South African Military History 

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

Newsletter No. 28: January 2007
Nuusbrief Nr. 28: Januarie 2007

South African Military History Society Eastern Cape Branch Suid Afrikaanse Kryshistoriese Vereniging Oos - Kaap tak The 14 December meeting included a first, with 3 generations of Irwins in attendance. It was noted with envy that the 2006 model is fitted with snooze control.

Mike Duncan's presentation in his series on Gallantry Awards to South Africans was on the award of the Military Medal to Corporal Job Maseko. While a POW, Maseko sank a fuel lighter in Tobruk harbour with an improvised explosive device, before escaping and making his way through the desert to Allied lines.

Mike went on to present the curtain raiser on medals, or rather, the lack thereof, to members of the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC) who served in WW1. As the Union of South Africa Defence Act of 1912 restricted the bearing of arms to persons of European origin, non-Europeans were employed as non-combatants. Some 25 000 black South African volunteers served in France with the SANLC between 1916 and 1918 as part of a labour force which also included French, British, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Egyptian and Canadian labourers, as well as German prisoners of war. South Africans were mostly used to handle cargo in the French ports of Le Havre, Rouen and Dieppe. After the war, a silver campaign medal was awarded to soldiers who had served in operational units and a bronze medal with an identical ribbon to non-combatants. The latter was not awarded to SANLC members. Nothing came of efforts to address this anomaly and the matter was dropped after the National Party came to power in 1925. Nevertheless, medals recognising meritorious service were made to some SANLC members.

Barry Irwin's main lecture covered the WW2 deception popularly known as "The Man Who Never Was". In a deception code-named Operation Mincemeat, the Germans were duped into believing that the Allied invasion of Southern Europe would be through Greece and Sardinia, instead of the intended Sicily. A plan conceived in 1942 by Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and Lieutenant Commander Ewan Montagu of Naval Intelligence proposed planting a corpse carrying false papers to mislead the Germans regarding Allied intentions in the Mediterranean. The operation was code-named "Trojan Horse", later changed to "Mincemeat".

A dead man was dressed as the fictitious Major Martin, Royal Marines. In the early hours of 30 April 1943, the body was placed in the sea from the submarine HMS Seraph close inshore on the southern coast of Spain near the town of Huelva. Attached to the body was a briefcase containing forged documents which was hoped would be passed to a German agent known by British Intelligence to be in the area. The agent was believed to be on good terms with the local police. The gamble of Operation Mincemeat was whether he would have access to the contents of the briefcase. The body and the attached briefcase were soon discovered and taken into the custody of the local Spanish authorities. Subsequent information indicated that the aim of the plan had been achieved. The success of the Allied landings in Sicily in July 1943 was partly attributed to Operation Mincemeat.

In 1953 Lt Cdr Montagu published the book "The Man Who Never Was", described as the first semi-official revelation of Operation Mincemeat. A number of people have since investigated the true identity of "Major Martin". There are claims that the originally intended body of Glyndwr Michael was substituted at the last minute by that of a sailor killed in an explosion aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Dasher on 27 March 1943. Montagu himself always refused to identify the body used.

The SAMHSEC 2007 Speakers Roster is attached for information. While the response to the call for speakers is appreciated, continued efforts to fill the remaining vacant slots are requested.

South African Military History Society Membership is due for renewal on 1 January 2007. Dues are unchanged at R140 for single and R160 for family membership. EFT payment can be done to SA Military History Society, FNB cheque account 50391928346, Park Meadows branch 256655 and proof of payment faxed to 011 648 2085 or e-mailed to National Treasurer Joan Marsh at Joan will be distributing invoices to members during January.

In response to members' preference as indicated in the survey conducted in October for tours to Anglo-Boer War sites, advance notice is given of the SAMHSEC tour to Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet from 4 to 6 May 2007.

The last in Mike Duncan's series on Gallantry Awards to South Africans will be in March 2007. A survey will be conducted before then to determine members' preferences whether the series, in effect an additional curtain raiser, should be followed by another, and, if so, on what, for example South African Reserve Force units.

Members may find the website of interest.

The next meeting is at 1930 on 11 January 2007 in the Prince Alfred's Guard Drill Hall, Prospect Hill, Central, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be on the Cu Chi Tunnels by Ken Stewart and the main lecture by Malcolm Kinghorn on the Political Battle of Muizenberg.

All the best for 2007!

Malcolm Kinghorn for Ian Pringle,
SAMHSEC Scribe, tel 041 368 8798, fax 041 368 8798, cell 083 636 6623,

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Message from Scribe:
My thanks to Chairman Malcolm for standing in for me in my absence and compiling the January newsletter. I was browsing through a copy of the latest Farmer's Weekly today and read a most interesting article on the Battle of the Stormberg which was fought out near Molteno in the North Eastern Cape. The story has it that a local farmer awoke one morning to find what he thought were sheep thieves slaughtering his sheep. They were in fact British soldiers. He put a few shots after them which in turn awoke a drowsy Boer sentry. He in turn looked up to see an advancing column of British soldiers who were hoping to ambush the Boers. The rest is history. The Boers sprang the surprise and the Britsish were to suffer one of their worst ever defeats. That area is rich in the history of that campaign and is a possible tour destination.
All the very best for a very good and prosperous New Year
Ian Pringle,

Which was followed shortly thereafter by the following e-mail from Ken Gillings of the KZN branch (one of the Society's Honorary Life Members):

Greetings, Ian.

Stormberg battlefield is well worth a visit. It is in almost pristine condition.

The story about the farmer is true. He was Louis van Zyl and his family still owns the farm (Klipfontein).

Gen Gatacre’s exhausted troops (who had been cooped up in railway trucks for most of the previous day and had only arrived in Molteno late that night - and had not eaten any dinner) trudged off in the direction of the Kissieberg (also known as the Kesieberg) after 21h30. Their guide took them past the first turnoff to Klipfontein and that is why they ended up marching past the farmhouse. The spacing of the column had been such that it became separated and the RAMC, artillery and ammunition wagons proceeded along the road to Stormberg Junction while the main party took the Steynsburg road.

As the main party marched past Louis van Zyl’s house, he was awoken by his dogs barking and he watched the procession. To his dismay, he saw some soldiers slaughtering some of his pregnant ewes, so he grabbed his rifle and fired at them.

Meanwhile the head of the column had approached the Kesieberg. One of the Boers was squatting down on the hillside when he saw the glint of a bayonet - then many more. Suddenly he observed the British column and the reality hit him. He pulled up his trousers, darted back to the laager and raised the alarm at precisely the same time that van Zyl fired his first shot. As you said, the rest is history.

Incidentally, many years later Louis van Zyl had a premonition of his death - the precise time and date. His grieving family gathered around his bedside to bid him farewell. The time came and went. He lived for many more years, with the nickname of Louis ‘Doodgaan’ van Zyl!



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Date Curtain Raiser Speaker Main Lecture Speaker
11 January The Cu Chi Tunnels Ken Stewart The political Battle of Muizenberg Malcolm Kinghorn
8 February Movement Light, a unique unit in the British Army Paul Galpin The sinking of HMS Barham Peter Duffell-Canham
8 March AGM   Frontier Wars Piet Hall
12 April Northern Rhodesia Police Tim Jones   tba
10 May Campaign furniture Rob Melville The Nuremberg Trials Chris McCanlis, BCR
7 June Men of Iron Bill Mills SANDF Integration Jock Harris
12 July HMS Seraph Barry Irwin The Battle of Waterloo Pat Irwin
9 August Film Night Paul Galpin    
13 September tbc   Leadership debate John Stevens
13 October (Note: Saturday in Grahamstown) First City Regiment TBC Some ideas on the causes and course of the 1st Anglo Boer War 1880/1881 Alan Bamford
8 November A British Army National Serviceman in the 1950s Richard Tomlinson The Battle of Bannockburn Mike Duncan
13 December tbc   Pearl Harbour Geoff Hamp-Adams

Ian Pringle
Scribe / Secretary.

083-636-6623 or

South African Military History Society /