Family History

Last letter from a Soldier

The picture below is a scan of a bad copy of the last letter my Maternal Grandfather wrote before being shot in Joubert Park Johannesburg.
The year is 1922 and my grandfather, a part time private in the Rand Light Infantry and is called up to put down the uprising now refer to as the General Strike. Smuts declared Martial Law and my grandfather was called up. The letter was written in Ellis park but his regiment was billeted in Joubert Park.
Sometime during night strikers attacked the encampment and in the skirmish my grandfather came face to face with one of his apprentices. He refused to shoot the man, who promptly shot him only to be shot in turn by an RLI soldier.
Six months later my mother was born.

One quietly forgotten fact about the Strike was that it was organised by Afrikaner organisations allied with the Communist Party.


Royal Visit Kimberly 1947

Going through my Mothers photograph albums I came across pictures of the Royal Visit to Kimberly in 1947.
Not brilliant photographs, but they do show interesting details that the official photographers would not have allowed into their images.

Royal Visit Kimberly

And of course they illuminated all the important buildings

Art History

The Weapons In Goya’s May 3 Painting

Recently while studying Goya’s painting May 3, 1808 I got this terrible feeling that I was missing something or that something was wrong and I couldn’t see what it was.
Here is Goya’s painting 3 May. It shows random civilians being executed after French troops were attached the day before.

I stared at the picture for along while and then it struck me, their stance looked all wrong.
Now those soldiers are members Napoleon’s Old Guard who were veterans so they knew what they were doing.
Why was the stance wrong? Well lets look at the soldier closest to us

He is leaning forward, holding a musket with the bayonet fixed. He has to be unbalanced and his head is tilted forward rather than sideways.

I checked all the literature I could find. No mention of the soldiers weapons in Goya’s painting on the internet. Nothing in the art books immediately to hand.

So? Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the weapon was light, no recoil, easily handled. I went hunting for the weapon used by the Napoleonic forces. And then things got worse.

The weapon in the picture was carried by all French forces up till the middle of the 19th Century. It was mass produced and named the Charleville 1777. Interesting aside, it was used extensively in the USA until the Winchester replaced it.
It is a front loading, flint lock musket and when it is fired a huge plume of fire rises out of the weapon. Wearing that hat, the soldier would have scorched his eyebrows, if he was lucky.
I found a YouTube video of a modern French man firing a Charleville. Note the motorbike in the picture.
I slowed the video down and got this image.

The stance is more upright, the head tilted back and away from the flame which is not what the soldiers in the Goya painting are doing.
What did surprise me is the lack of recoil and little upward kick.

Manet did a painting of the execution of Maximilian in Mexico, one of Napoleons more spectacularly failed expeditions. Manet painted this as a tribute to Goya but he was more precise in his painting.

Coins History

Exploring a tin of Brooklax

I went scratching in some old boxes and found a tin labelled Brooklax. Now for those of you who do not know, Brooklax was or possibly still is a laxative.
The tin rattled when I shook it. So I opened it and found an amazing treasure trove.
Hint: Note the dates on the coins and yes, I know it is illegal to damage coins, but somehow I don’t think anyone is gonna pursue me for damaging these coins.
So join me in an exploration of a tin of Brooklax.

Tie Pin
President Paul Kruger
The oldest of the lot.
This is a really historic coin. The Renten Mark of which this coin is fraction was issued to try to halt Inflation in 1923. The attempt failed utterly.