Our school paused on Friday, 9 November to remember the members of the armed forces who have died on duty since World War I. Remembrance Day is usually observed on 11 November to recall the official end of World War I on that date in 1918, as the major hostilities of World War I were formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of… 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.
Rev Dr Mark Marais led the devotions, while the Headmaster, Mr Pringle, spoke about the significance of the day, and its relevance to the youth of today, that now, thankfully, a great many South Africans, have no personal experience of war, no way of knowing the anguish of enforced separation, or the greater grief of separations made permanent. And for that reason amongst others, it is time to renew our pledge.
Mr Pringle told the story of Old Unionite Lt. Victor De Kock RN, MBE, DSC, and MID, South Africa’s most decorated sailor. He was born in Clarendon in 1919, matriculated at Union High in Graaff-Reinet and died at the age of 23 years having earned the highest of military honours. He was the South African Navy’s most decorated war hero, the only officer to receive three awards for gallantry. He was one of four members of the Union High School 1937 1st Cricket Team who were killed in action during the Second World War.
It is fortunate that in schools and in workplaces, in cities and in the country-side, South Africans stop, just for a moment, to consider what was lost to us. And to recognise what was granted to us by the exercise of such moral courage.
Mr Charles Maasdorp, Head boy of the school in 1951, played the Last Post and the Reveille while Mr Sparrius lowered and raised the national flag. Wreaths were laid by the Head Prefects, Jenna McNaughton and Peter Watermeyer, and by Mr John Crankshaw on behalf of the Old Unionite Association. By this act of remembrance, we cherish and nurture this possession, their gift. We prove an understanding both of its value and its cost. We build a bridge across time. By recognising both what has been lost to us and what has been gained, by renewing our pledge to remember, we declare, of all our fallen: “They are not missing. They are here”.
In honour of Remembrance Day, James Rose-Innes wrote the following poem:
100 Years ago
100 years ago, the war was done
Finished with it’s aweful run
Creating heroes who were brave
But only to be celebrated at their grave.
There was great joy to the end of the war
But also great sadness which bore
Into the hearts of men
Who experienced it there and then.
Our condolences are poured into a red poppy
Representing the blood that was shed
Warriors on boats, fields and in the air as well
We had to bid farewell.
I should hopefully never know the effect of the war
Because of those courageous men
Who bravely fought so
100 years ago.