South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 82. DURBAN BRANCH February 1980


Wednesday, 23rd January 1980 marked the 80th anniversary of the battle of Spionkop. To commemorate this event and to pay homage to the brave men of both sides who were locked in this bitter and bloody battle this Branch had planned an outing to Spionkop over the weekend following that date. Thus, a group of members, joined by Major Darrell Hall from Johannesburg, Mr. Mansell Coventry, who farms at the foot of the hill, and members of the Mapp family, owners of the farm which includes the summit, assembled on the summit at 11hOO on Saturday 26th.

A panel of four speakers, 'SB' Bourquin, Darrell Hall, Midge Carter and Ken Gillings dealt with the various aspects concerning the battles. The weather conditions were ideal. In the latish afternoon all participants, bar a group of twelve adults and some children, abandoned the summit to proceed to their homes or week-end accommodation. The group which remained established a camp on the summit and spent the night there.

On Sunday morning members, including the fresh arrival of the Ponsford family, met at Potgietersdrift. Discussions, a walk over the Spearman' s range of hills and up to the memorial cross on Mount Alice, the site of General Buller's HO concluded the morning. After a joint picnic lunch at the Spionkop Dam Holiday Resort some members proceeded to the site of the British camp at Spearman's and of the field hospital and also visited the military cometary nearby.

Mr. Mansell Coventry made some interesting contributions both by participating in the explanatory talks and by showing round somec little known pictorial material and a visitors book kept since the Anglo-Boer War on the family farm (which is actually the gateway to Spionkop) The signatures in this book read like an international "Who's Who" of illustrious and not so illustrious vasitors to Spionkop: Royalty, Heads of State, Ministers and Politicians, Fieldmarshals, Admirals and Generals "by the dozen", people from all walks of life - including the Durban Branch of the South African Military History Society.

At our February get-together a very special "guest speaker", our own Chairman, 'SB', presented two "sketches". Illustrated with beautiful slides, they were linked by the title "Two True Freedom Fighters". The story of WILLIAM TELL relates how Albert of Austria, in order to deprive Swiss cantons of their ancient freedom, sent bailiffs (among them Gessler) to the cantons Uri and Schiwyz. Their tyrrany, and atrocities committed on their orders, resulted in a rising, planned at the Rutli, on 8th November, 1307, on which day also the Swiss Confederation was born. The three foundaton cantons led by Werner von Stauffach of Schwys, Walter FUrst of Uri, and Arnold von Melchtal of Untorwalden, each with ten companions, took a pledge to expel the oppressors and to form an everlasting confederation, On November 18th the famous Tell incident took place, as a result of which Gessler was eventually killed and on January 1st, 1308, the general rising achieved the desired object.

The story of inn-keeper ANDREAS HOFER, the national hero of Tirol, relates Hofer's determined efforts in 1809 to oppose Napoleon's repeated attempts to wrest the Tirol from Austria and to add it as a province to his newly-created vassal-state of Bavaria. Leading an amy of peasants and making excellent use of the mountainous terrain he repeatedly met composite enemy forces in pitched battles and defeated with heavy losses French, Bavarian and Italian Generals of the Napoleonic armies, thrice liberating the Tirolese capital Innsbruck from enemy occupation.

The Emperor of Austria rewarded this outstanding loyalty and devotion by presenting him with a golden chain of honour and bestowing hereditary nobility on him and his family. But when Austria was defeated by Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz and confronted with a harsh peace treaty at Schonbrunn, Emperor Francis made no effort to save Tirol and allowed it to be thrown to the wolves. Hofer, who had gone into hiding in an alpine hut, was betrayed by a neighbour, captured and imprisoned in the fortress of Mantua where he was executed before a firing squad on the personal orders of Napoleon on the morning of 20th February, 1810.

The thanks of the meeting, for this most interesting presentation, were conveyed to 'SB' by Dr. Angus Allen.


Monthly Meeting:

March 13th
Fellow-member JEFF MATHEWS, a history lecturer at Edgewood College, will present a talk on GENERAL LORD CHELMSFORD.

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 on the month, commencing at 8 p.m. There is ample parking in the grounds and vehicles are under guard. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own bottled or canned refreshments.



A hearty welcome is extended to new members Major R.W. Barker and Mr. Garth Knoll.

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

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