The Cape Town Highlanders commemorate the Second Battle of El Alamein (2010)

On Sunday, 24 October 2010, the Cape Town Highlanders regiment, whose headquarters are at the back of the Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town, held their annual commemorations of the Second Battle of El Alamein.

The service began around 10h45, with the sentries and flag orderlies marching through the archway and taking up their positions on the front parade ground. A sentry stood at each of the corners of the small memorial, as the Drums and Pipes of the Cape Town Highlanders, followed by the colourful MOTHs banners and a column of MOTHs members from various shellholes around the Western Cape, entered the courtyard. The MOTHs banners lined up on one side, facing the shaded colonnade, where the dignitaries and invited guests were sitting.

MOTHs padre Errol Sadler gave a scripture reading and led the gathering in prayer and the singing of hymns, which were accompanied by the SA Army Band Western Cape (at the time, under the baton of Major Martin Chandler). This was followed by the playing of the Last Post by one of the trumpeters (I believe it was now-Captain Vernon Michels, who now leads the Band), as the SA National Flag and the MOTHs banners were lowered. This traditionally leads into the Two Minutes’ Silence, at the end of which the uplifting Reveille is trumpeted. And then it was time for the wreaths and floral tributes to be laid at the memorial.

A couple of months earlier in 2010, I had met Lieutenant Colonel Johan Conradie and his team at the Defence Reserves Provincial Office of the Western Cape, who were responsible for organising the annual Cape Town Military Tattoo. He had offered me behind-the-scenes access to the Tattoo, and an opportunity to take photographs and write articles about some of the parades and events taking place that year.

I was a new-comer to this environment and knew hardly anyone. But I found that most people were actually very nice and approachable, despite looking a bit stern and intimidating in their uniforms. The uniforms, the ranks, the cap badges, and the medals they wore were both intriguing and bewildering. Having zilch experience of the military environment, it took me a while to learn to recognise the various ranks and cap badges, identifying the particular reserve force regiment to which people belonged. But I enjoyed the challenge.

In the far background you can still see the flags of the previous administrations of the Castle – all these flags (except for the current SA national flag) were permanently removed in 2013

The El Alamein service of 2010 was only the second such military parade I had ever attended; the first was the Battle of Square Hill Commemoration Service of September 2010. I didn’t have a clue how these parades worked, I didn’t know where I was allowed to stand, whether I was permitted to move around during the parade, how close I was permitted to get to the action, and what was going to happen when. I had no idea who was who, or of whom it was important to get a good photograph.

In addition to that, I was still learning how to use my camera (I had just bought my very first DSLR, the Canon 550D) and how to take photographs at these kinds of events; I didn’t know what would work, how to compose and frame shots for best effect, how to anticipate and time the shot correctly, or what settings to use. I had an 18-55mm kit lens for wide-angle shots and a 55-250mm telephoto zoom for long-distance shots, and thus had to swap out lenses during the parade. As I obviously didn’t want to swap lenses more than once (I was anxious of getting dust on the sensor), it meant thinking about my composition and the shots I could get with each lens, and where I needed to stand to fit everything in. It was tricky!

That year, the memorial that formed the focal point of the parade consisted of an arrangement of what looked like various drums, laid on their sides and sprayed with silver paint. Only a couple of wreaths could be laid at the base of the memorial because it was fairly small. To either side of it stood two upright A-frames, on which the remaining wreaths could be hung. This effectively reduced my chance of getting a photo of each of the wreath-layers, depending on where they placed or hung their wreaths. I also had to be aware of where the sentries were standing, because they sometimes blocked my direct line of sight, forcing me to change my position at the last moment, depending on where the wreath-layer then stood to salute. As I said, it was tricky!

In the circumstances, I’m pretty chuffed with the photos I did manage to capture of the event. 🙂

Once the last wreaths had been laid, Pipe Major Charles Canning of the Drums and Pipes of the Cape Town Highlanders piped the Lament (oh… goosebumps…), as he walked slowly all around memorial. As the SA National Anthem was played, everyone stood to attention, with the soldiers saluting. And just then, the rain began to fall. Thankfully, this was the end of the parade, and so we all scampered to take shelter underneath the colonnade, as the Drums and Pipes and the MOTHs banners marched off into the distance.

Here are my photographs. Remember that you can access the slideshow by clicking on any of the images. Enjoy!

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