South African Military History Society

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After the usual welcoming and showing of "This Week in History", the Chairlady, Marjorie Dean, issued the monthly notices. The Society's visit to the Smuts House in Irene has once again been postponed, because of problems at the Smuts House end. It will now take place in March, at a date to be advised.

The Majestic Film Society, which meets on Sundays for film evenings, intends to commemorate World War I by showing films about that War. If any members have suggestions as to films they would like to see featured, please submit the titles to the Secretary, Joan Marsh.

The convenors of the Anglo-Boer War Conference in Dundee, Natal, over the period 20/22 October, are still calling for papers. For further details please contact Ken Gillings at the Durban address below.

Also still on track is the Boer/Brit day at Val on 24 May. The Society will be unveiling another monument in the area and a subsidised, air-conditioned coach has been arranged to get members to the venue. For further details please contact David Scholtz or the Secretary.

Marjorie then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker. This was the well-known and popular committee member, Jan-Willem Hoorweg. Jan-Willem is a professional musician and is currently a sales representative for a large record company. Not surprisingly, his talk was to be about music and was entitled "Comical Anecdotes from a Musician in the SA Army, 1980-1984". Jan-Willem began by relating how, as a young boy, he was fascinated by the cadet band at Linden HoČrskool, across the road from his home. This gave him an interest in marching bands which, coupled with a musical family background, set him on his present career path.

He first learned to play the recorder and then, after a family move to Bloemfontein, he was introduced to the bassoon, which instrument he played in his school orchestra; several local ensembles and the Free State Symphony orchestra on a casual basis. In those days all schools had cadet detachments so Jan-Willem found himself drafted into the cadet band. He enjoyed this phase of his life and enjoyed the training camps at De Brug.

In his matric year, he received his call-up papers to the Army, to report to 3 SA Infantry Battalion in Potchefstroom in January 1980. After talking to his bassoon teacher he decided that, instead of being called up as a conscript, he would use his already extensive musical background to enlist in the Permanent Force as a professional musician. Thus he applied for an audition, passed and was accepted as a "learner musician" in the SA Army Band, at a salary of R3 000 per year.

The SA Army Band was established in 1934 and was the showpiece of the SA Defence Force, playing at all major parades and military functions. When Jan-Willem joined, the Band was based in Voortrekkerhoogte (now Thaba Tshwane) in the grounds of the Personnel Services School, which also housed two replica coaches of the Blue Train used for training railway catering staff. After being formally enrolled, Jan-Willem was sent across to the Personnel Services School for 10 weeks of basic training, before joining the Band as a qualified bandsman. After the rigours of basic training, it took quite an adjustment to fit in with the relaxed atmosphere of the Band, which consisted of a large variety of very different musicians drawn from all walks of life, of all ages from 18 to 70 and of differing places of origin.

Using an old group photograph, Jan-Willem identified the "characters" and told of amusing sides to their service in the Band. The Band was also a concert orchestra and its members were adept at both these forms of performance. Jan-Willem quickly found out that there is a big difference between playing while seated on a concert stage and playing while marching across a parade ground. The latter is not as easy as it seems!

The bassoon is a particularly awkward instrument to handle while marching and counter-marching and Jan-Willem quickly changed to the clarinet for parade ground work and then the easier alto saxophone. For concert work he still played the bassoon. He spent many hours practicing sight reading and rehearsing his parts, in addition to his normal bandsman's duties on parades and rehearsals. After a year he was formally classified as a musician and then put through his "trade test" to obtain this crucial qualification as a professional musician. This led to an improved salary and eventual promotion to sergeant.

The speaker's time in the band also involved a lot of travelling to events such as military tattoos, official funerals and colour parades. Jan-Willem kept us amused by describing the off-duty antics and parade ground faux pas which inevitably happened during such tours of duty, as well as describing some of the more sombre aspects of medal parades for the fallen. However, by mid-1984 he felt that his four years' service had reached an impasse in his career and decided that a change was needed. He then transferred to the SA Police Band before moving on to the National Chamber Orchestra in 1990.

Jan-Willem closed by acknowledging his debt to the SA Army Band which took him in as a raw schoolboy, helped him grow as both a man and a musician and gave him the confidence to succeed in life. After 34 years he still looks back on the time spent with them with affectionate nostalgia.

At the conclusion of this most human and interesting talk, Marjorie thanked Jan-Willem and introduced the main speaker of the evening. This was John Molloy, a keen amateur historian and a published author. His historical activities cover a wide range of tours and lectures and his speciality is the history of ancient Western Europe. On this occasion he was going to speak on "The Battle of Reading - 871 AD".

Reading is now a major city but in 871 it was a village with a population of fewer than 500, and of strategic importance to the Vikings attempting to penetrate Wessex (Western England). Their intention was to make Reading their stronghold as a "thin edge of the wedge" against the West Saxons.

Reading has the River Thames to its north and the River Kennet to the south. The Vikings built a rampart between the two on the western edge of the town, after defeating the few Saxon defenders. The West Saxons, under the command of Ethdred the First and his younger brother Alfred, reacted to this intrusion by gathering their forces and marching on Reading. On New Year's Eve 870 a party of Danes, led by Earl Sidrac and another Earl, moved out of Reading towards the town of Bradfield to carry out a reconnaissance. They were watched and then stalked by a large party of Saxons under the command of Earl Ethelwulf. This continued for about two hours, until the Danes reached a large clearing about two kilometres from Bradfield where they stopped for a rest. Ethelwulf sent notice back to Ethelred about the situation and then launched a surprise attack on the resting Danes. After a short and vicious skirmish, the Danish survivors escaped and made their way back to Reading. This encounter was to become known as the Battle of Engelfield (English Field) of 31 December 870.

Four days later Ethelwulf, Ethelred and Alfred joined forces and instead of besieging Reading, as was the custom, they immediately launched an assault on the town. Because of the rivers and earthworks, the only line of attack was directly at a gateway through the rampart. This confined the attack to a narrow front which, after a fierce fight, was repulsed by the Vikings (Danes). Ethelwulf was killed and the Saxons retreated. This assault became known as the Battle of Reading, 1 January 871. The following day the Vikings sallied forth to finish off the routed Saxon army, which was retreating in the direction of Swindon and the White Horse Hills. The Saxon forces were heavily out-numbered and, after a consultation with Ethelred, Alfred (later to be known as "The Great") set off alone on horseback to raise more men. This he achieved by riding to Kingston Lisle where there stood a "Blowing Stone". This was a hollow, perforated stone which, if blown into, emitted a trumpet-like sound and served as a gathering call in times of emergency. Blowing in this, Alfred aroused the men of the countryside, who gathered with him at the stone. Three hundred men gathered within two hours and set off back to Ethelred at East Ilsey.

The Vikings, under the command of the Ragnersson brothers, were confident of victory and were in the meantime making a leisurely progress, with frequent stops in the pursuit of the Saxons. They were under continuous observation and when they stopped and camped for the night Ethelred closed up on them and was joined by Alfred and his men.

The following morning, 8 January 871, the two armies formed up in opposing lines and went through the usual ritual of insults; spear rattling; stone throwing and jeers, until eventually the Vikings advanced to about ten metres from the Saxon lines. The latter promptly formed a shield wall at which the Vikings adopted a wedge formation, ready to charge. Ethelred was nowhere to be seen as he was in nearby Aston church, praying for victory, so Alfred seized the initiative and ordered his troops to engage. After about two hours of close combat, Alfred ordered his centre to feign a retreat. This they did, allowing the berserk Vikings to push forward and be enveloped by Alfred's flanks. Thus the Viking forces were split into a surrounded group and a second outside wedge and were rapidly annihilated at what became known as the Battle of Ashdown. Both sides suffered heavy losses and the Vikings lost King Bagsecg and five earls. The remnants of the Viking army retreated to Reading. From there they carried out sporadic raids on the surrounding countryside until late 871 when they retreated to London, bringing their Wessex foray to an end.

At the close of this most interesting talk Marjorie allowed an equally interesting question period, before calling upon committee member Hamish Paterson to thank both speakers. This done, she closed the meeting, and there too I shall close.

The time has come after a decade of being scribe when I feel that I should lay down my quill pen in favour of somebody younger and keener's laptop. Before doing so, I would like to express my thanks to our Secretary, Joan Marsh, for her support in printing and distributing this newsletter and to my wife, Anne, for her ten years of typing and editing this Newsletter. Thank you also to our members for their comments, compliments and brick-bats down the years.

Farewell to you all and a hearty welcome to Pat Henning, the new Scribe.

Ivor Little.


This serves as notice that the 48th AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 10th April 2014.


  1. Minutes of the previous Annual General Meeting;
  2. Chairman's Report for 2013;
  3. Statement of Accounts for 2013;
  4. Matters arising;
  5. Approval of such minutes, report and accounts;
  6. Presentation of prizes for 2013 lectures;
  7. Election of Chairman;
  8. Election of Committee members;
  9. General.
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13th March
CR: Ian Thurston James Stewart: Actor, Oscar winner & Bomber Pilot
ML: John Myburgh The Battle of the Somme

KZN in Durban:

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

Cape Town:

13th March
Dr. Dean Allen Empire, War & Cricket in South Africa: Logan of Matjiesfontein


10th March
CR: Ian Pringle Boer War Refugees in Lesotho
Annual General Meeting
ML: Brian James 61 Mech

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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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