South African Military 
History Society


November 2009

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

The Darrell Hall Memorial lecture ('DDH') entitled "Dusty Warriors" - Modern Soldiers at War. (The Princess of Wales Regiment in Iraq 2004) was presented by Col. Basil Carlston.

The Princess of Wale's regiment is the senior English infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Queen's division. During operations in Iraq, a total of thirty seven awards were made to the 1st Battalion which includes:
* 1 Victoria Cross
* 2 Military Crosses
* 10 Queen's gallantry Medal
* 17 Mentioned in Dispatches
* Pte. Johnson Beharry of the 1st Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action during his unit's deployment in Al-Amara, near Basra.
* Whilst attached to the 1st Battalion, Michelle Norris of the Royal Army Medical Corps became the first woman to be Awarded the Military Cross following her action on the 11th June 2006

This makes this Regiment the highest decorated in the British Army. The Regiment has the distinction of carrying the oldest battle Honour in the British Army (Tangiers 1662).

Pte Johnson Beharry was born in Grenada in 1979, joined the army in 2001 and served in Kosova, Northern Ireland and Iraq. On 18 March 2005, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth armed forces for twice saving members of his unit from ambushes on 1 May and again on 11 June, 2004 at Al-Amarah. He sustained serious head injuries in the latter engagement. Beharry was formally invested with the Victoria Cross by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth11 on 27 April, 2005. Beharry is the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the posthumous awards to Lt. Colonel H. Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay for service in the Falklands War in 1982. He is the first living recipient of the VC since Keith Payne and Rayene Stewart Simpson, both Australian, for actions inVietnam in 1969, and the first living recipient of the VC in the British Army since Rambahadour Limbo, a Gurkha, in the Indonesia-Malaya confrontation 1965. He is one of only seven living recipients of the VC, and the youngest.

After training at Catterick, he became a driver of Warrior and armoured vehicles in C Company, 1st Battalion. On 1 May, 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior Tracked Armoured Vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle's gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Pte. Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for "valour of the highest order".While back on duty on 11 June, 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior vehicle of his platoon through Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry's head and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets hit the vehicle incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was still recovering when he was awarded the VC.

The main talk was presented by Robin Smith and Entitled "Picket's Charge - Gettysburg July 1863. Pickett's Charge must rank as one of the most famous single actions in military history. It took place on the afternoon of 3rd July 1863. The charge involved 13,000 men of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia who advanced more than a mile across rolling fields under heavy artillery and musketry fire. This was an heroic attempt to assault the Union Army of the Potomac's position along the Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It became known as the "High water mark of the Southern Confederacy" as the tide of war thereafter swung in favour of the North. The Army of the Potomac's ranking generals were summoned to a shabby little farm house near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the night of 2nd July 1863.

For two days their units had been engaged in a fearful struggle, with staggering casualties, in the fields and woodlots around the town. Rarely, if ever, had the army's rank and file fought so well as they had this Thursday, but would their past, a history of defeats and humiliation at the hands of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, haunt them one more time? The nondescript home of a widow, Mrs Lydia Leister was the headquarters of their commander, Major General George G. Meade. Only five days earlier, Meade had commanded the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac until the administration in Washington accepted the resignation of its commander, Major General Joseph Hooker on 27th June. A reluctant Meade was unable to refuse an appointment in his place. The change in commanders received the endorsement of the officers and men, but few American soldiers given command of an army faced a more difficult burden than Meade. On 1st July, advance elements of his army collided with the vanguard of General Robert E. Lee's Rebel forces north and west of Gettysburg. By late afternoon two Federal Corps had been pushed out of the town. They had regrouped on a series of ridges to the south. It was good ground to defend and against it came the Southerners on the afternoon and evening of 2nd July. Robert E. Lee had spent the evening of 1st July engrossed in hours-long deliberations with his generals, trying to decide on his course of action. James Longstreet, his senior commander was singularly unimpressed with the prospects before them. He did not hesitate to express himself on the subject. Longstreet wanted to file around the enemy left and secure good ground between him and his capital. On Thursday 2nd July Lee set his day's battle plan in motion. Longstreet, whose troops would have to make the frontal assault on the Federal left, again took up his argument against assuming the offensive that day. It had become a seething disagreement between the general commanding and his senior general. However, Longstreet obeyed orders and his men advanced against the Federals strongly entrenched on Cemetery Ridge. Cemetery Ridge offered little in the way of concealment or obstacles and the slope to the west was gentle, dropping only 20 feet from the clump of trees to the Emmitsburg Road. Gibbon held the most vulnerable part of the line - the Angle. Two signal shots were fired by the Confederate artillery at 1 p.m. and more than 150 guns began the pre-assault bombardment of Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate artillerymen averaged one shot per minute. The bombardment was the critical element of Lee's plan but his artillery chief, Brigadier General William N. Pendleton had spent most of his time since graduating at West Point in the ministry. By 3 p.m. the bombardment had run its course. The Confederate guns had exhausted their ammunition. The effectiveness of the bombardment was contingent upon where you were.

To the Union artillerymen the fire was murderous. The first to engage the advancing Confederate line were the artillery. Sergeant William Bowen of the 12th New Jersey noted that it was "mowing great swaths through their lines" but incredibly, he observed in the enemy ranks "no hurry, no confusion as our shot was poured into them." At the Angle, Cushing's two guns were pushed forward into the 69th Pennsylvania and against the stone wall. Despite courage that won the admiration of nearly every man on Hays's line, Pettigrew's men were unable to make a single penetration on their front.

George G. Meade thoroughly 'out-generaled' Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. Lee demonstrated weakness in managing his generals, while that skill was Meade's special strength. For Lee the ultimate objective of his entire campaign - to win a major victory on Northern soil - had failed completely.

Prof. Mike Laing thanked the speakers for two such excellent and different presentations; Basil's in-depth portrayal of the bravery of the armoured vehicle in Iraq, followed by Robin's well researched talk that was interspersed with power point slides.

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THURSDAY 12th November 2009 - 19h00 for 19h30. Venue: Murray Theatre, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture will be presented by Ken Gillings on "The Battlefields of the Western Desert Revisited."
The Main Talk will be presented by Paul Kilmartin on "1914 and the start of World War 1".

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FUTURE SOCIETY DATES: Nov. 2009 - Feb. 2010:

Armistice Day 11th November 2009:
On Wednesday 11 November at 10h30 there will be a ceremony at Durban High School and visitors are welcome to attend. A memorial to Edwin Swales VC will be unveiled at DHS by the Chief of the SAAF, Lt Gen Gagiano at 12h30, followed by another unveiling of a plaque at the Natal Mounted Rifles HQ at 13h30. Should you wish to attend the latter two ceremonies, please contact Ken Gillings on 031 702 4828 or

Annual lunch
This year we will be having lunch at the Durban Country Club on Sunday 22 November. A list is currently being passed round. The cost is R100 per head. Please do not sit on the list at the meeting; make sure you pass it on. Payment to be made to Charles Whiteing by November meeting.

DECEMBER MEETING: Please note that the meeting scheduled for December has been cancelled due to non availability of venue.

21st January 2010
DDH - 'The South African War Graves Project', by fellow member Ricky Nortje
Main Talk - 'General Sir Charles Warren', to be presented by fellow member Prof. Philip Everitt.

11th February 2010
DDH - 'Erik Holm, South Africa's Lord Haw Haw' to be presented by Donald Davies.
Main - '1914 - 1918: Clandestine Operations in Central Asia - the Plot to bring down the British Empire' to be presented by Capt. (SAN) Brian Hoffman.

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Anniversaries - at this time in history.
1869 - Birth of Mohandas Ghandi.
1899 - Mobilisation of the British Army for service in SA; beginning of the Anglo-Boer War; the Siege of Kimberley; Battles of Talana; Elandslaagte; Rietfontein; and Ladysmith.
1900 - President Paul Kruger leaves SA.
1902 - The 3200 km railway line from Cape Town to Beira is completed.
1935 - Italy invades Abyssinia.
1939 - Resistance ends in Poland; The Royal Oak is sunk at Scapa Flow.
1940 - Hitler postpones Operation Sealion until 1941.
1952 - Britain tests her independent atom bomb.
1957 - Russia launches Sputnik 1.

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South African Military History Society /