As this sad day dawns in 2011, I can’t help but reflect on the difference in attitude towards those who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars between my adoptive country, Australia, and the country of my birth, South Africa.
My mom, dad, aunt and three of my uncles took part in these wars, fighting on the same side as the Anzacs, and yet they were scarcely honoured in South Africa. I can remember some school ceremonies when the last post was played, and I know my mother certainly never forgot what had occurred or failed to honour those who had died, but, apart from some small low-key ceremonies, not much was made of the sacrifice those young men and women made for the freedom we enjoy today.
This was certainly true once the National Party, who had come to power in 1948, really became ensconced. And I suppose it’s understandable, because much of their leadership consisted of members of the Ossewabrandwag, a society that through its militant arm, the Stormjaers, had tried to sabotage the Allied cause during the Second World War.
So, much belatedly, I’d like to pay tribute to the sacrifice and bravery of those South Africans who fought during the First and Second World Wars.
My mom and aunt served as nurses on the frontline in Egypt, and my mom often told us tales of the men she had nursed. Many were badly injured and did not survive, but there were also tales of happiness and humour. My dad served in the British navy and even served on the ill-fated Hood, fortunately long before its ill-fated sinking. He went all over the world, but his experiences during the war left him scarred for life. In 1916, my uncle Fred ran away to join the war effort as a lad of fifteen, lying about his age in order to be accepted. He and his younger brother Dick also fought in the Second World War. Dick was captured at Tobruk and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp where he suffered many privations. He never fully recovered from the hardships, and remained a thin and sickly man to the end of his life. My uncle Harry also served in the navy and his ship was sunk off the coast of Durban, where the survivors floundered in a sea made viscous by the heavy oil that had leaked from their vessel. By the time they were eventually rescued, a miracle in itself, they had inhaled vast quantities of the toxic fumes, and this was attributed as the cause of Harry’s premature death of lung cancer some time after the war ended.
My fiction manuscript, The ChameleonFactor, is partly based on their lives.
So, on this Anzac Day when we so rightly remember the deeds of those who have fought for Australia and New Zealand, I would like to add my thanks to those of South Africa who also gave up so much for us.
May you all rest in peace.