South African Military History Society

Newsletter No 297 KwaZulu Natal Branch November 1999

It was in 1994, that the Society met for the first time to spend 2 minutes in silence at exactly 11.00am on the 11th November, in order to mark the anniversary of the moment of The Armistice, which ended The First World War. In that first year of 1994, the Society met on their own in the Small Chapel in Old Fort. In the 5 subsequent years from 1995 to 1999, we have met with the MOTH'S in the Old Fort Shell Hole in a joint meeting of Remembrance. This year was the first time that the 11th November has fallen on the 2nd Thursday of the month, and so the Society held 2 meetings on that day.

A fairly full gathering met in the Shell Hole on the last Armistice Day of the 20th century, and in the 20 minutes prior to the silence, our Chairman Paul Kilmartin gave a talk on the special events of last year when, in 1998, the world marked The 80th Anniversary of The Armistice. He started by mentioning our new tradition of meeting with the MOTH'S on the 11th November and then explained how we managed to be 1 small step ahead of the Royal British Legion in the UK, who started their national campaign to recognise the 11th hour of the 11th month in 1995. But the success of that campaign in the UK has been nothing short of phenomenal, with over 70% of the population, or over 43 million adults and children, observing the 2-minute silence in 1998. Virtually the whole work place stopped, including factories and offices, the law courts, the stock exchanges, schools and universities, and much more besides. As 2 specific examples, radio and TV stations stopped broadcasting and British Airways closed down all their engines at Heathrow from 10.58 to 11.02am on the day. It was truly a day of total Remembrance by so many on the 80th anniversary.

Paul then went on to describe some of the events world wide, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and then moved to the centre of Remembrance, on the battlefields of France and Belgium. In particular he mentioned that Queen Elizabeth II and Mrs Mary McAleese, The Irish President, met for the first time and then jointly officiated at the opening of the first joint memorial to the Irish from both Ulster and the Republic who died during the 1st World War. He ended just before 11.00am with reference to the happenings at Ypres, where veterans with an average age of over 100 years, joined the Queen in services at the Menin Gate and St. George's Chapel. It was a talk that set the right atmosphere for the day, the hour and the 2-minute silence.

At the main meeting in the evening, The Armistice remained the initial focus as Paul Kilmartin gave the DDH talk on The History of The Armistice. He explained how the decision was taken to hold a service of Remembrance in 1919, 1 year after the exact hour of the end of the war, through the efforts of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a distinguished South African. He went on to explain how that ceremony changed and expanded over the years, through the introduction of the Unknown Soldier, the Cenotaph, how public response became more serious during the 1920's and 1930's, the impact of the 2nd World War, the failed impact of the so-called "peace movement" in the 1960's, the reduction of interest in the 1970's and 1980's and through to the dramatic change over the last few years when The Armistice has again become an important part of the British peoples annual calendar. After a reference back to the events on the very last day of the war on 11 November 1918, Paul called for all members present to stand in silence as part of the Societv's own Remembrance of this important and historical day.

Major John Buchan gave the main talk of the evening and his subject was the First Anglo-Boer War. This was the second of 2 talks given by John this year, reviewing the times both before and after what to day is known as the Anglo-Boer War (1 899-1902) but which in his opinion, and he gave his reasons, should more correctly be called the Second Anglo-Boer War. He felt that it was most appropriate to give this talk on Armistice Day, as the peace negotiations that followed both the First Anglo-Boer War and the First World War contributed to the outbreak of future wars.

John also made comment that this was the first Thursday meeting of the society that coincided with the anniversary of the death of Major Darrell Hall (who died on 11 November 1996) and was also the last meeting of the millennium, For this special and unique occasion, and particularly for his knowledge of both the evenings subjects, John felt that not just the opening talk, but the whole evening should be regarded as a DDH evening.

The opening part of the talk covered the period from 1814 - the British occupation of the Cape - to the outbreak of hostilities in December 1880. This included the personal role of Paul Kruger at the signing of the Sand River Treaty in 1852 and the impact of the appointment of Lord Carnarvon as Colonial Secretary in Benjamin Disraeli's government after the British election of 1874, and his intent to introduce a Federal System in what is now known as South Africa. It covered the role of Sir Garnet Wolseley as Governor of Natal in 1875, who had Colonel Colley and Major Butler on his staff, and his attempts to get to understand the Boers and the Boer commando system. Colley's visit to the Newcastle and Laingsnek areas and Wolseley's meeting with President Brand were also covered. The first move towards war started when Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed the Transvaal in 1877, using a special warrant. Kruger led the Boer opposition to this move and made 2 visits to London for talks with the government. On his return from the second visit, in September 1878, Kruger met in Pietermaritzburg with Sir Bartle Frere and Lt. General Frederic Thesiger (shortly to inherit the title of Lord Chelmsford), in order to update them on his concerns about the outcome of the talks. By this time Carnarvon had resigned and had been replaced by the abrupt Sir Michael Hicks- Beach, much to the detriment of the outcome of the talks.

At this time Frere and Chelmsford were more concerned about their plans to invade Zululand, and Kruger even took the time to explain the need for caution, including laargering, in the upcoming campaign. It was advice that was not heeded, to the great detriment of British forces in that campaign. The Battle of Isandlwana was the spur to the development of a telegraphic link, through a submarine cable, from London to the east coast of Natal. This was operational at the end of 1879 and so well before the outbreak of the First Anglo-Boer War. Wolseley was reappointed as High Commissioner after the Battle of Ulundi with Colley as his Chief of Staff. Colley returned briefly to India and finally took over as Governor of Natal, Transvaal, High Commissioner of S.E.Africa and Military Commander in July 1880. Multiple commitments prevented Colley from visiting the Transvaal where he knew many of the senior Boers. Instead he relied on reports from the Administrator, Sir Owen Lanyon, who had no understanding of the Boer mood or capability. Belatedly Lanyon asked for troop reinforcements in December 1880 just prior to the unexpected Boer action at Bronkhorstspruit, against a column of the 94th Foot, who were returning to reinforce Pretoria. This was immediately after the establishment of the Boer Republic under the Triumvirate.

Colley, with no previous field command, moved to camp at Mount Prospect, just beyond Newcastle, with 1,200 troops. He conducted 3 unsuccessful actions during the next month, all of which were covered in detail in the talk. Colley was repulsed on 28 January 1881 at Laing's Nek (the last action where the British carried their colours onto battle), suffered heavy casualties on 8 February when on escort patrol near the Ingogo River and then defeat at Majuba on 27 February. Majuba was occupied on the night of 26 February and Colley's death the next day was probably precipitated by the arrival of his second in command Sir Evelyn Wood, and learning from him that the British government were conducting negotiations without his knowledge, for an end to hostilities. Under instructions from the government, Wood signed an Armistice to end the war, and subsequently a Peace Treaty with Kruger (after Brand's assistance) at O'Neil's Cottage. A 3 man Royal Commission drew up the Pretoria Convention, which was ratified on 25 October 1881, by the Volksraad. This led to the withdrawal of the last British troops.

Due to the lateness of the hour, there were only a few questions, but all agreed that the subject of the First Anglo-Boer War was a suitable ending to a full and outstanding year for the society.

Bill Brady, our Vice Chairman, who chaired the meeting, then decided to introduce a new tradition for the society. In future there will be no vote of thanks at the last meeting of every millennium.

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 201 3983

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