Foxholes, Forests and Felines
My wife had to go into work today. Two broken feet (I imagine) would make driving herself a challenging exercise. Fortunately she has a chivalrous and devoted husband… who is now resided to his role as a taxi-driver (not the mentally unstable Robert DeNiro kind… eh… yet)
Her office occupies a turn of the (previous) century house in one of Johannesburg’s oldest (and prettiest) suburbs. It used to be called the Sachsenwald*. But was anglicized during the Great War to Saxonwold… because no-one wanted to passively support the ‘Huns’ by existing in a Teutonically flavored purlieu.
Johannesburg, being a gold mining boom town desperately needed timber to support the burgeoning warren of tunnels that Swiss cheesed its nether regions. It also why, now 100+ years later, Johannesburg is the biggest urban man made forest in the world. And also why this part of it was christened as such.
In any event, since we will soon be departing this geography, I’ve been giving some thought to the places I would still like to visit, it being likely that I won’t be visiting them again any time soon. Saxonwold also has the happy coincidence of housing the South African Military Museum, which is a little known museum (even outside Johannesburg) but punches way above its weight in terms of cool ‘stuff’. I remember, for example, going to the Imperial War Museum in London and thinking, ‘hmm, our museum in Jo’burg is better than this’.
It felt like a good reason to visit again, since I was in the area.
The triumphal arch outside the museum. There is some consternation as to whether the figure on top represents Nike or the archangel Michael… it was somewhat mindlessly agreed (in the 90’s), by a comittee that decides these sorts of things, that it should be referred to as the Angel of Peace (even though its holding a sword, a wreath and is sitting on the globe…) It was built to honor the Rand Regiments who fought (and died) in the Second Boer war, units that have cool names like Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry
A happy happenstance (for History nerds at least) is that South Africans have been fighting since it was founded (and probably still are to some degree). South Africans have spilled blood in the first and second Boer wars, the Anglo-Zulu wars, they fought in Delville wood in the First World War, El Alamein and in Italy during the Second. South African units fought in Korea and then a lengthy campaign against Angola, Cuba and Russia.
They picked up/stole a lot of really interesting memorabilia along the way… and hauled it back for the locals to ogle. In my old age I’m obviously done playing solider.. and all that valor, honor and bravery nonsense. I’m very much an adherent of the non-aggression principal now. But the history fascinates me, and more so, the history of individual pieces of equipment and how they ended up where they are.
This is my favorite exhibit. Its a German Me 262 (I just love everything about this plane). It was only one of fifteen converted to this Night-fighter configuration towards the end of the war. It is the only surviving Me 262 Night fighter and one of only nine (original) Me 262s left in the world. This one took part in the defense of Berlin, but was then, as things started falling apart on that front moved to an Airfield in Hamburg and then to Denmark to stop it falling into Russian hands. The ‘antler’ style antennae on the front was a new fangled Radar which allowed it to ‘see’ at night.
This is a Russian T55. Brand new. Never been used. Ten of them were ordered by Idi Amin in 1979 to help in gently persuading his subjects to behave themselves. A French vessel was hired to deliver them to Uganda via Mombasa, but en-route Idi Amin was deposed. The captain of the freighter was ordered to send them to Angola (to help fight the South Africans) but were seized when the vessel tried to refuel in Durban (which was quite an embarrassing oversight on someones part)
This is a German (in case the insignia didn’t give away) Molch mini sub. By the end of the war the Reich was running out U-boats… and people mad enough to crew them. They needed to stop the invasion force that was coming so they decided on a fleet of battery powered mini-subs. (Basically an underwater Tesla with torpedoes) Ultimately they were an unsuccessful exercise and most of them were either sunk, or crashed or used for spare parts. This might be the only one left.
I was the only person wandering round the museum for most of the morning. Covid and the weather maybe conspiring against the crush of humanity wanting to familiarize themselves with these historical devices of death. Or maybe people have jobs and Zoom meetings that they have to attend to. I did make a friend though, who, after I’d given him attention followed me around for the last hour of my meandering.
He looks like he belongs in a war museum though, clearly having seen combat in his days. I think it should be a rule that every museum should have a cat.
‘Oh there you are human who gives me love, almost lost you’.
I’m not sure what else is going to be on my Johannesburg bucket list. But I’d glad I got to tick this one off before I go. For History. And King George!