South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0675 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


Past ZOOMeetings

Johannesburg hosted retired Judge John Myburgh from his Cape Town home on Thursday 18th February explaining "why there is a statue of Jan Christian Smuts in Parliament Square near the Houses of Parliament in Central London?"

John started with Smuts' education and described how a second son of a farmer - only sent to school when his older sibling died of typhoid - achieved scholarly success when the Ebden scholarship from Stellenbosch's Victoria College (not yet their university) allowed him to go to Cambridge in 1891. He was very successful as a lawyer and returned to SA to become part of the Transvaal's parliament.

John then jumped to 1910 when Smuts was part of the first parliament in post-Union South Africa. In it he held three cabinet portfolios - Minister of the Interior, of Mines and Works and of Defence. This last allowed him to write the act which gave birth to the UDF - the Union Defence Force.

General Smuts' Great War activities in Africa are well known including reluctantly accepting command of Allied troops in German East Africa. Having confined von Lettow-Vorbeck's forces further into the interior, he was at home for a single week before leaving for the UK to represent SA at the Imperial War Conference in 1917. He was away for over 3 years ...

He was treated as a hero in Britain. Churchill used the word "sagacity" and he was clearly well-regarded - so much so he ended up becoming the only expatriate member of the 6 person War Cabinet. By establishing the Air Ministry in 1917 he was the de facto father of the Royal Air Force; he met Ezra Weizmann in connection with a new explosive (TNT) and supported aspirations for a Jewish state. While on a diplomatic mission his deep thinking continued and he returned with a base document - the forerunner of what became the commonwealth in 1926. He was called the handyman of the Empire, for example visited Switzerland to see if a deal could take Austria out of the War, which proved unsuccessful.

One of his most successful missions was visiting the Welsh coal miners who had gone on strike.

He started by asking the assembled miners to sing ... after they sang "Land of my Fathers" he appealed to their patriotism, saying the war was not only in the trenches of France but also in the trenches in Wales ... the miners went back to work.

In 1918 Smuts was made a Privy Councillor as well as awarded other honours. His efforts to soften the terms of the Peace Conference in 1918 however failed. As he saw it the war had continued with only an armistice having taken place in 1919. France's punitive occupation of some of Germany's land due to non-payment of reparations was, in his view, illegal. His writings sowed the seed to the League of Nations.

In the inter-war years when he was not always Prime Minister, Smuts delved into studying plants - and in 1933 was invited to chair an illustrious Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

World War II saw Smuts once again called by Churchill to help the British war effort. He delivered an inspiring radio talk to the nation in July 1940. In 1941 King George VI made him a Field Marshall - he said he was "too old to change title" since his people knew him as General Smuts. In 1942 he delivered a speech to the joint Houses of Parliament (first from a commonwealth leader) in which he coined the phrase "the offensive phase".

From 1939 to 1943 John reckoned that Smuts' star was at its highest in England. But as North Africa was rid of German and Italian soldiers, the Mediterranean opened up and the Cape route was no longer of such importance, Smuts' influence waned. He was involved in the June 1944 landings and later visited Italy and Cairo, as well as hearing from his friend Niels Bohr about the atomic bomb.

The thread which permeated John's talk was that Jan Smuts was an unique person who had foresight and a great belief in the worth of human beings, that human beings should have rights, and that by recognising those rights nations should be able to live in peace rather than always going to war. He saw that Europe would be damaged if not eliminated by the great war and proposed a 'League of Nations' to replace it and become a referee between nations.

In September 1944 his draft for the preamble to the United Nations was accepted. He was a delegate to the San Francisco UN founding conference where his presence was "dignified rather than useful". He enjoyed hosting the British Royal family on its tour in 1947 and was awarded the Order of Merit by the King - only 24 people at a time hold this honour.

But afterwards he was attacked at all UN venues by the Indian delegation wanting an accounting for the treatment of Indians in South Africa. He never had the chance of proposing the annexation of SWA into SA.

His last speech as Prime Minister was in 1948 shortly before the general election in which D F Malan and the Nationalist party won the majority of seats. He passed away on 11 September 1950. On 26 June 1952 Churchill said of Smuts that he had fought for the whole world.

Both parts of John's presentation are accessible from the ZOOM library on the Society's web-site.

* * * * * * *

ZOOMeetings and ROOMeetings

The four venues which used to host our monthly lectures - ROOMeetings - have as yet been unable to accommodate the Society due to Covid-19 restrictions. The dates for the Ditsong Museum auditorium have been provisionally reserved for 2021 but there is no indication as to when this might start.

* * * * * * *


Johannesburg's next ZOOMeeting
will be at 19h30 on 4th March 2021 (First Thursday)

Speaker: Errol Cunningham

Subject: Empire of Japan: The Japanese Submarine Fleet of WWII

* * *

SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape Branch's next ZOOMeeting

will be at 19h30 on 8th March 2021

Speaker: Robert Harm
Subject: Minesweeping in the South African Navy

* * *

SAMHSEC's next Request the Pleasure of your Company

will be at 19h30 on 29th March 2021
Jaco Pretorius is to talk on a topic to be confirmed,
followed by another speaker on a military historical topic

* * *

Details of the ZOOM lectures will be sent to all on the master list as usual. There are currently 162 ZOOMINATI from all over the world on this list.

* * *

Just let know in order to be sent an invitation.

* * * * * * *


Members with an interesting presentation on any aspect of military history are sought for ZOOMEETINGS. A nominal 30 minute lecture supported by Power Point or similar slides, but not video, is required.

* * * * * * *


Distribution 'hubs' will soon be needed from where members can collect their December Journals rather than risk our postal service. If available please e-mail Joan using volunteer as hub in the subject line. She will courier to hubs where at least 5 Journals are needed.

* * * * * * *


Subscriptions for 2021 will remain as R265 for single and R285 for family memberships. Thank you to the many members who have already renewed for 2021. There are 3 deposits which cannot be allocated because there is no name identified on the bank statement - Payments were on 5 January (SAMHS), 13 January (SA Mil Hist Soc) and 27 January (Yearly sub). Please check if you might have been one of those willing people ...

* * * * * * *


Member Chris Ash (currently in Iraq) pointed out that Queen Mary was a battle cruiser, not a troopship, when she was sunk at the battle of Jutland in WWI, as reported in the February newsletter.

* * * * * * *

Branch contact details


Cape Town details contact Carl Burger 082 333 2706

Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469

Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676

KwaZulu-Natal details contact Roy Bowman 031-564-4669

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /