South African Military History Society

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The Chairman, Jan-Willem Hoorweg, opened the meeting with a brief review of the 50th Anniversary Lunch and noted that Honorary Life Memberships had been presented to Marjorie Dean, Colin Dean, Lynn Mantle and Bob Smith.

He also reminded the audience that Kedar Country Lodge will be offering the South African (Anglo Boer) war over weekend of 2 - 4 December 2016. Experts will be giving overviews of the battles that took place in the greater Magaliesberg area. The Lodge itself is situated on what was Paul Kruger's farm and boasts a large collection of Boer War paintings, art and memorabilia. Prices, packages and bookings can be viewed on their website

The curtain-raiser was delivered by Evert Kleynhans who has a most impressive Defence Force background: The Personal Experiences of German Submariners in the Southern Oceans - a case study of U-68 during Operation Eisbär, 1942.

German submarines effectively operated off the South African coast from 1941 to 1945, with the main U-boat operations occurring between October 1942 and August 1943. The U-boats operational in the South African waters during the war accounted for 114 Allied merchant ships sunk, a loss of 667 593 merchant tons. The Union War Histories Section, which formed part of the Office of the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, was responsible for writing-up the history of the South African involvement in the Second World War. During the research conducted for the book, War in the Southern Oceans, the Union War Histories staff entered into correspondence with a number of former German U-boat officers to gain a better understanding of the operations of the German Submarines off the South African coast during the war. The respondents included Günther Hessler, a senior staff officer at the Befehlshaber der U-Boote, Walter Meyer, an officer on-board U-68, and Carl Emmermann, the commander of U-172.

These primary sources have been largely forgotten despite the intrinsic value they hold for military historians. A detailed analysis of these documents allows for an unprecedented, and unique, insight into the personal experiences of German submariners while operational in the Southern Oceans during the war. The talk aimed to use the personal narrative provided by Walter Meyer to the Union War Histories Section on his experiences aboard U-68 during operations Eisbär, as a lens through which to investigate the personal experiences, and social composition, of German submariners in the Southern Oceans during the war. For example, the men spent time on the deck whenever possible in the tropics and there was also a system of giving each man a day's leave when he was excused all duties unless the ship was at battle stations.

We were shown amazing photographs of Cape Town at night - all lit up with no sign of a black-out - which were taken from the conning tower of one of the submarines before they began their attacks in earnest. Following the first three successful days of torpedoing, Cape Town started to black out their lights.

Past Chairman, Marjorie Dean gave the main lecture - Kipling and his son - the Private Tragedy of a Public Man.

Rudyard Kipling was perhaps the most famous English writer of the Edwardian era. He best described the Empire at its height. He counted most of the great and good of his generation as personal friends. Kipling is not fashionable or much read today, but I think everyone probably can quote some of the Jungle Book! But fame and fortune would not save him from a personal tragedy he shared with so many of his generation.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay, India. For the young Kipling, India was a wondrous place. But, aged 6, he was sent to England to go to school, for a "proper formal education". A lonely, sad childhood, separated from his family, it was the norm for Edwardian boys. After school, he obtained a post as assistant editor of a small local newspaper, the Civil & Military Gazette. His love of Imperial India was rekindled.

Back in London, he met Wolcott Balestier, an American agent and publisher, who quickly became a great friend. In 1892 he married Balestier's sister, Carrie, and they lived for some years in America. In 1896 he returned to England, where his son John was born. He was by now writing political poetry, praising but also criticising the Empire. Other English writers by now were fatally connecting the ideals of "sportsmanship" with the battlefield.

In 1898, the Kiplings travelled to South Africa for their winter holiday. With his reputation as Poet of the Empire, Kipling was received by some of the most influential politicians of the Cape Colony. He cultivated their friendship and came to admire these men and their politics. Back in England, he wrote poetry in support of the British cause in the Boer War. In the winter of 1899, the family travelled to America. The journey across the winter Atlantic was awful. Kipling and his daughter Josephine became seriously ill with pneumonia. Kipling recovered, but his beloved Josephine did not.

On his next visit to South Africa in early 1900, Kipling was actually none too impressed with the way the British Army was handling the conflict. In 1900 he lampooned the incompetence of the British general staff.

In 1902, having decided to live in England permanently, Kipling bought Batemans, a secluded and beautiful estate in Sussex. In that year, Kipling also published his Just So Stories, which were hugely popular. Kipling grew increasingly close to his son, John, as the boy grew older, educated at Wellington College boarding school which catered, and still caters, mainly for the sons of the military, then serving the Empire around the world.

The first decade of the 20th century saw Kipling at the height of his popularity. He was the highest-paid writer in the world and won the Nobel Prize for Literature although he refused the British Poet Laureateship, and on several occasions, a knighthood. At the outbreak of the great War in 1914, like many other writers, Kipling wrote pamphlets and poems which enthusiastically supported the UK's war aims, and when asked by the British government to write propaganda, he immediately accepted. Alongside his passionate public antipathy towards Germany and support for the war, Kipling was privately deeply critical of how the war was fought by the British Army. Kipling encouraged his much-loved son, John, now 18 years of age and fresh out of school, in his ardent desire to enlist. John could have obtained a safe desk job on health grounds, but like all the other boys his age, brought up in the Imperial tradition, he wanted to fight. Kipling applied for John to several different military recruiters. John particularly wanted to join the Navy, but unfortunately because of his eyesight was turned down. In desperation, Kipling made use of his South African connections with Earl Roberts, Colonel of the Irish Guards, and managed to get John enlisted with the Irish Guards as a Second Lieutenant. The young man was thrilled to be part of such a prestigious regiment, proudly posed for his photos in uniform, and eagerly went to war. He died on the Western Front, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 two weeks after his arrival there. He was last seen stumbling through the mud blindly, without his glasses, screaming in agony after an exploding shell had ripped his face apart.

Lt. John Kipling

Kipling and Carrie did not know exactly what had happened. A notice was published in The Times on 7 October 1915 confirming the known facts that he was "wounded and missing". He was not only their only son, but the second of their children to die young. After his son's death, Kipling wrote, "If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied." It is speculated that the line is referring to Kipling's disgust that British leaders were not prepared for the struggle with Germany in 1914. The "lie" of the "fathers" was that the British Army was prepared for war before 1914 when it was not.

Kipling set off for France with Carrie to find John. But nothing ever came of the search, and John's body, like thousands more, was not recovered. The death of John inspired Rudyard Kipling, as a 'celebrity', to become heavily involved with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and write a wartime history of the Irish Guards. By the time of Kipling's death in 1936, no trace of his son had been found. So his remains lie with the hundreds of thousands of others. Looking back a century later, what happened to John Kipling and his family during the Great War was both a personal tragedy and a microcosm of tragedy on a huge scale, in all the countries that were involved. Millions of families grew up without a father. Millions of women never had a husband or children. 2nd Lieutenant John Kipling was never found, and his parents, like tens of thousands of others, just had to live with that. He had not just died - he had disappeared. Kipling was among those who worked tirelessly for the establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and chose the quotation found on every Cross of Sacrifice: "Their Name Liveth for Evermore". Kipling described the larger cemeteries as "vast silent cities".

The health issues that eventually caught up to both Kipling and Carrie were the result of age, but also of grief and not knowing where their son was. In this, they shared the fate of so many others, people whom the Great War marked forever with loss.

A vote of thanks to both speakers was given by Kevin Garcia.

Tour of Light Horse Regiment's Museum

Members of SAMHS visited the spiritual home of the Light Horse Regiment, Mount Collins, on Saturday 19th November. The tour was led by Col Heinrich Janzen who began by describing how the Imperial Light Horse had been founded in 1899 with the help of disgruntled mining magnates in Johannesburg it was to be an 'uitlander' regiment. They are the only regiment in the world to have the crossed flags of the British Royal Standard and the Union Jack as their emblem. The hall in which the tour began is where photographs of all the Colonels and British monarchs since the foundation are displayed. Our tour continued to the actual museum with its treasure of original portraits, photographs, weapons and musical instruments. Col Janzen entertained us with anecdotes about many of the items and happenings at the battle of Langlaagte.

Mount Collins had been a clinic/refuge for the alcoholic ladies and wives of the rich and powerful of the Reef which had closed down by the time the regiment was seeking a spiritual home in 1996. It was purchased and repaired/restored. A beautiful and peaceful Garden of Remembrance has been created in a central courtyard. It contains a full Roll of Honour and huge plinth both in black marble. Every plant in the garden has a special significance and regimental families have scattered the ashes of their loved ones there.

The regiment was practising for a parade whilst the tour took place so proceedings, including a lunch, were punctuated by booms from the gun.

Pat Henning

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A blessed Christmas, happy holidays and wishes for safe travelling are extended to all members.

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KZN in Durban:

Cape Town:


CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture; MS= member's slot

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For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828

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