The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek

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Southern Africans in the Foot Guard Regiments of the British Army:

I read with interest the notification of the award of the Military Cross (MC) to Lance-Sergeant Markus Strydom, a South African serving with the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards, British Army (London Gazette 22 March 2013, 5738, Supplement No. 2), for his endeavours on the 13 June 2012, during operations in Afghanistan.

This appears to have been the same action in which fellow Grenadier Guardsman, Lance-Corporal James Ashworth was to lose his life after breaking cover and running towards the Taliban position, whereupon he threw his last grenade, killing the snipers, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) posthumously for his courageous and ultimately self-sacrificial daring.

Lance-Sergeant Strydom (33 years-of-age) was shot not only twice in the stomach but once in the side, and was then again wounded by an exploding hand-grenade. He was subsequently extricated from the “killing zone” and later airlifted to Camp Bastion, and then on to the UK, via Cyprus.

Looking back through the years, it's difficult to say exactly how many South Africans would have served with the Grenadier Guards, but they have certainly been represented, with Frederick John Van der Byl Hopley, a notable sportsman and boxer, being one of three South African brothers who was to serve with the Grenadier Guards during the First World War (1914-1918).

His younger brother Geoffrey William Van der Byl Hopley, 2nd battalion, Grenadier Guards (born Kimberley, Cape Province, South Africa, in 1891) had been killed in action on the 12 May 1915, at Wimereux, Boulogne, France.

F.J.V. Hopley was to receive a commission in the same regiment during that year, and was promoted to temporary lieutenant on the 14 December 1915. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order ( DSO) during the battle of Beaumont Hamel in 1916, his citation reading:

Lt. (temp. Capt.) Frederick John Vander Byl Hopley, G. Gds., Spec. Res.

“For conspicuous gallantry in action. He showed' fine leadership throughout the attack, in spite of being wounded himself, and of severe casualties among his men. He stuck to his position on the extreme flank throughout the day, though exposed to machine-gun fire, until the battalion was relieved.”

And another South African who was to serve with distinction in the Grenadier Guards during the First World War was Major John Nevile Buchanan, born in Grahamstown, Cape Colony in 1887, and who was educated at the Diocesan College, Cape Town, and in England. He was also a noted cricketer, and played for the MCC and Buckinghamshire.

Buchanan was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards in 1914, and during the war was awarded the MC and the DSO, the former citation (9 January 1918) reading:

Lt. (actg. Capt.) John Nevile Buchanan, G.
Gds., Spec. Res.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack. He led his company with great skill and determination, capturing two enemy strong points, together with two machine guns, seven officers, and about sixty men. The success of the action on this part of the field was entirely due to his fine leadership, and his men were greatly encouraged by his personal example and admirable coolness under fire.

Additional South Africans who served with the Grenadier Guards during the war include Charles P. Atkinson, Captain A.F. Newey, and Lieutenant R. Sedgwick.

While during the Second World War (1939-1945) Grenadier Guardsman N.N. Wides, a South African, was to be one of the 338,226 British and Allied soldiers (including 112,000 French) evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, and was to cross the Channel to England and safety on, rather ironically, a ship called the “Umvoti“ (named for a river in Natal).

The Grenadier Guards constitute one of five regiments of Foot Guards within the Guards Division, which comprise the Grenadier Guards of course, the Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards (and are also augmented by the London Regiment of the Territorial Army), and South Africans (and indeed southern Africans) have too been represented in these additional regiments' of guards, notably:

Colonel Poulett George Henry Somerset, the son of Lord Charles Somerset (governor of the Cape of Good Hope), who was very likely born in South Africa in 1822, and who served with the Coldstream Guards before serving as ADC to his uncle Lord Raglan (Fitzroy Somerset) during the Crimean War;

Lieutenant Frederick Henry Norris Lee, Irish Guards, and who died of wounds in France on the 4 July 1916, while serving with the 1st battalion;

Lieutenant William Brett St Leger, 2nd battalion, Coldstream Guards, the son of Major R. A. St. Leger (SAMC), of George, Cape Province, and who was awarded the MC and was killed in France on the 27 April 1918, being buried in the Ayette British Cemetery in the Pas de Calais;

Captain Colin Bain Marais, Coldstream Guards, who was awarded the Croix de Guerre during World War I;

Brigadier Walter Douglas Campbell Greenacre, Royal Welsh Guards, born in Durban, and who commanded the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade during the last years of World War II;

Major Cecil Leander John Bowen, Irish Guards, born in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and killed during the bombing of the ship, MS Chrobry, in the Vestfjorden, Norway, on the 15 May 1940;

Corporal Johannes Mostert, Coldstream Guards, six-foot-three and hailing from the Transvaal, who served with the Guards during the entire duration of the Second World War, having served with the Imperial Light Horse Regiment (a South African Regiment) before the war, and was to serve in NW Europe as a marksman;

Officer Cadet Bevill J.B. Rudd, Coldstream Guards, awarded the sword of honour at the Royal Military College OCTU at Aldershot in October 1945, and the son of the South African athlete and Olympian Gold Medallist, Bevill J. Rudd;

And more recently, Piper Christopher Muzvuru, Irish Guards (Zimbabwean),who was killed in Iraq on the 6 April 2003; Major Sean Birchall, 1st Battalion,Welsh Guards (born in South Africa), who was killed in Afghanistan on the 19 June 2009 and Lance-Corporal Dane Elson, Welsh Guards (born in Zimbabwe),and killed in Afghanistan on the 5 July 2009.

So it would seem South Africa, and later Rhodesia/Zimbabwe's, connection and service with the different Guards' regiments of the British Army goes back many years, and may very well continue for many more, especially if the selfless sacrifices of Piper Muzvuru, Major Birchall, Lance-Corporal Elson and the courageous endeavours of Lance-Sergeant Strydom are anything to go by.


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