South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 142

July/Julie 2016

The June meeting was held in Port Elizabeth on 13th at the usual venue and was preceded by a video on the First World War. Tiaan Jacobs then presented and explained a mounted display relating to James Langley Dalton and the VC he won at Rorke’s Drift.

Tiaan's mounted display on James Dalton
Photograph: Steven Bowker

In the members’ slot, Alec Grant briefly recounted the life of Dr James Barry (c1794-1865), whose real name was Margaret Ann Bulkley, a British Army doctor who served at the Cape from about 1816-1828. There was surprise in Britain when, upon his death, he was discovered to be a woman, although this matter remains controversial. Among his achievements at the Cape was the arrangement of a better water system for the city and the first successful caesarean section in South Africa in which both mother and child survived. That boy was named James Barry Munnik and Alec traced the links of this name to the Anglo-Boer War general and later prime minister of South Africa, J B M Hertzog. The town of Barrydale in the Western Cape is also named after James Barry.

The curtain raiser, by Caryl Klokow, was titled Experiences with the UN Mission in Somalia. Well-illustrated with slides taken by Caryl, this was a personal account of life in a military base in Mogadishu. After a brief summary of the history of Somalia and Mogadishu and the various conflicting interests and armed groups which from time to time control the town, Caryl described living and working conditionsin the fortified base in which she worked as a dental hygienist. Among the fascinating aspects covered were the climate, the regularity of bombs and bombing and the precautions taken against them, and the visit of sundry VIPs including on one occasion, John Kerry. These precautions included bomb bunkers, bomb-proof vehicles and strict control of entry and exit. This did not however prevent occasional attacks on the base itself.

The base, which included a wide diversity of nationalities, was generally clean and well run, with modern conveniences such as air conditioning. Living quarters were modified containers. She also described some of the dental work she was involved with among the local tribespeople who came to the base for medical attention, and the gratitude they expressed for the work done. The talk concluded with a reflection on the living conditions of the people surrounding the camp in comparison to those pertaining in the base. The point was also raised as to how UN donor money was spent.

For the main lecture, entitled A poetic view of the First World War, Anne Irwin drew on the work of a variety of poets to illustrate the changing attitudes of people as the war unfolded. These ranged from the early patriotic fervour following Kitchener’s initial call to arms, to the uncertainty of fighting against a foe one had no personal quarrel with, giving way to the growing cynicism and despair for what had come to be perceived as a doomed generation.

As the First World War introduced new armaments that changed the old methods of attack, poets expressed their views on trench warfare, gas attacks and even the composition of the Allied forces. With the prolonging of the war and the suffering increasingly beggaring description, people found themselves moving into a domain of extraordinary experiences they did not yet have the words to explain and yet they had to make sense of. Poets played their part in achieving a sense of understanding of the realities of the war and how these changes affected soldiers and civilians alike.

When conscription was introduced, the numbers of men applying for exemption led to renewed calls for participation in National Service – a move endorsed by some poets and decried by others. Sickened by what was happening around them, some poets were determined to write about previously untouched subjects such as death and the trauma of war. The latter only began to be recognised as a serious medical problem in 1917 and even then soldiers were expected to return to the front after a period of rest.

The role of women as key economic supporters in the absence of men and the contributions they made to the war effort were also noted by poets and songwriters of the time.

The talk included examples of the dark humour of soldiers and concluded with a light-hearted farewell from the New Zealanders to the South Africans at the end of the war.

Among the poets whose works were quoted were Siegfried Sassoon, Philip Larkin, Robert Nichols, Edward Thomas, Thomas Hardy and Wilfred Owen.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Monday 11thJuly 2016 at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser and main lecture will be combined for an extended presentation by John Stevens entitled The first day of the Battle of the Somme: 1st July 1916.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemenebelang

Individual members’ activities / Individuelelede se aktiwiteite

Congratulations to Brigadier-General McGill Alexander on the award of his PhD. His thesis is entitled The airborne concept in the South African military, 1960-2000: strategy versus tactics in small wars. It has received high praise from the examiners and should shortly be available on the Unisa website. We all share in the joy of your achievement Mac.

Compiling genealogical history

Tiaan Jacobs has compiled a military history of several generations of the Jacobs family. It is a model on how to go about such a task.

Honour for D-Day paratrooper

Jock Hutton,who parachuted into France on D-Day 1944 as a private soldier in 3 Parachute Regiment, has been awarded the French Legion d'Honneur. At 92 he is one of only three soldiers of the regiment still alive. After the Second World War he emigrated to Africa and served in C Squadron, Rhodesian SAS and in the South African Defence Force. He attained the rank of WO1 in both the Rhodesian- and the South African Army. We salute you Jock.
See also:

Half-yearly membership 

For anyone aware of potential new members, the half-year membership application form is available from the Secretary, Franco Cilliers (contact details at end of Newsletter). This takes effect from 1st July 2016 and includes the December 2016 Journal.

A comment on the Union Defence Force in East Africa in the Second World War

Die Wel en Wee van die MilitêreVeterane : Berig 08/2016 (Item 36) carries an interesting comment by military historian Al J Venter on the South African role in Ethiopia and Somaliland in 1940-1941. This will resonate with many South Africans.

… the UDF got minor credit for their seminal role against Italian Forces in Ethiopia and Somalia. William Boyd's book on the conflict is a rather damnable case in point, as the UDF are never mentioned once. In the end, it was the Springboks that helped win the day and it was also Winston Churchill's first significant victory against Axis Powers. Most British writers tend to refer to it as strictly a British campaign (and when they are being generous they might add '… with some Indian Army assistance'). That, irrespective of the fact that the majority of ground forces, tens of thousands of them, were sent overland from the Union more than 5 000 km northwards across some of the worst roads on the continent.

See also: South African Airmen in East Africa in 1940-1941 below.

Members’ forum/Lede se forum

The following note has been received from Richard Tomlinson and may be of interest to members:

I recently met a 90-year old man, who invited me to have a look at his considerable library. He has about 2500 books dealing mostly with history. The problem is that he is blind and can no longer use them. He is looking for book lovers, to whom he would like to give those books away for free.The books span several topics: lots on American history, plenty on Tudor English history, Second WW, First WW, European history, French and Italian history, German history, bibliographies of important people, ancient history (Rome, Greece) etc. They are situated in three rooms of his house. If you are interested in having a look at those books, please call him to make an appointment.
His name is John Herdman, home address at 6 Chalmers Road, Humewood. Tel no 041 585 3020. He used to be managing director of BUSAF.

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Part 5 of 5 of John Stevens’ ‘Road to the Somme’

By early 1915 not much remained of the original BEF. The TA (Territorial Army) had started to assume the dominant role as their forces gradually deployed. These men had, however, been trained as weekend soldiers and were not up to the same standard as the BEF. They nonetheless had to bear the brunt while the New Armies trained.  Troops started to arrive from the Dominions to support the British. Once trained, Kitchener’s New Armies gradually started to deploy in Gallipoli and France in mid-1915 where they were introduced to the rigours of trench warfare and swelled the ranks of the British army. The first units saw action in Gallipoli and at the Battle of Loos late in 1915.  The failed Gallipoli campaign resulted in surviving British and Dominican troops being deployed to the Western Front.

At the 2nd Chantilly Conference 6th – 8th December 1915 General Joffre, the French Commander in Chief, laid out plans for a Joint Allied offensive in the spring of 1916. This called for a simultaneous combined attack on all three European Fronts with the aim of stretching and breaking Germany’s interior lines and leading to a German collapse. Joffre selected the Somme area for a side by side Franco/British attack that could mount a major offensive. Unfortunately, this plan was circumvented in February 1916 by a German attack on Verdun which drew Germany and France into a massive battle of attrition and effectively eliminated the French Army’s ability to mount the planned Allied Spring Offensive.

Major engagements in July 1916

All the major engagements of July 1916 were fought on the Western front. The overarching ‘battle’ of the period was that of the Somme, launched over a 30km front along the River Somme, which commenced on 1st July and ran until 18th November at which point it was called off. ‘The Somme’ was in reality a series of battles conceived as a major offensive. It was intended as a diversion to take some of the pressure off the French in their epic struggle at Verdun (see SAMHSEC Newsletter 137 – February 2016). The offensive was among the largest of the First World War and one in which over a million men were killed or wounded making it one of the bloodiest campaigns in history. It is perhaps best remembered for the 58 000 casualties, one third of whom were killed, on the first day of the offensive. Other major battles falling within the ambit of the Somme during July 1916 were Bazentin Ridge, Delville Wood and Pozieres Ridge, all subsidiary attacks as part of the wider offensive

The Battle of Bazentin Ridge opened at dawn on 14th July after a short artillery bombardment. Key positions were secured within a matter of hours at which point it became apparent to the British command that there was a large gap (High Wood) inthe German lines. Due to bungling a decision on whether to use infantry or cavalry to send into the Wood, the Germans were able to, in the time given to them, establish effective defences. By the time the British cavalry were sent in at 19h00, the Germans were able to repulse them with heavy losses. The British then decided to focus the attack on nearby Martinpuich, exposing themselves to enfilading fire from High Wood, with devastating results, at which point they withdrew.

The Battle of Delville Wood which, from a South African perspective, was the most significant action of the First World War, was part of the Somme Offensive and was fought between 15th July and 3rd September. It was considered essential by the British command that the Wood, near the village of Longueval, be cleared before any attack could be made on the well-established and formidable German ‘Switch Line’ of defences. The task of capturing the Wood was allocated to the 1st South African Brigade of 3153 men. It was to be their first major engagement on the Western front.

At dawn on 15th the South Africans went in following a heavy artillery bombardment. They managed to occupy a portion of the wood but some of it still remained in German hands. The Germans counter-attacked and at times hand to hand fighting ensued until the South Africans were relieved on 20th July. The six days were characterised by wet weather and an almost constant crescendo of shells,at times reaching a rate of 400 per minute, into the small area held by the Brigade. Although the Wood was never completely captured by them, the South Africans received high praise for their tenacity and courage in resisting repeated German counter attacks and holding their positionsdespite a catastrophic casualty rate. The Wood was only captured by British troops on 25th August.

Over the six day period 2 182 members (75%) of the Brigade died in the battle and 190 were captured after being cut off. On the day of their relief Lt. Col. Thackeray marched out of the wood, leading two wounded officers and only 140 other ranks, the last remnant of the 1st Brigade. Piper Sandy Grieve of the Black Watch, who had fought against the Boers, as part of the Highland Brigade at the Battle of Magersfontein in 1899 and been wounded through the cheeks, played the South Africans out. Out of the 121 officers and 3 032 other ranks who formed the Brigade on 14th July, only 29 officers and 751 other ranks were present at roll call when the unit mustered some days after the battle. The engagementalso saw the award of the Victoria Cross to Private William Frederick Faulds, who on two occasions rescued wounded comrades from between the lines, while under fire. He was the first man born in South Africa to win the VC whilst serving with South African forces. It is no exaggeration to say that it was a battle of heroic proportions.

There is a wealth of information on the battle and the South African role in it, on the Internet. Ian Uys, a life member of the Military History Society, is also the leading international authority on the battle. Among his books are: Delville Wood (1983), Longueval (1986), Rollcall (1991), Devil’s Wood (2006) and Hold at all costs!: The epic Battle of Delville Wood (2015). Another vivid account of the battle is given by Kathleen Satchwell in her recently published ‘ For the glory of South Africa and the Empire’: Five Eastern Cape soldiers and the Great War. For details of the 2016 South African commemoration of Delville Wood see:

Scene of the battle in Delville Wood

Source: By Ed. H.W. Wilson - Official British Military Drawing.
First published in "The Great War"
Ed. H.W. Wilson, 1917, Public Domain

Another subsidiary battle of the Somme during July was that of Pozieres Ridge. It had been intended for capture on the first day of the Somme Offensive, but this had not been achieved. It was finally attacked by a combined Australian and British Force, launched on 23rd July. After initial Australian successes, the attack ground to a halt and the objective was only reached by a combined Australian-British force on 4th August. During the debacle The Australians lost 5 700 men including some 4 000 fatalities and 400 captured. One of the consequences of the battle was the growing Australian scepticism of the quality of British generals and leadership, particularly after earlier Australian experiences at Fromelle and at Gallipoli in 1915.

On 30th July 1916, an incident of a different kind took place in New York Harbour when a barge with one kiloton of small arms and artillery ammunition exploded, almost certainly due to the work of German, or German inspired, saboteurs, although there may have been some Irish or Slovak involvement as well. Known as the ‘Black Tom explosion’, it was described as being equivalent to an earthquake measuring between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter scale and caused widespread damage including to the Statue of Liberty. Windows were broken as far as 40km away and property damage was estimated at $20 million. Damage was sought against Germany under the Treaty of Berlin, the Compensation Commission declaring in 1939 that Imperial Germany had been responsible. The two sides finally settled on compensation of $50 million in 1953, the final payment being made in 1979 – 63 years after the event! For more details see:

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Mental torment on the Somme Tony Rennell Mail Online 16th April 2016

World War II

South African airmen in East Africa in 1940-1941
A very informative short video.

Divers find British war submarine that vanished 73 years ago with 71 crew on board: Vessel sank in January 1943 after striking an Italian mine
Nick Pisa The Sun 25th May 2016 25 iconic pictures of the German Blitzkrieg 1940
Anon War History Online 15th February 2016

Falklands War

The Battle of Grytviken – When a lone sniper turned the tide of battle on a warship
Marty Morgan War History Online 17th May 2016

The Gulf Wars

The tragic tale of Saddam Hussein’s supergun
William Park BBC Future 18th March 2016

The Highway of Death – First Gulf War
Anon War History Online 17th May 2016

Naval History

Rear-Admiral Linley Middleton – born in East London
Anon The Telegraph 27th January 2013

Three Carrier Groups together and the USS New York

Source unknown

Not only in Africa: HMS Bronington, then and now
Amie Gordon Mail Online 25th April 2016


A fascinating collection of military history items ranging from the Rhodesian War, Gurkhas and the A-10 Warthog to US Marine training and much more Go to:

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundige belang


The Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum website is well worth looking at. It contains a variety of interesting information. See:


A comprehensive source of information compiled by the Royal Navy Museum is to be found at It gives background, mainly from contemporary sources, of those who served, ships and navies, campaigns and battles, official histories, despatches and casualties. Apart from the Royal Navy, it covers aspects of the French, German, Greek, Russian and US navies.

The ‘Great War’ is covered in five volumes. (Naval operations per se are covered in Vol 4 at
A further three volumes cover the Merchant Navy. See also Naval-History.Net for further links to topics such as ship’s log books.


Notice is given of the impending publication of Yeomen of the Karoo: The story of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein. It is co-authored by Rose Willis, Arnold van Dykand Kay de Villiers, all authorities on various aspects of the Anglo-Boer War. Enquiries may be addressed to Rose Willis at:


Hamilton Patricia 2016 To Honour Just Done Publications, Durban

Based on records in the National Records (Archives) of Scotland, this is the story of a Scottish-South African family and the impact upon it of the First World War. Three brothershad been killedand one seriously injured, and this account is in part the determination of a mother to save her last son. The book follows Frank Hamilton Cowie’s case before the Military Appeal Tribunal, his recall from active service and his journey from Scotland to South Africa where his fourth generation descendants now live. Written by two of his descendants, the authors have re-created the family’s history between the years 1914-1918, and the events which shaped so many lives. For further details on the book see:

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, Michael Irwin, Peter Duffel-Canham and Peter Gouws.

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


A Snippet from the First World War with acknowledgments to the Kimberley Africana Library May 2016 Newsletter

Mr JW Eykelenboom was an old Kimberley resident who, during World War I, rendered great assistance to the Union Defence Force by supplying them with homing pigeons which, in those days, were used to carry messages tied to their legs from one area to another. With the political turmoil in Europe which led to the start of World War II he contacted the defence force authorities in June 1939 and again offered them the service of his homing pigeons. With this object in mind he obtained plans from Belgium for the construction of a portable pigeon loft [as illustrated].

Unfortunately, during 1940 when the Kimberley municipality was in the process of updating the valuation roll of the city, this loft was deemed to be an immovable object and as such was included in the valuation of his property at a value of £5. Mr Eykelenboom was naturally disgusted, not by the valuation, but by the lack of patriotism by the municipality as he stated that pigeon fanciers in the Transvaal, Natal and Orange Free State were not faced by this situation and were already preparing their birds to be used in the defence of the nation. He further stated that in England and on the Continent pigeon fanciers were receiving support from local councils and the military with this project.

This plea led to much correspondence between Mr Eykelenboom, to motivate his claim to have the loft removed from the valuation, the Kimberley Municipality and the Valuation Court in Cape Town. The following extract comes from a letter sent by the Kimberley Town Clerk on 22nd November 1940, to the Director of Valuations in Cape Town:

Mr Eykelenboom emphasises that the Loft is portable, that one of the four standards rests on a concrete floor, and the other three are buried not more than three or four inches in the soil to help to prevent the Loft from blowing over, in other words, that the Loft is movable, and does not come within the provisions of the Ordinance.

Eventually in a letter from the Director of Valuations, dated 5th December 1940, the council was given the authority to cancel the valuation placed on the loft and Mr Eykelenboom could continue with his plans.

South African Military History Society /