by S.B. Bourquin
In the eighteen years of its existence the Durban Branch of the Society has gone quietly and unobtrusively from strength to strength; so much so, that our members tend to think of it as the 'Natal' Branch rather than the Durban Branch. True, most of the 100 or so members on our mailing list live in and around the Durban-Pinetown metropolitan area, but the remaining members are spread over the length and breadth of the Province. Naturally also, the 'metropolitan' members form the hard core of active members who also attend the monthly meetings; others are restrained by travelling distances. Yet, before the increase in the cost of petrol made it prohibitive, some stalwart members thought nothing of travelling a couple of hundred kilometres from Pietermaritzburg, Greytown, or further afield to attend meetings. However, the monthly news sheet, which was started some fourteen years ago, in October, 1972, keeps all members advised on what is going on.
The following summary of the numbers of talks given in respect of military history matters relating to the indicated areas of conflict show that, unintentionally, a reasonably good balance was achieved over the past few years: South Africa (all wars), 18; WWII (land battles), 10; military history related subjects, 8; WWII (air), 6; WWI (land), 6; WWII (naval) 3; Europe, 3; U.S.A., 3; Africa, 3; Middle East, 3; England, 2; WWI (naval), 2; Far East, 2; Classical, 2.
Apart from the variety of subjects the interesting aspect in many cases is that most guest speakers spoke with a background of personal experience or involvement. Even when a BBC TV documentary film was shown, dealing with the war in Yugoslavia and the part played by a lone British agent, it was presented in person by no lesser person than the actual hero of the documentary himself - Colonel Bill Hudson, DSO, OBE.
The branch has conducted its affairs at all times with little fuss and formality, which has largely contributed to the friendly club atmosphere prevalent at all meetings. In the absence of any real administrative problems it has not become necessary to have periodical elections of office bearers or to hold annual general meetings. The real key to this happy state of affairs is, of course, that we have the services of an experienced and dedicated Secretary of many years standing. As the Branch has been fortunate in having been able, over the years, to retain the privilege of using as its venue the lecture room facilities at the centrally situated 'SB' Bourquin Building free of charge, no real financial problems exist and the Branch has been able to meet running expenses, stamps, stationery etc. from the capitation grant obtained annually from the Society's head office.
Over the years a mutually stimulating relationship has developed between this Society and the Natal Branch of the South African Naval Officers' Association which has resulted in a number of joint battlefield visits e.g. Colenso, Willow Grange, Ingogo, Laings Nek and Majuba. Close contact is also maintained with the Ladysmith Historical Society of which this Branch is an affiliated member, the South African National (Historical) Society of which our chairman is the President of many years standing, the National Monuments Council, and the KwaZulu Monuments Foundation. This contact leads to exchanges of views, the investigation and solution of problems, queries and enquiries. An example of this latter aspect is, for instance, the fact that an informal ad hoc grouping of members of the Military History Society, the National Monuments Council, and the Gunners' Association has been engaged for some time in identifying on the ground and re-establishing the exact line of the guns deployed by Col Long at the battle of Colenso on 15 December 1899 with such disastrous results.
Visitors to Durban with military history interests are often referred to our Chairman or Secretary by different agencies and are then taken care of, even to the extent of being conducted on individual visits to various battlefields or historical sites. The Branch also deals with a certain amount of correspondence from overseas countries; this is a service which is always greatly appreciated by the originators.