South African Military History Society

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The August meeting was opened by the chairman, Jan-Willem Hoorweg, with the attendance figures and notices. We were reminded of the Book Launch of A Russian Fighting for the Boer Cause by Yevgeny Avgustus and translated and edited by Boris Gorelik at 6pm on Tuesday 13 September at Book Dealers in the Colony Centre on Jan Smuts Avenue.

Jan-Willem then announced that the scheduled speaker for the main lecture was unable to attend due to a neighbouring fire but that Hamish Paterson would be stepping in to give a short talk in the second slot.

The talks given at MHS are recorded and are now available on Sound Cloud. Simply type in "soundcloud" in your Google search bar, when the main page of SoundCloud opens type in "sa military history society lectures" which will take you to our site. Just click on our page tab and you will then see all recorded talks. There is no need to sign in or register on the site.

Anne Samson began her talk on The Novel East African campaign: Historians and historical novels by pointing out most novels on WWI in Africa concern the East Africa campaign. These cover the whole spectrum with the first in 1915 by Gertrude Page set in Northern Rhodesia and the last by Brian Duncan in 2016 returning to the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. The most popular topic (5) is the Lake Tanganyika expedition. Some novels were written by men who had served in East Africa such as Francis Brett Young (The Crescent Moon, Jimmy Redlake) and Balder Olden (Kilimandsharo or On Virgin Soil) who provides an insight into a German transporter's experience whilst others such as Percy Westerman and CS Forrester wrote about what they heard back in England. Of all the novelists there are only four women, namely, Gertrude Page (Follow After, Far from the Limelight) Elspeth Huxley (Red Strangers), South African-based author Marguerite Poland (Iron Love) and American Maya Alexandri (Celebration Husband). What does this tell us? (This question is not asked from a feminist perspective!)

Novels are used by historians in different ways understanding how memory has developed by looking at the themes or topics and when they were written. For example there is a period of twenty years between 1943 and 1964 when no novels have been have been identified. Between 1943 and 1964, representing the social changes which were underway: men who fought during the first World War were dying off while the next generation was too caught up in the horrors of the Second and hadn't realized what their parents and grandparents had been through. Later novels are more graphic in their descriptions, linking with anti-war positions brought about through Vietnam and Korea.

Novels provide an opportunity for the mundane day-to-day aspects of life to be examined especially during times of war. Using novels, therefore, allows historians to provide background context for readers to understand features which would not be acceptable or difficult to evidence in historical studies and which cannot be said in more formal texts - an example being Francis Brett Young's Marching on Tanga.

As there was some extra time available, Anne was able to go into more critical detail of the novels mentioned in the early part of the talk.

The second talk, which was given at extremely short notice, was presented by Hamish Paterson Women at War - The Gentle Sex? He launched straight into his topic with women from the Old Testament: Deborah trying to clear her area of Canaanites and their shame at being defeated by a woman. He also mentioned the incident of Jael with the notorious tent peg.

The Spartan women would enjoin their husbands and sons "Come back on your shield or carrying it!"

Then we moved on to the days of the Roman Empire and Boadicea's rebellion in Britain when she led the tribes to attack and burn Colchester to the ground. We have the enduring image of her in a chariot with scythes attached to the wheels. When the Romans finally caught her they flogged her and raped and murdered her daughters. Boadicea's own end is not clear and may have been suicide.

Next came the Amazons and the Scythian tribes from the Steppes - definitely a tough bunch.

Note the unholy glee on face of the female warrior!
The lecturer's favourite picture.
It is Plate A from the
Osprey Men at Arms No 373 The Sarmatians 600BC-AD450 (2002).
The authors are R Brzezinski and M Mielczarek. The illustrator is G Embleton

British history provided the Empress Matilda's war against Stephen in her attempt to secure the throne - Salic Law notwithstanding. Margaret of Anjou followed as she definitely prolonged the Wars of the Roses with her efforts to secure the throne for her son. Elizabeth I conducted a war against Spain in support of the rebellious Spanish Netherlands. And then we were told about Queen Anne whose general, John Churchill, became the scourge of Europe.

Next we looked at the Empress Maria Theresa who managed against all odds to inherit the Austrian Empire, reform its army, get the Hungarian nobility on her side and hold back Frederick the Great in the War of the Austrian Succession. She was in essence the Viennese housewife who could run an Empire successfully.

In the French army, the canteens were officially run by the soldiers themselves but actually it was done by their wives. This practice went on for 150 years and was only stopped in 1890. Tough cookies?

The Crimean war saw the redoubtable Florence Nightingale and her efforts with the nursing. A lesser known woman is the mixed-race Mary Seacole who went from her native Jamaica to Britain with the intention of joining Florence Nightingale but she was refused. So she went to the Crimea at her own expense and set up the British Hotel which operated like a guest house cum entertainment centre. When the war ended she was left with many unpaid bills and no customers - not a great reward - and the British army would not help her to set up something similar in Britain near Aldershot.

In WWI the Nursing Yeomanry [FANY] began and these ladies had to provide their own horses and uniforms. Initially the British Army would not take them so the Belgians did. There was also Flora Sandes in the Balkans who became a commissioned officer.

In WWII there was Beatrice Shilling, who bought her own motorbike at 14. She was a graduate in engineering from Manchester University and went to work at Farnborough where she solved the problem of flooding in the Roll-Royce Merlin engines - this enabled the British planes to equal the mighty Luftwaffe.

The talk ended on a really high note. Liudmyla Mykhailivna Pavlychenko was a Ukrainian Soviet sniper during World War II. Credited with 309 kills, she is regarded as one of the top military snipers of all time and the most successful female sniper in history - it is thought that women are more patient than men at sniping.

Pat Henning

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The Society was founded in October 1966. We are planning a 50th birthday lunch at the Ditsong Museum of Military History in Johannesburg on Sunday 16th October to celebrate this occasion. Cost will be R150 a head. To book your place contact Joan at

Payments (preferably by eft or add R40 for bank charges) to
FNB Eastgate Branch code 257705 Name SA Military History Society No. 50391928346
Please use your surname and "lunch" as reference or I won't know who has paid.

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June Journals have been posted to all paid up members - please let Joan know if yours has not arrived by 10 September.

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Mystery payment

Please will "Douglas" who paid R120 into the Society's account on 13 August 2016 contact to sort out whom to credit?

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KZN in Durban:

Cape Town:


CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture

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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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