ANZAC: soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Today is Anzac Day and it is probably a very subdued one given the state of the world at this point in time. It is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served“.
The ANZAC Forces left their mark in Gallipoli, with 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand sacrificing their lives in what was a disaster from the start. However, this disaster did not ruin the fighting prowess of the ANZAC’s in future conflicts and they left their mark wherever they fought. The courage of those soldiers from the Southern Hemisphere is the stuff of legend, and in Australia and New Zealand they are commemorated with pride.
At the Kemal Atatürk Memorial in Canberra, the following words are attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and they pay tribute to the Anzacs and reflects his understanding of the cost of war:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
I do not have any ANZAC ancestry, but by a quirk of fate I adopted one. Many years ago while visiting Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol I photographed the newly relaid ledger stones that were originally placed on the graves of the men buried in “Soldiers Corner”.
Unfortunately over the years some of the stones were damaged and all were removed in the 1920’s. Renewed interest in the First World War saw the stones replaced on the graves but unfortunately many were missing and irreparably damaged. The CWGC then restored the plot in 2018 and it was unveiled later in the year. One of the newly replaced ledger stones was for Private William Walker A.I.F and it was decided that the unveiling of his new grave marker would be used as an occasion to re-open the newly restored Soldier’s Corner. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the new plot and meet with some of his family that I had corresponded with through the Lives of the First World War project. Pte Walker is now one of “mine” too and I have added a poppy to commemorate him at the Australian War Memorial Virtual Wall of Remembrance.
As we face a world wide pandemic it is worth remembering that many of the men and women that were in the forces would loose their lives in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and over 100 years later we are facing a similar pandemic, although so far it has not as severe as the Spanish Flu was.
And while ANZAC Day is really about Australia and New Zealand, it is commemorated around the world in recognition of the terrible price that we pay for war, and that as veterans we are all connected irrespective of whether we are ANZAC, Canadian, British, Indian, Muslim, American or Ugandan.
February has become what is known as “3 ships month”, and unfortunately the 3 ships that I remember are all disasters that are part of maritime history in South Africa. This year I am going to commemorate them in one post as opposed to 3.
11 February 1941: HMSAS Southern Floe.
The ship was a Southern Class whaler, one of four ships taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe.
In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.
On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk, but there was no sign of Southern Floe and a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.
18 February 1982. SAS President Kruger.
One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger), the “PK” was a Type 12 Frigate, built in the United Kingdom and was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun. She was the flagship of the South African Navy, and at the time of her sinking she was also holder of the “Cock of the Fleet”.
On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. She was under the command of Captain de Lange and at the time were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the Tafelberg. The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side.
At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg. The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.
The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of 16 lives. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings. A naval board of inquiry was appointed shortly afterwards that determined the cause of the collision was of a lack of seamanship by the captain and watch officers of the ship. The Captain was administratively retired early and the Navy arranged a job with Armscor for him, while the PWO was sidelined to only shore appointments and had his promotion stopped.
21 February 1916. HMT Mendi.
The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.
The ship was carrying 15 officers, 17 NCO’s and 802 members of the South African Native Labour Corps as well as 1500 tons of cargo and set sail under convoy for Plymouth. The SANLC men were quartered in the number 1, 2 and 4 holds. After calling at Plymouth she set sail for Le Havre on the 20th of February at full speed, escorted by the destroyer HMS Brisk. The weather was overcast, threatening mist with light winds and a smooth sea. However, after midnight the weather became thicker and speed was reduced until the ship was sailing at slow speed. The whistle was sounded and a number of other ships whistles were heard. At 4.45 the escort signalled the Mendi and suggested that the slow speed made it difficult to keep station. The Mendi maintained her slow speed.
In the early hours of the morning of the 21st of February The SS Darro, inbound for the UK, ran into the hapless Mendi, striking her at right angles, damaging the bulkhead between number 1 and 2 holds where the troops were quartered. The Darro then backed out of the hole, presumably because her engines were now responding the the full astern command given shortly before the collision. She disappeared into the fog, leaving the Mendi to founder. On board the stricken Mendi orders were given to lower the boats to the rail and the 4 whistle blast signal for boat stations was given. The boats were then ordered to be lowered to the water and to lie alongside.
Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. The Darro lay off not too far from where the disaster was unfolding, on board her the lifeboats were lowered to the rail and all hands were on deck. In spite of these preparations and the sound of voices in the water no attempt was made to investigate what had happened or to rescue survivors although 2 boats did reach the ship and survivors were embarked. She remained in the area until until just before 9 am. and then set sail for a Channel port (possibly Southampton or Portsmouth) where 107 survivors of which 64 were from the SANLC were landed.
The disaster shook the nation, but was gradually forgotten as the years passed. The Nationalist government conveniently erased it from history but it has become more prominent once again as veterans groups get together to remember those volunteers from the SANLC who died in a war that they knew nothing about.
Another year has almost passed and we are already at Remembrance Day. It has been a troubled year though, not only for myself but for the UK in general. However, come Remembrance Day then the whole town comes out to observe the silence and to Remember The Fallen of both wars. Actually we commemorate too those who lost their lives in the service of their country in other wars and political upheaval, and of course the millions of innocents who were caught in the middle.
The weather on this day was forecast as being cloudy but by the time the service was underway it had turned into a pleasant day overall.
Just for a change I decided I would showcase some of the businesses and shops that decorate their windows, and while this is not all of them it is those that I have seen and managed to get pics of. Reflections are always a problem though and of course parked cars and passing pedestrians.
I do not necessarily endorse any of the shops above, but would like to thank them for making the effort. Oh, we do seem to have a lot of undertakers in our small town, which is really odd when you think about it.
The War Memorial I have dealt with on several occasions so won’t go into it in any detail, however it does sit on a crucial junction and when it is in use you can be rest assured the town comes to a stop.
The service this year was more or less the same format as previously, but was much shorter although it was well attended as usual.
And the Tewkesbury Town Band led the parade as usual. They are very professional and popular too, and if music is required then they can help!
The marching column is a long one though, and gets more ragtag as it gets to the end as it includes the many children’s groups that are included in the parade (Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade, Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force, Scouts (Beavers, Cubs & Scouts), Girl Guides (Rainbows, Brownies & Guides), Sea Cadets, Tewkesbury Tigers & Tewkesbury Colts). Many of the children are shivering with cold though so you can bet they will be glad when its time to head off home.
And then it was time for the Last Post and the 2 minute silence…
and the wreath laying.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning We will remember them.”
And then they all marched off. I think that this portion of the parade was done by 11H20 and all that was left was the march past at the town hall.
Last year the biggest highlight for me was the small girl who sat on her father’s shoulders and saluted as everybody marched past. I was hoping to spot her again this year and I did too. Only she had grown now and while she sat on her father’s shoulders this year I doubt whether she would be able to next year. But, she took the salute again and I hope she will continue to for many years to come. Those shivering children are the future of Remembrance and in 20 years time hopefully they will be standing in our place watching the parade pass by while their children straggle along at the end.
The red of the Flanders Poppy represents the blood of all those who gave their lives,
the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home,
and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much.