South African National Museum of Military History

"...We are gathered here today to open what may not unfairly be looked upon as a memorial to the greatest united effort our country has ever been called upon to produce. Memorials, of course, have more than one use. They serve to remind us of what is past, of great deeds of heroism and sacrifice; they also serve as a pointer, and sometimes as a warning to the future. It is in these senses that the South African War Museum may be regarded as a Memorial. It will remind us, I hope, not only of the part we played in the recent great struggle to save civilization, but also of the horrors, the loss of life and the devastation, and serve as a warning to us to create a world in which we shall never have to use again the weapons of death and destruction we see here today, or those dreadful weapons to follow them..."

These were the words spoken by the then South African Prime Minister, Field Marshal JC Smuts, in regard to World War II, at the opening of the South African War Museum on 29 August 1947. The museum is located in Johannesburg. It was only after South Africa’s involvement in World War I, on the side of the allies, and on entering World War II (1939-1945), did the newly appointed historian of the Union Defence Force, Captain J Agar-Hamilton realize in 1940, that the South African involvement in World War I was not documented. This led to the loss of many artefacts and material heritage. Captain J Agar-Hamilton then set in motion, the beginnings of the South African War Museum. All documents and military related materials were preserved, and the state even employed seven artists to document the war and established a collection of 850 works of art.

The South African War Museum changed its name to the South African National Museum of Military History in 1975. Over the years, the scope and exhibitions had changed, and new buildings had been added. Every conflict that South Africa ever took part in, is depicted in the Museum. Veterans and reserve soldiers see the South African National Museum of Military History, as their headquarters. Here, from the safety of the displays, they relive their sacrifices, losses and triumphs. In the walls of the buildings, they feel the presence and closeness of lost comrades, and fallen friends.

Today, the South African National Museum of Military History, has a collection of 44,000 items ranging from medals, uniforms, weapons, vehicles and memorials. From the World Wars to the Anglo-Boer wars can be found in the museum. The museum library boasts with a unique collection of journals, archival materials and historical books. The development of warfare weaponry is also exhibited, such as combat uniforms and medicines. The South African National Museum of Military History sees approximately 80,000 visitors each year which includes school students and groups sent by the South African Defence Force.

In addition to playing an important role in the Military history of South Africa, the South African National Museum of Military History also caters for functions and presentations with a choice of conference rooms. There is also a museum shop for the purchase of memorabilia.


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