Brigadier Louis Kruger, regarded by many within the South African Defence Force as the 'father of military museums in South Africa', passed away in Pretoria on 1 October 2014.
Louis Kruger was born on 23 September 1930 in the Rustenburg district, and matriculated from Hoerskool Nylstroom. He studied to become a history teacher, and obtained a BA degree and teaching diploma in 1952, followed by a BA Honours degree in 1954 and a Masters degree in History in 1955, all from the University of Pretoria. Brig Kruger obtained his doctorate from the University of the Orange Free State in 1975. His dissertation dealt with the subject of Dr E J P Jorissen and the Transvaal, 1875-1900.
After a brief stint as a teacher at Hoerskool F H Odendaal he joined the South African Defence Force in 1962, citing his love for history and all things military as the main reason for the move. Captain Kruger was attached to the SADF Archives, when he was personally Instructed by General Rudolph Hiemstra to establish a military museum for the SADF at Fort Klapperkop in Pretoria, its opening to coincide with the fifth Republic Festival in 1966. Converting the neglected old Anglo-Boer War fort into a museum was a formidable task, involving an immense amount of repair work before any thought could even be given to the establishment of the museum itself, but General Hiemstra had chosen the right man for the job. On 18 January 1966, the State President Blackie Swart opened the new Fort Klapperkop Military Museum to the public with much pomp and ceremony. Major Kruger received the coveted Southern Cross Medal in appreciation. In the same year, the Castle Military Museum in Cape Town was opened by General Hiemstra himself.
A separate Directorate Military Museums was established in 1974 with Brig Kruger as its director. The restoration of historic buildings and the establishment of museums followed on a regional basis. Characterised by his strong and purposeful leadership and practical approach, he gathered a small but competent group of military museum curators to carry out many significant projects. Together this team of Brig Kruger, Col Andy Malan, Cmdt Ben van Coller and Cdr Mac Bisset and their staff established the Maritime Museum (1971), Martello Tower (1973), Fort Schanskop (1975), Donkin Reserve Military Museum (1977), Fort Bloemfontein Military Museum (1983), Fort Beaufort Military Museum (1983) and Fort Wynyard Military Museum (1987). Brig Kruger was also involved with the initial planning of the South African Commemorative Museum at Delville Wood in France which was opened by Prime Minister PW Botha in 1986.
In its heyday, Fort Klapperkop Military Museum received more than 95 000 visitors annually and the defence force museums together provided a fine overview of military history. The Directorate Military Museums made a telling contribution to the restoration and preservation of many military historical buildings. It was disestablished in the mid-1980s, becoming again a subsection of the SADF Archives. Brig Kruger returned to teaching briefly, spending his last years on his small-holding near Kameeldrif in Pretoria.
During 1992 most of the former SADF military museums were transferred to local government institutions. Those that remain today continue to honour the legacy and efforts of Brigadier Louis Kruger.
>b>Lt Cdr Leon Steyn: Curator, SA Naval Museum
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