The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging


by Terry Willson

Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 14 December 2006

Terry Willson's Curtain Raiser covered the development and history of the Military Volunteer Forces of the Crown Colony of Natal from inception in 1854 until its incorporation as militia into the Active Citizen Force of South Africa in 1912, two years following Union.

The movement owed its origins to various pressures which came to a head at the time of the Crimean War. Here the new priorities of Britain's reduced army, coupled with economic circumstances, necessitated that its colonies, including Natal, assume a greater responsibility for their defence against internal and external threats both actual and perceived. In the case of Natal this was the powerful Zulu Nation across its border. These lead to the promulgation of the Ordinance of 1854 which empowered the colonists to raise volunteer units which would be armed by the government for service within the borders of the colony.

Apart from providing Natal with a first line of defence the volunteer movement also formed a social outlet and a focal point for the surge of patriotism which characterised the second half of the 19th century. In many respects these volunteer units assumed the form of exclusive clubs with both recruits and officers being elected.

Terry continued by following the evolution of the volunteer movement over the next 58 years as shaped by the ordinances and acts of 1895, 1903 and 1912 through the Zulu and Boer Wars and Bambata Rebellion. This period also marked its transition from a loose conglomeration of small volunteer units into a highly organised militia force which handled its final campaign independently without intervention by Imperial Forces.

True to his primary interest in British and Colonial weapons, Terry also covered the range of rifles and carbines used by the Natal Volunteers and Militia from their first issue of smooth bore muzzle-loading muskets through early breach-loaders to the modern magazine rifle. He also laid on a representative display of rifles that were actually used.

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