Our August "get-together" took the form of a visit to the Head Quarters of the Natal Carbineers in Pietermaritzburg. Notwithstanding the petrol strike and the distance involved, a contingent of no less than 21 members pitched up. This figure included six of our Pietermaritzburg members, most of whom were attending one of our meetings for the first time. Our former Chairman, Ken Gillings who was "standing in" for Paul Kilmartin for the evening, welcomed all those present with a special greeting to "S.B." who incidentally, has subsequently undergone an eye-operation and is now well on the way to recovery.
Regimental Sergeant Major WO1 John Hall hosted the first stage of our visit which was held in the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess and from where we went "walkabout" in the Natal Carbineers' HQ. The first item of interest was the facebrick wall of the Old Drill Hall on which were the engravings done by Private G Latuga of the 2nd East Surrey Regiment in December 1899. We then went into the HQ Building over what was originally thought to have been an iron step, until someone realized that it was in fact the iron backing plate that had been used for target practice when the Carbineers still used carbines! Shot indentations could be quite clearly seen. At that stage, fellow-member, Mark Coghlan, who many may recall gave a talk to our Society on the History of the Natal Carbineers last year, took over as assistant guide and showed us the Regimental badges which were originally cast for the new entrance off Grey Street, but were never erected. They are now mounted outside the HQ Building.
We were then shown the Colours and a collection of cap and uniform badges including that of the Karkloof Carbineers who were in existence between 1873 to 1879. Next was the Regimental Museum where we were briefed on the history of the HQ Building and the Unit by fellow- member, Major Keith Archibald, who hoped that someday the Regimental Museum would itself become the Military Museum for Pietermaritzburg. Appropriately, the Regimental Band whose bandroom was adjacent to the Museum provided a splendid selection of background music.
Mark Coghlan then briefed us on the history of the Drill Hall which was built in 1886 on the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds. The buildings were originally constructed as display areas and continued to be used as such until the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War when the grounds were requisitioned by the British Army. They were handed back to the Natal Government at the end of hostilities when the Natal Carbineers were once again allowed to take occupation. What is now a superb Museum was originally just a plain lecture room.
Our speaker then said that the history of the Unit had been covered previously in two volumes of the Regimental History, but they were now out of print. A third volume by himself (Mark Coghlan) is due to be published shortly and will provide military historians with the complete record of the Regiment since its inception to the present day.
The Museum itself comprises ten displays of military memorabilia covering the Anglo-Zulu War, the 1906 Bambatha Rebellion, the Great War and between the Wars and including the bestowal of the title, "Royal". It should be noted that only the Natal Carbineers and the Durban Light Infantry achieved that honour. Also covered in the displays were relics from the Second World War which included the East African, North African and Italian Campaigns, the post-war years which included the Centenary and "Hats Off", the Republic Festival, and an assortment of home- made weapons that had been confiscated during their Township duties in the late '80's. Finally there was the award of the National Colours to the Regiment in 1988 and which were subsequently laid up in 1994 with the advent of the New South Africa.
We then moved on to the Officers' Mess, where fellow member, Major Keith Archibald regaled us with stories about some of the Regimental "characters" and traditions. There was also a fine collection of photographs of the various Regimental Commanders and Honorary Colonels going back to their inception in 1855 when their first Commanding Officer was Sir Theophilus St George. Major Keith Archibald then took us through the various changes in the design of the Regimental badge over the years from the Unit's early beginnings to the formation of the Republic in 1961, when, a year later, the then Government forced the Natal Carbineers to remove the "crown" and replace it with a Batavian lion. Like other traditional regiments at that time, they managed to obtain permission to retain the "crown" in the centre of the badge.... which in heraldic terms is far more significant than being located at the top!
The Unit's Colours are blue and white. The blue represents the colour worn by the 6th Dragoons who became light cavalry in 1851. The Natal Carbineers take their colours as Mounted Infantry. Our speaker then went on to describe the tradition of paying respect to the Regimental Colours. He also showed us some of the details of certain of the traditions being followed by the Regiment. For example, the whistle is worn on the Sam Browne, the badge of rank is worn on the right arm only and the lanyards on the right shoulders as was the case with all mounted units.
Some of the Regiment's fads are more modern in concept, such as the wearing of blackened boots of which fellow-member, Robin Raubenheimer has bitter memories, having had to spend many a long hour blackening standard Army issue brown boots! A major undertaking.....
Major Archibald also shared details of a hilarious incident when he and former RSM John Schnell (now Chief of KZN Traffic inspectorate) and a rifleman named Labuschagne were the only members left in camp. Lack of space precludes a full description in this newsletter, but he has promised to repeat the story for the benefit of our Durban members not in attendance.
We were honoured to have had the unique opportunity of visiting this Regiment in which such famous men as St George, Erskine, Royston, Green, Foster, McKenzie, McKay, Henderson and legends such as Marcus Johnston, who was RSM for many years, had served. Also among these were the two Unit Commanders, Green and Foster who had served both as RSMs and C.O.s.
It should be noted that the Regiment has been awarded "Freedom of Entry" to the City of Pietermaritzburg and to the Towns of Ladysmith, Mooi River, Estcourt, Matatiele and Dundee The thanks to our hosts for a unique tour of one of Southern Africa's most famous Regiments was conveyed by fellow member, Jack Frost who is a Sub-Editor at the Natal Witness in Pmburg.
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 21 3983