On a mild spring day, under azure skies, a small group of people gathered at East Fort in Hout Bay to celebrate Armistice Day. The ceremony proved to be both moving and uniquely South African. It was lead by ‘soldiers’ (actually members of the Hout Bay and Llandudno Heritage Trust) of the Pondicherry Regiment, beautifully dressed in their uniforms and wearing Napoleon-style hats.
In a short speech Alan Dellbridge reminded us that we were not only remembering the soldiers who had died in all wars but were also honouring those who had fought to establish the new nation of South Africa. A fragrant fynbos Garden of Remembrance has been cultivated at East Fort and is an inspiring place to remember one’s own loved ones in peace and solitude.
The mountains around the fort then resounded to the mournful sounds of a Scottish piper as he played a selection of melodies. Precisely at 11am, a minutes silence was observed. The silence represents the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, when the guns of Europe fell silent.
While the flag was lowered, a bugler sounded the Last Post and a master gunner fired off the Finbanker cannon twice, as a tribute to all fallen heroes. Reveille was sounded as the flag rose again and caught the wind proudly. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika was played (and sung by some) as the ‘soldiers’ doffed their hats in respect.
A member of the armed forces then laid a poppy wreath in the shape of a cross and a prayer was said in gratitude, once again, for the brave and the beautiful who gave their lives in wars to protect others.
History tells us that the Pondicharry Regiment was a band of mercenary soldiers who were raised in Pondicherry, India (a French enclave south of Madras) and brought over to help the Dutch defend Hout Bay against the British. They were instrumental in building the fortifications of the lower gun battery at East Fort and remained in South Africa for two-and-half years - hence their historical connection to the fort and to Hout Bay.
Armistice Day is commemorated in mainly commonwealth countries across the world to mark the anniversary of the end of the First World War hostilities in 1918 at 11h00. Most ceremonies are formal and very moving, as people remember with gratitude the sacrifice made by so many young men and women in two World Wars.
Footnote: In the United Kingdom, ‘Remembrance Sunday’ is held on the second Sunday in November, which is the Sunday nearest to 11 November.