Chairman’s Annual Report 2021
2020 will surely go down as one of the strangest years in history. When lockdown started in March, I didn’t think that it would drag on for months and change our lives so much. Suddenly we were confined to our homes, and we had to learn to communicate electronically. The regular meetings of the Trustees have all been held remotely and we can joke about those of us who are less comfortable with technology and admire those who are technologically sophisticated.
We were not allowed to go to the NHT office over the initial period which made it difficult to do research and answer queries – but I know that the lockdown gave many people the time to think about the past, remember good times and raise questions on various topics. Many oral histories have flowed from reminiscences, clearing up of homes and the discovery of memorabilia. So perhaps all the time we have had for introspection has been a good thing.
This report must cover the period 1 March 2020 to 28 February 2021 and so some of the figures I will give you are out of date. For example, there were just 5 983 members on the Society’s Facebook page at the end of our financial year, but we have over 6 300 followers just three months later.
Back to the annual report. The Executive Committee has met every month apart from December, and at each of these meetings we monitor our finances, the stock of our books, our regular Naval Digests, our oral history programme, as well as future publications and projects.
In our recent newsletter we have reported on the number of books and digests in progress. We had 207 completed and printed oral histories, a further 10 are being typed and proofread and 6 more are being written. Unfortunately, there are 14 that have been lost due to the quality of the recordings.
Naval Digest no 30, consisting of the story of the Union Jack Club and a tribute to Commodore D F Silberbauer, was sent out in December and we are currently working on Digest no 31.
We have received some special donations such as the Type 12 gunnery items and trophies, the sword belt that had been worn by Commodores Frederick Dean and James Dalgleish and Admiral H H Bierman, as well as photographs, for our collection. Please remember us when you are thinking of getting rid of your old “stuff”. It may not appear to be significant or interesting – especially to the younger generation – but it may add to the wealth of heritage that we are trying to preserve.
We were pleased to be able to join the SA Naval Museum in the erection of a plaque to record the fatal accident on 28 March 1941 which cost the lives of Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax and the others on board the Lockheed Lodestar flight from Windhoek to Cape Town. Adm Hallifax was the first director of the Seaward Defence Force, the forerunner of the SA Navy.
Our website has been completely revamped by Nicholas Dunn. The clean modern look has been highly praised, and the site receives several hits daily. If you haven’t visited it recently, I suggest that you do yourself a favour.
Perhaps the most exciting exercise that the Trust has in its ambit is the SAS Assegaai project. Two of the trustees attend all the project meetings and report on the progress that is being made in getting the submarine back into a working exhibition and open to the public once again. Submarine museums are amongst the most popular museums worldwide and this one is, in my opinion, the most interesting of those I have visited because she is the most complete and wasn’t gutted when she was decommissioned. It will be a fine achievement when visitors can learn about this fascinating aspect of the SA Navy again.
Before I thank the committee, I want to mention the recent passing of two important members of the Trust. First, we honoured Herb Farrow who had been our Treasurer for many years before he handed over the books to our current treasurer Glynnis Hellemann. Herb was a staunch supporter of the Naval Heritage Trust, an expert on Delville Wood and the story of the SS Mendi. He was a meticulous accountant and a good friend to us,
Very recently Adm Vic Holderness, the husband of our Trustee, Alderman Nicki Holderness, passed away after a long and painful illness. Our condolences are extended to both families.
I also want to pay tribute to Adm Chris Bennett who has decided to give up his position as a trustee but who has continued his interest in the Trust and our publications. Chris has edited most of our Naval Digests, researched many of them, found appropriate photographs for the text and prepared them for printing. He has written or co-written several books and has advised us, amused us and informed us of many, many aspects of naval heritage, over the years. At this stage I am delighted to tell you that the Trust has decided to honour him by asking him to accept the position as President of the Naval Heritage Society. We know that he will give the Society the dignity and gravitas that he embodies.
The Executive committee of the Trust is made up of dedicated people who have all contributed to our mission this past year. Adm Arne Soderlund not only serves on the SAS Assegaai project committee, but proofreads articles and books, writes articles and books, attends to every aspect of naval heritage and somehow manages to fit in a regular life. Capt Glen Knox looks after our books and digests, manages the Facebook page (as well as a few other fascinating sites), records oral histories, attends to various administrative tasks and manages to live a regular life. Commander Eddie Wesselo works at the NHT office, (with the invaluable Les Gale) records oral histories, does research and a myriad of other things. Captain Trunell Morom is our secretary dealing with minutes of meetings and agendas and things. Glynnis Hellemann is our hardworking treasurer. Warrant Officer Andre Wessels is our membership secretary and second member of the SAS Assegaai Committee. And Warrant Officer Dave Harrison performs technological wizardry with photographs and copy from old text whilst employed full time. Commander Mac Bisset quietly gets on with meticulous research and ensuring that our heritage is recorded accurately. And, in addition, they all manage to live regular lives. I am not sure just how the NHT gets as much of their attention as it does, but I am very grateful to them for their dedication and diligence. They make a remarkable team.
I am hoping that this report will bring you up to date with what has happened last year. The next year will see a close alignment with the Naval Museum (including welcoming back Commander Leon Steyn as a trustee), developments on the SAS Assegaai front and further publications and research. I am hoping that we will be able to meet in person sooner rather than later. When it is safe to go back into the water, let’s get together. In the meantime, please take care and be well.
Chairman Naval Heritage Trust