South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 14 February was Mr Simon Norton who spoke to us about "The Film and War - 1899 to 1999". Simon's lectures are always very well illustrated and this talk was no exception. He showed us extracts from a selection of unusual films and documentaries made over a period of 100 years which recorded various aspects of military affairs and conflict in that time.

The first extract was from a documentary or newsreel made in the early part of the Anglo-Boer war. This British troops preparing to travel to South Africa to take part in the war and also showed them after arriving in South Africa. There were also shots of the Boer forces.

The camera used was a large box-shaped contraption on a tripod and was operated by turning a crank-handle, obviously not something used in the front lines! Many of the shots had obviously been re-enacted after the event. Mr Norton then commented on various aspects of the war - the huge number of patriotic volunteers from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, their numbers exceeding those of the Regulars, the small number of regulars on the Boer side and the guerrilla campaign with the attendant problems and morality of the concentration camps.

The next extract was from a German-language film about a senior officer, Colonel Alfred Redl, in the Austro-Hungarian army who was, in fact, a spy in the pay of Russia. The film - simply called "Colonel Redl", starring Klaus Maria Brandauer - took a look at the character of the pre-1914 officer class and their attitude to life and service. It also looked at the morals of treachery and Mr Norton commented on this aspect.

Extracts from two WW2 films followed. The first was from "Escape to Dunkirk", starring John Mills. This very well-acted film looked at the pressures of front-line combat where a section of British infantry, cut off by the advancing Germans in 1940 France/Belgium, found a deserted farmhouse to lie up overnight. They were surprised by a German motorised force and made fighting retreat. One of their number was injured and had to be left behind. Mr Norton then commented on the stress of combat, the isolation of individuals on the battlefield and the dilemma faced by the corporal who had to abandon his comrade.

The other was an extract from "The Man Who Never Was" which was about a true event that occurred just prior to the landings in Sicily, where a corpse disguised as a Royal Marine officer was used to persuade the Germans that the landings would be in the Eastern Mediterranean and not in Sicily. The corpse, together with planted "highly sensitive documents" washed up on a beach in neutral Spain. The documents ended up in German hands and convinced them that the deception is real. This was certainly one of the most successful deception plans carried out in WW2. Mr Norton then commented on the use of deception in war and how this forms an essential part of any strategic plan.

Some further extracts were shown and Mr Norton ended with a clip from a newsreel or documentary about the development and use of atomic weapons and the later development and testing of the Hydrogen Bomb - the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and an appalling sight to observe - even on the screen. Some discussion on the subject of the nuclear stalemate which kept a sort of precarious peace in the world for so many decades, followed and the question of rogue states or terrorist bodies having access to nuclear weapons, was also discussed.

The Treasurer thanked the speaker for an interesting, thought-provoking and unconventional look at various aspects of conflict and the causes of and impact of war on the people caught up in what unfortunately seems to be part of our human way of life.



Some two-thirds of our members have now paid their 2008 subscriptions to date. Many thanks to those who have paid. If you have not yet done so, please let us have your cheque or pay the Treasurer at the next meeting or deposit the amount due into our bank account at Nedbank Foreshore Branch, branch code 108309, account number 108 333 2058, noting your name in the Remarks block. Thank you.

Subscriptions are R210 for full members or R60 for affiliate members.

One or two members have not yet paid their 2007 subscriptions. Please note that, unless these are paid by the beginning of April 2008, your membership will be cancelled.



We welcome Mr C C G Steytler who joined us in the last month. We wish him a long and happy association with us in the years to come.

A number of our members are involved in the writing of books on various aspects of military history. These books cover a very wide range of subjects and periods ranging from the 1650's to contemporary history. The authors include Col Lionel Crook, Maj Helmoed Römer Heitman, Dr Dan Sleigh, Mr Alan Mountain, Brig-Gen Dick Lord, Mr Achilles Kallos, Mr Lou Harris and Mr Mike Schoeman. The well-known author, Ian Uys, had been a member of this branch for many years, but has since retired to Knysna and resigned from the society. We have in the region of 100 members in the Branch, so this is a pretty formidable list. If we have omitted anybody, we humbly apologise - please let us know and we will gladly add you name to the (hopefully growing) list of authors!

Another member has been bitten by the writing bug is our previous vice-chairman, John Mahncke. John, who has edited our Branch Newsletter for many years, has written a book entitled "U-boats and Spies in Southern Africa" and, according to the Southern Suburbs Tatler, is busy on another book. Over and above that, he is also busy finalising the memoirs of his late father, which will be published sometime in the near future by a publisher in the UK.

Keep up the good work, fellow members, we are proud of you!


Forthcoming Lectures

Bob Buser - Secretary/Treasurer
Phone - home (evenings) 021 6891639
office (mornings) 021 6899771
Email -

South African Military History Society /