musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: War

Curse this war!

Its that time again… Wartime in the Cotswolds with the GWSR (Gloucester Warwickshire Steam Railway). The theme? The Battle of Britain. So grab your gas mask and tin hat and follow me….

Last year I attended a similar event and it was amazing and I was really hoping for the same on this day. The weather has been changeable this whole week, but there was the promise of sunshine for later in the day with no rain in sight. I headed out early in the morning to grab a bus to Cheltenham and another bus to Cheltenham Race Course station. On the way I spotted Captain Mainwaring on his way to the station too!

I just hope that Private Pike isn’t lurking in the bushes somewhere.

Although the Americans had set up camp outside the station and that can only mean silk stockings and chewing gum for the locals. 

ARP had set up their barricades too and were checking tickets and dishing out ID cards. Naturally they were looking out for Fifth Columnists too. 

Unfortunately our train was the class 117 diesel railcar  that I always seem to end up travelling on. http://www.gwsr.com/planning_your_visit/what_to_see_and_do/DMURailcar_1.html She is not my favourite rail vehicle. I would have preferred a steam engine, but this was wartime after all, we have to make do with what we have.

The train was full, and many of the passengers were dressed in period clothing or military uniforms, it never ceases to amaze me how the British tackle something like this with so much enthusiasm, and I would really like to thank them for paying homage to a bygone age with so much enthusiasm.

And then we were off….  Our destination: Gotherington

The view out of the window was Britain in Spring, it was really beautiful, especially the huge fields of Rapeseed.

Gotherington was like a military camp, and I expect will remain like that until tomorrow when the event finishes.

It is a very quirky place and one day I must really bail out and have a look around. 

The next stop on the line is Winchcombe, I had visited the town in May last year and I was considering doing it again today, although it really depended on train timings and my own energy levels.  At Winchcombe the train to Toddington stops and waits for the train from Toddington. It is single line working between stations and a token system is used to ensure that accidents don’t happen.

It too had been taken over by the military who were cleaning their rifles and doing what soldiers have done since the days of yore.

Curse this war! how much longer must it go on?

As an aside, there was even a military dentist in his own private rolling surgery, just ready to declare you dentally fit in 7 days!

And then we heard a whistle in the distance and the oncoming train appeared around the bend.

The loco in charge was 4270, a  “42xx” class tank locomotive. She was running bunker first to Cheltenham Race Course, and would carry on with her journey once we had departed. 

The next stop was Toddington, which is really the current endpoint of the GWSR, although they do run trains to Laverton halt further up the line, and in a few years time there will be another station on the line as they extend the rail network closer to the mainline all the time.   Toddington is also where the loco shed is and the majority of displays were being held. There were a few that I had my eye on too..

As usual there was a mixed bag of cars, military vehicles, squaddies, GI’s, airmen, sailors and all manner of uniform on display, along with the usual bag of stalls selling militaria or hobby-est items. There was even a tank just in case there was an invasion.

I had seen her last year at the Welland Steam and County Fair, and just in case I need a reminder, she is a M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer.

The jaw dropper however was the reproduction Spitfire that was on display. I am struggling to find a definitive identification of the aircraft, but it appears as if she is based on the aircraft that Johnnie Johnson flew (MKIX EN398). More information on the “Spitfire Experience” may be found on their website. 

And yes, the engine did run while I was there and it was awesome. Unfortunately it did not run at full power, but it was really something to experience.

Meanwhile, back at ground level, I strolled down to the workshops to see whether there was anything there that interested me. Fortunately it was not a wasted trip because there were a number of diesels in the yard.

GWSR has a number of heritage diesels and they are quite handsome beasties, although against a steam engine they are reasonably insignificant.

Class 47376 (D1895), a Brush Type 4.

Class 37 no: 37215

Class 26043 (D5343)

Class 45/1 45149 (D135)

At the Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway they too had a train at work, although I did not go for a ride this time around. They were using “Tourska” , a 1957 Chrzanow build with works number 3512.

There was still quite a lot to see so I did the rounds once again, hoping to find a few warships for my collection, but there were lots of distractions.

It was really time to head towards Winchcombe, the train at the platform was headed by the 1950 built 7820 Dinmore Manor, a Manor class light mixed traffic locomotive.

We were supposed to leave at 11.30, but somewhere along the line the timings of the trains went haywire and we sat for an additional 20 minutes. I know there is a war on but….  

Winchcombe was crowded, and our altered timing meant that we had to wait for the train from Cheltenham Spa to arrive before we could leave. 

Fortunately ENSA was at hand to provide some wartime melodies, but I think seeing Laurel and Hardy really made my day.

And then I got suspicious because I spotted Oliver Hardy on the cellphone!  It was another fine mess he got Stanley into.

I had decided to not continue into Winchcombe because the messed up times just didn’t fit in with my plans. Remember, Cheltenham Race Course is not the end of the line for me. I had to get back into Cheltenham, catch a bus to Tewkesbury and then hoof it to where I lived. It was a long stretch ahead of me and I was tired.

Then the air raid siren went off……

and once again I could not help think of what it was like living in wartime Britain. The ever present threat of aerial bombing, rationing of food, the long lists of casualties, propaganda, soldiers, aircraft overhead, overzealous ARP members, children being evacuated, family that never returned home. This was the reality between 1939 and 1945, this small experience that I had was nothing like the real thing, and I am fortunate that I did not experience it. When I see the people dressed in their period uniforms and glad rags I cannot help but think that these were the sort of people that took it on the chin and gave it back 100 times more. I suspect the British enjoy these re-enactment events because they are reminded of what their parents and families went through in those dark hours of war. It is their way of saying: “We have not forgotten, and never will.”

And as the Home Guard peddled along the platform on his way to the NAFI, I felt a tinge of pride because I understood what Churchill meant when he said….

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

And then the train departed for Cheltenham Race Course with me on it.

The War was over, the Battle of Britain won. 

The event was great, although last years was definitely better, there was much more to see and experience than there was this time around. The delayed trains were an irritation because you do not want to be stuck in a place like Winchcombe of Toddington with no way of getting home. And of course my own stamina is not as good as it used to be. I tire very easily nowadays and that’s not a good thing at all. Still, sign me up for next year if I am still around. Now where did I leave my tin hat?  

© DRW 2017. Created 22/04/2017

Updated: 27/04/2017 — 18:07

3 Ships Month

It was brought to my attention that apart from the HMT Mendi and the SAS President Kruger there is one more naval loss that really made February a month of disasters at sea. 

HMSAS Southern Floe was one of the “little ships” that worked behind the scenes during both wars, often as minesweepers, convoy escorts, anti-submarine or any other number of crucial jobs that  did not require a specialist vessel  or a glamorous warship. In my meanderings I have encountered the memorial to HMSAS Parktown, and to be frank I had never really considered HMSAS Southern Floe until recently.

The ship was a  Southern Class whaler, one of four ships taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. 

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

Each was approximately 344 tons and were converted for anti-submarine operations and were  armed with a 3 lb gun for’ard as well 20mm canon and machine-guns.  The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.

On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk,  but there was no sign of Southern Floe; after all it was common for ships to be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.  

Some months after her loss the ship’s badge was picked up in the desert, possibly by a German or Italian soldier and had been kept as a memento. The badge was donated to the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town.

After the war  Stoker Jones placed a memorial notice in the Cape Town newspapers. He continued to do this for many years until he also passed away 

Roll of Honour. HMSAS Southern Floe 

 ANDERS, John, Steward, 69637 (SANF), MPK
 BOWER, Robert, Stoker 1c, 69935 (SANF), MPK
 BRAND, Leslie A, Able Seaman, 69828 (SANF), MPK
 CAULFIELD, Patrick, Steward, 69802 (SANF), MPK
 CHANDLER, Charles R D, Cook (S), 69613 (SANF), MPK
 CHENOWETH, Richard, Stoker 1c, 67420 (SANF), MPK
 FAIRLEY, Alexander E, Sub Lieutenant SANF,  MPK
 FRIEDLANDER, Cecil A, Able Seaman, 114703 (SANF), MPK
 GARDINER, Elliott, Able Seaman, 67260 (SANF), MPK
 GREENACRE, John H, Leading Seaman, 69677 (SANF), MPK
 HEASMAN, Gratwicke E E, Engine Room Artificer 4c, 69784 (SANF), MPK
 HOGG, Roy S, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
 INNES, Ian Mck, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
 MARSH, Reginald H Y, Able Seaman, 69911 (SANF), MPK
 MITCHELL, William N, Able Seaman, 69787 (SANF), MPK
 NEL, Eloff R, Able Seaman, 69635 (SANF), MPK
 NICHOLSON, Douglas O, Able Seaman, 66833 (SANF), MPK
 PUGH, John R, Able Seaman, 66877 (SANF), MPK
 RYALL, David R, Able Seaman, 69999 (SANF), MPK
 SHIMMIN, William, Leading Stoker, 69661 (SANF), MPK
 SIENI, Joseph F, Able Seaman, 69788 (SANF), MPK
 SNELL, Harold W, Leading Telegraphist, 69827 (SANF), MPK
 STANLEY, Gordon J, Able Seaman, 66963 (SANF), MPK
 WALTON, Dudley N, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK

Sources:

http://www.saspresidentkruger.com/hmsas-southern-floe/

http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas2540-SANF.htm

© DRW 2017. Created 18/02/2017

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 18:44

Photo Essay: Tanks in the wild

When I got my new camera last year I needed to test drive (test fire?) it, and I grabbed some of my tank collection and headed out into the wild. Some of the results were really great. 

World War One battlefields were incredibly muddy and the early rhomboid shaped tanks battled with the terrain. They were more psychological weapons than anything else.

The real live example I photographed in Bovington Tank Museum in 2013. This is called a “Heavy Tank Mk V “Male””. It had a crew of 8 with a top speed of 7.4 kph. This particular vehicle took part in the battle of Amiens in August 1918, and was about as good as this particular style of tank was. It was armed with 2×6 pound (57mm) guns and 2 MG’s. 

I do have a soft spot for the M3 Stuart (aka “Honey”) this little one got somewhat off the beaten track and is waiting for nightfall so that it can move out. It did not want to meet up with the Tiger that  was hiding in the garden. This green Tiger one I picked up in Hong Kong in 2011. It is motorised in spite of it’s small size. 

and this Matilda was also en route to somewhere, although it really was more in use in the Western Desert as opposed to the local mud patch next to the river.

It may not have been the greatest tank around but they were good looking.  They even have one at Bovington.

You have to be very careful on some days that you do not bump into a T55 MBT hiding in the undergrowth. If this one looks familiar it is because it is. This model features the T55 that was in the James Bond movie: Golden Eye.

or even a T34 for that matter, although she may be quite handy against that Tiger I mentioned a bit earlier.

Of course some tracked vehicles try to outdo others, and this PzH 2000 (Panzerhaubitze 2000) 155mm self-propelled howitzer  would probably have a field day shelling Cheltenham or maybe Gloucester.

Fortunately it did not have any ammunition, and at that small scale the shell would have stung quite badly.

Since I took these pics in February last year, my tank collection has grown considerably, and at some point I will take them outside again, I now have 3 Tigers and that could prove to be quite an uneven battle for the Honey. Unfortunately since taking these images I have not been able to find my T55 so I expect it has gone to the big tank graveyard in the sky. On the other hand, I was able to take some more pics of more of my tank collection.

That M4A3 Sherman was just itching to slug it out with a Tiger, and I am going to put my money on the Tiger.

My M2 Grant MK1 also got an airing today, although it tried to avoid bumping into anything larger that it was.

What they didn’t know was that there were 3 Tigers heading in their direction.

The grey Tiger is radio controlled and it even has a recoil action when you “fire” the gun. When things dry out a bit I am going to take it out and try it on this muddy terrain.

This Leopard 1 also got an airing. But there was trouble looming behind it. I seem to think it is a T55, but it is unfortunately not marked.

Until next time when battle will recommence.

Update 04/04/2017:

Cats seem to understand tanks, especially homemade ones.

© DRW 2017. Created 05/02/2017 

Updated: 04/04/2017 — 07:18

Navy Day

My Triang Minic collection has been quite a popular subject on this blog, in fact there are a number of pages related to my 1/1200 and 1/1250 scale waterline ships.  This page is really about some of the naval vessels that I have accumulated. Let me get this straight, modern warships do not really interest me, however, I do have a fondness for WW2 vessels as well as those strange pre-dreadnoughts that were in service when warships were a hodge podge of ideas with no real direction.

To start the ball rolling, I have managed to pay my hands on a few vessels of interest to me.

The first pair are members of the Daring Class of Destroyers: HMS Dainty and HMS Daring.

HMS Dainty is in front. Both these have been given a custom paintjob by their previous owner, and they made a great job of it too. 

The other pair that I acquired are: HMS Vigilant and HMS Virago

This pair are “V” Class frigates, Vigilant is the ship in front.  

I picked up HMS Whitby awhile ago, she is a Type 12 “Whitby” Class anti-submarine frigate.

as well as HMS Alamein, a “Battle” Class destroyer.

The modern Royal Navy does not have too many ships that make me want to swoon, but I really like the Duke Class frigates of which HMS Sutherland (F81) is one.

I have seen her one sister in real life, 

HMS St Albans

and HMS Westminster (F237), seen here alongside HMS Belfast in 2013.

I am in the market for an HMS St Albans and will look for her when I am bored. 

I also bought 4 “steam” tugs that were from the original Triang range. These had also been “customised” as naval tugs. 

One of my current projects is to convert a “modern” Triang steam tug into something else. I am not too keen on the looks of the modern tugs, but they do make interesting bases for conversions.

The middle vessel is a “modern” iteration and it is very different from an original tug, my conversion is the vessel on the left. When/if I finish it I will paste a pic of it.

My other acquisition is the former SS Australis in 1/1250 resin cast. She has been on hiatus because her sizing is wrong, but I decided to start work on her anyway. I was toying with converting her into another iteration but never did. It is early days for her still.

This afternoon I started to paint funnels and decks, and tomorrow will give a second coat to the hull.

Progress so far. First coat of funnels is done although I may lighten them a bit, sports deck is done and mast is mounted, however, I may have to redo the hull because the sheer line is not where I have painted it so will have to redo the hull. The problem with the ship is not only her length, but her hull height too, dropping the sheer line may leave very little grey hull below. And of course I hope that the white will overcoat the grey.

I have established the sheer line on this side of her, but must wait for it to dry before doing the other side and of course then straightening any bumps. Hooray for trimline! I must also make an “X” for each funnel, easy to do but difficult to get right.  I may end up redo-ing those X’s as they are not quite the way they should be.

I also acquired a Liberty ship 

as well as the famous WW2 Tanker Ohio, of Operation Pedestal fame 

The other ship that I dredged out was the Flower Class Corvette that gave me so many problems. I don’t see her in any of the posts that I have made, but in short the kit was a disaster and I eventually just finished it and put it on the shelf because I was really no longer interested in it. The paint job is half done and probably will never be completed. This is what she looks like.

However, I did not haul out the ships to take a few random shots, instead I sent them all back to their harbour and took some pics.

It was Navy Day today and the fleet was in.

Even HMS Vanguard was alongside, possibly to get her mast straightened? 

The blue cruiser is HMS Swiftsure 

and HMS Ark Royal was alongside too.

And then all of a sudden the fleet put to sea and we get a rare glimpse of HMS Bulwark and her escorts.

and a final battle group with HMS Ark Royal in it. 

Their manoeuvres complete, the fleet sailed back into their display case leaving me to clean up the mess.

However, there was still a coastal convoy to push through before lunch time…

The Flower Class Corvette in the image above I got from Mick Yarrow Miniatures

My real interest is in passenger ships and I did a diorama of them awhile back, so any more ship movements will not be happening until I have the energy to pack and unpack them all again.

© DRW 2017. Created 04/02/2017

Updated: 26/02/2017 — 11:53

Armistice Day 11/11/2016

Shortly after October ends we enter the period where we remember “The Fallen”. That encompasses mostly those who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars, as well as conflicts that may have affected your own country or yourself. In the case of South Africa it is mostly “The Border War” and to a lesser extent the Korean Conflict. But often we forget those that get caught up in these conflicts, and who suffer the results of the madness that we get caught up in.

Millions of civilians have lost their lives in the last century through bombing, occupation by the enemy, being used as hostages, deliberate extermination and all manner of other things that are too horrible to contemplate. That continues to be true even as I peck away at this keyboard. Civilians are really the pawns stuck in the middle.

And then there are those who lost siblings or parents, or friends or neighbours. Those stories of suffering never really came out, and sadly in many cases the families never really came to terms with their losses. Just as many of the combatants came home with horrific wounds or PTSD.

War does not only touch soldiers, but almost everybody around them. The only group that is seemingly unaffected by war seems to be those who send the troops off in the first place, the politicians and their governments very rarely see the front line unless it is to inspect rows of smartly turned out squaddies who were really canon fodder for the puppet masters.

The recent election in the United States is going to have interesting consequences for the world as it totters once again on the edge of a potential World War Three. Will we step back from the brink? will the troops be sent home leaving the battlefield that is Syria and the Middle East simmering and imploding after so much meddling by “superpowers”? I cannot answer that. 

If/when peace breaks out will the people of Syria remember their dead? will anybody mourn their innocents? Mothers probably will, but the powers that be? probably not. 

Cross of Sacrifice: Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol.

This year I will wear my poppy with pride and remember those who I can relate to. My Grandfather, my Father, my Uncle, the boys from Bravo Company, the boy from Echo Company, the crews of merchant ships, the men of the navy, the soldiers and airmen, the nurses and VAD’s, the civilians, the animals, the children, 6 million Jews, the Men of the Mendi, the conscience objector, the policemen, the mothers, daughter and sisters, and so many more that I could be here till next year and never cover them all. However, we must always be mindful to remember: 

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

 

I do not however remember the politicians and dictators who create this horror, they are not worth remembering. 

©  DRW 2016-2017. Created 11/11/2016

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 19:56

Merchant Navy Day 3 September 2016

When I was young I wanted to go to sea in the Merchant Navy, however. South Africa did not have much of a merchant navy or otherwise to go to sea with so I never did. I regret that even so many years down the line. However, given my poor eyesight and lousy maths the odds are I would not have been able to join up anyway, albeit it in the deck department. As a result the I have always considered the Merchant Navy to be a very special breed of people: “They that go down to the sea in ships….” 

Because of the peculiarity of living in South Africa I really relate more to the British Merchant Navy than the South African one, and as a result this is partly why I am posting this today on Merchant Navy Day, and flying “the Red Duster” 

The Merchant Navy suffered appalling losses during both World Wars, often going to sea in coffin ships which could only plod along at the slowest speed conceivable; floating targets for an enemy strike and crewed by men who returned back to their ships time and time again, in a service that was largely forgotten by the civilian population and that was vitally important to the survival of Britain and her allies.

The thousands of casualties are commemorated at Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial in London, and the statistics for the casualties are frightening. By the end of World War One, 3,305 merchant ships had been lost with a total of 17,000 lives. In the Second World War, reached a peak in 1942. In all, 4,786 merchant ships were lost during the war with a total of 32,000 lives. More than one quarter of this total were lost in home waters.   

Seafaring today is nothing like that of the past, crews are smaller, ships are larger and more efficient (although do not look as good),  the coffin ship owners and their accountants still exist though, squeezing every drop of sweat from those manning ships that often fly flags of convenience and with a mixed crew that often has no common language. The one thing about a ship is that once it is out of sight of land it is really a world of it’s own, and like those who sailed on voyages during wartime there is one common enemy that all seafarers face, that can snuff out their small ship with impunity and leave no trace behind. The sea is a fickle medium, it can kill and be kind, but is always to be respected. 

Merchant Navy
A war, a convoy, a letter through the door,
A wife that is a wife no more
Her children are called away from school
To be broken the news so terribly cruel
“Your father has sailed to a distant land
And can not be reached by human hand
No more shall we meet him upon the quay
He can not come back to you or to me”
Some days later, when tears have passed
Her children asleep and quiet at last
She sits down to wish of one more goodbye
And to ponder and puzzle and ask merely why?
The warships guard the convoys tight,
Prepared to stand, prepared to fight.
But they are not who the foe will attack.
They hunt the ones that cannot fight back.
“My husband has sailed to a distant land,
Following orders of higher command,
He sails his ship on a distant sea
Never again to dock on an Australian quay”
Who will remember the warships and crew?
The soldiers in trenches, the men who flew?
All will remember the forces of men,
Who left, never to return again.
But who will remember the brave men of sea
Whose ships were unarmed and could only flee?
Who shouldered the burden of feeding their land,
In ships with conditions fit for the damned
I will remember, with poppy and voice
To tell of the merchant ships and of their choice.
The tankers, the trawlers, the fishing boats too
I remember their sacrifice and say Thank You
Kerry Dainty (aged 17)

We have a large debt to pay to the Merchant Navy of the two world wars, and this day is theirs alone.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 03/09/2016. The poem “Merchant Navy” was found on the Forces Poetry and Stories Forum. I am currently attempting to contact the poet to obtain her permisison to publsih this work.  It is also worth going to http://www.merchant-navy.net/forum/poetry-and-ballads/4449-merchant-navy.html

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:03

61 Mech: The Book

When the 61 Mech Veterans Association was founded a few years ago, it was decided that the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group needed to be told. Not only to preserve the history for the future, but also to correct many of the myths, lies and propaganda associated with the battalion group.

I was a member of Bravo Company of 61 Mech and served with the unit from December 1980 till December 1981 and consider it to be my “home unit”; and while my memory is not as good as it was, I do remember that way back then we knew we were special and that when butts needed kicking we were the ones to do it.

The book took a long time to write, even longer than the average service period of a national serviceman way back in the bad old days. Mobility Conquers, the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group is co-authored by the much respected Willem Steenkamp and Helmoed-Römer Heitman.

I received my copy in early August of 2016, before the book was officially launched in South Africa.

My first impressions were that it was roughly the same size as the box that a 200 round belt of 7.62 ammunition came in, and almost the same weight! In truth it weighs in at 2.6 kg (1062 pages) which is one heck of a lot to balance on your chest at night when you lay in bed reading.

The book covers the period 1978-2005 which is the period when it was founded till when it was disbanded, although in my experience it appears as if the post border war era is really short of detail and does seem rushed.

My biggest gripe is the images, some are almost illegible, and others are way too small too. The maps, while really helpful and beautifully created, are way too small. I struggled to see the detail and frankly just gave up on them. I do however like the occasional sidebar that is used to enhance a page or story or person, they are very helpful and contain some fascinating information.

The book does read easily, interspersed with anecdotes from those who were there and those who planned and oversaw the operations. If anything the book does provide a really good insight into the border war as it was fought in Angola, although it is really restricted to the roles of 61 Mech and affiliated units that served under it’s very large umbrella.

My own interest was in the 1981 years and it was really strange to read about the happenings in that year without shaking your head in agreement. Our OC back then was Cmdt Roland De Vries, and we were really privileged to have him as our OC. This man wrote the book on mechanised warfare for the SADF, and his influence permeated throughout the book. It was also interesting to see how many of the officers from our era moved up in the ranks to lead formations in later operations. As a former nsm we went home after our two years, and for them the war really continued because many were career soldiers.  

Some of the action reports make for interesting reading, and the sheer scale of the operations is amazing. However, the enemy that they fought was even bigger and the losses that they took is staggering. It was really in the nature of these conflicts that lives were thrown away all in the name of a “Liberation Struggle”.  

61 Mech had a reason to exist while the border war raged, and once peace came the writing was really on the wall. There was no real need for a unit that had waged war so effectively, and which had the respect of it’s  friends and foes, and up till now the story of 61 Mech had never been told, and now it is all there in print. 

In my humble opinion the book should have been split into two, although where that spilt would be inserted is difficult to pinpoint. Two volumes would have enabled the authors to expand on the later years and add in a lot more about the operations, equipment and other associated minutiae that made up the unit and it’s men.  It would have also made for a much lighter read, and allowed for choosing which era your interest was in. 

The book is pricey, and hopefully when a second edition does come out some of the errors and omissions will be corrected and the quality of the images will be addressed.  I think I spotted maybe 5 typos in the whole book which was great. 

On my 2nd last day as an nsm  I remember thinking that I was finished with all the crap and once I walked out the main gate I would never hear about the unit again. I was wrong, because 61 Mech fought on and even today, long after it was disbanded it  is still leading the field, it is just that the field is now full of old men who look back with fondness on those days where we were fit and ready to conquer the enemy. 

Mobility Conquers reminds us of those days and those who never came back, our friends and comrades, our much loved Ratels, and the starlit sky above the sandy roads of our base in Omuthiya, and if we cast our minds back we may hear the generator in the distance or the feint whine of a Ratel or the bark of a Hyena.  Those are memories most of us share, and they are well defined inside the book. 

If I wanted to I could nitpick, but I will leave that to those who are more erudite than I am. I will do a reread of the book at a later stage, but this time I will dip in and out, savouring the past and smelling the diesel and cordite, and hearing those familiar sounds once again.

A great read. Congrats to those involved. This is one of the best Border War Books out there and we can be rightly proud of it.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 29/08/2016 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:03

100 Years of Delville Wood.

The Battle of Delville Wood lasted from 15 July – 3 September 1916, however, South Africans commemorate the portion of the battle where the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was involved in, and that runs from the 15th till 20th of July.

My late grandfather was one of the men who entered that wood on the 15th, and today, 100 years later I cannot quite picture him with his mates digging shallow scrapes in the tree root entangled earth  of the wood. I cannot imagine him experiencing the bombardment that the Germans threw at that small portion of France, at times as high as 400 shells a minute. I cannot imagine him fighting hand to hand with Germans, and most of all I cannot even begin to imagine what the wood looked like when his comrades staggered out of it on the 20th. He was luckier than most because he was evacuated on the 18th with a shoulder wound, and as a result I am here today.

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic  Aug 19, 1916)

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic Aug 19, 1916)

I have never had the privilege of visiting the wood myself,  but I have had the privilege of sorting through over 113000 record cards from World War One and photographing nearly 8500 of them.  I would come across a lot of cards where the soldier in question had died in the wood and it was really a sobering glimpse at what we lost as a country in the month of July 1916. 

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

However, when compared against the overall slaughter of The Somme, our casualties are mere drops in an ocean of dead soldiers. And once the last survivor had passed on Delville Wood seemed to have been finally forgotten by South Africa. The Delville Wood Memorial in France is really one that very few South Africans will visit, although I believe it is a very beautiful place.

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

Yet, there are still many who ask about those who fought in that hell of a battle, they ask the same questions as I do, and possibly cannot picture the same things that have plagued me over the years. 

In fact Delville Wood has always been contentious in our national psyche, it is untouchable because of the blood that was shed and that small part of France that is really a small part of South Africa now. Many of those who died in the wood have no known grave, they are names on a memorial, their physical bodies vaporised or smashed to pieces in the barrage of steel:  the wood is still the real cemetery for Delville Wood.

In 2014, the remains of Private Myengwa Beleza, a black soldier, was re-interred at the memorial and in 2016, a new Roll of Honour was unveiled to honour all those South Africans who lost their lives in the First World War, and to ensure that the role played by South Africans of all races in the First and Second World Wars was accorded the necessary recognition. A new Garden of Remembrance was to be created for those who fell but whose remains were never recovered.

The list of of all South Africans who died during the battle of Delville Wood 15/20 July 1916. It lists all those who died in France. Of note, many of them are listed as having a date of death (particularly the 3rd Regt. SAI) of 1 August 1916. It wasn’t until that date a roll could be completed. Many of the prisoners taken by the Germans at Delville Wood were originally on the roll until the Red Cross could determine who had actually died in the battle. 

A SOLDIER’S SONG

Lt Frederick Carruthers Cornell, S. Africa Native Labour Corps

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The German foe in thousands lay,
And no-man’s land, with British blood,
Ran red as wine that summer’s day
We’d sworn to take it – and we would!
 

God help the Bosche in Delville Wood!
To Delville Wood – to Delville Wood,
We faced his fire, and forced our way
To where his grim machine guns stood,
And where he fiercely turned at bay –
We’d sworn to beat him – and we would!
We’d turn him out of Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
As inch by inch the ground was gained,
With bullet, steel, and smashing butt.
We fought and fell, till few remained;
But Boer and Briton steadfast stood,
For Freedom’s sake – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
Midst splintered trees and shattered wrack,
From morn till night we still made good
Gainst shot and shell and massed attack,
We’d sworn to win, so firm we stood –
Or died like men – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The shattered trees are green with leaves,
And flowers bloom where cannons stood,
And rich the fields with golden sheaves –
Sleep soft ye dead, for God is good –
And Peace has come to Delville Wood!

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 15/07/2016. 2 Images by Brian Roberts, “In Vlaandere se Velde” courtesy of Karen Dickens.  

 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:09

Nancy the Springbok Mascot

One of the more colourful mascots that was adopted by the military is Nancy, a young Springbok (Thompson’s Gazelle) that became the mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (SA Scottish). She was presented to the Regiment in August 1915 by Mr D. McClaren Kennedy who lived on the farm Vierfontein  in the Free State.

Her keeper was a bugler: Edmund Peterson of “D” Company South African Scottish, Nicknamed ‘buck major’, he was not only her keeper, but her trainer and protector. Being the official mascot, she was trained to move and trot in tune to the sound of the bagpipes and the regimental band, and she accompanied the Springboks (As South African soldiers came to be known) everywhere, even surviving the horrors of the battle of Delville Wood in 1916.

When the fighting was in the vicinity of the French town Armentieres, a shell exploded close to where Nancy had been tethered and she bolted in fright, seriously damaging her left horn against a wall. The doctors were not prepared to risk resetting the horn so it eventually grew downwards at an angle. Her out-of-alignment horn allowed her to display a golden ‘wound’-stripe on the tartan coat that she wore to stave off the cold.

In the winter of 1918 she caught pneumonia,  and although cared for by her keeper and the medical personnel, she sadly died on 26 November 1918, a few days after the war had ended. Her death was announced in General Orders and on 28 November 1918 she was buried in the cemetery in the village of Hermeton-sur-Meuse in Belgium with full military honours.

Before being buried she was skinned and her skin was sent  to a taxidermist who stuffed and mounted her effigy and that was then sent onwards to South Africa. She was on display in the Officers Mess of the Transvaal Scottish Regimental Headquarters before being presented to the South African National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold in 1958. 

Nancy is also listed at the South African War Graves Project

© DRW 2009-2017. Retrospectively created 11/07/2016. Some text from the SAMVOA Website 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:10

Remember the Somme

The Battle of the Somme; a name to remember with sorrow because of the huge cost in human life. The campaign has long been picked part by historians and soldiers, and as always there are those who criticise the plan, the generals, the artillery, the weather, the Germans, the French and everything in between. Who is to blame? it is not my task to apportion blame, I am only here to remember those who never returned.

As with my Battle of Jutland post, I am using the Somme 100 toolkit provided by the Royal British Legion. I am afraid I could never explain the battle myself because I do not have the ability to describe such a monumental slaughter. Remember, I only photograph the graves. The Toolkit uses “The Battle of the Somme” From an original work for The Royal British Legion by Professor Sir Hew Strachan FRSE FRHistS. I am only going to reproduce excerpts from it.

The British folk memory of the Battle of the Somme is dominated by one moment: 7.30am on 01 July 1916. It was a bright summer’s day, the sun well up, and falling from the east on the backs of the German defenders and into the faces of the British. Officers sounded their whistles, and their men scrambled up ladders to get out of the trenches and into No Man’s Land. Sergeant R.H. Tawney, with the 22nd Battalion, the Manchester Regiment near Fricourt, recalled that:

“[We] lay down, waiting for the line to form up on each side of us. When it was ready, we went forward, not doubling, but at a walk. For we had 900 yards of rough ground to the trench, which was our first objective.”

By the day’s end 19,240 British soldiers had been killed and nearly twice that number wounded: the total of 57,470 casualties was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. This single fact ensures that for most Britons the Battle of the Somme defines what they mean when they talk of the ‘tragedy’, the ‘waste’ and ‘futility’ of the First World War. Apart from the war’s opening and closing dates (for Britain 04 August 1914 and 11 November 1918), 01 July 1916 was the first day picked out for national observance when plans for the commemoration of the centenary were being drawn up.

On 01 July 2016, it will be 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. This was one of the largest battles of the First World War fought by the British and the French against Germany. It took place on both banks of the River Somme in France, and is remembered as one of the most tragic episodes in human history. 

  • The Battle of the Somme is synonymous with the United Kingdom’s Remembrance of the First World War and the futility of trench warfare.
  • Fighting at the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and lasted four and a half months.
  • In total, 60 nations from across the British Empire and Europe were involved in the fighting across a 25 kilometre front.
  • There were almost sixty thousand British and Imperial casualties on the first day of the battle, of which nearly twenty thousand were killed.
  • At the start of the battle, most of the British Army had been an inexperienced mass of volunteers.
  • Going over the top at the Somme was the first taste of battle for many men, as a large number were part of “Kitchener’s Volunteer Army” which was formed by Pals battalions, mainly recruited from the North of England. The Pals battalions were made up of groups of friends, team mates in sports clubs and colleagues, who had joined together expecting to fight together. The heavy losses in one battalion had a profound effect on Britain and were felt locally and nationally.
  • Of the approaching half a million British and Imperial casualties suffered in the 141 day-long battle, a third died. When the offensive finally came to a halt on 18 November 1916, the Battle of the Somme had claimed a million casualties; 430,000 from Commonwealth countries, with a third of this number killed. 
  • On 15 July the South African Brigade took Delville Wood, a thick tangle of trees, and held it against successive counter-attacks and under shellfire that shattered the forest. Of their original strength of 3,153, just 143 left the wood five days later.
  • 19,240 British soldiers had been killed by the end of the first day. It was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. In comparison, the French Army had around 1,600 casualties and the German had 10,000–12,000 casualties.
  • The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days (from 01 July – 18 November 1916).
  • 1,700,000 shells were fired on to the German lines by 1,600 pieces of British artillery during the eight-day preliminary bombardment.(est)
  • The first tank to engage in battle was designated D1, a British Mark I Male, during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. 49 tanks of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps of the British Army were sourced and were to reach Somme by September 1916. However, due to mechanical and other failures, only 36 of them participated at the Battle of the Somme.
  • 5 Miles was the furthest advance of any allied force during the whole battle.
  • During the Battle of the Somme, 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 17 of them were awarded posthumously.

The Battle of the Somme did not produce a ‘decisive victory’ of the sort that was alleged to have characterised earlier wars, but the Somme could be seen as a waypoint on the route to winning the war in 1918. Certainly the Somme redefined modern industrialised warfare, and was fought as a battle of attrition. Within the ‘battle’ of the Somme were scores of other battles – the battle of Albert, the battle of Flers-Courcelette, the battle of Ancre; by the standards of the previous century, the Somme was a war within a war.

“As day breaks through wind and rain we form a line on rough terrain, to face a foe we’ll never know, we will fall and die where poppies now grow. Remember us the chosen ones, the lads the dads and someone’s sons. Be not sad, just be glad, knowing we gave all we had. As you walk on our fields of doom, places where our bodies were strewn, we will gaze on you through heaven’s door and hope our words stay for evermore. When you leave save a tear, for here we stay year on year, the lads the dads and someone’s sons, the boys who fell before German guns.”

Dave Callaghan. Taken from the wall of remembrance at www.somme-battlefields.com

 

 
© DRW 2016-2017. Created 30/06/2016. Period images are sourced from the Somme 100 Toolkit of the Royal British Legion, and they originate from the Imperial War Museum.  Most of the text in this post is copied from that toolkit and Remembrance pack. Some images are from my own collection.
Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:10
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