South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 180

September 2019

Matters of General interest.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to the meeting. We had a good attendance. All credit is due to Andre Crozier for ensuring that our Speaker’s Roster is filled with interesting topics and presentations dealt with by knowledgeable persons in their respective fields. It is a labour of love and dare we say at times exasperation in arranging the programme!

Andrew Kramer who is a member of MOTH informed the meeting that the remains of Lt. Colonel Joseph Crowe VC had been exhumed and would be laid to final rest in Heroes Acre in the Jubilee Cemetery in Uitenhage on 24 August. He extended an invitation to members to join the MOTH on this occasion.

The meeting was informed of a movie that is about to be released on the circuit dealing with WW1 – in the period around 1917. It is not to be missed and is very factual following along the lines of “Finding Private Ryan”

Curtain Raiser – How I came to play a prominent role in MOTH – by Jeanette Bradfield

I still, from time to time get the "how did you get here?" smile. Due to commitments I declined an invitation in 1978 to join the MOTH which I perceived as a male dominated environment. I believe there is a time and a season for everything and my time and season was definitely not then.

Women at War go back as far as 1412 with Joan of Arc, an incredible woman who was burned as a witch at the stake by the English. During South African pioneering years, at times women were compelled to shoulder a rifle and fight side by side with men, facing the same perils.

There were many challenges that faced women in the army but now the challenges in male-dominated organisations such as male resistance and prejudices, with their negative identity perceptions have somewhat lessened. I really don’t think that gender thinking was deliberate – just something that men did. MOTH are fairly used to having ladies around, due to support from their respective partners, e.g. MOTHWA, who baked, cooked and arranged their functions as fund raisers.
In some respects I found the Order challenging in that there was this perception that I should cook and bake for fund raising etc. and there are some members who are merely tolerant of females in the Order. Over the years I have acquired some coping strategies and resources such as an appreciation of feminine advantage, adopting some of the male characteristics such as strength, courage, independence, leadership and assertiveness. I have loved being able to retain my femininity and using masculine tactics at the same time.

My intention when I joined the Order was to assist at the haven, being unaware that it had closed down. Comrades Algoa Shellhole at that stage had only one female who was a 2nd WW veteran and somewhat frail, so was unable to contribute toward the running of the shellhole.
I was a MOTH for three months and nominated to the Top Table as Adjutant. My Old Bill at the time (now deceased) encouraged me to attend every meeting possible and made sure of my attendance. Today I am very grateful for that, as I had a very steep learning curve. I attended other Shellhole meetings, District meetings, Provincial meetings, MESCA meetings, parades, and social functions where I met new people and learned from them.

The call for me as Adjutant, I suspect was out of desperation, due to a shortage of men who were not as adept at I.T. or secretarial functions as women. From there I progressed to Wee Bill, hopefully not out of desperation, but because they could see that I had some qualities that could place me in the position of Old Bill at a later date. I also became Adjutant of Settler’s District, (Shellholes report to Districts), so in that position I learned what happened at that level, and went on to become the Pay Bill for District, and then Old Bill of Comrades Algoa. I was and still am on the committee of the MOTH Ex-Servicemen’s Cottages and at times wore 3 different hats at the same time.

There were some who thought I would not make it and became quite personal on that issue at times and then I would breathe, think of a solution and not let my worry control me or my stress level break me. I would simply breathe and it would be ok because I am not a quitter.I used that tactic in the army as well and pulled up my big girl britches and carried on.

I learned a great deal from holding those positions having received a great deal of encouragement from members of Comrades Algoa Shellhole as well as members from other shelholes. I learned that no man becomes great on his own, as no woman becomes great on her own. Having had several strong mentors who were very encouraging and some of the senior Moth to call upon has contributed to me becoming an informed MOTH and therefore a better MOTH. The fact that I moved from a MOTH on the floor to Old Bill in a fairly short space of time and held the Old Bill position for 4 years is recognition in that they felt I was capable. They listened to my ideas, as I too was provided with ideas and we worked together on improving them all the time.I have received an enormous amount of support from my fellow MOTH.

My physical side precludes me from doing heavy manual work, but I have resilience and the ability to trade one thing off against another.

I am one of “those life-long learners” and try to keep up with what is going on in the MOTH. I take advantage of the meetings taking place. This keeps me on my toes and informed and in turn becomes a valuable resource for my fellow MOTH. Women in male dominated organisations work, as is in my case. I have been provided with tangible physical support, and challenge to entice my personal drive.

My natural style of management (Myers Briggs) is that of an Expressive Driver, but has the flexibility of being amiable and analytical. I believe that agreeableness is not a weakness and kindness not a vice and try to treat my MOTH colleagues fairly, ethically and according to our constitution where True Comradeship, Mutual Help and Sound Memory are our ideals.
I care more about being respected than liked, as the MOTH is far bigger than this little cog in the big wheel.

The last few generations have helped bring more women into male dominant organisations and into leadership roles. We’ve come a long way. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t much further to go. There are only about 3.5% (126) women in MOTH (total 3608) of which about 10 are in prominent positions. I believe we need to attract/recruit more women and to retain their services; however we should not take for granted that they will successfully assimilate into this environment.
Working to bring other women into leadership is an important way to advance the change we need. But it’s also true that the most critical change starts with shaping ourselves, the area where we have the most control. Cultivating these characteristics should help.

In conclusion, I believe a strong woman knows she has strength for the journey, but a woman of strength knows that it is in the journey where she will become strong.

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Main Lecture – Herstory – The Surgeon Princess by Barbara Ann Kinghorn.

[Name in Russian]: Vera Ignatievna Gedroitz (1870–1932)was a Russian doctor of medicine, the first female surgeon in Russia, who became one of the first female professors of surgery in the world and the first woman to serve as a physician in the Russian Imperial Palace. She was also a writer of poetry and prose and a Princess, a descendant of Lithuanian royalty.

She is chiefly remembered as a pioneer of battlefield medicine early in the twentieth century for ignoring the officially prescribed treatment and, instead, applying laparotomy in the treatment of abdominal wounds on the battlefront. Her success with this rapid surgical intervention helped to change international military medical policy and save the lives of countless soldiers in subsequent conflicts.

Gedroits, (her surname variously romanised as Gedroyts, Gedroitz, Gedroits, Giedroy?, etc) was an extraordinary figure – and yet today she is largely unknown in the West.
This is HER STORY.

Gedroits was born on 7 April 1870 (O.S – Old Style Russian date) in south-western Russia in Slobodishche in the Oryol Governorate of the Russian Empire(now in the Bryansk Oblast) into the Giedroy? family of Lithuanian nobility. Her father was Prince Ignatiy Ignatievich Gedroits who belonged to a Lithuanian princely clan which shared its origins with the more famous Radziwill family. Her mother, Daria Konstantinovna Mikhau, came from a family of Russified Germans and her maternal grandfather was a captain in the military.

In 1863, Ignatiy Gedroits took part in the Polish Uprising. As a result of that, when Lithuanian liberties were suspended by the autocracy, he and his family fled to the Non-Black Earth Region of Russia. There Gedroits established a tobacco plantation on his estate near Slobodishche 379 kilometres southwest of Moscow. He was later elected head of the Council of Magistrates in the Bryansk District and in 1878 received confirmation of the title of Prince for himself and his heirs. Vera Gedroits was the middle child of five surviving siblings: Maria (1861), Ignatius (1864), Vera (1870), Nadezhda (1876) and Alexandra (1878). The brother of whom she was most fond, Sergei, died at a young age, and in later life Vera chose his name as her nom-de-plume, Sergei Gedroits. Following Sergei's death, she decided to study medicine and become a doctor so that she could alleviate suffering.

The children grew up on the family estate where they received early tutoring at home. Like their mother, they were raised in the Russian Orthodox Church, but their father remained Catholic. When the family home was destroyed by fire in 1877 they had to move to a boarding house where their grandmother Natalia Mikhau taught the children reading, French, music, and dancing. The lively Vera Gedroits became the children's energetic ringleader, often dressing in boys' clothes “for convenience”.

Gedroits’ formal education commenced at the Bryansk Women's Gymnasium in the Oryol Governorate but she was expelled for mischief aimed at her teachers. She then went to St. Petersburg to continue her education. While there, Gedroits became involved in the revolutionary youth movement of the populist Victor Alexandrovich Veynshtok and was arrested for participating in a student demonstration in 1892. The police escorted her back to Slobodishche, where she was placed under a kind of house arrest at her father's estate, unable to continue her studies.

In order to escape and despite being openly lesbian, Gedroits entered into a marriage of convenience with a friend from St. Petersburg, Nikolai Belozerov. She and Belozerov apparently had real affection for each other, but hid their union by living separately, corresponding actively, meeting frequently and travelling together until Belozerov's military career took him to Irkutsk in Siberia. With her new name, Gedroits was able to get a new passport and slip into Switzerland. She entered the University of Lausanne and trained to be a surgeon under professor César Roux, an expert in abdominal surgery.In 1898 she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, having achieved almost perfect marks in all her subjects. For the following two years she worked as an assistant to Roux.

At this point, Gedroits reluctantly gave up her promising academic career and returned home to help her family: her youngest sister Alexandra had just died of TB, her mother was in a state of nervous exhaustion and her father couldn’t cope. He promised to help her secure work in a new 10-bed factory hospital which was being built.

Thus began her career in Russia as a factory physician at the Maltsov Cement Factory, in 1900. Gedroits set about organising a modern hospital in the rural Maltsov, complete with X-ray equipment (which had only been devised about 10 years before) and tended to local villagers as well, since she was the only doctor in the district. Within her first year Gedroits had performed more than two hundred operations with minimal fatalities.

Her surgical operations included amputations, herniation repair and setting broken bones. She also conducted research into the medical, hygiene, nutrition and sanitation problems of her patients and made recommendations to the government to improve their working and living conditions. Gedroit also at this time began to publish scientific articles in Russian medical journals, some of which were noticed and translated into German and French. As a result, she accepted an invitation to participate in the Third Congress of Surgeons in 1902.

1903 was a turbulent year for Gedroits. After successfully passing her exams she earned the title of Female Doctor on 21 February 1903, enabling her to practice anywhere in Russia. But in the same year, overwhelmed by work, her parents’ ill-health and the failure of a relationship, she attempted suicide. With the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) she volunteered to serve at the battlefront as a doctor with the Red Cross. There she organized the Nobles' Mobile Hospital Train, which consisted of an operating car and five patient cars, specially equipped and supplied by the Russian nobility to care for the wounded, as close as possible to the front lines.

Many of her battlefront patients were “PAW’s” – casualties with penetrating abdominal wounds – for whom the established medical policy was to make the patient as comfortable as possible, in the Fowler position and not to intervene surgically. In other words, soldiers with abdominal wounds would simply be monitored in the hope that their condition would improve. Too often, they died. So, as the chief surgeon for the Red Cross, without authorisation and against established medical policy, over the next 6 months Gedroits performed 183 abdominal surgeries (laparotomies) on PAW’s, most of whom survived - as long as they could be operated on within three hours of sustaining their injuries.

Her success was, however, the very favourable response of the Russian Society of Military Doctors to her 57-page report in July, 1905: the Society immediately changed the official management of PAW’s to Gedroits’ aggressive operative approach. Unfortunately, Western military surgeons were oblivious of her achvements and continued to question the utility of laparotomy in war surgery – resulting in the deaths of many Allied soldiers in the opening months of the First World War. One source suggests that as many as 2.5 million Allied deaths might have been prevented with the greatly reduced mortality established for the operative approach.

Gedroits decided to disentangle herself from her marriage and was divorced on 22 December 1905. Her maiden name and her noble title were restored on 1 February 1907. Much decorated from her war service, she then accepted a position as physician to the Tsar’s children and “ordinator” of the Russian Royal Court Hospital in Tsarskoye Selo (“Tsar’s village” – now incorporated into Pushkin, 24 km from St Petersburg.

Taking advantage of her favoured position in the Russian Court, at this time Gedroits made no attempt to conceal her lesbian inclinations, and for example, spoke of herself using masculine verb forms. She also dressed almost exclusively in men's trousers and suits, in a style similar to that of the famous Russian opera singer, Feodor Chaliapin, with a beaver hat and a sable fur. She also spoke in a deep-pitched voice and frequently smoked. A biographer, Svetlana Maire, surmises that all this could have been an attempt to assert her authority as a powerful professional in a very male-dominated field.

At the outbreak of World War I, Gedroits was tasked with transforming the Court Hospital into a military hospital, organising the medical staff and preparing hospital trains to receive the wounded. She also trained many nurses, including the Tsarina Alexandra and her daughters Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana as surgical nurses to assist her. There are many photographs documenting this time in Gedroits’ life. One of the other nurses she trained at Tsarskoye Selo was Countess Maria Dmitrievna Nirod, who would later become Gedroits' life-long partner.

When the February Revolution began in 1917 and Tsar Nicholas abdicated, Gedroits, as an employee of the Tsar, could not openly support the Russian Provisional Government. So, in order to remain neutral in the conflict, while still honoring her friendship with the Royal Family, she chose to return to work as a military doctor and joined the 6th Siberian Rifle Regiment to return to the battle front. When Gedroits herself was wounded in 1918, she was evacuated to Kiev, where she eventually recovered and moved in with Countess Nirod and they lived as a married couple for the remainder of her days. Initially they lived in an apartment where she resumed her work as a physician and a renowned academic.

In 1921, she was hired to teach pediatric surgery at the Kiev Medical Institute and in 1923 was appointed a Professor of Medicine. In 1929 Gedroits was promoted to head the Institute's surgery department.

By 1928, Gedroits had published 58 scientific papers articles and textbooks, on a multitude of topics such as general surgery, facial and dental reconstructions, military fieldwork, pediatric surgery, hernias, industrial injuries, obstetrics, the thyroid gland, and various tumours which she had seen in her patients. Most of her works were released in Russian, though some were translated into French, German or Swedish.

In a 1930 Soviet purge, Gedroits was summarily removed her from office and denied a pension. With some money she had saved, Gedroits then bought a farm on the outskirts of Kiev and concentrated on writing autobiographical novels and poetry under the name Sergei Gedroits.

Gedroits was diagnosed with cancer in 1931 and died in March 1932, aged 61, of uterine cancer. She was buried, in Kiev, by the Archbishop Ermogen (born Alexei Stepanovich Golubev), who had been a patient of hers. Somewhat mysteriously, he tended her grave until his death. He is also buried in the Catholic Cemetery of the Savior-Transfiguration - alongside the remarkable Surgeon Princess, Vera Ignatievna Gedroits.

So, why was HERSTORY forgotten for so long?
The odds were stacked against her, partly because of circumstance, but also perhaps because she was a woman, an aggressively unconventional woman with close ties to the Russian Royal Family - and she wrote and published almost exclusively in Russian, thus obscuring her achievements from the Western world.

HERSTORY was plucked from oblivion by an LGBT/Wikipedia project in June 2018:
and a BBC article on 23 April 2019

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Our field trip to Alice, Keiskamma Hoek and beyond.

A party of 24 took part in our annual weekend away over the first weekend of August with the youngest participant being five year old Isabella Newcombe! The party was led by Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn assisted by Ian Pringle and Pat Irwin who made valuable contributions in their own respective fields especially with Ian and his ability to converse fluently with those who reside in the deep rural areas of the Eastern Cape.

The group spent two nights at Hogsback and found this usually verdant and almost veritable evergreen location a near dust bowl. No rain of any significance has fallen in the last three years and severe water restrictions are in place. That said, meeting together at two different eating establishments for dinner created a lot of good companionship and camaraderie which is important on a trip of this nature. It is more than just about history!

We all met at the Fort Beaufort Museum which was the one time Officer’s Mess during the days of the Frontier Wars. In those times more than 3000 British troops were billeted in the town and it is on record that there were more than 50 watering holes where the troops could slake their thirst! Pat Irwin gave a brief description and talk on the two cannon which are to be found at the entrance of the museum before the convoy departed for Fort Hare in Alice. Fort Hare dates to 1846 when the area it occupies was surveyed by the Royal Engineers to be located at a site called Block Drift on the Tyumie River – in essence the present day town of Alice.

The military cemetery is situated on the Fort Hare University campus and is not easily accessible but having prepared for this eventuality we were welcomed. Malcolm addressed us on the Battle of The Ridge - an almost forgotten encounter where 30 men were killed in action in 1850. They fought a rear guard action in a retreat to Fort Hare after a failed attempt in raising the siege at Fort Cox, hampered by a cannon which Sir Henry Somerset did not wish to fall into enemy hands! An impressive tall memorial was erected in 1986 by the National Monuments Council in memory to the fallen of this area. It is in good repair and the graveyard is well secured. The party then proceeded to the actual fort on campus which has not been exactly restored correctly but as the university takes its name from Fort Hare we presume the authorities would prefer that the old fort is presentable. It in itself is a small part of what was once a very large military establishment as may be discerned in the book by Coetzee on the forts of the Eastern Cape.

The next site visit was to St. Mungo’s Church in the Tyumie Valley at which a memorial was erected many years ago by Toc-H to remember the Christmas Day massacres which took place in 1850 and where the military villages of Woburn, Auckland and Jaunesburg were razed to the ground. In later correspondence with Ian Terwin now of Port Elizabeth he related that he grew up on Mount Pleasant – the farm now has on it Phandulwasi Agric. School and is situated a short distance from the church. In the early 1940s he added that Miss Winnie Humphries was the Sunday school teacher and his mother played the organ!

Reasonably close by are situated the Woburn Barracks which are in good condition and date to the early 1860s. The farm Woburn belonged to the Ballantyne family for generations and was one of the largest private citrus estates in RSA prior its incorporation into the Ciskei in the late 1970s.

On Saturday morning, after a few more athletic types had taken part in the Hogsback Park Run, the party moved towards the Amatola Basin and the area near Keiskamma Hoek. At the crossroads near Fort Cox stands a cairn in memory of those who died in the area and at Fort Cox. This cairn was also erected by Toc-H in 1934. Here we were joined by Tony Step from East London who is an acknowledged expert on the Frontier Wars and the activities which took place across what is the Border area.

Little remains of the original Fort Cox save for some stone walls but if one follows carefully the layout of the exposed foundation stone work and is guided by a plan of the fort the extent of this outpost are clearly demarcated. Its establishment dates prior 1850 for it was in this year that it was mooted that the defences of this fort should be further strengthened despite the fort being situated on an elevated stretch of high ground and holding a commanding view.

The party then called upon the site of Chief Ngqika’s grave is situated not far from the Sandile Dam. The grave is secured behind a locked gate and Pat gave us an interesting talk based on the life of this Chief which included his family and their own contributions to all that took place in those turbulent times. An interesting visitor who per chance came across us was one Dali Matanzima who heads up a tourism initiative in the region. He stated that in accordance with local tribal law the grave of Nqqika should of necessity not be thought to hold the remains of the Chief as according to custom he had been buried at an unknown site in a nearby forest.

At nearby Burns Hill we surveyed the area over which the Burns Hill Wagon disaster had taken place in 1846. The wagon train consisting of 125 wagons drawn by oxen was ambushed by local tribesmen who in looting the 4,5km long supply column also went off with the silverware belonging to the 7th Dragoons. Thomas Bain two years later did a painting of the site and included a small stone church in his work. That self same church is still to be found in good condition. Burn’s Hill in its day was a well established trading store owned by the Kopke family. This area, the Amatola Basin, has a rich German settler heritage and many of the traders were of German origin whose remains lie in the German cemetery in Keiskamma Hoek.

Our final stop for the day was at the large Sandile Dam which was built to provide irrigation to the fertile agricultural schemes found below it. We viewed across from the wide earth wall the site of the Boomah Pass encounter which took place in December 1850. The dam waters have covered the narrow pass up which the troops marched in single file on route to Keiskamma Hoek on was nothing more than a broad pathway. There they were ambushed by tribesmen who launched themselves from the thickets; they were ill-prepared and ready to meet the assault.

Sunday saw the party visit Castle Eyre at Keiskamma Hoek, the cairn erected by Toc-H 5 km from this town to protect the stone inscribed by the soldiers of the 85th Regiment who built the original road from King William’s Town, Maqoma’s grave at Ntaba-ka-Ndoda and the grave of Lt.Charles Baillie who was killed with 30 of his Provisional Troops in 1836.

Castle Eyre built in 1852, though crumbling is secure and is located adjacent to the SAPS offices. It was built as a redoubt intended as a rallying point and is named after Colonel Eyre the Officer Commanding the area at that time. Chief Maqoma is recognised as one of the great leaders who engaged the British forces for more than three years in the Waterkloof campaign. He was captured and died on Robben Island but his remains were later exhumed and interned at this mountain site.

Lt.Baillie was only 26 years old when he and his inexperienced men were ambushed near what is known the Pirie Bush. It is said that they fought bravely to the last man and a cairn, also erected by Toc-H, at crossroads off the Dimbaza roads recalls the incident. The grave lies a short way beyond an original German church which until fairly recently served the needs of this community. However with the area included into the Ciskei the congregation dispersed and the church is now used by another denomination.

This report makes mention of the role played by Toc-H who many years ago erected cairns at various sites commemorating soldiers of the Empire who had been killed during the Frontier Wars. This organization had its beginnings as Talbot House during WW1 where it provided assistance to troops on leave on the Western Front. It helped those who might otherwise be tempted to indulge in what was considered the social evils of the day-much in the way that the present day Mission to Seafarers takes care of the mariners. An observation was made that it is surprising that none of these cairns have ever been vandalised and the copper plaques remain secure. This is attributed to the care shown by the local villagers who take great pride in their significance.

The tour came to an end at about 14:00 where upon all departed having enjoyed an excursion to a part of the country that despite its rich military, educational and religious history is seldom visited. It is understood that the powers that be have at last begun to realise that this forgotten frontier has much to offer the tourist and that tourism creates jobs!

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The next SAMHSEC meeting will be in Grahamstown at 14h00 on Saturday 14 September 2019 in the Barratt 3 Lecture Theatre, Barratt Complex, African St, Rhodes University.

There will be no curtain raiser. The Speaker is Douglas Bullis a Vietnam Veteran whose topic will be “Vietnam - my experience of Vietnam - both then and now”. Doug served in Vietnam as a Hospital Corpsman in the US Navy and supported US Marines in combat as a Medic.

During the morning there will be visits to sites of military history interest near Grahamstown. Please meet by 09h45 at Seven Fountains Farm. This is 30km from Grahamstown on the N2. Take the turn off to the left if you are coming from PE or to the right if from Grahamstown, just past the Seven Fountains Farm/Kichaka sign, at the Assegaaibos/Highlands turn off sign (33°25'53.6"S  26°19'20.1"E). This is a major intersection in the middle of a long straight part of the N2. Proceed down a good gravel road for 2km. It is the 2nd farm on the right .

The main gate is just after the “Seven Fountains Farm’ indicator board, which has the Tourism “Cannon” Logo and name of the farm (33°25'02.3"S 26°19'06.3"E). The gate is electrically operated by means of a button on a short pole next to the gate. Proceed to the parking area on the left. Please aware that the entrance is on a curve in the road and exercise due caution when turning. If anyone gets lost, phone John Stevens at 082 809 9065.

The provisional programme is as follows:

Legalities: The ideal world would not be a risky place, including the risk of litigation. We don’t live in such a world, so please know that participation in the field trip is entirely at your own risk. The bottom line is if you attend our activity, accept the fact that you will never have us in Court, not even for our own gross negligence or intent. The decision whether to risk us in fact causing you damage, even by gross negligence or intent on our part, is yours to take and if you have a concern that should be borne in mind.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Franco Cilliers
Scribe (newsletter):Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /