15 November 2016 – One of the traditions in the Saint Andrew’s Remembrance Day Services is the laying of wreaths made up of shoes laces, which have been donated by Saints’ schoolboys. Joan Abrahams, known as Tannie Mossie, shared the story behind the laces with us…
“One of those shoe laces is mine. I was a pupil at school here, many years ago. I remember this tradition well because I still feel part of this annual Remembrance Day ceremony because of it. My black shoe lace keeps me personally included and involved.”
The black-laced wreath, dotted with poppies, surrounds a helmet
A not-so-young-anymore gentleman passed these remarks during the annual Remembrance Day ceremony held at 11:00 on the 11th of the 11th month, November, at the Memorial Gates of his old school.
After listening to the names of all the past learners of his Alma Mater who had died as soldiers defending their cause (the list had been read alphabetically and with clear diction), he whispered: “It’s a good feeling and I’m grateful, not only to those boys whose names have been read today, but also that our teachers taught us this respectful and honoured tradition. Just look at those special wreaths. The red poppies are for remembrance, the shoe laces for youngsters, as well as the bell being tolled and mostly the observance of the Two Minutes of Silence, all mean so much. One just needs to know the story behind the story. It really makes one think,” he said while nodding his head.
Later, when the official ceremony was concluded and over cups of tea in the staffroom, the same gentleman and I continued our trip down Memory Lane: “When the chapel bells toll and we observe the two minute silent pause of remembrance,” he continued, “I think not only of the old boys who died, but I’m so grateful that we have the second minute to remember, in gratitude, all those veterans who survived. (One minute is for prayer and thoughts of those who fell. One minute is for prayer and thoughts for those who survived). The silence is the loudest sound I have ever heard.
“Just watch those 70 and 80 year old veterans during the two minute pause. One can only imagine how many of their fallen and wounded mates they are remembering. When the present pupils in their neat uniforms escort the same veterans to the tea room afterwards, one can only wonder what thoughts and hopes these old soldiers cherish for the youngsters,” he said with a quiver in his voice.
Morena Molikoe and Dewan de Bruin hold one of the lace wreaths in front of the Memorial Gates
“Can I offer you another teaspoonful of sugar?” I asked. “I believe it may help,” is all I could add at that stage of the conversation. “Come on, tell me more about your shoe lace that is plaited into that wreath that the Head Boy laid at the Memorial Gates today,” I said.
“Well, things usually happened during the first period on a Monday morning. Our teacher explained that all the guns of both the Allied and opposing forces during World War One stopped firing at 11:00 on 11 November 1918. She added that peace followed, but that millions had died during the war.
“She also gave us more information and details about the Two Minute Silence and the build-up to its origin in Cape Town, how the Queen of England and VIPs throughout the world lay red poppy wreaths at the exact time of 11:00 and she even read us the Poppy Poem of the Canadian doctor John McCrae, who wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row’.
“She taught us how to stand to attention (erect, with feet together and arms at your sides) and then she asked us each to ‘donate’ the shoe lace of the shoe of our right foot. We all sat on our desks and undid the lace while the class captain collected them. Ma’am plaited them so that we could see the rather strange looking thick, black-plaited rope that she promised to take to the office to be inter-twined around one of the school wreaths. She then explained that for the rest of the day we would be expected to move around the school buildings, even if awkwardly, with one loose shoe.
“The constant reminder of the untied shoe hampering our movements would force us to remember what those soldiers suffered and how grateful we should be. I must, however, add that by a strange coincidence a box of new shoe laces went up for sale at the school tuck shop that same day.
“That experience has always been a wonderful memory over the years and ‘brought the message home’. I so appreciate the fact that the tradition is still observed and that three well-covered shoe-laced wreaths are used annually.
“Yes, teachers…good, thoughtful teachers, do have more class.”