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


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