South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 514
February 2019

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


The first meeting of 2019 was opened by the Chairman Charles Whiteing who, after the usual announcements, requested Roy Bowman to give a run down of the proposed Ken Gillings Memorial Tour. The tour will be held over the Saturday and Sunday of 4th and 5th May 2019 and will be a tour of some of the Military sites around Durban. There will be more info in next month's Newsletter.

We were then treated to a fantastic DVD clip of Britain prior to the First World War. The economy, class divisions and abject poverty that prevailed during the Victorian and Georgian era's in Britain and Europe, led directly to the conditions were conducive to an unavoidable conflict. This was illustrated vividly by the Woman's Suffragette movement and their goals of gaining the vote and equal pay for equal work.

After a short break the Chairman introduced the speaker for the Main Talk, Robin Smith.

Robin Smith's talk was in the form of his usual illustrated presentation. It concerned the event that triggered the Great War of 1914-18, the assassination of the heir to the Austrian Habsburg throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia on 28 June 1914. The assassin was a young Bosnian Serb, a Habsburg citizen, Gavrilo Princip, who was a member of a conspiracy organised by a Serbian secret society, the Black Hand. The immediate reaction in Austria to this criminal act is described in an extract from Alexander Watson's book Ring of Steel:

The other major topic of conversation was, of course, who was behind the assassinations. Right from the start, the newspapers suspected a plot with origins in Serbia. Although investigations had only just begun, already on 30 June, the Reichspost, a paper close to Franz Ferdinand, published a report claiming Serbian involvement to have been officially proven. That same evening, angry demonstrators gathered outside the Serbian embassy singing and shouting 'Down with Serbia!' They burned a Serbian flag before being moved on by police." Several nights of patriotic and anti-Serb protests followed. On 1 July a patriotic crowd marched to the Hofburg, the imperial residence, singing and shouting 'Up Austria!' before trying and failing to get close enough to the Serbian embassy to protest. On the next evening, when the bodies of the arch-ducal couple arrived in Vienna, the protestors were more determined and the mood was uglier. A whistling and boisterous crowd several thousand strong faced off police near the embassy, and a few even succeeded briefly, at around half past nine in the evening, in breaking through the cordon surrounding it. Although they were eventually persuaded to depart, more demonstrators arrived a couple of hours later and fighting broke out. Street cobbles were prised up and hurled at the patrolmen; one police horse lost an eye. The cordon had, however, been reinforced, and the crowd was unable to penetrate it. Eventually, the protestors gave up and marched instead to the Bulgarian embassy to cheer Bulgaria and shout 'Down with Serbia!' A small number headed for the Russian embassy, around which the police had, with foresight, already placed a guard. Only at one in the morning were the streets again quiet. This was not the last of the trouble, however. Only on the following evening did violence reach its peak when demonstrators returned, singing patriotic songs and armed with sticks, stones and fireworks. They confronted 500 patrolmen and 200 mounted police. The fighting was bitter. The police launched mounted charges in order to clear the streets, but again only at one in the morning did this 'patriotic' riot finally end.

The aggression of these crowds was not representative of public opinion in Vienna. The people taking part in the protests came from various walks of life, but they were all young men. While the Neue Freie Presse noticed some workers and apprentices, and blamed much of the rioting vaguely on 'half-grown boys', the core of the demonstrations was in fact, as another of Vienna's papers observed, made up of 'numerous students, office workers and members of the educated classes?" The singing of the patriotic hymn 'The Watch on the Rhine' alongside the imperial anthem may also suggest that hard-line German nationalists were among them. The numbers actively involved were relatively small, usually from 600 to 1,000 people. This was true even at the last major demonstration outside the Serbian embassy on 3 July. Then, although tens of thousands were passing through the streets near the embassy and one paper estimated the crowd at 15,000, those actually participating in the rioting totalled perhaps 800 people." Nonetheless, their violence was to some extent the prelude to a wider shift in mood, reflected in newspaper commentary, which took place in the second and third weeks of July. Public anger grew, fuelled by the Serbian press's arguments that Austria-Hungary, through its misguided policies in the Balkans, had only itself to blame for Franz Ferdinand's assassination, and by the release of evidence uncovered by the official investigation implicating the Serbian authorities in the murder. Hostilities did not yet appear likely; the Habsburg Foreign Ministry encouraged newspapers not to unsettle people with this possibility prematurely, and as late as 5 July the Hungarian Minister President, Count Tisza, told the Magyar parliament that although war with Serbia was possible, it was neither desirable nor probable." In upper- and middle-class circles, however, a wish for some sort of decisive response, even if not necessarily armed conflict, increased. By 19 July, as the government was preparing its ultimatum, even the formerly moderate Neue Freie Presse was demanding ominously that 'relations with Serbia must be clarified'.

After a long question and answer session Charles Whiteing thanked Robin for his presentation and announced the two talks for 14th February:

The DDH will be presented by Prof. Philip Everitt and is entitled "WOOD TO STEEL, SAILS TO STEAM AND BROADSIDES TO TURRETS".

Prof. Donal McCracken will give the Main Talk which is entitled "SCUM OF THE SCUM: IRISH P.O.W.'S IN THE ANGLO BOER WAR".

Once again fantastic subjects presented by very experienced presenters, not to be missed.

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