South African Military History Society

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Terry Leaver's August curtain raiser lecture was titled "Perspectives on the life and death of T.E. Lawrence" deliberately avoided focusing on Lawrence's famous exploits in the desert war.

His father was Sir Thomas Chapman, an Irish aristocrat and landowner who was married with 4 daughters. He and 18-year old Sarah Lawrence (employed in 1879 as governess for the 4 daughters) engaged in an affair which led to the birth of an illegitimate son in 1885. The scandal caused by this event led to Sir Thomas abandoning his wife and daughters and fleeing to England, where he led an itinerant life, assuming Sarah's surname for the family when in the public eye. In 1888 a second illegitimate son was born in Wales he was called Thomas Edward and nicknamed "Ned". Eventually, 3 more sons followed. The boys only discovered the full truth of their parents relationship in 1919, after the death of their father.

In later years, and especially when TE Lawrence was himself trying to change his name and move from the Army to the Air Force and vice versa, he encountered some serious administrative problems because of the surname and birth documentation issues.

Sir Thomas eventually settled in the City of Oxford, where TE Lawrence went to school. At school he developed an intense interest in the medieval era and antiquities. Visiting castles in England, Scotland, Wales and France on his bicycle over several vacations led to a proposed study at Jesus College Oxford in 1908 of the inter-relationship of their structures. This later expanded to the Crusader castles of the Middle East, walking and cycling in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Malta as well as France. His drawing developed to enable him to show what he observed.

He learned Arabic including some dialects along the way. This was especially useful during WWI (thanks RT!) as he was used by British Intelligence to contact Bedouin tribes and obtain their assistance in a guerilla campaign aimed at denying the Turks (as proxies of the Germans) the use of the Hejaz railway, which ran from Damascus to Medina. The Bedouin cooperation was given with the belief that they would retain control of their own territories in return. This contribution was however ignored at the post-war conferences which saw France take over Syria, Jordan granted to the Hashemites and Iraq to the Faisals.

Lawrence felt completely betrayed by the results of the Conferences. He withdrew from society and changed his name to "Ross", then to "Shaw", after which he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. In a private interview with King George he rejected his awards of a DSO and Knighthood to show his shame that Britain had betrayed the Arabs who helped overthrow the Ottoman enemy.

But he did assist Winston Churchill a great deal for 2 years in the later part of the 1920s by working on projects to settle the political future of the Middle East.

He loved riding and owning very fast motor bikes. On one of his Brough Superiors, in May of 1936 he made a short, local journey from his cottage to the post office and collided whilst trying to avoid a cyclist. He died in hospital 6 days later. His mother was in China at a Mission and on receiving the sad news she simply asked that he be buried in a nearby church. The little village of Moreton was selected.

The full version of the lecture is in "Selected interesting past lectures" on the website.

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Visits, tours and conferences of interest

There is a detailed notice on the website for the following event:
International Conference from 9-11 October 2019 at the War Museum of the Boer Republics, Bloemfontein.
Re-imagining the Anglo-Boer War: New perspectives 120 years down the line.
Contact Vicky Heunis: Tel: +27 (0) 51 447 3447 / +27 51 447 0079 or at

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Recruiting for the Society

Instead of a curtain raiser on Thursday 12 September, David Scholtz led an open forum on how to increase membership of the Society in general and attendance at Johannesburg lectures in particular. He mentioned reaching out to retirement villages and having a brochure to distribute at museums as potential future actions.

The suggestion of starting the lectures at 17h30 so members could attend straight from work received support from 20% while retaining the current 20h00 start received support from 50% of the audience.

Suggestions from the floor included:
approaching the Universities' history departments for speakers;
holding a one-day symposium on a theme;
better use of Social Media;
having a short introductory lecture course;
even providing cake with the tea!

Members are invited to e-mail further suggestions to or speak to a committee member.

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The Main Lecture was by Gil Jacobs on "Radar - How awareness of the unseen helped to win a war".

The electromagnetic spectrum extends from radiation with very long waves to radiation with very short waves. From the longest waves to the shortest we have: radio, microwave, infra-red, visible light, x-rays, ultra-violet and gamma rays.

Visible light forms but a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. We see because our eyes are sensitive to visible light. We cannot sense radio waves or microwaves at all. (High intensity microwave radiation can harm us, as can x-rays, ultra-violet rays and gamma rays.)

Sir Robert Watson-Watt, who was generally considered to be "The Father of Radar" , was a descendant of James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine. When Arnold "Skip" Wilkins and Robert Watson-Watt were asked to investigate rumours of a German "death ray" based on radio, Wilkins said that this was an impossibility. He then suggested that radio waves might be used to detect enemy aircraft.

On the 26th February 1935 Watson-Watt and Wilkins demonstrated that they could detect aeroplanes with radio waves which were reflected from them.

The British researchers built what became known as the Chain Home system. This was a chain of radar masts along the south and east coast of Britain which could estimate the distance, azimuth and height of incoming aircraft fairly accurately. Radar made it possible to know where and when the Luftwaffe were coming. It was thus possible for the British to deploy their fighters in the right place and at the right time. Without radar they would have had to spread their limited number of aircraft along the entire coastline.

Radar became more accurate as the war progressed. The Chain Home system used wavelengths of about 12 metres, but it became possible to make radar with a wavelength of 10 centimetres. As frequency and wavelength are inversely related, this meant that generation of very high frequencies was needed. The power of the signals also had to be very high. The device which made this possible was the cavity magnetron which was first used to generate radar frequencies at the University of Birmingham on the 21st February 1940. (Today every microwave oven has a cavity magnetron.)

In 1940 the British decided to share their secret knowledge with the Americans because the latter had the resources to develop it further. One of these secrets was the cavity magnetron which was taken to America under great security. The result was that great strides were made in improving radar mainly at the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It became possible to build radar into aircraft. The aircraft so equipped included the Bristol, Beaufighter and Mosquito bombers.

The Nazi U-Boats were sinking a very large number of Allied ships each month. The outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic was crucial to the outcome of the war. U-Boats were most vulnerable on the surface of the sea. They needed to surface to travel at speed as they only managed to do 5 knots under water. They also needed to surface to run the diesel engines which charged the batteries which powered them. Airborne radars could detect U-Boats at distances of more than 30 miles.The Germans started using the schnorkel to enable batteries to be charged while a U-Boat was submerged. It did not take long for radar to become sophisticated enough for the schnorkel to be detected! The number of ships sunk by U-Boats fell dramatically and victory in the battle of the Atlantic was possible.

The uses of radar in peacetime are too many to mention. Among these uses are:-

A final thought from Louis Brown:-
" 'The bomb may have ended the war but radar won it.'
This was the comment of many radar workers in August 1945 when the news of the atomic bomb upstaged the release of public knowledge of the MIT Radiation Laboratory, planned as a cover story for Time."

The full version of the lecture is in "Selected interesting past lectures" on the website.

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Day Trip to Irene

On Sunday 29th September about 20 members visited the Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery. David Scholtz spoke at the cemetery, referring to Johanna "Hansie" van Warmeloo's books about her experiences there as a volunteer nurse when six at a time were allowed to help at the camp. After two months the British stopped the volunteers. A tad over 1000 children and 150 adults are interred in this area which is today within a secure area of a leafy suburb.

The layout today is stylised, with pairs of headstones inscribed both back and front, set in patches to resemble graves but listing 12 to 16 names in alphabetical order per set. Memorial walls list names of victims 15 and younger and, separately, those older than 15. Sadly some children had not even been named or - very important in those days - christened. Original marker rocks and inscribed slates are also kept on site. While the cemetery is beautifully maintained and there were flowers from a Heritage Day service on many of the stones, it was still a sad reminder of terrible days. The group continued to the Jan Smuts House Museum for lunch. Some went to the top of the nearby hill where Oom Jannie went to contemplate, some went into the Museum. Once again we were reminded of what this unique man did for our country.

Thanks are due to David and Peter Scholtz for sponsoring and leading the trip.

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The Society's condolences are extended to the families and friends of Mrs Meryl Kinsey and Rod Bickley (both were life members) and Steve Watt of KZN on their recent passing.

Joan Marsh
Stand-in scribe

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


Ditsong Museum next to Zoo at 8pm

KZN in Durban:


Rosedale Complex


at the EP Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Street.

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Branch contact details

For Cape Town details contact Carl Burger 082 333 2706
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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