Over its one-hundred years of history, the Comrades Marathon has been suspended for two catastrophes. Both worldwide events, both posed a grave threat to mankind.
During the first interruption, we were consumed by a world at war. The death and suffering endured between 1914 and 1918 was not enough to put an end all wars, we had forgotten. Twenty years later, treaties were ignored, tyranny let loose, and the Comrades Marathon held its breath. The race had to wait for the five years between 1941 and 1945, while her sons and daughters marched out to defend our freedom. Some did not return.
There were so few Comrades participants in the 1920’s, 30’s and in 1940, that keeping track of the fallen was a modest challenge. We know of two winners who made the supreme sacrifice, Phil Masterton-Smith fell in the Western Desert in 1941 and Frank Sutton drowned when his troopship was torpedoed off the coast near Durban in 1944.
In present times the world has been swamped by a pandemic. The world is now confronted by an unseen enemy, the battlefield is different but just as dangerous. Isolate, sanitize and wear a mask becomes our battle cry. Lockdown our initial weapon, and more recently the vaccine. For the second time in history, The Old Durban Road falls silent while numbers of the infected climb. Death follows close behind. Comrades again holds her breath.
In the 1940’s and again now, ordinary people were called upon for their service. The soldier then, the caregiver now, both unselfish and courageous heroes.
There may have been others, Comrades Marathon runners who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War. If only we knew, then we could honour them.
During our present pandemic there may also be Comrades runners who have succumbed to Covid-19, worthy of remembrance. If we only knew, we could honour them too.
The problem is we have no way of finding out, no easy way of keeping record.
I would like to erect a Digital Cenotaph, a place where we can write the names of those Comrades runners who lost their lives to either war or the pandemic. I want to do it, so we can remember them.
Like Vic Clapham’s first ones, those who set off on the Old Durban Road a hundred years ago, this is an act of remembrance. Who knows, when the pandemic is over and we once again compete, this small act of remembrance can be given place, and time and substance.
The Cenotaph erected in Farewell Square, Durban, depicts two angels raising the soul of a dead soldier. The legend – “Tell it to the generation following” appears above. A metal statue of a dead soldier lies stretched out on a plinth in front of the monument.
My Digital Cenotaph wants to tell the story of a hundred years to the generations that follow.
If any reader knows the name of any of our fallen Comrades runners, either by war or during this pandemic, I urge you to contact me so we can remember them.
Johannesburg, June 2021