The thirty-seventh Annual General Meeting of the society opened proceedings on Thursday 10th April. Colin Dean, the Chairman, reported that the Society had grown in numbers during 2002, having reached over 500 members for the first time since 1994, with the KwaZulu-Natal branch showing particularly successful recruitment.
He paid tribute to 5 founder (or long serving committee) members who had recently passed away: Dr Ron Sinclair (former Deputy Chairman), Pat Rice (second Secretary), Maurice von Biene, Neville Gomm (prime mover in founding and first Secretary) and Dr Felix Machanik (founder and former Chairman)
The Military History Journal continued to enhance the prestige of both the Society and The SA National Museum of Military History. He congratulated and thanked the Editor, Ms Sue Blendulf and committee members Marjorie Dean and George Barrell for their contributions, which were producing the issues on time, with colour printed covers and at a reasonable cost. Postage costs continued to increase, however, and e- mailing of newsletters had helped control this cost.
While the Johannesburg lecture programme continued to sparkle, very few members had bothered to send in their votes to the scribe for the best lectures of 2002, which had been disappointing.
He concluded by asking members for input about the form and activities of the Society which they would like to see in the future, as a guide for the incoming committee.
The Secretary/Treasurer's report indicated that there had been a small profit of R2 680 for the year. The 2002 subscription increase had therefore been adequate. The website continued to average over 25 000 hits a month. No questions were asked of the Treasurer. Thanks were extended to Gavin Moore for auditing the accounts.
Dr Felix Machanik's Prize for the best lecture during 2002 was awarded jointly to Louis Wildenboer (for "Heavy Gustav: the Story of a Gun") and Dr Walter Murton (for "The Four Battles - Greece vs Persia in the 5th century B.C."), while the George Barrell prize for the best curtain-raiser went to Marjorie Dean (for "The Historical Novel - a good place to start.")
Colin Dean was unanimously re-elected as Chairman for a second term while the committee comprises: George Barrell, Marjorie Dean, Flip Hoorweg, Joan Marsh, Lyn Miller, John Murray, Hamish Paterson and newcomer Bob Smith.
Under general matters, Marjorie Dean expressed concern that while lecture attendance was generally satisfactory, other functions organised for the Society - tours, the Anglo-Boer War armistice Centenary luncheon - had been very poorly attended. She asked members to consider the reasons for this and inform the committee accordingly.
The title of the main lecture of the evening was 'The Easter Rising, Dublin 1916'. The speaker, John Murray, explained how a suicidal gesture on the part of only a few fanatical, Irish Republican nationalists succeeded in igniting popular support for the Home Rule that came a few years later. The participants were fuelled more by a mystical vision than by any realistic expectation of being able to overthrow the established order. Some saw their actions as a hopeless blood sacrifice. At the time there was little enthusiasm among the Irish people for those who were, ostensibly, acting in their name. Yet these same men were ultimately to be accepted as the heroes of a free Ireland.
The relations between England and Ireland date from 1155, when the English king, Henry II, acting on the authority of the reigning Pope, Adrian IV, sent his Norman knights to invade Ireland in order to 'reform the corrupt and disorderly Irish church'. This was the first of numerous interventions from mainland Britain down the centuries that culminated in the Act of Union of 1800.
Ireland showed a remarkable capacity for infecting those who attempted to govern it with a sense of rebellious nationalism. Britain's mainly callous treatment of Ireland as its first overseas colony was one reason for this. Another was the fact that the ordinary people of Ireland remained stubbornly Roman Catholic when Britain had become Protestant. A third was the resentment caused by Britain's apparent indifference to the hardships caused by the great Potato Famine, 1845-49.
Throughout this long, troubled period, however, Irishmen continued to serve in the British armed services and played a more than proportionate role in building the British Empire. In Easter 1916 Irish regiments were serving alongside British troops in WW1, and were only weeks away from the massive slaughter of the Battle of the Somme. Yet the rebels deliberately chose this time when Britain's attention was concentrated on fighting for its very existence to pursue their Republican ambitions. Worse for popular opinion in both Britain and Ireland was that they had secured assistance from the Germans, and openly referred to them as their 'gallant allies'.
The fighting lasted five days, partly because the authorities were slow to appreciate the danger. By the time it ended in the complete defeat of the rebels over 500 had been killed on both sides. But the whole hopeless business might have ended there if the British had not executed so many of the ringleaders, 13 in all. That mistake enabled the rebels to achieve what the fighting had failed to do. They made nationalist martyrs out of romantic opportunists, and so helped popularise the Republican cause.
George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581For Durban details contact Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983 For Cape Town details contact John Mahncke (021) 797-5167
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