South African Military History Society


The 26th Annual General Meeting of the Society was held on 9.4.1992. The minutes of the 25th A.G.M. were read and approved by members present and then signed by the Chairman. The Chairman, Professor Ian Copley, then read his report on the Society's activities over the past year, and the Hon. Secretary/Treasurer, Mr. Mike Marsh, presented his report and the Society's financial position.

In the absence of General P. Pretorius, Professor Copley took the chair and requested nominations for new Chairman. Dr. F. Machanik nominated Mrs. Jennifer Copley as Chairlady and she was elected unopposed.

The existing Executive Committee was re-elected with the exception of Mr. Ian Uys who, unfortunately, had to stand down due to other commiments. Mr. Martin Ayres was elected to the Committee. Mr. Gavin Moore was unanimously re-elected as Hon. Auditor.

The Executive Committee consists of the following members:

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On conclusion of the Society's business the Chairlady introduced the first speaker, Mr. I. Greef.

He presented a very interesting short talk graphically describing military insignia from Roman times to the present. Whereas in the beginning fighters identified themselves by wearing twigs or coloured ribbons, they changed to uniformly painted shields and then to common headdresses sporting feathers, twigs and leaves, and lateron to insignia worn on dresses, often showing their warlord's colours.

In modern days insignia proliferated, with special units being granted their own badges identifying them with their varied jobs, some of them quite humorous and descriptive.

The main speaker of the evening was Mr. Lionel Bussin who talked about his experiences as a P.O.W. Quoting from old notes penned in situ, he described his part in the North African campaign, sketching the fighting in the desert up to his capture on the Gazala front.

Using a most entertaining style with colourful language and off-the-cuff ad-libs, he recounted his adventures and travels as a P.O.W. of the Italian and German forces, his hospitalization and subsequent transfer from North Africa to Naples by boat.

From the miserable, starved and lonesome existence which all P.O.W.s suffered, he rose to violinist and leader of a camp orchestra, occasionally employing his skills as a barber, and eventually became a farm labourer near Brescia.

Deciding to escape, he trekked southwards, often walking, sometimes using other modes of transport. He remained on the run for some 8 months covering a distance of 800 km, finally reaching the River Sangro where he observed the artillery flashes on the frontline.

During all this time he was helped by the Italians and found them to be generous and kind, especially a priest who, upon being told by Lionel that he was Jewish, merely replied: We are all children of God.

Eventually he had to give himself up due to sickness and was transported to Germany. Another escape followed, and after he was re-captured he eventually reached that country where he was employed as a roofer, forming a close friendship with his German family for whom he worked, and he was well treated.

After his re-patriation he remained in contact with this family and even managed to arrange a re-union a few years later which was joyous and tearful.

Lionel not only proved himself to be a born raconteur but also as a prisoner who displayed Chutzpa of a high order which helped him to surmount all obstacles.

Mr. Avram Pelunsky thanked the speaker for his lively talk.

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Cape Town

Details are available from Major Antony Gordon at (021) 61 - 4500


Details are available from Mrs. Tania van der Watt (031) 764 - 29 70

Future Meetings in Johannesburg
14th May Mr. John Keene Manufacture of War Gas in S.A.
11th June Col. G.R. Duxbury Tobruk

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Lest we forget.

On April 6, 1941, allied troops occupied Addis Ababa. General Wetherall accepted the city's surrender from the military governor.

With him were Brigadier Dan Pienaar, commander of the 1st South African Brigade, and Brigadier C.C. Fowkes, commander of the 22nd East African Brigade.

The South Africans and their comrades had advanced 1 725 miles in 53 days against an enemy always numerically superior. Against huge losses by the Italians, the allied divisions only lost less than 100 soldiers killed.

John Mahncke (011) 453 63 53

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