Newsletter & Program for December 2017

THE DATE:       Tuesday 12 December 2017

VENUE:            KwaMuhle Museum, Bram Fischer Road [Ordnance Road] Durban.

TIME:               Meeting commences at 1715; Refreshments will be served from 1630.

CHARGE:         Meeting charge for refreshments; Members R20 – Visitors R30

PARKING:        Off Bram Fischer/Ordnance road [next to the Museum]; security person is present

FEATURE:        HEROD THE GREAT – a great, and possibly the greatest builder of all time. Member Alison Bastable fell in love with the near East in 1983. Her talk, which is a superb follow on to Robin Smith’s October presentation, will take us on a visit to Petra, Masada, Herodium, Caesarea Maritima and Jerusalem to see what an astounding legacy he left behind.


The Society’s AGM was again held at the RNYC but somewhat earlier in the month than usual on Saturday 18 November.

It was an enjoyable gathering of members and friends who celebrated the previous year’s many successes. However it will always be remembered by everyone there because Treasurer Myra Boyes had received splendid news the day previously; news which Myra aptly described as arriving at the eleventh hour. SARS had sent an email at 1600 with an attachment stating that the Society met the requirements of a Public Benefit Organisation and providing our PBO number. Now PBO 930011633 will appear on letterheads, newsletters and the Society website.

The letter states that the Society is exempt from Income Tax as ‘you meet the requirements of a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) set out in section 30(3) of the Income Tax Act 58 etc…)

The letter goes on to state:

The exemption letter includes the following clause which we understand will require the donor to claim for any donation:

Welcome news indeed and a great omen for the year ahead. Myra was warmly praised for both her patience and tenacity by President Ian Smith and Chairman Hardy Wilson because they more than anyone knew the hard work and effort Myra had put into gaining this status.

The AGM chaired by President Ian Smith, started at 1300, and following apologies from 43 members, who were listed in the AGM booklet, all stood for a moment in memory of members who had passed on since the previous AGM.

The chairman Hardy Wilson read his report covering major activities during the previous year and thanking the many people, committee members as well as members, plus others including Snothi Thabethe – Director of the DLHM and Lucille Webster Director of Libraries at DUT, both of whom were the Society’s guests, for their support and contribution to our successes.

Myra Boyes read her treasurers report with great enthusiasm which was hardly surprising in view of the Society being granted a PBO only the day before. But members were equally impressed by the sound financial management which has been the case under Myra’s firm guiding hand.

President Ian then read out the names of members nominated to sit on the 2018 committee with Chair Hardy ending with the nomination of our hardworking President for a further year.

Committee members have all agreed to head specific portfolios so your new committee appears in the table below with their respective portfolios.The minutes, chairman’s and treasurer’s report will be found on the SA National Society website – and if you are reading this on our site click this link to download as a PDF.

Following an enjoyable lunch Paul Mikula our guest speaker enthusiastically entertained everyone with a different but pertinent take on art and the way it has changed in the past century. This address resulted in enthusiastic support from those present for a repeat visit to the Phansi Museum.

SA National Society 2017-2018 Committee
President:       Ian Smith Chair:                 Hardy Wilson Secretary:        Memory Coutts
Treasurer:       Myra Boyes Photos:      Sanabelle Ebrahim Website:         Hugh Bland
Publicity:         Mikhail Peppas Events:         Angela St George V-P:                  Naureen Craig
V-P:                  Robert King V-P:                   David Hughes V-P:         Theunis Walter Eloff

Click to download a PDF of the Chairman and Treasurer’s Annual Reports:

Treasurer’s Report 2017

Chairman’s AGM Report 2017

MAZEPPA STREET   by Tony Voss               Presented to SA National Society on 2017-07-11

In July this year members enjoyed a stimulating presentation from Tony Voss, who is a research associate of NMMU (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth), but due to pressures at the time, Part 3 of the August Newsletter was never finished. So here is more of Tony Voss’s presentation – Mazeppa Street.

Please also note we have exercised some editorial prerogative because the spelling of the ‘heroes’ name appears with one ‘p’ not two in some records.

Ukraine’s Historical Figure strapped naked to the back of a horse

The name “Mazeppa” appears at three places on the map of South Africa. The original toponym is Mazeppa Bay (32°S, 28°E) on the Wild Coast. The second is Mazeppa Street, which runs south from near the eastern end of Smith Street (Anton Lembede Street) in Durban (29°S, 31°E). The Mazeppa triangle is closed at the farm Mazeppa, which lies about forty kilometres south of Middelburg,  Eastern Cape (31°S, 25°E),  on the Graaff-Reinet road.

Mazeppa Street is not marked a Plan of the Town of Durban 1851 (Local History Museum 82/830), but the Durban Corporation “instituted the proper naming of all Streets and Roads in the Borough not already named” at a Council meeting on 10th July 1877 and the name appears on a Plan Drawing of 1881. (Local History Museum, 78/96, 78/97).

The central episode in the life of the legendary (if not mythical) Mazepa (as opposed to the historical) reputedly took place at the court of Jean Casimir, King of Poland, where as a young man he was caught in an intrigue with a nobleman’s wife. Mazepa was punished by being strapped naked to the back of a white horse, which galloped off into its homeland in the vast plains of Eastern Europe. After four days, the horse dies under its burden, who survives to become Hetman, or “General” of the Cossacks of Ukraine. (Ukraina means “‘on the edge’ or ‘the frontier’ ”.) Byron’s Mazeppa, a Poem, published in 1819 caused a sensation.

The hero became a romantic icon and an emblem of speed: at any one time through the 19th century there could be as many as half-a-dozen Mazeppas listed in the Lloyds annual Register of Shipping. (Later on trains took the name.) Our Mazeppa owned and skippered by Captain Tait (also Tate) is one of the ships, “Built at: supposed United States”. “When built” was “Not known” but the surveyor Courtenay further if speculatively filled out her history and description:

This is a shallow vessel, not sharp and is constructed of longer scantling than is usually found in vessels of her description. She appears to have been engaged in the slave trade and captured on the coast of Africa last year and is apparently about 7 years old, I am of opinion she is now fit for the conveyance of perishable cargoes.

The “slaver” was a specialised craft, “every quality being sacrificed for speed”.

To some extent the historical record enables us to see the Mazeppa as coming from this same stable. The early Natal settler Francis Armstrong called her “a fast boat”, and Adulphe Delegorgue judged her “an excellent craft”. John Owen Smith, who became her owner in about 1840, puffed her as “The fine fast-sailing Schooner ‘Mazeppa’” (Eastern Province Herald 21.2.1846). In August 1848 the “good old ‘Mazeppa’” (Kraus, p.57), carrying a cargo of “600 fowls” set a record of 64 hours for the voyage from Port Natal to Algoa Bay (Harradine), a journey that could take a week, as could the passage between Table and Algoa Bays: “an average of seven days” according to J. C. Chase. Early in 1840 our Mazeppa was hailed and boarded by a British corvette of the anti-slavery squadron, the Modeste, which Frans Mathys Wolhuter, who was a passenger on board the Mazeppa at the time, explained by the fact that she “was a slaver before being taken by a British cruiser” (p.4), and still looked like a slaver.

Captain Tate bought from the British Government a slaving schooner, captured by the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery squadron, and, after refitting and repairs, re-named it Mazeppa. We can’t be certain but I think this Esperança (one of the last slavers to be sold on whole rather than cut up or burned) may be Captain Tate’s original, and this is a better image of a schooner than any of those we know for certain to be of our Mazeppa.




Captain Tate sailed his Mazeppa to her new home port, Algoa Bay, and she became a busy trader, sailing along the South African coast and (as we shall see) further afield. We can still see some record of what (and whom) she carried

Mazeppa Bay received its name from the schooner in the 1840s. The Graham’s Town Journal of 4  July, 1844, under the heading “British Enterprize” reported that the Port Elizabeth merchant John Owen Smith, after a “personal examination of the coast from the Buffalo to the Umzimvoobo” had established “a trading station in Hintsa’s territory, and the opening of a communication by sea with that country”. Smith’s vessel was even then “safely anchored in Mazeppa Bay…at the mouth of a river [probably the Nebelele] in Hintza’s country…delivering her cargo at Port Fynn, so named after the first vessel employed in this trade, and of the British resident agent in the country where it is carried on”. (2) The opening of a port on this coast, as the Journal’s report suggests, was both an achievement and an opportunity for colonial merchants, filling a long-felt need. Captain Owen had observed the coast’s “total want of harbours”, acknowledging that “to compensate for this deficiency it has an abundance of rivers”. (Owen: I, 70)

But our Mazeppa played a more dramatic part in Natal history too. In April or May 1835, Louis Trichardt, who had been for some years an exile from the Cape Colony, set out north with his party. On the Cape Argus/Saul Solomon Outline Map of 1877, an eminence just east of Southeyville, south of the Indwe River and north-west of St Mark’s is named Trikarots Hill.  Soon the Trichardt trek party were camping between the Orange and the Caledon: when they set out northwards across the Eastern Free State, they had been joined by some members of the van Rensburg trek, including the Bothas from what is now Middelburg in the Eastern Cape: Hendrik (“wamaker”) and Anna and their five children. On 23rd August, 1837 Trichardt set out for Delagoa Bay, which he reached on 13 April 1838, with “46 Christians and 7 servants”.

By this time John Owen Smith of Algoa Bay was using the Mazeppa in trade with the “emigrant farmers” at Port Natal, to whom he had supplied guns and ammunition, one consignment of which was impounded at Port Elizabeth in 1838.  At about this time Captain Tate (accompanied by the Natal settler Peter Hogg) on the Mazeppa was sent by the Cape Government to plant the British flag on the Island of Inyaka (Inhaca). At Delagoa Bay they visited the survivors of the Trichardt trek. When Hogg returned to Algoa Bay he reported to Smith. Smith had heard of the plight of Trichardt’s party from the Reverend Francis Owen, but his application for permission to send a ship for the trekkers was at first refused. By 19th June 1839, permission had been granted and on 25th June the Mazeppa sailed on its “humane mission” under the command of Captain John Tait: on board was George Christopher Cato, Smith’s representative in Port Natal. (Note Cato’s probable familiarity with the vessel.) They arrived in Delagoa Bay on 3d July, and returned to Port Natal on 19th July with the 25 survivors of the Trichardt trek, including the widow Anna Botha and her two daughters and three sons. The Dutch residents of Port Elizabeth subscribed to charter the Mazeppa: the survivors’ passage had cost ₤180.

By the end of 1839, the “emigrant farmers” had established the Republic of Natalia. On 4th May 1842, Captain Thomas Smith, who had been waiting at the mouth of the Umgazi River, arrived in Port Natal with a detachment of the Royal Artillery, to re-establish Britain’s presence, if not to take possession in the name of the crown. Very soon Smith and his troops, after a disastrous attack on the Boer position at Congella on the night of 23rd May, were besieged in the Old Fort, pinned down by the Republican marksmen. Most English settler civilians were made captive, some to be gaoled in Pietermaritzburg, and some detained at Port Natal, including Allen, the master of the Mazeppa. (Mackeurtan: 275) On 1st June, Pretorius sent the Reverend James Archbell under flag of truce to recommend that women and children should take refuge on board the Mazeppa, which had arrived in the bay on 24th May and whose cargo the Boers had seized. Amongst the women and children on board the Mazeppa, Archbell, James McKenzie, Joseph Cato and Peter Hogg had concealed themselves. On 10th June, under Cato’s command, the Mazeppa slipped her cable, and, with all aboard lying low and protected by mattresses which had been draped over the side as if for airing, ran the gauntlet of the Republican fire from the Point and the Bluff, and sailed for Delagoa Bay in search of British help. When the Mazeppa returned on 27th June, the warship Southampton with a company of troops was off Port Natal, and Britain’s third and final occupation was under way.

But the British troops were there from the efforts not of women and men sailing a schooner, but from those of a man (or two men) whose exploits recall the original Mazeppa in a different way.

During the night of 26th May the Cato brothers, in boats from the schooner, had rowed Dick King across the bay to begin his 10-day ride to Grahamstown for British reinforcements. On the night he left Port Natal, King had been sleeping on board the Mazeppa, who with some other men had managed to hide out on board, escaping detection by the Boers.

Dick King and Ndongeni from the statue in Durban

The Cato brothers rowed King and his young Zulu companion Ndongeni across the bay swimming two horses supplied by Major Smith, and from somewhere near King’s Rest, King and Ndongeni set out for Grahamstown.

Mazeppa Street, then commemorates especially these two episodes: the “humane mission” to bring back the survivors of the Trichardt trek, and the “epic journey” of escape to seek help for the besieged British. In memory, history is aligned with literature, and legend with myth. So Major Hook identifies the fate of King’s horse Somerset with that of Mazeppa’s courser of the steppes, as told by Byron:

In passing through Bathurst Street [in Grahamstown], an old officer – Somerset’s former owner – accosted him [King], but time did not permit the veteran to again stroke his old favourite, and the impatient rider passed on…The news in the military barracks next morning was that King lay in hospital and Somerset was dead.

Major Hook concludes the story with a quotation from Byron’s poem:

A moment staggering, feebly fleet,
A moment with a feint low neigh
He answered, and then fell!
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay
And reeking limbs immovable:
…his last career was done.

(Hook, 177-178: Byron, 123; ll.690-694 )

There had been an earlier connection made between Byron’s poem and the saviour of colonial Natal. In The History of Old Durban and reminiscences of an immigrant of 1850, first published in 1899, George Russell wrote that King “was visiting on board the ‘Mazeppa’” on the night he was asked to undertake the ride to Grahamstown.

He is not known to be of a poetical turn, so his entertainment on board the Mazeppa did not suggest his brief reply, ‘Bring forth the horse’… (quoted in Eyre, 41)

The implication may be that King in fact was “of a poetical turn”: his quotation from Byron’s poem is from the mouth of the cuckolded nobleman who condemns Mazeppa to his ride. (Byron, 112: l.358) King in this account thus commits himself to the mission into the wilderness, conscious of his Romantic precedent.

Fittingly, Dick King is commemorated in Grahamstown too, and in many poems. And one of Natal’s own poets also remembered Byron and identified himself with the hero.

Like the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius had become a British possession after the Napoleonic Wars.  Auguste Toussaint, the Mauritius historian, wrote that the Mazeppa was “Registered in Mauritius in 1848” until it was “sold abroad in 1857…  Between those years, Mazeppa belonged to the Mauritius Merchant Marine and served on the circuit Madagascar and Dependencies, Mauritius”. Having arrived in Port Louis on 17th October 1848, under the command of Captain Watts, the Mazeppa was examined by the Harbour Master “to report on her qualifications for the packet service”, who referred the matter to a committee including the Master and the Carpenter of H.M.S. Geyser and the Carpenter of H.M.S. Brilliant. They found the “Timber and planking perfectly sound and in good condition” but confirmed the Harbour Master’s judgment and his recommendation. So the Mazeppa, as a jobbing freighter, entered the “Merchant Marine”, rather than the “packet service”.

International Flag Code Sign for Mazeppa

We do not know yet where the Mazeppa “was sold abroad in 1857”.  We do know our Mazeppa led an active life.

The last record we have is The Mercantile Navy List for 1858, which lists “Mazeppa, code QKRG: of Port Louis, 95 tons” assigning it the number 30410. The code QKRG is its sequence of flags, identifying the Mazeppa according to the International Code of Signals, first drafted in 1852. There is no ship name for the number 30410 in the Mercantile Navy List for 1859.

But the South African map hadn’t done with the Mazeppa. Driving South of Middelburg in the Eastern Cape, just north of the Lootsberg Pass on the road to Graaff-Reinet, I saw 20 years ago this white horse painted on a rock-face on the eastern side of the road, with the inscription: “88 jaar oud”.

On a visit to Middelburg in 1995, I learned that the horse is believed to have been there for a long time, and according to Mr. P.F. (“Oom Frikkie”) Aucamp it was painted by a bored road-worker one Sunday afternoon in 1940, when a road engineer, Mr. Wheeler, had a road camp at Ventershoek, just below the Lootsberg Pass, on the Middelburg side. (Mrs Hester du Toit, Curatrix, Middelburg Cultural History Museum: Letter, 25 November 1996)

Across the road from the white horse was a sign simply reading Mazeppa; a road which leads to a beautiful farm.

The farm Mazeppa, which lies about 200 metres west of the road from Graaff-Reinet to Middelburg, seems originally to have formed part of Roodehoogte until sometime after the war of 1899-1902. In 1905 as Roodehoogte A, a farm was granted to Stephanus Coetzee Botha. In 1925 ownership of Roodehoogte A was transferred by Botha to G. F. Smith, but in about 1929 a grand and elegant house (“’n spoghuis”) was built on Botha’s property. When Stephanus Coetzee Botha died in 1931, however, he left “my farm Mazeppa”, which in his will is described as his “usual place of residence” to his son Douglas. Roodehoogte A was a portion of 2,448 morgen: Mazeppa now covers 595 morgen. (Deeds Office, Cape Town: file farm Roodehoogte: Cape Archives, MOOC 6/9/3938, no.30873) Stephanus Coetzee Botha gave the name Mazeppa to his farm.

The farm Mazeppa 20 km S of Middelburg

Whatever the motive of the bored road-worker, his fresco harmonizes with a rural legend, in which Stephanus Coetzee Botha is subjected to a transformation so as to conform to the demands of legend. He becomes Stephen Petrus Botha, who “fought on both sides” during the South African War: perhaps this double allegiance is expressed in the two Christian names, one English and one Afrikaans. (Even, perhaps in the name, Douglas, of Stephanus Coetzee Botha). When his support of the British is discovered by fellow Afrikaners shortly before the peace, he is judged by a commando near Rosmead Junction and punished by being strapped naked to a white horse which is sent galloping back to the family farm. (Interview with Mrs Peggy Torr, Bultfontyn, Middelburg, July, 1994) The name Mazeppa then recalls Botha’s punishment, but also alludes to the original Ukrainian Mazeppa, striving for the integrity of his homeland, and torn between two opposing sides.

Remember that the hero of this story is a Botha, and Mrs Anna Botha, the widow of Hendrik Botha, of Middelburg, “die wamaker”, her two daughters and three sons were among the survivors of the Trichardt trek, brought to Port Natal from Delagoa Bay on board the Mazeppa in 1839. John Owen Smith, who bought the Mazeppa from Captain Tate, owned farms in the Middelburg district in the 1850s.

It is impossible to do justice to a presenter when writing up his story, especially when space forces one to omit large parts of both the story, its links and its well-researched illustrations, but we hope members will enjoy revisiting this most enjoyable and mentally stimulating talk.

As a postscript we often check the internet for additional information and amazingly the farm Mazeppa with its roughly 500 ha of grounds is currently on the market for a few million rand.


Anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection, without which life becomes a senseless blur of activity. So we shouldn’t allow the 75th milestone of El Alamein, South Africa’s finest military victory, to pass unnoticed. Especially as it was the first nail hammered into the coffin of what until that point appeared to be an impregnable dictatorship.

In November 1942, the 1st South African Division fought alongside comrades from the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand in winning the decisive African campaign of World War Two. After 12 bloody days of action against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, the Allies triumphed in what hindsight showed was the watershed in a war they had been losing.

Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the battle as the “turning of the hinge of fate.” In volume eight of Churchill’s epic work on the Second World War, he wrote: “Before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”

Ian Smith


Highway Heritage Society and Newsletters

Forthcoming Events and Newsletters of the Highway Heritage Society will be found on the SA National Society’s website from November 2017.

Earlier Highway Heritage Society Newsletters will gradually be uploaded as well so members and friends can search for information and earlier Newsletters, which will be in downloadable PDF format.

These will be uploaded as they become available so click the links to download a PDF copy of the relevant HHS Newsletter.

No 99 for October 2017    Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 99 2017-10 Oct

No 98 for September 2017 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 98 – 2017-09 Sep

No 97 for August 2017 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 97 – 2017-08 Aug

No 96 for June 2017 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 96 – 2017-06 Jun

No 95 for April 2017 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 95 – 2017-04 Apr

No 94 for January 2017 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 94 –2017-01 Jan

No 93 for October 2016 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 93 – 2016-10 Oct

No 91 for July 2016 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 91 – 2016-07 Jul

No 90 for May 2016 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 90 – 2016-05 May

No 89 for April 2016 Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 89 – 2016-04 Apr


Newsletter & Program for November 2017

Members and Friends are reminded that there is no meeting in November because this is AGM Month. Paul Mikula will be the guest speaker at the AGM lunch – talking about the Phansi Feel Good Museum; a presentation we anticipate with delight.

Last date for booking a place at the AGM lunch is November 15, the meeting being on 18th .

The AGM and the end of year Raffle

At last year’s AGM great fun was had by everyone present because of the wonderful generosity of members which allowed a great many ‘prizes’ to be distributed in the raffle.

Can we again ask members to contribute items which can be raffled at this year’s AGM but can members also think of some fun items as well as shortbread, biscuits, Christmas cake, mince pies and such, please. We will put together Christmas hampers, but remember – the greater the variety the greater the entertainment!

Some folks may prefer to drop items off with Angela St George well before the event, or if they are unable to attend but would still like to contribute, so please give Angie a ring on 083 555 5705 and arrange a suitable drop off time with her.

December meeting on Tuesday 12 December

The December meeting will be held at our usual venue of KwaMuhle Museum when Society member Alison Bastable will be our guest speaker. Alison’s title is HEROD THE GREAT – a great, and possibly the greatest builder of all time.

Report Back – Inaugural Ken Gillings Memorial Lecture presented by Robin Smith.

The Allied campaign in the Holy Land 1917 – 1918
General Sir Edmund Allenby’s entry into Jerusalem and Damascus

General Sir Edmund Allenby

General Sir Edmund Allenby was described as Britain’s Greatest General after his successful campaign in Palestine and Syria in 1917-18. However without his disagreement with his Commander-in-Chief Douglas Haig in May 1917, and his replacement with a more pliable general, the Allies might not have seen and benefitted from his remarkable ability.

David Lloyd George became British Prime Minister in December 1916 following the unsatisfactory progress of the war resulting in the resignation of PM Asquith and First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill. Lloyd George was intensely disliked by his generals but equally his mistrust of Haig meant that he correctly anticipated no spectacular gains from the imminent Third Battle of Ypres.

Joffre and Sceptical Lloyd George

Lloyd George’s hopes were therefore pinned on the Middle East front. An able, aggressive and experienced general with a reputation for getting things done was needed to lead an advance in southern Palestine; an advance that would end triumphantly in the capture of Jerusalem which would cheer a war-weary Britain and encourage its allies.

On 7 June 1917 Allenby, accompanied by Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshall Sir William Robertson, heard Lloyd George’s plans for a Palestine offensive – Jerusalem by Christmas. A doubtful Robertson agreed to support the campaign but Lloyd George presented Allenby with a copy of Sir George Adam Smith’s The Historical Geography of the Holy Land remarking with a side-swipe at Robertson, “that it probably contained more of practical use than could be found in War Office surveys”.

Broad political issues were involved. The Prime Minister and several senior colleagues were convinced that the stalemate on the Western Front could never be broken. Elimination of Germany’s allies offered a better chance of victory and Turkey was the most fragile of Germany’s props.

Allenby arrived in Cairo on 28 June. Within three weeks he had completely revitalised his army. Realising that the physical gap between GHQ in Cairo and the front lines facing Gaza caused misunderstandings he chivvied his staff from their snug quarters in Cairo and sent them to Rafah within range of the Turkish guns. “Staff officers” he said, “are like partridges – they are better for being shot over.” No longer was Allenby required to conform to the plans of Haig and his staff. He could now fight the sort of battles that, as a cavalryman, he instinctively understood.

Lloyd George’s parting gift –

Sir George Adam Smith’s Atlas of the historical geography of the Holy Land

The Attempt to Take Gaza

A Turkish attack on Romani was beaten off. South African Colonel “Galloping Jack” Royston commanded the 2nd Brigade of the Anzac Mounted Division. He was wounded in the action but rode back to encourage his men with yards of blood-stained bandage from his flesh wound trailing behind him. A huge man, he wore out at least twelve horses that day.

Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Royston: “Galloping Jack” at Romani 3-5 August 1916

Allenby quickly overhauled the staff in Cairo, finding many of them to be too junior. He brought with him Major-General Sir John Shea and wired the War Office for additional staff officers. At the end of July he restructured his command, creating three corps and appointing new commanders.

Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel One of the three new commanders

On 12 July Allenby met with Captain T.E. Lawrence whose dramatic capture of the port of Aqaba six days earlier had made him the man of the moment in Cairo. Lawrence attended the interview in Bedouin costume and sensed that Allenby was uncertain whether or not his guest was a charlatan – this doubt would remain for the rest of Allenby’s life.

The ‘Arab Revolt’ up to now had been a disappointment and the Turkish garrison had easily held Medina against the half-hearted attacks of the Arabs. Allenby pledged material support which radically changed the nature of the Arab movement and he found Lawrence to be charming and learned. Colonel Meinertzhagen suspected that behind the facade was a glory-hunter with ‘a trick of inflating the truth so that one cannot tell which is basic fact and which is embellishment’. (A charge which was later levelled at Meinertzhagen so possibly a case of it takes one to know one – Editor).

Tragically at this time Sir Edmund Allenby received a War Office telegram advising of the death of his only son Michael. His secretary, Lord Edward Dalmeny wrote, “He read it, put his hands to his eyes for a moment and said ‘My son’ and then to me ‘Go on’. I thought it a great example of self-discipline. My heart went out to that man then.”

The Turks had made Gaza into a strong modern fortress. Between Gaza and Beersheba, 27 km to the east, their line consisted of five strong points. In the everlasting search for water, it was discovered that Asluj and Khelasa had been populous centres in ancient times. The Turks did much to destroy the Asluj water supply but the 2nd Australian Brigade was sent to repair this vital resource and build long rows of horse troughs. Allenby himself paid them a visit – “We thought a lot of him,” wrote Trooper Idriess “coming out all this distance and seeing with his own eyes what is being done.”

While the troopers were working on the wells at Asluj, a detachment of a new, surprising ally appeared. They were Hijaz Arabs based at the recently-conquered Aqaba. The Australians were wary of the Sinai Bedouins after a number of incidents and had been ordered to avoid tangling with them because they were potential allies. This contingent of 70 camels under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Newcombe, one of the men involved in Allenby’s stepped-up association with Prince Feisal, was the first proof of that. Newcombe’s Arab detachment moved in a wide detour to the east and set up a road block on the Hebron road.

Chetwode’s plan was drawn up with much input from his Chief Staff Officer, Major-General Guy Dawnay and presented to Allenby in June. The plan in outline was to feint at Gaza, then to employ most of the mounted troops in a vigorous thrust designed to capture Beersheba. The success of the plan depended on deception, surprise, swiftness of execution and water; for the horses could not be watered at all until Beersheba had been captured. For water they must depend on the rapid capture intact of at least some of the 17 wells thought to be in the town. This had to be achieved in a single day or the whole operation would fail. The similarities between Chetwode’s plan and Roberts’s for the relief of Kimberley are striking.

By 30 October some 12,000 mounted men were assembled at Khelasa and Asluj. To each saddle were attached two nosebags holding two day’s forage with a third day’s supply in wagons. Neither greatcoats nor blankets were allowed and three days’ rations were carried in saddle-wallets. By 22:00 on 30 October Major-General Edward Chaytor’s Anzac Division had cleared out of Asluj followed by Major-General Henry Hodgson’s Australian Division which had already covered the 16 km from Khelasa. Chetwode’s XX Corps infantry were marching to the left of the mounted troops and by 08:30 the next morning had captured a strong enemy outwork, Hill 1070.

One of the most amazing night marches of the campaign was under way. The two mounted divisions were negotiating some of the wildest, most featureless country of southern Palestine. Near Thaffha, the 2nd Anzac Brigade, which was to form the right of the attack on Beersheba, advanced northwards to Bir Arara, and thence to Tel es Sakaty on the road to Hebron. The rest of the Anzacs and the Australian Division turned left towards the Iswaiwin area 10 km east of Beersheba. From here at dawn the town came into view on the open plain in which runs the broad, shallow Wadi as Saba. This was possibly the biggest night march ever to have taken place in time of war, made entirely across country.

The steep-sided wadi beds provided good shelter for the horses and the New Zealanders were able to advance to within 700 metres of Tel es Sakaty. Chaytor put in the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Brigade and attacked the hill from the south-east. The New Zealanders gained the bank of the wide wadi immediately opposite the Turkish position which was now under intense converging fire. They captured sixty prisoners and three machine guns which they turned on their late owners who were fleeing towards Beersheba.

The ground ahead was difficult and time was pressing, it was now approaching 16:00 and it would be dark soon after 17:00. Chauvel knew that slow methodical progress must now give way to a swift mounted charge in an attempt to enter the town from the east. The closest units were the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments with the 5th Mounted Brigade of Yeomanry in support while the 7th Mounted Brigade was to their left.

Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel and the staff of the Desert Mounted Corps

Allenby, away from GHQ, acting in a typically peremptory manner, sent a telegram to Chauvel, “The Chief orders you to capture Beersheba today in order to secure water.” Chauvel told Hodgson “Put Grant straight at it”.

Brigadier-General William Grant was 1.94 metres tall, 47 years old and a superb horseman. He was a civil engineer from Victoria who owned the Bowenville Station on the Darling Downs. His skill as a guide on night marches over sand dunes in Sinai had been honed on the wide plains of his home territory where survival depended on bush craft.

Grant’s troopers were scattered in groups over a wide network of wadis to avoid giving the German aircraft easier targets. They had been all day in the Iswainin area, about 6 km from Beersheba, and were frustrated that they had not had the order to saddle up.

Moments later the order came down the lines: “Form squadrons, line extended.” It was 16:30 before the 4th Regiment on the left and the 12th Regiment on the right could draw up all their men behind the ridge north of Hill 1280. From the crest of the ridge they could see Beersheba down a long slight slope. They were two squadrons wide and three deep, the lines about 200 metres apart, keeping a distance of 5 metres between each man and ordered to ride with a drawn bayonet. The horses were “Walers” named for their New South Wales origins and standing no more than 13 hands tall. All eyes were on the tall, striking figure of Grant out in front of the line. Short of the crest he pointed towards Beersheba and gave the order “Forward!”

Almost immediately the horsemen spurred their horses into a trot, then a canter and finally a gallop, shouting at the top of their lungs and waving their bayonets. Accustomed to fighting mounted infantry, the Turkish officers ordered their troops to hold their fire until the enemy dismounted, but the horsemen did not slacken their pace. When they closed to within 800 metres of the enemy’s trenches the Turkish rifles and machine guns opened up. A British artillery battery on the left of the charging Australians spotted the source of the fire and a shower of shells killed many of the Turkish gunners.

One of the troopers had galloped on to a reserve trench. The Turks shot his horse and when the dazed Australian found his feet he was surrounded by five Turks with their hands up. The audacity of the Australian horsemen brought an abrupt and dramatic change of fortune to the Turks. They had hoped to rely on the onset of darkness to enable them to make an orderly withdrawal having completed the destruction of the wells.

The engineers bolted with the crowd leaving behind the demolition charges which they had laid at the wells. Beersheba was captured and the wells were secured. Of the 17 wells only two were completely destroyed. Nearly all the Turks surrendered immediately. One dazed German field officer commented on his captors’ bold, headlong charge: “These Australians are not soldiers, they are madmen.” Troopers and animals swarmed into the town. At the Turkish horse-troughs the men fell on their knees to drink beside their thirsty mounts.

Two German planes flew in low and bombed C Squadron of the 3rd Brigade. They hit several men and horses, including one of the great Anzac legends, Lieutenant-Colonel L.C. Maygar who had won his V.C. in the Boer war. His horse bolted and Maygar was missing until he was found late that night having lost a lot of blood from several wounds. He died the next morning which was depressing news for the entire Light Horse. Maygar had been the last man taken off the beach at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli in November 1915.

The Beersheba charge is especially remarkable in the annals of mounted soldiers; the very idea of mounted infantrymen, which is what the light horsemen really were, indulging in a cavalry charge against entrenched, unbroken infantry supported by artillery and machine guns, was until then unknown in history. Allenby was elated.

On 1 November, Allenby ordered Bulfin to hit Gaza which he did at 03:00 on 2 November. His artillery had been hitting Gaza for 72 hours by then. The big guns from British and French warships joined in the effort to smash the line that had held up the desert campaign for more than a year. Gaza had been weakened by the uncertainty of the German commander, von Kressenstein, confused by the smashing of Beersheba that had defied his intelligence. Newcombe’s force was thought to be an advance guard for the Desert Mounted Force and three divisions were sent to tackle it. The British combination punches had the Turks reeling and before midday on 2 November Gaza was under British control.

On the same day, the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. Rothschild had been lobbying on behalf of the Zionist Federation for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Soon after his friend Allenby had been appointed commander of the Palestine campaign, Rothschild sent a letter to Balfour about the issue. With Palestine about to be in British hands, Balfour replied: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…” This letter, henceforth known as the Balfour Declaration became an important document after the war.

Though the pursuit of the mounted troops had fallen very far short of Allenby’s and Chauvel’s hopes, the moral effect of the Australian and yeomanry actions was startling. On the afternoon of 9 November a major panic occurred at Et Tine, the Turkish headquarters. Kressenstein wrote, “Suddenly, news spread that hostile cavalry was moving against Et Tine. Although this rumour was false and fantastic, yet it caused such agitation that many formations began to retreat without orders…a great number of officers and men could not be stopped until they had reached Jerusalem or Damascus”. On 13 November the ridge at El Mughar was stormed by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorset Yeomanry and in the early morning of 14 November the infantry of XXI Corps captured Junction Station.

Allenby took the bold decision to make straight for Jerusalem. In spite of fighting in country where large armies have no room to fight and the defenders can remain hidden it took only 21 days to reach the great moral and political prize of the Holy City. Allenby, a keen student of military history was aware that throughout history Assyrians, Romans and Crusaders had recoiled baffled and broken from numerous assaults on the western bulwarks of Judaea. Bulfin’s XXI Corps moved north of Jerusalem, with the XX Corps to the south. The rains came in the middle of November and the temperature plummeted. The British troops did not have greatcoats or blankets, most supplies being sent to the Western Front. Camels, a long way from their natural habitat collapsed and died and only the hardy mules and donkeys could be used to carry supplies for the men. Chetwode’s attack from the south on 8 December expected fierce resistance but the Turks had disappeared.

The Turkish governor dictated a formal letter of surrender and handed it to the mayor. He was the first Turkish governor in four centuries to capitulate and left the city via the road to Jericho. In the early morning of 9 December the mayor, Hussein Salim al-Husseini wearing his traditional fine robe, marched out of the main gate flanked by two Turkish policemen each carrying a white flag. They were met by two British sergeants, Sergeants James Sedgewick and Frederick Hurcomb of the London Regiment from the 60th Division and the letter was passed to Major-General Stuart Shea who formally accepted the surrender. 674 years after the Sixth Crusade the holy city passed again into the hands of a Christian power.

Allenby’s orders were that on no account was the Holy City to be fought over. This order had been rigorously adhered to and on 12 December he made his entry into the city. He passed through the Jaffa Gate on foot, traditionally opened only to a conqueror, to show his great respect and humility. Robertson was responsible for suggesting this so as to contrast with the Kaiser’s flamboyant entry on horseback wearing a white cloak and a plumed helmet nineteen years previously. He was followed by Chetwode and by French and Italian representatives. T.E. Lawrence was also present.

On the terrace of the ancient citadel, Allenby read a short proclamation placing the city under martial law. A local official then read French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew and Russian versions. It emphasised the protection of all sacred places and institutions. Lawful business should continue. When Bonar Law announced the news of Jerusalem’s capture (Lloyd George was sick that day), it had an electrifying effect on morale. It followed the German counter-offensive at Cambrai in France, the elimination of Romania from the war, the Italian reverse at Caparetto and, above all, the collapse of Russia. To his wife Allenby wrote: “it was a great feat; our losses were light.”

The Mayor Surrenders Jerusalem

Space has forced us to stop here and some way before reporting the end of this highly successful campaign.

Thank you Robin for giving members such an in-depth superbly researched and lavishly illustrated presentation. It was a fitting way to mark and remember Ken Gillings and the immense contribution he made to history and the SA National Society.

For those who would like to follow Robin’s research the website will show three books which were used as reference to create the presentation made to the Society.

Escombe Railway Station – PRASA – Amafa

Deeply concerned at the sadly neglected and dilapidated state of Escombe Station, Paul Raw a local resident recently wrote to Amafa because of his concern about the state of the Station.

His letter said he recently I visited the old Escombe Railway station Queensburgh, built in 1904, with the purpose of taking photographs for inclusion in an article on Queensburgh Rail transport and Railway Stations to be submitted to the Queensburgh News; Unique Queensburgh Stories.

He added he was stunned to observe the derelict and neglected state of this historic building which is in full view of the hundreds of rail commuters that traverse this line daily. Structurally the building appears to be sound, but in dire need of restoration, and has been the target of deplorable ugly graffiti applied all over the corrugated iron wall cladding.

The building has been in existence for 113 years, which by its age is protected in terms of heritage legislation and it fulfils the criteria of heritage legislation of the KwaZulu Natal Heritage Act (Act 4 of 2008).

Transnet-PRASA-Metrorail are required in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act No. 25 of 1999 to conserve or improve any heritage building structure which might also necessitate constructing a fence around the building to prevent vandalism..

The owners need to be made aware of the historic importance of this irreplaceable and precious old building and to restore it to its original state before it is totally lost to future generations.  Every generation has a moral responsibility to act as a trustee of its National/Provincial Heritage for succeeding generations and the State has an obligation to manage heritage resources in the interest of all South Africans.

Escombe Railway Station (12 km – 218 m asl) built in 1904 was formally known as Bowker’s Halt or referred to as “soap box siding” and is situated alongside Main Road opposite a number of shops including Morrison’s which has stood the test of time. The original wood and corrugated iron ticket and goods office which still exists after 113 years, is regrettably now sadly neglected and in dire need of restoration and is now surrounded by the new Police building and other facilities.

Paul is now asking his local ward Councillor Chris van den Berg Ward 63:
Please would you kindly consider conducting a site inspection of this Historic Queensburgh station building in consultation with and arranging for Michelle Dennis, Editor Queensburgh News to publish a suitable report with photograph depicting the present state of the historic building?

Comment from the SA National Society

  1. Hats off to Mr Raw for highlighting this issue for he sets an example of what we as a society should be doing and thank you to Adrian Rowe for sharing this correspondence which was initially copied to Highway Heritage Society.
  2. The other observation is that removing graffiti can discourage graffiti so is there someone in Queensburgh who might tackle this operation, in conjunction with and the support of PRASA.

Hardy Wilson – Chair 2017

Members will shortly receive an invitation to a double book launch at
Campbell Collections

 But in the meanwhile book a place in your diary for Wednesday 8 November 17:30 for 18:00 for

 Illustrated Dictionary of Architectural Terms English-isiZulu by Franco Frescura and Joyce Myeza
isiShweshwe A History of the indigenisation of blueprint in southern Africa by Juliette Leeb-du Toit

Click to download a PDF copy of the November Newsletter & Program SANS Newsletter & Program 2017-11- November-final

Review of Durban from its beginnings to its Silver Jubilee of City Status


Recently Kathy Munro wrote a review of this book for the Heritage Portal. As her review says it was an overview of its present as it was in 1960.

Arthur Gammage, who worked for the city, has scanned some of the illustrations and written comments about the photographs which the Society is uploading to the History Section of its website.

Illuminated City Hall 75

First Town Office (now Chester House, 388 West Street). The column at the right edge is of Anstey’s street Veranda

Claridges and Edward Hotels.

Claridges was the first of Crofton & Benjamin’s buildings in Durban.

Las Vegas Block of Flats

Las Vegas Block of flats, also by Crofton & Benjamin after they had set up office in Durban

The Kentish Tavern

The Kentish Tavern, which is shown on the 1892 Durban Map.

The high rise just past C Argo’s (the building is still there) is Bales Building.

Robertson’s Spice building, corner Pickering and Creek Streets

Robertson’s Spice building, corner Pickering and Creek Streets. I had noticed this modernist corner to an industrial building but did not know its origin. The name at the top is Pyagra (insecticide). L Rose & Co. introduced Rose’s Lime Marmalade in the 1930s.

Arthur Gammage 2017-10-02

Click to download a pdf of Arthur Gammage’s history SANS-Arthur Gammage Durban 1960 Illustrations 2017-10-10