South African Military History Society

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The Chairman opened the proceedings with a tribute to the late Ken Gillings. Tributes to Ken have poured in from around the world. An obituary will appear in the new edition of the Journal. Jan-Willem also conveyed the Society's condolences to the Mahnke family on the passing of Helga, wife of past national Chairman John (Jochen)

The traditional Boer & Brit fun day will be at Val on Saturday 4 March 2017 - the sponsored bus departs 08h00 from the Museum car park. We have arranged for the Dundee Diehards to give us a re-enactment of the "Whisky Train" incident. The "Tommies" will be dressed in khaki uniforms. There will also be about 10 Boers on horseback, so it should be fun. The folk singer, John Edmond, will be at the event and will provide light entertainment over lunch. Add your name to the list available at the meeting if you wish to attend.

The curtain-raiser of the evening was provided by Robert Faltermeier - Using Technology with Historical Sources. This was the most fascinating look at a case study of a forebear of Robert's: Pvt Vernon Jeffery Edkins 2nd SAI who died 14 July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. He was Robert's maternal great great uncle. For years all the family knew was that he had died somewhere in France in 1916. As history can be full of mysteries, half-truths, hearsay and inaccuracy it was a problem to cut through the fog and determine the truth about what had happened. The question that our speaker faced was did Pvt Edkins actually die at the battle of Delville Wood as he had died on the same day that his battalion was engaged in the start of the battle - 14 July 1916. For many years no one even knew where he was buried as he should have been buried with his comrades but was not. Then the mystery deepened as it was discovered that he had been buried in a town 25 km away.

Finally he was found to have died at a field hospital. The circumstances of his death were clarified and his actual grave was traced through the CWGC. The family were able to visit the grave in 2011. The audience were riveted by the speaker's use of primary and secondary sources and his cross-referencing them with modern technological aids. For example, he obtained original maps of the battle field where Pvt Edkins was posted and overlaid them on Google maps so he could identify the present day sites. He also found that by telling the story of his search as it progressed to people who were complete strangers he came across valuable information. In fact, at the end of his talk our audience offered tips and information as to where he could obtain even more details about Pvt Edkins.

Kevin Garcia gave the main talk of the evening - A Path to Victory? A Comparison of Confederate and Boer War aims. This was a broad comparison accompanied by an excellent presentation of maps and pictures. Kevin began by outlining which states in USA were Confederate and which Union. Basically, the Confederate States were opposed to the fact that Abraham Lincoln had been elected President (Sound familiar?). In fact, his name had not even appeared on the ballot papers in most of the Confederate States so they certainly had not voted for him. The Confederacy feared that Lincoln would sweep away their way of life - particularly the slave ownership. So they contemplated war as a way to buy time until Lincoln could be removed from power. They were facing the North with its vastly superior man power, a highly industrialised society and almost total control of weapons manufacture. The Confederacy believed that if they struck quickly they might win. They began to stockpile their cotton crops in the belief that a shortage of cotton at the British mills would increase its price. This was a mistake as the Northern blockade of their seaports made it almost impossible to export when they badly needed funds and the British had sought other suppliers of cotton in the meantime. The Confederacy also believed that major European powers would intervene on their side but this did not happen.

The South emerged from the war as the losers with its economy in tatters and its way of life swept away by the freeing of the slaves as the plantations could not function without a huge labour force. They also had the bitter legacy of all civil wars where families had been torn apart by supporting different sides.

The Boer leaders began their War almost fatalistically believing that this was the route they had to follow although they could not win. They, much like the Confederates, believed if they struck hard and quickly before the British could assemble a large army, they might gain some advantage. They wanted to shake off British control but they were soon faced with the might of the vast British Empire with its huge resources and industrialisation plus its manufacture of weaponry.

They too expected that they would receive active support from the great European powers but this did not emerge. There was a great deal of verbal support: weapons were sold to the Boers: small bands of fighting men and medical personnel appeared: but no actual alliances. The Boers too faced the problem of family rifts over the war. For example, the famous Boer general, Christiaan de Wet was bitterly opposed by his brother, Pieter, who felt that the war would destroy their way of life and reduce their people to working-class. Like the Confederacy, the Boers emerged the losers with their farms largely destroyed.

Pat Henning

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The December 2016 Journal is not yet available.

Branch contact details

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 Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

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KZN in Durban:



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

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