South African Military History Society



In the absence of Major Hall and his celebrated Metro-Goldwyn-Hall productions, the Vice Chairman/Scribe took the chair. It was a cold, wintry night and attendance suffered. However, Mr Uys drew attention to the warmth in the auditorium. A visitor, Mr Albert Lui from Taiwan is studying SA history at Wits. He was assured that our members have plenty of answers to any questions he might have.

Mr. Uys gave a talk/slide show about his visit to Delville Wood of the previous week, when the Prime Minister had laid the foundation stone to the proposed museum. He had been invited to join a party of SA Military Veteran Administration officials and representatives of ex-servicemen's organisations on this historic occasion. Mr. Norman Clothier, also a member of the Society, had also been present in his capacity as Chairman of the South African Legion. Some amusing sidelights and experiences, best not committed to paper, were alluded to. He mentioned that, despite stringent security, hundreds of French people had attended to show their solidarity and wave the flag. Gen Kenneth van der Spuy, aged 92, had proudly led our South African party past the demonstrators, and two Delville Wood veterans, Major Eddie Fits, 88, and Sidney Carey, 90, had laid a wreath.

A discussion on the contentious nature of the proposed museum and siting followed, after which Colonel Duxbury thanked Mr. Uys for his topical talk, and said that his attendance there was a good reflection on our Society.

Mr. Kinsey then introduced our speaker for the evening, Mr Kobus Esterhuysen, who was well qualified to speak on "The Post Office Militant". He had studied Fine Arts and Architecture at the University of the Witswatersrand and then spent two years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. As a student he had been in East Prussia when the War broke out. He was interned on 4 September 1919, but escaped on the second night and made his way home through Europe and finally returned aboard a tramp steamer. His design accomplishments are far too numerous to mention. Among them are our latest banknotes, the Blood River wagons and over 81 theatre productions. He has been a stamp designer for the General Post Office, whilst his philatelic collection has earned him international recognition and acclaim with gold medal awards. His particular interest, apart from the collection of old maps, is the study of postal history and military mail of the Cape.

Mr Esterhuysen's talk was liberally illustrated by slides of letters and franked envelopes. A letter was shown from Gen James Craig at Blaauwberg in 1796. Young John Moore's letter during the 1806 Simonstown invasion was given special military clearance as it concerned his uncle and a family friend who were killed in the engagement.

All soldiers' envelopes had to be countersigned by their commanding officers to go at the special rate of one penny. Officers, on the other hand, had to pay the full rate of fourpence. Pvt Thomas Shipley's career was described following a letter he wrote from the frontier in 1851. Richard Herbert wrote to his mother complaining that the Xhosas intercepted and burnt the mail. He settled near the later Stutterheim.

During the Crimean War few letters went to the rank and file but mainly to officers, probably due to illiteracy. The first proper field postal service was established by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The British Army Postal Corps operated in the Sudan in 1882.

Two years later Tpr A Sopper wrote to his father from Bechuanaland. He described Warren's expedition in which he served. During the 1897 Campaign a soldier wrote on the envelope 'No stamps obtainable' which was countersigned by Surgeon Major Cox and delivered.

In 1898 preprinted envelopes were issued by battalions showing - From, To, Countersigned by.. etc. During the South African War army post offices were given numbers which appear on their franking marks and enables one to follow their progress. Each brigade eventually had its own postal corps. In South Africa controversy arose as to whether British or Cape stamps should be used.

Close liaison with the Signal Corps followed as postal men were trained as telegraphists and often used as signallers. Despite the shortage of writing material, Gen Methuen's column disgorged 250 bags of post daily. Sorting became frantic at times, especially as when a sergeant wrote that at Belmont the postal cart was used to convey the dead.

On the Boer side all postal depots came under militarv control. A Victorian poem eulogised the brave postmistress of Van Wyksvlei, Miss Walton, who on 13.3.1900 refused to hand over the post office keys to the Boers. The Boer Commando postal system depended on despatch riders with saddlebags. There had to be a good reason for a letter to be written. Thereafter it was carried free of charge.

During the siege of Mafeking Colonel Baden Powell used native runners to slip through Boer lines. Dr. Hayes designed the stamps. A 1d showing Cadet Sgt Major Goodyear and a 3d one showing BP's head. Queen Victoria was incensed at this.

Regrettably, due to the late hour, Mr. Esterhuysen terminated his talk. The chairman added that South Africa's most decorated hero, Andrew Proctor, had served in the BA Field Telegraph and Postal Corps.

Cmdt. Simpkins thanked the speaker for a most enjoyable and enlightening talk.

The Society has learnt with regret of the death of Mr. Ken Gunn of our Cape Town branch. Our condolences have been passed on to his family.

Richard Tomlinsen contributed the following in the S A Digest: "Forty years ago more than 25 000 South African soldiers with the 6th (Armoured) Division landed at Bari on the Italian coast at the start of a major northwards push which ended 18 months later when the Italians surrendered.

In May, 1984, 6th Division survivors of the famous Italian campaign, and other World War 2 veterans, retraced the route taken by the 6th Division through Italy, visiting historical battle sites, PoW camps and cemeteries on the way.

The old soldiers were to be awarded special 40th anniversary medals commemorating the end of the war in Italy.

The tour was planned by Mr. Bill Henley, the Old Bill of the Winston Churchill MOTH Shellhole in Westville, who had spent most of the war in PoW camps in Italy."

Next meetings

Johannesburg 5 July Special meeting and slide show on E Tvl Trip of 5/6 May
(This should prove both interesting and entertaining).

do 12 July Col David Hansen OBE, the British Defence and Military
Attache, to speak on 'Northern Ireland 1969-1984'

Durban 12 July Barry Stephenson to talk on 'George Rex of Knysna'.

Cape Town 12 July Ian Uys to give a slide-talk on 'Delville Wood'.

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /