South African Military History 


Newsletter No. 38: November 2007
Nuusbrief Nr. 38: November 2007

SAMHSEC's annual meeting in Grahamstown on 13 October 2007 was preceded by a tour led by fellow member Alan Bamford. The tour viewed the target stones on the Frontier War era rifle range close to the1820 Settlers' Monument. At the toposcope on Signal Hill, Alan gave talks on the historical details of the 360 view and the first 4 Frontier Wars from 1779 to 1812. Tea was taken in Scott's Barracks, built by Piet Retief between 1821 and 1823. At the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the tour viewed and listened to the pipe-organ, one of only 7 of its kind still servicable in the world, imported by Maj Henry Somerset as a gift for his wife. At a site overlooking Fort England, Alan gave an orientation of its layout. This was followed by a walking tour which included the Military Chapel, School House for the education of Khoi soldiers, Sports Pavilion, Officers' Mess, site of Parade Ground, remnant of the wall and splendid century old buildings designed by Architect White-Cooper. The fort was built in 1815 as barracks for the Cape Regiment and played a prominent role in the Battle of Grahamstown on 22 April 1819. It is named after Lt Col England, who was the Acting Commander of the Eastern Frontier during Lt Col Henry Somerset's absence on leave following the death of his father, Lord Charles Somerset, in 1832. During the 6th Frontier War of 1834/35, the fort was a centre for refugees from the district. It continued as a military base until the withdrawal of Imperial Forces in 1870. It has been a mental hospital from 1875 to date. In its day, the fort was the principal military base on the Frontier and was the site of the first organised public worship in Grahamstown. The tour concluded with lunch in the restaurant in what was Piet Retief's Trading Store, where Alan read Piet Retief's Manifesto.

The Frontier Wars Regiments series presentation on the 98th Regiment by John Stevens was unusual in that, in spite of the Regiment having served in South Africa from 1824 to 1837, which period included the 6th Frontier Wat of 1834/35, no reference to operations in that war by the Regiment could be found. Record was, however, found of individual officers of the Regiment who served on the Frontier. The conclusion is that the Regiment formed part of the Cape Garrison while in South Africa. The Regiment later became part of the North Staffordshire Regiment, which had the secondary title of the Prince of Wales' Own, and was, in turn, incorporated into the Staffordshire Regiment.

The curtain raiser on First City (FC) was by the Officer Commanding, Lt Col Roger Keaton, DWD, RD. Headquartered in Grahamatown, FC is the oldest Highland and the fourth oldest Infantry Regiment in South Africa, having been established in 1875. Its antecedents were the Albany Levy (established 1835) and the Grahamstown Volunteers (established 1835). FC first took the field during the 9th Frontier War. In the Basuto War of 1880-81, a FC contingent served in the Headquarter Column. FC formed part of the Bechuanaland Field Force during the Langeberg Campaign of 1896-97. FC mobilized for service in the Anglo-Boer War on 16 October 1899. From March 1900 for the rest of that war, the mounted element was known as Marshall's Horse as the abbreviation for First City Volunteers (1st CV) was often confused with that for the City Imperial Volunteers. For a period, FC's name was Eastern Rifles. During WW1, the unit served in the German South West Africa Campaign. During WW2, FC mobilised on 20 September 1940 as part of 7th Infantry Brigade and served in Madagascar. On their return to South Africa, they were amalgamated with Cape Town Highlanders and served in 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy. Freedom of the City of Grahamstown was confered on FC in 1962 and of Queenstown in 1964. FC served during the Bush War and on internal security duties..

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The main lecture was Some ideas on the causes and course of the 1st Anglo Boer War 1880/1881 by Alan Bamford. British rule after 1806 so irritated the Boers that nearly a quarter of the European population of the Cape trekked into the interior. Independence was granted to the Emgrant Boers at the Sand River Convention in 1852. In 1864 a single Republic emerged in the Transvaal. The new Republic's independence was threatened with the discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West in 1866 and gold at Pilgrim's Rest in 1870. Ownership of the Kimberley diamond fields was claimed by both Boer republics and the Griquas. Keate's arbitration awarded the diamond fields to the Griquas. In 1873 Griqualand was proclaimed a Crown Colony and in 1880 annexed to the Cape. In England, the Colonial Secretary was propounding federation for the Colonies and Republics in South Africa.

The situation in the Transvaal deteriorated. Wolseley advised immediate annexation and Theophilus Shepstone rode into Pretoria with 25 policemen and annexed the Transvaal on 12 April 1877. The Boers protested but were ignored. At a mass meeting at Paardekraal in December 1880, they declared that, as there was no hope of recovering independence by peaceful means, the South African Republic would be instituted.

On 23 November 1880, concentration of British troops in Pretoria was ordered in anticipation of the mass meeting called by the Boers. An element of Connaught Rangers left Lydenburg on 5 December with 8 officers, a warrant officer, 238 other ranks, 3 women and 3 children with 34 ox-wagons and 5 mule carts. On the march, the column stretched over a mile. Col Bellairs in Pretoria sent a message to the OC, Lt. Col. Anstruther, urging utmost speed, necessity of careful scouting and warning of a possible ambush near Pretoria.

Near midday on 20 December, about a mile from Bronkhorstspruit, 150 Boers appeared on the crest of a ridge 500 yards to the left of the column. A Boer messenger approached under a flag of truce to warn that an advance across the spruit would be taken as an act of war. Anstruther replied that his orders to proceed to Pretoria would be carried out. He said that he had no wish to engage the Boers.

The messenger delivered Anstruther's answer to Commandant Joubert. Firing commenced immediately. The British felt that firing should not have commenced before they started to cross the spruit. In spite of this, the attack could not be termed an ambush. Fighting lasted about ten minutes. Anstruther surrendered when he realized the extent of the casualties. There were 157 British casualties, including 77 killed or died of wounds. Anstruther received five wounds and died on 26 December after the amputation of a leg. Mrs Fox was severely wounded, but survived. Mesdames Fox, Maistre and Smith were awarded Royal Red Cross Decorations for their courageous conduct and devoted attention to the wounded during the action. The Boers suffered hardly any casualties. Burgher Kieser was killed, Burgher Coetzee died of wounds and four others were wounded.

The colours carried during the action were hidden in the stretcher which bore Mrs. Fox after the surrender and were subsequently taken to Pretoria. Commandant Joubert granted permission for Conductor Egerton and Sgt Bradley to proceed to Pretoria to request medical assistance. He left twenty men to bury the dead and assist the wounded. The remainder were taken prisoner to Heidelberg. Subsequently most were released and sent into the O.F.S. Captains Elliot and Lambert were shot at while crossing the Vaal river and Elliot was killed.

Following their success at Bronkhorstspruit, the Burghers besieged British garrisons at Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Lydenburg, Rustenburg, Standerton and Marabastad. The British under Maj Gen Sir George Pomeroy Colley advanced from Newcastle into the Transvaal to relieve the besieged garrisons. He engaged the Boers at Laing's Nek on 28 January, Schuinshoogte or Ingogo on 8 February and Majuba on 27 February 1881. Gen. Colley was killed as he attempted to rally his men at Majuba. Laing's Nek was the last occasion on which a British regiment carried colours into battle.

The British capitulated. On 6 March 1881 Gen Sir Evelyn Wood met the Boers at O'Neill's Cottage below Majuba to discuss peace terms. The Royal Commission to decide the future of the Transvaal met in Newcastle in April 1881 and the Pretoria Convention was signed on 25 October 1881. Its terms contained the seeds of further disputes.

The Boer victory was significant. The British Empire was shaken. The federation policy suffered a blow. Next to Blood River, Majuba became a turning point in history for the Boers. Their nations with their own identity of language, culture and nationality gained international recognition. Queen Victoria stated bitterly that she did not like peace before retrieving honour. In the 2nd Anglo-Boer War in 1899, 'Remember Majuba', became a rallying cry for the British.

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SAMHSEC's next meeting is on 8 November 2007 at 1930 in the PAG Drill Hall. The Frontier Wars presentation will be on the 24th Regiment by Pat Irwin, the curtain raiser on The Terrible Twins: the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers by Richard Tomlinson and the main lecture on Pearl Harbour by Geoff Hamp-Adams.

The 13 December 2007 curtain raiser is by Robin Barkes. The main lecture will be 2 presentations on ships and shipping: the first by Pat Irwin on the Konigsburg and the second by Malcolm Kinghorn on the Halifax Explosion. The 2008 speakers roster is attached for information. Members are encouraged to contribute to filling the vacant slots within the guideline that speakers should address the Branch not more than once per year.

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Date Curtain Raiser Subject: Curtain Raiser Speaker: Main Lecture Subject: Main Lecture Speaker:
10 Jan 08 The tank that stormed Saigon Ken Stewart South African Paratroopers in World War 2 McGill Alexander
14 Feb 08     The power of war poetry Anne Irwin
14 Mar 08 AGM      
11 Apr 08 The Helen Duncan story Peter Duffel-Canham The First Four Frontier Wars (date TBC) Alan Bamford
9 May 08 either "Making of model cannons" or "Restoration of 7 pdr RMLs" Zane Palmer Chris McCanlis, BCR Memorial Lecture: The Indian invasion of Goa Malcolm Kinghorn
13 Jun - 08 (Grahamstown)     Greeks (or Romans) at War TBC
11 Jul - 08 Pitfalls in medal collecting Mike Duncan Gettysburg Robin Barkes
8 Aug - 08 The RAF's most decorated squadron Tim Jones Electronic and Modern Information Warfare Barry Irwin
12 Sep - 08 Revolutionary Warfare Piet Hall 5 SA Infantry Battalion Jock Harris
10 Oct - 08     The Battle of Hastings Pat Irwin
14 Nov - 08 A British Army National Serviceman in the 1950s Richard Tomlinson The Battle of Bannockburn Mike Duncan
12 Dec - 08     TBC Ted Botha

Malcolm Kinghorn.
SAMHSEC SCRIBE 082 331 6223

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