South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 516
April 2019

Contact: Charles Whiteing
Telephone: 031 764 7270
Mobile: 082 555 4689


1.0 Our April 11th meeting is also our AGM where you get the opportunity to elect the right people onto the SAMHS-KZN BRANCH Committee.

I always think back to that famous recruiting poster of WW ONE, where Field Marshall Kitchener’s eyes follow you around the room, whilst the poster extolls” YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU”. Now your Committee needs YOU. Choose correctly!

2.0 Roy Bowman attended a commemoration parade to celebrate Natal Mounted Rifles 165th year and laid a wreath at the NMR Memorial to their Fallen on 17th March 2019.

3.0 It now close to the end of March and there are still subscriptions outstanding. Please remember that only paid up members can vote.


Cape Helles

The Helles Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Memorial to the Missing is located on the promontory called Cape Helles by the British, at the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula near the small village of Sedd el Bahr in Turkey. The memorial includes the 30-meter-tall obelisk depicted above, which dominates the skyline, and can be seen from ships passing through the Dardanelles as well as from the city of Çanakkale and the ruins of ancient Troy on the other side of the water. There are inscribed on the panels that surround the base and on the low walls surrounding the obelisk 20 887 names of personnel with no known grave.

The Memorial

The site was designed by Sir John J. Burnet, a French-trained Scot, who designed many important buildings in Glasgow during its Golden Age, and became known for a style called "Burnet Baroque.” He also designed the Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum in London, for which he was knighted in 1914.

For the 25 April 1915 landings at Gallipoli the British command designated six spots on the peninsula and coded these S, V, W, X, Y, and ANZAC beaches. Cape Helles is situated between V and W beaches. These two little coves were vitally important because most of the reinforcement and resupply would have to come through them. No fools, the Turks were aware of this and so, unlike ANZAC, both sites were heavily defended.

In what was later studied as a textbook case in "how not to land an invasion force on a hostile beach," written by Lt. Col. George S. Patton in 1936 for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the British 29th Division was all but destroyed, but toeholds were gained and held due to extraordinary acts of heroism. Six Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions on V Beach that day and six more for actions on W Beach (also called "Lancashire Landing" to honor the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers).

Names shown are men of the King’s Sandringham Co. the subject of the BBC TV show All the King’s Men

Among CWGC memorials, there are some atypical aspects to the Helles site:
First, there is no cemetery attached to the memorial.
Second, there is no Book of Names.
Third, the lists include British, Indians, Newfoundlanders, Australians, and other Colonials. This is the only CWGC memorial that recognizes both British and Australians, and no other CWGC memorial has so many different groups represented.
Fourth, the lists include naval personnel lost at sea in the Gallipoli campaign, especially on the battleships destroyed on 18 March 1915.
Fifth, the lists also include personnel known to be dead but buried at sea.

John Hambidge, MBE

One of this latter group is 240 Sergeant William John Piggott, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force), 1/2nd London Field Company, attached to the 29th Division for the Gallipoli Campaign, who was from Eastleigh, Hampshire, and was a railwayman in civilian life on the London and Southwestern Railroad. Sgt Piggott died on 1 September 1915 while on a hospital ship en route to the U.K. He was the maternal grandfather of my good friend John Hambidge, MBE, of Macclesfield, Cheshire. In the photograph John has his right hand by his grandfather’s inscription. We are left to speculate as to why a railway engineering unit was sent to Gallipoli.

James Patton

At Bois de Borrus the Night Before the Meuse-Argonne

By Major Ashby Williams
Commander, First Battalion, 320th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division

The 80th Division Moves to the Front for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

AFTER THE MEN had had their coffee — I remember I drank a good swig of it, too — I gave directions that the men should get in shape to move out of the woods. Then followed one of the most horrible experiences of my whole life in the war, and one which I hope never to have to go through again. The Boche began to shell the woods. When the first one came over I was sitting under the canvas that had been still spread over the cart shafts. It fell on the up side of the woods. As I came out another one fell closer. I was glad it was dark because I was afraid my knees were shaking. I was afraid of my voice, too, and I remember I spoke in a loud voice so it would not tremble, and gave orders that Commanders should take their units to the dugouts which were less than a hundred yards away until the shelling was over, as I did not think it necessary to sacrifice any lives under the circumstances. Notwithstanding my precautions, some of the shells fell among the cooks and others who remained about the kitchens, killing some of them and wounding others.

In about twenty minutes I ordered the companies to fall in on the road by our area preparatory to marching out of the woods. They got into a column of squads in perfect order, and we had proceeded perhaps a hundred yards along the road in the woods when we came on to one of the companies of the Second Battalion which we were to follow that night. We were held there perhaps forty-five minutes while the Second Battalion ahead of us got in shape to move out. One cannot imagine the horrible suspense and experience of that wait. The Boche began to shell the woods again. There was no turning back now, no passing around the companies ahead of us, we could only wait and trust to the Grace of God.

We could hear the explosion as the shell left the muzzle of the Boche gun, then the noise of the shell as it came toward us, faint at first, then louder and louder until the shell struck and shook the earth with its explosion. One can only feel, one cannot describe the horror that fills the heart and mind during this short interval of time. You know he is aiming the gun at you and wants to kill you. In your mind you see him swab out the hot barrel, you see him thrust in the deadly shell and place the bundle of explosives in the breach; you see the gunner throw all his weight against the trigger; you hear the explosion like the single bark of a great dog in the distance, and you hear the deadly missile singing as it comes towards you, faintly at first, then distinctly, then louder and louder until it seems so loud that everything else has died, and then the earth shakes and the eardrums ring, and dirt and iron reverberate through the woods and fall about you.

This is what you hear, but no man can tell what surges through the heart and mind as you lie with your face upon the ground listening to the growing sound of the hellish thing as it comes towards you. You do not think, sorrow only fills the heart, and you only hope and pray. And when the doubly-damned thing hits the ground, you take a breath and feel relieved, and think how good God has been to you again. And God was good to us that night — to those of us who escaped unhurt. And for the ones who were killed, poor fellows, some blown to fragments that could not be recognized, and the men who were hurt, we said a prayer in our hearts.

Such was my experience and the experience of my men that night in the Bois de Borrus, but their conduct was fine. I think, indeed, their conduct was the more splendid because they knew they were not free to shift for themselves and find shelter, but must obey orders, and obey they did in the spirit of fine soldiers to the last man. After that experience I knew that men like these would never turn back, and they never did.

From Experiences of the Great War (1919)

Pétain: Verdun to Vichy

By Robert B. Bruce
Potomac Books, Inc. 2008

Lt Pétain

Marshal Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain is the great enigma of French history. The hero and savior of France in the Great War, he was the collaborator and traitor to his nation in the Second World War. Robert Bruce warns the reader in the preface that while Pétain may be most remembered for leading the Vichy government, this biography would focus on his military career. That is quite a difficult task in itself. Something Bruce wrote toward the end of the book might well have been more useful at the beginning, when he said that perhaps Pétain lived too long. He would indeed have remained a great heroic figure had he died prior to 1940, but it is the actions of one's entire life that define a person.

That said, Bruce does an excellent job presenting the life and military career of the hero of Verdun. In many ways, Pétain was the ideal model of the Third Republic's military. He was 14 years old when France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and Germany was born. That moment in the impressionable teenager's life defined who he would be. Like so many soldiers and civilians in France, vengeance against the Germans was the theme of his life for the next decades. As France the nation prepared itself to get back at Germany for the humiliation of the war that brought the birth of Germany and the creation of the French Third Republic, so too did the young Pétain.

Following all the proper steps to build a military career, the ambitious and driven Pétain studied at Saint-Cyr and the Ecole de Guerre. Service in a variety of infantry units, even teaching infantry tactics and climbing through the officers' ranks, Pétain was made general as the Great War began in that auspicious summer of 1914. Doing well in the early stages of the war, it was at Verdun that he ultimately defined himself, his talents and his love of France. As the hero of the savage slaughter that finally stopped the German onslaught, Pétain symbolized French stubborn resistance and willingness to do whatever necessary to defeat the hated Allemands.

Joffre and Pétain at Souilly Headquarters, March 1916

By the time the war ended in November 1918, Pétain was named Marshal of France and had achieved legendary if not mythical status to the people of France. The ceremony in which Pétain received his marshal's baton took place in Metz, under the statue of another great French marshal, Napoleon's ablest subordinate, Michel Ney. Attaining the honour in Lorraine, finally regained from Germany, made it glorious to the utmost.

In some ways, the last third of Bruce's book then reads almost as if it were an afterthought. A dozen or so pages describing those profoundly significant years between the wars (in the middle of which the book's photographs are placed) and then the last pages are devoted to the fall of France, Vichy, and the final years of Pétain's life. Professor Bruce warned the reader in the preface that this would be the case, and in fact he does a nice job in the pages devoted to this part of the story, but naturally the reader wants more. As the series description on the back of the book notes, part of the purpose of the series is to encourage further study, and that it certainly does.

Still, for a relatively brief examination of a remarkable and controversial figure, Robert Bruce's little biography of Marshal Pétain is quite good, especially for readers with more military than political interest in the man, and most particularly for those more interested in the Great War than the Second. Pétain, like most of the entries in Dennis Showalter's Military Profiles series, is an excellent piece and a very good place to begin learning about Pétain.

Reviewed by James Thomas

Charles L. Graves, ed.
Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1919
(Current reprints available)

One of the best-known humor and satire magazines in Britain was Punch , or, The London Charivari. It ran from 1841 until 1992, with a brief resurrection from 1996 to 2002. In its heyday it helped coin the term "cartoon" with its clever and sometimes scathing illustrations. Its prose style was informal for the times and could happily rip apart pretense and hypocrisy. The title was taken from the "Punch and Judy" puppet or marionette shows dating back to the 1600s, and Mr Punch, the hook-nosed curmudgeon of those shows, is also the main character in the magazine. Often including poetry, John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" was first published anonymously in the 8 December 1915 edition of Punch. Punch flourished during the Great War, and the magazine was more than ready to cover the conflict: Though a lover of peace, Mr Punch from his earliest days has not been unfamiliar with war. He was born during the Afghan campaign; in his youth England fought side by side with the French in the Crimea; he saw the old Queen bestow the first Victoria Crosses in 1857. . . Later on again he had watched, not without grave misgiving, the growth of the great Prussian war machine which crushed Denmark, overthrew Austria, and having isolated France, overwhelmed her heroic resistance by superior numbers and science, and stripped her of Alsace-Lorraine.

This prologue introduces almost 300 pages of month-by-month commentary, including cartoons and poetry, summing up events for each month in Punch's unique and patriotic style. August 1914 opens thus:

Four weeks ago we stood on the verge of the great upheaval and knew it not. We were thinking of holidays; of cricket and golf and bathing, and then were plunged in the deep waters of the greatest of all Wars.

The month includes a one-page cartoon of a small, defiant boy with a small stick defending a gate marked "No Thoroughfare" being threatened by a large man with a huge cudgel, curved pipe in his mouth, and large sausages dangling from one pocket — obviously Germany — with the caption "Bravo, Belgium!"

Each month through November 1918 is similarly dealt with in four or five pages, with some three to five cartoons plus verse, and the book concludes with a retrospective epilogue that also looks forward to the year ahead. You could get a lot of enjoyment just browsing through the cartoons,but be warned that some of them contain a distinctly British sense of humour.

Typical of Punch's commentary as it follows the war's events is that of December 1915:

Things have not been going well in the East. The Allies have been unable to save Serbia, Monastir has fallen, and our lines have been withdrawn to Salonika. The experts are now divided into two camps, the Westerners and the Easterners, and the former, pointing to the evacuation of Gallipoli, are loud in their denunciations of costly "side-shows".

Yet the fortitude of the British soldier must also be emphasized, or in the words of Mr Punch "The 'philosophy of Thomas' is inscrutable… and he derives satisfaction from comparisons:"

If we're standin' in two feet o' water, you see
Quite likely the Boches are standin' in three;
An' though the keen frost may be ticklin' our toes,
'Oo doubts that the Boches' 'ole bodies is froze?

An accompanying cartoon shows a wounded and bandaged (but ever-generous) Tommy berating a German prisoner with "Look what you done to me, you blighters! 'Ere-'ave a cigarette?". The beginning of the Somme battle is treated in the same phlegmatic manner in July's entry for 1916:

... July has brought us a new experience - the sound fifty or sixty miles inland in peaceful, rural England, amid glorious midsummer weather, of the continual throbbing night and day of the great guns on the Somme, where our first great offensive opened on the 1st, and has continued with solid and substantial gains, some set-backs, heavy losses for the Allies, still heavier for the enemy.

A full-page cartoon for the same month shows a laughing Tommy bandaging his own wrist wound with his rifle in the crook of his arm and a German helmet pinned on the bayonet, the caption below stating in all capitals: WELL DONE, THE NEW ARMY. The following month, August, includes a short poem "from an R.F.C. man":

Returning from my morning fly
I met a Fokker in the sky,
And, judging from its swift descent,
It had a nasty accident.
On thinking further on the same
I rather fear I was to blame.

Back in August 1915 the magazine had complained that “The war of Notes goes on with unabated energy between Germany and the U.S.A.” and also recorded that “Mr Winston Churchill, the greatest of our quick-change political artists, is said to be devoting his leisure to landscape painting. The school that he favours is not publicly stated.” However, April 1917 finds Mr Punch less tongue-in-cheek when he reports that
Once more the rulers of Germany have failed to read the soul of another nation. They thought there was no limit to America’s forbearance, and they thought wrong. America is now ‘all in’ on the side of the Allies. The Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack are flying side by side over the Houses of Parliament. On the motion introduced in both Houses to welcome our new ally, Mr Bonar Law… declared that the New World had stepped in to redress the balance of the old; Mr. Asquith… lauded the patience which had enabled President Wilson to carry with him a untied nation; and Lord Curzon quoted Bret Harte.

A drawing of a huge eagle, talons outstretched and swooping away from the Statue of Liberty, accompanies this month’s entry.

Thus it goes with Mr Punch, as this engaging volume follows the course of the Great War with popular historical analysis, humour, irony, many telling cartoons and plenty of poetry — much of it moving and clever. I can recommend Mr Punch’s History of the Great War to anyone who would enjoy a chronicle of the War laced with the wit and wisdom that was available to the British reader on the home front.

Reviewed by David F. Beer

5.0 The programme for APRIL is Below.

11th April
DDH “Experiences at and after Sidi Rezegh – I was there” - Steve Herbert
MAIN “First In and Last Out”. - Maj. “Ampie” Mouton - Carl Mouton

9th May
DDH “Details on Enigma”(working title)- George Oliver
MAIN “German Military Transport in WW2” - Charles Whiteing

13th June
DDH “The Bruneval Raid – Operation Biting” - Darryll Abboo
MAIN “Rose Milicent Vandecar – Florence Nightingale Medal recipient” - Nora Simpson


Preparations are well in hand for the 2019 KGM Tour which will take to some of the military sites in and around Durban over the week-end of 4th / 5th May 2019.

Please contact Roy Bowman for further information or if you would like to put your name down for this tour.


The Chairman Charles Whiteing opened the meeting, apologising for the need to change the venue at short notice, in the interests of safety due to the protests taking place at the UKZN Howard College Complex. After some housekeeping announcements he invited Roy Bowman to talk about the branch’s forthcoming KEN GILLINGS MEMORIAL TOUR, which will be held on 4th and 5th May 2019 and will take in the World War 2 historical sites in and around Durban.

Donald Davies then presented his talk on the UmkomaasKittyhawk crash site but unfortunately his talk is not available at this time.

After a short break for refreshment the speaker for the Main Talk Clive Wilsworth was invited to tell the audience about “The Key to Jerusalem – South African Artillery in Palestine”.

This subject was dealt with at great length taking in the formation of the South African Artillery and its different forms forced by the shortage of guns from Britain because of the need for the guns on the Western Front. Up to the move of the Artillery to Egypt to assist in the putting down of the Senussi Rebellion and on to Palestine, ending in the entry into Jerusalem. “The Key to Jerusalem” was explained at length by Clive, as the hill that the SA Artillery were sited on, that overlooked Jerusalem, giving clear siting of the targets, in case there was a need.

After an intense question and answer session the Chairman invited Dr John Cooke to propose the meetings Vote of Thanks to both Speakers.

The Chairman then announced the subjects for 11th April’s meeting as DDH “Experiences at and after SidiRezegh- I was there” by Steve Herbert. MAIN “First in Last out – Maj. Ampie Mouton in WW2” by Carl Mouton.

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South African Military History Society /