Author Archives: Andrew Bergman

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Category : Articles

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SA Legionnaires, MOTHs, Masons gather to honour SA Fallen on 11 November 2017

Category : Articles , News

RICHMOND – 11h00 on 11 November 1918 marked the end of hostilities as the guns fell silent in terms of the armistice that ended the First World War. The cream of the world’s young men, and many women, lay buried under, wounded by, or just scattered over battlefields across the globe in what was truly the First World War.

Ever since, Two Minutes’ Silence has been observed across Britain and her Commonwealth at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month; a tradition with its roots in South Africa.

On Saturday 11 November 2017, at 10h30, members of the South African Legion UK & Europe and representatives of other South African veterans’ organisations including the MOTHs (Gazala Shellhole), as well as representatives of South Africa Lodge No 6742 (Metropolitan Grand Lodge) gathered with friends and supporters at the South African Memorial Cenotaph at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Richmond Cemetery in London to mark 99 years since the cessation of hostilities, and to honour the South African fallen.

The morning started with a characteristic London drizzle, which obligingly cleared for the ceremony. By chance, a senior veteran of the Royal Marines, bound for another remembrance ceremony he couldn’t find, homed-in on the green SA Legion berets and joined us.

As civilian guests gathered around the Cenotaph, a Guard of Honour of veterans formed-up and just before 11h00, marched past South African war graves from both World Wars to halt, pay respects, and lay wreaths at the South African Cenotaph.

Lgr. Craig Esterhuizen led all present in a moment of solemn contemplation and poignant prayer. Following the observance of Two Minutes’ Silence, the first wreath was laid on behalf of Gazala Shellhole by MOTH Shaun Kennedy.

The next wreath was laid by veteran, MOTH and Brother Neil Purdon, on behalf of the contingent from South Africa Lodge.

Finally, a wreath was laid by Lgr. Neil Taylor on behalf of the South African Legion (UK and Europe Branch).

The wreaths joined those laid on September 23 to commemorate the Battle of Square Hill.

Following the ceremony, participants moved to the ancient White Cross pub on the banks of the Thames.

There we raised a glass ‘to the fallen’.

Lest we forget.

South African Cenotaph

Wreath laid by SA Legion UK & EU

Wreath laid by MOTH Gazala Shellhole

Wreath laid by SA Lodge

Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman for SA Legion UK & Europe Branch
Pictures: Johanna Bergman


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


SA Legion Donates ‘Marching For Others’ funds towards Knysna Fires Relief

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Category : Articles , News , South Africa

Following successful completion of the 200km fundraising challenge by the South African Legion, two worthy causes benefited from this endeavour. The challenge is the largest multi-day marching event in the world. Held annually in the Netherlands, it is renowned for forcing individuals to pit willpower and commitment against heat, pain, and exhaustion.

Lgr Peter Dickens presenting the SA Legion funds to Knysna Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies

Two charitable causes benefited from this fundraiser, with £1,917 to be split between the South African Legion and the recent Knysna fire relief effort.England Chairman Lgr Claudio Chistè marched ±11.5 hours a day over four days (July 18-21), over various routes surrounding the city of Nijmegen near the German border, starting at 04:00 each morning. To further challenge endurance, this was conducted in marines-style military marching kit with appropriate weight throughout the event.

A short ceremony was held was held on August 28 to entrust the Mayor of Knysna, Eleanore Bouws-Spies, with £963.50 for the relief effort following the devastating fires by England President of the SA Legion, Lgr Peter Dickens – who was also officiating on behalf of the SA Legion in South Africa (the local branch is in George).

The Mayor expressed deep gratitude, commending the SA Legion and felt that this was a stand-out in terms of an individual contribution, conveying a sense of awe of the physical and endurance limits set for the ‘Marching for Others’ challenge which was undertaken. The SA Legion was commended on the effective media and marketing efforts used to extend contributions to the victim’s fund and grateful for the awareness of the Knysna fires, which had been used on international media and marketing forums. This resulted in international contributions finding their way to Knysna using crowdfunding. It was felt appropriate that the Mayor’s office would look at the list of fire victims and evaluate whether any were military veterans, earmarking these funds accordingly.

The Mayor and her team were interested to hear of the history of SA Legion, and were especially interested in activities being undertaken, ranging from parades to selfless activities such as these.

NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT FOR OTHERS

March Complete… Lgr Claudio Chiste with marching partner Dutch army officer Lieutenant Bob De Kort

Chilling reminder of the havoc which these fires caused

Image Credits: Twitter/Snazo Gulwa


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


SA Legion England shooting exercise at Little Chalfont Rifle and Pistol Club

On Friday 17th March the day of the long awaited SA Legion England Branch (SA Legion Shootex) visit to Little Chalfont Rifle and Pistol Club finally arrived.

To ease into the serious bit we started off firing an air soft pistol at targets interspersed with ‘hostages’. Overall, the legionnaires acquitted themselves well in this task by successfully eliminating the hostages, with Lgr Tony Povey managing to even take out two hostages, albeit by hitting the white ‘no-shoot’ areas!

Next up we shot applications using Ruger 10/22 carbines fitted with red dot or telescopic sights. Using the red dot sight and firing with both eyes open was a real pleasure, with a veteran or two commenting “if only we’d had these back in the day”. We then shot seated, double tap per target, mag change, then two more. Shooting standing with mag changes while wearing South African defence force webbing followed.

Again two shots per target, mag change and two more per target all against the clock. The final application was the ‘log break’ in teams of two. Three mags of 25 rounds each, both firing together to break the ‘log’ in the fastest time with a 60 sec time limit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the shooting awards ceremony, organiser Lgr Iain Dunn and SA Legion England Chairman Claudio Chiste presented Graeme Scott with the first prize (bottle of Glenlivet aged whisky), paving the way for the après-skiet which followed where all legionnaires exchanged their new “war stories” acquired on the range earlier.

By Lgr. Tony Povey for SA Legion England Branch