Remembrance Day at the Red Cross Hospital (2017)

On Friday, 10 November 2017, the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (see the RCWMCH Facebook page) in Rondebosch held their annual Remembrance Day service. As in previous years, I went together with fellow photographer/writer Glynnis who is responsible for publishing the Pinelands Muse together with her husband Max.

This moving and beautiful ceremony is organised by the Children’s Hospital Trust, a non-profit public benefit organisation that was established as the fundraising arm of the Hospital. Charitable donations received from generous members of the public allow the Trust to upgrade the Hospital’s buildings and equipment and to develop its professional staff. The Trust prides itself on the fact that 100% of all donations actually goes to such improvements, with not a single cent being spent on administrative costs.

Each year, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, Remembrance Day services are held across the world, to mark the moment when German soldiers signed the Armistice Agreement that ended the Great War on 11 November 1918, after four years of continuous and terrible warfare. In 1919, King George V dedicated Remembrance Day to the memory of all those members of the armed forces who had been killed during World War I. It has since become a special memorial day to honour all those who have died in armed conflict around the world since the Great War of 1914-1918.

The Cape Field Artillery Pipes & Drums lead the parade

Creating a ‘Living Memorial’

This event has grown significantly over the years since the very first Remembrance Day service was held in 2011 to acknowledge and honour the Hospital’s connection with the veterans and servicemen of World War II who played such an instrumental part in founding the Hospital.

At that first Remembrance Day service in 2011, the main speaker was Mr Colin Eglin, who had served with the Sixth South African Armoured Division in Italy during World War II, and who was one of the founding members of the Hospital. Sadly, he passed away on 29 November 2013. During that first service, he spoke about the discussions that took place among South African soldiers in Italy in 1945, whilst they were waiting to be repatriated to South Africa:

“The dominant view was that there should be a memorial, but that this should be a ‘living’ one that served the community, not merely a monumental structure. The servicemen, in overwhelming numbers, volunteered to donate two days’ pay towards what was to become the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.”

They wanted to create a place of healing in honour of their fallen comrades, and, moreover, one that would focus on paediatric services, as they felt that children were the most vulnerable group in society and that there was no dedicated children’s hospital anywhere in the country at the time. In close collaboration with the Red Cross Society and the Cape Provincial Government, the money they donated was used to establish the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

MOTHs standards in front of the newly revamped main entrance of the Hospital

What a wise, generous and far-sighted decision theirs had been.

Some eleven years after the end of World War II, the Hospital finally opened its doors in 1956. As far as I know, it is the only specialist paediatric hospital in Southern Africa, successfully treating very complex life-threatening and life-limiting conditions among children in this region and beyond. It manages around 250,000 patient visits each year – a staggering number! The majority of these patients come from poor and marginalised communities, and one-third of the Hospital’s patients are less than one-year-old. They are referred to the hospital from the Western Cape, the rest of South Africa, the African continent, and even on rare occasions from other parts of the world. The Hospital furthermore provides training for new paediatric specialists, offers postgraduate specialist paediatric medical and surgical training, conducts medical research into childhood diseases, and runs outreach programmes in the communities.

The Peter Pan Statue

The memorial that is used for the wreath-laying is the bronze statue of Peter Pan, flanked by tall strelitzias and surrounded by flowers, in front of the main entrance. It was donated by Mr Vivien Watson – a World War II veteran who had been chairman of the Red Cross Hospital Building Committee, when it was being built in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The statue was erected in memory of Mr Watson’s four-year-old son Peter, who passed away of diphtheria at a time when there was no specialist children’s hospital. Peter’s legacy has thus lived on through this memorial and through his sister Clemmie Hannay-Robertson, who was a dedicated volunteer at the Hospital (she has since passed away). It makes a fitting focal point of these Remembrance Day services.

The Peter Pan statue is the focal point of the Remembrance Day service

The main entrance of the RCWMCH has been recently revamped with a fresh coat of paint – and the addition of some strikingly beautiful and colourful mosaics. On the few occasions when I have been inside the Hospital, I have always been struck by how bright and cheerful it is, rather than looking like an intimidating, frightening hospital cluttered with scary-looking medical equipment. It is clear that the staff are doing everything they can to make sure that their young patients feel welcome and safe, by creating a friendly environment where play is encouraged and family members are treated as valuable participants in the healing process. Murals and pictures decorate the walls, and volunteers from the Friends of the Children’s Hospital Association (FOCHA) bring toys and books into the wards, playing with and reading to the youngsters.

A large marquee with chairs had been set up at the side of the entrance. Given that it was a rather warm day, I’m sure everyone was relieved to be seated in the shade. Near the memorial stood a long table, soon to be covered in wreaths and fresh flowers; Capt (SAN) Trunell Morom and Staff Sergeant Pat Greyling were taking receipt of the wreaths and making notes of people’s names and the organisations they represented.

The Izivunguvungu Youth Band

As in past years, music was provided by the Izivunguvungu Youth Band, led by Commander Mike Oldham.

The Izivunguvungu Music Project was created in 1996, as a social outreach organisation under the auspices of the South African Navy, by Commander Mike Oldham, the former Director of Music of the Navy Band from 1989 to 2004. Musicians from the Navy Band set up various brass band groups at local disadvantaged schools.

The members of this youthful brass band are all between 10 to 18 years old, and they rehearse after normal school hours. They play mainly on second-hand instruments, and welcome donations of such instruments, as long as they are in working condition or repairable. This year, I noticed that many of them were playing on brightly coloured plastic instruments, which sound exactly like their brass counterparts but are obviously more affordable.

Group photo of the Izivunguvungu Youth Band with some of the youngsters of the Hospital’s Day Care Centre

The Remembrance Service

Master of Ceremonies this year was Mr Kevin Ashton of the Gunners Association, who did an excellent job welcoming us, introducing the guest speakers, explaining the protocol to be followed, announcing the wreath layers in the correct sequence, and finally inviting all the guests to walk over to the Trust’s offices for the by-then much-needed refreshments, as it had turned into a rather hot day.

The service began with the arrival of the Pipes and Drums of Cape Field Artillery, who have been regular supporters of this event. Led by Grant Scheffel, the neatly turned out band members – made up of four pipers, one snare and one bass drummer – gave their usual flawlessly professional performance, as they marched on parade, followed by the MOTHs standards and a column of MOTHs. The rousing sound of the pipes never fails to make an impression, particularly with the goosebump inducing “Highland Cathedral” and the sombre and melancholy “Lament” while the wreaths are being laid at the memorial.

This year was the first time that there were no sentries posted around the memorial and no flags – other than the South African National Flag. Most of the military people who attended were members of the various MOTHs shellholes in the Western Cape; I’m not sure whether any of the Reserve Force regiments laid a wreath this time. But there was huge support from civilian donors, supporters and families whose children had been treated at the Hospital at some time.

We listen to Dr Anita Parbhoo talking about the Hospital and its importance in the community

The main speaker was Dr Anita Parbhoo, Manager Medical Services at the Hospital. Her address was followed by a surprise treat in the form of a solo by Joseph van Deventer, a young lad with a most delightful voice! Accompanied by Grant Scheffel on the pipes, he completely enchanted us by singing “Amazing Grace”.

During the religious part of the service, Reverend Melaney Klaasen read from the Bible and her Muslim colleague read a passage from the Qur’an, and we sang the traditional hymn “Abide with me” (here is a YouTube video of this beautiful and comforting hymn, as sung by King’s College Choir of Cambridge). I have heard this so many times at these parades, that I thought I would write down the words this time:

“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

This was followed by the playing of the Last Post, as the MOTHs standards and the SA National Flag were lowered; we stood in contemplative silence for two minutes, before the Reveille was sounded, and the flags were raised aloft once more.

Master of Ceremonies Kevin Ashton introduces the young singer Joseph van Deventer

Wreath Laying

Piper Grant Scheffel began to play the haunting Lament “Flowers of the Forest”, as each of the wreath layers was called to the front, one by one, to receive their wreath from Pat Greyling and, after a brief moment of reflective pause, to place it at the foot of the memorial with the Peter Pan statue. Once all the official representatives of organisations as well as some of the long-time donors and supporters of the Hospital had finished, friends of the Hospital and members of the public were invited to pay their respects too, by laying a flower or two at the memorial.

As in previous years, there was a crowd of young children from the daycare centre, who were really eager to lay flowers too. It is always such fun to watch them line up and step forward; Capt Morom and the teachers in charge had their hands full, trying to get them to step forward one by one rather than all at once – most were so eager, they could hardly wait their turn! Others, who had clearly watched the adult soldiers earlier, looked very earnest and serious, as they walked slowly towards the memorial. It was so absolutely adorable that I couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

Once the wreath laying was complete, the MOTH Credo and Prayer were read by Deputy Provincial Old Bill Leon Robertson.

Wreaths and flowers at the Peter Pan statue

The Circle of Life Legacy Programme

Then Liz Linsell took the microphone to tell us about the Circle of Life legacy programme, which is run by the Children’s Hospital Trust. The Trust relies on charitable donations, many of which come from members of the public who make provision in their Last Will and Testament, nominating the Trust as a residue beneficiary; this means that heirs are provided for first, and any residue is then left to the Trust. People can also make direct bequests and in-memoriam donations to the Trust. Every In-Memoriam donation of R5,000 or more is acknowledged with an individually engraved plaque in the Garden of Remembrance at the Hospital and in the Roll of Honour that is read at the Remembrance Day service. You can find out more about this great programme here.

Finally, we all stood for the singing of the National Anthem, and the withdrawal of the MOTHs standards and the pipers, thus concluding another magical Remembrance Day service at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

And then it was time for Tea and Refreshments at the Trust’s offices, where tables and chairs had been set up in the shade of the trees in their courtyard. These events are always well organised, and the people involved are always so friendly and welcoming that it is a delight to attend them. I do hope that the Hospital will continue to grow from strength to strength.

And now – enjoy the photos!

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