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 Natal Field Artillery

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Join date : 2009-04-24
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PostSubject: Natal Field Artillery   Sun Feb 17, 2013 9:40 pm

"The date of the formation of the first artillery unit in Natal was April or May, 1855, when a public subscription was made to "buy a field piece as an accessory of the artillery company about to be formed." It is not known when the gun materialised, if ever.

This artillery company formed one company of the Durban Volunteer Guard raised in Durban on 24th May, 1854, and it was by its separation from the Durban Rifle Guard, formerly the Durban Volunteer Guard, that the unit, which later be came the Natal Field Artillery, had its genesis. The style Durban Volunteer Guard Artillery Company lasted only till 1859, although for several years previously the unit, the D.V.G., was more or less dormant, almost moribund, by loss of members. But in September, 1859, the Durban Volunteer Guard was revived from its own still-glowing ashes as the Durban Rifle Guard and the original artillery company formed one company of that unit. No assistance was given by the Natal Government to volunteering and it was not till 1861 that the Guard took on a new lease of life. Captain A. W. Evans was appointed to the command of the artillery company which existed as a company of the Durban Rifle Guard till 1870 when it broke away and became a separate unit under the name Durban Volunteer Artillery. In April, 1892, the name was changed to Natal Field Artillery. Captain A. W. Evans remained in command after the separation until the end of 1870 or early in 1871 when he retired and was succeeded by Captain Archibald McNeil who had been Lieutenant of the company since 1864. He held the command till his death in 1884 and was in command during the Zulu War of 1879. Captain Reuben W. Beningfield, later Lieut.-Colonel, succeeded to the command, afterwards commanding the Natal Field Artillery until March, 1898. It was due to Captain Beningfield that at last the Government authorised the horsing of the Durban Volunteer Artillery. Prior to 20th March, 1884, the two guns of the battery, 7-pounder Armstrong B.L., were entirely man-handled by drag-ropes. Captain Dan Taylor succeeded Major Beningfield in March, 1898, in command of the N.F.A., serving through the Anglo-Boer War of 1899—1902. He relinguished the command of the battery in March, 1903, when he was promoted Lieut-Colonel and appointed to the command of the 1st Brigade, Natal Field Artillery formed in that month and consisting of three six-gun batteries, A., B., and C. He retired in 1905. He was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel H. H. C. Puntan in August of that year, having, as Major, previously commanded A. Battery since April, 1903. Major Colin Wilson succeeded Lieut.-Colonel Puntan in command of A. Battery in April, 1905, and was promoted to Lieut.-Colonel on the conversion of two batteries of the brigade to Durban Garrison Artillery in August, 1912. Captain R Murison, M.D., commanded B. Battery from July, 1904, to October, 1906, and was succeeded by Major G. R. O. Edwards till August, 1912. C. Battery was originally a 2-gun artillery company of the Natal Royal Regiment — infantry — of Pietermaritzburg under Major F. S. Tatham and at first man-handled. In June, 1903, the company broke off and was formed into a 4-gun horsed field artillery battery. Upon Union this battery remained as such unchanged while A. and B. Batteries were converted to garrison artillery. Before Union and after con-version to a 4-gun horsed battery C. Battery was a unit of the 1st Natal Field Artillery Brigade, but it was later (1916) absorbed into the South African Field Artillery. C. Battery served through the German South West Africa campaign as a field battery, drawn by donkeys, as part of Colonel Berrange's Desert Column.

The strength of the Durban Volunteer Artillery was about 58, all ranks. By 1874 this had dropped to 24 by reason of migration of members from Durban and their dissatisfaction at the many months of delay that occurred in paying them for their services in Zululand in 1874 when the battery formed part of the Natal force which attended the Coronation of King Cetshwayo. In 1875 the strength was about 76; in 1895 the Natal Field Artillery was over 250 strong and henceforth, being popular units, had no difficulty in keeping up to the full strength of their establishment which was based upon that of Imperial field batteries.

As recorded above, up to March, 1903, there was only one battery of artillery in Natal, but in that month the raising of two more field batteries was authorised by the Natal Government and these came into being in June, 1903, being B. and C. Batteries. The latter was composed almost entirely of civil servants and was known as the Civil Service Battery. The batteries were 6-gun units, 15-pounder B.L. and it is recorded that the guns with their entire equipment, so-called spares from the Anglo-Boer War, were bought by Natal from the British Government for one shilling each: a gift, of course. C. Battery soon had to change its name to D. Battery upon discovery of the fact that the battery raised in Pietermaritzburg about the same time as C. Battery was raised in Durban ante-dated the new Durban unit by a few weeks and claiming priority as C. Battery and succeeded. C. Battery — P.M. Burg1— was commanded by Major (later Lieut.-Colonel) Frederick S. Tatham, afterwards Justice Tatham, who was succeeded successively by Major W. S. Bigby and Major (later Lieut.-Colonel) W. P. M. Johnston. D. Battery existed till 1904 when it was disbanded, most of the personnel transferring to A. and B. Batteries.

In 1905 a Pom-Pom section of two guns and two ammunition wagons, horse-drawn, was raised in Durban and attached to the 1st N.F.A. Brigade. The strength was 23, all ranks. This small unit took a very useful part in the Zulu Rebellion operations in 1906—1907. It was disbanded at the end of 1907.

Medical, veterinary, signalling, supply and transport services were rendered by detachments furnished to the brigade from those departmental units of the Natal forces. The Head-quarters of the Brigade were in Durban.

The first weapons of the Durban Rifle Guard Artillery Company are not now known as no record can be traced about them, moreover it is not even known for certain whether any guns were ever issued to the unit. The first guns of the Durban Volunteer Artillery were 7-pounder B.L. Armstrong mountain screw guns, followed in 1899 by 7-poundcrs of the same make but adapted to field carriages. These latter were used during the Anglo-Boer War and were in action at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October, 1899. But they were hopelessly outranged by the Boer field guns which were of the most modern continental type and for this reason the battery played only a minor part in subsequent phases of the war, being used mostly on line-of-communication duties in northern Natal. In 1901 these out-of-date guns — pop-guns — were withdrawn and the battery was armed with 15-pounder modern field guns mounted on Indian pattern carriages."

Source: Short History Of The Volunteer Regiments Of Natal And East Griqualand, Past and and Present. Compiled by Colonel Godfrey T Hurst, DSO OBE VD, Honorary Colonel of the Natal Mounted Rifles.
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