South African Military History Society

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The Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, first opened the January meeting by welcoming all present and thanking them for coming along after such a hot and blistering day, and then wished everybody a happy and prosperous 2014. She then presented the by-now eagerly awaited "This Month in History". At the conclusion of this show, Marjorie reminded the meeting that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the commencement of World War I and that various celebrations are planned for between now and 2018.

In line with this, the UK National Archives have initiated a project to place 15 million printed items taken from diaries, letters and documents on to the Internet. This is being done by a staff of volunteers and anyone interested in participating in this project should contact Marjorie Dean.

Marjorie then briefly outlined South Africa's participation in World War I, after which she called for volunteers to assist with tea duty after the meetings.

Other notices were a reminder of the Society's visit to Jan Smuts' house in Irene on Saturday, 22 February. This will be a self-drive tour, commencing at 11h00 from the Museum parking lot and will include lunch at "Ouma se Kombuis" tea garden. Those interested should contact Jan-Willem Hoorweg

The notices completed, Marjorie introduced the curtain-raiser speaker. This was Father Anthony Eagan, PhD, MA, of the Society of Jesus. Father Anthony is a well-known lecturer on ethics and morals at a number of institutions, including the University of the Witwatersrand, and is a published author of two books and a large number of articles. The subject of his talk was "Can There Be A Just War (in the 21st Century)?" His reply to this question was "maybe" and he then set out the facts supporting this answer.

There are certain definite trends in this century which could lead to a war somewhere in the world and the most likely cause of such a conflict will be oil, water or land, with a shortage of water resources as the most likely candidate. If such a conflict should arise and lead to a war, this war would be fought either with modern technology, which would make it far worse than what has gone before, or as a concerted terrorism scenario incorporating modern weapons.

The theory of Jus ad Bellum or a "Just War" includes seven principles. There must be a just cause; it must be declared by a competent authority; it must have comparative justice (the rightness of the cause); the right intention; it must be the last resort; must have a probability of success and the damage caused must be proportional to the good achieved. To this theory can be added that of Jus in Bello, which means that there should be no "overkill" and that non-combatants should have immunity. A new development is Jus Post Bellum, which implies that there should be reconciliation and reconstruction after the war. This entails clearing up the mess and the rebuilding of the defeated states. The victor should help to create a stable new government and help with socio-cultural repair. Members will be able to draw on episodes of past wars which illustrate some of the above points (i.e. Just Cause - Pearl Harbour; rebuilding of Germany and Japan, etc.).

The problem is that war, just or not, will happen and human nature will always be able to rationalise their justice. Against this we have the human hope of a Utopian future where everything is perfect. Unfortunately we live in a world of suffering and, in many cases, despair, so we have to couple the desire for a Utopia with a degree of realism. This Utopian realism could then lead to any future war being a just one, if the protagonists follow the following principles: to insist on justice, not passivity, i.e. defeat over enemies, but address the root cause of the conflict; care for the plight of the victims; first try to promote peace through conflict resolution, before resorting to warfare; insist on reconciliation and forgiveness after the conflict. If these basic principles are followed then any war could be just. It might just happen in our century.

A question period followed this most interesting and thought-provoking talk, after which Marjorie introduced the next speaker. This was Dr Anne Samson, an independent historian and Chairperson of the Great War in Africa Association. She has spoken to the Society in the past and is an acknowledged expert on the First World War in Africa, with two books and numerous papers on Worlds War I and South Africa to her credit. Her paper on this occasion was "Behind the Scenes of South Africa's Involvement in World War I".

When World War I broke out on 4 August, 1914, South Africa was a Dominion and a part of the British Empire. She was drawn in to the conflict immediately when the same day that war was declared she received a telegram from the British authorities asking that South Africa put the German coastal radio stations in neighbouring German South West Africa out of action.

The South African government was at that time in a period of disarray. The Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, was returning from a visit to Southern Rhodesia and the Governor-General and High Commissioner had just left South Africa. His replacement, Sydney Buxton, had not yet arrived. In the interim, Sir Henry de Villiers was the Governor-General responsible for the Union and General Wolf Murray was the High Commissioner responsible for the Rhodesias and Protectorates. To add further to the confusion, de Villiers died three days before Buxton arrived and was replaced by Sir James Rose-Innes, the Attorney General. As soon as he could, on 7August, Botha convened a cabinet meeting where it was decided to honour Britain's request, although a minority, led by F S Malan, was against it as it felt that supporting Britain so soon after the Boer War would re-open old wounds. It was also decided to relieve the British garrison in South Africa, which would from then on take care of its own defence. This decision was taken on 8 August and General Wolf Murray led his troops back to Europe, where he became Chief of General Staff to Lord Kitchener.

Steps were also taken also to activate the Union Defence Force (UDF) which had been established in 1912 and which was still in the process of assimilating both Boer and Brit soldiers. Nothing further could be done until Buxton arrived and Parliament convened in September, when it was hoped that sanction could be obtained for the use of the UDF outside of the defence of South Africa's borders. However, Smuts pushed ahead to ready the UDF for further action. Unfortunately, it was still split in two camps: one pro-Empire and staunchly in support of Britain and the other, led by Commandant General C F Beyers (a former Boer Bittereinder), who saw the conflict as a chance to restore the Boer Republics while Britain was otherwise occupied.

Buxton eventually arrived on 1 September, 1914. He would prove to be an able Governor General in that he was well-connected politically in the United Kingdom (UK), was erudite and extrovert, with an easy-going personality which appealed to the rival Afrikaner faction. He had also taken the trouble to thoroughly familiarise himself with all aspects of South African politics. Parliament was convened on 8 September. A small German detachment had been involved in a skirmish with South African police at the border post of Nakob and this was an intrusion which Smuts and Botha used to justify a request not only to destroy the coastal radio stations but also to invade and occupy German South West Africa. Parliament approved this, with the rider that only volunteers should be used as they did not want to force anti-British UDF members to participate in any war not in defence of South Africa.

This decision to invade South West Africa had immediate unfortunate results. Although Smuts and Botha felt that South Africa as a Dominion should pull her weight and support Britain, many of their former Boer War comrades saw this move as a means to regain the Boer Republics. Chief among these was General Koos de la Rey who, on 14 September, set events in train which would lead to rebellion. He himself was killed accidentally in a road-block in Johannesburg but Beyers and General S G "Manie" Maritz actively took to the field against the pro-British forces. Maritz defected with the troops under his command to the Germans and Beyers subsequently drowned while attempting to cross the Orange River.

Despite this uprising, the South Africans occupied Luderitz on 18 September and the radio stations were destroyed. Botha then placed the invasion on hold while he and Smuts stamped out the rebellion. By 11 February, 1915, the situation was resolved and Botha, who had personal command of the SA forces in South West Africa, launched a five-prong attack into the territory. Botha had been offered the help of Australian troops but he declined this, opting instead to use Rhodesians. This decision was prompted by a desire to forge a strong alliance with the Rhodesians, in the hope that they would thus be tempted to join the Union, bringing Nyasaland with them. Rhodesia, under Dr Jameson, also offered to invade South West Africa, via Angola, provided that in the subsequent fall-out with Portugal, the colonial power, Rhodesia would be given Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). This alarmed not only England's oldest ally, Portugal, but also Smuts and Botha who had their own eyes on Mozambique. The vision was that at any post-war bargaining council, South Africa would be able to stretch as far north as Nyasaland (Malawi)!

By July 1915 the South West campaign was over and in October 1915 a victorious South Africa went to the polls and Smuts and Botha were re-elected.

The parliamentarian, John X Merriman, had suggested back in April that South Africa should now look at invading German East Africa. It was also suggested that the troops returning from South West Africa should be sent to Europe. Both these suggestion were held over until after the October election, where once again a compromise was reached. UDF troops going to Europe would form part of the British forces there while the South Africans themselves would take on German East Africa. The British War Office, under Kitchener, was against this as they viewed it as a side-show where they had already suffered heavy Indian and British casualties. A bit of string-pulling and office politics soon sorted this out and the campaign was re-invigorated by the appointment on 27 November 1915 of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien as Commander-in-Chief in East Africa. However, he fell ill and with the political situation in South Africa stable, Smuts stepped in as Commander-in-Chief. The first engagement, at Salaita Hill, was a disaster and a combined South African and Indian force was routed by the Germans under Von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Smuts remained in East Africa until February 1917. During this time the South Africans not only came to terms with fighting alongside Indian soldiers but the force was expanded to include black South Africans and troops from the Protectorates.

On leaving East Africa, Smuts went to Europe to represent South Africa at a series of Imperial meetings and remained there until 1919. He was replaced by General Reginald Hoskins who only lasted three months, being subtly undermined by Smuts, and replaced by General Jaap van Deventer. Smuts had not proved all that successful and it was left to van Deventer to "clean up the mess", which he did quite successfully, although by the time of the Armistice the Germans under von Lettow-Vorbeck, were still active in the field.

At the end of hostilities in 1918 South Africa emerged as an African power, much to the dismay of her neighbours, all of whom felt threatened by her obviously expansionist designs. With the refusal of the Rhodesians to join the Union and the continued British alliance with Portugal, this expansionism was denied to South Africa and led to her present borders being defined.

The inclusion of black and coloured troops in the Union Forces also led to political aspirations by those groups which would not be recognised for many more years. However, what is obvious was that South Africa's participation in World War I led to much wheeling and dealing and controversy and the full extent of her role in World War I is only now being appreciated and researched.

At the conclusion of this most interesting talk Marjorie allowed a short question period before calling upon committee member Peter James-Smith to thank both speakers. This was done most eloquently, after which the meeting adjourned for refreshments.

Ivor Little.

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D Day Veterans

Brig Gen Albie Gotze ( is a veteran of D-Day and he wishes to know of any other Society members who have that distinction. Ken Gillings mentioned Dr Coggin from KZN; would any others please contact Gen Gotze directly and copy either Ken or Joan whose details appear at the end of this newsletter.

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Ghost payment

Direct deposit (eft) made on 7 January under reference "Membership" - please identify yourself to treasurer so your payment can be credited.

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Field trip in May - early warning notice

SAMHSEC is planning a field trip from 29 May to 1 June to Richmond and nearby ABW sites in the Northern Cape - details from chairman Malcolm at

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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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13th February (Back to the usual second Thursday)
CR: Jan-Willem Hoorweg Comical anecdotes from a musician in the S.A. Army 1980-1984
ML: John Molloy The Battle of Reading 871 AD

13th March
CR: Ian Thurston James Stewart: Actor, Oscar winner & Bomber Pilot
ML: John Myburgh The Battle of the Somme

KZN in Durban:

13th February (NB back to the 2nd Thursday):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: The Eclipse of the Luftwaffe by Bill Brady
Main Talk: Gallipoli by Robin Smith.

13th March
DDH: Guadal Canal The Naval Battles by Roy Bowman
Main Talk: The German Invasion and Occupation of Belgium and North-East France, from August 1914 by Paul Kilmartin
Cape Town:

13th February
Ian Pringle Operation Dingo: The Greatest battle of the Rhodesian Bush War
13th March
Dr. Dean Allen Empire, War & Cricket in South Africa: Logan of Matjiesfontein

10th February
CR: Andre Crozier Our Tour de France 2013
ML:Franco Cilliers Yom Kippur, the Vale of Tears Battle
10th March
CR: Ian Pringle Boer War Refugees in Lesotho
Annual General Meeting
ML: Brian James 61 Mech
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