The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 7 - December 1970

Tribute to the late Major Robert Jameson Southey, ED


The news of Major Bob Southey's death at the age of 71 years on 13th June, 1970, was received with great regret by his military, business and sporting friends, and the crowded funeral service at St. Martin's-in-the-Veld was testimony to his popularity and esteem. Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife, daughter and son.

First photo

Major R.J. Southey.

Bob Southey was a student at St. John's College, Johannesburg, but completed his education at Diocesan College (Bishop's), Cape Town. At the age of 17 years he enlisted with the South African Field Artillery and participated in the Palestinian Campaign in the First World War. It was not long after demobilisation that he tound his way into the Transvaal Scottish Regiment and was commissioned soon after the 1922 Revolt.

He was a keen cricketer and a member of The Wanderers Club; this association enabled him to inaugurate the annual Wanderers versus Transvaal Scottish cricket match, which became one of the prominent social events of Johannesburg, in the days when the Wanderer's Cluh occupied the site of the present railway station. These annual matches influenced several prominent cricketers to join the Regiment.

Another sphere in which he became prominent was in connection with the annual military tournaments, which were held on the north ground of the old Wanderers Club.

Bob Southey served in all three battalions of the Transvaal Scottish and became 2 i/c to Lt. Col. Walter Kirby, MC, in the 3rd Battalion in the last war. He was L.O.B. at the time of Sidi Rezegh and succeeded to the command of the remnants of that Battalion after that memorable battle. Finally, he became 2 i/c to Colonel Frank Smitheman in the Cape Corps Regiment in Egypt. He was mainly responsible for the collection of material for the history of the 3rd Battalion Transvaal Scottish, as recorded in The Saga of the Transvaal Scottish.

During the years he made a fine collection of military badges, which he presented to the MOTHS Centre in Johannesburg. Needless to say, he took a great interest in the S.A. National War Museum, giving both time and expert guidance on early battles which took place on South African soil and on the regiments that took part in them. He was a member of the Fund Raising Committee for the new museum building.

After his retirement from business, he was able to take his seat on the Transvaal Scottish Regimental Council and was appointed Chairman of the committee to bring the Regimental history up to date after 1950, the year when the Saga was published.

He took a great interest in the care and maintenance of war graves and was able to give considerable assistance and advice in this connection to the S.A. War Graves Board. Another duty entrusted to him was to locate the graves of members of the Transvaal Scottish who had fallen in the industrial disturbances of 1914 and 1922. The result of this is that the Regimental Council has been able to renovate the graves (where necessary) and mount plaques on them. This was accomplished just prior to Bob's death.

Those who are interested in military history, and knew Bob Southey personally, regard him as being in the higher ranks of this field. He was one of the brethren who experience that peculiar thrill when standing on ground where brave men confronted each other in years gone by. With map in hand he could form a picture in his mind as to what happened and the advantages and disadvantages of various dispositions.

He was the founder of the firm R. J. Southey (Pty.) Ltd., painting and thermal insulation contractors, and, when visiting his contracts in various parts, he must have looked at practically every battlefield of importance and military cemetery in South Africa.

Fairly recently, Bob's enthusiasm persuaded him to visit the Gallipoli battlefields and, like many of us who are interested in these things, had promised himself a return visit, which, regrettably in this case, was not to happen.

Bob's enthusiasm for these things and his quiet manner will be missed by all who knew him.

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