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Carabiniers remembered at Kimberly Gate, Chelsea

LONDON – On Sunday 2 December the South African Legion England Branch once again joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Association for an Observance at the Carabiniers Memorial, Chelsea.

The memorial remembers the fallen of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) who gave their lives during the South African War 1899 – 1902 (Second Anglo-Boer War). The Carabiniers were part of the cavalry division under Major-General Sir JDP French which led the charge through Boer General Piet Cronje’s lines to relieve the siege of Kimberley on 15 February 1900.

It is because of this connection that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Association welcome the presence of the South African Legion at their annual Observance. Following a short service, wreaths were laid by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), the South African Legion and the Moths of Gazala Shellhole.

We then adjourned to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for a service in the magnificent Wren Chapel followed by drinks and a traditional curry lunch in the Chelsea Pensioners Club. The sense of history was palpable inside this famous home of the Chelsea Pensioners which has cared for British Army veterans since 1692. It was an honour to rub shoulders with these grand old men and women in their distinctive red frock coats and a day to remember for all.

Text by Lgr Tony Povey
Photography by Lgr Theo Fernandes (full picture gallery below)

© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved


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SA Legionnaires join parade at London Cenotaph to mark 100 years since Armistice

WHITEHALL, LONDON – Around 40 Legionnaires from around the UK and Europe joined 9,000 veterans and 10,000 civilians at the Cenotaph in London for the Remembrance Parade to mark 100 years since the armistice to end the First World War was signed.

Many who travelled to Waterloo Station used the excellent free Poppy Cab service to reach the muster point at St James’s Park. Tickets were distributed and members quickly passed through the busy but efficient Royal British Legion ticket checking process to form-up as part of Column D on Horse Guards Parade.

Muster

That this year’ s parade was of a different scale in terms of attendance became evident after the column had marched through the arch onto Whitehall. The normal position is almost directly opposite but this year the group was marched almost to Trafalgar Square to accommodate all those attending.

Once everyone was formed up in the road, a bit closer to the memorial, the service began. Large TV screens, showing the service, were provided in the road, as they have been in previous years, but unfortunately the one in front of the Legion column was not working. There was however no mistaking the moment when the two minutes’ silence began, as the cannon of the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery boomed out from Horse Guards.

Remembrance

Wreaths were then laid, beginning with Prince Charles on behalf of HM The Queen and followed by military leaders, politicians and High Commissioners of the Commonwealth. Once the formalities were over the mood in the column became more relaxed. Hip flasks where passed around and fellow veterans groups cheered as they began marching off, the Royal Military Police Association party receiving the time-honoured but well-intentioned boos.

The South African Legion party was expertly drilled by Lgr Brian Parry. When the time came for the march-past came, the wreath was laid by Royal British Legion South Africa Branch Chairman Lgr Peter Dickens. After performing the customary eyes left past the Cenotaph, the column wound through the roads back to Horse Guards where Princess Anne, the Princess Royal took the salute.

AGM

Back on the parade ground it was time for group photos and jokes with fellow veterans before everyone began making their way to the pub for the RBL SA Branch AGM. To emphasise the size of the Centenary event, the last of the civilian column had yet to set off by the time the veterans had marched through and were leaving the area.

Legionnaires and their families gathered at The Kings Arms in Mayfair for some well-earned refreshment and the AGM. The formal minutes are recorded elsewhere, but in his speech, Lgr Peter Dickens reminded the members that attendance at such special events is largely down to the close relationship forged with the Royal British Legion who run these events in the UK.

Text by Lgr Justin Bosanquet
Photography by Lgr Theo Fernandes and Karen Parry (please scroll down for full picture galleries)

Picture Gallery by Karen Parry:

Picture Gallery by Lgr Theo Fernandes: 

© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved

 


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South African Veterans’ Armistice Day Parade

The Richmond Armistice Day service was held on 10 November at 10:30 at East Sheen Cemetery in London, and was attended by more than 50 people, including the South African Legion (UK & EU Branch), representatives of the MOTH, the Royal British Legion, and South Africa Lodge.

After the entrance of the banners and flags under direction of Ceremonial Officer Lgr Brian Parry, Chaplain Craig Esterhuizen opened the service with a verse from Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.

After the hymn Be Still My Soul led by the choir of the New Apostolic Church who added their superb voices to the occasion, the lesson continued and centred around the meaningfulness of Armistice Day, being that it was 100 years ago that the accord was signed; but that peace was still a commodity in short supply in the world. The story of the reconciliation between Esau and Jacob was referred to, and an exhortation that we all fight as hard for peace, as we would for our freedom.

The service was ably supported by the choir who delivered renditions of poignant hymns such as Only Remembered, He in Whose Heart Peace Abideth and The Lord is my Light. Poems were read by Lgr Andrew Bergman, Lgr Russel Mattushek and Lgr Paul Gladwin. At the conclusion, the choir received a standing ovation from the Legionnaires in attendance.

To mark 100 years since the end of WWI, SA Legion UK & EU Regional Chair then unveiled a SA Legion Shield, for which the custodians of East Sheen Cemetery Chapel kindly gave permission, as well as pride of place at the apex of an arch. Its presence further cements the warm relationship that the SA Legion enjoys with Richmond Cemetery, thanks in a large part to the efforts of Lgr Stuart Robertson.

A short tea was enjoyed after the service, complete with home-made muffins provided by Gail Esterhuizen.

Wreaths were then laid at the cenotaph and a march-past with salute, received by Lgr Cameron Kinnear. A social then continued at the Mitre Pub where a typically carnivorous braai was provided by Du Toit Verster and Johan De Vries.

Text by Lgr Craig Esterhuizen and Lgr Andrew Bergman
Photography by Lgr Theo Fernandes and Karen Parry (please scroll down for full picture galleries)

Picture Gallery by Lgr Theo Fernandes:

Picture Gallery by Karen Parry:

© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved


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SA Legion UK & EU Formal Mess Ball and Annual Awards Dinner 2018

SOUTHGATE, LONDON – The second Formal Mess Ball of the South African Legion UK & Europe Branch was held on Saturday 22nd September 2018 at the Southgate Masonic Centre in London.

The purpose of the ball was primarily to entertain and treat our partners, who don’t always participate in the Legion events during the year. It was also a super opportunity for veterans and a like-minded crowd to get together, have a few laughs, a good old natter, and have fun.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

It was especially good to welcome some friends who we haven’t seen for a while, as well as guests from South Africa and other veterans’ organisations including the Royal British Legion South Africa Branch.

Guests were greeted with a glass of bubbly, and rubbed-shoulders in the Centre’s cosy pub before dinner.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

SA Legion England Branch Vice-Chair Lgr. Stuart Roberson acted as PMC for the evening, and the standards were paraded-in under direction of ceremonial officer Lgr. Brian Parry.

After the formal opening, the ceremonial officer pointed out to the PMC that the Chairmen of the Regions various Branches were ‘improperly dressed’. The PMC then presented the Chairmen with their respective Collars of Office with their distinctive ribbons reflecting the colours of the South African Flag.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

Lgr. Dirk Benneyworth then took the floor as Master of Ceremonies in what was to be a fun night for all. The refectory of the Centre provided excellent cuisine and service. Live music with a distinctly South African flavour made the evening extra special.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

After dinner following the formal toasts, it was a fitting occasion for the presentation of our annual awards and certificates of appreciation. The sheer number of recipients this year reflects an encouraging degree of engagement and support throughout the spectrum of SA Legion activities.

The highlight of the evening was the raffle. The table groaned with even more prizes than there were guests, and everyone went home with something. The grand prize of a flat-screen TV was scooped-up by a lucky guest from the Royal British Legion.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

Most importantly, the raffle raised essential funds which will be used for the support of South African veterans.

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

Following the success of last year’s event, the Mess Ball promises to be an annual highlight of SA Legion activity, so be sure to watch this space for announcements. The 2019 edition is already being discussed!

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

Bravo Zulu to SA Legion England Branch Chair, Lgr. Russel Mattushek and his team for the superb organisation.

Video by Lgr. Victor Ho

NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT FOR OTHERS

Text by Lgr Andrew Bergman
Photography by Lgr. Theo Fernandes and Lgr. Victor Ho (scroll down for full picture galleries)
© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved

Photo Gallery Lgr. Theo Fernandes:

Photo Gallery Lgr. Victor Ho:


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Battle of Square Hill Centenary Service and Parade 2018

RICHMOND UPON THAMES – The England Branch of the South African Legion hosted a remembrance service and parade to mark the centenary of the Battle of Square Hill at London’s East Sheen Cemetery in Richmond on Saturday, September 22.

The Battle of Square Hill was fought from September 19 to 21, 1918, when Cape Corps troops engaged with Turkish forces in the final months of the First World War (*see below).

To mark 100 years since this historic battle, representatives of the South African Legion (England, Scotland, and Europe Branches) gathered with representatives of the Royal British Legion (SA Branch),  SA Legion South Africa, Royal British Legion (Teddington), and M.O.T.H. (Gazala Shellhole), as well as several civilian guests – including the granddaughter of one of the fallen and her family – at the East Sheen Cemetery Chapel on the northern outskirts of London’s vast Richmond Cemetery.

Picture by Karen Parry

Service
SA Legion Ceremonial Officer Lgr. Brian Parry directed the procession of standards into the chapel and SA Legion England Branch Chairman Russel Mattushek recited the Act of Remembrance (They shall grow not old…).

Picture by Lgr. Victor Ho

SA Legion Chaplain Lgr. Craig Esterhuizen then led all present in a dignified remembrance service. He pointed out the biblical significance of the location of the Battle of Square Hill, which raged in the area north-east of Jerusalem now known as the ‘West Bank’, close to where Joshua laid siege to Jericho, and also to its proximity to Megiddo, referred to in the Bible as Armageddon, prophesied location of a gathering of armies for a battle during the end times.

Picture by Lgr. Victor Ho

A tribute was also delivered in memory of the late General Johannes Jacobus (Jannie) Geldenhuys who served as Chief of the South African Defence Force between 1985 and 1990 and was Called to Higher Service on 10 September 2018. General Geldenhuys was 83.

Picture by Lgr. Victor Ho

Remembrance
Veterans and gather guests joined in prayers, hymns, and the National Anthems of South Africa and the United Kingdom, after which the standard bearers and the veterans present fell-in to march to the nearby South African cenotaph.

At the cenotaph, the Act of Remembrance was repeated, Last Post sounded, and two minutes’ silence observed.

Wreaths were laid on behalf of the SA Legion England, Scotland, and Europe Branches, the Royal British Legion (South Africa Branch) and MOTH (Gazala Shellhole).

Picture by Lgr. Victor Ho

* Battle of Square Hill
This year marks the milestone centenary of a historic battle which is not yet at the forefront of general consciousness in the United Kingdom. The legion playing its part to raise general awareness.

During the Battle of Square Hill in 1918, Cape Corps soldiers were able to shine in their first battle with Turkish soldiers in Palestine during the final months of the First World War.

The Turks were a mighty foe…

The nightmare that affronted Gen Allenby came in the form of Gen Mustapha Kemal or Ataturk as he was later known (founder of modern Turkey) and Gen Liman von Sanders seconded by the German High Command to their Turkish allies. This Turkish/German Army was the same one that had defeated the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian (ANZAC) forces at Gallipoli, and thereafter marched triumphantly down Asia, conquered Damascus, and overran Syria until they reached the Holy Land.

Picture by Lgr. Victor Ho

Gen Allenby, with his Staff Officers mused over his problem and formulated their battle plans.

Strategy

The significance of this battle was General Allenby’s military strategy to connect with Arab allies to the east of the Dead Sea, a mission that was thwarted by the enemy’s control of the Jordan crossing at Jisr ed Damieh. Captain Ivor D Difford, quartermaster of the Cape Corps wrote that Gen Allenby was “determined to strike a blow west of the Jordan, where the whole Turkish army in that area was enclosed”. To this end, the plan was to “break through the enemy’s defensive positions and create a gap for the cavalry to pass through”.

Picture by Karen Parry

During the night of 18 September 1918 the 1st Cape Corps themselves had taken 181 prisoners. Having come under “fairly persistent counter-attack” they were said to have battled with bayonets in the “strictest silence” and that they carried out orders implicitly.

Notable names mentioned in this battle were Lt. Samuelson, Sgt February and L/Cpl Thimm. The 1st Cape Corps capturing of the enemy field gun which was noted as “the first gun captured on the Palestine front during Allenby’s great push” – resulted in Lance-Corporal Thimm being promoted to Corporal.

Monument

Following the war, a monument was built in Kimberley. The gun captured at Square Hill stands there still… but of similar monuments in Johannesburg and Cape Town, nothing but promises materialised. The annual Armistice Day/Remembrance Sunday parade at the Johannesburg cenotaph drew a large crowd of Cape Corps veterans and descendants for decades and was widely known as the Square Hill parade, but even that memory has now faded.

Picture by Karen Parry

The battle on that night claimed the lives of L/Cpl S Visagie and Pte S Gobey. Further casualties the next day were Pte J Jonkers, Pte G Groep and Pte D Hahman.

As legionnaires we carry the flame of remembrance…

Background of Richmond South African Cenotaph:

Following the outbreak of the First World War, South Africa, as a British Dominion, formed and mobilised the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force, as its contribution to the war effort. This force consisted of: The SA Infantry Brigade, SA Mounted Brigade, SA heavy Artillery Brigade, SA Field Artillery Regiment, SA Native Labour Corps, SA Field Ambulance unit, SA Corps of Engineers, SA Signals Company, and the SA Medical Corps – a total force of about 232 000, each one of them volunteers.

Many of our grandfathers were among them.

The SA Medical Corps provided the staff for both the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park London, and the No 1 South African General Hospital established in France. Injured or ill soldiers from all theatres of war were transferred to Richmond for treatment and for recuperation.

Picture by Karen Parry

Altogether 39 of the South Africans who died in the SA Richmond Park Hospital were buried in the Richmond Cemetery. At the end of the First World War, the SA Hospital and the Comforts Fund Committee decided to erect a memorial to these men and to all those South Africans who had died in the war.

Sir Edwin Lutyens who designed the Whitehall Cenotaph – where thousands of ex-service personnel, including a substantial contingent of South African Legionnaires, march on Remembrance Sunday – designed this memorial and it was unveiled by General Jan Smuts in June 1921. It became a pilgrimage focus in the 1920s and 1930s.

It now has Grade II listed status and it is recorded as a building of special architectural and historic interest.

Lest we forget…

NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT FOR OTHERS

Text by Lgr Andrew Bergman
(including research by Lgr Claudio Chistè and Lgr Tom Mason)
Photography by Lgr. Victor Ho and Karen Parry
© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved

 


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Airborne March, Arnhem, the Netherlands, 2018

On Saturday 1 September 2018, the 72nd edition of the Airborne March (Airborne Wandeltocht) took place in Oosterbeek, the site of many of the Operation Market Garden airborne landings just to the west of Arnhem in the Netherlands. It is the largest one-day commemorative march in the world and has taken place yearly on the first Saturday of September, since 1947.

The Airborne March is organised to remember the Battle of Arnhem which took place in 1944 and this year, it was marched by 32,809 participants from more than 20 different nationalities, one of whom was Lgr Charlie Wessels, who participated wearing her South African Legion colours and representing the Europe Branch. It’s the third time she has participated.

Participants represent all ages and backgrounds

The distances vary from 10 – 40 kilometres and the event is attended by people of all ages and backgrounds, including veterans, living relatives, soldiers, cadets and civilians, paying their respects. All routes start and end at the sports park Hartenstein in Oosterbeek.

The revenue from the march is used to enable veterans and their next of kin to come to the Netherlands and attend the commemorations in and around Arnhem.

Wreaths laid at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek

The atmosphere during the whole day can only be described as incredible. Marchers form up and register in the sports park before being ‘lead out’ past the Airborne Museum by one of the more than 30 Music Corps, who take part in the event.

Along the route there are stands selling refreshments, volunteers who assist with First Aid and general morale along the way and marchers (from all walks of life who join in on foot or in wheelchairs) who freely chat with each other and who all end up feeling like your ‘Brothers in Arms’.

The Cross of Sacrifice of the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission at the Airborne
Cemetery in Oosterbeek

The marching routes lead past the most important wartime locations in Oosterbeek, including the Airborne Cemetery, where over 1,700 British and Polish soldiers are buried. As jovial as the march is along the way, the atmosphere once you enter the Airborne Cemetery is in stark contrast and changes to quiet and respectful.

The local population in Oosterbeek make a real effort to let all participants and visitors feel welcome. They decorate the streets and the Pegasus flag flies proudly on each mast outside the homes. They even provide for snacks and water along the route and sit outside their homes to cheer the marchers on.

The distance you choose to march and the weight you carry, are all down to personal choice, it’s not a competition.

Regardless how far you chose to march, marching up that final hill in Oosterbeek before entering the festivities of the high street, takes some gritting of teeth. The happy tunes from the Music Corps leading the marchers back through the gates to collect their medals at the sport park and the cheering of the crowds, are quite overwhelming.

The author of this piece, Lgr Charlie Wessels
‘flying the flag’ for the SA Legion
at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek

As you approach the final part of the route… you march past the Airborne Museum and see the Para Veterans sitting in the front row with their beers, proudly looking on at the marchers by. Suddenly you realise again why you are there, taking part in this march and paying your respects. The pain from the weight of your bergen/daysack digging in to your shoulders and hips and the aching muscles of someone who has not tabbed (in far too long!!!) suddenly disappear… These veterans represent all of those… who gave their tomorrow… so that we could have our today…

Cheers to all who have taken part in this march over the past 72 years and especially, to those we are marching for.

We will remember them.

The 73rd edition of the Airborne March will take place on 7 September 2019

 © South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018

Text and pictures: Lgr Charlie Wessels

 


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BSAP memorial Service, National Memorial Arboretum

On Sunday 22 July 2018, in bright sunshine reminiscent of its African heritage, the British South Africa Police Regimental Association, UK branch, held a Memorial Service at the National Memorial Arboretum in memory of those members of the BSAP who gave their lives during the 84 years of its existence.

Formed in 1889 as the British South Africa Company Police, the force became known as the British South Africa Police (BSAP) in 1896 and developed as a light cavalry regiment. Participating in the Matabele War (1893), the Jameson Raid (1895) and the Matabele and Mashona Rebellions (1896 – 1897). They also played an active role in the Boer War and during WW1 in campaigns in German East Africa and South West Africa. After being at the forefront throughout the Rhodesian Bush War (1964 – 1979) during which 403 members gave their lives, the BSAP ceased to exist in name in August 1980 with the final lowering of the Rhodesian National flag and the formation of Zimbabwe.

Members of the SA Legion England Branch who attended the parade were Lgrs Russel Mattushek, Brian Parry, Tony Povey, Jose Lopes and Dave Wiseman. The SA Legion Banner was paraded by Lgr Brian Parry and a wreath was laid by Lgr Tony Povey, who served with the BSAP during the Rhodesian Bush War.

The service was followed by lunch and then a stroll through part of the 150-acre NMA grounds, home to over 350 memorials, to pay our respects to those who gave their lives for their country. Over 400 members of the BSAP made the ultimate sacrifice during the Rhodesian Bush War. We Will Remember Them.

BZ to Lgr Jose Lopes for organising the SA Legion participation and Jessica Lopes and Karen Parry for the photos.

© South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018

Text: Lgr Tony Povey

Photography: Karen Parry, Jessica Lopes


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Delville Wood Remembrance Service and Parade 14 July 2018, East Sheen Cemetery, Richmond, London

RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES – On the morning of Saturday 14 July 2018, the South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) in association with MOTH (Gazala Shellhole) hosted the very well-attended Delville Wood Remembrance Parade at East Sheen Cemetery in Richmond, London.

The Legion and MOTH contingents were swelled by members and standard bearers of the Royal British Legion (South Africa Branch and Teddington Branch), MOTH (General Browning Shellhole) as well as the Master and several Freemasons from the London-based South Africa Lodge No. 6742 (UGLE), supported by several family and friends.

We gathered at the cemetery chapel to remember the 229,000 South Africans who volunteered for World War 1, paying tribute to 2,500 who perished in the Battle of Delville Wood (15 July – 3 September 1916), the single biggest South African military loss on the battlefield.

The Standards were paraded into the chapel and Lgr. Craig Esterhuizen led a dignified remembrance service of prayer, reflection, and hymns, with poems and contributions read and recited by representatives of all organisations present.

Video footage of the service by Lgr. Theo Fernandes:

 

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karin Parry, and Johanna Bergman:

Parade
Under the expert direction of Ceremonial Officer Lgr. Brian Parry, veterans fell-in behind the gathered Standards and a piper from the London Scottish Regiment (aka the ‘Cockney Jocks’) and marched in quick time to the nearby South African Cenotaph in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the vast civilian and military cemetery.

Standards were dipped in salute as the bugler sounded Last Post following the Act of Remembrance.

As the piper sounded a poignant lament, wreaths were laid by the SA Legion England, Scotland, and Europe Branches, MOTH Gazala Shellhole, and South Africa Lodge.

SA Legion Scotland Branch Chair Lgr. Cary Hendricks, resplendent in full Murray of Atholl Highland kit then took the salute on behalf of the Regional Exco.

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karin Parry, and Johanna Bergman:

Social
We then proceeded to the The Mitre in Richmond for several cold pints, and super braai in the beer garden catered by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Lgr. Dutoit Verster, and Lgr. Johan de Vries. Legionnaires, MOTHs, and Masons mingled and seemed to have imported South African summer weather to Richmond.

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes and Karin Parry

Bravo Zulu to all involved (far too numerous to name).

© South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman
Video: Lgr. Theo Fernandes
Photography: Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karen Parry, Johanna Bergman


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Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate, Ypres

Every evening at 20:00 sharp, ever since 1928, the solemn and stirringly beautiful Last Post ceremony has been performed under the Menin Gate at Ypres that commemorates the many thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the bloody battles of the Ypres Salient during First World War. On the walls of the memorial are inscribed the names of 54,395 soldiers – including South Africans – who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

On 12 and 13 May, Ypres hosted the Kattenstoet (Cats Parade), a festive local carnival themed on cats, which was an extra attraction on this weekend.

South African Legion (Europe Branch) Chairman Lgr. Andrew Bergman arrived with his wife Johanna on Saturday evening and attended the Last Post Ceremony as a ‘dry run’ to recce the lay of the land. An advance email to the Last Post Association in anticipation of our visit yielded and invitation to lay a wreath, as well as the possibility (at the discretion of the Master of Ceremonies on the day) to deliver the Oration or Epitaph with an official delegation the following day.

Reinforcements arrive

On Sunday, Lgr. Dave Wiseman and Lgr. Clint Olivier crossed the Channel and arrived in Ypres in time for the Cats Parade. We then got together – dressed in our parade kit – at a café opposite the Menin gate, where we were treated like minor celebrities.

We then moved to the Menin Gate, where the Master of Ceremonies asked Lgr. Bergman to deliver the Oration during the ceremony. Then a pleasant surprise: MOTH Alex Cromarty happened to be in the area touring with his family, which swelled our ‘band of brothers’ to four.

Our wreath-laying party fell-in three-abreast under orders of the Master of Ceremonies. Behind us were schoolgirls from Scotland and England, students from East Anglia University, and ancestors of the fallen, all waiting to pay their floral respects.

Opposite us, the Rochdale Festival Chorus gathered to provide musical accompaniment.

By now there was no more room under the vast arch of the gate itself, and spectators were spilling out into the approaching road on both sides.

“They shall grow not old…”

The sizable crowd fell silent when the buglers of the Last Post Association took-up their positions at the eastern end of the gate. Then, at 19:58, the buglers sounded the Rouse. On a signal from the Master of Ceremonies, Lgr. Bergman marched to the centre of the hushed arch, turned to face the buglers, and recited the Oration: “They shall grow not old…”

A minutes’ silence followed, and then in perfect unison, the buglers sounded the mournful Last Post. There were not many dry eyes in the house.

First to lay wreaths were the Mayor of Ypres and the Mayor of Singen, a German city that is twinned with Ypres. Both had been formally introduced to the South African Legion delegation at the start of proceedings.

Forward march!

We were the next wreath-laying party, and while we haven’t done much marching together, we did ok – the pictures show that our dressing never wavered, we kept perfect step.

The buglers then sounded Reveille to signal the end of the ceremony.

 

After the ceremony was over, it was time for networking. Legionnaires spoke to a Colonel (in civvies and ‘off duty’) from the Belgian Special Forces, and we mingled a while with the other wreath-layers in the afterglow of the dignified and solemn ceremony we’d all shared.

So after a successful round of shoulder-rubbing with the Great and the Good of Ypres and beyond, three Legionnaires and Johanna – who had resolutely defended her plumb photographic position from several assaults on both flanks to produce a superb photographic and video record – followed the city walls southwards to have supper at Brasserie Kazematten, which is established in the ancient casemates within the fortifications of Ypres. Many of the original features are retained. The staff treated us like kings and it proved a fitting end to a memorable day of remembrance and fellowship.

© South African Legion (Europe Branch)
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman
Pictures and video: Johanna Bergman


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The Death of Staff Van Rooyen

The Death of Staff Van Rooyen

Graham Du Toit of Facebook Honour Roll fame wrote :
“FOR THEM THE LAST POST HAS SOUNDED – 16 Aug 1988: 78458197PE Staff Sergeant Gideon van Rooyen from 2 Special Service Battalion was killed when his Armoured Car overturned at the Rooisloot Training Area. He was 26”

To most this is just another entry in Graham’s daily record. For many of us Medic Veterans or fellow ranks who read these entries we realize that we were there, often first on the scene. We were the kid that stepped into the drama and took responsibility. To me it was my first serious blooding in the field as an Ops Medic after the experiences of A&E in the East Rand Townships. When I read this excerpt it didn’t bring back any fresh memory because this is the one incident that is never far from the surface. Most are thankfully hidden deep in the psyche or forgotten. They may yet bleed out from the pen.

Tuesday 16th August was a regular hot and red-dust day on the firing range at Rooisloot training ground nearby 2 Special Service Battalion in Zeerust. 2nd phase training was ongoing for D Squadron, the Squadron I would accompany to the Border later in the year. Young men training on the big guns; 90mm, assorted incendiaries and the .50 Browning. I was alone on duty and expecting an incident. There was a lot of scope for injury and worse amongst these kids. My stomach was tight at the prospect and from dawn to dusk my temper was short. Perhaps another hand mangled by a piece of old ordnance picked up by a foolish troopie or a secondary detonation from a shell inside a turret. God forbid there should be a fatality.

My Glasgow sense of humour had failed after two weeks on duty in this dust bowl amid an atmosphere of severe discipline and presbyterian fatalism.

“58 Juliet-58 Juliet / 30 Alpha oor…..medic….” The alarm call came across the radio as I sat daydreaming and deafened on the range. But for the noise and burning wrecks of targets in the distance this could have been a pleasant spot to sit and view Springbok and Kudu or just scratch your balls. It may be just that almost 30 years on. I was rushed away in a Samil 20 to the area where driver training was ongoing further into the Marico bush. It had taken some time to locate the incident. Why had nobody stepped in yet ?

The Eland 90 lay on its turret on a 45 degree slope with a group of troops huddled up the slope directing us in. The facts remain unclear to this day but it would appear that the driver stalled on an incline, allegedly kicked in the back for his poor performance, and the Noddy slid back and tipped down the slope. A fatal kick. One complete roll with Van Rooyen unable to duck into the turret and then a partial roll coming to rest at an angle with just enough space to crawl under the turret. I was under the Eland after a sprint down the hill, pausing only to check I still had the adrenaline, solu-cortef, sosegon and drip stuffed into my pockets. The bare minimum required which already appeared optimistic. I was soon covered in leaking fuel that had mingled with the smell of Staff Van Rooyen’s vomit and the red dust. I can still recall that odour. He was half out of the Commanders hatch and crushed beyond recognition. After a swift assessment and an attempt to find an airway to clear, more from habit than any hope of saving him, it was now time to concentrate on saving myself. Not for the last time. And not under fire.

Here lay what remained of a Zeerust legend, a very popular man. A legend on the rugby ground and in the Mess Bar. Death had probably been instant and he was now beyond the call of his pregnant wife waiting at home. It was their wedding anniversary. I had viewed him as an old and experienced hand, physically imposing, balding and wise beyond my ken. In reality he was a young man of 26. I was aged 20 but there may as well have been another 20 years between us in terms of the experience of war, life, death and the machinery of war.

There was nothing to be done except haul myself to safety. The driver had struggled free and departed the scene. My medical bag sat useless at the top of the slope.

Waiting at a safe distance was his friend, Lt ???. My words to him sound daft now but my Afrikaans was limited and all I could say to him was “hy is dood…..baie dood”. He couldn’t stop himself and, despite the danger, ran down the slope to confirm that his close friend was beyond my help, tears flowing. The incident didn’t affect me that afternoon and I ate a hearty meal after finishing my stint at the range. There was hardly a pause and I was back on the evening’s night firing exercise. The Marico sunset was stunning and reliable as ever. We might yet have a war to catch up with if the recent peace failed. It came for us in April 1989.

Years later I reflected that one more roll or twitch of that Noddy car and I would have been dead, or a stray spark could have seriously ruined my good looks. I puzzled over fact that I had ran in while others stood like statues. It wasn’t bravery, it was the result of conditioning and a sense of responsibility thrust upon my young shoulders. It would have been bravery if I had paused to consider the consequences and still ran in. But I was just plain stupid.

This incident was a minute echo of earlier conflicts, Boer and the World Wars, and the attrition of training and battle on a young generation. 1988 had been a grim year for 2SSB with nine members lost, ranging from the Caleque attack to accidents at Rooisloot and deaths on the road trip home for a weekend pass.

Nobody ran in – but the cry went out, not for the last time – “Medic !! Where is that fucking soutie medic ?”

Author: B.J. Taylor – April 2018

 


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