South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 18 February was fellow-member Brig.-Gen. Dick Lord who gave a fascinating illustrated talk on the little known British National Memorial Arboretum, a botanical tree garden at Alrewas in Staffordshire, which he and his family visited last year.

The project was the brain-child of Cdr. David Childs who decided that the UK needed such a memorial after he had visited the American National Arboretum in Washington. He, with the valuable support of Group-Capt. Leonard Cheshire VC, was able to obtain 150 acres of land for the project. This consisted of reclaimed gravel workings, generously donated by Redland Aggregates now Lafarge.

Since the first plantings in 1997, over 50 000 trees have been planted and more than 100 dedicated plots have been created. It is Great Britain's principal alternative site to the Cenotaph and was taken over by the Royal British Legion in 2003.

In addition to honouring members of the Armed Services, it also commemorates those who have given their lives whilst serving in the Merchant Navy, Civil Defence, Fire Service and Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Also commemorated are the "Bevin Boys" who worked in the coal mines between 1943 and 1948, the Stillborn and Neonatal Society, the British Police, Royal Malaysian Police, Royal Hong Kong Police, Kenya Police, the Circle of International Friendship, Roadpeace, Ambulance Service, Fauld Explosion, Fire and Rescue Services, September 11th, War Widows, Round Table and the General Post Office. Some of the trees honour Royal wedding anniversaries and birthdays.

Free parking is provided for visitors and a Visitor's Centre, Museum and Chapel are situated near the entrance. Brig.-Gen. Lord played a recording of the solemn music which reminds visitors on their arrival that the Arboretum is a memorial to the departed.

The Millennium Chapel at the Arboretum is the only place in England where the Last Post is sounded at 11:00 each day followed by a period of silence and Reveille.

Whilst most of the memorials are trees, there are also a number impressive stones, sculptures and other symbols. Sleepers and rails from the Sumatra and Burma Railways honour those who were savagely treated whilst building these railways and in particular those who died in so doing. The Burma Star Association memorial is a large monolith on which are inscribed the words from the Kohima Epitaph. The original gate built at the Changi Prison in 1941 mourns the Far East Prisoners of War.

A statue commemorates Pte. Herbert Burden of the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers who was shot at Ypres, at the age of 17. His name and those of the other 306 servicemen who were shot at dawn are to be found on the stakes which have been arranged in the form of a Greek theatre around the statue.

The Berlin Airlift Memorial is in the form of a golden eagle mounted on three concrete pillars representing the air routes to the city used by the allies. A much larger version is to be found at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin.

A magnificent statue of a polar bear honours the 49th West Riding Division.

The Merchant Navy Association Memorial is a rock behind which were planted 2 536 oak trees, known as the Merchant Navy Convoy and representing each of the British flagged merchant ships lost during the Second World War.

It is seldom remembered that two of the three double VC recipients were officers of the RAMC. At the Arboretum each of the 29 RAMC VC heroes is honoured in an avenue of purple beech trees.

The British Army is represented by the largest number of memorials, trees and plaques and some of these include a map showing where the battle being commemorated took place. The Royal Engineers memorial includes rocks brought from the Falklands. The memorials to the Desert Army and Tobruk (the biggest siege in history?) are of particular interest to South Africans.

The RN memorials were of special interest to Brig.-Gen. Lord, who served in some of the aircraft carriers commemorated during his time in the Fleet Air Arm after World War Two.

The RAF and the Women's Services are also well represented and it would be impossible to do justice to the topic in this short summary. Brig.-Gen. Lord and his family spent two days at the Arboretum but this was too short a time to see everything. Their saddest discovery was a plaque honouring Sholto Hedenskog, a very good friend of Brig.-Gen. Lord's son. He died while serving with the British Forces in Iraq. Our thanks to Brig.-Gen. Lord for an excellent, copiously illustrated and well researched talk.

(This review has been especially written by fellow member Mac Bissett and edited and typed on PC by fellow member Bob Buser.)


Your Committee is glad to inform Members that subs for 2007 will remain unchanged, i.e. Full Members R 200,00 and Associate Members R60,00 . New Subscription forms will be sent out with our March Newsletter.


Future Lectures:

8th February THE NATIVE MILITARY CORPS AND THE SINKING OF THE SS MENDI on 21.2.1917 A record of the SA Native Labour Corps, which was recruited in the Union of South Africa and the three then High Commission Territories, now Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, and its service during World War One in France. On 21.02.2007 the loss of the SS Mendi in the English Channel will be commemorated and details of the tragedy and the death of 621 members of the unit will be discussed.
8th March THE PAST AND PRESENT STORY OF MUZZLE LOADING CANNONS IN SOUTH AFRICA A Talk by fellow-member Commander Jerry De Vries and Mr Ian Van Oordt of the The Cannon Association of South Africa.
Our speakers will also provide detail about the The Cannon Association of South Africa which is very active, especially here in the Western Cape. They now have 906 cannon listed in their records and more are appearing all the time. They have many tested for firing - most in the Western Cape. They will tell us about the oldest cannon in South Africa (now in Pietermaritzburg) from two Portuguese ships dated about 1514 - 138 years before Van Riebeeck landed!
2) THE BALKAN WARS FROM 1821 to 1922
An illustrated Talk by Achilles Kallos on the Political and Military History of the Balkan Wars of this period. A detailed preview of this Talk will appear in our Next Newsletter.


Society Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month, (except December when we are in recess), at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road (off Liesbeek Parkway, Alma Road Traffic Light), opposite Rosebank Railway Station. Secure Parking inside. All visitors are welcome. Tea and Biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke
Tel.: 021 797 5167 - e-mail:

South African Military History Society /