The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 16 No 4 - December 2014

Conference held at the Talana Museum, Dundee, 19-21 October 2014

By Ken Gillings
KwaZulu-Natal Branch, South African Military History Society

Gert Theart (War Museum of the Boer Republics, Bloemfontein) -
'Photographs of the Anglo-Boer War the storyteller'.
Gert, a passionate student of military history, helped to illustrate why this was the first media war.

Professor Johan Wasserman (University of KwaZulu-Natal) -
'Imaging the Natal Rebels of the Anglo-Boer War'.
Johan's presentation on the Natal Rebels covered a lesser known aspect of the War. Who could blame the descendants of the Voortrekkers who had shed blood for its acquisition from joining their blood brothers from the two Boer Republics?

Professor Fransjohan Pretorius (University of Pretoria) -
'Painful, humiliating, immoral, despicable. Boer propaganda on commando during the Anglo-Boer War'.
One of South Africa's internationally renowned authorities on the war, Fransjohan tackled another controversial topic in style; he even gave us an example of the way the burghers sang!

Meurig Jones (researcher, United Kingdom) -
'Remembrance: Memorials to the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902'.
Wherever one travels throughout the Commonwealth, one will come across memorials and statues linked to the War.

Steve Watt (historian, Pietermaritzburg) -
'An analysis of the deaths of Imperial servicemen during the Anglo-Boer War'.
Author of In Memoriam, Steve is a long-standing member of the South African Military History Society and is undoubtedly its leading authority on Imperial casualties from the War.

Charles Leach (historian, Limpopo Province) -
' ... of a Lion and Eagle: the story of Constable Charles William Eagle'.
This account of an unusual American Indian, who arrived in South Africa too late to participate but remained with the South African Constabulary, highlighted the role played by foreigners of so many nations in this war.

Professor Philip Everitt (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban) -
'Plodding and ponderous or perceptive and visionary - the tactics of Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren in Natal'.
A leading authority on Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren, Professor Everitt proves that his subject was not the incompetent general so many of his critics have portrayed him and was a victim of circumstances.

Robin Smith (historian, KwaZuluNatal) -
'Three Boers denied amnesty by the terms of the Peace of Vereeniging'.
Robin describes himself as a 'collector of battlefields' and is a valuable member of the Military History Society who relishes researching lesser known aspects of the war.

Captain (SAN) (Retired) Charles Ross (former Secretary South African Agency, Commonwealth War Graves Commission) -
'The role played by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the maintenance of war graves in Africa'.
As head of the CWGC South African Agency, Charles spearheaded the renovation of many derelict military cemeteries and neglected memorials in South Africa. His presentation took us through the now vital role played by this remarkable institution.

David Biggins (UK-based author and leading authority on medals) -
'Queen's South Africa Medals with the Talana clasp'.
Having authored a work on the Battle of Talana, it must be very special for David to have made a presentation on the Talana clasp on Talana Battlefield on the 115th anniversary.

Dr Jackie Grobler (University of Pretoria) -
'The war diary of Johanna van Warmelo Brandt as an historical source; an evaluation'.
Jackie's topic was unique and his clinical evaluation of Johanna van Warmelo Brandt was yet another piece missing from the jigsaw of this remarkable combatant.

Ms Daphne Olivier (author) -
'Nurse Kate Champion and Intombi Camp during the Siege of Ladysmith'.
Author of Thunder on the Veldt, Daphne's talk on Nurse Kate Champion brought to life the feminine aspect of the war and the vital role played by nurses, especially in the appalling conditions at eNtombe (Intombi) Camp outside Ladysmith. _

Prof Donal McCracken (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban) -
'An unlikely war correspondent - Michael Davitt'.
Donal is undoubtedly the South African expert on the role played by the Irish on both sides during the Anglo-Boer War. His presentation was made with the usual humour coupled to the Irish determination to fight for their beliefs, whether allied to Boer or Brit.

Dr Arnold van Dyk (War Museum of the Boer Republics) -
'The Malherbe Corporalship of the Pretoria Commando'.
Arnold has played a vital role in the preservation of our heritage at the War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein. In his talk, he shared a fascinating aspect of this sub-section of the Boer forces which included Denys Reitz.

Ms Sarie Mehl (Great-granddaughter of Lodewyk de Jager) -
'A case of lodgement: Loodjie de Jager and his trial'.
Sarie was able to speak with authority about her great-grandfather, Commandant Lodewyk de Jager and his trial and the terrible impact it had on his and his family's life after the war.

Professor Stephen Badsey (Professor of Conflict Studies in the Department of History, Politics and War Studies & Co-Director of the First World War Research Group, University of Wolverhampton, UK) -
'Just twelve years on. British generals and their Anglo-Boer War experience'.
This is Professor Stephen Badsey's fifth visit to South Africa. He cannot stay away from our battlefields. What a privilege it was for us to have him present a paper and share the fruit of his research with us.

Ian Uys (author, historian and former National Chairman of the SAMHS) -
'Delville Wood'.
Ian is a legend in South African military history. He has written extensively on the war. The Battle of Delville Wood proved beyond any doubt the unity, fortitude and resilience of the Springbok soldier.

Louis Eksteen (Curator, Fort Amiel Museum Newcastle, KwaZuluNatal) and

Dr Gerhard Genis (Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria) -
'Comparative study of the experiences of South African soldiers in the Anglo-Boer War and the Great War'.
Louis and Gerhard gave a comparative study of the soldiers' experiences during the two wars.

Rory Reynolds (medals expert, Pietermaritzburg) -
'Robert Fyfe King - Mayor of Dundee and his links with the Anglo-Boer and Great wars. Collecting and researching his medal'.
Rory's research took us on a fascinating journey into an individual's history which is akin to an octopus whose tentacles end up wandering into all sorts of nooks and crannies.

Johan Wolfaardt (Potchefstroom University) -
'Edged weapons of the Transvaal from contemporary photographs'.
A budding military historian, this young researcher delved into an unusual topic that included photographs of the most amazing array and assortment of swords and other edged weapons worn by Boer leaders.

Professor Louis Changuion (Professor Emeritus, University of the North, author and authority on Long Tom guns) -
'The death of lord Kitchener'.
Another legend in military history research, Louis gave a spell-binding presentation into the mysterious last days of the man whose face became synonymous with Great Britain's war effort: 'Your country needs YOU!'

Dr Spencer Jones (Senior Lecturer in Armed Forces and War Studies, University of Wolverhampton and Regimental Historian for the Royal Regiment of Artillery) -
'From the Anglo-Boer War to World War One: How the British Army learned from Brother Boer'.
Dr Jones addressed the conference via a memory stick and his presentation did not disappoint. Professor Badsey, his tutor, answered the questions inspired by his paper.

Ken Gillings (author and military historian, SAMHS KwaZulu-Natal Branch) -
'The Anglo-Boer War: curtain-raiser to indirect fire by field artillery'.
Ken Gillings' paper dealt with the use of indirect fire by the Boers during the Battle of Spioenkop, 24 January 1900, which resulted in converging fire on the summit, experimentation by the British during the Battle of the Tugela (Thukela) Heights in February 1900, followed by a creeping barrage, and advances in artillery between the two world wars, including the use of FOOs (Forward Observation Officers) during the First World War.

Leon Strachan (military historian, Harrismith) -
'The Boer guerrillas: an untold story. The influence of guerrilla tactics and British counter-tactics on the First World War.'
Boer guerrilla tactics were a learning curve for many armies. Its impact on Great Britain was seen after Dunkirk, when a man with South African links was tasked by Churchill with establishing a unit to conduct unconventional operations behind German lines, which he suggested might be named 'Commandos', Churchill liked the suggestion and the Regimental March of the Royal Marine Corps is 'Sarie Marais'; enough said!

Dr Phylomena Badsey (University of Wolverhampton, UK) -
'The AngloBoer War: The training ground for nurses in the First World War.'
One of the most significant lessons of the Anglo-Boer War is undoubtedly the medical aspect and the enormous strides made in this regard. Dr Badsey covered her theme thoroughly, highlighting the compassionate role played by women such as Emily Hobhouse. We look forward to her book on this aspect of warfare.

Dr Mark Coghlan (Provincial Museum Service, KwaZulu-Natal, author and Regimental Historian, Natal Carbineers Pietermaritzburg) -
'Sol Plaatje, the 1913 Land Act and World War One'.
Sol Plaatje became famous for his role in Mafeking during the Siege, and used his skills to continue to promote his desire for justice for Black people who were deeply affected by the War and its aftermath.

Concluding remarks and thanks

All of the speakers at the conference provided an insight into aspects of war that covered the theme: 'From the Anglo-Boer War to the Great War'. In particular, the Afrikaans-speaking researchers must be commended for presenting in English to accommodate our overseas guests. Our appreciation also goes to those who chaired the sessions. In true military tradition, most of them were 'volunteered': Pam McFadden (Talana Museum), David Scholtz (SAMHS National Committee), Sandy Buchanan (SAMHS Johannesburg Branch), Prof Philip Everitt (SAMHS KwaZulu-Natal Branch), Pat Rundgren (Isandlwana/eNdumeni Shellhole, MOTH) and Ernie Saks (SAMHS Johannesburg Branch).

Have we progressed as a nation? I would like to think so. In 1913, former adversaries were welded together into a united nation, albeit with a degree of reluctance. There is nothing unusual in that. During the Great War, as we heard from Ian Uys, the Springbok soldier, English speaker and Afrikaner, fought with great distinction not only in South-West and East Africa, but also on the battlefields of Europe.

History repeated itself in 1994, when former enemies were welded together into a single defence force in South Africa - something that must be truly unique in the annals of military history, proving, as it did post 1902, that it is the politician who commits a nation to conflict and it is the soldier who has to sort out the mess.

This conference would not have taken place had it not been for the outstanding support from the staff of the Talana Museum, led by the dogged determination of the Curator, Ms Pam McFadden. The Museum is situated in the heart of the Battlefields Region and plays a vital role in attracting visitors from all over the world to this corner of 'The land of Heaven', KwaZulu-Natal.

Today, Battlefield Tourism is an important sector of this country's economy but especially that of KwaZulu-Natal. According to statistics provided by the KwaZuluNatal Tourism Authority:
* Tourism contributes 16% towards South Africa's economy and 8% to that of KwaZulu-Natal;
* There were 146106 international visitors (including travellers from the African continent) to heritage sites in KwaZulu-Natal; their spend was approximately R1billion in 2011;
* Domestically there were 206 000 trips to the Battlefields; their spend generated R138 million in 2011;
* The number of jobs directly and indirectly supported by this sector is estimated to be approximately 7 500.

Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home page

South African Military History Society /