South African Military History 


Newsletter No/Nuusbrief Nr 55 April 2009

The 9 March 2009 meeting opened with the last in Pat Irwin's series on historically significant guns in South Africa. During the siege of Kimberley in 1899-1900, the Boer artillery substantially outranged the antiquated pieces within the beleaguered garrison. One response to this was the development and manufacture of a unique gun and ammunition for it, in the workshops of De Beers Mines. Conceived by George Labram (a De Beers engineer) and ably assisted by Edward Goffe (chief draftsman for De Beers) and a team of artisans, this field piece was produced from scratch in just 24 days. With little knowledge of how to make a gun, let alone fire one, Labram and his team successfully constructed a 4.1" (104mm) gun that was rifled, breech loading and had a range of up to 7 200 m, thus comfortably reaching the Boer lines. It was named 'Long Cecil' in honour of Cecil Rhodes, who was trapped in the town. The Boer response was to bring one of their Long Toms, with a range of 8 000 m, to shell Kimberley. Labram himself was killed by one of Long Tom's shells on 9 February 1900, just 6 days before the end of the 124 day siege. During its 28 days active service, Long Cecil fired 260 shells, more than any other gun in the garrison. It was certainly the most effective of the several homemade guns in South Africa.

In 1902 Long Cecil was used as the gun carriage for Rhodes' funeral procession, both in Cape Town and at Bulawayo. It was subsequently placed on the Honoured Dead Memorial in Kimberley, where it stands to this day.

The meeting expressed its great appreciation to Pat for his enlightening series. We look forward to Richard Tomlinson's series on South African Fortifications.

During the SAMHSEC AGM, which was held in lieue of a curtain raiser, the following were elected as the SAMHSEC Committee for the following year:

Chairman, Speaker Co-ordinator and Scribe: Malcolm Kinghorn,

Treasurer: Dennis Hibberd,

Representative of members not resident in Port Elizabeth: John Stevens,

Tours and Social Co-ordinator: Ian Pringle,

Secretary: Stephen Bowker.

Ian Copley presented the Main Lecture on the Ambush at Kalkheuwel, 3 June 1900. Having reached Johannesburg, General French's cavalry left their camp at Bergvlei on 3 June. His objective, along with Robert's advance on Pretoria, was to outflank the town to the west, so cutting off reinforcement from the Western Transvaal by occupying the Magaliesberg passes, and then to proceed to the north of Pretoria to relieve the three thousand POWs at Waterval the first concentration camp of the war.

French had to cross westward the Jukskei and Crocodile rivers in order to reach Kalkheuwel Pass, the entry route for wagons into the Magaliesberg region. Approaching the pass at Kalkheuwel, the Scots Greys in the lead of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, espied the dust of 25 wagons moving from west to east under the command of Cmdt. S P du Toit, who had been dispersed at Fourteen Streams by Gen Hunter. Their intention was to thwart French's flanking movement on Pretoria. The Carabineers were sent ahead to intercept them.

In the gloomy pass, the Boers laid an ambush and occupied the surrounding high ground as the winter sun was setting. The Carabineers, restricted to the road due to rough dolomite outcroppings, were unable to turn back and the confusion increased when Gen French and his staff, with the NSW Lancers, overran the advance guard. Gen French ordered all men to dismount and called for guns to be brought up. The confusion was abated by the action in the pass of Maj Allenby, who dismounted his men, ordered them into the bushes and returned fire. Later they began to scale the heights to their left, with the help of the Australians from the rear, having lost only three men killed and five wounded in the ambush, plus about 50 horses. The heights were captured as darkness fell. T Battery RHA was at first able to get only one gun into action, being under fire, whereas O Battery further to the rear was able to shell the heights with HE and pompoms. The Boer guns were behind the feature and could not be deployed effectively. The Scots Greys occupied the right of the pass without incident.

The troops spent the night where they lay. Next morning they came across a couple of wagons in the pass with a Boer doctor. The remainder of the convoy was seen disappearing into the distance via Broederstroom towards the wilderness north of the Magaliesberg. Kommandonek and Silkaatsnek were occupied whilst on the 5th, coinciding with the fall of Pretoria, the Scots Greys liberated the concentration camp at Waterval.

Members are reminded that membership is for a calendar year. Thanks to the 43 who have renewed membership. This newsletter will be last to those who have not renewed, as it is regretfully assumed that they do not intend to do so.

The Warning Order for SAMHSEC's Albany Tour from 15 to 17 May 09 is to be distributed to members shortly.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 13 April 2009 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club. The meeting will open with the first in Richard Tomlinson's series on South African Fortifications. The curtain raiser will be on the Jersey War Tunnels by Mike Duncan. The main lecture will be on the Naming of Ships by Barry de Klerk.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

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