Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

What does the red poppy symbolize?
The remembrance poppy was inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”. Its opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders, a region of Europe that overlies a part of Belgium.

Why do we celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11?
Armistice Day is on 11 November and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, back in 1918. A two-minute silence is held at 11am to remember the people who have died in wars.

Why did the war end on November 11?
On this day, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiegne, France.

Why we should observe Remembrance Day in South Africa
How many people these days know what this date signifies? Over the years, many South Africans have lost sight of the significance of the term ‘remembrance’ in the military sense.

In 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent to end the First World War (1914-1918), the largest global man-made catastrophe known until that time. The ‘war to end all wars’ cost the lives of a total of 8 634 300 soldiers. Twenty years later, the Second World War (1939-1945) saw the loss of 24 517 000 combatants’ lives. In addition to these statistics, millions of civilians died during both conflicts.

As a comparatively young country which permitted only a small segment of its population to bear arms, South Africa nevertheless made significant contributions to the Allied causes in both world wars and in the Korean War (1950-3). In the First World War, 245 419 South Africans of all races volunteered for military service; during the Second World War, 342 692 South African men and women of every race came forward; and in the Korean War, 826 men saw service with No 2 Squadron, South African Air Force while ten officers of the South African Armoured Corps served with the British Army.

During the Second World War, South Africa’s “little ships” earned an enviable reputation in the Mediterranean. It was said that “the discipline, morale and above all, the marksmanship of the 22nd Anti-Submarine guys, were unequalled in the inshore squadron.”

In South African waters our ships patrolled the entrances to our ports, escorted convoys between them, swept enemy mines and rescued more than 400 survivors from ships torpedoed by the many submarines operating in the area.

On 1 August 1942 the Seaward Defence Force and the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (South Africa) were amalgamated to form the South African Naval Forces (SANF) in which 10 332 officers and ratings served during the Second World War. At the peak period of the Second World War in 1944, the South African fleet consisted of 87 vessels. A total of 329 members of the SANF were killed in action or died in service and 225 awards for gallantry or distinguished service were bestowed on South African sailors.

Twenty-six battle honours were confirmed on our ships, three of which served in the Far East.  The minesweeper SAS Pretoria was one of them.

A total of 2 937 officers and ratings were seconded to the Royal Navy, so that our sailors took part in nearly every major naval operation in the Second World War, as well as performing all manner of obscure duties from minesweeping off the Faroe Islands to hydrographical surveying in Chinese waters.

They served in the convoys to Russia, were present at the Normandy landings on D-Day and many of them served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. During this time, South Africa’s sailors showed that they were as good as the best in the world and established a proud fighting tradition.

Will we remember them?