Remembering…

Today, in 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. We shall Remember them…

This morning I opened the blog entry of Ouch my back hurts– about his visit to the war cemetery at Delville Woods, where a lot of South African soldiers lies buried.  We also had the goosebumps on Saturday when a soldier played the Last Tattoo on the trumpet before the rugby game between South Africa and Wales… (damn, that Alain Rolland is an irritating referee!)

Since a very young age I have been interested in history, and war stories. It always sounded so glamorous. But then, our country’s young men also had to do compulsory military service. We were soldiers. And we also experienced the horror of basic training, of being shout at by a pimply two striper with an IQ barely above that of a pea plant.  There was the camaraderie of soldiers- people suffering through the same adversity.   But there was also the bad experiences of body bags, and military funerals.  As an Army Chaplain I had to take the messages of deaths to families and loved ones.

Military cemeteries and monuments are good things. They remind us of the senselessness of war. I love the point of view that Chris de Burgh sings about in Borderline- take the politicians, stick them in a room together, and make them fight it out…  Why should young men keep dying in old men’s wars?   Agreed, sometimes we have to fight injustice. Some dictators in history really needed a bullet in the head to improve their thinking.  But the price young men and these days also women pay, is horrific.

Our country fought as an Allied partner in both World Wars. Our Boer Commandos of the Anglo Boer War inspired the Special Forces- which is still referred to as Commando Forces in some countries.  Our General Jan Smuts was a founding member of the United Nations.  We can do war. But it is a bad idea! This is why:

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My ancestors were responsible for these names on the memorial to the Black Watch regiment in Edinburgh. But they started it! Anyway, they are remembered as brave soldiers, who marched to the tune of the bagpipes into a killing field, and a lot of them died at Magersfontein near Kimberley.

Twelve years later the old enemies fought together as Allies in Europe. And died together on Flanders’ fields…

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The names of the Allied MIA on the Menin Gate at Ieper, it seems like millions…

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Just a small part of Tyne Cott cemetery near Passchendaele in Belgium, a very unhealthy place to be in the first World War- lead poisoning…

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One of ours… Known unto God…

And Uncle Spike shared this monument on Saturday– the Special Forces (Commandos)  memorial in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain in Scotland…  my photo of it:

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Politicians- war is a BAD idea. Stop your nonsense…

In conclusion- one of the best songs of war- the end title song of the movie Passchendaele- Sarah Slean singing: After the War-

PS- Now I have to start preparing for a funeral of a young father who died by gunshot wound on Thursday… Tomorrow we must remember him too… when will it stop?

War and Forgiveness

This morning I saw a blog entry commemorating the 111th anniversary of the Anglo Boer War.   This coming Sunday the brave soldiers that came to fight in South Africa for the British Empire will be remembered.  It is the first time in over a century that this will be celebrated in that particular town.

Yes, I know, history belong to the victors of a war.  Ordinary men become heroes in the forge of battle.  Their legend lives on. Statues are built for them.  Like this one I saw in Edenburgh, of the Black Watch Regiment.  ImageOh boy- do we remember the Black Watch fondly!  These Scots were brave soldiers. They marched against the entrenched Boer forces with great discipline at Magersfontein. A lot of them also died bravely there- this was the one battle the Boer forces won decisively.

Brave soldiers are remembered.  Remembrance Days are held for them…

But what is often overlooked, is the damage the war caused…  I took this photo on Saturday, 200 meters from my home… Image

What is this?  Only the Dutch and Flemish people will be able to read the Afrikaans words on this memorial:

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Here rest, except for a few other people, 544 women and children, who died as victims in the Concentration Camp during the War of 1899-1902 and for whom a memorial was erected on the Market Square on 15 December 1942…”

The Anglo Boer War was not always the Last Gentlemen’s War, as it is so proudly remembered in some circles.  It also marked the invention of the Concentration Camp- not by Hitler, but by the British.  In our town, which had about 1000 inhabitants, and from the surrounding district, 544 women and children has perished in the concentration camp. Some people says it did not happen. Like some would deny the Holocaust of WW II.  But here are the graves… the names of all 544 persons are on a granite  wall at the entry to the  cemetery. And this is in just one small South African town, Nylstroom.  There were many, many such concentration camps,  some a lot worse than this!

How many men died in combat from the Waterberg Commando? (That is the other word we gave the world- Commando- usually damn good soldiers…)  Fifteen…  IMG_0930

Can you think how a society can be normal after the War, when just 15 of it’s men died in combat, but 544 women and children have died?

War creates brave heroes. It also destroy innocent lives.  THe two Boer Republics became a part of the British EMpire- why? We have the world’s gold and diamonds under our feet.

The scars of this war remained a long, long time in South Africa.

BUT: we fought in World Wars I and II alongside the British. We were part of the Allied Forces. That created even more tension in our country- between Pro and Anti War sentiments.

Do I hate the British, Aussies, Kiwi’s and Canadians who fought here? No! What would the point of hate be?  My own sister is now a British citizen. The Empire strikes back- a LOT of my tribe now live in these countries.

And I have been a soldier too.  South African white boys did not have a choice in the matter. We had compulsory military service. You had these choices: two years in the army, or four years in the police or prison system. Or you had to go to jail, have a criminal record, no passport, and a hell of a life trying to get work with THAT on your criminal record. We grew up with the propaganda of “The Communist threat”…  Terrorist attacks like the Church street bomb on 20 May 1983 left a huge impression on my schoolboy mind- THAT is what THEY do- we have to fight to survive in darkest Africa.  They want to kill me…

Young men just don’t have choices in old men’s wars…

So- remember the brave soldiers. But remember the victims too.

It was time in SOuth Africa to forgive the British, and move on. I hope in my lifetime there will also be true reconciliation between the old enemies who grew up together in this beautiful divided land…

Listen, this is why I became a pastor- I believe that love is the greatest gift of all. Broken relationships must be healed.  Even between people and nations.  Love conquers all.  May there be an end to war!