Carabiniers remembered at Kimberly Gate, Chelsea

Carabiniers remembered at Kimberly Gate, Chelsea

LONDON – On Sunday 2 December the South African Legion England Branch once again joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Association for an Observance at the Carabiniers Memorial, Chelsea.

The memorial remembers the fallen of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) who gave their lives during the South African War 1899 – 1902 (Second Anglo-Boer War). The Carabiniers were part of the cavalry division under Major-General Sir JDP French which led the charge through Boer General Piet Cronje’s lines to relieve the siege of Kimberley on 15 February 1900.

It is because of this connection that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Association welcome the presence of the South African Legion at their annual Observance. Following a short service, wreaths were laid by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), the South African Legion and the Moths of Gazala Shellhole.

We then adjourned to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for a service in the magnificent Wren Chapel followed by drinks and a traditional curry lunch in the Chelsea Pensioners Club. The sense of history was palpable inside this famous home of the Chelsea Pensioners which has cared for British Army veterans since 1692. It was an honour to rub shoulders with these grand old men and women in their distinctive red frock coats and a day to remember for all.

Text by Lgr Tony Povey
Photography by Lgr Theo Fernandes (full picture gallery below)

© 2018 SA Legion UK & Europe All Rights Reserved


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

 


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

 


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


South African Nation-Building Commemoration

South African Nation-Building Commemoration: a tribute to three great statesmen.

To celebrate Freedom Day in South Africa, the South African Legion – England Branch, in association with the Royal British Legion – South African Branch and 133 Army Cadet Force, organised the inaugural Nation-Building Commemoration to pay tribute to three statesmen whose vision and deeds shaped modern South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Jan Smuts, and Mahatma Gandhi – whose statues all stand on Parliament Square in London – as great visionaries of not only South Africa, but also Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations.

 

The South African Legion led contingent gathered on Parliament Square, which is considered to be the Holy of Holies by the British people, by virtue of its location opposite the Palace of Westminster, an icon to democracy. Obtaining permission to parade at Westminster on Parliament Square was a major milestone for the South African veterans in England; a big first and a huge honour. Additionally, being at Westminster, there was the added duty and privilege to pay appropriate respects to PC Keith Palmer who was murdered at Westminster in the terror attack on 22 March 2017.

 

Nelson Mandela, Jan Smuts, and Mahatma Gandhi all played a crucial role in leading South Africa to the democratic country we know today. The contribution of Mandela to the world we live in is at the forefront of our consciousness and we honour that. Perhaps less widely celebrated are the monumental roles played by Smuts and Gandhi. We have a duty to honour our heroes and to ensure their contribution to mankind is remembered.

The pieces of the puzzle leading to our democratic South Africa

In the historical timeline leading to the democratic South Africa we know today, one piece of history which might perhaps not be common knowledge, is that Smuts was instrumental in placing the ‘first piece of the puzzle’ leading to modern day South Africa, by leading the reconciliation effort between to former bitter enemies, the British and the Boers (where he served as a General), to create the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Following this landmark reconciliation, he would go on to command the British Army in East Africa during WW1, also serving in the British War Cabinet (where he played an instrumental role in founding the Royal Air Force as a distinct service). Later, in WWII, he was promoted to Field Marshall (the only South African to achieve this wartime rank), serving in the War Cabinet under Winston Churchill. He made history by being the only man to have signed both peace treaties ending WWI and WWII.

Lgr Claudio Chiste, Chairman of the England Branch of the SA Legion, summed-up the leadership trait of leading by example, coupled with the gift of forgiveness, espoused by these three statesmen. Who does not admire warmth and forgiveness of Mandela (affectionately known in South Africa by his clan-name Madiba) after serving 27 of the best years of his life in prison? Who does not admire Gandhi’s subtle power in his stance of passive resistance in the face of the world’s most feared military? Who does not admire Smuts for having personally suffered at the hands of the British (he lost two of his own children during that period, while his wife Isabella (Isie) was taken prisoner in a concentration camp) yet he forgave the British and was elevated within their circle of trust? In the case of the latter, it may not be common knowledge, but so much was this trust built-up between these two former foes that UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was himself was captured by the Boers at one point during the Boer War, was quoted as saying ‘my faith in Smuts is unbreakable’.

One of his last acts by Smuts as Prime Minister of South Africa was the establishment of the United Nations. His lifelong dedication to fighting for what he believed in, at a huge personal sacrifice and uniting mankind perhaps served as divine inspiration when he wrote the preamble to the UN Charter with the opening verse:

‘To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which, twice in our lifetime, brought untold sorrow to mankind…

Many may not be aware… but Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi lived in South Africa for 21 years, which for all intents and purposes would very much make him a ‘naturalised’ South African, which we could proudly claim as ‘one of our own’. As Gandhi himself said, South Africa was essential to his personal development and achievement. It was during these 21 years that this timid man who had just passed the bar exam would become the man who was to lead India to independence. On a personal level, he taught us no matter how tough life gets, there is always a positive. Each time he was imprisoned, he would say it was an ‘enrichening experience’. On a group level, he showed us that as a collective force people can be very powerful… unstoppable.

Similarly, Nelson Mandela, our first democratically elected president, took the positive from every experience and is arguably the most well-known great reconciliator of the 20th Century; certainly the most fresh in our minds. In his autobiography, part of which was written secretly in prison, he stated:

‘I was born free… free in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields near my mother’s hut. Free to swim in the clean stream that runs through my village. Free to roast mealies under the stars and ride the broad backs of the slow moving bulls. It was only when I learned that my childhood freedom was an illusion… that I began to hunger for it’.

Legionnaires – all military veterans for that matter – know all too well that our freedom has been hard won. By paying homage to those before us, we remember their sacrifices and honour their achievements.

 

Wreaths laid for three statesmen who brought about change with forgiveness in their hearts

In his religious service message, Minister Lgr John McCabe drew a pertinent parallel between these three great statesmen on being agents for change, and practicing forgiveness of their former foes. He quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s famous: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’

General Jan Smuts said ‘History writes the word Reconciliation over all her quarrels.’

There are many definitions for leadership, but one that is favoured is that leader is influence. These men had a formidable international impact, not only while they were alive but still to this day.

For the first time, wreaths were then laid ceremoniously at the base of each statue, with the standard bearers forming a guard of honour, led from statue to statue by England President of the SA Legion Peter Dickens who acted as Parade Sargent Major. Regional Chair for UK & Europe Lgr Cameron Kinnear lead the ceremony by placing a wreath at the Mandela statue, followed by Lgr Sean Daye for Smuts, Lgr Neil Douglas for Gandhi, and Lgr Paul Konrad for PC Keith Palmer.

Mandela captured the essence of their collective legacy, as well as the ethos of the South African Legion when he said: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.’ As we say in the Legion, ‘Not for ourselves, but for others’.

Wreaths laid:

Master of Ceremonies: Lgr Claudio Chiste

Parade Sergeant Major: Lgr Peter Dickens

Lgr Cameron Kirk Kinnear, Regional Chairman UK & Europe – Mandela

Lgr Neil Douglas – Ghandi

Lgr Sean Daye – Smuts

Lgr Paul Konrad – PC Keith Palmer

Standard bearers: Graham Scott (IC), Lgr Craig Esterhuisen, Lgr Tony Povey, Lgr Cassandra Shaw, of MOTHs General Browning Shell hole standard bearer Leslie Shield. Special thanks to the 133 Army Cadet Force, their Officer Commanding Joe Drohan and the trumpeter Bobby Crick.

Also in attendance were Lgr Richard Poate and Lgr Robert Ansell.

 

Article for the SA Legion United Kingdom & Europe by Claudio Chiste`

 


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.