Category Archives: Commonwealth

Warsaw Airlift, Battle of Square Hill commemorated in Richmond

RICHMOND UPON THAMES – On Saturday 15 September, Legionnaires from the South African Legion of Military Veterans (UK and Europe), the Royal British Legion (SA Branch), were joined by delegations from the Polish Embassy, the Polish Airmen’s Association UK, and M.O.T.H. (Gazala Shellhole), to commemorate the 75th anniversary and honour the memories and sacrifice of the Allied airmen who participated in the Warsaw Airlift, where from 4 August to early September 1944, 205 Group RAF at Foggia, Italy, under the command of Maj Gen James (Jimmy) Thom Durrant, flew 196 11-hour night sorties from Brindisi and Foggia in Italy with B-24 Liberators, to drop supplies to the Polish Uprising in Warsaw.

An RAF B-24 Liberator (Picture: SAAF Museum)

The occasion further served to remember the Battle of Square Hill*, fought in Palestine from September 19 to 21, 1918, when Cape Corps troops engaged with Ottoman Turkish forces in what were to be the final months of the First World War.

The service took place in the chapel at Richmond’s East Sheen cemetery, and the opportunity was also taken to dedicate a new Standard for the SA Legion Europe Branch. Standards of the South African Legion (UK), the Royal British Legion (SA Branch), and the Polish Airmen’s Association UK, all formed part of the standard party.

Service

The service was conducted by SA Legion Chaplain, Lgr Craig Esterhuizen. He emphasised from the beginning of his address that the Warsaw Airlift was a humanitarian mission, not a strategic one. The pilots knew they were not going to change the course of the war for the Allies, but they were acting to prevent starvation and the annihilation of Warsaw’s population and the Polish Home Army.

Indeed, these brave pilots were denied flyover rights over Russian-held territory and were fired upon by their Russian allies if they strayed into their airspace. The 2,600-km round trip from their Italian bases at Celone and Brindisi was fraught with danger and at least 360 airmen and 41 British, Polish, South African, and US-crewed aircraft were lost. As Padre Esterhuizen said, it was indeed an act of love and sacrifice to participate in such a mission.

After the Padre’s address, a poem which honours the Cape Coloured soldiers who fought so bravely at Square Hill was read by Anja De Vries **.

A dark and haunting poem honouring the wartime sacrifices made by Poland *** was read, followed by the singing of the South African, British and Polish national anthems. The singing effort was greatly helped by the choir.

Parade

After the service, the legionnaires and standard bearers, led by a piper marched to the South African Cenotaph for a wreath-laying ceremony.

As the piper played the poignant Flowers of the Forest lament, wreaths were laid by Col Norbert Czerniak, Polish Deputy Defence, Military, Naval, and Air Attaché to the UK, Arthur Bildziuk, Chairman of the Polish Airmen’s Association UK, and SA Legion Chaplain, Lgr Craig Esterhuizen for the South African Legion UK & EU.

Col Norbert Czerniak, Polish Deputy Defence, Military, Naval, and Air Attaché
lays a wreath on behalf of the Polish Embassy
Arthur Bildziuk, Chairman of the Polish Airmen’s Association UK lays a wreath

A medal parade was then held to present the Pro Patria Medal (PPM), Southern Africa Medal (SAM), and General Service Medal (GSM) for service during and after the Border War to two Legionnaires.

Polish Deputy Defence Attaché, Col Czerniak, was then invited to join Lgr Cameron Kinnear to take the salute as the standards and legionnaires marched past the cenotaph.

Social

After the formalities ended, a social was held at the Royal British Legion Club in Teddington, where Lgr Lee Greed ensured no one went thirsty and Lgr Johan De Vries provided his superb boerewors rolls.

Nou gaan ons BRAAI!

* 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.

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”.

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.

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…


** Once upon a time, a battle was fought in a Biblical land.

With its cloud of skirmishers in advance,
With now the sound of a single shot snapping like a whip, and now an irregular volley,
The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades press on,
Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun—the dust-cover’d men,
In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground,
With artillery interspers’d—the wheels rumble, the horses sweat,
The army corps advances.

A great victory was won and their general was proud.

Remember the splendid South African victory at “Square Hill”

A Cape Corps helped break through to Damascus


*** By Józef Szczepański – 1944

We are waiting for you, red plague

you will be salvation welcomed with revulsion

we are waiting for you, our eternal enemy

bloody murderer of so many of our brethren

Your red, victorious army has been lying at the bright feet

 of burning Warsaw and is feeding its soul with bloody pain

of a handful of madmen who are dying in the ruins.


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.


Article: Report by Lgr Justin Bosanquet / background information SA Legion
Photography: Lgr Victor Ho and Karen Parry

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Battle of Delville Wood remembered in Richmond

RICHMOND-ON-THAMES – The South African Legion gathered again at the South African Cenotaph in East Sheen cemetery in Richmond, London, to commemorate the Battle of Delville Wood in humble remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during this critical part of the battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916.

Our friends from the General Browning and Gazala Shellholes joined us again this year as well as members of the Countess of Mountbatten’s Own Frontiersmen.

Also rendering support were two standard bearers from the Teddington Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Padre Lgr Chris Esterhuizen welcomed us all to the service and the Standards, including the South African and British flags were piped in by a piper of the London Scottish Regiment.

The column is piped towards the South African Cenotaph (Picture: Karen Parry)

We were also extremely fortunate to have the help of the choir of the New Apostolic Church of Camberley in attendance and their voices lifted the singing to wonderful heights.

Standards followed by veterans (Picture: Karen Parry)

After a very moving service from the Padre, two poems written shortly after the battle were read out and the service was concluded.

The veterans then fell-in and were piped from the chapel to the South African Cenotaph, where there was a wreath laying ceremony. Bugler Robbie Crick, ex of the Royal Artillery played Last Post.

SA Legion England Branch Chair Lgr. Russel Mattushek (Picture: Karen Parry)

The salute for the march past was taken by SA Legion Regional Chair Lgr Cameron Kinnear.

We then decamped to the clubhouse of the Teddington branch of the RBL for a well-earned beer or two.

SA Legion England Branch Vice-Chair and event convenor
Lgr Stuart Robertson (Picture: Karen Parry)

We were as always generously hosted by Lee Greed of the RBL Teddington. Braai master Johann DeVries ably helped by Legionnaire Theo Fernandes ensured that none went hungry.

We were also able to raise money for the SA Legion via a raffle.

A wonderful and moving parade in all, and we look forward to welcoming more guests and friends in the years ahead to help raise awareness and remembrance of the fallen of South Africa.

Text by Lgr Stuart Robertson
Photography by Karen Parry


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