NEWSLETTER NO. 1 - SEPTEMBER 2004
Thirty persons attended a meeting to establish an Eastern Cape Branch of the South African Military History Society which was held on 9 September 2004 in the Prince Alfred's Guards Headquarters, Port Elizabeth.
The curtain raiser was given by Colonel Piet Hall on "Frontier Wars Research". Colonel Hall related his study over many years of the nine Frontier Wars fought in the Eastern Cape in the 18th and19th centuries. Application of his professional knowledge of tactics has enabled him to clarify some aspects of the wars which were insufficiently covered in existing literature. A case in point is his questioning the accepted British deployments in the Battle of Grahamstown in April 1819. Colonel Hall expressed concern at the deterioration of the remaining fortifications of the period, particularly regretting the vandalisation of Fort Murray near Kingwilliamstown, which is again in ruins after being restored in 1976/77. On a more positive note, he was able to report an improvement in the condition of the Martello Tower in Fort Beaufort (one of only two in the country and the only one in the world not sited on a coast), which was being used as a public latrine until media coverage exposed this unacceptable state of affairs.
Long standing life member of the Society, Richard Tomlinson, gave the main lecture on "The World War 2 Radar Station at Schoenmakerskop and the excavation of the Tech Hut site" He started with an overview of the origins of military radar in South Africa at the beginning of the war, when Dr Basil Schonland met New Zealand's scientist Dr Ernest Marsden who was returning from Britain by ship around the Cape, and picked his brains to update South Africa on the latest radar technology on the short sea voyage from Cape Town to Durban. Schonland returned to Johannesburg where he was director of the Bernard Price Institute at Wits University, and assembled a team which within a few weeks and in great secrecy had made a radar set, the JB, and started a military unit called the Special Signals Services (SSS), which later became a subsidiary of the SA Corps of Signals. JBs were tested extensively in the Union before being sent up north with SSS units attached to our troops.
Following the entry of Italy into the war in June 1940 the movement of allied shipping through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal to reach the Far East and Australasia gradually ceased and was diverted around the west side of Africa and around the Cape. This re-routing would be followed inevitably by German surface raiders and U-boats, so that by 1941 it was decided to build coastal radar stations in the vicinity of all our major ports. Algoa Bay received its first two stations, Schoenmakerskop and Cape Recife, in 1942 followed by Coega/Hougham Park, Sea View and Tankatara in 1943; the first 3 were equipped with the JB, Sea View with a COL (local version of the British coast defence set to detect low-flying aircraft) and Tankatara with a TRU for tracking high-flying aircraft. A new brick Tech Hut (the building which housed the radar set and operators) was built in 1944 at Mount Pleasant to replace the timber one at Schoenmakerskop, but the camp at the latter was used to the end of the war. Richard went into some detail about the operation and daily lives of the personnel on the stations.
Richard found the site of the Schoenmakerskop Tech Hut in 2001 but only resumed the clearance of the large quantities of drifting sand in March and completed the dig last month. He found that the wooden Tech Hut covered an area of 15 square metres and seems to have been held down to the concrete floor by a peripheral timber ground beam secured with iron 'holderbats' embedded in the concrete. A square pattern of 4 bolts in the floor probably anchored the JB set, a thick electric cable powered the set and the floor was covered with a layer of malthoid waterproofing. The Hut was protected from drifting sand by low brick walls, on one of which was inscribed in wet plaster the name of 12 Field Company SA Engineer Corps, who presumably did the construction. Between the Hut and the walls provision was made for draining away surface water. He also excavated a small structure east of the Tech Hut which could have been a long-drop privy.
FUTURE BRANCH MEETINGS
A survey conducted after the main lecture indicated sufficient interest in the Society to warrant the establishment of the Branch. The majority of respondents indicated their preference for future meetings at the same time (1930 on the second Thursday of the month) and venue. Members who are available to address the Branch or who know someone who is, are invited to contact the Branch convenor.
The next meeting is to be held at 1930 on 14 October 2004 in the Prince Alfred's Guards Headquarters in the Drill Hall in Prospect Hill, Central, Port Elizabeth. Mr Ken Stewart will give the curtain raiser on his recent visit to the so-called Bridge on the River Kwai. The main lecture will be presented by Mr Mike Duncan on the history of the Prince Alfred's Guards as depicted by campaign medals awarded to members of the Regiment.
Eastern Cape Branch convenor: Malcolm Kinghorn 041 373 4469, 082 331 6223, firstname.lastname@example.org, 15 Conyngham Road, Parsons Hill, Port Elizabeth, 6001.