South African Military History Society


In remembrance of the battle of El Alamein,Society Members were shown a Video recorded recently from a TV series about famous battles of WW II. Despite the occasionally blurred pictures, the battle scenes had not lost anything of their terrifying impact.

The main speaker of the evening was Ike Rosmarin who, with remarkable powers of recollection,spoke about his many months as a POW after he had been captured at Tobruk after the fall of this city in 1942.

Describing the chaos in POW collection areas while they were left to the not so tender mercies of the Italian troops, with hardly any water, food or medical care, he added the existence of POW being locked up for seven miserable days during their voyage from Bhengazi to Brindisi, and then turned to life in a Northern Italian camp.

At first the facilities were bad, again with little food, poor sanitation and bad treatment by the guards. However, their lives and rationale were saved by the arrival of the first Red-Cross parcels which were carefully divided at a ratio of one parcel to every four prisoners, and spirits began to soar.

With the help of cigarette-against-anything-barter-system, a prosperous trade began to develop which gave the prisoners a chance to follow their inclinations and talents, whereby the non-smokers scored heavily while the smokers lost out. (There appears to be a message somewhere!) But this activity diverted their attentions from the daily monotony and made camp life bearable.

When winter arrived, with little fuel for warmth, more parcels came and with the extra clothes saved the day.

Nine months after their capture the first letters from home arrived, and then more clothing parcels, also from home. This was another experience Ike never forgot and laid the seed for his future involvement with and committment to the cause for which the Red Cross has been well known.

He started a newsletter "African Mirror", compiling any scrap of information to inform the prisoners and bolster their morale.

Towards the end of 1944 Ike and many others were moved further north and eventually were deposited in a transit camp near Munich, and from there, they were sent to a camp in Silesia. Fortunately, their lot improved and prisoners could even organize their own entertainment which they did with gusto.

With the help of the cigarette-trade Ike not only started a welfare drive but established his own library. Sports facilities improved and even test-matches were played.

In January 1945 the situation changed, and with the end of the war so close, all prisoners suffered forced marches in bitter winter conditions, with confusion abounding and consequently exhaustion taking its toll.

Eventually, American forces freed the prisoners and for Ike and thousands like him the war was finally over.

Remembering that the Red-Cross parcel and the concern of this organisation had sustained him and so many others during the "rise and fall of the spirits", Ike and his wife became active supporters of the Red Cross and they can now look back on a combined 97-year service period which must surely be a record.

He also wrote a book "Inside Story" describing his experiences in detail and donated the proceeds of the sales to the Red Cross as well.

Or. Felix Machanik thanked the speaker for his moving and detailed personal account of a testing period experienced by many.

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Special Announcements:

Johannesburg: The one-day outing to visit Kalkheuvel on 15th November is still on. Details will be announced during the next Society evening on 12th Nov. 1992.

Future Meetings:

12th November. Zeppelins. - John Mahncke
10th December. In the wake of HMS Dragon. Capt. I. Little

Cape Town:
12th November. Video-Talk by Mr. K. Gillings of Durban Branch on "Isandhlwana Re-visited."

10th December. "Colonel Gordon and the first British Occupation of the Cape." - Jack Wilkinson.

12th November. Video - "The battle of Arnhem." (Includes interviews with survivors.)
10th December. In recess.
14th January Major Dennis Shiel-Small MC, will talk on the battle of Kohima.

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Durban Branch recommends reading of a new book.
Maxwell Leigh, "Captives Courageous, S.A. Prisoners of War, World War II." A human account of South Africans captured in this conflict.

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On the lighter side:

A story of the Guards Brigade during the fighting in Italy concerned the occasion when a South African Railway Construction Unit was attached to the Guards during battle.

At the moment for attack, the Guards Major gave the famous order:
"Up Guards and at 'em." The Guards advanced but the South Africans did not move. The Major repeated the order, but the railwaymen stayed put. The Major shouted the order a third time, "Up Guards and at 'em!"
One of the men gave him this laconic reply: "Ons is nie guards nie, ons is shunters."

John Mahncke (Scribe)
(011) 453 63 53

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