South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 132

September 2015

SAMHSEC’s monthly meeting took place took place in Port Elizabeth on Monday 10thAugust. The member's slot, taken by Malcolm Kinghorn, was on the Memorial Wall in Fort Wynyard, now the headquarters of the Cape Garrison Artillery, on Greenpoint Common in Cape Town. It records the names of the Boer Prisoners of War who died in the Anglo-Boer War POW Camp on the adjacent Greenpoint Athletics Track. The camp was established to relieve over-crowding at the Simonstown POW Camp after the arrival of Boers taken prisoner in the Battle of Paardeberg. After the conclusion of peace, former POWs returning from overseas camps were accommodated in the Greenpoint Camp before being repatriated to the former Republics. A total of 103 POWs died in the camp, mostly due to illness.

The curtain raiser was presented by Ian Copley on the topic The Reverend WR Patterson of the Royal Scots Greys. A Mr Iain Birrell from Scotland was intrigued by Ian’s article about the death of Lt. Pilkington published in SAMHSEC Newsletter 104 of May 2013, especially as he believed the Royal Scots Greys’ Padre, 'Mr. Patterson' mentioned therein, to be his Great Grandfather, the Rev. William Russell Paterson.

Thanks to a Dr Dunn, a pathologist in Worcester and collector of Boer War memorabilia who owned Lt. Pilkington’s mother’s album, Ian found out where Lt. Pilkington had been buried, as well as a note in the album stating the name of the padre, whose full name was William Russell Paterson. This confirmed that there may have been some family connection with the Greys’ Medical Officer, Maj. Russell. Certainly they were able to share a deserted shop at Silkaatsnek while on their way to Baden-Powell’s HQ camp at Rietfontein on 7thJuly 1900, as described by the doctor in an unpublished letter to his wife.

On the afternoon of the Battle of Silkaatsnek, on 11thJuly, the padre was asked to take a dispatch to Pretoria concerning the situation. That same afternoon Maj. Russell commandeered a passing wagon to use as an ambulance for the wounded, however the three sergeants in charge panicked and set off towards Pretoria instead. He had to chase after them in order to treat the ten wounded in the wagon.

It was after dark when Maj. Russell sent his orderly on to Pretoria with the wagon whilst the remaining Greys camped there. On its return Maj. Russell went back to the Nek under a Red Cross flag, made by his wife, to collect more wounded. At this point he met up with the padre, returning from Pretoria on a bicycle, who soon outpaced him. With the assistance of the Boers, the padre saw to the burial of the British fallen, since the Boers now occupied the Nek.

Following his return to England in November1900, Rev. Patterson is mentioned in an article in the Scottish newspaper, Dundee Courier, on 20thAugust 1901. This relates his experience in which he had the honour of conveying a dispatch from Rietfontein to Lords Roberts and Kitchener announcing the state of affairs and describes his journey of 20 miles [33 km], part of which was done on horseback and part on a bicycle lent to him by a Boer in exchange for his horse, after telling him he was a minister from Scotland.

Rev. Patterson described how, after he had sketched the position of Boer and British, the generals asked if he would take back a despatch to the commanding officer. Patterson, on reading the despatch which stated ‘Run no risk; retire immediately’, replied that he would gladly do so. He also told how on the way back he had taken a short cut and lost his way, but by doing so he escaped the Boers who were by that time on the part of the road which he had to travel.

The Rev. Patterson later served with distinction in the First World War and received, via the Chaplain’s Department, acknowledgement of being mentioned in dispatches, signed by Winston Churchill.

The main lecture titled A South African serving in the Royal Navy during WWII was presented by Mervyn Cooper, a Royal Navy veteran of the Second World War. Now nearly 92 years old, Mervyn gave a vivid account of his experiences from 1941 when at the age of 17 he joined the Royal Navy, to 1945 when he was demobilised.

His first ship was the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Queen of Bermuda, an escort on the north Atlantic convoys at a time when there were not enough warships to cover this need. Mervyn described the nature of convoy duty, the hazards and the cold as well as a visit to Iceland, the capture of a U-boat crew and time spent in the USA and Canada during a refit and repairs. As an example of the hazards faced by AMCs he drew attention to the heroic fate of HMS Jervis Bay in her encounter with the German battleship Scharnhorst. On completion of his tour of duty, he returned to South Africa where he applied for transfer to the Far East. While waiting in Simon’s Town for his next ship to be made ready for action, he served on the Harbour Defence Motor Launch ML1150.

Mervyn’s new posting was on the ML 830, a Fairmile B motor launch which, along with similar vessels, had been built in Cape Town and was commissioned on 27thFebruary 1943.

Describing its voyage to Burma via the Seychelles, Ceylon, India and ultimately Chittagong and Burma, Mervyn recounted amongst other incidents, a foot injury he suffered, and being marooned on an island after being shipwrecked in October 1944. After rescue he transferred to ML 847 for the remainder of the war. Much of his time in the East was spent patrolling in shallow waters off the Arakan coast with a view to disrupting Japanese transport. During this period Mervyn experienced being bombed by, and being under artillery fire from, the Japanese, as well as observing aerial dogfights and the loss of comrades. He also described the Allied landings on the Myebon Peninsula.

At the end of hostilities Mervyn, now with the rank of Able Seaman, returned to South Africa via Durban, where his ship was greeted by ‘The Lady in White’ singing from the Point. His campaign medals are: The 1939-45 Star, The Atlantic Star, The Burma Star, The War Medal and The Africa Service Medal. It was a great privilege being addressed by Mervyn.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next meeting will be at 19h30 on Monday 14thSeptember at the EP Veteran car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser and main lecture will be combined for a presentation titled Under Wraps: The story of a ‘top secret’ British military undertaking in 1915 by John Stevens. The meeting will be preceded by boerewors rolls, snacks and a drink on the house available from 19h00 to celebrate SAMHSEC’s 10th birthday.

Possible Frontier Wars field trip

SAMHSEC has been approached to conduct a field trip from 23rd to 25thOctober 2015 to introduce participants to the Frontier Wars. Those interested in attending are invited to contact Malcolm at

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

The August field trip to Bethulie, Smithfield and environs took place on the weekend of 14th– 16thAugust. Alec Grant reports as follows:

Twenty one SAMHSEC members and their guests participated in the field trip to attend the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death in action of Louw Wepener on 15 thAugust 1865 during the Second Free State/Basotho War. This was held at the Louw Wepener Monument in the Bethulie District.

Members were welcomed by Brian (“Bugs”) Wilmot at the Schreiner House Museum in Cradock on the 14th. What followed was a most interesting talk, a pleasant tour of the museum and a walk through the historical part of Cradock. The museum is part of The National English Literary Museum and as such provided an excellent bookshop; including Albany Lore edited by Bugs.

SAMHSEC member Elmar du Plessis from the National Museum in Bloemfontein met us in Bethulie. Also there were Johan van Zyl, Museum Human Science Manager of the War Museum of the Boer Republics, and his son Christiaan. A very warm welcome at the Royal Hotel in Bethulie awaited us from the inimitable Anthony Hocking, together with Di Jones (plus a gorgeous Bassett and a tiny fluffy terrier).

A late afternoon drive took us to the kop above the town where we enjoyed an excellent panoramic view and a talk on the Anglo-Boer War battles for the Bethulie rail and wagon bridges, accompanied by a technical explanation on bridge demolition. The outcome of the events at the bridges would have a profound bearing on the Anglo-Boer War. This was followed by a pleasant meal and evening at the Royal Hotel in front of a large log fire.

Saturday’s programme took us to Smithfield where we were welcomed by Carmel Rickard in the garden of Pula Guest House for coffee. Mr Alfred Mokemane from the adjacent Caledon River Museum was our host for a visit to the museum and Mr Makashane Ntlhabo from the Department of Arts and Culture in Bloemfontein joined us and videoed the presentations. The visit to the museum included a presentation by Johan van Zyl on Smithfield during the Anglo-Boer War and developments at the War Museum of the Boer Republics. Melinda Bekker presented an account of the Basotho Wars with emphasis on the Basotho Nation at the time. Mr Janleroux Pieterse then showed us around the museum; his favourite item being the gun, Ou Grietjie. After a visit to the Basotho War Memorial at the Smithfield town hall, lunch was had at various venues in Smithfield.

The field trip then drove to the Louw Wepener Monument to join the Louw Wepener Commemoration. We were met by Mr Piet Joubert, present owner of the farm, owned by Louw Wepener at the time of his death and on which the Monument is situated. Also present were Professor Victor Wepener, his wife Leanda and son Victor Junior, descendants of Louw Wepener who had driven from Potchefstroom. An excellent presentation on the action in which Louw Wepener was killed was made by Tony Hocking, followed by the laying of wreaths, including one on behalf of SAMHS.The gala dinner at the Royal Hotel which followed included an excellently narrated presentation of events surrounding the death of Louw Wepener.

On Sunday 16thAugust, the field trip visited the Bethulie War Memorial before moving to the farm Goede Hoope. Louw Wepener’s mortal remains were kept here after being recovered from the battlefield until reinternment at the Louw Wepener Memorial. The field trip concluded with Tony Hocking’s most interesting account of the battle of Slykspruit, which took place in the immediate vicinity of the farm house in early December 1901.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemenebelang

New member /Nuwe lid

We welcome Hughie Pittendrich as a member of the South African Military History Society. We hope you will enjoy a happy association with the East Cape Branch and look forward to having you join us at meetings and outings.

Martello Tower at Fort Beaufort

In a previous Newsletter attention was drawn to the deteriorating state of the unique Martello Tower at Fort Beaufort. Richard Tomlinson has forwarded the most recent communication which he has had from Carl Kritzinger, who is driving the repair and restoration of the tower and gun. This reflects a much happier state of affairs regarding the tower. In part it reads:

I will get the small windows repaired and replaced. Woodoc has given me their technical specialist on Thursday to look at the woodwork in particular the reproduction wooden gun carriage which the cannon should be mounted on and we will decide how best to preserve the wood with products donated by Woodoc. So we are making progress. The key and alarm remote is kept with the day security guard on the premises and one has to just ask for him. The technical expert from Woodoc accompanied me there last week to see what restoration and oils the woodwork would require and will send their factory guy every six months to reapply the penetrating oil to the gun carriage for its ongoing preservation. Will keep you posted.

Anyone wishing to provide support for this valuable project, can contact Carl at

South African Air Force Museum, Port Elizabeth

The SAAF Museum in Port Elizabeth has recently revamped its reception with the help of local business sponsors and donors. With a variety of displays, it is an excellent place for both a specialist interest and a family visit. There are picnic facilities outside and a self-service cafeteria where there is a coffee/hot chocolate dispenser. There is also a shop selling aviation memorabilia. The museum is open at the following times:

Tuesday to Thursday 08h00 – 15h00
Saturday 09h00 – 15h00
Sunday 10h00—16h00
Closed on Mondays and Fridays

The Museum's contact number is:  041 505 1295 

Exhibition at GFI Art Gallery

An exhibition at GFI Art Gallery (near St George’s Hospital, where the Ron Belling Gallery used to be) entitled The Things we Leave Behind may interest members in Port Elizabeth. It is on until the end of August. The contact phone number is 041 586 3973.

The exhibition features the work of Lt. Col. Tom Hopwood who was part of the Royal Engineers who moved through Belgium and France behind the front lines towards the end of World War I. They were tasked with rebuilding the bridges and clearing the canals that had been destroyed. He took about 100 photographs of what he saw, meticulously recording the details in two albums, with the place names written underneath each image, by hand with white ink, on the black paper of the books. This was before the days of film on rolls.

There are a number of interesting anniversaries this August

Member’ forum/Lede se forum

Tiaan Jacobs was recently taken aback to discover that a new medal, the Arctic Star, and a clasp, the Bomber Command Clasp, were belatedly added on 26 February 2013 – more than sixty-seven years after the end of the Second World War. The Arctic Star was formally approved by the Queen to be awarded those who had served on the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War. The institution of the medal, and of the Bomber Command Clasp, resulted from a 16-year long campaign by Commander Eddie Grenfell, Lieutenant Commander Dick Dykes and Merchant Navy veteran Jock Dempster, who stressed that service in the arctic convoys north of the Arctic Circle was entirely different from that in the Atlantic, for which the Atlantic Star had been awarded, with different aims and different conditions.

A full description of these medals as well as the award criteria are available from Tiaan, who can be contacted at . He has ordered a copy of this Star to add to his collection of the other 8 Stars and will display it at one of the future meetings.

World War I Centenary Year / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjaar

What Tommy carried into battle on the Western Front

On the Western Front,bymid-1915, both sides had ‘dug in’ leading to the development of the trench system which stretched from the English Channel to the Swiss frontier. The vast majority of offensive actions and attempts at a ‘breakthrough’ from these trenches were made by the Allies, the only major German offensive of this kind prior to 1918 being the attack on Verdun. A typical attack started off with the officers blowing their whistles and the troops, led by their junior officers,leavingthe relative safety of their trenches, clambering over the top and advancing towards the German lines.

It is interesting to look at some of the regulations governing what the ordinary Tommy was required to carry with him during such an attack. The following example was for the 9th York and Lancaster Regiment and would have been common to most front line units.

Fighting order for all ranks:-

Excluding any personal ‘extras’, this would amount to between 30 and 45kg, depending on how many extra magazines would have to be carried.
Extracted from: Lamin B (2013) Letters from the Trenches: A soldier of the Great War London O’Mara Books Ltd pp 50-51

Major engagements during September 1915

The Battle of Loos which was part of the Third Battle of Artois and Second Battle of Champagne commenced on 25th September, and was the largest British battle on the Western front in 1915. It was part of an attempt by the British and French armies to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. Except for small losses of ground the attacks were repulsed by the Germans employing effective counter-attacks. It was the first time the British used poison gas. The Second Battle of Champagne continued until 6th November. British casualties at Loos estimated at 59 000,roughly twice as high as the Germans The numbers of French casualties could not be located. For the literary inclined, Robert Grave sdescribed the battle in his classic war memoir Goodbye to All That published in 1929.

On the Mesopotamian front the British and Indian Capture of Kut-al-Amara took place on 27th and 28th September. This followed on the British capture of Nasiriyeh in July (see Newsletters 129 and 130). The capture of Kut-al-Amara presented few difficulties: the Turks were routed, losing approximately 5,300 men together with all their guns, although a fall in the water level of the Tigris enabled the bulk of the remaining Turkish force to retreat to prepared positions at Ctesiphon.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Before bombs: pilots dropped these steel arrows on the enemy
War History Online 13th July 2015 arrows-on-the-enemy.html

Anzac centenary:Lone Pine a victory for courage and sacrifice over command stupidity 5th August 2015

WW I U-Boat Wreckage Discovered Off the Coast of Kent
War History Online 23rd December 2013

World War II

German and Russian code-breaking
Christos military and intelligence corner 2nd August 2015

10 Things You Should Know About the Battle of Britain
Evan Andrews History 10th July 2015

45 previously unseen images of D-Day
Anon War history Online January 2015

Edward Ward: The BBC man who was captured by Rommel
BBC News Magazine 9th August 2015

How the UK found Japanese speakers in a hurry in WW2
Nick Higham BBC News Magazine12th August 2015

The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs
Evan Andrews History 7th August 2015

Former Japanese soldier: 'I call myself a war criminal'
BBC News 4th August 2015

Historic ships and boats

HMS Hood's bell lifted from Atlantic seabed 74 years after it was sunk
Mail Online10th August 2015

Japanese Coast Guard Finds Imperial Navy Subs
Brendan McGarry Defensetech 10th August 2015

WWII’s Largest Battleship Revealed After 70 Years Underwater
Sarah Pruitt History 17th March 2015

Historic Aircraft

20 Vintage War Planes on Display
BabaMail Undated

Spooks and Spies

The Intercept: GCHQ and Me:
Duncan Campbell 3rd August 2015

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang

Japanese POW Collection

A communication has been received from Forces War Records, a resource which was noted in Newsletter 124, January 2015. It notes the release of their new Japanese POW Collection containing 56,363 records. They give the details not only of the prisoners who were released after Victory in Japan Day on 15th August 1945, but those who died in captivity. It is the first time that the National Archive’s complete WO392/23-26, British Prisoners of War held in Japan or Japanese Occupied Territory collection has been made available online, in an easily-searchable format. This is an exceptionally valuable source of information for anyone working in this area.

Shostakovich against Stalin – the War Symphonies.

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a major Russian composer of the 20th-century. Apart from his music he is perhaps best remembered for his rocky relationship with Stalin. For those with an interest in momentous historical events expressed in music, a documentary entitled Shostakovich against Stalin – the War Symphonies is available online. With music, historical footage, interviews, and a mix of English commentary and sub-titles, it focuses on the suffering of the Russian people from The time of Stalin’s 1937 Great Terror, through the Second World War (the Great Patriotic War), including the siege of Leningrad, to the demise of Stalin in 1953, when he was on the cusp of a new great purge. It is also an intensely personal story. There are many other messages in the film, some of which we might profitably take note of. Shostakovich survived Stalin and died in 1975 at the age of 68.

The documentary which is 1 hr 16 min long and in high definitioncan be watched at the following website:

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, Jonathan Ossher, Michael Irwin, Peter Duffel-Canham, Peter Gouws, Yoland Irwin, Stephen Bowker, Alec Grant and Trevor Kay.

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


South African Military History Society /