South African Military History 

South African Military History Society Eastern Cape Branch
Suid Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging Oos Kaap Tak

Newsletter No. 27: December: 2006
Nuusbrief Nr. 27 Desember: 2006

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed a sizeable gathering of 35 members and interested parties to our monthly meeting. Apologies were noted and a special word of welcome was extended to Ian and Barbara Uys of Knysna. Ian being our guest speaker for the evening.
Malcolm raised the following points,
- Subscriptions for 2007 will be due in January. Please pay your dues either directly to the Society in Johannesburg and or make over the same to our Treasurer Dennis
- Who knows anything about an Italian POW camp in Cradock? An enquiry has been made
- The Amathole Museum in King William's Town is a definite stopover - Stephanie Victor is a most obliging Curator.
- The PAG will be holding their annual Umzintzani Parade on Sunday 3rd December.
The Chairman then called on Moth Chris McCanlis, as is the custom in the month of November, to step forward and pay tribute to those who had fallen over the years and in many conflicts. This Chris did with due decorum and in his usual dignified manner with all present standing in tribute to those who had paid the supreme sacrifice.

South African Gallantry Awards - by Mike Duncan

Mike paid tribute this month to Lt. Col. John Sherwood Kelly, VC, CMG and DSO. Kelly had a strong Irish blood line and spent a greater part of his life embroiled in various conflicts. He was born a twin in Lady Frere and had his early education in Queenstown and at St Andrews. He served as a 16 year old youngster in the Matabele Rebellion, joined the Cape Mounted Police, was at the Relief of Mafeking, served with Kitchener, joined the Somaliland Burgher Corps that took on the Mad Mullah, and took part in the 1906 Zulu Rebellion before enlisting with the Norfolk Regiment and seeing action at Gallipoli! He was obviously a fighting man. He was to command the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the Western Front and at Marcoing, France, gained the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery. Kelly led his party, under heavy fire, to a point of high ground and from this point, armed with a Lewis gun, forced his way through heavy obstacles and opened the way for his battalion to capture the important position. He appears to have been a controversial man. He was expelled from St. Andrews, failed his medical in 1914 for the then Union Defence Force, was court martialled in 1920 and was relieved of his command due his utterances! He died in London in 1931.

Curtain Raiser - Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA) or The National Organization of Cypriot Fighters by Brian Klopper

Brian has made a number of trips to Cyprus and has an intimate knowledge of the island and its peoples. His talk was on the Cyprus Emergency which took place between 1955 and the eventual settlement in 1960. EOKA had as its aims the expulsion of the British, self determination and union with Greece. That a sizeable portion of the population had an affiliation to Turkey was not a consideration! Greece supported the insurgency with arms, finance and radio propaganda. EOKA tactics included the bombing of police stations and public buildings, killing British servicemen, organising riots and disrupting education. At the same time informants, Turkish patriots, and pro British Cypriots were also targeted. It was a ruthless campaign led largely by one Yeoryios Grivas who hid out and planned his actions from the vastness of the Troodos Mountains and Archbishop Makarios.

The British were not found wanting. By 1959 some 40,000 troops had been deployed and set about restoring order. Police road blocks, house to house searches, curfews, and combined operations against EOKA bases were the order of the day. It developed into a very much tit for tat operation but by June 1958 widespread violence was taking place between the Greek and Turkish communities of the island. The British partitioned the island in an effort to stave off clashes but the murder of a Sgt. Hammond of the Royal Scots Regiment whilst taking his two year old son for a walk sparked revulsion.

Today peace reigns. The island is divided between the Greeks and Turks and the British still have their two military bases. In February 1959 the Zurich agreement was signed and Grivas reluctantly ordered a ceasefire. By 1960 the British no longer had an interest save for their two bases. Brian dealt fully with the many incidents that took place over that four year period of activity. Like most campaigns it was driven by ideals, inspirations and so called patriotism. The death count at the end of it all was that EOKA suffered 90 casualties, the British lost 104 servicemen and 238 civilians were unfortunately caught in the crossfire.

Main Lecture - The Battle of Delville Wood by Ian Uys.

Ian brought a new perspective on this memorable battle. Where one is usually inundated with facts and figures his slide presentation dealt with the more personal issues of the week long engagement. Ian is an acknowledged authority on this battle which is looked upon by South Africans as their finest hour in any war. Ian has written four books on this campaign and has had the pleasure of interviewing many old veterans. His research as taken him to many parts of the country and he has visited the battlefields of Europe including that of Delville Wood. He had been part of a reunion tour group of old timers who visited the field in the early 1980s and spent time in an area that had been shelled by over 100,000 shells in what is described as absolute bedlam.

General Tim Lukin commanded the South African Brigade which comprised four companies. The troops were young and raw but served under seasoned officers many of which had taken part in the Anglo Boer War. The instruction was to hold the wood at all costs and this they did in an epic engagement. Ian related that only one Victoria Cross was awarded and that was to William "Mannie" Faulds of Cradock who saved a Lt. Craig. The instance of Pvt. Eddie Fitz was also related who was later awarded the Military Medal. He was digging himself and found he was digging in his own blood. He was not aware that he had been wounded! Troops were deadbeat and fell asleep on their feet. The entire C-Company officer corps was either killed or maimed. Command changed by the hour as officers fell. It is Ian's opinion that the high casualty rate amongst the officers was due to the prominent and exposed role that they played as they led and defended their positions.

Today the field is at peace. The nearby cemetery holds some 5000 neatly kept graves of which there are only 166 South African. The rest of the casualties were never found - they lie to all intents still in that wood. The local population are employed as gardeners and keep the area immaculate. Only one tree in Delville Wood survived that bombardment. If one runs a metal detector against the tree it reacts violently such is the amount of metal that is embedded in it. Ian, with the assistance of his wife, Barbara, talked his way through his slide presentation in a very personal manner. Each slide had a story to tell and one's attention was firmly held as those times were so vividly and well described. The last veteran of this battle died in 1998. He had been living in Fort Lauderdale in Florida, USA but shortly before his death the old veteran paid a visit to his family and to recall that terrible time.

The Memorial at Delville Wood, an inspiration of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, was opened in 1926 by General Hertzog. The Museum was opened in 1986 by P.W. Botha and the Commander, Tim Lukin, died in 1925 and is buried in the Plumstead Cemetery.
As an aside your Scribe is aware that Mrs. Sannie Erasmus, in her near 90's and a resident in Somerset East, nursed Lady Lukin as a young nurse in the early 1930's at the Victoria Hospital in Wynberg. She has fond recollections of a very gracious lady.

Barry Irwin thanked both Speakers for their well researched talks. It was most appropriate that Ian's talk to us was just before the 11th of November. It made us remember and recall another time that involved many of our own kin who had fought in the name of freedom.

Next Meeting - Thursday 14th December at 19.30 hours, at the usual venue of The Prince Alfred's Guard's Drill Hall, Central, in Port Elizabeth.
Curtain Raiser - South African Native Labour Corps medals - By Mike Duncan.
Main Lecture - Operation Mincemeat or The Man who never Was. - Barry Irwin

Ian Pringle

Scribe / Secretary.

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South African Military History Society /