TOWN GUARDS OF THE PAST – DR DAWN GOULD

In today’s world one comes across words that seem to have taken on somewhat different meanings. As an example take the word “guard”.   Yes we know it means to take care of/ to protect but in these poor economic times some individuals appear only to want a monetary exchange when parking one’s motor car. Protection is definitely not in the so called guard’s mind.    But in years gone by there was once “Town Guards…”    One knew that the volunteer movement,  ie  the creation of a citizen force who could be mobilised quickly and fairly easily in times of war, had spread from Britain and taken root in the Cape Colony in the 1850s.  As early as 1861 volunteer regiments were in charge of the defence of Cape Town land  and in later years  in a number of uprisings.  When it became obvious, towards the end of the nineteenth century that war was imminent in this country, volunteer groups of men had already gained military experience. When the South African War began in 1899 ending in1902 the Town Guards were ready to be deployed where needed.  They would see service in various parts of the country but this short article will refer only to the volunteers who were stationed in the south Cape Peninsula.

Newspapers of the day gave much coverage to the movement. But to begin at the beginning,  who were the Town Guards?  They were often men employed by large businesses who, on the one hand favoured the idea, but who, on the other hand, did not want the running of their companies disrupted so as to affect profits.  So together with the military authorities it was decided that training and or drill time was to be fitted in after working hours.   By 1900 the volunteers were organised so much so that further groups could begin their training.

A Town Guard in town were made up of 100 men with a captain and four lieutenants at their head. The Companies of William Runciman – his name is remembered in Simon’s Town by the naming of Runciman Drive – and W Hanson, another businessman, were stationed in Simon’s Town.  If each man in an official Town Guard attended two parades during one week, they were each paid five shillings and also received haversacks, water bottles, rifles etc., from a specific grant. As regards uniforms, these, in full or part, quite often came from the businessman who employed them.  In some instances another merchant would supply hats or badges. But as often happens in times of war or other human dramas there was another side to volunteering ,  “doing one’s duty”  or showing loyalty to a point of view. There was money to be made and newspaper advertisements drew attention to special offers being made to the Town Guards ranging from clothes, photographs, liquor, insurance policies. By the way Percy Ould even composed a Town Guard March!

As part of the defence system numbered blockhouses were built across the Peninsula.  There was one called Lake siding  – perhaps near the present Lakeside station which was built in 1900.  Sessions of target practice necessary for combat readiness took place at Lakeside and the Simon’s Town areas of Dido Valley and Klaver. As the War began to wind down, the authorities decided in January 1902 that the guard duties of the volunteer soldiers should cease.