South African Military History Society



August 2004

PAST EVENTS: As Paul Kilmartin is still overseas, our July meeting was once again chaired by our Vice Chairman Bill Brady. The July meeting did not reflect too well for the British Army, both in Ireland and in South Africa. These were the themes portrayed in the DDH and the main talk of the night.

Brian Kennedy's DDH talk dealt with the Battle of Crossbarry which took place in March 1921 and was the last time British and Irish regiments were opposed in pitched battle. Brian supported his story with an excellent, clear diagram showing the disposition of the British and Irish.

In January 1919 Sinn Fein issued a declaration of independence. The British government feared that other colonies, especially India, would follow suit and break away. The "Irish Volunteers" (the Irish Republican Army) became the army of the Republic. They employed tactics similar to those of the Boer forces in the Anglo-Boer War, and the British responded by setting in motion wide sweeps of the countryside.

West Cork had three I.R.A. brigades. Tom Barry, discharged from the British army after World War I, joined the I.R.A. He became the brave and brilliant commander of the West Cork Brigade. Poorly armed at first, the Irish needed to capture British armaments. By March 1921 there were 104 riflemen with only one week's training and only forty founds of ammunition per man.

Seeking confrontation when the British troops came out to sweep and search, the Irish column under Barry was waiting for them. The men assembled early in the morning of 19 March, with the British on three sides. Barry chose to stand and fight with seven sections of fourteen men, each near two farmhouses: 350 British soldiers advanced from Brandon, 300 from Kinsale and 200 men of the Essex Regiment opposed Kelleher's section. The British fought for a short while and then broke and ran. The battle was over by 10 a.m. The British, with heavy losses, retired in the wrong direction, towards Kilbarry instead of Crossbarry. They were defeated by the high morale of the Irish, urged on by the music of the pipers and the fact that they were confused about their position.

As a result of this engagement, Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, renewed negotiations with the Irish leader Eamon De Valera, and by July a truce was signed.

Questions followed Brian's short and succinct talk, especially with regard to the "Black and Tans", many of them discharged British soldiers who augmented and largely took over from the regular police, the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Dereck Petersen gave the main talk of the evening on The Capture of Winston Churchill on 15 November 1899. Using excellent photographs and artists' sketches gathered from numerous sources, Dereck told the story in minute detail.

The armoured train, initially parked at Estcourt station, consisted of an armoured Havelock engine and tender; two unroofed wagons with armoured and loopholed sides, one in front of the engine and one behind, for the transport of troops; and an open wagon at the rear of the train, loaded with steel rails, wooden sleepers, cast iron shoes and other spare parts for repairing rail tracks. Platelayers, among them William Rist (related to Dereck), were to accompany the troops in case the Boers damaged the train.

Each day, from early November, Brigadier Wolfe Murray sent the armoured train towards Colenso to gather intelligence and to collect British stores, ammunition and the kit abandoned in an earlier engagement. These were to be loaded on to four empty trucks.

In Estcourt at this time were two war correspondents: Winston Churchill of the Morning Post and Leo Amery of The Times as well as photographer and artist Rene Bull. These correspondents and others kept the outside world informed of the progress of the war.

Meanwhile, at Modderspruit, east of Ladysmith, General Piet Joubert offered his commanders three choices: to attack Ladysmith; to divide his forces between besieging Ladysmith and defending the Tugela against a relieving force, or to send an expeditionary force south to Durban, led by Louis Botha. The third option, although opposed by Prinsloo, was chosen.

On Monday, 13 November, this southbound Boer commando blew up part of the railway line to the north of Chieveley and then retired towards Colenso. More British troops, including the 2nd West Yorks Regiment under Colonel Kitchener, the Durban Light Infantry and men of H.M.S. Tartar and the H.M.S. Terrible with their two 12 pounders were positioned on a rise west of the railway line, and the muzzle-loading 7 pounder was to be mounted on a rail wagon attached to the armoured train.

After a Boer attack on the train on 14 March, Colonel Long, now in charge of the Estcourt garrison, considered abandoning the position, but decided to stand firm. Long ordered Captain Aylmer Haldane and his company of Dublin Fusiliers to man the armoured train leaving Estcourt at 5 a.m. on 15 November. Haldane invited Winston Churchill to accompany him. William Rist the platelayer, was on board. Men of the Durban Light Infantry were also on the train.

The train passed Frere station, crossed the Blaauwkrantz bridge and proceeded to Chieveley. When Boers were seen to the west, the train set off back to Frere. The Boers, about 300 men of the Krugersdorp and Wakkerstroom commandos under Louis Botha, supported by two field guns and a maxim, opened fire on the train as it neared their position. The train driver, Charles Wagner (a relative of whose was in our audience) and the fireman Alex Stewart put on full steam around the hill on which the Boers were, then down a steep gradient, Irvine's Bank, and collided with rocks placed by the Boers on the line. The platelayers' armoured truck was flung off the tracks and landed on its side. The truck with the tools and spares landed upside down. Other trucks were derailed. Although no shells exploded inside the trucks, they penetrated the sides. Churchill and Wagner did their best to organise the clearing of the line, but only the engine and tender could be freed. During the course of the battle, both Captain Haldane and Winston Churchill were captured.

All that remains of the armoured trucks, 2 pieces of armoured plating, can be found in the D.L.I. Museum. The incident brought Churchill into prominence.

Ian Sutherland proposed the vote of thanks for two most interesting and carefully researched talks.


Our next meeting will be the Base Visit to the 19th Field Regiment HQ. Lt Col Tex Westgate will be our host, and has arranged for the Society to have access to the display cases and the "New" G1 guns. 84 Signals also have a very interesting museum of signals equipment which will be opened for Society members.

To get to the 19 Field Regiment's HQ, drive along Old Fort Road, over the Soldiers' Way bridge. Just after the Motor Dealerships on your left, turn left into Lords Ground Military Base (all the badges of the various Regimental Units are at the entrance). If you drive past the City Engineers Dept, you've gone too far. It is opposite the Old MOTH Club.


If it has slipped the mind of the few remaining members who have not paid, please send your subscription ASAP to Joan Marsh in Johannesburg, or directly into the Society account at FNB Bank, Bruma Lake Branch, A/c 50391928346, Branch code, 25-66-55, Name: South African Military History Society. Dues are R120 for a Single Member or R140 for a Family Member.


Your committee have requested that all members send contact details (particularly e-mail addresses) and the requested format was sent out with the March newsletter. We have had a good response so far, but would ask all members who have yet to do so, to please forward their details to Dr. INGRID MACHIN, so that we can complete our member's database for ease of future contact. For extra copies of the format sheet please contact INGRID MACHIN on 031-201-3983.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : July - September 2004

9 September 2004
DDH - I Was There - Italy 1944 - Graham Harvey
MAIN - The Italian Campaign: 1944-1945 - Major Keith Archibald
14 October 2004
DDH - The Reserve Forces - Colonel Pat Acutt
MAIN - The Dam Buster Raid, 16/17 May 1943 - Charles Whiteing
11 November 2004
DDH - Gen. George Patton in World War 1 - Prof. Mike Laing
MAIN - The Battle of the River Plate : Dec 1939 - Bill Brady

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley, 101 Manning Road, Glenwood, Durban, 4001
Telephone: 031-201-3983

South African Military History Society /