South African Military History 

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

Newsletter No. 31 : April 2007
Nuusbrief Nr. 31 : April 2007

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to the meeting. He advised that our membership stood at 46 with maybe a few stragglers still to settle their dues before the end of March. The average attendance in the past year has been 31 persons and as a large proportion of the membership is resident outside the Metro this figure represents a good attendance. Chairman Malcolm reminded members that on the last Thursday of the month the NCO's Mess is open to our membership and we are welcome to join the members of the PAG in good fellowship. Tonight would see the last of the Gallantry Award Presentations which have been so aptly delivered by Mike Duncan. In future we will deal with perhaps similar topics and cover South African Reserve Units and the old British Regiments that were once stationed in the Cape Colony. The presentation would last no more than five minutes.

The Graaff-Reinet Tour is scheduled for the 4th-6th May and the itinerary has been distributed. Please advise by the end of March should you wish to join the tour group. An interest was expressed that a day excursion be made to the old forts that are to be found near Van Stadens. They date to the Anglo Boer War and were built to protect the Port Elizabeth water supply.

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Gallantry Awards - Captain Arthur Walker, HCG and Bar. - By Mike Duncan

Arthur Walker was born in 1953 and educated in Johannesburg. That he was awarded the Country's highest medal, The Honoris Crux Gold, plus Bar, is exceptional. He gained his wings in 1976 and saw action with the Rhodesian Air Force before joining the SAAF where he was posted to Ondangwa. It was here that he showed his mettle as a helicopter pilot. Under heavy fire he flew his chopper at a higher level drawing fire towards him and thus allowing other helicopters to ferry away troops and survivors to safety. He earned his bar in 1981 when he landed with his helicopter in the face of fierce fire to rescue the crew of another machine that had been downed by enemy fire. He landed and in a frantic search found the crew members whom he loaded up and to fly out between trees to safety. It was a heroic act and enacted under a barrage of gun and mortar fire.

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The Annual General Meeting. Chairman Malcolm advised that his report had been distributed by email. He touched on a few issues. He thanked Jock Harris and Piet Hall for their contribution over the last three years in being very much part of the Society and for all their assistance. Both have declined election to the Committee for the forthcoming year. He was pleased that the parking issue had been resolved and he was thankful that the Society had the calibre of Joan Marsh in Johannesburg who was so capable and had her finger on every pulse. He made mention of the two successful tours that had taken place to Fort Fordyce and to Komgha and beyond into the old Transkei.

Richard Tomlinson was invited to take the Chair and nominations were requested. Richard nominated Malcolm for the post of Chairman and this was seconded by Ian, the Scribe. Chairs were once again swopped and business returned to normal. Treasurer Dennis Hibberd presented his short and concise report which would not attract the Auditor General's attention - well done and thank you Dennis! The two vacancies on the Committee will be filled in due course - we have ways and means! It has been a good year and the Branch has flourished. We meet in congenial surroundings, the car park is secure and we have access to the most reasonably priced bar facility in the City. It would be remiss if we did not mention the Grahamstown contingent, led by Pat Irwin, who travel the distance in numbers to attend our monthly meetings. Thank you one and all from The Settler City. Your loyalty and enthusiasm is much appreciated.

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Next Meeting - Thursday 12th April at 19.30 hours, at the usual venue of The Prince Alfred's Guard's Drill Hall, Central, in Port Elizabeth.
Curtain Raiser : Tim Jones on "The Northern Rhodesian Police"
Main Lecture : Barry De Klerk on " Friendly Fire "

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Main Lecture - Some Military Traditions, Cults and Occultism by Col. Piet Hall (Rtd)

Piet, in his interesting lecture, stressed at the onset that his talk would not delve into the deep and mysterious but merely skirt on the old traditions and beliefs that have been played out over a great number of years in many armed forces and which are still to be found to this day. He defined Tradition as something, in whatever form, that is passed on from generation to generation. Cult could be expressed as an extravagant devotion to a person and or cause and Occultism as something beyond human understanding and a belief in the supernatural.

He touched on a number of traditions. Beating the Retreat stems from old times when drums were beaten at sunset to recall troops to return to the confines of the fort and the Tattoo is of Dutch origin and from the word, "Taptoe "which means the closing of the beer taps. At sunset drummers were sent out to beat the tattoo and to fetch the soldiers out of the taverns. The Freedom of The City is a gesture of friendship extended by a City to a regiment and the sounding of The Last Post and Reveille are played out on a regular basis. Reveille to rouse the troops at dawn and The Last Post, in a symbolic gesture is played at a funeral and which is followed by the Reveille. That signifies when the soul of the deceased is carried to Valhalla - the final resting place.

Cults remain alive in Britain especially that of The Champion which takes the form of a gallant knight out to defend the realm and to challenge all others who seek to do otherwise. The Cult of Britannia dates down the ages, is the favourite of the British soldier and found on coins and standards. Tombs are classified as cults and these may be found in numerous chapels and churches. The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier is best known and is at Westminster. On the 7th November 1920 the four bodies of British soldiers who were killed at Aisne, Somme, Arras and Ypress were exhumed and interred. They represent the deceased of British origin who may have died in whatever combat where ever in the world. The Cult of The Dead is represented on cenotaphs and memorials spread throughout the towns and villages where at any time there may have been a British influence..

Trooping the Colour is an old tradition and is best known for the parade held to celebrate The Queen's Birthday. It is a showing of the flag to enable the troops to recognize their emblem whilst on the field of battle. The flag is carried by a junior officer who is accompanied by a bearer party and they fight to the death to save the flag from falling into enemy hands. At Isandhlwana the Queens colour was recovered from the river after the 24th Foot Battalion suffered huge losses. Queen Victoria placed a wreath on the spike and ordered that a silver replica be carried on this colour in perpetuity. The last colour to be carried into battle was by the 58th Foot Regiment at Laing's Nek where Boer and Brit clashed.

Soldiers are by nature superstitious and before going into battle have over the years donned medals, lucky omens, carried letters from loved ones, pictures etc - all in an effort to stave off death and or disaster. Never light three cigarettes with one match. That dates from the First World War where the flare of a match alerted a sniper, which gave him time to aim and then the holder of the third cigarette would be shot. The worst possible omen was to lose your emblem and or the regimental colours on the field - that spelt disaster. Many regiments kept pets as omens and goats, tame springbuck and wolfhounds have been known to accompany various regiments. At the start of the 8th Frontier War the Xhosa prophet, Mlangent, instructed warriors to carry a twig of Plumbago to ward off bullets. Even General Eisenhower admitted carrying a lucky coin with him whilst he commandeered forces in Europe.

Piet had much to relate. Over the centuries much has devolved, been added to and become part of tradition. With it has also come the hero worship and glory that is associated with the celebration of victory and sadness accorded to the rituals of death. It was an interesting talk and leaves us open to the fact that we all believe in our little way that something out there may save us from uncertainty .

Ian Pringle,

tel 041 368 8798,
fax 041 368 8798,
cell 083 636 6623,

South African Military History Society /