South African Military History Society

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


Past ZOOMeeting - Hosted by Johannesburg

The February lecture was by Errol Back-Cunningham who painted a picture of what made Fritz Joubert Duquesne the Boer Spy, a possible candidate for the claimed killing of Kitchener in WWI.

Instead of using published references, Errol made use of more recently released documents - more than 400 pages from MI5 and MI6 in the UK and over 2600 pages from the FBI and CIC in America. There are gaps in the story when Duquesne simply disappeared - sometimes for years at a time.

He did fight in the Anglo-Boer War where he was regarded as being second only to Danie Theron in scouting skills; he was captured by the British and sent to Bermuda as a POW. He escaped (another speciality of his) and went first to the USA. There are indications that he was in Japan when the Sino-Japanese war was fought - Germany supported one side, Britain the other.

He was certainly in Australia and appropriated the identity of an Australian Captain which he later used in the USA if not in Britain. He was a master of diguises.

Fritz became a US citizen in 1913 and kept busy as a journalist, an explorer, a big game hunter/guide and after-dinner speaker. He was already involved in setting up what became the largest German spy ring in that country. Along the way he had picked up skills in photography, going to South America making films about wild animals there. He might not have known personally about explosives but had someone in his ring who was an expert in pencil bombs. Spies are expensive to run and funds from Germany did not always get to him on time, so he started an insurance fraud scheme.

Ships bound for allied countries were used to take insured cargo, including films, from Bahia in Brazil. In with the cargo were pencil bombs with chemical fuses which would take a random time before exploding. No doubt surrounded by suitable flammable materials, the ensuing fires sent 22 ships to the bottom. He would then claim from the insurance companies for the loss of his cargo. The scheme worked as long as the ship sank.

But then in February SS Tennyson failed to sink after one of the explosive attacks and closer inspection revealed the mechanism to be tied to his cargo. He was arrested in America for insurance fraud. But the UK, USA and Brazil were uncertain about where to try the case. Eventually it was allowed to lapse.

A month after the SS Tennyson attack, Field Marshall Kitchener was killed near Scapa Flow enroute to Russia. Duquesne claimed to have infiltrated the Kitchener party...

The recording is on the website.

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Let know in order to be sent an invitation to the next ZOOMinar

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Johannesburg Branch

Thursday 9th March 2023 at 19h30 and then 20h15

Speaker: Leon Steyn

Subject: The first Swans of the South African Navy - 50 Years ago

This lecture attempts to provide much needed focus to a neglected but important era of our naval history. It details the first permanent appointment of women in the South African Navy in 1972 and 1973 50 years ago. The lecture will uncover their experiences, particular utilisation and challenges to integrate into a male-dominated Navy.

Commander Leon Steyn is the officer-in-charge of the South African Naval Museum in Simon's Town.

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Eastern Cape Branch (SAMHSEC)

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 27 February 2023.
Session 1 (19h30) Pat Irwin will speak about the wars and battles of the Barolong people of Central South Africa from the 16th to the 19th centuries as recorded by Dr Silas Molema (1875-1950)

Session 2 (20h15) Ian Copley will tell us about Corporal Ward, a UK National Serviceman who served in Ian's Field Ambulance unit in Kenya. The talk deals with the challenges of tackling boredom amongst servicemen.

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SAMHSEC Field Trip 12 March 2023

We are planning a return-same-day field trip to the Bain Monument at the Ecca Pass on the Queen's Road between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, Fort Brown and Fort Double Drift on 12 March 2023.

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SAMHSEC ZOOMinar Monday 13 March 2023

Details of this event are still to be confirmed.

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December 2022 Military History Journal

Thank you to all the members who offered to be hubs for distributing the latest Journal. If yours has not yet arrived by snail mail, do not despair. Previous issue, posted in July 2022, reached a Durban member in December while a Johannesburg member received his in - wait for it - February 2023.

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REQUEST: from a postgraduate student in Germany:

I am looking for diaries, letters, notebooks, and memoirs written by soldiers who served in the Union Defence Force between 1914 and 1945. I would also be interested in looking at photo albums. Any regiment, any rank, any campaign. My email address is or

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Become a Zoominatus/a and enjoy Military History Society meeting and talks in your own home.

Approximately 200 of our members receive announcements of forthcoming meetings and are invited to join the meetings. We wish to encourage more of those who are missing out to become involved. We hold three ZOOMinars a month.

All you need is a computer, OR A CELLPHONE, and a data connection and you can become part of the meetings. You will need to contact the Society to be added to the invite list and then you are all fitted out. You then click on the link in the invitation just before the meeting starts and it will hook you up to join the meetings.


Eastern Cape details contact    Malcolm Kinghorn    041-373-4469

Gauteng details contact    Joan Marsh     010-237-0676

KwaZulu-Natal details contact    Prof Phil Everitt    084-437-1636

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