Newsletter No. 464
KwaZulu-Natal October 2014
Our first speaker was Ms Jane Sampson, whose talk was entitled “Extracts from Harold Sampson’s Diary”, and formed part of the Branch’s commemoration of the centenary of the Great War. Harold Sampson was Jane’s Grandfather and he kept meticulous notes about his experiences during WW1.
Born in Grahamstown, Harold was studying at Oxford when war broke out. Two days after war was declared, he volunteered as a Private with the Artists' Rifles, 28th Battalion of the 2nd London Division, Territorial Forces. In October, his Battalion set sail for France; where as part of Sir French's officer experiment, Harold volunteered as a probationary officer in what was left of the Expeditionary Force. He joined the 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment of the 20th Brigade of the 7th Division, and went to the front line the next day. There was no time for officer training.
On 18 December 1914, Harold's Division lost over seven hundred men at Rouges Banc, Aubers Ridge, without gaining a yard.
On 21 December 1914, James Smith and Abraham Acton in Harold's Platoon rescued wounded men lying in No-Man's land, and were each awarded the VC. The official account said it was during the day and under heavy fire. However Harold's diary says that it was at night and it was quiet.
On 25 December 1914, Harold took part in the Christmas Truce. In the line where Harold was, it went on, unofficially, until 12 January1915.
On 6 March 2015, Harold witnessed the execution of a deserter from his Company. The whole battalion had to witness it and its own men made up the firing squad.
In November 2015, at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, he was badly wounded and evacuated back to London.
In June 1916 Harold joined the 1st Battalion, 29th Division in France, where he was wounded on the first day of the Somme. In his Battalion, 20 out of 23 officers, and 619 out of 809 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing. While recovering in hospital, he met and married Jane’s Grandmother, who was a VAD nurse.
In January 1918, Harold returned to France as a Balloon pilot with the Royal Flying Corps. He survived his balloon being shot down on a number of occasions by jumping out by parachute.
After the war, Jane’s Grandparents returned to settle in Grahamstown, where Harold always promoted peace and warned against the glorification of war.
Jane’s presentation included contemporary photographs of some of the incidents mentioned in the Diary and it was presented with compassion and feeling.
The Main Talk was presented by Dr Alex Coutts, a legend in KwaZulu-Natal Education circles. His talk was entitled “The Genocide and Legacy of the Drakensberg San”.
The historical period from about 1820 on was portrayed as a time of great political and cultural upheaval for the San. It came after centuries of minor clashes with African pastoralists who were bent on protecting their stock from the diminutive raiders, who had no concept of personal ownership and saw cattle largely as elements of wild nature. In reaction to the clashes, the San increasingly sought refuge in the overhangs of the High Drakensberg, where they subsisted by hunting and gathering.
The San also suffered terribly from the social upheavals coming from the West, attendant on the birth of Lesotho (formerly Basutoland), including armed attacks and cannibalism. Of necessity, many abandoned their past Stone Age culture as they experienced and sometimes attempted to imbibe the encroaching frontier culture coming from white settlers farming the Natal midlands. Some attempted to join the Western culture and entered the cash economy as employed trackers, hunters, labourers or herders, while in due course a few even acquired horses and guns. Increasingly, San traded with or married members of local iron-working communities, contributing to the African gene pool.
Others resisted desperately and clashed with the colonial authorities as well as the agriculturalist-pastoralists who the authorities had settled as buffers between them and the white farmers. Many died as a result.
The talk was based on a book written by our speaker. Titled “Child of the Dragon Mountains”, it is on Amazon and Createspace (On Demand) under author Dr Alex Coutts. The work is a historical novel based on forty years of research coupled to a serious attempt to enter the minds and life-worlds of the San. Reading the book is a novel way of gaining insights into San life and behaviour during a critical time in their history, within the geographical confines covered by the book. The synopsis is as follows.
“Child of the Dragon Mountains tells the life story of a San born in 1830 in the Ndedema Gorge of the Natal Drakensberg Mountains. The novel begins with the birth and childhood of the boy !Bo, and tells how his growing capabilities are honed, first by his mother and then his father and other noted artists and shamans of the Ndedema. !Bo becomes an experienced hunter, artist, shaman, and rainmaker. Married and with children to raise, he becomes increasingly aware of the pressures placed on the San by outside communities engaged in wars, territorial conquest, and vengeance against cattle raiders in the San communities. His family rejects the rustling of livestock from encroaching farms. He comes to understand that the clans and communities of the San are facing genocide.
Much of the book deals with the endeavours of the main character and his family to preserve and nourish the cultural heritage that is their lifeblood, while striving vainly to unite diverse San clans and groups into a unified political force they hope will engage constructively with the aggressors.
Loss of life amongst the Ndedema community leads !Bo on a fruitless quest to Bulihawu (Giants Castle). After the loss of their children in a misdirected, punitive raid mounted by stock-farmers, his family embarks on a lengthy and traumatic venture down the Senqu (Orange River) to engage with Soai, a noted leader amongst the cattle raiders; also Chief Moorosi and the cattle-raiding Amatola. The traumatic Langalibalele Rebellion also engages and almost overwhelms his family. Their mission to form a unified voice of protest fails and they face the genocide experienced by many others.”
The book ends with an event in the Amphitheatre in 1885, with the deaths of arguably the last family of San recorded as living ‘freely’ in the Drakensberg.
The legacy includes unique mythology (their quite astonishing stories, accessed inter alia their engaging with the trance-dance), engravings and incredibly imaginative rock-art.
The audience’s searching questions were an indication of the remarkable quality of both speakers’ presentations and Major Dr John Buchan expressed the appreciation of those present to them both, before presenting them with a token of our appreciation as Guest Speakers.
REMINDER: SA MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY / TALANA MUSEUM CONFERENCE, 20TH / 22ND OCTOBER 2014. This Conference will have as its theme “From the Anglo-Boer War to the Great War” and has been put together by the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the South African Military History Society and the Talana Museum in Dundee, Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Several Dundee based lodges and hotels have offered delegates discounted accommodation rates and these are shown in the attached document. The programme and enrolment form are also attached.
BRANCH BATTLEFIELD / HISTORY TOUR.
A Reminder that the 2014 tour will be to the eMakhosini Valley in Zululand, as guests of fellow member Paul Smith. Date: 11th and 12th October 2014. Please confirm your attendance with Ken Gillings (email@example.com) or at the next two meetings (when a form will be circulated). A special rate has been negotiated with the Mtonjaneni Lodge but you need to state “SAMHS Tour” when booking with them. This is as follows:
Sharing- Bed and breakfast R405 less 20% = R324pp sharing (2013 rates)
Single - Bed and Breakfast R580 less 20% =R464 pp single (2013 rates)
Dinner – all meals are set menus R110 pp
We also do picnic or lunch packs at R80 pp
Their telephone number is 035 450 0904/5 (speak to Tracey Doubell) and their e-mail address is
The provisional itinerary will be as follows:
Saturday 11th October 2014: Departure from Durban (own vehicles) by 07h00 at the latest. Suggested route: N2 North, Dokodweni offramp, Eshowe, Melmoth, Mthontaneni (+- 3 hours travelling time)
10h00 Rendezvous at Mtonjaneni Lodge
10h30 Depart Mtonjaneni Lodge for the eMakhosini. Meet Paul Smith at the gate to his farm. Sites to be visited will include King Dingane’s (recently discovered) spiritual homestead of King Shaka, built after his assassination by King Dingane and the site of kwaBulawayo No 1. We will return to Mtonjaneni Lodge for participants to visit the Mtonjaneni Museum.
Gqokli Hill Battlefield and Ulundi Battlefield.
Sunday 12th October 2014: 08h30 – walk to Mtonjaneni Spring, then return to visit the three forts at Mtonjaneni.
10h00: Drive to Gqokli Hill for a description of the Battle of Gqokli Hill, April 1818.
11h00: Drive to Ulundi Battlefield. Possibly stop at Fort Nolela (time permitting).
Lunch time (NB – participants to arrange their own lunches): Continue to Ondini Museum and the partially restored isiGodlo (private residence) of King Cetshwayo kaMpande. Entry fee R30 per person. Picnic lunch (toilets etc available).
Return journey +-3 ½ hours. Those attending could consider spending a night or two in the nearby Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Park, which can be entered via Ulundi at Cengeni Gate along a newly tarred road. Mpila Camp is self catering and easily accessible from our final stop at Ondini. Booking via the KZN Wildlife website.
Please diarise Sunday 30th November 2014 for the Annual Lunch. The venue will be confirmed in due course.
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The Formation, Training and Operations of WW2 Commandos”, by Mr John Goodrich
Main Talk: “Lawrence of Arabia”, by Branch Chairman Charles Whiteing
Thursday 14th November 2014:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: Another in our series on WW1 100: “General George Patten and WW1”, by Maj Dr John Buchan
Main Talk: “Collapse in the West, 1940”, by Past Chairman Bill Brady
Thursday 11th December 2014:
Only one lecture: Ian Sutherland on “An RAF Crash in the Scottish Highlands”. This will be followed by an end of year cocktail party.
Thursday 15th January 2015 (NB – THIRD THURSDAY. WE REVERT TO THE SECOND THURSDAY IN FEBRUARY 2015)
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “A Tribute to Winston Churchill – the 50th Anniversary”, by Past Chairman Bill Brady;
Main Talk: “Al Qaeda - the Eye of the Tiger” by Major Peter Williams