South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 463
KwaZulu-Natal September 2014

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

The August meeting was addressed by Mr James van Vuuren (Deputy Director Support Services, Technical and IT of Amafa / Heritage KwaZulu-Natal) and Dr Mark Coghlan of the Provincial Museum Service in Pietermaritzburg.

The title of James’s talk was: “Sites of conflict in KwaZulu-Natal; who carries the can?” He dealt with the background to the establishment of Amafa / Heritage KZN as the successor to the former KwaZulu Monuments Council and the Natal Regional Committee of the National Monuments Council, post 1994, in terms of the KZN Heritage Act of 1997, replaced by the KZN Heritage Act of 2008. The head office was established in Ulundi, the core of Zulu culture and history. The organisation is responsible for the maintenance of all heritage sites and battlefields that are protected in terms of the Act. The speaker outlined the incredible challenges that were faced by the organisation as political power changed hands in the Province but today it is one of the few Heritage bodies operating effectively in South Africa. One of the biggest challenges facing Amafa was trying to convince the Provincial Government of the necessity to preserve what was perceived as Colonial history as part of the Provincial melting pot of traditional history. Battlefields were considered to be far less relevant than the modern struggle for democracy in the New South Africa.

The Built Environment section of Amafa / Heritage is based in Pietermaritzburg and is responsible for ensuring the protection of buildings and other structures that are older than 60 years.

Funding has also been a major challenge, as has been the shortage of staff that is required to maintain and protect hundreds of heritage sites throughout the Province. Valuable assistance is now being received from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, as a result of an agreement in which they fund the maintenance of British war graves and in many cases Amafa / Heritage KZN acts as their agent.

Amafa / Heritage KZN has an excellent working relationship with Organisations such as the Ladysmith Historical Society and the Erfenisstigting and James is keen to include the SAMHS in this arrangement.

The Main Talk, presented by Dr Mark Coghlan, was entitled “The Umvoti Mounted Rifles in World War 1”, and formed part of the Branch’s commemoration of the Centenary of the Great War. Dr Coghlan has written extensively on KwaZulu-Natal military history and is the author of “Pro Patria – Another 50 Natal Carbineer Years, 1945-1995” and more recently, the updated history of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles.

During the second half of 1914, the Umvoti Mounted Rifles saw active service that extended into 1915. The Regiment was one of those selected to suppress the Afrikaner Rebellion in 1914, followed by service in 1915 in the Union of South Africa’s conquest of German South West Africa (Namibia). Individual members from the UMR also saw service in other regiments in German East Africa and in Europe.

The Umvoti Mounted Rifles was a small regiment that drew its members from Umvoti County in present day KwaZulu-Natal, but it is important to note that these men hailed from the English settler community, as well as the Dutch/Afrikaner community and the extensive and tightly knit German community. The effect of this disparate recruiting pool was to complicate UMR service in the Anglo-Boer War and the two World Wars. Participation in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 and the Bhambatha Rebellion on 1906-1907 proved more straightforward as far as a Volunteer regiment such as the UMR was concerned because the opposition was Black warriors, predominantly Zulu, who were regarded as a common threat that spanned the differences that could otherwise disunite White settler military action.

The UMR, or the Natal Hussars as they were then known, did not see service in the Langalibalele Uprising in 1873 and the fighting at Bushman’s River Pass in the Drakensberg, and had to wait until 1879 and the Anglo-Zulu War to see action. The Hussars home territory in Umvoti County and centered on the village of Greytown, was in close proximity to the Zulu Kingdom and members had no hesitation in coming forward. The Hussars were attached to No1 (Coastal) Column, commanded by Colonel Charles Pearson, that on 12 January 1879 invaded Zululand from the lower Thukela River crossing.

The Regiment saw action on 22 January in the Battle of Inyezane, on the same day that Lord Chelmsford’s main column (No3) was defeated at Isandlwana. Although the Hussars continued on to eShowe, they were sent back from there to the Thukela. It is likely that the Natal colonial authorities did not wish to risk further heavy local casualties such as those suffered by the Natal Carbineers at Isandlwana. The Hussars consequently spent the remainder of the War guarding the Thukela River frontier and conducting raids into Zululand. On this occasion, therefore, the entire unit found itself sidelined from the action for the bulk of the conflict.

The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 was the first military event that revealed cracks in White settler solidarity in Umvoti County and Greytown. The Colony itself as a whole did not welcome war with the Boer Republics, but that sentiment was more acute with the Umvoti Mounted Rifles with their many Dutch/Afrikaner and German volunteers. Interestingly, Heinrich Freiderick Meyer, Commandant of the Boer Piet Retief Commando, was the grandfather to Commandant Selwyn Meyer, who commanded the UMR from July 1977 to July 1980. The Boers enjoyed popular support from Germany. As a consequence of this situation the UMR was deployed for an extensive period at the Tugela Ferry crossing over the Thukela on the periphery of the War in the Colony of Natal and saw little action. In fact, the Regiment suffered no fatalities at all!

Of particular interest was the establishment of a detachment under the command of Captain M Landsberg that was dispatched to the Ixopo district in southern Natal where there was little likelihood of action. Was this because the British military and/or the Natal colonial authorities felt that the Dutch/Afrikaners and Germans could not be trusted when it came to confronting the Boers? The contingent included many German names such as Stieger, Nuss, Torlage and Heine. It is evident that during the Anglo-Boer War the UMR was not entirely trusted as a consequence of its Dutch/Afrikaner and German components. So, in this case, it was the UMR in general, as well as the German speakers in particular that were sidelined.

The next episode of active service for the UMR was the Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906 and 1907. Here there was no question of equivalence and debate on this occasion about whether to serve or not. The so-called rebels were perceived as an immediate threat to the settler colonial administration and populace and a united Regiment served with gusto, so much so that contemporary observers and historians alike criticized the zealous Natal military response as excessive.

Then it was the turn of World War I, best-known for its industrial scale slaughter amidst the trenches in France and Belgium. It is this momentous conflict, including the epic clash between the Anglo-French alliance and Germany that set the stage for the 20th Century that was marked by massive episodes of killing and destruction. August 2014 marks the centenary of the month in 1914 when war erupted all over Europe. South Africa came to the assistance of Great Britain, the ‘mother country’ for English-speakers, but many Afrikaners for whom the Anglo-Boer War was still fresh and felt that they bore no grudge against Germany this was an unwelcome turn of events. Some opponents of the War took up arms.

Interestingly, in October 1914 the UMR was tasked to join the military operations to crush the rebellion, primarily in the Orange Free State. It was Government policy not to use English regiments for fear of inflaming the situation and the UMR must have qualified on account of its numerous Dutch/Afrikaner speakers. The Rebellion was over by the end of December, ending with a heavy defeat for the rebels.

Complications soon arose within the UMR when the Regiment was mobilized again in February 1915 for service in German South West Africa. The British Government had requested South Africa to conquer South West and the UMR was involved on a substantial scale, including participation in the pivotal battle of Gibeon on 27 April 1915. However, it was not as simple as that. Nominal rolls reveal a noticeable dearth of German names. What had happened to them? They became the Reserve Squadron. The military and political authorities had clearly had a problem with what to do with the UMR’s German speakers in a campaign against fellow Germans, and the UMR Germans were, on their part, hesitant and reluctant to take up arms against their kith and kin. As was the case with the Southern Natal deployment during the Anglo-Boer War, the squadron was replete with German names, from the officers: Captain JT Nuss (in command), and Lieutenants H Laue, Klingenburg and Victor Reiche (a future commanding officer of the Regiment) to the other ranks: Wohlberg, Schramm, Laatz, Kuhn, Laue, Bure, Meyer, Schwegmann, Havemann, Rottcher, Redlinger, Thole and Freese.

The detachment spent the period from October 1914 to May 1915 at Mooi River, employed in service that was described simply as ‘operations within the Union’. So, in this instance the UMR participated as fully as possible in the general conduct of operations, and it was the German speakers specifically who were marginalized within a context of often bitter anti-German xenophobia, directed especially against the Natal-German heartland of Noodsberg, Hermannsburg, Schroeders, Harburg, Wartberg, New Hanover and Dalton.

During the interwar 1920s and 1930s there emerged a sequel to the World War I dissension in the UMR ranks. In February 1924, for example, an English-speaking officer wrote to the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Mayne, about the fact that German-speaking officers who chose not to serve in 1914-1918 were not compelled to resign and retained their seniority. He stated: ‘These men cannot be officers in a regiment of the British Empire one minute, German enemies the next, and officers again when it suits them’.

In the response from Mayne he was reminded of the cosmopolitan character of the UMR and the fact that it had been a decision of the Regiment to pull them from service against Germany during World War I, and not an individual choice. By the late 1930s the number of German speakers in the UMR ranks had rebounded, and names such as Eggers, Gelderblom, Habermann, Hohls, Wortmann and Lauterbach prevailed in the nominal rolls.

World War II was, however, to reignite the old divisions that had plagued the UMR and the White community in Natal in 1914-1918. Many German speakers – Ernst Torlage, who by 1936 had risen to the rank of Orderly-Room Sergeant, was one – who declined to serve in UMR ranks in World War II. The Torlages and many other Germans had family in the Reich. Consequently, when the UMR was mobilized in June 1940, the German speakers resigned and the regiment suddenly found itself short of men to depart on active service, and had to launch a recruiting drive to bring the unit up to full strength.

Both talks were followed by enthusiastic questions from members of the audience, after which Professor John Hart expressed appreciation to the speakers for their excellent talks, and both of whom were presented with suitably engraved gifts.


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 document that will be sent to members later.


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 ( 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.

South African Military History Society /