Mr Neville Gomm on 30th November, 1965 wrote to the Director of the S.A. National War Museum, Johannesburg, Commandant G.R. Duxbury, stating that he had in mind the formation of a military historical society and asked for advice as to how he was to go about realising this dream.
The idea was welcomed by the Director and although a previous society had been formed in 1951 and had slowly collapsed, Mr. Gomm persevered. He obtained good advice from the Director, also a list of prospective members interested in military history.
The museum at that time offered its hall as a meeting place & lecture room, as well as assistance in the future publication of a journal. Mr. Gomm contacted me and I intimated that I had similar ideas and that I wished to associate myself fully with any such venture.
In May, 1966 Mr. Gomm sent out his first News Letter to prospective members. Other News Letters followed and soon 25 interested persons were contacted by Mr. Gomm. Publicity was obtained through various newspapers. In News Letter No. 2 asked those interested for their views concerning the publication of a magazine and establishment of a library. He had designs for a badge and set out a temporary set of rules to govern the prospective Society.
News Letters 3, 4 and 5 followed around August and September of 1966. It was obvious that many people were interested and Mr. Gomm arranged the inaugural meeting of such a S.A. Military Historical Society to be held at the S.A. National War Museum, as it was then called, On Wednesday, 5th October, 1966.
The guest of honour at this meeting was General H.B. Klopper, D.S.O. E.D. The small gathering was addressed by Commandant G.R. Duxbury who welcomed us and General Klopper, retired head of the S.A. Defence Force, delivered the opening address. He spoke about South Africa's long and honourable military past and briefly sketched South African military history from the days of the Dutch East India Company.
At this inaugural meeting an ad hoc committee was elected to discuss
and approve the set of rules of the Society and the first meeting of
the Society took place on 3rd November, 1966. At this meeting the ad
hoc committee was re-elected en bloc and consisted of the following:
Chairman - Mr D. Forsyth
Vice-Chairman - Major B. Simpkins, J.C.D. M.M.
Secretary - Mr N. Gomm.
Treasurer - Dr Stan Kaplan
Members - Dr F. Machanik, Major W.S. Kotze, Lieut. H. Winder, Mr P. Melville & Mr C. Amm.
The first paper of military history to be read of the Society was on 3rd November, 1966 by the late major R.J. Southey, on the Battle of Majuba.
The second paper was read on 3rd November, 1966, at the National War Museum, was by Major B. Simpkins, who gave a slide show and a taped commentary on the fact-finding mission on his trip to Egypt and Libya in 1958 to obtain information for his book on the history of the Rand Light Infantry.
Thereafter the Society met regularly at monthly intervals at the War Museum. Membership slowly increased. On the 2nd March, 1967 the 1st Annual General meeting was held at which the old committee was re-elected en bloc.
Mr. Gomm, our secretary, published regular news letters and it was in 1968 that we first co-opted Captain J. Ball to our committee, and he was appointed editor of the prospective Military History Journal which was then in the offing. A suitable crest was discussed and eventually after various designs were submitted one was approved. This was eventually registered with the State Herald. We now had our own letter head to be used in our correspondence.
1968 saw the formation of new branch in Bloemfontein under the Chairmanship of Mr. N. Gomm who had now gone to live in the Free State. We then negotiated the establishment of branches in Port Elizabeth & Durban. Volume No. 1 of S.A. Military History Journal in association the S.A. National War Museum appeared in October, 1967. The sponsoring of this first edition by the War Museum was undoubtedly a red- letter day, both for the Museum and for the Military History Society.
It was obvious that the Society could not bear the costs of printing. For this reason the S.A. National War Museum bore most of the expense of the 750 copies first produced and have thereafter continued to do so up to the present time. If our Society had to finance the Journal it would never have seen the light of day. In this regard the Director of the Museum, his staff and Captain J.A. Ball were heartily congratulated for the enormous amount of work done in order to produce this Journal which was completed on 22nd December, 1967.
From the very outset this Journal set a very high standard in printing and in contents. There is no doubt that our S.A. National Museum of Military History and the S.A. Military History Society can be justly proud that the standard of production and its contents have continued from that time onwards to the extent that this Journal has gone around the world and nothing but praise has been received for those efforts.
Mr. Neville Gomm resigned as secretary in May, 1968 and his place was taken by Mr. Pat Rice. The first full list of Society members was presented on 31st May, 1968. This included opposite each member's name their list of their interests. Membership totalled 158 at that time.
On 8th August, 1968 Captain J. Ball intimated that due to illness he was resigning as honorary editor of the Society. Squadron-Leader Tidy was appointed in his place. In 1968, too, Mr Charles Cohen was co-opted to the Society. He had consistently tried to improve the monthly lectures by his constructive criticism. From now onwards Mr. Cohen took over arrangement of the lectures for our monthly meetings.
Our first outing was in 1967 and thereafter the Society arranged weekend and other outings to battlefields, mainly near Johannesburg, but also further afield. From then onwards yearly tours over long weekends have been conducted by the S.A. National Museum for Military History under Colonel G. Duxbury, assisted by other members of his staff and of the Society.