South African Military History Society



October 2002

PAST EVENTS: The September meeting was the Society's second consecutive "away" fixture, as following the annual Base Visit in August a strong group of members made the journey to Pietermaritzburg, where we were joined by local members of the Society in the splendid officers' mess and museum at the HQ of the Natal Carbineers.

The first of 3 speakers was Major Keith Archibald, who firstly welcomed all members and guests on behalf of the regiment and then gave his talk on The Natal Carbineer's Additional Battle Honours. He explained that whereas individual soldiers win decorations for bravery and meritorious service and win medals for service in campaigns, regiments win battle honours and theatre or campaign honours. The honours are displayed on the regimental colours and sometimes on the band's bass drum, and are a matter of great pride to the regiment as they are a record of a regiment's service to their country. They get awarded through a committee of the SANDF, representing all arms of the service, which make recommendations to the Minister of Defence after each application is researched in great detail by a team of historians. There are many criteria used, and they are the same as used by the British army, and ensure (for example) that the regiment played a meritorious role in the outcome both of the battle and in the advance of the campaign and that both the battle and the campaign were regarded as "significant".

The latest awards arose when major William Steenkamp was looking for information on the Battle of Paliano and he came across UDFO 159/57 (dated 1 Nov 1957) that concerned battle honours but had never been circulated among regiments. All regiments were finally sent the circular and advised that not only did this delay not exclude appeals for further awards, but also that an agreement had been reached allowing amalgamated regiments to share honours. As a result, the Natal Carbineers have now been awarded the following additional 8 battle and campaign honours: Relief of Ladysmith, Taieb El Essem, Bir Sciafscuif, Quattara Track, Paliano, Bagno Regio, Citta Della Lieve and SWA / Angola 1976 - 1989. Because of the shortage of time, Major Archibald then gave details of just 2 of the battle honours - Taieb El Essem (22 November 1941) and Bagno Regio (11 - 13 June 1944), and it made a fitting start to our meeting which was being held in such historic surroundings.

Our second speaker Dr. Mark Coglan based his talk on the conclusions reached in his doctorial thesis on The Natal Volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War. At first concerned with the role of the volunteers in the siege of Ladysmith, he expanded this to a wider stage with the Natal Carbineers in a central position as the main bulk of the volunteers. He queried the perception, supported by Natal newspapers, that there was considerable and wholehearted mobilisation. He examined the social, economic and political context, and the general military structure of the time. The volunteer movement had shortcomings, e.g. that its numbers were small and scattered across a vast army and military stage. Although the Carbineers were strongly imbued with the British military heritage, did they provide a real contribution?

The volunteers were drawn chiefly from the English-speaking ruling elite concerned with preserving the colonial status quo, while the British were more interested in metropolitan aims. Although the volunteer force was mobilised with speed and efficiency, Natal did not welcome the war, as it would interfere with the cross-frontier trade with the Transvaal, the source of much of their revenue. While Natal colonial forces were guarding the foothills of the Drakensberg against the infiltration of Boer forces from the Orange Free State, the Natal newspapers lauded the contribution of the colonial forces, especially in Northern Natal. In November 1899 Natal volunteers were involved in contentious retirements, e.g. from Dundee to Ladysmith and Estcourt as the Boer threat approached closer to the Natal Midlands. The colonial forces were engaged in minor skirmishes, such as the armoured train incident and at Willow Grange, but their full potential in scouting was not exploited. As the Boers came closer to Pietermaritzburg the prospect of raising a second defence group was not welcomed. The war had heightened tension between the English settlers and the Boers and this led to the marginalising of potential reinforcements such as the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, many of whose members had Boer affinities. Although the colonial volunteers would have been useful in skirmishing and reconnaissance, they were sidelined in such major action as Spioenkop. In this area their main success was at Acton Homes. In the siege of Ladysmith, especially in the action at Gun Hill, the colonial forces were able to boost the morale of the Ladysmith garrison and, indeed the colony.

The action at Ladysmith was regarded by many as the climax of the war and when it was over there was a call for demobilisation despite a brief period of renewed interest and enthusiasm. When, in October 1900 the demobilisation of colonial forces took place, there was a sense of relief.
Dr. Coglan's talk, based on his detailed research into this little known aspect of the war in Natal, was ended with the comment that the collective memory of the war was enhanced and exaggerated, and that the records and memorials reflect a supposed popularity of the war in general, although throughout, ordinary Natal colonists had been concerned more with their own local interests.

Professor Paul Thompson, who has just been appointed as Chairman of the Centenary Committee of the Bhambhatha Rebellion, gave the final talk of the evening entitled The Action at Mpanza, 3-4 April 1906. The action took place at night on the Greytown-Keate's Drift road, not far from the Mpanza stream. It was the first engagement of the Bhambhatha protest/uprising/rebellion in which the Zondi chief Bhambhatha kaMancinza took part. After many years being called a rebellion, there is a good chance that the name will be changed before the centenary.

The passing of the Poll Tax Act in August 1905 and its collection from early 1906, added to the numerous grievances of Africans against Natal colonial rule, led to demonstrations and armed resistance from February 1906. Chief Bhambatha was, according to the Greytown magistrate J.W. Cross, personally troublesome, and factions within his chiefdom caused unrest. The chief was in and out of court on various charges, including stock theft, and the colonial authorities resolved to depose him, appointing his uncle Magwababa as acting chief. The divisions within the chiefdom caused some men to pay the Poll Tax while others did not. Many adopted a threatening attitude. To evade arrest, Bhambatha fled to the Chief Dinuzulu's Usuthu headquarters in Zululand, which he reached on the 25 March 1906. What happened there is not at all certain, but the Zondi chief returned to the Umvoti district with 2 emissaries from Dinuzulu, the more important being Cakijana kagezindaka. Bhambhatha captured his uncle Magwababa and mobilised about 200 men as rebels. His people were generally not enthusiastic about the enterprise.

The Greytown magistrate, John Cross, set out along the Keate's Drift road with 2 civilians, Police Inspector J.E. Rose and 2 troopers to investigate. They called in at the Marshall's Hotel where, apart from Mr. Spencer who ran the hotel, there were 3 ladies (Mesdames Hunter, Marshall and Borham) and Mrs Borham's young son. When the magistrate's party descended into the "thorns" in search of Magwababa's captors, Bhambhatha's men fired on them but with no effect. Cross and his civilians then returned to Marshall's Hotel and urged the ladies to hide in the bush, but they escaped with the help of the police to the Keate's Drift police station. Some time after their escape, Bhambhatha's men broke into, and ransacked, the hotel. Bhambhatha was now in open rebellion.

A large force of Natal Police, under Lt, Colonel G. Mansel then marched from Greytown along the Keate's Drift road and set up camp at Burrups from which to direct operations. The magistrate's party had returned to Greytown by this time. The forces under Mansel passed through the Mpanza valley to Keate's Drift and returned that evening, with the ladies from the hotel, in a carriage along the same road. This was a foolish move. Bhambhatha's men were ready for them. They had been doctored for war by the war doctor Malaza, whose medicine was designed to make them impervious to the white man's bullets. Cakijana had posted them in 3 groups: one above a prominent rock near the road, one below it and one in a drainage ditch.

At around 7pm the police group approached along the road, unable to manoeuvre effectively as it was fenced on both sides. The advance guard, under Inspector O. Dimmock bore the brunt of the attack. Four of his men were wounded and four (Sgt Brown, L. Sgt Harrison and Troopers Aston and Greenwood) were killed. Three bodies were retrieved (Sgt Brown's body was found later, severely mutilated) and the wounded men were placed in the carriage. The ladies then walked. Although 2 or 3 of Bhambhatha's men were wounded it was claimed that Malaza's medicine had saved them from death. Dinuzulu's men witnessed this and were no doubt impressed. Colonel G. Leuchars, of the UMR, then mobilised the militia and Bhambhatha sent messages to surrounding chiefs (receiving little response) to prepare for further conflict. The action at Mpanza had launched Bhambhatha on his course of rebellion.
Following the narration, Professor Thompson showed us recent slides of Marshall's Hotel, The Mpanza stream (now dry) Bhambhatha's Rock, the barren surrounding terrain and the drainage ditch where some of the Zondi men hid. His final slide was of the newly erected Bhambhatha memorial. Please see reference to the memorial on sheet 2 of the newsletter.

Apart from some final hospitality of the officer's mess bar, the evening was rounded off with a vote of thanks from our past Chairman Ken Gillings, who thanked the Natal Carbineers for their excellent organisation and the way they had made the Society so welcome and then with some added comments for each of the subjects covered by our 3 speakers, he thanked each in turn for their involvement in a fascinating evening.


For our October meeting we will be back at our normal meeting place at Natal University for the first time since July 2002, due to the Base Visit to 15 Squadron in August and our September meeting being held at the Natal Carbineers in Pietermaritzburg.

At the next meeting, our Vice Chairman BILL BRADY will give the MAIN talk for the evening, entitled BOMBER COMMAND - THE SACRIFICE. Bill will focus on the tactics and strategy of the Commander in Chief, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, and will examine whether the area bombing of populated centres really shortened the war, or not. Few issues have remained as controversial as Harris's campaign and some military historians repudiate that the vast expenditure on material and manpower was justified. Bill will attempt to portray a balanced point of view supported with facts and statistics.

If you really do NOT know what happened at Vlakfontein in May 1901, then you have to be at our October meeting. The DDH will be given by Ken Gillings with the intriguing title of : WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT VLAKFONTEIN - MAY 1901.


The talk at the September meeting about the Bhambhatha Rebellion, and mention of the new Bhambhatha Memorial, should remind members of the exceptional Society meeting of March 1997. At that meeting we invited, as honoured quests, the descendants of the main combatants in the Rebellion and in attendance we had members of the Smythe and McKenzie families plus senior members of the amaZondi tribe and their wives. All their forebears played a major part in the events of 1906 time and it was the first time that these direct descendants had met. We learned at that meeting that the amaZondi always refer to the "Rebellion" as a "War". Also at that meeting we opened the appeal to raise funds for a new memorial at Bhambhatha's Rock, which was inaugurated last year and photographs of which we saw at the last meeting.

For members with back copies of the Military History Journal, we refer you to Volume 8 No.1 of June 1989 and suggest you read Ken Gillings article on the "Rebellion".


11 Nov - Monday
Armistice Day Ceremony with the MOTHs - 10.30am - Paul Kilmartin
14 Nov
DDH Patton Lights the Torch - Prof Mike Laing
Main The Private War between Gen. Sir Redvers Buller and Gen. Sir Charles Warren - Gilbert Torlage
10 Dec
Annual Dinner - venue to be confirmed
16 Jan 2003 - NB Third Thursday
DDH An Indian Mutiny Cameo - Ganes Pillay
Main The SANDF. From the "old" to the "New" - Maj.Gen Chris le Roux

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley, 101 Manning Road, Glenwood, Durban, 4001
Telephone: 031-201-3983

South African Military History Society /