South African Military History 


Newsletter No 96 /Nuusbrief Nr 96 September 2012

Editors’ note: Due to the addition of the field trip report, the regular slots on Websites and Books have been omitted for this month. In the open house series, John Stevens gave an overview of the Falklands War of 1982, arguing that the outcome was far from certain. With Argentine making a major strategic error in the timing of the invasion and both sides making tactical errors during operations, the British were in many respects fortunate to have triumphed in the conflict. The curtain raiser titled Francois Edward Davis was presented by Richard Tomlinson. Davis came from a family in the Bedford District and at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) he joined Nesbitt’s Horse, a colonial cavalry unit based in the Eastern Cape. By March 1901 he had, however, decided that he could no longer fight against his own people and when Kritzinger’s commando came through, he deserted to them at Struishoek in the Somerset East District. He accompanied them to the Orange Free State and was taken prisoner with four other burgers on a farm in the Wepener District on 15th October 1901. Davis was sent to Graaff-Reinet for trial, found guilty of high treason on 1st December 1901 and sentenced to death by firing squad.

On 22nd January 1902, while Davis was imprisoned in Somerset East, he wrote a letter to his siblings asking them to bring his wife and small daughter to see him one last time. This was granted and the visit took place two days later. He told his family that he had woken up one night to a bright light in his cell and saw an angel in white standing there. The angel said he had brought a message to make him ready, as he was condemned to death. He swooned, and when he came to, realized that God loved him and he was no longer afraid.

Before dawn on 25th January, at a small drift across the Bosch River on the Pearston road west of Somerset East, a large group of spectators assembled, ‘voluntarily’ according to the Somerset East Budget, despite public executions having been banned by Kitchener six months earlier. A grave had been dug and an empty chair and two bags of slaked lime placed next to it. Fourteen Royal Fusiliers had fallen in 25 paces from the grave. At 06h00 an ambulance wagon drawn by two mules approached and got stuck in a muddy pool; Davis offered to extract it as he said he was a good driver, but this was declined and the soldiers managed to move the wagon. The prisoner climbed down and was tied to the chair with cord around his feet, arms and trunk, then blindfolded, the chair leaning back at the edge of the grave. The soldiers’ rifles had been loaded, some with live ammunition and some with blanks, and none knew which. On the command of the officer, they took aim and fired. The condemned man’s head jerked back and his body and the chair fell backwards into the grave. A Doctor Legge examined the body to make certain that Davis was dead, as a death certificate was required. Lime was spread over the corpse and the grave filled in. Eight days later a violent thunderstorm partially washed away the grave, exposing a chair leg and Davis’ foot. The grave was opened, the chair burned and the grave closed again. Someone picked up the screws from the chair and sent them to Davis’ widow with a note as a warning to others who do not ‘honour their king’. In 1982 Taffy Shearing interviewed a 93-year old man who, aged 12, was ordered with his siblings and parents to witness this execution, and he corroborated these details.

When this account was written in 1998 by Graham Jooste and Abrie Oosthuizen in their book So Het Hulle Gesterf, they stated that the location of Davis’ grave was unknown and the only remembrance of him is his name carved on a walking stick by internees at Port Alfred, preserved in the Somerset East Museum. Recent work by local researchers and family members has however uncovered more information: Davis’ family later applied to the authorities to remove his body for reburial. The request was granted on condition that it took place in Port Elizabeth using false initials. The grave is in North End Cemetery, with a heart-shaped memorial inscribed J A Davis / From his mother / Age 37. With a grant from the Heritage Commission, the grave was restored and a new plaque with corrected initials was unveiled on 13th February 2010. Unfortunately the researchers/restorers took the incorrect date from Davis’ letter as printed in Jooste and Oosthuizen’s book and inscribed his date of death as 25 January 1901 – the moral: always check the details before setting them in marble!

[This talk was an abbreviated version of an article published by Richard Tomlinson in Looking Back Vol 49, 2010, The Journal of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth.]

The main lecture by Malcolm Kinghorn was on Current Somali Maritime Piracy. More than 90% of the world’s trade is transported by sea and is vulnerable to a variety of security threats, including piracy. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) differentiates between piracy, which is committed in international waters and subject to flag state jurisdiction, and armed robbery, which is committed in territorial waters and subject to littoral state jurisdiction. A problem with the implementation of UNCLOS arises from states unable to exercise jurisdiction over their territorial waters. The modern tendency is to regard piracy as all acts of violence against ships, crew and cargo and includes armed robbery and attempts to board and take control of the ship, wherever this may take place. While piracy occurs worldwide, the lecture focused on piracy in the strategic trade route in the Gulf of Aden. Somali pirates were responsible for 40% of the reported piracy incidents and 68% of the successful ship hijackings in 2011.

Somalia has been without effective government since 1991. Constituent regions of the state, Somaliland and Puntland, do not recognise the Somalia Transitional Federal Government. Parts of the country are controlled by Al Shabaab (Arabic for ‘The Youth’), the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda. Unemployed Somalis resort to piracy as they have no alternative source of income. They do however have access to weapons and ammunition of Soviet origin and little fear of retribution as Somalia is unable – and the rest of the world unwilling – to prosecute captured pirate suspects.

The average Somali pirate is male, between 20 and 35 years old, an unemployed fisherman, unemployable as anything else and religiously radicalised. There are indications that some have had military training or exposure to combat. Pirates form Pirate Action Groups linked to traditional clans, with support from the inhabitants of their home villages. Cover names, such as the National Volunteer Coast Guard, are often used. Skiffs, outboard engines and fuel donated by humanitarian organisations and the United Nations (UN) to promote fishing as part of famine relief, are commonly used in pirate attacks. Attacks are usually executed in groups of two to six skiffs, each with five to eight pirates on board. Some attacks by ‘swarms’ of up to 50 skiffs have taken place. While they usually attack targets of opportunity, there is evidence of pirates using agents in the insurance industry to identify high value targets. Previously hijacked vessels are used as ‘mother vessels’ enabling attacks further offshore and multiple attacks. Mother vessels have enabled Somali pirates to operate east to the Indian west coast and south to the northern Mozambique Channel.

Pirates have access to hi-tech equipment, such as radar, from previously hijacked vessels. They also use the internet and social media to post ransom demands and have used YouTube to reinforce such demands by broadcasting images of hostage torture. The cost to world trade of Somali piracy in 2011 is estimated to have been US$7 billion. Approximately 1 200 mariners, of whom 35 died in captivity, were held hostage in Somalia during that year.

International response to Somali piracy is coordinated by the UN. The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code is a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities involved in international trade. The Djibouti Code of Conduct is an agreement between a number of Eastern and Southern African and Arabic states concerning the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regularly issues security guidelines. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) maintains a Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to which ships are encouraged to report piratical attacks and suspicious movement of craft. International constraints have been placed on the payment of ransoms to pirates. While there have been successful prosecutions of captured pirates, litigation remains a problem, with many states reluctant to prosecute. Concerns include jurisdiction issues, repatriation of pirates after completion of their sentences, whether pirates will be able to seek asylum, and family visits.

Military counter-measures include the deployment of naval ships from a number of organisations, including North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU), and states whose economic interests are threatened by Somali piracy. As the high risk area is much larger than the available assets can cover, optimal deployment of the available force is coordinated by the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA), which is an initiative of the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR). MSC-HOA provides 24-hour manned monitoring of vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden. An interactive website enables the Centre to communicate the latest anti-piracy guidance to industry. A further initiative is Group Transits, where vessels are coordinated to transit high risk areas overnight when the likelihood of attack is reduced and which enables naval forces to best secure the area around the merchant ships. MSC-HOA also coordinates protection of particularly vulnerable ships.

Shipping industry counter-measures include the issue and regular updating by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), whose members control 65% of the world’s ships, of counter piracy Best Management Practices (BMP), the most recent being BMP4 dated August 2011. These include recommended ship protection measures to prevent pirates boarding and taking control of ships. A dilemma is the conflict between safety and security when emergency exits from a ship are blocked to prevent their use by pirates to gain access.

A controversial issue is the increasing use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on merchant ships. Whether merchant vessels should be armed has been moot in the maritime transport industry for a long time. Some flag states, for instance the Netherlands, have banned their use, while others, such as Norway, have issued directives in this respect. To date, no ship carrying PCASP has been hijacked. These counter-measures have had a positive effect with one in four attacks in 2010 being successful as opposed to one in 14 in 2011.

It should, however, be realised that, while piracy is a maritime problem, the solution is to be sought on land. To quote UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: “Piracy is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground. More security on the ground will make less piracy on the seas”. As there seems little prospect of the situation in Somalia improving in the foreseeable future, predictions are that the counter measures will lead to the area at risk from Somali pirates increasing and escalation in the level of violence involved.

Future meetings and field trips

SAMHSEC’s next meeting will be on 10th September 2012 at the EP Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser will be by Alec Grant titled From Burgersdorp to Cliff Belleek: a story from the Boer War. The main lecture will be Major Pretorius CMG, DSO and Bar by Colin Urquhart. The screening of the ‘World at War’ series will be Occupation: Holland (1940–1944) at 18h30 preceding the main meeting at 19h30.

The lectures scheduled for 8th October are: CR Yoland Irwin, Gallipoli. ML John Stevens, Decisions (American Civil War). The November meeting will be on Saturday 10th. A field trip to sites in Port Elizabeth is envisaged for the morning, followed by a ‘bring and braai’ lunch and an afternoon lecture by Fred Oelschig on Winning the war in Eastern Caprivi. Details of times and place to follow.

Matters of general interest

Field Trip

The field trip to Queenstown and environs took place over the weekend of 10th – 12th August. The following report was compiled by Richard Tomlinson.

Twenty members assembled at the Baddaford Farm Stall north of Fort Beaufort and drove in convoy via Nico Malan Pass, with snow on the high peaks, to Shiloh Mission Station, a Moravian foundation dating from 1828. This was the initial site of a military conflict in January and February 1851 during the 8th Frontier War. Pat Irwin provided details on this clash and the background to it. This hard-working community of European missionaries was permitted to settle on land by the amaTembu (aka ambookies). The Moravians generally did not interfere in the practice of tribal customs and politics, or in colonial politics. The setting up of a British military post at Shiloh in 1836 and Sir Harry Smith’s founding of the village of Whittlesea 3 km distant, in 1848, were not popular with the missionaries due to the disruption they brought to the settlement, such as the easy availability of intoxicating liquor and its inevitable consequences.

In broad terms, British alienation of the amaTembu, the amaNgqika and the Coloured community in the Kat River Valley 70 km to the south sparked the 8th Frontier War (1850 – 1853). Captain Richard Tylden RE, at that time conducting a survey, the senior officer in the district, took command of local colonial forces which was composed of 200 amaGqunukwebe (their chief, Pato, was an ally of the British), 800 Mfengu (Fingos) and 70 mounted farmers under Commandant Holden Bowker. The Moravian Brethren and most of the Mfengu evacuated Shiloh on 30th January and Tylden hastily fortified Whittlesea, which was then invested by the amaThembu. There followed the series of 12 (largely desultory) ‘Battles of Whittlesea’. After the 6th battle, Tylden’s ammunition was running low and he sent riders to Cradock some 120 km away; Three days later a group of volunteers arrived with ammunition, followed the next day by 180 Boer horsemen with more supplies. By the middle of February the besiegers had melted away and Tylden was lauded by Sir Harry Smith for ‘saving the colony’. The members then briefly inspected the historic church and surrounding houses and made a short diversion to view the probable site of the defence of Whittlesea, before heading to Queenstown.

On Friday afternoon we visited the Queenstown Museum, containing a broad spectrum of exhibits from colonial days through to the present in a fine sandstone building. Pat Irwin thanked Mr Thobile Mdlela, the curator, for arranging the visit. We then moved on to visit Queen’s College, a boys’ school founded in 1858, five years after Queenstown itself. Here we were guided by former pupil and teacher, Peter Haxton, who showed us the museum with its orderly collection of photographs, records and artefacts of years past, including of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the two world wars. We also saw the hall with its fine stained glass windows and the war memorial, and a rare 6-pdr Armstrong Rifled Breech Loader dating to 1857. This gun had possibly taken part in the 1879 – 1881 wars against the Basuto and in the 9th Frontier War. Ian Pringle thanked Peter Haxton. In the evening, members enjoyed a very social bring-and-braai at the Heritage Guest House, where the majority of the party was staying.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, but with a brisk wind heralding an approaching cold front. Our first port of call was Sterkstroom to join up with our guides, Simon Morris and Willem Esterhuizen. From here we proceeded to Boesmanshoek, where the Molteno road and main railway line wind through a pass overshadowed by high kopjes. This was the site of a British camp during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) and we turned off the road to explore the site. The camp was located in the hollow behind the kopjes, which were used for observation over the countryside and defended by simple stone forts and Rice-pattern blockhouses; there is also a small stone building used to store food and supplies, with evidence nearby of cooking arrangements including two short lengths of railway line on which to stand pots over a fire, and even traces of the coal used. The Society is grateful to Melville and Allison Price for allowing us onto their farm to see this interesting site.

The party then returned to Sterkstroom to view Willem Esterhuizen’s private museum housing his remarkable collection of militaria, including guns, ammunition, historic photographs, and medals, which were described by him. We ended the visit with refreshments provided by Willem and Simon, who also held a draw for two prepared heritage gifts. Alwyn du Preez gave the vote of thanks.

In the afternoon we toured sites of military historical interest in the town, led by Edric Russell, a third generation inhabitant. The first call was the Anglican Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels, as fine a large neo-Gothic church as you will find in South Africa, elevated to cathedral status when the Diocese of Ukhahlamba was formed in 2009. The building has magnificent stained glass windows and carved woodwork, is the repository of the colours of the Queenstown Rifle Volunteers and has a number of military memorial tablets. We were addressed by the Rector, Rev Reg Morgan.

We next moved to the adjacent public gardens which contain the First and Second World War memorials and cenotaph (sadly vandalised by the robbing of two bronze plaques, with half of the names for each war, and by graffiti) and a monument to those members of the 2nd Cape Mounted Yeomanry who died in the Morosi Rebellion (1879) and the Gun War of 1880 – 1881. From there we moved to the Hexagon in the town centre, which still reflects the earliest defensive scheme for Queenstown, a hexagonal fort which enabled the residents to seek protection within its walls and from which the defenders could obtain a clear line of fire along the six radiating streets. This was designed by Commandant T H Bowker, but the fortifications are long gone. Today on this large traffic roundabout there remains the Anglo-Boer War monument to the Queenstown Rifle Volunteers, a soldier in full uniform with reversed rifle standing on a stepped plinth (under threat of demolition by the Municipality as ‘colonial heritage’ and therefore ‘not required’!). There is also a monument to Queenstown’s 150th anniversary and a plaque renaming the place for Chris Hani.

We then moved across town to view the Church of God and Saints of Christ (the ‘Israelites’), a plain whitewashed hall built in 1924 after the fatal confrontation at Bulhoek in 1921. Thence briefly in a cold end-of-afternoon wind to the site of 47 Air School from World War II, and lastly to the Queenstown Cemetery, where there are two separate sections, one for the 27 SAAF and RAF personnel who died while in service at 47 Air School and one with military graves from the Anglo-Boer War

That evening we enjoyed a communal dinner at Dagwood Roadhouse, where Edric Russell was our guest. He was thanked by Alec Grant for his substantial input into the planning and conducting of the tour.

On Sunday morning we bade farewell to Queenstown to drive to our final call of the weekend. The site of the Bulhoek confrontation is located about 40 km SW of Queenstown off the Tarkastad road. It is presently being developed as a tourist attraction with a range of new buildings. Pat Irwin addressed us briefly on the dramatic events which took place on 24th May 1921, when a force of police backed up by army units was called in to remove Enoch Mgijima and his following of several hundred ‘Israelites’ who had illegally occupied an area of farmland which had been granted to members of the Mfengu and started erecting permanent buildings. This again is a case of ‘your version, my version and the truth’, but it appears that the leader worked his followers into a frenzy that threatened to overwhelm the police with a variety of weapons. The police fired into the crowd to restore order and killed 183 people. Malcolm Kinghorn summarised the law of the use of extreme force, after which we viewed the memorials in the new cemetery. Pat and Malcolm were thanked by Alwyn du Preez.

Votes of thanks were made to the organisers, in particular Pat Irwin and Malcolm Kinghorn, to Ian Pringle for the literary handouts and Dennis Hibberd for his accounting skills. We were all most thankful for the three days of fine weather, which enabled us to enjoy the programme arranged to the full.

Individual Members’ activities

Franco Cilliers has visited a number of military historical sites in the Northern Cape, ranging as far as Upington and Springbok. He was unable to gain access to Manie Maritz’s fort in the Augrabies National Park, so it remains a challenge for future visitors to the area.

Peter and Karen Duffell-Canham have again visited the Chrissiemeer area in Mpumalanga and report by SMS as follows: “Happy to report Chrissiemeer [ABW] cemetery tidied up since last visit six months ago [due to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission]. Visited battle site, chatted to village historians.”

Social media

The following is an edited version of an e-mail from Jan Willem Hoorweg, SAMHS Committee Member: Social Media. Jan’s e-mail is:

I have recently been tasked with exploring the possibilities of social media and networking. The end result is a page on Facebook dedicated to the South African Military History Society. For those who are not on Facebook, you can see the page when you go to Google and type in ‘The South African Military History Society Facebook’. For those who are members, please go to the site and ‘like’ the page. At this stage we have received 23 thumbs ups from various individuals and institutions. The reach potentially is big, and we have already received queries from as far abroad as Norway, Germany, UK and Dubai. So people definitely see the page! The fact is that social media is not just for the younger generation, but for everyone. The number of societies, institutions and current and ex military personnel out there catering for our common interest is staggering.

The page is very simple at this stage and I have kept to the basics: mission statement, description of our activities, general information and contact information of the different branches. However, in order for the page to be interesting and exciting to those viewing it, I really need input from all of you in the form of photo’s and interaction with the site, even if you are not a Facebook member. You can send the pictures to me directly, or ‘like’ us on Facebook (if you are a member) and interact that way. Members already on Facebook might wish to interact on the site and could upload pictures on the site by tagging in the page.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions on the site, also on how we can get a bigger footprint than we currently have. My feeling is that the site will grow quickly, but we need to make it look exciting and colourful. This is a site for all of us, so your help will be most appreciated.

Genealogical Society of South Africa

The following notice has been received from John Wilmot, Chairman of the GSSA:
The East Cape Branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa will be holding a Memorial Lecture on the 17th September to honour the work of Les Williams. Les did extensive research into Family Trees and drew up over 100 charts. We're anticipating an interesting evening with our National President, Petro Correjes-Brink, being the key-note speaker. Please accept this as a personal invitation to any members who would like to attend.

St Helena Cruise

A 12-day cruise to St. Helena is being offered to members of SAMHS at a discount of 50%. For further details contact Bob Smith. Tours Administrator, National Committee of S.A. Military History Society, Johannesburg. Office Telephone: (011) 760 1660, Cell: 082 858 6616.

Re-enactment of the Battle of El Alamein

On Saturday 20th October from 09h00, The Free State Branch of the Southern African Arms and Ammunition Collectors Association will be re-enacting the Battle of El Alamein to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle in which thousands of South Africans took part. The venue is Leeuwberg Farm, 15 km south of Bloemfontein on the N1. The entry is R20.00 for the day.

For further details contact:
MC Heunis 082 870 4448
Shaun Cronje 082 226 5056

For those interested in travelling from the Eastern Cape, contact:
Pat Irwin 082 445 0973

Some notable anniversaries in September

September is another month which is filled with military related activities. The following is a small selection of these:

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn: -
Scribes: Anne and Pat Irwin
Correspondence to:
Society’s Web address: 

South African Military History Society /