SAs Cape Corps remembered in Britain

The South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery.

The South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery.(© Theo Fernandes – SA Legion UK & Europe)

Britain’s first memorial to commemorate the Cape Corps’ bravery and sacrifice during the World War l Battle of Square of Hill in Palestine has been held at the Richmond Cemetery in London.

The Cape Corps was drawn from the Coloured community in the Cape.

The South African Legion of Military Veterans UK and Europe Branch, which organised the service, said this was to raise awareness in Britain where is it not widely known, ahead of the centenary of the battle in 2018.

In an email, the Legion’s Andrew Bergman said Councillor Margaret Buter represented the Borough of Richmond upon Thames while members of the Royal British Legion SA and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) Gazala Shellhole also attended.  

There were no SA government representatives as this initial event was mainly for military veteran’s organisations.   

The memorial was held at the South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery.  

It is similar to the cenotaph in White Hall and was designed by Sir Edwin Luytens to commemorate 39 South African soldiers who died of their wounds at a military hospital in Richmond Park during the Great War.

Although it was not initially envisaged that the Cape Corps would be involved in the fighting in the Middle East, based on their record in East Africa their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Hoy was able to convince General Allenby, Commander of the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force to allow them to fight.

Their actions against the Turks in taking Square Hill on 18 and 19 September 1918 and assaulting another hill slightly further north, contributed to General Allenby’s break through to Damascus and knocking Turkey out of the war.

In their assault on the second hill KH Jibeit, they were without artillery support against the Turks who had been heavily reinforced.  

They suffered numerous casualties, particularly among their officers and when they finally retired, this was largely led by non-commissioned officers whose conduct drew praise from watching senior officers.  

By the end of the day, the battalion had been reduced to 10 officers and 350 other ranks.  

The Cape Corps had suffered 51 killed, 101 injured and one captured.

The Cape Corps’ bravery was widely recognised by the Entente Powers and their allies.  

They were awarded 16 Distinguished Conduct medals, eight Military Medals, two orders of the crown of Italy, (Bronze), two Decoration Militare from Belgium and one Medaille Militaire from France.

Although the bravery of the coloured soldiers in Palestine ranks with Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi in South
Africa’s World War I military history, it has been largely ignored and there is only one memorial to their memory, in their former base, Kimberley.

In the past week, several other memorials were held in South Africa.

The MOTHS also held a memorial at the Castle in Cape Town on Sunday.

Source: SABC

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