South African Military History Society

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A surprising 83 people thought that attending the February lecture evening was an appropriate way to spend the evening on St Valentine's Day. The Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, welcomed them all and then marked the occasion by listing a large number of important battles which had been fought on St Valentine's Day. She then moved on to the usual monthly notices.

It was interesting and encouraging to hear that the average monthly attendance had climbed from 55 per meeting in 2007 to 83 per meeting in 2012. It is hoped that this positive trend will continue. It was also good to hear that the R617 donated to Nick Cowley's American singers at the last meeting had been passed on to the Thusanani Foundation for Underprivileged and Distressed Children, a very worthy cause.

Those present were also reminded of the Annual Remembrance Service to be put on by the Heritage Foundation at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. This will take place on Sunday, 26 May. Those interested who require more information should contact the Secretary, whose numbers are listed below.

Marjorie then introduced the first speaker, Peter James-Smith, a well-known radio announcer and investigative reporter. Peter has addressed the Society before and on this occasion the subject of his talk was "Wellington Rising - His Early Life".

Confining himself to the period of the Duke of Wellington's life up to Waterloo, and using computer illustrations, Peter commenced with the controversy surrounding Wellington's birth. Arthur Wesley was born on 1 May 1769, but the exact place of his birth is not recorded. He liked to play down his origins but in fact his father, Garret Wesley, who was Viscount Wellesley and First Earl of Mornington, was a member of the Irish House of Commons. The family estate was Dangan Castle in Trim. His mother, the former Ann Hill-Trevor, was the daughter of a banker. The family spent a lot of time in London and young Arthur commenced his junior schooling in Chelsea. The father, Garret Wesley, died unexpectedly at the age of 45 in 1781 and left the title and estate to his eldest son, Richard. This was accompanied by 41 000 Pounds debt. Richard rose to the occasion and managed to provide not only for himself and his mother but also five other siblings.

One of these was Arthur who, at the age of 12, was sent to Eton. Unlike his brothers, Arthur was a poor scholar with no interest in the classics. He was shy and dreamy but musically talented and mathematically inclined. After three uninspiring years at Eton he was sent to join his mother in Brussels, where he studied under a private tutor, finishing his education at the Royal Academy of Equitation, where, once again, he failed to excel at anything other than French, a language in which he became fluent. Luckily the family had Richard Wesley in charge, who by now was a Member of Parliament and Junior Lord of the Treasury to William Pitt the Younger.

Richard purchased Arthur a commission in the Army and he was appointed Aide de Camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Rutland. He was no better a solder than he was a scholar and spent his time hanging around the Vice-Regal court at Dublin Castle. He succeeded Richard as MP for Trim and, with Richard providing the money, purchased his way slowly up through the ranks until he reached Lieutenant Colonel in 1793. He had no active military service, nor interest in it, and had belonged to six regiments in five years, without actually serving in any of them. His final regiment was the 33rd Regiment of Foot.

Through all this his brother continued subsidising him, while Arthur ran up 3 300 Pounds in gambling debts. He was by now madly in love with Catherine (Kitty) Packenham, the daughter of Lord Longford, who refused them permission to marry as he was considered a talent-less wastrel. Permission was refused once again two years later for the same reason and this humiliation spurred Arthur into action. The war with revolutionary France was in full swing and Arthur was sent to Belgium under the command of the Earl of Moira. The expedition, under the Duke of York, was a failure but Arthur learnt "what not to do".

Back in Dublin, and still after Kitty Packenham, Arthur decided to sell his commission, find a decent civilian job and settle down with Kitty. He was unsuccessful in this scheme and he and his regiment were sent to the West Indies, but Arthur became ill just before sailing and was left behind. However, in 1796 he accompanied his regiment to India, using the long voyage to read up and further his education.

In May 1798, Richard Wesley was appointed Governor-General of India and this was the breakthrough Arthur needed. Richard became the Marquise Wellesley, changing the family name in the process. Arthur prospered as a soldier, achieving a number of victories and, with his brother's patronage, becoming Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley, KCB. He was now able to return to Dublin and finally achieve his aim of marrying Kitty Packenham in 1805.

His Indian Army service did not count for much back in England but, by pulling strings, he was briefly involved in an unsuccessful expedition to Hanover and Holland. Still pulling strings, and using Richard's connections, he managed a stint of duty in Copenhagen, followed by a transfer to Portugal as third in command. There he defeated the French at Vimiero and, after being subject to a military enquiry into a withdrawal at Cintra, was back in Portugal in 1809 as second in command to Sir John Moore. With the latter's death at Corunna, Wellesley, as he now was, took charge of the Peninsular War, while his omnipotent elder brother, Richard, became Foreign Secretary. After the Battle of Talavera, Arthur became Viscount Wellington and was on his way to Waterloo and a further career as a politician.

At the conclusion of this most interesting talk Peter was subjected a barrage of questions, mainly on the subject of "patronage". Marjorie finally put an end to this and introduced Committee Member Bob Smith who, on behalf of the Society, handed over a numbered copy of the Regimental History of the Imperial Light Horse Regiment to fellow Committee Member Hamish Paterson, who accepted it on behalf of the Military Museum Library.

This done, Marjorie introduced the next speaker of the evening. This was none other than Judge John Myburgh who, after a distinguished legal career, has found a new and absorbing interest in the United States Civil War.

The subject of his talk was, therefore, not surprisingly "The U S Civil War".

John approached this massive subject from a completely novel starting-point, which was basically "How does one study such a vast subject and what lessons do we learn from it?" From its very inception the fledgling United States contained the cancer of slavery, some of its Founding Fathers being slave holders, and this cancer was to culminate in the U S Civil War between 1861 and 1865, the bloodiest war in U S history.

Further seeds of this conflict can be said to have been laid in 1860 when the Democratic and Republican political parties held their electoral conventions. The Republican Party elected Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate and in the subsequent election Lincoln carried every "free" state, except New Jersey. He did not win a single electoral vote in the South and no popular vote in 9 "slave" states. This result persuaded the Southerners that they had become a powerless minority, with no choice but to secede. No sooner had Lincoln been elected President than South Carolina seceded from the Union. She was followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas. On 8 February 1861 delegates from the seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to establish a new nation, the Confederate States of America.

On 4 March 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States and called for volunteers for an army of 75 000 to crush the rebellion. Instead of providing troops, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina also seceded and the new Confederacy chose Richmond, Virginia, as its capital. It is 130 kilometres away from Washington, DC, the Union capital.

At the time of secession, the United States consisted of 34 states, of which eleven seceded. The two groups became known as the North (Union) and South (Confederacy). The population of the North was almost double that of the South and, although the two groups were balanced agriculturally, the South produced 75% of the world's supply of cotton, which was also the major export of the USA. However, the North was far more industrialised and wealthier and, critically, had double the mileage of railroad track for logistical support. From this it is simple to deduce that the South's hope in winning lay in its monopoly on cotton. If this export could be stopped the South would run out of funds to continue the War. This did not happen.

The one advantage that the South could capitalise on, however, was the quality of its military leaders - Lee, Jackson and others. Robert E Lee in particular was to shine as the leading general of the War.

In the ensuing conflict, the two sides fielded a total of 3 million men, of whom 620 000 lost their lives. At the battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) alone there were 23 000 casualties in one day; 25% of the white men of military age in the South died during the Civil War and while the total value of wealth increased by 50% in the North, it decreased by 60% in the South. In other terms, the war enriched the Northern states but devastated the South, causing an imbalance which persists to this day.

John then went on to discuss the question of slavery between 1820 and the Civil War. He discussed the origins of US slavery and the various legal acts and political manoeuvres to either entrench or abolish it. As the number of states increased so did the controversy - should they be "slave" states or "free" states? A number of controversial acts and laws were passed, in an effort to entrench slavery, and others were passed as a compromise, but eventually matters came to a head in 1859 when John Brown attempted to provoke a slaves' insurrection by attacking a Federal Armoury in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The frightening prospect of this insurrection hardened feelings in the South and the rest was inevitable.

On the conclusion of this fascinating talk Marjorie called for questions. The call provoked a lengthy question period before Judge Myburgh was thanked by Vice Chairman John Parkinson, who also thanked Peter James-Smith for his contribution to a most entertaining evening.

The meeting was then adjourned to partake of the home-made Valentine's Day "crunchies" baked by Committee Member Lyn Mantle.

Ivor Little

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This serves as notice that the 47th AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 11th April 2013.

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Subscriptions and Membership

Technically, any member who has not renewed by paying subscriptions by 31 March ceases to be a member and is not eligible to vote at the AGM.

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Annual Prizes in Johannesburg

Voting forms for the best lectures in 2012 will be handed out at the March lecture meeting. Any member wishing to vote who will be unable to attend on 14 March, please contact the secretary at the letterhead address, for a voting form.

The prizewinners will be announced at the AGM in April.

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Forthcoming Lectures


14th March 2013:
CR: Ann Bourdin How Germany lost the War in 1941
MJ: Robin Smith John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry, Oct 1859

11th April:
Annual General Meeting
ML: Pierre du Toit SMS Konigsberg

KZN in Durban:

14th March:
DDH Ken Gillings The Prince Imperial's Last Journey
Main Maj Peter Williams Being a Peace Keeper in Africa

11th April:
DDH Capt Brian Hoffmann Trench Raids on the Western Front
Main Gerhard Buchner Gen Ignatius Ferreira (1844-1900) - my Father

Cape Town:

14th March 2013:
Bob Buser The story of the Bismarck, May 1941 - the life and times of World War Two's most famous battleship


11th March:
Barbara Kinghorn A dependent's tale

8th April:
CR Ian Copley The Mystery of Lt Pilkington
Main John Stevens HM Schooner Pickle


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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