South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 452
KwaZulu-Natal November 2013

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

The first speaker for the Branch's November 2013 meeting was fellow member and Vice Chairman, Dr John Cooke, whose talk was entitled "The Terracotta Army". John and Margaret have visited this amazing site and he commenced his address by describing how in March 1974, in a Central Chinese village in Ling Tong County, some 40 Kilometres from the ancient capital city of Xian, six brothers, Yang, all farmers, were becoming increasingly worried about the severe drought. The obvious solution was to dig a well.

Initially, the ground was fairly soft, but only a metre down, they encountered a rock hard layer of red earth, which seemed to have been baked. It took them two days to hack through this layer, before it became easier again. They did not realise then, that they had now entered the main burial pit of the Terracotta Soldiers, and were digging through the ashes of collapsed roof timbers, along with the earth which had covered them for two thousand two hundred years. By the end of the week, they had gone down four metres, but instead of finding water, they began to dig up pottery fragments. Suddenly, to their amazement, sticking out of the earth was a ceramic head. They then found a torso, with broken off arms and legs, as well as bronze arrow heads, and ancient bricks.

The area the farmers had hit, purely by chance, was the south east corner of what is now Pit No. 1. Had they decided to dig only a few metres away, they would have missed it completely. Fortunately, the local museum curator, who was very knowledgeable, was contacted and he realised immediately the significance of the finds, and that they dated from the period of the First Emperor Qin, who conquered and then forced six surrounding states to become a united China, in 221 B.C.

To put this into context, John provided a brief outline of Chinese history. It is generally accepted that an organised civilisation began in N.E. China in approximately 3000 B.C., which gradually became more sophisticated. The Shang dynasty of kings was established in the Yellow River Valley, around 1800 B.C., and their highly developed state flourished without rivals until the 11th century. The kings' graves have been found to contain sacrificed humans, animals, especially dogs, bronze artifacts, jade carvings, and even war chariots.

In 1400 B.C. the first Chinese written inscriptions were found. Although the Shang dynasty subsequently collapsed, and was replaced by the Chou dynasty, the traditions and foundations laid down in this period remained the basis of later Chinese civilization. Central control was lost in the 8th century, and the Chou became one of a number of separate states contesting for political and military supremacy. By the 5th century, seven major kingdoms had emerged, and continued to be at war with each other for the next 250 years, until the advent of a new King, who was to change everything. This was Qin-Shi-Huang- Di, the first and supreme Emperor of a united China, who acceded to the throne at the age of 13. By the age of 22, he had conquered the remaining six states of China. He abolished the feudal system, and established a centralized state, governing 36 prefectures. He also ordered the destruction of many ancient records and Confucian writings, and had large numbers of Confucian scholars murdered. One can see many similarities to these atrocities in more recent Chinese history.

An extensive road network was built so that he could travel all over his Empire, and the already extensive system of defensive walls was completely renovated, upgraded, and lengthened to become what is now known as the Great Wall of China. He then began to construct his mausoleum which eventually became the greatest ever built. The whole project, including the Terra-Cotta army, was constructed in three phases and took almost 40 years to complete, involving as many as 720 000 conscripts over the last 13 years. To defend and accompany him in the afterlife, his army, civic officials, musicians, acrobats, and animals were reproduced in terra-cotta clay or bronze, to be buried in vast pits next to his mausoleum.

Unfortunately, in 210 B.C., while on his 4th tour of his dominions, he contracted an unknown disease, and died prematurely at the age of 50, presumably still believing that his life underground would somehow be a continuation of his life on earth. His death was kept secret for over a week, while the chief eunuch schemed to thwart the Emperor's choice of successor. The body was then brought back to Xian to be buried in an unfinished tomb. One of his sons, Hu Hai, became the Second Emperor, and decreed that his father's childless wives must follow him to the grave, and thousands of officials, tomb-builders, and crafts were also buried alive to keep the tomb secret. To ensure no future competition, seventeen princes and princesses were killed and buried near the Mausoleum but due to the interference of a series of peasant revolts, construction of the tombs was never completed.

Inevitably, in 209 B.C., a final peasant rebellion put an end to the Qin dynasty, a mere 12 years after it had begun, but a foundation had now been laid for the success of future dynasties. Following the suicide of the 2nd Emperor, the whole Empire imploded, and during the ensuing period of anarchy and civil war around 206 B.C., the burial pits were invaded by robbers looking for weapons. It is thought that the torches they used for illumination set off fires destroying the supporting roof timbers, which collapsed, along with tons of earth, on to the figures, horses, and chariots. So far, not one effigy has been found intact.

With nothing showing above ground, no evidence of the vast network of pits remained. Incredibly, they were then forgotten for over 2000 years until the Yang brothers' spades broke through the shell of fire-baked earth, and, what some archaeologists call the eighth ancient wonder of the world was revealed.

The Main Talk, entitled "British Psychological Warfare in Aden in the 1960s" was presented by fellow member Donald Davies.

The current events in the Middle East namely Syria, and also the uprising through the North African Arab world, that are still reverberating in Egypt, have caused many of observers to reflect back on a time not too far in the past, when uprisings through this same Arab world affected British Nationals and their family who were caught up in these conflicts, now commonly referred to as the Arab Spring.

What became known as the Aden Emergency took place from December 1963 to July 1967, and centred on the British Army Protecting its petroleum facilities and British Nationals associated with what was known as Aden. Today this place is incorporated in with the surrounding area known as South Yemen.

The Events started on 10 December 1963 when a hand grenade was thrown into a group of British Military Officers at Aden airport and ended with the withdrawal of British Forces on 30 November 1967. The Crown Colony of Aden had been in British hands since 1839. The Peoples Republic of Yemen took over Aden and the Aden Protectorate. Other events in neighbouring countries that preceded this conflict and influenced circumstances in Aden were the socialist and pan Arab doctrines of the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In 1956 British and French Military Forces invaded Egypt following the Nationalisation of the Suez Canal. These forces were forced to withdraw and in 1958 Nasser attempted to unite the Arab countries of Egypt and Syria as the U.A.R. (United Arab Republic), but failed. Following the attack at Khormaksar Airport in 1963, a State of Emergency was declared.

The hostilities continued, centering largely around hand grenade attacks, and in an earlier incident typical of such events, a hand grenade attack directed at RAF Khormaksar, took place whilst a children's party was taking place, killing one girl and injuring 4 others.

These terrorist attacks were directed largely at off duty British military personnel, and took place in the old Arab Quarter named Crater (so named because it is the centre of an old volcano). In order to prevent these attacks occurring within the Crown Colony of Aden, the British forces focused on preventing the inflow of weapons in along the Dhala Road. These operations had limited success and in 1964 British infantry forces arrived to conduct land operations. By 1965 the Royal Air Force was operating 9 Squadrons from RAF Khomaksar.

Early in 1967 hostilities reached a peak with numerous grenade attacks and riots taking place, some of which took weeks to suppress by the British military, after Aden police had lost control. The Arab-Israeli War of June 1967 (generally referred to as the Six Day War), fuelled events in Aden but order was restored when Lt Col. Colin Campbell Mitchell led the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders back into Crater on the night of 3rd July 1967.

During these hostilities, the British instituted a programme of psychological warfare to win over the hearts and minds of the local inhabitants. These included the dropping of leaflets campaign which continued unabated until the British withdrawal from Aden in 1967. The messages conveyed on these leaflets varied considerably and included inter alia rewards for offering information on the location of hidden military weapons and leaflets with photographs of Arab Nationalist murder suspects.

As the hostilities increased, this psychological warfare soon escalated to dropping of leaflets into villages identified as harbouring insurgents, informing the inhabitants that they were to vacate the them at a specific time, as the village would be bombed in retaliation for the local leader's lack of co-operation with the British forces.

This punitive approach was used extensively, and was carried out using both Shackleton bombers and Hawker Hunter fighters firing missiles. Leaflets were also used to set one group against another and in the volatile climate of the Arab world these tactics were often successful. It was felt that it was more desirable for the Arab belligerents to fight amongst themselves than in an alliance against the British military forces.

Major Dr John Buchan expressed the thanks of those present for two fascinating and well researched talks.

Next Meeting: Thursday 14th November 2013. Venue: The Murray Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban. Time: 19h00 for 19h30.

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

Future Meetings and Events:

Monday 11th November 2013:
10h00. Remembrance Day Assembly at Durban High School by kind invitation of the Principal.

Sunday 17th November 2013:
Branch Luncheon, being arranged by Charles Whiteing at the Westville Country Club. Booking has now closed.

Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December 2013:
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:
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. Note that the Willow Grange Hotel is now fully booked and the excess participants will be accommodated in the neighbouring lodge.

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 ( ). Note that Ken will be away from the 8th October until the 2nd November 2013 and will only be able to respond to your enquiry after his return.

Thursday 12th December 2013 (note one talk only):

"Groenkop - General Christiaan de Wet's Christmas Day surprise", by Ken Gillings, followed by end of the year Cocktail function.

Thursday 16th January 2014 (NB - Third Thursday):

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "Tin Tin and Military History" by Dr Mark Coghlan
Main Talk: "My experiences in the Falklands War in the SAS" by Gareth Langley.

Thursday 13th February 2014 (NB - back to the 2nd Thursday):

Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: "The Eclipse of the Luftwaffe" by Bill Brady
Main Talk (this will be the first of the WW1 100 series): "Gallipoli" by Robin Smith

South African Military History Society /