South African Military History 


Newsletter No 60 September 2009/Nuusbrief Nr 60 September 2009

The meeting on 10 August 2009 started with Richard Tomlinson's fourth talk in his series on British fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War. His subject was the series of stone blockhouses in the Hartebeesport Dam/Magaliesberg area to the west of Pretoria, whose distinctive designs he has named the Magaliesberg Pattern. These structures, of which he located 6 examples (archive photos show more which have not been found), are characterized by being single-storey in height, having a 'flat' roof of corrugated iron or concrete with crenellated parapets rising above the roof, the walls chamfered at the angles to provide for a loophole at 45 (thus saving the expense of steel angle galleries or masonry angle bastions), a wood boarded and joisted floor with ventilated space beneath and a variety of plan shapes. Hekpoort (Barton's Folly) has a chevron plan and a concrete roof carried on steel joists and arched corrugated iron shuttering; the series of three to the east of Kommandonek have square, T-shape and L-shape plans respectively and the one west of Kommandonek (foundation only) rectangular. The example at Broederstroom is rectangular and without parapets, but has a fireplace, a unique feature in blockhouses. Two blockhouses outside the area exhibit Magaliesberg Pattern features - Warmbaths had crenellated parapets and Warrenton had chamfered angles. All use Standard Pattern steel components.

The curtain raiser by John Perrott was on Mfengu Auxilliaries. In the history of the Eastern Cape the Mfengu occupy a special place. These refugees from the Mefecane found their way through Tembuland into Gclekaland in the late 1820s. The Mfengu consisted of groups of Northern Nguni people from various chiefdoms such as the Hlubi and Ngwane, who had escaped across the Drakensberg and the Bhele, Zizi and Bhaca, also refugees from Shaka's campaigns, who had moved southwards through Pondoland into Gcalekaland. Hintsa, paramount chief of the Xhosa, absorbed about 20 000 of these refugees, who as a group were given the name Mfengu (Fingo) and lent stock and land by the Gcalekas. Hintsa allowed the Mfengu to keep their weapons, realising their fighting ability gained from battles during the Mefecane and, possibly, in the hope that they would support the Xhosas should the need arise.

During the Sixth Frontier War, Sir Benjamin D'Urban arranged to bring the Mfengu under British rule and moved them out of Gcalekaland into the Ceded Territory in anticipation that they would become guardians of the frontier, military allies and labourers in the Colony. The fact that they abandoned Gcalekaland, aided the British and removed a large number of Gcaleka cattle, resulted in antagonism bordering upon hatred, between all Xhosas and Mfengu which lasted well into the 20th Century. Their usefulness on the frontier and their proven loyalty to the Colony, led to an increase in the use of Mfengu levies both for active duty with the army and for other military support duties in each succeeding frontier war. Confidence in the levies, originally lacking due to poor discipline, difficulty in communication and doubts concerning their loyalty, improved during the Seventh War as both troops and levies worked better together. This improvement in relations also resulted in the transition from the use of the short stabbing assegai to firearms, so that by the time of the Ninth and final Frontier War, the Mfengu auxiliaries were a more potent force and played a significant role in the defeat of the Xhosas.

Not being subject to the authority of a paramount chief or influenced by a tribal culture, the Mfengu were able to follow a more independent lifestyle. Through missionary influence, leading to education and successful scholarship, they became the educated elite of the blacks in the Eastern Cape. By 1880 it was clear that the Xhosas were no longer a threat to the Cape Colony and, with the banning of firearms in the possession of all blacks, the use of Mfengu as military levies ended.

The main lecture by Brian Klopper was on the French Foreign Legion, which was established in 1831 by order of King Louis-Philippe. The Legion fought in Spain, Crimea, Italy, Mexico, Dahomey, Morocco, Syria and Indochina. It was originally prohibited from serving in metropolitan France during peacetime. It did serve in metropolitan France during WW1 and WW2. After the French collapse in 1940, units of the Legion escaped France and served with Free French forces under General de Gaulle. In 1961, the 1st Regiment of the Legion supported the Pied Noir revolt in Algeria against the government of General de Gaulle and was disbanded in disgrace. In 1962, after Algerian independence, the Legion moved its headquarters from Sidi-Bel-Abbes in Algeria to Aubagne in metropolitan France.

While mostly foreign nationals serve in the ranks, the officers are nearly all French. NCO's are drawn from the ranks of the Legion. Initial enlistment is for 5 years, after which Legionnaires can take French citizenship should they so wish. The initial oath of loyalty and service is taken not to France, but to the Legion itself. The Legion is a highly disciplined, professional army. All comers are not welcomed with open arms and criminals are no longer accepted into the Legion. There is, in fact, a high rate of rejection. The average recruit is likely to be a former soldier in the forces of his homeland, who would rather fight in the Legion than do garrison duty with his own army. Every Legionnaire serves under an assumed name.

The 2009 establishment includes Latin American, Eastern Pacific, Indian Ocean and East African Overseas Commands. Units are currently stationed in France, Guyana, Muraruo, Tahiti, Djibouti, Mayotte and Corsica.

SAMHSEC regrets the passing of fellow member Lionel Wulfsohn on 6 August 2009.

The proposed SAMHSEC tour from 11 to 13 Sepetember 2009 has been cancelled.

Members interested in attending the ABW110 Conference in Ladysmith from 25 to 27 January 2010 are requested to contact Malcolm.

Thanks to those members who have responded to the request in the August newsletter for assistance in filling the 2010 Speakers' Roster. To the others: there are plenty of open slots!

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 14 September 2009 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Richard Tomlinson will present the fifth in the series on British Fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War. The curtain raiser will be on Cape Town Highlanders Service by Peter Duffel-Canham. The main lecture will be on Operation Modular by Jock Harris. (Scribe's Note: the September meeting will mark the 5th anniversary of SAMHSEC's first meeting on 9 September 2004.)

Malcolm Kinghorn.
082 331 6223

South African Military History Society /