Month: November 2011

St John’s College. 26-11-2011

In my quest to hunt down war memorials I have always had St John’s College in Houghton in the back of my mind. There is a link between the college and Delville Wood, and one of the 6 Delville Wood Crosses is inside the Delville Wood Memorial Crypt. Another tangible link to World War 1 is on the inscription of the SOE Memorial in Patterson Park.

“This cross erected in 1917 at the Butte
De Warlencourt was presented by the
Surviving Officers, NCO’s and Men of the
3rd S.A.I Transvaal and Rhodesian Regt
The names of the fallen are inscribed
In All Souls Chapel

Before doing the Saturday afternoon visit, which was arranged by the Joburg Photowalkers, I did some reading about the long history and tradition of St John’s College which can be found on their website The weather was reasonably good that day although clouds did scud across the sky while we were there and that messed up some of my pics. However, photographs aside, it is a magnificent structure and one that never really gets seen by the casual passer by.

St John’s from the edge of the playing fields

We had free rein to go where we wanted to, but that crypt and chapel was sadly not one of them, so I have to try make alternative arrangements to photograph it. However, there is still a lot to see in the extensive grounds of the school and I think I covered most of it. The blending of old and new has been very effective, and parts of the school had a distinct “English Public School” feel about them. I expected to bump into a master striding down the corridors in his black robes and brandishing a cane at every turn. 

The statue of “David” and the Bell Tower

I did learn that the exterior of the chapel walls do have the badges of the Infantry regiments from Delville Wood on them and I was keen to photograph those. The confirmation of my grandfather’s Delville Wood service was very much on my mind when I saw the 1SAI badge.

The South African Infantry Regiment badges.

In a modern context, I was in both 1 SAI in Bloemfontein and 3 SAI in Potchefstroom during my national service, although they bear no resemblance to those regiments that went overseas during WW1. 
Darragh Hall above was a beautiful space, and I suspect it was used for meals, but I could not help thinking that it had an almost church like feel about it with the flags and high windows.
While the hall I found with its exam room seating was more of a faded lady relegated to the occasion theatre production.
There are some beautiful open spaces in the school and artwork abounds, but during our time there it was comparatively quiet, but what was it like when school was in session? 
I liked to think I caught those two frozen in time, but again it was just another piece of artwork in one of the courtyards. 
There is a lot to like about the school. Its beautiful buildings, the shaded lanes, dormer windows, the artwork, the sense of history and tradition. 
The only thing that seemed to be missing was the “thunk” of a cricket ball on a bat. Oh, they have that too. 


  I loved the quirky things I found in odd places. Like this old school desk in a space under a building.
Or the old steam radiator on the stage where the exams were being held. We had those at my old primary school too, but they never seemed to work. 
However, one find brought it all back to me. It reminded me how some traditions will never die, no matter how prestigious the institution.
Boys will be boys.

Boys will be boys.

It was an interesting afternoon. I did not complete my mission, but have not given up on the objective, and will still get those photographs of the chapel to make sense of the SOE memorial. To be honest I would never be able to go to a school like St John’s, but I think it is the type of school that instils a pride in where you came from. My high school only instilled loathing. 
DRW ©  2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016

Bethlehem. 16/17-11-2011

My family has ties to Port Elizabeth and Bethlehem, but it is to the latter that I can relate more. My grandparents and most of my mothers family lived there at one point. The biggest employer in the town was the South African Railways, they maintained steam engines there, and the town was conveniently placed for access to a number of regions. Sadly, when the line was electrified the first to go were the steam engines, and then one day the passenger trains stopped going there, and the town suddenly became not as important any longer. The last time I was there was in 1989, and that was for a funeral. My trip this time around was to try connect to some of my relatives and do the genealogy, and of course to visit family graves and try to make some sense of this link to my past.   
I was very young when we were able to visit by train, and my memories are sketchy at best, and seem to revolve around the trip on the passenger train with its wooden balcony coaches, leather upholstery and unique smell. The town doesn’t really stick out much in my mind, although there are some areas that pop up in old family photographs.  The one which I will always have a fondness for is the Athlone Castle  at Loch Athlone, as well as Pretorius Kloof where we used to go on outings. Today both are closed although the Athlone Castle was later purchased by a private owner who restored it as a private residence, and a stunning job was made of it too. 
The Athlone Castle

The Athlone Castle

Loch Athlone is no longer accessible to the public and the Kloof was closed following floods earlier in 2011.

Bethlehem has a lot of history to it and that history is reflected in the abundance of old buildings that still line its streets. I am sure that when my mother was young many of those buildings were being used for different purposes, although the churches still retain that sense of permanence. Bethlehem has a lot of churches, and they are magnificent. The one that dominates the town is the NG Kerk Moedergemeente that occupies almost 2 city blocks.

NG Kerk Bethlehem Moedergemeente

NG Kerk Bethlehem Moedergemeente

It’s a magnificent structure that was built in 1910 to replace an older church that had been built on this site. Equally impressive is the Town Hall which dates from 1930. On one side of the Town Hall is a small Garden of Remembrance that I have posted about separately
As usual the museum was not open during my visit (why does that always happen to me?), and I believe that some of artefacts in it do relate to my family.  I was also on the look out for Staffords Hill where my mother used to play as a girl, and the old family house in Ellenberger Street that we all used as a base whenever we visited Bethlehem. Looking at that same house today it seems so much smaller than I remember it. I was able to go past at least 4 houses that remnants of the family used to live in at various times and they all had this mass produced pokey look about them. 

My mother always told us how she attended the Truida Kestell school, and how she used to ride her bicycle there and back in all weather. Given how bitter the weather can be in Bethlehem I am sure it was not fun. She would probably not recognise the school today though.


Bethlehem Station is a mere shade of its former self. At one time there would have been dozens of steam engines hustling and bustling around goods wagons and passenger trains. Today the offices are locked, the platforms are deserted and only the occasional goods train passes through. A lethargic security guard sat on a bench on the platform and didn’t even challenge my being there. 

Main entrance to Bethlehem Station

My grandfather and one uncle were based in Bethlehem and I have old video footage of them at the station with loaded guards and mail vans attached to a main line train. 
I would have liked to spend more time at the station, but we were running out of time and I hadn’t even hit the cemeteries yet!  There are four cemeteries in Bethlehem. We visited the Muller Street Cemetery with its Boer War era graves, as well as the Morelig and Utopia Cemeteries.

Muller Street Cemetery

My family is in Morelig, and when they passed away all those years ago the cemetery was still expanding. The SADF wanted the property next to the cemetery and that prevented any further expansion. The town is home to the Engineers and quite a few NSM’s complained about the cold during their service here. I was quite pleased to find a Field Engineers Memorial outside the military base too, but photography was very difficult. I was also able to find one of our missing military graves which was a nice addition to our Border War lists.
On the morning of the second day I went walkies around town. It was almost rush hour, which in Bethlehem means that lots of large trucks start their engines and head towards Cape Town and Durban. The sad thing is that the large trucks park the town full at night and everybody gets woken up in the morning as they start their engines and head off to their destinations.  This traffic used to be all moved by rail. 
 One of the less desirable aspects of the town is how many Johannesburg inhabitants have bought houses here as “country retreats”, driving up the house prices, making accommodation very expensive for locals. During the weekend they flock to the town and cause havoc in the quiet streets with their Johannesburg driving habits. Many locals are not too pleased about this, but given that many locals have had to leave the town to find work the change in demographics is to be expected. 

Then it was time to go home, bad weather was forecast and you always have to take the traffic back home into account. It was a great trip, and I saw a lot and photographed even more. But looking at my maps there was so much more that I missed seeing. You cannot really judge a town by a short visit like mine, but I cannot help feeling that I was able to lay a few ghosts of mine to rest. I will probably return at some point next year for a longer visit, there is still a cemetery to visit, and I need to go find the battlefields and explore the station area and mull over the images I took because there are a lot of memories in them.

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DRW ©  2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016

Heilbron. 16/17-11-2011

On the 16th of November I went down to Bethlehem to rediscover some of my roots, and along the  way I passed the sleepy little town of Heilbron. It’s almost midway between Bethlehem and Johannesburg and has a wonderful old cemetery and an equally impressive ABW memorial. I visited the cemetery on my way to Bethlehem and on my return,  and that alone made my trip worthwhile. I was sent images of the Concentration Camp Memorial  on a previous occasion, but now need to relook those.  
The cemetery is simple to find, it is literally the first place you pass on your left hand side as you turn onto Langemark Street.  Its not too small, and has a Concentration Camp plot, and an Imperial Soldiers plot too.

Concentration Camp Memorial

According to the plaque on the memorial, 781 women and children lost their lives in the camp. I do not know whether the cement slabs are actual graves or symbolic ones, but given that a number of memorials are on individual graves it is possible that the former is the case.
Portion of the Concentration Camp plot

Portion of the Concentration Camp plot



The Imperial Soldiers plot has roughly 42 individual headstones as well as a standard SA War Graves Board monument similar to the one found at Braamfontein, Burghershoop and Primrose. The plot is loosely fenced and well tended, although I suspect that the graves had been redone recently in line with the other Imperial Soldier graves.

Imperial Soldiers Plot

The memorial lists the names of of soldiers who were originally buried at Kromellenboog, Wolvehoek, and Heilbron. They were subsequently reburied in this cemetery. There are other interesting ABW era graves in the cemetery and I suspect a few Burghers may have found their way here too. 

On my way home from Bethlehem I stopped at the Riemland Museum which was closed, and then discovered the Heilbron  Anglo Boer War Memorial. What really made this one even better was the stunning NG Kerk Heilborn Moedergemeente Church behind it. Its a magnificent building in an immaculate condition, but unfortunately its cornerstone evaded me so I was not able to put a date to it.

The ABW Memorial with the NG Kerk behind it.

As usual the sun was in the wrong spot to get a very clear image of the church and memorial, but the memorial is an attractive one and contains the names of Burghers who lost their lives in the ABW, presumably from this district.


The Church from the side gate

The Church from the side gate

It is not easy to cap seeing something like this when you pass through a small town. The museum  looked like a fascinating place to. A tantalising plaque explained that “This stone was unveiled by J Festenstein, President Heilbron Hebrew Congregation. 3 January 1912.” The Titanic was almost completed by then.

Heilbron was definitely a historical place, I am just curious what else could have been hiding in that small sleepy town. Next time I am going to go do some research first and take a bit more time to see what may be hidden away from the passer-thru. I do have to try find out where the Concentration Camp was situated, and I really need to date that church.
DRW ©  2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016