Steve on Sunday
29 November 2020
Greetings my fellow former warriors and their families,
There being no official Remembrance Day services in most South African cities and towns this year the emphasis on remembering those who died fell to veteran’s organisations in attempting to keep the memorial flame burning. Some of these services were no doubt well attended and various individuals too, conducted their own private memorial services.
I remember quite clearly and well into the 1990s the Poppy Day to raise funds for former soldiers, sailors and airmen held on the Saturday before the many official Armistice Day parades. Everyone knew about Poppy Day, everyone knew about the SA Legion, everyone knew about the MOTH, and most either attended a parade or watched the ceremony on television. Virtually everyone wore a poppy for a day or two. It was the least we could do. We did remember, and we will and should remember those who made the supreme sacrifice, particularly those who died in World War I and World War II.
Methinks the official memorial services may not appear anymore in this country and it will be up to the servicemen’s organisations to do their own.
I thought that today being the most important day of the year for myself, I would have a flashback to my youthful days spent in Umtali, Rhodesia, now Mutare in Zimbabwe. Like 99% of the children we were allowed to join the public library at a certain age – I think I was either 6 or 7 years old when I became a member of Umtali’s Turner Memorial Library. One of the things that did not change in the 1980s was the name of the library in Mutare which still today remains the Turner Memorial Library.
Who is this Turner and why is he memorialised as such?
It was today, 29th November in 1899, that Henry Scott-Turner was buried with full military honours in Kimberley, the day after he had been killed in action against the Boers surrounding the diamond town. His funeral was attended by all the town’s dignitaries including Cecil Rhodes and the Mayor RH Henderson.
Henry Scott-Turner, the son of Major Scott-Turner, formerly of the 69th Foot, was born in May 1867 and educated at Clifton College, and was killed in action at the second battle of Carter’s Ridge on 28 November 1899 during the siege of Kimberley.
He joined the 1st Black Watch (42nd Royal Highlanders) as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1887 when he was 20 years old, and promoted Lieutenant in May 1890. On 24 May 1898 was promoted to Captain, and the following day received his brevet-majority.
Took part in the Matabeleland Expedition in 1893, and then entered the service of the British South Africa Company in what became Rhodesia, being the Adjutant and Paymaster with the Matabeleland Relief Force in 1896.
From 1894 up until his seconding to Kimberley in June 1899 Scott-Turner was the Magistrate/Mayor/Commissioner of the fledgling town of Umtali in Rhodesia. In fact, Scott-Turner was the British South African Company representative in Umtali in 1897 and in April 1898 was the appointed Civil Commissioner. He had overseen the planning and sale of stands in the newly laid out town, the surveyor being Rhys Fairbridge, father of the better known Kingsley Fairbridge.
The public library in the town today (Mutare, Zimbabwe) is the Scott-Turner Memorial Library, and within its precincts are a portrait, his two swords, medals, dirks, sporrans, and several trophies. (I believe his medals have disappeared from display and are now in a private collection in Australia).
Henry was the son-in-law of Sir Lewis Michell, the General Manager of Standard Bank South Africa who became the Chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd upon the death of Cecil Rhodes in 1902. Michell was also Minister without Portfolio in the Jameson Ministry (Cape Colony), and wrote the book “Life of the Right Honourable Cecil J Rhodes.”
In June 1899 Scott-Turner was appointed a Special Service Officer with the British army and was posted to Kimberley, residing at the Kimberley Club in one of the rooms in what is known as Trafalgar Square. He arrived in July 1899, the first of the special service officers to arrive, with the brief “…to keep his eyes and ears open, and obtain information of a secret character.”
A prolific note and letter writer, several are worthwhile recording.
In a letter addressed to the Town Clerk of Kimberley on 6 October 1899 when preparations were in full swing prior to the outbreak of war, he replied: “In answer to your letter O 382/99 I am requested to inform you that at present while he is unable to arm all the white men who are offering themselves for service it is not possible to consider the question of arming the coloured men. Colonel Kekewich however suggests that you take their names and if an opportunity arises he will gladly avail himself of their services and he highly appreciates the spirit of their offer. By order, Henry Scott-Turner, (illegible), Staff Officer.”
On 19 October 1899 he was appointed as Officer Commanding the Mounted Troops and was tasked with the raising of the Kimberley Light Horse.
He led the three aggressive actions against the Boers on 24 October, 25 November and 28 November 1899, and was killed in the latter. Scott-Turner had been wounded in the shoulder in the action of 25 November.
His second to last note, written hurriedly on a Kimberly Club notehead on the day he died, read: “Dear Mrs Smith, We will take care of your old man don’t be afraid. The Imperial troops will be in here at daylight tomorrow. Yours sincerely, Henry S-Turner.” Mrs Smith was the wife of the Quartermaster of the KLH, J.A. Smith. Scott-Turner, on his way to his own death, had turned back (briefly) to write the note.
His death was indeed a severe loss to the garrison, and Rhodes was deeply distressed at the time. He was buried with full military honours, his coffin being second in line behind Lt Wright, both coffins being on Diamond Fields Artillery gun carriages. Scott-Turner’s carriage was followed by his horse. The pallbearers were Colonel Robert Kekewich, Lt-Col David Harris, Lt-Col Chamier, Lt-Col Robinson, Lt-Col Finlayson and Lt-Col Peakman. Archdeacon Holbech conducted the service at Gladstone cemetery. In attendance at the graveside were Cecil Rhodes, Dr Smartt, Rochefort Maguire, Robert Henderson (the Mayor), and other important dignitaries.
“I wish to place on record the brilliant services of the late Brevet major (local Lt-Colonel) H S Turner; in him the army has lost a most valuable officer; he was a great organizer, full of energy, and possessed of real ability and courage; he was the principal organizer of the Town Guard, and acted as my staff officer, carrying out his duties with marked success under great difficulties…he commanded the mounted troops in numerous reconnaisances and sorties, and I cannot speak too highly of the manner in which he conducted them and carried loyally carried out my orders.” So wrote Colonel Robert George Kekewich.
Henry Scott-Turner is remembered in Kimberley by the cairn placed where he fell on Carter’s Ridge where his name is top of the list of those killed, and a street in an industrial suburb. Various photographic memorials are at the Moth Centre, Kimberley Club and the McGregor Museum.
In Umtali funds were raised and a library built to his memory.
The late Harry Went of Umtali, Rhodesia, had a very comprehensive collection of early Umtali papers and documents. Included among them were his grandfather’s notes on the death of Henry as written in the journal South Africa. “A true frontiersman…a friend of Rhodes…A benefactor of Umtali…Died in Harness.”
In an obituary the Diamond Fields Advertiser stated that at his death, Henry left his widow, a young child (both in Cape Town) and his elderly mother in England.
Dora Scott-Turner, widow of Henry, and eldest daughter of Sir Lewis Michell, died at her home “Rondebosch” in Eastbourne, England in August 1946.
Their son, also Henry, died on 11 March 1915 while on active service as a 2nd Lt with the Black Watch.
So the full and official title of the library in Mutare is in fact the Henry Scott-Turner Memorial Library, and not just the Turner Memorial Library.
It is good to sometimes remember why certain buildings have names attached, and who and what that person did to be so memorialised.
Have a good week. I thank you.