Navy needs volunteer gunners for museum piece


Does the thought of being responsible for firing a more than 130-year-old cannon appeal?

If the answer is yes and you are serving in the SA Navy contact Lieutenant Commander Leon Steyn at the SA Naval Museum in Simons’ Town.

He and long-time naval gunner, now retired Warrant officer Martin Venter, are looking for volunteers who want to learn the ins and outs of the nine inch rifled muzzle loading gun that holds pride of place at Middle North Battery.

There is currently only one qualified operator for the gun which came to South Africa in 1885.It was mounted at Simon’s Town’s Upper North Battery where it was first fired in 1886.

Venter presently has the distinction of being the only person qualified to fire the gun with “assistance” from another warrant officer, Harry Croome.
“I’m retired and Harry is due to finish up in the not too distant future so there is definitely a need for volunteers,” Venter said.

Both men, along with Steyn, are keen to recruit a new generation of volunteers to maintain and fire the gun.
“Keen to keep the ‘living museum’ concept going, the old cannon is fired on special occasions and more specifically public holidays for the benefit of people visiting the SA Naval Museum. To maintain this tradition we call on young sailors with a passion for black powder, history and heritage to volunteer,” Steyn said.

Venter agrees adding there must be a passion for old cannons and a willingness to give up free time over weekends and on public holidays with the outcome of “a rewarding hobby enabling you to meet many people and know you are part of preserving South Africa’s military – particularly its naval – history”.

The cannon at Middle North Battery has six rifling grooves, the only gun still in service with this number of grooves.

Venter said the gun, along with its slide, carriage and mounting was restored in the SA Naval Dockyard gun shop in 1983/84.
“It has sadly, been vandalised since then and stripped of a number of parts but still works.”
“Also significant is the gun was declared a National Monument in May 1979,” he said adding work was underway to reposition another relevant plaque because “the whereabouts of the original are no longer known”.