SA salutes WW2 veterans


Almost 300 World War 2 veterans took a salute from SANDF chief of corporate services Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima on Sunday at a ceremony at the Rand Regiments' Memorial in Johannesburg.

The veterans, wearing their medals with jacket and tie, and the odd kilt, tam o'shanter and beret, marched proudly by, to remember the end of that conflict - at least in Europe - exactly 60 years before.

Some needed a cane and at least one of the many men - and few women - needed a walking aid.

Even teenagers who took part in the conflict have now reached their seventies and most of the former combatants on parade were a bit older than that.

The veterans, most of whom had served in Italy under the command of United States General Mark Clark, were just some of the South Africans who joined the rest of the globe in remembering the day "Hitler's war" ended.

The march was led by the pipes and drums of the Transvaal Scottish, SA Irish and SA Military Health Service.

Commemorations also took place in Cape Town, Durban and at the SA Air Force memorial in Pretoria.

"It is now sixty years since the triumph of the allied powers over the horrors of Nazism and it is a testimony to the sacrifices made by the soldiers of the time that we are able to enjoy the freedoms we have today," the Democratic Alliance's defence spokesman, Rafeek Shah, said in a statement to mark the occasion.

"The ultimate tribute that can be paid to those fallen soldiers and to the millions of innocent civilians who lost their lives in this most brutal of conflicts is that the world takes this moment to reflect on the horror of what was and redoubles its efforts to bring an end to conflict."

Tuesday, May 8, 1945, was "Victory in Europe" (VE) Day, and it marked the formal end of the war against Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

With it came the end of six years of misery, suffering, courage and endurance across the world.

Individuals reacted in very different ways to the end of the nightmare: some celebrated by partying; others spent the day in quiet reflection; and there were those too busy carrying out tasks to do either. Ultimately nothing would be quite the same again, the BBC says of the event on its website.

The end of the World War 1 on 11 November 1918 had come as a shock to many soldiers and civilians because the collapse of the German army had been so sudden.

By contrast, it was clear - since at least the beginning of 1945 - that the end of the World War 2 was in sight following a series of capitulations.

The German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2.

On the following day a high-ranking German delegation, including a senior admiral and a senior general, appeared at the headquarters of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, located near Lubeck.

Typically, Montgomery barked, "Who are these men? What do they want?"

They had come to surrender the German forces in Northern Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The final document of unconditional surrender was signed at General Dwight Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims on May 7.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George 6 wanted Monday 7 May to be VE Day, but in the event, bowing to American wishes, victory was celebrated on 8 May.

The Soviet Union waited an extra day before beginning their formal celebrations.

The bulk of South Africa's forces had been involved in Italy, and 6 SA Armoured Division took time that day to parade past then-Defence minister FC Sturrock on the straight at the Grand Prix track at Monza.

With him on the podium was divisional commander Major General Evered Poole and General Clark, general officer commanding the Allied 15th Army Group.

In South Africa, the German surrender was marked with small celebrations in most major centres.

One of the larger was in Johannesburg, where 20 000 blacks joined a "People's Day of Victory" celebration march in Johannesburg organised by the Council of non-European Trade Unions, the ANC and the Communist Party.

By contrast, London, New York and many other US and British Commonwealth cities came to a complete standstill as literally millions of soldiers and civilians celebrated the event - often raucously.

In the Pacific, the war against Japan had several more months to go.

Altogether 334 224 South Africans volunteered for full-time service.

"Of this total, 132 194 whites, and most of the 123 131 blacks who had volunteered served in the ground forces, while 44 569 whites served in the SAAF and 9455 in the SA Naval Forces," the Oxford Companion to the Second World War records.

"A total of 21 265 white women served in various branches of the women's Auxiliary Defence Corps and 3 710 in the Military Nursing Service.

Casualties amounted to nearly 9 000 dead, over 8000 wounded and 14 000 taken prisoner.

A few black servicemen also marched by. They were shoddily treated during and after the war.

They were denied the right to bear arms during the conflict and afterwards also discriminated against.

The Readers Digest Illustrated History of SA records the government (of Field Marshal Jan Smuts, then in San Francisco to help launch the United Nations) published cash and clothing allowances for discharged servicemen: while whites received £5 in cash and a £25 clothing allowance, coloured men received £3 and £15 respectively, and Africans only £2 and a khaki suit worth £2.

Many of the men had served as front-line stretcher bearers or had performed other dangerous or vital labour.

The Rand Regiment's Memorial, wedged between the city's zoo and the SA National Museum of Military History, was originally built to remember British soldiers who died in the 1899-1902 Anglo Boer War.

As a result, the apartheid government banned military parades at the memorial, a 20m tall stone four-arched building with a large bronze angel of peace positioned on top.

In 1999 it was decided that the memorial needed to consider all those who died in the war.

The site was re-dedicated on 10 October of that year to "the memory of the men, women and children of all races and all nations who lost their lives in the Anglo Boer War, 1899-1902".

There are now calls to move the cenotaph from the city centre to Saxonwold for the annual Remembrance Sunday commemorative event. - Sapa


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