South African Military History Society

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The September meeting got off to an unusual start when Past Chairman Ivor Little took the podium and introduced the newly-elected Vice Chairman, Malcolm King, to the audience. Malcolm had found himself thrust suddenly into the limelight because of the absence of the Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, who was suffering a period of ill health.

Malcolm started the evening with the usual "Today in History" highlights and then moved on to the Society notices.

The Society as a whole now has 555 members and the Gauteng Branch now has an average monthly attendance at meetings of 88 members. Interest is also stimulated by the regular outings organised by Jan-Willem Hoorweg.

Malcolm gave some very positive feedback on the tour of 17 August when Captain Charles Ross, Jan-Willem and David Scholtz combined to run an exceptionally successful tour of military graves of interest in the Johannesburg Metropolitan area. Members are reminded of the forthcoming tour to Jan Smuts' house in Irene on 16 November. Further details will be made available at the October meeting.

Malcolm then introduced the first speaker of the evening. This was Dr John Bleloch who has spoken to the Society on a number of previous occasions. The subject of his talk was "de la Rey - the Lion of the West."

Jacobus Herkulaas de la Rey was born near Winburg in the Orange Free State in 1847, but grew up near Wolmaranstad. He married Jacoba Greeff in his late twenties and started a family on a farm outside Lichtenburg. In addition to running his farm, he took an active interest in civic affairs, becoming an Elder of the Church and Native Commissioner of the Western Transvaal. In 1893 he became a member of the Volksraad, representing Lichtenburg. He also began to build a reputation as a military leader and, starting as a Veld Kornet, served in Commandos in actions against the Basutho in 1865 and Sekukuni in 1876. He served in the first Boer War in 1881 and in wrapping up the Jameson Raid in 1896.

With the outbreak of the second Anglo-Boer War in October 1899, de la Rey was promoted to Veg-generaal and posted to the Western Transvaal to serve under Cronje. Despite his opinion that sieges were a waste of time, he actively supported Cronje's efforts and he and his men fired the first shots of the war when they destroyed an armoured train and damaged the railway line from Kimberley to Bloemfontein.

When Methuen advanced on Kimberley, de la Rey joined a general named Prinsloo in trying to halt him at Belmont. Methuen pushed them back as far as the Modder River, where de la Rey changed the Boer tactics and instead of occupying the high ground of the neighbouring koppies, he entrenched his men at the base of the hills. In the subsequent Battle of Magersfontein, de la Rey inflicted a severe defeat on the attacking British forces. After this episode the superior British force levels started to tell and, under Roberts and Kitchener, the Boers were forced back beyond Bloemfontein.

Realising that set piece battles against the British were no longer an option, de la Rey, (who was now Commandant General of the Western Transvaal), and de Wet in the Orange Free State, now waged a guerrilla war until peace was signed in 1902. He was outstanding in this role and quickly built a reputation as an outstanding general.

With the outbreak of the First World War, de la Rey felt that this was the time to shake off British rule by fomenting an uprising while Britain was busy with Germany. With this in mind, he started plotting with a number of prominent Afrikaner military men. In order to further these plans, he travelled from Johannesburg to Pretoria with Commandant General Beyers. On his way through Johannesburg, in Beyers' car, they encountered a series of road blocks set up by the police to catch the Foster gang, a criminal group in Johannesburg. At one of these blocks Beyers' driver failed to stop and the car was fired upon, killing de la Rey This was the fuse which fired the keg of rebellion. De la Rey's compatriots rose in revolt but were quickly subdued. De la Rey is remembered today for his brilliant generalship during the Second Anglo-Boer war and as the unofficial leader of the Afrikaner People at that time.

At the conclusion of this most interesting talk there was a brief question period and then Malcolm introduced the next speaker. This was former Vice Chairman and attendance officer, John Parkinson, who has also spoken to the Society on a number of occasions. His talk this evening was "HMS Durban in the Mediterranean: 1934-1936" and John went on to take a nostalgic look at the Royal Navy during the 1930s.

HMS Durban was a "D" class light cruiser, launched in 1918 and completed in 1921. In 1934 she was re-commissioned by Captain Edward Dicken for service with the British Mediterranean Fleet, under the command of Sir William Wordsworth Fisher. She arrived at Gibraltar on 24 March 1934 and slotted into the Fleet as a member of the Third Cruiser Squadron. She then moved on to Malta where she became involved in the peace-time duties of the Fleet. This consisted of either being part of a series of exercises or just cruising and "showing the flag". This was an easy existence and Durban visited Corinth, Corfu and Navarino before being diverted to Messina in Sicily to collect the mortal remains of a RAF Flying Boat crew members who were killed when their aircraft flew into the side of a Sicilian mountain. The bodies were transported to Malta for burial and then Durban was sent off to Gibraltar for joint exercises with the Mediterranean and Atlantic Fleets in the Atlantic Ocean. She then peeled off from the Fleet and, in company with HMS Delhi, paid an official visit to the French Navy in Oran.

A good time was had by all and during their stay, over the period 26 March to 4 April 1935, the activities aboard and ashore included a shipboard dance and a visit to the French Foreign Legion in Sidi Bel Abbes. This peaceful and presumably care-free existence continued when the ship returned from Oran to Gibraltar to take part in the celebrations to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V on 6 May 1935, after which she returned to Malta. Another "showing the flag" cruise followed, this time up the Adriatic, calling at Kotor, Split and Pula and back to Malta.

It was now the latter part of 1935 and the international scene was changing rapidly and a more serious element crept into Durban's movements. The Balkans were, as usual, a hotbed of revolution; Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and Palestine started an illegal immigration policy and a low intensity war against British occupation.

In September 1935Durbanarrived in Haifa and then practiced landing soldiers by boat on various Palestinian beaches, an early attempt at "combined operations" training. After this she was detailed off to tow HMS Hastings from Port Said to Malta. Hastings had had the misfortune to run aground in fog on a shoal in the Red Sea, bound for Port Sudan. With Hastings back in Malta,Durbanreturned to Haifa where the endless exercises with other ships continued. During the course of one of these forays, and off Alexandria,Durbancame across the German cargo liner Crefeld aground off the port. A successful attempt at salvage then took place, the ship was refloated and in due course Durban's ship's company received a nice monetary salvage award.

Durban then commenced a series of short voyages between Haifa, Paid Said, Alexandria and Malta, basically keeping an eye on the Suez Canal as the Italian campaign in North Africa grew in intensity. The situation in Palestine was also rapidly deteriorating andDurbanwas now being used for off-shore patrolling, to try and stamp out gun-running and illegal immigration. She was also used in the role of an "aid to civil power" and on a number of occasions landed parties of men to assist the army in maintaining law and order. At one stage her officers and men were busy landing light guns for mobile use ashore, driving army lorries and even locomotives between Jaffa and Jerusalem.

1936 saw the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War but Durban was fully occupied off Palestine as the situation there had now become really ugly. Durban's men were in the thick of it, even acting as firemen putting out fires ashore. In August 1936 the ship received orders to return home but an outbreak of political unrest in Greece led to her stay in Haifa being extended. Operations ashore also hotted-up and many of her officers and men became heavily involved in counter-insurgency operations against local guerrilla bands.

On Monday, 24 August 1936, Durban was finally released and set off for home, after 2-1/2 years' service. However, once again she was diverted to the scene of an air crash, in this case to Spinalonga on the north coast of Crete. A British Airways flying boat had crashed there while landing and Durban was to pick up the surviving passengers and carry them to Piraeus. At last, this done, it was homeward-bound, with farewell calls at Malta and Gibraltar and, ultimately, arrival at Portsmouth.

On 22 September 1936 she paid off and was placed in reserve, to emerge again on 31 July 1939 for very much more serious service.

On conclusion of this well-illustrated and most interesting talk, Malcolm allowed a brief question period before calling on Committee member Jan-Willem Hoorweg to thank both speakers.

This done, Malcolm then drew the attention of those present to the sterling work done by Jon Parkinson as a committee member, lecturer, vice chairman and attendance officer. He then asked Geraldine Parkinson to join her husband at the podium where they were both presented with small tokens of appreciation and farewell. Jon and Geraldine are moving to Hungerford in England and will be sorely missed by the Gauteng branch of the Society.

Malcolm then closed the meeting and tea and coffee were served in the lobby.

Ivor Little

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Forthcoming Lectures


10th October:
CR: Bob Smith - Boer Life on St. Helena
ML: Andre van der Veer - Kormoran: Surprise on the High Seas

14th November:
CR: Tim Waudby Focke-Wulfe 190
ML: Raymond Heron Buller's Campaign: S.A. War 1899-1902

KZN in Durban:

10th October:
Darrell Dickon Hall Memorial Lecture: "The Terracotta Warriors", by Dr John Cooke
Main Lecture: "British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s", by Donald Davies.

14th November:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "General George Patton and the Falais Gap", by Dr John Buchan
Main Lecture: "Camouflage", by Chairman Charles Whiteing.

Cape Town:

10th October:
The taking of the slave ship "Meermin", 1766 by Dr. Dan Sleigh


14th October 2013 at 19h30 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth.
The "Palmach" (The Pre-Independence Special Forces of Israel) by Brian Klopper.
Main lecture: The Role of Pigeons in WWI by Kathleen Gordon.

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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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