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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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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

 


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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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BSAP memorial Service, National Memorial Arboretum

On Sunday 22 July 2018, in bright sunshine reminiscent of its African heritage, the British South Africa Police Regimental Association, UK branch, held a Memorial Service at the National Memorial Arboretum in memory of those members of the BSAP who gave their lives during the 84 years of its existence.

Formed in 1889 as the British South Africa Company Police, the force became known as the British South Africa Police (BSAP) in 1896 and developed as a light cavalry regiment. Participating in the Matabele War (1893), the Jameson Raid (1895) and the Matabele and Mashona Rebellions (1896 – 1897). They also played an active role in the Boer War and during WW1 in campaigns in German East Africa and South West Africa. After being at the forefront throughout the Rhodesian Bush War (1964 – 1979) during which 403 members gave their lives, the BSAP ceased to exist in name in August 1980 with the final lowering of the Rhodesian National flag and the formation of Zimbabwe.

Members of the SA Legion England Branch who attended the parade were Lgrs Russel Mattushek, Brian Parry, Tony Povey, Jose Lopes and Dave Wiseman. The SA Legion Banner was paraded by Lgr Brian Parry and a wreath was laid by Lgr Tony Povey, who served with the BSAP during the Rhodesian Bush War.

The service was followed by lunch and then a stroll through part of the 150-acre NMA grounds, home to over 350 memorials, to pay our respects to those who gave their lives for their country. Over 400 members of the BSAP made the ultimate sacrifice during the Rhodesian Bush War. We Will Remember Them.

BZ to Lgr Jose Lopes for organising the SA Legion participation and Jessica Lopes and Karen Parry for the photos.

© South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018

Text: Lgr Tony Povey

Photography: Karen Parry, Jessica Lopes


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Delville Wood Remembrance Service and Parade 14 July 2018, East Sheen Cemetery, Richmond, London

RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES – On the morning of Saturday 14 July 2018, the South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) in association with MOTH (Gazala Shellhole) hosted the very well-attended Delville Wood Remembrance Parade at East Sheen Cemetery in Richmond, London.

The Legion and MOTH contingents were swelled by members and standard bearers of the Royal British Legion (South Africa Branch and Teddington Branch), MOTH (General Browning Shellhole) as well as the Master and several Freemasons from the London-based South Africa Lodge No. 6742 (UGLE), supported by several family and friends.

We gathered at the cemetery chapel to remember the 229,000 South Africans who volunteered for World War 1, paying tribute to 2,500 who perished in the Battle of Delville Wood (15 July – 3 September 1916), the single biggest South African military loss on the battlefield.

The Standards were paraded into the chapel and Lgr. Craig Esterhuizen led a dignified remembrance service of prayer, reflection, and hymns, with poems and contributions read and recited by representatives of all organisations present.

Video footage of the service by Lgr. Theo Fernandes:

 

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karin Parry, and Johanna Bergman:

Parade
Under the expert direction of Ceremonial Officer Lgr. Brian Parry, veterans fell-in behind the gathered Standards and a piper from the London Scottish Regiment (aka the ‘Cockney Jocks’) and marched in quick time to the nearby South African Cenotaph in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the vast civilian and military cemetery.

Standards were dipped in salute as the bugler sounded Last Post following the Act of Remembrance.

As the piper sounded a poignant lament, wreaths were laid by the SA Legion England, Scotland, and Europe Branches, MOTH Gazala Shellhole, and South Africa Lodge.

SA Legion Scotland Branch Chair Lgr. Cary Hendricks, resplendent in full Murray of Atholl Highland kit then took the salute on behalf of the Regional Exco.

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karin Parry, and Johanna Bergman:

Social
We then proceeded to the The Mitre in Richmond for several cold pints, and super braai in the beer garden catered by Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Lgr. Dutoit Verster, and Lgr. Johan de Vries. Legionnaires, MOTHs, and Masons mingled and seemed to have imported South African summer weather to Richmond.

Pictures by Lgr. Theo Fernandes and Karin Parry

Bravo Zulu to all involved (far too numerous to name).

© South African Legion (UK & Europe Branch) 2018
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman
Video: Lgr. Theo Fernandes
Photography: Lgr. Theo Fernandes, Karen Parry, Johanna Bergman


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Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate, Ypres

Every evening at 20:00 sharp, ever since 1928, the solemn and stirringly beautiful Last Post ceremony has been performed under the Menin Gate at Ypres that commemorates the many thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the bloody battles of the Ypres Salient during First World War. On the walls of the memorial are inscribed the names of 54,395 soldiers – including South Africans – who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

On 12 and 13 May, Ypres hosted the Kattenstoet (Cats Parade), a festive local carnival themed on cats, which was an extra attraction on this weekend.

South African Legion (Europe Branch) Chairman Lgr. Andrew Bergman arrived with his wife Johanna on Saturday evening and attended the Last Post Ceremony as a ‘dry run’ to recce the lay of the land. An advance email to the Last Post Association in anticipation of our visit yielded and invitation to lay a wreath, as well as the possibility (at the discretion of the Master of Ceremonies on the day) to deliver the Oration or Epitaph with an official delegation the following day.

Reinforcements arrive

On Sunday, Lgr. Dave Wiseman and Lgr. Clint Olivier crossed the Channel and arrived in Ypres in time for the Cats Parade. We then got together – dressed in our parade kit – at a café opposite the Menin gate, where we were treated like minor celebrities.

We then moved to the Menin Gate, where the Master of Ceremonies asked Lgr. Bergman to deliver the Oration during the ceremony. Then a pleasant surprise: MOTH Alex Cromarty happened to be in the area touring with his family, which swelled our ‘band of brothers’ to four.

Our wreath-laying party fell-in three-abreast under orders of the Master of Ceremonies. Behind us were schoolgirls from Scotland and England, students from East Anglia University, and ancestors of the fallen, all waiting to pay their floral respects.

Opposite us, the Rochdale Festival Chorus gathered to provide musical accompaniment.

By now there was no more room under the vast arch of the gate itself, and spectators were spilling out into the approaching road on both sides.

“They shall grow not old…”

The sizable crowd fell silent when the buglers of the Last Post Association took-up their positions at the eastern end of the gate. Then, at 19:58, the buglers sounded the Rouse. On a signal from the Master of Ceremonies, Lgr. Bergman marched to the centre of the hushed arch, turned to face the buglers, and recited the Oration: “They shall grow not old…”

A minutes’ silence followed, and then in perfect unison, the buglers sounded the mournful Last Post. There were not many dry eyes in the house.

First to lay wreaths were the Mayor of Ypres and the Mayor of Singen, a German city that is twinned with Ypres. Both had been formally introduced to the South African Legion delegation at the start of proceedings.

Forward march!

We were the next wreath-laying party, and while we haven’t done much marching together, we did ok – the pictures show that our dressing never wavered, we kept perfect step.

The buglers then sounded Reveille to signal the end of the ceremony.

 

After the ceremony was over, it was time for networking. Legionnaires spoke to a Colonel (in civvies and ‘off duty’) from the Belgian Special Forces, and we mingled a while with the other wreath-layers in the afterglow of the dignified and solemn ceremony we’d all shared.

So after a successful round of shoulder-rubbing with the Great and the Good of Ypres and beyond, three Legionnaires and Johanna – who had resolutely defended her plumb photographic position from several assaults on both flanks to produce a superb photographic and video record – followed the city walls southwards to have supper at Brasserie Kazematten, which is established in the ancient casemates within the fortifications of Ypres. Many of the original features are retained. The staff treated us like kings and it proved a fitting end to a memorable day of remembrance and fellowship.

© South African Legion (Europe Branch)
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman
Pictures and video: Johanna Bergman


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The Death of Staff Van Rooyen

The Death of Staff Van Rooyen

Graham Du Toit of Facebook Honour Roll fame wrote :
“FOR THEM THE LAST POST HAS SOUNDED – 16 Aug 1988: 78458197PE Staff Sergeant Gideon van Rooyen from 2 Special Service Battalion was killed when his Armoured Car overturned at the Rooisloot Training Area. He was 26”

To most this is just another entry in Graham’s daily record. For many of us Medic Veterans or fellow ranks who read these entries we realize that we were there, often first on the scene. We were the kid that stepped into the drama and took responsibility. To me it was my first serious blooding in the field as an Ops Medic after the experiences of A&E in the East Rand Townships. When I read this excerpt it didn’t bring back any fresh memory because this is the one incident that is never far from the surface. Most are thankfully hidden deep in the psyche or forgotten. They may yet bleed out from the pen.

Tuesday 16th August was a regular hot and red-dust day on the firing range at Rooisloot training ground nearby 2 Special Service Battalion in Zeerust. 2nd phase training was ongoing for D Squadron, the Squadron I would accompany to the Border later in the year. Young men training on the big guns; 90mm, assorted incendiaries and the .50 Browning. I was alone on duty and expecting an incident. There was a lot of scope for injury and worse amongst these kids. My stomach was tight at the prospect and from dawn to dusk my temper was short. Perhaps another hand mangled by a piece of old ordnance picked up by a foolish troopie or a secondary detonation from a shell inside a turret. God forbid there should be a fatality.

My Glasgow sense of humour had failed after two weeks on duty in this dust bowl amid an atmosphere of severe discipline and presbyterian fatalism.

“58 Juliet-58 Juliet / 30 Alpha oor…..medic….” The alarm call came across the radio as I sat daydreaming and deafened on the range. But for the noise and burning wrecks of targets in the distance this could have been a pleasant spot to sit and view Springbok and Kudu or just scratch your balls. It may be just that almost 30 years on. I was rushed away in a Samil 20 to the area where driver training was ongoing further into the Marico bush. It had taken some time to locate the incident. Why had nobody stepped in yet ?

The Eland 90 lay on its turret on a 45 degree slope with a group of troops huddled up the slope directing us in. The facts remain unclear to this day but it would appear that the driver stalled on an incline, allegedly kicked in the back for his poor performance, and the Noddy slid back and tipped down the slope. A fatal kick. One complete roll with Van Rooyen unable to duck into the turret and then a partial roll coming to rest at an angle with just enough space to crawl under the turret. I was under the Eland after a sprint down the hill, pausing only to check I still had the adrenaline, solu-cortef, sosegon and drip stuffed into my pockets. The bare minimum required which already appeared optimistic. I was soon covered in leaking fuel that had mingled with the smell of Staff Van Rooyen’s vomit and the red dust. I can still recall that odour. He was half out of the Commanders hatch and crushed beyond recognition. After a swift assessment and an attempt to find an airway to clear, more from habit than any hope of saving him, it was now time to concentrate on saving myself. Not for the last time. And not under fire.

Here lay what remained of a Zeerust legend, a very popular man. A legend on the rugby ground and in the Mess Bar. Death had probably been instant and he was now beyond the call of his pregnant wife waiting at home. It was their wedding anniversary. I had viewed him as an old and experienced hand, physically imposing, balding and wise beyond my ken. In reality he was a young man of 26. I was aged 20 but there may as well have been another 20 years between us in terms of the experience of war, life, death and the machinery of war.

There was nothing to be done except haul myself to safety. The driver had struggled free and departed the scene. My medical bag sat useless at the top of the slope.

Waiting at a safe distance was his friend, Lt ???. My words to him sound daft now but my Afrikaans was limited and all I could say to him was “hy is dood…..baie dood”. He couldn’t stop himself and, despite the danger, ran down the slope to confirm that his close friend was beyond my help, tears flowing. The incident didn’t affect me that afternoon and I ate a hearty meal after finishing my stint at the range. There was hardly a pause and I was back on the evening’s night firing exercise. The Marico sunset was stunning and reliable as ever. We might yet have a war to catch up with if the recent peace failed. It came for us in April 1989.

Years later I reflected that one more roll or twitch of that Noddy car and I would have been dead, or a stray spark could have seriously ruined my good looks. I puzzled over fact that I had ran in while others stood like statues. It wasn’t bravery, it was the result of conditioning and a sense of responsibility thrust upon my young shoulders. It would have been bravery if I had paused to consider the consequences and still ran in. But I was just plain stupid.

This incident was a minute echo of earlier conflicts, Boer and the World Wars, and the attrition of training and battle on a young generation. 1988 had been a grim year for 2SSB with nine members lost, ranging from the Caleque attack to accidents at Rooisloot and deaths on the road trip home for a weekend pass.

Nobody ran in – but the cry went out, not for the last time – “Medic !! Where is that fucking soutie medic ?”

Author: B.J. Taylor – April 2018

 


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Visit to the Defence Academy of the UK, Shrivenham – 13 April 2018

Wow what a day out it was! As everyone arrived, they were processed at Reception and taken off in groups to the coffee shop and then, with all 19 together, it was off to the AFV Wing where S.Sgt. Tony Martin was on hand to take us around the armoured fighting vehicles on view from across the world, explaining their history, strengths and weaknesses. This was followed by an explanation of the development of anti-tank ammunition developed in response to the continued improvements in armour, some of the characteristics of which were still on the secret list. For some, memories were invoked of the dark days of their youth spent in South African Ratels doing battle with T55s in Angola.

Picture: Flt. Lt. Max Lewis

Next stop was the Artillery Hall to be shown examples of the development of guns from early muzzle-loading cannon to today’s sophisticated artillery able of striking to within 35m of targets up to 37km away, including an example of our own G4. Rob Rice couldn’t contain himself when he saw the 25-pounder, jumping into the gun-layers seat peeled back the years to his days in the Rhodesian Artillery during the Rhodesian Bush War. Rob Cooke is the artificer responsible for keeping all of these guns in working order and his enthusiasm was as infectious as his knowledge was deep.

Then it was on to the Light Weapons Armoury where Lt. Col. (Ret) John Starling regaled us with humorous stories of the development and deployment of small arms while demonstrating his encyclopaedic knowledge of the weapons and ammunition under his care. He voiced his disdain for some forces’ procurement officers whose criteria, it appeared, was based more on how sexy a weapon looked than how effective it would be in their operating environment. Then, like kids let loose in a sweet shop, we were invited to take down and handle any of the 1,000 or so weapons that filled the three rooms. Many made a beeline for the rifles we’d trained on back in the day and the expression of glee on Brian Parry’s face as he cradled an MAG was a delight to behold.

SA Legion Regional Chair (UK & Europe) Lgr. Cameron Kinnear, (left) with our host and the strong SA Legion contingent

Time passed too quickly and lunch in the Officers Mess beckoned where we found that a three-star General and his entourage had occupied our table! Never mind, no-one was going to ask him to move, and we were soon settled behind an excellent lunch with conversation buzzing about what we’d seen and heard.

A memorable day for all in great company. Many thanks to our host, Flt. Lt. Max Lewis, for making this visit possible.

Report by Lgr. Tony Povey


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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.


  • -

SS Mendi Remembrance, Noordwijk, 21 February 2018

At 11 am on Wednesday February 21 2018, the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane, His Worship The Mayor of Noordwijk, Alderman Jan Rypstra, under the guidance of programme director, Deputy-Mayor Gerben van Duin, joined with the ambassadors of several countries, and the military attachés of several more, and representatives of the South African Legion and other veterans, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the General Cemetery in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, on the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi*.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lgr. Andrew Bergman addresses the event on behalf of the South African Legion

The Dutch Armed Forces provided a Guard of Honour, a brass band, and several pipers to add colour to a dignified event. Rev. Andrew Gready led the service with hymns in the cemetery hall, before conducting the wreath-laying at the graveside. South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo orated the Act of Remembrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo and the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane lay a wreath on behalf of South Africa

In his speech, the South African Ambassador to The Hague, HE Vusi (Bruce) Koloane specifically acknowledged the contribution of the SA Legion to “keeping the flame of remembrance for the SS Mendi alive“. After the service, the South African Embassy hosted a delicious lunch of South African food and wine at the ultra-modern Noordwijk Sports Centre.

* On 21 February 1917, the SS Mendi, a troop ship out of Cape Town carrying 823 men of the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps bound for Le Havre in France was rammed by the Daro in thick fog in the English Channel of the Isle of Wight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South African Deputy Military attaché, Lt Col Andrew Mafofololo orates the Act of Remembrance

They were travelling to support the war effort, in particular Britain and her allies, who were running out of people and supplies.

The SS Mendi sank quickly with the loss of more than 600 South African servicemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wreath laid on behalf of the South African Legion

In 2012, February 21 was proclaimed as the day to observe Armed Forces Day annually.

Since 2014, an annual remembrance and wreath-laying service has been held at the gravesides of Privates Sitebe Molife, Natal Kazimula, Abram Leboche, Arosi Zenzile, and Sikaniso Mtolo, who lie buried in the picturesque seaside town of Noordwijk in the Netherlands. They all perished when the SS Mendi sank, and their bodies were washed-up on the (neutral) Dutch coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For South African Legion Europe Branch
Text: Lgr. Andrew Bergman (Chairman SA Legion Europe Branch)
Pictures: Johanna Bergman-Badings


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