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It was suggested elsewhere in this forum that I should contribute something on the history of the South African Navy. I will do so with a few posts on my particular interest, which is the naval associations of the Colony of Natal, which later became a Province of South Africa. (It was later renamed KwaZulu-Natal, but my interests predate that event.)

The Naval History of Natal – 1

The Colony of Natal in South Africa was part of the British Empire in Victorian and Edwardian times and from the 1850's the colonists took care of their military defence needs with a system of volunteer regiments of mounted infantry (e.g. Natal Carbineers), infantry (e.g. Durban Light Infantry) and artillery (Natal Field Artillery). These part-time soldiers were only called out for full-time service in times of need (e.g. the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879). Otherwise, the defence of the Colony was in the hands of the paramilitary Natal Mounted Police (1874 – 1894) and Natal Police (1894 – 1913), together with at least one British Army regiment garrisoned at Fort Napier in the capital, Pietermaritzburg.

Owing to a real or imagined threat from the Russians in 1885, a volunteer coastal artillery unit was raised to defend the port of Durban. The South African Navy traces its history back to this unit, the Natal Naval Volunteers.

8/5/2011

The Anglo-Zulu War Medal of Trooper J Hutton, Natal Carbineers.

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The Naval History of Natal – 2

Natal Naval Volunteers (1885 – 1904)

The Natal Naval Volunteers (NNV) was established in 1885 as a coastal artillery unit tasked with defending the port of Durban. This unit was too small and poorly equipped to serve its intended purpose, but it nevertheless remained in existence and in 1899 it was called out on active service for the first time. War with the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State had been threatening for some time and the Anglo-Boer War finally broke out in October, 1899. Boer commandos from both Republics invaded Natal from the north and west.

All the Natal volunteer regiments, including the NNV, were called up for active service. The confused situation in the early stage of the war led to the NNV being split into two parts, with both attached to elements of the hastily assembled British Naval Brigade, which was made up of men and guns from Royal Navy ships in South African waters. One part of the Naval Brigade, including 73 men from the NNV, ended up in Ladysmith and it was besieged there from early November 1899 until the end of February 1900. The second part of the Naval Brigade, including 52 men from the NNV, took part in the operations to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith.

Guns of the besieged Naval Brigade remained in service throughout the siege and kept the Boer commandos out of easy reach of Ladysmith. The NNV were armed with one 9-pounder and two 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns and played a small part in the Naval Brigade's activities. Only once did the Boers attempt a frontal assault on the British lines and that was at the Battle of Wagon Hill on 6 January 1900. Men of the NNV, including the Hotchkiss detachment, were engaged at both Wagon Hill and further east at Caesar's Camp. In his dispatch after the siege was lifted, the British Commander in Ladysmith, General Sir George White, wrote:

"The Natal Naval Volunteers have proved themselves worthy comrades of the land forces of the colony."

The force assembled to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith was under the command of General Sir Redvers Buller. The NNV in the relief force were armed with two 9-pounders and their first task was to build two outposts at Colenso, Fort Wylie and Fort Nicholson. After being shelled by the Boers on 3 November 1899, the NNV were ordered to evacuate Fort Wylie, spike their guns and leave their ammunition. This order was disobeyed and the men and all their equipment returned to Estcourt. Thereafter, they were based at Frere as part of the Naval Brigade and they took part in shelling the Boer lines north of the Tugela River.

After the defeat of the British at the Battle of Colenso on 15 December 1899, the NNV moved westwards with Buller's army, which was to cross the Tugela River at Potgieter's Drift. Since the Boers were not entrenched close to the river in this area, the crossing was not contested, but the river itself caused problems. Effecting river crossings was the preserve of the Royal Engineers but at Potgieter's Drift they failed in this duty and it fell to a detachment from the Naval Brigade under Lieutenant Chiazzari of the NNV to rescue the situation. The events were described by W K-L Dickson in his book, 'The Biograph in battle: Its story in the South African War', as follows;

"January 16th …… Our soldiers looked wretchedly wet and bedraggled as they wound their way over and around the kopjes. We could see them slowly approach the river and test the crossing, two men going up to their middles and wading round to make sure there were no entanglements for their feet. Then the troopers followed one by one, while others tried to engineer the ferry, which they ultimately abandoned to our naval men, the handy boys, who are signalled for from the valley. Soon a party of thirteen was made up under the command of Lieutenant Chiazzari, with Chief Gunner Instructor Baldwin assisting. They managed quickly to repair the ferry and sent the troops across, toiling all evening and throughout the night until dawn. General Buller sent word to Captain Jones next morning that his men were worth their weight in gold. Baldwin's account of this feat is most entertaining. I abbreviate it somewhat for convenience sake: "We got orders to repair and handle the ferry just as it was getting dark, so we nipped down the hill and were soon at work, the Colonel of the Engineers passing it over to us. Lieutenant Chiazzari took the ferry while I remained on this side, and soon had things going in good shape. It is a wonder what a bit of rope will do with plenty of willing chaps. We were six from [HMS] Terrible and seven Natal Volunteers, including Lieutenant Chiazzari …… Before dawn we had taken nearly all over at a rate of 126 horses and three wagons in forty-two minutes, and this we repeated for two nights."

In addition to the gratitude of General Buller, Lieutenant Chiazzari was thanked by Major-General N G Lyttelton and was mentioned in despatches.

In spite of the successful river crossing, the British went on to loose the Battle of Spioenkop and, later, the Battle of Vaalkrans, and they again retreated to their former positions near Colenso.

The climactic battles to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith were fought along the Tugela Heights, east of Colenso, over the period 12 to 28 February 1900. Following their success at Potgieter's Drift, Lieutenant Chiazzari and men of the Naval Brigade were again called upon to repair and operate a ferry, this one at Colenso, after the town had been taken by Major-General A F Hart's brigade on 21 February. The ferry was operating within three and one half hours and Chiazzari again received a General's thanks and a mention in despatches.

The commander of the Naval Brigade in the relief force, Captain E P Jones RN of HMS Forte, reported to Rear-Admiral R H Harris as follows:

"Lieutenant N W Chiazzari, Natal Naval Vols., has been most useful, especially in getting into working order and working the punts across the river, both at Potgieter's and at Colenso, by which all the troops crossed."

Interestingly, the achievements of Chiazzari and his men are not mentioned in accounts of the activities of the Royal Engineers during the Anglo-Boer War, implying that the RE alone were responsible for the successful Tugela River crossings.

For his enterprise and leadership, Lieutenant Chiazzari was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, thereby becoming the first volunteer soldier in the Empire to be awarded this decoration. This added to the reputation earned by men of the NNV for their service in both the Defence and Relief of Ladysmith.

After the Ladysmith siege was lifted, 25 men of the NNV returned to civilian life, while the others remained with the Naval Brigade until the Natal campaign ended in October 1900.

After the war the NNV continued to exist under that name, but on 1904 it was renamed the Natal Naval Corps.

8/5/2011

The Queen's South Africa Medal (Defence of Ladysmith) awarded to Gunner F Sivil, Natal Naval Volunteers.

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The Queen's South Africa Medal (Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith) awarded to 1st Class Petty Officer J Fawcett, Natal Naval Volunteers.

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The Naval History of Natal – 3

Natal Naval Corps (1904 – 1913)

The Natal Naval Volunteers (NNV) was renamed the Natal Naval Corps (NNC) in 1904. This unit retained its function as a land-based coastal artillery battery defending the port of Durban. After the Anglo-Boer War, it had grown in size from about 125 men to over 200 and, like the NNV, it had only one opportunity for active service, this time during the Natal Rebellion of 1906.

Although the military might of the Zulu nation had been destroyed during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Zulus remained a large and militant tribe and a cause for concern to the Europeans who had settled in the Colony of Natal. Like the Americans in earlier times, the Zulus resented "taxation without representation", particularly in the hard economic times that beset Natal after the Anglo-Boer War. The imposition of a Poll Tax on all Zulu men over the age of 18, and the collection of this tax, was the spark that ignited the Rebellion of 1906.

A Natal Police patrol near Richmond, south of Pietermaritzburg, was attacked by resentful Zulus and two policemen were killed. This resulted in the Declaration of Martial Law on 9 February 1906. Natal's volunteer regiments were mobilized as the month wore on, with the NNC being called to arms on 23 February. Initially, military patrols were used to locate and arrest the men responsible for the deaths of the two policemen, as well as to keep order in the Richmond district and elsewhere in southern Natal. The arrested men were executed by firing squad on 2 April and this set off trouble that had been brewing further north in Zululand. A Natal Police detachment escorting European settlers to safety was ambushed near the Zululand border on 4 April and four men were killed. Operations against the rebellious Zulus now shifted to Zululand and involved all Natal's volunteer units, including the NNC, as well as detachments of men from the Cape Colony and Transvaal. No Imperial troops took part in the Rebellion and there was opposition in Britain to the actions of the Colonists. Winston Churchill, who had won a measure of fame in Natal during the Anglo-Boer War, was one man who took umbrage and he referred to Natal as the "hooligan Colony".

The rebellion in Zululand took the form of skirmishes spread over a wide area, with the Zulus invariably being defeated by the better armed and better organized Colonial military. It gradually petered out during July and in early August the Natal regiments were demobilized. The rebellion had been a one-sided affair with as many as 4 000 Zulus killed, as against only 25 Colonials.

In a postscript to the Rebellion, some Natal regiments, including the NNC, were remobilized in 1907 to take part in the arrest of the Zulu king, Dinizulu. A hundred men of the NNC formed part of Dinizulu's escort from the Zulu capital, Nongoma, to the Natal capital, Pietermaritzburg.

A medal was awarded to all troops and some civilians who took part in the Rebellion. Those that served for between 20 and 50 days received the medal without clasp, while those with more than 50 days service received the medal with a '1906' clasp. Men of the NNC received a total of 203 medals, 136 with clasp and 67 without.

8/5/2011

The 1906 Natal Rebellion Medal awarded to Seaman J Richards, Natal Naval Corps, together with his Queen's South Africa Medal awarded for service with the Imperial Yeomanry during the Anglo-Boer War.

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The 1906 Natal Rebellion Medal awarded to Seaman W G Mitchell, Natal Naval Corps, together with his World War 1 medals awarded for services with the South African 11th Infantry and the South African Field Artillery.

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The Naval History of Natal – 4

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (South Africa) (1913 – 1942)

The South African Division of the RNVR was established on 1 July 1913 through the amalgamation of the Natal Naval Corps (established as the Natal Naval Volunteers in 1885) and the Cape Naval Volunteers (established in 1905). Three companies were constituted, "A" and "B" Companies based in Cape Town, and "C" Company based in Durban. This development allowed South African sailors access to the sea-going ships of the Royal Navy for the first time, thus initiating a change from a coastal artillery function to, in time, becoming a true naval force.

At the start of World War I, 98 men of "C" Company were mobilized in Durban, while another 28 joined during the war. In September 1914, a detachment of "C" Company was selected to join the ship's company of HMS Pegasus, which was on station off German East Africa. On arrival in Mombasa they discovered that HMS Pegasus had been sunk in Zanzibar harbour by the German ship, Konigsberg. The disappointed men returned to Durban without seeing any action.

Some men of "C" Company later volunteered for service in RN ships overseas, while others reverted to their former role as artillerymen by joining the South African 10th Heavy Battery, which was formed in 1916 for service in German East Africa.

Unlike the men of the army, who have continued to serve through to the present in Natal's volunteer regiments, the naval men of Natal in effect lost their direct link with this Province of South Africa and former Colony. Like the South African Air Force, its personnel serve in national rather than provincial corps.

The fortunes of the RNVR (SA) waxed and waned, mostly the latter, after World War I, according to the economic circumstances of the time, but it was still in existence at the outbreak of World War II. One of the earliest steps taken by the South African Government in this war was the establishment of the Seaward Defence Force (SDF) in September 1939. While the RNVR (SA) continued to exist as a separate body, many of its men were transferred to the SDF and the addition of their naval experience to the SDF was invaluable. The dual existence of these two naval bodies continued until 1 August 1942, when they merged to become the South African Naval Forces (SANF).

Thereafter, South Africans served for the remainder of the war either in the SANF, or on secondment to the RN. After the war, the SANF became the South African Navy.

11/5/2011

The World War I medals awarded to Ordinary Seaman A Young, "C" Company, RNVR (SA).

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I have a small collection of medals of men from Natal who served during World War II in the South African Naval Forces and on secondment to the Royal Navy. I will post some of them later.

Brett

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Brett - May I offer my congratulatons for a most interesting article - and one filled with facts and information. I think this will become a valuable reference piece for the future.

Many of our Colonies and Dominions developed their defences along similar lines - how good it would be to have similar articles for other Countries and including a similar time period ?

Brian and I , are hoping to develop a section for articles from invited guests - I think this will be high on our list - with your permission ?

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Brett,

a wonderful thread. I had no knowledge of the SA Navy (provincial or national) until I read this. The medals are excellent, especially the 1906 rebellion ones. But I am a complete novice in the area of medals and medal collecting.

I was amused by your comment "Winston Churchill, who had won a measure of fame in Natal during the Anglo-Boer War..." Surely one of the great understatements concerning the 2nd Boer War :D

I look forward to your further contributions.

Best regards,

Stuart

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Mervyn & Stuart

Many thanks for your kind comments. My apologies for the large print and wide spaces. I don't know how this change from the original text came about, but then most computer behaviour is still a mystery to me. Also, the "Topic Description" is incorrect as it was intended to refer only to the first post.

I will make a start with some of the WWII material soon but, in the meantime, I hope there will be other posts on SA Navy matters.

Regards

Brett

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Brett

Just wanted to add my thanks for this excellent article and I look forward to seeing the further posts in this thread.

Regards Simon

Edited by coldstream

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Brett,

I have a vague recollection of the 1906 rebellion but I cannot claim any great knowledge of it. Do you think a separate thread is warranted?

Stuart

Having got the spell checker working one would think that I would use it :angry:

Edited by Stuart Bates

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Simon

Thank you for your encouraging response. I will try to add more on other Natal volunteer regiments.

Stuart

A lot has been published about the Natal Rebellion recently because of the centenary of the event. Some local historians have tried to ingratiate themselves with the new order in South Africa by viewing the conflict through 21st Century liberal eyes, basically implying that the Colonists were swines for giving the rebellious Zulus a severe lesson. In fact, most of the Zulus did not rebel, otherwise the outcome might have been very different. The pettiness of the present situation is illustrated by the fact that a road in Pietermaritzburg named after the leader of the Colonial forces, Sir Duncan MacKenzie, has been renamed in a posthumous punishment for his success in putting down the Rebellion. An event that is regarded with particular abhorrence by local liberals was the decapitating of the chieftain Bambhatha after he was killed. This was done in order confirm the identity of the dead man away from the battlefield. A modern parallel would be the DNA identification of Osama bin Laden. Methods for confirming identity have progressed over the past 100years.

I mention all this because it now seems necessary to be "politically correct" in writing about the Rebellion. Since both phases of the Rebellion were preciptated by the killing of men from my favourite force, the Natal Police, and since I am still an "Empire Loyalist" at heart, anythinbg I do write about this affair will be "old fashioned". I will give the matter some thought before putting finger to keypad and try to record something of general interest.

Regards

Brett

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Stuart

The following book is one of several published during the flurry of interest that prevailed at the time of the centenary of the Natal Rebellion:

Remembering the Rebellion. The Zulu Uprising of 1906. by Jeff Guy. Published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press in 2006.

Other, more serious and academic books of that period were:

Bambatha at Mpanza. The making of a rebel. by P S Thompson (2004).

Incident at Trewergie. First shots of the Zulu Rebellion 1906. by P S Thompson (2005).

The Maphumulo Uprising. War, Law and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion. by Jeff Guy (2005).

I suspect that all these books had very limited print-runs, so it may not be easy to find copies of them

At about that time, I was told that the "Rebellion" was in future to be known as the "Uprising", which I assumed was a more politically correct term. As far as I am aware, no-one has paid any attention to that proposed change to the history books. Also, there was much discussion about the spelling of the name "Bambata", or "Bambhata", or "Bhambhata", it being a common complaint amongst Zulu academics that European settlers made a terrible hash of spelling Zulu names. This seems a slightly odd criticism in view of the fact that the Zulus had no written language and only got one thanks to the Europeans.

One of the events marking the centenary was the unveiling of a monument at Mpanza, where Bambata set off phase two of the Rebellion by ambushing a Natal Police escort of a party of white Colonists. The monument is surrounded by fences built to withstand the mosty determined vandals. I have no recent news of its fate.

Regards

Brett

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Brett,

I found and have ordered The Maphumulo Uprising: War, Law and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion by Jeff Guy. Thanks for the recommendations.

I know what you mean about spelling, for example, does Isandlwana have an aitch in it or not or either :D and I certainly take your point about their not having a written language. Much the same over here and I remember only a few weeks ago that a song purportedly by Bennelong, the very early translator for the British and who went to England, was discovered and it contains only 3 words which no-one can translate. People are treating it as akin to the holy grail. Probably going over the line of political correctness but I dislike those "extremists" who exhibit exaggerated reverence for rather ordinary subjects.

Stuart

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Nicholas Chiazzari was my Great Uncle, I am very pleased to find a description of his exploits during the Boer War, most accounts have been very brief. I have recently published a book on the Chiazzari family and wish these details had been available. Nicholas Chiazzari took part in the 1906 rebellion and was referred to as "Leader", I cannot find anything about his exploits during that period other than a letter from Gandhi requesting some help with payment for the stretcher bearers uniforms. My Grandfather was a trooper in the rebellion and received a medal, unfortunately misplaced, is there a list of volunteers and medal recipients somewhere?

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goldenstar

I was very pleased to read of your connection with the Chiazzari family and that you have published a book on this subject. Please give the title and publication details. I would like to order a copy.

Chiazzari's medal group was unfortunately split between family members when he died. His DSO, Queen's South Africa Medal and 1902 Coronation Medal were eventually acquired by a medal collector who now lives in the Free State (formerly Orange Free State). Chiazzari's 1906 Rebellion Medal and World War trio went to another family member and I don't know where they are now. I know that another local medal collector recently approached a member of the family still living in Natal, but I don't know the outcome of this visit.

There is indeed a medal roll for the 1906 Rebellion and I will look for entries to members of the Chiazzari family.

An Australian researcher has a record of most men who served during the late 18th and early 19th Century volunteer forces of South Africa and I have a copy of his entries for Nicholas William Chiazzari and Joseph Angelo Chiazzari.

Regards

Brett

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Thank you very much for the information about the medals Brett; greatly appreciated! The book is available through Amazon.uk http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chiazzari-Mario-Berruti/dp/1446650294/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1306162122&sr=8-11 it is in Italian and English as it was primarily targeted at Italians living in the Ligurian region. The book traces the family back to 1545 but the name goes back to at least 1383. A lawyer Mario Berruti, who is from the area, kindly helped with the Italian research. The book cover is of Joseph Angelo Chiazzari taken at a studio during the Boer War. Have you read the book published by the SA Navy titled SAS Inkonkoni, written by Captain S.H.C. Payne? It gives quite an interesting history of the Naval Volunteers. I tried to obtain a photograph of Nicholas Chiazzari's DSO from one of his descendants in the 1990's but got a very frosty reception. Possibly the medal had been sold and they did not want to own up to it? I think my Grandfather's 1906 medal may still be in my father's possession; he is 92 years of age now and rather confused so it will be some time before I can make a thorough search. I would really appreciate it if you can confirm any medals awarded to the Chiazzaris during the 1906 rebellion.

Thinking about medals, my father published a book on his Uncle, Leonard Slatter last year who was an Air Marshal in the RAF. They were for sale at Sotherbys but we managed to acquire them from the Slatter family eventually. Unfortunately I have not photographed them but copied the Sotherbys listing. I seem to be unable to insert the photograph of them into this message.

Regards

Keith

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Hi Keith

Thank you for your reply. I have asked my daughter-in-law in the UK to order me a copy of the book. As you no doubt know, the man on the cover, Joseph Angelo Chiazzari, was commended for a brave action during the Boer War. although he did not receive a decoration for it, only a 'Mention-in-Despatches'. The Chiazzaris certainly made their mark during this war!

I have a copy of Payne's book. The SAS Inkonkoni, which was the shore base for the naval volunteers in Natal from 1885, was closed down by the new South African Government in 2004. This was another example of the indifference on the part of the new order towards the 'Colonial heritage' of South Africa.

I feel sure that the new owner of Nicholas' DSO, QSA and Coro medal will provide you with a picture of the medals. I will check with him and, if he agrees, I will give you his e-mail address so you can contact him. Please PM me your e-mail address. It would be great news if your father does indeed have Nicholas' 1906 Rebellion Medal, and perhaps even his World War I trio of medals (1914/5 Star, War Medal, Victory Medal). It raises the possibility of an eventual re-uniting of this very important medal group.

I can confirm that Nicholas was the Chief Leader (i.e. Officer Commanding) of the Durban Militia Reserves during the 1906 Natal Rebellion. All the men in this unit were awarded the medal without clasp as they served in uniform for less than 50 days. I haven't found Joseph's name on the rolls, Since he was discharged as medically unfit during the Boer War, he may still have been unfit for duty during the Rebellion. He did, however, serve during World War I.

I think Air Marshal Slatter's miniature medals and a dress uniform were with a local collector a few years ago. I cannot remember what happened to them.

Regards Brett

Edited by Brett Hendey

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