Newsletter No. 447
The meeting was preceded by a brief AGM chaired by past chairman Ken Gillings. The outgoing Chairman, Bill Brady, presented his report on the Branch's activities during the preceding year. Ken expressed the sincere appreciation of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch members for Bill's untiring efforts for the past six years of chairmanship and this was endorsed by a round of applause.
Two candidates had been nominated to succeed Bill. They were Roy Bowman and Charles Whiteing. After a ballot, Charles Whiteing was elected as Chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch for the ensuing year. The Committee was re-elected en bloc.
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture ("DDH") for the evening was presented by Capt (SAN) (Retd) Brian Hoffmann and his talk was entitled "1914 - 1918: Trench Raids on the Western Front".
Trench raiding is a subject often mentioned in books about fighting on the Western Front during WW1, but by & large it is more of an afterthought. The practise was brutal, violent, frequently horrific & fought on a particularly personal level. Raids were mainly carried out at night with the element of surprise being paramount while time in enemy trenches was kept to a minimum to avoid enemy counter attacks.
In the BEF every battalion that went into the front line was expected to undertake raids, thus every BEF soldier developed the skills & know how to be effective raiders. The Germans on the other hand formed specialist raiding groups who were the forerunners of the storm troopers.
There was a general belief in the BEF that trench raids were good for allied morale & detrimental to that of the enemy. However, there was no clear evidence to support the theory. In 1914 & 1915 raids were ad hoc affairs organized at company or battalion. The basic concept was to enter the enemy trenches by surprise, kill as many of the enemy as possible & return before the enemy counter - attacked.
It was the Canadians in November 1915 who raised the level of raiding & by the time of the Allied Somme Offensive in July 1916 it had become a precision operation with specific objectives. GHQ issued raiding instructions based on practical experience, which were initiated at Brigade level & planned at Battalion level. Detailed planning & thorough preparations became the hallmark for successful raids.
In the early days of raiding a handful of men with rifles & bayonets would worm their way across no man's land to wreak havoc in the enemy trenches. By mid 1916 raiders were multi trained as specialist bombers, bayonet men, snipers & scouts who were supported by artillery, trench mortars, Lewis gunners, rifle grenadiers, covering troops, demolition teams & stretcher bearers. At the same time enemy counter measures also improved particularly from artillery against withdrawing raiders in no man's land where after a successful raid many casualties were often suffered.
The BEF were the most active & successful raiders. During the Somme Offensive in 1916 they carried out 310 raids with a 66% success rate while the Germans responded with only 65 raids at a 34% success rate. After the 3rd Battle of Ypres the Germans mounted 225 raids on the Ypres salient with only a 28% success rate.
Tactics which evolved during trench raids were so successful that they increasingly influenced infantry assault tactics during the battles of 1917 & 1918. While they considered more of a nuisance value & impact of trench raids made a significant contribution to the outcome of the war on the Western Front.
The Main Talk by Gerhard Buchner was about Minnie Ferreira and her father, General Ignatius ("Naas") Stephanus Ferreira and the Ferreira family's misfortunes during the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. Minnie, Gerhard's wife's grandmother, was just 15 years old at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. She was the youngest of ten children, four daughters and six sons. The basis for his talk was her memoirs about the war which she wrote when she was in her eighties.
Minnie was born in 1884 on her father's farm, Destadesfontein, situated in the eastern Free State near the present-day Clocolan. This area was known as the "conquered territory" as a result of Commando victories by the Boers during the Basuto Wars of 1865 and 1868. Naas Ferreira fought in the Basuto Wars and was therefore conversant with commando warfare tactics like so many of his compatriots who did commando duty in the many wars against the black tribes of the north prior to the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War. Naas was born in 1844 in the district of Uitenhage and moved to the Orange Free State with his parents in 1862. He became Commandant of the Ladybrand Commando and was also the member of the Free State parliament for the Korannaberg district. Ferreira attended school at the Grey Institute (now Grey College) Port Elizabeth and although fluent in English, he had difficulty in writing High Dutch which was still the official language of the Boer Republics. Naas Ferreira was able to educate his children despite severe economic hardship.
Ferreira was called to Bloemfontein for an extraordinary session of the Volksraad and on his return he informed his family that war with Great Britain was unavoidable. He bought a light horse cart for their mother to flee in if necessary. War was declared in October 1899 and Minnie Ferreira related how the Burghers of their district mustered on her uncle's farm Boumansdrift. From there her father led them to Ladybrand where the whole Commando congregated and from where the Ladybrand Commando departed to Kimberley under the leadership of Naas Ferreira.
Her brothers Pieter, Nicol and Stefaans were also members of the Ladybrand Commando. Her brother Natie had already returned from his studies in London and had been appointed as General De la Rey's war-time private secretary. He was present with the General at the signing of the peace treaty at Vereeniging in 1902 and married one of the De la Rey daughters after the War. Minnie's brother Corneels acted as her father's war-time private secretary. Before the commando departed the Burghers were allowed to go home to say farewell to their families. The Ferreiras were at home on a particular Sunday when the family joined in prayer. Her father read Psalm 91 and she remembered how he also prayed for the enemy because many of them had been killed at the battle of Belmont which had taken place shortly on 23 November 1899.
Naas Ferreira replaced Gen Marthinus Prinsloo as Combat General after the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th December 1899 and it had a beneficial effect on the morale of the Free Staters whom he led with great personal bravery during that battle.
After the battle of Magersfontein, Naas Ferreira was elected as Hoofkommandant (Commander-in-Chief) of the Free State forces when he attained one vote more than Christiaan de Wet and he commanded during the siege of Kimberley.
After the Boer withdrawal from Kimberley General Cronjé was trapped at Paardeberg. Gen Ferreira and Gen Christiaan de Wet, tried to persuade Cronjé to abandon his wagon convoy and escape but Cronjé refused and at the ensuing battle he surrendered to FM Lord Roberts with more than four thousand men on 27 February 1900.
On 18 February 1900, on the first day of the battle, very heavy fighting took place. That night General Ferreira went out to inspect the sentries and found one of them asleep. The general prodded the man with his rifle and when the Burgher woke up with a start he shot General Ferreira accidentally through his abdomen, fatally wounding him. According to Minnie, her father died 15 minutes later. He made those around him promise never to disclose the name of the Burgher who had shot him because he felt that the man had suffered enough. This promise was kept and to this day the name of the hapless Burgher is unknown. Minnie wrote that her father's last words were: "Thousands of the enemy's bullets passed over me and to think that I now have been shot by one of my own people." Thus Naas Ferreira was killed hardly five months after the commencement of hostilities.
Naas Ferreira's corpse was wrapped in his own blanket and a corporal I. A. Meyer succeeded in transporting the body in a horse cart through the enemy lines to Petrusburg where he was buried. His remains were exhumed after the War in 1904 and re-buried on his farm Destadesfontein. His six sons acted as pallbearers and the coffin was draped in the flag of the Orange Free State Republic. At the well-attended funeral eulogies were delivered by some prominent people and his eldest son Pieter.
During the War, the Ferreira family fought with distinction while those who remained on the farm experienced incredible hardship and challenges - including the occupation of the farm by the British. Eventually Minnie's brothers Pieter, Nicol and Stefaans - all members of the Ladybrand Commando - were captured on the 30th July 1900 when Gen Marthinus Prinsloo surrendered to the British at Verliesfontein. They spent the rest of the war overseas as Prisoners of War. One of the British officers knew Minnie's brother, Stefaans, who was a PoW at the Greenpoint Camp at the time, visited him and also sent him a box of eats and tobacco. Stefaans was later sent to Bermuda as a PoW.
Both speakers were thanked for their outstanding presentations by past chairman Paul Kilmartin, who is in South Africa on a brief visit.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING: 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
DDH - "Fireforce." By Dr Richard Wood
Main - "Operation Mincemeat". By Charles Whiteing
Future meeting topics:
DDH - "The Paratroopers in Operation Meebos" by Maj. Gen. Chris le Roux.
Main - "The History of Submarines - Their Disasters and Rescues" by Joyce Peet.
DDH - "Cowra" by Ian Sutherland.
Main - "Mr. Jim and the Matabele War" by Chris "Bulldog" Ash.
DDH - "Gallipoli Revisited" By Nino Monti
Main - "HMS Glorious" by Bill Brady
South African Military History Society / email@example.com