Category Archives: WW1

Dutch National Remembrance Day – SA Legion shows solidarity with Noordwijk

NOORDWIJK, THE NETHERLANDS  –  Every year on 4 May, the Kingdom of the Netherlands marks its national Dodenherdenking (remembrance day), to commemorate civilians and soldiers who were executed or fell in WWII and subsequent conflicts.

The date is a moment to pause and reflect on the civil liberties that the Dutch enjoy today – freedom that they realise and respect was hard-won and should never be taken for granted.

Across the country, local school children place flowers on the many war graves scattered far and wide, in local cemeteries as well as those of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. These include many South Africans, especially airmen, as it was necessary for the RAF bombers to overfly the Netherlands on their way to and from raids on Germany. Especially on their return routes, many bombers succumbed to FLAK and fighter damage, and crashed into the Dutch polders.

National remembrance

In addition to a central nationally televised event on Dam Square in Amsterdam, attended by the royal family and heads of government, simultaneous events are held in towns and cities across the country, where two minutes’ silence is observed at 20h00.

Though neutral during the First World War, the Netherlands was not spared from hosting the casualties of a war that was fought within earshot.

Six casualties of the SS Medi (troop ship sank off Isle of Wight on 21 Feb 1917 with the loss of 616 souls) lie in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the General Cemetery of Noordwijk, just north of The Hague in the Netherlands, among ranks of mainly Royal Navy personnel whose bodies, like those of the SS Mendi casualties, were washed-up on the Dutch coast.

Noordwijk

Over the past six years, the municipality and Aldermen of Noordwijk have been of constant support to the SA Legion and the South African Embassy in The Hague with regard to our annual SS Mendi remembrance service and parade now held each 21 February at the Noordwijk cemetery. A strong bond has developed between South Africa, and this picturesque town on the Dutch coast that has so loyally nurtured the graves of Private Abraham Leboche, Private Arosi Zendile, Private Sitebe Molide, Private Natal Kazimula, and Private Sikaniso Mtolo, for more than 100 years.

It is therefore only fitting that the South African Legion Europe Branch shows its solidarity with Noordwijk as the town remembers those who fought and died for its freedom.

This year, the South African contingent was significant, first at a remembrance service in the Maria Ter Zee church, followed by a dignified silent march, past the war graves in the general cemetery, to the Noordwijk war memorial nearby.

There, the South African Ambassador to The Netherlands, H. E. Mr. Bruce Koloane, and Lgr. Andrew Bergman, Chairman of the SA Legion Europe Branch, joined local dignitaries and veterans in laying wreaths after two minutes’ silence was observed.

Liberation

The following day, 5 May, is observed across the Netherlands as Bevrijdingsdag, marking the liberation of the Netherlands from the German occupation as WWII drew to a close.

It’s a day celebrated with much gusto (and Heineken and Grolsch), but not before having first acknowledged and paused to reflect that the freedom the country enjoys was achieved at the cost of many brave lives.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,

We will remember them…

Caption of featured photo above: These are four of the SS Mendi graves in Noordwijk. The town’s school children placed flowers at every one of the WWI and WWII Resistance, Allied and Commonwealth war graves, as they do each year.

Text and picture by Lgr Andrew Bergman


Commonwealth Memorial Parade 2019

COMMONWEALTH MEMORIAL GATES, LONDON – The 2019 Commonwealth Memorial Parade on Monday 11 March was particularly well attended by the South African Legion UK & Europe Branch.

Several Legionnaires, some with partners, mustered at Hyde Park Corner, to rub shoulders with military attachés, representatives of armed forces from across the Commonwealth, serving and retired members of the British Armed Forces of Commonwealth origin and ancestry, as well as delegations from the High Commissions of a multitude of Commonwealth member states.

The South African Legion delegation met in bright sunshine at 10:00 ahead of the parade (Spring has certainly sprung, but don’t stow your greatcoat quite yet). Logistics dispatches should note that all South Africans were uncharacteristically on time! This might have had something to do with the fact that some Legionnaires were under ‘spousal supervision’, which clearly ensured strict discipline.

We were soon introduced to the new Military Attaché to the South African High Commission in London, Brig Gen E Ramabu, with whom the South African Legion is already building a strong relationship of mutual cooperation.

Those Legionnaires who have attended regularly over the past few years were able to renew old stalwart acquaintances.

‘They shall grow not old’

A dignified service followed. Gurkha bugler sounded Last Post, followed by two minutes’ silence. After the bugle ‘Short Reveille’ or ‘Rouse’, a Ghurkha piper played the lament, and Guests of Honour were called by name to lay wreaths.

South African Military Attaché , Brig Gen E Ramabu, lays a wreath on behalf of the South African High Commission


Lgr Jose Lopes lays a wreath on behalf of the South African Legion

Jai Hind!

After the parade, guests adjourned to a nearby marquee for super refreshments and delicious snacks, provided as always by London’s Indian community.

Gesondheid!

Several of the South African Legion contingent subsequently repaired to a nearby pub to appropriately consider a successful day, and an appropriate ‘flying of the flag’ for both South Africa and the Legion.

 

Text by Lgr Andrew Bergman

Photography:

Lgr Theo Fernandes

Lgr Victor Ho


Three Ships Parade, Richmond

RICHMOND-ON-THAMES – The Annual Three Ships Parade took place in Richmond on 23 February and was followed by a Q1 Branch Meeting and Social.

In the week that the SA Legion UK & Europe pay respects to all Naval and Maritime losses by using the ships SS Mendi, HMSAS Southern Floe and SAS President Kruger as iconic symbols of these losses, a number of events took place culminating in the Three Ships Parade in London. The venue for this service was the Chapel and Cenotaph at Richmond Cemetery.

The England Team sets the bar for events ever higher with each event, and the welcoming hot drinks and biscuits were most appreciated as were the professionally designed and printed handouts.

From left to right, Regional Chair Cameron Kinnear, Standard Bearers Jose Lopes, Dave Wiseman, Graeme Scott, Lee Greed and bugler Bobby Crick.

Brian Parry and the Standards were superb in their turnout and drill, and the SA Legion Padre Craig Esterhuizen’s address was, as usual, entertaining and very relevant. Three poems were read out by Stuart Robertson, Johan De Villiers and Cameron Kinnear for each of the iconic ships.

Wreaths were laid by Johan De Vries, Stuart Roberston, DuToit Verster and Adrian de Villiers.

After the parade the guests adjourned to the RBL club at Teddington for the England Branch Q1 meeting and a social.

 

Text by Lgr Cameron Kinnear

Photography by Karen Parry, Theo Fernandes, and Victor Ho.


SS Mendi Remembrance, Portsmouth UK

PORTSMOUTH, UK – In a week in which we commemorate South African naval and maritime losses, two events took place in Portsmouth.

On Monday 18 February wreaths were laid to commemorate HMSAS Southern Floe and the SAS President Kruger.

Cameron Kinnear, Chair of the UK & Europe Region of the SA Legion pays his respects.

On the 21st,  South Africa’s Armed Forces Day, wreaths were laid at Milton Cemetery to commemorate the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi.

Milton Cemetery is the resting place of nine of the dead. A further five are dispersed on the southern coast of the UK, one lies in France and five (or possibly six) in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

Standards were paraded, commanded by Portsmouth stalwart Chris Purcell. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Lee Mason opened the service with a short retelling of the incident, and underlined the commitment that the City of Portsmouth has undertaken to commemorate the men of the Mendi.

A poem entitled The Sinking of the SS Mendi was read by a cadet from B Company, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Army Cadet Force.

The Act of Remembrance was led by Reverend Marcus Collie.

After the Last Post and Reveille, wreaths were laid by a number of attendees:

  1. South African High Commissioner, Her Excellency Ms Nomatemba Tambo
  2. Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Lee Mason
  3. Brigadier General Rariabu, South African High Commission
  4. Commander Dreelan, representing The Royal Navy
  5. Councillor Darren Sanders, on behalf of the Leader of Portsmouth City Council
  6. Councillor Stephen Morgan MP, MP for Portsmouth South
  7. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Mr Julian Evans
  8. South African Womens Forum, Ms Marie Costa
  9. Honorary Freeman Syd Rapson
  10. South African Legion, Mr Cameron Kinnear

It was noted that the CWGC had completed work to replace the shared headstones with one headstone per man.

In this image from the 2013 ceremony the headstones can be seen to be memorialising more than one man, and the area is not as well kept as today.

After the Milton Ceremony, the focus then moved to The Point in Old Portsmouth, an iconic part of the city that overlooks the busy harbour of Portsmouth.

The Lord Mayor welcomed the attendees, and then her Excellency Ms Nomatemba Tambo made a short but eloquent speech and thanked all for continuing to commemorate and honour the men of the Mendi.

Her Excellency Ms Nomatemba Tambo

The stone was then unveiled. At the request of the High Commissioner, Mayor Mason read the inscription to the assembled guests.

The guests then attending an art exhibition at the Portsmouth Cathedral. The exhibition included a painting of the SS Mendi.

 

February – The Three Ships Commemorations include:

  • WW1: SS Mendi, which lead to 616 South Africans and 30 crew who lost their lives at sea, in South Africa’s biggest naval loss in history.
  • WW2: HMSAS Southern Floe, was sunk by a mine off Tobruk with the loss of 27 men, with one survivor, Stoker C J Jones.
  • Post-WW2: SAS President Kruger, President-class Type 12 frigate which sank in 1982 with the loss of 16 lives after colliding with her replenishment oiler, SAS Tafelberg, in the South Atlantic.
  • This day also marks South African Armed Forces Day.

Congratulations to Lydia Mellor and team for the superbly run events.


SS Mendi Remembrance, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

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Category : Articles , News , Newsletter , WW1

NOORDWIJK, ZUID-HOLLAND – In a dignified ceremony in Noodwijk in the Netherlands today, the fallen South African servicemen of the SS Mendi (at least five of whom lie buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of  Noordwijk General Cemetery) were fittingly commemorated.

In the annals of South Africa’s military history, 21 February 1917 is a dark day. It marks the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi after it collided with the SS Daro off the Isle of Wight, with the loss of 616 South African servicemen, 607 of them members of the South African Native Labour Corps: Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Swazi, and Tswana. The names on the SS Mendi Roll of Honour are still reflected in Southern African society.

H. E. the South African Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr Vusi Koloane

Today, the anniversary of the SS Mendi disaster is aptly the day on which South Africa remembers all her fallen soldiers and in particular this tragic event. Across the country, parades and ceremonies will be held to commemorate those South Africans who paid the ultimate price in wars across the globe.

SA Legion Europe Branch Chairman Lgr Andrew Bergman

SA Deputy Military Attache Lt Col Andrew Mafololo and H. E. the South African Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr Vusi Koloane lay a wreath of proteas on behalf of the Republic of South Africa

Lest we forget!

Text by Lgr Andrew Bergman
Photography by Johanna Bergman Badings 

 


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

 


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, Cameron Kinnear, 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


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

 


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


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