On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of 2020, the Executive Mayor of Overstrand Municipality, Dudley Coetzee, took part in a special Remembrance Hour at the Hermanus Cemetery to mark the armistice agreement that ended the First World War.
Many Hermanus residents came to pay their respects and to reflect on the sacrifices of those who bravely served in wartime. Members of the local Seagull Shellhole of the MOTHs and Hermanus resident Melanie Moore, who initiated the project to upgrade the Hermanus cemetery a few years ago, arranged the special assembly for Remembrance Day on Thursday last week.
Before the official programme started the branch committee and volunteers from Cllr Kari Brice’s Ward 3, as well as learners from Generation Schools Hermanus, planted vygies in their continued effort to beautify the cemetery. Another special touch was the red paper poppies that were cut out and attached to the white crosses on the unmarked graves.
After Melanie’s welcome speech, she quoted the first verse of John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders fields and Liezel Nel played the Last Post on her trumpet. A two-minute silence was observed, followed by André Willemse releasing his racing pigeons.
Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey Saayman, former commanding officer of the Western Cape Regiment, said in his address that Hermanus has a rich military history and that “we should be proud of the influence of South Africans during WWI and WWII”.
Few people know that during World War I, Hermanus had the highest level of volunteering per population size in the British Empire and the War Memorial was erected near the Old Harbour to commemorate the 11 volunteers who never returned.
Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey paid tribute to the connection Hermanus had with General Jan Smuts and his sister, Bebas Smuts, who served as Mayor of Hermanus during the Second World War from 1941 to 1946. Other war heroes included Roger Bushell (the Great Escape) whose grandparents and parents used to live in Hermanus – Hermanus High School has a trophy for the highest achieving learner named after him – and South African Victoria Cross winner, William Henry Hewitt, whose ashes were scattered at sea off the cliffs at Gearing’s Point.
Mayor Coetzee thanked all who were involved in arranging the event, especially the Regiment Westelike Provinsie, holder of the Freedom of the Overstrand and the Old Bill of the Seagull Shellhole, the local unit of the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats (MOTHs). He said it was a privilege to have war veterans, Ms Priscilla Drewe and Rifleman Nigel Goldi in attendance. The 95-year-old Priscilla was a Code Cracker for MR5 during World War II.
Coetzee continued by saying: “In my mind’s eye I see the images that war invokes as grey landscapes, mud-drenched trenches, flashing artillery – and then row upon row of white crosses stretching as far as the eye can see. But there is also another picture that comes to mind: that of fields bedecked in poppies – symbolic of an earth drenched in the blood of fallen soldiers. To me those poppies are however also symbolic of renewal and our ability to rise again, even after the harshest battles, and seize life with renewed vigour – often not for our own sake but for that of our progeny.
“May God bless South Africa and keep us safe.”