The meeting was as usual opened by the Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, who welcomed Lynn Miller back from her lengthy holiday overseas, as well as Rodney Davis and his son from Cape Town and Robin Smith from Pietermaritzburg. He went on to thank Bob Smith for the recent extremely well organised and enjoyable visit to Zonderwater, Cullinan and Sammy Marks House.
After Flip had read a brief obituary compiled by Marjory Dean the meeting observed a moment of silence in memory of Dr Walter Murton.
He then spent a few informal minutes in debunking General MacArthur's proud boast that, compared to his fellow generals, he had the lowest casualty figures in the Pacific Theatre. In fact, he had the highest! This was followed by the usual notices before he introduced the first speaker.
This was our scribe, Ivor Little, who gave an illustrated lecture speaking from slides on the development of warship design over the period 1805 -1905. This was a period of great technological advancement and in his talk, "Wooden Walls To Dreadnoughts - Gun, Armour, Ram or Torpedo?", Ivor outlined the changes brought about by these four factors. Starting with the "wooden walls of old England", the popular nickname for Nelson's wooden three deckers at the Battle of Trafalgar, Ivor took us through the advent of steam propulsion with the propeller supplanting the paddle wheel and the invention of the explosive shell, spelling the end for wooden warships. This, in turn, led to the development of the "ironclad" and ever increasing weights of armour. The introduction of the ram, to use with and against ironclads, led to a series of ridiculous ship designs and the increasing weight of armour led to ever increasing gun sizes. Ultimately the gun triumphed as long distance ranges led to plunging shot falling on unarmoured superstructure and penetrating the magazines, with subsequent devastating results. The introduction of the torpedo gave rise to a host of other problems and to the birth of the torpedo boat and destroyer which ultimately, in its air and submarine borne form, proved to be the most effective weapon against shipping until the advent of nuclear warheads and missiles.
Ivor then showed how a long range gunnery system, light armour and high speeds obtainable from the steam turbine engine resulted in a class of ships known as "dreadnoughts" which superseded the iron clad and presaged the modern warship as we know it today, particularly the battleship which was with us until the Viet-Nam war when it was finally eclipsed.
Flip thanked Ivor for his talk and then held our regular raffle draw, which in this case was for a boxed DVD entitled "World War II". This was won by ticket #15 owned by Pierre du Toit.
He then introduced the main speaker for the evening. This was Mr M C Heunis, a mechanical engineer in the air conditioning business and a keen amateur historian, with a particular interest in the restoration of Boer War artillery and the re-enactment of Boer War battles. The subject of his talk was "The Oranje Vrijstaat Artillerie Corps" of which M C is the modern day lieutenant in command. He gave his talk in an immaculate full period uniform and was supported by his attractive young wife in similar period dress, the two of them making a striking couple.
M C started by giving the background to the original Corps which was founded in 1854 and by the time of the Second South African War was a highly efficient and modern outfit - well equipped and trained in the Prussian style, with a wide variety of modern artillery weapons. During this war the Corps took part in most of the major actions and later in the guerrilla phase of the war, when they had lost most of their guns but stayed in the field until the "bitter end" as regrouped mounted infantry units. Today the Corps is a non-political historical group which strives to research and re-enact the history of the artillery corps of the Free State.
M C then proceeded to give us a few examples of the modern Corps' activities, starting with a list of 15 study pieces on various Boer War subjects which they have completed from original sources; period uniforms they have researched and re-introduced for use in enactments; and various guns that they have researched, including the history of those at the Union Buildings.
He then gave a fascinating talk-within-a-talk where he showed the audience a power point presentation of particular guns whose history has been followed up through detailed original research, which research has in many cases led to the total debunking of local legends which have grown up around these guns. The Corps itself owns one of these guns, an original Corps 87mm Turkish Krupp, named "Tante Tibbie" in honour of President Steyn's wife. Other restored Boer guns can be found in Mafikeng Museum, the Cape Police Memorial in Kimberley and outside our own Museum here in Johannesburg. There is a howitzer outside Ladysmith city hall which forms part of the duo known as Castor and Pollux, but the gun which stood outside the MOTH shellhole in Ladysmith has gone missing since the closure of the shellhole and the Corps would dearly love any clues as to the possible whereabouts of this gun. The Corps' guns fought with De la Rey and De Wet and were manufactured by Krupp, Nordenfeldt (pompom), and Schneider/Creusot and can be found scattered throughout the former British Empire where they were taken as war trophies. Ottowa, Wanganui, Perth, Canberra, Sydney, Christchurch, Woolwhich Arsenal, Fort Nelson in Hampshire in the UK and even Brimfield in Massachusetts, USA, have examples of these guns on display in public parks or museums. The Devon and Dorset Regiment Headquarters in Catterick, England has a beautifully maintained captured Boer gun, which was used in the defence of Ladysmith, and a private museum near Volksrust has the shattered remains of one of the British guns captured by the Boers at Colenso.
The modern day Corps is certainly very active and members seeking more information regarding study pieces; taking part in re-enactments; joining the Corps or finding out more about the artillery of the period are invited to contact M C Heunis at www.heilbroncommando.com
M C was thanked by John Parkinson who commended him and his team for their dedicated restoration and detective work which has allowed the historical record to be set straight where it has been embellished over the years by local tour guides and story tellers. The meeting then adjourned for tea.
SAMHSEC - Eastern Cape - Port Elizabeth:
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing (031) 205-1951
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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