The Remembrance Parade at the Cenotaph in London has it all.
Pomp and Ceremony as only the British can do.
Gravitas, banter, history and grandeur, the latter not only visible in the wealth and weight of history and the surrounding buildings, but in the medals, personalities and unspoken and unknown history of those around you.
Above all, it has purpose. The Remembrance process is in full view.
Not only the past wars, but amputees, disfigured and blind road-side bomb veterans, and children of the fallen add to the character and reason for the Remembrance Day Parade.
The SA Legion and guests marched again in the 2021 Remembrance Day Parade, the route taking them from Horse Guards Parade, down Whitehall past the Cenotaph, then turning left into Great St Georges Street passing the statue of Gen Smuts, then again right into Horse Guards Road to the parade square, hallowed ground, yet this year for some tarnished by the presence of burger vans providing much needed sustenance.
Before the SA Legion contingent gathered on Horse Guard I had to collect the accreditation and RFID tags from officials, and the presence of security and changes to the admission process were very much in evidence.
I was heartened to be welcomed specifically as a member of the SA Legion by all whose path I crossed. In particular a very senior gentleman who, like Lgr Parry, had been present at the Queen Mother’s funeral and who had been part of her entourage, strode over when he heard me announce the name of the Legion to obtain the accreditation, and informed all and sundry within 50 feet that it was a huge honour to see us on parade, and that the Queen Mother and the rest of the Royal Family would be very glad to see us on parade.
I did wonder about the inclusion of the Queen Mother, but I have no doubt she and many other long gone were watching the day’s proceedings with interest.
On time the rest of the Legion contingent parade, including guests from the RBL-SA Branch and Gazala Moth gathered on Horse Guards, renewed old friendships and made new ones.
When the time came we formed up and marched through the archway onto Whitehall and formed up next to the old War Office building and the statue of George, Duke of Cambridge.
In front of us were some with kilts and Artillery badges, on our left the children of those lost in battle, and a group of the Black Watch. Suddenly one of these, resplendent in uniform and regalia but wearing South African medals stepped out to engage with us!
The groups mingled, flasks were shared to warm hands and hearts and fostered bantering and comradeship.
A whisper went about, “It’s almost 11h00” and then the chatter and restlessness was immediately stopped by the crash of the 16pdr on Horse Guards.
The complete assembly came to a sudden and startling stillness and silence in perfect discipline.
It had not been a simple process for the SA Legion to be present on this day. In 1961 the new South African Government removed South Africa from the British Commonwealth, and as a knock-on result of this short-sighted reaction to world condemnation of Apartheid policies South Africa the SA Legion lost it’s place on the world stage of Remembrance.
So how did the re-acceptance of the SA Legion at the Cenotaph come into being?
As part of a long process to establish a home for South African Veterans in the UK, Peter Dickens and Norman Sander harnessed their separate ideas and endeavours into a single idea, and with the blessing of the South African National President of the SA Legion, the England Branch was formed.
However, this did not automatically enable the Legion to once again take it’s rightful place.
It was almost fifty years since South Africa had pulled out of the Commonwealth and as a result, doors to the event were still very firmly still shut. Peter Dickens found this out in 2012 when he applied for accreditation to take part in the parade and tickets were granted. Two days later the tickets were retracted as the SA Legion was not ‘recognised.’
The Royal British Legion themselves presented a solution. They suggested that the creation of an RBL – South Africa Branch would allow the members to march in the parade as guests of the RBL branch.
This entity was duly created, and the idea was proposed to the existing members of the UK SA Legion that they had to belong to both the RBL and the SA Legion if they wanted to march. For most, being a member of the RBL was a bonus.
So with two membership fees and dual membership the first contingent of eight South African Legionnaires to march in the Cenotaph Parade in nearly fifty years were Jeff Coleman, Doug Beveridge, Graeme McArdle, Kevin Brown, Len William, Russel Pearce, Brett Bullough (RIP) and contingent leader Cameron Kinnear. It must be noted that other South African Veterans in their individual capacity had marched in the Cenotaph prior to 2013 in the same capacity as guests of a specific organisation.
On this occasion and up until 2018 the SA Legion marched as guests of the Royal British Legion – South Africa Branch.
Graeme McArdle went on to take the position of Chair of the RBL-SA Branch, while I undertook the post of Chair of the SA Legion UK and Europe Region, with branches in England, Scotland and Europe.
Marching as a guest of another organisation was the format under which South African Legion participated from 2013 up to 2018.
In fact, this was the same format that other South Africans had marched since 1961. Noel Greef and twelve other South African Veterans marched in 2005 as guests of other organisations.
Lgr Peter Dickens relinquished his post in 2016 and relocated to South Africa.
The position of Regional Chair for Scotland, England and Europe branches was then taken on by myself.
Among others I was grateful for the opportunity to march, but not satisfied that the SA Legion itself was not back in it’s rightful place on the parade.
It became a specific goal for the Regional Chair to motivate a change and to pry open the closed doors to allow the SA Legion to once again march in the parade in its own right, as it had before up until 1961.
This process was long, drawn-out and was met with a number of dead ends and unsuccessful expenditure of time and energy, but finally results were starting to appear.
As a result of these activities, in 2019 accreditation was provided for the SA Legion to march in the parade, not as guests of another organisation, but under it’s own merits and with the full support of the Cenotaph Committee.
The Remembrance Parade 2019 was therefore the first time the SA Legion as an organisation marched in the parade since 1961, and was the result of a number of people putting the Legion first and foremost. “Not for Ourselves, but for Others.”
I am sure this result was not only the lobbying by myself, but also as a result of further and wider activity, such as the work of Lgrs Tom Mason and Stuart Robertson in supporting and promoting the Richmond Cenotaph and Chapel.
Lgrs Craig Esterhuizen, Dave Wiseman, Lee Greed and others responded as part of the SA Legion Brotherhood Initiative to support veterans who were referred to us by the NHS and other charities and organisations.
As England Branch Chair, Lgr Russel Mattushek worked to enhance and embed our traditions, processes and events, ably assisted by Lgr (RSM) Brian Parry and others.
The Scotland Branch Chair, Cary Hendriks and the Europe Branch Chair, Andrew Bergman, also elevated the activities of the Legion in their respective areas, and these activities were captured superbly by our photographers, including Theo Fernandes, Peter Gillat and Karen Parry, and these images and reports were published on our website and social media.
Our Standard Bearers, including Peter Gillatt, Johan de Vries and others brought dignity and gravitas to each and every occasion, following the standard set by Graeme McArdle.
Our outreach included not only our relationship with the RBL – SA Branch, but also the MOTH and other veteran organisations, charities, Consulates and Missions, Services and even the NHS, Police, and Prisons.
I believe this holistic activity by all Legionnaires to foster, promote and improve the activities and exposure of the SA Legion played a significant and vital part in getting us to that final step of acceptance.
The Parade – 100th Year
The crash of the second firing from Horse Guards Parade and the distant sounds of the bugles set the stage for the marchpast, and as the service at the Cenotaph came to the point where the Royals and others had retired and the bands took up their instruments again, the assembled veterans stood straighter, pride and memories of friends with them in spirit but not in body emboldening their stance.
Then the time came. With the assembled bands in full voice, Regional RSM Brian Parry gave the order and the SA Legion contingent stepped off.
In perfect timing, the contingent, with strict adherence to the dress code and inherent discipline set off on a short journey, the memory of which will last a lifetime.
The press of the crowd, the clapping, the distant cheer “Go Saffas!” underpinned by the rhythmic footfalls, music and orders all added to the experience.
The SA Legion was marching again, in this, the 100th Anniversary of it’s existence.
Lgr Kevin Brown: “The opportunity to participate in this year’s Cenotaph parade, a most humbling experience indeed.”
We marched past Admiralty House and the memorial to Field Marshall Haig, who with Gen Jan Smuts and Gen Lukin formed the BESL in Cape Town in 1921, the fore-runner of both the Royal British Legion and the SA Legion.
Lgr Craig Esterhuizen: I felt mightily proud to be a part of an organisation that has commemorated the sacrifices of our countrymen throughout the various conflicts and am committed to continuing this legacy with humility and service.
Then we passed the statues of Viscount William Slim of Burma and Field Marshall Montgomery, 10 Downing Street and the imposing Women of World War Two memorial.
Lgr Carl Ontong: “A humbling experience remembering those who have gone before us.“
Then the open space before the Cenotaph appeared, the simple yet imposing Cenotaph standing silent amongst the movement.
The command was given, the wreath was taken from Lgr Esterhuizen, and we proudly marched on, paying our respects to the Cenotaph and the Fallen.
Lgr Garth Tighe: “The most humbling, heart rendering, tear jerking experience I have felt in many a year!”
Last minute changes by the organisers resulted in the renumbering of groups and apparently making the RFID tags somewhat redundant, and as a result some of the commentary was disjointed as the BBC was unable to confirm some of the identities of the services marching.
Lgr Matthew Wilke: It was a poignant reminder that the youths of my grandfather’s, uncle’s, father and my own were not wasted in vain in the military for an uncaring world – to those that care, service to a higher cause matters and is remembered.
We were later to discover that the SA Legion was described as Commandos, “tough guys.”
We continued our march, turning into Great George Street and Parliament Square, with Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Statue of Gen Smuts all standing silent as the appreciative crowd clapped and cheered.
We then turned right again into Horse Guards Road, and to more appreciation from the crowd. Before we reached the Royal Dias where Prince William was taking the Salute, muffled reminders to straighten ranks and then the Eyes Right as we went passed.
Once back on Horse Guards Parade, we were clapped and cheered and in turn, we formed up to welcome other Veterans as they returned.
For the future we must not rest on our laurels as this arena is populated with personalities, changing agendas and the Legion is under sharp focus. We cannot afford to be seen to be anything else but what we are currently perceived as.
I am confident it is not by a coincidence that images of us marching appeared not only on BBC, but on the social media channels of among others, the RBL and the British Army.
As outgoing UK & Europe Regional Chair I am confident in the Members of the Legion and their commitment to ensure we are a cut above others, and in our recognition and adherence to our motto, “Not for Ourselves, but for Others.”
This will stand us in good stead as the Legion moves forward in its 101st year, and to ever greater accomplishments.
I am rightly proud of the Legion and it’s members, and in what we have accomplished to bring the Legion back to the world stage of the Remembrance of our Fallen, who deserve our every effort. In our homeland this recognition is scant at best, non-existent in the main.
Rest Assured, the SA Legion is ready, able and more than willing.
Lgr Cameron Kinnear
SA Legion Cenotaph Remembrance Day Parade Report November 2021