South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 168

September 2018

The August meeting took place on the 13th at the usual venue in Port Elizabeth.

The members’ slot was used by Andre Crozier to give a short slide presentation on the recent field trip to the north-eastern Cape. See the report below.

The curtain raiser was given by Gerda Coetzee on Die Ystervrou agter die Generaal: Nonnie de la Rey. Gerda provided the following summary which is the abstract from a 2003 Master’s thesis, Nonnie de la Rey 1856 – 1923, by Zelda Rowan done at the University of Pretoria. The full thesis may be viewed at:

In her lifetime Jacoba Elizabeth (Nonnie) de la Rey, née Greeff (1856-1923) was widely known not only for being the wife of the eminent General Koos de la Rey, but also for her exceptional tenacity during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). From December 1900 to the conclusion of the war in May 1902 she and her children lived a nomadic life. Nonnie's experiences were recorded in her memoirs, Mijne omzwervingen en beproevingen gedurende den oorlog, which were published in Amsterdam in 1903. Shortly thereafter – also in 1903 – the English edition, A woman's wanderings and trials during the Anglo-Boer War, as translated by Lucy Hotz, was published in London. The 18 months that Nonnie spent wandering through the country probably constitute the most important phase of her life, but she experienced a great deal more, which she recorded in another memoir.

Her childhood and pioneer's life are well documented. At the age of eighteen Nonnie met Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey; they were married on 24 October 1876 and settled in the vicinity of Lichtenburg.

The period from 1880 to 1899 constitute a kaleidoscope of events in Nonnie's life, for example the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881), the loss of Nonnie's father and mother, and a move to the farm Elandsfontein. The Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899. Nonnie's life during the war years can be divided into two phases, namely the period when she lived in Lichtenburg (October 1899 to November 1900), and the period characterised as her wandering years (December 1900 to May 1902).

Events in Nonnie de la Rey's life from 1902 to 1923 include their official visit to Europe, the restoration of Elandsfontein, Union (1910) and Koos de la Rey's political involvement, the Rebellion of 1914 and the death of Koos de la Rey. In her final years Nonnie was involved with various organisations. She was an eminent presence in her community, being revered as a ‘volksmoeder’ by her compatriots. She died in 1923.

The main lecture,titled Does the Band Play On? was by Melanie Hillebrand on her service as a bandswoman in the Natal Carbineers from 1978 to 1983. The band featured prominently in both the regimental and social life in Pietermaritzburg. Performances at concerts in city parks, exercising Freedom of Entry to various towns and cities, regimental and civic dinners and Remembrance Services were common features of service in the Band.  Melanie’s band service included being involved in the making of films of the Anglo-Zulu War Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1977)and the centenary commemoration of the Battle of Isandhlwana.  The lively insights she gave of some of the colourful musicians in the band and the leading role that many of them played in the city were well received by the audience.

Report on the SAMHSEC field trip which took place from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th August.

Twenty-four members of the Society and their guests convened at Cradock on Friday morning. The first place visited was the Cradock cemetery where Steven Mullineux led a guided walk to military and military associated graves. From there the tour proceeded to the beautiful NG Moederkerk in Stockenström Street,where we were addressed by Wilna de Klerk on the history of the church building and the NG congregation. The group split up for lunch; some visiting the Cradock Club where several fascinating items of military interest could be viewed. Before leaving the town we visited the Cradock War Memorial, now within the extended Spar complex. Regrettably the 40mm Bofors LAA Gun, which was part of the memorial, is no longer with it. The best information that could be obtained on the spot is that this publicly owned artefact is now in ‘someone’s back yard’.

The group moved to Tarkastad, where the well conserved war memorial and the cemetery were visited and symbolic poppies were placed upon all the military graves. We moved to Blanco Guest Farm, where a convivial evening and comfortable night were spent.

Tarkastad War Memorial.
Photo: Anne Irwin

Early on Saturday morning, we met our guide for the day, Marie Pretorius, in Molteno and visited the cemetery where several casualties of the Anglo-Boer War are interred. From there we proceeded to Vegkoppies Farm, the site of the Battle of Stormberg and to the Stormberg Blockhouse, where we had lunch at the Plaaskombuis. The group returned to Blanco for the night where wine and supper were enjoyed in fine company.

On Sunday morning we travelled through the Baviaans Valley to look at sites relevant to the 1820 Settlers Scottish Party and the Eildon Church, where Thomas Pringle’s remains are interred. Finally we visited sites relating to the Slagtersnek Uprising and hence to home. The tour,during which the rich military history of the north-eastern Cape was blended with thoroughly pleasant social bonding of our members, was a great success. Much appreciation was expressed to Malcolm Kinghorn and Ian Pringle who put it together.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next regular meeting will be on Monday 10th September at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Cape Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. While the curtain raiser has not yet been finalised, the main lecture will be by Jenny Laws on The History and work of the SAPS Air Wing.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

New member

SAMHSEC welcomes Doug Walters back to the Society. We hope it will be a fulfilling and happy experience. We hope to see you and Sue on future field trips, and at regular meetings when you can manage it.

Jonathan Ossher offered the following interesting contribution:
Starting in 1940, an increasing number of British and Canadian Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape. Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of 'safe houses' where a POW on-the-run could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks – they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in MI-5 (similar to America’s OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, be unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever. At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort. By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the board game Monopoly. As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified for insertion into CARE packages, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany, Italy, France, or wherever Allied POW camps were located. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add: