A record crowd of 102 members and guests filled the Military Museum auditorium when Chairlady Marjorie Dean opened the June meeting. She commenced in her usual fashion by listing important military dates in history which took place in the month of June and then gave out the usual monthly notices.
Members are reminded of the forthcoming tour of military graves and monuments in Johannesburg, which will take place on 17 August. It is being organised by Jan-Willem Hoorweg at a cost of R10 per head and will be led by Committee member David Scholtz and Captain Charles Ross, SAN, Rtd, the local head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. On 14 September David Scholtz will also be unveiling a monument near Val. The monument will be to Dr Martin-Leake, a double VC. This will coincide with the Annual Boer-Brit Day at Val (near Villiers), which is always good fun. In November Jan-Willem is organising a tour to Smuts House in Irene. For details of all the above, contact the Secretary, whose number is listed below.
Members are also advised of a conference scheduled to take place at Talana Museum in 2014, in which the participation of those who took part in both the Anglo-Boer War and subsequently World War I will be highlighted. Papers have been called for and members will be kept informed.
Marjorie then introduced the first speaker of the evening. This was Colonel C J Jacobs, Head of Research and Development at the South African War College, a fellow member, who has spoken to the meeting on previous occasions. The subject of his talk was "The War in North Africa, 1940-1943", an overview of the contribution of the Union of South Africa during this period.
Using maps of the area, Colonel Jacobs started by giving an overview of the North African campaign during World War II, from the outbreak of the war until the Gazala Gallop in May 1942. He then changed his emphasis by going back to 1939 when the then Union of South Africa entered the war on 6 September, on the side of the allies.
South Africa was not ready for war but General Smuts' drive and determination ensured that for the rest of 1939 and early 1940 the country was placed on a war footing; the Navy and Air Force were revived and three infantry division were raised and trained. In June 1940 they were ready and the 1st South Africa Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Dan Pienaar, was despatched to East Africa. By December 1940 the rest of the Division, under the command of Major General G E Brink, plus an Air Force contingent joined them. In April 1941 they were deployed to Egypt and arrived there on 4 May, being placed at Mersa Matruh. There they dug in and commenced training in desert warfare. In June and August of the same year they were joined in Egypt by the 2nd Division, under the command of Major General I P de Villiers, plus units of the SA Navy and Air Force.
On 17 November 1941 the 1st Division crossed the Libyan border to attack Bir el Gubi and to advance on Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk, in support of the British 7th Armoured Division. After heavy fighting, the 5th South African brigade had got as far as 5 kilometres from Sidi Rezegh but on 23 November 1941 it was blocked and completely destroyed by a German counter-attack. The 1st South African Brigade was ordered to their assistance but was beaten back and, after a see-saw battle in the vicinity of Taib el Essem, where it supported the New Zealand Division, was withdrawn back to Egypt.
In the meantime, the 2nd South African Division was attached to the British force and participated in fighting at Bardia, Sollum, Cora and Halfaya, taking heavy casualties but participating in ultimate victory over the Axis forces at Halfaya on 17 January 1942. From then until March the two South African divisions were used to strengthen the lines of the British 8th Army in Libya, together with the Polish Carpatian Brigade. At the end of March the 2nd South African Division was assigned to garrison duties at Tobruk. The garrison, of whom one third were South African, consisted of 33 000 men, under the command of a South African, Major General H B Klopper.
On 26 May 1942, German General Erwin Rommel launched an attack against the 8th Army at Gazala. By 13 June the 8th Army, under Lt General Neil Ritchie, was withdrawn to the Egyptian frontier, leaving Tobruk cut off and, on 21 June, it fell to the Germans. The 8th Army now regrouped at Mersah Matruh but under continuing pressure from Rommel, fell back to El Alamein, 90 kilometres from Cairo. The 1st South African Division was moved back into the line and by 25 June 1942 was entrenched in the vicinity of El Alamein station. From here they assisted the defence and patrol operations, together with Indian and New Zealand troops.
On 1 July the Germans attempted to break through but were held by the Indians, South Africans and Australians. Rommel then went on the defensive until October 1942 when the 8th Army, now under Montgomery, launched a full-scale attack in what was to be known as the Battle of El Alamein. South African infantry, armoured cars and, in particular, artillery, all played a role in this battle, which ended in an Allied victory.
At the conclusion of this battle the South African Divisions were brought back to South Africa to be converted to an armoured division. The air force and navy remained in the Mediterranean theatre. Total South African casualties in North Africa were 2 104 killed; 3 928 wounded and 14 247 taken prisoner of war, the latter figure reflecting the action at Sidi Rezegh and the surrender of Tobruk.
At the conclusion of Colonel Jacobs' talk there was a brief question period, after which the raffle for the DVD set titled "Spitfire" was drawn. The winning number, drawn out of the hat by Tim Waudby, was number 164 and was held by David Scholtz.
Marjorie then introduced the main speaker of the evening. This was the well-known weapon historian, Terry Willson, who has spoken to the Society on numerous previous occasions. The subject of his talk was "1922: Captain Fulford and the Boksburg incident".
Terry's account commenced during his teenage years. An old family friend, a retired police officer, Lieutenant-Colonel J M L Fulford, encouraged his enthusiasm for arms collecting by giving him various pieces of militaria, including his police sword and one he had used in the Boer War. Many years after the Colonel's death Terry, by chance, also acquired the revolver Fulford had carried during the Boer War and throughout his later career with the South African Police. This revolver had silver plates inletted into its grips, recording the units in which he had served, which included Roberts' Horse and Steinacker's Horse.
With his interest now thoroughly aroused, Terry decided to do some archival research on his old family friend. This covered a wide field and was only completed following his retirement. Fulford, Terry discovered, had led a life of action, which included an incident which remains controversial to this day for it was Fulford, then a Captain, who had commanded the police detachment which first opened fire on strikers during the 1922 Rebellion, thus initiating violence which rocked South Africa and led to the fall of the Smuts government in 1924.
During the research of Fulford's life leading up to the "Boksburg Incident" Terry had noted with interest that, apart from his Boer War association with the notorious Steinacker's Scouts, Fulford had been involved previously in other incidents, which possibly supported a tendency towards the precipitate action and disregard for human consequences of which he was later accused. These were the 1913 Miners' strike and the Bulhoek Massacre, in which Fulford's role was examined.
Terry then covered the details of the confrontation with the strikers during the "Boksburg Incident" and events leading up to it in some detail, basing his account upon various documents, including Captain Fulford's own report with its accompanying map. He pointed out that the actual violence and killings could have been initiated by unfortunate misunderstandings on the part of both Captain Fulford and the strikers. Recent photographs of the site, which included the Cinderella Prison in Boksburg and the crucial intersection of Osborne and Commissioner Streets, were shown.
He continued with an account of the resulting coroner's inquest, using the evidence and final judgement, as found in various archives and studied in detail. Certain procedural anomalies and evidential contradictions were pointed out, which left Terry with some reservations and also the feeling that political expediency may have, to some degree, influenced the outcome of the inquest. Here both Fulford and his men were found to have acted in accordance with the law and he personally was absolved from having shot one of the three strikers killed, as originally accused. Significantly perhaps, the inquest was held mainly over a period when the government was at pains to justify its actions during the strike, which had resulted in over 700 casualties and more than 5 000 arrests and detentions. Following legal vindication, and to emphasise the correctness of both his and subsequent government actions, Fulford was officially acclaimed.
Terry concluded his presentation by briefly outlining the short-to-medium and long-term implications of the Boksburg incident. These led to the fall of the Smuts Government in 1924 and a preservation of the white miners' underground status, which lasted almost 70 years.
At the conclusion of this most interesting talk Marjorie allowed a short question period and then asked Committee Member David Scholtz to come forward and thank both speakers. This was done with aplomb, after which Marjorie closed the meeting for refreshments.
For information - the 18th SAAACA Arms Fair is to be held at the War Museum on 9th, 10th and 11th August, according to Denny Rademeyer.
POW Camp 107 in WWII
Mareno Settimo, Councillor for Culture, Municipality of Torviscosa (Udine, Italy) asks for documents relating to the history of the former camp for prisoners of war Camp 107, active between 1942 and 1943. South Africans were amongst the inmates. Please e-mail directly to email@example.com
BRANCH CONTACT DETAILS
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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828 firstname.lastname@example.org
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