South African Military History Society

Durban Branch May 1998 News Sheet No 279


Once again it was one of our lady-members who took the lead and started off proceedings on a very high note. The curtain-raiser for our May meeting was entitled "The Maldon Embroidery" and it was given by fellow-member, Dr Ingrid Machin. Like the Bayeux Tapestry which depicted The Battle of Hastings of 1066, This embroidery recounted an even earlier battle, viz. The Battle of Maldon in 991. It was a pitched battle fought between the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Essex and a vast horde of Viking raiders - The outcome of which influenced relations between the two nations for nearly a century.

Briefly, the Vikings wanted "Danegeld" or what we would call'"protection money' these days in retum for not raiding England, plundering the monasteries of their wealth and carrying off the inhabitants to be sold into slavery. On this particular occasion they sailed up the Plata River and beached their longboats on Northey Island near Ely Cathedral. This island was separated from the mainland by means of a narrow causeway and it was at this point that the two sides met. The local inhabitants under a 60 year old giant of a man called "Bryhtnoth", who was closely related to the English King Ethelred (The Unready), decided against the payment of Danegeld and prepared for battle. They were tired of the constant raids and wanted to settle the rnatter once and for all. As the distance across the causeway was too great to fight a battle, they allowed the Vikings to cross and both sides formed up into their famous shield-wall formations. A general melee followed when the prime object was "to knock the hell" (sic!) out of the opposing side. Unfortunately, Brythnoth was first wounded by a Viking spear and then had his sword arm all but lopped off. He was cut down by the Vikings who chopped off his head who took it away with them. His personal household guard fought on but the rest of the Anglo-Saxons ran away. It was a Viking victory, but at great cost. Nevertheless King Ethelred fearing further attacks paid the Danegeld of ten thousand pounds, but which was increased by continued Viking threats to forty-eight thousand pounds by 1012!

It was thought that Brythnoth's widow did the original embroidery which unfortunately was lost over the years, but was redone by the present day women of Maldon during the period 1987 to 1990 to commemorate the millennium of the battle which took place in 991.

"The Battle of Bergendal", also known as the Battle of Belfast was the title of our main talk for the evening and it was given by Mr Hufly Poft who is a part owner of the farrn Bergendal in Mpumalanga. His dedication was obvious from his enthusiastic approach to his subject. By means of anecdotes and extracts from the letters and diaries of the combatants on both sides he was able to build up a picture of the battle as seen by the men who fought in it

The battle itself was the last set piece battle of the Anglo-Boer War and marked the end of the so- called "Gentlemen's War". It also rnarked the start of the long and bitter guerrilla warire phase which lasted for nearly three years.

After the capture of Pretoria in June 1900 President Paul Kruger and his Government fled eastwards to Machadorp along the railway line to Mozambique. Realizing that the war was far from over General Roberts and General Buller sent their forces in hot pursuit and but for the intervention of General Louis Botha the Boer commandos would have dispersed. The latter, together with General Ben Viljoen persuaded their followers to rnake a last stand at the edge of the Escarpment near Belfast in what is now known as Mpumalanga. They felt that the terrain was ideal for the Boer tactics - that is, a flat field of fire with plunging ravines and krantzes to hide their horses and wagons. Also Botha felt sure that the British would repeat their fatal folly of following the railway line. He formed his line along an 80 km front pivoted on a rocky kopje on the farm Bergendal. He left only 74 ZARPS to defend this kopje and placed his main force on either flank.

General Buller approaching from the south immediately realized that this kopje was the key to the defence of the whole line and using one of the heaviest artillery bombardments of the war, eventually cleared it, but at great cost to his own forces. At one stage he nearly lost his guns when a Boer Commando noticed that they had fallen far behind his main force and tried to cut them out. The battle started on the 21 August and only ended on the 27th August 1900 when, after the capture of the kopje at Bergendal, the Boer line collapsed and their commandos dispersed in all directions. The battle was remarkable for the extreme courage displayed on both sides and the previously despised ZARPS won universal acclaim for their magnificent defence at Bergendal when only 74 of their number held the kopje against the might of Buller's Army.

However, the battle did allow President Kruger to escape to Mozambique and, as has been mentioned previously marked the beginning of the guerrilla war stage which was to continue until the bitter end of the war on 31 May 1902.

After a long and as usual, an extremely informative question time, Ken Gillings, our out-going Chairman thanked our speaker for a most interesting talk.

AGM: The results of our nomination/ballot were as follows:- Chairman: Paul Kilmartin, Vice Chairman: Bill Brady, Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Ingrid Machin, Scribe: John Yelland, Committee members: Phil Everitt, Ken Gillings, Prof Mike Laing and Dave Matthews.

May 14
DDH : "John Buchan" - Talk by fellow-member, Major John Buchan
MAIN "The First Battle of Ypres-1914"-Talk by fellow-member, Paul Kilmartin
Jun 11th
DDH : 'D-Day' Revisited" - Talk by fellow-member, Charles Whiteing
MAIN "The Battle of Stormberg" - Talk by our Chairman, Ken Gillings.
July 9th
DDH : "Dieppe" - Talk by fellow-member, Prof Mike Laing.
MAIN: "Churchills in the Anglo-Boer War Context" - Talk by Mrs M Richards.
August 13th
Visit to the Natal Carbineers in Pietermaritzburg to be arranged.
September 10th
DDH : "Zukhov and the Khalkin Goll"- Talk by fcllow-member,Prof Mike Laing.
MAIN "Arnhem" - Talk by fellow-member, Pat Budd.
September 12/13th
Battlefields Tour - "Ladysmith Siege Sites".
October 8th
DDH "The K-Class Submarines" - Talk by fellow member, James Porteous.
MAIN "The Siege of O'Kiep" - - Talk by fellow-member, Dave Matthews.
November 12th
DDH "Patton and Pearl Harbour" - Talk by fellow-member, Prof Mike Laing.
MAIN "The Military Brilliance of Shaka"-Talk by Dr Alex Coutts

BATTLEFIELDS' TOUR: "Ladysmith Siege Sites"- September 12/13 1998 - DIARISE!

ANDY MAY PRINTS: Fellow-member, Andy May is selling prints of his Transvaal Staats Artillery Uniforms Series at R16,00 each. Also in postcard size at R22/set of 4 [Tel:(0930) 31608]

BERGENDAL BATTLEFIELD TRAIL: For a horseback trail of the Bergendal Battlefield contact Mr Huffy Pott on Telephone: (013) 751 3604 for further details.

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.

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

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