South African Military History Society


The Chairlady, Lyn Miller, opened the June meeting by reporting back on the very successful battlefield tour of the Ladysmith district, which had been organised by the Durban Branch. She also informed the meeting that the Society had honoured Mr Ken Gillings of Durban by presenting him with a certificate of Honorary Life Membership for his services to the Society down the years. She then introduced Mr Bruce Wentzel who would deliver our curtain raiser for the evening.

The title of Mr Wentzel's talk was "The Royal Marines 1812 - In the Movies". This referred to a recent film made for the Hallmark Channel entitled "To The Ends Of The Earth" and based on the activities of the Royal Marines in the War of 1812. This film was made in Richard's Bay and Mr Wentzel and his company had been actively engaged in providing the props and historical expertise, to ensure that the film was historically correct. He explained that this was not as difficult a task as one would think. A modern movie is far more difficult to get accurate than an historical one, simply because there are more knowledgeable critics who may have actively taken part in the events portrayed in that movie. With an historical epic there are far fewer people with the requisite detailed knowledge to be able to actively find fault with what is portrayed. Nevertheless every effort is made to ensure maximum accuracy. In this particular film the extras had to be taught musket drill from an old drill book, using what appears to be the standard British "Brown Bess" musket. In fact only the first two or three muskets in any file were original, the rest were cleverly produced fakes, which became more rudimentary the further away from the camera they got. Bruce showed examples of these fakes, which were almost impossible to tell from the real thing, but were very simply made from ordinary piping. Bayonets are made from soft, blunt aluminium so as to prevent fatal accidents. Uniforms were not tailored but made of stretch denim with Velcro fastenings. Badges were produced from glass fibre. The shiny black leather cap of the period was also reproduced in glass fibre and the plume was simply a cut down feather duster! Bruce showed examples of all of these, including a full uniform of the period complete with white cross belts for carrying the bayonet on one side and the powder pouch on the other. Original uniforms are very hard to come by. Officers' uniforms are preserved and obtainable but the soldiers' uniforms are almost non-existent. The reason for this is that each Redcoat received one red tunic per year. At the end of six months the tunic was given to the regimental tailor who turned it inside out, after which it was worn for another six months. At the end of this period it was fit only for cleaning rags. Bruce then showed how several of his props were fired to make a realistic battle scene and to avoid the "flash in the pan" which was so common with flintlock muskets. (Where the powder in the pan ignites but fails to generate enough power to expel the ball from the musket, thus rendering the musket useless for the remainder of the engagement). He explained his budgetary process to deal with the heavy loss of props caused by theft and carelessness i.e. if he issued 50 tunics he could bank on getting only 35 back. Mr Wentzel ended his talk by referring to a recent film on the Normandy landings which was filmed in Irene but which was so realistic that it fooled a French director and where the props were made of polystyrene.

The Chairlady then introduced the main speaker of the evening, Captain Ivor Little, whose topic was "A Name Among Seafaring Men - The Proud Military Legacy of the Training Ship "General Botha"". Capt Little commenced his talk by sketching the background to the acquisition of the South African Training Ship "General Botha" and then giving the history of this institution from 1922 until its closure in 1987. Concentrating on the period from 1922 to the Korean War he drew a picture of daily life aboard the SATS "General Botha" moored in Simon's Bay and how the routine and discipline aboard this ship moulded its young cadets into outstanding officer material. Between 1922 and 1945 the "General Botha" trained just on 800 young officers and with the outbreak of World War II these were immediately swept up in the conflict. Ivor then gave a random selection of potted biographies of what happened to some of these young men and what they achieved in that war and subsequently. "Botha" boys were involved in every field of that war, on land, at sea and in the air and distinguished themselves by obtaining high rank and an inordinately high number of medals and decorations for valour. Amongst these men was the famous "Sailor" Malan, the Battle of Britain ace, J. Nettleton VC, H.H. Biermann, the former Chief of the South African Defence Force and a host of others, including five "Botha" boys who flew in the "Flying Cheetahs" in Korea where two achieved the United States' Distinguished Flying Cross With Cluster, and two who ended up as Marshall of the Royal Air Force. In 1945 it was computed that per capita the SATS "General Botha's" graduates had earned more decorations and medals than any other school in the then British Empire, a record of which all South Africans can be proud. The "General Botha" War Memorial, which was originally erected in Stal Plein in Cape Town outside the Houses of Parliament, but moved in the late 1990's to the corner of the Heerengracht and Broadway in Cape Town, is the only school war memorial on a public thoroughfare in South Africa. Ivor concluded his lecture by citing one or two examples of the Botha legend living on in the achievements of recent graduates who have earned civilian medals for bravery or have established themselves as leaders in the commercial world.

Captain Little was thanked by Mr John Parkinson, a committee member. The Chairlady then asked Mrs Anne Little to draw the lucky winner of the DVD raffle. This was ticket number 014068, the owner of which was not present at the meeting and who will be contacted on how to collect this prize. The meeting then adjourned for tea.

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14th July
CR Robert Morgan-Wilson - Toxopholy - a new string to your bow
ML John Murray - Sinking of the Lusitania
11th August
CR Pierre Truter - The battle for Keren, Eritrea, Feb 1941
ML Hamish Paterson - Japan's longest day - the decision to surrender


14th July
DDH Maj. Gen. Chris le Roux - History of the South Africa Parachute Battalion
MAIN Lt. Col. Clive Wilsworth - South African Artillery
11th August
DDH Prof. Mike Laing - The Chemistry that made The Atom Bomb Work
MAIN Bill Brady - The End of World War 2 in The Pacific : August 1945

Cape Town

14th July
Brig Gen Dick Lord - My career in the S.A.A.F.
11th August
Dave McLennan - THE ZONDERWATER PRISON - Italian POWs in South Africa during WW2

Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:

14th July
CR Deryck Langman - VC Recipients buried in the metropolitan area.
ML Dr Taffy Shearing - The Cape Rebel of the SA War
11th August
CR John Scott - North-West Frontier revisited
ML Brig Gen (Ret'd) Ken Harris - Reminiscences of a career in SA Infantry 1964-2000
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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983
For Cape Town details contact John Mahncke (021) 797-5167
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn (041) 373-4469

Ivor Little (Scribe) (012) 651-3647

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