South African Military History Society


From the desk of the Chairman.

Dear Members,

It is now four months since I took over the chairmanship of your Society. This is an honour, and whilst in the Chair I hope to do my best to advance the Society on all fronts. The past Chairman, John Mahncke, is now in Cape Town and on their Branch Committee. The members thank you for all the hard work you did for the Society and know you will continue to do in the future.

During the cold months there has been a noticeable fall in attendance at meetings in Johannesburg. Perhaps this is only the weather but it could also be because of the crime rate. Mention must be made that the venue in Johannesburg is air-conditioned so that the Winter chills do disappear while you listen and partake in the most interesting lectures on Military History and that the car park at the Museum venue is under constant guard.

Those who spend long hours researching and preparing lectures, need the support of every member who can attend. This does not only refer to Johannesburg but also to the Durban and Cape Town branches.

The Johannesburg Committee has also decided to resuscitate the tours that proved very popular with certain members in the past. The first of these tours should take place in the near future and those members who have asked for tours can really show their appreciation by their attendance.

As Chairman I also ask for members to come forward with ideas regarding future lectures, tours and any other matter that falls under the objectives and aims of the Society.

Certain members from the Cape Town and Durban branches have attended lectures in Johannesburg, and lectures have been given at the various venues by members from other branches. This is most pleasing and can only further the bonds between the members of the Society no matter where they live.

I am sure that you will be pleased to know that the Society membership is some 510 members strong and that currently only a few members have not yet paid their annual subscriptions. New members are still attracted to the Society, which shows that the Society is alive and well. It would, however, be wonderful if older members could still try to obtain new members at all three venues where we operate, especially younger members, as they are the life-blood of the membership for the future.

The Anglo-Boer war centenary is nearly upon us and in Johannesburg we have established a sub-committee to look into this. Durban, we understand, is also working towards the celebrations and we would assume Cape Town must also be thinking along these lines. The National Executive Committee in Johannesburg would welcome any cooperation in this regard for a joint effort. One of the ideas is that a special History Journal could be published and articles for this could already be under consideration from those members who consider themselves professional or budding History Journal contributors. Articles for the History Journal are welcomed, at any time, and it is contributions from you the members that keep the History Journal alive. Any copy of the journal will give details on how to submit articles for consideration for publication.

B E Kemsley Couldridge

Chairman National Executive Committee.

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The curtain raiser at the July 13th meeting was given by Dr Felix Mechanik. It was entitled "Tattoos and Trophies of War" and dealt with the way fighting men have been decorated, or have decorated themselves, from earliest times to the present day.

The practice started by being literally bloody. Warriors would return with body parts, captured slaves, women, severed heads, scalps and so on, and would decorate themselves or their dwellings with such trophies.

As time passed and man became more civilised (?), so practices changed. Nowadays the approved method of rewarding a warrior is with medals, ribbons and decorations.

* * *

The main lecture was given by Dimitri Friend of the Museum on the German involvement in South Africa's military heritage. This began as early as 1652, from which date until 1807 it is estimated that up to 37 per cent of the white population of the Cape was of German stock. The Dutch East India Company recruited freely throughout Europe, and this resulted in many non-Dutch nationals serving as office bearers or soldiers. Many came to play leading roles in the Cape's military affairs.

Both the Dutch and the British employed German mercenaries, and in the frontier wars Germans served either individually or as members of the German Legion under General Von Stutterheim, after whom a town in the eastern Cape is named. A member of this legion was Captain Carl von Brandis, who became the first mining commissioner and special magistrate of Johannesburg.

It was during the 19th century that the more permanent German influences began to appear, particularly in the two Boer republics where Germans played a leading role in developing the military. The only professional armies maintained by the republics were their artillery corps, which Germans officers were especially active in training, and for which they helped design uniforms with a strong German influence.

In the ZAR Germans made an important contribution to the South African military heritage through their influence on fortifications. Three of the four forts that formed the military perimeter of Pretoria were designed and built by German military engineers. German officers played a prominent role in organising and leading the various Boer units that fought in the Anglo-Boer was of 1899 to 1902.

The talk was vividly illustrated with numerous uniforms and artifacts from the Museum.

* * *

The Cheese and Wine party held before the July meeting -- for those who took the trouble to read to the end of the July Newsletter -- was an outstanding success, and many thanks are due to those who assisted with the event. After the evening's lectures the party continued, and the socialising was indeed worthwhile and enjoyed by all.

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A visit has been arranged for Sunday, 10th September, to three newly discovered forts near Rietfontein. Members and their guests wishing to participate are invited to assemble at 08h30 at the Rietfontein Military Cemetery.

Directions from Johannesburg: Take the R511 to Brits; take the Ifafi turnoff, then first left to the top of the street. Bring lunch, strong shoes and sun protection. The going is rough, but not too difficult. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the top of the ridge where the forts are situated. You can be home for tea.

* * *



10th August
CR - Kemsley Couldridge - St. Andrew, his saltire and the First Crusade.
ML - Hamish Paterson - No gold - No Swiss: The rise and fall of the Swiss pikemen.


10th August
John Yelland - Stone Age warfare.

Cape Town

10th August
R Lightley - The first British occupation of the Cape - 1795.

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George Barrell

(011) 787-1524

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