South African Military History Society


Past meeting - Johannesburg - 13th May 1982

The meeting was opened by a pre-emptive strike on the part of Metro-Goldwyn-Hall. For thirteen minutes, a sustained audio-visual attack was launched upon the approximately 70 members and guests attending. The assault took the form of a slide presentation entitled "Task Force" and was under the able and polished command of Major D.D. Hall. In light of the current activities in the Falklands the show was highly topical and captured the attention of those present. It dealt with the operations of 3rd Royal Marine Commando Brigade based in Singapore while on exercises. Although the actual subject material was somewhat out of date and showed some ships which are now out of commission, one still had the feeling of being party to the events now making headlines.

The audience was shown scenes of refueling and re-supply at sea, flight deck operations on a helicopter carrier and the transport of troops and vehicles to the theatre of operations ashore. There were also shots of the men during recreation and PT periods which were in marked contrast to the photographs of the same men in full battledress waiting to board their helicopters for the journey to shore. Of particular interest to those with a naval bent were the pictures of modern warships moving at speed and sailing in formation during the approach phase.

Maj. Hall concluded his presentation by informing the Society that he had taken legal advice and is assured that his shows on the current activities of the Society fall under 'fair comment' and 'justified criticism'. With an ominous gesture to the screen, he warned us to "Watch this space". (in view of this information, your scribe recommends that those feeling themselves to be injured parties should return to their poison pen letter campaign.)

Under 'General', the Chairman reminded the Society of the need for more contributions to the Journal and asked for submissions. Mr Kinsey also announced that the program for next year is now being compiled. Any person who can suggest ideas for lecture topics or lecturers is asked to present these to the committee.

Col G. Duxbury mentioned that a tour had been arranged last year to coincide with the Republic Day celebrations but had been cancelled owing to a lack of interest on the part of members. Cmdt. S Bourquin did a great deal of work in making preparations for this tour and he was thanked for his efforts on our behalf. (This point was made by the Chairman in his speech to the A.G.M. but was omitted from the report in this newsletter.) The colonel also informed the meeting that a tour is being organised for May of next year. It is intended to spend 4 days (Thurs.-Sun.) in and around Kimberly. The usual battlefield talks will be supplemented by visits to the De Beers, Big Hole museum, a braai by the Kimberly Museum and other social events. A short weekend trip, probably mid-day Friday to Sunay night, to Mafeking (Mafikeng) is being arranged by Col. Duxbury and Prof. Barnard for later this year. As plans are finalised, further details of both trips will be made available.

The real attraction at the meeting was then annonced: Cmdt. Bourquin on "Colonel A.W. Durnford". 'SB' brought greetings from Durban branch and stated that he felt his introduction had sounded more like a funeral oration than a preamble to a lecture. It is, however, difficult to describe the career of a man who has been Deputy Director and Director of Bantu Administration in Durban, was Chief Director of the Port Natal Administration Board, has an official building named for him, has served 33 years in the Citizen Force, is now involved in monitoring 121 (Zulu) Battalion and is an acknowledged expert on Natal and Zulu history without seeming to eulogize him. (Future lecturers be warned that if you require a modest introduction you must pursue a less distinguished and active career.)

For those of you who, like this scribe, had thought that Anthony William Durnford's solo historical function was to arrive at Isandhlwana just in time to perish at the hands of the impis Cmdt. Bourquin's talk was a great revelation. The Durnford family had along association with South Africa before the Zulu War. Port Durnford is named for a member of the family and Capt. Ceorge Durnford served against the Boers in the siege of Port Natal. Col. A.W. Durnford first arrived in South Africa as a captain, having suffered severe breakdown in his health while on his way to take up a post in the East. Both the foreign posting and the breakdown were largely caused by his wife having run off with another man. In spite of his being the innocent party, divorce was not compatible with a military career and Durnford made the 'standard' choice in going abroad. This factor also introduced a tragic element in his later relationship with Fanny Colenso preventing it from being anything other than an affectionate friendship.

During the "Long-Belly" rebellion, Durnford had command of a party of Natal Carbineers most of whom were untrained and inexperienced. He and another group were ordered to cut off the retreat of the enemy through a mountain pass. Although the guides got lost and he suffered a severe fall during the ascent, Durnford and his men achieved their objective. This the other party failed to do because the route by which they had been ordered to march did not exist. Having intercepted the enemy, Durnford made the mistake of entering into a lengthy parley in an attempt to persuade them to go back. During these talks the number of tribesmen steadily increased as more and more of them ascended the pass and their attitude became increasingly hostile. The situation was not helped by the nervous state of the Carbineer sargeant who was predicting that they would all be killed and creating an atmosphere of panic. In the end, the Carbineers broke and fled, two men who stayed with Durnford were killed and he was wounded in making his escape. Upon his return to Natal, he accused the Carbineers of cowardice thereby incurring the wrath of most of the settlers who deeply resented this allegation against their own men. Only the Colenso family stood by him during this time.

The events leading up to the action at Isandhlwana and Durnford's part in them are too well known to need a hasty recapitulation in this newsletter. However, it is interesting to note that many of the men who died with Durnford in the last stand were Natal Carbineers and that their deaths in company may, in part, have made up for the bitterness which had previously existed. As to the question of responsibilIty for the disaster, SB is of the opinion that, if Col. Durnford was in formal command of the camp at any time, he arrived to late to take any further defensive measures and left too soon to have had control of the selection of defensive positions but was a very convenient scapegoat and so got an inordinate amount of blame.

Following the conclusion of his talk, SB answered several questions put by members of the audience. Maurice Gough-Palmer then expressed the thanks of the Society for a most fascinatiug talk.

Future meetings Johannesburg
Thurs. 10th June 20h00 - "Medals and Decoratians" - Mr. D.R. Forsyth
Thurs. 8th July 20h00 - "The Battle of Monte Stanco, October 1944" - Mr. Johan Bruwer

Future meetings - Durban
Thurs. l0th June 20h00 - "From Hell to the Himalayas" - Col. C.F. Hodgson

Future meetings - Cape Town
Thurs. 10th June 20h15 - "The Seventh Frontier War" - Dr Ken Gunn

Those of you with an eye for detail will have noticed that the last newsletter suffered heavily at the hands of the gremlins. Our apologies to Mr. Garr, Mr. Carr and Col. Durnford. I hope that this one escapes that fate.

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Rod Murchison (726-3111(B))

(Scribe - In - Training)

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