OTD: The Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion

One of the many events that occurred in the fledgling city of Johannesburg was the Dynamite Explosion that occurred on 19 February 1896 at Braamfontein Station. A memorial was erected in Braamfontein Cemetery to commemorate the event, and the over 70 people that lost their lives in it. An explosives train, carrying dynamite, had been left standing for 3 days in searing heat in what was then Braamfontein goods yard; the massive explosion occurred when this train was struck by another that was shunting. It left a crater over 60 m long and 8 m deep and was heard 200 km away. The exact number of casualties was never ascertained, and over 200 people were seriously injured. Some 3 000 people lost their homes and almost every window in the town was shattered. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact site where the explosion occurred but a period map puts it on the bend where Braamfontein Vapour Depot now stands.

I have spotted at least 5 physical graves in Braamfontein cemetery that have explosion related inscriptions on them, and it is probable that most of the casualties are buried in this cemetery, the majority of the funerals being held on the 20th and 21st of February. I can physically identify 46 names in the registers as being marked as “dynamite explosion”, and all are buried in the DR section. There is also supposedly a mass grave in this plot where unidentified severed limbs are buried.

atcutt_a161aaaa

Apart from the devastation that the explosion created, it would have also tested the fledgling cities ability to manage a disaster of this magnitude. Braamfontein Cemetery was relatively new when this happened and it would be here that the victims were buried. It is certain that there were African victims too, and they are also probably buried here in an area that has been ploughed under. I was not able to check against the register because I did not find a register for that area. There may also be victims buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery, but the register for that was not available at the time.  It is an interesting piece of history though, albeit one that has been almost forgotten.

DR Walker ©  2011-2020. Recreated and expanded 23/05/2016. 

Updated: 20/02/2020 — 08:31

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  The saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” https://www.dictionary.com/. and this week I saw how true that was. I had planned to head down to London this week to renew my passport. This is not a straight forward thing either as it requires a 3 day stay in London because there is no way of knowing how hard it will be to actually get it done. Limited opening times at South Africa House and the invariable queues can easily turn the trip into a waste of money and time. 

South Africa House in London

However… a storm called Dennis popped into our lives this weekend, bringing nasty winds and rain and flooding throughout Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Wales and other parts of the UK. My personal lake outside my door is menacingly close as I type this, and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

(1393 x 405)

Unfortunately I have already paid out for hotel bookings and train tickets, so shall I go or shall I not? There are a number of wobblies in the way of getting to the the train in the first place. Flooding is already happening on both of the exits out of the area where I live so I am going to end up with wet pants, shoes and feet, (assuming I can get through the flooded area in the first place), then there is no way of knowing whether the train is actually running or not because it travels from Worcester through Pershore and Evesham; all of which are affected by the flooding. I should have taken the train from Cheltenham instead, but decided against it when I made my booking. 

Then there are complications like: can I get the tickets cancelled? or can I get them changed? and will I be able to get back home on Saturday? will I suddenly get home to find I have a pool in my flat? And, if all does go pear shaped where in the heck will I live anyway? These things will give me sleepless nights I tell you! 

So, in the meantime please hold thumbs for me, and hope that I can get to the train and the embassy and get my passport renewed. 

Tuesday 18/02. 07H20.

Water has risen up to the edge of the flats in Mitton and is encroaching on the cycle path. I am now at the point where I will not be able to get to the station, never mind catch a train. It may be easier to cancel my trip altogether.

However, in the midst of all this water I had 2 visitors outside my window. This is not their usual stomping grounds though so I was quite surprised.

The saga continues, however I was able to change my hotel and train bookings to the end of March, so I just hope that by the time I hit that date nothing further goes wrong goes wrong giieu89y(*&^*&T8….

DRW © 2020. Started 17/02/2020

Updated: 20/02/2020 — 08:17

Three Ships Month

February has become what is known as “3 ships month”, and unfortunately the 3 ships that I remember are all disasters that are part of maritime history in South Africa. This year I am going to commemorate them in one post as opposed to 3. 

11 February 1941: HMSAS Southern Floe.

The ship was a  Southern Class whaler, one of four ships taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. 

In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them. 

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk,  but there was no sign of Southern Floe and a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.

18 February 1982. SAS President Kruger.

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  the “PK” was a Type 12 Frigate, built in the United Kingdom and was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun. She was the flagship of the South African Navy, and at the time of her sinking she was also holder of the “Cock of the Fleet”.

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. She was under the command of  Captain de Lange and at the time were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the Tafelberg. The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side.

At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings. A naval board of inquiry was appointed shortly afterwards that determined the cause of the collision was of a lack of seamanship by the captain and watch officers of the ship.  The Captain was administratively retired early and the Navy arranged a job with Armscor for him, while the PWO was sidelined to only shore appointments and had his promotion stopped.

21 February 1916. HMT Mendi.

The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation  Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

The ship was carrying 15 officers, 17 NCO’s and 802 members of the South African Native Labour Corps as well as 1500 tons of cargo and set sail under convoy for Plymouth. The SANLC men were quartered in the number 1, 2 and 4 holds. After calling at Plymouth she set sail for Le Havre on the 20th of February at full speed, escorted by the destroyer HMS Brisk. The weather was overcast, threatening mist with light winds and a smooth sea. However, after midnight the weather became thicker and speed was reduced until the ship was sailing at slow speed. The whistle was sounded  and a number of other ships whistles were heard. At 4.45 the escort signalled the Mendi and suggested that the slow speed made it difficult to keep station. The Mendi maintained her slow speed.

In the early hours of the morning of the 21st of February  The SS Darro,  inbound for the UK, ran into the hapless Mendi, striking her at right angles, damaging the bulkhead between number 1 and 2 holds where the troops were quartered. The Darro then backed out of the hole, presumably because her engines were now responding the the full astern command given shortly before the collision. She disappeared into the fog, leaving the Mendi to founder. On board the stricken Mendi orders were given to lower the boats to the rail and the 4 whistle blast signal for boat stations was given. The boats were then ordered to be lowered to the water and to lie alongside.    

Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. The Darro lay off not too far from where the disaster was unfolding, on board her the lifeboats were lowered to the rail and all hands were on deck. In spite of these preparations and the sound of voices in the water no attempt was made to investigate what had happened or to rescue survivors although 2 boats did reach the ship and survivors were embarked. She remained in the area until until just before 9 am. and then set sail for a Channel port (possibly Southampton or Portsmouth) where 107 survivors of which 64 were from the SANLC were landed.  

The disaster shook the nation, but was gradually forgotten as the years passed. The Nationalist government conveniently erased it from history but it has become more prominent once again as veterans groups get together to remember those volunteers from the SANLC who died in a war that they knew nothing about. 

DRW © 2020. Created 08/02/2020. Image of the President Kruger is by ECSequeira – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28102570  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAS_President_Kruger. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image has been cropped and resized. 

Updated: 18/02/2020 — 11:02
DR Walker © 2014 -2020. Images are copyright to DR Walker unless otherwise stated. Frontier Theme