South African Military History 


Newsletter No. 14: November 2005
Nuusbrief Nr. 14: November 2005.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to the meeting. Guests included Derek Hurlin of Pretoria and Alan Shaw. Apologies were noted from Jock Harris, Piet Hall, Ivor Markman, the Duffel-Canhams, Chris Klopper and Dave Whitehouse. Country member Brian Anderson of Kirkwood attended his first meeting. He appealed to the members to support the SAAF Museum in its endeavors to remain a viable organization which has most suitable meeting facilities.

With that Chairman Malcolm raised the issue of secured parking for our meetings. It would appear that a dispute that has nothing to do with the Society has put the parking area out of bounds and this has also had an impact on members of the PAG. Until that issue is resolved by others we remain at risk. It is hoped that the dispute will be amicably resolved before the next meeting. Various other meeting venues are in the offing and include the SAAF premises, Crusaders and or Old Grey. Members will be advised of the ruling status prior the next meeting.

The December meeting will be held in Grahamstown on Saturday the 10th December and will take the form of a day outing. Pat Irwin is the co-coordinator and a brief outline of events was given to the meeting. It promises to be a most worthwhile visit as The Settler City has a rich history of military engagement. Full details will appear in the next newsletter.

Last year in November we remembered the glorious dead. At our November meeting on the 10th we will again do the same. Memorial Services in the City over that period include a service at The Moth Club in Bird Street on the 11th at 17,00 hours. The Grey Schools will hold their Service at 10,30 am on Friday the 11th - the venue being the impressive quad area of the Senior School.

Annual events in history were recalled for the month of October. The notable being the Battle of Trafalgar with the unusual being, for example, the emergence of German U172 in the Cape Town harbour where the crew had a uninterrupted view of the lights of The Mother City! The British surrended to the Americans at The Battle of Saratoga, there was The Charge of The Light Brigade at Balaclava, the 5th Frontier War of 1851 and the Yom Kippur War.

The Curtain Raiser was delivered by Ian Pringle on the subject, "Piet De Reyt and the Search for his Grave". Piet was a member of Smut's Commando that had made its way though the Adelaide District in September 1901. He was captured by the British and executed for wearing cast off British uniform which had been taken following the engagement of the Commando with the 17th Lancers at Modderfontein in the Tarkastad District. Ian described the path of the Commando down into Adelaide following that engagement and added a number of anecdotal tales and recollections. De Reyt was left behind by the Commando following a raid made on the old country hotel at Bush Nek which is about 12 kms from Adelaide. The worse for wear he was captured, allegedly by local members of the District Mounted Troops, included amongst which was Lt. Bernard Niland, Ian's grandfather. He was handed over to the British and summarily executed but before doing so the unfortunate victim cursed his captors. That Curse has over succeeding generations had a negative impact on the Niland family. The story has fascinated Ian and at the time of the 100th year celebration of that War he was informed, in writing, by an elderly uncle, Dr Roy Painter, that he knew of the burial spot of this one time Commando member. Roy farmed in the Kroomie area and has retired to Kenton-on-Sea. His son, Derek, has taken over his properties. Roy stated that Bernard Niland, who was his uncle, had told him of the incident and pointed out the burial spot which was marked by a number of ironstone boulders on Niland's farm, Mount Prospect. This was in about 1930. Roy then, at Ian's request, returned to the farm and after seventy years found the grave. He gave over the position to Derek, who with Ian, accompanied by two other cousins, located the grave area. The execution of De Reyt has been fully covered by Taffy Shearing in her own book on Smut's incursion into the Cape. Various claims and versions of the event and demise of this Commando member have over the years abounded in the Adelaide District. Whether Piet de Reyt lies under a specially marked square shaped boulder, which almost resembles an unmarked tombstone is not really known. After all these years, Ian concluded, it was perhaps just better to leave the matter at rest.

Pat Irwin delivered the Main Lecture and this was a fascinating look into The Battle of Trafalgar. Pat delivered a first class account of that great sea battle which one is inclined to merely pass off otherwise as another engagement by an English admiral called Nelson! The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on the 21st of October 1805, off Cape Trafalgar on the Spanish coast between the combined fleets of Spain and France on the one side and the Royal Navy on the other. The first shots were fired at about 11h30 and fighting ceased about 18h00. The battle itself was the culmination of a long campaign which began in March of that year. Historically, its importance lies not only in that it was a significant victory in its own right but that in retrospect it was decisive as a naval action.

All wars and battles take place in a historical and social context. These circumstances were outlined including the reasons for Napoleon's decision to invade Britain. The primary condition the Emperor needed to land his troops on the beaches of England was to control the English Channel as the invasion fleet had to have two or three days to cross the Channel without being harassed by the Royal Navy. Napoleon's plan was for the Franco-Spanish fleet to lure Nelson to the West Indies and, while he was there searching for them, to return to Europe to provide protection for the invasion..

In the event, from the very outset, nothing went as planned and after a chase across the Atlantic and back, Nelson eventually trapped the Combined fleet under Admiral Villeneuve in Cadiz. When it ventured out in an attempt to get into the Mediterranean, Nelson gave battle employing a blend of innovative tactics, calculated risks and sheer daring. The battle was a disaster for the Combined fleet which initially lost 19 of its 33 ships-of-the-line, and another six in the following days. None of the 27 British ships were lost although most suffered severe damage. The casualties resulting from the battle were presented and put into relative perspective by comparing them to the normal death rate from factors such as disease, in the navies of the day. Among those who died was the much-loved Nelson himself, whose body was ultimately returned to Britain where he was accorded what is possibly the largest funeral London has ever experienced. The fate of the some of the ships which took part in the battle as well as the leaders on the opposing sides were also briefly alluded to.

In addition to the battle itself which was illustrated chronologically through a series of paintings representing different stages, details were provided of the opposing navies, ships and crews as well as a qualitative comparison of crew training, signalling systems, intelligence gathering and fighting doctrines. Using HMS Victory, the only surviving ship of the Napoleonic Wars as an example, the armaments and ammunition used at Trafalgar were examined, including the devastating role of the carronade, particularly in 'raking' the stern of the enemy ships. Living and working conditions of both crews and officers were also briefly looked at, as were the vary varied national origins of the crews.

The talk concluded with brief coverage of the historical consequences of the battle and some speculation of what might have been, had the event turned out differently. Trafalgar was the last great sea action of the period, and indeed of the age of sail, and its significance to the outcome of the war in Europe is still debated by historians.

Next Meeting

This meeting will be held at the Prince Alfred's Guard Drill Hall on Thursday 10th November 19,30 hours. Our speakers for the evening include:

* The Battle of Amalinda by Des Kopke as the Curtain Raiser.
* The Swordfish by Jan Seebin which will be accompanied by a video.

Ian Pringle,
Scribe./ Scribe
0836366623 or

South African Military History Society /