SOUTH AFRICAN AIR FORCE MUSEUM PORT ELIZABETH

The South African Air Force Museum in Port Elizabeth is a fascinating place to visit – but a very difficult place in which to take meaningful photographs! The following then are a few impressions only:

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FORT FREDERICK

The Internet is a potential maze that can lead one down alleyways that divert one from the initial track one set out upon. I was wondering who Fort Frederick in Port Elizabeth was named after and discovered it was Frederick, Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. The fort, overlooking the harbour, was built in 1799.

Duke of York – that rings a bell:

The Grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

When they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only halfway up

They were neither up nor down.

The maw of the maze opened wide and I got sucked into some sites claiming that the rhyme refers to Richard, Duke of York, claimant to the English throne and Protector of England and the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December 1460. Others are convinced that Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, is the one mocked in the nursery rhyme. When war broke out between Britain and France in 1793, he took control of the port of Dunkirk but was later pushed back in a battle at Hondschoote. Although his troops performed well, they were outnumbered three to one and lost their siege guns during the retreat. Given the date Fort Frederick was built, this one is the likely candidate.

Back to Fort Frederick.

This stone fort is reputed to be the oldest surviving British fortification in the Eastern Cape. It was built by the British Forces to defend the mouth of the Baakens River and contains a powder magazine

As well as a blockhouse, the upper storey of which no longer exists as it was built from timber.

The fort was originally defended by two 8-pounder guns and one 5.5 inch Howitzer, but now contains a selection of muzzle-loaders dating from the later part of the eighteenth century.

It is has been partially restored over the years and is a declared National Monument.

If you wish to read about the background to the nursery rhyme, here are two sites to start you off

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/the_grand_old_duke_of_york.htm

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/7-facts-grand-old-duke-york-british-military-reformer-x.html

HORSE MEMORIAL – PORT ELIZABETH

It was in March 2016 that I wrote about the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and I have been taken aback by the number of times that particular post has been read since then.

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To refresh your memory, or if this is your first visit on the subject, I quote from that entry:

Only three years after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the first Horse Memorial was unveiled in Port Elizabeth on 11th February 1905 to commemorate the horses which had suffered and died during that war. The inscription on the base reads:

THE GREATNESS OF A NATION
CONSISTS NOT SO MUCH IN THE NUMBER OF ITS PEOPLE
OR THE EXTENT OF ITS TERRITORY
AS IN THE EXTENT AND JUSTICE OF ITS COMPASSION

ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION
IN RECOGNITION OF THE SERVICES OF THE GALLANT ANIMALS
WHICH PERISHED IN THE ANGLO BOER WAR 1899-1902

I mentioned then that the purpose of the memorial seemed to have been missed by the group of people – supposedly members of the EFF – who vandalised the memorial on 6th April 2015 by toppling the kneeling soldier in front of the horse, who is offering it water from a bucket.

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Near the end of last year I had the opportunity to visit the Horse Memorial after students from the Art Department at the Nelson Mandela University had restored it. By being able to look at it closely – instead of driving past it in the flow of traffic – I was struck by the attention to detail of the memorial and wish to share these with you.

The leather satchel at the rear of the saddle would typically have been used for keeping spare horse shoes.

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The blade of this sword has been missing for a number of years.

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At the time it was erected, the Horse Memorial included a trough that was filled with water for horses to drink from. That need fell away with the widespread use of motor vehicles. The memorial has since been moved to what is now a traffic island and the trough has been filled in.

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WAR HORSES: THE ROLE OF HORSES IN THE ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899-1902)

Horses played a vital role during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Such was the demand for them that a large number of horses were imported to South Africa by the British from all over the world, including 50 000 from the United States and 35 000 from Australia – most of them landing in Port Elizabeth. A variety of breeds of horses were used during the war, including English Chargers and Hunters from England and Ireland as well as Australian Walers bred, ironically, from an original shipment of Cape Horses in the 1700s. The term ‘Waler’ was first used in India in 1846 in reference to the horses that had come from New South Wales.

At first glance these large animals appeared to be superior to the hardy Boer horses that were no larger than the average pony. These horses were also descendants of the famous Cape Horses of the 18th and 19th centuries. Some Boers used Basuto Ponies that were well adapted to the rocky, mountainous terrain and were known for their endurance despite their small stature. The Boer horses were exceptionally hardy and nimble for they were used for hunting as well as tending cattle in all types of terrain and weather conditions; proving to be reliable and well suited to the environment the war was fought in.

Of course war horses were workhorses, being used as mounted infantry horses, gun horses, and cavalry horses. Not only were horses ridden by soldiers, they were also used to pull gun-carriages – sometimes through muddy battle grounds or over rough, uneven terrain as well as having to ford rivers and streams. Horses and mules were also required to pull heavily laden transport wagons.

A horse’s life expectancy was around six weeks from the time of its arrival in South Africa. Sixty percent of the horses died in combat or as a result of mistreatment. Apart from being killed by bullets or shell fire in battle, other reasons for their demise included:

  • The failure to adequately rest and acclimatise horses after the long sea voyages prior to their arrival.
  • The rough terrain of South Africa, including boulder-strewn hills, which the imported horses were unused to.
  • Exhaustion and dehydration as a result of horses being ridden over hundreds of kilometres in all kinds of weather with little or no respite.
  • Many horses sustained injuries to their fetlocks and hooves – there was not always the time or opportunity to treat the animals with the care they had been used to.
  • Imported horses – unlike those used by the Boers – were unused to surviving on the veld grass, which is all many were exposed to for food for much of the time. The larger size of the British horses made them more dependent on fodder that had to be imported in great quantities from places such as Mexico. [See WEEDS WITH A HISTORY June 2015].
  • Overloading the horses with unnecessary equipment and saddlery.
  • African Horse Sickness.
  • Horses were occasionally slaughtered for their meat, such as during the sieges of both Ladysmith and Kimberley.

The number of horses killed in the Anglo-Boer War was unprecedented. When one considers that over 300 000 of them died during active service – not counting the horses on the Boer side – one can begin to appreciate how important these animals were in that conflict. The war lasted for 970 days, which amounts to about 309 British horses dying a day. The Boer horses also died in in their thousands, many ridden to exhaustion. Not unexpectedly, dead horses were not buried but tended to be left where they fell.

Because their lives depended on their mounts many soldiers formed strong emotional bonds with their horses. That horses were held in high regard by the men who worked with them is evident from the two horse memorials that have been erected in South Africa.

Only three years after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the first Horse Memorial was unveiled in Port Elizabeth on 11th February 1905 to commemorate the horses which had suffered and died during that war. The inscription on the base reads:

THE GREATNESS OF A NATION
CONSISTS NOT SO MUCH IN THE NUMBER OF ITS PEOPLE
OR THE EXTENT OF ITS TERRITORY
AS IN THE EXTENT AND JUSTICE OF ITS COMPASSION

ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION
IN RECOGNITION OF THE SERVICES OF THE GALLANT ANIMALS
WHICH PERISHED IN THE ANGLO BOER WAR 1899-1902

This fact seems to have been missed by members of the EFF who vandalised the monument on 6th April 2015 by toppling the kneeling soldier in front of the horse – offering it water from a bucket.  This picture was published in The Herald 14th September 2015:

Horse Memorial Port Elizabeth

NOTE: On 7th May 2016 I was reliably informed by a resident of Port Elizabeth that the Horse Memorial has been repaired and is back to its former glory.

The other South African Horse Memorial is situated in the grounds of Weston Agricultural College in KwaZulu-Natal. It was unveiled on 31st May 2009 and is dedicated to horses, mules and other animals that perished serving men in war. Weston was the site of the British Army’s Number 7 Remount Depot, in service from 1899-1913. An estimated 30 000 horses and mules are believed to have been buried on the farmlands in the area. The memorial has been designed in a horseshoe shape, mounted by an obelisk-shaped monument created out of old horseshoes found on the farm. The inverted horseshoes of this centrepiece are in keeping with the tradition at a cavalryman’s funeral, where his boots are reversed in the stirrups on his horse.

Horse Memorial Weston

The structure is topped with a specially crafted bronze statue of a horse.

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Three examples from the remembrance plaques clearly demonstrate how the war horses were regarded by the men they served:

  • Natal Field Artillery Established 1862: To the horses that served the guns and other animals in the supply chain.
  • The Light Dragoons: In memory of gallant horses of the 13th, 18th and 19th Hussars that perished during the South African Campaign 1899-1902.
  • The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery: In honour of horses that faithfully served during the South African War 1899-1902.

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VICTORIA PARK

History is not my cup of tea, you might say. Yet, we didn’t just arrive in the 21st century: the world was populated long before we came, events happened globally, nationally, and within our own families that have shaped who we are and what we do; how we feel about politics, global environmental issues, and the management of our local municipalities.

Let me take you on a journey to an open space of great beauty and tranquillity I didn’t know existed in a city I have visited fairly regularly over the past twenty six years. It is a place where gnarled old indigenous trees, bent by the prevailing wind and subtropical plants typical of the Eastern Cape coast vie for attention with the aliens so beloved of public landscapers of long ago: exotic palm trees, Scottish pines and rubber trees!

There are raised ponds filled with blue water lilies; rolling grassy banks; ha-has; a stone bridge crossing a moat to an island complete with bandstand; benches placed at intervals so that one can rest while one’s eyes take in the vista of immaculately mown lawns, cobbled pathways and wide stone steps leading to another level. A well maintained playground attracts laughing children, the paths are wheelchair friendly, and there is shade aplenty – very welcome in the 40degree C heat of the day I was there.

Welcome to Victoria Park situated in the lower end of Walmer, near the airport – probably named after Queen Victoria. As I waited for the Algoa Bay Highland Gathering to begin, I observed white-rumped swifts flying overhead against the bright blue sky devoid of clouds; a skein of twenty five Egyptian geese honked over the park in a classic V-formation, competing with the bagpipers warming up for the solo competitions held during the morning.

Unperturbed by the sound of bagpipes and drums, a flock of speckled mousebirds flitted among the palm trees and a fiscal shrike regularly swooped down from its high perch to catch insects on the grass. Common starlings picked up crumbs near the food stalls while black-collared barbets sang their duets. Black-headed orioles called relentlessly against the backdrop of bagpipes, drums and the music emanating from the tent where the Scottish and Irish dancing competitions were taking place. The red-eyed doves seemed bemused by the activities on the ground, which included a medieval fayre.

By the time the band competitions had begun after lunch, first with the march, strathspey and reel followed by the medley, the large flock of Hadeda ibises that had taken to the sky could be seen and not heard – fancy a mute flock of Hadedas!

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It was to loud applause that the crowd listened to pipe bands from Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth competing for top honours. Among several tartans on display were the Mackenzie, Gordon, and Graham of Montrose. The day ended with a massed band performance of all the bands playing as one marching to well known tunes such as Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland.

The crowd was enthralled and young children danced or marched on the fringes of the circle as the clouds gathered and the temperature began to drop at last.

An interesting discovery: band members wearing waistcoats with the last button undone signifies that they are not married. A highland gathering in Africa? There’s a history to that…