South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 451
KwaZulu-Natal September 2013

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Chairman: Charles Whiteing 031 764 7270
Society's web site address:

The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture at the August 2013 meeting was presented by Dr Alex Coutts, who very kindly agreed to replace Mr Nino Monti, who had taken ill. It was entitled “Shaka; the appearance and character of the Zulu king”. Dr Coutts opened with a listing of the last twenty Zulu kings, of whom Shaka ka Senzangakhona was the twelfth, and then spoke of the European concepts of kingship and emperor, which have consequently been applied to many tribes of South Africa. The Zulu king was known for his stature and magnificent physical presence. He projected dignity and a sense of command, was powerful in build and indeed displayed ‘remarkable athletic prowess’.  If he were to be portrayed in sculpture or graphic arts, he would need to be presented as a robust, rugged and dignified man. A statue approximately three metres in height would give the necessary weight to his presence, while not being bizarre for its reliance on massive proportions alone. The build should be even more muscular and athletic than most earlier attempts, showing a man whose tall stature was instantly recogisable in a crowd.  The posture should be alert, coiled, prepared for action; a man moving with the times and ready for engagement. King Shaka was a man of considerable intellect who planned campaigns with great insight, undertook the training of his complex fighting forces with great skill and managed the integration of numerous tribes and clans into the growing Zulu nation. It was a task requiring considerable gathering and processing of information, logical, rational, critical and creative thinking, and an acute ability to understand how social systems work.  His was a considerable intellect! There were notable examples of honourable conduct on the king’s part, admiration for bravery and the discharge of duty, forgiveness for those who spoke the truth boldly, and compassion for the poorest amongst the nation.  There were even glimpses of humour at times. With the later politicization of the king’s record, those who wished to discredit him neatly omitted these attributes while magnifying the harsher side of a harsh world.  Yet even the more brutal of the recorded anecdotes are no worse than what was done at the time in apparently ‘civilized’ nations such as England and France; or in many other countries throughout much of recent times, for that matter. Any artwork should reflect a penetrating intelligence and the dignity befitting a man of massive presence and gravitas.  He need not be particularly handsome, since there is no clear record of his features, yet the sculptor must shy away from portrayals that do not get the features anatomically in proportion. The face must be absolutely right. For decoration and a display of power, King Shaka had a band of strung lion’s teeth encircling his neck.  In less formal attire he wore tassels and even genet skin. He sported a loin covering of assorted genet and other tails of a length befitting a senior man, and wore a ubeshu hanging to behind his knees in his mature years. His full headdress was magnificent, being usually bedecked with an apron of red lourie feathers inserted in a thick band of leopard skin or brown otter pelt, all surmounted by a sixty centimetre long blue crane feather at the front. Around each upper arm and lower leg was a tassel made of long bleached hair derived from the extremities of cattle tails. Plugs of shiny yellow cane were inserted in his ear lobes. The clash and contrast of the primary colours; blue (the crane feather), red (lourie feathers) and yellow (cane for the ear decorations) was impressive. His weapons consisted of a great white shield taller than most men, made of layered cattle hide with a small black patch the size of the open human hand slightly offset at the center. It was a blemish to show that even the king did not regard himself as perfect.  His spear was the iklwa stabbing spear, a metre long with a massive blade. The wood was flared at the lower extremity so that it would be secure in the king’s grasp during battle. It must be displayed in the right hand, held low since the attacking thrust was upwards under the ribcage, and not a futile overhand jab.  The shield must be that engineered by the Zulu king, and not the smaller version that crept in during ensuing years under Kings Dingane, Mpande and Cetshwayo. Dr Coutts read a poem he had written (Ballad of the great Zulu king), dealing with a brave man Gala who confronted the king after his mother’s death, and berated him for endangering the welfare of the Zulu nation. It is attached for the record. He concluded the talk with anecdotes that displayed the king’s intelligence, displays of magnanimity and occasional sense of humour. He stressed the conflicting views on the king, explaining that subsequent commentators portrayed him in ways fitting their personal agendas, whether they are political or literary. One could be hanged, drawn and quartered in Europe during the period when Shaka was a boy, yet despite atrocities worldwide and even in the present day, the king was singled out for accusations of excessive brutality. There were no doubt times when his discharge of judicial punishments was cruel, yet no worse than what was implemented in many other parts of the world. The book Shaka Story of a Zulu King is obtainable from Amazon or Createspace. Information is on the website The Main Talk, entitled “HMS Glorious”, was presented by immediate past Chairman Bill Brady. It was a very alert seaman, on watch on the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, who first sighted smoke just after 1600 hours on Saturday 8th June, 1940. Scharnhorst and her sister ship Gneisenau were patrolling off the coast of Norway hoping to intercept. Allied convoys evacuating Allied troops after the disastrous campaign in Norway. The German ships turned towards this unexpected sighting and soon made out the unmistakable aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, escorted by two destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, steaming west. In a short gun action lasting just over an hour, all three British ships were sunk. Several hundred men survived on rafts and floats, but in the Arctic cold and without food or water, many died of their wounds and of exposure. When rescue finally came three days later, there were only thirty-nine survivors from. Glorious and one each from Acasta and Ardent. More than one thousand five hundred men were lost, including highly trained RAF pilots who had gallantly flown their Hurricanes arid Gladiators on board the previous evening rather than abandon their aircraft in Norway. In 1940, the exact circumstances of this tragedy were shrouded in wartime security, but, even after the war, the official explanation left questions which puzzled historians, politicians and the families of those who had died. Why had Glorious left the main troop convoy to proceed independently? Why was she not flying a reconnaissance patrol for her own safety? Why did British Intelligence give no warning that the German battle-cruisers were at sea? Why were the survivors not found for three days? In a lonely parish church situated in the Lake District, there is a stained glass window that commemorates one of the least known incidents of World War Two. The incident occurred on the eighth of June 1940 when the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, were intercepted and sunk by the German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst in the Norwegian Sea. This resulted in the loss of over one thousand five hundred officers and men of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force. The severely embarrassed British Admiralty ordered that the official report should be closed for one hundred years, but pressure from families and relatives led to some earlier releases. The question arises, how; on a day of calm sea and clear visibility did the German battlecruisers overwhelm the carrier and her escorts in just two hours? And why did no British warship in the vicinity receive a signal of an enemy sighting, as was alleged by the naval authorities at that time?  It is necessary to look at the background of this warship. HMS Glorious was the second of the Courageous class cruisers built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. Glorious was completed in 1916 and spent the rest of the war patrolling the North Sea and was present when the German High Seas Fleet surrendered at Scapa Flow. After the First World War, The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 compelled the Royal Navy to scrap many of her older ships. However, some could be converted into aircraft carriers, and the Courageous-class ships with a combination of a large hull and high speed made them ideal candidates for conversion. Glorious was re-commissioned as an aircraft carrier on February 1930 and could carry up to forty eight aircraft. On the outbreak of World War Two, Glorious was serving with the Mediterranean Fleet. Later in November 1939 she moved through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean where she became part of the task force that was organised to hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee . Then in April 1940 she joined the Home Fleet to provide air cover for British forces in Norway. Glorious and Ark Royal made several excursions between Scapa Flow and Norway to ferry aircraft that attacked enemy shore based positions. But, by this time, Hitler had launched his blitzkrieg in the west. Allied troops and aircraft were needed to counter the threat, and ordered to evacuate from Norway. Glorious arrived off the coast to provide air support and take on board land based aircraft. Gladiators and Hurricanes were flown aboard during the afternoon of June seventh. The Hurricanes had a much higher landing speed than the biplanes, and the pilots showed great skill in performing this feat without loss. Particularly, as this was the first time that high speed monoplanes without arrester hooks had landed on an aircraft carrier. Both speakers responded to questions put to them, after which the customary vote of thanks was presented by Dr Graeme Fuller. 2013 Battlefield Tour. A reminder that the 2013 Battlefield Tour will focus on the Great Trek in Natal. It will take place over the weekend of the 30th November / 1st December 2013. The cost will be R30 per person, all of which will go to Branch funds. The provisional programme is as follows: SATURDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2013. Rendezvous at 09h00 at Midway Service Station (turn LEFT at the exit to Estcourt South on the N3. The Caltex Service Station is clearly visible to the left of the N3. Sites to be visited will include the site of Veglaager, the Kaalvoetvroumonument, Kerkenberg, Marthinus Oosthuyse’s grave (the hero of Rensburgskop) Sooilaager and Doornkoplaager. Accommodation has been arranged at a very special rate with the Willow Grange Hotel. Please make your own reservations by phoning the hotel on 036-352 7102 and referring to the SAMHS Tour. SUNDAY 1ST DECEMBER 2013. Rensburgskop Battlefield, Bloukrans and time permitting Weenen. Please add your name to the list that is being circulated at meetings, or e-mail Ken Gillings to confirm your attendance. NEXT MEETING – 12TH SEPTEMBER 2013. 19h00 FOR 19H30. Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: Ross Cairns on “Julius Caesar’s Invasion of Gaul” (Note: Ross is a student at Kearsney College) Main Lecture: “The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1” by Roy Bowman. Future Meetings and Events: Thursday 10th October 2013: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The Terracotta Warriors”, by Dr John Cooke Main Lecture: “British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s”, by Donald Davies. Monday 11th November 2013: 10h00. Remembrance Day Assembly at Durban High School by kind invitation of the Principal. Thursday 14th November 2013: Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “General George Patton and the Falais Gap”, by Dr John Buchan Main Lecture: “Camouflage”, by Chairman Charles Whiteing. Sunday 17th November 2013: Branch Luncheon, Westville Country Club. Please confirm attendance with Charles Whiteing. Tel 031 764 7270 or . Payment in advance at the next meeting please. Thursday 12th December 2013: Topic to be confirmed (one talk only) followed by end of the year Cocktail function. Unless otherwise stated, monthly meetings are held in the Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban at 19h00 for 19h30. The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture for the July 2013 meeting was presented by Fellow Member Ian Sutherland and entitled simply “Cowra”.

Cowra is a small town in the Central West Region of New South Wales, 250 km west of Sydney. Prior to WW2 its population totalled 3500 and it was principally a farming and wine producing area.

In February 1942 Darwin was bombed for the first time by the Japanese, therefore taking the War to Australia and Cowra became a POW camp.

Our speaker provided the background to the Japanese attitude to capture. It was simply not within their culture to do so; those who became POWs had either been badly wounded, were very ill or had been rescued from drowning after their ship had been sunk or their aeroplane shot down. On being taken prisoner, they would give false names to spare their families the humiliation associated with their capture and many survivors never told their friends or family that they had been prisoners.

With the start of the War in the Pacific, 28 POW camps and internment facilities were established throughout Australia and Cowra was the 12th such camp. It housed Japanese, Italian, Indonesian, Korean and Formosan soldiers as well as others who were suspected of being enemies of Australia. It comprised four 17-acre compounds, each designed to house 1000 prisoners within a 12-sided almost circular perimeter. Italians were housed in A and C compounds, Japanese soldiers in B compound, while Japanese officers, Indonesians, Formosans and Koreans were housed in D compound. The only access was via two large double gates at either end. A separate perimeter fence consisting of three barbed wire fences, 9 metres apart, surrounded each compound. Guards patrolled the outer perimeter on a raised walkway and watchtowers also surrounded the perimeter.

The prisoners were guarded by a company of soldiers from the Australian Garrison Battalion with the Group HQ established on high ground overlooking the camp from the western side. These guards were usually WW1 veterans or younger men who were considered unfit for active service.

The first Japanese POWs arrived in B Compound during December 1942 and conflict soon arose between the army and naval personnel.

During 1944, the camp authorities at Cowra learnt from an informer that a major escape was being planned. To complicate matters, as the War in the Pacific progressed, more prisoners arrived at Cowra and B compound became hopelessly overcrowded; by August 1944, it held over 1000 prisoners and this made it increasingly difficult to control and Military Intelligence suggested that the soldiers should be separated from the NCOs. This was an unpopular decision.

At 01h30 on Saturday 5th August 1944 a mass escape took place as prisoners rushed the perimeter fences in groups of 200 to 300. They threw blankets onto the wire and attempted to climb over or under them. Two [of] the guards manning a trailer mounted Vickers machine guns were overpowered by the sheer weight of numbers and were killed. Two groups of prisoners then attacked the north and south gates, managing to escape through them. Many bodies were found, some with their throats slit and some with self-inflicted wounds. Only 138 prisoners remained in camp.

359 prisoners managed to escape into the surrounding countryside but 334 were recaptured by the Army and civilians. 25 were killed or committed suicide – some by lying across railway tracks. Ian pointed out that the organisers of the breakout had given strict instructions that no civilians were to be harmed, which was the case.

The news of the Cowra breakout was only reported in September 1944 and the last Japanese prisoners were repatriated in 1947. Ian pointed out that several of the ringleaders did not participate in the attempted escape.

In 1964, the Cowra Kai (or Society) was formed with the object being to foster comradeship among the Japanese survivors. They began meeting on the anniversary of the breakout and made pilgrimages to the graves of those who died. A Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, designed by the top Garden specialist in Japan, was opened on the outskirts of the town in 1979. It reflects peace and tranquillity and has become Cowra’s major attraction. The town’s passion for peace and international understanding resulted in it being awarded a World Peace Bell, which is a replica of the original bell at the United Nations HQ in New York and one of only seven in the world.

There is little evidence of the Cowra camp today, and those who died in the action are buried in separate cemeteries adjacent to one another.

The Main Talk – entitled “Dr Jim and the Matabele War” - was presented by Mr Chris “Bulldog” Ash who commutes between Dar es Salaam, Mauritius and Johannesburg and is the author of a recently published biography of Dr Leander Starr Jameson entitled “The IF Man”.

Using a Power Point presentation, ably operated by his wife, Chris commenced his talk, which was set in the Rhodesia of 1893. It was three years after the arrival in Rhodesia of the Pioneer Column and Zimbabwe, as we now know it, was divided into two segments, Mashonaland and Matabeleland, the former also being known as Rhodesia, with its capital at Fort Salisbury and with two other major settlements - Fort Charter and Fort Victoria.

The administrator of Mashonaland was an enigmatic man named Dr Leander Starr Jameson, Cecil Rhodes' right-hand man and good friend. Matabeleland was ruled over by Chief Lobengula. The two territories were separated by an ambiguous border line which both Lobengula and Jameson respected but which Lobengula's subjects, the Matabele, frequently crossed on raids and intrusions against their tribal enemies, the Mashona. Jameson and Rhodes chose to ignore these incursions until matters started to escalate. A series of telegram cable thefts in December 1892 and later around Fort Victoria led to other raids until, on 11 June 1893, a 70-strong Matabele army fell on the Mashona Kraal of Bere, about 10 miles from Fort Victoria, plundering, murdering, driving off cattle and capturing womenfolk. The Chief Magistrate of Fort Victoria, a Captain Lendy, rode out at the head of a three-man patrol and scattered this impi, which left the captured women behind in its flight. Lendy and Jameson treated this raid as a purely inter-tribal dispute but on 9 July the Matabele returned, when 3 500 warriors raided farms and kraals around Fort Victoria. The slaughter was terrible and the Mashona took refuge at the Fort, from where the Matabele demanded that they be turned over. Lendy informed Jameson (in Salisbury) of the situation, who in turn contacted Rhodes in South Africa. Rhodes told Jameson to take charge and negotiate with Lobengula. Jameson accordingly set off for Fort Victoria, where he arrived on 17 July. He arrived to find 400 Mashona killed and Fort Victoria in a state of siege. There had only been 7 police troopers available so the white settlers into a 400-strong volunteer unit.

With this force to back him up, he called a meeting with the Matabele raiders and gave them an hour to clear off. Four hours later he sent out Captain Lendy with 40 men who, in a short sharp and decisive action, killed 12 Matabele and drove the rest off. It was following this action that Jameson, in consultation with Rhodes, decided that the only way to ensure the safety of the settlers was to invade and pacify Matabeleland.

This invasion would be led by Major Patrick Forbes and would be done by three columns, a Salisbury Force; the Victoria Rangers and a Southern Force. The latter played no part in the ensuing action but the Salisbury and Victoria Forces entered Matabeleland on 5 October 1893 and rendezvoused at Iron Mine Hill on 16 October. The Matabele missed their opportunity of dealing with each column individually, or catching the Rhodesians crossing the Shangani River, and instead attempted a night attack on the combined force, which was in laager. In what became known as the Battle of Shangani the Matabele General, Mjaan, assembled 6 000 warriors for an attack on the laager. Unfortunately for Mjaan, his night attack was delayed by false alarms and only took place at daybreak. Unfortunately too, his attack blundered into a Mashona camp, which raised the alarm. The Rhodesians reacted immediately and with rifle and Maxim machine gun fire shattered the attacking Matabele by 08h30.

Forbes followed up on this victory by heading for Lobengula's capital of Bulawayo and by 1 November was 25 miles from it. Here he was surprised by 7 000 warriors who attacked in the traditional "bulls' horns" frontal assault. This was the opening of the Battle of Bembesi. Unable to bring all their fire to bear from makeshift laagers, the Rhodesians advanced out into the open, pushing forward in line and firing on the move. In 40 minutes it was all over and the Matabele had broken and fled, with the loss of 500 men. The Rhodesian losses were three. Lobengula fled, Bulawayo was taken and effectively the war was over. However, Lobengula was still loose and a flying column was assigned to track him down and capture him.

This force took the name of Shangani Patrol. On 3 December 1893 this force of 150 men bumped into a superior Matabele force, while divided in two by a flooded river crossing. One section, commanded by Major Allan Wilson, fought a gallant and desperate action and, after sending three men across the river, Wilson's half fought to the last man. Those on the other side of the river also came under attack and fought their way back to Bulawayo. This signalled the end of hostilities. Lobengula died soon after and a united Rhodesia would go on to flourish and become present-day Zimbabwe.

Jameson went on to play a further role in Southern African history and became the model for Rudyard Kipling's poem "If".

Both speakers responded to questions posed by the audience and were thanked in the customary manner by Vice Chairman Dr John Cooke.

New KwaZulu-Natal Amafa / Heritage Council.

The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has recently appointed a new Heritage Council for the Province. The members are as follows:
Mr Sithole Jabulani                        Chair              University of KZN History
Mr Arthur Konigkramer                 Chair Finance    Ex previous Council
Ms Mary Kluk                                                       Holocaust Centre
Prince C.T. Zulu                                                   Royal House
Mr Thamba Blose                                                Heritage Practitioner
Prof Antonia Nzama                                              Head Tourism Unizul
Ms Ela Ghandi                                                      Community activist
Prof IAS Vally                               Chair Audit        UKZN Economics
                     Mr RG Reddy                                                       Ladysmith Heritage Forum
Ms Zinhle Ndaba                                                   Uthungulu Heritage Forum
Dr Ndukuyakhe Ndlovu                                          University of Johanesburg Archaeology
Ms Allison Ruiters                                                  Director Durban Natural History Museum
Mr Dumisani Mhlaba       Chair Built Environment -   Architect

It seems a pity that in a Province with such a colourful military history, a military historian was not included in the Premier’s appointments. Nonetheless, the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the South African Military History Society enjoys a cordial and highly valued relationship with the Deputy Director: Support Services, Technical and IT (and Acting CEO) of Amafa / Heritage KwaZulu-Natal, Mr James van Vuuren and we wish the new Council members a successful term of office.
New Publications: World War 2; Cause and Effect, by Bill Brady. Immediate Past Chairman Bill Brady’s book has been launched and will be available at the meeting on the 8th August 2013 at a cost of R240.00.

Forthcoming Conference at the Voortrekker Museum (Msunduzi Museum). We have received the following from Ms Elrica Henning. The Circular will be attached in the e-mailed version of the Newsletter:
Dear Colleagues and Friends
Attached is the second circular for the conference  “COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS - 175th Commemoration of the Battle of Blood River/Ncome & a nation’s striving for reconciliation” which will be taking place at Ncome from 6-8 November.
  You are invited to attend this conference which will be held at the highly symbolic and significant site in terms of our nation’s history. Please consider presenting a paper (deadline 31 July). If you have already committed yourself but did not send an abstract yet, please do so before the deadline. We already have a commitment of a number of special individuals who will be presenting papers at the conference (for further details please see attachment).
  Kind regards,
Elrica Henning
Chief Research Officer
Msunduzi Museum (incorporating the Voortrekker Complex)
033 394 6834
084 317 7838

2013 Battlefield Tour – 30th November / 1st December 2013. A reminder that this year’s Annual Battlefield Tour will be linked to the 175th anniversary of the Great Trek and specifically the Battle of Blood River. The programme will include a visit to the Kaalvoetvroumonument, the Kerkenberg, Marthinus Oosthuyse’s grave, Sooilaager, Doornkoplaager, Rensburg Kop Battlefield, Bloukrans and, time permitting, Weenen.

Accommodation has been arranged with the Willow Grange Hotel near Estcourt at a very special rate of R370 per person, DBB, and participants are requested to make their own booking by phoning the hotel on 036-352 7102 and speaking to Maryna or Paul. Please refer to the SAMHS tour to qualify for this rate.

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture (DDH):
Dr Alex Coutts on “Shaka: The appearance and character of the Zulu King”. Main Lecture: Immediate Past Chairman Bill Brady on “HMS Glorious”.

Future Meeting Details.

12th September 2013
Ross Cairns on “Julius Caesar’s Invasion of Gaul” (Note: Ross is a student at Kearsney College).
Main Lecture: “The Naval Battles of the Guadalcanal Part 1” by Roy Bowman.

10th October 2013
Dr John Cooke on “The Terracotta Warriors”
Main Lecture: “British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s”, by Donald Davies.

14th November 2013
Dr John Buchan on “General George Patton and the Falais Gap”
Main Lecture: “Camouflage”, by Chairman Charles Whiteing.

South African Military History Society /