South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 468
February 2015

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Charles Whiteing 082 555 4689
Society’s web site address:

The Lecture room was packed for the first meeting of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch for 2015. The Darrell Hall Memorial lecture was presented by past Chairman Bill Brady, whose topic was entitled “A Tribute to Winston Churchill – the 50th Anniversary”

Bill’s tribute chronicled ninety of the most momentous years of British and of world history - the life span of what many consider to be the greatest man of his time, Sir Winston Churchill. He lived through the fastest transformation of warfare the world has ever known, charging with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman in his youth, and in his old age arming his country with the hydrogen bomb. He was also the only man to hold high Cabinet office in both world wars. As Prime Minister in the Second World War Churchill gave his countrymen their finest hour, guiding Great Britain out of the peril of invasion and subjugation by the Nazis and on to victory. Churchill entered Parliament in the reign of Queen Victoria, and when he retired sixty-four years later, it was in the reign of Victoria's great-great-granddaughter.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born to an aristocratic family on 30th November, 1874. In the early days, he displayed the traits of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a British statesman from an established English family. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was a wealthy New York socialite. When he entered formal school, Churchill proved to be an independent and rebellious student. He did poorly at his first two schools and in April, 1888, he was sent to Harrow, a boarding school near London. Within weeks of his enrolment, he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps, which placed him on the path to a military career. At first it didn't seem the military was a good choice for Churchill. It took him three tries to pass the exam for the British Royal Military College. However, once there, he did well and graduated 20th in his class of 130. While at school, Churchill wrote emotional letters to this mother, begging her to come see him, but she seldom came.

Churchill enjoyed a brief but eventful career in the British army. He joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 and served in the Indian northwest frontier and the Sudan, where he saw action in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. In 1899, Churchill left the army and worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post, a conservative daily newspaper. While in South Africa, reporting on the Boer War, he was taken prisoner by the Boers, and made headlines when he escaped, travelling almost 300 miles to Mozambique. Returning to England in 1900, Churchill became a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party at Oldham.

As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill helped modernise the Royal Navy, ordering that new warships be built with oil-fired instead of coal-fired boilers. Though not directly involved in the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, Churchill resigned his post because he felt responsible for proposing the expedition.

For a brief period, he rejoined the British Army commanding a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917, he was appointed Minister of Munitions for the final year of the war, overseeing the production of tanks, airplanes and munitions. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, returning Britain to the gold standard. With the defeat of the Conservative government in 1929, Churchill was out of office.

Churchill recognised the threat of Hitler and became a leading advocate for British rearmament. By 1938, as Germany began controlling its neighbours, Churchill had become a staunch critic of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward the Nazis. On September 3, 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Germany, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the War Cabinet. The signal went out, ‘Winston is back’! In April, 1940, Germany invaded and occupied Norway, which was a setback for Neville Chamberlain. On May 10, 1940, the same day that Hitler struck west, Churchill was appointed prime minister. Within weeks, the German Army had over run the Low Countries and France. Britain, after Dunkirk, stood alone against the Nazi onslaught.

After the Battle of Britain, Churchill secured vital U.S. aid through the Lend Lease Act and strove to form a ‘Grand Alliance’ with the United States and the Soviet Union against the Axis powers. This was finally realised in December 1941, after the United States and Russia had entered World War Two. Churchill was now confident that the Allies would eventually win the war.

Near the end of the war, Churchill was unable to convince the British electorate to re-elect him. Perhaps seeing him only as a war-time leader. During the next six years, Churchill was the Leader of the Opposition and continued to have an impact on world affairs. In March 1946, while on a visit to the United States, he made his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, warning of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. After the general election of 1951, Churchill was returned as prime minister. However, he was by now showing signs of fragile health. In June 1953, at age 78, he suffered a series of strokes. He recuperated at home, and returned to his work as prime minister in October. Churchill retired as prime minister in 1955. On April 9th, 1963, Sir Winston was proclaimed an Honorary Citizen of the United States. He was almost 90 years old when he was awarded the Freedom of Estcourt in Northern KwaZulu-Natal on the 10th October 1964. By then, however, he was too frail to travel to South Africa to receive it personally. On January 15th, 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke that left him gravely ill. He died at his London home nine days later, at age 90, on January 24. Seventy years to the day after his father. Britain mourned for more than a week, and Churchill was accorded a state funeral. He will always inspire with his words, "In War: Resolution; in Defeat: Defiance; in Victory: Magnanimity; in Peace: Good Will".

The Main Talk, entitled “Al Qaeda – the Eye of the Tiger” was presented by Major Peter Williams, who has spend a great deal of time researching ‘hot spots’ in Africa and the Middle East.

The origin of al Qaeda (‘the base’) lies with Osama bin Laden and the CIA sponsored training camps of the Mujahedeen. Al Qaeda is a global organization which operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and an Islamist, extremist, jihadist group. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new worldwide Islamic caliphate. Al-Qaeda also opposes what it regards as man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law. Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shia’s, Sufis and other sects as false Muslims and have attacked their mosques and gatherings.

Peter told us of his experiences in the Region: “Afghanistan situation is totally different from the African scenario and on arrival I thought ‘My God this place is bad and the prospects are getting worse fast and exponentially so! Day by day and week by week! …... the USA and the world don’t know what they are in for!’”

Maj Williams was involved in security on a road building project through the heart of the al Qaeda homeland where he gained invaluable knowledge of the culture and origins of the Islamic Jihad movements, including the suicide bombing at Camp Chapman, the CIA base from which all drone strikes emanate and are coordinated from with the tragic loss of 7 CIA agents on 30 December 2009.

The radical Islamist movement in general and al-Qaeda in particular developed their ideology during the Islamic revival and Islamist movement of the last three decades of the 20th century. This was influenced by the writing of Sayid Qutb who preached that because of the lack of Sharia law, the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, having reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance.

What is their system of organisation, command and control? The management philosophy was a total centralization of all decision making. Following the ‘War on Terror’, they become geographically isolated, leading to the emergence of decentralized leadership of regional groups using the al Qaeda brand. This has secured the longevity of the organisation into a system of unlinked cells. Al Qaeda has fragmented over the years especially after Osama’s assassination on 1 May 2011, into a variety of regional movements that have less connection with one another. This has resulted in an integrated decentralised network that is strongly led from the Pakistani tribal areas and has a powerful strategic purpose.

Regarding their command structure and leadership, Al Qaeda is advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al Qaeda members. Al-Qaeda's high command network draws on leaders of all its regional nodes to serve when required and is made up of various committees. These are as follows:
*Military Committee - Prepare, train, logistical supply and plan operations.
*Finance and Business Committee – very broad tasks that include intelligence, logistic and funding through the unregulated Hawala banking system.
*Law Committee - reviews Sharia law, and decides on courses of action one needs to conform to.
*Islamic Study / Fatwah Committee issues religious proclamations.

There have been successive changes in structure. Al Qaeda has been obliged to evolve and adapt in the aftermath of 9/11 and with the war on terror which systematic exterminated their leaders. This spurned the development of an effective independent cells system and is the emergence of independent action such as the one that occurred recently in Paris.

Militants mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. The emergence of the ‘Arab Spring’ gave al Qaeda a boost of Arab nationalism and spread the area of influence throughout the Middle East and into Africa. Other off shoots spurned have become even more radical and have disassociated themselves from al Qaeda because al Qaeda is considered to be too moderate, as are ISIS and Boko Haram!

Peter summarized the history of al Qaeda and its phases of development as follows:

  1. Beginnings in the late 1980s with origins of Afghanistan Mujahedeen.
  2. "Wilderness" period in 1990 - 96 Boa Bora mountains.
  3. “Heyday" in 1996–2001 preparing major attacks which culminated in 9-11
  4. Network period and expansion of ideas 2001 to 2005
  5. Fragmentation from 2005 to 2011. Osama KIA 1 May 2011, Abbottobad.
  6. Arab Spring rejuvenation, spreading into Africa splintering separate groups ISIS 2011 to present
  7. Future developments.
Al Qaeda strategy for 2020 comprised five stages to ‘...rid the Muslim world from oppression’:
  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighbouring countries
  4. Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda and Caliphate.
What of the future? Failure to control the security apparatus in the world on all levels has caused a catastrophic unacceptable situation, beyond all proportions of acceptable warfare and on the scale of the holocaust without any prospects of a foreseeable solution. The past decade has regressed from poor to bad and in Peter’s opinion the next ten years seem to be going to get far worse. He ended his fascinating talk with the following comment: “The international security watch dog the UN is but a toothless watch dog which is incompetent.”

Roy Bowman conveyed the traditional vote of thanks to both speakers on behalf of the audience.

Future Meetings.
The venue – as usual – is the Murray Lecture Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban:

Thursday 12th February 2015 (NB – BACK TO THE SECOND THURSDAY):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“The Battle of Santa Cruz, 25th October 1942” by Roy Bowman
Main Talk: “Shaka; his military career” by Dr Alex Coutts.


Thursday 12th March 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“The Colesberg Campaign, December 1899 to March 1900” by Steve Watt.
Main Talk: “The Myths of the Anglo-Boer War” by Chris Ash.

Thursday 9th April 2015 (NB – This will be the Society’s AGM. All Branches throughout South Africa will hold their AGM simultaneously):
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
Another in the WW1 100 Commemorative lecture programme: “WW1 Comes to the Northern Cape”, by Ken Gillings
Main Talk: “Normandy Massacres”, by Charles Whiteing

Thursday 14th May 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture:
“Leon Schauder – South African War Correspondent, 1945” by Donald Davies.
Main Talk: “Aspects of Atomic Warfare”, by Major Dr John Buchan.

Colonel Mike Bradley (who was the Specialist Guide during the SAMHS tour to the Battlefields of Egypt and Libya in May 2009) has offered to put together a Centenary Pilgrimage of about 10 days to Delville Wood (and other battlefields of the Somme) in July 2016. Members will be kept informed of developments, but in order for us to determine the viability of such a tour, please advise Ken Gillings (031 703 4828 / 083 654 5880 / ) if you are interested in participating. A day’s visit to Normandy will also be included in the itinerary.


We have received this appeal from Gillis van Schalkwyk. If you are able to assist, please contact Gillis directly on the cellphone number below:

My name is Gillis van Schalkwyk; I'm an author and Historian currently busy with research work into the origins of Natal’s Historic Mountain passes for my next book. I was given your contact details by Joan Marsh from The South African Military History Society. I am desperately looking for information on the development of the early roads on some of our passes. As an example, who were the surveyors and contractors of the new Van Reenen’s Pass in about 1918, when did it receive its first blacktop. From the family of the farm Wyford at the foot of the pass we were able to determine that the first motor car up the original pass was a Model T Ford in 1909.  Any information on the passes or the people in and around the districts would be welcome. The passes I'm researching are from  North to South:- Laingsnek, Botha's Pass, Muller's Pass, Normandien Pass, Brandon's Pass, Colling's Pass, De Beer's Pass, Tintwa Pass, Bezuidenhout's Pass,  Retief Pass, Oliviers Hoek Pass. I have tried the Dept. of Transport responsible for Roads in Pietermaritzberg with out success, they just don't seem interested.

   Any info, no matter how trivial will be welcome.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Gillis van Schalkwyk, 078 127 9627. E-mail

South African Military History Society /