South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 109
October/Oktober 2013

In the open house series, Ian Pringle described the event at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 which became known as Marwick’s March. As the mine owners and uitlanders departed from the ZAR on the eve of the war, the majority of migrant black mineworkers were left behind. Most of them came from Natal and found themselves without employment or means of sustenance.

John Sydney Marwick the representative of the Department of Native Affairs in Natal, as part of his duties, was responsible for their general welfare. This included their health, assisting them to remit money home, dealing on their behalf with any injustices to which they had been subjected, and to offer advice where needed. With war pending Marwick decided he would assist as many as possible to return to their homes in Natal and Zululand while they still had a chance. As the railways were beginning to shut down and little support was forthcoming from his bosses in Natal (least of all any money), Marwick obtained permission from Commandant-General Joubert for the men to walk home. So began what became known as the Marwick March led by Marwick and his assistants, called Wheelwright and Connorton. Rations were purchased, 70 sick were put on what trains were still running and the remaining 7 000 departed on foot on 6th October, four days before the outbreak of the war. They were accompanied by a small escort of Transvaal police provided by Joubert. Tight discipline under the leadership of Hlobeni Buthelezi, who was related to the Royal House, was maintained by the men themselves. A few minor cases of looting along the way were severely dealt with.

The men took roughly ten days to reach Ladysmith, the major dispersal point, some 3 000 having already turned off to Zululand once in Natal. Hunger, fatigue and inclement weather had dogged them for most of the way, although for much of the journey the marchers received substantial kindness and support from farmers as well as from townsfolk in the villages they passed. The Boer army too was at times helpful and co-operative, even when the marchers were in no-man’s-land between them and the British. Upon reaching Hattingh Spruit near Ladysmith they found there were trains to take those who wished, and who could pay, on to Pietermaritzburg and final dispersal.

Marwick was widely praised both for his efforts and his humane attitude. The man they called Umuhle – the good one – was not forgotten by the descendants of the marchers. When he died in 1958, hundreds declined buses arranged for them to take them from the funeral to the cemetery and rather walked in tribute to him.

The curtain raiser, entitled Alexander Scotland, was presented by Alec Grant. Alexander Scotland was born in Perthshire Scotland in 1882. He was blind until the age of fourteen, which possibly accounts for his extraordinary facility with languages later in life. At the age of 20 he sailed for South Africa to join the ranks of the British Army engaged in the Anglo-Boer War, but arrived in Cape Town after the action had ceased. His uncle worked for a business called South African Territories Ltd and Scotland got a job managing the company’s operations at Raman’s Drift and Warmbad in the then German South West Africa. He became fluent in German and well versed in their culture.

After the start of the 1903 Herero/Nama uprising he was told by officers of the German Garrison that it was too dangerous to ride unarmed on horseback in the territory. As only military personnel were allowed to carry weapons it was suggested that he join the German army, which he did and became known as ‘Hauptman Schottland’. He was responsible for supply logistics and kept the soldiers well stocked. His duties took him to Cape Town where Dr Leander Starr Jameson, at that time prime minister of the Cape Colony, gave him discretion to issue permits for goods entering German SWA. In addition to German, Scotland had become fluent in several local languages and consequently played a role in the peace negotiations. During this period he met with the British military attaché, Major Wade, who told him he would be very useful to Britain if he learned all he could about the German military establishment in the territory.

When, in 1914, the South African Government declared its intention to side with Britain and invade German South West Africa on behalf of the British Empire, Scotland was able to provide a great deal of useful military intelligence which he sent to Smuts just before he (Scotland) was arrested as a spy and jailed in Windhoek. Scotland had requested Smuts to protect him in the event of his being incarcerated and this appears to have been what happened for although threats were made, he was not executed.

Following an initial defeat at the Battle of Sandfontein, the South African Campaign progressed at a rapid pace, some of this attributed to information received from Alexander Scotland. He was freed when the German forces in SWA surrendered in 1915 and returned to Britain. Using Smuts as a reference he obtained a post in military intelligence and was sent to France to get behind enemy lines in occupied Belgium. There he was able to present himself as a German colonial and again obtained useful intelligence, narrowly escaping arrest. While in France his skills came to the fore: he was able to organize POWs by acknowledging their backgrounds and predicting their behaviour, once again providing valuable information on German troop demographics. During this time he also met both Churchill and the Prince of Wales. At the end of World War 1 Alexander Scotland was awarded the OBE.

After the war he returned to South West Africa where he was involved in business. He visited Germany in the late 1930s and briefly met Hitler. In 1940 he received a notification requiring him to report for duties with the rank of Major. He was placed in the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS) and was tasked with the establishment of POW Interrogation Centres in Britain, the main centre being ‘The London Cage in Holland Park’. His work soon saw him in France where again his experience of the German Army was put to use. When Germany invaded France, Scotland had to sail to Britain to avoid capture. He nevertheless took with him some German POWs on two Belgium trawlers which he commandeered.

Alexander Scotland was subsequently appointed to the War Crimes Investigation Unit. His main responsibilities were to interrogate prisoners accused of war crimes. The three major incidents in which he was involved were:

There were many accusations by defence teams during these trials that the inmates at ‘The London Cage’ were tortured in order to obtain confessions, but Scotland always maintained that this was not the case.

Alexander Scotland wrote a post-war memoir entitled London Cage, which was submitted to the War Office in 1950 for purposes of censorship. Scotland was asked to abandon the book, was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, and had his home raided by Special Branch officers. The Foreign Office insisted that the book be suppressed altogether as it would help persons ‘agitating on behalf of war criminals’. An assessment of the manuscript by MI5 listed how Scotland had detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva Convention. The book was eventually published in 1957 after all incriminating material had been redacted. It also contained a War Office disclaimer. Among its fascinating contents Scotland talks about the Rudolf Hess saga: according to him this could not have happened on Hess’ own initiative. Records filed in Kew are, however, only due for release in 2017. The film The two-headed spy, produced in 1958 and based on Alexander Scotland’s account, was in large measure fiction.

The title of the main lecture, given by Sam van den Berg, was Ops Savannah 1975: The story of 43 Charlie and her crew. ‘43 Charlie’ was an Eland 90 Armoured Car – part of Troop 3 of D Squadron of 2 SSB, at that time based at Walvis Bay. Her crew consisted of MCE (Pottie) Potgieter, the commander, Philip (Fielies) Rossouw, the gunner, and Sam van den Berg, the driver. Sam recounted and described his experiences in Angola over the period October - November 1975. He began by briefly sketching the background to Operation Savannah, including the significance of the Ruacana Hydro Electric Scheme to South Africa and the collapse of Portuguese rule in Angola.

For Sam and his crew, Operation Savannah started on 12th August 1975, when a column of armoured cars left Rooikop near Walvis Bay and moved north to Ruacana. Tragedy struck almost immediately when crew commander Potgieter was accidently fatally shot. He was temporarily replaced by Troop Sergeant ‘Tenk’ Fourie and later by Harry du Toit.

The following five weeks were spent on training and building fortifications. The crew enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at Ruacana, where the South African base was regularly visited by the ELP (Exercito Libertacao de Portugal) the Liberation Army of Portugal, a group who did not accept the left-wing coup which had resulted in Portuguese withdrawal from Angola. While at Ruacana, the armoured cars were stripped of all insignia which could identify them as South African and painted light desert beige. The South African troops were given green uniforms similar to those worn by FAPLA, the armed wing of the MPLA. In describing the general tone of Operation Savannah, Sam highlighted the constant readiness to move – at night crews slept in the open next to their cars, the nature of their rations, and cooking facilities. The men generally preferred ‘captured’ rations to the South African issue.

Using maps and aerial photographs, and illustrated by slides and the artwork of gunner Fielies Rossouw, Sam gave a day by day account, starting on 20th October, of the crew’s experiences during their advance into and later withdrawal from Angola. While much of the next six weeks involved relatively routine activity, several events could be highlighted.

In summing up, Sam made a few general observations: Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 14th October 2013 at 19h30 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be ‘Palmach’ [The pre-independence special forces of Israel] by Brian Klopper. The main lecture will be presented by Kathleen Gordon on The role of pigeons in WW I. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the fourth episode of the ‘World at War’ series which was not broadcast on TV. This is the remaining 25 minutes of Episode D and 25 minutes of Episode E, both titled Hitler’s Germany 1933 – 1939. (The remaining 50 minutes left of Episode E will be shown in December as there is no showing in November.)

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

New Members/Nuwe lede

We welcome Gary and Caleb Human of East London as new members of the South African Military History Society and hope that their association with SAMHSEC will be happy and fulfilling.

Ons verwelkom ook terug Johan Loock van Bloemfontein. Ons hoop dat sy assosiasie met SAKVOC gelukkig en vervulling sal wees.

Members’ activities

Stephen Bowker gave a talk on the Battle of El Alamein to the Johannesburg branch of the Society during August. Six members of SAMHSEC, Fred Nel, Richard Tomlinson, Stephen Bowker, Tony Lombard and Anne Irwin joined the Grahamstown Historical Society field trip to Fort Willshire in September, led by Pat Irwin.

Richard Tomlinson and Ian Pringle have followed up several possibilities, including contacting Charles Ross of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, relating to the repair of the Anglo-Boer War monuments recently vandalised in the South End Cemetery.

Australian request for information

This is an extract from a request Ken Gillings (KZN scribe) received on behalf of a former Rhodesian now living in Perth:
... She is trying to locate any details on her father, who according to family history, enlisted in the South African Army during WWI, at the age of 13? He told how he had served in the trenches etc., he mentioned being at the Somme etc. She has been looking for any details on him for the last 40 years and I thought that perhaps a request in the SAMHS Newsletter may have some results for her. Her father's name was Francesco Auditore and he was born on 16.11.1903 and was in an orphanage in Parow, Cape Town. He may have also used the names Frank Auditore, Frank Canovi, Frank Grassi and Frank Mangiagalli (all family names). On her mother's side, she is a granddaughter of (General?) Pieter de la Rey Swartz, a first cousin of Koos de la Rey. She would appreciate any assistance and can be contacted at or Unit 4, 71 Motivation Drive, Wangara, Western Australia, 6065.

Kransleggingsgeleentheid in die begraafplaas van die Irene Konsentrasiekamp

Almal is uitgenooi na die kranslegging by die Irene kampkerkhof: Stopfordstraat 10 (S 25°52’ 14.4”  O 28°13’ 13.9”). Dit sal Sondagoggend 13 Oktober 2013 met sonsopkoms 5:30 plaasvind en word gereël deur die Centurion-Erfenisvereniging in samewerking met die SAVF en die Voortrekkerbeweging. Kontak, Dr Rentia Landman   h 012 664 2590 sel 083 306 549

Great Trek 175th anniversary: Military encounters of the Voortrekkers 7

By 1839 Dingane’s power had been broken by a combination of Trekker military actions and internal political dissension within the Zulu nation – aided and abetted by the Trekkers. As, after their victories 1838, the Trekkers struggled to establish civic society and structures in addition to the interminable conflicts over cattle with neighbouring groups such as the amaBhaca, they once again found themselves up against British meddling and colonial ambition in Natal. The net result was the British occupation of Port Natal by Capt. Thomas Smith and approximately 500 troops on 4th May 1842. They had marched from Fort Peddie and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Colony over a period of four months and encamped on a site which is still known as the Old Fort. They immediately constructed an earth fort both for protection and to serve as their operational headquarters.

Knowing of British intentions, the Trekkers had in the interim established a military presence at Port Natal under Andries Pretorius. Pretorius had located the Trekker laager, which on occasions reached a strength of 1 500 fighting men, at Congella on the western side of the bay, roughly where the Sugar Terminal is today. Both prior, and subsequent to the arrival of Capt. Smith, the Trekkers had made attempts to negotiate with the British and to express in the strongest terms, their independence from Britain, but these had been intransigently rebuffed, resulting in three armed encounters viz. the Battles of Congella, Point and Port Natal (Durban) Bay. In addition to these the British fort was besieged for 27 days.

At 23h00 on 25th May, Smith attempted an attack on the Trekker laager at Congella in retaliation for the Trekkers’ provocative appropriation of the British cattle. The attack was made both by land and by boat across the bay, but due to both bad planning and Trekker vigilance it was a disaster for the British, resulting in a hasty retreat to their fort with the Trekkers in pursuit. Their losses were 22 dead, 33 wounded and six missing. Depending on the sources consulted, the Trekkers’ losses were either none, one or five men. Thus ended the battle of Congella, which was fought almost entirely in the dark.

The following day the trekkers attacked a stone building on the Point serving as a blockhouse and rather ostentatiously named Fort Victoria. After a very brief engagement 21 British soldiers and three civilians surrendered. One civilian had been killed and two soldiers wounded. That was the ‘Battle of the Point’.

Pretorius then laid siege to the fort from 31st May, bombarding it daily with cannon and sniper fire. There was only one sortie out of the fort during what was to become a 27 day siege. In the sortie the British lost four dead and four wounded. While the civilians in the embryo settlement had, at Pretorius’ suggestion, taken refuge on a ship in the harbour, the Mazeppa, conditions in the fort rapidly deteriorated, the garrison being reduced to close to starvation. It was during this period that Dick King made his famous ride to Grahamstown to summon aid.

The aid arrived on 26th June, and as far as Captain Smith was concerned, came just in time. This was in the form of the schooner Conch, which slipped into the bay with 100 redcoats hidden below decks. She was followed a day later by HMS Southampton, a 60 gun ship of the line, with a further 300 troops on board. As these troops landed covered by the guns of the Southampton, the Trekkers put up only a brief and ineffective resistance. Completely outgunned, they melted away as their descendants were to do so often six decades later. In this action, the ‘Battle of Port Natal’, the British lost two killed and four wounded. There is no record of any Trekker losses although a number of farmers were killed after the British encouraged local Zulu residents to plunder the Trekkers’ farms. This minor encounter in Durban Bay ultimately allowed the permanent establishment of British rule in Natal.

So ended the first encounters of what was to become generations of animosity and conflict between the Trekkers and their descendants on the one hand and British imperialism on the other. The next encounter was to take place three years later in the southern Free State not far from the northern bank of the Orange River.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Keeping calm and carrying on

Resuscitated WW II Poster

RAF Typhoon pilot flies up back door of C 130 Hercules
Sailing Anarchy 26th August 2013

Nuclear bomb nearly exploded over North Carolina in 1961
MSN News 20th September 2013

Why a cyberwar won't happen
New Scientist Opinion 9th September 2013

World War I

WWI tourism: Looking for your family hero
BBC News 7th August 2013

Victoria Cross hero Lt Col Philip Bent excluded from commemoration
BBC News 25th August 2013

World War II

68th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
MSN News 20th September 2013

Recovering a WWII bomber hidden in a French cave
Chris Bockman BBC News 21st September 2013

3D interactive: The last Dornier 17 bomber
Anon BBC News 10th June 2013

Cold War

Jeff Carney: The lonely US airman turned Stasi spy
Alison Gee BBC World Service 19th September 2013

The great Cold War potato beetle battle
Lucy Burns BBC World Service 3rd September 2013

Viva la France

A secret plot to rescue Napoleon from St Helena
Past Imperfect 8th March 2013

Something different

Historical figures for the 21st century
The Telegraph 9th September 2013

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

Couzens Tim 2013 South African Battles Johannesburg Jonathan Ball

This is a revised and expanded version of Couzens’ 2004 Battles of South Africa. Twelve new battles have been added to the original 26 and several more are mentioned in passing. Couzens has visited all the sites, consulted widely, often with the locals, and refers to a range of sources.

The style is a delight for those who enjoy a raconteur. It is chatty and conversational, laced with personal experiences and anecdotes, all spiced with good humour. The text makes military history accessible to the novice military historian and to those who might never have thought of battles as integral parts of South African history. A serious military history, however, it is not, and anyone attempting to use it as such will quickly realise that they are going beyond one of its apparently intended purposes, that of public education.

The book is refreshingly politically incorrect. Couzens does not, for example, mince his words about the conditions of our roads in general, and particularly those leading to many of the battlefields. He makes similar comments about signposting and interpretation and the crumbling monuments themselves and asks what we are losing in both local and overseas tourism potential as a consequence. His acerbic comments on our short-sighted, ill-informed and self-serving politicians, within the context of military history and South African history in general, is to be welcomed as a courageous statement of affairs.

I have no doubt this book will sell as well as it deserves to, as did its predecessor. Priced at R199.00 for the p/b version at Bargain Books, this is a real bargain.

415pp. which includes 21 simple, but useful, maps to supplement the text. Illustrated with 32 colour and b & w plates. Contains a record of source material used (it is not a reference list) and people consulted, but regrettably no index. - PI

The following book has been drawn to our attention:
Van Emden Richard Meeting the enemy: The human face of the Great War London Bloomsbury Publishing
While we have not yet had the opportunity to examine it, the following website contains an interesting review. The tail piece at the end of this Newsletter is an extract from the book.

Members are invited to send in to the scribes, short reviews of, or comments on, books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across. News on individual member’s activities is also welcome. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Peter Duffel-Cannon, Mike Heywood, Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin and Jonathan Ossher.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Richard Keyter:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society’s Web address:


Among the fascinating aspects of World War I unearthed by Richard Van Emden is the following based on correspondence between the British Foreign Office and their German counterparts.

In 1916 at the height of WW 1 Captain Robert Campbell, 30, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, then a Prisoner of War in Germany was allowed to travel to the UK to be at the bedside of his mother who was dying of cancer. This he had been allowed after writing directly to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He promised to return to Magdeburg POW camp which he did and remained a prisoner until the conflict ended in 1918. Capt. Campbell died in 1966, aged 81. The Kaiser’s reasoning when asked why he allowed it was “Captain Campbell was an officer and he made a promise on his honour to come back. Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners.” Van Emden adds the comment that it was even more amazing that the British Army let him go back to Germany. “Britain rejected a request by German POW Peter Gastreich to be allowed to leave the Isle of Wight to visit his dying father".

South African Military History Society /