South African Military History Society


Past meeting - Johannesburg - lOth June 1982

Once again Maj. D.D. Hall opened the proceedings with a slide show. Now that the popularity of the Metro-Goldwyn-Hall productions is growing and getting top billing, as witness the Museum-sponsored talk on "The Falklands, some observations on the tactics and weapons in use", members may begin to drop his name. A comment on the lines of "Oh, Darrell. I knew him when he was just an opening act.", is recommended.

The evenings performance was a bit of a mixture. There were shots of the USS (Lucky) Phoenix steaming out of Pearl Harbour after the attack. This ship suffered only one casualty during WW II. It has reappeared in the recent past as the Argentinian vessel, General Belgrano, which was lost in the Falklands action. Lady Luck must have jumped ship somewhere on its travels. After this naval item was the statement prepared by Gen. Eisenhower for use in the event of the failure of the Normandy landings. This introduced a taped 'interview' with the Society's chairman, Mr. H.W. Kinsey which was produced in the case of his defeat at the A.G.M. It is not nossible to reproduce the message in this newsletter and all that shall be said is that Nick was obviously in very fine voice on the day that it was prepared. Maj. Hall has very kindly offered to place the material in the archives for the benefit of (pre)posterity.

After thanking Darrell for his presentation (with a look to gladden a libel lawyer's heart), the chairman announced a plea for help. The Fifth SA Infantry Battalion intends to compile a record of the history of the Ladysmith Military Base and any items of interest will be greatly appreciated. The address is: Officer Commanding, 5 South Africa Infantry Battalion, Private Bag 9914, Ladysmith, 3370.

Mr. Kinsey also expressed the Society's best wishes for a speedy recovery to the museum nightwatchman who was seriously assaulted in an unsuccessful attempt to raid the armoury at the Museum.

Donald R. Forsyth, foundation member and first chairman of the Society, then spoke on "Medals and Decorations". Don Forsyth is highly gualified to speak on this subject as his main interest is the collection and study of military medals. He was the first member of the Military Medal Society of South Africa and has been awarded Honorary Life Membership of that society. Aside from his rogular contributions to numerous journals, including our own, he has published a series of South African campaign and gallantry medal rolls which have won acclaim both locally and overseas.

Although it is imposbible to cover the total field in a single lecture, Mr. Forsyth undertook to give as wide coverage as possible. Starting in the 3rd century when King Alexander gave High Priest Jonathon a gold button for his success in leading the Jews in battle and going through to the three double VC'S of the First and Second World Wars, Don was as good as his word. Owing more to a certain prejudice on the part of his audience rather than to any limitation in his own knowledge, the speaker emphasized British medals. These go back to the Order of the Bath and include many privately subscribed awards but, until Waterloo, were only available to officers and commanders. The Waterloo medal which was the first given to all participants, including other ranks, may have been motivated by Napoleon who accused the Crown of ingratitude when he noted the undecorated state of his guards and complained that he was being escorted by green troops.

The Crimea saw the institution of standard decorations for other ranks. In 1854, the Distinguished Conduct Medal appeared. It is normally given for an event during which the recipient is wounded and the presence or absence of a wound is often the deciding factor in awarding the DCM or the Military Medal. The Victoria Cross came in 1856 and was first won by Midshipman Lucas. In its entire history the VC has been given only 1352 times; this figure including the award to the Unknown Soldier and the three doubles. In contrast to this is the German Iron Cross which has been given in its Second Class more than 5 million times and over 19 000 times in the First Class. Until 1979, only the VC and Mention In Despatches could be awarded posthumously so that in many cases men were recommended for decorations but got nothing because they had been killed.

Mr. Forsyth closed his lecture with a brief explanation of what a medal is and means and gave a few general comments on medal collecting as an hobby and as an obsession.

Dr. Felix Machanik fully supported the lecturer's points on the fascination of medals and took the opportunity to show some of his own collection. Mr. Terry Sole thanked Don Forsyth on behalf of the Society for his most ineresting talk.

Future meetings - Johannesburg
Thurs. 8th July 20h00 "The Battle of Monte Stanco, October 1944" - Mr. Johan Bruwer
Thurs. 12th August 20h00 "The Mendi Disaster, 1917" - Mr.N. Clothier

Future meetings - Durban
Thurs. 8th July 20h00 "Nuremburg Rally, 30th March 1944" - Mr. Peter Fox

The Old Kit Bag - Various Items

Member Ted Barber of Benoni is to be congratulated for his efforts in arranging the facsimile reprint of Major G. Tylden's "Armed Forces of South Africa, 1659-1954'. This publication has attracted a great deal of interest and should be available shortly.

Darrell Hall has informed us of 'The Western Front Association' based in the UK. This association was formed with the aim of furthering interest in the 14-18 period and of perpetuating the memory of those, of both sides, who served in France and Flanders during that era. For more information write to the Assistant Secretary, WFA., Guilton Mill, Poulton Lane, Ash, near Canterbury, Kent, CT3 2HN.

Abject and humble apologies are presented to the members by the scribe whose fault it is that the June newsletter is so very late. A near total breakdown in command control and logistics left the forward elements (you, the readers) without support. Steps have been taken to prevent a repetition of this and the scribe responsible has been given a severe reprimand.

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Rod Murchison (726-3111(B))
(Scribe - Freshly off the carpet)

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