South African Military History Society

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Email: scribe@samilitaryhistory.org

NEWSLETTER - JULY 2015

The Chairman, Malcolm King, opened the meeting with notices and reminders.

Malcolm had received prices for the proposed 2016 Battlefields of WWI tour - GBP1550 pps and GBP 1950 single excluding airfares - contact Ken Gillings 083 654 5880 for further details.

Hamish Paterson's tour of the Museum's Anglo-Boer War and World War I exhibits will take place on 30 August. Details of time etc. will be available at our next meeting.

The WWI commemorative movies at the Museum will be Regeneration on 23 August and The Red Baron on 22 September. These dates are dependent on the planned refurbishing work on the auditorium. Booking and detailed information - The Majestic 011 486 3648.

Note: The auditorium refurbishment started on Monday 22 June.

The opening speaker of the evening was Kathy Satchwell - The South African Ambulance in Cannes 1914 - 18. She wanted to introduce her audience to this little known independent organization which represented South Africa in France from 1914. A group of twenty nurses accompanied the ambulance and there is a memorial plaque to those who died in the Johannesburg Anglican Cathedral. In York Minster, England there is also a memorial to all the nurses who died in WWI with a special section for SA. One of the nurses named on the plaque in Johannesburg went with the ambulance from the day it left Cape Town to 1918 - Elizabeth [Betty] Freund. Kathy gave a short biography of Betty Freund, who came from Luckhoff, as a great deal of information about the ambulance, the nurses and conditions at the hospital in France was culled from her letters to her family.

When the war broke out the SA Red Cross Ambulance was immediately formed by a Dr Casalis. He was the son of Swiss medical missionaries and had served on the British side in the Anglo-Boer War. The ambulance was funded privately from both Cape Town and London so there was a great deal of publicity and name-dropping in their letters and reports, to encourage donations.

The ambulance, Dr and Mrs Casalis and the nurses travelled first to London and then on to France where they were posted to Cannes. They were all disappointed not to be at the front line but the French military wanted to clear the wounded men away from there to safer and more salubrious places. Cannes was perfect as most of the hotels were turned into hospitals for the duration. The SA Ambulance and its medical team were posted to the Hotel Beau Rivage which was still in the process of conversion. Betty Freund wrote home about the beautiful surroundings and gardens. The hospital was under the command of the French Service de Santé - the equivalent of the British RMC. The wards were large and airy but there was a constant shortage of basic supplies like cotton wool, disinfectants and bandages which volunteers made gigantic efforts to make on site. Dr Casalis owned a beautiful modern operating table made of specially shaped metal so it was easy to clean. Soon the other military hospitals were discarding their old wooden tables and installing copies.

The SA team learned valuable lessons in dealing with appalling wounds and these often went against the received medical thinking of the day. They learned that washing and cleaning wounds regularly was far better than dry dressings as there was mud and filth everywhere in this war. They even developed a system of purifying sea water from the Mediterranean as it is very salty and therefore antiseptic for cleaning wounds. They also found that they must always probe wounds even when they appeared clean and neat as there could all sorts of debris and filth inside. They discovered that putting patients outside in the sunshine for up to two hours really assisted the healing of wounds. They further learnt how to cope with wounded men who had spent several days on a train with no change of the dressings they had received at the front line - these were put into the SA ambulance for transport to the hospital where they had established a procedure to wash and clean them.

Betty Freund died of cancer in Cannes in 1918.

After the war many of the SA Ambulance group returned to live in the South of France.

The main lecture by Terry Wilson - 1815: The Reverend Samuel Savory and his Waterloo Sermon - was a complete break from his usual weapons-related themes in that it covered a sermon preached by his maternal great-great grandfather, a country parson in Norfolk, shortly following the Battle of Waterloo. The sermon itself was intended to raise funds in support of the widows and orphans of the rank-and-file resulting from that engagement. The original handwritten text remains in the possession of Terry's family and it was included amongst the accompanying slides. It had taken the Rev Savory a week to write and was in beautiful copperplate with hardly a correction - everyone was awed. There followed a history of the Savory family who were originally French Huguenots.

Terry then briefly covered the actual Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815 which resulted in nearly 9 000 British casualties. He pointed out that whereas dependants of officers killed in battle received state assistance, those of private soldiers and NCO's relied entirely on charity. In July 1815, the Waterloo Fund was created and heavily supported by the Church so Rev Samuel Savory preached his sermon at both the churches of St Andrew & St Swithin on 27th August. The sermon was inspired by Samuel II, Chapter 1, Verse 27: "How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished", an obvious reference to the collapse of the French Army at Waterloo and the downfall of Napoleon, which was compared with that of Lucifer.

Rev Savory commenced by lamenting the deaths of thousands of 'England's gallant sons' - for which the 'detested French' were responsible. He continued in this vein seeing the results of the battle as just retribution imposed by God as a punishment to the wicked French for killing their king and queen along with the murder of thousands of innocent citizens. Any fraternization with the French by those whose countries had been conquered was also bound to bring down the wrath of God. He wondered if the English were really worthy of divine protection but felt that the English charities and institutions that benefitted wounded soldiers and sailors were esteemed world-wide and that this would protect the English. He went further and saw that those supporting these charities were especially worthy in the eyes of the Lord. He reminded all of how the gallantry of the soldiers had spared Britain the horrors of invasion - graphically described. He concluded by enjoining the congregation to give generously.

The sermon manuscript finally included a detailed summary of the collection with the names of nine principal contributors being recorded. The funds collected amounted to GBP15 which in modern South African terms equals about R32 000.

Terry concluded by mentioning the Rev Savory's early death at age 46 and showing a photograph of his tomb in the church of St Nicholas. He outlined his own descent from the clergyman and how the original text of the sermon had been handed down.

The vote of thanks was given by Marjorie Dean who saw that both the lectures showed how charities were vital for the help they provided in wartime and thus were rather different from our usual lecture subjects.

Pat Henning
Scribe

Marjorie Dean reports on the Society Outing to Heidelberg and Val:

Early on Saturday 20 June the Museum car park was a busy place. Around 40 Society members and friends clambered aboard a coach headed out to Heidelberg, where we met up with a minibus from Alberton, as well as David and Peter Scholtz and family who had organised the whole thing.

In Heidelberg David gave us a short history of Heidelberg's role during the War, and we visited the Military Section of the old Cemetery, where we saw just how many soldiers on both sides had been buried. We drove past the Camp site and were given a rundown on events there by local farmer Ludwig Ankiewicz, Concentration who also entertained us on the coach with snapshots of local history as we bowled along the country roads to Val.

On arrival there we found the little village "en Fête" with a full Boer 'n Brit Day under way; locals were rigged out in Boer and British uniforms and the whole place was buzzing!

First for us was a fascinating talk on Strathcona's Horse, a Canadian mounted force, which had fought in the area around Val during the Boer War. The speaker was Tony Maxwell, a South African now living in Canada, who told us how the force was set up by Canadian Railway millionaire Lord Strathcona, and how most of his men came from the central and western states of Canada, many of them having been miners or cowboys. It was a most interesting account, and tied in well with our previous visit to Val, when a monument had been set up to honour Trooper Angus Jenkins of the Strathcona's horse, who had been traced in an unmarked grave on a nearby farm.

After an excellent light lunch, we were treated to another fascinating talk by Professor Jackie Grobler, of Pretoria University, about his most recent book, based on the diaries of Johanna Brandt. The accounts of life in Pretoria during the war were very personal, and shed a new light on the city in wartime.

Some who had not seen the site of the "Whisky Train" ambush were taken to the old railway line culvert where the train had been derailed, and regaled with the story, before the return journey to the Museum.

All who went along would like to thank David and Peter Scholtz for sponsoring the buses and Rita from the Val Hotel who put together all the events. It was a memorable day out!

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FORTHCOMING LECTURES

CR = curtain raiser; ML = main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture;

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