South African Military History Society


Past meeting - Johannesburg - llth June, 1981

Despite the G.P.O.'s best efforts with the newsletter, an audience of 48 members and guests assembled in winter woollies to hear Mrs. Janice Farquharson's lecture entitled "Front-Line Experiences of Poets on the Western Front, 1914/1918". Having explained how a holiday visit to battlefield sites lead to a doctoral thesis still in the making, she held the floor for almost two hours while describing aspects of the First World War from an entirely novel angle. The British Press were heavily muzzled and the public were given only those impressions which would reinforce their patriotism and their faith in their military might, particularly at sea. No news at all was forthcoming from the B.E.F. and public poetry portraying an idealised, ultra-heroic British soldier and his clearly identifiable friend, the Belgian, fighting an equally well defined enemy, the German, filled the newspapers as a result.

The British public therefore had no inkling of the real conditions on the Western Front, but this ended abruptly when The Times printed a report by an eye-witness detailing a retreat of Allied forces, and stated its willingness to publish articles, news and poems by soldiers in the front line of battle. This probably contributed to the general feeling today that noticeably many poets were active during this conflict, although it must be realised that among the vast number of young men who were killed in the Great War, Britain lost almost an entire generation of intellectuals.

While many of the audience were lost when it came to the poetry itself, the slide show was magnificent. The aerial photographs of Paschendaele before and after shelling (reminiscent of a lunar surface) were particularly impressive while the slide of a skull of an unburied corpse still in uniform stared out over the intervening years to impart an empty feeling of the horror of the War to us all. This was offset by the tranquillity now evident from slides of these erstwhile battlefields.

Norman Clothier, himself a poet in W.W.2., thanked Mrs Farquharson on behalf of the Society.

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Future meetings: Johannesburg

9th July - 20h00 - Mr Peter Fox - "Airborne Lifeline - Role of the Royal Air Force over Burma, 1942/45"

Mr Peter Fox was an officer in the R.A.F. serving as an Air Liason Officer with the 14th Army Burma during this period and hence his first hand experiences and reminiscinces about this aspect of the war should prove most interesting.

13th August - 20h00 - Maj D.Hall - "At the Call of King and Country - An Infantry Subaltern on the Western Front, 1917"

Future meetings: Durban - (Contact Tania van der Watt (031) 742970 for details)

9th July - 20h00 - Mrs Kay Lander - "Survival"

Mrs Lander will relate how in 1942 she and her baby son were taken from their home in Manila, the Philippines, and spent the next three years along with more than 4 300 others in a Japanese P.O.W. camp.

13th August - 20h00 - To be announced

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Late arrival of the newsletter.
Occasionally it happens that I do not manage to write the nevsletter in time for all members to receive it before the lecture for that month. For this reason I announce meetings one month ahead as well as for the current month and ask members to diarise the dates.

That's all ... Mike Marsh

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