South African Military History Society

News-sheet No. 87. DURBAN BRANCH September 1980


A larger than usual attendance marked our September get-together. The reason was obvious : Major Darrell Hall was our guest-speaker, and his subject: the "Long Toms" of the Anglo-Boer war. Having come specially to Durban to present his slides in the inimitable "Darrell" style, the "producer" of the show regaled his audience with a well-balanced programme in which humour, wit, and wisdom each had its full share.

There was a "supporting" programme consisting of a slide-quiz in which the identity of a British soldier had to be guessed from slides showing incidents and landmarks in his life and career. Coming from Irish stock his father had been a high-ranking officer, and holder of a V.C., in the Indian army. The young man was shown in his Victorian family circle, and then, inter alia, as a member of the 16th Lancers, and in other connections; then in 1911 as a brigadier-general commanding a Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh; then as commander of the V Army at the Somme, during the Ypres offensive during the German offensive in March 1918, when his army lost so much ground, personnel and material that he was deprived of his command; his retirement; and finally his enlistment in the Civilian Protection Services at the outbreak of WWII. The seriousness of the story was intermittently broken by "frivolous" slides of bomb-"throwing" German airmen in WWI flying-kit and crates. The man, correctly identified by a few, was General Sir Hubert ("Goughie") Gough, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., G.C.B.

Then came a "trailer" of a forthcoming "Hall Production" to be entitled "A Call to King and Country", dealing with Darrell's recent visit and pilgrimage to the WWI battlefield in the Noreuil-Bullecourt area in France, where his uncle, 2nd Lieutenant H.W. Hall, London Regiment, lost his life. Over the period 14/15th May 1917, an estimated 60, 000 shells were fired, by 21 batteries into this area.

"Interval" was indicated, symbolically, by a certain fruit-juice "advert" (you know which!), and then came the main feature in the course of which the speaker was ably assisted by "Midge" Carter. After exploding some popular myths and fallacies about the "Long Toms" the speaker warmed up to the main theme. The 6-inch, 94-pdrs., better known as the 155mm Creuzot Guns or "Long Toms" were intended as siege pieces. These guns were fitted with recoil buffers intended to be fastened to a hold-fast let into the ground; and were provided with wooden platforms. The Boers, however, used them frequently without these adjuncts. The guns fired shrapnel and common shell with black powder charges, and ranged oven 11,000 yards (9,800m). Their employment in field operations showed the resource of the Boers and their wonderful ability for getting heavy guns into, and out of, difficult positions. They played their principal part in the siege of Ladysmith; one, however, was used against Mafeking in the early parts of the siege, end one against Kimberley for a few days before the relief. In the early part of the war the Boers never succeeded in using the shrapnel shell of this gun properly, and their overall effect, owing largely to bad ammunition, was usually not great. Later on the Boers modified the fuses and at times got good results at about 10,000 yards range. But they showed that the mere power of annoying an enemy at over 10,000 yards is a valuable one, and that such fire must be replied to.

After a lively question-time our Chairman, 'SB', claimed the honour personally to thank the speaker, and his "assistant", and to express the appreciation of the audience for a wonderfully well presented programme.


Programme of Monthly Meetings
November 13thFellow-member, Victor Conrad, will present a talk entitled "Massacre in Katyn Forest".
December 11thDr. Angus Allen will give a talk on "The Jacobite War in Ireland, 1689-1691 - Bantry Bay to the Boyne"

The venue will be the Lecture Room, 'SB' Bourquin Building, (the Port Natal Administration Board's head office) on the corner of Jan Smuts Highway and Buro Crescent, Mayville, commencing at 8 p.m. Glasses and ice will be supplied so please bring your own bottled or canned refreshments.

(Mrs) Tania van der Watt,
Secretary, Durban Branch,
S.A. Military History Society,
Box 870, HILLCREST 3650
Tel 742970

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