Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph (2017)

On Sunday, 12 November 2017, the City of Cape Town hosted their annual Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Heerengracht.

Before the Parade

When I arrived at the venue on Sunday morning, a large marquee with numerous rows of chairs had been set up in front of the Cenotaph, and the guard of honor were doing a final rehearsal of their march-on and march-off. In the distance, I could hear the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums tuning up, with the wail of the pipes and the thumping of the drums echoing between the tall buildings of the city centre.

The men and women of the SA Navy Band in their brilliant whites were setting up their instruments behind the marquee. The new Director of Music of the Navy Band is Lieutenant Lindela Madikizela, who has taken over the baton from Commander Kenny Leibbrandt. On the other side of the road, the musicians of the SA Army Band Western Cape in their distinctive scarlet uniforms were warming up their instruments; they would be leading the troops on parade in a little while.

SA Navy Band entertaining the guests as they arrive for the parade

Capt (SAN) Trunell Morom and Staff Sergeant Pat Greyling of the Cape Town Highlanders, both a familiar sight at these military parades, were in charge of the wreath table and busy creating order out of chaos. The MOTHs flag bearers from the various shellholes of the Western Cape were lining up in the street, and getting ready to come on parade.

All around was the cheerful hubbub of friends and comrades in arms warmly greeting each other, introducing and welcoming newcomers and acknowledging familiar faces with friendly smiles. At these military parades and similar events, there is often a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and of being part of a bigger family of like-minded individuals that is quite uplifting.

the Parade begins

The parade began punctually at 10h45. The Master of Ceremonies this year was WO1 Lionel Ashbury of the SA Air Force.

WO1 Lionel Ashbury of the SA Air Force is the Master of Ceremonies at today’s parade

The guard of honor, made up of the Cape Town Metropolitan Police, Law Enforcement, the Fire Brigade and Traffic Services, and accompanied by two drummers, came marching down the eastern side of the Heerengracht. After circling around the Cenotaph, they lined up on either side of a red carpet, which had been rolled partway across the street, in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the mayoral procession.

Guard of Honour coming on parade

Close behind were the Pipes and Drums of Cape Field Artillery, with Drum Major Bill White confidently swinging his mace, as he led his smartly turned out band of six pipers, three snares, one tenor and one bass drummer on parade.

Cape Field Artillery Pipes & Drums

They were followed by the colourful MOTHs banners and a column of MOTHs; as in the previous year, the banners were lined up at the side of the memorial, underneath the tall palm trees.

Arrival of the MOTHs banners

MOTHs

Troops from all four arms of service – Army (9 South African Infantry Battalion), Air Force (Air Force Base Ysterplaat), Navy (SA Naval Base Simon’s Town) and Military Health Services (3 Medical Battalion and the Area Military Health Unit Western Cape), led by parade commander Major Mkhumla – formed up in three neat rows on the opposite side of the street. Military Police and Traffic Police kept a watchful eye on proceedings from the edges of the parade area.

Sentries and flag orderlies

The sentries and flag orderlies took post around the Cenotaph and next to their respective flag poles; on the shouted instructions of a stern-looking Sergeant Major of the SA Air Force, the various flags – the SA National Flag, the Department of Military Veterans flag, the flags of the four arms of services (Army, Air Force, Navy and SAMHS, in their traditional order), the flag of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (thank you, Dean) and that of the City of Cape Town were unfurled.

I do not know what the second-last flag in the row is (its colours are blue, red and light-blue), and have not been able to find it online – based on the fact that the sergeant next to the flag is wearing a blue beret, I think it must be related to a support formation or to a military base: if you know what it is, PLEASE tell me in the comments!

 

The flags are unfurled at the start of the service

The Mayor’s address

The guests of honour, the Deputy Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Alderman Ian Neilson, in his distinctive blue-and-red robes with mayoral chain and Chief of the Metropolitan Police, Wayne le Roux, were escorted down the red carpet by Captain Ncipha and Captain Francois Morkel.

It was a lovely surprise to see Captain Morkel in uniform again – for several years, he used to be the ‘Castle Adjudant’ during the re-enactment of the Key Ceremony, which happened at the start of each evening’s performance of the Cape Town Military Tattoo.

Arrival of the mayoral procession – with Captain Ncipha and Captain Francois Morkel escorting Alderman Ian Neilson and Metro Police Chief Wayne le Roux.

In his speech, Alderman Ian Neilson alluded to the particularly challenging times we are facing in South Africa at the moment. He did not specifically mention the recent revelations about the staggering scale of state capture or Jacques Pauw’s explosive and almost-banned book The President’s Keepers, but I’m sure that many of us listening that morning were feeling the resonance of recent events in his words:

“In pursuing the ideals of universal freedom and equality, we may come up against those who believe that some are more entitled to the fruits of liberty than others. We may find that some are prepared to employ the tools of tyranny to suppress the voices that speak out against them.

The struggle to entrench our ideals and freedoms may no longer be fought on a battlefield, but in the courts of law and public opinion, and ultimately within each one of us.

This requires us to examine closely what we hold sacrosanct, what we are willing to protect and fight for, and whether we are willing to champion the greater good of all, or simply ourselves and those nearest to us.

Alderman Ian Neilson addressing the parade

He concluded with these sobering yet inspiring words:

“For all of us, a time comes when we are called upon to make a difficult choice that will have significant consequences, that will most likely result in casualties, and that may come at great cost to ourselves.

Let us therefore take courage in these moments by remembering those who went before us.

Let their sacrifice be the shining light that guides us in times of fear and uncertainty.”

(I have included the rest of his speech at the end of this article.)

Prayers and Hymns

After his speech, Chaplain (Reverend) Frank Meulenbeld and Chaplain (Sheikh) Abdullah Abrahams gave a brief sermon, prayers and a benediction.

Accompanied by the SA Navy Band, we all sang the two beautiful hymns “Abide with me” and “I vow to thee my country” – sheer goosebumps all around.

Chaplain Frank Meulenbeld and Sheikh Abdullah Abrahams doing the Prayers and Benediction

The Last Post and Reveille

Chief Petty Officer Theo Joemath from the SA Navy Band played the Last Post and the Reveille. All members in uniform saluted during the sounding of the Last Post, as all the flags and the MOTHs banners were lowered. We stood in silence for two minutes, thinking of those soldiers who had survived the horrors of war, and respectfully remembering those who had not. (You can learn about the background to this tradition, which actually originated in South Africa, on the South African Legion’s website).

The start and end of the Two Minutes Silence were marked by the thunderous BOOM of the four Cape Field Artillery’s 25-pounder GV1 guns, which stood ready some distance further down the road. Hearing the BOOM felt like being thumped hard in the chest – and as always, the shockwave triggered car alarms and sent sirens shrieking and wailing all around the city centre. Clouds of smoke eddied around the guns, slowly dissipating in the gentle breeze.

The Last Post – the bugler is Chief Petty Officer Theo Joemath of the SA Navy Band

The Wreath-Laying ceremony

Pipe Major Andrew Imrie of the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums stepped forward to play the hauntingly sad Lament, as the MC began to call out the names of the individuals who were laying a wreath on behalf of various organisations and in memory of family members and friends who had fallen.

Pipe Major Andrew JM Imrie playing the Lament during the wreath laying ceremony

Invited guests included representatives from the Department of Military Veterans, the City of Cape Town, and the Metro Police, as well as members of veterans and regimental associations, and religious leaders. Members of the diplomatic and consular corps of Belgium, France, Indonesia, Germany, Madagascar, Portugal, and the United States were all present this year.

Alderman Ian Neilson on behalf of the City of Cape Town

After the last of the official wreath layers (I counted as many as 57) had stepped up to pay their respects and lay wreaths, crosses and floral tributes at the base of the memorial, WO1 Lionel Ashbury encouraged members of the public and families of those who had fallen in action in conflicts around the world to remember and honor their loved ones.

Members of the public laying flowers at the memorial

The End of the Remembrance Sunday Service

Once the last flowers had been respectfully placed at the memorial, the SA National Anthem was played, and Moth Dave Revell, the Provincial Deputy Old Bill of the MOTHs Cape Western Dugout, read the traditional MOTH Credo and Prayer.

Dave Revell (the Provincial Deputy Old Bill of the MOTHs Cape Western Dugout) reading the MOTH credo and prayer

Thereafter, the Mayoral Procession withdrew, and so, in turn, did the sentries and flag orderlies, the troops on parade, the Guard of Honor, the MOTHs banners, and the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums – bringing to an end the Remembrance Sunday Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony of 2017!

I hope you will enjoy the photos below – remember that you can access the slideshow, by clicking on any of the pictures.

The Deputy Executive Mayor’s Speech

“Good morning, and welcome to you all.

A special word of welcome to the families and loved ones of those men and women who laid down their lives in the line of duty. We stand here today, with you, in your remembrance and grief.

I am honoured, as always, to commemorate this day with you. Today, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. We take time every year in November to remember and hold this memorial service in a ceremony that has its origins in the aftermath of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, but which has progressively come to include a memorial to all conflicts.

We observe two minutes of silence; the first minute as a sign of respect for fallen comrades, and the second dedicated to those they left behind – their wives, children and families, as well as those veterans who survived the battlefield. We do this to ensure that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

And may we also never forget the reason we commemorate the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War, 99 years ago, on 11 November 1918. This historic event marked the end of four brutal years of war that claimed the lives of around 37 million people.

When this Cenotaph was first unveiled here on 3 August 1924 by South Africa’s then Governor-General, Alexander Cambridge, he remarked as follows:

‘I cannot but believe that the existence of these visible memorials, which are to be found throughout the world – silent witnesses to the desolation of the war – will through the years to come, be potent advocates of peace and will eventually serve to draw all peoples together in mutual understanding’.

Sadly, the end of the Great War did not mark the end of conflict, or see the people of the world draw together in mutual understanding. The plaques and inscriptions at the base of the Cenotaph bear witness to this, commemorating also the Second World War of 1939 to 1945, as well as the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. In these conflicts, South African forces served with distinction.

While we may hope that the world never again faces conflict on such a global scale, we must be  ever mindful of the sacrifices that were made during those dark times. And we must continue to be mindful of the values and freedoms we hold so sacred that we are willing to give our lives in their defence. Are we, today, still willing to sacrifice our lives for the same causes and ideals as our fathers and grandfathers were in 1914, 1939, and 1950? Has our understanding of the values underpinning these ideals changed since those times? I believe it has.

While we may still remain unwavering in our commitment to freedom and our abhorrence of tyranny, we have certainly expanded our ideas of what freedom is, to whom it applies, and how it should be lived. In doing so, we may have found that this can bring about new conflict.

In pursuing the ideals of universal freedom and equality, we may come up against those who believe that some are more entitled to the fruits of liberty than others. We may find that some are prepared to employ the tools of tyranny to suppress the voices that speak out against them.
The struggle to entrench our ideals and freedoms may no longer be fought on a battlefield, but in the courts of law and public opinion, and ultimately within each one of us.

This requires us to examine closely what we hold sacrosanct, what we are willing to protect and fight for, and whether we are willing to champion the greater good of all, or simply ourselves and those nearest to us.

Every great war fought on a grim battlefield is mirrored in the hearts of its soldiers, who in every moment must consider: Do I have the courage and conviction to go on? Do I know what I am fighting for? Do I believe that what I fight for is just and right? Do I believe that my actions will usher in a better world? These are questions that do not only belong on a battlefield.

For all of us, a time comes when we are called upon to make a difficult choice that will have  significant consequences, that will most likely result in casualties, and that may come at great cost to ourselves. Let us therefore take courage in these moments by remembering those who went before us. Let their sacrifice be the shining light that guides us in times of fear and uncertainty.

Let us ensure that their sacrifice for a better world was not in vain, and that their names do indeed ‘liveth for evermore’. Today, we honour our fallen. We acknowledge their families and loved ones. We salute our veterans. And we pay tribute to our men and women in uniform who have sworn to uphold the values we hold dear. Thank you all who have given a lifetime of service to their country. May your arm be strengthened, and your conviction true. God bless you all. Thank you very much.”

 

11 thoughts on “Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph (2017)

  1. idlabs says:

    Hi Reggie,

    Sterling work as usual and always appreciated by my facebook friends, who are reminded of fathers, friends and relatives who fought and, in may cases, have now passed on.

    Best regards,

    John Holloway

    Like

  2. idlabs says:

    Hi Reggie,

    Thanks for your latest post. Sterling work, as usual. I will post it on facebook. Your work is much appreciated by friends and family, in turn reminding them of their fathers’ and relatives’ roles in the war.

    Best regards,

    John Holloway

    Like

    • Reggie says:

      Based on the first three words, I thought it must be you! 🙂 Hello Robin. You’re most welcome. Thank you for the brief chat in the Banqueting Hall afterwards. 🙂

      Like

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