South African Military History Society

Durban Branch August 1997 News Sheet No 271


"THE HISTORY OF PADRES" was the subject of our DDH Memorial talk for July and it was given by fellow member, the Reverend Ernest Pugsley. The present day "Padre" looks after the spiritual welfare of the ordinary soldier, but it was not always like that. Our speaker, by means of anecdotes, traced the development of the Padre from Biblical times to the Gulf War. The "Chi-rho" cross which is the insignia of the modern day Chaplains comes from a vision of a fiery cross by the Roman Emperor, Constantine on the eve of his battle against his rival, Maxentus. The word "Chaplain" comes from the Latin word "capella" which meant a soldier's cloak. St Martin of Tours, himself a Roman soldier, tore his cloak in half to share it with a beggar. Subsequently, it was carried into battle by the various Frankish kings as a holy relic and its guardian was known as a "capellar"' or in modern day English: a "Chaplain". However, it was not until Cromwell's time that England had a standing army and it was at that stage that the function of the Chaplain began to change to the form as we now know it. From being a talisman or harbinger of good fortune, the Padre of today is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the rank and file. Incidentally, it is thought that the term "Padre" comes from the time of the Peninsular Wars or maybe even from the Portuguese in India.

Our main talk for the evening was the "FALL OF FRANCE - 1940" and it was given by fellow-member Bill Brady. Using slides, overhead projections and video extracts, our speaker in his precise and concise style, traced the events leading up to this disaster from the end of the Great War in 1918 to 1940. The Treaty of Versailles reduced Germany to a token force while France emerged as the dominant military power in Europe. The Weimar Republic which was formed as a result of WW1 was barely tolerated by the German people. It was fine while the economy was sound, but the Wall St Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression resulted in its demise and the coming to power of Adolf Hitler. He promptly removed the shackles of the Versailles Treaty and began to re-arm Germany thereby creating full employment which led to economic recovery and his own enhanced popularity.

When Germany re-occupied the Rhinelands in 1936, France ignored the threat believing that their Maginot Line would contain any future military aggression. France wanted to avoid the carnage of another "Great War" at all costs. Hitler realised that the Western Democracies were lacking in resolve and pushed ahead with his expansionist policy of "Lebensraum" He occupied part of Czechoslovakia and the resultant "Peace in our Time" Munich Conference of 1938 confirmed his view. He also recognised that the Russians were a threat to his Eastern frontier and that to buy time he had to play them off against the Western Allies. Poland was his trump card and the German/Russian Pact offered Russia what the West could not - half of Poland. In September 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and ignoring the Anglo/ French declaration of war on Germany, he sorted out his Eastern frontier problem. The Allies had hoped Poland would be able to hold out until the spring of 1940, but Poland surrendered within weeks. Next he turned his attention to Denmark and Norway and with his Atlantic sea-board secured, he began his conquest of Holland, Belgium and France. The Germans opted for "Operation Sichelschnitt" which would cut through the weakly defended Ardennes with a left-hook movement to the English Channel to cut off France from her Allies. On May 10th 1940 the German offensive began.

Holland and Belgium were invaded and the Allies were convinced it was the Schlieffen Plan all over again. They advanced from their previously well fortified positions to assist the Low Countries and fell into the trap.

The main thrust of the German Army ignored the Maginot Line and cut through the Ardennes reaching the English Channel by May 20th. The "Miracle of Dunkirk" is another story, but it allowed the trapped BEF to escape back to England and the French were left to fend for themselves.

The French High Command went to pieces and sacked their Supreme Commander. For three days they were without an effective leader. Fortunately, Hitler decided to hold back and re-group. A defence line was established along the Somme, but De Gaulle's armoured forces were no match for the Germans who outnumbered them by 2:1. The Germans broke through and entered Paris on June 14th. Churchill was determined that France should continue the war against Germany and even proposed a joint Anglo/French Empire. Paul Reynaud, the French Premier was in full agreement, but could not persuade his cabinet to accept. As a result, he resigned and Marshal Petain, the new French leader, sued for peace. Hitler insisted that the French sign the Armistice in the very same coach at Campiegne that Marshal Foch had used for the German surrender in 1918. Hitler's revenge was complete.

After a lively and interesting question time, fellow-member Dave Matthews thanked both speakers for their superb and entertaining talks.

BERGTHEIL MUSEUM : HAND-OVER OF BOOKS: At a short ceremony on 22nd July 1997, a large collection of Military History books and magazines was handed over for safe-keeping to the Curatrix of the Bergtheil Museum in Westville by our Chairman, Ken Gillings. The Museum has very kindly offered to house this collection for general use and any donations of further books and book-cases would be gratefully received.


September 11th
Video:The Buller/Botha Debate.
Video: The Affiliation Ceremony of The Royal Regiment of Wales and 121 Battalion at Dukuduku

KIMBERLEY BATTLEFIELDS' TOUR: Please contact Ken Gillings (031) 267 0008 for details should anyone else be interested in going on this tour.

CONDOLENCES: The members of the Durban Branch of the Society wish to convey their sincere condolences to our Chairman, Ken Gillings and his wife Heather and son, Douglas on the recent loss of their beloved son and brother,Russel who died after a long illness bravely borne.

The venue for all meetings will be the 1st Floor lecture theatre, Dept. of Civil Engineering, University of Natal, Durban, which is housed in the building on the right of the Memorial Tower Building (opposite the entrance to the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre), commencing at 19h30 on the second Thursday in the month. Please bring your own refreshments and glass. VISITORS AND INTERESTED PERSONS ARE WELCOME TO ATTEND. Charge R2,00 - Students and Scholars free.
Tania van der Watt (Mrs)
Secretary: Durban Branch
Box 870 Hillcrest 3650
Telephone: (031) 764 2970

South African Military History Society /