Our Annual Dinner on the 12th December last was the final function of our Society's programme for 1998. And what a year it proved to be - it could only be described as "vintage"! As far as the dinner was concerned, once again the rains came down, but we had a good turn-out. The venue was all that it was cracked up to be and the widechoice, set-menu, excellent. Our hearty thanks go out to fellow-members, Mike Laing and Phil Everitt for their sterling efforts in organizing this function.
Unfortunately, our first meeting of 1999 was not quite so successful. It would appear that during the break the video machine had gone missing, believed stolen! In addition a standby unit had gone on strike and despite desperate efforts on the part of Phil Everitt, our resident electronics' "fundi," it would not operate.
Our first talk was a report-back from fellow-member, George Chadwick on the activities of his Durban Metro Committee for the Anglo-Boer War Centenary. Our speaker described how the "Gateway to the Battlefields" concept came into being and what it was all about. He said that as Durban had been the only port of access for the British troops coming into Natal during the Anglo-Boer War, it was felt that some recognition should be made of Durban's efforts even at this late stage, which would also entertain present- day tourists on their way to the Battlefields in Northern Natal. Accordingly a busy programme of events had been prepared which featured such activities as the Symbolic Welcome to the Troops at the Dockside, a combined Photographic, Philatelic, Numismatic and Militaria Exhibition, a Military Ball, the Rededication of the Wyatt Road Cemetery and Commemorative Services for the Concentration Camps, the unveiling of a replica of Percy Scott's 4.7in Naval Gun as built at the NGR Workshops, a March-past by representatives of the various overseas and local military units which took part, the Re-enactment of Winston Churchill's speech on the steps of the then City Hall, a Music Hall Concert, a Traditional Musical Evening and the Symbolic Departure of the Troops to the Front. These functions would take place at the start of the Anglo-Boer War Centenary from the l6th to the 20th October 1999. In addition there would be on-going visits to various Anglo-Boer War sites of historical importance which would be designated in much the same way as the present "Milescapes Tours". Our speaker concluded by asking that anyone who would like to assist with any of these events should contact him.
Our speaker for the DDH talk was fellow-member, Major John Buchan who attempted to cover the highly controversial "POW and Refugee Camps of the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War". It was an enormous subject and the short introductory DDH time was quite insufficient to do it full justice.
Our speaker started off with the problem of the 60000 refugees who fled from the Boer Republics before the start of the War. These refugees arrived in three waves. The first wave was mostly the rich who arrived in September and settled in such places as the Mt Nelson Hotel in Cape Town. The next was the middle-class and professionals who paid their own way, but the last group was mainly the working class who were subsidized by a disaster fund set up by the various Rand mining houses. All these had to be accommodated in special camps set up in Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Yet another group was the 7 000 Zulu mine- workers, who walked the 250 miles from the Reef to the Natal border just as hostilities were beginning. This feat was organized by a Mr Marwick of the Natal Native Affairs Dept who obtained "safe conduct" passes from Kruger himself. An interesting aside to this was that the Boer forces commandeered 400 of these mineworkers to assist them in manhandling their siege artillery on the heights near Majuba!
The next camps described by our speaker were for the burghers who surrendered voluntarily alter Roberts' March 1900 Proclamation. Gen. Louis Botha vigorously opposed this surrender, as he wanted to continue the struggle guerilla-style and ordered that everything belonging to these "handsuppers" should be confiscated and/or destroyed. When the guerilla phase started, British retaliation to those burghers who had gone away on commando was similar and when Kitchener took command, it became ruthless, notwithstanding Roberts' November 1900 Proclamation controlling the indiscriminate destruction of the Boer farms. The women and children so displaced were put into what became known as the Concentration Camps as per the "consentra" camps used by the Cubans in their war against the USA in 1898. Due to inadequate supplies, lack of equipment and ill-trained staff; the conditions in these camps became horrific with the mortality rates, especially among the children, of monumental proportions.
Our speaker continued with the arrival of Emily Hobhouse and her subsequent report to the Opposition Liberal party in England, which drew public attention to the plight of these Boer women and children. This resulted in the formation of the "Ladies Committee" under Millicent Fawcett. Their brief was to investigate and report on the claims made by Emily Hobhouse. After a four-month inspection tour of the various Concentration Camps in Southern Africa, their findings, for the most part, concurred with Emily Hobhouse's complaints and a vast improvement resulted in spite of the on-going typhoid epidemic, which added to the catastrophe.
Our speaker then turned to the problem of the African Concentration Camps which both Emily Hobhouse and the Ladies Committee ignored completely, even though well in excess of 14 000 deaths were recorded. He then mentioned the dozen Concentration Camps that were located in Natal and noted that the wives of both President Steyn and General De Wet were imprisoned in the camp at Fort Napier, as was Dan Pienaar.
Finally our speaker went on to describe the POW Camps in St Helena, Bermuda and Ceylon where many of the Boers were imprisoned. He concluded with a brief look at the treatment of the British POW's captured by the Boers which included the famous incident when Lord Methuen was wounded and captured by De La Rey at Tweebosch. Unfortunately, lack of time precluded any discussion on this most controversial subject.
The main talk of the evening was given by fellow-member, Bill Brady and his subject was the "Battle for Berlin - 1945". He had gone to the trouble of preparing a video on his subject, but it was not to be. The substitute VCR could not be coaxed into showing his handiwork, but it was here that our speaker's true professionalism came to the fore. Nothing daunted he gave us one of his most thorough and lucid analyses of the events leading up to this great battle and its aftermath.
The "Battle for Berlin" was the last major engagement fought in Europe in WW2 and, because of the immense repercussions it had on the rest of the world for nearly half a century, perhaps the most controversial. In painstaking detail, our speaker showed that had the Western Allies made Berlin their primary target as Montgomery had proposed, instead of adopting Eisenhower's "broad-front" strategy, most of Europe would have been spared the ravages of Communist domination and the Cold War. He started off by outlining the situation in Germany in the Spring of 1945 when German military strategy had ceased to exist. Their forces were in disarray and comprised elderly and teenage conscripts. Their equipment had been disabled or destroyed and most of their Officer Corps had been exterminated following on the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in mid-1944. But such was Hitler's domination that he still commanded complete obedience even though his cause was irretrievably lost. Even at that late stage, he felt that his enemies were exhausted, would quarrel amongst themselves and agree to a negotiated peace.
Rather than be accused of disloyalty, his remaining generals fell into line with his insane plans. However, Hitler was not so far off the mark in his assessment of the Allies. On the Eastern Front, the Russians had reneged on the Yalta agreement and were installing Communist controlled governments in the countries they had liberated and in the West, the Americans overruled the British on the capture of Berlin. In addition Eisenhower approached Stalin directly telling him that his forces would not go beyond the River Elbe. As has been mentioned Montgomery wanted a direct thrust through Northern Germany to Berlin, but Eisenhower, on the instigation of a report from Omar-Bradley, adopted the broad-front approach preferring to mop-up isolated pockets of resistance that had already been outflanked and swing their line of advance away from Berlin to face a non-existent threat in South-east Germany and Austria. His argument was that the potential loss of life would have been enormous, but he was totally wrong. The German Army on the Western Front could only offer token resistance as the bulk of their forces were concentrated against the Russians in the east. Even at that late stage, Hitler believed that the Western Allies would combine with what remained of his army to fight against the Bolsheviks.
As it turned out the Russians reached Berlin first and took their revenge agains the Germans for their previous atrocities. The city was annihilated and its inhabitants slaughtered, raped or sent into slavery in Siberia. The result was that although the war was over, it was lost politically for the West. For nearly half a century Eastern Europe was lost to Soviet domination and the whole world was embroiled in the Cold War.
Knowing Bill Brady, we can be rest assured that his video presentation would have been top-line and can only hope that we have the opportunity of viewing it at some time in the not-too-distant future. After a hesitant start to our usual question time, Prof Mike Laing conveyed the thanks of the meeting to all our speakers for an evening, not without problems, but interesting and entertaining all the same.
TOUR ADVANCE WARNING: To accommodate the Anglo-Boer War Centenary, our Battlefields' Tour will take place on the weekend of the 8/9th May 1999. This time it will be to Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift and Talana. Please diarise. Numbers will be limited. Also a panel of speakers to supplement Ken has been planned and anybody who would like to assist is asked to contact Ken Gillings on (083 654 5880).
ANGLO-BOER WAR CENTENARY: We start off the Centenary with a meeting on the 9th September 1999 with a panel discussion on the "Origins and Causes of the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902". We appeal to our members who may have interesting points of view in this regard to come forward to be included in this panel. Please contact Ken Gillings on (083 654 5880)
BATTLEFIELDS' TOUR GUIDES: Pam McFadden is running another course for Tour Guides on the 15/16 March 1999. Cost R500,00. Please contact her on (0341) 22654 for further details.
TWO IMPORTANT NOTICES
1. On the very day we were planning to send out our monthly newsletter, we learned that Janice Farquahson will be unable to make the journey from Pretoria on 11 February, and so will not be able to address the society at our February meeting. We hope to agree a new date with her for early next year.
Fortunately, Garth Benneworth has agreed to fill the gap and will be our main speaker in February. He was originally scheduled to speak to us at the March meeting on the Battle of Driefontein, and at very short notice he has agreed to bring that date forward.
Your committee hopes that as many members and their friends as possible will attend the next meeting, as Garth is travelling up from Cape Town - at his own expense - in order to address the society. The full details for the February meeting are as follows:
Thursday 11 February 1999: Time 7.30pm.
DDH : Capt. EDWIN SWALES, VC:
Speaker: Paul Kilmarrin
MAIN: THE BATTLE OF DRIEFONTEIN:
Speaker: Garth Benneworth
We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at this meeting.
2. It is time for us to start finalising names of those members who wish to attend the society's Battlefield Tour on the week-end of 8/9th May 1999. The tour this year will be to Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift and Talana to mark both the 120th and 100th anniversaries of these famous battles.
After the great success of the 1998 tour, when nearly 100 members and friends joined the Ladysmith tour, we have decided that due to the extra distances to be travelled and the limited availability of hotels etc, we would like to limit the numbers to 60. We have therefore booked accommodation through the Lennox Cottage in Dundee for 60 people and agreed a special price of R150 per head, for dinner, bed and breakfast. Our thanks to Ken Gilling's negotiating skills!!.
If you wish to book, or need further information, please ring: PAUL KILMARTIN on 268-7400 (O), 561-2905 (H) or 082-449-7227(Cell).
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 21 3983