NEWSLETTER NO. 321
There was a change to the published DDH talk. Ian Sutherland was planning to give a talk called The Retaliatory Air Raid on Bath, 1943. This talk was to be based partly on the recollections of his father, who worked for the Admiralty in Bath during the 2nd World War. Unfortunately some specific information that was promised from the UK did not arrive in time, and Ian will now be giving that talk at a future meeting. In its place, and at very short notice, Ian produced an audio tape produced by the This England magazine and with his own stereo system set up, he invited us to listen to some of the famous sounds of the early stages of the 2nd World War. As an introduction, our speaker gave us some of his own youthful memories of those years. These included the Anderson Shelter, seeing his father in uniform, chewing gum given to him by an American soldier, and watching the Victory Parade in Edinburgh in 1945. He also gave us a summary of the many interesting articles published in the This England magazine, before lowering the lights for us to listen to side 1 of cassette 1 of the full set, which was entitled This Was Their Finest Hour. The tape started with the sound of German soldiers marching, then with a short section of a Hitler speech and the shouts of "Sieg Heil". As those shouts faded away we heard the slow and unmistakable sound of Chamberlain's famous speech in which he announced that Britain had declared war on Germany. The date was 3 September 1939 and even now, over 60 years later, the speech, from the words he used to the tone of his voice, has a curious fascination. Then another unmistakable sound, particularly to those members who had heard it live at the time - the British air raid siren.
As if to break that sombre mood, the tape then passed on to the first of two musical sections, with actual recordings of the time by Gracie Fields, Flanagan and Allen, and in partleular by Noel Coward who was being splendidly non politically correct by singing his own song "Don't lets be beastly to the Germans". From listening to the words we could all understand why it is so rarely performed. And then back to another unmistakeable voice, followed by yet another - the voices of Winston Churchill and Lord Haw Haw. Churchill's first speech as Prime Minister "This was their Finest Hour" was followed by the traitorous sound of "Germany Calling" and the opening sentences of a broadcast by Lord Haw Haw. This was to bring an interesting exchange during the question time that followed, as to why, as an Irish national, he was executed at the end of the war. We then heard the voices of the very young Princesses Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret when they broadcast a message to the children who were separated from their parents due to evacuation. Ironically we listened to those voices on the day before the funeral of Princess Margaret. To close, the tape went back to some more music, this time by Chick Henderson, Vera Lynn, Carroll Gibbon, Al Bowley and Deanna Durbin. All the contents of the tape except one had been recorded in either 1939 or 1940 and the meeting was grateful to Ian Sutherland for producing this alternative, and unusual DDH.
After the champagne, and a slightly longer interval than usual for obvious reasons, we turned to the main talk of the evening. Our immediate past Chairman, Ken Gillings, gave the Society his third in a four part series of talks on the year-by-year events of the Anglo-Boer War. In previous talks he has covered in considerable detail, the War events of 1899 and 1900 and it was now the time for him to give his talk A Summary of The Anglo-Boer War in 1901. It was to prove to be a lively and wide ranging narration of the events of the last full year of the War. By the end of 1900, Britain had sustained several military disasters. This led to the call up of the Cape Colonial Defence Force to oppose the Boers in their lightening strikes in what was firmly the guerrilla stage of the War. General J.B.M. Hertzog continued his series of raids into the Cape. At Lambert's Bay his men engaged in the first of two naval actions of the War, when they opened fire on HMS Sybille. On 7 January 1900, General Louis Botha planned to attack towns in the Eastern Transvaal from the south while General Ben Viljoen attacked simultaneously from the north. Their main target was Belfast, defended by General Horace Smith-Dorrien, and the British troops held their own. Ten days later, matters were so grave that Martial law was extended in the Cape. On 22 January 1901, the anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana, Queen Victoria died. The news of her death rocked the British Empire, but the War against the Boers continued.
In the Transvaal, General Jan Smuts targeted the Gatsaand, where a British post at Modderfontein on the Krugersdorp - Vereeniging road was defended by 109 men of the South Wales Borderers under Captain Casson. The Boers attacked the post and the British garrison surrendered to Comdt Liebenberg. General Smuts then firmly held Modderfontein against a British attack led by Brigadier-General Cunnungham, who withdrew after a fierce two-day battle. Smuts, too, left to plan his invasion of the Cape. As the guerrilla stage of the War intensified, the Boers made maximum use of farms and farmhouses to replenish supplies and to snipe at British patrols. Kitchener's reply was to step up his farm-burning campaign and to send homeless women, children and Blacks to the ever-increasing number of camps, now termed as concentration camps. Conditions there were deplorable. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Liberal Party leader and a future British Prime Minister, protested against "methods of barbarism". David Lloyd George, another future Prime Minister was appalled as was Emily Hobhouse and the British public in general. Lord Alfred Milner defended the establishment of the camps. Mrs Millicent Fawcett, the woman's suffrage movement leader, headed a committee of women to investigate and suggest improvements.
By the end of January, General Louis Botha's burghers were operating in the Ermelo district of the Eastern Transvaal. He was opposed by a larger force under General Smith-Dorrien who, in February 1901, encamped at Bothwell on Lake Chrissie. The Boers, under Botha attacked his force but were beaten off by the British infantry, notably the West Yorks and the Suffolks. Botha withdrew and advanced towards the Swaziland border. On 13 February 1901, aware of the low state of Boer morale, General Lord Kitchener suggested to Botha that peace be negotiated at Middleburg. Short of allowing the Boers to retain their independence, Kitchener's terms were lenient, but they were vague in regard to the position of the Blacks. Little was achieved and the War continued. The hunt for General de Wet proceded without success. General de la Rey decided to attack the British garrison under Lt. Colonel C.G.C. Money at Lichtenburg in the North-Western Transvaal. Hampered by marshy ground around the town, the Boers withdrew after launching a night attack.
In March 1901 a reconnaissance force under Major Briggs of the King's Dragoon Guards, searchmg for the two elusive Boer Generals, de la Rey and Kemp, was attacked in the Geduld area in a lightening raid - an event of some future significance. In the Eastern Transvaal, General Ben Viljoen blew up portions of the Pretoria - Delagoa Bay railway line, but eluded General Sir Bindon Blood who had been despatched to capture him. In the west, de la Rey escaped from Wildfontein to which General Babington and his mounted Australians had been sent to capture him. On 8 April 1901, Lt. Colonel H. Plumer occupied Pietersburg. By May 1901, with Kitchener's army now numbering 240,000 men, assisted by armed Blacks, the Boer's strength was waning.
Kitchener ordered fresh sweeps in the Eastern Transvaal, especially against Viljoen and Comdt Muller. In June 1901 the Boer leaders, in spite of the military successes of General Jan Kemp, met in conference at Val near Standerton, but decided to continue the struggle and to invade the Cape Colony. General Jan Smuts crossed into the Eastern Cape in September. Near Cradock he was successful against the 17th Lancers under Captain Lord Vivian and obtained much needed supplies. For four weeks Smuts and Major Douglas Haig played a cat-and-mouse game in the Eastern Cape mountains. Meanwhile, in September 1901, General Louis Botha raided into Northern Natal where the Battles of Blood River Poort, Ithala and Mount Prospect took place. The Fort Prospect battle was notable for the fact that the Zululand native Police (Nongqayi), led by Sergeant iTshe liGumbu Ngoavama, stood firm, refusing to take the chance of escape when it was offered.
In the North-Western Transvaal an action took place between the Boers under de la Ray and Kemp at Moedwil Farm, between Rustenburg and Zeerist. Lord Methuen and Kekewich joined in the fruitless search for de la Ray. In October 1901, in the Eastern Transvaal, General Botha attacked Colonel Benson's column at Bakenlaagte. Casualties on both sides were heavy and Benson himself was killed. In November 1901, de Wet called up the Free State leaders to a Krygsraad at Blydskap near Reitz, where again they decided to continue the struggle. On Christmas Day 1901, de Wet attacked British engineers building blockhouses between Groenkop and Elands River bridge. Ken Gillings ended his comprehensive and detailed review of the war in 1901 with this Christmas Day attack and reminded us that, in the early days, the British were confident that this was a war that would be over by Christmas 1899. In this way, he was able to emphasise that for the third time, the Anglo-Boer War was not over by Christmas.
After a lively question time from a knowledgeable audience our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin proposed a vote of thanks to both speakers, and to the providers of the Champagne, for another excellent Society evening.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING:
THURSDAY - 14 MARCH 2002
The March 2002 meeting will specialise on the Sonth African forces, with both talks focusing on different aspects of the Sonth African military at War.
The main talk, presented by COLONEL GRAHAM C.L. DU TOIT will be called THE SOUTH AFRICAN CASUALTIES OF WORLD WAR II. In this talk we will be taken through the Commonwealth War Cemeteries throughout the world, where South African servicemen and women lie buried. Mention will be made of the ongoing recovery of human remains and the updating of the South African National Roll of Honour for 1939 - 1945, still happening 57 years after the end of the war. The excellent work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission both in South Africa and around the world, will also be covered. Colonel Du Toit, who will be travelling from Pretoria to present to us, will be assisted by a colleague, Mrs V Christie. Apart from being a military history enthusiast, she is Deputy Director, Community Tourist Organisation, Umvoti Division. We look forward to welcoming them both to our March meeting and to learning more about this important aspect of South African military history.
As announced at the last meeting, COLONEL HAROLD ROSENBERG, a Life Member of the Society, has decided to move to Uvongo after 1 year in Umhlanga. Since moving down from Johannesburg he has become a regular attendee at our meetings in Durban, and sorry as we are to lose him as a local member, we wish Harold and Joy well in their new home. All is not lost and he is returning in March to give the DDH talk. His subject will be HONORIS CRUX: THE SOUTH AFRICAN "VC". One not to be missed by medal enthusiasts.
As we enter the third month of the year 2002, it is time to remind those who have yet to pay, that membership dues for the New Year are now past due. Please forward your payments of R100 for single members, or R110 for family members to JOAN MARSH, P.O.Box 59227, KENGRAY, 2100. Many thanks!!!
FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: APRIL - JUNE 2002
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983