South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief: Reserves Major General Roy Andersen used a visit to two World War One memorials in France to remind leaders that peace only lasts until the next war and that steps have to be taken to meet any threat at any given moment.
He was speaking on July 7 at the Deville Wood Memorial, the site of what he called “a place that witnessed so terrible a testing of the human spirit under conditions so frightful over so long an unbroken period of time to which young South African volunteer soldiers were subjected”.
Andersen also visited the Arques-la-Bataille cemetery during what has become an annual pilgrimage for him.
Referring to the hallowed ground of Delville Wood he said it was “doubly hallowed by virtue not only of the fact that over 600 of those young men who fought and died here, still lie unburied within the confines of the wood, now made lovely again by its regrown trees, but also because here stands the only national memorial to the 25 000 volunteers of all races who died while serving in the South African forces during two World Wars, the Korean conflict, the Struggle for Freedom and more recent peace support missions”.
Recalling the Battle of Delville Wood, he said events started on July 15, 1916, when three battalions of young men marched out of trenches two hours before dawn with orders to hold the Wood at all costs. It ended six days later when five officers and 750 men marched out. They were the survivors of a brigade that numbered 3 032 men and 121 officers.
“Their fortitude and resolution set an example to the next generation of South Africans who fought in World War Two. By 1945, 334 378 South Africans of all races had participated and 14 341 had made the supreme sacrifice. They too are remembered far away from home.
“This year 15 brave young South African soldiers lost their lives in the Central African Republic. We remember their sacrifice and our thoughts are with their families.
“These groups from World War One and Two and more recent conflicts are honoured by this memorial to all those who died for their country in action overseas.
“The Delville Wood Museum also portrays the courageous Struggle for Freedom in South Africa which culminated in the democratic elections and the end to apartheid in 1994. They paved the way for the freedom in South Africa.
“The Delville Wood War Memorial is not only testimony to South Africa’s proud military past but it also carries a message for future generations. It is a reminder of the military lessons learnt from previous wars that should never be forgotten, and should be taken to heart.
“It tells us that peace only lasts until the next war, and that we should take the necessary steps to prepare ourselves to meet any threat at any given moment,” Andersen said.