South African Military 
History Society


May 2009

Contact: Ken Gillings 031 702 4828
Bill Brady 031-561-5542

The DDH talk was presented by former chairman Paul Kilmartin named The Founding of the Victoria Cross. Paul opened by saying his fascination with the VC began when he was a schoolboy after meeting LT. COLONEL CHARLES NEWMAN, VC. They had both attended the same school, though not at the same time.

CHARLES NEWMAN was a member of The Essex Regiment, transferred to The Commandos and was OC military forces in the combined Naval and Commando raid on St. Nazaire in March 1942.
This action has been described as: "Perhaps the most daring and brilliant raid of all."

The VC is this most prestigious of all awards for bravery - and just how brave so many men were who did not even win a minor medal. In the early 1850's Britain was behind all other major European military powers as they did not award any medals for bravery. The British could only:1) promote on the spot to a "Brevet Rank,
2) Mention in Dispatches or 3) Award the Order of The Bath
The second and third were for senior officers so only a spot promotion could be awarded to junior officers, NCOs' and Other Ranks. The came THE CRIMEAN WAR in 1854. This was the 1st war to have regular newspaper correspondents covering military action and MOST IMPORTANTLY THE PRESS COVERED THE COURAGE and ENDURANCE of THE BRITISH SOLDIERS. It was this coverage that led to the decision to institute a new award for bravery - and that new award was to become the VICTORIA CROSS.

The 1st publicly known request for a new medal was made by a retired army office, now Liberal MP - Captain THOMAS SCOBELL. In a motion he put to the House of Commons in December 1854, which stated that:
"An Order of Merit should be awarded to persons serving in the Army or Navy, for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry - and to which every grade and individual, from the lowest to the highest, may be admissible." Open to all was remarkable considering the class and wealth structure of both the country and the military at that time.

What Captain THOMAS SCOBELL did not know was that the Secretary of State for War - The DUKE of NEWCASTLE - had the same thought and had discussed it with Prince Albert, the husband of QUEEN VICTORIA. In January 1855 The Duke wrote to Prince ALBERT and stated: "It does not seem to me right of politic, that such deeds of heroism as the war has produced should go unrewarded by any distinctive mark of honour because they are done by privates or officers below the rank of Major." A new decoration should be open to all ranks. "Although all correspondence was to the Prince, QUEEN VICTORIA, was heavily involved and made all the important decisions. The suggested name for the new award was: THE MILITARY ORDER of VICTORIA, but the Queen ordered this to be simplified to: The VICTORIA CROSS to be in scripted with "FOR VALOUR."

On receiving the sample, The QUEEN objected to the use of COPPER - as it made the medal look "heavy and clumsy" and as the decision had already been taken to use a base metal, the choice was BRONZE
Then SOMEONE - name not known - had the bright idea to use BRONZE from the Russian Guns captured in the Crimes at SEBASTOPOL - and so a great tradition was born.
On 5 January 1856 the simple MALTESE CROSS final design was approved. The NAME, RANK and UNIT of the RECIPIENT is engraved on the rear of the SUPSPENDED BAR. The DATE of THE VC ACTION is shown at the centre of the REVERSE SIDE of the CROSS. The VC is now worn suspended by a RED RIBBON, exactly 1.5 inches wide.

The design of January 1856 has remained unchanged to the present day, APART from 1 minor change. In the early 1900s a number of fraudulent VCs were put up for auction in London and elsewhere and HANCOCKS were asked to incorporate a secret and inconspicuous mark that only they knew about - in order to separate the spurious from the genuine.

LORD ASHCROFT holds the largest collection of VC medals.

The Main Talk was presented by guest speaker John Parkinson entitled Allied Naval Operations in Japanese Waters. Between the time of the American and British Treaties with Japan in 1854, and the resignation of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Keiki), the last of the fifteen Tokugawa Shoguns, in January 1868 there existed a period of considerable domestic stress within Japan. As may be imagined the conservative samurai element led by the Daimio of the feudal fiefdoms or han, through whom the Shoguns administered their authority, resisted change especially if they perceived that thereby they would lose their historic privileged place in society. Commencing with leyasu in 1603 the Tokugawa Shoguns ruled for some 265 years, for much of that time, and with varying success, enforcing a policy of isolation from the outside world.

Gradually over the decades the internal economy of Japan had been altering. As an example the money economy grew, tax rice and salary rice being converted by merchants into cash. In the 17th century Japan was the largest silver producing country in Asia, much of this silver finding its way to China. Significantly over the years a number of these merchants and traders, many of whom dwelt at Osaka, had become the creditors of their political masters, the samurai class. Secondly, together with changes in domestic economic arrangements, there arose a feeling of intellectual curiosity, a spirit of what has been described as 'National." They were to alter their thinking but initially there were two of these Daimio of importance who were disappointed by what they considered to be the timid behaviour of the Shogunate in 1854 in permitting their sacred land to be opened up to these revolting barbarians. These were Satsuma, with his capital here at Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, and Choshu at the western extremity of Honshu so with an important presence here at Shimonoseki. At the same time, from their exposure to the outside world, both, but Satsuma especially, were realistic enough to propose that time be bought by appearing to desire to accommodate the barbarians. In the interim strenuous efforts should be made to arm with the eventual objective of forcefully removing this disgusting alien presence from their country.

Within the framework of these new diplomatic circumstances foreign merchants had been attracted to Japan, especially from 1859 onwards. There had been earlier attacks made against foreigners in Japan but matters came to a head on Sunday, 14 September 1862. The Englishman unfortunate to be caught up in this affair was Charles Lennox Richardson. He had just retired from business in Shanghai and was visiting Japan prior to returning home. Accompanied by three friends out horse back riding, it was here that they had the misfortune to meet up with a large group of samurai who were escorting their Lord along the road. Perceiving that this group of detested foreigners were not moving out of their path quickly enough, nor showing proper respect, the four suddenly were assaulted. Three managed to escape to give the alarm but the unlucky Mr. Richardson was killed, the first foreign merchant in Japan to be murdered. On receiving the news naturally the hotheads in the community at Yokohama wished to attempt to take revenge immediately but fortunately for all concerned a wiser head prevailed in the form of the British charge d'affaires, Lt. Col. Edward Neale. At the time of the death of Charles Richardson the British Prime Minister was Viscount Palmerston, none other than the one man who perhaps more than any other individual embodied the spirit of Victorian nationalism. There was no telegraph from the Far East in those days nevertheless the news was received in London quickly and as early as 24 December 1862 Lord Palmerston instructed his Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to issue a very strong protest. On 6 September, Battery 8 opened fire at daylight causing some damage, but was silenced by return fire from ships of the Allied force. Thereafter a large British force of sailors and Marines, accompanied by 350 French and 200 Dutchmen were landed. Forts ! - 8 were dealt with, guns being spiked, carriages and platforms burned, and magazines blown up. Admiral Kuper, at all times working with Admiral Jaures, ordered that all such parties were to be re-embarked by 4 p.m.

The French and Dutch landing force were in their boats ready to go off to their ships when the British party at Battery 5 was attacked by a strong body of Japanese. Fortunately Col. Suther's Royal Marines were close to hand. This British force of sailors and Marines advanced, driving the Japanese before them towards some stockaded barracks situated in a shallow valley close behind Battery 5. Instantly the British divided so as to proceed around to the side of these barracks on the slopes of the valley so enabling them to fire down into the stockade. The remaining Japanese then withdrew leaving seven small guns in British possession. On the 7th parties were landed to remove the guns from forts 1 to 8.

That afternoon one British, two Dutch, and one French warship were ordered across ready to attend to forts 9 and 10, here. Admiral Kuper, accompanied by the French Admiral, embarked in the British gunboat 'COQUETTB' to supervise this operation which took place on the 8th. No fire was returned consequently it was a relatively straight forward business to land parties to destroy the two batteries and their magazines.
The last of the shoguns resigned.

Captain Brian Hoffman delivered a detailed vote of thanks to both speakers for sharing their experience and research with the audience.

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THIRD THURSDAY - 14 May 2009 -19.00 for 19.30

Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN
The DDH will be presented by Adrian van Schaik who will talk on SANDF Vehicles A&B.
The Main Talk will be presented by Ken Gillings on The Zulu Civil War, 1883-1888.

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: June - August 2009

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Subscription Fees
For 2009 are now due R175 per single and R185 per family.

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Anniversaries - at this time in history - April.

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South African Military History Society /