South African Military History Society

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The curtain raiser to the November meeting was presented by Tim Waudby who has previously given us exciting and entertaining lectures on his experiences in the Burma campaign and on the North-West Frontier of India. The title of his lecture was Gurkha and was inspired by the men of the 4/8th Gurkhas who were his comrades in arms for four years beginning on the North West Frontier and continuing to the jungles of Burma.

Tim began describing the kingdom of Nepal which is a relatively poor pastoral country in the Himalayan foothills. Like most pastoral and hill peoples the they are divided into clans and include the clan name along with their given names. This was a boon for recruiters for the Gurkha regiments who would recruit from specific clans. This strengthened ties between the clans and their regiment. The main entertainments were hunting and fishing which were ideal pastimes for a prospective soldiers.

Their environment produced a tough, hardy people who are of a small stature (1.5-1.65 metres) and unusually for Hindus are aggressive. The "Dosarha" festival is particularly bloody.

The relationship between the British and the Gurkha started with a war between Nepal and the British East India Company in 1814. The mutual admiration engendered by this war began the recruitment of the Gurkhas into the British forces which took place on year round basis at recruitment centres. At that time the elite regiments of the British Army were rifle regiments. So the Gurkha regiments became rifle regiments. A rifle regiment is dressed in dark green with black buttons and answers to bugles not drums. The Gurkhas wore their distinctive "Terai" hat with regimental pagris and the regimental badge on the flap. They also marched at 140 paces per minute which confused the slower heavier infantry.

The kukri is central to the Gurkha identity and Tim described it together with its blood trap which is central to its effectiveness. He then described the nomenclature of Gurkha units where the first number is that of the battalion and the second the regiment. Hence, 4/8th Gurkhas.

When India became independent and was partitioned into India and Pakistan the Gurkha regiments were divided between India and Pakistan. The Indians changed the spelling to Gorkha and ensured a smooth transition by sending their very best officers to the Gorkhas. They have served India well in the wars with Pakistan and the China Incident as well as in peace keeping around the world.

In British service the scope of the Gurkha was extended with creation of Gurkha transport, signals and engineering regiments to support the fighting regiments. They fought well in Malaya and Iraq. Appropriately Tim concluded his lecture with the Gurkha warcry Ayo Gurkalhi.

The main lecture was presented by Steve Lunderstedt who addressed the meeting on the Boer Rebellion of 1914-1915. He reminded the audience about the direct links between the rebellion and the German South West Africa campaign (1914-1915). He also linked the rebellion to the Anglo-Boer War noting the part played in that conflict by different Boer factions. Although there were important similarities Steve highlighted the notable differences. The Boers finally enjoyed German support, such as it was. The Union forces had access to reasonably reliable motor vehicles including armoured cars which could outpace, fuel permitting, rebel horses. The Union troops had access to an extensive wire telegraph and telephone network with basic radio communication. Finally the German South African campaign saw both sides with aircraft and elementary anti-aircraft weapons.

There were a number of firsts: Aerial bombing, the start of an air force and a prime minister commanding an army. In addition it marked a further step on J C Smuts's road to becoming an international figure.

Steve then dealt with the background to the rebellion and how this rebellion had its origin in decisions made at Vereeniging in 1902. It had several triggers: De Wet's rising in the Orange Free State, De La Rey's death and the defeat of a detachment of the SAMR at Sandfontein.This defeat was caused by a German concentration at Sandfontein. This concentration made possible the treachery of Manie Maritz at Upington. Maritz went into rebellion on 9 October 1914 on the German South West border and was replaced as Union commander by Coen Brits. The loyalists were handed over to the Germans. Maritz's men took part in a number of skirmishes but did not provide the support the Germans hoped for.

The rebellion in South Africa now started with the rebels being quickly defeated. Christiaan Beyers tried to link up with De Wet in the Orange Free State and was drowned en route. Kemp made an amazing trek to German South West. The end was nigh when a force of Carbineers and Police defeated a rebel force on 6 November 1914 outside Pretoria. The end came on 15 November 1914 when Jopie Fourie's men were over- run at Nooitgedacht by a bayonet charge. Fourie, who had failed to resign his commission, was executed.

In Orange Free State De Wet was involved in skirmishes with the loyalist commandos. This allowed Louis Bothat to pin point his position and ambush De Wet at Mushroom Valley on 12 November 1914. The bulk of the rebels rode straight into the arms of Botha's men. De Wet escaped only to be run to earth by motor cars. The rebellion continued but ended on 8 December when Wesse Wessel's men surrendered at Harrismith.

Steve concluded with the story of Koos de la Rey's courtesy having killed him. He changed places with Beyers in the fatal car so that the smoke from his pipe would not blow in Beyers' face. Truly smoking is hazardous for your health.

Hamish Paterson
Acting Scribe.

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For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828
For Cape Town details contact Ray Hattingh: 021-592-1279 or
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn


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Society member Eugene Campher advises of a Visit to Surprise Hill / Vaalkop Memorials - Siege of Ladysmith - Anglo Boer War 110 - December 11 & 12, 2009

The monument to the 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade has been rebuilt. It commemorates the British soldiers who died in the night attack on Surprise Hill during the Siege of Ladysmith. A re-dedication ceremony will take place on the 11th of December 2009, exactly 110 years after the event. In addition a new burgher memorial to the fallen burghers of the Pretoria Commando will be unveiled at the same ceremony. This burgher memorial will feature a special plaque in Hebrew to commemorate the first Jewish casualty on Boer side in the Anglo-Boer War.

Members of the public are welcome to attend. The function will start at 11:00 on the 11th December 2009. Lunch will be served to be followed by short talks on various aspects of the night attack on Surprise Hill. Venue: Moth Hall, 17 Egerton Road, Ladysmith, time 12:30. A hike to the gun-emplacement on the summit of Surprise Hill will take place on Saturday morning the 12th December 2009 and may also be arranged for Friday afternoon. Options for visits to nearby battlefields, regional game reserves and Ingula archeological site over the weekend are open.

RSVPs are essential; more information can be obtained from
the Siege Museum Trust, (, 082 801 6524
or Ladysmith Historical Society (, 083 627 8446.

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Looking back on this past year has reminded me of the many achievements of the Society. I realize more and more that every success that we have lauded is because of somebody's passion and effort that made it happen. Every event, educational lecture, every project, and every exciting battlefield tour has been an inspiration to all of us. None of these events just happened by themselves, but it took dedicated people to make it happen. A big "Thank You" to every person who played even a minor role, apart from the "Heavy-Weight" historians that we are proud of ...... and privileged to have among us in our Society.

The S.A. Military History Society respects ALL religions, but with the approach of Christmas, we have this opportunity to encourage our Christian friends to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ-child of Bethlehem, who fulfilled the divine purpose of becoming "That Man of Calvary." The Saviour of the world!

Reason enough to worship God and sing His praises like the angels that heralded His birth, about two thousand years ago! The New Year will bring many new opportunities and challenges, but you need never to walk alone!

On the horizon of the New Year we are excited about the Conference in Ladysmith to commemorate the 110th Anniversary of the Anglo Boer War. The dates are 25th to 27th January, 2010, and we hope that many members will be able to support this historical event. More details about the Conference from member Ken Gillings at cell: 083 654 5880 or

Our thoughts turn also to the many friends who have lost loved-ones when the trumpet call elevated them to a "Higher Service." Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Perhaps a well-intended telephone call to those still grieving would be much appreciated. Please make that effort to show "that you care."

Finally, on behalf of the National Committee of the S..A. Military History Society, I would like to extend our sincere wishes for a blessed Christmas, especially with family and friends. May the New Year bring each of our members more hope, greater love, better health and increased prosperity.

God Bless you All!

Bob Smith.
Chairman, National Committee,
S.A. Military History Society, Johannesburg.

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