Sod turned for Cape Town Labour Corps memorial

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A sod turning ceremony in Cape Town’s Company Garden this week marked commencement of construction of the Cape Town Labour Corps (CTLC) memorial, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) project.

The memorial, scheduled to be unveiled in November, will commemorate the lives of more than 1 700 Black South African servicemen who served in non-combat roles and perished without a known grave or previous commemoration during World War One. The men served with the then Cape Coloured Labour Regiment, the Cape Auxiliary Horse Transport, the Military Labour Bureau and the SA Military Labour Corps.

Speaking at the ceremonial sod-turning on 11 March, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said: “We are proud to honour, through this Cape Town Labour Corps Memorial, more than 1 700 servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against tyranny more than a century ago”.

“Once completed this memorial will be a wonderful tribute to black South African servicemen who perished in World War One, and whose stories were often overlooked in the telling of that history. I can think of no better place to remember their contribution than right here in our beautiful and much-loved Company’s Garden in the heart of the Mother City.”

The memorial is the first to be created by the CWGC in response to commemoration inequalities after the 1914-18 conflict.

Charles Garrett OBE, Director of Commonwealth Relations and Global Strategy at the CWGC, said: “This landmark memorial has been long in the planning and throughout the process we have enjoyed an enthusiastic and warm response to creating a contemporary space that will appropriately reflect the contribution that South Africans of colour made during the First World War.

“It is poignant to have a new focal point of remembrance in South Africa, for all South Africans to appreciate. The new memorial honours by name a group of individuals who, for far too long, have been overlooked in history and in doing so seeks to tell the most complete story of global conflict.”

The CWGC is a global leader in commemoration, responsible for maintaining the cemeteries, memorials, graves and records of 1.7 million men and women from the Commonwealth who lost their lives in the two world wars. Funded by six Commonwealth member governments – Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK) – the CWGC commemorates and maintains graves of 10 625 Commonwealth casualties from the First and Second World Wars in almost 600 locations across South Africa.

A considered and consultative approach was taken in the creation of the memorial, including engagement with local authorities, heritage professionals and community groups across South Africa, as well as military veterans to determine the most appropriate location.

The Cape Town Labour Corps Memorial being constructed in the Delville Wood Memorial Garden of the Company Garden was designed by Dean Jay Architects of Durban. The design was selected from 58 entries in a CWGC memorial design competition. Cape Town-based DNL will manage memorial construction.

The memorial’s contemporary construction will see each life lost represented by an African hardwood post, with the service number, first and last name and date of death of the deceased recorded on it. The posts vary in height and individual characteristic finishes will be brought about by the environment over time. Each post will be set into an individually numbered South African Rustenburg granite base – a material used in Commission cemeteries across South Africa.