South African Military History Society



Our Chairman began the meeting by announcing the marriage of Past-Chairman Nick Kinsey. In Metro-Goldwyn Hall we were entertained to a varied programme which included the unveiling of the Long Tom replica at Ladysmith, First World War aerial photography which pinpointed Norman Lovemore's tent near Albert in France, and the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate at Ypres.

Cmdt. OEF (Ossia) Baker was introduced as a man who first saw military service in l939, originally with the 1st S.A. Division in East Africa and the western Desert, then with the 6th S.A. Armoured Division before transfer to the KOYLI and later the 5th Battalion, Parachute Regiment. He served in Italy, France, Greece and Palestine. After two years in our Permanent Force he has spent the past five years as a member of the staff of the South African National Museum of Military History. His subject was "Some Unusual Experiences of South Africa POWs in World War II". He had spent 15 minutes as a POW while hanging from a tree - before being rescued from a frightened young German soldier by his platoon.

Cmdt. Baker referred to Winston Churchill's views on the humiliation of being a POW. The six stories he told were all of soldiers. Of the 20,000 South Africans captured during World War II, some 3 - 4,000 were of the Native Military Corps, the Cape Corps and Indian Malay Corps. Approximately 11,000 South Africans were captured at Tobruk and 3,000 at Sidi Rezegh.

Cmdt. Baker then introduced some of these people to us - Reuben Moloi, Mr. Herbert Thayer, Dick Beverley and Mrs. Cohn. They were greeted with appreciative applause. Mr. Fred Wright, who had been a POW for 34 months, told us some of his experiences in Stalag IV B. He then thanked our speaker for a most entertaining and informative talk.

Here follows a repeat of portion of the March newsletter, which was not forgotten, but appears to have been lost in transit.


The Meeting opened on a sad note with the Chairman's announcemount of the recent death of Colonel Harrison.

The MGH short this month dealt with 'the one that got away' - Franz von Werra. A fascinating story of the escape attempts of this German Second World War fighter pilot. After several unsuccessful and daring escape attempts from the U.K., von Werra eventually succeeded in escaping from Canada and finding his way back to Germany.

The Main Speaker for the evening was Mr. Ken Gillings of the Society's Durban Branch. His subject was 'A Helpmekaar Duel', dealing with the British breakthrough through the Biggarsberg at Helpmekaar.

Following the relief of Ladysmith, the Boers, finding themselves unpursued, occupied the heights of the Biggarsberg range, some miles north of Ladysmith. The Boer force totalled some 8000 men and was commanded by General Lukas Meyer following Louis Botha's departure to the Orange Free State. General Buller, after a protracted series of telegrams between Lord Roberts and himself concerning the troop requirements for Natal, was ordered to occupy the Boer's attention and to move towards the Transvaal.

In early May, Buller's force of three divisions moved forward. The Boers anticipated that the British attack would be focussed on Van Tonders Nek Pass. Sir R. Buller however decided that the hill Uithoek was the key to the position and that movement towards this hill could be more easily concealed. On 13th May the British force attacked. While the infantry and artillery moved against the Boer front Lord Dundonald's cavalry outflanked the Boer position and the Boers abandoned their position around Helpmekaar. During the night the Boers evacuated Helpmekaar and slowly fell back on Laing's Nek. The rearguard, consisting of elements of the Irish Brigade under Colonel Lynch, managed to delay the British advance at various points. A minor reverse was suffered by the British in the action at Scheepers Nek.

Professor Johan Barnard thanked the speaker for an extremely interesting lecture and made particular reference to the extensive field work that had obviously been undertaken.

100 Years ago this month - March / April 1885


The Bechuanaland Expedition took with them the first war balloons that were usad by the British Army in the field. The first trial ascent in Africa was made on a plain outside Mafeking.

The correspondent of the Graphic reported

"There are three balloons with the force, travelling in their own waggons with all appurtenances. The necessary arrangements for the first ascent were made in a tree-sheltered but open space in the native town of Mafeking, close to which the headquarters camp was pitched. There was naturally a great concourse of natives, headed by our veteran ally, the native Chief Montsioa, eighty years old, and his stalwart son, who took a most keen interest in all the proceedings. Major Elsdale, in command of the balloon Corps, made the first 'tethered' ascent. The General next made an ascent, being towed about over the open veldt, and after him several other officers followed. It was found that the buoyancy of the balloon was greatly affected by the fact that this place is about 5,000 feet above sea level."

Forthcoming Meetings
: April 11th, 1985 Annual General Meeting and Film Show.

May 9th, 1985 Mr. H.W. Kinsey - "The Brandwater Basin and Golden Gate Surrenders, 1900".

Stewart Stiles
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