South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(011) 648-2087 Fax (+27)(011) 648-2085


The November meeting was exceptionally well attended by an audience of approximately 80 people. They were welcomed by the Vice Chairman, Ivor Little, because the Chairman, Bob Smith, is in the early stages of convalescence after a particularly serious operation. However, Bob was in the audience and was thanked by all present for the excellent tour of Diamond Hill and Melrose House, which he had organised a week or two previously.

It was also announced that the editor of the Journal, Susanne Blendulf, and her husband Richard, had recently been blessed with a baby girl whom they had named Crystal, an announcement that also brought a round of applause.

It being only two days after Armistice Day, now more commonly known as Remembrance Day, Ivor asked all present to stand and bow their heads in tribute to those who fell in action in all of South Africa's past wars and struggles. A Royal Marine bugler, as captured electronically by Colin Dean, then played the Last Post. During the period of silence customarily following this call, the tribute "We shall remember them" was read by Marjorie Dean, followed by Reveille.

Ivor then introduced the curtain-raiser speaker, who was none other than the former Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, well known to everyone. Flip gave an excellent little talk entitled "Germany's own Dunkirk", which he had sub-titled "The Second Great Trek - the Baltic 1945".

Flip's story covered the events in 1944, near the end of World War II, when the Russians broke through the German front line in Belloruss, liberated Poland and entered Germany. Following the Nazi atrocities in Russia, it was expected that the oncoming Russian troops would exact retribution upon the local German population, particularly those in Eastern Germany.

Using excellent maps, Flip then showed how millions of Germans in Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia fled westward ahead of the advancing Russians, who swiftly moved to cut off the landward retreat. The only way out for those trapped was to get to the Baltic coast and hope to get some sort of transport across the seas to freedom. Towards the end of February 1945 more than 8 million Germans, mostly women and children, were on the move towards the Baltic port cities of Danzig, Gotenhafen, Koningsberg and Pillau, and the small Hela Peninsula in that area.

The Chief of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, saw what was happening and promptly ordered all Naval units to proceed at once to the Bay of Danzig, thus commencing the biggest rescue mission in history. Anything that could float was pressed into service and in the closing months of the war more than two million men, women and children were lifted to safety. A total of 3 275 ships took part, with the comparatively slight loss of only 150 of them to Russian action. Unfortunately among those ships that were lost were some large passenger liners from Germany's pre-war fleet, which had also been pressed into service. Among them was the "Wilhelm Gustloff" carrying 10 582 people and which was torpedoed by the Russian submarine "S-13", with the loss of 9 343 people, the biggest loss of life ever in a single ship disaster. Also among these were the "Steuben" (4 000 lost), "Goya" (7 000) and the "Cap Arkona" (5 000). Notwithstanding these heavy losses, the operation was carried out brilliantly and was considered successful. Comparisons are odious, but compared to Dunkirk this was a stupendous achievement. The British evacuation took place over a period of 9 days and took 338 000 men off the beaches. The German "Dunkirk" took five months and took off 2 million people. A prodigious effort, but completely overshadowed by the rapidly unfolding events in other parts of the world in the closing stages of World War II and thus almost forgotten today.

Flip's talk was followed by a short question period, after which Ivor thanked him for an excellent and well-presented talk.

There then followed an interesting interlude. Members may recall that over the last two years we have had a number of talks about the Burma Campaign in World War II. Two of these were given by an old campaigner named Tim Waudby and were summarised in the Newsletter. These newsletters and the original talks were, in the normal course of events, posted on the Website. Tim had mentioned in his talk how British forces in Burma made us of the Bagai Motor Services. This name was picked up by a member of the Bagai family, now living in San Diego, California, USA, who wrote to our secretary and was put in touch with Tim. Tim came forward at the meeting and read out the correspondence that had since developed between San Diego, Dehra (India) and Gauteng, a remarkable collection of memories and people spanning 60 years and brought about by the Society.

Following this, Ivor introduced the next speaker, the well-known amateur historian, Mr Steve Lunderstedt, who spoke on "Koos de la Rey", the famous Boer General in the Anglo-Boer War and the subject of a popular Afrikaans song. Using a white board and koki pen, Steve approached his subject from the novel angle of De La Rey's use of strategy and tactics, and not from a purely biographical viewpoint.

Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey was born at Doornfontein near Winburg in the then Orange Free State, on 22 October 1847. His father, Adriaan, was a Commandant in the Orange Free State forces that opposed the British take-over of that Province in 1848, and fought at the Battle of Boomplaats in that year. To avoid retribution and the British occupation, the De La Reys moved to Lichtenburg in the Transvaal. At the age of 12, young Jacobus, or "Koos", contracted rheumatic fever and was bed-ridden for a year. He was home-schooled during this period and was completely literate. He made a complete recovery and, as a teenager, joined his local Commando and fought in the l865 Basuto War. As he grew older he tried a variety of semi-skilled jobs but eventually settled down as a farmer in the Lichtenburg district when he married Jacoba ("Nonnie") Greef in 1876.

Steve then told us that Koos was a tall man (6' 1"), deeply religious, but not a prude. He enjoyed an occasional drink, smoked a pipe and had a small appetite. However, he was a military genius. His youthful experience during the various native wars he fought in, and particularly his participation in the Battle of Majuba, had proved to him the futility of formal sieges and frontal attacks up hills.

When the Anglo-Boer War broke out, De La Rey was an Elder of his church, a member of the Volksraad and Commandant of the Lichtenburg Commando. Although he opposed the War, he was duty bound to participate and in doing so built himself an undying reputation as a soldier. His forté was guerrilla warfare, as learned from the native tribes he had opposed, and sudden and swift hit-and-run tactics.

Steve then took us visually through the battles of Kraaipan, Belmont and Graspan, where De La Rey introduced the concept of a mounted charge while firing from the saddle, and also trench warfare. Trenches were nothing new but Koos sited them in novel positions, well forward of where the British thought the Boers would be, often with devastating results. He was also able to guess what his opponent was thinking and he used this ability to good effect at Magersfontein. He had no time for Cronje and his siege tactics and told him so on more than one occasion.

We were then taken through the guerrilla stage of the War and Koos' contribution to it, until finally peace returned. De La Rey then threw himself into the task of rebuilding his country and rehabilitating Boer ex-servicemen. For this he was elected to Parliament and to the Defence Council. His further career was a bit ambivalent. Although he supported General Botha and his suppression by force of the 1914 strikes, his further loyalties were questionable. When Parliament voted to invade German South West Africa in 1914, De La Rey opposed this but mobilised the Lichtenburg Commando. Why? There are various theories but on his way to Pretoria to meet up with Generals Beyers and Kemp at Potchefstroom, disaster struck.

Various roadblocks had been set up to catch the Foster gang of robbers who were active at the time. The three generals thought that the roadblocks were set up to stop them and, after driving through two without stopping, were subjected to gunfire at a third in Langlaagte. De La Rey was killed by a ricochet. It is possible that De La Rey was being caught up in the subsequent Boer Rebellion of 1914 and intended using the Lichtenburg Commando for this, but his death on 15 September 1914 left a lot of questions unanswered. He was indeed a remarkable man. The usual question time followed, after which both speakers were thanked by Colin Dean for a remarkably interesting pair of talks. Ivor then closed the meeting.

Members are reminded that our meeting on 11 December will commence at 18h45 for 19h00, as the usual talks will be preceded by the launch of our guest speaker, David Williams', new book "On the Border". Drinks and snacks will be provided in the Marriers Wood Room and copies of the new book will be on sale.

Ivor C Little (Scribe) 012-660-3243

* * * * * * *

The committee would like to wish all the Society members compliments of the season, safe journeys for all who travel over this holiday period and a prosperous 2009.

* * * * * * *

Ken Gillings advises that the Commemorations of the 130th Anniversary of the Anglo-Zulu War will take place in and around Dundee from Friday 16th to Sunday 25th January 2009. On Monday 19th January there will be a conference with an impressive list of speakers including some from the UK and Canada.

More details from or from Endumeni Tourism 034-212 2121 ext 2262, or e-mail or visit their web-site at

* * * * * * *


* * * * * * *

For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing 031-205-1951 (
For Cape Town details contact Bob Buser (Sec'y/Treas) 021-689-1639 (
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469 (

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /