South African Military History Society


Newsletter/Nuusbrief 186

March/Maart 2020

Matters of General interest.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn presided as usual and we had the pleasure on this occasion of having some of our lady members return to the fold and we did not have an all male meeting! New Member Woody Turner was welcomed together with Clive Jensen an interested visitor who was introduced by Ian Pringle

We were reminded of our AGM on Monday 9 March and the plea was made by Malcolm for others in the society to avail themselves to take up positions on the Committee. There are incumbents who have served for a number of years and new blood is needed!

Mention was made of the new movie called “1917” and which has been highly rated as a must see film. One member remarked that though it was highly rated there were some glaring errors in the cast!

And in an event that has not been marked in any way the Society recognized that the SA Air Force was founded on 1 February 1920 and had celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Our own SAMHSEC Newsletter – the submission of articles

It is necessary that the talks presented at our monthly meetings are published in our newsletter more so that they are for the sake of posterity. The presentations should be in summary form as it is not our intention to compare ourselves with the fine magazine that is published bi-annually by the SA Military History Society. We are nothing more than a newsletter!

Therefore in the future the Member’s Contribution will be allocated half a page, the Curtain Raiser a page and the Main Lecture two pages. Thank you for your support and understanding.


On Saturday 18 January Colonel Adrian (Attie) Schoeman passed away. He had suffered a terrible stroke more than a year ago and never recovered from that serious setback. He was 79 when he died. Until he suffered that stroke, he was probably the fittest man I ever knew.

Fifty-two years ago, in January 1968, I first encountered Sergeant A.H.S. Schoeman. I was undergoing parachute selection (the notorious “PT Course”) at 1 Parachute Battalion and he was one of the instructors. We were divided into classes, and the instructors rotated so that each day we had a different instructor. The day that At Schoeman took our class, he took us on a cross-country run of about eight kilometres (five miles). We were running in a squad, in time, and when we reached the halfway mark, he brought us to a stop and announced that we could have five minutes’ rest.

We collapsed in the shade of some nearby trees. He dropped to his hands and feet and began doing push-ups with his back ramrod straight. We gazed in disbelief as he continued for the entire five minutes without slowing down the rate at which he was moving up and down! Neither did his body sag even once!

At the end of the five minutes he bounced back onto his feet, glanced around at our gaping mouths with obvious glee and commented with a pronounced bray and absolute conviction, “Troepe, ek wil nie brag nie, maar ek is die fikste man in die Weermag!” (Troops, I don’t want to brag, but I am the fittest man in the Defence Force!)We believed him implicitly!

Since then, our paths crossed frequently during our respective careers in the military. At Schoeman started his military career in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1959, when he spent a year in the Naval Gymnasium. He then joined the SA Army and served as an NCO in 1 Special Service Battalion in Bloemfontein, 5 SA Infantry Battalion in Ladysmith and 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein. He qualified as a paratrooper and went on to become a parachute instructor.

Anxious to become an officer, but lacking a matriculation certificate, he resigned and became a sports instructor on the mines in Welkom. This gave him the time to attend night school and to gain his matriculation. Re-joining the Army, he applied for officer training and was accepted. Commissioned as a lieutenant, he was again accepted for service in 1 Parachute Battalion. During the next few years, he became one of the first pathfinders to be trained by the battalion. He was promoted to captain and became the unit’s adjutant. He served for a total of 12 years in 1 Parachute Battalion. In January 1976 he was transferred to the Equestrian Centre in Potchefstroom. Later, promoted to major, he served as a company commander in 3 SA Infantry Battalion.

In 1979 Attie was posted to 4 Reconnaissance Commando in Langebaan and appointed the second-in-command. In 1981 he was posted to 1 Reconnaissance Regiment in Durban to establish the Special Forces School and in mid-1982 he was appointed SO1 Training at Special Forces HQ in Pretoria. He completed his Command and Staff Course at the SA Army College in 1985, where he was one of my students, but I did not offer to let him take a rest while I did push-ups!

He subsequently accepted an appointment in the then Ciskei Defence Force (CDF), where he was promoted to colonel and became the last Officer Commanding the Ciskei Parachute Battalion. He opted for early retirement after the CDF had been integrated into the newly formed South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 1994/1995 but continued to serve in the Reserve Force as a colonel. After his retirement he opened a guesthouse on The Bluff in Durban.

At Schoeman established a formidable reputation as a sportsman. His specialty sport was Modern Pentathlon, which consists of horse riding, fencing, running, swimming and shooting. He was the Modern Pentathlon champion of South Africa in 1964 and 1965 and was a Springbok Modern Pentathlete in 1968, when he established a new South African record for the sport. In that year he was placed 12th in the world for Modern Pentathlon. He won the SADF Modern Pentathlon championships seven times.

After qualifying as a tactical free fall parachutist at 1 Parachute Battalion, he participated actively in sport parachuting, eventually representing the SADF in the sport. He once had an unfortunate accident during a free fall parachute jump and was seriously injured. He spent a long time in hospital and his road to recovery was a tortuous and difficult one. But being the man that he was, he never gave up. He was a born fighter. Within a year he was again jumping from aeroplanes!

Attie was also a mean boxer. He became the boxing champion in his weight division in both the Orange Free State (OFS) and the SADF. He represented the SADF and the OFS in the sports of boxing, field and track athletics and cross-country. He also represented the SADF in fencing and in swimming.In 1979, at the age of 39 and then a major in 3 SAI, he won the trophy as the fittest man in the Army. He scored an incredible 178%, which means he completed far more than was required to obtain full marks for the competition.

He was still parachuting occasionally at the age of 74, when he accompanied a group of other SA paratroopers to the USA for the annual Leapfest. There, he carried out five jumps and came overall 5th in the individual accuracy competition, out of 244 competitors. Fiercely competitive still! Attie Schoeman had a big heart and touched the lives of many young men. He was as hard as nails, but he was always a gentleman and he treated others with dignity and respect. He was a man amongst men! A paratrooper’s paratrooper

The Curtain Raiser – The State of the World Navies – By Franco Cilliers

The world navies are in a state of transition as new ships are coming online and new technologies are evolving. The US Navy is the biggest and most capable navy but also has its own challenges, with ship reliability and new technologies which are not yet delivering on their promises.

The Royal Navy is under financial strain even though they are getting new carriers and new ships they are cutting costs and purchasing less capable warships. The French navy is keeping its fleet numbers up but is not expanding. With new ship orders only replacing older ships.

The German navy is also under financial strain with low readiness and ship availability. The Italian navy is getting new vessels and is also keeping its ship numbers up.

The Indian navy is growing at a pace and expecting a large amount of new ships from destroyers, carriers and ballistic missile submarines. The Russian navy has big plans on building new ships but struggles with finances to increase its fleet or to replace obsolete ships.

The Chinese navy is growing at a pace not seen recently except during wartime. It is launching new ships and new ship classes at an impressive rate with about 8 major surface combat vessels joining the fleet in 2019.

The Japanese navy is also keeping its ship numbers up with an interesting ship building program where they build small classes of ship but continuously keep building warships. This means the shipyards never stop producing warships. The Japanese navy is also building small aircraft/helicopter carriers which it classifies as multi- purpose destroyers.

The South Korean navy is a navy that has undergone a massive chance from being a coastal defence force to now being true blue water navy and this change has occurred in the last 30 years. It is also procuring small aircraft/helicopter carriers to support its fleet.

The Australian navy is taking various new ship classes again replacing existing ship classes with no increase in ship numbers. 

The current trend in the west with the exception of the US navy is a declining fleet with the naval balance shifting to the east as the build up of the Chinese navy galvanize Asian states into upgrading or increasing their fleet sizes.

Main Lecture – My Service in Three Armies - by Ian Copley.

I was deferred from call-up for 7 years until I qualified and registered in 1960 as a medical practitioner. I had been offered a good job in Psychiatry and did not expect to be called up, as abolition of military service was only 2 months away; however my call-up saved me from Psychiatry. My first choice was East Africa after 6 weeks basic training – drill, atomic warfare, hygiene in the field and 2 weeks at Millbank for tropical medicine.

It was also my introduction to generalised use of 4-letter words. Our company’s pass-out parade at the depot was memorable as a sort of Mexican wave ‘eyes right’ reflected in the grimace of the base commander. A few days later I found myself at BMH Nairobi getting fitted out in tropical gear and three days later posted to 24 Field Ambulance in Nairobi.

As no accompanying family was allowed, I signed on for short service – 3 years renewed to total 4½ years, all of it in Kenya. 24 Bde was on standby for anywhere in Africa or Middle East at 48 hours’ notice. I was put in charge of B section and found it like being in the Boy Scouts putting up tents and a marquee for a Medical post in the shortest time; the equipment was to be air-portable. I found that the main problem was how to avoid boredom. I asked the RSM to direct any new arrival who could swim to my section in order to have a team in the local water polo league.

Visits to law courts, Dr Leakey’s museum, excavation sites, talks on members’ occupation were organised. One could indent for ‘Adventure Training’ and draw equipment and transport when approved. We climbed Kilimanjaro three times and Mt Kenya once. There was a visit to the soda Lake Magadi on ‘water conservation’, practice climbs of O’Longenot, an extinct volcano in the Rift Valley.

There were many attachments to battalions on exercise in different parts of Kenya. For families arriving one went to look for an army ‘hiring’. I found a very attractive house, but over the limit allowed. The Czech landlord and architect accepted the difference for me to ‘hire’ the swimming pool.

My first leave coincided with the arrival of the family and taking on a locum for Paramount Films shooting the game-catching film, ‘Hatari’ [danger], with John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli who unfortunately were at another camp. The film lived up to its name as I was next to the door when a ‘kali’ rhino put its horn through. My wife’s first night in Africa was in the bush of Northern Tanzania. Two loitering Masai spearmen offered to buy my daughter as they fancied her fair hair and blue eyes.

We were suddenly ‘stood to’ to be flown to Kuwait [Q8] via Aden in 1961. Heat casualties might be around 10%. The colonel had us all on parade and stated emphatically that ‘there will be no heat casualties in this unit’. There was only one, and that was the colonel who was evacuated and awarded an OBE. In actual fact overall casualties were less than 1%. There was 1 death and one less severe heat stroke. There were 2 accidental minor gunshot wounds. Some heat exhaustion was due to salt tablets too ancient to dissolve, seen on X-Ray passing through the intestines.

Kuwait is the second hottest place on earth after the centre of the Gobi Desert. Temperatures were often between 40º and 50ºC going up to 60º occasionally when the hot Shimal blew; humidity was 16%. When the Qos blew from the Persian Gulf the temperature fell to 40º, but the humidity became 95%. The sea was about body temperature. The soldiers had an explanation – ‘If Aden was the end of the world, then Q8 was 500 miles further up’. The line of defence was the Al Mutla Ridge spanning the road from Bagdad to the North.

The Kings Regt. was on the left and the Inniskillings to the right. The 11 Hussars were patrolling the border with armoured cars whilst 42 Marine Commando was in the rear of the Kings Regt. with helipad and telephones. An aircraft carrier was in attendance. The whole exercise had been at the request of the Kuwait government, until recently a British Protectorate, against a threat to be overtaken by Iraq in quest of her enormous oil wealth; this was thwarted by the rapid deployment of British troops – vide Copley I B, ‘Adventures of a Medical Officer in the Persian Gulf’, SAMHJ, June 1988, Vol 7, No 5.

My section spent a month dug in near the Kings Regt and narrowly missed a fire in the Kings’ camp started by a casual cigarette and spread by the wind. We were then posted to R&R at Mina al Ahmadi near the oil terminal. I found a swimming pool at the University and asked if we could have a swim; perhaps water polo? Permission was needed from the Minister of Education and duly obtained. Two games were arranged at different times; the first we lost 1-11 and at the second swim 2-22 only to be told that it was their Olympic team. The soccer team played well in the first half, but lost in the second as a completely new team came out. However the Minister, Shaik Abdullah Jaber al Sabah [later Amir of Kuwait], invited all the teams to tea in his exotic palace. After 3 months we were relieved by the Arab League and returned to Kenya with our spoils; some soldiers had uniform buttons made in solid gold. My rank had been increased to Captain on a par with a ward sister. I was deployed at times to the King’s African Rifles on recruiting safaris or to do sessions at various sick bays. I was attached to 5 KAR at Garissa.

One of their patrols was ambushed at night by Somali Shifta; there were no casualties as they had slept in shallow trenches so that bullets only hit their mosquito nets above. In the return of fire two were wounded and one shot dead. In following up their tracks a young lad, part of the group of guides recognised the dead man as the one who tried to cut his throat with his bayonet. My predecessor mentioned that he had operated on the same boy’s neck and had to evacuate him.

The next Brigade ‘stand to’ was to an opposite clime – Swaziland in the winter of 1963- due to strikes at the mines and sugar plantations. The police force could only handle trouble in one place at a time. We were flown out with 700 Gordon Highlanders, changing planes at Salisbury [Harare] and continuing next morning in Beverleys to land at Matsapa airport where Red Cross ladies supplied us with tea and food. My Land Rover didn’t arrive as the driver had fallen asleep and missed the chalk. My section was allocated the unfinished nurses’ home and I had a bungalow and maid next to the Matron. Two men were deployed in X-Ray and two more to assist in theatre.

The country returned to normal not long after our arrival. The hospitality was exceptional. One evening I was invited to dine, amongst others, with the British Resident, Sir Brian Marwick. The troops were warned against the usual tropical diseases and the high prevalence of venereal disease. The ladies left behind in Nairobi were not reassured when an indent came through for a thousand condoms.

The Swaziland Show was to occur on schedule. The Gordon’s pipe band put on a brilliant performance. We had our small marquee with half a dozen mock casualties that made the Swazi ladies ask how this could happen to English soldiers. I caught any European visitor at the exit to ascertain their blood group and telephone number to add to the hospital’s ‘on the hoof’ blood bank. I did the occasional government clinic [which included mental patients kept in the central prison], usually in outlying areas that included some dentistry. My medical bag had a full collection of dental instruments and I leaned the gentle art of extraction through trial and error.

Through a friend in the RAF I was invited, when not on call, on several flights as far away as Mandera on the border with Ethiopia. He offered to teach me to fly on the old Tiger Moth at RAF Eastleigh. We shared the fuel cost [£1] provided we share the flying – half an hour lesson and second half to practice aerobatics. Being a ‘Pongo’ I couldn’t go solo, so obtained my licence by civil means. Don’s Beverley was used to fly in equipment for Richard Leaky at his remote excavation near the shores of Lake Natron after they had lengthened the runway we had assessed. On one occasion we did a formation air drop for the Nairobi air show flying with rear doors removed [before take-off].

I later bought my ‘hiring’ and several years later swopped it for an aeroplane which was eventually sold in Rhodesia, for which I had had to become a resident. Instead of doing locums in Salisbury I was advised that I was eligible as a Volunteer Reserve in the Rhodesian Army. This was possible as at the time since I was senior lecturer in Anatomy at the University Of Natal Medical School and thus had ‘varsity’ vacations. I would telephone the ADMS to ask if I was needed; the answer was always ‘yes’. I served over 6 years intermittently from 1974 until Independence and was posted to various places round the country. The last ADMS was a character from my medical school days.

My first posting was to Salisbury staying at the King George VI barracks where I met General Walls. I was once flown out to a SAP post overlooking the Zambezi valley and a terrorist entry route. They had reported cases of dysentery and I found that flies had free entry to their long-drops. I did several post mortems on both military and civilian casualties.

My last two postings were to Umtali where I was accommodated in the Cecil hotel, also the army HQ of the region. I was introduced to Ian Smith at a reception for him. One helicopter flight was to the site of a convoy ambush where a terrorist stood in the road and fired a rocket at the first lorry. A sergeant had severe chest wounds and unfortunately died on the return journey. I also had a mobile surgical unit; otherwise the local hospital facilities were available, including X-Ray.

On a posting to New Sarum Air Force Base next to Salisbury airport – I had asked for a ride in a training sortie in one of their 3 Canberra bombers. This was not possible without a decompression certificate – I was then flown down to Gwelo on a Sunday morning for an hour in the decompression chamber to 25 000 ft. Soon after I was put in the bomb-aimer’s seat and instructed how to escape if need be. The target was a dustbin on a ridge near the Mozambique border and we scored a direct hit. Some of the frequent terrorist atrocities, largely to their own people, were mentioned in the talk.

One of my new acquaintances was a German major who had served in the Foreign Legion where it turned out he had been only a sergeant major when he was arrested in Germany on a recruiting safari. This Walter Mitty character was transferred to the Guard Force. I was proud to have been awarded a Rhodesian Service medal.

In 1981, having qualified in Neurosurgery, I was working at GaRankuwa Hospital [Medunsa] with my chief and mentor, Prof Joubert, when he told me that his friend, General Nieuwoudt, was looking for someone to open a department of Neurosurgery in the new 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, then completing construction. Would I like to apply? I went to see the General who on my apologising, said that my lack of fluency in Afrikaans ‘would not be a problem’.

After some difficulty in getting my release from my former employment I started on time in January, 1982, at the old hospital with the rank of Commandant. Previously neurosurgery cases had been dealt with by private specialists in Pretoria. Mrs Niewoudt, I was told, had designed the distinctive SAMS uniform.

When we finally moved into the new hospital the old one could be used as a residential rehabilitation centre. After the acute recovery phase the patient might be allowed home at weekends, parents were able to attend our weekly ‘grand round’ where the patient’s progress was reviewed in front of a panel of doctors, paramedical, psychiatric, and nursing personnel.

Many cases were transferred by air from the Border War, but were outnumbered by local road accident cases. Our requests for special instruments were attended to promptly. After a couple of years we had our own CT installed in the X-Ray department. Our unit was located on the 6th floor with patients of all ranks and sex could be catered for on one ward, except the odd baby elsewhere. The new department was privileged to perform the first operation in the new hospital.

In the army, Wednesday was sports afternoon and I was able to play tennis and join the flying club at AFB Swartkops nearby where flying and gliding was done locally and at Harrismith and Potchefstroom.

My observations of gunshot wounds coming from the Border War led to a paper on High Velocity Tangential Gunshot Wounds and another on the case of a hot piece of shrapnel to the face both published in the British Journal of Neurosurgery and the latter in ‘Armed Forces ‘after I had left the army. Any claim to fame would be of having a world first – the offending piece of shrapnel was gold plated on instruction from General Geldenhuis and presented to the recovered patient with his medal.

BISLEY COMPETITIVE SHOOTING – Presented at Our January 2020 Meeting

Curtain Raiser Address to SAMHSEC, Monday 13 January2020 by McGill Alexander

I am not a sports shottist. As a professional soldier, I spent many long hours on shooting ranges firing my service rifle, but I never participated in competitive rifle shooting. My involvement in the sport of Full-Bore Rifle Shooting, also known as Long-Range Rifle Shooting and Prone Rifle Shooting, but in South Africa commonly referred to as Bisley Rifle Shooting, began somewhat reluctantly in 1983.

I was a major at 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein and had recently broken my foot on a free-fall parachute jump. Unable to participate with my troops in training in the field, I was hobbling around the base like a bear with a sore head, getting on everyone’s nerves. My Commanding Officer happened to be a Springbok Shottist and, apparently fed up with my attitude, he called me into his office and informed me that he was appointing me as the Chief Range Officer (CRO) for the annual South African Bisley Championships, due to start the following week.

Mortified at the prospect of spending ten days on a rifle range trying to control a crowd of mainly civilians, I protested vehemently – to no avail. Yet, to my great surprise, I really enjoyed the task, warmed to the competitors and found that they liked my style of running the range. Thirty-seven years later, though I have not been available every year since then, I am still the CRO for the annual championships!

Origins of Target Rifle Shooting.

Essentially originating in the military, target practice took place in armies even before the advent of firearms. Initially, it involved archery, including later crossbows. The introduction of firearms, cartridges and high-velocity ammunition resulted in the need to construct longer ranges with greater safety features.

In Britain, there was a growing interest in target shooting as a sport amongst officers from the wealthier classes. Competitive “meetings” became popular social gatherings, with the ladies using them to show off the latest fashions – much like horse racing today. From the start, therefore, target shooting was an elite sport.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) of the United Kingdom was established in 1859 – one hundred and sixty-one years ago, "for the promotion of marksmanship in the interests of Defence of the Realm and permanence of the Volunteer Forces". The British Army, in the time of empire, enjoyed a prominent status, particularly the volunteer yeomanry and county regiments. The NRA was thus afforded royal patronage.

Competitions were held on Wimbledon Common from 1860 to 1889, but when safety became an issue due to the urban spread, a range was built by the Army outside the village of Bisley in Surrey. It was first used in 1890. The magnificent Victorian clubhouse buildings and administrative structures from Wimbledon were dismantled and re-erected at Bisley. This is the range still used today, by both the British Armed Forces and the NRA. It actually consists of a number of ranges and accommodates all shooting disciplines, including combat rifle, shotgun, small bore and pistol, as well as full-bore.

The annual national rifle championships became known as “The Imperial Meeting” and there was enthusiastic participation by the Dominions, including South Africa.

NRA of America was established in the USA in 1871 – 12 years after the British Association. It is the longest-standing civil-rights organisation in the USA and has over 5 million members. Founded by two Union colonels in the wake of the Civil War, they had been dismayed by the dismal marksmanship of their troops. Their motivation differed somewhat to that of the British NRA; it was to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis."

The first American matches were held in 1873 and the gun-owning romanticism of the ‘Wild West” soon created a culture of shooting as a sport. The Camp Perry ranges in Ohio are where annual National Matches are held in various shooting disciplines. Over 6000 competitors make it one of biggest sporting events held in America today.

South Africa

Like the other dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand – even India), South Africa was a “frontier colony” of the British Empire. But one where probably more wars were fought than in any other! The colonial volunteer regiments were a part of the life of the colonies, so target shooting became an accepted weekend activity for every male British Settler and his offspring. The “target stones” across the N2 highway from the 1820 Settler Memorial Theatre in Graham’s town bear witness to this.

But in South Africa, target shooting long preceded the British and their volunteer regiments. Papagaaiberg in Stellenbosch and the burgher commandos of the Dutch ensured that target shooting was a part of the way of life of white South Africans from the time of the earliest European settlement. Further reinforcement came from the Great Trek and the Commando Systems of the Boer Republics, where every male citizen was also a soldier. They too, used “target stones” to practice their marksmanship.

Both the Cape Colony and Natal established Rifle Associations before the end of the 19th century, and after the Anglo-Boer War so did the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies. In 1928, these were amalgamated to form the South African National Rifle Association (SANRA).

By then, the South Africans were regularly sending teams to compete at Bisley in England at the Imperial Meeting, and this type of competition was generally referred to in South Africa as “Bisley Shooting”. The annual national championships were commonly referred to as “the SA Bisley.” There were also “Provincial Bisleys”.

Generally, the SA Bisley meeting was held at the SADF’s Hamilton Range on the outskirts of Bloemfontein. It was a range of great character, with corrugated iron buildings typical of the British Army style of the time, erected during the British occupation in the Anglo-Boer War. However, the development and encroachment of the city necessitated the closure of the range for safety reasons (shades of Wimbledon!). In 1989 the SADF built a magnificent new range of world-class standard in the military training area known as De Brug, about 25km outside of the city.

Since 1990, the SA Bisley has been held there on all but three occasions. It is regarded by many shottists from around the world as the fairest range anywhere (in terms of equal conditions – not beauty!). After democratisation in 1994, SANRA changed its name to the South African Bisley Union (SABU) and introduced a new badge without the leaping springbok which had dominated the old insignia.

A Parting of the Ways:

Full-bore Target Shooting was traditionally a military-style competition. In Commonwealth countries, it was done for most of the 20th century with the Lee Enfield .303 service rifle. Initially, it included snap shooting exercises and some running from one distance’s firing point to that of a nearer distance. Firing for some matches included kneeling, sitting, standing and prone positions. Ammunition was standard issued service rounds and hand-loaded ammunition was not permitted.

But sometime after the Second World War, Service Rifle Shooting (subsequently renamed Combat Rifle Shooting) developed into a separate sport using standard assault rifles in use by the Armed Forces. Full-bore Target Rifle Shooting (or “Bisley Shooting”) adopted custom made, single shot target rifles using the .308 Winchester ammunition (or standard 7.62mm NATO military rounds). Today, only hand-loaded ammunition is used for Bisley competitions and all firing is done from the prone position.

Combat rifle competitions take place only up to 300m from the target. Bisley shooting starts at 300m and goes as far as 900m (1000 yards). Bisley shooting entails full-bore firearms, as opposed to small-bore, pistol and shotgun. The disciplines included in Bisley shooting are Target Rifle, Free Class, .303 and Black Powder. There are individual and team matches. Ranges are sometimes private, but for the National Bisley, the SANDF range has to be used.

Competitors are mostly civilian today but are of both genders, and all ages with some even having a physical handicap. It is probably the least discriminating of any sport in that anyone able to hold and fire a rifle can compete in the same competition. Unfortunately, however, there is one factor that that does discriminate! The costs involved can be astronomical, particularly with the highly sophisticated equipment that is used today.

Expenses include the rifle, maintenance tools, lubricants, padded carrier bag, shooting jacket, and spotting scope, shooting mat, scorecard/ammunition box and ammunition. A minimum initial outlay of about R50, 000 is needed for very basic equipment. Ammunition costs about R5 to R10 per round, there are entry fees for every match and shottists have to cover travel and accommodation expenses.

State of the Sport

Sadly, Bisley shooting is in steady decline in South Africa because of costs, closure of cadet detachments in schools, firearm legislation and general lack of interest in participation in outdoor activities in today’s digital world. It is also a fact that the tradition of target shooting exists only in the white culture. The decline is sad, because SABU have hosted three World Championships and will be hosting another two over the next five years.

South Africa is an extremely popular shooting destination amongst the shottists of the world because of our excellent weather, challenging shooting conditions, the favourable exchange rate and the many additional tourist attractions that make a visit worthwhile. And of course, the hospitality of the South African shottists! Today, almost half the shottists who compete in the SA Bisley are from other countries.


Over the past thirty-seven years I have been CRO at twenty-five SA Bisleys. I have managed to do it every year for the past twenty-two years. I have also been CRO at three World Championships held in SA. I am an Honorary Vice-President of SABU, but I have never shot competitively at a single Bisley. Yet, despite my initial reluctance, the ten days I spend on the range every year with the shooting friends I have made from many countries remains an ongoing highlight for me.


Our next meeting – Monday 9 March 2020 – 19,30hrs – EP Veteran Car Club – Cunningham Road.

MS: Lynne Crozier The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919

CR: The Annual General Meeting

ML: Andre Crozier The Military role of the 1820 Settlers


Chairman: Malcolm Kinghorn
Secretary: Franco Cilliers
Scribe (newsletter):Ian Pringle.

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South African Military History Society /