Military Heritage

The intriguingly sphinx-shaped mountain known as Isandlwana in Zululand lies in a flat valley carved out mainly by the Nxibongo River. To the north, the valley is fringed by the Nyoni heights and iThusi Mountain. Behind those is the next river valley, the Ngwebeni.

 

The battle of Kambula (29 March 1879) is the definitive battle of the Zulu War. After the disaster at Isandlwana, when Lord Chelmsford’s Centre Column had temporarily ceased to exist, the focus of the Zulu War had turned to Evelyn Wood’s Column in the north. Not that the British had yet fully learned their lesson about underestimating the Zulus. The Northern Column suffered two disasters – one at Ntombe Drift (12 March) and the other at Hlobane (28 March), before the rampant Zulu army tried their luck on the British base camp at Kambula the following day.

The remains of the largest fortification built by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) is still to be seen today on Strubenkop in Lynnwood, Pretoria. The site today is a nature reserve managed by the City of Tshwane but apart from the remains of the fort nothing much is left on the hill. It is therefore believed that the reserve was proclaimed to preserve what was left of the building.

As early as 1873 a Colonial government commission had been set up to investigate the establishment of laagers for defensive purposes in the Newcastle Division. They recommended that 2 laagers be built, one on Newcastle town lands and the other not that far from where Fort Pine stands today. In 1874 £5 000 was allocated for the construction of laagers and armouries throughout the Colony of Natal.

Ninety-nine years ago, on 22 May 1921, a young corporal in the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment died. What distinguished him was that he was a Chacma baboon. The story of Jackie the baboon has often been told and forgive me if you have heard it before. The reason for making it a Magalies Memoir is that Jackie was born in the Magaliesberg. Some details have become confused during a century of re-telling, but essentially the story is as follows:

 

In the Curator’s Choice display of edged weaponry at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History, are Chinese double or paired swords from the early 19th Century. The swords are decorated with dragons that have five claws symbolising high rank. The museum’s Chinese paired swords may have belonged to either a Prince of the first rank or qinwang (Prince of the Blood) or a Prince of the second rank or junwang (Prince of the Commandery). 

A 1:48 scale model of the Type VIIC German U-boat “U-96” was donated to the Museum in September 2019. The model is a true representation of the original submarine used in the Second World War (1939 – 1945) and was constructed by the donor, Mr Brian Echstein (see image above).

The Importance of the Donation

Below is the epilogue of Mel Baker's remarkable story. It covers his return to Wernersdorf on two occasions and his reunions with fellow POWs over the years. It also highlights the powerful commemorative events that he has been part of.

Mel Baker was a crew member of the HMS Gloucester which sank near Crete in 1941. He was one of only a handful of survivors picked up by the Germans. Below is Part 1 of his powerful account of being a Prisoner of War for most of World War II. He was 21 when he was taken prisoner and returned to Port Elizabeth in 1945 aged 25.

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulu, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers, for though, they made us leave our weapons at home, our voices are left with your bodies.”

This month it was my pleasure to visit Sappersrus. The occasion was a gathering of the tourism association of the Hartbeestpoort Dam/Magaliesberg area to meet and learn about Sappersrus and its history and attend a small memorial ceremony. We enjoyed excellent hospitality and a lunch in the well-designed lapa close to the water. I was asked to deliver a short talk on the Battle of the Somme, Delville Wood and memorialization. Our hosts were Irene Small and Ashley Williams, who run the Sappers facility and Foundation.

The following article on the history and restoration of the landmark Martello tower in Simon's Town appeared in the September 1973 edition of Bulletin. Thank you to David Erickson from the Simon's Town Historical Society for providing many of the museum photographs. See comments section for more recent details on the Tower.

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