South African Military History Society



The meeting opened on a sad note with the chairman's announcement of the passing away of Mrs. Simpkins, Cmdt. Bertie Simpkin's mother, at the age of 93.

The MGH Military Magazine explained the connection between Texas and D Day. A superb series of slides showed the battleship USS Texas at her moorings in Houston harbour, as she is today, and then took us back to her role in the Second World War and, in particular, her bombardment of the German positions at Pointe du Hoc on D Day.

The Main Speaker was Dr. Felix Machanik. The title of his lecture was "Naval Medical History". The importance of this aspect of military history was brought to the attention of the audience by the fact that between 1500 and l800, 1 million sailors were lost by disease.

Naval medical history began at the time of Alexander the Great. The Romans also had a fairly sophisticated naval medical service. In the early days there was no scurvy, but typhoid was the major problem. However, the beginning of the Sixteenth Century saw a need for improved naval medicine due to the longer voyages that were being undertaken and the larger crews that were neccesary on the bigger ships. Scurvy, in particular, became the prevalent disease. The extent of the problem is revealed by the following losses: Vasco de Gama lost 50% of his crew on his 18 month voyage from Lisboa to Goa; Sir Francis Drake's losses to scurvy and hunger on his world voyage amounted to two thirds of his crew.

Although Sir John Hawkins realised the value of citrus fruits in the prevention and cure of scurvy, it was only in the mid 1800's that positive moves were made to remedy the situation. In the Royal Navy, Dr. James Lind, who can be regarded as the "father of nautical medicine", published a treatise on scurvy in 1783 in which lack of vitamin C was recognised as the cause. The Dutch realised the necessity for a halfway station between Holland and the East Indies in order to provide vegetables and hospital facilities resulting in Jan van Riebeeck's expedition to the Cape.

Diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis were also prevalent. The spread of diseases was facilitated by the crowded conditions aboard ship. It is interesting to note that the larger the ship, the more acute the problem. The problem was further compounded by hygiene conditions. Food and water went putrid after a time and water was not available for washing. Furthermore, the French and Spanish buried their dead in the ship's gravel ballast until land was reached. However, by 1810, after paying attention to the sailors' conditions, hygiene and diet, the Royal Navy had reduced the number of hospital admissions from 1 in 3 in 1789 to l in 14.

The naval surgeon also had to deal with accidents at sea and, of course, battle wounds. Apart from the horrific injuries that could be inflicted by round shot and grape, the greatest number of injuries was caused by wood splinters. The only remedy for a bad fracture was immediate amputation - the sailor was given a bottle of rum and tied to the deck. The amputation took approximately 1,5 minutes and hot molten tar was applied to the stump to cauterise the wound.

Professor Jimmy Craig thanked the speaker for an extremely well researched and interesting presentation.

100 Years Ago This Month - September l884.

Southern Africa
Conditions of anarchy on the western border of the Z.A.R. result in President Kruger's "provisional" annexation of the Boer republics of Stellaland and Goshen to restore order.

The Gordon Relief Expedition embarks for the Sudan. General Gordon's active and aggressive defence of Khartoum meets with disaster when over l000 of his best troops are lost in a Dervish ambush.

Next meetings

Johannesburg - Thursday, 13th September 20h00
"The Secret War, 1939-1945" Maj. D.D. Hall
The war of double agents, code-breaking, deception and political intrigue.

Durban - Thursday, 13th September 20h00
"A Helpmekaar Duel". Mr. Ken Gillings.

Cape Town - Thursday, 13th September
"The Anglo Boer War". Mr. R.S. Fair.

"In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter". - Correspondance de Napoleon 1er (Observations sur les affaires d'Espagne, Saint Cloud 27 aôut 1808).

(609-8621 (Business))
(783-1383 (Home))

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

South African Military History Society /