South African Military History Society

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As is the usual practice, the November meeting was opened by the National Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, who welcomed all present. After the usual monthly notices, he asked all present to stand in honour of the memory of Mrs Elizabeth Nel, who had passed away recently. She was Winston Churchill's secretary during WW II and the mother of one of our members.

He then introduced our curtain-raising speaker, Mrs Roslyn Peter. In addition to being a full-time mother and grandmother and an accomplished athlete, who regularly runs the Comrades Marathon, Mrs Peter is also a keen maritime historian. Her talk was entitled "The Graf Spee" and Roslyn approached this topic from the interesting viewpoint of the humanity shown by her captain, Hans Lansdorf. Taking us through the life of the ship, from the time she was launched until her eventual scuttling off Montevideo in Uruguay, Roslyn emphasised Lansdorf's concern for the crews of the ships that he captured and sank and his humane treatment of his prisoners while they were aboard his ship. In two and a half months he sank nine merchant ships without any loss of life, before he was caught by the British ships Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. In the subsequent engagement, known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee fought off her three opponents but in return received damage which would need repairing before she would be able to resume her career as an ocean raider. She also needed to replenish her ammunition and Lansdorf decided to shelter in the neutral port of Montevideo. His British opponent, Commodore Harwood, then sent the badly damaged Exeter off to the Falkland Islands for repair, and took up a position outside Montevideo with his remaining two ships.

In a brilliant deception, the British got the Germans to believe that Harwood was expecting reinforcement by "three capital ships", whereas in actual fact he was awaiting the arrival of the cruiser Cumberland from the Falklands. Clever diplomacy and planning also ensured that a British merchant ship sailed from Montevideo every 24 hours. By the Laws of Neutrality, Lansdorf had to wait 24 hours until after she was gone before he could sail himself and, staggering their departure effectively, they kept Lansdorf in Montevideo where he ran the risk of outstaying the legal time he was allowed and thus being interned. Hitler made it quite clear that on no account was he to allow the latter event to happen. Lansdorf then took his ship to sea, after releasing his prisoners and landing all his crew except those actually needed to work the ship. However, instead of engaging Harwood, Lansdorf anchored the Graf Spee, took the rest of the crew off by tug and then scuttled his ship with explosive charges. His full crew then crossed the River Plate to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they were interned.

Hitler was furious but Lansdorf called his crew together and gave the following justification: "Rather 1 000 live young men than 1 000 dead heroes". A rare sentiment indeed for a raider captain, but Lansdorf was first and foremost a sailor who believed in the brotherhood of the sea and who honoured human life above vain personal glory. He wrote three farewell letters, one each to his wife, his parents and the German Ambassador, ending each with the sentence "No captain with any sense of honour and duty can separate his fate from that of his ship". He then spread an Imperial German Navy ensign on the floor of his hotel room and shot himself upon it.

He was reviled as a coward and a traitor by his superiors but remembered with love and respect by his "1 000 young men". Forty years later many of these men, plus British veterans of the Battle of the River Plate as well as former Merchant Navy prisoners taken by Lansdorf, held a commemoration service at Lansdorf's grave in Buenos Aires - a moving tribute to an officer and a gentleman.

Flip thanked Roslyn for a beautifully delivered talk which had kept her audience enthralled.

He then called on the next speaker to draw the lucky winning number for our DVD draw. This turned out to be #24, John Murray, who won the DVD entitled "Great Sea Battles of WW II". The raffle had raised R240 for the Society's coffers.

This next speaker was Steve Lunderstedt, all the way from Kimberley to speak to us. Steve is a regular speaker at our Society who has made a career in both journalism and tour guiding. In addition to lecturing on the international circuit, he is an expert on the history of Kimberley and its surroundings. The title of his Main Lecture was "Freddie Tate - Golfing Hero".

Freddie Tate was a remarkable man and one of the very first golfers to attract spectators to his matches. He started playing golf in his home town of St Andrews in Scotland when he was a schoolboy in Grade Five, gradually improving to become British Amateur Champion and the Champion Amateur golfer of 1896. By the late 1890s he was attracting large crowds to watch him and had become a national sporting figure. He also became an accomplished bagpipe player and enjoyed military pageantry. In 1894, after attending Sandhurst, he was commissioned in the Royal Leinster Regiment, later transferring to the Black Watch and serving as a Physical Training Instructor at the Army Gymnasium. In all these postings he popularised the sport of golf, and in fact was responsible for the golf course at Sandhurst.

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War, he accompanied his regiment to South Africa as a lieutenant in the Highland Brigade, taking part in the proposed Relief of Kimberley under General Methuen. In this capacity he participated in the British victory at Belmont and in the Battles of Modder River and Magersfontein.

Steve showed us a remarkable collection of slides made from original photos of these battlefields and where the Highland Brigade lost its new general, Andy Wauchope, who was killed at Magersfontein. During the course of this latter battle Tate was shot in the thigh while trying to lead a charge. He was pinned down by sniper fire for the entire day, being evacuated after dark, and then sent on to Wynberg Hospital in Cape Town.

He was released back to his regiment on 10 January 1900 and rejoined them at Modder Camp, where they were now under the command of General Hector McDonald as part of Lord Roberts' forces. The regiment was despatched to Fraser's Drift and was assigned the task of taking the Koedoesberg, overlooking Koedoesberg Drift. It was during this operation that Tate was mortally wounded by a sniper while trying to get him to betray his position. It took him three hours to die and the place is marked today by a cairn known as Tate's Cairn.

The golfing world still remembers Freddie Tate in many ways and with many items of Tate memorabilia. There is a Freddie Tate Amateur Golfing Trophy and the Kimberley Golf Club has in its possession his hand-made putter, which was last valued at 100 000 pounds sterling. He appears in a collage of golfing greats in the Main Entrance hall of the St Andrews Golf Club and his Queens South Africa Medal is still in circulation and was last valued at 25 000 pounds sterling. There are also a number of hospital wards and beds dedicated to his memory, the most well known one being at the Scottish Hospital in St Andrews. Tate was originally buried at Koedoesberg but was later re-interred at Kimberley where golfers still regularly honour his memory by holding an annual wreath laying-service at his grave. He was only 30 when he was killed and a book on his life was produced only six months after he was killed.

After a brief question period, Flip thanked Steve for his excellent and most interesting talk and then adjourned the meeting for tea.

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Subscriptions for 2008

Your national committee has set the subscriptions for 2008 as follows:
Single R150 Life membership (single) R3 600
Family (two people) R170 Family life membership R4 080

Invoices will be sent out early in the new year.

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Season's Greetings

The Chairman, Scribe and committee members extend their best wishes to all members for a joyous and peaceful festive season and a happy and prosperous 2008!

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Ivor C Little (Scribe) 012-660-3243

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E-mail received about self catering cottages for rental near Somme battlefields

My name's Jonathan and along with my brother Richard, (we're both ex British Royal Marines) we run 'Chavasse Farm'. It is three self-catering cottages that are available to rent on the Somme Battlefields in France. Web-site at

We've also just bought a new house in Longueval, Somme, it's less than a minute from Delville Wood and the South African Memorial. We are going to run it on a self-catering basis; it will be open after Easter. See our web-site at

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For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469 (

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