South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 174

March/Maart 2019

The February 2019 meeting took place in Port Elizabeth on Monday 11th at the usual venue.

The members’ slot was taken up by Andre Crozier who took the occasion ahead of the Main Lecture dealing with the subject to do a visual presentation on the Enigma coding machine which was used during WW2 by the British to decode the messages sent out by the German forces. In viewing the pictures in relation to the present day technologies is use it is amazing to note the advancements. The machine itself resembles the old one time cash tills used by far flung rural dealers more than 60 years ago!

Curtain Raiser – Capt. Agnes Martin MBE by Ken Munro

Agnes was Ken’s aunt and died in 1995 aged 85 years. In 1944 was the first of two women in South Africa to be honoured at a medal parade where she received the award from NJ De Wet representing King George V1

Ken added that his sister in clearing out her cottage fortunately removed a paper drawer lining to discover an old brown OHMS envelope containing some newspaper cuttings, a photograph and neatly folded in half the MBE certificate now safely framed. Also in the drawer was a box containing her MBE medal. Had my sister not removed the lining the history of the award would never have been with us today.

Perusing numerous papers in the file from her Commanding Officers in Pretoria, it became aware she volunteered in 1940 for the Signals corp. of the Women’s Auxiliary Armed Service as a 2nd Lieut. She was transferred to Cape Town where she was quickly promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain, and then served as Personal Aid to the Chief of Staff in SA Government responsible for sending and receiving secret coded messages to and from London. In 1942 she received orders to report for special duties in London, and on arrival reported to the London Metropolitan Police.

Then started twenty four years of research into why Capt. Agnes Martin had been awarded MBE’s and why the secrecy? The South African War records office advised Ken to contact the British office and they in turn advised him to contact the South African office which drew a blank.

Gagga as she was known in the family had kept Winston Churchill’s instructions not to discuss her wartime experiences for 50 years and they sure knew how to obey instructions in those days! No one in the family had any idea and sadly most had already passed on. So there was no help from that angle. A chance overnight stay in Barrydale and discussion with the owner, whose Rhodesian mother had also received an MBE, but with full citation, led to a fellow resident, Commander Mike Waugh RN retired, a noted naval historian, who put him onto the Bletchley Park road as he believed that the instruction to report to the “London Metropolitan Police” was a code that on arrival would be taken to Bletchley, probably for special Morse code experience.

One Saturday, fiddling on “Google” (which had not been available when I started) Ken happened upon a website “Royal Archives in the Round Tower in Winsor Castle”. Surely if Queen Mary, then the Grand Master of the Order, and King George VI had both signed the original Certificate, there must be some record of why they had been so recognised. He then immediately sent a letter asking for help in his quest. Imagine his absolute delight when on the 11th November, Armistice Day, 2014 he received a letter advising that Capt. Martin had this citation on her award. It read:
“This Officer organised and developed the Defence Union teleprinter communications. She has been in the service since the commencement of war. Her devotion to duty, outstanding efficiency, and her readiness to give assistance to all is beyond praise. It is strongly recommended that her services be recognised”.

Research started once again and all his previous work in making enquiries at Bletchley Park was not wasted as a large part of the telecommunications network set up by these ladies and a staff of 73,000 involved the communications for the preparations for the Normandy invasion, and all of this was directly linked to Bletchley Park.

Now he had the answer, she had not actually been in Bletchley Park, but had been stationed in Dollis Hill, a Post Office building in London, and had been responsible for setting up and providing initially the telegraph requirements of then Air Ministry and Admiralty, and later the Defence Teleprinter network. Its size was colossal and it extended to firstly equal the existing Civil telecommunication System Network in the United Kingdom. By 1944 it had trebled in size.

And so it was that a little old lady who died in Pietermaritzburg played such a vital role during WW2 and her family knew so little of accomplishments. That said in those days if you took an oath you kept it and many wives of the day never knew for years after the end of that conflict what their husbands actually did!

Main Lecture – The full story on Enigma - by Ian Copley

We certainly covered the Enigma story at our last meeting with Andre Crozier touching on it under the Member’s slot and Ken Munro doing similar but in a more personal role in the Curtain Raiser presentation

Ian has a vast knowledge of his subject and we have taken the opportunity of rather attaching a summary of his presentation as to do otherwise in attempting to apportion adequate coverage of address in this issue would not do it justice. Please go to the main page of the web-site and you will find his paper as the latest "Interesting Lecture" - read it at your leisure.

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstigebyeenkomse en uitstappe.

With the date of the pending General Election having been announced the Society is now in a position to plan its next field trip. Mooted at present is a visit to the Keiskamma Hoek and Alice areas and/or to Graaff-Reinet and environs. If there are members who wish to add any further proposals then please do not hesitate to approach the Chairman or your Scribe.

Our next local trip has been confirmed for Saturday 9 November. It will take the form of a visit to the Moth Shell Hole in 8th Avenue, Walmer, then nearby St. John’s Church and the Walmer War Memorial. A short walk across the fairways of Little Walmer Golf Club will then take you to the PAX Memorial. The small cemetery at the church has graves of those who were killed in the Miners Strike on the Rand in 1922. Thereafter in the afternoon we will proceed with the usual lectures at our usual venue beginning at 14,00hrs. >Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Annual general meeting

SAMHSEC’s 2019 AGM will be held at the EP Veteran Car Club, Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth at 19h30 on 11thMarch 2019. Points for discussion at the AGM and nominations for service on the SAMHSEC Committee should be submitted to the Secretary at by 28th February 2019.

New whatsapp group for our branch 

The society has decided to start a whatsapp group to be able to share Military History related information. If you would like to become a member of the group please send your cell phone number to

Please keep mind the following guidelines for posting to the whatsapp group.

  1. No jokes, cartoons or videos.
  2. The purpose of the group is to promote communication regarding military history.
  3. Politics, religion and the ladies are not to be discussed on the group.
  4. Messages on the group should be relevant to at least 3 members.
You would have previously received this communication from our Secretary and the message is quite clear. In using this innovative way of communication it simply cuts out the clutter!

2019 subscriptions. Members are reminded that annual subscriptions were due on 1st January. There is a small increase this year after two years of no increase. Subscriptions for 1919 are thus:
Single membership - R250.00
Family membership - R270.00
A discount is given to members over 80 years old. Contact if applicable.
EFT Particulars are: FNB Eastgate; Branch Code 257705; a/c No. 50391928346; Name SA Military History Society. REMEMBER TO USE YOUR NAME AS REFERENCE. If paying by cheque, please add R50.00 for bank charges.

Individual members’ activities / Individuelelede se aktiwiteite.

You may have noted by this time that you have a new Scribe. Many thanks to Pat and Anne Irwin who over the last number of years have produced an outstanding monthly issue and for that we are most grateful. We will not aspire to their great heights suffice to say it is our intention to keep members fully informed of society matters.

We welcome Stewart Bain as a new member and do hope that he enjoys his time with us. Congratulations as well to Bill Mills who is our oldest member and who recently turned 90 . He still enjoys the best of good health and is very active. Well done Bill!

We also bade farewell to Barry and Yoland Irwin who are to make their new home in Norway. Barry has been offered the Chair of Cyber Security at Noroff University which will open many new career opportunities for him. The couple were in attendance at our last meeting and we all enjoyed the cake which was brought along in celebration of their pending departure in April.

Members are invited to send in to the scribe, short reviews of, or comments on books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across, as well as news on individual member’s activities.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Franco Cilliers
Scribes:Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /