South African Military History 

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

Newsletter No. 29: February 2007
Nuusbrief Nr. 29: Februarie 2007

South African Military History Society Eastern Cape Branch Suid Afrikaanse Kryshistoriese Vereniging Oos - Kaap tak Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to a well attended meeting. Apologies were noted .Malcolm appealed to members to renew their memberships before our Annual General Meeting which is scheduled for the 8th March. We have had a good response for our Speaker's Roster. The Main Lecture though in April is still open and the slots for the Curtain Raiser in September and October are also available.

Chris Papenfus advised the meeting that he had laid a wreath on behalf of the South African Police Services on the occasion of the Umzintzani Day Parade.

Mike Duncan's presentation on Gallantry Awards to South Africans was on the first VC awarded to a member of the South African Colonial Forces. He was acting Assistant Commissary Officer James Dalton for his gallantry during the defence of Rorkes Drift on 28/29 January 1879. Dalton died in Port Elizabeth in 1887 and is buried in the Russell Road cemetery. A parade in his memory is conducted on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the battle.

Dalton joined the British Army in 1849 and served in many parts of The Empire before taking his discharge in 1871. He arrived in South Africa and volunteered for the appointment of Acting Commissary in 1877 at a time when the 9th Frontier War was about to commence. He saw action at Rorke's Drift winning the Victoria Cross where his excellent initiative and gallantry earned the praise of fellow defenders. It was awarded to him in 1880 and he was later was awarded The South Africa Medal with bars for Service. He returned to England, and then was later believed to have seen service in Egypt before returning to the Transvaal in 1884 to try his luck on the Reef. Whilst visiting an old friend, Sgt. John Williams, in Port Elizabeth he died on the 7th January 1887 at the Grosvenor Hotel. Williams and his friends in Natal erected a memorial in his memory which to this day is maintained by members of The Prince Alfred's Guards.

Ken Stewart's curtain raiser was on the Cu Chi Tunnels. Originally hiding places and a means of communication between villages for the Viet Minh in the 40s and 50s the tunnels were extended during the Vietnam War. They contained living areas, storage depots, ordinance factories, hospitals and virtually every other facility needed to conduct the war. There were as many as four levels. Entrance trapdoors were cunningly disguised and booby trapped. Ventilation took account of light, wind and gradient. Bearing in mind most excavation was done by hand, the engineering was outstanding. Various means to neutralise the tunnels were employed, including special US units called "Tunnel Rats".

The Americans built a major base at Cu Chi, 60 km north west of Saigon. But they unwittingly built it on one of the biggest tunnel complexes. The Viet Cong had thus listening posts literally under the Operations Room and at night could come out of the tunnels inside the base perimeter. Ken's presentation was illustrated by photographs taken during his recent visit to Cu Chi. Most heavily built Westerners cannot fit through the trapdoors and some have been enlarged for tourists to enter and taste life in the tunnels.

Malcolm Kinghorn's Main Lecture covered the political background to The Battle of Muizenberg on 7 August 1795. Following the loss of their North American colonies trade with the East became vital for both England and France and was fiercely contested. When revolutionary French forces invaded the Netherlands the British realised that French control of the Cape would be disastrous to their shipping to and from India. Opposing factions in Holland were the Patriot and Orange parties. The former was republican and in favour of a French alliance and the latter monarchist and in favour of maintaining the alliance with Britain. When the Patriots, assisted by French forces, gained the upper hand in January 1795, the Stadtholder, Prince William of Orange, fled to England and Holland became the Batavian Republic. The Directors of the Dutch East India Company, nearly all Orangists, requested that British troops be stationed at the Cape to safeguard against French attack.

Effectiveness of Dutch commercial rule over the Cape had been waning for many years as were the Company's profits. The chief income was taxation of local burghers. Generally sympathetic to the Patriot faction the burghers felt no responsibility for the financial difficulties of the Company. In February 1795 Cape Governor Sluysken was informed of the French invasion of Holland and the likelihood of the pro-French, anti-British Patriots coming to power. The Cape garrison was commanded by Colonel Gordon who was a strong supporter of the House of Orange. The burghers could muster a fighting force of around 2000. However, the question of a common enemy would be problematic, with the French admired and the Prince of Orange regarded as a tyrant by most burghers.

On 11 June 1795 a British fleet of nine warships carrying 500 regular troops arrived in Simon's Town. This force had been hastily despatched to the Cape after the Batavian Republic had been established. Governor Sluysken was given a letter from the Prince of Orange instructing him to support the British in preventing a French take over of the Cape. To the surprise of the British, Sluysken displayed scant concern for the letter. He did, however, give orders that the fleet be supplied. Governor Sluysken's reluctance to accept the British with open arms placed the British in an embarrassing situation as they had insufficient force take the Cape. Sluysken realised the British predicament and exploited his advantage to the full, in particular unifying the burghers under his banner. On 27 June he prohibited further supplies to the British Fleet and strengthened the defences of Muizenberg.

The British chose recourse to force on 7 August 1795. During the preceding weeks they had trained their men and gained intelligence on positions at Muizenberg. Furthermore, their supplies were running low. Thus, with reinforcements due any day and the weather favourable, it was time to strike. While soldiers supported by armed sailors advanced along the coast, four British warships bombarded the Dutch positions. The Dutch retired and the British occupied Muizenberg with minimal loss. The first 400 British reinforcements arrived on 9 August 1795. Thereafter, only minor skirmishes took place until 3 September 1795 when 3000 more reinforcements arrived in False Bay. On 14 September 1795 the Dutch surrendered and the first British occupation of the Cape began. The British very nearly failed in their attempt lo secure the Cape. The fleet had been despatched in haste without proper planning, although the basis of the problem had been known for two years. When the easy political victory that the planners had banked on did not materialise, the British Force was too weak to impose a military decision. The British were indeed fortunate that the French did not put in an appearance.

Chairman Malcolm has prepared the Speaker's Roster which should be included and attached to this newsletter. Regretably, a gremlin, has crept into my system and I am unable to copy and paste it. I will in due course rectify the matter and send it out under separate cover.

On a more personal note, as I complete this letter, I am sure that you have heard of the absolutely shocking murder of David Rattray at his Lodge which is situated near Rorke's Drift. He was rated as our most imminent historian and one with an intimate knowledge of the Zulu campaigns. It is an absolute tragedy. I was privileged to hear him speak at packed gathering held locally about three years ago. He was accompanied by Ian Player and Alan Weyer. I have never heard a man speak with such passion on his subject. We held him in awe and hung on his every word. May he rest in peace.

Our February meeting will be held at 19, 30 on the 8th February 2007 at the usual venue. The Curtain Raiser, by Paul Galpin, will be on Movement Light, a unique unit in the British Army; the Main Lecture by Peter Duffell-Canham on the sinking of HMS Barham

Ian Pringle,

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

South African Military History Society /