Our speakers on 21 January 2016 were fellow-member, Lt Cdr Glenn von Zeil, and his father, Mr Anthony von Zeil, who discussed the career of Mr von Zeil’s grandmother, Nurse Louisa Susanna Rautenbach (later Boshoff), who was one of 17 female recipients of the Anglo-Boer War medal granted in 1954. She was the only one of these 17 ladies who was wounded while on duty.
Cdr von Zeil introduced the illustrated talk by explaining the title of their book, Battle Scars and Dragon Tracks. “Battle Scars” refers to Nurse Rautenbach’s terrible gunshot wounds and “Dragon Tracks” refers to the career of the Welsh Nationalist officer who ordered the attack on the military hospital at Bezuidenhoutsdrift where Nurse Rautenbach was so severely wounded. The book goes on to discuss the later careers of Nurse Rautenbach and Lt Col Owen Vaughan and their subsequent marriages.
The seriously wounded nurse forgave her attacker for his “indiscretion” in firing at an innocent nurse in a small rural hospital in the Orange River Colony. She outlived him and all their contemporaries by several score years and was awarded a further medal for her services during the Second World War, receiving this a number of years before receiving her Boer War Medal!
Nurse Rautenbach did not get married until after the end of the Anglo-Boer War. The Welsh captain, later Lt Colonel, Arthur Owen Vaughan, who shot her, had at the start of the war, married Katharina Louisa Geere on the banks of the Vaal River near Parys. He was unable to prevent his new wife from being incarcerated in the Vredefort Road Concentration Camp but they were reunited at the end of the War.
Our speakers then discussed the life and career of Owen Vaughan. He was born Robert Scourfield Mills on 6 September 1863. His second name was actually Schofield but was mis-spelt! His father died in an industrial accident on 16 October 1863. His mother re-married and had three more children, two of whom died young. She herself, died on 5 March 1869 and the maternal grandmother, Mrs Gill, raised the two siblings.
Mrs Gill instilled into Robert a great pride in his Welsh ancestry and called him Owen after the Welsh hero Owain Glendwr. After the death of his grandmother, Robert, then 16 years of age, sailed to America either as a stowaway or a merchant seaman. Here he became a cowboy, learning the skills of horsemanship, scouting and hunting. He later returned to England and joined the Regular Army on 15 January 1882, as a private in the 1st Royal Dragoons. After promotion to lance-corporal, he worked on patents for a machine gun sight and a soldier’s cape. He had high hopes of making a fortune but his employment of a French agent resulted in his being forced to resign from the Army. Another door opened and, between 1895 and 1899, he wrote five Welsh historical novels, using the pseudonym of Owen Roscomyl. With the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, Robert, now calling himself Arthur Owen Vaughan, tried to join up in England but was rejected. Determined to do his bit, he managed to sail to Cape Town at his own expense. After initial rejection, he managed to join Rimington’s Guides on the strength of his seven years in the West as a cowboy, followed by four years as a scout, fighting Indians and outlaws and his years in the Royal Dragoons.
Rimington’s Guides were commanded by Major M.F. Rimington, a veteran of many African campaigns. Vaughan was promoted to sergeant in this unit. He also served in Driscoll’s Scouts.
Members of the Regiment were all colonials, wide awake, sharp and shrewd with plucky leaders, free of caste or class. They appealed to Vaughan, who despised upper class English officers who owed their rank to their social standing. He took part in the battles of Belmont, Modder River, Magersfontein, the relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Diamond Hill, Johannesburg, Driefontein and Belfast.
Sgt Vaughan was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry near Reitz and was also mentioned in dispatches. The DCM is believed to have been awarded for rescuing a trooper who was pinned down when his horse was shot on the banks of a river, while under heavy enemy fire.
Gen Bruce Hamilton described Vaughan as “the bravest man I ever came across”. He was later commissioned and promoted to captain. Rimington’s Guides wore a leopard skin hat band on their Australian bush hats and thought so highly of Vaughan that he was accorded the unique distinction of wearing a leopard claw on his hat. He later joined the Canadian Scouts.
We have referred to the incident in which Nurse Rautenbach was injured. This happened on 9 January 1902, when Capt Vaughan led an attack on the Boer field hospital at Bezuidenhoutsdrift near Reitz, which was still receiving Boer wounded some six weeks after the last successful attack by Gen de Wet on British forces at Groenkop on 25 December 1901. This was being watched by the British who suspected that it was harbouring fit Boers. Attacking the building from the rear, he did not notice that it was a hospital and, when he and his men pursued a Boer who ran inside, they feared that any Boers inside would fire at them and so fired in through the windows. One of the bullets hit an iron bedstead and shattered into a number of pieces. It was some of these that hit Nurse Rautenbach who was badly wounded in her right arm which she had held up to protect herself. The extent of other casualties is not known. She was treated and then put into a concentration camp. This was the event which linked the two key figures in this story.
After the end of the Anglo-Boer War, Vaughan returned to England with his wife and campaigned unsuccessfully for the establishment of a Welsh Guards Regiment in the British Army. Such a Regiment was raised in 1915, during the First World War. He did succeed in establishing the Welsh Horse, a Yeomanry Regiment, during the First World War. Command of this was given to Lord Kensington, which bitterly disappointed Vaughan.
Vaughan served with distinction during World War One, as Lieutenant Colonel in various units. These included the 21st Division Cyclists, 14th Northumberland Fusiliers, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Labour Corps. He was awarded the DSO and OBE and was mentioned in dispatches.
Lt Col Vaughan died soon after the end of the war, on 15 October 1919, aged 56. On his grave there stand a C.W.G.C. head stone bearing his name and a Celtic cross honouring Owen Roscomyl. The cross, however, is slowly collapsing on to the headstone, and as our speakers commented, might be symbolic in a sense. Nurse Louisa Susanna (Lily) Rautenbach had suffered severe injuries from the gunshot wounds suffered at Bezuidenhoutsdrift. She was bed-ridden and on morphine for three weeks at the hospital there. She remained at the hospital until the end of the war when she rejoined her family at Ficksburg.
Electric treatment to stimulate her wounded right arm was provided by doctors at the Bloemfontein National Hospital some nine months after the attack, but she never regained the full use of her right arm.
Emily Hobhouse included Nurse Rautenbach’s statement about the events of 9 January 1902 in her book War without Glamour and this resulted in Lily receiving some small payments. Attempts to obtain a disability pension were at first unsuccessful but she eventually did receive a small pension.
In March 1903 Lily Rautenbach married a certain Louis Willem Boshoff. During the 1914/1915 Rebellion, most of the other members of the Boshoff family supported the rebels but Lily did not. During the 1918/1919 Influenza Epidemic she helped to look after the very numerous sick, earning the nickname “waterdokter” for providing ice packs for the sick.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Mrs Boshoff, then 66 years old, volunteered to help with war work and was appointed a commandant in the No 7 Command of the S.A. Women’s Auxiliary Service (SAWAS). For her excellent work during World War 2, she was awarded the King’s Commendation, then the Union’s only civil honour for war work, and the S.A. Medal for War Services 1939 – 1945.
A war medal for those who served in the Republican Forces until the bitter end on 31 May 1902 (or who were killed, seriously wounded or taken prisoner) was instituted in 1920. Mrs Boshoff only applied for - and received - her medal in 1954. In addition to the war medal, she was also awarded the Lint Voor Wonden (wound ribbon) and has the distinction of being the only Boer woman serving on the side of the erstwhile Boer Republics, to be so honoured.
She had forgiven Capt Vaughan for injuring her so severely and this lasted until her dying day on 28 September 1971. The words “vergewe en vergeet” (forgive and forget) are carved on her tombstone.
Our Vice Chairman, Mr Alan Mountain, thanked our joint speakers, commenting that this had not been a talk about war, but rather a look at the effect war has on human beings caught up in war. He then presented them with the customary gift.
MEMBERS We regret to inform members of the passing to higher service of our member Mr John Leslie, who passed away recently after a long illness. Our sympathy and sincere condolences go to his widow and family for their sad loss.
THURSDAY, 11 February 2016: BILBERRY OR HAMMER? FROM CORSICA TO SOUTH AFRICA: THE STORY OF MARTELLO TOWERS: WITH SPECIFIC FOCUS ON THE SOUTH AFRICAN TOWERS by Adm. (JG) André Rudman
The presentation explores the origins of "Martello" Towers; the dangers that led to the erection of such towers; their design and application in Corsica; the British experience of one tower in Corsica; the influence of their design on British coastal fortifications (43 Martello Towers remain in the UK alone); briefly where such towers were built world-wide; with the main focus of the presentation on three “Martello” Towers built by the British in South Africa.
PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF DATE
WEDNESDAY 9th March 2016: 75 YEARS OF SOUTH AFRICAN RADAR: BASIL SCHONLAND’S CHALLENGE by Dr B.A. Austin
Early in 1939 The British Government informed its Dominions - Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand - of the existence of ‘certain technical developments which are of vital importance against air attack …’. This was the top-secret device then known as RDF which would later become Radar. The work in South Africa on developing radar sets were led by Dr Basil Schonland, professor of geophysics at Wits, and Mr G R Bozzoli, a lecturer in electrical engineering. Basil Schonland was South Africa’s foremost physicist at the time and also a close colleague of many of those British RDF pioneers having studied and worked alongside them at Cambridge. He assembled a team of academics from Wits, Cape Town and Natal universities to assist in the endeavour. The first local radar transmitter was cobbled together, as was the receiver, from electronic bits and pieces purchased from local electronic shops catering for radio amateurs. On the 16th December, 1939, the first radar echo was received in South Africa. From start to first successful transmission, a mere three months had elapsed.
In time the fledgling research group were soon joined by many other young engineering graduates from those universities mentioned, as well as from Schonland’s own research institute, the Bernard Price Institute of Geophysics Research. This group ultimately became the Special Signals Services (SSS) of the South African Corps of Signals in 1941. By then they had already set up and operated the first radar set to be deployed anywhere in Africa. It went into service near Mombasa in support of the South African forces in East Africa that were driving Mussolini out of Abyssinia. From there the SSS took three of their radars to the Sinai and provided early warning against air attacks on the Suez Canal. Soon it became apparent that the promised British radars intended to protect South Africa’s very long coastline were long overdue so the SSS set about designing its own protective radar screen that eventually resulted in more than twenty radar stations being established from Baboon Point in the West to just south of the Mozambique border in the East. Most of those radar sites were ‘manned’ by women who were trained at special radar schools in the major centres. By the war’s end in 1945 the SSS consisted of 145 officers, of whom 28 were women, and 1,476 other ranks (507 women). This small band of highly qualified university graduates, in the main, eventually served with great distinction throughout South Africa, in East and North Africa and in Italy. In addition, a special SSS detachment was attached to the SAAF where they fitted and maintained radar sets in the Wellington bombers of 26 Squadron then serving in Takoradi on the Gold Coast. This is their story.
The talk will cover the subject of radar; the remarkable personalities who designed and built their own sets in South Africa and of its operational performance in many theatres of war.
Our Speaker is formerly from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Wits University and now retired from the Department of Electrical Engineering & Electronics at the University of Liverpool. He lives in England.
PLEASE NOTE: IN VIEW OF OUR SPEAKER’S SHORT STOP-OVER IN CAPE TOWN, HE WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE FOR OUR REGULAR SCHEDULED MEETING ON THE 10TH OF MARCH. TO ACCOMMODATE DR BRIAN AUSTIN, THE MEETING WILL BE ADVANCED BY ONE DAY AND ARE NOW SCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY, THE 9TH OF MARCH – SAME TIME, SAME PLACE.
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