Namibia: From the beginnings to1990
New York Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-70194-5

Amongst archaeological, social and political history, this book covers all the major military conflicts in Namibian history, some in detail not easily found elsewhere. One may not agree with all the interpretation and comment, but it is a useful overview and a major contribution to understanding the military history of southern Africa.

Kassimeris George and Buckley John (Eds) 2010 The Ashgate research companion to modern warfare Farnham Ashgate Publishing Ltd ISBN 978-0-7546-7410-8

While this book focuses on ‘modern’ warfare such as ‘cyberwar’ and ‘the rise of private security companies’, it also contains a great deal of military historical interest. Examples of such chapters are ‘Women and WW II’, ‘Memories of the war in the Balkans’ and ‘20th century military spending patterns’.

New books on the market
There is a steady stream of new books being produced on southern African military history. Three recent examples are.
Gillings Ken 2012 While they kept the flag flying: The Relief of Ladysmith. The Battle of Thukela Heights 12th - 28th Feb 1900.
Durban Just Done Productions

Ken is a fellow member of the SA Military History Society and professional military historian with particular expertise in the Anglo-Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu War. He is also an authority on South African Artillery. It is noteworthy, as Ken points out, that the Battle of the Thukela Heights was, until the Second World War, arguably the biggest battle fought by the British in Africa, and until the Falklands war of 1982, the biggest battle fought by the British in the Southern Hemisphere. This battle paved the way for the development of new battle tactics, which were subsequently used in the great battles in Europe during the First World War. The book contains maps and colour pictures and is available in paperback through ‘Just Done Productions’ for the price of R100 if ordered on-line.

Wessels Andre 2012 The Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: White man’s war, black man’s war, traumatic war.
Bloemfontein Sun MeDIA.

Prof Andre Wessels is a well known and widely acknowledged authority on the Anglo-Boer War. Available from: / Tel: 051 430 0459

French Paul 2012 Shadows of a forgotten past: To the edge with the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts
Solihull (UK) Paul French with Helion & Co. Well illustrated.
This is a personal account by French of his participation in the Rhodesian Bush War, the SADF’s 6 Recce Commando and private military security operations in Angola, Somalia and Iraq.
Source at:

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Scribes: Anne, Pat and Barry Irwin
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