South African Military History Society


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 204
September 2021


Preparations are in place to undertake a one day field trip to the Nanaga area on Saturday 18 September. This area is only about 60km from Port Elizabeth and to the unassuming, it is associated with dairy cows and the well-known Nanaga Farm Stall. But the back roads of the region have a different tale to tell and we will be covering the contribution made not only by the 1820 Settlers, but also by the Trek Boers and the Black tribes who form the typical rich mix that is so much part of Eastern Cape history.

The field trip comes at no cost to you and it is a good opportunity to enjoy the easing of COVID restrictions and see a part of the Eastern Cape that you may have simply passed through on your way to your destination. The warning order has been out to members and we welcome your support.

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Passing of SAMHSEC member Peter Gray

SAMHSEC regrets the passing of fellow member Peter Gray from Oudtshoorn.

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SAMHSEC has a new member!

We welcome André Rudman from Cape Town as a SAMHSEC member. André lives on the other side of the druiwegordyn, but, in real life, he is an Eastern Cape frontiersman. We trust that you will enjoy your membership and look forward to your company, André.

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South African Legion Port Elizabeth Branch Centenary

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SAMHSEC congratulates the Port Elizabeth Branch of the South African Legion on the Centenary of the foundation of the Branch in August 1921.

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“The Polish Children’s Home in Oudtshoorn 1943 to 1947” presented to SAMHSEC’s RPC on 26 July 2021 by Stefan Szewzuk

This talk was a sequel to Stefan’s presentation on 14 June 2021 on the Polish-Soviet War 1919 to 1921, see SAMHSEC newsletter number 202 of July 2021 and the SAMHS Zoom library

Following the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Russia invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. Between 10 February 1940 and 20 June 1941, 1,7 million Poles were deported to Siberia. With the outbreak of German- Russian hostilities in June 1941, the surviving deportees were released to make their own way to freedom. The Union of South Africa Government agreed to accept 500 Polish orphans, accompanied by 10 adults, who were accommodated in the Polish Children's Home in Oudtshoorn, where they arrived on 10 April 1943. The Home was closed in 1947.

Stefan’s presentation is in the SAMHS Zoom library

The discussion after Stefan’s presentation is also there.

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Pat Irwin’s review of three books on the role of “Women in War” during the 26 July 2021 RPC was the start our celebration of August as Women’s Month

The books reviewed were:

Collectively, the three books give us a wider contextual picture of some of the roles which women have played in war, from early times up to the present, than any one of them could have achieved. All encompass histories moving across class, rank and race distinctions, and go way beyond fighting and battles, examining the whys and wherefores of women’s actions, ambitions, values and thinking on the issue of military service and war over the past 2 000 years. They have also inevitably raised interesting questions about men in relation to women in combat and in military roles in general. The general unhappiness of men about women serving in combat is also explored.

Army Wives examines in an objective yet penetrating way, the lives and circumstances experienced by the wives of soldiers of all ranks in the British Army from the time of the Crimean War to the end of the Cold War. Each conflict produced its own set of challenges to wives, ranging from the arduous journeys they experienced in accompanying their husbands to the Crimea, where they were among the last wives to witness battle, to the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Giles also focuses on how the wives of soldiers have coped with such fundamentals as constantly having to move and establish new homes as their husbands are transferred from one base to another according to military contingencies, their children’s education in a military environment, supporting their husbands (who may sometimes return from a tour of duty, traumatised, or suffering from some degree of PTSD), and supporting each other, both socially and in times of difficulties.

Throughout the text, the voices of the wives themselves are brought to the fore. The book gives us rich and well written panoply of insights into how military wives cope with and manage situations, which very few of us will ever experience.

It’s my country too deals with American women in combat. The two editors, both military women themselves, clearly have as one of their aims the breaking down of gender stereotypes about women in military roles. They do this through reasonable argument, using case studies as examples. The book ranges in subject matter from women masquerading as men in the armed forces and in battle, during the time of the American Revolution and through the Civil War to those with combat experience in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. This is expressed entirely through the voices and writings of the women themselves, revealing how, and why, they chose to break with the social norms of their time, and how they experienced the results of it, both positive and negative.

Refreshingly, the book is not dogmatically partisan and has no apparent ideological drum to beat, but records with a depth of understanding, the achievements of a wide social spectrum of American military women. It also records some of the difficulties and obstructions, from women as well as men, they have faced, as well as the support they have had in gaining their achievements, such as they are at this stage.

Although there was no overt agenda to press the point, one of the features of the book that stood out was the amount of opposition and outright chauvinism expressed by males of all ranks in the American Armed Forces: men who have at every turn taken the opportunity to trivialise and denigrate roles which women fulfilled, as well as constantly questioning their competence and ability. This viewpoint has sometimes been vociferously supported by women. Against this, it must also be stressed that there have been many men, particularly among middle ranking and senior officers, who have actively supported and promoted women’s entry to and progress within the Armed Forces. This book is both informative and insightful.

The Warrior Queens is a remarkable work by a very accomplished historian, biographer and novelist: a person who is a refreshingly clear thinker with a razor-sharp mind. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a knighthood for services to literature in 2011. In this book she writes about and comments on about 25 women who constitute her corpus of ‘warrior queens’.

She starts with the first century Celtic queen, Boudica, and ends with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. She then examines in greater depth, the lives and military activities of ten of these women. These are:

Other queens in this category are: