South African Military History Society




1st Day 24 May (Ascension Thursday):
Rain had fallen during the early morning, just after midnight, and an overcast sky greeted members at the War museum, but their spirits were not daunted as they chattered with old friends and new acquaintances whilst partaking of coffee and rusks which were most welcome at that time of the morning. Some people were there as early as 07h00, so keen were they not to miss the trip. Whilst George Duxbury was checking on overall arrangements, Tony Speir was attending to his documentation of allocating seats, dishing out "anti-pollution" bags and name-tags for suitcases etc., and Alec Tyrrell was seeing to the loading of lunch-boxes, cold drinks, beer and wine.

Amid all this activity more and more people arrived. There were far more people than usual as, for the first time ever, two bus-loads would be going. There was mild panic when one of the buses failed to arrive in time, but it eventually appeared and all was well.

Soon it was all aboard and, before moving off, Lionel Roche who is both a member and one of the Trustees of the Board of the War museum, welcomed everybody and wished them a pleasant journey and enjoyable time.

And so, with a slight drizzle falling, the buses departed to the "engine" whistle of Bert Simpkins. Although, as we heard afterwards, rain fell all morning in Johannesburg, we soon ran out of it into very pleasant weather.

There was no doubt for the weather for the remainder of the trip, as Hymie Amoil's wife, Jean, corresponds with a daughter of the "Rain Queen" and arrangements had been made in advance for good weather!

Well-known personalities among the 89 in the two buses, apart from the directing staff, included Vic Bester, Vice-Chairman of the War museum who had travelled from Cape Town for the trip, Zoe Narchand (in public life Her Worship The Mayor of Sandton), David Millin (well-known film producer), Professor Johan Barnard (current Chairman of the Society). It was gratifying to have with us members who had travelled many distances for the journey. Two from Pretoria, Frank Mitchell and his wife from Cape Town, Hugo and Moyra Hallat from Klerksdorp, Fritz Pretorius and his wife from Sannieshof (Western Transvaal) who also brought Mr and Mrs Labuschagne from their district. Mr Labuschagne had been a member of Parliament for 22 years and a Senator for 3 years.

The journey was via the old road to Durban and en route, various battle-fields, monuments etc. of military significance were pointed out and the buses arrived at Rorke's Drift on time at l4h00 where the picnic lunch was eaten with much enjoyment, washed down with suitable liquid refreshment.

It was there that we met up with other members who had come from Natal and the OFS and so all 4 provinces were represented. Our one representative from the "Vrystaat" was Lieut-Col Jim Pulzer and his son.
There were about 16 from Durban including their Chairman Cmdt SB Bourquin. We could not find out what his first name was as everybody refers to him as "SB"! Another CT member, who came up with the Durban contignent, was young Peploe and we omitted to mention earlier that with us on the bus was Fiona Barbour who had travelled from Kimberley.

There were some hundreds of people gathered from all over South Africa and a contingent of 60 people from Great Britain among whom were representatives of the Welsh Regiment who, as the 24th Foot (South Wales Borderers) had seen heavy fighting at Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana. After lunch, our body of people was officially welcomed by George Duxbury and Johan Barnard.

George Chadwick, also a member and very much involved with the overall arrangements for the official celebrations, then outlined the Battle of Rorke's Drift whilst his attentive audience admired the scenery round the main battle feature of the Oscarberg known to the Zulu as Shiyane.
Much had been done to the area for this great event; the area had been cleaned up, important places marked out on the ground, mealie bags and biscuit boxes, copied from originals, were laid out to simulate what it looked like at the time of the battle, books and pamphlets and first-day covers were available and two wagons, replicas of those used, were on hand. After the talk, Alec Tyrrell, an ex-sapper and Richard Dey, National Treasurer of the Sappers Association, laid a wreath on the monument, erected after the battle, in memory of those gallant men who fell and in which action eleven VCs were awarded.
The drive to Vryheid, headquarters for the trip, was a l½ hrs drive and soon the buses were speeding in that direction and, after a very pleasant day with glorious weather, Vryheid was reached as the sun was setting. The Stilwater fetal turned out to be a most pleasant place, excellent accommodation and first-class service. After bathing, a fine evening was spent in the usual eating and drinking and, despite the fact that an early start would be made the following morning, more than one party was held.

2nd Day 25 May :
The buses left at 07h30 for Isandlwana, via Dundee, and after a short delay due to minor mechanical trouble, arrived at the area just in time for the commencement of the official celebrations which were attended by some thousands of people who sat beneath that awe-inspiring mountain. Proceedings were opened by the Honourable Dr PGJ Koornhof after there had been performances by the Zulu Regiment, singing, unveiling ceremonies and a religious service. After his speech, Dr Koornhof unveiled a Memorial Plaque and many wreaths were laid amongst which are ones laid by George Duxbury on behalf of the War Graves Board, George Chadwick for the National Monuments Commission and Johan Barnard for the military History Society. Among those present on the platform with Dr Koornhof were His Majesty the King of the Zulus and Prince Buthelezi. The road to the celebrations was lined by natives selling food, lorries selling all sorts of souvenirs and a mobile Post Office selling first-day covers.

After the official events, Dr Koornhof left by helicopter and whilst most people then departed for the official proceedings at Rorke's Drift, our society, after an excellent picnic lunch, stayed on and were addressed by SB Bourquin who gave a detailed account of the battle. One amusing incident took place when our dear old lady, Claire Rheinallt-Jones, was locked in the "loo" and after much plaintive wailing and help-calling, was eventually safely released!

After a walk round the area, the buses sped off to Vryheid and yet another pleasant evening was spent ruminating on the day's events and what glorious weather had again been experienced.

3rd Day 26 May
The trip to Ulundi was commenced at 08h15 and on arrival an amazing scene presented itself in that there were far more people than at Isandlwana, maybe some 4 or 5 thousands. After some difficulty, seating was eventually found for our members and the celebrations commenced with Flag Raising ceremony, Banner Parade, Bands and Piper and then Performance by the Zulu Regiment. The ceremony was due to end at l3h00 but as the antics of the Zulu Regiment dragged on and on, it was decided to move off just before l3h00 as the ceremonies had only reached its half-way mark. We had our picnic lunch at the Monument and then Ken Gillings, a Durban member, gave a short talk on points of interest in the area. Unfortunately the person due to give a talk on the actual battle was the official announcer on the broadcast system - he probably finished at dark!! It has since been reported that Buthelezi spoke for some 3 or 4 hours !!!

A very pleasant last night was spent with more parties than usual.

4th Day 27 May
Sunday dawned yet another lovely day, despite rather a cool wind, and a late start was made at 09h00 and enroute home a stop was made at Kambula, where Alf Wade, one of our Vryheid members, gave us an interesting talk on that battle. His grandfather had taken part in it and he had been over all the area in his youth with his grandfather. Again small mechanical trouble was encountered but soon overcome by Hymie Amoils, our honorary mechanic, and the two drivers. An excellent picnic lunch was again enjoyed and, despite the bus-trouble and a long way home, the Museum was reached just after 19h00. What a trip it had been - a very memorable one, intersprsed with amusement, the directing staff jumping from bus to bus to give out instructions and everybody enjoying themselves. Apart from the usual hard-core of regular members, there were many new faces (and they all said nothing would keep them from going on the next trip, which says a lot for the directing staff). We had two very fine drivers in Allenby - (yes he was named after Gen. Allenby believe it or not) and Peter and for the first time, both the PA systems in the buses worked perfectly.

A most sincere thanks to George Duxbury and his directing staff for the usual amazing organisation and for all their hard work.

This was also the first trip on which only members were allowed and we thank them for filling two buses (and there was a waiting list!)

It was indeed a memorable trip and everybody must have been thinking of all what had been packed into so few days whilst they sped on their way to their various destinations both near and far ........

Bertie Simpkins

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