South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 200

May / Mei 2021


Readers may note that this is our 200th issue! We have come a long way since we first met in 2004 at the Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall to inaugurate a new branch of the society. In this time, the branch newsletter has only had three editors, namely your present Scribe and, for a far longer period, Anne Irwin, ably assisted by her husband, Patrick. They certainly took the newsletter to great heights and included a vast number of interesting links to the various web pages of military history interest.

We do believe that, though we now live in a far more advanced technical age where newsletters may be considered old school, the newsletter does play a role. You may either glance through it or read it more at leisure in your own time, but it does contain the details of pending meetings and the Zoom links, which are so important in keeping us together.

We are pleased to report that we no longer have members who receive the issue through the good old Post Office service and we wonder in that regard who of us last bought a stamp!

It is also pleasing to note that attendances at our meetings are most encouraging. At our meeting of 29 April, we had more than 50 attendees zoom in for both sessions, including one from as far afield as Kuwait!

SAMHSEC has new members!

We welcome Jenny and Mike Dean as well as Bev and Andy Bolton, all from Port Elizabeth, as SAMHSEC members.

Nick Cowley is a SAMHS Jhb member of old who has passed the medical to live on the Frontier and now lives in Bathurst. Welcome to SAMHSEC, Nick!

John Nicolson is a SAMHS CT member from Somerset West, who has joined SAMHSEC until SAMHS CT is back on the air. Welcome aboard, John.

There is an interesting post about John’s father, Major Guy Nicolson, MC and Bar, in the Military Miscellany section of the SAMHS website, see
Major Gibson was, indeed, a POW Extraordinary and Musician of Note.

We trust that you will all enjoy your membership and look forward to your company.

Addo Elephant National Park 4x 4 trail 27 April 2021

Through the good offices of SAMHSEC member Michael Newcombe, SAMHSEC was invited to join the Friends of the Karel Landman Monument’s guided tour over the Addo Elephant National Park 4x4 trail on 27 April. The fact that the route covers part of the Smuts’ Commando route over the Zuurberg, including the site of the Bedrogsfontein skirmish in October 1901, made it an opportunity to recce the route for a possible SAMHSEC field trip.

The SAN Parks website describes the route as follows (see

Driving the route is a long, tiring and uncomfortable day, with amazing views en route and a sense of accomplishment at the end making it worthwhile, with some military history as a bonus. Not for the faint of heart.

Presentations to our RPC meeting on 29 March 2021

In the military history session, Jaco Pretorius spoke on the Polish contribution during WW2 under General Stanislaw Maczek.

In the book review session, McGill Alexander reviewed the autobiography “Jungle Man” by Major P.L. Pretorius, CMG, DSO & Bar, who was one of Africa's greatest big game hunters and a South African soldier of note during the First World War. He carried out pioneering special forces actions, including deep reconnaissance, during the East African Campaign, serving as the Chief Scout to General Jan Smuts. He was also the vital cog in finding the German cruiser, SMS Königsberg, that had hidden in the Rufiji River Delta, enabling her to be crippled by the Royal Navy and forcing the captain to scuttle her. The exploits by Pretorius against the Germans paralleled those of his contemporary, Lawrence of Arabia and he ended the war highly decorated by the British government. In the post-war years, he played a controversial role in the almost total extermination of the elephants of the Addo bush to prevent their destruction of the Sundays River citrus farming enterprise in the Eastern Cape.

Mac’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library.

The early use of force in self defence and the Caroline Test – presented to the SAMHSEC zoomeeting on 12 April 2021 by Malcolm Kinghorn

The early use of force in self defence is included in International Law in the Law of Armed Conflict, also known as International Humanitarian Law.

The early use of force in self defence could either be preventative or preemptive.

Preventative self defence is to neutralise a potential threat before attack is imminent or known to be planned and is not legitimate in International Law.

Pre-emptive self defence is to neutralise a potential threat when attack is imminent and known to be planned and is legitimate in International Law if the necessity complies with the principle of the Caroline Test. The principle is based on the Caroline Incident on the Canada/USA border in 1837.

William Mackenzie was one of the leaders of the Reform Movement of Upper Canada, today's Province of Ontario, which wanted more democratic British colonial rule in Canada. In 1837, Mackenzie gave up on peaceful reform and began the Upper Canada Rebellion. The Canadian rebels received widespread support from Americans, who provided supplies and bases from which to launch raids on British forces in Canada.

After a series of defeats, Mackenzie and some followers withdrew to Navy Island in the Niagara River, about 2 kilometers above the Niagara Falls, where they declared the Republic of Canada on 5 December 1837. The Caroline, a steamer of about 46 tons on the American register, carried men and supplies to the “Patriot Forces” on Navy Island. The ship was moored on the American side of the river at night.

Canadian Loyalist Colonel Sir Allan Mac Nab, in command of British Forces in Upper Canada, was determined to destroy her. Volunteers under Captain Andrew Drew, RN, boarded the Caroline during the night of 29 December 1837. The crew of the Caroline was driven ashore and an American crew member was killed. The Caroline was cast from her moorings, set on fire and drifted over the falls. The British claimed that they had attacked the Caroline in self defence.

US President van Buren sent a special message to Congress stating that a British force under arms had invaded American territory, that American property had been destroyed and American lives lost. The US Secretary of State demanded satisfaction from Britain. The militia was called out along the US northern border. General Scott was ordered to the frontier to take command. He had no troops at his disposal, as the US Army was fully committed in the Seminole War.

For a time, war seemed imminent, but neither country wanted to be drawn into conflict with the other. General Scott preserved neutrality along the border while the US State Department opened negotiations with Great Britain, which allowed time for tempers to cool.

The incident led to the legal principle of the Caroline Test being drafted into International Law. The principle states that the necessity for pre-emptive self defence must be "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation". The Caroline Test remains part of International Law today.

Malcolm’s talk is in the SAMHS Zoom library.

Presentations to our RPC meeting on 26 April 2021

In the military history session, McGill Alexander spoke about “South Africa's first operational parachute jump.” In the second session, Peter Duffel-Canham reviewed the book “The Battle of Bangui”. Reports on and links to SAMHS Zoom library recordings of both talks will be included in the next newsletter.

SAMHSEC Meeting 10 May 2021

Our next monthly meeting is on Monday 10 May 2021: Alan Mantle’s talk on “Commemorating Private Reice Campbell, who died in Italy in 1944” will be a sequel to his talk on 11 January 2021 on Italy 1943 to 1945 - War and Civil War

SAMHSEC RPC 31 May 2021

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to a talk about military history on 31 May 2021: Session 1 31 May 2021 at 1930 South African time. In this general military history session, Franco Cilliers will talk about Military History podcasts. Session 2 31 May 2021 at 2015 South African time. This session is available for anyone to speak about a military history related book. If you have a book you would like to share with us, please contact André at

This is the captain speaking

It is a pleasure to express my gratitude to all members who have contributed to the first 200 issues of SAMSHEC newsletters. The newsletters have made invaluable contributions to our branch’s growth and are all available on the SAMHS website.

While I am pleased that members are using our WhatsApp group to communicate with one another about our mutual interest in military history, I encourage the use of our newsletters for the same purpose, in the form of letters to the Scribe. The focus of the first 200 issues has been the Scribes talking to members; let’s make the focus of future issues members talking to one another!


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South African Military History Society /