South African Military History 


Newsletter No 12. - September 2005
Nuusbrief Nr 12. - September 2005

Our meetings continue to attract a regular and interested audience. In August we drew a number of 28 members together with a number of interested persons. Kenny Lovemore was welcomed as new member. He is a young member of the MOTHS and has held high office in that organization. We welcome as well Ivor Markman who is with The Herald in his capacity as Illustrative Journalist. To the simpler folk that means he is a first rate photographer whose interest lies in articles of historical nature!

Following on the Curtain Raiser from last month which dealt with those who have earned the Victoria Cross and who lie at rest within the Metro, Mike Duncan , has come up with interesting research on Percy Howard Hansen, VC, who is buried in Copenhagen. He earned his Cross at Gallipoli in 1915 by saving six members of his regiment from a fire that had been set alight by the Turks. He died in 1951 but his name is on the local Cenotaph and it appears as if Port Elizabeth claimed him as a local soldier due that he was born here in 1890 of Danish parents who had settled in the Colony. At the time of his act of valour Hansen was a member of The Lincolnshire Regiment.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn then put up his usual dates in history edition for the month of August. The monthly events are both interesting and amusing. Did you know, for instance, that in August 1814 the British burnt down The White House and Capt. Hunt of the Bushveld Carbineers was killed and this episode led to the story on Breaker Morant?

John Scott, who is The Regimental Sergeant Major for The Prince Alfred's Guards , then presented his Curtain Raiser on his visit to the North West Province which region includes The Khyber Pass. John had the rare opportunity to visit The Khyber in the course of a contract that took him into the North West. It was a nostalgic trip in that his father was a member of one of the old British regiments that was stationed in India before Independence. His presentation took the form of a slide presentation to which he added many interesting anecdotes and background of the region. The pass is actually a road cut out of the mountainous ridges that span Pakistan and Afghanistan, home to the Pakhtun tribes, who live in wild and arid conditions, with three tribes each controlling their own sector of the pass. The town of Peshawar lies in close proximity to the pass and houses the famed Bala Hissar Fort which has been in existence for more than 2000 years. The famous Frontier Regiment has its headquarters at this fort.

Under armed escort John's party passed through the Khyber gate, passed many smaller redoubts, to the Ali Masjid Fort which is home to the Khyber Rifles, guardians of the frontier. Michni Post was reached at a high level and this is where Surgeon Bryden staggered in on 13th January 1842 to tell of the fate and massacre of the British Forces in their retreat from Kabul. The pass is busy. Heavy traffic carrying all means of goods and cargo (illegal and otherwise!), refugees and others with their goods make up a throng that use the road on a continual basis. Borders appear to be no barrier to trade on all the old trading routes. Lunch was had with The Khyber Rifles and the regimental silver was put out for the occasion. It was a nostaligic experience and one which few from the West are likely to experience. A rare privilege indeed.

The Main Lecture was delivered by Brig. General (Ret.) Ken Harris who is known as Jock to all of us! His talk was "Reminiscences of a career in the South African Infantry 1964 to 2000." And how interesting it was, more so that a number of members could associate with Jock on the events and times of his career. He joined the Infantry straight from school at a time when members were still balloted and found himself at Voortrekkerhoogte and by 1974 he was in Oudtshoorn as Leader Group Infantry. Various promotions followed and he served in Ladysmith, 32 Battalion, was with Northern Cape Command, in East London, before returning to Port Elizabeth where the integration of the various forces took place after the new dispensation. It was certainly a varied career that took him into the operational areas and where over many years he was introduced to weapons and vehicles. Who can remember the Marmon Harrington, the Willys and later the Ratel? Jock found in his career that the defence force was always on the move. New Commands and new Centres were being created, later these were downgraded and even mothballed as is the present day Commando System. Jock's talk could be split into many facets and his presentation could only do justice to an overview of a lifetime in the Infantry. Jock had on display many of the weapons that were in every day use in his time. We are sure that given the opportunity he could well indeed relate of his experiences with 32 Battalion .We look forward to it. In summary Jock stated that the Infantry were the teeth of the Army, they were in the main foot soldiers and whose objective in time of war was to take ground and hold it.

Society Tour to The Waterkloof and Mount Misery
The weekend of the 19th / 21st August saw some 16 members visit not only the scene of the protracted Frontier War of 1850- 53 but sites in Fort Beaufort and its environs. The Waterkloof is a densely forested area lying between Adelaide, Fort Beaufort and Post Retief. The plateaus are open grassland but the kloofs in between saw a series of ambushes and skirmishes take place between an unseen enemy led by Maqoma and the British Regiments of that time. It was in one battle that Colonel Fordyce was killed and after whom this area is named. First stop was Fort Brown on the Fish River, which is in very good condition. It is a police post and adjacent well-known game reserves. A small cemetery lies adjacent the fort and a number of military graves are located in the yard. Closer to Fort Beaufort lies the grave of the unfortunate person who had his arm hacked off in order to release a prisoner and which led directly to The War of The Axe. This was visited, as was the military section of the Fort Beaufort Cemetery. Whilst the newer part of the graveyard is well maintained that of the military is overgrown not withstanding an impressive memorial to all those who fell in those distant campaigns.

The Fort Beaufort Museum is a revelation and has as Curator, Moose Van Rensburg, who is passionate in his work. The museum was the Officer's Mess and is well detailed and with a complete history of the Frontier Wars. It is a definite starting point for any tour of the area. Piet Hall, a fellow member and accredited Tour Guide, gave the group a briefing on The Battle of Fort Beaufort from a vantage point across the town and set the scene for the next two days.

The accommodation at Fort Fordyce is very comfortable and falls under The Dept. of Environment in Bisho. This is indeed an oasis situated at a level of 3000 feet and from which are afforded magnificent views of the entire range of mountains spanning that of the Hogsbacks across to the Great Winterberg. The two nights spent here will be remembered for the good food, fellowship and company that was enjoyed by all tourists. On the Saturday morning a local historian , Donald Walker, who has a vast knowledge of the area addressed the group on The Waterkloof, its times and characters. He had with him a number of military medals on which he gave some background and his talk was well received. From there the group proceeded to Wiggills Mill situated close to the Post Retief road and on whose property is owned by Brian Miles. The mill, in its time, had a horizontal wheel thus able to catch the wind at all times. Close to the mill are old fortified stables and the gun loops are clearly evident. The party then visited the barracks at Post Retief where local initiatives are under way to restore what are buildings that are in a reasonable state of good repair. Piet has a full history of the area and with the assistance of Prof. Coetzee's books on the forts of the Eastern Cape much was learnt. Lying in the nearby church yard lies the grave of Sgt. Salt. His wife, Elizabeth, is reputed to have carried much needed gun-powder through the ranks of tribesmen to reach embattled troops at The battle of Grahamstown.

The afternoon saw the party being guided by Piet to various vantage points on the Waterkloof plateau. Places like Tenth Pass, Nilands Pass, Maqoma's Den, Wolf Ridge, and Fuller's Hoek were detailed including the spot where Fordyce fell. On Sunday the party followed the route taken by Smuts and his Commando when he entered the district in September 1901. Bushnek, where an old hotel once stood, was raided by Smuts before bypassing Adelaide to make his way down into the Zuurburg. Ian Pringle gave an anecdotal talk of those happenings and events including his own family's version on the tragic execution of Piet De Reyt, who was a member of Smut's Commando. He was nabbed by the British and found to be wearing British uniform and shot. That he, with the help of close cousins, has found the grave of the unfortunate commando member is another story! The party were then led into The Waterkloof from the bottom end and which all this property is now owned by Chris Bush whose has developed a large reserve called Moyeni over an area that was until recently farmland. Prior to that it was a scene of 13 battles between tribesmen and the Redcoats with on one occasion a memorable cavalry charge being undertaken at Mundell's Krantz. The towering krantzes and dark ravines of The Waterkloof are still there. Its times of wet weather the terrain is tough and demanding and indeed the name of Mount Misery is very apt.

The group broke up in Adelaide having called on the grave of Gordon Nourse who was the one time Commander of Haddon Post. He was killed in 1846 by tribesmen in the Kroomie Bush in an effort of trying to recover his cattle that had been stolen.

Next Meeting - 8th September at the usual venue and with a time of 19.30 hours.

The Curtain Raiser will be undertaken by Dave Whitehouse whose subject will be,"The current state of anti-tank warfare". The Main Lecture will be delivered by Rev. Edwin Pons whose subject is, " My experiences as Chaplain with SA Troops in WW 2."

Ian Pringle - Scribe/Secretary - SAMHSEC and or 083-636-6623

South African Military History Society /