South African Military History Society

October 1983 NEWSLETTER

Past meeting - Johannesburg - 8th September 1983

Owing to an unfortunate conflict in scheduling, the speaker originally intended for the evening, Mr. Sam Mirwis, was unable to be present. His talk has been deferred to a later date so the Society will not lose the opportunity of hearing him speak. This sad lack of a principal presentation for the meeting required the introduction of a substitute program which was provided by Maj. Darrell Hall, Mr. Nick Kinsey and Mr. Maurice Gough-Palmer. These three gentlemen and their exploits are too well known to members of this Society to require any recapitulation of their separate and collective backgrounds in this newsletter. It suffices to say that our own "Three Musketeers" sprang nobly to the fore and provided the assembled members and guests with an enlivening mixture of entertainment and education. The vehicle that they chose for this purpose was "Mafeking Re-visited".

The tripartite performance covered the recent visit of the Society to the town of Mafikeng (as it is now known) and the military events which occurred in and around Mafeking (as it was then known) in the years of 1899 and 1900. Supported by slides which showed the locations of interest and the princiupal personalities involved, each of the three provided commentaries in their areas of interest and expertise. Darrell Hall provided the linking narrative and handled the slide sequences.

The program followed the order of events in the Sciety's visit ratherthan the strict chronological history of the siege. This began with an introductory talk at the Mafeking Museum by the curatrix, Audrey Renew, who set the scene by telling of the early days of the town and the events leading up to its besiegement. Spencer Minchin gave the tale of Warren's expedition in 1885 and BP's founding ofthe Boy Scout Movement. The scene then shifted to Christopher Bethall's grave. He had been a sort of personal assistant to the king of the Baralongs and was killed in an attack by the Boers. This led to some scenes of the modern local inhabitants going about their daily activities and a reminder that some 7 000 blacks had also been participants in the siege which made "the place of stones" famous. The work of the Royal Engineers was noted in the church which was built under the direction of Arthur George Durnford which still has its original roof and a well dug in 1885 which is still in good condition.

After these introductory passages, we came on the artillery used by both sides during the siege. These included 7-pounders on 'Colonial' carriages, a 7-pounder on a 'Dwarf' or Mountain carriage, Pom-Poms, a Krupp 75 pounder and 'Long Tom' who was called by the British either creaky, Big Ben, Baby orthe 94-pounder. Despite a certain enthusiasm for gunnery, the people involved were not forgotten and we were introduced to Baden-Powell and his staff in fron of Dixon's Hotel, the Colonial units, the Town Guard and the Barolong unit formed during the siege. Even such mundane items as the stamps and banknotes issues during the siege were not overlooked.

The action at Cannon Kopje Fort was dealt with at some length. This fort formed part of the outer works of the Mafeking defense and was being held by men of the BSAP under Capt. Walford. It was attacked by a strong force of Boers following a heavy bombardment but was saved by stout resistance of the BSAQP and a 7-pounder under Lt. Murchison firing on the flanks of the assault. The unsuccessful British attack on the Boers at Game Tree Fort in which the armoured train participated was also covered. British casualties in this attack amounted to 22 killed, 24 wounded and 3 POWs.

A visit to the town cemetery reminded the Society that there had also been civilian casualties for, amongst the 220 military graves, it contains the grave of a 9 year old boy who was killed by a shell. The grave of Beauchamp-Proctor who was aflying ace in the First World War can also be found in the cemetery. A later stage of the Britsh-Boer conflict is reflected by the nearby concentration camp cemetery. Contrary to information which was provided at the time, this is an actual cemetery and is not merely a reconstruction for memorial purposes.

The re-visit next returned to the military activities which are most associated with Mafeking. The various locations at which the 94-pounder "Long Tom" had been emplaced were described. This gun was moved 7 times during the siege, sometimes to obtain a better point for firing and sometimes to escape the 'sniping' from the British artillery and the men of the Bechuanaland Rifles. It is interesting to note that this gun was supplied with some 20% of the 94-lb. ammunition available to the Boers and fired 1497 shells into the town but killed fewer than twenty people. Equally unlikely guns were used by the defense. There was "Lord Nelson" an old naval gun which was re-conditioned and supplied with locally made ammunition and fired according to instructions found in "Mr. Midshipman Easy" and "the Wolf" which was entirely locally made and also used home-made ammunition.

One of the last stops on the tour was at Warren's Fort, also known as the BSAP Fort, which was used as the HQ of the Protectorate Regiment during the siege. This fort was taken by a party of Boers under Eloff who had infiltrated the defenses along the bed of the Molopo River. Col. Hore and his men in the Fort were taken by surprise and made captives. The main Boer force declined to support Eloff's success and he soon found himself under siege by the British. Lack of water forced the Boers to surrender and Eloff himself surrendered to his own prisoner, Col. Hore. As an extra bonus, Darrell described a little bit of research which had been triggered by the spotting of a bitof graffiti at the Fort.

The three tour guides finally took us on to the church at Mafeking which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker. There, while waiting for somebody to produce the keys, Richard Day had spoken on Baden-Powell and described him as 'the right man, in the right job, at the right time'. Mr. Day was also able to provide the correct pronunciation of BP's name which is: "Bay-den-Pole". A quick tour of modern Mmabatho and its Civic Theatre concluded the trip back to Mafeking. As a parting shot we were treated to a picture of a statue at the theatre which seemed to have been modelled on our own Mr. Gough-Palmer.

No formal thanks were offered to Darrell, Nick and Maurice for their efforts and for the excellence of the presentation. I trust that they will accept this passage as making up for that omission. Perhaps we take their efforts on our behalf too much for granted and do not notice when it goes somewhat beyond the call of duty.

What thanks there were, were given to Audrey Renew and Spencer Minchin who helped to make the Society's original'Mafeking visit such a success.

Prior to the main event, there was the usual MGH 'Military Magazine' slide show. On this evening it was "Who is Who in Military History" which was a series on the faces of great soldiers and commanders. This series is likely to continue for a few months as we only got through the letter G, leaving the rest of the alphabet for the future.

Two small events of great meaning to this Scribe also occurred at the meeting. The most significant of which was having the opportunity to present the first of the "Roderick G. Murchison Memorial Prizes" for the best article publshed in the Journal during 1982 to a most deserving recipient Maj. D.D. Hall for his article "At the Call of King and Country". The other event was the Chairman thanking myself and my wife Derryn for our services to the Society over the past few years. (We were flattered - it was the least that we could do. and we always try to do the least.)

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The Old Kit Bag - Various Items
Durban Branch has notified us that the day to day diary of H. Linzell, M.C. who was killed at Friecourt in 1916 has been privately printed. The diary has been augmented with some photographs and letters from some of the soldiers to his parents following the young officer's death. Copies are available at a cost of R4,OO from: Prof. J Argyle, Dept. of African Studies, University of Natal, King George V Ave., Durban, 4001.

This is this scribe's final newsletter. The pen of the Society now passes to Dr. Ian Copley and I am sure that all members wish hime well in his assumption of the "great literary tradition" represented by this newsletter. For my part, I bid you 'Tot siens' and not a 'Goodbye', thank you for your part in my enjoyment of the Society and invite you to contact me should you ever be in California or even the USA.

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Rod Murchison
(Scribe - illegible comment)

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