South African Military History Society

Durban Branch August 1998 News Sheet No 282

The DDH talk for our July meeting was given by fellow-member, Prof Mike Laing who chose as his subject "Why Dieppe?" In a style typical of the late Major Darrell Hall, he tantalized his audience with the "why's" and "wherefore's" of the infamous Dieppe Raid of 1942. With clinical precision he dissected all the "official reasons" put up so far and then proceeded to demolish their creditability with subsequent facts. He said it would appear that there was a high degree of "grandstanding" for the benefit of the Russians who at that stage were taking the main brunt of the German onslaught and were not at all convinced that the British under Churchill were that keen on taking the war to Germany by initiating a second front. In the press at the time the Dieppe Raid was described as a great victory, but in the light of subsequent facts, it could only be regarded as a disaster of major proportions. The Canadians forces which had been stationed in England for the two years prior to the raid and who were perpetually pestering Churchill to see action, had been sacrificed and were all but annihilated.
"Operation Rutter" as the operation was originally called, included battleship and heavy bomber support plus paratrooper and glider units had been aborted due to bad weather, but with the flall of Tobruk on the 21 June 1942, it was resuscitated just over a week later as "Operation Jubilee", but without all the previously mentioned assistance!
It was finally launched at 05h00 on 19 August 1942 shortly alter Churchill had paid Russia a visit and while he was in Cairo. When advised of the debacle, Churchill immediately ordered that the whole affair should be played down and that it was to be regarded as a "reconnaissance in force"!
Our speaker then went on to query why it should have been Dieppe of all places? Being a holiday resort flanked by steep cliffs on both sides, it was of little military importance, but it did have some historical significance in that it was the port from which William of Normandy had launched his invasion of Britain in 1066. Also it was the port from which the original Catholic missionaries had sailed for Canada in 1600. Also there was a basin in Dieppe harbour called "Bassin du Canada". Such connections would have appealed to Churchill's sense of history and our speaker felt that the blame should be laid at Churchill's feet, especially as the Churchill family had spent many summer holidays there and knew the whole area intimately. In support of this view our speaker used a quote from one of Churchill's books which read like a confession.

Our main talk for the evening was given by Maureen Richards who introduced herself as the "Siegetown Lyre" (please note the spelling - not "Liar" as many of you may have thought). Her talk centred on "The Churchills in the Anglo-Boer War", but ranged far and wide, encompassing various aspects of the of the Siege of Ladysmith and the Anglo-Boer War in general.
Using quotations from various writers, our speaker painted word pictures of the various members of the Churchill family who were associated with South Africa in the Anglo-Boer War. She started off with Winston from his "premature" birth in 1874, through to his difficult childhood and schooling and his "cram college" efforts to get into Sandhurst. She covered his subsequent failure to attain sufficiently high marks to get into the infantry (preferably the 60th Rifles) and his training and early military career in the cavalry. To quote his daughter on the subject, "....nothing in his childhood or his youth pointed to Winston Churchill's diverse talents or to the destiny which awaited ...." Yet he did show that reckless bravery and the courage to say what he thought which was to be the hallmark of his career for the rest of his days.
It was in the cavalry that he found his true potential. He served in India and Egypt and took part in one of the last cavalry charges of that type of warfare at Omduraan in 1898. But he soon lost favour with his superior officers for his outspoken comments and criticisms in his writings of their campaigns. It was through him that the British Army barred all serving officers from acting as war correspondents. At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he resigned his commission and went out to Southern Africa as a war correspondent for The Morning Post. It is thought that his capture at Chievelcy in the famous attack on the armoured train was due to his determination to get into Ladysmith to see his friend and mentor, G.W.Steevens, who was also a war correspondent and who had been unable to get out of the town when the Boers laid siege. His escape from Pretoria and his return to Natal are well known as are his comments on the Spionkop debacle where he was placed under arrest by Warren when he tried to point out what was wrong in the British attack. Buller admired young Winston for his leadership qualities and it was his friendship that allowed him to ride as a member of the SALH in the final relief of Ladysmith. Unfortunately, G.W.Steevens had died during the siege and all he could find was his grave. Shortly after this Winston Churchill returned to England and started his career as a politician.
The other members of the Churchill family to feature in the Anglo-Boer War were his aunt, Sarah Wilson,. his mother, Jennie Churchill, and his brother, Jack.
Sarah Wilson was ten years older than Wmston and was the youngest daughter of the Duke of Marlborough. She was also a war correspondent, but was caught in Mafeking at the outbreak of war and Baden-Powell had the "pleasure" of her company for the duration of the siege....
Jack Churchill was Winston's younger brother. He was wounded at the Battle of Spionkop and invalided home shortly afterwards. But it was Jennie Churchill who was to make her mark. Her husband, Lord Randolf Churchill had died in 1895 and her future husband, George Went had been appointed Aide-de-camp to Gen.Metheun on the Western Front. Jennie was determined to be with her two sons and George, so she organised the purchase and commissioning of a 200 bed hospital ship called "The Maine" and headed for Southern Africa. She arrived at the Cape at the same time as Gen.Roberts who inspected the vessel prior to its departure for Durban. Unfortunately, George had been wounded at the Battle of Modder River and had been invalided home. She also heard the news that Winston had been captured and escaped and that Jack had been wounded. She met up with her two sons at Durban and spent some time with them in the Drakensberg. She eventually married George in July 1900, but they were divorced in 1913. She subsequenfly married Montagu Porch, a man also much younger than herself in 1919, but died in 1921 at the age of 67.
After an informative question tune which at times resembled a "skinder" session, the Rev Ernest Pugsley thanked our speakers for a most interesting and amusing evening.

BATTLEFIELDS' TOUR Members interested in attending are requested to make their hotel bookings as soon as possible as accomodation could be in short supply. There appears to be another tour taking place on the same weekend using the same hotel.
This organization Is running a Battlefields' tour on the weekend of 12/13 September 1998 to Ladysmith!. Also there will be a tour to Zululand on the 21-23 January 1999 to mark the 120th Anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana. For further details please phone (031) 202 6174.
This event is being held from 4-11 October 1998. Please telephone Steve Lundestedt at (0531) 81 4006 for further details.
Andy May has brought out a large selection of A4 and postcard size colour prints of the uniforms of the various units that fought in the Anglo- Boer War at R22 per set of six cards or R16 per A4 size print. The sets immediately available are as follows:-
No.1 - Natal Colonials;
No.2 - Siege of Ladysmith;
No.3 - ZAR Staatsartillerie;
No.4 - O.V.S. Artollerie Corps;
No.5 - Boer Commandos;
No.6- Boer Foreign Volunteers.
In preparation:- No.7- Highland Brigade at Magersfontein; No.8- Battle of Talana.. Also planned are:- Siege of Kimberley, Siege of Mafeking, Siege of Ladysmith, Naval Brigade, Cape Colonials, British Imperial Volunteer units; Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Rhodesian contingents and the various Police units that also took part. Also still available are his Anglo-Zulu War 1879 prints. For flirther details contact Andy May at Unit 163, Pvt Bag X4, Port Edward 4295 or telephone (03930) 31 608.

Lecture programme

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 21 3983

South African Military History Society /