South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 162

March/Maart 2018

SAMHSEC’s February meeting took place on Monday 12th at the usual venue in Port Elizabeth.

The members’ slot,taken by Anton de Wit, was a follow-up on Andre Crozier’s talk on Ratels on the Lomba – The story of Charlie Squadron in January (Newsletter 161). Anton elaborated on the Battle of the Lomba in the wider historical context of the SADF in the Border War. He also touched on the role of Unita and the psycho-dynamics of leadership.

In the curtain raiser, Andrew van Wyk presented an illustrated talk, based on family records, titled Arthur Henry Betteridge and the Senussi Campaign 1915-1916.

Arthur Betteridge was born in Birmingham in 1896 and immigrated to South Africa in 1903. He was part of that generation destined to be the right age for enlistment at the time of the start of the First World War.The new immigrant family went through hard times and so, at the age of 13, Arthur started his working life. By the age of 14 he was working as a telegraphist/clerk with the South African Railways. While stationed at Bloemhof, in the then Cape Province, he was to personally meet and perform some errands for General Louis Botha, who commandeered his office with his General staff to organise their pursuit of those participating in the Rebellion of 1914.

Caught up in the enthusiasm of the times to ‘join up’, Arthur attempted on numerous occasions to enlist but to no avail – in fact an inspector was sent to personally censure him for his over enthusiastic zeal in wanting to ‘join up’. By June 1915 however, Arthur had decided to leave or resign – whichever his bosses preferred – because he wasn’t going to miss out on the War! After completing his basic training in Potchefstroom, Private 779 Arthur Betteridge of the 4th Regiment (Scottish) of the 1st SA Brigade sailed from Cape Town to Bordon, England.

In late 1915 the 1st SA Brigade was shipped off to Egypt as part of a hastily compiled force to counter the Senussi insurgency that had erupted in Libya and was threatening British interests in Egypt. Arthur’s account of the terrible outbreak of food poisoning on the sea journey add great value to his memoirs, from which this presentation was largely sourced.The sights and smells of Egypt are vividly described and actions against the Senussi tell of the Brigade’s baptism of fire. The significance of these events and persons within the greater picture of the First World War, that was yet to unfold, were beyond Private Betteridge at the time they took place. The looming spectre of Delville Wood at this stage of the campaign was not known to them as they left Egypt for France. Arthur Betteridge was to survive Delville Wood and then go on to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps and survive that as well – a rare achievement for an enlisted man of the period.

Both Jackie the Baboon and Nancy the Springbok were with Arthur at this time as well as Sir Pierre van Ryneveld – up in the skies watching over troop movements against the Senussi. Armoured cars were featured in actions against the Senussi and the importance of signaller runners was not lost on the top brass as communication systems were continually lost to bombardments.

Nancy, the Springbok Mascot of the 4th SA Infantry Regiment
during the First World War, with her keeper, Bugler Edmund Peterson.
She is now housed at the National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.

Arthur’s personal insights into the ordinary colonial soldier’s experience of Europe and life in general are also of great interest. He explained for example, the reactions to their kilts by various women they encountered – English,French and Egyptians all had different approaches to ascertain whether anything was worn under it!

The main lecture, an illustrated presentation titled Muzzle-loading cannon, was given by Pat Irwin. The topic was introduced by a brief outline of the origins of muzzle-loading cannons and the uses to which they were put between the 14th and 19th centuries. Materials from which cannons were constructed were looked at andsome of the names applied to them over the centuries outlined. The origins of muzzle-loaders found in South Africa,as well as the reasons why they are here, were also covered.

The talk then looked at some of the technical aspects involved in identifying these guns, both by type and individually. Barrels were examined in terms on the markings to be found on them, typically the monograms of monarchs, recordings of weight and indications of ownership and nationality. The dolphins (handles) on some guns and the wide range of buttons and breech ends for different purposes were discussed. This was followed by a brief examination of different types of carriages and mountings, the accoutrements which are necessary for the effective functioning of muzzle-loading cannons, and the varieties of ammunition used. This was followed by a look at a range of types and sizes of muzzle-loaders and their trajectories.

Individual guns, mainly in South Africa, were then looked at. These ranged from 68-pdr coastal artillery (to be seen mainly in the Western Cape) through field guns (from the English Civil War to the Orange Free State-Basotho Wars), howitzers (such as those brought out of retirement at the siege of Ladysmith) and signal guns (and the signal gun system of which they were a part) to ½-pdr swivel guns (precursors to the early breech loaders). Guns singled out for particular note because of their roles in South African history were the late 18thcentury 6-pdr field gun, the late Victorian 7-pdr Rifled Muzzle Loader and the late 17th/early 18th century 9-pdr Smooth Bore Muzzle Loaders. Four particular gunswere also highlighted for their South African historical interest: The Raskanon preserved at Kruger House, Pretoria; the 6-pounder in the Smithfield Museum known as Ou Grietjie; The similarly named Grietjie at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria; and The Wolf, now in the Royal Artillery Museum in London.

The idea of making a gun came to Martinus Ras, a farmer with a mechanical flair, while he was repairing Grietjie after it had been damaged during the Anglo-Transvaal War (1880-1881). Three ‘Ras Guns’ were fabricated by Martinus, his brother Hermanus, and his nephew Eduard,during the Anglo-Transvaal War (1880-1881). They were constructed by straightening wagon wheel hoops (tyres) and heat fusing them together to form the bore. Although the prototype (first gun) exploded during proof firing, the second and third made by Ras were more successful. The second, called Martinie, now located at Armscor, was used to bombard the British positions at Rustenburg. The gun illustrated in the talk, named Ras, was the third in the series but was completed only after the Battle of Majuba and was thus too late to see action. The whole enterprise was a remarkable achievement given the technology available to Martinus Ras.

The movements and activities of the Smithfield 6-pdr SBML are fairly well documented. Originating from Swellendam, it arrived in Smithfield in 1858 to be used by the Orange Free State Commandos during various wars.

The 6-pdr SBML Ou Grietjie in the Smithfield Museum.
Photo: Pat Irwin

It was named Ou Grietjie after Margaret, the wife of the first gunner of the Free State, Robert Finlay. Although used primarily for saluting and ceremonial occasions, it was involved in a number of (largely unsuccessful) bombardments of Basotho mountain strongholds including ThabaBosiu and Vechtkop. The latter was the first time the Boers stormed a mountain under cover of artillery fire. During the course of its use, human error also caused the death of two of its gunners and the serious injury of two more.

Cast sometime between 1790 and 1820, Grietjie, in the Voortrekker Monument, is a 4-pdr carronade on a makeshift carriage. It has both historical and symbolic significance as it is believed to have been used at the Battle of Blood River/Ncome in 1838 and at the Siege of Potchefstroom during the 1880-1881 Anglo-Transvaal War.

At the siege of Mafeking, the British were very short of artillery and needed a gun that could strike back at the Boers, as much forany other reason. A gun was accordingly manufactured in the Railway Workshops in Mafeking. The barrel was made out of a 4-inch steel furnace pipe strengthened by rails bent into rings. The breech and trunnions were cast in Bronze and the carriage and wheels were originally from a threshing machine. Spherical shells were made by melting down scrap metal. The gun was named The Wolf in honour of Colonel Baden-Powell who was called Impisi by the BaRolong, local people trapped in the siege. It is claimed to have fired a 4-inch, 18 lb spherical shell up to 4000 yds.

During the course of the presentation, issues such as symbolic significance, gun tourism, mythology, national pride and guns as works of art, were blended in.The talk ended with a brief look at a few unusual guns around the world viz. the Tzar Gun in Russia, an Italian three barrelled gun, an Indian anti-personnel gun and beautifully decorated Burmese guns.

The Wolf, made in the Mafeking Railway Workshops in 1900
and now in the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich.

Photo: Pat Irwin

Future meetings and field trips/ Toekomstige byeenkoms en uitstappe

The next SAMHSEC meeting will be on 12thMarch 2018 at 19h30 at the Eastern Cape Veteran Car Club in Conyngham Road, Port Elizabeth. The AGM will be held in lieu of the curtain raiser. The mainlecture by Andre Crozier will be on Marrieres Wood 1918.

Matters of general interest / Sake van algemene belang

Annual subscription
Members are reminded that annual subscriptions were due on 1st January. They are unchanged from 2017 viz.
Single membership R235,00
Family membership R250,00

Tour to Angola

Members are reminded of the proposed 61 Mech tour to Angola from 12th – 22nd May 2018. Anyone interested can contact GertMinnaar at 082 450 6056
E-mail: Website:

World War I Centenary Years / Eerste Węreldoorlog Eeufeesjare

100th Anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force was founded on 1st April 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service and was controlled by the British Government Air Ministry which had been established three months earlier. It had taken just over 11 years from the first flight by the Wright Brothers on 17th December 1903, to aerial combat of fighter planes over the Western Front in the First World War.

100th Anniversary of the patenting of the Enigma Machine

On 23rd February 1918 Dr. Arthur Scherbius (1878-1929 a German electrical engineer and inventor, patented the first mechanical cipher machine using rotors, which he called The Enigma Machine. Widely considered as the most sophisticated cipher machine in human history, with 159 quintillion (158,962,555,217,826,360,000) different combinations of characters and numbers, it was to play a significant role in the Second World War, both in its application by the German armed forces and in the eventual cracking of its code by British codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

One of the earliest Enigma Machines invented by Arthur Scherbius

It was widely used by the Germans and the breaking of the code is claimed to have played a pivotal role in, amongst other areas, the U-boat War. For more detail and good coverage see:

Major engagements in March 1918

On the Western Front, one of the biggest offensive actions of the war, the German 1918 Spring Offensive (known as the Kaiserschlacht in Germany) began on 21st March. It was a series of co-ordinated attacks along the Western Front and was the deepest advance by either side since 1914. The Germans, having concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, were able to move 50 Divisions, freed by the Russian surrender, to the Western Front. It was felt by the German High Command that this gave them the possibility of outright victory against the Allies before the overwhelming superiority of American resources and manpower could be brought to bear. Theintention of the campaign, which had four major thrusts, was to break through the Allied lines, outflank the British forces which held the front from the Somme to the English Channel and so bring about the defeat of the British Army. Theadvance on Pariswould then have little to stop it and the French, it was assumed, would then seek armistice terms. The initial German onslaught, using a new infantry tactic involving fast-moving storm-troopers, was overwhelming and the Allies buckled under it often retreating in disorder.

On the naval front, little action took place other than the continuing U-boat offensive and the further tightening of the Allied naval blockade.

(Some) Women in Britain get the vote February 6th 2018 marked 100 years since the granting to some British women over 30 the right to vote for the first time. This was partly due to the prolonged campaign of the Suffragettes coming to fruition, as well as a result of the sweeping social changes generated by the First World War. Universal suffrage in the UK was only achieved in 1928. In South Africa white women received the vote on 19th May 1930 and universal suffrage was achieved in 1994. Our first woman member of parliament was Leila Reitz, wife of Deneys Reitz.

Websites of interest/Webwerwe van belang

World War I

Life in the German trenches of the First World War: Fascinating images taken by a medical officer from 1914 to 1918, reveal what it was like to be in the German front lines
Gareth Davies MailOnline 23rd February 2018

World War II

From Nazi Germany to Australia: The incredible true story of history’s longest kayak journey
William Prochnau & Laura Parker Vanity Fair 10th January 2018

Japan's underwater graveyard: Incredible pictures show the planes, trains and tanks from naval base blown to oblivion by US during World War Two
Tom Wyke MailOnline 23rd February 2018

Cold War and post-Cold war

Berlin Wall now gone for as long as it stood
Rachel Stewart DW News, Germany 5th February 2018

Home-made drones now threaten conventional armed forces
Anon The Economist 8th February 2018

The most valuable military real estate in the world
Bruno Maçăes POLITICO 16th January 2018

US nuclear tests killed far more civilians than we knew
Tim Fernholz Quartz 21st December 2017

Middle East

Secret alliance: Israel carries out airstrikes in Egypt, with Cairo’s O.K.
David Kirkpatrick The New York Times 3rd February 2018

Cyber warfare

Russian hackers stole NSA data on US cyber defence
Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris The Wall Street Journal 5th October 2017


Guns and the British Empire: Is the gun the basis of modern Anglo civilisation?
Priya Satia Aeon Essays 14th February 2018

Members are invited to send in to the scribes, short reviews of, or comments on, books, DVDs or any other interesting resources they have come across, as well as news on individual member’s activities. In this Newsletter, there have been contributions by Richard Tomlinson, Malcolm Kinghorn, Barry Irwin, Michael Irwin, and Peter Duffel-Canham.

Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn:
Secretary: Franco Cilliers:
Scribes (Newsletter): Anne and Pat Irwin:
Society’s Website:


This British Memorial to the Women of World War II is relatively new, unveiled to the public in 2005.
It recognizes the important role women played during the war and uses the type of font often found on ration books.
The different sets of clothing surrounding the monument represent all the distinct roles women played during World War II, from nurses to factory workers.

South African Military History Society /