South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 124
January /Januarie 2015

The meeting scheduled for 8th December 2014 could not take place due to Eskom's unscheduled and random ‘load shedding' (blackout) practices. Considerable expense as well as inconvenience was caused by this arbitrary behaviour, which seems to takes little account of the wider society in attempting to address the issues arising from its own lack of foresight and planning as a public utility. The lectures that were due to be given will be moved to January, while the original January lectures will be slotted in later in the year.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting is scheduled to take place at 19h30 on 13th January 2015, at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The ‘open house’ will be the next in the Battle Handling series presented by Malcolm Kinghorn. The curtain raiser will be by Terry Pattison on the Tower of London Poppies and the main lecture will be by Barbara Kinghorn,who will present the sequel to a talk which she delivered in 2013 titled A dependent’s tale. The forthcoming talk is titled ‘n Soldaat se vrou.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

The potential of military history tourism

Fellow member Ken Gillings has provided the following interesting information on the role of military history tourism in the economy of KwaZulu-Natal in 2011: * Tourism annually contributes 16% towards South Africa’s economy and 8% to that of KwaZulu-Natal.
* There were 146 106 international visitors (including those from the African continent) to heritage sites in KZN.
* There were 206 000 trips to the KZN battlefields, generating R138 million.
* The number of jobs directly and indirectly supported by this sector is estimated to be 7 500. One may ask how the Eastern Cape compares.

World War I Centenary Year / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar The Angel of Mons: a persistent myth.

One of the interesting myths which arose during the First World War was that of The Angel of Mons. It centred on the purported appearance of an angel at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August 1914 – the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. The British, after some initial success against the German advance were in retreat, and were suffering heavy losses.

The myth, started with a fictitious article by the Welsh writer, Arthur Machen, in a London paper, The Evening News. In this narrative, bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt (1415) were summoned by a soldier calling on St. George to destroy the German Army. Despite Machen’s insistence that the story was pure fiction, it was picked up over the next few months by various publications including parish newsletters, the Occult Review and the British Spiritualist. Before long, the bowmen in the story were transformed into an angel, sometimes several angels, holding back the German army and allowing the BEF to conduct an orderly retreat.

By May 1915, newspapers were reporting that sermons across Britain were using the purported angel as an indication of divine providence intervening on the side of the Allies. Machen’s attempts to set the record straight fell on deaf ears despite the Society for Psychical Research stating that it found no evidence whatever to substantiate the story. As might be expected, the myth took on various forms, often attributed to sources such as ‘anonymous British officers’ or ‘sources which could not be revealed for security reasons’. This is not as far-fetched as might seem: a recent detailed study (Clarke 2002) has suggested that the story was used by British military intelligence for disinformation and morale-boosting purposes. The man at the centre of this was Brigadier-General John Charteris – a real person, who never denied it.

Many soldiers, including some who had not been at Mons, claimed to have seen the angel. Psychological explanations offered for this behaviour argue that it is not uncommon for soldiers to embrace some form of spirituality or spiritual explanation when faced with the violence and chaos of battle. This is just one of many examples recorded. There were also countless civilians who ‘knew someone who knew someone who had seen the Angel at Mons’.

Although starting in Britain, the story gradually spread to the wider empire. It not only became widespread and widely believed, but in the Second World War got a further lease of life. With New Age thinking and Christian revivalism in the 1980s, there was renewed interest and the story continued to circulate. In 2003, there was a carefully constructed hoax based on the story and as recently as 2013, it appeared in a novel by Mark Hadley.

For anyone interested in pursuing the story further, Clarke’s 2002 study, Rumours of Angels: A legend of the First World War – Detailed Study is available at: where one can download the full text.

The above are artistic representations of accounts of the Angels of Mons

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Memorial to and re-enactment of the Christmas Truce football match played between German and British troops in 1914
Damien Gayle Mail Online 11th December 2014 Field.html

British Chancellor to repay the nation’s First World War debt
GOV.UK 3rd December 2014

A nice touch from Australia 13th November2014

Slang words from the First World War
The Telegraph 13th October 2014

Winnie the Pooh's military connections
BBC News 31st October 2014

World War II

Incredible D-Day image fader
The Atlantic 5th June 2014
Click .. Hold it and drag your mouse gently from left to right on the original photos and it will become the exact same location today.... Drag it back over and you are in 1944 again.

  All Wars

Tombs of the Unknown Soldier around the world

The hardship posting to end all hardship postings
BBC News Magazine 24th October 2014

Memories of Rhodesia at War 1890 - 1980

Requiem for a soldier – by Gregory Moore and Sue Ellen Cusack
Rob Marsh

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


Two very useful First World War resources, particularly for those whose relatives served in British and Commonwealth forces are:
Lives of the First World War &siproduct=Email

Forces War Records


Braithwaite Rodric 2012 Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989 London Profile Books

This is essentially the story of the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and is arguably the most comprehensive overview of these events to date. It is also much more than this. Starting with Alexander the Great’s invasion, it traces the bloody history of Afghanistan with a particular focus on the last three centuries. It then goes on to examine the factors and considerations which led the Soviet Union, in its final decade of its existence, to occupy the country against its own better judgement.

The bulk of the book is a detailed account of the occupation from both the Russian and Afghani points of view. The mode of operation of the Russian 40th Army is intertwined with the lifestyle and values of the diverse peoples of Afghanistan. It deals with the daily lives (and deaths) of the soldiers in the mainly conscript army, much of it based on personal accounts and letters. It covers too the political wrangling in Moscow and the opposition to the war within the Soviet Union, particularly from the mothers of the conscripts, a factor not always appreciated in the West. The ideological forces at play in Afghanistan (ranging from the Afghani Communist Pary to religious extremists and the mischievous role of Pakistan), the rigid determination of the mujahedin insurgents, the ambigous role of Muslims in both the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, and the plight of the civilians, who by and large supported the insurgents, are graphically described.

The book draws to an end with the long and agonised Soviet withdrawal, the processes and difficulties faced by the returning troops and their families, the collapse of the pro-Soviet government left behindin Afghanistan, the resumption of the seemingly endemic and murderous civil war in the country, and the rise of the Taliban and their takeover of the country. There is also a brief comparison with the wars in French Indo-China, Vietnam and Algeria.

This is a very well balanced and non-partisan account of the Russians in Afghanistan. The author, the British ambassador to Moscow from 1988-1992, speaks fluent Russian and has had access to many of the primary documents relating to the war, many of which he has translated himself. He sucessfully separates out the realities and facts relating to the event from Western propaganda. This is an authoritative and informative account of events about which relatively little is known or understood in the West. It is good military history.

There are extensive footnotes, agood refence list, four annexes and a comprehensive index, supplemented by four maps and 30 photographs. 417 pp p/b approximately R260.00.

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 and Peter Duffel-Canham.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Richard Keyter:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:


A story from the 1917 Palestinian Campaign

On the 5th November, 1917, the British were counter-attacking the Ottoman Empire, which had threatened the Suez Canal and Britain’s trade interests in the east. The Turks had been forced back to Sheria, just south of Gaza. Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a British soldier, intelligence officer and ornithologist, suggested giving the hard pressed Ottoman troops a gift, dropping cigarettes and propaganda leaflets from an aeroplane. Unbeknownst to them, Meinertzhagen had laced these cigarettes with opium in an attempt to drug the defenders, who happily lit up. When the British attacked the next day, they came across very little resistance. Instead they found the defenders so high that they could barely stand, let alone raise their rifles in defence of the town.

South African Military History Society /