South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER -- May 1997

Past meeting - Johannesburg
Annual General Meeting
The financial health of the SA Military History Society remains good as it enters its 32nd year, although this time the financial statements showed a small deficit.
The minutes of the 31st AGM were read by Hon Treasurer Mr Mike Marsh, who explained that the R955 loss for the year, which compared with the previous R861 surplus, was due almost entirely to an increase in the printing costs for the journal. During the year the membership of the Society fell from 491 to 448.
In his report on the past year's activities, Society Chairman Mr Kemsley Couldridge explained that the fall in membership was due mainly to the inevitable decline in the number of older members whose interest in military history arose from their own war service. He decribed the task for the future as being to expand the numbers of younger members and their attendance at lectures.
He thanked all committee and society members for their support during his period in office, with special reference to Mr Mike Marsh for his work as Society Treasurer. He then stood down as chairman in accordance with unwritten custom, having served two years in office.
Nominations for Executive Committee Chairman were called for and Mr George Barrell was elected unopposed. His first act as new chairman was to move a vote of thanks to his predecessor for two very successful years.
It was announced that two executive committee members had resigned; Mrs Jenny Copley, a former chairman of the society, and Mr John Murray. Three new members were elected: the Rev N R Campbell, Mrs Marjorie Dean and Mr Colin Dean. The committe now comprises:
  • Mr George Barrell (Chairman and Scribe)
  • Mr Mike Marsh (Treasurer)
  • Mr Heinrich Janzen
  • Mr Martin Ayres (Deputy Chairman)
  • Capt I C Little (SAN)
  • Lt Col Prof Ian Copley
  • Mr B E K Couldridge
  • Lt Col Dr Felix Machanik
  • Mr Louis Wildenboer
  • Mrs Marjorie Dean
  • Mr Colin Dean
  • Rev N R Campbell
  • Mr Hamish Paterson (Museum Representative)
  • The Roderick Murchison Memorial Prize for the best contribution to the Journal during the year was awarded to Mr Stephen Miller for his article "Lord Methuen and the British Advance to the Modder River" which appeared in the December issue. He was unable to receive it in person, however, as he is in the United States.

    The joint winners of the Dr Felix Machanik prize for the best lecture of the year were Mrs Marjorie Dean for her talk on the Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Mr Kemsley Couldridge for his talk on the Battle of Bannockburn, 1314. So it was an all-Scottish affair.

    It was announced that Mr George Barrell had donated a prize to be awarded for the year's best curtain raiser. This will include curtain raisers delivered in the current calendar year, and subsequent years.

    The lecture for the evening was given by Capt Ivor Little on the "Scottish Navy". It was a sequel to a previous curtain raiser in which Capt Little mentioned some of the many adventures of allied merchantmen in World War Two, and featured one particular merchant fleet. This was the Glasgow-registered Clan Line, which justified its being dubbed as a navy because of its shear size -- in its heyday between the wars it numbered close to 60 ships -- and the fact that its officers wore rank markings identical with those of the Royal Navy.
    Founded in 1878 by Charles Cayzer, a London-born shipping clerk who at 15 had sailed as a Master's clerk from London to Japan, and who, after various ventures into shipping, conceived the idea of a direct shipping service operating from Liverpool and Glasgow to Bombay.
    The line's first ship was the Clan Alpine, and prominent in its distinctive livery was the company crest of a red lion rampant, irreverently known as "The Little Red Monkey". As the line grew, its services were extended to Colombo and southern Africa -- a number of its ships were requisitioned by the British Government during the Anglo-Boer War -- and eventually to Australia and New Zealand.
    When war came in 1914 the 56 ships of the Clan Line, totalling one-quarter million tons, immediately found themselves in the thick of the action. Some were requisitioned. Two were sunk by the German raider Emden in the Indian Ocean. One, the Clan Macgillivray, built in 1911, became a hospital ship for ANZAC troops during the Gallipoli campaign, and actually survived both world wars to soldier on until 1949. Several others were torpedoed, one on its maiden voyage only two days after completion. Another, the Clan Mactavish, was sunk by the German raider Moewe, and its captain was subsequently berated by the Moewe's captain for his cheek in putting up such a spirited resistence. Altogether the Clan line had lost half its ships by the time the war ended.
    After a period of rebuilding and acquisitions the line entered WW2 with a total of 46 ships, three of which were promptly requisitioned while still on the stocks at Greenock. One of these, commissioned as HMS Bonaventure, became a depot ship for midget submarines and it was four of these that launched the successful attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in September 1943. They later operated with great success against the Japanese.
    In operations and incidents too numerous to mention, Clan Line ships serving in various capacities were torpedoed, bombed and sunk throughout the war. One, the Clan Fraser, was bombed in Piraeus harbour and subsequently blew up doing enormous damage, which included nearly destroying her sister ship the Clan Cumming. Another, the Clan Buchanan, was intercepted on her way from Durban to Colombo by the German raider Pinquin and, although her crew of over 100 were taken as prisoners without loss of life, when the Pinquin herself was sunk 10 days later by the cruiser HMS Cornwall, only 13 of them survived. In a voyage to South Africa in May 1941 the Clan Macquarrie sank a U-boat by running over it.
    The Clan line lost 30 ships during WW2, and on average 70 per cent of their crew members went down with them. By 1950 the fleet was back to its pre-war strength of 48 vessels, new building having been supplemented by "Empires", "Oceans" and "Liberties", standard constructions of the war years. In June 1958 the Scottish Navy took its last offensive action when the Clan Mackinnon was commandeered by the Royal Ceylon Navy to evacuate 600 Tamils from Colombo, to the north of the island, returning with 67 Singhalese.
    By 1955 the Clan line owned 99 ships, the largest fleet under the British flag. But shipping profits were falling, and the number of ships began to shrink inexorably. The Scottish Navy ended its long and illustrious life in 1985.

    It is with regret that we record the death of Alexander Charles Mowbray Tyrrell, a founder member of the society and a former Deputy Director of the Museum. Tyrrell was a volunteer member of the London Scottish before emigrating to Johannesburg in 1937. As a member of the SA Engineers he served in North Africa and Italy during the war. Afterwards became Commander of the Westpark Commando and Brigade Major of 18 Brigade (Citizen Force).


    8th May CR George Barrell The experiences of a teenager in the blitz
    ML Louis Wildenboer The battleship

    12th June CR Flip Hoorweg Footnotes to D-Day
    ML David Ransom The growth of the RAF

    8th May Paul Kilmartin The Battle of the Marne

    Cape Town
    8th May Display/discussion presented by members of the Cape Militaria Collectors' Society
    George Barrell (Scribe)
    (011) 791-2581

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    CR = Curtain raiser ML= Main Lecture

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