South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 134

November 2015

The members' slot by Malcolm Kinghorn covered the fort in downtown Maputo, on the left bank of the Maputo River. Its history stems from 1721 when Dutch settlers established a fort on the right bank. This was abandoned in 1730 and then re-established in 1777 and used for the slave trade. It was destroyed in 1781 by a Portuguese expedition from Goa. In order to protect the Portuguese trade and commerce in the area, a fort was built on the left bank between 1782 and 1787. In 1796 the fort was taken by French pirates, who were unable to hold it due to malaria and other diseases. The fort was rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1799. It is currently used as a museum of the colonial presence in Mozambique.

The curtain raiser was presented by Andre Crozier on the subject of Waterloo 1815: Who won the battle? He dealt with his visit with Lynne to the battle site shortly before the Bicentennial Anniversary on the 18th June 2015. Waterloo is the most visited battlefield in Europe with over 350 000 visitors per annum and is the second most popular tourist site in Belgium after Bruges. Every year there is a commemoration of the battle in the form of a re-enactment. For the bicentennial it was an enormous event involving 6 000 participants, 300 horses and 100 cannon, and playing before audiences totalling 53 000 over two days. President Holland of France declined an invitation to attend the event on the grounds that it would create ‘unnecessary tensions’ within Europe. The French also blocked the request by Belgium for the minting a commemorative Two Euro coin.

Slides were shown of the new museum and visitor centre, which has been constructed underground so as to not further disturb the topography, and of the Butte de Lion – the artificial hill created by the King of Belgium in 1826, the construction of which unfortunately altered the battlefield landscape. There are 228 steps to the top of the mound from where one has a commanding view over the battlefield. Fortunately the rest of the battlefield has been largely preserved thanks to a law passed in 1911.

Andre did not try to describe the well-known battle in detail but briefly dealt with some of the major aspects as follows:

So who won the battle? Wellington certainly must be given the credit for having carefully selected the site, hiding his main force from view on the reverse slope, and using the squares against the cavalry attack. However it seems possible that if the Prussians had arrived one or two hours later they would have been too late. The British would have been in headlong retreat towards the channel ports.

Marshal Blucher must get the credit for having recovered from the battle of Ligny, where his horse was shot from under him. Despite being 70 years old, bruised and shaken, he relentlessly drove his forces all day to meet his promise to Wellington to join him. Once the Prussians arrived they immediately attacked the village of Plancenoit in Napoleon’s rear forcing him to commit vital reserves to stabilize the situation.

Subsequent to the battle, Napoleon was exiled to the mid-Atlantic island of St. Helena. Whilst there he spent much of his time dictating his view of the battle in a work entitled Mémoires pour servir a l’Histoire de France. He largely blames the defeat on Marshal Grouchy who refused to march towards the sound of battle in the absence of specific orders. He also blamed Marshal Ney who launched the disastrous French cavalry attack without his approval.

The real deciding factor was the discipline and resolution of the British soldiers. The fearsome discipline of the British Army at the time meant that retreat was not an option for any soldier. That probably as much as anything is what won the battle.

The main lecture, presented by Stephen Bowker, was titled Old Andreans in The Great War. This was the first in a series planned by Stephen and was sub-titled Nugent Fitzpatrick.The illustrated presentation started with a brief account of the life and circumstances of Nugent’s father, the well-known personality, politician and author of Jock of the Bushveld, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

James Percy Fitzpatrick was born in King William’s Town in 1862. Shortly after his birth, his father, a Supreme Court judge, moved to Cape Town and Percy was sent to school in England. He returned to South Africa in 1877 and was further schooled at St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown. In 1880 he failed his University Entrance Exam and had to settle for a clerk’s post at the Standard Bank in Cape Town. He felt trapped in this job and in 1884 moved to Pilgrim’s Rest where he variously worked as a gold digger, transport rider and newspaper editor. In 1886 he married Lillian Cubitt and moved to the Witwatersrand gold fields where he became involved in a successful gold mining company. His son Nugent, the main focus of the talk, was born on 24th December 1889.

While in Johannesburg, Percy became involved in the seditious activities of the Uitlanders and eventually the Jameson Raid, after which he was imprisoned in Pretoria. Lilian and the 7-year old Nugent were on occasion able to visit him. He was subsequently released due to the generosity of President Paul Kruger and in 1899 was active in the establishment of the Imperial Light Horse. Although, due to ill health, he did not do active service during the Anglo-Boer War, he was knighted for services to the British Empire in 1902. Settled back in Johannesburg, he is described as living the ‘high life’. During this time he became a renowned story teller to the children in the neighbourhood which is where the story of Jock was conceived and developed.

Young Nugent, showing signs of good academic, sporting and leadership skills was sent to St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown from 1901 to 1909.There, as a member of Espin House, he led a full life excelling at cricket, swimming and shooting and winning prizes for Mathematics and Latin. He was also a prefect. When he failed his Matric, however, his father encouraged him to try again and in 1910 he gained entrance to Oxford University where he was awarded his swimming half-blue. He obtained his law degree in 1914 and was reading for the Bar as the First World War loomed. He returned to South Africa, volunteered for military service and served with the Transvaal Light Horse (TLH), and the Imperial Light Horse (ILH) during the German South West African Campaign.

In September 1915 Nugent Fitzpatrick again left for England, this time with the South African Heavy Artillery (SAHA). After training in England, the unit embarked for France in April 1916, with a battery of 6-inch howitzers. Nugent was slightly wounded during the Somme after which he spent a period of leave in South Africa, returning to see action at Ypres, Cambrai and Bourlon Wood during which time he, now with the rank of Major, commanded the 71st siege battery of the South African Heavy Artillery.

On 14th December 1917, Sir Percy experienced a vivid dream in which Nugent had been killed in action. After ten days of no news confirming his death, he dismissed it as a bad dream, only to receive a telegram on 24th December confirming that Nugent had indeed been killed in action on 14th. He and a fellow officer were killedat Beaumetz when the car in which they were driving was struck by a stray shell. Major Percy Nugent George Fitzpatrick was, according to a report in the South Africa Magazine, said to have been an exemplary officer who "inspired confidence to quite an extraordinary degree, winning an enthusiastic devotion from his officers and men." He was buried at Beugny.

Sir Percy was the motivation behind the purchase of Delville Wood as a lasting memory to the South African fallen, and was also the inspiration for the two minutes of silence held each year on 11th November through most of the Commonwealth.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstigebyeenkomsenuitstappe

SAMHSEC’s November 2015 meeting will be on Saturday 14th. It is planned that there will be visits to the two VC graves in Port Elizabeth and the memorial to Lt Col Fordyce in the Pearson Street Congregational Church in the morning. Lunch will be at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Street. The afternoon programme will be visits to Anglo-Boer War related graves in the North End Cemetery. Details are to follow.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Remembrance Day Parades: The Remembrance Day Memorial Service at Grey High School will be held on Wednesday 11th November. Please be seated by 10h30. Tea, coffee and refreshments will be served afterwards in the restaurant. This service lends itself to the older generation as it is held in the sheltered Memorial Quad with ample under-cover seating. All the service organizations and representatives from the local military units lay will lay wreaths.

The times and venues for Remembrance Day Parades in the Eastern Cape, all on Sunday 8th November, are as follows:

Port Elizabeth: 08h30 for 09h00 at the Walmer Town Hall Cenotaph. Guests are requested to be seated by 08h50. There will be refreshments after the parade at the Aloe White Shellhole.

Grahamstown: 10h30 for 11h00 opposite the City Hall in the Cathedral Square. The St Andrew’s College Pipe Band and the Kingswood College Brass Band will be in attendance as well as members of the First City Regiment and the South African Police.

East London: 10h15 for 11 at the Cenotaph. Buffalo Volunteer Rifles will be provide a platoon as Guard of Honour and will also provide four sentries and a commander at the cenotaph. The parade will be led by the East London Caledonian Pipe Band. The Selborne College band will be in attendance to provide music for the hymns and national anthem. Their bugler will sound the Last Post and Reveille. Weather permitting, there will be a fly past by aircraft at 11h00. Refreshments will be available after the parade.

More vandalism

The bronze Second World War Memorial Plaque in the Cathedral Square in Grahamstown has been stolen in another act of savage vandalism. Fortunately the names of those on the plaque have been recorded.

Individual members’ activities / Individuele lede se aktiwiteite

Malcolm Kinghorn ran a SAMHSEC field trip to Frontier War sites of interest, for East London and Grahamstown business people over the weekend of 23rd - 25th October. Members may find the following of interest:


World War I Centenary Year / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar

The construction and layout of front line trenches (Part Two on ‘Trenches’.)
Trenches on both sides were generally dug by soldiers with picks and shovels. Depending on the proximity of the trench to the enemy front lines and the time of the day or night in which it was dug, the soldiers constructing it were often exposed to all the dangers that the trenches were designed to protect them from. British guidelines for trench construction inform us that it took 450 men approximately six hours to dig 275 yards of a front-line trench (approximately 7 feet deep, 6 feet wide). Much depended, however, on the condition of the soil, the nature of any underlying rock, level of the water table, and whether there was shelling or not.

A schematic diagram of trench layout on the Western Front and,
to some extent on the Italian/Austro-Hungarian Front
Acknowledgments :

After the trench had been dug, sandbags, wire mesh, and wooden frames would be used to shore up and reinforce the walls.  In the British and French lines, wooden planking, referred to as duckboards, was placed at the bottom of the trench to prevent the men from having to stand in water during the wet season. German trenches were general constructed with more concrete, were deeper underground and had greater lateral depth as they were seen to be primarily defensive and hence semi-permanent. The trench system, whatever it was constructed of, required constant maintenance due to damage by shellfire and weather conditions. In general layout however the trenches on both sides were broadly similar as illustrated in the schematic diagram above.

Major engagements in November1915

The Fourth Battle of Isonzo, again initiated by the Italians, was considered by many as a logical second phase of the Third Battle of the Isonzo (see Newsletter 133). It was launched on 10th November, only a week after the conclusion of the Third Battle and lasted until 2nd December. Like those preceding it, it was a failure. The Italians had penetrated only a few kilometres into the Austro-Hungarian sector, without reaching any of the set objectives. Casualties on both sides were severethe Italians suffering 115 000 casualties and the Austro-Hungarians 72 000. This sufficiently alarmed the Austro-Hungarians to request military assistance from Germany.

The Battle of Ctesiphon, which ran from 22nd- 25th November. After their run of successes at the battles of Amara, Nasiriyeh and Kut (See Newsletters 130 and 132) the Anglo-Indian force of 11 000 troops, supported by a monitor, HMS Firefly, and a gunboat on the river Tigris, decided to continue their advance towards Baghdad despite their overextended lines. In pursuing this they faced carefully prepared Turkish defence positions among the ancient ruins of Ctesiphon.  These formed the Turks' forward defence of Baghdad and weredefended by 18,000 experienced troops. In the battle which ensued the Anglo-Indians suffered some 4 500 (40%) casualties and the Turks 9 600. Having no reserves to draw upon, the Anglo-Indian army ultimately retreated losing their two warships to Turkish shore batteries.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang


1918 Inside a German U-boat: A sunken sub, raised from the depths
Alex Q. Arbuckle Mashable Undated

How Stonehenge site became the world's largest military training camp
BBC News Magazine 6th November 2014

Sikhs Contribution to World War I & II


Incredible encounter between an Me-109 and a B-17 during WWII – an amazing story of compassion (three sites).

How the Blitz was reported in 1940
Genes Reunited 21st September 2015

The remarkable history of the Jerrycan
Nigel Mason

Cold War +

Russia summons Polish ambassador to protest removal of Soviet era statue
Lidia Kelly for Reuters News Daily 17th September 2015

Rats sniff out 13274 landmines in Mozambique
Africa Geographic 17th September, 2015

Historic Aircraft

Vintage military planes at Yorkshire Air Show
Jay Akbar Mail Online 27th September 2015

Boats and ship: History in the making

HMS Ambush: Super submarine
Sam Adams Mail Online 19th October 2015

Satellite Images May Show China’s First Domestic Aircraft Carrier
Brendan McGarry Defensetech 1st October 2015

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


Cruise Adam 2015 Louis Botha’s War: The campaign in German South-West Africa, 1914-1915 Cape Town Zebra Press 219pp including notes, a short bibliography and index. 14 monotone maps 8 mixed b&w and colour plates.

Despite this book getting some negative reviews and having some errors in it, it is a useful overview of the German South-West Africa Campaign of 1914-1915. The maps, presumably drawn especially for the book are informative, even if a little small. The photographic reproductions are good and the book, taken as a whole, is an easy and informative read.

Mulligan William 2014 The Great War for Peace London Yale University Press 443pp including extensive notes, bibliography and index. No maps 12 b&w plates.

One of the countless books on the First World War which have appeared in the last few years. This one however has a different focus viz. how the war shaped the 20th century both negatively, such as nurturing unbridled post war nationalism and unleashing the concept of total war with civilians as legitimate targets, and positively such as reinforcing emergent humanitarian concerns, and in more attention being paid to a better and hopefully more peaceful world. It is a scholarly work, well documented, well written and hence easy to read.

Rutherford Jeff 2014 Combat and genocide on the Eastern front: The German Infantry’s War, 1941-1944 Cambridge Cambridge University Press 423pp including extensive footnotes, a comprehensive bibliography and good index. 10 very good monotone maps, 20 figures and tables, and 19 b&w photographs interspersed in the text.

If anyone ever doubted the vicious brutality of the Wehrmacht in Russia from the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 to the Red army’s crossing into Germany in early 1945 to start their own vengeful reign of terror on German soil, this book will put that to rest. It follows the trail and fortunes of three Wehrmacht Infantry divisions in the parts of the Soviet Union which they invaded and occupied, and were then forced to retreat from. It is a gruesome but necessary tale: the Russian Academy of Scienceshas estimated total Soviet population losses due to the war at 26.6 million, comprised of 8.7 million military dead and some 18 million civilians -- figures accepted by most historians outside of Russia. Some independent researchers, including a number in the West, have however put the figure as high as a total of 40 million. Eastern Europe and western Russia are argued by some to have been the worst time and place to be in, in the entire history of humankind.

This book is meticulously researched and lucidly written. For those wishing to understand the full scale of the Second World War, it is essential reading.

Morris Paul 2014 Back to Angola: A journey from War to Peace Cape Town Zebra Press 259pp including a glossary and a limited list of reading. There is no index. 8 colour plates and one map.

Although the author categorically states that this book is not military history, in a sense it is. It is an unusual take on South African Military History, during the ‘Border War’ in South-West Africa and Angola. In it Morris describes his experiences both as a conscript in 1987and on a bicycle trip he did through Angola in 2012. He visited fields of battle he’d been involved in, and met and engaged with ordinary Angolans and some Cubans along the way, some of whom he had fought against. Almost everywhere he went he was met with warmth and kindness.

The undertaking was an attempt, relatively successful in the end, to exorcise the memories, ‘ghosts’ and fears which constituted his own personal form of PTSD. It was one man’s way of dealing with them. The account sometimes comes across as self-pitying and at other times as courageous depending largely on the perspective of the reader. Veterans of the conflict will react to this account in very different ways. For some it may be compelling reading, while others may dismiss it as grossly unrepresentative of their experience.

Lamin Bill (Ed) 2013 Letters from the trenches: A soldier of the Great War London Michael O’Mara Books 224pp including a glossary. No index. Numerous b&w photographs and nine maps interspersed in the text.

Badenhorst Emile (Ed) 2015 Pushing up daisies: the Great War letters of Corporal Gordon Smith, 1st South African Infantry Brigade Port Elizabeth Port Elizabeth Museum 122pp including 10 appendices. Numerous b&w and colour photographs interspersed throughout the text.

These two books cover similar material i.e. the letters of ordinary soldiers, but they are different in both style and context. The letters of Harry Lamin cover the experiences of a typically British working class soldier who served in both France and on the Italian/Austro-Hungarian border – the latter account being a relative rarity in English. Although full of interest for their intrinsic value, the letters tend to be repetitive and relate to circumstances which most South African of today will not necessarily be familiar with.

The letters of Gordon Smith, a Port Elizabeth man who served on the Western front and was taken prisoner in the 1918 German Spring Offensive, are much more interesting from a South African perspective. It is also far easier for a South African to relate to his letters and to identify with him than with Harry Lamin, not only because of the local (Eastern Cape) interest, but also because of the language idiom.

Those with an interest in the First World War will find both of the first-hand accounts interesting and informative, even if from different perspectives. Finally the military historical community in South Africa can feel gratitude to the Port Elizabeth Museum for making local historical material of such interest and significance available to the broader South African public. In time this publication will quite possibly become Africana and a collector’s item.

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, Jonathan Ossher, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Ian Pringle, Michael Irwin and Peter Duffel-Canham and Erika Foot.


Firing of a 6-pdr muzzle loader at Bracken Nature Reserve on Heritage Day, 24th September 2015
With grateful acknowledgements to photographer Jennifer Powis.

Thanks to Erika Foot of the Cannon Association of South Africa for facilitating this.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Franco Cilliers:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:

South African Military History Society /