August 2nd, 2014

World War I Centenary – new stamp issue from the series “Lest we forget…”

2014 marks 100 years since the start of World War I. Also known as The Great War, it was hoped, that this would be "the war to end all wars".  Engulfing Europe from 1914 to 1918, the war caused untold suffering and massive loss of life. To commemorate this major historical event and South Africa's role in it, the South African Post office will issue a set of six se-tenant stamps and one commemorative envelope featuring artwork by Hein Botha.

South Africa entered the war on 8 September 1914, on the side of the Allied Forces.

The total South African casualties, including people from all population groups, was about 19 000, with an estimated 7 000 killed and 12 000 wounded.

The three sets of se-tenant stamps represent different arenas of the war in which South Africa was involved.

German-West Africa Campaign: South Africa greatly assis-ted the Allies, and Great Britain in particular, in capturing the two German colonies of German West Africa and German East Africa.

General Louis Botha, the then prime minister, decided to direct the military forces of the South African Union against the Germans in the German South-West Africa Campaign. He led more than 40 000 troops into the operational zone eventually defeating the Germans in July 1915. Many Afrikaners who fought against Britain in the second Anglo-Boer War 14 years earlier, rebelled against this campaign and refused to take part.

German East Africa Campaign: In 1916, General Jan Smuts was put in charge of the German East Africa Campaign, a series of battles and guerrilla actions that started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda and the Belgian Congo.

The stamps

The first stamp depicts Genl Louis Botha and a soldier on horseback. A split in the silhouette of the horseman symbolises the division among Afrikaners. The horseman also symbolizes the last battles fought on horseback at a time when air reconnaissance was making its appearance.

The second stamp shows Genl Jan Smuts in the top right-hand corner, and his personal scout, Piet Pretorius, scouting in a dugout canoe. Pretorius spied on behalf of the Allies disguised as an Arab fisherman. A reconnaissance route-map is depicted inside the canoe.

Together the two se-tenant stamps represent the changing ways in which wars would be waged.

Cape Corps – Palestine Campaign: The battle of Square Hill in Palestine was fought entirely by the Cape Corps, two infantry battalions of Cape coloured men. They broke through the enemy's defences in the middle of the night, capturing eight Turkish officers, 160 soldiers and 181 other Turks, as well as an enemy field gun. One Cape Corps member was killed and one wounded.

Sinking of the SS Mendi: The sinking of the SS Mendi was one of the worst war tragedies for South Africa. A total of 616 South Africans, including 607 black troops serving in the South African Native Labour Contingent, died when the steamship SS Mendi sank in the English Channel on the way to France on 21 February 1917.

The stamps

The palm trees of the first se-tenant stamp, represent Palestine, while the Cape Corps emblem on a tombstone represents fallen soldiers. The other stamp represents a view of the SS Mendi symbolising the watery grave of the soldiers who drowned.

The two stamps were designed to complement each other and to highlight the roles of different sections of South Africa's population who sacrificed their lives during the war.

Delville Wood: The Battle of Delville Wood in France in 1916, went down in the history of World War I as an example of supreme sacrifice and heroism. About 3 000 men entered the wood and only about 750 emerged unscathed. A memorial, which was erected at the site in remembrance of those who died in the battle, was unveiled in October 1926.

Marrières Wood: During the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, some 500 men of the South African Brigade of the 9th British Division were cut off by the German advance at Marrières Wood. They formed a defensive position and were able to hold up the advance of a complete German army for several hours, allowing time for other formations to set up a defensive line. They were eventually overwhelmed and the survivors taken prisoner. Less than 100 were unwounded.

The stamps

The first stamp represents the aftermath of the Delville Wood destruction super-imposed on a section of the figure of a fallen soldier. The rest of the fallen soldier's body runs through to the right-hand stamp, showing parts of a handwritten letter symbolizing human emotion and interaction. It also represents a link to post and communications during the war.

The other design represents Private William Faulds, a brave soldier who received both the Victoria Cross and the Military Cross for heroic deeds at both Delville Wood and Marrières Wood.

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