The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 16 No 2 - December 2013

Maritzburg College pays tribute to Border War fatalities in historic year

By Matthew Marwick

About the Author

Matthew Marwick matriculated from Maritzburg College in 1988, and well remembers the school assembly in late 1987 at which the school body noted a minute's silence in honour of Dylan Cobbold. He served his National Service in the State President's Unit (1989-1990), where he earned the award for Best Recruit in Basic Training in April 1989 and took part in the ceremonial drill squad that performed at the historic Opening of Parliament in Cape Town in February 1990. A former attorney, he has taught history and economics at his old school since 2004. He is the chairman of the Maritzburg College Archives Committee.

KwaZulu-Natal's oldest boys' school, Maritzburg College, paid tribute to thirteen of its past pupils who died in the Border War and related conflicts, with the unveiling on 25 May 2013 of a new Border War Memorial. In an eventful and memorable year, in which the school celebrated the 150th anniversay of its founding on 2 March 1863, the Maritzburg College cqmmunity was able to pay homage to eight Old Boys (known locally as 'Old Collegians') who were killed in action in Angola, the former South-West Africa (now Namibia) and the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and a further five who died while on active duty. The ceremony took place on the busiest day on the school's calendar, Old Boys' Reunion Day, which in 2013 saw many thousands of Old Collegians descend on their Alma Mater from far and wide for the annual gathering of the Maritzburg College tribe.

2Lt Cobbold's former school friends, fellow paratroopers
Craig Davel (left) and Kevin Rhodes (right),
immediately after the unveiling of the new memorial

Although not all of the thirteen men were killed in what is generally regarded as the Border War - two were killed in action in Rhodesia and one died as a National Serviceman in 1991, at least a year after the end to that conflict - the school's Archives Committee erred on the side of inclusivity in its recognition of its fallen sons, rather than perhaps absolute battlefield accuracy. Uniquely, the new memorial has taken the form of the military headstone of 2Lt Dylan Chevalier Cobbold, who, while on secondment to the Reconnaissance Commandos of the SA Special Forces and engaged in Operation 'Firewood', was killed in action on 31 October 1987, during an attack by paratroopers and Special Forces on a SWAPO base near Nindango, in southern Angola. He was 19 at the time. His brothers and father were amongst the attendees at the morning ceremony, as were former paratroopers Craig Davel and Kevin Rhodes (who had also been schoolmates of Dylan). Sgt-Major Michael Bond represented the country's oldest regiment, the Natal Carbineers, to which the school has been officially affiliated since 1935.

Second Lieutenant Cobbold's body was initially buried with military honours in the Roman Catholic church in the family district of Winterton, where it lay until 2010, when his remains were taken under the care of his family. His gravestone was delivered to the school only days after the 25th anniversary of his death, on Remembrance Day 2012, and has been added to the outside wall of the school's Memorial Chapel, which itself was erected in 1952 in honour of the 129 Old Collegians who died in the Second World War (1939-1945).

Indeed, the school's martial tradition is a proud one, like many of the schools of its ilk, dotted around what was once the British Empire. Ever since the days of Foundation Scholar, Trooper Robert Erskine of the Natal Carbineers, Maritzburg College's first battlefield casualty, all the way back in 1873, the young men of the old Pietermaritzburg High School and, after 1888, Maritzburg College, have not shirked their duties to 'Queen/King and Empire' and, more lately, their country. Over 800 Old Boys from what was in 1914 still a small school, enlisted in the First World War, from which war 100 did not return. Old Boys have fought and died in nearly all the modern conflicts in which South African servicemen have seen action - from the Colonial Wars of the 1870s, to the South African War (1899-1902), the World Wars, Korea and the Angolan conflict - and its Roll of Honour of 261 names is amongst the highest for a school in South Africa. Although one is mindful of the human tragedy that this tally entails, it is nonetheless a source of quiet pride to the school and its legions of Old Boys.

However, that the past pupils of the school have for generations shown some enthusiasm for the bearing of arms is perhaps not that surprising. After all, it was because of the grisly deaths of seven of his former pupils at Isandlwana in 1879, and four more in other colonial battles and skirmishes, that the headmaster subsequently known as 'the Father of Maritzburg College', Mr Robert Douglas Clark (MA (Oxon)), came up with the martial school badge of a crossed carbine and assegai, as well as the school motto of Pro Aris et Focis. For Mr Clark, his College boys had perished defending 'Hearth and Home'. Also, not for nothing has the grim legend of the school's three horizontal colours of red, black and white been passed down for nearly 120 years: that the white strip represents the white colonial settlers of old Natal, the black represents the Zulu people surrounding them, and the red the bloodletting that they inflicted upon each other!

The Memorial's inscription

While the lamentable state of today's South African National Defence Force offers few attractions to contemporary Maritzburg College Old Boys eager to continue this martial tradition, over two dozen have found gainful employment in the British Army - especially in the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and The Rifles. That unashamed Victorian, 'Old RD', would have approved, methinks.

For the record, the names of the Old Collegians remembered on the Border War Memorial are as follows:

Killed in Action  Died on Active Service 
M Erasmus 1974  P Middleborough 1966
PV Phipson 1976  MJ Evan 1975
NT Ash 1977  B Eudey 1982
C Chapman 1977  S Bowles 1986
AJ Dawson 1978  RA Levin 1991
WR Dawson 1982    
LP Hough 1982    
DC Cobbold 1987    

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