South African Military History Society

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The meeting was opened by Malcolm King, the Chairman, who announced the attendance statistics for the last meeting and then continued with the notices.

* The films previously advertised have been cancelled due to the refurbishment of the auditorium. A new program of films will be announced in the New Year.

The first lecture of the evening, The Poems of World War One was given by Nick Cowley who has previously delivered hugely popular war song performances and sing-alongs. Nick studied at both the University of Pietermaritzburg and Wits. He has spent 23 years with the SABC. He is also a keen runner and has completed 20 Comrades Marathons. Nick was assisted with the poetry reading by Dot Hodgskiss who has taught for over 30 years and has also run the Comrades. The poems they discussed and read are posted on our web-site under Lectures.

The first was an extract from Peace by Rupert Brooke. Poets were widely read 100 years ago and thus very influential. Brooke was definitely the glamour-boy of the day and he saw pre-war life as stale and empty so war was a cleansing process. The frequent invoking of God by the poets brought us to The Divine Dilemma by JC Squire which made a lighter note. The next extract was from The Soldier by Rupert Brooke and reflected the overbearing patriotism of the fighters. Actually, Brooke died at sea and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros, so matters turned out much as he foresaw.

The fourth poem Die Soldaat is anonymous but it would seem that the poet read Brooke because the sentiments are so similar. This was followed by The General by Siegfried Sassoon who was very much the Audie Murphy of WWI and nearly won the VC. However, his anti-war sentiments saw him sent to a mental home [Refer to the movie Regeneration]. Then we had an extract from Aftermath also by Sassoon showing us the emotions experienced both before and after an attack. We went on to The Old Lie [Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori] by Wilfred Owen he showed himself to be even more bitter than Sassoon. Sadly, Owen was killed by gas on the day before the Armistice.

The talk then turned from the ghastly horrors of the war on land to the war at sea. The extract from The Old Way by Admiral RA Hopwood struck a more cheerful tone because the Navy was smaller and did things in the old way. Minesweepers by Rudyard Kipling, that great poet and writer of the Empire, is set at the Isle of Wight near Portsmouth and features a day in the life of a Minesweeper. It is ideal for two voices as an observer comments on the sea and events around them whilst a naval officer barks out reports and orders.

Finally, we turned to remembrance after the War. with the casualties symbolized by poppies and were read In Flanders Field by the Canadian J McCrae. Then we concluded with the extract recited at MOTH gatherings and funerals and often accompanied by The Last Post, (Ode of Remembrance) For The Fallen by RL Binyon. Everyone joined in the last five lines.

The main lecture, World War One in Film, was delivered by Digby Ricci who was educated at Wits and Toronto, and is now Head of English at Roedean School SA. Unfortunately, we had a technical gremlin and were only able to show a very small film clip. Digby rose to the occasion and continued lecturing. He pointed out that all previous wars distilled into WWI which had such a huge impact as a futile blood-bath in which lions were led by donkeys. During WWI, the British came to the fore with propaganda establishing a special branch for this at Wellington House so that fictitious "atrocities" were reported in the media. The Germans, not to be outdone, went so far in the propaganda race as to film dog-fights from cameras mounted on the wings of the planes of von Richthofen's squadron.

The film J'accuse written and directed by Abel Gance in 1919 tells the story of two men, one married, the other the lover of the other's wife, who meet in the trenches of the First World War, and how their tale becomes a microcosm for the horrors of war. This movie spoke to grief-stricken audiences as Gance was basically accusing the whole of humanity of permitting WWI to happen.

The film All Quiet on the Western Front was directed by Delbert Mann and starred Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine and Donald Pleasence. This is an early example of sound cinema in which we follow the death of a group of young soldiers one by one. The film gave the audience the feeling that it was sweeping into battle with the men themselves. Although the battle scenes seemed huge, only 150 men took part in them. The film was praised in USA but it offended the Nazis and was banned in Germany and Italy.

Paths of Glory [1957] directed by Stanley Kubrick was based on the 1935 novel of the same name. It tells the story of an ill-fated assault on German forces by French soldiers, and the gripping consequences those soldiers face when they refuse to follow through with it. This movie focused on the court martial.

1962's Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean and starring Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif follows the brilliant, flamboyant and controversial British military figure and his conflicted loyalties during wartime service. It also focuses on the narcissism and brutality of Lawrence himself. Our attention was drawn to the famous scene where a speck appears on the horizon and then gets closer and closer until we zoom in on Omar Sharif on a camel.

We managed to view a snippet from David Attenborough's masterpiece Oh! What a Lovely War[1969]. This was an uneasy little scene with Maggie Smith singing a recruiting song.

Regeneration [1997] directed by Gillies MacKinnon follows the stories of a number of Officers of the British Army during WWI who are brought together in Craiglockhart War Hospital where they are treated for various psychological traumas. It features the story of Siegfried Sassoon, his open letter reprinted in The Times criticising the conduct of the war and his return to the front. The film stressed how the war makes the unnatural seem natural. The audience follows the dilemma of Dr. Rivers, who is treating the men, because if he cures them they will be sent back to the Front.

The vote of thanks to the speakers was given by David Scholtz.

Pat Henning

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The Society in Numbers

The Society currently consists of just over 500 members:

About two thirds of us receive our newsletters electronically.

There are more than 3 500 files on our web-site.

Our Face-book site rejoices in over 700 "likes".

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Subscriptions for 2016

The subscriptions for 2016 have been set as follows:

Renewal invoices will be posted to members in January.

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Season's Greetings

The committee takes this opportunity to wish all members a happy holiday season, a blessed Christmas to all Christian members and safe travelling for all who venture onto our roads at this busy time of year.

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E-mail offering book

"The brother of my grandfather OTTO VON LOSSBERG, a German-born American served [with] the Boers until injury forced him to travel to Europe for medical treatment.

He wrote a book in German "Mit Santa Barbara in Sdafrika" (With Santa Barbara in South Africa). I had this German book translated into English. I am quite willing to donate copies of this book to anyone who treasures such books.

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