South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(11) 648-2087 Fax (+27)(11) 648-2085
Web:http://samilitaryhistory.org
Email: scribe@samilitaryhistory.org

NEWSLETTER - MARCH 2008

Our last meeting coincided with St Valentine's Day and much to everybody's surprise we had a record turnout of over 80 members and guests, notwithstanding competition from more romantic venues. The Chairman, Flip Hoorweg, welcomed all those present, especially a few new members who had signed up that evening, and got the meeting underway by introducing the usual notices of forthcoming events.

He drew particular attention to the competition for prizes for the best main lecture and the best curtain raiser and asked all members to remember to fill in and return their entries to this effect before our meeting in March. He also gave advance notice that there would be a raffle at our next meeting where, for only R15 an entry, members will stand the chance of winning the double DVD of the acclaimed movies Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags Of Our Fathers. Flip then introduced our curtain raiser speaker, who in this instance was the well-known historian and Museum Art Curator, Allan Sinclair. Allan's subject was The Battle Of Sidi Rezegh: A Study Of A Painting By Ralph Hill.

This painting has been recently donated to the SA Museum of Military History and depicts the Battle of Sidi Rezegh on 23 November 1941. The artist, Ralph Hill, was present at the battle and painted it on his return to South Africa. Before discussing the painting itself, however, Allan led us through the events leading up to the battle where Tobruk was being besieged by the Axis Forces under Rommel, and the arrival of the South African Forces in Libya fresh from the Abyssinian Campaign. These consisted of the 1st and 2nd SA Divisions under Maj Gen George Brink and would be incorporated in the British 8th Army under Lt Gen Sir Alan Cunningham. This army was brought into being for a third attempt at an offensive against Rommel, which would be code named Operation Crusader.

The South Africans, who had had an easy campaign in East Africa, were not trained for desert warfare and especially not in mobile warfare under desert conditions and because of the exigencies of the time had still not received this training when they went in to action as part of the operation. On 18 November 1941 Operation Crusader got under way to relieve Tobruk and capture Libya, and British troops reached Sidi Rezegh, an escarpment 10 miles South East of Tobruk. Allan then led us through the various troop deployments and movements by both sides that resulted in the South Africans forming a defensive square at Sidi Rezegh. There they were subjected to a sudden and overwhelming onslaught by Lt Gen Ludwig Cruwell's Afrika Korps.

Referring back to the painting, Allan then described the ensuing battle as Hill had depicted it, using the artist's pictorial rendition to illustrate the agony of the South African troops caught on a rocky and featureless escarpment, enduring an artillery barrage; an attack by waves of armour and at the same time being subjected to dive bombing by circling Stukas. Allan succeeded in bringing the painting to life and at the conclusion of his talk was warmly thanked by Flip for a job well done.

Our main speaker of the evening was Mr Tim Waudby, who had addressed the Branch last year on the subject of the Burma campaign and was warmly welcome

d back. The subject of his talk was Kipling Revisited - The North West Frontier Of India 1942. Tim is one of the very few survivors of the generations of "Tommies" who served the British Raj in India and his tale made fascinating listening.

He commenced with his schooldays in England in the 1920s and his subsequent enlistment in 1938 in the King's Own Scottish Borderers. This involved garrison duties and training in various cold and miserable corners of the British Isles with the Regiment's 7th battalion, before the chance came to volunteer for service overseas, at which the young Tim jumped. A short while later he found himself at sea, with about 3 000 others, in the Canadian Pacific Liner Duchess of York living in the airless bowels of the ship for a passage to Bombay via Durban, where he had the privilege of hearing the Lady in White singing.

At Bombay they transhipped to the Dutch liner Johan de Witt for a more comfortable passage to Karachi. There they entrained for "up country" and after four days slow travel arrived at Mari Indus, where they changed trains to a narrow gauge railway known as the Heatstroke Express. This carried them at little more than a walking pace to Bannu, the end of the rail system. It was now all change to the open trucks of the Bagai Motor Service that then carried them on for another 90 miles to Razmak in Waziristan on the North West Frontier with Afghanistan.

Here Tim and his colleagues finally joined up with the 2nd Battalion of his regiment for garrison duties and guarding the Indian frontier. Military life in Razmak was straight out of the pages of Rudyard Kipling's great stories of India. A large fortress with a perimeter of some five miles and surrounded by a population of hostile tribesmen, Razmak was intended to prevent incursion in to India by the Wazirs and Masuds. These were two particularly warlike tribes whose favourite target was the Indian population. It was also there to curb ideas of Russian expansionism that had been in place since the early 1800s. It also had a bazaar, a cinema and, of all things, a roller skating rink! These were the sole amusements for the troops, other than organised sport against other units stationed in the fortress.

Tim then went on to describe daily life on the frontier. Troops crossing any open ground outside the fort always did so "at the double" as a favourite local sport was taking pot shots at the troops. When stores were brought up to the fort the road for its full ninety miles had to be cordoned off by piquets of troops stationed at intervals along it. These piquets were of platoon strength and would construct stone sangars for protection against the tribesmen, who saw these stores arriving as a shopping opportunity! All the tribesmen were heavily armed with rifles of either the home made variety or Victorian relics and also carried an assortment of knives. Tim himself was a signaller, a particularly dangerous occupation as the primitive radio sets then in use with the Indian Army were worse than useless and signalling entailed standing up and wagging a flag, a sure-fire invitation for some bored tribesman to take a shot at him.

Theft of arms and ammunition was a major problem and every round had to be accounted for by producing the cartridge case, and rifles were kept chained in the barracks when not in use or chained to the soldier's body when out in the field. The tribesmen used "dum-dum" bullets and were notorious for handing over any captives taken to their womenfolk for emasculation and slow torture. This was very much in the battalion's mind when Mirza Ali Khan, the Fakir of Ipi, decided, for reasons unknown, to attack and besiege the fort at Dhata Khel at the foot of the Khyber Pass. This was a "Beau Geste" type of mud-walled fort manned by an Irregular unit known as the Tochi Scouts, and Tim's unit was part of a Brigade sent off to relieve the fort and teach the tribesmen a lesson. It took two weeks of skirmishing, fighting and ambushings, during which a number of casualties were incurred, before they reached Dhata Khel. At one time they were even subjected to artillery fire from a gun firing solid shot from the hills above them! It took a further ten days to finally clear the area and restore peace, after which the brigade returned to Razmak with most of its members succumbing to malaria shortly thereafter. This was the battalion's swan song in India because, with Japan's entry into the war and the subsequent events, they were retrained in jungle warfare and sent off to Burma, a story that Tim has previously told.

After a most interesting question time, Tim was thanked by Bob Smith for an excellent and interesting talk and Flip then adjourned the meeting for refreshments and the usual monthly book sale.

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Ivor C Little (Scribe) 012-660-3243
e-mail: ivorandanne@mweb.co.za

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Worth a visit:

Mrs Margaret Rush mentions that the Museum Library has a special display cabinet the contents of which are changed monthly. A while back there was a display on poppies, the current one is...

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ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

This serves as notice that the forty-second AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 10th April 2008.

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FORTHCOMING LECTURES

For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing 031-205-1951 (laingm@eastcoast.co.za)
For Cape Town details contact Bob Buser (Sec'y/Treas) 021-689-1639 (bobbuser@webafrica.org.za)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469 (culturev@lantic.net)

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SAMHS Memorial Prizes

February 2008

Dear Gauteng member(s)

Each year we ask for your choices in selecting the winners of our annual prizes for the best main lecture and the best curtain raiser given to the Johannesburg Branch during the previous calendar year.

Please vote - it does not take long - and apart from giving recognition to the speakers involved, it helps immensely in choosing the kind of talks you enjoy most!

The Felix Machanik Memorial prize, which is awarded in his memory for the best main lecture, comprises a certificate and a cheque for R200.

The George Barrell Memorial prize, awarded in his memory for the best curtain raiser, comprises a certificate and a cheque for R100.

On the back of this page you will find a list of the main lectures and curtain raisers given during 2007. At the bottom of this page you are invited to state your first, second and third choices. Replies may be sent by post to P.O. Box 59227, Kengray, 2100 Johannesburg; faxed to 011-648-2085; e-mailed to scribe@samilitaryhistory.org (Joan) or handed to Colin Dean at the society's lecture meetings on 14 February or 13 March 2008. This last has to be the final date for receipt of replies owing to the time taken to add up the scores to find the winners, and to have the certificates suitably inscribed.

To repeat the advice given last year: will members please avoid the temptation to consider only those lectures delivered in the second half of the year. These may be the ones you remember most clearly because human memory tends to be short. But if the judging is to be fair it is absolutely essential to give equal consideration to those lectures that came earlier in the year, or in the middle.

Curtain Raisers

First ........................................................................................

Second ........................................................................................

Third .........................................................................................

Main Lectures

First ........................................................................................

Second ........................................................................................

Third .........................................................................................

Name (Optional): ............................................ Member / Non-member (Circle)

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MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY LECTURES - 2007

Curtain Raisers
January Flip Hoorweg Julius Caesar and the Battle of Alesia 52 BC
February Nick Cowley The Great Escape - South Africans involved
March David Williams Seven Famous Battles that shaped South Africa
April   Annual General Meeting
May Donald Brown A Child at War
June Klaus Kuhne Britische Freikorps - South Africans involved
July Marjorie Dean Sunset in the West - Hood's Tennessee Campaign
August Ivor Little San Boats (Eagle Oil) at War
September John Cramp Soldier-Prince, Edward of Kent, Queen Victoria's father
October Martin Ayres 1066 - a year that changed England forever
November Roslyn Peter The Graf Spee
December John Murray Death of a Hero - Nairac, G.C.

Main Lectures
January Frank Diffenthal We were Volunteers - Angola 1975
February Hamilton Wende The King's Shilling - 1916 - East Africa
March Robin Smith 9 Days in April - Grant's pursuit of Lee, April 1865
April Martin Ayres The Planning of D-Day, 1944
May Clive Wilsworth The S.A. Artillery in action 1975 - 1988
June Tim Waudby The way back - Burma 1943-45
July Carvel Webb The History of SIG Firearms
August Colin Dean The Spice Trade Wars
September Hamish Paterson Cleopatra vs Augustus - the Battle of Actium
October John Parkinson Japan: 1863-64 British Naval Bombardment of Kagoshima
November Steve Lunderstedt Freddie Tait - The Golfing Hero
December Col. James Jacobs The Basotho Wars 1820-1869

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