History

 

When the Great War of 1914/18 (now known as World War 1) ended, men who had served in the two Imperial Service Gunner units – the SA Field Artillery and the SA Heavy Artillery, formed associations to retain the camaraderie of the war years. Both had branches throughout the country.

 

The South African Field Artillery Association appears to have lasted until 1939 but the South African Heavy Artillery (SAHA) gunners soldiered on until 1970.

The 1920’s and the early 1920’s were the early days of broadcasting and of crystal radio sets and Gunner Kahn always sent messages to branches of the SAHA by “…air from the Wireless Station…” Johannesburg. He warned branches in advance and asked them to report if reception was good. There was always a good response to dinners, smoking concerts and the like. The Service of Remembrance in Johannesburg in 1929 for instance, drew 3000 people.

 

They were an active group of men and two of these, heavy gunners, Basil Scholefield (a musician, company secretary and members of the South African Rugby Board) and J.C. Kemsley, were the prime movers in forming the South African Referees Society.

 

By 1969 the Cape Town Branch was the only one still active and the last three or four members voted to hand their memorial, a 60-inch howitzer known as the Gun, to the Gunners Association. A suitable plaque was affixed to the plinth and unveiled by the National President, Colonel Ian Whyte, on Sunday 26 April 1970. The last two surviving members of the SAHA, Mr Harry Clain and Mr Guy Tarleton, laid their last wreaths at The Gun in April 1971.

Improbable as it may seem, The Gunners Association of today does not owe its origins to either of these organisations, but rather to the Gunners and Signal Corps personnel in Camp at Potchefstroom in 1940/41.

 

There were no sports facilities or entertainment and men in camp were initially left to their own devices. In November 1939, the Transvaal Horse Artillery, one of the first units to report for full-time war service, started a series of open-air concerts on Saturday evenings and when the YMCA opened a branch in the camp in December, open-air cinema shows were organised. Two concerts were given in early 1940 by visiting artistes, also in the open.

 

The YMCA began construction of a permanent hall in February 1940 and a camp concert party was formed in September 1940. A group of men drawn mostly from 5th Field Brigade, the Port Elizabeth Gunners, and the South African Corps of Signals, staged a variety show called “Finding our Feet”. It was a huge success. A revue was next with Bdr Frank Rogaly as producer. “Full Speed Ahead” although scheduled for two nights, ran for five. Due to demand it was staged at the Town Hall in Potchefstroom before an enthusiastic audience. Again the run had to be extended.

 

The hugely successful “Springbok Frolics” followed “Full Speed Ahead”. The versatile soldiers excelled themselves and by arrangement with African Consolidated Theatres Ltd, it was staged before crowded houses at the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg during the Christmas and New Year holidays in 1940.


The National Gunners' Memorial

The Gunners Memorial is situated in Potchefstroom on a site originally owned by the government but transferred to the Town Council of Potchefstroom in 1972. The location of the Memorial was selected adjacent to the now closed No: 3 Gate of the Military Base through which, over a period of time, all gunners passed on entering or leaving the camp.


The design of the memorial was conceived by the eminent architect, Dr Gordon Leith, himself a gunner, who had served overseas with the SA Artillery during World War 1.


The Memorial was unveiled on May 1952 by the Chief of Staff, SA Army, Lt Gen "Matie" CL De Wet du Toit and entrusted for safekeeping by the Gunners' Association to the then Officer Commanding Western Transvaal Command.


The original plaque on the Memorial reads " To the glory of God and the memory of all Gunners who lost their lives in two World Wars, 1914 - 1918; 1939 - 1945."


At the 47th Annual Gunners' Memorial Service held on 19 April 1998 the memorial was rededicated with the unveiling of an additional plaque reading " To the glory of God and the memory of all Gunners who laid down their lives for South Africa."


Refurbishing of the Memorial took place in the year 2000 which included the construction of two dwarf brick memorial walls to accommodate extra plaques.


Three quick firing guns, which were deployed by the SA field gunners in German East Africa during World War 1, flank and embellish the Memorial. The fourth gun is a World War 2 3.7 inch Anti-Aircraft gun.


A focal scenic panorama was formed by mature poplar trees growing in a semi-circle on the periphery of the site. The trees were replaced in 2010 after the original trees died. The garden surrounds are maintained by the Town Council of Potchefstroom and the ancillary equipment by 4 Artillery Regiment and the Artillery Regiment.


The "Gunners Memorial Trust" in collaboration with the Gunners' Association administers the Memorial.


"At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them"