The MOTH Cape Western Provincial Dugout, the Department of Military Veterans, and the Cape Town Highlanders again hosted a successful Memorial Parade and Service to commemorate the aforesaid.
Honoured by the presence of the Executive Deputy Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Alderman Ian Nielsen, Mr Shaun Booth of the DMV and El Alamein Veterans Charles Holloway and Sydney Ireland; the Cape Town Highlanders Regimental Band and Western Cape Army Band entertained the spectators to moving renditions of Highland Cathedral and Amazing Grace amongst others.
Cape Field Artillery provided the Gun that was used as Memorial for the occasion; looking resplendent once all 22 wreaths were laid and 71 Signals Unit took on responsibility for the Public Address system.
The Second Battle of El Alamein, fought over the period 23 October to 11 November 1942, was a turning point in the Second World War. If the Allies had failed and Rommel had broken through, the Axis would have been poised to take control of the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal.
Victories and defeats in battle are often linked to the Generals that guided them but today we pay tribute to those who actually fought, and to those who supported them, supplied them, and provided them with medical care. They were volunteers who elected to answer the call to arms, leaving their civilian situations to serve in a foreign and hostile environment.
Those who served beyond the borders of South Africa did so under the Service Oath, committing themselves as follows: “That I will perform to the best of my ability the duties assigned to me as a volunteer member of the Union Defence Force. That I will serve anywhere for the duration of the present war and for a period of six months thereafter unless legally discharged.”
Once they had signed up they were issued with uniforms, webbing and equipment, and put through basic training, followed by further training as drivers, signallers, anti-tank gunners, anti-aircraft gunners, artillerymen, Bren gunners or mortarists. After training, they were shipped north. The journey was long and tedious.
On arrival in North Africa they went into tented camps before embarking for the front line, by train, truck and finally on foot. In the transit camps they received their first exposure to the harsh conditions of the desert: blazing daytime temperatures and freezing nights, blinding and suffocating sandstorms, and an army of flies, fleas and scorpions.
Attention from the enemy would like as not be an artillery barrage, an infantry attack, or an aerial bombing or strafing. Veterans of dive bomb attacks never forget their conviction that the Stukas were actively seeking them out, that the pilot had YOU in his sights. The ground would heave and shrapnel would fill their air; then a deafening silence, your comrades shouting silently at you from a world in slow motion.
Stretcher bearers from the SA Native Military Corps rushed among the noise and confusion to carry the wounded to medical posts. Afterwards you dealt with the loss of your friends.
You ate in the breaks between battles. The Bully Beef was often liquid from the heat and the biscuits were thick and hard. Tinned sausages and guavas added a little variety. Getting food into your mouth was an ongoing battle against the swarming flies. Tea was brewed up over cut-down petrol tins filled with sand, with petrol poured into it for fuel. Condensed milk sweetened the brew.
Sometimes a supply of beer got through, warm and shaken up in the truck. There were no refrigerators, no fresh milk, no canteen and very little water. Thirst was a constant companion. Desert sores were a regular affliction and scratches needed immediate medical attention or they, too, would fester. There was no water for washing clothing but petrol did to clean your socks.
The desert battles were hard and the environment harder. Those who served made huge sacrifices and endured many hardships.
Winston Churchill had these words of encouragement to the men of the 8th Army in Tripoli:
“You have rendered a high service to your country and the Common Cause. You nightly pitched your moving tents a day’s march nearer home. The achievements of the 8th Army will gleam and glow in the annals of history. The days of your victories are by no means at an end!”
In his keynote address, the Officer Commanding of the CapeLionel Ashbury’s photo. Town Highlanders, Lt Col Lott requested surviving Veterans of the Battle and in attendance to be upstanding; a round of applause was a fitting tribute to the ordinary soldiers who fought and died