South African Military History Society


On 10th November, Mr. R.S. Glyn treated members to an updated version of his curtain raiser which he had presented a few years ago: VERDUN. Drawing on his recent experiences gained from a trip to the area, he painted a vivid portrait of the longest battle of any war, ten months in all, with frightful casualties and suffering on both sides. The battlefield is still a desert with unexploded bombs and shells resting underneath the surface, about 30 tons of metal, and visitors are asked to walk on the demarkated paths only. Mr. Glyn was especially impressed by the fort Douaumont which, after almost 70 years, is still in good shape. With the help of overhead maps and photographs he gave us a sympathetic insight into the actions of leading military figures involved in the battle, and into the vagaries of war. His talk was greatly appreciated by the large audience.

Committee member Dr. John Bleloch then spojke to us about the "Battle of Elandslaagte and the Reformers' Revenge", using graphics to great effect.

The defeat of the British by the Transvaal Republic Boers in 1881 at Majuba resulted in a legacy of bitterness. In 1895 Jamieson invaded the Transvaal, but the promised support from the Reform Movement in Johannesburg did not arrive, and he was defeated at Doornkop. Many snide comments were directed at the reformers for leaving Jamieson in the lurch.

The second Anglo/Boer war started on 11th Oct.1899. Northern Natal was highly vulnerable to Boer attacks from the East by Transvaal cowmandos and from the west by the O.F.S. forces. The British victory at Talana turned out to be Phyrric in that Yale was forced to retire with his 3.500 men to Ladysmith.

General Joubert invaded Natal and made his H.Q. at Newcastle. He ordered General Kock, who had entered Natal via Botha's Pass, to hold a position to the south of the Biggarsberg to pounce on the Ladysmith-Dundee railway line, and establish contact with the Free Staters west of Ladysmith. Two veldkornets captured a British train steaming north to supply the Dundee garrison at Elandslaagte.

Kock followed with 800 men derived from the German and Hollander contingents, the Johannesburg commandos and some Free Staters. He established defensive position on koppies to the south-east of Elandslaagte station adding two guns.

General French was sent from Ladysmith to reconnoitre the area around the station early on 21st Oct. The British guns fired several rounds at the station, and the Boers moved out to defensive positions south-east.

The British prisoners - train guard, station master and colliery manager - were rescued by a squadron of the I.L.H. This force had been organised by three prominent Reformers, and in the rank and file served many members of the Reform Movement.

French questioned them and decided that he was too weak to attack the Boer positions, and telegraphed White in Ladysmith who sent reinforcements. French consolidated his force of 3 000 men which included two batteries of 12 x 15 lb guns. He planned planned to pin down the Boer right and centre, and to outflank the right wing. After a preliminary artillery bombardment, the British advanced in open order, an innovation adopted by Hamilton, and the Boer shrapnel fire was therefore relatively ineffective. The British halted 800 yards from the koppies, taking cover in a donga, waiting for the attack on the Boer left.

This assault succeeded but casualties were high due to the open, boulder strewn terrain and a barbed wire fence which impeded advance. A fortunate thunderstorm broke suddenly and under torrential rain the attackers gained ground unobserved. The bugler sounded the charge, and the final attack was pressed home vigorously supported by superb artillery fire.

When the hills were carried by the British, the Boers fled to their laager and retreated to the north; but they were spotted, and British cavalry charged repeatedly inflicting heavy losses. When darkness fell, the battle was over and the Boers had lost 263 men, the British 363 men.

The hearty applause was certainly deserved by John, who gave us a well researched and inspired presentation.

Forthcoming lectures:

8th December
Dr.F.Machanik - Rockets of 1814
Hamish Paterson - Between Cape Town and Mauritius: The struggle for the Indian Ocean 1795-1810

12th January
Martin Ayres - Queen Victoria's other Generals
Tom Ely - The Indian Army

Durban and Cape Town Branches are in recess during December.
Tel.: Durban - Tania van der Watt (Mrs.) (031) 7462970
Cape Town - Paul Lange (021) 617 441

R 37.50 for individual members and R 45.- for family members.

SPECIAL NOTE: Due to the Christmas Season, there will be NO Newsletter for January: members are therefore kindly asked, to keep this copy for reference to our January talks and date.

The Chairman and Committee wish all Members a Merry Christmas, Compliments of the Season and a Prosperous and Happy New Year.

J. Mahncke (Chairman-S.A.M.H.S.)

Provisional Lecture Programme for

January CR M. Ayres Victoria's other Generals
  ML Tom Ely The Indian Army
FEBRUARY CR Ian Copley The Mystery of· Lt.Pilkington
  ML Ian Copley 2nd Battle of Silkaatsnek
MARCH CR K. Couldridge The Bloody Fighting 95th
  ML Video (Fighter Aces) or Lecture
APRIL   A.G.M.  
  ML G. Barrell The Roman Invasion of Britain
MAY CR L. Wildenboer The Fall of Fort Eben Emael 1940
  ML K. Gillings Natal/Boer War Talk
  ML Ayres/Couldridge/Paterson Battle Evening
JULY CR Dr.F. Machanik The Tattoos & Trophies of War
  ML M. Ayres The Duke of Marlborough
AUGUST CR H. Meinck German V 1 and V 2
  ML K. Couldridge The First Spanish Armada
SEPTEMBER CR Ian Knight "Prinz Eugen".
  ML L. Wildenboer The Battle of Savo Island
OCTOBER CR E. Leaver Florence Nightingale
  ML Terry Leaver Crimean War 1864
NOVEMBER CR   to come
  ML G. Barrell Operation Pedestal (Malta Convoy WWII)
DECEMBER CR   to come
  ML H. Paterson The Battle of Colon 1757

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