South African Military 
History Society


September/October 2006

The August DDH talk was given by Mike Laing, entitled "The Importance of General Smuts in World War II".

This covered September 1939 to August 1945, and was based on the biography by his son, with pertinent comments by important figures involved, and some pictures. We follow a time-line as Mike did:

1939: September. Critical debate in parliament; Smuts persuades House to join Britain against Germany and not to remain neutral.

1940: June. Italy declares war on Britain and attacks Kenya. SAAF attacks the Italians.
December: Division scale attack took place against Italians in Abyssinia.

1941: March. Arrived in Cairo to confer with Wavell (CIC) and Dill (CIGS)
April. Transvaal Scottish pipers lead troops into Addis Ababa.
August. To Cairo, inspects 1st SA Div at Mersa Matruh and 2nd SA Div at Alamein.
September. Invested as Field Marshal of British forces by King George VI
November 16. HMS "Prince of Wales" arrives in Cape Town en route to Singapore. Smuts warns Churchill - "makings of a first class disaster". Pleads with him not to send the ship. December 11. HMS "Prince of Wales is sunk.

1942: May. In Cairo, inspects SA Troops in Tobruk.
June. The fall of Tobruk: "last minute decision by highest authority to hold Tobruk".
August. Critical meeting held in Cairo with Churchill, Brooke and Tedder. They appoint Alexander and Montgomery
October. First visit to London,
October 21. The famous speech to Combined Houses takes place, which was broadcasted by BBC. "This is the end of the Defensive Phase, and the beginning of the Offensive Phase"
October 23. Montgomery attacks at El Alamein.
November 7. TORCH; US Invasion of Morocco.
(Lord Moran in his book asks: "What kind of man is Smuts? - He is one of the few men who have Winston's ear")

1943: January. Cabinet: "was a dictatorship every bit as much as Mr Churchill's"
September: In Cairo, to meet with Brooke.
October. To Tunis to meet with Eisenhower, Alexander and Tedder; then to Britian.
Second visit to London; Churchill wants him to "stay for some months"
October 19 Speech in the Guildhall; "must end the war soon, critical for Europe" October 25 "Explosive Speech" to Empire Parliamentary Association, "There is a new Trinity of Great Powers, America with its wealth is the first. Old Europe is gone. Of the five powers, three have disappeared. France has gone; Italy has completely disappeared; Germany will be written off the slate. Russia is the new Colossus, bestriding the continent. Britain is now a poor country but has honour and prestige. She should become part of a European Federation."
December. In Cairo en route home, meets with Churchill and Roosevelt returning from Teheran.

1944: April. Third visit to London. Address to Prime Ministers conference. "A grave distrust of Russia. It will swallow the Baltic States, and insinuate Communist doctrine - a colossus without fetters."
May 15. At St Paul's school with King George VI and Churchill to hear Montgomery present the plan for D-Day.
June 2. To Portsmouth with Churchill to watch embarkation.
June 12. To Normandy with Churchill and Brooke. Met by Montgomery at Graye. (During his stay in London Smuts often met with Niels Bohr the nuclear physicist. Smuts knew of the atomic bomb project.)

1945: April. Fourth visit to London. Speech: "Russia is out to rule Europe. We must remain armed."
April 16. Flies to USA, San Francisco conference to establish United Nations. Warns of Calamity; new scientific discoveries to be embodied in war weapons (A-bomb). Writes UN charter.
May 7 Germany surrenders.
July. Flies to Italy, visits Gen. Poole and troops. (Churchill is at Potsdam, defeated by Labour in the election. "A stunning shock - appalled at the implications for the future."
August 6 and 9. Atom bombs dropped on Japan.
August 15. Japan surrenders. End of World War II.

Lord Tedder is a great admirer. On the first page of his Memoirs, second paragraph, he names Smuts and his important influence on Churchill. On the last page in the last paragraph, he quotes Smuts: "the war, it shall be difficult, but we shall win it. It is after the war that worries me." He describes Smuts as "incomparably the greatest man that I have ever met." He made a beautiful pencil sketch of Smuts in Cairo in 1942.

Lord Moran points out that Churchill asks Smuts to come to support him and advise him. Smuts is the only man who has influence on Churchill, even in matters of health.

Alan Brooke is a tremendous admirer, and in his diaries mentions him many times, commenting on the great value of his contribution. August 1942: "wonderfully clear brain - any word he spoke carried immense weight with me."

Even Harry Butcher, aide to Eisenhower, names him specifically in the May/June build-up to D-Day.

In terms of numbers of men, South Africa's contribution to the war effort appears small, but in mid 1944, in the Mediterranean the SAAF was bigger than the RAF, and two thirds of all engineers were South African. The influence of Smuts was huge.

The military men, Brooke and Tedder, relied on his opinions. Churchill leaned heavily on him for support and advice, and consulted Smuts at every important juncture over those critical years.

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The main presentation was not a "talk" but more of a pictorial visit "Behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Tattoo" given by Lt Col Graeme Fuller.

His son is a piper in the Medical Battalion (Durban) and he participated in the 2004 Tattoo. Graeme attended this Tattoo as one of the spectators.

The presentation was given in three parts. We saw a film on how the Tattoo was planned by the organizers and the huge complexities they encountered with logistics and drills. And then we were shown an amusing series of slides that documented the lives of the visiting South African pipers and their preparations; and then finally we saw a comprehensive film of the 2004 Tattoo itself, commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

It is not possible to do justice in words to what we saw. There were so many brilliant colourful images, so much spectacle. What follows are little snippets of what we saw.

For example, there is an Army School of Pipers, in Edinburgh, where troops can receive formal training in the art of blowing a bagpipe! There is a sad complication for the Scots in that the famous Highland regiments are no more. They have been amalgamated to form The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The great names of British history will be gone.

In South Africa this too has happened to our Regiments that had pipe bands, like the Transvaal Scottish whose pipers led the troops into Addis Ababa in 1941. A combined group of pipers from the Medical Battalion and Cape Town Highlanders played in this 2004 Tattoo.

Not only were there dozens of pipers magnificently arrayed in their colourful tartan regalia un the Combined band, but there were many visitors from overseas; precision girl dancers from Australia, a Colourful band from China and the South African Navy band.

The film included a very interesting interview with Captain Samson who was in charge of the organisation of the Tattoo. The Tattoo itself was a spectacle of discipline and precision dressing. To march and counter-wheel as those bands do cannot be learnt in a week. It requires dedication and practice.

The climax including everything from a lady violinist, Rowena Macrae, playing with the bands, to the SA Navy band playing and singing 'Jou kombers ---- marching to Pretoria' , and the combined pipers playing 'Sarie Marais'! The RAF band in pale blue, entertained with a collection of Glen Miller music, under the direction of Wing Commander Stuart Stirling in full dress blues, with sword.

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Battlefield Tour 5 and 6 August

This was a great success: to Helpmekaar in the Biggarsberg and then to Newcastle on Day 1. Unfortunately it had had a down side in that one of the cars developed a mechanical fault.

Day 2 was to the battlefields of Botha's Pass and Allemansnek. It also included a visit to Memel and its unique memorial to the 1914 rebellion. This was followed by visits to Korenplaats and then to Roodedraai and the amazing museum and collection of Africana of Gert van der Westhuizen.

Thank you Ken for yet another great tour.

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The annual Base Visit

September's meeting was our regular annual Base Visit to the Natal Field Artillery Headquarters, at "Lords Grounds" on Old Fort Road. Our Host was Capt. Gavin Shepstone, the Regimental Commanding Officer. We gathered in the NCOs' mess, with its wonderful collection of memorabilia. There were pictures on the walls of the University of Natal's students who were the backbone of the regiment in those far-off days.

Sergeant-Major Rumble, the mess president, gave those present a most comprehensive review of the history of the unit since 1854. Explaining how the unit started as a section of the DLI through to its current role. The unit is now equipped with G5 and G6, 155mm calibre guns. A fascinating detailed description of how the unit now operates was given. Many questions were posed after this presentation on how everything works and the cost and so on.

At the end of the evening our Chairman Adrian thanked Captain Shepstone and S/M Rumble for being such good hosts and giving us such an interesting and informative evening.

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THURSDAY, 12 October 2006.


DDH: DDH: The Curragh Mutiny, 1914 by Brian Kennedy

The Main Talk is by Paul Kilmartin entitled: "1916 - a year on the Western Front."

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Other events:

22 October NMR El Alamein memorial parade and wreath laying to commemorate the battle of El Alamein at NMR Regimental Headquarters starting at 10 am

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Information Required:

1. Allan Jackson cell 082 588 2151 would like information about troops, casualties from WW2 buried in the Hillary Military Cemetery. In which hospital were they patients? What did they die of etc

2. Allan Jackson cell 082 588 2151 would like information about Stamford Hill Aerodrome, the SAAF base and RAF Training School of WW 2

3. Robin Taylor e-mail is trying to trace information about Troopers George and Daniel Rumbell/Rumble, part of the Cape Frontier Mounted Police in the Eastern Cape from 1862 to 1867.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: August - October 2006

14 Sept
Base Visit - NFA HQ
Ken Gillings- Organiser

12 Oct
DDH - Brian Kennedy - The Curragh Mutiny, 1914
MAIN - Paul Kilmartin - 1916 a year on the Western Front

9 Nov
DDH - Charles Whiteing - Lawrence of Arabia and the 1st World War
MAIN - Ganes Pillay - The Role of Indians at The Siege of Ladysmith

11 Nov
Armistice Day - Warriors Gate
Paul Kilmartin 10.30 am

14 Dec
Annual Dinner
Bill Brady - Organiser


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Some Committee contact details
Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Phil Everitt 031-261-5751 (after hours)
Adrian van Schaik 082-894-8122 (after hours)
Bill Brady 031-561-5542 or 083 228 5485
Ken Gillings 083-654-5880

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South African Military History Society /