South African Military History Society


Past Meeting - Johannesburg - 10th March 1983

As Major D.D. Hall was presenting the main talk of the evening, the Chairman, Mr. Nick Kinsey introduced Capt. Ivor Little, an officer with the intelligence section of the S.A. Navy. He gave the audience a short talk "On the Maritime Threat to S.A.".

After giving details of the massive United Nations propaganda against the R.S.A. he dealt with attempts by the African Countries to create a "task force" against this Country. Soviet Naval Forces in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and how these forces moved along recognized sea lanes was explained by means of slides. To counteract these threats the U.S. and French Naval Forces were strategically placed. A most interest and informative talk.

The main talk of the evening was that of "A Subaltern's Diary 1917" given by Major D.D. Hall and assisted by Fl.Lt. Peter Fox. The Diary was kept by 2nd Lt. R.E. Stevenson while he served with a London Regiment on the Western Front. Dr. R.E. Stevenson now 84 is a member of the Society and now lives in Pietermaritzburg. His daughter Mrs. Glenday attended the meeting. The diary was transcribed by Joan Wolhuter. Major Hall put together a remarkable selection of slides which enabled the audience to see what it was like on the Western Front in 1917, the terrible conditions the men had to fight in, but there were also slides of the "lighter" times at the front, entertainment, breaks and "spots" of leave. The diary was read by Peter Fox and Major Hall filled in details as the slides were shown.

2nd Lt. Stevenson started keeping a diary while he was on an Officers Training Course in Britain towards the end of 1916. The training was hard going with daily route marches being a very strong part of it. It was the coldest winter for 30 years.

After being commissioned he joined the 2/3 London Regiment where he was appointed Platoon Commander. He had some sixty men under him. There was further "heavy" training with special emphasis on long route marches with packs until the Regiment embarked for France on the 26th January 1917. The cold was the worst he had experienced. The Regiment moved into the line on the 2nd Feb., they took over a sector held by the Royal Fusiliers. The watch was two hours on and four hours off. The trenches were freezing cold with snow and ice everywhere. The shelling was constant and snipers were active.

The "thaw" was worse than the cold, the trenches became water logged and muddy. Sick paradaes grew longer and "trench feet" was causing casualties. Officers getting "trench feet" were severely dealt with. Communication trenches became water logged and the men had often to move along the top, exposed to continuous shelling and snipers; rather than wade through water logged trenches.

After a spell in the trenches they were pulled out for a rest period, but these spells were hardly "rest periods" regular fatigue parties had to be provided to do cleaning up operations amongst the most unpleasant were burying dead corpes that were still lying around since the "Battle of the Somme" in the latter part of 1918. Other duties included repairing wire entanglements and even laying fresh wire in some casees 400 yards in front of their front trenches.

This was most dangerous and fatigueing. The area abounded with snipers, and shellfire just seemed to go on and on. It was far safer to be in the trenches.

In April 1917 the Battle of Arras took place and again on the 15th May, after a most intensive bombardment the Germans attacked their line. During the latter half of May a Major French took over as C.O. of the Regiment a somewhat severe disciplinarian. 2nd Lt. Stevenson was appointed as the intelligence officer for the Regiment.

As intelligence officer he had to collect and collate whatever information was called for by the C.O. Amongst These was recceing routes, providing maps and reports of enemy positions. This was an arduous and dangerous job that called for long hours in the open often exposed to shell fire and snipers. The C.O. seemed pleased with his new Intelligence Officer - as he even recommended him to Brigade for a special assignment. But it was not just hard work all the time there were periods of short leave, concert parties and play.

The end of August the Regiment took part in the third battle of Yprs, in the salient, a battlefield surrounded by Germans on three sides. The Intelligence Officer had to observe the battle from the inside of an abandoned Pillar box. In October the Regiment was part of the 58th Division in the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele. It had rained heavily and conditions were fearful, mud and water everywhere, the battlefield was one vast quagmire. The Division gave a fine account of itself in this battle and was commended. The Regiment suffered heavy casualties, out of an initial strength of 15 Officers and 616 O.Rs., 4 Officers and 224 O.Rs. survived. Gas was a constant threat. Gas was used by the Germans in this battle. On the 7th November the Regiment was ordered back. 2nd Lt, Stevenson became a gas casualty in April 1918.

The Diary recorded the day to day life of an officer on the Western Front, but it also portrayed a fine officer who carried out the most arduous assignments in the worst possible conditions.

The vote of thanks was made by Mr. Pat Rice. He thanked the speakers, Major Hall and Fl. Lt. Fox for their fine presentation.

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The Chairman announced the date of the Annual General Meeting of the Society Thursday the 21st April 1983 at 8 p.m. (This is the third week in April)
* The members were also reminded of the Battle Field Tour to Kimberley 12 - 15th May.

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B.G. (Scribe)

* Tour of Kimberley Area: 12 - 15 May. I have just been advised that due to lack of support, the organizers of this Tour, The S.A. National Museum of Military History, have regretfully decided to cancel this Tour.


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