South African Military History Society


The SA Military History Society entered its 31st year in sound financial health, although with a continuing slow fall in membership. This was gist of the report presented by Hon. Treasurer Mr Mike Marsh to the society's 30th annual general meeting on 11th April. There was a small surplus of R861 on the accounts for the year, and membership now stands at 491, down from a high of 583 in 1990.

Society Chairman Mr Kemsley Couldridge thanked the executive committee members for their services during the year, with special commendation to Mr George Barrell and Mr Mike Marsh for their work on the monthly newsletter. He offered himself for re-election as Chairman, and returned unopposed. The following members were elected to the committee.
Mr Kemsley Couldridge (Chairman)
Mr Mike Marsh (Treasurer)
Mr George Barrell (Scribe)
Prof. Ian Copley
Mr Martin Ayres
Mrs Jenny Copley
Dr Felix Machanik
Mr John Murray
Mr Hamish Paterson (Museum Representative)
Capt. Ivor Little (SAN)
Mr Louis Wildenboer
One new committee member was elected, Mr Heinrich Janzen.

Museum Director General Pretorius explained that the outlook for the future of the museum is even bleaker than it appeared a year ago. It is expected that when the long-awaited Government White Paper on national museum policy is published it will disclose an intention to amalgamate the Military History Museum with a number of basically cultural museums mainly situated in Pretoria. The General appealed for the society's support in opposing such a move.

The Roderick Murchison Memorial Prize for the best contribution to the Journal during the year was awared to Prof. Ian Copley for his article "The Second Battle of Silkaatsnek", which appeared in the December 1995 edition.

The second annual award of the Dr Felix Machanik Prize for the best lecture of the year was split three ways, between Mr Louis Windenboer for his "Battle of Savo Island", Mr George Barrell for his "Roman Invasion of Britain" and Messrs Martin Ayres, Kemsley Couidridge and Hamisn Paterson for their "Second Carthaginian/Punic War"

. The evening's curtain raiser was given by author/journalist, Ian Knight, a well-known expert on Zulu military matters. His subject was the impact that the possession of firearms had on Zulu battle tactics.

Well before the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879, the Zulus had come to appreciate the military value of firearms, and had begun to accumulate them in considerable quantities with the help of the numerous European traders then active in the region. However, the hardware generally available to them through these channels tended to be the out-dated cast-offs of European armies and of doubtful military value when used against more modern weapons.

Moreover, the Zulus never developed any really effective tactic for employing their firearms to the best advantage. They tended instead to use them as a substitute for their traditional throwing spears, and as merely a support for the shield and stabbing-spear methods that had served them so well in their wars against other Africans.

All these deficiencies came together in 1879 when the Zulus found themselves facing a British army equipped with modern firearms and using well-drilled tactics based on their use. Following their surprise victory at lsandlwana, the Zulus were unable to repeat their triumph against a much weaker force at Rorkes Drift, despite their occupation of a hill overlooking the site. A few weeks later their weapons were unable to save them from total defeat at their capital, Ulundi.

The conclusion was that the possession of firearms made little difference to the Zulu's battle tactics because their weapons were out-dated and thus ineffective, and they never worked out how best to use them.

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The main lecture of the evening was given by Mrs Marjorie Dean on the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion in Britain and the Battle of Culloden, fought 250 years ago in April 1746.

Culloden marked the final defeat of the attempts of the Stuart "pretenders" to the British throne to regain what they had lost when James II was deposed in the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688.

The Stuart King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, succeeded to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. His son Charles I was beheaded in 1649 at the end of the English Civil Wars, and the subsequent interregnum lasted until his son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660. Charles died without legitimate issue, and was succeeded by his brother James, who embodied in full measure the Stuart characteristics of arrogance, pig-headedness, and a firm belief in their divine right to rule. Above all, he was an overt Papist, and made no secret of his intention to return Britain to Roman Catholicism.

Exiled in France, James was succeeded by his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William, both Protestants, who reigned as joint monarchs. Unlike his brother Charles, James did have male issue, and his son James, dubbed "The Old Pretender", never surrendered his claim to the throne. This suited his French hosts, who were constantly at war with Britain and found James a useful asset.

With French help James made two half-hearted attempts to retrieve his inheritance, but by 1745 the French had virtually abandoned his cause and he had retired to exile in Rome. However, this son Charles, The "Young Pretender", and the Bonnie Prince Charlie of romantic legend, was then 25 years old and heartened by the recent defeat of a British Army under the Duke of Cumberland, son of the reigning British monarch, and the commander he knew he would have to meet in battle, he decided it was now or never.

He landed from a French man-o'-war on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, where at first his reception was decidedly cool. But during his progress to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, he gathered support from various Highland clans, and on his arrival in the city he was greeted enthusiastically. In November 1745 he began his march on London, where the panic mounted with every mile he drew nearer. The Highlanders had a fearful reputation for savagery.

By December the ragged army of about 5 000 men had reached the English city of Derby, less than 200km from London, winning a battle against a Royalist army at Prestonpans, just south of Edinburgh, and collecting a few recruits on the way.

What happened next was one of history's many might-have-beens. After much anguish Charles was persauded by his army commander, Lord George Murray, to abandon his march on London and instead to retreat to the clans home ground in Scotland.

This gave the Royal commander, the Duke of Cumberland, time to gather his forces and set off in pursuit of the Prince's by-now much dispirited army. The two eventually met at Culloden, south of Inverness, in a battle that turned out to be more of a massacre. Outnumbered, out-gunned and out-manoeuvred, Charles' ragged army was annihilated in less than an hour for the loss of only a handful of Royalist troops. So ended the last battle to be fought on British soil. Charles eventually escaped to France and permanent retirement in Italy.

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9th May
CR - Louis Wildenboer - General Erwin Rommel
ML - Terry Leaver - Battle for Crete, May 1941

13th June
CR - Martin Ayres - Possible causes of Napoleon's death
ML - Kemsley Couldridge - The Battle of Bannockburn


9th May
Paul Kilmartin - The Battle of Mons - August 1914

Cape Town

9th May
Col. O Baker - History of the British Commonwealth Ex-service League

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George Barrell

(011) 787-1524

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