Remembrance Day 2023 breaks more than a century of tradition

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South Africa’s military veterans and civic groups held the 103rd National Civic Remembrance service on Sunday 12 November, which is known as Remembrance Day, the day after Armistice Day that commemorates the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, when the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

After 102 years of officially recognised ceremonies, the remembrance of those who gave their lives for South Africa in all wars, battles and armed struggles, normally held at the Cenotaph in Central Johannesburg, was effectively a private and civic event as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) did not send sentries nor were Johannesburg City Council members present in an official capacity.

This year, following an announcement by the Johannesburg City Council that they had no budget for the memorial, the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTHs), organised a service at the Anglo Boer War Memorial, next to the Ditsong National Military History Museum. They were joined by members of the SA Legion’s Soweto Branch, numerous military veterans organisations representing infantry, armour and paratroopers, as well as Indian, Coloured and Jewish veterans’ associations, among others. Diplomats from France, Germany, Argentina, Belgium and Bulgaria also laid wreaths, along with the SA Police Service. Civic groups like the Girls’ Brigade, Pathfinders and others were also present.

A Marching Column of Veterans led by the SA Irish Regimental Association’s Pipes and Drums opened the ceremony, followed by the prayer and sermon delivered by SA Air Force veteran, the Reverend Trevor Slade. The SA Irish Regiment was raised in 1914 and has been disbanded and raised again due to world wars. In 2019 it was renamed the Andrew Mlangeni Regiment after a Rivonia Trialist and is a battalion-sized motorised infantry regiment based in Kensington, Johannesburg. The insignia of the unit remains similar to its historical predecessor.

Reverend Slade took a verse from the Book of Isaiah, 2:4, which says:

He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again.

This hope echoes the World Veterans’ Federation Credo, which states that: “None can speak more eloquently for peace than those who have fought in war”, a hope held by all those present.

The two-minutes’ silence was held in which the first minute gives thanks for those who returned, while the second remembers those who did not. (This is a South African contribution to Commonwealth Remembrance Days.) The silence is preceded by the Last Post and followed by the Reveille. This seems backwards, as the Last Post was historically a bugle or trumpet call indicating the camp was safe for the night and troops could go to bed. Reveille is the original ‘wake up call’ and was played at sunrise. In the Commonwealth tradition, the Last Post remembers those who died and the Reveille, played after, expresses the Christian hope of the Resurrection.

Parades have been held in Pretoria and Cape Town, as well as other cities and schools.