South African Military History Society

February 1984 NEWSLETTER


The New Year got off to a good start in the new hall. The 40 second spot became redundant as the film screen was stuck in the 'down' position.

Before introducing the main speaker we had a short from M.G.H. - another military magazine - portraits of well-known and not so well-known military leaders of the past two centuries. One or two could have passed for 'Flashman'. Initially our chairman got a bit cross-controlled when it came to the signature tune but settled down well again to the electronic gagetry to give a smooth performance.

In introducing our guest speaker Mr Sam Merwis, for his talk 'A Military Observer in North Africa and Italy in World War II', the chairman mentioned that he had been connected with journalism all his life, even whilst still at school and was now for the second time, Sport Editor of the Sunday Times. By contrast his academic attainments included music and criminology. Not content to write sport he was Western Province Marathon Champion in 1940 and played cricket for Wanderers. He accompanied crtcket and rugby teams at different times to England, Australia and New Zealand and had a session of reporting at Wimbledon. Of several V.I.P. tours of South Africa, one was with Field Marshall Montgomery.

Mr Merwis' talk was a personal account of his experiences up North. Always concerned with keeping fit, his running ran him into the enemy camp - and out again. His interest in sport and people during the war stood him in good stead when he afterwards re-encountered many who had since become famous.

His initial experiences in North Africa in the ranks taught him that it was wiser not to refuse promotion; having completed training and risen to an awesome WO II he was still running and writing articles for 'Springbok', and producing a notorious pamphlet called 'Bullsheet'. Later this contribution actually saved his life.

The move across to Italy involved him with the 6th South African Armoured Division and in the regrouping he became an official military observer attached to 11 Armoured Brigade.

Mr Merwis pointed out that he was not a War Correspondent - usually an honorary captain and not subject to military discipline - but as a military observer instead of being attached to head quarters he was a lieutenant serving at Batallion Company or even platoon level. In these situations he became familiar with the life and death existence of the front line and at first hand wrote his reports from this point of view. In doing so he was himself twice mention in despatches.

After cessation of hostilities he was again in Egypt awaiting his turn for a flight back home. In another edition of the farcical 'Bullsheet', merely to help relieve the montony of waiting, an imaginary court martial involved him in a real one for which he was pulled off the plane to his great annoyance. Having successfully defended himself at the court martial his ennui turned to thankfulness when he learned that the flight home had crashed with almost total loss of life.

Dr Felix Machanik proposed the vote of thanks; having had similiar experience in the same theatre he had many feelings in common with the speaker. They had both returned to the scenes of active service but with not quite the same result. To return or not to return .........?

The next meeting of the society is on Thursday 9 February 84 when Dr Stanley Monick will give a talk on the "Dardanelles".

Durban Branch Contact Tania van der Watt - 31-742970

Cape Town Branch "To War with Wingate" - Sir Richard Luyt - Thurs 9th Feb.

Quote : "War is nothing other than the continuation of state policy by other means" Karl van Clausewitz (1780-1831), 'On War' - which can be inverted to - 'politics is nothing other than the continuation of war by other means.

I.B. COPLEY - (Tell No (W) 012-71-2751 (H) 012-7l-3198

Late flash
A 'do it yourself' weekend tour to be provisionally held on the 5th & 6th May, 1984 is currently being planned. The tour should cover Diamond Hill/Bergendal and Elandspruit near Lydenburg with an overnight stop in Middelburg. Private transport will be used and members will need to make their own arrangements for accomodation. More details in next newsletter.

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