The most senior warrant officers’ course in the SANDF, the Joint Warrant Officers’ Programme (JWOP) based at the Warrant Officers Academy, Military Base Wonderboom had the opportunity to visit historic Simon’s Town on 11 and 12 November.
As part of the JWOP a new short course on Military Culture was developed by Prof (Dr) Ian van der Waag – and presented for the first time over the period 4-12 November 2021. The short course, weighing 20 credits, is presented through the Faculty of Military Science of Stellenbosch University. The residential phase was at the Military Academy in Saldanha.
Two days (11 & 12 November) were set aside for a practical “field trip” to Simon’s Town, where the South African Naval Museum hosted the group of ten senior warrant officers together with their facilitators from the military history department. They were Prof. van der Waag, Dr Evert Kleynhans, Mr Louis Makau and Ms Anri Delport. Set piece work and assignments were given to the students before their departure from Saldanha.

The tour of Simon’s Town kicked off on Thursday morning the 11th of November at the South African Naval Museum where the curator Commander Leon Steyn welcomed the group. He introduced the visitors to the concept of military museums, its uses and functions and also provided a brief overview of the history of military museums in South Africa. The group then toured the museum itself before stand-easy was enjoyed.

The visit was specifically planned to coincide with Armistice Day (also known as Poppy Day) and for that the group travelled to Middle North Battery where the museum’s old Rifled Muzzle Loader cannon is situated. At exactly 11:00 the cannon was fired by members of the Cannon Association of South Africa, in observance of members of our armed forces who have died in the line of duty. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler of the SA Navy Band, after which a two-minute silence was observed by all those present.

Simon’s Town provides a wonderful example of military fortification and the different layers of coast defence and artillery through the years. For a better understanding of its history and functions the group moved up to Scala Battery where Captain Chris Dooner (Ret) provided a guided tour of one of the big 9.2 inch cannon installations. The group descended into the (little known) underground bunkered operations room that formed an important part of the coast artillery setup during the Second World War.
After lunch in Simon’s Town, the rest of the afternoon was spent at the old naval cemetery (old burial ground) in Simon’s Town where Professor van der Waag organised a series of activities to uncover the oft-hidden, social-military history of the naval base. This led to a discussion of the sinking of the BIRKENHEAD, of twelve imperial Russian sailors who are buried in the graveyard, and of a young man who fell to his death while on construction works in the dockyard at the turn of the last century. The important work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not missed.

The next day the group visited the Martello Tower at Naval Base Simon’s Town. The tower dates back to 1796 as is said to be the oldest British built structure in South Africa. WO1 Harry Croome (Ret) provided an informative talk about the fortification, its original function and various preservation efforts through the years.
The tour was concluded with a visit to the frigate SAS ISANDLWANA, but on the way to the ship, there was still enough time to go past the historic Selborne Graving Dock. The dry dock was opened in 1910 and apart from its important function to maintain ships today; it also features a historic collection of 140 ship badges along its walls – a tangible record of our naval history.

The group returned to the naval museum for some much needed stand-easy and a chance to reflect on a totally absorbing, but enjoyable two days in Simon’s Town. The students and facilitators were all in agreement that the field trip allowed for a better appreciation of the concepts of military culture and naval history.
Article and photos: Commander Leon Steyn