South African Military History Society


The curtain raiser at the 10th August meeting was given by society chairman Kemsley Couldridge on the subject of St Andrew, his Saltire and the First Crusade.

St Andrew is first mentioned in the St John's gospel. In AD 60 he was crucified at Patras in Asia Minor, and subsequently became the patron saint of Patras, Constantinople, the Greek Orthodox Church, Greece, Russia and fishermen.

In AD 370 some bones claimed to be relics of St Andrew were brought to Scotland by St Regulus, also known as St Rule, in his mission to Christianise the Scots. A legend dating from the 12th century had it that an X-shaped cross, resembling a saltire, appeared in the sky during the war waged against the Scots in 936-7 AD by King Athelstane, son of Alfred the Great, and was read as a favourable omen. After an initial setback, however, Athelstane was victorious and became the first true king of the whole of Britain.

Legend concerning the saltire gives way to fact only at the time of the First Crusade in AD 1096-99. When the western armies reached Greece on their way to the Holy Land they encountered saints they had never previously heard of including, among others, St George and St Andrew.

Being far from their own saints, and already in a precarious condition through disease, lack of food, and their debilitating habit of regularly fasting for three days, they transferred much of their veneration to the new patrons. At the subsequent siege of Antioch the servant of the Flanders knight Raymund of St Giles, Peter of Bartholomew, who was on the verge of starvation and losing his eyesight, had a vision in which he claimed he saw a young man he took to be Jesus Christ, and an older one with sandy hair sprinkled with grey who was introduced as St Andrew. The pair explained to Peter where he could find the Holy Lance, an important relic and powerful weapon that could help the Christian cause.

After their victories the returning crusaders held St Andrew in high esteem. They brought from Greece a cross purported to be St Andrew's, and this was subsequently exhibited on its beam end at the St Victor's Convent near Marseilles. St Andrew replaced St Rule as the patron saint of Scotland, and from that time on has always been portrayed in Christian art as an old man with a long and sandy coloured beard holding a saltire.

* * *

The main lecture was given by Hamish Paterson, was entitled: No Gold, No Swiss, and described the rise and fall of the famed Swiss pikeman. The rise of the Swiss to military prominence began in 1291 with the "Eternal Union" of the three forest cantons, Uri, Schwytz and Unterwalden.

Raiders from the Union took advantage of the chaos that followed the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, a Habsburg, whose succession was contested by a Bavarian claimant, to attack and sack an abbey on Habsbung territory. They then declared themselves to be loyal supporters of the Bavarian. This led to a Habsburg army being sent against them, which they soundly defeated in an ambush at the Swiss village of Morgarten in November 1314.

This victory, achieved by peasants over armoured knights under Leopold of Austria, established the military reputation of the Swiss and encouraged them to adopt an aggressive policy towards the Empire and its Habsburg rulers. It also led to territorial expansion as other cantons joined the Union to form the Swiss Confederation. By 1353 the combined number of cantons had risen to eight.

In response to continuing Swiss aggression, an imperial army, supplemented by mercenaries recruited throughout Europe, marched on the Confederation and was defeated at the Battle of Sempach in 1386, thus adding further to the military prestige of the Swiss. The ultimate accolade of the best and most ruthless troops in the world was earned soon after Sempach when the Swiss destroyed the pretensions of Charles the Bold of Burgundy. By now they were much in demand as mercenaries, hence "no gold, no Swiss".

In 1422 the Swiss infantry abandoned the halbert, hitherto their main weapon, for the pike, a somewhat cumbersome implement measuring over three metres in length but nevertheless deadly against a heavily-armoured adversary whether mounted or on foot. However, the "puissant pike", as Shakespeare dubbed it, proved no match for the new firearms that were beginning to dominate the battlefield, and at the battle of Bicocca in 1522, while in the employ of the French, the much-feared Swiss were defeated by a Habsburg force using arquebus and mobile artillery.

After this they were never the same self-confident and ruthless troops as they had once been.

* * *

Members and their guests are reminded that a visit has been arranged for Sunday, 10th September, to three newly discovered forts near Rietfontein. Those wishing to participate are invited to assemble at 08h30 at the Reitfontein Military Cemetery.
Directions from Johannesburg are to take the R51 1 to Bnitz, then the Ifali turnoff and 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 the top of the ridge where the forts are situated. You can be home for tea.

* * *



14th Sept
CR - Ian Knight - Prinz Eugen.
ML - Louis Wildenboer - The Battle of Savo island


14th Sept
Paul Kilmartin - Field Marshal Lord Haig

Cape Town

14th Sept
Prof. M Bredekamp - The Pandour Regiment, 1795

* * *

George Barrell

(011) 787-1524

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

South African Military History Society /