The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 10 No 5 - June 1997

(incorporating Museum Review)


Members of the Military History Society have been saddened by the death of our dear friend and colleague, Major Darrell Dickon Hall, on 11 November 1996.

[Such was his contribution to the South African Military History Society that two tributes to him have been included below Over the years, articles written by Darrell Hall have appeared in no fewer than 14 issues of the Military History Journal - Ed.]

The late Major Darrell Dickon Hall

After attending school at Michaelhouse, Darrell joined the British Army where his military career commenced at Sandhurst. He served with the 79th (Kirkee) Commando Battery, Royal Artillery, in the Far East in 1964-5. This battery, which he eventually commanded, formed part of 29 Commando Light Regiment, RA, and completed two tours in Borneo and took part in many exercises in Malaya. He also served as a British Army Observer in Vietnam.

On leaving the British Army with the rank of major, Darrell joined the family business of H L Hall & Sons and worked in Johannesburg at Dickon Hall Products as Marketing Director until his retirement at the end of 1989.

Darrell made more than a substantial contribution to the Military History Society. He lectured to the Society on a number of occasions and presented a large number of slide shows, including his popular 'Military Magazine' produced by 'Metro Goldwyn Hall' shown on a regular basis. He conducted or participated in numerous other slide shows and panel discussions, quiz shows, etc. He delivered some major lectures under the auspices of the South African National Museum of Military History and contributed several articles to the Military History Journal. He was Chairman of the British War Graves Committee of the National Monuments Council from April 1900 to April 1996 and was an ordinary member of the Committee at the time of his death. He was also an active member of the Gunners' Association.

Darrell was a unique person - one in a million - with his zest for life and cheerful and unbounded enthusiasm in everything he did. He was a perfectionist with a tireless interest in military and other research. He had a very finely-tuned and delightful sense of humour. Darrell never lost the common touch and made his friends feel special by the way he always treated them. He was a man of great integrity and behaved always as an officer and a gentleman. We are richer for having known and worked with him and so much poorer for his passing. Nothing can compensate for the great loss we have all sustained. Somehow it seems appropriate that he died on Armistice Day.

H W Kinsey
SA Military History Society

Darrell Dickon Hall was born on 5 April 1928, in Johannesburg. He attended Highbury and Michaelhouse schools.

He realised a boyhood ambition when, on 5 September 1946, he joined the British Army. He became a junior under officer in the Waterloo Company at Sandhurst, then volunteered for the parachute course, which he passed with flying colours, and joined 33 Para Field Regiment. He was involved in many of the brigade's visits to the Middle East and, being a keen (and outstanding) photographer, he produced some brilliant photographic and cine records of his experiences. His expertise was recognised by his OC, who 'volunteered' him on one occasion to entertain none other than King Hussein with a photographic presentation.

Darrell travelled extensively with the British Army and saw active service in the Suez Canal and Borneo. Having served with the Royal Artillery in the Royal Marine Commando, and also with the Thwachute Brigade, he must have been one of the few officers able to wear both the green and red berets. He later became an assistant military attaché in Vietnam and then 2 I/C of the Commando Regiment, serving in Singapore. This posting gave him the inspiration for the last talk which he gave the Durban Branch of the Military History Society, entitled 'The lull of Singapore'. He retired from the British Army in 1968 and returned to South Africa to join the thriving fruit processing business which had been established by his gunner brother, Hugh, Dickon Hall Products (Pty) Ltd. He started the Natal operation and was later transferred to Johannesburg as the Marketing Director. He also served on the board of H L Hall & Sons (Pty) Ltd.

Darrell's deep interest in history revealed astonishing details. He relished in retracing historical steps and it was my privilege to take him to where his grandfather, Hugh Lanion Hall, must have had a close shave as a transport rider in Colonel Pearson's Coastal Column at the battle of Nyezane, and to a battlefield in France, probably within metres of where his uncle, Wilfred Hall, was killed. For Darrell, it was not enough merely to visit the battlefield - his research into his uncle's background unleashed an amazing series of findings, some of which are still appearing, and which he transformed into what is undoubtedly the most spectacular and moving slide presentation we have yet had the privilege to attend.

Not exactly one to sit back, Darrell served as Chairman of the Gunner's Association (and was elected as an Honorary Life Vice President). He was also a National Chairman of this Society. Upon his retirement, he was appointed Chairman of the British War Graves sub-section of the National Monuments Council. He waded into this position with vigour and immediately became an authority on this subject and, as a result, also served on the KwaZulu-Natal Regional Committee. As one of only two military history experts on that committee, his sage advice and brilliant knowledge kept the committee on its toes.

Darrell enjoyed music - military marches were his favourite. He also loved his sport and was an ardent Natal and South African team supporter.

In his later years, he also tried his hand at writing and produced two books, Halt! Action Front (a detailed account of the drama of Col Long's guns at Colenso) and Long Tom (the first detailed account of these legendary Boer guns). Both books received splendid reviews. The former was so well researched that Darrell was able to name gun detachments so precisely that visitors to the gun positions at Colenso could be shown virtually the exact spot where a particular gunner had been killed or wounded. These two books helped Darrell to achieve international acclaim and copies have been lodged in libraries of such military institutions as Sandhurst and Woolwich.

Darrell was also an accomplished genealogist and an active member of the Genealogical Society. When his devoted wife, Sue (née Venter), expressed an interest in the subject, Darrell offered to trace her family history. His research took them to the Cape and to the ruins of a family farm dating back to the late 1 600s. From there, Darrell and Sue astounded members of the Venter family with remarkable details of this old South African family and ended up giving a slide show at a 'Venter byeenkoms' attended by dozens of family members, many of whom had travelled hundreds of kilometres to listen to 'die Engelse oom'.

We in the Military History Society will especially miss his 'military magazine' shows - the short talks before our main speaker's address. These became known as 'MGH' (Metro Goldwyn Hall) and their immense variety in content reflected his vast knowledge of military history. They also often demonstrated his mischievous sense of humour, especially after a battlefield tour. Woe betide the snoozer or muncher, as he or she would invariably be snapped and later screened at the MGH, and a typical sardonic comment would be made, much to the delight and laughter of the audience.

Above all, however, we are going to miss Darrell's kindness. He was always a sympathetic listener and his advice matched his knowledge. To Sue and Darrell's family goes our heartfelt sympathy. As a special tribute to him, it was agreed at the last meeting that in future, our 'MGH's would be known as 'The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture'. I sincerely believe that this is a fitting tribute to one of our most outstanding military historians.

Ken Gillings
Chairman of the Durban Branch of the South African Military History Society

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