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

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

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

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

Picture by Lgr. Theo Fernandes

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

Video by Lgr. Victor Ho

NOT FOR OURSELVES, BUT FOR OTHERS

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

Photo Gallery Lgr. Theo Fernandes:

Photo Gallery Lgr. Victor Ho:


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Airborne March, Arnhem, the Netherlands, 2018

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

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

Participants represent all ages and backgrounds

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

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

Wreaths laid at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will remember them.

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

 © South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018

Text and pictures: Lgr Charlie Wessels

 


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The Legion and Albie Gotze’s Legion d’Honneur

Category : Articles

At a ceremony held in Cape Town on the 13th February 2018, the Ambassador of France to South Africa, his excellency Christophe Farnaud, bestowed the signet of Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour), on one of the last surviving South African D-Day veterans, General Albert (Albie) Götze. It had been a long journey getting Albie his Légion d’Honneur and the South African Legion played a key role as part of the team which made this honour possible.

So how is it that Albie Götze has been awarded France’s highest honour and how did it come about? In a nutshell, the French government decided that all World War 2 ‘Allied’ veterans (who took part in the D-Day landings and liberation of France should be given their highest honour for military and civil merit, the Légion d’honneur and they announced this on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014 as a special thank you those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War. Albie, as a young South African Air Force pilot was seconded to the Royal Air Force and he took part in D-Day operations flying a Spitfire doing beach sweeps and patrols.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture: Karen Dickens

Albie Götze’s story is something else; he was born in January 1923 in Prieska, a tiny town on the south bank of the Orange River, South Africa’s Northern Cape. In mid-1942 he volunteered to take part in World War 2 and joined the South African Air Force and subsequently was selected for fighter pilot training.

After he finished flying training he was sent to the Middle East where he was seconded to the Royal Air Force and joined up with RAF No.127 Spitfire squadron in April 1944.

In April 1944, the squadron moved to England in preparation for Operation Overlord where it was assigned to 132 Wing (Norwegian) of the 2nd Tactical Air Force and operated as a UK defence unit. They flew patrols and bomber escorts to mainland Europe as well as some fighter-bomber work. During this time Götze was involved with shooting down four German V-1 flying bombs.

127 Squadron arrived at North Weald on 23 April 1944, where it was equipped with the Spitfire IX. Operations began flying fighter bomber missions over France on 19th May 1944. The squadron played its part in the D-Day landings and subsequent days, and Albie and his colleagues found themselves flying sweeps of the landing beaches, escorting bombers, armed recces and dive bombing specific targets.

On 21st August 1944 127 Squadron moved to the European continent where it flew fighter-bomber missions from various airfields in France, Belgium and Holland, eventually basing itself at B.60 Grimbergen, in Belgium. Albie flew his last Spitfire mission for 127 Squadron from B.60 on the 03 August 1944.

Later in August 1944, owing to the high attrition and demand for pilots flying Hawker Typhoons, Albie was transferred to RAF No.137 squadron flying this notorious Typhoon ground attack aircraft. In Typhoons he participated in Operation Market Garden and other Rhine crossing operations.

137 Squadron always operated at low altitude (‘on the deck’) and was mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel. For this reason, flying in the Typhoon squadron was dangerous and high risk. The losses were extreme and hence replacement pilots were usually filled with volunteers. Albie’s aircraft was hit on occasions and he made a few crash landings with damaged aircraft.

After the war Albie participated as a navigator in the Berlin Airlift of 1949 where they flew around the clock supply flights from West Germany – for which he recently received a campaign medal from a grateful Royal Air Force and Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

In 1951 Albie completed a combat tour with SAAF No. 2 squadron to Korea as part of a US Air Force formation where he flew P-51 Mustangs, and he has again received recent honours and thanks from the South Korean government for his involvement in the Korean War.

Albie had a long and successful career in the SAAF, serving in South West Africa during the Border War and ended with the rank of Brigadier General. He was responsible for the introduction and implementation of the South African air defence system with the underground head station at Devon. He was also responsible for the system to be fully computerised.

Albie was also the personal secretary of the State President of South Africa for 4 years and he retired from the Air Force in 1978.

Getting Albie his due recognition and his Légion d’honneur from the French government for his participation in Operation Overlord was also a journey in its own right and as South African Legion we played a central and pivot role in securing this honour for General Gotze.

It started when Tinus Le Roux, a renowned SAAF historian and filmmaker, contacted Lgr Peter Dickens and asked if the South African Legion in the United Kingdom and Europe could follow up on Albie’s Légion d’honneur application which he had assisted Albie with, there had been no response on the application for some months and they were concerned. Quick to the mark Lgr. Cameron Kinnear who in turn engaged Lorie Coffey at Project 71, a veteran’s charity in the UK, to look I into the matter.

Indeed there had been an administrative oversight and Albie’s Légion d’honneur application was kick-started again by the South African Legion, and finally Project 71 was able to get a Légion d’honneur issued by the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, her Excellency Sylvie Bermann.

With a Légion d’honneur finally in hand, and in South Africa, Lgr Peter Dickens then contacted Philip Weyers from the South African Air Force Association (SAAFA) to arrange a suitable medal parade for a handover, Philip and SAAFA were able to engage the French embassy in South Africa, who very keenly agreed to undertake the official presentation to General Gotze.

After all the ceremonies and official presentations were done, the French invited all to attend a small lunch, it later turned out that the French Ambassador to South Africa, his excellency Christophe Farnaud, was a keen modeller of aircraft and had built Typhoon models as a child. The Ambassador stayed to the end of the lunch to see a print of a painting of a Typhoon by the late Derrick Dickens presented to Albie in appreciation by Lgr Peter Dickens. Looking at the painting Albie opened up with all sorts of harrowing tales of fighting and flying in a Typhoon much to delight of the Ambassador and the remaining guests and journalists.

It was a journey, and highly rewarding, the right man received the right recognition and it was awarded in the right way. It is a journey that we as Legionnaires stand by our motto ‘not for ourselves, but for others’ and we are proud to have played a role.

Image copyright, Karen Dickens, references attributed to Dean Wingrin and Tinus Le Roux.


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