Forthright account of KZN regiment

2012-10-15 00:00

THERE is nothing dutiful about the new history of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles (UMR) according to historian and author Mark Coghlan.

“Regimental histories tend to be only the good news, with nothing about controversial individuals or episodes. One should be as forthright and honest as possible based on the source material and I hope I have achieved that in this history,” says Coghlan

The History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 1864-2004 by Mark Coghlan will be launched next Saturday at the UMR headquarters in Pinetown.

Coghlan, historian with the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service, was commissioned to write the history by the comrades association of the UMR. He’s no stranger to regimental histories — as historian of the Natal Carbineers, he previously wrote Pro Patria — Another 50 Carbineer Years 1945-1995.

“The UMR were not as large a regiment as the Carbineers or in as many actions, but theirs is still a fascinating history,” says Coghlan.

“Their career in World War II ended abruptly with the surrender at Tobruk in 1942 and they all became prisoners of war. But that opened up an interesting chapter as the regiment and individuals coped with existence as POWs.”

Many of them landed up in Switzerland after they escaped from POW camps in Italy, when the Italians surrendered. The less lucky were shipped to Germany. “Those who made it to Switzerland were interned for the duration and many became friendly with the local population,” says Coghlan. “At the end of the war, a contingent of Swiss wives came out to South Africa.”

Another interesting aspect of the UMR history was the “German factor”, says Coghlan. “The Carbineers were mainly an English-speaking regiment with a smattering of Afrikaans speakers, while the UMR had lots of Afrikaners and German speakers drawn from places such as Wartburg, New Germany, Hermannsburg and other German settlements in KZN.”

“This created difficulties in both world wars, as German servicemen had to reconcile their nationality with service in defence of the Union of South Africa. Many had family and relatives in Germany. Many opted not to volunteer for service in World War II for that reason.”

Founded in 1864, the regiment was originally based in Greytown. The headquarters were moved to Redhill, Durban, in 1982 and it is now headquartered in Pinetown. “Today, the bulk of soldiers are black, as is the case with all the volunteer regiments, and black NCOs and officers are now coming up through the system.”

• The History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 1864-2004 by Mark Coghlan will be launched at noon on Saturday, October 20, at the UMR headquarters in Pine­town. There will be a finger lunch and a unit medal parade. Inquiries at 031 700 1860 (office hours).

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