NEWSLETTER NO. 322
Colonel Rosenberg pointed out that in designing crosses as awards for bravery, various types of crosses, which he illustrated with excellent coloured slides, may be used. The best known of these awards is the Victoria Cross, instituted in 1856 but made retrospective to 1854. The VC is a Maltese cross, made of bronze taken from two Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol. The ribbon is now standardised as claret red in colour after originally being blue for the navy and red for the army. After the proclamation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, and before the introduction of the Honoris Crux, other awards for bravery were available. These were the Cape of Good Hope decoration (which, however, was never awarded); the Van Riebeeck decoration of silver gilt, for distinguished service, which became obsolete in 1975 ; the silver Van Riebeeck medal; and the Louw Wepener decoration for conspicuous courage in war or peacetime.
In 1952 the first Honoris Crux decoration was instituted. Only 5 awards of this cross were made. in 1975 the new Honoris Crux replaced all these awards for bravery in war or peace, and the following four grades, listed in increasing seniority, were established: Honoris Crux, Honoris Crux Silver, Honoris Crux Gold, and the Honoris Crux Diamond. The Diamond has never been awarded and has now been phased out. The meeting was shown slides of each one of these crosses with their basic similarity, but distinctive ribbon and colouring. Up to 300 of the awards of the Honoris Crux have been made throughout its history. Colonel Rosenberg concluded his most interesting talk with a number of specific examples of brave men whose courage in action led to the honour of an Honoris Crux, and the meeting was particularly fascinated to learn of thou whose gallantry led to the award of more than one Honoris Crux. This lecture will, in future, focus the interested attention of those of us who are civilians, on the decorations worn by members of the South African armed forces.
Colonel Graham du Toit's main lecture of the evening was entitled South African Casualties in World War II and revealed his meticulous research into not just the casualty details, but more specifically into the war cemeteries and memorials of the 1939 - 1945 conflict and the roll of honour which lists all those South African men and women who lost their lives in both world wars. Although the existing records show many discrepancies in details of rank and numbers, Colonel du Toit has undertaken careful detective work in drawing up a reliable record of those South African units who fell in those wars, as well as South Africans who died while attached to units in the armed forces of other countries.
Colonel du Toit's aim is to create wide awareness of their sacrifice and from his talk he convinced all members present that he has been outstandingly successful in that aim. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's ongoing work in this regard has been an invaluable source of information for World War's I and II and for the Korean War. Using this source as well as his own research, Colonel du Toit listed some 60 countries where South African graves are to be found including Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in The West Indies in the West, to Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Holland, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Portugal on mainland Europe, and to the islands of Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, Malta and Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. The involvement of South African forces in Namibia and East Africa in World War I is marked by war graves and the progress of South African forces through Africa in World War II can be traced by the existence of graves in South Africa itself, running through East Africa to Egypt and Libya and from there into Italy. The graves of South African airmen and seamen are widespread but less numerous, while prisoner-of-war graves can be found throughout much of Europe. In some cases, scattered graves have been collected and concentrated into large cemeteries. Other human remains, hitherto unidentified, have been recovered, identification found where possible and either buried or reburied. Throughout his talk, Colonel du Toit showed slides of the numerous cemeteries as he mentioned them in his main descriptions and was able to talk about many of the individual South African forces buried in each location, together with descriptions of the actions that took place at the times given on the headstones. That he was able to do this without reference to any notes demonstrated the depth of his knowledge and his own dedication to the memory of all South African forces killed in these wars, and particularly to thou whose death occurred in the remotest and most unlikely of locations. Also, from these slides we could see that most of the cemeteries, and particularly those under the control of the Comonwealth War Graves Comission, are well maintained with immaculate lawns and flowerbeds, and with each headstone carefully maintained. Damaged headstones, or those badly worn or discoloured by the weather are regularly replaced.
Following his lecture, Colonel du Toit showed an excellent video made by the Comonwealth War Graves Commission, which has undertaken to maintain the war graves of all allied forces "in perpetuity". This video ranged over some of the war graves of World War I, including such well known battlefields as Gallipoli, the Somme, Delville Wood (of particular South African interest) and Vimy Ridge, and then onto similar sites of World War II of which the coverage of El Alamein was of particular interest. It was a credit to the interest generated by Colonel du Toit that the 40-minute video only started at a time when our meetings normally end, but virtually all members present decided to stay on to see the completion of this compelling presentation.
It was apt, after the subject matter covered in the two talks, that it was our military padre, the Reverend Ernest Pugsley who proposed the vote of thanks to the Colonels Rosenberg and du Toit for providing us all with a most unusual and fascinating evening.
With the March 2002 meeting specialising on two different aspects relating to South African military forces, that theme will be continued at the April 2002 meeting.
The main talk will be presented by MAJOR-GENERAL CHRIS LE ROUX and will be called THE SANDF, FROM THE "OLD" TO THE "NEW". General le Roux served in the SANDF from 1964 to 2000 and his talk will cover that time, but split into 3 main time slots. The first slot will be his "joining era" from 1964-1975. The second slot will be the "war era", which itself will be split into two sections: 1975 - to the late 1980's will cover the Border War and around the mid 1990's he will cover the Natal War. The final slot will be from the mid 1990's to 2000, and the "completion of the new era". After each section General le Roux will identify the main SANDF characteristics and add his own personal comments based on his extensive experience with the SANDF over these important years.
After welcoming a distinguished soldier it will be an equal pleasure to welcome a distinguished historian talking on one of her specialised subjects. Dr. Ingrid Machin will give the DDH with her talk entitled THE FORMATION OF THE ZULU "REGIMENTS". Dr. Machin will cover the initial formation under King Shaka and the development and use of the "Regiments" through to the end of the 19th century.
Two important talks, not to be missed
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983