South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 115
April 2014

The open house slot was presented by Ian Pringle on ‘Anglo-Boer War refugees in Lesotho’. He informed us that Johan Loock, a SAMHSEC member, had undertaken considerable research into the refugee listings compiled by the British Administration in Basutoland. Only those from the southern districts were found; it is believed that those from the north were destroyed 50 years ago. Other key points in Ian’s presentation were:

* By July 1901 some 2 043 refugees had fled, including 535 men. They took 138 127 head of livestock with them. One Willem De Klerk for example, took 6 477 sheep and Jim Fouche’s family of Rouxville 600 sheep and 22 head of cattle. Young Jim was two years old at the time. These refugees all returned unscathed to their farms after the war. Their farms had not, in the main, been touched by the British forces. [Jim Fouche was Minister of Defence from 1959 to 1966 and State President from 1968 – 1975.]

* The British Administration in Basutoland encouraged and assisted the newcomers and they were well treated. Grazing was made available and they were fed and clothed. The idea was to keep the refugees out of the conflict and to discourage them from enlisting.

* Those who fled included English speaking Free State citizens and recent Afrikaner arrivals from the Cape Colony who believed it was not their war.

* Refugee families became the new rich after the conflict and built up vast land holdings only to lose it all over the years. When the last of the Rouxville Fouche families sold up a decade ago, it was said that in order to preserve platteland relationships, no comment was made other than that, ‘Everybody had always known that the Fouche’s had fled to Basutoland and that divine justice would eventually be meted out’.

* The resentment of the Boer fighters who sacrificed everything in the war towards returning refugees reverberates to this day.

The Annual General Meeting was held in lieu of the curtain raiser. The following committee was elected for 2014/15:

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Richard Keyter
Treasurer and venue coordinator: Dennis Hibberd
Speaker Coordinator: Andre Crozier
Field trips co-ordinator: Ian Pringle
Social co-ordinator: Stephen Bowker
Co-ordinator for country members: John Stevens
Scribes: Anne and Pat Irwin

The following decisions were taken: SAMHSEC is to continue with 12 meetings per year consisting of three presentations, namely a 5 minute presentation on varying subjects, a 15 minute curtain raiser and a 40 minute main lecture. A speaker requiring more time should reserve more than one slot. The ‘World at War’ series before meetings in Port Elizabeth is to continue to its conclusion in June. The May meeting will be held in Grahamstown on the second Saturday of the month with a field trip in the morning. The November meeting will be on the second Saturday of that month with a Port Elizabeth field trip in the morning followed by an end of year lunch function and a meeting in the afternoon.

The main lecture of the evening, 61 Mech, was presented by Bryan James, convenor of the Port Elizabeth Branch of the ‘61 Mech Veterans Association’. Bryan had composed a superb series of images to background music by the London Symphony Orchestra. The annotated slides covered the history, operational activities and comradeship of the unit over its 27-year existence, and included a brief but penetrating visual interlude on PTSD. For those with a further interest, the ‘61 Mech’ website is well worth a visit.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 14th April at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Richard Tomlinson on Seaview Hotel and the Royal Navy. The main lecture, entitled The life story of Piet Retief, will be delivered by Tiaan Jacobs. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the next episode of the ‘World at War’ series which was not broadcast on television. This will be the first 45 minutes of Episode H.

Members are reminded too that the May field trip will take place from the 29th May – 1st June to the Richmond area of the Karoo. Details have been circulated to all members.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang


Fellow member Hillel Allison has advised that she will not be renewing membership after the passing of her husband. SAMHSEC's condolences have been conveyed to her.

Individual members’ activities

No activities have been brought to the attention of the scribes this month.

Annual subscriptions

Members who have not yet paid their annual subscriptions are reminded that in order to continue receiving the bi-annual Military History Journal and the monthly Newsletters of the four branches, these should be paid by 31st March. The amount, which has not changed for two years, is R215.00 per individual and R230.00 per family. Direct deposits may be made into First National Bank, Eastgate Branch, Code 257705, current a/c, named SA Military History Society, No. 50391 928 346 (spaces for reading only). Please indicate your name clearly when you make the deposit.

Survey result

After the AGM a brief survey was conducted among members present to evaluate the content of the monthly SAMHSEC Newsletter. 19 people completed the survey which is just under a third of our current membership. The consensus was overwhelmingly to retain its current format and style. ‘Websites of Interest’ elicited an interesting response. It is in a sense the ‘least read’ part of the Newsletter: five of the 19 read it ‘regularly’, eleven ‘sometimes’ and three ‘never’. For the present we will continue with it. One good suggestion was that we have a ‘Members’ Forum/Lede se Forum’. From the next Newsletter we accordingly invite members to submit relevant news, comments or opinions for possible inclusion.

For members not able to attend the Port Elizabeth meetings, but who would like to comment on the SAMHSEC Newsletter, we attach a copy of the survey sheet. You can either e-mail it to the Scribes’ address at the end of the Newsletter or, if you prefer, post it to Box 972, Grahamstown, 6140. The survey is anonymous.


In Newsletter 114, page 10, third line from the bottom, 1859 should read 1759. Oh, for the ways of Gremlins!


Members’ attention is once again drawn to an interesting monthly publication on military history called Balsak. It appears to be free of charge, but is only available on-line. Those interested should contact Renato Palmi at:

World War I Centenary Year

This month we briefly record some aspects of classical music relating to that war. In a future feature we will look at some of the ‘popular’ music of the time.

Military history has been expressed in a variety of ways. Music and song in one form or another have, since recorded time, been associated with military activities. Wars, especially more recent ones have generated their own distinctive music and songs. WW I was in a sense different. While amongst many of the belligerents, popular music and song flourished, for more serious or ‘classical’ music it was a different story. Perhaps the most important feature within the broad genre of classical music over the duration of the war was what was not produced rather than what was. Between 1914 and 1918, as observed by Norman Lebrecht, barely one lasting opera was born, the symphony with a few exceptions stalled and even literature, other than poetry, dried up. Everywhere, the Great War precipitated a cultural paralysis the likes of which had not been known since medieval times.

Kate Kennedy, a research fellow at Cambridge University who has specialised in music and the First World War, reminds us that many of the young composers of all countries who volunteered for service or were conscripted in 1914-16 did not survive, so that during and after the war composition was often left to the older generation – men such as Edward Elgar and Gustav Holtz. In addition, amid mass mobilisation, trench misery and millions of fatalities, artists as a whole were simply unable to respond.

Two examples, both British, illustrate the different effects the war had on those who survived. Ralph Vaughan Williams had volunteered in 1914 at the age of 41. While deeply saddened and traumatised by his experiences as a Lieutenant in the Royal Medical Corps and later the Royal Garrison Artillery he was, after the war, nevertheless able to compose such ‘memorial works’ as the Pastoral Symphony. This piece in particular is sometimes described as an ‘achingly beautiful monument of loss, reflecting life and death in the trenches’. It recalls the countryside, the distant call of the bugle and the French milkmaid singing while at work. It is a contemplative composition representing his response to the essential tragedy of war.

Ivor Gurney, a poet-composer, provides an interesting contrast to Vaughan Williams. He joined the Gloucestershire Regiment as an infantry private in February 1915 at the age of 25. Although it was very difficult to compose while on active service, he wrote some of his best works, such as By a Bierside, literally in the trenches, by candlelight, on mud-spattered manuscripts. After the war he composed his superb War Elegy (1920) and A Gloucestershire Rhapsody (1919-1921). From 1922 onwards however, he spent most of the rest of his life in an asylum consequent to his wartime traumatisation – what we would today call a severe case of PTSD. While confined there, he continued to produce poetry of high quality and is commemorated among the 16 Great War Poets in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.

Music composed during, and in the period after, the war served a public need as well as being a vehicle for private emotion and catharsis. Like sculpture and memorials, it had a role to play in public and collective mourning. Approaches ranged from Frank Bridge’s 1915 Lament for victims, and particularly a young girl, who died with the sinking of the Lusitania, to Elgar’s robust setting of Kipling’s poem, Fringes of the Fleet, also written in 1915. Some composers felt the need to write works that acknowledged loss, allowed mourning or encouraged celebration. Many of these were post-Armistice, continuing into the early 1930s. Gustav Holst composed Ode to Death in 1918-19, John Foulds, the epic A World Requiem in 1919-21, and Arthur Bliss ‘the symphony on war’ entitled Morning Heroes in 1930. This latter work sets various ‘war poems’ including Homer’s Iliad, Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, Wilfred Owen’s, Spring Offensive, and Robert Nichols’ Dawn on the Somme to music.

Looking beyond the Anglophone world, comparable works are difficult to find. It may have something to do with psychological and social circumstances of the ‘winners’ as opposed to the ‘losers’. Although in Italy, Angelo Bergna dedicated his Inno della Fiammenere (Anthem of the Black Flames) to one of Italy’s most decorated war heroes, the creative drought continued in Germany, Russia and France. Richard Strauss, the most popular German composer of the time, produced the lacklustre Alpine Symphony and little else in the period 1914-1922. Similarly, Thomas Mann, Germany's major novelist, published no fiction between 1912 and 1924. And so the story continues with other once great composers such as Sibelius, Puccini, Rachmaninov, Ravel and even the painter Max Ernst losing their creative urge. As Lebrecht notes, Ernst tellingly wrote of himself “On August 1, 1914, Max Ernst died….” The same could possibly have been said for most of his artistic contemporaries. Cultural losses among all combatants, in some respects with the possible exception of the Americans, were severe.

With acknowledgment to the works of Norman Lebrecht and Kate Kennedy.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Ancient history

Roman 'gladiator school' recreated virtually
James Morgan BBC News Science and Environment 26th February 2014

World War I

A walk through WW1 practice trenches

The Telegraph 7th March 2014

WW1 records tell of those who sought to avoid conscription
The Telegraph u/d

German air raids on Britain in WW1 'start of strategic bombing'
The Telegraph 8th March 2014

Eight air aces of the First World War

Imperial War Museum
[Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor, VC was born in Mossel Bay on 4th September 1894, and attended school at SACS in Cape Town. General Smuts had his body brought back to South Africa where he was given a state funeral. He is buried in Mafeking (currently ‘Mahikeng’) where his father was the school principal.]

The Vintage Aviator Ltd.'s Remembrance Day airshow November 2013
[Thanks to Richard Tomlinson for these remarkable pictures of WWI aircraft.]

World War II

Ceremony to commemorate 'The Great Escape'
BBC News 24th March 2014

Remembering Japan's kamikaze pilots
BBC News Magazine 26th February 2014

Contemporary military history

Israeli Navy foils Iranian attempt to smuggle advanced weapons, especially long-range rockets, to the Gaza Strip
Meir Amit Intelligence and terrorism Information Center 5th March 2014

US Navy's next-generation aircraft carrier begins testing phase
LiveScience 9th March 2014

Royal Marines, abseil the BT Tower for their 350th birthday and charity

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang

Three WW I Resources

An interesting resource on WW I for those who wish to spend time mining it, is:

The heritage of the Great War (A Dutch production) is an unorthodox website that shows it like it really was and is not for the faint of heart. It contains inter alia an incredible photographic record of WWI.

The following book has been reviewed in the Cape Town Branch Newsletter of February 2014 — No 417 which has been circulated to all SAMHSEC members. Sporting Soldiers: South African Troops at Play during World War I by Floris van der Merwe.

Two other general resources which contain snippets of military history are:

Africana Periodical Literature Bibliographic Database

defenceWeb: Africa’s defence and security news portal

Recent Books

Reid Richard J 2012 Warfare in African history Cambridge University Press Cambridge

This book examines the role of war in shaping Africa. It covers patterns of military organisation; evolution of weaponry, tactics and strategy; and the increasing prevalence of warfare and military options in Africa – all underpinned by geographical, societal and economic options. It traces shifts in the culture and practice of war from early in the first millennium AD to the end of the 19th century, when what the author calls ‘a military revolution’ unfolded across much of the continent, the repercussions of which are felt to the present. A book with this scope is of necessity relatively superficial and, with a few exceptions, it does not cover details of battles, campaigns or personalities involved. It is, however, an invaluable portrayal of the bigger picture; of trends, patterns and developments in thinking and practice, and of the forces which have shaped both warfare and the continent itself as we today know it. The text is concise and well written with ample references for those wishing to explore further. 188 pages with eight maps and index. Available in paperback for the equivalent of approximately US$26.00.

The following publication has also been drawn to our attention:
Willie & Van Zyl Boff 2013 Armourers Anonymous Friends of the Port Elizabeth SAAF Museum.

This easily readable book, covering most of the weapons used by the South African Air Force except for nuclear weapons, also contains many funny stories from the past. 162 pages. Soft cover, mainly b & w photos with a few in colour, plus b & w technical drawings. Die boek is ook in Afrikaans gepubliseer as Bomrollers Anoniem. It is available from the Friends of Port Elizabeth SAAF Museum at a price of R150.00 plus p&p. Enquiries should be directed to Brian Anderssen:

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 as well as news on individual member’s activities. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, Ian Pringle and Jonathan Ossher.

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


The Band of the Coldstream Guards is one of the oldest-serving military bands, and can claim to be the oldest continually surviving recording artists in the world. Amongst other achievements, they are renowned for performing the theme tune to a number of well-known films including Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape. This 364 year old regiment, one of the oldest, and arguably one of the best in the world, have historically spent a good deal of time in South Africa.

The Silence... (Il Silenzio)

About six miles from Maastricht, in the Netherlands, lie buried 8 301 American soldiers who died during Operation Market Garden in the battles to liberate Holland in the autumn and winter of 1944-5.  Every one of the men buried in the cemetery, as well as those in the nearby Canadian and British military cemeteries, has been adopted by a Dutch family who tends his grave, decorates it, and so keeps alive the memory of the soldier.  It is even the custom to keep a portrait of ‘their’ soldier in a place of honour in their home.    Annually, on Liberation Day, memorial services are held for ‘the men who died to liberate Holland.’ The day concludes with a concert.  The final piece is always Il Silenzio (not unlike The Last Post); a memorial piece commissioned by the Dutch and first played in 1965 on the 20th anniversary of Holland's liberation. It has been the concluding piece of the memorial concert ever since.

This year the soloist was a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Melissa Venema, who was backed by André Rieu and the Royal Orchestra of the Netherlands. This concert piece is based upon the original version of taps and was composed by Italian composer Nino Rossi.

Follow the link below to listen to this hauntingly beautiful music:
[With thanks to Jonathan Ossher.]

Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey with the memorial tablet to the 16 Great War Poets

South African Military History Society /