The regular monthly meeting was opened in the usual fashion by National Chairman, Bob Smith, when he commenced by issuing notice of points of interest to the members. He started by reminding members of the ballot slips they had received with which to vote for the best speakers of the year and which must be back with Colin Dean before the end of February. This was followed by New Year greetings to all, conveyed from the Eastern Cape branch and, lastly, by a reminder that at next month's meeting there will be a raffle, at only R20 per ticket, for a remarkable set of eight presentation-packed DVDs on the Viet Nam War. These have been generously donated for Society funds by Jan Willem Hoorweg, a keen member.
Bob then introduced the first speaker, national committee member David Scholtz. David was born in Benoni and educated at St Andrew's College in Bloemfontein. He did his National Service with the Witwatersrand Rifles and then studied BA LlB at Wits, in preparation for a legal career. He is currently a partner with Webber and Wentzel in Johannesburg, and a keen amateur military historian.
The subject of David's talk was "The Royal Sussex Memorial at Abraham's Kraal". This somewhat mundane title hid a fascinating little story of a unique military history project that ended with a high-level ceremony.
While browsing through a bookshop a few years ago, David came across a book entitled "Two Years on Trek" by Lt Colonel Louis du Moulin. This was an account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in the Second Anglo-Boer War. du Moulin was killed during a skirmish at a place called Abraham's Kraal and the book was completed and published by a Colonel Pantow in 1907.
Colonel Pantow commanded the Second Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and the book gives a most interesting account of the Regiment's service in the Anglo-Boer War. In his preface, Pantow also gave a brief biography of du Moulin, the original writer, a New Zealander of French descent. du Moulin served with distinction in various colonial punitive expeditions of the time and was a well-known and respected soldier when he arrived in South Africa as Second-in-Command of the First Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
He and his regiment joined Lord Roberts' forces at Glen Station, after Bloemfontein had already been captured. They then proceeded with Lord Roberts' forces up the interior railway line, taking part in actions as diverse as Welkom Farm, Sand River, Doornkop, Diamond Hill and Retief's Nek, in the Golden Gate area.
The Regiment then moved from Bethlehem to Winburg, where a column under the command of du Moulin was detached to follow a group of Boer commandos through the southern Free State. On the evening of 28 January 1902 the column arrived at a farm named Abraham's Kraal and camped for the night.
Using a Power Point presentation, David then showed a plan of the farmstead and its surrounding area, which was on the northern bank of the Riet River, halfway between the Free State towns of Koffiefontein and Fauresmith. du Moulin set out picquets for the night and at about 1 am one of these picquets was attacked by Boer forces that also stormed into the camp. du Moulin swiftly organised a resistance and a spirited engagement followed, in the course of which du Moulin was killed while leading a counter-attack.
After about an hour, the Boers withdrew. They had lost two men, one of them being the owner of the farm who, naturally, was thereafter suspected of having led the Boers to the British bivouac. The British lost seven men with nine wounded, one of whom died later. They also lost 120 horses and mules that were killed during the brief engagement. Colonel du Moulin was buried in one grave, the other British dead in a second grave, and the two Boers in a third, after which the column withdrew to Jagersfontein, with three more British privates dying of their wounds on the way.
Towards the end of 2006 a group of friends, led by David and armed with a database of graves obtained from the National Monument Council, decided to embark on a tour of Boer War sites south of Kimberley. One of these was Abraham's Kraal. This latter involved a bit of detective work through the staff and management of the Dam, but the trail eventually led to the "Kalkfontein Dam Wall Cemetery". This turned out to be a simple mass grave, marked by a metal cross and surrounded by a wire fence.
The group felt a bit saddened by this lonely marker and, on returning to Johannesburg, contacted the Royal Sussex Regimental Association, on the Internet. Much correspondence - and not a little red tape and bureaucracy - then followed, during the course of which the Association decided to raise funds for a more fitting monument. Back in South Africa, David and his group contacted the SA Heritage Resources Agency and received both permission and support for a monument. All this activity finally resulted in a handsome granite monument being unveiled on 15 April 2008, at the cemetery in the presence of a fair-sized group of local and British dignitaries and, not least, David and his group which had started the idea.
At the conclusion of this talk, David was given a resounding round of applause, in tribute to both a good talk and a noteworthy and successful historical restoration project.
After a brief but interesting question period, Bob thanked David Scholtz for his most interesting talk and then introduced the main speaker for the evening, Mr Morris Skikne.
Morris is a teacher of biophysics who has had a strong interest in tanks since he was a schoolboy, and the subject of his talk was "Tank Battalions in the Four Israeli Wars". He started his talk by taking us back to 1948, with the birth of the State of Israel and the subsequent "War of Liberation". Since then Israel has fought seven "wars" or conflicts, three of them major - the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and all of them successful from Israel's point of view.
Morris described to us how Israel has progressed since 1948 when her armoured forces had consisted primarily of captured Marmon-Herrington armoured cars and Bren Carriers. A concerted effort between 1948 and 1956 saw Israel in possession of a large number of US Sherman tanks, French AMS13s, Russian T34s and British Archers, all modified for desert warfare.
Using Power Point slides, Morris then explained how these tanks were used during the Suez crisis, when Israel launched a three-pronged attack on Egypt, via Gaza, toward the Bitter Lakes and down towards Sharm El Sheik on the Gulf of Suez. The action lasted from 28 October to 4 November 1956 and during this time three Egyptian armies were completely destroyed, as was the Egyptian Air Force. This was as a result of good battle planning, the combination of tank and infantry tactics and the use of mobility in action.
For the next few years Israel watched in growing alarm the growth of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and a growing number of raids by Al Fatah into Israeli territory. The last straw was the closing of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt and, on 5 May 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, wiping out their respective air forces in a matter of hours. At the same time, Israeli ground troops struck across the Sinai Desert into Egypt, up the Golan Heights against Syria and hit at Jordan through the West Bank and Jerusalem.
At this time Israel possessed 1 350 tanks, all modified for desert warfare with long-range fuel tanks, dust filters and "souped-up" engines. Against this the Arabs could field 2 700 tanks of Russian origin. In a series of tank battles, these were routed and within six days the conflict was over, with Israel left controlling the Sinai Desert, Golan Heights and Jerusalem.
This was a tremendous blow to Arab pride and, on 5 October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise assault against Israel. At first things went the Arabs' way and Israeli losses were so high that their high command was seriously considering a nuclear counter-strike. By 8 October, Israel had rallied and went over to the offensive, with her troops carrying out the by now well-known three-pronged attack westward toward the Suez Canal. The Egyptians blocked this, resulting in the greatest tank battle since Kursk in 1943. However, on 15 October, General Sharon found a gap between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies and was able to outflank and cut off both. In the meantime, Israeli armour moved into Syria and threatened Damascus. International diplomacy then prevailed and Israel pulled her troops back, to usher in an uneasy period of peace that lasts to this day.
A spirited question period then followed, requiring both tact and firmness from the Chairman when the question of Gaza was raised. Morris was then thanked by committee member Malcolm King for his most detailed talk and, after a few reminder notices from Bob, those present adjourned for tea.
Ivor C Little (Scribe) 012-660-3243
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
This serves as notice that the forty-third AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 9th April 2009.
The Agenda will include:
KZN in Durban:
SAMHSEC in Port Elizabeth:
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Mike Laing 031-205-1951 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For Cape Town details contact Bob Buser (Sec'y/Treas) 021-689-1639 (email@example.com)
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please would the member who deposited R185 on 13 Jan which was referred to as Craighall 788 921 contact secretary/treasurer Joan Marsh at the letterhead address so she can credit the correct person...
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