Published in the South African Military History Journal, Vol 7 No 5, pg 180; June 1988
The South African Military History Society celebrated its 21st Birthday in October of last year , and so the inclusion in the Journal of a brief historical outline of the Society would seem to be appropriate.
Although certain interested persons, including Commandant-General H B Klopper, DSO, ED, Commandant G R Duxbury and Dr Felix Machanik, had considered the need for the formation of a military history society of some sort, it was Mr Neville Gomm who took some positive action in this direction and is regarded as the founder of the South African Military History Society.
Neville Gomm had spent six years in the South African Defence Force as a Corps of Signals Instructor and had a keen appreciation of military matters. During his military service he had built up a fairly large collection of military unit badges and this had led to contact with other collectors, military historians and societies catering for their aims. It was, therefore, a logical step to establish an organization to cater for the interests of collectors and those interested in military history in South Africa.
Accordingly, it was he, who in June, 1966, sent out letters to a large number of people in South Africa, South-West Africa and Rhodesia inviting them to indicate whether or not they wished to associate themselves with an attempt to establish a 'military historical society for Southern Africa'. At the same time he had published in The Star of 2 June 1966, a letter inviting interested persons to write to him about the matter. This letter stated, inter alia, that 'the aims of the society will be to promote the study of the history of the uniformed forces of the world; the promotion of mutual assistance among those interested in the collection of insignia, uniforms, weapons or medals ... ; and to promote the publication of histories of the uniformed forces of Southern Africa'. These and other approaches elicited an immediate and enthusiastic response from a large number of people. One of the most enthusiastic of the early supporters, and one whose name also deserves to be singled out, was Mr Don R Forsyth who became the Society's first Chairman.
At the same time Neville Gomm sought the co-operation of Commandant Duxbury, the Director of the South African National War Museum and, at that time, the Officer Commanding, West Park Commando. Commandant Duxbury was one of those of similar views and he supported unstintingly the efforts of Neville to the extent that he prepared the agenda for the 'Inaugural Meeting of the proposed Military Historical Research and Collectors Society of Southern Africa' and was responsible for most of the arrangements for the meeting, at which he took the chair. This meeting was held at the War Museum on the evening of Wednesday 5 October 1966, and a report of the meeting, which was addressed by General Klopper, appeared in The Star of 6 October 1966.
In his opening address General Klopper pointed out that South Africa could look back with pride on a long and honourable military past. He sketched briefly this past from the days of the Dutch East India Company up to the year 1912, when South Africa obtained its own Defence Act and Defence organization. He stated that, with such a rich military background it was clear that much work could fruitfully be done by the Society. Uniforms, weapons, badges, decorations and medals, historical battlefields, colours, defence works, memorials, regimental histories, and a host of other subjects were aspects of the past awaiting intensive study. By doing research in these fields one would widen and be able to spread one's knowledge. He pointed out that it was the responsibility of those present to secure for the younger generation the knowledge of the various battlegrounds. He also appealed to the older men to influence the young soldiers in the study of military history. He concluded his address by wishing the Society every success in its endeavours.
Thereafter, the recommendation of Neville Gomm for the formation of a military historical society was accepted, and an ad hoc committee was appointed to consider proposed rules and other matters appertaining to the functioning of the newly established society. This ad hoc committee was elected as follows:
Perhaps it needs to be stated here that, in addition to those whose names have been mentioned, the members of the ad hoc committee as well as several of those present at the inaugural meeting had been most supportive. Their subsequent efforts helped to get the Society firmly established and to keep it going.
Unfortunately, no record appears to have been kept of all those who attended the inaugural meeting but it is understood that, apart from those persons mentioned above, the meeting was also attended by, among others, Captain John A Ball, Professor C J Barnard, Major R J Southey, ED, Captan O G Reitz, MBE, and Messrs Ken Anderson, C Cahill, Ian Kynaston, M Lupton, K P Nolan, P E B Rice, T E Sole and P van Wyk as well as the writer. In addition, it also appears that Messrs W J P Carr, G A Chadwick, Charles H Cohen, Dr G A Christidis and Squadron Leader D P Tidy, among others, were actively associated with the Society virtually from the beginning.
The ad hoc committee met on Thursday 20 October, and approved, for submission to the first general meeting, a set of rules for the new society, and the first general meeting of members was held on Thursday, 3 November 1966. The meeting, which was chaired by the new Chairman, Mr D R Forsyth, approved and adopted the new rules and re-elected the ad hoc committee en bloc to hold office until the first annual general meeting to be held early in 1967. Major R J Southey, ED, read an interesting paper on Majuba.
The next general meeting was held on Thursday, 1 December, when Major B G Simpkins presented a slide show with taped commentary on a fact-finding visit to Egypt and Libya in 1958 to obtain information for his book on the history of the Rand Light Infantry.
The programme for 1967, by which time the membership was in the order of 41 members, commenced with a meeting on Thursday, 2 February, when Captain John Ball spoke on South Africa's achievements in the field of POW Administration, 1941 to 1947, and on Colonel H F Prinsloo, OBE, ED, who was Officer Commanding POW Camps at that time. Thenceforward meetings were held on a regular basis on the second Thursday of each month, except for a short period from July to August 1967, when meetings were not held, and have continued without interruption until the present time.
Apart from a circular letter concerning the formation of the Society and its aims, and the notification of an entrance fee of Rl and an annual subscription of R3, issued as Publication No.1 sometime after the first general meeting on 3rd November 1966, Newsletter No.1 was issued on 25th January, 1967, and regular newsletters have continued ever since.
The first Annual General Meeting was held on 2 March 1967, when the Chairman, Mr D R Forsyth, in reviewing the progress to date and advising that membership had grown to 51 members, paid tribute to Neville Gomm and thanked him for what he had done to keep the Society going. The ad hoc committee listed above was re-elected en bloc to serve as the Executive Committee for a further year.. At the Annual General Meeting on 14 March 1968, Mr D R Forsyth was re-elected to the Chair and Mr T E Sole took the place of Dr S M Kaplan as Honorary Treasurer, whilst Squadron Leader D P Tidy and Mr Charles Cohen joined the Committee in place of Major S W J Kotze and Mr C Amm. Unfortunately, Mr Neville Gomm left Johannesburg on transfer to Bloemfontein in May 1968, and his place as Honorary Secretary was taken by Mr P E B Rice.
The original rules of the Society were reviewed and converted into a Constitution by Mr Charles Cohen and adopted at a special general meeting
on 28 July 1969, when the aims and objects were reworded as follows:
(a) To promote the scientific study, research into, knowledge and appreciation of the history of armed forces and organizations associated with them;
(b) To promote the scientific study, research into, knowledge and appreciation of history with particular emphasis on military history;
(c) To promote the scientific study, research into, knowledge and appreciation of items of military paraphernalia amongst collectors of such items and those interested therein, and to facilitate and assist in the exchange of information regarding such items;
(d) To assist in the formation of branches of the Society; and
(e) To promote the publication and issue of literature in furtherance of the aforesaid objects of the Society.
By the time of the Annual General Meeting on 14 March 1968, the membership had grown to 115 and has climbed steadily since that date with an optimum membership of between 500 and 600 over the last ten years or so.
As mentioned above the Constitution provided for the formation of branches and the Durban Branch has functioned very actively and successfully from an early date. The Western Transvaal Branch at Klerksdorp was active for a number of years after which it ceased to function, whilst the Cape Town Branch, which was established in 1975, has also been very active. Unfortunately, it is not possible to deal with the affairs of these branches in this article.*
Life membership of the Society was introduced in 1975 and the fees for such membership invested in a special account. Arrangements were also made in 1975 for the introduction of family membership, which resulted in a small decrease in the number of Journals and newsletters sent to members of the same family. Honorary Life Membership has been conferred on Mr Neville Gomm, Colonel G R Duxbury (1976), and Major-General J C Lemmer, MC, (1983).
The Constitution was amended again in July 1978 but without any changes in the aims and objects set out above. In September 1976, the Society applied to the Department of National Education for affiliation to the SA National Museum of Military History and, later in the year, was advised that the Government had agreed to the affiliation.
Here follows a list of the Chairmen of the Society since its founding:
Here follows a list of office bearers who have served the Society over the years.
It will be noted from the above that Maurice Gough Palmer served the Society from January 1971 to February 1972 as Honorary Treasurer and then as Honorary Secretary Treasurer, i.e. for a period of 11 years and this remarkable service deserves special mention and commendation. The Society showed its appreciation by the presentation of an engraved silver-plated beer mug to Maurice at the monthly meeting on 8 July 1982, as a small token of thanks to him and the esteem in which he was held.In 2005 the Society presented Mike Marsh with a cut glass beermug in appreciation of his ongoing support particularly as regards the web-site and e-mailing services.
In addition to the Chairmen and other office bearers both mentioned and listed above,
the following persons have served on the Committee of the Society over the years:
Dr Ian B Copley; Dr J J Craig; Cmdt O E F Baker
Dr R Sinclair; Dr S Monick; Capt J H A Speir
Maj A C M Tyrrell; Capt F H B Winder; Mr D Aitken
Mr P W Barker; J L Keene; W Garr
A Kirby ; D C Landels ; D R Maree
R G Murchison; S T Stiles [1984-1985]; T Tolhurst
W Carr; Paul Melville ; Dave Unwin;
Ian Uys; Avram Pelunsky; Dave Panagos;
Peter Rush; John Bleloch [1994-1996]; Louis Wildenboer [1994-1997];
John Larn; Terry Leaver [1994-1995]; Heinrich Janzen [1996-2003];
Ivor Little [1996-97, 2004-2012]; Elizabeth Leaver [1994-1995]; John Murray [1999 - 2005];
Colin Dean [1997 co-option - 2016]; Marjorie Dean [1997 co-option - 2016];
Lyn Mantle (Miller) [lecture co-ordinator in Johannesburg from 1999 to 2015];
P H ("Flip") Hoorweg [2002-2009]; Bob Smith [2003-2013]; John Parkinson [2005-2014];
David Scholtz [2009- ]; Malcolm King [2009-2019 ]; Jan-Willem Hoorweg; [2012-2020 ]
Peter James-Smith [2013-17 ]; Pat Henning [2015-17 ]; Kevin A Garcia [co-opted 2016-2019 ]
Peter Rush [co-opted 2017]; Richard Schütte [co-opted 2018-2019 ]
Archie Barnwell [co-opted 2020]; Mike Marsh [co-opted 2020- ]
Note - Italics indicate additions to the original article
The first newsletters were written and circulated by the Honorary Secretary, Mr Neville Gomm, until May 1968, after which Mr P E B Rice, Commandant
B G Simpkins and Mr W J P Carr took over for varying periods until the end of 1971. Thereafter, Cmdt Simpkins acted as Scribe from 1972 to 1979;
quite a long spell. Mr M J C Marsh followed from September 1979 to April 1982, after which Mr Rod Murchison, Mr W Garr and Dr Ian Copley served
for varying periods until April 1984 when Mr Stewart Stiles took over as Scribe, which task he was still doing in October 1985.
Acting as Scribe is quite an onerous task, but the newsletters have served a very useful purpose in keeping members throughout the country and overseas informed of the Society's activities. Throughout the years the newsletters have carried summaries of the monthly lectures, various items of interest to members, changes in membership of the Committee and other office bearers, and notification of important dates, meetings, tours, etc.
Capt Ivor Little then took on the mantle and only retired as Scribe in 2014, also having been both Scribe and Chairman for two of those years, the March newsletter being his last. Mrs Pat Henning took over from April 2014 but pressure of work forced her to step down in May 2017. Colin Harris took over from June 2017 until the end of that year. Ill health forced him to step down and Jan-Willem Hoorweg and Joan Marsh shared the duties until June 2018 when Richard Schutte was co-opted as Scribe. Joan Marsh and Jan-Willem Hoorweg shared duties until Hamish Paterson took over. Covid-19 lock-down halted meetings until ZOOMeetings were started. Hamish doesnot attend these so Joan Marsh has once again filled in.
An important milestone in the progress of the Society since its inception in October 1966, was reached in December 1967, with the first issue of the Military History Journal published by the South African National War Museum in association with the Society. Captain John A Ball was the first Honorary Editor, with Col G R Duxbury as Editor-in-Chief. John Ball was joined in December 1968, by Squadron Leader (now Major) D P Tidy, MA (Oxon) who acted as Honorary Editor up to June 1971, with Colonel Duxbury continuing throughout as Editor-in -Chief. Major Tidy has remained on the editorial staff up to the present time, a truly remarkable achievement, and his expert knowledge and experience in the editorial field has been invaluable. Colonel Duxbury remained as Editor for the period December 1971, to December 1976. Since December 1971, Helen Hansmeyer, O Smedley-Williams, Colonel D E Peddle, Rochelle Keene, Major A C M Tyrrell, Dr Stanley Monick, Karin Greyvenstein and Margaret Northey have been members of the editorial staff. Dr S Monick acted as Chief Editor from June 1981 to June 1982. Mr H W Kinsey joined the editorial staff as an assistant editor in June 1978, and has continued as such since that date, whilst John L Keene has acted as Editor since December 1982 apart from two issues in 1984 and 1985, when Margaret Northey acted as Editor.John was replaced as Editor in December 1994 by Susanne Blendulf, who has continued - often single-handed - more than ably in this position to date (May 2015)
Apart from the periods when Colonel Duxbury acted as Editor-in-Chief, or as Editor, he kept a watching brief on the Journal, as the Museum has always been the final arbiter in the policy and contents of the Journal, and his guidance and work over all the years has been of great value and deserves special mention.
The Journal is now in the seventh volume and indexes for the first
five volumes, for reference purposes, have been prepared as follows and
are very comprehensive:
In September 2017 the Museum (now known as the Ditsong National Museum of Military History) advised the Society that it was unable to continue publishing the Journal, in large part due to staff changes. The Society therefore took over the publishing rights and responsibilities and the December 2017 issue (Vol 18 # 1) was sent to members early in 2018. Susanne Blendulf, no longer an employee at Ditsong, was contracted as the Editor. She was very ably assisted by members Marjorie Dean and Robin Smith.
The Journal has a very wide circulation, both locally and overseas, and is made available free to all members of the Society, as part of the cost of membership. It has served a very useful function in the publication of a great deal of valuable information, as well as the results of research, relating to military history. It contains, in addition, details of the activities of the Society, lists of the monthly lectures, book reviews, etc. The Editors have managed to maintain a very high standard without the Journal becoming too technical and thus losing its personal appeal.
It is a publication of which both the Museum and the Society can be justly proud.
In the nineteen-eighties the Murchison family provided an annual prize in the form of a plaque to be presented to the author of the article appearing in the journal which was considered by the Editorial Committee to be the best article in any particular year. The prize was known as the Roderick Murchison Memorial Prize and was in memory of the late Mr Roderick G Murchison, who was a prominent member of the Society before his death on 20 May 1974.
The prize was awarded annually from 1982 to 1986 as follows:
In 1967 moves were made for the designing of a badge or logo for the Society and correspondence in this regard was entered into with the South African College of Heralds. The willing assistance of Joan Pell (Mrs H E Winder) was enlisted and she designed a most attractive logo showing an upright Roman-type sword in silver and gold, thus not setting a particular period in history; crossed by three symbolic goose quills with white flights, cut ready for use, to signify the recording of military history; with the whole on a dark navy background. The three quills represent the three Forces of land, sea and air, and a scroll below bears the initials 'S.A.M.H.S.' and 'S-A.V.K.', i.e., South African Military History Society' and 'Suid-Afrikaanse Vereniging vir Krygsgeskiedenis'. Subsequently, advice was received from the State Herald in August, 1971, to the effect that the name 'The South African Military History Society' had been officially registered and a Certificate of Registration issued.
Moves were made in 1971 and again in 1982 for the design of a Society tie, but the idea was abandoned on both occasions owing to lack of support on the part of members. However, the matter was resuscitated in 1986 and a suitable tie was designed and made available to members early in 1987 at a reasonable cost. The tie consists of the Society's logo in silver and black on a blue background; offset at intervals by two narrow oblique red and silver stripes.A new tie, retaining the navy blue background and with several parallel red and silver stripes, with multiple copies of the Society's logo, was designed and made up in March 2000.
Throughout its [first] 21 years of existence the Society has managed to maintain a regular programme of lectures of a very high standard and of interest to members, interspersed with slide shows, Museum evenings and films. In recent years Major Darrell D Hall has produced 'Military Magazine' slide shows of some ten minutes' duration under the heading of 'Metro-Goldwyn Hall', and these short slide shows, which start the evening's proceedings when shown, have proved very popular.
Apart from the first few lectures, the monthly lecture programme was arranged by Mr Charles H Cohen for the years 1967 to 1976 and by Mr H W Kinsey from 1977 to the present time .
A very important aspect of the Society's activities was the inauguration of tours to various battlefields and historical sites, in order to enable members to visit such sites under the guidance of knowledgeable experts, with a view to members being able to benefit from the knowledge of experienced field workers and thus to increase the interest of members. In addition, such tours provided an ideal opportunity for members to meet on a more social basis as well as to exchange information and ideas. This important development was made possible only by the enthusiastic drive and interest of Colonel G R Duxbury, who acted as Tour Director, and the staff of the Military History Museum, including Captain J H A Speir, Deputy Tour Director, who carried out all the administrative and preparatory field work involved. On all these outings, whether on one day or over long week-ends, lectures were given either by Colonel Duxbury or by members of the Society who had made a particular study of the sites visited.
On the first three outings in 1967 and 1968 members provided their own transport, but thereafter use was made of coaches and the tours arranged on a more organized and regular basis.
Here follows a comprehensive list of the tours and outings held over the years:
Unfortunately, three other trips arranged by the Military History Museum in 1981, 1983 and 1985, had to be cancelled owing to lack of support on the part of members of the Society. These tours were to the Durban area in May 1981, to coincide with the Republic of South Africa Anniversary celebrations, to the Kimberley area in May 1983, and to the Ladysmith area in October 1985.
In 1981 the Society decided to arrange 'do-it-yourself' outings to battlefields and other historical sites, mainly in the Transvaal, on the basis of members providing their own transport and refreshments and, where necessary arranging their own hotel accommodation. These outings also proved successful and have been held on a regular basis as follows:
On all the outings and trips arranged by the Society every effort has been made for experts on the particular areas visited to lecture to those participating, as has been the case with the trips arranged by the Military History Museum.
On the occasion of the Society's Tenth Anniversary a braaivleis was held at the SA National Museum of Military History on Friday evening, 19 November 1976, when a plaque was presented to the Museum as a token of appreciation for the assistance given to the Society by the Museum. Since then braais have been arranged every two years or so, and have been held during the month of October in the years 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1987. At the braai held on 16 October 1987, the Museum reciprocated the 1976 gesture by presenting a plaque to the Society to mark the close association between the two bodies.
The success of these braais has been largely due to the work of members of the Committee, particularly Dr Felix Machanik who has made himself responsible for most of the detailed arrangements, whilst the willing practical help of Mr John L Keene of the Museum staff has been invaluable. The Society is also indebted to the Director of the Museum for the use of the premises for the braais and the help rendered by members of his staff.
The growth and strength of the Society may be attributed to a number of factors, namely: the vision of the founders and the overall concept as contained in the aims and objects of the Society; the dedicated work of the successive Chairmen; the office bearers and committee members over the years; and the loyalty of the large number of enthusiastic members who have given their full support to all the Society's activities and, in the case of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria areas, those who had been regular in their attendance at the monthly meetings. However, super-imposed on all this is the never-ending fascination of the study of military history.
We have benefited greatly from our affiliation to the South African National Museum of Military History, which has been our home during our formative years and, hopefully, will continue to be in the years ahead, now that we have become of age.
The Society owes a debt of gratitude to Colonel Duxbury for his encouragement and willing help at all times, as well as to the staff of the Museum, many of whom have helped to contribute to the success of the Society. At the monthly meeting on 8 December 1983 (i.e. the first meeting held in the newly opened J C Lemmer Auditorium at the Museum) the Society made a presentation of an inscribed carriage clock to Colonel Duxbury as a mark of esteem and appreciation of his willing assistance to the Society since its formation in 1966. Subsequently, upon his retirement in 1987, the Committee entertained the Colonel and Mrs Uylet Duxbury to a farewell dinner at the Johannesburg Country Club on 21 April 1987.
The Society has become firmly established and I feel sure will continue to prosper and make an even greater contribution in the future to the study of military history in South Africa.
This article was published in 1988, since when the Society has passed its 30th AnniversaryRather than have a new section, as the Society held its 39th AGM in April 2005, it was decided to fill in as many of the gaps as possible from 1988 to date (August 2006.)
From 2006 onwards Joan Marsh has added names of office bearers and new committee members to the above.
This article has been written by Major Anthony Gordon, Committee Member of the Cape Town Branch, and is mainly based on information from Commander Mac Bisset SA Navy, Rtd.
The Cape Town Branch of the SAMHS was established in 1975. The Founding members were Dr. K.V.O. Gunn, an expert on the Frontier Wars, and Lieutenant W.M. Mac Bisset who had been appointed to the South African Military Museum Western Province Command in February of that year. Major General H.G. Willmott asked Mac to establish a branch of the Society and the inaugural meeting was later held at the Centre for Extra Mural Studies at the University of Cape Town.
The first lecture was given by the distinguished historian and former member of the Union War Histories team, Professor Eric Axelson.
The members of the first Committee of the Cape Town Branch were Dr Ken Gunn (Chairman), Mr M.G.Hibbert (Vice Chairman). (Called Bill, he was the expert, and author, on the Boer War "Tribute Medals"), Dr Frank K. Mitchell (The medal expert), Mr Paul Lange and Lieutenant W.M. Bisset (Secretary).
The only remaining "original" members are Commander Bisset, Mr "Woody" Nel and Mr Johan Louw.
After a few years the Branch moved to the "Athenaeum" in Newlands for its meetings until the mid 1990s. After this we have met at the S.A. Legion "Rosedale" complex for ex-servicemen and their wives and widows. Our meetings are appreciated by the veterans who live there.
After Dr Gunn's death, in 1984, Mr Paul Lange, then Vice Chairman, took over as Chairman and, for many years, worked tirelessly for the Society. He was succeeded, as Chairman, by Major A.G.D.Gordon who was succeeded by Mr Alan Nathan until the present Chairman, Mr Derick O'Riley, took over.
Some of the other well-known Committee members have been the late Colonel "Ossie" Baker and Mr "Ranto" Garschagen and Mr John Mahncke, the present Vice Chairman and Scribe, who was Chairman of the Johannesburg Branch before moving to Cape Town.
Besides our monthly meetings, held, like all branches, usually on the second Thursday of each month, we also run visits to our, only, two battle sites of Muizenberg (1795) and Blaauwberg (1806), to the very old military establishments such as The Castle (1666), Wynberg Camp and The Simon's Town SA Navy base (VOC from 1742). Also to our many remaining Coast Defences dating back to the first Dutch (VOC) occupation 1652. Many of the WW II defences (including 9 of the 12 9.2 inch guns in South Africa) are still in place but we are very worried at the present lack of support in security and restoration of many sites. For centuries The Cape was one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, tourists are interested but facilities are not arranged for them! They are a very low priority. Our War Graves are also of great interest to visitors.
Our congratulations and best wishes to the Johannesburg Branch on your 40th anniversary.