South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 86. DURBAN BRANCH August 1980


A superb set of colour slides brought all the glitter and glory of the orders of Chivalry, and of decorations, medals, and awards for valour and achievemont into the lecture room at our get-together in August. Behind it stood our guest speaker for the month, Mr. Theunis Eloff, history master and long-standing chairman of the S.A. National (Historical) Society.

Women are usually portrayed as vain creatures, bent on enhancing their appearances with dazzling jewelry, but Mr. Eloff's talk on "Orders, Medals and Decorations" left little doubt about the vanity of men, who not only want to adorn themselves, but, what is more have always wished to distinguish themselves from their fellows, and proclaim their achievements, by some outward sign!

Mr. Eloff traced orders and decorations back to the earliest times when the Pharaos of Egypt singled out meritorious persons by presenting, them with tokens of imperial appreciation - scarabs made of stone or metal. In Greek times and the Roman era the laurel wreath was used for this purpose; in medieval times the design on the shield, the ornament on the helmet and the emblems of orders of chivalry were employed. In regard to the origins of the latter many a romantic story was told. Over the centuries the medal has become the universal mark by which distinction is awarded, services are rewarded, and participation in certain events indicated. In monarchies most awards are made in the name of the sovereign; in other countries in the name of the government.

The insignia of orders of knighthood which, in some instances, come in different grades, such as knights, commanders, officers, members, are chiefly silver and enamel stars worn on the breast, enamelled gold or silver badges attached to a broad ribbon over the shoulder or round the neck and smaller badges worn on the left breast with other decorations and medals.

Decorations for gallantry include the British Victoria Cross and George Gross, the U.S. medal of honour, the German Iron Cross and the French médaille militaire; and there are medals for long service, medals to commemorate coronations, jubilees, participation in wars and innumerable others.

The insignia vary considerably in size and value. Additional awards of the same decoration can be signified by the addition of bars of metal worn transversely across the ribbon, or by oak-leaf clusters, roses, palms, stars and other devices. Mr. Eloff's slides covered a wide range of examples in many countries. Reference to some unusual awards or combinations of awards, such as the case of Surgeon Major-General Manley, who won both the British Victoria Cross and the German Iron Cross, added human interest to an already absorbing subject.

After a lively question time the thanks and appreciation of the audience were adequately expressed by Mathew ("Midge") Carter.


We mourn the sudden death of one of our fellow-members, J.L. ("Copper") Smail. A modest and unassuming, yet most enthusiastic and indefatigable researcher of the facts and incidents which make up history, he had already written three books, "With Shield and Assegai" (1969); "Those Restless Years" (1971) and "From the Land of the Zulu Kings" (l979). He was busy preparing for a fourth publication when he departed this life, suddenly and unexpectedly, on Saturday morning, 30th August l98O.


Programme of Monthly Meetings
SEPTEMBER 11TH Fellow-member DARRELL HALL will present a talk entitled "LONG TOM". (Darrell is travelling all the way from Johannesburg to give us this talk so please support this meeting and invite interested friends to come along).
October 16thCaptain A.A. Winter will give a talk on "The B.S.A.P.". (N.B. Third Thursday in October)
November 13thFellow-member, Victor Conrad, will present a talk entitled "Massacre in Katyn Forest".
December 11thDr. Angus Allen will give a talk on "The Jacobite War in Ireland, 1689-1691 - Bantry Bay to the Boyne"

The venue will be the Lecture Room, "SB" Bourquin Building, (the Port Natal Administration Board's head office) on the corner of Jan Smuts Highway and Buro Crescent, Mayville, on the second Thursday of the month, (unless otherwise indicated), commencing at 8 p.m. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own bottled or canned refreshments. There is ample parking, under guard, in the grounds. FRIENDS AND INTERESTED PERSONS ARE MOST WELCOME TO ATTEND.


A rather belated, but nevertneless warm, welcome is extended to new members Miss J.F. Dyer and Dr. G.D. Stephenson.

(Mrs) Tania van der Watt,
Secretary, Durban Branch,
S.A. Military History Society,
Box 870 HILLCREST 3650
Tel 742970

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