The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 12 No 3 - June 2002

South African Military Heritage Round-up

Port Elizabeth

by Richard Tomlinson

For those members and friends who are visiting the 'Friendly City' on holiday or business, don't let our beautiful beaches and other delights distract you from the two centuries of military history which are represented by the following attractions:

Prince Alfred's Guard Memorial (1907)

An elaborate monument to the regiment's dead in four wars, manufactured by MacFarlane's Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland.

Fort Frederick (1799)

This 24-metre square stone fort encloses a powder magazine and a guardhouse and still mounts a number of early cannon. It commanded the landing place of the 1820 British settlers and the Baakens Valley.

Second World War coast artillery and radar buildings (1939-1945)

Algoa Battery with two 6-inch guns and underground magazines, three fortress observation posts, three artillery buildings on Brooke's Hill and portions of five Special Signals Service radar posts can still be seen.

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Town Guard forts and trenches (1900-1902)

The remains of two drystone forts at Upper Van Staden's Dam, 35km west of the city, and four surviving trenches in Settlers Park, date from the Anglo-Boer War.

Horse Memorial (1905)

This famous monument commemorates the thousands of horses that lost their lives during the Anglo-Boer War. At the time it was built, it was the only memorial to horses in the world.

Ron Belling Art Gallery

A superb collection of paintings of aircraft and ships by the late Ron Belling is a 'must' for enthusiasts.

SAAF Museum

A fine collection of historic aircraft and memorabilia.

Prince Alfred's Guard Regimental Drill Hall (1882)

The headquarters of the PE rifle regiment which served in the Transkei, Basuto, Bechuanaland and South African wars, contains the regimental collection with the addition of memorabilia from the recently-defunct Eastern Province Command.

Local Military History Society member Richard Tomlinson Will be delighted to assist other members visiting Port Elizabeth and can be contacted by telephone on 041 581 2108


With the march of progress and everinvading residential development, members of the Second World War Special Signals Services Radar Group are trying hard to prevent the demolition of the building remains of former secret coastal radar detection stations.

These stations were not erected to defend South Africa but at the request of Britain. In each of some 50 outposts up to 20 dedicated men and women used new-fangled radar day and night in all weather conditions to search for enemy submarines and raiders that were preying on the valuable strategic convoys conveying troops and supplies between war zones. When a possible enemy 'blip' appeared on their TV-type display, their readings directed an available aircraft to investigate and attack. Similar information saved many friendly ships from going aground in poor visibility as lighthouses were not functioning. Lost aircraft were guided.

As the South African radar operations were fairly unique worldwide, most 'alien' remains are often visited by enthusiasts, tourists, and energetic hikers. The fact that some of these sites now fall in nature preservation areas is not their salvation as mEagre budgets necessitate priority being given to the better use of the land for the conservation of flora and fauna.

Excluded from official histories, not marked on maps or signposted, will the decaying memorials have to take their secrets to the grave?

Geoffrey Mangin,
SSS Radar Group
P0 Box 44553

The McGregor Museum

Atlas Street, Kimberley

Vida le Roux Allen
April 2002

The building housing the McGregor Museum in Kimberley has a long and colourful history. It was originally built at the instigation of Cecil John Rhodes as a recuperative institution in 1897, but also served as an hotel and a convent school at various times.

Rhodes, who came to South Africa on account of a lung condition, was convinced that Kimberley was the ideal place for a Sanatorium. Not only did Kimberley have the pure dry air which people with chest and lung complaints were seeking, but there were the mines, various clubs, a library, theatre and the sporting facilities to keep the visitors busy. Never used as a health institute, but rather as a luxury hotel, people like the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, Joseph Chamberlain, and Princess Christian, stayed there.

The building served as part of the defences of the town during the Siege of Kimberley, which lasted from 15 October 1899 to 15 February 1900 during the Anglo-Boer War. Rhodes arrived in Kimberley on 10 October 1899, a day before war was declared, and took up residence at the Sanatorium. His schemes for the defence of Kimberley may have been conceived here. The British commander in charge of the defence of Kimberley was Lt Col Robert Kekewich, whose aim was not to allow the town's plight to influence the military situalion. Rhodes, on the other hand, wanted the town to be relieved as quickly as possible. This led to inevitable friction. When General French's Cavalry Division relieved Kimberley on 15 February 1900, French and Major Douglas Haig were escorted to the Sanatorium to meet Rhodes. He, and not Kekewich, was the hero of the hour.

Although intended as a Sanatorium, no medical staff was employed and in 1908 De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd decided to run the building as a luxury hotel and changed the name to Hotel Belgrave. The hotel hosted many distinguished visitors until 1931, when a depression in the diamond industry forced it to close.

From 1933 to 1970, the premises were let to the Sisters of the Convent of the Holy Family, one of the oldest schools on the diamond fields, for one shilling a year. Towards the end of the sixties, the Sisters encountered the greatest difficulty in finding teachers and were compelled to close down the school. In 1971, the Board of Trustees of the McGregor Museum reached an agreement with De Beers whereby the museum would take over the convent building, restore it and adapt it to its purposes. The research and collections staff were moved from the old building in Chapel Street. A library and school service were installed in the new building, as well as the current displays on the natural and cultural history of the Northern Cape.

Visitors today can see some of the past glory of the Hotel Belgrave, as well as enjoying wandering through the displays of Frontier History, the Siege and Relief of Kimberley, and the Envirozone, which is an outstanding display on the ecology, fauna and flora of the Northern Cape region. One of our more recent displays is the Hall of Ancestors, which depicts the emergence of prehistoric man to Homo sapiens through a variety of dioramas, models and posters. The display includes a special section depicting the San culture and rock art treasures of the region.

The rooms used by Rhodes during the siege of Kimberley have been furnished in Victorian style and the entrance hall of the Hotel Belgrave has been similarly decorated to recapture the elegant atmosphere of the past.

Through the years, residents of the town have played an important role in matters military and civil, and this is reflected in the galleries devoted to the Kimberley Regiment and well-known personalities of Kimberley. Special attention is given to the city's 'firsts'. The beautiful chapel built by the Sisters of the Holy Family has been transformed into the Hall of Religions, with displays on ancient beliefs, the living religions, biblical biology and a history of religion on the Diamond Fields. The radiant Tree of Life mosaic dominates the hall.

The centenary of the death of Rhodes was depicted in a colourful poster display titled 'C J Rhodes: His life and times' and was open to the public from 26 March to 18 April. Local schools were invited to make posters on themes of his life and a prize-giving for the winners was held in conjunction with the official opening on 27 March.

In cooperation with the Historical Society, a short video, 'Cecil John Rhodes: African Colossus' was screened in the Auditorium, on request.

Further reading

Diamond Fields Advertiser, 25 October 1895
De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, 8th Annual Report
Brian Roberts, Kimberley, Turbulent city (David Phillip in association with the Historical Society of Kimberley and the Northern Cape, Cape Town, 1976)
W C Sholtz, The South African Climate (Cassell, London, 1897)
David William Barton Yuill, The Architecture of Kimberley: 1871-1914 (MA dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, 1984)

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