South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 176

May 2019

The April 2019 meeting took place in Port Elizabeth on Monday 8th at the usual venue. We had an exceptional attendance at the meeting as a number of veterans from Rhodesia especially those who served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry – Parachute Division were present. Their former 2 IC – Major Don Price - delivered the Main Lecture on his experiences and times in this well known regiment.

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Matters of General interest

The Battle of Grahamstown took place 200 years ago on 22 April 1819. It will be remembered as a battle between the tribesmen led by Makana and the small British contingent under the command of Lt.Colonel Thomas Willshire. They held their positions at the present Fort England site and also that where the cathedral is now to be found.

The PAG Regiment has some serious concern, on the preservation of its memorabilia. It is a collection that dates to the early founding of the regiment in 1860 and the Veterans Association have appealed for assistance from outside parties with a particular interest in military history to assist them in their task. Our society has been invited to nominate a trustee in this regard and an appeal is made for an interested member to come forward. Any takers?

The 120th Commemoration of the Anglo Boer War will be hosted by the War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein from 9-11th October 2019. It will take the form of a conference. The submission of abstracts is invited and which should reach Conference Programme Co-coordinator Vicky Heunis by 30th April.

This commemoration is to be of sure interest and Bloemfontein is only a six hour drive from Port Elizabeth. Accommodation rates offered by Air B+B are very affordable and our Free State brethren are most hospitable. It is a possibility worth considering.

Curtain Raiser
"My father’s service in the Royal Navy and the sinking of the Ark Royal" - by Dave Pledger.
We had four generations of the Pledger family present on the evening to hear Dave speak on the life of his father James a veteran of WW2. The latter being both hale and hearty and aged 98 years was in attendance taking up his seat in the front row!

James was born in Barkway, Hertfordshire where his father was the local butcher and his mother a school teacher. He left school at the age of 14 and he and his brother became aircraft apprentices and qualified themselves soon after the outbreak of WW2. It was in 1941 that he and his crew dismantled 37 Hawker Hurricanes and the aircraft were loaded aboard a freighter and transported across to Gibraltar where they were re-assembled. Once done the craft were shipped onto the aircraft carrier Ark Royal which was destined for Malta.

Shortly out of Gibraltar the carrier was sunk by a single torpedo. James recalls the ship shook violently and there was a total loss of communications. They were able to get off by using ropes and were taken back to Gibraltar where upon the carrier shortly there-after sank. After a week’s leave in England he found himself in Karachi where he worked until a routine X-Ray inspection thought he might have TB where upon he transferred to Robert’s Heights near Pretoria for treatment. Here he met and married the nurse who cared for him and he stayed on in this country giving rise to the Pledger family in South Africa!

James spent most of his working life in the technical field but by the mid 1950s decided to take up the violin. Not only play it but he decided to make one! This turned out to be a great success! In doing so he built up a very tidy retirement income repairing musical instruments and became well known throughout the Eastern Cape for his fine repair work. He completed his last job at the age of 96 and there-after donated his tools to the workshop run under the auspices of the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

James walks with the assistance of a walker and it is hard to believe that this gentleman who came from a humble beginning in rural England, survived the sinking of the Ark Royal and ended his career not repairing fighters but repairing musical instruments. How wonderful!

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Main Lecture
Rhodesian Light Infantry - Fire Force – by Major Don Price.

Major Don Price was the Second in Command of this regiment that bore the brunt of the insurgent forces involved in the Rhodesian campaign. Those were forces known as ZANU and ZIPRA who launched their attacks from the neighbouring countries of Zambia and Mozambique. Don was a founder member of the Selous Scouts and received the Bronze Cross for Gallantry.

His presentation was enthralling. His slides depicted the pursuit of those infiltrating groups and their engagement which as with all conflicts can only result in fatalities. That a few of the slides were rather graphic is true but that is war and how it is.

Don described the early days of the campaign dating back to the late 1960s and how his regiment had to adapt to the changing circumstances of the day. It was no longer the ordinary soldier on patrol encumbered with a heavy pack but rather one who carried only two days rations, wore shorts and a vest with light but tough footwear who was able to cross ground very quickly. Trackers were recruited and trained and he remarked on the ability of the finest trackers he had under his command – a youngster called Willemse who was barely out of his teens.

The regiment deployed a fleet of helicopters,the purpose being that on having tracked the enemy and located their position the helicopters would come in quickly and a parachute drop would take place from a low height completely taking the insurgents by surprise. At one stage the regiment had 20 Puma helicopters in use.It was a fighting force of note that struck rapidly and with great effect.

The veterans of that conflict and particularly of the RLI continue to this day to remember each other and their associations are to be found globally. They remain proud and true and wear their green jackets with pride. Stephen Bowker thanked Don saying it was an honour to be present and be part of the evening.

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May Meeting – Monday 13 May at our usual venue of the EP Veterans Car Club. Proceedings commence at 19:30hrs.

  1. Curtain Raiser - Jaco Pretorius on the SA Navy Marines in the 1950s
  2. Main Lecture - Franco Cilliers – The role of the M4 Sherman Tank

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 /