South African Military History Society



January 2004

PAST EVENTS: With our Chairman away in the United Kingdom, Vice Chairman Bill Brady chaired the first meeting of 2004. His first announcement concerned a change in the January program as Lt. Colonel Rupert Robson, who was due to give his talk on A Personal View of The Bosnia-Herzegovina Conflict 1992 - 1999, was unable to be present as he had been called away on military business at very short notice. He will return to give his talk at the May meeting of the Society. Because of this late change the Society was grateful to Lt. Colonel Graeme Fuller who agreed, also at very short notice, to give part 2 of his talk on The Medical Services during the Natal Campaign as the main January talk.

Our immediate past Chairman, Ken Gillings gave the DDH talk on the unveiling of the memorial to Lt. G.H.B. Coulson, VC, DSO and three other soldiers killed in action at Lambrechtfontein in the Bothaville area on 18 May 1901. Earlier, in November 1900, the Battle of Doornkraal took place near Bothaville. Here General Charles Knox, with some mounted infantry under Colonels de Lisle and Le Gallais opposed General Christiaan de Wet and President M.T. Steyn. In the British attack, Le Gallais was mortally wounded, and de Wet and Steyn narrowly escaped capture. The British soldiers who died in the battle lie buried in the Bothaville garden of Remembrance.

While Ken was researching his talk on Vlakfontein, he corresponded with Mr. Ian Martin, the regimental historian of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Martin asked Ken for assistance in locating the grave of Lt. Coulson, VC, DSO, on the farm Lambrechtfontein, and if found, to facilitate the erection of a memorial. With his usual energy, Ken set to work. He contacted fellow member of the Society Steve Watt, who provided him with a sketch of the locality of the graves, situated in a fruit orchard. Ken also contacted Mr Stephen Verralls, grandson of Corporal Ernest Shaw, DCM, who was with Coulson, for the following description of the battle and the events, which led to Coulson's award of the VC. On the night of 17 May 1901, the Boers attacked the British camp. They were driven off but returned and attacked the rearguard of the British column, which was now moving off. Lt. Coulson rode back with some men to rescue the battalion's Maxim gun, which was in danger of falling into Boer hands. On his return with his troops, Coulson came across his servant, Corporal Cramner dismounted and stranded. Coulson took Cramner up behind him on his own horse, which was then wounded bringing both men to the ground. Coulson gave Cramner the wounded horse telling him to save himself. Corporal Shaw of the Lincolnshire Regiment rode out to save Coulson and took him up behind him on his horse. A Boer bullet struck both men, passing through Coulson's body before lodging in Corporal Shaw.

The Lieutenant fell mortally wounded, and shortly afterwards Corporal Shaw fell seriously wounded. The latter, being nearer to the column, was brought to safety by Corporal Fraser, KOSB, and Lance Corporal Claxton of the Lincolnshire Regiment. Lt Coulson was awarded the VC and Corporal Shaw the DFM and was promoted "Sergeant in the Field" for gallantry. Stephen Verralls, Shaw's grandson, set about finding why his grandfather, who should have received the VC, did not. Shaw's C.O., Major Lloyd had highly recommended the award and this was endorsed by the chain of command. When the recommendation reached Lord Kitchener, Commander-in Chief, South Africa, he was of the opinion that saving stranded troops in "civilised warfare" put both victim and rescuer at unnecessary risk and should be "discouraged". Coulson's body was found the day after the battle and he and three other casualties were buried in the feld. After many years the graves disappeared. Some years ago the footstone of Coulson's grave was discovered near the Lambrechtfontein homestead. A hundred years after the battle, Stephen Verralls visited the scene of the battle. The monumentalists responsible for producing the memorial delayed and then lost the wording for the memorial as well as the design of the regimental badges to be placed on the monument. However, the monument was duly erected, but only the day before the unveiling ceremony. Present at the ceremony were Stephen Verralls (who unveiled the monument); Lt. Colonel Rupert Robson RA representing the British High Commission; Advocate Colin Steyn (great grandson of President M.T. Steyn); the Historical Firearms Re-enactment Group; a contingent from the Witwatersrand Rifles, led by their C.O and R.S.M.; fellow member Steve Watt; Colonel Frik Jacobs from the Boer Republic War Museum; the Bothaville Historical Society; local farmers; SAHRA representatives and other interested individuals. Ken Gillings acted as Master of Ceremonies for this important military occasion.

As mentioned above, when the scheduled speaker for our January 2004 meeting was unable to attend, Lt. Colonel Graeme Fuller stepped into the breach and gave the second part of his two-part talk on The Medical Services during the Natal Campaign of the Anglo-Boer War. Having briefly summarised the story already covered, he then went on to mention the armoured train incident, the Battle of Willow Grange, the arrival of the Indian Bearer Corps under M.K. Ghandi and Dr. Booth, Buller's defeat at Colenso and the Boer attacks at Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill. He also covered other events and engagements to provide a background to the work of the medical services. The grim pictures of the mass grave at Spionkop underlined the extent of the casualties that the medical units and the bearer companies hoped to minimise. As the Anglo-Boer War progressed, several military hospitals were established, e.g. at Fort Napier, Maritzburg College, and the Augustinian Convent in Escourt. New staff was engaged, including nurses from New Zealand, and orderlies. Major R.G. McCormack and Lt.(QM) H.S. Brook, RAMC, designed and built a wheeled stretcher carriage which improved the transport of the wounded. There was a further build up of the RAMC in South Africa and Natal, and distinguished consultants, especially surgeons, were employed at great expense. The RAMC did sterling work, not only in the hospitals, but also under fire in the field. Acts of gallantry by the RAMC included the winning of the Victoria Cross by Major (later Lt. General and Knighted) Babtie for attending to artillery troops, including Lt. Freddie Roberts, at Colenso. Victoria Crosses were also awarded to Lt. (later Colonel) E.T. Inkson at Hart's Hill and to Lt. (later Major-General) W.H.S. Nickerson at Wakkerstroom. A further hospital was established at Frere with an ambulance train; and another at Spearman's Farm.

Hospital ships arrived in Durban to ferry the wounded to Cape Town and the United Kingdom. Even Winston Churchill's mother arrived to nurse on the ship Maine, one of the patients being her son John. Mr. (later Sir) David Hunter, General Manager of the Natal Government Railway, worked hard to make well equipped hospital trains available to take the sick and wounded to the hospitals further south. A London businessman, Mr. Alfred Moseley, donated funds for a hospital to be named the Princess Christian Hospital (now the Fairydene Retirement Home) near Pinetown. This was officially opened in May 1900. The graves of the 42 men who died in this hospital are to be found in St. John's churchyard in Pinetown, while 9 Catholics are buried at Mariannhill. No. 4 General Hospital was established at Mooi River and for those who would like to identify the site, it is now occupied by the Engen petrol station. A memorial to the RAMC staff who died at the No. 4 General Hospital is to be found in the Bruntville Military Cemetery, Mooi River. No.15 General Hospital (now the Umgeni Waterfall Mental Hospital) was established at Howick in 1900.

Graeme Fuller showed us numerous photographs of the interiors of these hospitals. In an attempt to reduce the number of men who died of typhoid (enteric) some not very effective inoculation was later carried out on board ships destined for South Africa. The Boers of the Transvaal Republic had medical services on a smaller scale, including the Pretoria Ambulance Corps (later the Het Transvaalsche RoodeKruis) while individual doctors served independently. Civilian hospitals were ill equipped to care for the Boer wounded, as the concept of hospitalisation was foreign to the Boers, who were used to caring for their sick at home.
Many local medical and nursing personnel had no formal training. This situation was to improve as the need for better medical services became apparent. The OFS, in 1899, established the Vrystaatse Ambulans. Medical personnel were based at Harrismith, Brownspruit, Smith Station, Klip River, and at the front the Boer stretcher-bearers used a one-man wheeled stretcher, and ambulance trains were employed. Help arrived for the Boers from overseas: Amsterdam, Java, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia, while some Irish Americans came to assist the medical services. Imperial and Boer lists of casualties show that more men died of disease (mainly typhoid) than were killed in battle or died from wounds. The major Boer casualties, however, were not directly attributable to battle but were deaths in concentration camps where those who died were mainly women and children. The final report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Treatment of the Sick and Wounded in South Africa, praised the British medical services.

Committee member Dave Matthews, whose marvellously entertaining photographic review of the 2003 Battlefield Tour was scandalously omitted from the last newsletter, proposed the vote of thanks for two most interesting and well-researched talks. It was suggested from the floor that Lt. Colonel Graeme Fuller had the material available for a fascinating book, and all present agreed with that suggestion.


The main talk for the February meeting will provide another opportunity for Dr. GUS ALLEN to take us further into the little known history of the SPANISH ARMADA and particularly the reasons for the Spanish challenge on England. The 2nd half of the 16th century saw progressive deterioration in Anglo-Spanish relations and contributory factors to this were: the reestablishment of the Protestant church in England by Elizabeth 1; Spain's jealously over British held monopoly of the Indies trade; plots around the captive Mary Queen of Scots and the Dutch Revolt in the Netherlands. Sir Francis Drake's raid on Galicia was the last straw.

Regime change in England was now an urgent necessity for Philip, King of Spain. He began preparations for what he called THE ENTERPRISE OF ENGLAND, an ambitious combined operation to put his Army of Flanders ashore in Kent for a march on London. On May 31 1588, the mighty Spanish Armada stood out of Lisbon for the open sea and immortality.

The DDH talk will be a first talk from fellow member HILARY GRAHAM and he has chosen the fascinating and important subject of THE SINKING OF THE TROOPSHIP MENDI

Much of this is new material for the Society and is the type of subject matter to be warmly welcomed.

The AGM will be held in April and now is the time for all members to consider the make-up of your committee for the next 12 months. If any member wants to stand for the committee or would like to recommend a member who can add value to our deliberations, please contact Dr. INGRID MACHIN on 031-201-3983 to get the name submitted. It is important that new blood is added to ensure the future growth of the Society, both in numbers of members and in subject matter. Please give it some thought.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: March - MayFebruary - April 2004

11 March 2004
DDH - The Rescue and Fall of Mussolini - Bill Brady
MAIN - My Role as a Fighter Pilot at Arnhem, 1944 - General Albie Gotze
15 April 2004 - NB Third Thursday!
DDH - Military Traditions - John Goodrich
MAIN - The American Civil War - The Wilderness of Appomattox - Robin Smith
13 May 2004
DDH - Indian Military in World War 2 - Dr Deena Padayachee
MAIN - A Personal View of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Conflict, 1992 - 1999 - Lt. Col. Rupert Robson

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

South African Military History Society /