South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 119
August/Augustus 2014

East Cape Branch /Oos-KaapTak Newsletter/Nuusbrief119 The July meeting took place at the usual venue in Port Elizabeth.The open house slot was filled by Malcolm Kinghorn’s fourth presentation in the Battle Handling series aimed at assisting in understanding the First World War. The central point was that not all soldiers engage the enemy. Those that do, for example the infantry, artillery and armour, are commonly referred to as being in ‘tooth’ or ‘combat’ arms. Other soldiers are in ‘support’ arms, which provide the wide range of services essential to maintaining an army in the field. The number of soldiers supporting those in combat arms varies from army to army, with a ratio of 5 to 1 being common in the First World War.

The curtain raiser and main lecture were combined for Pat Irwin’s presentation entitled The Great War 1914-1919 – an overview.

The First World War, known at the time as The Great War, was the result of a complex interaction of factors going back as far as 1815 – the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was a war of unprecedented scale drawing in all of the world’s great economic powers and was the bloodiest of all wars in human history up to that time,leading to major political changes as well as several revolutions. The conflict led to the Second World War and most subsequent wars: the long term results of the Great War are still very much with us today.

Causes of the War can broadly be linked to four overlapping factors: a complex tangle of political and military alliances; a (largely naval) arms race(military spending of the European powers increasing by 50% in the period between 1908 and 1913); the forces of imperialism and national pride; and endemic conflict in the Balkans. Following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on 28th June 1914, events developed rapidly, despite some political and diplomatic manoeuvring to stave off a conflict. Several of the powers as represented by their political elites, to a greater of lesser extent welcomed the prospect of a war. This included Britain, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Historical enmity between France and Germany going back to the 1871 Franco-Prussian War did not help.

The first shots were fired on the 28th July when the Austro-Hungarian Empire attacked Serbia. Russia supported its protégé Serbia while Germany,in concordance with a mutual treaty, supported Austria-Hungary and declared war on Russia, Belgium and France. Britain, under the guise of moral outrage, used Belgium as a pretext for involving itself in what might otherwise have been a purely European conflict. This inevitably involved the British Empire including South Africa. By 4th August, most of the belligerents had declared themselves, and a major world conflict was past avoiding. The ‘Triple Entente’ (also termed ‘the Allies’) consisting of Britain, France and Russia were immediately joined by Japan, and later, in 1915, by Italy. The Ottoman Empirejoined Germany and Austria-Hungary, constituting the ‘Central Powers’. Several other minor players – such as Romania, Bulgariaand Greece – joined or withdrew from one of the two blocs, usually after being defeated.

The War was fought in a number of theatres worldwide, the most distinctive in Europe being the ‘Western Front’ (northern France and Belgium), the ‘Eastern Front’ (Imperial Russia’s border with Germany and Austria-Hungary), the Austro-Italian Front, and various ‘Southern Fronts’ (the Balkans, Macedonia, Greece and the Caucasus). In addition there was the African Theatre (the German colonies of South West Africa, Tanganyika, Togo and Kamerun); the Ottoman Empire Theatre (with both European and Asian fronts); and the East Asian and Pacific Theatre.

The development of events on each of the fronts was outlined and the conditions in which fighting took place highlighted. This included brief reference to trench warfare, Alpine warfare, desert warfare, aerial combat and the development of tanks. Attention was drawn to the massive human loss involved in all of these campaigns. It was noted too that all sides committed atrocities of greater or lesser degree during the course of the War. The worst was the 1915/16 Armenian genocide in which the Turks took the opportunity to slaughter roughly one million Armenian civilians as well as to virtually annihilate the Assyrians as an ethnic group. The Austrians likewise committed major atrocities against Serbians, while the Russians, French and British were also guilty, the latter on occasion arbitrarily executing prisoners of war. Germany likewise committed atrocities in the invasion and occupation of Belgium, but the ‘Rape of Belgium’ hysteria generated and propagated by the British press and propaganda of the time is today largely discredited.

The war at sea was fought in all of the oceans, in most cases involving small numbers of ships, such as at the battles of Coronel, Falkland and Dogger Bank. The only major fleet battle was Jutland in May/June 1916. Submarines however came into their own during the Great War. Over the course of the conflict German U-boats sank over 5 000Allied vessels.At the start of the War Britain imposed a naval blockade on Germany, blocking off the North Sea and so preventing any German maritime trade with the rest of the world.

A number of developments took place in 1917 which were to influence the outcome of the war. The British naval blockade began to have a serious impact on Germany contributing to famine and starvation, and ultimately to social and political unrest. The Germans responded with a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, which had been discontinued in 1915 after the sinking of the Lusitania. At the high point of its operation the U-boats were sinking over 600 000 tons of shipping bound for Britain every month. Apart from loss of war materiel, this caused serious food shortages in Britain and threatened the country with starvation. It was partly as a result of this policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that America entered the War on the side of the Allies on 4th April 1917, and was within a period of a few months sending large numbers of troops and war materiel to Europe, tipping the balance against the Central Powers.

On the Eastern Front meanwhile, the German army had scored some spectacular successes against the Russians as the front was pushed further to the east. This led not only to the collapse and disintegration of the Russian army, but to a level of internal discontent which resulted first in the March Revolution and later, in October, the Bolshevik Revolution. The new Russian government sued for peace and in the subsequent Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded in March 1918, ceded vast tracts of land on its western borders, as well as independence to countries which it had formerly dominated such as Finland, Poland and the Baltic states. There were also widespread mutinies in the French army which were only contained by brutal repression.

Partly as a result of its victory in the east, Germany was able to move significant numbers of troops to the Western Front and mount a major offensive – the 1918 ‘Spring Offensive’ – against the Allies between March and July. By July, it had however lost momentum, due largely to logistic difficulties, but also to some bad military decisions. From July to October a strong counter offensive by the British, French and Americans – ‘the 100 Days Offensive’- pushed the German army right back to its 1914 starting lines. Added to this, the Southern Front held by the Austro-Hungarians had also collapsed and the road from Macedonia to Vienna and Budapest was open. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which situation was exacerbated by its constituent parts pushing for independence, informed the Germans that they could no longer hold out and approached the Allies for an end to hostilities. This was compounded by the Ottoman Empire, pressured on all sides and facing collapse on the Mesopotamian and Palestinian fronts, asking for a separate peace. In October Germany, beset by internal unrest, popular demands for peace and low morale in its army asked, through the offices of US President Woodrow Wilson, for an armistice to discuss peace terms. This was agreed to and signed on 11th November 1918.

Following the armistice, a ‘Peace Conference’ dominated by France and Britain was held in Paris, culminating in the Treaty of Versailles signed on 28th June 1919, which was largely aimed at punishing and humiliating the former Central Powers. Despite individuals such as General Smuts and President Wilson pointing out the shortcomings of the Treaty, particularly its tone of revenge, and warning against its long term effects as a threat to peace, it was enforced. Even former anti-war activists in Germany came to see it as the Versailles Diktat. One other result of the Paris deliberations was the re-drawing of the maps of Europe and the Middle East, with little regard to ethnic affiliations and local enmities.In the case of France and Britain there was more concern for their own future ‘spheres of influence’ and hegemony than for the peoples whose futures they were presiding over, Iraq being a prime example. Germany lost all its overseas territories.

The War destroyed four empires and its immediate consequence directly affected over 100 million people. Losses and casualties were enormous. Nearly 10 million military personnel were killed and 21 million wounded, seven million of these being permanently disabled. In addition, there were nearly one million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war and a further six million caused by disease and famine (excluding the numbers who died in post-Great War civil wars and conflicts). The country with the highest wartime death toll was Russia with 3.8 million. Serbia experienced the highest proportion of its population killed – 19% or roughly one in every five persons. The great influenza pandemic which ran from January 1918 to December 1919, and which was an indirect consequence of the War, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide and killed between 50 million and 100 million (depending on the source consulted).

In South Africa, about 231 000 of all races served, many thousands as labourers. About 7 000 were killed and 12 000 wounded. Of South Africa’s front line soldiers, roughly one in eight were killed or wounded. Despite elements of the South African population’s enthusiastic support of the War, the decision by the government of the day to enter it, had precipitated an armed rebellion by those opposed to it. In 1924, the South African Party of Generals Botha and Smuts which had taken the country into the War, was, as a result of this and other domestic factors, voted out of office by the then electorate.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstigebyeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on 11th August at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The ‘open house’ slot will be the next in the Battle Handling series presented by Malcolm Kinghorn.The curtain raiser will be by Warren Myburgh on The Kokoda Campaign: 1942, while the main lecture will be ‘Soldaat se Vrou’ by Barbara Kinghorn. This is the sequel to Barbara’s presentation titled ‘A Dependent’s Tale’ in March 2013. The meeting will be preceded by the screening at 18h30 of the second part of the two-part series on the Anglo-Boer War.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

New member /Nuwe lid

We welcome Geoff Brown as a member of the South African Military History Society. Geoff is well known to many members of SAMHSEC, having attended a number of outings. We wish him a long and happy association with SAMHSEC.

Individual members’ activities / Indiwiduelelede se aktiwiteite

Several members attended the productions of The Snow Goose (an epic of Dunkirk) and An audience with Emily Hobhouse at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Both were outstanding performances. The Gala Concert commemorated the First World War with several of the pieces played, amongst them Colonel Bogey and Botha’s Boys, both composed in 1914.

Photo Bucket

Franco Cilliers has set up a photograph sharing site called Photo Bucket. We are limited to 2GB of photos on the site. The username is samhsec and the password is also samhsec. It is recommend that any photographs be re-sized when uploading them as it saves space and bandwidth. One can use the programme available at the following link to make a copy of the original photo and then re-size it. For anyone having difficulties with this, Franco is an e-mail away:

SAAF history

For those members interested in matters aeronautical in general and the SAAF in particular, the magazine of the Friends of the SAAF Museum, Stringbag, is recommended. Further details are available on their web page at:


Newsletter 118, page 5 paragraph 3 refers. Cmdt.JopieFourie was executed on 21st December 1914 not 2014.

Members’ forum/Lede se forum

Destruction of historical site

Richard Tomlinson informs us that in a recent telephone discussion with Denver Webb, a former director of the Kaffrarian(now the Amathole) Museum in King William’s Town, he was informed that the PWD have recently demolished the Elands Post Fort down to ground level, not realising its value, as it was harbouring thieves and homeless people. Several members of SAMHSEC visited this site on a tour in May 2008. Richard notes too that Elands Post does not feature in Colin Coetzee's Forts of the Eastern Cape, apparently because it was classified as a police post.

Cyber warfare

Over the past few years a number of our members have expressed an interest in cyber warfare. Barry Irwin has drawn our attention to a document titled The Vocabulary of Cyber War dated 10th July 2014. It describes itself as ‘A restricted document from U.S. Strategic Command providing insight into the underlying philosophy of military efforts to wage cyber warfare’.Fascinating and informative it is available at:

World War I Centenary Year / EersteWêreldoorlogEeufeesjaar

Colonel Bogey

The Colonel Bogey March (and its derivative Bridge on the River Kwai) is an internationally popular march that was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F J Ricketts, a British Army bandmaster who later became the director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth. Since at that time service personnel were not encouraged to have professional lives outside the armed forces, Ricketts published Colonel Bogey and his other compositions under the sobriquet Kenneth Alford.

There are several accounts of how the march was conceived, the most widely accepted being from a note written by Ricketts’ widow to the publishers in 1958:

The name Colonel Bogey began as the imaginary ‘standard opponent’ of the ‘Colonel Bogey scoring system’,and by Edwardian times ‘the Colonel’ had been adopted by the golfing world as the presiding spirit of the golf course. Edwardian golfers on both sides of the Atlantic often played matches against ‘Colonel Bogey’. Bogey is now a golfing term meaning ‘one over par’.

In 1908, Ricketts was given his own band and posted as Bandmaster of the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, joining them in the Orange River Colony. There, the Colonel asked him to write a new regimental march for the ‘Argylls’, and he responded with The Thin Red Line, based on two bars of the regiment’s bugle call. Called by the public ‘The British March King’ Ricketts’ frequent use of the saxophone contributed to its permanent inclusion in many military bands.

During the Great War, Ricketts wrote several marches dedicated to the fighting forces: The Great Little Army, On the Quarter Deck, The Middy, The Voice of the Guns and The Vanished Army. By the end of the war the Argyle’s Regimental Band was considered by many to be the finest in the British Army. Ricketts was given the unusual honour of being ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ for Commendable Service.Such was his popularity with the public that when in 1927 now Major Ricketts handed the baton over to his successor 15000 people turned up to wish him well.

The sheet music was a million-seller, and the march was recorded many times. At the start of World War II, Colonel Bogey became part of the British way of life when the tune was set to a popular song: Hitler has only got one ball… with the tune becoming an unofficial national anthem to rudeness.

In 1957 the march was adapted for the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, set during World War II and since then the two marches have often been confused. One example is that since the film portrayed prisoners of war held under inhumane conditions by the Japanese, there was a minor diplomatic spat in 1980, when a military band played Colonel Bogey during a visit to Canada by the Japanese prime minister. (Acknowledgments to various Internet sources.)
The march can be listened to at:

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

First World War

Bosnia and WW1: The living legacy of GavriloPrincip
Dan Damon BBC World Service, Sarajevo 25th June 2014

Photos reveal 'live for today' attitude of German airmen
The Telegraph 20th August 2013

War poem's lasting legacy - the poppy 1st July 2014

The great survivor: First World War veteran's name appears on Cardiff memorial for the fallen even though he survived the Great War... and the Second World War
Paul Donnelley Mail Online12th April 2014

Botha’s Boys March [This was composed by Theo Wendt who also was the founder and first conductor of both the Cape Town Orchestra and the SABC Orchestra. During the Anglo-Boer War he had served in the Grahamstown Town Guard. The composition was dedicated to General Louis Botha.]. It can be listened to at:

World War II

70-Year-Old WWII Foxhole Photos Turn Out to Be a Hoax
Published on July 7, 2014 by Gannon Burgett

Cold War +

B-52s gets first full IT upgrade since ’60s
Sean Gallager ARS Technica 26th May 2014

Military History in the making

Precision Air Strike Eliminates Fleeing Terrorists veteran Community June 2014

Britain’s largest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth launched
Robert Hardman Mail Online 4th July 2014

A prototype mechanical mule, “Alpha Dog”, has joined a detachment of US Marines for testing in Hawaii July 2014

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang


Morillo Stephen and Pavkovic Michael F 2013 What is Military History? Cambridge Polity Press

Written by one of America’s leading military historians, this concise and informative book explains the fundamental features of what is today generally understood as ‘military history’. Starting with the discipline’s origins in war tales, it moves through the writings of Thucydides, Herodotus, Caesar, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz to current writers of military history and military historians.After examining changes, trends and transformations in military historical writing over the past 2 500 years, the authors examine a wide range of perspectives which underpin the subject viz. military history in relation to the philosophy of history; the art and practice of war; war and society; the influences of other disciplines; and comparative methodologies used, concluding that the current driving forces behind the study and enjoyment of military history are cultural and social imperatives.

Current controversies within the field are also addressed i.e. ‘military revolutions’ as opposed to ‘revolutions in military affairs’, counter insurgency, the claimed exceptionalism of ‘The West’and issues around the relationship between war, society and culture. Although military history is widely understood as a Western concept, the authors include relevant aspects from Asia, China and Japan in particular. The book concludes with chapters on ‘Doing Military History’ (forms, sources and programmes) and the future of Military History, which the authors argue is a growing field academically and professionally (among career militarypersonnel), as well as among the general interested public.

Among the latter are a growing number of enthusiastic, often well-informed amateurs who, worldwide, form themselves into military historicalsocietiesand groups of various kinds. The book concludes with current trends in the field and the politics of the subject. It is richly sourced with supplementary notes andlists of further reading,and has a good index.
166 pages. The price varies from US$15 to US$19 depending on the supplier. SA price unknown at present.



In the last few years there has been a plethora of books published or re-published on the topic of The Great War. Many of these are re-publications of earlier books (such as those of Barbara Tuchman) which are now considered classics. The following list is a sample of those which are readily available in Eastern Cape Bookshops.

Clark Christopher 2013 The sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 London Penguin 677pp R226 p/b
Ferguson Niall 1998 The pity of War London Penguin [An iconoclastic and provocative account of the Great War] Penguin 625pp R272 p/b
Hastings Max 2013 Catastrophe: Europe goes to war 1914 London Wm. Collins 628pp R234 p/b
MacDonald Lyn 1993 They called itPasschendaele[3rd Ypres] London Penguin 261pp R206 p/b [MacDonalds writings are largely based on personal accounts and interviews.]
MacDonald Lyn 1993 The roses of no man’s land London Penguin 358pp R236 p/b
MacDonald Lyn 1993 Somme London Penguin 380pp R236 p/b
MacMillan Margaret 1013 The war that ended peace Oxford Profile Press 698pp R200p/b
Paxman Jeremy 2013 Great Britain’s Great War London Penguin 356pp R195 p/b
Tuchman Barbara 1962 The guns of August[also published as August 1914] London Penguin 566pp R216 pb

It is regrettable that while other Commonwealth countries are publishing material commemorating the role of their servicemen and women in that conflict, no South African publisher appears to have risen to the occasion. An example of what could be considered, is a limited edition of The Union of South Africa and The Great War 1914-1918 Official History published by the General Staff, Defence Headquarters, Pretoria, in 1914. It is a valuable document. Although his name does not appear in the document, it was probably compiled or overseen by John Buchan – author of the thriller The Thirty-nine Steps, 30 other novels and several military histories.

Free online material on the Great War

To commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, 100 articles from the Maney Publishing online archive are available to download free of charge in July and August 2014. No sign up is required. Articles have been selected from over 25 journals in the fields of history, archaeology, literature and culture including the following key titles:  Journal of War & Culture Studies | Journal of Conflict Archaeology | War & Society. These can be located at:

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, Franco Cilliers, Jonathan Ossher and Peter Duffel-Canham.

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

The youngest known soldier of World War I. Momcilo Gavric, was born in Trbušnica, Serbia. He joined the 6th Artillery Division of the Serbian Army when he was 8 years old, after Croatian troops of the Austro-Hungarian Army had killed his parents, grandmother, and seven of his 10 siblings in August 1914. At the age of 10 he was promoted to Corporal, and at the age of 11 he became a Lance Sergeant. He survived the war dying in 1993 at the age of 86. For more details of his life see:

South African Military History Society /