South African Military History Society


Johannesburg Branch

A video-taped tour of the Old Fort in Durban with Ken Gillings answering Major Halls' queries was the appetizer to Stuart Stiles' lecture on "The Wars of The Roses" on Thursday 8th July.

Mr Stiles guided us through the maze of skirmishes, battles and intrigues which ravaged England in the period 1456 to 1485 (and even later) from the reign of Henry VI to that of Henry VII. The roots of the conflict went back to 1385 when Parliament had declared Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March, the heir to King Richard II who had not even had a daughter. Mortimer was killed in Ireland three years later and another cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, had staged a successful military coup d'etat before murdering Richard and crowning himself Henry IV. He faked his pedigree and the populace, having no evidence to the contrary, accepted this strong man as their rightful king. But Mortimer's grandson, Richard, Duke of York, was awareof the fraud and forty years later took up arms with his relatives the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick against the then monarch, King Henry VI. The latter being weak and religious to the point of mania, the realm continued to be controlled by the Council which had been regent for 15 years until he became old enough to accede to the throne. The factions within the Council looked after their own interests and the country was plunged into anarchy with local armies arising to take justice as each nobleman saw fit.

That Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, was a strong character and had a son by him with a claim to protect, ensured that the crown would not be a pushover. One of the strange features of the Wars was that many of the participants changed sides! If a nobleman felt that his side was losing he could change allegiance almost as easily as his troops could, and many did. The soldiers were a mixed bag of forces loyal to the individual nobles and gentry, levies from the local town and country and foreign mercenaries. It would appear that apart from not knowing who was King and having to pay extra taxes to offset the cost of the belligerence, the average peasant in England at the time was relatively unaffected by the Wars, unless his particular village or hillside was the site of a battle.

The opposing factions eventually aligned themselves with Lancaster (the King's) or York and the name of the wars arose many years later after their supposed emblems: the white rose of York and the red one of Lancaster. Battle emblems were very important since most of the fighting was done by men on foot although small mounted forces also featured. It was imperative that the men could see the standard of their leader and frequently if the nobleman fell his forces would melt away or possibly even go over to the enemy. Uniforms as we know them did not exist and this added to the confusion on the battlefield.

Mr Stiles made full use of twin projectors and his slides were outstanding, particularly when he put an aerial photograph of St. Albans next to a street map of the town as it was during the battles over five hundred years ago. Illustrations of clothing, weaponry and contemporary art lavishly punctuated his presentation.

The cherry on the top was the display of a model of the Battle of Bosworth Field where in August 1485 Richard III was supposed to have said "My kingdom for a horse" before being killed, leaving Henry Tudor the victor to reign as Henry VII and beget an even more infamous son!

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Jameson Raid Tour: 18 August 1985.

This was another do-it-yourself outing with people providing their own transport, the first "stand" being at the old gaol and the second at the Krugersdorp Cemetery where, at the memorial to the Burgher fallen, Mr Will Carr described the socio-political events leading up to the ill-fated (from Jameson's point of view) exercise and gave some of the pertinent facts about the other stands we would be visiting.

As a military exercise the whole undertaking seems to smack of having been half-baked, to say the least. The troops from Bechuanaland had been given vague assurances that what they were doing was approved of by Britain - and of course the politicians there were in the know but able to do a good about-face when things went sour - but the amazing thing was that they set out for Johannesburg with a day's rations, twenty five pounds each of forage for the horses and twenty cases of champagne! They started celebrating before leaving and instead of cutting the telegraph wires they severed a fence ... and went off to face the assembled burghers of a few commandos who had thus been alerted and lay in wait for them in the late afternoon of New Year's Day, a short distance west of Krugersdorp at the top of the ridge known as Remhoogte or Queen's Battery.

Dr Jameson's medical connections proved too much a temptation for Dr Felix Machanik who gave an interesting commentary on the career of the former prior to his entry into matters military. Maurice Gough-Palmer described some of the stories associated with the graves of military interest in the Cemetery and we then walked to the area where various battle casualties had been re-buried for ease of upkeep of their headstones - including that of a VC recipient which quite made Ian Uys's day and compensated for that feeling of being in a strange country which occurs when East Rander has to go West and vice versa! The rows of concentration camp headstones played mute tribute to the victims of a conflict which probably had its roots in the Jameson fiasco.

Stopping at Queen's Battery - a mine, not a military establishment - we were able to imagine the hot, dusty and tired British soldiers who advanced across the veld into the face of withering Burgher fire from their commanding position on the ridge. Sundown had come mercifully quickly and with it the realisation that they would not be able to just walk into Johannesburg, and an offer to guide them around to the south had even been accepted from a mysterious stranger.

We drove along a mine road following roughly the route they had taken and saw the graves of the three casualties who had fallen during that harrowing night. These had caused consternation amongst the Burghers next morning for they had been buried in such haste and hard ground that their feet had been left sticking out.

Picnic lunch was taken in the lee of a roadhouse not far from Robinson Lake, in a park where a War Memorial honours sons of the district who fell in the two World Wars. Then it was on towards Leratong Hospital and a brief interlude from Stuart Stiles propelling us into the conflict of May-June 1900 when Johannesburg fell to invading British troops.

Back to Jameson and our stand was uncomfortably close to a high security area - witness a siren-wailing bakkie with anxious guard arrive within a few minutes and see Nick Kinsey and Stuart Stiles assure them we were not interested in their explosives dump - for use by the immediately adjacent gold mine, but in full view of Soweto which spills over the opposite hill and possibly makes them nervous. It was a sad thought that the blood shed on that site on the second of January and most probably a lot of wasted lives in the 1899-1902 conflict might have been saved had Jameson been less of a hot-head.

Finally, Mr Stiles rounded off his description of the attack on Johannesburg in 1900. Thanks to all concerned especially Mr Carr for an enjoyable outing.

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October Battlefield Tour

The Museum is currently planning to hold a Natal battlefield tour during the long weekend around the 10th October. At present details are not yet finalised but as soon as the planning is completed the Museum will send out notices to those members who have been on previous tours. Should you not have been along before or are worried that your name is not on their list, please contact Denise Bird at 011-646-5513.

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Society Braai

Under the guidance of Felix Machanik, the Society is planning to hold another of its successful braais at the Museum on Thursday, 31st October at 18h30. Cost is R8-00 per person which includes food and liquid refreshments. Those members who will be attending are requested to complete the voucher (or reasonable handdrawn facsimile) and return it with your payments ASAP.

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Forthcoming Lectures:

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Joan Marsh
Temporary Scribe-Still Unpaid

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