South African Military History Society

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Our Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, commenced our October meeting by welcoming all present and then giving out the usual monthly notices. These included advance warning that there will be a raffle of a DVD entitled "Great Sea Battles of World War II" at R10 per ticket at our next meeting. He then invited Bob Smith to come forward and advise members of our next outing, which will be a conducted tour of "behind the scenes" of the Military Museum on Saturday, 17 November by Hamish Paterson. Hamish is a senior member of the staff of the Museum so this look at details unknown to the general public should be a fascinating one. The tour will start from the Museum parking lot at 11h00 and will finish at 13h00. The price will be R30 per person, with pensioners and children priced at R20 each. Those taking part are invited to bring along either a picnic basket to join a communal picnic in the lawns, or take advantage of the Museum tuck shop, which also sells light refreshments. Those who have not already signed up are urged to contact Bob Smith at (011) 760-1660 (W), (011) 675-0836 (H) or 082-858-6616.

Flip then introduced the curtain raiser speaker for the evening. This was Martin Ayres, a well-known amateur historian and former National Chairman of the Society. Martin's talk was a fascinating and carefully researched talk on "1066 - A Year That Changed England Forever".

In that year King Edward the Confessor of England died childless, leaving three heirs contesting the throne. There was Duke William of Normandy, Edward's declared heir; Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway, and Sweyn, King of Denmark - the latter two both having a claim through descent from King Canute, a previous King of England. To further complicate matters, the English people, who had no knowledge of these claims, crowned Harold Godwinson, Edward's brother-in-law, as King of England on 6 January 1066, as he had been nominated as such by King Edward.

Harold immediately realised that he was going to have to defend his throne and placed his country on a war footing. He placed his fleet around the South and East coasts of England, in readiness to repel William, and sent his two brothers, Edwin and Morcar, to defend the North against the Norsemen. Harold's forces spent the entire spring and summer on high alert and also had to contend with yet another problem caused by another of Harold's brothers, Tostig, who, for some reason, rebelled and promptly invaded the Isle of Wight. He then commandeered a small fleet of ships in Sandwich Harbour, harassed the shores of Norfolk and ended up seeking refuge in Scotland.

In September Harold was convinced that no invasion would take place so, late in the year and with the approach of winter, stood his forces down. At this time his brother Tostig threw in his lot with Harald Sigursson, known to history as Harald Hardraade, and the two joined forces at the mouth of the River Tyne and invaded Yorkshire. At Fulford, a suburb of York, the Norse forces met Harold's brothers in a short but bloody battle on 20 September where the latter were completely routed. Hardraade then moved further south to the River Derwent, where he was caught by surprise on 24 September by Harold, who had marched north covering 180 miles in four days, one of the fastest marches in history.

At a fierce and bloody encounter over the Stamford Bridge, the Norse were completely defeated, both Hardraada and Tostig being killed, together with 5 000 of their followers.

In the meantime, William of Normandy had raised a large army in Normandy and after a long wait because of contrary winds in the Channel had finally got away from St Valery to do a night crossing to Pevensey Bay. Landing there, he consolidated his beachhead and then moved on to nearby Hastings with 5 000 men. Harold thus had to retrace his steps and hurry down to meet William, gathering men along the way, finally arriving at Senlac Hill outside Hastings with 1 000 men. There he took up a defensive position and awaited reinforcements. William knew that speed was of the essence and promptly launched a series of uphill attacks on the English positions. At 3 pm on 14 October, he decided on a do-or-die last attack and finally broke the English line. Harold and his brothers were killed, together with most of his men, and a total Norman victory achieved. William then marched to Canterbury from where he gradually wore down any English resistance. He was eventually crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066, thus ending a tumultuous and decisive year in English history.

Martin was thanked by Flip for his most interesting and informative talk, and our main speaker for the evening was then introduced. This was John Parkinson, also a well-known amateur historian and a member of our National Committee. John's talk was "1863/4: Some British And Allied Naval Operations In Japanese Waters" and was illustrated by copies of original charts, paintings and news clippings of the period.

Starting with a brief historical background to the political situation in Japan in 1854, John explained how the Japanese feudal policy of isolation at all costs was slowly becoming subverted by trade and intellectual curiosity and particularly by the signing of treaties of friendship with the British and Americans in 1854.

Nominally under the rule of the Emperor, Japan was in fact ruled as a Shogunate under the control of a Shogun. Answering to the Shogun was a group of feudal samurai lords known as Daimo. Two of these, Satsuma, with his capital at Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, and Choshu, at the western extremity of Honshu, from where he exerted an influence on the Shimonoseki Strait, were particularly resentful of what they considered the Shogun's poor handling of the "Barbarians".

On 14 September 1862 a touring Englishman, Charles Richardson, was out riding with a group of friends when they encountered a large group of samurai escorting the Daimo of Satsuma through the village of Namamugi. The foreigners failed to make way fast enough, nor show proper respect, and were promptly assaulted, during the course of which Richardson was killed. The matter was referred to the British Charge de Affaires who reported the murder to London and in a short time an answer was received. For Richardson's death the British wanted nothing less than an ample and formal apology from the Japanese government and payment of a fine of 100 000 pounds sterling. From the Daimo of Satsuma they wanted the immediate trial and execution of the perpetrators and compensation of 25 000 pounds sterling for the trouble caused!

This was a huge amount of money for those times but the Japanese government eventually paid, although the Daimo of Satsuma rejected the British demands on him. The British admiral, Augustus Kuper, who was present in HMS EURYALUS, then received instructions from London to enforce the British demand by taking such action as he saw fit against the Satsuma domain on south Kyushu.

By now it was the summer of 1863 and on 26 June, when anti-Barbarian feeling had reached a pitch, the Daimo of Choshu's shore batteries at Shimonoseki opened fire on a passsing American steamer but doing no damage. This was followed by another attack on 8 July on a French warship and three days later against a Dutch corvette. These obvious acts of war invited retaliation and on 16 July the USS WYOMING engaged the shore batteries and sunk or captured Choshu merchant ships found at anchor in the vicinity. The French followed up four days later when two of their ships not only bombarded the forts but also put a party ashore which destroyed a battery and burnt a few villages.

The British still had not received their demanded tribute from the Daimo of Satsuma so on 6 August Admiral Kuper took a fleet of seven British ships in to Kagashima Bay and anchored there. Subsequent diplomatic efforts to resolve the question of monetary payment led nowhere and eventually three Satsuma merchant ships in the vicinity were captured by the British to use as a bargaining tool. Seeing this, the Satsuma shore batteries opened fire. The three Satsuma ships were then destroyed and the British squadron took off on two circuits of the Bay, engaging shore installations, sinking shipping and setting fire to a few villages. There were casualties on both sides as the Japanese fought back, and these included a number of senior British officers in the flagship EURYALUS.

These actions had the desired result for, although the Daimo of Satsuma claimed that he had beaten off a British attack, he quickly paid up his 25 000 pounds in November 1863. It was now time to deal with the Daimo of Choshu. An Allied expeditionary force consisting of 16 British, Dutch, French and American ships was assembled to attack the forts interfering with the passage of ships through the Shimonoseki Strait and on 4 September 1864 the Allied fleet arrived in that Strait and anchored. The following afternoon the ships weighed anchor and attacked the shore batteries, silencing three of them and landing shore parties to spike the guns in another. With nightfall the action was broken off, resuming at daylight the following morning when a Choshu battery opened fire. It was rapidly silenced and a large force of Allied sailors and marines was then put ashore to deal with the forts lining the Strait. The pattern was repeated over the next few days as shore parties were landed at all the various Choshu forts, destroying them and removing those guns which were not spiked. This involved fierce fighting as the forts were stockaded but by 10th September the job was completed, the forts destroyed and 62 guns captured and parcelled out amongst the Allies.

As a result of this action a Treaty was concluded allowing free passage of the Strait and the Japanese government paid over $3 000 000 as a claims settlement to the Allies. In the course of the affair at Shimonoseki the Allies lost 12 killed and 60 wounded and one midshipman and two seamen from HMS EURYALUS were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery whilst storming a Japanese stockade.

After a short question period John was thanked by Ivor Little for his well researched, well illustrated and interesting talk and then the meeting was adjourned for tea.

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