South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926



The 2019 AGM is just around the corner and we invite all members to come forward, to be involved by joining the committee and helping the Society to grow.

Two of our current committee members have indicated that they will not be able to stand for re-election. Any member who is interested in assisting and helping the committee please can you get hold of Carl Burger.

The committee met on the 12 February 2019 and compiled the proposed talks for the year to August.

April – Dr JRT Wood – The Rhodesian War.

May – Dr R Stewart – Eastern Frontier War or Anglo/Boer War.

June – Dr S Cullis – Allied D-Day landings at Normandy.

July – Mrs B George – Uniforms of the Napoleonic Era with special reference to the Battle of Blaauwberg.

August – Mr R Adams – The U-Boat War of World War II.

All the talks promise to be exciting and we hope you will join us.


February 2019 Talk: 1922 -A Greek Family, The Hellenic Community and Refuges in a new Society - Gabriel Athiros.

Our speaker on 13 February 2019 was Mr Gabriel Athiros, the editor of the Cape Odyssey and well-known publisher of books related to the history of the Cape and its many shipwrecks. His topic was his family history and the Greco-Turkish war 1919 -1922. He introduced his PowerPoint presentation by pointing out the earlier genocides of the 20th century: the Herero’s, Nama and San people in German South West Africa 1904 – 1908, the Armenian genocide 1910 -1917 and Greeks in Turkey in 1922 are scarcely remembered today.

Mr Athiros outlined his family history which he has only recently traced. His paternal grandparents lived in Constantinople (Istanbul). He explained that his father Panagiotis (Peter) Athiros had quarreled with his father and left for America. During the Spanish Civil War Peter Athiros served in the Abraham Lincoln battalion of the International Brigade. He was taken prisoner and so badly beaten that he had scars on his back for the rest of his life.

By 1943 Panagiotis was working for Shell Oil, in Freetown in Sierra Leone, where he contracted cerebral malaria. The British sent him to Cape Town for medical treatment where he met his future wife. In 1945 he returned to marry and settle in Cape Town. While working on a cold storage installation 3½ years later, in Beaufort West, he died of a brain haemorrhage. Peter Athiros’ passport and other documents had gone missing. All the family had was a death certificate.

Eventually after a 40-year search Gabriel discovered his first cousin via the internet. This was after visiting the Cape Archives, going to Greece, and pleading with Alpha Television in Greece. In the end the Cape Archives came through. He was shocked to discover that his father had been born in Constantinople and not Athens as first suspected. His cousin Vasilis Gabriel Athiros confirmed the family connection.

At the end of the first world war the victorious allies signed separate peace treaties with the defeated Central Powers. The Treaty of Sevrés with Turkey was signed on 10 August 1920. In terms of the treaty Turkey was divided among the allied forces with Greece apportioned parts of Asia Minor including Smyrna (Izmir)

Mustafa Kemel, the Turkish army’s war hero, correctly judged the mood of the Turkish people and initiated a conference at Balikshehir which was followed by another at Erzerum in July 1919. Resolutions declaring that Turkish land was inviolable and rejecting foreign mandates were approved. Attempts by the Sultan to have Mustafa Kemel arrested failed and support in the Turkish National Movement spread. In April 1920 a grand National Assembly met at Ankara and became Constituent assembly for the new Turkish state with Mustafa Kemel as its president.

On 15 May 1919 Greek troops landed at Smyrna to protect the local Greek population. Fighting broke out and all save 350 Turks were killed. This, in turn boosted Turkish nationalism.

The sudden death of King Alexander I of Greece, who was poisoned when he was bitten by his pet monkey, on 25 October 1920 transformed their elections which took place soon afterwards into a contest between the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and the dead king’s exiled father, King Constantine. Venizelos was defeated and forced into exile and King Constantine was returned. By then Greek enthusiasm for the Megali idea – the great idea – the unification of all areas of Greek settlement in the near East within a single state, was so great that King Constantine, who realised how dangerous the war might be, had no choice but to support it.

Britain, France and Italy opposed King Constantine’s return. France and Italy entered into trade agreements with nationalist Turkey and withdrew their troops.

On 20 June 1920 the Greek army advanced into Anatolia and Thrace. Turkey obtained funds from Russia and purchased weapons and supplies from Italy and France.

In the Greco-Turkish war there was much hard fighting which ended on 26 August 1922 when the Greek army was forced to withdraw to Smyrna and then to Greece.

On 13 September 1922 Turkish forces on horseback set fire to and destroyed most of the Greek, Armenian and European quarters of Smyrna. The Turks forced the Greek population of Smyrna to the quay.

Mr Athiros went on to describe the horrors of the genocide of the Greeks in Smyrna which included tragically women and children, and the burning of the city. In a matter of two weeks it was estimated that 200 000 Greeks lost their lives. A journalist reported that the waterways of Smyrna were so clogged with bodies that ships could not navigate.

[The Greek Massacre at Smyrna - title of image]

In July 1923 the Turkish government and the first world war allies signed a new peace treaty at Lausanne.

[The Death March - title of image]

Mr Ian van Oordt thanked Mr Athiros for his talk which was of particular interest to the members because it covered a period of history with which most of us are unfamiliar and presented him with the customary gift.




The First Anglo-Boer War was considered to be a small war and, in intent, it was. But its consequences evolved into the follow-on larger Second Anglo-Boer War.

Following the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806 the English decided to establish a permanent base in the Cape while the Dutch settlers increasingly abandoned the Cape and trekked into the largely unexplored interior. This led to the establishment of numerous Boer Republics; most determined to maintain their independence.

After the discovery of diamonds and gold, British interest in the Boer Republics heightened enormously, with Lord Carnarvon, the British Colonial Secretary strongly advocating a Confederation of Southern African States which the Boers rejected with contempt. Steadily the dark clouds of war began to gather menacingly.

Alan Mountain, our Vice Chairman, needs no introduction. Alan over the years has produced many audio-visual presentations and all have been well-presented and researched. In making this presentation Alan toured the Majuba Battle site.

Alan has a keen interest in South African military history which includes the Eastern Frontier Wars but he is particularly keen on the battles of the Boer Wars. Having spent a good part of his life in Kwa-Zulu Natal he has toured most of the battle sites in the area.



Cut off by sanctions in late 1965, the Rhodesians were forced to improvise in most fields and met the challenge in some extra-ordinary ways, taming the landmine, for example.

Richard Wood was born in Bulawayo. He is a graduate of Rhodes and Edinburgh universities. He was a Commonwealth Scholar and the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Research Fellow at the University of Rhodesia and thereafter held a personal chair at the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Alexandrian Defence Group.

Richard is a well-known author on military history - books he has published include: The War Diaries of André Dennison;
Counter-Strike from the Sky: The Rhodesian All-Arms Fireforce in the War in the Bush: 1974–1980;
Africa@War Volume 1: Operation Dingo: Rhodesian Raid on Chimoio and Tembué, 1977 and
Volume 5: Zambezi Valley Insurgency: Early Rhodesian Bush War Operations.

Fortunate to have sole access to the then closed papers of Sir Roy Welensky, he wrote The Welensky Papers: A History of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland: 1953–1963.


Ian van Oordt (Secretary)
021 531 6612 Cell: 076 315 7713

South African Military History Society /