South African Military History Society



The MGH short that opened the evening's proceeding's dealt with "Weapons, past and present" - a brief comparison of the artillery used in the Boer War and the Falklands.

Major Hall introduced the main speaker, Major Denis Sheil-Small, M.C., whose subject was "The Gurkhas". Major Sheil-Small's war service with the Gurkhas in Burma (being awarded the Military Cross at the Irrawaddy River) made him well qualified to speak on this subject from his personal experience.

Major Sheil-Small began his lecture with an explanation of how the Gurkhas were incorporated into the British Army. During the Nepalese War of 1815/16 the British were amazed at the courage and fierce resistance of the Gurkhas. As a result the subsequent peace treaty made provision for the enlistment of Gurkhas into the British Army. This faith was amply rewarded - in two World Wars the Gurkha Brigade suffered some 45,000 casualties and won 12 Victoria Crosses. The beautiful slides of the Nepalese countryside illustrated the rural background of these magnificent fighting men.

The Gurkhas remained loyal to the British during the Indian Mutiny. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles distinguished themselves at the Siege of Delhi. In the four month siege they withstood 26 separate attacks and lost 327 men out of 490. During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Gurkhas served on the North West Frontier of India and in the Afghan Wars.

In 1914 the Indian Army answered the call for help from the BEF. The conditions in the mud of Flanders were very different to tho heat and sun of India. One of the problems encountered was that the firesteps were too low and, due to their stocky physique, the Gurkhas were unable to see over the top. The 2/8th Gurkhas were almost annihilated during their first night in the trenches. Poorly constructed trenches resulted in the loss of 9 out of 10 British officers in 24 hours. Out of a battalion strength of 500, the only survivors were 1 British officer, 1 Gurkha officer and 30 men. The Gurkhas also distinguished themselves in the Dardanelles Campaign.

During the Second World War the Gurkhas fought in North Africa, Italy, Iraq, Syria, Burma, Assam, Malaya, the East Indies and Java. Amongst the actions in which they were prominent were Tobruk and Cassino.

A series of fine slides gave a vivid picture of the conditions experienced in the war against Japan, particular reference being made to the Battle of Kohima.

Major Sheil-Small's presentation took us right up to the present day including the Falklands War and ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace. He ended his lecture with atribute to the Gurkhas.

Major Alistair Martin thanked Major Sheil-Small for his fascinating and extremely well illustrated lecture.

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"Drummer" - The Famous War Dog of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers

Mr Lionel Wulfson submitted thefollowing onformation following a recent visit to the Northumberland Fusiliers' Museum:

Extract from A Potted History of "Drummer"
The Famous War Dog of the Fifth Fusiliers

"Drummer" was born on 5th February 1893 at 5 am - fifth of a litter of five. In fact he was a "Fifth Dog" through and through. His master was Captain G.L.S. Ray 5th Fusiliers and "Drummer" accompanied him in service with the Regiment to Aldershot 1893, Portsmouth 1896, Egypt 1898, Crete and South Africa.

"Drummer's" honours, in the shape of miniature medals and clasps include:-
Queens and Egyptian medals with clasps for Khartoum, South Africa medal with clasps for Belmont, Modder River, relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesburg and Diamond Hill. He was also present at many other engagements, notably at Sanna's Post in 1900 when he escaped in a Cape Cart which was riddled with bullets and one of the horses hit. His master was killed at Magersfontein and "Drummer" was under fire several times and he was wounded in the shoulder at Wyneborg. Queen Victoria signified her intention of giving him a medal for gallantry when he returned from Egypt in 1899 but the War Office raised objections.

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