South African Military History 


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 146

November 2016

The October meeting took place on 10th at the usual venue. It was preceded by two short videos relating to WW1: Confusion of command in WW1 and Why the British Army was so effective in 1914 - learning lessons from history presentation.

The members’ slot was used by Alec Grant who spoke about The remains of Gideon Scheepers and Johannes Lotter. Alec reported:
‘A good deal of emotion surrounds executions burials and remains. As a follow-up to our recent field trip to the Middelburg district, I visited the Prince Alfred’s Guard regimental HQ at the Drill Hall to see the letter and document they have on display regarding the remains of Scheepers. This letter was written by a witness to Scheepers’ execution, a Private 53 W A Wright,and addressed to ‘H’ who is presumably Wilfred H Harrison. In the letter Wright says he went on to join the Port Elizabeth Police and in 1920 was made a sergeant in the CID Karoo division in Graaff-Reinet. The National Party had at the time offered a £250 reward for anyone who could locate Scheepers’ remains. A De Beer claimed advances on the reward, but was unable to produce the body. Eventually he was found guilty of fraud when he came up with bones from his own father’s grave and was found out.

I could not establish whether Lotter’s remains are still buried at the Stoel Monument or whether, as some reports say, his body was moved to Middelburg.’

The curtain raiser and main lecture were combined for John Stevens’ presentation on The first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The 1st July 1916 will always be remembered as the bloodiest day in British military history and has become a prime example of the futility of war. It took place against the background of a stalemate on the Western Front. In the new Industrial method of war which favoured the defender, the British Army found itself between a rock and a hard place when its primary ally, France, began to crumble at Verdun and appealed for urgent assistance. The British Army, larger than ever in its history, but woefully inexperienced, had no choice but to step in and shoulder the major offensive burden for 1916 and in so doing relieve pressure on the French army to avoid a collapse on the Western Front.

The character of the now dominant citizen-force army had changed. This influenced all aspects of the build-up, planning and execution of the day as commanders attempted to compensate for the perceived deficiencies of a hastily assembled army with limited training – with catastrophic results. Ever since, survivors, descendants and historians have grappled with the dilemma of coming to terms with this, and the perennial question has been to determine why this catastrophe happened, and to whom the blame should be attached. Complicating this scenario is the emotional aspect or impact of the question in terms of the apparent wanton and irresponsible waste of human life. In hindsight it is easy to establish the tactical and organisational errors that occurred and to apportion blame. However, this becomes less obvious the more one digs into the realities, circumstances and pressures that faced the commanders and men at the time.

Two principal schools of thought have emerged over the years:

Both of these approaches were explored in an attempt to shed light on this catastrophic dayand to unravel the controversy associated with it and its enduring legacy. While not a blow-by-blow account, the presentation took us on a journey that explored, and answered, some of the questions that surround the whys and wherefores of the day. In so doing it bust many of the enduring myths that have subsequently arisen from it.

It is clear that the day was not a total exercise in incompetence, but a combination of circumstances beyond individual control, and that in view of the urgency with which the British Army had to move, there were no alternatives and no question of turning back. While the sacrifice in human life cannot be justified given the ‘Flower of the Nation’ foundation of this Volunteer Army, it lead to a rapid accumulation of experience…virtually a shock ‘101 on-the job’ course in Trench Warfare. It also changed the ‘character’ of the British Army again in the space of a day. Gone was the happy-go-lucky enthusiasm and the patriotic and adventurous verve which led to the 1st July. It was now realised beyond doubt that this war would be hard fought and would not end quickly, and that it would require a great deal of determination to carry on and finish the job.

This continuing learning curveover the course of the following 140 days led the surviving veterans of Kitchener’s Army’s to become the core base of experience in the British Army, being able to mentor and shape the incoming conscripts into an army that would become effective enough to pursue and enable victory in 1918.

The emotional aspect of 1st July is very difficult to reconcile even today and leads us to arrive at conflicting personal views of a day unsurpassed in British Military History ... and probably always will. For a full appreciation of the events leading up to 1st July 1916, see John Stevens’ series of articles ‘The road to the Somme’ in Newsletters 137-142 Eds.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on Saturday 12th November 2016 in Port Elizabeth. The morning will be devoted to visiting a number of sites of military historical interest in the city. Meet at 09h45 at the Cenotaph in front of the Art Museum (formerly King George VI Art Gallery). Lunch, a potjie sponsored by SAMHSEC, will be at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road between 12h00 and 14h00. All members and their guests are welcome.
The afternoon lecture programme will be as follows:
Member’s slot: Lynne Crozier on Stuart Constance Larabee: South African War Photographer.
Curtain raiser: Andre Crozier on Castiglione deiPepoli.
Main lecture: Pat Irwin on The Soviet / Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Petrus Hendrik Hugo (DSO, DFC and Two Bars) and the financing of Spitfires in the 1940s

Further to the mention of Petrus Hendrik Hugo in Newsletter 143, John and Liz Wilmot have sent the following contribution, printed as received:

“In the June issue of Country Life Chris Marais writes: ‘For an isolated little village in the middle of a Karoo nowhere (which is a serious nowhere), Victoria West punched well above its own weight. Take, for instance, its most famous neighbourhood son – Petrus Hendrik Hugo of Pampoenpoort, aka ‘Dutch’ or ‘Khaki’ Hugo.

Hugo joined the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II and won himself the Distinguished Flying Order, Distinguished Flying Cross (UK), Distinguished Flying Cross (USA), and the French Croix de Guerre. He was credited with 22 aerial kills and was involved in the sinking of 20 enemy ships in his time. Now here’s the thing. The good people of Victoria West raised no less than £4 000 (R80 000 in today’s money) under the Petrus Hugo Spitfire Fund and bought their air ace his own aircraft, appropriately dubbed ‘Karroo’. Unfortunately, Hugo was shot down over the English Channel. He was rescued but, by all accounts, there is a Spitfire called ‘Karroo’ lying somewhere on the seabed off Dover these days’.”

On the matter of fundraising for Spitfires, John informs us that:

“In the summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry of Aircraft Production was eager to explore all possibilities to expand production of aircraft for the RAF, with top priority set on fighters. Help from the public was wanted and with the Spitfire’s publicity record the idea of Spitfire Funds was born. Funds sprang up all over England and it was not long before the Colonies and other countries followed suit and subscribed to the ‘Buy a Spitfire Fund’.

Before long thousands of pounds were being contributed, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production set a figure of £5000 as the cost of one aircraft. The amount was arbitrarily chosen, as the true production costs were covered by the Treasury. The MAP pricing simply indicated that if the sum raised totalled over £5000, the donor was allowed to name an aircraft.

The true contracted cost of a Spitfire cost was almost double that amount, £8 897, with the fuselage costing £2 500 and the Rolls Royce Merlin III engine £2 000. Other items included the wings at £1 800 and the tail at £500. Some of the most important parts were the eight Browning .303 machine guns that cost £100 each and of course the thousands of rivets that cost 6 pence each. As the designated presentation aircraft rolled off the production line, so the name was stencilled or painted on the fuselage in front of the cockpit and the necessary photograph and a certificate and later a plaque was sent to the donor. The choice of a name was left to the donor who was invited to make a suitable selection. There were however certain restrictions. No company names were permitted, but in some cases a few slipped through. Some were straight-forward like ‘City of London’, others were more imaginative like ‘The Dog’s Fighter’ subscribed to by the British Kennel Club.

There was widespread fund-raising throughout the Commonwealth to equip fighter squadrons. The people of Natal raised more than £250000. The Air Ministry decided this would be best used to equip and maintain a squadron which was already operational. The choice fell to 222 Squadron which officially became 222 (Natal) Squadron. The Squadron badge reflects the South African connection - its central feature is a Wildebeest and the motto Pambili Bo means ‘Go straight ahead’ in Zulu.”

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC, DSO, MC and Bar, DFC

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor, South Africa’s top First World War fighter ace as well as the British Empire’s highest scoring balloon buster, has recently been in the news in the UK as his Victoria Cross is to become the 200th VC on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

An SE 5a of the type flown by Beauchamp-Proctor
Source: rd=ssl#q=SE5a

Born in Mossel Bay and educated at SACS, Beauchamp-Proctor fought under Louis Botha in the German South West African Campaign in 1915 where he served as a signaller with the ‘Dukes’. He then re-enlisted in March 1917, volunteering for the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and, within his first eight months of combat flying during 1918, shot down 54 German aircraft making him the sixth most successful Allied pilot, with only two German pilots scoring higher. When he was killed in a flying accident in 1921, his body was brought back to South Africa by General Smuts and buried in Mafikeng, where his father was the principal of the High School. A fuller account of Beauchamp-Proctor’s life and exploits can be found at:

Acknowledgments to The Daily Insider, 17th October 2016,for highlighting this event.


Remembrance Day Parades will take place at the usual venues throughout the Eastern Cape on Sunday 13th November.

Battle of Hastings re-enactment

Wednesday 14th October saw the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, an event and the consequences of which, many of us could trace in our ancestry in a myriad ways. The following sites and accompanying photographs are of interest:

A record number of people and aprticiupants attended the 950th anniversary re=enactment of the Battle of Hastings.

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Wêreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

Major engagements in November 2016

The seemingly endless battles along the Isonzo River continued in November with the 9th Battle of the Isonzo fought from 1st to 4th November. This was the third in the series to extend the bridgehead gained in the earlier seizure of Gorizia (See Newsletter 143). Like its predecessors it was a failure, the Austro-Hungarians’ command of the higher mountainous terrain proving to be a formidable obstacle. The Italian casualty rate for the three battles was 75 000 and the Austro-Hungarians 63 000.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

Historic aircraft

The Sopwith Camel
Kennedy Hickman About Education u/d

Douglas SBD Dauntless
Kennedy Hickman About Education u/d

Naval History

HMS Terror found in Arctic 168 years after doomed Northwest Passage attempt
Paul Watson The Guardian 12th September 2016

World War I

The Titanic battle of WWI luxury liners: Fancy spas and explosive shells
Willian Mclaughlin War History Online 12th August 2016

World War II

UK files show how double agent tricked Germans over D-Day
News 24 28th September 2016

Aspects of life on board the German warship Gneisenau
Anon MailOnline 14th October 2016

[Note: This article contains a number of factual errors.]

New book suggests Adolf Hitler abused opiates and fed his army crystal meth 7th October 2016

Scottish historian finds 'Hitler's first autobiography' – in a South African archive
news24 9th October 2016

Cold War and post-Cold war

SAS hero in trouble over Iraq incident
Mark Nicol MailOnline 15th October 2016

Caged in Korea: Kim Jong-Un is still holding elderly British and American prisoners of war in death camps sixty years after Korean War, experts claim
Corey Charlton The Sun 23rd August 2016

Resource materials of military historical interest/
Bronmaterieel van krygsgeskiedkundigebelang


Hall Simon 2016 Alamein Oxford University Press

This book claims to be different to all others ever written on the Battle of El Alamein. Here is the publisher’s blurb on it:

El Alamein was one of the pivotal battles of the Second World War, fought by armies and air forces on the cutting edge of military technology. Yet Alamein has always had a patchy reputation - with many commentators willing to knock its importance. This book explains just why El Alamein is such a controversial battle. Based on an intensive reading of the contemporary sources, in particular the extensive and recently declassified British bugging of Axis prisoners of war, military historian Simon Ball turns Alamein on its head, explaining it as a cultural defeat for Britain. Alamein is a military history of the battle - showing how different it looks stripped of later cultural excrescences. But it also shows how 'Alamein culture' saturated the post-war world, when archival sources mingled with film, novels, magazines, popular histories, and the rest of Alamein's footprint. Whether you are interested in the battle itself or its cultural afterlife, if you have an opinion about Alamein, you'll question it after reading this book.

For more details see:

Brits Elsabé 2016 Emily Hobhouse: Beloved traitor Tafelberg

This highly acclaimed book is a fresh look at this remarkable woman and her lifelong fight for justice, who did so much for South African women and children in a time of deep oppression and dire need. A passionate pacifist, feminist and unsung hero in her own country, she opposed both the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War and the First World War, leading to accusations of treason.When her ashes arrived in South Africa in 1926, however, thousands paid tribute to her as they were interred at the Vrouemonument in Bloemfontein.

For an interesting review of the book by Marrianne Thamm of the Daily Maverick (10th August 2016)see:


Sandstone Estates Newsletter
Contains much information of military historical interest.


The SANDF in the DRC This is a very interesting video showing the role being played by South Africans in a forward operating base and highlighting the role of the Rooivalk Helicopter. Running time 15 minutes.

Carte Blanche

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, Franco Cilliers, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, John and Liz Wilmot and Peter Duffel-Canham.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Franco Cilliers:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society's Website:


A good time was had by all!

South African Military History Society /