South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 497
July 2017

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


The Chairman, Mr. Roy Bowman, welcomed all present to the KZN Branch monthly meeting and exhorted visitors to consider joining the Society. The announcements were made which included the Annual KEN GILLINGS MEMORIAL TOUR, which is due to take place over the week-end of 19th and 20th August 2017, taking in the Northern Battlefields of the Anglo Zulu War. The meeting was reminded of the visit by General Roland de Vries on 8th July 2017 to NMR H.Q. where he will talk on the development of the Ratel and development of mobile warfare. He will also discuss his experiences with 61 Mech. Battalion.

The Chairman then invited Major Mark Levin to tell the Branch about "Reggie Walker; Durban's own Olympic hero and World War One veteran."

Reginald (Reggie) Walker was born in Durban on 16th March 1889 and lived close to Lords Ground Athletic Track in the Stamford Hill area. Every afternoon, after school, he would be seen making his way down to the track to practice.

Reggie impressed local businessmen who set up a fund to further his career, becoming the South African 100Metre Champion and he was eventually chosen, at the age of 19 to represent South Africa at the 1908 Olympic Games, which was to be held in London. Reggie lacked the funds to travel to London and a local sportswriter collected enough money to pay for his boat fare to the UK. In England he was coached by the famous Sam Mussabini.

Several of the big names in the 100 metre field did not qualify for the final but Walker did. His first round was a relatively easy victory, run in 11.0 seconds. In the second round, Walker edged out William W. May of the USA, while tying the Olympic record of 10.8 seconds. This qualified him for the final. There he competed against three North Americans, including James Rector of the United States, who had equalled the Olympic Record in both of the qualifier rounds. Walker beat Rector in the final by about a foot and a half.

Walker is still the youngest winner of the Olympic 100 metres at the age of 19 and 128 days.

From 1909, when Walker returned to Durban, until 1914, Walker appears to have dropped from the world.

In 1914 Reggie attested for service with the Kimberley Regiment and served in the South West Africa Campaign and then volunteered to serve in the European Theatre. It is remembered that he rose to the rank of Corporal and because of his running speed was used as a messenger. Reggie received a head-wound and was invalided to England and eventually back home to South Africa where he once again dropped out of sight, although there is record that he reported that his Olympic Blazer and some of his medals from the First World War had been stolen.

When South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939, Reggie Walker was quick to volunteer his services but unfortunately failed the medical, due to his head wound.

Reggie appears to have lived with various members of his family up until his death on 5th November 1951. There were many questions regarding this reclusive hero.

After a short break the monthly draw for the Raffle took place and was won by Margaret Buchan.

The Main Talk was delivered by Professor Donal McCracken and was entitled, "Ireland remembers and disremembers the Anglo Boer War".

Irish nationalism was once again on the rise during the latter half of the 1890's and the organisers latched onto England's war of the time, The Anglo Boer War. Rhetoric that was used to gain favour within the Irish population on the side of the Boers was terms like, "•My enemy's enemy is my friend" and "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity" plus the use of Public meetings and inflammatory pamphlets and use of the so called yellow press.

Recruiting took place for an Irish force to travel to South Africa to assist the Boers in their fight against the English. Much use was made of Heritage issues and these men were named "Joubert's Fenian's". Contact was made with the Irish Miners on the Rand and money was collected to equip them and form their own commando. A price of £10 000 was put on the head of Cecil John Rhodes and was payable to anyone who was able to assasinate him as he was epitomized as the "Englishman that all Irishmen must detest".

The result was the most successful & most violent of the European pro-Boer movements, IRISH TRANSVAAL COMMITTEE. This powerful group met in 32 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, the rooms of the Gaelic Literary Society and consisted of such dissidents as John O'Leary, Michael Davitt, James Connelly, Willie Redmond and Maud Gonne. There were rumours that the poet W.B. Yeats was also involved but this was never substanciated.

On the other side of the coin, there was much support for the Irish regiments with the British Army who did stirling work during the ABW.

After many of interesting questions and answers General Chris le Roux was called upon to present the Vote of Thanks of the audience to our speakers and present them with a gift to remember the occasion.

The Chairman then announced the two talks for the meeting on 13th July 2017.
The DDH is to be presented by fellow member Dr. Duncan Drew and is entitled "Kohima / Imphal: The Battle of the Tennis Court".

The main Talk will be presented by Robin Tarr and is entitled "D. Day, Normandy revisited".

The Chairman closed the meeting and wished all a safe journey home.

Roy Bowman

* * * * * * *

South African Military History Society /