South Africans across the country have commemorated the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War on November 11, 1918.
This year’s Armistice Day coincides with Remembrance Sunday, which is always held on the second Sunday in November regardless of the date.
The memorial at the Union Buildings in Pretoria opened with recordings of gunfire and shelling, evoking the atmosphere of the brutal conflict 100 years ago.
As the hour of 11 o’clock approached, the guns fell silent and were replaced by jubilant peals of church bells, recreating the time when Armistice Day was declared on November 11, 1918 and Big Ben in London sounded on the hour at 11am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The National Civic Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph in Johannesburg also paid tribute to the men of the Cape Corps who fought and died during the Battle of Square Hill against Turkish forces fighting on the side of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria) in Palestine 100 years ago. The field gun they captured is now incorporated in the Square Hill Memorial in Kimberley in the Northern Cape.
Speaking at the Johannesburg memorial, Reverend Trevor Slade spoke of the importance of continuing remembrance: “This generation has gathered here today with our memories of loved ones who were killed in past wars. We are also here today in solidarity with those who are still alive, but who live with terrible wounds of body and mind. We are here today to ensure that the memory of those who died in war and those who survived war, and especially those brave South African servicemen and women who died in the First World War, the Battle of Square Hill, those who died in World War ll, Korea and subsequent battles for the liberation of people everywhere, that their memory will live on for all generations.”
Serving military members, veterans and diplomats attended the services and laid wreaths to honour those who fought and died not only in the First World War, but also other conflicts such as Korea and during peacekeeping operations.
Wreaths were laid by among others representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and the US as well as veterans organisations such as the SA Legion of Military Veterans, the MK Military Veterans Association, Cape Corps Military Veterans, 32 Battalion Veterans Association. Also, a wreath was laid in tribute to the descendants of those who died on the SS Mendi in 1917.
Other memorial services were held as far afield as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban and at schools such as King Edward VII School (KES) in Johannesburg and Diocesan College or Bishops in Cape Town.
Across the world, thousands of people gathered in capitals, beside monuments and in front of their leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. South African Defence Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Naqakula, attended the ceremony in Paris.
The First World War began as a conflict between European powers in August 1914, but soon spread across the world with fighting in Africa and the Middle East and drew in countries such as America and Japan. About 10 million soldiers died in the fighting as well as an estimated 10 million civilians.
While the Armistice was celebrated by the citizens of Britain and France as the start of peace, for those in countries like Germany, Russia, Turkey, Austria and Hungary, the armistice did not mean peace, but revolution, the collapse of monarchies and empires, economic hardships and poverty.
In a moving tribute during the Pretoria ceremony, and possibly a first during a Remembrance Day memorial service, Mr Wasserman and his dog laid a wreath to a round of applause on behalf of the South African Police counterinsurgency or COIN Veterans League, for all animals that died in combat.