South African Military History Society



June 2004

PAST EVENTS: The May meeting opened with warm applause for fellow member Virginia Taylor, who had just celebrated her 89th birthday. Virginia is not quite our oldest member but she is certainly the oldest member who regularly attends our meetings and events and we all look forward to a special time in 2005 when, without doubt, she will celebrate her 90th birthday with her usual style and poise. It was also announced that both of our scheduled speakers had to cry off at very short notice; to have one speaker suddenly unavailable is rare, but to have both speakers unavailable is, according to our longest serving members, an unique experience. We were therefore doubly grateful to 2 fellow members of the Society - Professor Mike Laing and Ron Lock - who stepped in at short notice to provide us with our May talks which both turned out to be stimulating and unusual.

The DDH talk was entitled Rommel Gets a Gazelle for Dinner and was given from research he had done on this very rare subject by Professor Mike Laing. Using a large number of rare photographs to illustrate his subject, our speaker highlighted the problems that the Afrika Corps had with rations during their North African campaign. Their main diet was based on canned meat, which was known as AM, and we were given a number of examples of how the German soldiers gave vent to the dislike for this food using these initials to ridicule the contents of the tins; in a salute to their allies one description was Anus Mussolini!!! We were shown photographs of the tins of AM and then how empty cans were used to decorate their Christmas tree in 1941. On a serious note, food was always a problem for the Afrika Corps but after the final capture of Tobruk in June 1941, they were able to celebrate by eating canned fruit from South Africa (again a photograph - this time of Rommel himself holding a can that clearly showed its South African connection) and then sending cans of bully beef back to Germany, as at that time, bully beef was regarded as a delicacy.

Rommel was a general who acted more like a Colonel - always on the go and usually close to the action. For that reason his aide spread meat paste and bierwurst on the bread so that Rommel could eat these sandwiches on the move. To prove it a photograph of Rommel eating when travelling at speed through the desert was shown. In September 1941, Rommel's HQ was south of Gazala in a small area of scrub land in the open desert (the mandatory photograph of his HQ was shown) which was in an area noted for its gazelles - hence the name Gazala. During his stay there Rommel made the big decision that he, and his small support group would "hunt Gazelle for Dinner", and together with Major von Mellenthin (his senior intelligence officer who later reached the rank of Major-General) in the first car, and Lt. Schmidt (his aide who later reached the rank of Captain) and an Italian officer as guide in the second car, they set off. Photographs of Rommel and von Mellenthin and of Schmidt and Rommel in cars were shown together with the type of cars that would have been used in the hunt.

(As an aside, von Mellenthin ended his career as CEO of Lufthansa in South Africa and once spoke at the Alamein dinner in Johannesburg, and Schmidt who lives in Pinetown, is an Honorary Member of the South African Military History Society)

The party did indeed set off and chased gazelles with the two cars going flat out over the rocky desert. Eventually they have success and Rommel shoots the gazelle they so wanted, and as he did so he jumped out of the car, guts the dead animal and loaded it into one of the cars and returned to their HQ. It was reported that the cook at HQ was delighted with his CO. At a cost of 2 broken springs in one of the cars, 1 broken windscreen and Lt. Schmidt deaf in one ear - due to the Italian officer letting of his gun next to Schmidt's head (!!) - Rommel had venison for dinner.

Ron Lock, who described the events that took place on 12 March 1879 at what is now called The Action at Ntombe Drift, gave the MAIN talk of the evening. This battle, the most remote of the Anglo-Zulu War, is remarkable in that only the battles of Isandlwana and Hlobane cost more British and Colonial lives, and that the remaining officer in charge of the British forces encamped at a crucial moment during the battle, on the pretext of summoning aid and so leaving his men to face the Zulu attack without an officer present.

The Ntombe River, a tributary of the Phongolo River, lay in the Disputed Territory in what is today an area due south from the town of Piet Retief. At that time, some Zulus, a Swazi clan, German missionaries around Luneburg, as well as Boer farmers occupied this territory. After considerable negotiations, Bulwer's Boundary Commission of 1878 favoured the Zulu claim to this area, a decision that was not greeted with universal acclaim! At the outset of the Anglo-Zulu War, Lt. Colonel Evelyn Wood's No. 4 Column and the No. 5 Column under Colonel Rowlands were in the Ntombe valley where the latter opposed robber clans led by Mbilini kaMswati, a renegade Swazi chief, and the Zulu induna Manyonyoba kaMaqondo. There was much fighting, burning of homesteads and stealing of cattle.

On 1 March 1879, the 80th Foot under Major Tucker arrived at Luneburg. On 7 March a company of this regiment went out from Luneburg to meet and escort an unarmed convoy of eighteen waggons carrying ammunition and supplies. Captain D. Moriarty with his company, were sent on to the Ntombi to meet the convoy and escort it across the river at Myer's Drift. They crossed the swollen river on rafts and Moriarty and his men pitched camp on the north bank of the river where they formed a V-shaped larger, with its apex away from the river. Two of the waggons from the convoy reached the south side of the river, and although they had been robbed of most of their supplies, much of the ammunition remained. These waggons were to be taken to Luneburg. A detachment of thirty-five men under Lieutenant H.H. Harward encamped with the waggons. Colour-Sergeant A. Booth, who is mentioned again below, was with these men. On 12 March, in the early morning, Harward and Booth went out to investigate the source of shots and saw the opposite north side of the river swarming with about a thousand plus Zulus, all attacking Moriarty's larger. Mbilini had advanced from his mountain fortress. Moriarty ran out of his tent and was stabbed to death. Colour-Sergeant Booth rallied his men and started to conduct a fighting retreat. Some men from Moriarty's company on the north bank managed to escape the carnage and either swam the river to the south bank or hid among the reeds.

Lt. Howard was now in charge, but he decided to ride off and fetch help leaving Booth with about 40 of his men fighting against the approaching Zulus who were crossing over the river to the south bank. After their fighting retreat, which covered a distance of over 3 miles, most of Booth's men eventually returned safely to Luneburg. Before then, Harward had reached Luneburg and gasped out "All slaughtered!". Major Tucker, with about 150 mounted men, galloped to the Ntombi and on his return he recorded "dense masses of Zulus and dead men". Colour Sergeant Booth was later awarded the VC, and included in the gazetted description of the action were the words:

"Had it not been for the coolness displayed by this NCO not one man would have escaped".

Lt. Harward, the officer who had left Booth and his men at the most threatening moment of the action, was court-martialled for "disgraceful conduct in the face of the enemy", but much to everyone's surprise, he was found not guilty. General Sir Garnet Wolseley disapproved of the verdict when it came up for review, pointing out that:

"The more helpless a position in which an officer finds his men, the more it is his bounden duty to stay and share their fortune"

Ron Lock ended his talk with the 80th Foot returning to Sekhukhuneland, and with their CO, Major Tucker, declaring, and complaining, that they should have had more recognition for their part in the battle that took place on the Ntombi River. It was the end of a talk on a little known episode in the Anglo-Zulu War and one that took place in a remote part of the country which perhaps explains why the 80th Foot did not get the recognition they thought they deserved.

Our former Chairman, Ken Gillings, gave a detailed vote of thanks and made particular comment on how grateful the Society had been for our 2 speakers filling in, and giving such splendid talks, at short notice.

Our Vice Chairman Bill Brady gave a warm vote of thanks to both speakers, for what he described as an "exceptional evening" on 2 subjects that, hopefully, we will hear more about in the future.


The JUNE meeting has been arranged to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. Although our meeting will be 4 days after the actual anniversary date, the date of 6 June 1944 will always be regarded as one of the most crucial and significant dates in the history of World War II. That is why we are having D-Day as our single subject for the meeting. As a result we will not have a specific DDH or MAIN talk at the JUNE meeting, but instead we will have 3 speakers on differing aspects of D-Day, and each has been given the same amount of time - 30 minutes - to cover their subjects. This is a new approach for the Society.

The first speaker will be Lt. COMMANDER COLIN LAWTON, RN Rtd who, as a young officer in the Royal Navy, was offshore on D-Day providing naval support for the ground forces. He will bring a personal perspective to this significant day with his talk

The second speaker will be PROFESSOR MIKE LAING, who will cover one of the most fascinating, and at times little known aspects of the build up to D-Day, with his talk

The third speaker will be our Chairman PAUL KILMARTIN, who will cover a summary of "Why D-Day at that time" and the events of the invasion itself, with his talk
D-DAY: THE INVASION - 6 JUNE 1944. We are sure that members will appreciate this opportunity to be reminded of the great events that took place almost exactly 60 years ago - it should be a memorable evening.


Details of the BATTLEFIELD TOUR - 2004 were sent out with the March newsletter. We still have a few vacancies for any members and friends who still wish to attend, so if any members want the details re-sent, please contact PAUL KILMARTIN, on 031-561-2905 or 082-449-7227 or to

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: June - September 2004

Sat/Sun 19/20 June 2004
Annual Battlefield Tour to Battlefields of
iNtabamnyama and Vaalkrans. Jan-Feb 1900
Ken Gillings - Organiser
031-266-2233, or
8 July 2004
DDH - The Battle of Crossbarry: 1921 - Brian Kennedy
MAIN - The capture of Winston Churchill: 1900 - Dereck Petersen
12 August 2004
Base Visit: 19th Field Regiment HQ.
Ken Gillings - Organiser
9 September 2004
DDH - I Was There - Italy 1944 - Graham Harvey
MAIN - The Italian Campaign: 1944-1945 - Major Keith Archibald

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

South African Military History Society /