South African Military History Society

Durban Branch March 1998 News Sheet No 277

Vice Chairman, Paul Kilmartin, in his usual professional way, gave us the DDH talk for our February meeting. His subject was:- "Flight Lieutenant Leslie Baveystock" and his talk was inspired by a limited edition art-print of a war painting by Michael Turner entitled "Flare Attack". It depicted a Class VII U-boat being attacked at night by a Sunderland flying boat of Coastal Command. The date of the attack was the night of 6/7 June 1944 (D-Day+ 1). Our speaker had been given the print as a Chrisunas present, but with no explanation of what was obviously a vital action. Knowing that the artist, Michael Turner only painted recreations of actual events, our speaker was curious to find out the true story behind the picture.

He then described to the meeting how he had set about this epic of historical detection. His kick-start was an obituary published in The Daily Telegraph of London which not only showed a photograph of his painting, but also gave a description of the action and the name of the pilot, F/Lt. Leslie Baveystock. Wanting to put some substance to the man, he then set about tracing Leslie Baveystock's cereer. Born in Finchley, North London in 1914, he left school at the age of 16 and was married at 20. He voluneered for the RAF in 1940 and, after one year's training in Canada, was promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant. He was posted to 50 Squadron, Bomber Command, that was equipped with the ill-fated Manchester bombers, fore-runners to the world renowned Lancaster bomber. He flew as second pilot in the aircraft captained by P/O Leslie Manser who was posthumously awarded the VC for outstanding bravery in the first 1000 bomber raid over Germany in 1942. Their aircraft was badly damaged and, being unable to maintain height, crashed into a canal in Holland. It was here that Leslie Baveystock demonstrated his amazing luck. Baling out at less than 200ft he landed on a sloping mudbank unscathed! He was also lucky in that he was in the first group that used the resuscitated "Comet" escape route from Northern Europe via the Pyrenees and Spain, back to the UK. On his return to Britain he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and posted to Coastal Command where be flew Sunderlands. On the night of 6/7th June 1944 he sank U-955 as depicted in the picture. And then on the night of 18th August 1944, his aircraft was responsible for sinking the infamous U-107 which held the record for the highest tonnage of Allied shipping sunk in a single journey during the Battle of the Atlantic. In conclusion it should be noted that only 37 U-boat's were sunk by Sunderlands during the whole of WW2 and that F/Lt. Leslie Baveystock had managed to bag two of them in just 10 weeks! For his valiant efforts he was awarded the DSO, DFC and bar and the DFM. It was a fascinating story and we greatly appreciated Paul sharing his intriguing research with us.

Our main talk for the evening was given by Dr. Audrey Cahill who chose as her subject the history of the Scottish Women's Hospital which operated on the Eastern Front during WW1. She called her talk "Between the Lines" a title derived from the fact that firstly the Hospital was at times actually located in the "Nomansland" between the trenches and secondly, that she obtained most of her facts on this little known history from reading the diaries written by young nurses who were experiencing for the first time the brutal reality of modern warfare - a far cry from their sheltered upbringing in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.
Our speaker started off with the formation of the Scottish Women's Hospitals in Edinburgh in September 1914. They were founded by a Dr Elsie Inglis who was not only a respected physician and surgeon, but had already established two hospitals in Edinburgh and was Organizing Secretary for the Scottish Suffrage Movement. Sadly her efforts were turned down by the British War Office, but the Belgian, French and Serbian Governments were not quite so disdainful. Those countries were only too pleased to obtain all the help they could and by the end of the War, no less than 14 Scottish Women's Hospitals involving over 1000 women had operated in six different countries, earning a reputation for dedicated medical care and attention. However for the purposes of this talk, our speaker concentrated on the exploits of the Scottish Women's Hospital group which operated on the Eastern Front in Romania and Russia.
On the 31 August 1916, seventy-five women, including the mother of our speaker sailed from Liverpool to Archangel in Russia, from where they travelled south by train to Odessa on the Black Sea. Shortly before they left, Romania, which had been uncommitted, declared war on Germany. The Russians, realizing that the Romanians were poorly trained used the First Serbian Division to stiffen the Romanian Army in the Dobrudga Province on their south-western frontier. As the SWH was attached to the Serbians, they were sent along with them and in the 15 months they were away from Britain they experienced a major retreat, two lesser ones, two revolutions and the start of a civil war. Our speaker concentrated mainly on the first five months of the period, describing it as seen through the eyes of the young Scottsh women.
The Eastern Front Campaign was very poorly covered by the press and what was written was a gross exaggeration of the facts. For example, the military prowess of the new Romanian allies was extolled to the skies; whereas all they excelled in was extremely rapid retreat in the face of the enemy. The young nurses were scathing in their assessment of these men, but with the Serbs it was another story. Their dogged defence with minimal support from their "allies" formed the backbone of resistance on the Eastern Front. After a series of horrendous retreats, the SWH were lucky enough to meet up with a British Armoured Car Unit which probably saved their lives in the long run. With the deterioration of the political situation, the SWH was eventually pulled out of the front line and left Russia virtually hours before the October Revolution of 1917 got under way. Notwithstanding their terrible ordeal, they later went back to Salonika where they again provided much needed field hospital and medical care services for the Serbs.
After a most interesting question time, Mrs Virginia Taylor conveyed the thanks of the meeting to our speakers for an excellent evening's entertainment.

March 12th	MAIN: "The Channel Dash - 1942" 	- Talk by fellow-member, Bill Brady.
April 9th	DDH:  "The Maldon Embroidery" 		- Talk by fellow-member, Dr Ingrid Machin.
			MAIN: "The Battle of Bergendal"		- Talk by fellow-member, Huffy Pott.
May 14th	DDH:  "John Buchan"					- Talk by fellow-member, Dr John Buchan.
			MAIN: "First Battle ofYpres - 1914" - Talk by fellow member, Paul Kilmartin.
June 11th	DDH:  "D-Day Revisited" 			- Talk by fellow-member, Charles Whiteing.
			MAIN: "The Battle of Stormberg"  	- Talk by our Chairman, Ken Gillings.
ANGLO BOER WAR CENTENARY: Our Chairman reported that he had recently made a presentation to the Kwazulu/Natal Cabinet on the proposals for the Centenary and that the Cabinet had been favourably impressed.

BATTLEFIELDS' TOUR: This year's Battlefields' Tour will take place over the week-end 12/13 September 1998 and will include the Ladysmith Siege sites. Please keep these dates open.

FUNDRAISING: In order to raise funds for our Branch, it is proposed to hold a series of second- hand book sales before our monthly meetings. Members are requested to bring along any military history books they would like to donate to the Society. These will be auctioned to the highest bidder and the funds thus obtained put towards our running expenses. Any unsold books will be donated to our Military History Library at the Bergtheil Museum in Westville.

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 /