South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 197

February/Februarie 2021


We continue to attract large audiences to our zoomeetings and this is most gratifying. At our RPC meeting of 25 January, we had 54 participants for the first session. A discussion has taken place among members on the viability of holding two meetings a month and the response from all who replied that it is certainly worthwhile. In these times of curfew and lockdown, our shared interest in matters military has certainly added to sustaining interest over a difficult period.

A tour to Kimberley and Bloemfontein was mooted towards the end of last year. About 16 members indicated interest in attending. On reflection and because our branch has yet to return to normal, it has been decided to shelve the idea and to rather pursue it when the present COVID restrictions are relaxed and no longer have an impact on our daily activities.

Italy 1943/45 War and Civil War by Alan Mantle

Alan’s address to the SAMHSEC zoomeeting on 11 January 2021 covered a unique and controversial period of military history. Italy´s reaction to the German invasion after the 1943 Italian Armistice with the Allies divided the nation into a state of War and Civil War between Italian Fascist forces supporting the Germans and Italian military and partisan forces fighting with the Allies against them. With the Allied strategic objectives of the invasion of Sicily and Italy achieved by the Armistice, Alan questioned whether Allied operations in Italy after the Armistice were necessary. The devastation caused and the high number of military and civilian casualties incurred between the Armistice in 1943 and the end of the War in Europe in 1945 had dramatic consequences for the Italian nation.

Alan’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library, see for part 1 and for part 2.

14 Platoon of B Company of Die Middelandse Regiment escape from Tobruk by Ian Pringle

The SAMHSEC RPC on 29 January 2021 included the story of the escape from Tobruk by Lt Cecil Featherstone, MC (known by his nickname “Quills”) and members of 14 Platoon of B Company of Die Middelandse Regiment (DMR).

Ian gave a brief history of DMR which, to this day, is remembered very vividly and proudly in what is known as the Greater Karroo Region. The Regiment was formed in 1934 as an infantry battalion and was initially based in Cradock before its headquarters moved to Graaff-Reinet in 1939 under the command of Lt Col Walter Kingwill. Members of the Regiment were drawn mainly from the Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Jansenville, Tarkastad, Steynsburg, Middelburg, Somerset East, Burgersdorp, Aliwal North and Colesberg districts, with a large percentage of members being of traditional farming stock.

After the Declaration of War, Mobilisation Orders were received on 5 September 1940 and the Regiment left for Egypt on board the Mauritania on 10 June 1941. DMR was part of 2nd SA Division under the command of 8th Army. Before the fall of Tobruk, the Regiment saw action in Bardia and Sollum. Disaster struck in June 1942 when General Klopper surrendered Tobruk to Rommel and 444 members of DMR were taken prisoner. There was scarcely a family in the Karroo that was not affected when husbands, fathers, sons and brothers were taken prisoner. But there were a few exceptions led by Quills Featherstone, who escaped to fight another day.

Ian is indebted to David Hobson of Pearston for much information on DMR. David’s father, Edgar, and other family members became POWs. David relates that Quills was from the Aberdeen district and was Head Boy of Grey in 1916. He was a big and imposing man – one of authority and, dare we say, one you would always like to have on your side!

A summary taken from a DMR Reunion booklet details the remarkable escape by 14 Platoon of B Company when Tobruk fell on 21 June 1942. The platoon was deployed close to the perimeter wire when Quills and Sgt Denny Kingwill noticed that German forces had penetrated the area and that they were at risk. The next day, on hearing that General Klopper had capitulated, the reaction of the entire platoon was to make a run for it and off they set. They found a gap in the mine fields and their six trucks made their way through and, while doing so, picked up an officer and 16 men of 1st Transvaal Scottish. Those taken on board included a machine gun section, which was to prove invaluable as the small convoy tried to find a route to safety.

They encountered a German convoy when attempting to cross the El Adem – Tobruk road and, unfortunately, three of their trucks were cut off and those on board were captured. For the next 24 miles, the remaining three trucks had a wild and hard drive over rough ground, shooting their way through a group of Germans and a battery of Italian artillery which, caught by surprise, attempted to bring their guns to bear, but the three trucks had no intention of stopping and sped off. They later reached the escarpment and the pressure eased. The escapees came across Allied forces, who escorted them to the Hamra Box, east of the frontier wire. Two officers and 44 men under Quills had made their escape and were able to report for duty. It had been a nerve-wracking experience.

Those who had escaped linked up with 1st SA Division and, having lost all their kit and equipment, were re-equipped. For his role in the escape, Quills was awarded the Military Cross. In typical fashion, he gave the credit for the escape to Denny Kingwill and Lt Theo Kinghorn. The 14 Platoon escapees, together with others from B Company who had also escaped from Tobruk, joined the Rand Light Infantry for the rest of the North African Campaign and were praised by this Regiment for their contribution. They were present at the Defence of El Alamein, thus adding Alamein Battle Honours to their Regimental Colour in addition to those earned before the fall of Tobruk.

Among the members of the Regiment during WW2 was a young De Villiers Graaff, who maintained a lifelong association with DMR. He was a regular attendee at the annual Veteran Reunions, which were held on a rotating basis in various towns in the Karroo.

The Reunion Weekend was a must attend function. An AGM was held on the Saturday afternoon and was followed by a dinner/dance in the evening. On the Sunday before a church service, a photograph was taken of the group. In early years more than 100 members would be present. By the last reunion in 1989, only a few members were left and the Association disbanded. The last members were, until fairly recently, Ewart Bowker of Middelburg and Con Kingwill of Nieu- Bethesda. Ian is, however, informed that descendants of those who enlisted are keen to resurrect a form of association and to keep the flame burning.

There was tremendous camaraderie between these men, nearly all of whom had done time together in POW camps and survived the long marches. Funerals which followed in later years were always well attended with many veterans undertaking long journeys to pay their last respects to a fellow soldier and comrade.

A story is told of one AGM when the Roll of Honour was being called and those who had passed on during that year were added to the Roll, that Sixie McNaughton of Graaff–Reinet leant across and tapped the shoulder of a similar aged veteran saying in a loud stage whisper and in typical local Graaff–Reinet English that “It looks likes die ou jakkals is now catching in our kraal!”. Much laughter followed!

Sir De Villiers Graaff later became Leader of the Opposition and enjoyed huge support from his old comrades. The Wool Boom followed in the early 1950s and members were very forthcoming with financial support for the common cause. Walter Kingwill, the OC, later became the MP for Walmer in Port Elizabeth and Jack Wainright of Molteno became the MP for East London North.

The Regiment was disbanded in 1942 after Tobruk, but reformed in Cradock in 1945, before being relocated in 1947 to Graaff-Reinet under the command of Lt Col Borchers. A change of Government took place in 1948 and with it came other changes. In 1953, the name of the Regiment was changed to Regiment Gideon Scheepers, the Boer Commandant who was tried and executed in Graaff-Reinet during the Anglo Boer War. This name change did not go down well with the members of DMR and the entire officers’ corps, with one exception, resigned.

The Regimental Colours were laid up in St James Church in Graaff-Reinet for safe keeping. In 1999 the Regiment, which had existed under other names and structures in the intervening years, was closed.

Ian’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library, see

Book review on Colonel John Brereton

The 29 January RPC included Pat Irwin’s review of a book on Colonel John Brereton, who led the so-called “Brereton Raid” against Ndlambe in December 1818. A summary of the review will be included in a future newsletter.

Unidentified South African Army officer from the Great War

The following was received from Hamish Patterson about identifying a South African Army officer from the Great War in the January 2021 newsletter:
“The officer is wearing the 1913 pattern officers’ jacket. The cap badge is the Union Defence Forces General Service badge. It is difficult to see whether he is wearing riding boots or boots and leggings.

The spurs indicate that he is a mounted officer. Therefore, the following are possibilities: the adjutant of a regiment, brigade major or staff captain of a brigade or an officer in a mounted regiment.

The beard and moustache indicate that he is an Afrikaner. The moustache and rounded chin makes it unlikely that this is a photograph of Jan Smuts. Smuts’ moustache was always neatly trimmed. English speakers were either clean shaven or had a military style moustache or full beard and moustache.

He is most likely an officer in one of the mounted brigades formed in the Eastern Transvaal for the German South West Africa Campaign. He could an officer from one of the South African Horse Regiments formed for service in German East Africa.”


As an additional service to members, SAMHS sends an e-mail to members who have requested to be reminded of forthcoming zoomeetings.

This is a separate distribution list to that used to distribute newsletters as some members prefer not to be involved with zoomeetings at all. If you are not already receiving zoomeeting reminder e-mails and would like to be added to this distribution list, please send an e-mail to Mike Marsh at

Thank you, Mike, for going this extra mile!


A Cape Town military historian has created a digital format (pdf) “Southern African History & Military Campaigns Journal” as a free monthly issue. Anyone who is interested in receiving these free issues is invited to contact him at


Notice is hereby given of the SAMHSEC AGM to be held at 1900 on 8 March 2021 by means of Zoom.

The Chairman’s and Treasurer’s reports for 2020 will be distributed to members in advance.

Nominations for members to serve on the SAMHSEC Committee for 2021 and agenda points for the AGM are to be submitted to me by e-mail to before 28 February 2021, please.


Mac Alexander is to address the SAMHSEC zoomeeting on 8 February 2021 on The Siege of the Alcázar during the Spanish Civil War.

Session 1

8 February 2021 at 1930 Pretoria.

Session 2

8 February 2021 at 2015 Pretoria


SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history at 1930 on 22 February 2021

Session 1

This session is available for anyone to speak about military history. If you have something you would like to share with us, please contact Andre at

22 February 2021 at 1930 Pretoria

Session 2

Jaco Pretorius is to review the book Anglo-Boer War Blockhouses – a Military Engineer’s Perspective by Simon C Green 22 February 2021 at 2015 Pretoria

This is the captain speaking

I recently received an enquiry about the use of the farm Klipfontein in the Uitenhage district in WW2, which I had never heard of before. A search using the SAMHS website search engine found the answer in a presentation to SAMHS Jhb in June 1992 by John Keene, see

The SAMHS website is a remarkable resource, which I encourage you to use.

SAMHSEC thanks and extends its appreciation to the SAMHS Jhb Branch who maintain the website for the benefit of us all. BZ!


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South African Military History Society /