South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 492
February 2017

Roy Bowman
Land-line; 031 564 4669
Mobile; 084-951 2921

The first meeting for 2017 was held on the third Thursday of January 2017, and was a rather sombre affair with the recent passing of Society stalwart, Ken Gillings.

After the welcoming all present were requested to stand and pay respect to our dear departed member, Ken Gillings.

After the notices the Chairman requested all present who haven't paid their 2017 subs to please do so as soon as possible.

The DDH was presented by guest speaker, Arthur Gammage.
Early during the Second World War, about 1700 Indo-Chinese volunteer soldiers sailed to France to help defend the Motherland. They were known as Anamites, from Anam on the east coast.

Indo-China was a 19th Century term for the continental portion of the region now known as Southeast Asia. Later the name became more restricted to the French colony, comprising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (1893).

France, having been overrun by June 1940, declared an armistice with Germany. Administration was taken over by the Vichy government, while Gen. De Gaulle's supporters continued as a government in exile and the French Resistance pursued its underground activities.

The men from the east were demobilised and placed aboard a freighter Lieutenant St Loubert Bie to be repatriated. On 28 May 1941, the ship was apprehended by the Royal Navy off the coast of Natal and taken into Durban. The Officers were lodged at headquarters while the other ranks were taken to the Clairwood Camp, where there were already a number of Italian prisoners of war.

Diplomatic approaches from France were made, as their men being held together with enemy soldiers was considered inappropriate. The response was that there were no other facilities, and orders had been given that they were to be considered not as POWs but as guests of the Government.

At least some were transferred to the Pietermaritzburg Camp, noted for the building of the stone church by Italian POWs at Epworth. It may have been intended for the men to be sent home, but evidently the state of the war made this impossible.

So, remote from home and from France, one can imagine their lives in the camp to have been miserable and debilitating. During the course of their detention (1941/2), 16 men died. The causes are not recorded for us. Grave sites were made available at a military cemetery on Stella Road (the old Voortrekker route), at Hillary. This valley site has a stone memorial cross with bronze sword, with rows of graves of Allied servicemen of all races.

The Indo-Chinese graves are on one side of the valley. There is a layout diagram, but no gravestones were provided, nor any other delineation on the ground surface.

During the 1970s, le Souvenir Français took the initiative to honour the memory of these soldiers. A granite-clad pillar was erected together with a "stele", a stainless steel column. The inscription is in French only, with the sixteen names.

A commemorative unveiling was held, with participation by the S A Defence Force. The Vietnamese are predominantly Buddhist, and the majority of Christians there are Catholic. Hence the partici-pation of Father Theobald as well as Mr van Loon of the local Buddhist Society on the programme.

NATAL MERCURY 19.12.1979

It was a hot day, and there was some unhappiness at the fact that the newspaper articles overemphasised one of men on duty fainting, above the significance of the event.

So although the men had missed the battlefields of Europe, their homeland was to be beset by conflict for many decades. This is summarised as follows.

In conclusion, is there something to be done with this piece of history and at the memorial site itself? Many questions were asked about this little known piece of World War 2 history which touched the shores of Kwa Zulu Natal.

The Main Talk was given by Steve Watt, an expert on The Vaalkrans Battle of the ABW, in tribute to Ken Gillings, who was to have given the same talk "Vaalkrans- Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory" on this night.

Unfortunately the content of this presentation is not available at the time of publishing this newsletter

After lively discussion, the speakers were thanked for their deeply researched and well presented talks, by Prof. Philip Everitt.

The audience was thanked for their attendance, reminded of the two talks that will be given on the 9th February and wished a safe journey home.

Roy Bowman

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South African Military History Society /