South African Military History Society


Both the curtain raiser and the main talk at our February meeting were given by the same speaker, committee member and past chairman of the society, Professor Ian Copley. His first subject was the mystery of what happened to 2nd-Lt. T D Pilkington of the 1st Royal Dragoons, who was killed in July 1900 at the First Battle of Silkaatsnek. He then outlined the history of the Second Battle of Silkaatsnek fought three weeks later.

Professor Copley explained how, when researching the first battle, he had noticed that although regimental records listed Pilkington, who was at the time attached to C Squad, Royal Scots Greys, as having been killed on 11th July, there was no mention of him in the local cemetery records.

In his book "On Commando", Dietlief von Warmelo not only describes how Pilkington died from loss of blood from a leg wound, he also accurately pin-points the exact spot, which can still be identified. Yet the official casualty roll recorded Pilkington's death as happening elsewhere the day before. The mystery called for investigation.

The vital clue was provided by Dr. Paul Dunn of Malvern, England, who had read Professor Copley's article on the first battle in the June 1993 issue of the SA Military History Journal, and who wrote to say that he knew the site of Pilkington's burial from an album he owned that had been compiled by the young soldier's mother.

The album contained pictures of two memorials. One was a Celtic cross on a barren site somewhere in Caithness, at the north-east tip of Scotland, from where the family originated. The other is in the Brompton Cemetery in London, where the family was living at the time.

It is the latter that marks the last resting place of 2nd-Lt. Pilkington, whose body was subsequently exhumed from its original burial place in Silkatsnek and shipped back to England.

Professor Copley is to be congratulated on an excellent piece of historical detective work.

A plaque has recently been installed in the Garden of Remembrance at Rietfontein. A small informal commemoration service was held on Sunday 15th February attended by representatives of the Military History SoCiety, the National Monuments Council, the Hartbeespoort Town Council and the Heritage Association.

Father William Rapp, Chaplain at the Swartkops Air Force Base, led the service, and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded by a bugler from the SAMS Band.

The Second Battle of Silkaatsnek was fought on 2nd August 1900. It was a natural sequel to the First Battle, although the participants' roles were reversed with the Boers instead of the British defending the nek. The brunt of the attack was borne by the 1st ArgylI and Sutherland Highlanders on the left and the 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment on the right, all under the command of General Hamilton.

In the ensuing scramble up the rocky gully in the eastern buttress overlooking the nek, Private William House of the Berkshires won the VC while attempting to rescue his mortally wounded sergeant.

The artillery picture was the same as in the first battle, except that there were more and heavier guns firing from Rietfontein on the British side. The Boers had none.

It was intended that the attack should be assisted by a force moving westward on the northern side of the Magaliesberg, but it failed to be in position in time to trap the retreating Boers. A mounted infantry advance along the crest of the mountains, which could have saved the Berkshires some of their casualties, was also delayed.

An interesting parallel with the First Battle of Silkaatsnek was that the last resting place of the VC hero Pte. House also went missing from the official records. House committed suicide in 1911 while on garrison duty at Dover, but it was not until 1994 that his grave was discovered and suitably recognized. A special display concerning Corporal House can be seen in the Berkshires' Regimental Museum at the Wardrobe in Salisbury.

FREE: To a good home. About 35-40 copies of the Bulletins of the Fort Beaufort Museum containing interesting and varied information from around the mid-l9th century on the British Kaffir Wars and actions in the area.
Phone Cynthia Villa (011) 609-4588

* * *



9th March - J Mahncke - The German anti-aircraft auxiliaries in WW2 (A personal experience)
K Couldridge - The Bloody Fighting 95th A rifle regiment of innovations

- Fighter Aces (Video) or lecture

20th April Annual General Meeting
G Barrell - The Roman Invasion of Britain


9th March - M Mitton - An illustrated talk on the history of policing

Cape Town:

9th March - T Shearing - Active Service in the Boer War
-- by Capt. Lawrence Oates of Antarctic fame

* * *


Please photocopy. Don't mutilate your newsletter!

Society Braai -- 24th March 1995 -- R20 pp. inclusive.

Name .......................... Tel ..................

Number of persons ......

Cheque enclosed for R ..............

Send to G. Barrell, P 0 Box 874, Pinegowrie, Randburg, 2123,

* * *

George Barrell

(011) 787-1524

* NOTE* Fast mirror and backup site      BOOKMARK FOR REFERENCE     Main site * NOTE*

South African Military History Society /