Smoke On Go


05:30 on the morning of 11 November 1918, in a railway coach standing at a remote railway siding in the heart of the forest of Compiègne, Germany signed the Armistice Agreement that brought the war to an end. Soon after, telegraph wires were humming with the message: “Hostilities will cease at 11.00 today November 11. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour”. Thus the war ended at 11h00 on 11th day of 11th month between Germany and the Allied Forces of World War 1.

This war cost the lives of a total of 8 634 300 soldiers. Twenty years later, the Second World War (1939-1945) saw the loss of 24 517 000 combatants’ lives. In addition to these statistics, millions of civilians died during both conflicts.

South Africa made significant contributions to the Allied causes in both World Wars and also in the Korean War (1950-3). In the First World War, 245 419 South Africans of all races volunteered for military service; during the Second World War, 342 692 South African men and women of every race came forward; and in the Korean War, 826 men saw service with No 2 Squadron, South African Air Force (SAAF). Ten officers of the South African Armoured Corps served with the British Army. 


The first Poppy Day was established on the third anniversary of Armistice Day in 1921.

The wearing of red poppies signifies the poppies that grew in between the trench lines and no man’s land on the Western Front.

In South Africa, Armistice (Poppy) Day is marked on the Sunday that falls closest to November 11. Many nations that are not members of the Commonwealth also observe Remembrance Day on November 11, including France, Belgium and Poland.

Ideas of silent remembrance for those who died for their country emerged around the world at the time of the First World War. The horrendous slaughter of that war and the grieving it caused sent shockwaves around the world. When the war took a turn for the worse in 1918, many areas in South Africa called for a halt of activity at midday to ‘…direct the minds of the people to the tremendous issues which are being fought out on the Western Front’.


Following the signing of the armistice in November, the Mayor of Cape Town, Sir Harry Hands, declared this policy official and on 14 December 1918 an impressive public display of remembrance was observed in Cape Town. At the firing of the midday gun, traffic came to a halt, all hats were raised and the public stood in silence as the Last Post and Reveille sounded through the streets.

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, (a well-known South African philanthropist, author and politician) had been deeply affected by the loss of his son, Nugent, in France in December 1917.  In commemoration of the Armistice, he appealed to King George V for a two-minute pause to be observed annually throughout the Empire at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month: one minute in remembrance of the fallen in war; and one minute in gratitude for those who survived.


South Africa’s most famous battle in the First World War took place in Sommes, France at Delville Wood. The battle lasted just 6 days – from 15 to 20 July 1916, and in those few days of hell, of the three thousand plus soldiers who entered the wood on day 1 only 142 walked out alive.

Today the South African National Monument still stands in Delville Wood in memory of the 25 000 African soldiers who died during WW1.

South Africa also has another war to remember, The South African Border War, also known as the Namibian War of Independence, or denoted as the Angolan Bush War.

This asymmetric conflict occurred in South West Africa (now Namibia), Zambia and Angola from August 26th 1966 to March 21st 1990, and was fought between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), and armed wing of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO). This war resulted in some of the largest battles on the African continent since World War II.

Besides the military, many South African Veterans and the MOTH’s (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) also partake in parades to mark this day.

So let us give a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for those who died in war and those left behind.