Category Archives: WW1

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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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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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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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SS Mendi Remembrance, Noordwijk, 21 February 2018

At 11 am on Wednesday February 21 2018, the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane, His Worship The Mayor of Noordwijk, Alderman Jan Rypstra, under the guidance of programme director, Deputy-Mayor Gerben van Duin, joined with the ambassadors of several countries, and the military attachés of several more, and representatives of the South African Legion and other veterans, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the General Cemetery in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, on the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi*.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lgr. Andrew Bergman addresses the event on behalf of the South African Legion

The Dutch Armed Forces provided a Guard of Honour, a brass band, and several pipers to add colour to a dignified event. Rev. Andrew Gready led the service with hymns in the cemetery hall, before conducting the wreath-laying at the graveside. South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo orated the Act of Remembrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo and the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane lay a wreath on behalf of South Africa

In his speech, the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane specifically acknowledged the contribution of the SA Legion to “keeping the flame of remembrance for the SS Mendi alive“. After the service, the South African Embassy hosted a delicious lunch of South African food and wine at the ultra-modern Noordwijk Sports Centre.

* On 21 February 1917, the SS Mendi, a troop ship out of Cape Town carrying 823 men of the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps bound for Le Havre in France was rammed by the Daro in thick fog in the English Channel of the Isle of Wight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo orates the Act of Remembrance

They were travelling to support the war effort, in particular Britain and her allies, who were running out of people and supplies.

The SS Mendi sank quickly with the loss of more than 600 South African servicemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wreath laid on behalf of the South African Legion

In 2012, February 21 was proclaimed as the day to observe Armed Forces Day annually.

Since 2014, an annual remembrance and wreath-laying service has been held at the gravesides of Privates Sitebe Molife, Natal Kazimula, Abram Leboche, Arosi Zenzile, and Sikaniso Mtolo, who lie buried in the picturesque seaside town of Noordwijk in the Netherlands. They all perished when the SS Mendi sank, and their bodies were washed-up on the (neutral) Dutch coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For South African Legion Europe Branch
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman (Chairman SA Legion Europe Branch)
Pictures: Johanna Bergman-Badings


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Battle of Square Hill fallen honoured by South African Legion

RICHMOND UPON THAMES – The England Branch of the South African Legion hosted the inaugural Battle of Square Hill Parade at the South African cenotaph at London’s Richmond Cemetery on Saturday, September 23.

The inaugural parade was preceded by a dignified ceremony presided over by the Rev John McCabe in the cemetery chapel to dedicate the new flags of the SA Legion England Branch. South African Legionnaires were then joined in the parade and Act of Remembrance by representatives of the Royal British Legion (SA Branch), Royal British Legion (Gloucester), and M.O.T.H. (Gazala Shellhole).

The ceremony in the cemetery chapel presided over by the Rev John McCabe to dedicate the new flags of the SA Legion England Branch. © Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

Guest of Honour was Councillor Margaret Buter, who represented the Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Councillor Buter told the SA Legion of a personal affinity with the memorial: She originally hails from Zambia where her grandfather served with the King’s African Rifles.

South African Legion England Branch Chairman, Lgr Claudio Chistè, said he was delighted at the success of this first parade, which has been a precursor to the Centenary of the Battle of Square Hill in 2018. “Today’s inaugural parade has already served to promote awareness of this important event in South African military history,” he said.

“It was an honour to be able to welcome Councillor Margaret Buter of the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, as well as so many representatives of other veterans’ organisations. As next year marks the centenary of the battle, we are already preparing to grow this annual event into one with full diplomatic and military representation. We also hope to reach out to descendants of those who fought and fell at the Battle of Square Hill, so watch this space.”

Councillor Margaret Buter, who represented the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, addresses the parade © Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

Wreath
Following the Act of Remembrance, a wreath was laid at the SA Cenotaph on behalf of the SA Legion by Lgr Iain Dunn, and a floral tribute was then laid by Shaun Kennedy of M.O.T.H. Gazala Shellhole at the grave of Natalie Opperman (1904-1988), Chairman of St. Dunstan’s (South Africa), and Knight in the Order of the the Star of South Africa (Civil) in acknowledgement for her life-long devotion to those blinded in the two World Wars. It is the highest civilian award in South Africa.

Grave in Richmond Cemetery of Natalie Opperman (1904-1988) © Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

Battle of Square Hill
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.

‘They shall grow not old…’ A wreath is laid at the SA Cenotaph on behalf of the SA Legion by Lgr Iain Dunn © Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

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

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”.

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.

© Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

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.

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.

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.

Grave of L/Cpl Thomas Fitchett in Richmond Cemetery. © Theo Fernandes / SA Legion UK & Europe

L/Cpl Thomas Fitchett
The horrors of the Great War are difficult for us to grasp in the modern era, an example of this is one of the men who lies in Richmond (see picture above).

L/Cpl Thomas Fitchett was wounded twice in 1916, again in 1917 and each time on being declared fit, he was returned to the front line. Then, sadly in 1918 he was severely wounded and he died from these wounds in the hospital a month later at the age of 23.

Lest we forget…

NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT FOR OTHERS

By Lgr Claudio Chistè and Lgr Andrew Bergman (including research by Lgr Tom Mason) © SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved

Links to external coverage: SABC, DEFENCEWEB


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South African Legion 100 year commemorative plaque placed on SS Mendi

Category : Newsletter , WW1

Amidst the South African Nation celebrating the success of Wayde van Niekerk’s gold in the 400m 2017 athletics World Championship in London, another milestone slipped by almost unnoticed – the laying of the commemoration plaque on the wreck of the ship which has captured the national spirit.

On February 21st 1917, a cold foggy morning at around 05:00 in the English Channel in freezing weather conditions, there loomed a recipe for a shipping disaster which was to cause barely a blip amid the chaos and carnage of World War I. However no one could anticipate the consequential impact down the years in South Africa; a moment that would embody the national spirit.

Crossing the English Channel, having sailed from South Africa to provide support for the Battle of the Somme, the troopship SS Mendi was accidentally rammed by an allied ship, Darro, causing her to sink near Southampton. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her sinking, the South African Legion represented by the England Branch Chairman, Lgr Claudio Chiste, arranged a plaque to be placed on the wreck in memory of the 616 Southern Africans and 30 crew members who lost their lives. Claudio Chiste told the South African Legion Public Relations Officer: “

“Credit to the skipper Dave Wendes for his hospitality and for getting us there smoothly in the choppy conditions of the day, as well as to all the fellow divers who all enthusiastically contributed to the success of this initiative”.

While many in South Africa may still view the two world wars as “white man’s wars”, nothing can be further from the truth. Of all South Africans involved in World War I, almost 85,000 were of colour (almost 40%). A similar ratio stands for WWII. The contribution from SA of all races towards the world war efforts on a global stage is undeniable.

Some may view these as pressed men, forced in to the war effort; some may view them as servicemen who volunteered, but one thing is certain is that they were men. They left us with their boots on, singing the death dance, unified in their peril. The sea does not discriminate.

This South African Legion initiative to honour these men with the laying of this plaque concludes the final centenary memorial service. The South African Legion played a critical role in the build-up to the centenary having initiated memorial services at Hollybrook five years ago.

The plaque was not bolted onto the wreck, but placed there gently and will not interfere with the vessel in any way. It was placed in an appropriate position on the wreck, where it will stay and act as a lasting memorial, some 40m under water.

 

May their souls rest in peace.

 

FACTFILE
Getting there To visit the wreck site, contact Dave Wendes, who runs boat trips with his boat Wight Spirit.

To get to the launch boat in Lymington: Lymington is situated on the south coast with Southampton to the east and Bournemouth to the west.

From Royal Lymington Yacht Club follow the signposts to the seawater baths. Along the way you should see the slipway and the pontoons, which is where the boat pickup point is.

SatNav Postcode: SO41 3SE

(Royal Lymington Yacht Club, which is adjacent the pontoon)

Health Nearest re-compression chamber is Poole, Dorset
Wreck point About 10 miles south St Catherine’s Point, English Channel
Visitor information http://wightspirit.co.uk

 

By SA Legion United Kingdom & Europe Public Relations


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SS Mendi – England Centenary Commemoration 2017

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Category : Articles , WW1

 

The centenary parade to mark the loss of the SS Mendi was held at Southampton’s Hollybrook Cemetery on the 20st of February. The site memorialises 2000 soldiers who died at sea and have no grave – that includes 600 of  the 616 casualties from the Mendi – fittingly honoured near the memorial to the great British WW1 soldier Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener.

Respect was also shown in the dignitaries from the host nation who attended -Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe was joined by the HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne and her husband Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Lawrence; the Chief of the South African Navy Vice-Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane; and the Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Tobias Ellwood.

Ceremonial duties were performed by a guard of honour and band of the South African Navy while all four arms of service stood guard around the memorial cross.

In paying tribute Mr Radebe drew on the words of the South Africa poet SEK Mqhayi: “Somebody has to die, so that something can be built, somebody has to serve so that others can live.” The profound meaning in these words did not go unnoticed, touching an emotional chord amongst the entourage of descendents of the Mendi crew who were in attendance, amongst which was Siboniso Makaye, whose grandfather was one of the crew members, Private Ndabana Makaye. Siboniso’s own father died when he was only four, he had grown up hearing about his grandfather’s fate from his grandmother who had raised him.

 

“Africa is saying it is well with our souls for these heroes. Today Africa is here” are the words  of Navy chaplain Captain (Rev) Lulamile Ngesi, who paraphrased the words of a prominent American lawyer who lost four of his children when their ship sank.

 

Perhaps the most poignant moment came when the piper from the South African Medical Services played the lament -a haunting version of the old hymn Abide With Me

Tribute to our heroes of the past, bond with the current

After paying tribute to heroes of ‘forgotten valour’, veterans enjoyed the chance to meet current serving members of the SANDF, who undertook the ceremonial duties during the centenary. To conclude this momentous day the opportunity granted to meet the Officer Commanding of the South African frigate, SAS AMATOLA, Captain Roux on board the ship in Portsmouth harbour.   Plaques were exchanged and stories swapped – a fitting end to an historic day of remembrance for those lost at sea.
Legion role in Centenary build-up

It was encouraging to see the culmination of everyone’s effort in this auspicious moment, with the SA Legion playing a significant role in the build-up to this year’s centenary (since SA Legion initiated this memorial service at Hollybrook five years ago). This year, although not run by the Legion, the following Legionnaires contributed: Wreaths were laid by Mr Cameron Kirk Kinnear, Regional Chairman of the SA Legion UK & Europe at Hollybrook (with England Branch Chairman, Mr Claudio Chiste laying a wreath at Milton cemetery on the Friday). It is perhaps fitting that both are naval veterans and Cameron is a survivor of the sinking of the SAS PRESIDENT KRUGER (affectionately known as the “PK”).

Also in attendance were Legionnaires Justin Bosanquet, Graeme Scott, Theo Fernandes, Tony Povey, Jose Lopes, Tino de Freitas, Craig Esterhuizen and Grant Harrison.

 

Article written by Lgr Claudio Chiste and Lgr Justin Bosanquet with images by Lgr Theo Fernandes, CWGC and final image by Lgr Claudio Chiste.


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SS Mendi and Armed Forces Day, Noordwijk 2017

The centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, as well as Armed Forces Day was commemorated at Noordwijk in the Netherlands on 21 February 2017.

The ceremony began with a moving chapel service led by Rev. Andrew Gready. Short speeches were delivered by the Mayor of Noordwijk Jan Rijpstra, South African Ambassador Vusi Koloane, Lesotho Ambassador Ms Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, historian Mark Sijlmans, and myself on behalf of the South African Legion.

The service was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesides of five named, and one unnamed SS Mendi casualties, whose bodies were washed-up on the Dutch coast, and now rest in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the Noordwijk General Cemetery.

The now-annual event was hosted by the South African Embassy in partnership with the Municipality of Noordwijk – who have been of amazing support in the way they have embraced ‘their’ SS Mendi casualties – and the South African Legion (EU branch).

South African dignitaries included the Ambassador, as well as Defence attaché Brig. Gen. Mac Letsholo, Chargé d’Affaires Mrs. Namhla Gigaba, and a fine delegation of embassy and consular staff.

In addition to Lesotho, the Ambassadors of Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia were also in attendance.

The Defence Attachés of the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Japan, Romania and Uganda also attended.

The Royal Netherlands Armed Forces sent several high-ranking officers from various branches. They also supplied a Guard of Honour of Dutch soldiers to perform ceremonial duties such as raising and lowering the flags. They also supplied a very competent trumpeter who played Last Post, and a piper who added much decorum to the proceedings.

Afterwards, the SA Ambassador invited guests to an informal dinner of South African food and wine in Noordwijk’s superb new sports complex.

After dinner, I was given the opportunity to say a few words. As a token of our appreciation for their continued support, I presented SA Legion Shields to the Mayor of Noordwijk, Ambassador Koloane, and Brig. Gen. Letsholo.

I also presented the Ambassador, the General, and Chargé d’Affaires Namhla Gigaba with first editions of Fred Khumalo’s just-published novel ‘Dancing the Death Drill’, that includes the sinking of the SS Mendi in its plot. I presented a further two copies to the Mayor of Noordwijk for the city’s public library.

Dominoes

It is incredibly heartening to see how an event that was started by the South African Legion EU Branch just three years ago has grown from a modest ceremony with a few dozen attendees to an annual remembrance embraced by the SA Embassy as well as the international diplomatic community, and attended by well over 80 people. It was just a pity it fell on a work day, which prevented more of the UK Legionnaires from attending.

It was humbling for the SA Legion to receive special mention in Ambassador Koloane’s speech, in which he thanked us ‘for keeping the memory alive’.

 

Andrew Bergman, Branch Chair SA Legion Europe gave the following speech:

Locoburgemeester Van Duin, your Excellency Ambassador Koloane, Brig. General Letsholo, Madame Gigaba, ladies and gentlemen, dames en heren, maNena nomaNenakhazi

In his iconic 1914 poem entitled ‘The Soldier’ English First World War poet Rupert Brooke says:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’ some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

These words by an Englishman, so loving of England, could just as easily have been penned in isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, or any of the other languages that make up South Africa’s inimitable multicultural tapestry today, by a member of the South African Native Labour Corps:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’ some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever eKoloni, kwaZulu, Mpumalanga, Lesotho, mZanzi Afrika.

Many of the men who were lost off the Isle of Wight that dark February night 100 years ago had never seen the sea before they gathered at the Green Point Track near to Cape Town harbour to board the SS Mendi. So as the sea engulfed the ship, they had little chance in the frigid waters.

The remains of those pitiful few SS Mendi casualties that the cruel sea surrendered might lie in foreign fields, but still, today, after 100 hundred years, their sacrifice does South Africa credit. Their names join those of thousands of soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice – for better or for worse – for King, Commonwealth and Country.

Nederland koos voor neutraliteit in de Eerste Wereldoorlog, maar toch waren Nederlanders niet gespaard van de vele nare neveneffecten van een oorlog dat op hoor afstand werd gevochten. Vanuit Nederland hoeft men vandaag maar een dag-ritje Ieper of een weekeindje naar Parijs te maken om de relatief – en certainement na Zuid Afrikaanse begrippen – zeer kleine geografische afstanden waarin de industriële oorlogsellende waarna te SS Mendi stoomde zich afspeelde.

Zo werd zelfs de stoffelijke resten van de Zuid Afrikaanse soldaten, gedragen door zeestromingen en aangespoeld op de Nederlandse kust. En hier in Noordwijk werd onze kameraden, geboren in de droge uitgestrekte vlaktes van Zuidelijk Afrika, of in de heuvels en bergen van KwaZulu or Umtata of Lesotho, of Botswana, uiteindelijk met respect en liefde te rusten gelegd.

Maar uit het bloed-doorweekte as van de oorlog rijzen vaak ook positieve dingen. Vandaag krijgen de leden van de South African Native Labour Corps het aandacht dat ze terecht verdienen, maar tot onlangs door ‘selectieve geschiedenis’ grotendeels ontnomen waren.

Dan, over de loop van drie jaar, tijdens het regelen van deze nu jaarlijkse herinneringsbijeenkomst, heb ik een bijzondere relatie zien bloeien tussen Gemeente Noordwijk, de Zuid Afrikaanse veteranen, en de Zuid Afrikaanse diplomatieke vertegenwoordiging. Ik ben zeer benieuwd om te zien wat daaruit ontwikkeld.

So today, on the occasion of the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, and in celebration of South African Armed Forces Day, the Europe Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans embrace and salute our comrades-in-arms, past, present and future.

And we remember that there is one corner of this field in Noordwijk, where Privates Leboche, Zendile, Molide, Kazimula, and Mtolo now lie, that is forever mZanzi Afrika.

Report by Andrew Bergman, images by Johanna Bergman-Badings.


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