The 11th hour of 11th day of 11th month – re­mem­ber those who fell in an unimag­in­able war 100 years ago

Saturday Star - - OPINION -



TO­MOR­ROW will mark the cen­te­nary of the armistice – 100 years since the guns fell silent all over the world bring­ing an end to the most unimag­in­able con­flict the globe had ever seen.

Most of us have for­got­ten the sig­nif­i­cance of it all – if we ever knew it in the first place.

We’re not like Bri­tain where there are red pop­pies ev­ery­where you turn at this time of year. Some might ar­gue that’s be­cause South Africa fought the empire’s war, which is wrong, be­cause Aus­tralia and Canada did, too. The poppy is as strong there as it is in the UK.

Oth­ers might ar­gue that it’s be­cause World War I was a white man’s war, which is just as far­ci­cal as the men of the Mendi (and the thou­sands of other Na­tive Mil­i­tary Corps mem­bers) would re­mind us or the sol­diers of the Cape Corps who chased Von Let­tow-vor­beck and then took and held Square Hill.

It’s even more bizarre when you think that the de­ci­sion by King Ge­orge V to of­fi­cially mark every Armistice Day – and the clos­est Sun­day as Re­mem­brance Sun­day – with a two-minute si­lence owes its ge­n­e­sis to a prac­tice which was be­gun in Cape Town in May 1918.

The first minute was to pause and give thanks for those who sur­vived.

The sec­ond to re­mem­ber those who died.

The si­lence would fol­low the Noon Day gun and break with reveille sounded by a bu­gler. Sir Percy Fitz­patrick, of Jock of the Bushveld fame, wrote to Lord Mil­ner af­ter the war to sug­gest it. Mil­ner wrote to the King and by Novem­ber 11, 1919 it was be­ing ob­served through­out the British Empire.

The British and Com­mon­wealth Ex-ser­vice­men’s League, of which the SA Le­gion is the se­nior mem­ber, is the cus­to­dian of the Re­mem­brance Day ob­ser­vances. It was founded in Cape Town in 1921.

It was set up not just to re­mem­ber but to look af­ter those who had an­swered the call, only to re­turn to a na­tion that no longer cared as they strug­gled with what we now know is PTSD. The SA Le­gion built houses, in­clud­ing two ma­jor de­vel­op­ments in Soweto, and fought for equal pen­sions.

The Com­rades Marathon, run for the first time that same year, and is to­day per­haps the world’s most fa­mous ul­tra-marathon, also traces its roots back to the “Great War” and the sac­ri­fices made.

The peo­ple who re­turned from the war had a dream that no one would ever have to ex­pe­ri­ence any­thing like it again.

Sadly, less than 20 years later, the world would be at war again, even more bru­tal and cruel than any­thing that pre­ceded it – pre­cisely be­cause of the mis­takes made in try­ing to end the first one.

The Treaty of Ver­sailles – and the de­sire for ret­ri­bu­tion – sowed the seeds for the tyranny of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, an­other war – and the Holo­caust.

We’ve never had a world war since, but we’ve never been truly at peace ei­ther. We have for­got­ten all of that at our peril.

To­mor­row is high time we started re­mem­ber­ing anew.

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