South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER -- August 1997

Past meeting - Johannesburg
The Society meeting of 10th July turned out to be an Irish night, with John Murray's curtain raiser on the Irish Guards, "The Micks", and Marjorie Dean's main lecture on the War of the Kings in Ireland between 1689 and 1691.

In April 1900 Queen Victoria, then 81 years old, paid only the fourth visit of her 63-year reign to Ireland, where she had not set foot for 40 years. Her purpose was to pay tribute to her "brave Irish soldiers", who had played such a vital role in the early stages of the Anglo-Boer War, and despite the pro-Boer sentiment widespread in Ireland at the time, her three weeks there proved an outstanding success. A previous mark of this royal gratitude had been Army Order No 77 of 1st April 1900 stating that Her Majesty "has been graciously pleased that an Irish Regiment of Foot Guards be formed to be designated as the Irish Guards".
Volunteers from Irishmen serving in other guards regiments were rapidly supplemented by recruits from Ireland and England, and such was the response that the initial two companies of the first battalion had soon doubled in number, with a regimental band being added.
Lord Roberts was chosen as the first colonel. The traditional tunic of the Brigade of Guards was distinguished by a shamrock on the collar, and the bearskin by a plume to the right in St Patrick's blue. An Irish wolfhound named Brian Borhu was adopted as battalion mascot, the first of a long line.
Irish guardsmen saw active service for the first time in South Africa as participants in the 1st and later 2nd Guards Mounted Infantry. In the first weeks of WW1 the regiment took part in the retreat from Mons and subsequently in most of the main battles of the Western Front, being decimated and reformed several times. It won four VCs, 14 DSOs and 27 DCMs, but its two battalions lost 2 349 dead and 5 736 wounded.
The 2nd Battalion was stood down in 1919, and a year later the regiment barely escaped being incorporated with the Scots Guards. Prior to the outbreak of WW2 the 2nd Battalion was reactivated and a 3rd was added in November 1940. These two battalions were ultimately incorporated into the Guards Armoured Division and saw much action in the North Western European campaign. The 1st Battalion served with great distinction in North Africa and Italy. The Regiment's tally of gallantry awards included two VCs, 17 DSOs and 18 DCMs. It lost 734 killed and 1 578 wounded.
Reduced to a single battalion in 1947, the Micks served in every military theatre where the British Army was involved in the following half century. In 1996 it was redeployed as a National Defence Battalion in the ND Brigade at Pirbright.

The current "troubles" in Ireland are to a large extent the long-term results of what happened in that country when, in 1689, the deposed James II of England, with the help of Louis XIV of France, invaded Ireland in an attempt to regain his throne. James had tried to return England to the Roman Catholic religion, which was why the Protestant William of Orange, husband of James's daughter Mary, had been invited to usurp his throne. William saw the power of England as a vital element in his life's ambition to defeat the expansionary ambitions of the Catholic Louis, who in turn saw James as a god-sent pawn in his struggle against William.
The war in Ireland 1689-1691 is often referred to as the "War of the Kings", and was in fact only a skirmish in a major European power struggle.
James landed in Ireland in March 1689 accompanied by French troops, and entered Dublin 12 days later to a rapturous welcome. There he settled in comfortably, doing nothing in a hurry to fulfill either his own, his Irish Catholics', or Louis' ambitions.
Northern Ireland had been colonised in the early 17th century by mainly Calvinistic Scots, and remained determinedly Protestant. Ireland was now divided on religious lines and James' first action against the Protestants was an attempt to install a Catholic garrison in the strategic northern city of Londonderry. This was foiled when a group of "apprentice boys" -- the 17th century's equivalent of todays' activist students -- closed the city gates. Londonderry now came under siege, and appealed for help to William in London, who sent supplies. James, still in Dublin, had already sent an army into the north to wipe out Protestantism, and this was now ordered to concentrate on Londonderry. A small Protestant force was defeated by a combined Catholic army a few miles south of Derry, and was forced to fall back on the city.
Two regiments sent by William decided the situation was hopeless and turned back. James decided he could take the city if he went in person, but was fired on when he approached the gate. Resistance was stiffened when two new governors were appointed, and the poorly armed and disciplined Jacobite army had to be content with mounting a blockade, which included a boom across the River Foyle on the approach to the city.
The boom was finally broken and the siege lifted on 28th July 1689, after which north-eastern Ireland passed firmly into Williamite hands. A Williamite army under the French Marshall Schomberg landed near Belfast and was soon joined by local volunteers. It proceeded to march south. James began to panic, but the winter was approaching and both armies decided to go into winter quarters rather than do battle. The sufferings of Schomberg's troops during that winter prompted the arrival of William himself the following June, accompanied by Danish and Dutch reinforcements.
Against the advice of his commanders, James decided to withdraw his by-now outnumbered army to the River Boyne north of Dublin and it was there that "Jamie met Billy" on 1st July 1690. The Battle of the Boyne is commemorated annually by Irish Protestants. William, who had been wounded in a previous skirmish, crossed the river at noon, by which time his army was well on the way to completing the occupation of the south bank, and James's forces were beginning to break.
William entered Dublin on 6th July, having given James ample time to make his getaway. The rest of Ireland was conquered by his generals.

Members are reminded that the next meeting of the Society on 14th August will celebrate the Museum's 50th anniversary. The cash bar will open at 17h30, 5.30pm, and the first talk will begin at 18h00. Speakers will be Deputy Defence Minister Ronnie Kasrils on Umkhonto weSizwe; the Director of the SA Navy Museum, Cdr M Bisset, on the Navy's 75th anniversary; and Society committee member Heinrich Janzen on the Parade of the Imperial Light Horse on the occasion of the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1947. A finger supper, including a glass of wine, will be served from about 19h00 to 20h00. The all-in charge is R45, with all profits to go to the Museum. Although payment will be taken at the door, prior booking is advised because numbers are limited according to catering arrangements. A booking form is attached to this newsletter.

It is with sincere regret that we hear of the death of Bill Hibbard in Cape Town on 25th May. He will be best remembered as the author of the definitive book on the tribute medals of the Anglo-Boer War, as South Africa's foremost medal collector, whose interests also extended to coins, medallions, firearms, edged weapons, antiques, painting and ceramics. Bill was born in Wales on 13th July 1917 and acquired his first medal, a battered Victory Medal, at the age of 10. After leaving school he joined the British Regular Army and served in the Rifle Brigade in Palestine and the Western Desert, where he was badly wounded. After hospital in Durban he was later discharged as medically unfit. He decided to remain in South Africa and joined the University of Cape Town, from which he retired in 1979 as chief administrative research officer.


14th August
Museum's 50th Anniversary Celebration. Programme as above.
11th September
CR H Janzen Nowotny's Final Encounter -- 1844
ML BEK Couldridge The Battle of Boomplats -- 1848
14th August
Mark Coglan Pro Patria -- Another 50 Carbineer Years, 1945-95.
"The future history of the Army in the Durban Area" -- a panel discussion
Cape Town
14th August
Ken Gillings The Bhambatha Rebellion

George Barrell (Chairman/Scribe) (011) 791-2581

CR = Curtain raiser ML= Main Lecture

South African Military History Society /