South African Military History Society

December 1981 NEWSLETTER

Past meeting: Johannesburg - l2th November

Dr C.A.R.Schulenberg spoke to an attentive audience on the subject of "Breaker Morant", sketching the background events which led to the arrest, trial and conviction of Morant, fellow Australian Handcock and two other officers for executing Boer prisoners-of-war in the Northern Transvaal during 1901. By all accounts the Bushveld Carbineers were a rough-and--ready lot, and the officers do not seem to have been any less cut-throat than the men.

He outlined five incidents in which a German missionary and twenty Boers were murdered in which Morant, Handcock, Witton, Picton and Taylor were implicated. Men of the unit drew up a petition which was at first ignored but subsequently all five were indicted. Taylor was found not guilty, while the other four were convicted, Picton being cashiered and the other three sentenced to death, Witton's being later commuted.

Arriving in Pretoria on 22nd February l902, Morant and Handcock were only told of their sentence on 26th February, the day before it was carried out. Their defense counsel, Maj Thomas, was unable to contact Kitchener to appeal. The Australian authorities were unimpressed by the delay and manner of informing them of the incident particularly as it was felt that British nationals had committed similar atrocities with impunity.

The destruction by statute of all court martial records from 1830-1914 means that the evidence led in the trial will forever remain a mystery. Resulting from this incident however, no Australian may be court martialled by officers of another nationality.

Dr. Schulenberg's lucid exposition was a timely prelude to the next meeting showing the current film "Breaker Morant". (J.M.)

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A usually reliable source has the following to report about the braaivleis:
1) it was a tremendous success - more than 73 people attended
2) the weather held off
3) the Pipe Major was A.B. Watters
4) a big thank-you is due to John Keene who was responsible for most of the organising.

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Tour to Heidelberg - l3th November, 1981

Despite the drizzle in Johannesburg over sixty people in twenty odd cars assembled near the concentration camp cemetery overlooking Heidelberg. Nick Kinsey and Ian Uys took turns on the back of the bakkie commenting briefly on the concentration camp and the military action around the town respectively. Of interest was that more than four times as many Boer women and children perished in the concentration camps than burghers died under arms during the conflict. After visiting the cemetery the group wound its way into town past several contemporary buildings, to St. Ninians Church where the warden and Messrs Uys and Kinsey pointed out plaques to Major Vallentin and Edith Goodwin, and a beautiful stained glass window commemorating the occupation of the town. "George" and "Elizabeth", the oak trees planted in 1947 in honour of the Royal Tour, now almost hide the church front from the modern street.

On to the gaol where Salomon van As was executed on 23rd June 1902 (after hostilities had ceased) and some (bullet?) marks at chest height are still visible, before visiting the Kloof Cemetery. Nick and Ian, with some interjections from another war graves enthusiast, talked about a dozen graves of interest before letting us all wander around finding them for ourselves. The grave of A.G. Visser, the Afrikaans poet also buried in Kloof Cemetery, has a tranquil air in contrast with the stark simplicity of the concentration camp cemetery.

The procession wound its way across town to the old railway station, built in 1893, and from 1975 a transport museum. Picnic lunches were spread under the trees in the garden (the sun had come out after the early grey skies) and then the bicycle and motor car enthusiasts in the party were able to ogle some of the exhibits. Back into town where the museum in the Klipkerk cellar, used as a school for orphans after the Boer War, had been opened for us. The Mayor welcomed the tour and having thanked Ian Uys in particular for his interest in Heidelberg's history (Ian has recently published a book on Heidelberg during this war), invited the group to his parlour for cold drinks - a very much appreciated gesture as the day had become quite hot.

Most of the party then continued to Ian and Barbara Uys's farm for tea, milktart and a swim.Everybody on this tour must certainly agree that Ian and Barbara managed to lay on a most interesting tour and we will now all look at Heidelberg when we drive past with a completely new insight. (J.M.)

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Future meetings: Johannesburg

Thurs 10th Dec - 19H45 - Film evening: - "Breaker Morant" This film will serve to illustrate many of the points made in Dr. Schulenburg'a lecture last month besides being of general interest.

Thurs 14th Jan - 20H00 - Dr Ian B. Copley - "Robin Hood and Feudal Times-Fact of Fiction"

Thurs 11th Feb - 20H00 - Cmdt J.R. McGregor - "Arabian Peninsular Contingencies"


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The Chairman and Executive Committee wish everybody
a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year.

That is all ... Mike Marsh (FTSU)
Joan Marsh (AFTSU)

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