This was the year of the Zulu War Centenary and full advantage was taken of this in arranging the programme of activities for the South African Military History Society.
The year started with a talk to the Johannesburg Branch on the Zulus, both as allies and opponents of the British, by Commandant S.B. Bourquin, Chairman of the Durban Branch and expert on the subject.
In May, Mr George Chadwick told the story of the Zulu War at a meeting held shortly before the Centenary Celebrations in Zululand. These talks made ideal preliminaries to the visit to the Zulu War Battlefields at the end of May. The tour was attended by a greater number of mernbers than any other to date. Efficiently organised by Colonel George Duxbury and his staff, it was enjoyed by all.
Two coach loads of enthusiastic military historians were able to visit the Battlefields of lsandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Ulundi and Kambula. Several members had travelled to Zululand front Durban and Cape Town and some from the Orange Free State so, as always, reunions with friends were much appreciated.
The battles were described graphically, but the parades, dancing, singing and the crowds made a marked change from the comparatively restrained battlefield visits to which members are accustomed.
There was nothing restrained about the 'relaxation’ at the Stilwater Motel, Vryheid, where members were accommodated. Fortunately for the inhabitants of Vryheid, the Motel is situated well clear of the town. They were therefore unable to hear the off-key rendering of popular songs in after-dinner sing-songs which, tuneful or not, were enjoyed by all who participated.
On a serious note, the battlefield visits and the various commemoration services were much appreciated by all. The colours of the Natal Carbineers were on parade at Isandlwana, and this was probably the first time since 1879 that colours were present on that historic site. Our thanks are due to Mr George Chadwick and Mr Alf Wade, who were responsible for much of the organisation and the success of the Centenary Commemorations.
Johannesburg and Durban members were then able to see a film by Welsh Television entitled 'Black as Hell and Thick as Grass’ which was presented in a most unusual way, and the film was very interesting, particularly for those who had recently visited the battlefields.
For those who attended the tour and for those who did not, the special Zulu War issue of the Journal has proved to be invaluable. This issue covered the war in depth and, in particular, dealt with aspects not normally covered in accounts of the war. Articles on the Zulu Military Organisation and the medals of the Zulu War are two examples. Mr George Chadwick’s account of the Zulu War, accompanied by clear maps, made this a most noteworthy issue.
An innovation was the inclusion of excellent colour plates by Mr Andy May of the warriors of the day, both Zulu and British. Finally, instead of the usual plain cover, there was an excellent reproduction of C. F. Fripp’s painting of the Battle of lsandlwana.
The mid-year issue had more articles on the Zulu War and the high standard set by the Centenary edition was maintained.
Colonel George Duxbury and his editorial staff are to be congratulated on this excellent publication. In 1981 we have the Centenary of the First Anglo-Boer War. We have no doubt that the high standard will continue.
In addition to the meetings mentioned above, normal monthly meetings were held as usual in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town and a wide variety of subjects was covered. In October, instead of one speaker the Johannesburg Branch had three. Messrs. Paul Barker, Fred Wright, and Bill Garr spoke on the Luftwaffe, the War in the Desert, and Gettysburg respectively. The idea was to give members an opportunity to talk (for 25 to 30 minutes each) rather than to have one guest speaker. This was a great success and will no doubt be repeated.
The Western Transvaal Branch has had some difficulty recently in achieving good attendance figures. This is not for want of effort by such stalwarts as Dr Hugo Hallatt and Mr Julian Orford. As experts on the Boer War in the Western Transvaal, it is hoped that one or both of them (and their wives) will travel to Johannesburg in 1981 to pass on some of this knowledge.
This will give at least three Johannesburg members an opportunity to return some of the hospitality afforded them in August. That month Messrs Nick Kinsey, Maurice Gough-Palmer, and Darrell Hall visited Klerksdorp to talk to members and friends about the Channel dash of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in February 1942.
The Cape Town Branch continues to hold regular meetings. It is a pity that, for most of us, Cape Town is a long way off and regular contacts with our friends there are few and far between. However, contact is maintained through Dr Frank Mitchell who rarely misses a battlefield tour. His information on the medals of the Zulu War was invaluable to those who were on the Zululand tour.
The main tour of 1980 will probably be to Ladysrnith. Details will follow later, but it is hoped that once again there will be a 'full house’. These tours are interesting and enjoyable, and even after the event, there is fun to be had when slide shows reveal members as some would prefer not to be remembered!
Lastly, the business of the Society continues to run smoothly. At the Annual General Meeting of the Johannesburg Branch in April, a new Chairman was elected. Professor Johan Barnard took over from Major Darrell Hall, and we all wish him every success for his period in office.
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