South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 85. DURBAN BRANCH June/July 1980


At our January excursion to Spionkop, Major (Dr) John Buchan, MO, Natal Field Artillery, was struck by the sense of perspective and insight that historical study gives to present day life. As a result he was persuaded to address our get-together in July on "Principles and Personalities in Military Medicine". In doing so Maj Buchan broke new ground as far as talks to this Branch are concerned, and his presentation was both interesting and thought-provoking. Waging war, killing and maiming in order to conquer, has been one of man's most frequent occupations for thousands of years; yet medical science has lagged behind many other cultural achievements, and hardly ever got beyond rendering only rudimentary first aid to the victims of Mars. It was only during the last century, barely a hundred years ago, that medical practice started evolving organised nilitary service and succour. The American, William Norton, performed the first successful anaesthesia in October 1846 and only from then on could extensive surgery be developed. Later came the rovclutionary discoveries of Louis Pasteur, solving the problems of sepsis and infection and paving the way for vaccinations. Then came blood grouping and transfusion.

The Crimean War is largely remembered through Florence Nightingale. Her efforts, no doubt, gave rise to the establishment of the Army Hospital Corps, in 1898 this was extended to become the Royal Army Medical Corps, its members being jocularly known at the Castor Oil Dragoons or Linseed Lancers. Having painted this general background, Major Buchan then dealt more specifically with the military medical organisation and services on both sides during the Boer War, and gave a synopsis of Sir Frederick Treves' "The Story of a Field Hospital". This hospital followed for three months the Ladysmith Relief Column from the time it left Frere until it entered Ladysmith. During the Spionkop-Vaalkrans operations it was stationed at Spearmans'.

The appreciation of the audience of a very well-researched and interesting talk was conveyed by Dr Jack Hickman in appropriate terms.

Military Sites in the Greytown District. Perfect weather and good company made the visit to Greytown over the week-end 11/12 July a most pleasant occasion. After meeting and spending a short while at the most interesting Greytown museum a convoy of six cars, led by the Curatrix of the Museum, Mrs. Bellinda Gordon, left for Keat's Drift via Muden. After a short stop at Muden and a conducted tour through Mr. Vic Röttcher's orange winery the thorn-country around Keate's Drift and the Mpanza valley, scene of much activity during the Bambata rebellion, was reached. The farm-house on Mr. George Opperman's farm at Mpanza is the original Marshall's Hotel on the old main road, and looks to-day almost exactly as it did 74 years ago. Not far from it is the stretch of the old main road and the big rock where a column of 5 officers and 146 non-commissioned officers and men, escorting three ladies and a child were ambushed by Bambata and his rebels, On 4th April 1906, Sgt. E.T.N. Brown, L/Sgt J.C.G. Harrison, and Tprs. A.H. Aston and J.P. Greenwood were killed outright, whilst four were wounded. Three horses were killed and nine wounded.

In the afternoon a close inspection of Fort Liddle was followed by an early return to Greytown to enable members to enjoy the last rugby test match on TV. Sunday morning saw the party at Fort Perseverance near Ahrens and at Fort Cherry beyond Kranskop, again ably guided by Mrs. Gordon. A picnic lunch was enjoyed on the Gordon's farm nearby which also offered one of the most magnificent views imaginable. Then followed a call at Fort Buckingham near the Kop it self, and on the way back, between Kranskop and Stanger a visit to Fort Cross at Balcombe's Hill. At the latter site it was noted with great consternation that the KwaZulu Department of Works had opened a huge gravel pit right next to the fort, and that the powershovels have already destroyed one of the trenches and have severely undermined one of the bastions. This existing and further threatened damage was brought to the notice of the KwaZulu authorities the following day, and it is hoped that further damage will be averted.

On this trip we were happy to welcome back in our midst Chairman 'SB' who had very recently returned from 2-1/2 months spent in Europe


Programme of Monthly Meetings
AUGUST 14thMR. P. ELOFF will give an illustrated slide talk on "ORDERS, MEDALS, & DECORATIONS".
September 11th Fellow-member DARRELL HALL will talk on "Long Tom".
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, commencing at 8 p.m.


Attached here to is the latest news-letter of the above Society (to which this Branch is affiliated). Will interested members please contact the Secretary, Mrs. Gill Tatham, as soon as possible.


The Daily News of 15th July 1980 contained an invitation to anyone who knows anything about a mystery sword found during a raid to telephone the South African Police. It appears to be either a decorative or ceremonial sword and was recovered in a police raid at Imbali township, near Pietermaritzburg. The steel sword has an ornate gold-coloured handguard and red hilt with gold braiding. Inscribed on the blade are the words "Montante-del-Cid" and on the other side of the blade is an engraving of a man on horseback.

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

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