South African Military History 

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

Newsletter No. 30: March 2007
Nuusbrief Nr. 30: Maart 2007

Chairman Malcolm welcomed Col. Graeme Lombard of the Prince Alfred's Guards to the well attended meeting. Col. Lombard advised the meeting that Society members were most welcome to attend the gathering which meets on the last Thursday of each month in the NCO's Mess. It takes place from 17,00 hrs and as we all have an interest in matters military the gathering is a social point of like minded people. The Chairman stressed that the car guard must be suitably paid - please be generous with your tip. Bus and taxi fares must be covered as well as his efforts in keeping an eye on our cars.

Members are also reminded that the Annual General Meeting takes place on Thursday 8th March. Please make every effort to attend. There will thus be no Curtain Raiser at our monthly meeting and the business of the Annual General Meeting will be conducted in this time slot. The Main Lecture will follow and will be delivered by Col. Piet Hall ( Rtd )

The meeting also agreed that the usual monthly meeting will take place on Thursday 9th August which is a Public Holiday. The meeting was of the opinion that attendance would not be unduly affected.

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Gallantry Awards - By Mike Duncan

Mike intimated that in preparing these interesting monthly presentations that he had found a high proportion of the individuals concerned were either from the Eastern Cape and Border areas or had strong connections with these parts. This month it was no different and he told us about Lt. Victor De Kock RN, MBE, DSC, and MID - South Africa's most decorated sailor. He was born in Caledon in 1919, matriculated at Union High in Graaff-Reinet, and joined the Reserve Bank in Port Elizabeth before the last war. He then joined the Royal Navy where he was assigned to HMS Shropshire. He qualified as a Commissioned Officer in 1941 and was appointed to HMS Glencairn which was the first cargo boat that was converted to a combined operational assault ship. He was then given command of a 50 ft MLC ( Landing Craft, Mechanised ) and was involved in evacuating British troops from Greece. He took off 200 men on each trip. Further risky work followed on that coast and on returning to Alexandria he was awarded the DSC. He was involved in the evacuation of Crete where he was under severe fire and was awarded the MID for outstanding gallantry, fortitude and resolution. Nothing daunted he then saw action in Tobruk where he landed food and ammunition from Alexandria. That earned him an MBE and he was transferred to the Commandos and involved in a recce of Sicily to seek out landing sites. He failed to return from one expedition and was presumed killed in action. He had died at the age of 23 years having earned the highest of military honours.

Further investigation reveals that he was one of four members of the 1937 Union High Cricket team that was killed in action during the last war. The school has a photograph of him which is displayed along with others from this school who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

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The Curtain Raiser - "Movement Light" by Paul Galpin.

Paul joined up with the Territorial Army in the United Kingdom in the early 1960's. He was one of the last intakes for Nationl Service in that country. His talk was rather unusual and he described how with the movement of light one could quite clearly observe your enemy by using reflective lighting. This reflective light was generated by powerful search lights which would use cloud cover to deflect the light back and onto enemy position. This method of detection was developed late in the last war and was taken over by the Engineers who used powerful Lister generators to power the search lights. He gave a number of examples on the art of this light movement and it appears to have certainly been of use in times of war.

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The loss of HMS Barham by a survivor, Alfred Duffell-Canham.

Alfred was one of three brothers who all saw service in the last war. Alfred's story was related by his nephew, Peter Duffell-Canham, who quoted from extensive notes compiled by his uncle on his war service. He was a young rating in Durban in 1941 while the HMS Barham was under repair. The ship was short of crew members and he was one of twelve South Africans who found themselves en route to Suez and the Mediterranean. It was a quick introduction to action !

It was 25th November, 1941, between Crete and Libya, in the company of two other battleships, Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, and accompanied by eight destroyers that the Barham was torpedoed. Alf recalls the explosions, the ship rolling over and then his being swept along to land in the water with a dread feeling that he would drown. He managed to surface and found himself amongst others who were clutching onto timber and other flotsam. Barham had vanished within four minutes. Others, weak and injured, gave up and it was only a few hours later that the destroyers Hotspur and Nizam arrived to collect the survivors. They were covered in oil, deadbeat but thankful to disembark at Alexandria the next day. They were whisked out to a Dekhela, a security camp, in the desert and where they stayed for three weeks. The Germans were aware that they had sunk a boat but which one it was should remained a secret. Cairo, in the last war, had its fair share of intelligence agents !

A tragic loss for Alf was his friend, Vivian Whymark, who, when both as young sea cadets in Durban, had decided to enlist. Of the 12 South Africans on board only six survived. There was a loss in total of 868 men and 303 lived to tell the tale. Alfred met up with his two brothers and saw action in other threatres of war including Italy and Europe. He was discharged in 1945.

Peter's talk was most interesting and he covered the times and experiences of a well respected family man who had seen service throughout that war.

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Next Meeting - 8th March, 2007, the usual venue, The PAG Drill Hall and at the usual time of 19,30. We will commence with the Annual General Meeting which will be followed by The Main Lecture by Col. Piet Hall ( Rtd ) entitled, " Military Traditions - Cults and Occult"

Ian Pringle,

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

South African Military History Society /