South Africans commemorated the bloodiest battle in the country’s history that of Delville Wood in WWI, in various locations around the country, attended by both serving members of the military and veterans organisations.
Digital Journal attended the 96th annual remembrance service at the Scottish Memorial in Pretoria’s Burgers Park on a bitterly cold day. It was organised jointly by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) along with the Pretoria Memorial Services Council and the Pretoria Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans.
Along with the older veterans organisations, like the SA Legion and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) some newer associations were also present, including that of 3 Parachute Battalion, the 61 Mechanised Battalion Group (“61 Mech”) and the Special Forces.
Army Chaplain Tlholo Bathobakae paid tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the South African 1st Infantry Brigade, comprising four Regiments, most of which were drawn from Scottish units, saying these excellent men would be remembered from generation to generation. He said they chose to stand firm, thus qualifying them to be counted among the brave and the valiant.
The memorial is a statue of a soldier of a Scottish Regiment in full military dress, on which the inscription reads:
To the glory of God
And in affectionate remembrance
Of the officers and men
Of the South African Scottish
Who laid down their lives
In the Great War
Gladly they lived
And gladly they died
This sentry from the Pretoria Regiment, a unit which has Scottish roots.
Before the wreath-laying, a two-minute silence was kept to honour the memories of the hundreds of South Africans who died fighting to hold a small area of dense forest in northern France at all costs, as part of the British Somme offensive of 1916. The South African Brigade suffered a shocking casualty rate of 80 percent.
Major Tim Lane, himself a member of a Scottish unit, wearing kilt and tartan, explained that this practise had become accepted world-wide to remember both soldiers and civilians who had laid down their lives.
Lieutenant Colonel Hutchinson of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment salutes the fallen.
The tradition was begun by well-known South African author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and Cape Town became the first city to observe this practice in December 1918.
Major Lane said that during the first minute of silence it was customary to give thanks for those who had survived and during the second, to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.