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UDF - Worcester Camp 1913

I was recently sent three 'military' postcards by Gawie Hugo of Worcester. Gawie is the President of the Paarl Philatelic Society. He has contributed three wonderful displays to the SAPC, two about Worcester and the third about 'Table Mountain, the Inspiration'. His contribution has helped to keep us alive - societies need members, websites need contributors! "Bankie dankie, meneer President".

Gawie's three postcards have been laminated in plastic which when scanned has difused the image a little. They are curious in as much as they show a military camp in Worcester, Cape Province, in 1913. Gawie has asked me if I can shed any light on this early UDF camp. Sadly, I cannot. This is my best shot.

Photographs of the camp were taken, developed and printed as postcards that were sold by the Y.M.C.A in the camp. All bear 'Y.M.C.A. Institute, Worcester Camp .............. 1913' on the reverse. All have been dated 'Sat, 27 / 9 /' (1913) by hand. All have been posted in Worcester on '28 SEP 1913'. All bear green Transvaal KE VII ½d stamps cancelled with the post-Union Double Circle WORCESTER S. AFRICA datestamp.

According to Simom Peetoom of Africa Stamps, "for a stamp to qualify as an Interprovincial it must have a full, readable date falling between 19th August 1910 to 31st August 1913, as well as the town or village being identifiable". Sadly that is not the case here. "The introduction of the King’s Heads issue on 1st September 1913 brought the Interprovincial period to an end, however Pre-Union Edwardian stamps were not demonetised until 1st January 1938 so they can be found used on mail until then."

The three postcards are all addressed to different members of the Finlay family living in Sydney Street, Green Point.

To J. Finlay Esq., presumably the father, the soldier 'N.F.' writes "We had a review to-day (sic) for the benefit of visitors & the Worcester people". (Before the 16th century, 'today' was spelled as two separate words, 'to day'. For the next 300 years or so, ie. up to 1913 and later, it was hyphenated as 'to-day'. Now, we  use 'today'. Such precise spelling suggests the writer, N.F', was literate and well-educated in the correct spelling conventions of the time.)

I have counted almost 100 bell tents. The uniforms are curious. The men above are being led by an officer in SAW-era unifrom. The men, however, are wearing very dark greatcoats, unsual webbing and a mix of hats. The fact that are returning from the town clutching what looks like bedding suggests that they took shelter in the town after they were driven out of their tents by the force of the storm that blew the Y.M.C.A, marquee down.

The letter from 'N.F.' to his father is annotated on the front "We were cinematographed today" ie. filmed. This was presumably made of the troops marching in review. That this large camp was filmed suggests it had some importance, newsworthiness and was attended by top brass, maybe even the Governor.

The 20th Century's first newsreels were filmed at the front during the SAW (South African War), 1899-1902. By 1913, the New Yorker Isodore Schlesinger had taken control of all South African film distribution through his company, African Films. In 1913 Schlesinger started a newsreel which he called 'The African Mirror'. This enabled him to supply South African bioscopes (cinemas to the rest of you!) with both flickery movies and news content from 1913 to 1984.

Was the Worcester Camp the subject of one of the very first African Mirror newsreels?

Clearly, the army camp has suffered from the effects of a devastating storm.

To Miss C. Finlay, presumably his sister, 'N.F.' writes “Worcester is horribly windy and dusty: it is now beginning to rain." To Master R. Finlay, presumably his younger brother, 'N.F.' writes “We usually have one meal per day in the Y.M.C.A on a/c (account) of the unsatisfactory state of the army food."

So, "why was there a camp at Worcester when there was no war or prospect of one?"

At this time Germany was an emerging commercial, industrial and military rival to Great Britain. Although Germany had a colony in South West Africa that most South Africans resented, it was not perceived as an imminent and existential threat. That Germany was a threat to Britain and South Africa by July 1914 is indicative of the surprisingly sudden start of an unanticipated war in Europe. For this reason, the 'German threat' in 1913 comprised only a very small part of the reason for this camp. The bigger reason lay closer to home.

In the absence of a local force capable of maintaining the peace after the SAW, Britain retained a large army of occupation in South Africa known as the Imperial Garrison. This was an expensive option. The ideal was for South Africa to rule and police itself. After the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, the new Union govenment of Botha and Smuts placed a priority on creating a unified military out of the separate armies of the union's four provinces, previously two British colonies opposed by two Boer states. Neither Botha nor Smuts wanted a British army in SA.

The South African Defence Act (Act 13 of 1912) created a UDF (Union Defence Force) led by a small Permanent Force (standing army) supported by an ACF (Active Citizen Force). The ACF was intended to accomodate the disparate military traditions of British regiments and Boer commandos. The Worcester camp was held at a time when the UDF was struggling to fit into its new khaki uniform. Unfortunately, events on the Rand in the form of a huge mineworkers strike in June 1913 caught the government by surprise and the UDF with its breeches around its ankles.

With gold vital to the South African economy and with no army yet in existence, Smuts decided to strong-arm the strikers by unleashing the police, Boer commandos and troops of the British Imperial Garrison. These were deployed throughout the Rand for the purpose of confronting the strike head-on. By the end of June, some 18,000 dissatisfied workers at 63 mines were out on strike across the Witwatersrand. When the strike committee called for a meeting in Benoni on 29th June, it instructed the strikers to come armed ‘to resist any unlawful force which may be used against you’. Violence and bloodshed became inevitable.

At a meeting at Market Square in central Johannesburg on 4 July, police on horseback, wielding pickaxes, broke up the gathering. On 5th July more than 20 people were killed outside the Rand Club. The much damned 'Wesleyan', 'Communist', 'Bolshevik', 'nigrophilist', Sidney Bunting, said it was ‘the most indescribable scene of cold-blooded brutality ever perpetrated in an industrial conflict’. The reaction of the govenment to the strike was wrong. Anger and resentment would not go away. Worse was to come in 1922. And later!

That was the background to the Worcester camp. The Worcester camp of September 1913 was both a means of developing the UDF as a military organisation following its formation in 1912 and, coming so soon after the end of the Rand Strike, also an exercise in the preparation and mobilisation of Cape troops in the event of industrial and civil unrest up north. Worcester sits on the main railway line to the Transvaal. An overnight train would get properly trained troops from Cape Town or Worcester to Jo'burg in 36 hours. This was not an option Smuts had in June.