In a few minutes we shall fall silent for two, as we remember.
Five years ago a small group of South African friends visited the Ypres Salient and the Somme for the 100thAnniversary of that terrible battle in that ghastly War-to-end-all-Wars, with emphasis on Delville Wood where so many South Africans died and where there is a beautiful memorial designed by Herbert Baker and where, incredible to relate, I stumbled upon my Great-Uncle Alexander Keay’s name listed as missing during that battle and then found him at Thiepval where we attended the Armistice Remembrances on the 11th November.
An extract from my diary reads:
11.00am., 11th November, 2016.
It’s a sacred public holiday in France today.
A glorious, sunny day; blue skies but a chilly stillness.
Thiepval is a massive memorial dominating the heights above the Somme River valley and offering a panoramic view of the epic struggle that raged exactly 100 years ago here from July through to November. Our views were perfect : the stillness, the Autumn colours, the mown lawns with the tiny hamlet of Thiepval and its little church backing the monument where we collected with hundreds more for the short ceremony at 11.00am European Winter Time. The Royal Hampshire Constabulary provided a fitting band and a short ceremony, the sashed Mayor of Thiepval saying words which were translated through the British Legion representative……The church clock chimed eleven, the Last Post was played, two minutes silence ensued, then we were at ease. The main event, complete with bilingual prayers, hymns, wreath laying and the band, played out at 12.00 to coincide with ceremonies in Britain at GMT.
Our thoughts went out not only for the Great War warriors but all the millions of fallen in all the wars then and ever since.
It was made all the more poignant for me discovering my great-uncle’s name at Delville Wood the day before. A. Keay. My mother’s maiden name was Keay. At Thiepval this morning amongh the records I found his name:
KEAY, Lance Corporal, ALEXANDER, 228. “C”Coy. 4th Regt., South African Infantry, October 1916. Age 22. Son of Andrew and May Evelyn Keay, of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Grave Reference: Pier and Face 4C.
Altogether a very moving moment.
He was Lance Corporal in the South African Infantry and went missing at Wallencourt Butte which we had visited yesterday and where there was such confusion and mayhem that no bodies were ever recovered and the men were listed as missing. And so my mother’s uncle, Alexander Keay, my great-uncle, brother to me grandfather Ralph, went up on the lists without number and has his name carved in section 4C on the memorial.
No one in our family has ever visited him though our grandmother often spoke of him and wept. I immediately phoned my cousin Avril in Johannesburg to share this moment and we were both much moved.
Great Uncle Alexander. Just one personal discovery among millions; for to these places pilgrims come in their thousands, searching for connections, for some understanding of a world gone mad.”
LEST WE FORGET