Month: December 2011

CWGC graves in Edenvale and Alex

Twas the week before Christmas and graves had to be found. On my schedule were Edenvale Old Town Cemetery and Edenvale New Cemetery as well as Alexandra. I wanted to do a recce at Alex because this was another of those major unknowns. Edenvale is easy, although the roads in Edenvale are really ridiculous with all their gated areas. I found the grave I was after easily enough and then headed for the old cemetery which is close to the Modderfontein offramp.
The unofficial resident grave carer in Edenvale said that this was originally a big cemetery, but they ploughed part of it under to build an old age home. I was a bit sceptical though, but she says that some of the marble grave surrounds were used to demarcate flower beds and some graves were in flower beds. The entrance is in 8th ave, although there is a locked gate in Van Riebeeck Ave. The graves all seemed to be from the 30’s and 40’s with some of my favourite slate stones. And, she was right, I did find marble kerbs and graves in some of the flower beds.
I do not know how true her story is about graves being ploughed under, but there is enough evidence that something did happen here. I found very old stones leaning against the wall, and there were those marble kerbs all down the one side, where else could they have come from?
I guess though it is one of those stories that cannot really be confirmed without access to official records. The cem is a pretty one, not too large and reasonably well looked after with a good spread of graves. There is one CWGC grave here, as well as two soldiers mentioned on private memorials. 
Overall though it is a nice little cemetery, and not too well known either which does make a visit enjoyable. 
Then it was off to Alexandra Cemetery.
I will be honest, I had no idea what I would find. Google Earth gave me some idea, but what you find on the ground is not always what can be seen on GE. The biggest concern was safety, so I was prepared to do a quick recce and if need be return with a companion at a later date. The cemetery where I ended up had a gate at Pansy Street off Zinnia Rd, and had a sign that read “New Alexandra Cemetery. General Section”.
My map however hinted at Alexandra West Bank Cem. The security guard was confident that the cem was safe and I headed inside. It was obvious though that section did not correspond with my map and I headed out again, using co-ordinates that were on the map. The problem with finding a cemetery blind like this is the GPS may be taking you to the co-ordinates, unfortunately you may have to drive through somebody’s living room to get there! This happened to me. The area I wanted to access was blocked off by a fenced off housing project, and the gate guard did not know how I could reach the area outside of going back the way I came, so I was forced to turn around and back I went. 
I left my car at the end of the internal road and walked. My first grave was alongside a wall, and there was only 1 wall in sight so I followed it. The wall became a fence, which was what my map showed, and at that juncture was the grave. That grave was all the orientation I needed and I was quickly able to find the other 5. The irony is, there is an entrance to this West Bank area in Setswela Road. The last graves I was after were almost on this road, and I rued the fact that I still had to slog back to my car which was now almost a kilo away. Uphill. In the heat. With a sore leg. 
Mission accomplished. These six were the last CWGC graves for the year as far as I was concerned. I had managed to tackle quite a few of the smaller cems with single graves in them. This was hopefully the last. As for Alexandra West bank and New Alexandra General Section: its difficult to really describe a cemetery like this. It’s big and sprawling and the stones are sparse in places. But there are grave markers so if you have a number it could be easy to find a grave, assuming you know the layout of the cemetery. Safety?  The General Section did have gates and it seemed reasonably safe, the gate guard said there weren’t any problems.
West Bank towards the entrance may be problematic though, but generally the people I met were friendly if somewhat puzzled.  It could be that the cemetery is quiet because of the holiday season. The area inside the cemetery where I walked was clean, the grass was cut and generally maintenance was very good. There were not a lot of toppled stones either. It would be interesting to know who is buried here, I did find 22 graves from the former Rietfontein 433 Farm, and that was interesting in itself. 
Alexandra is done. And a  mighty space it was.  
A postscript.
In January 2012 I participated in a photowalk in Alexandra which was held by the Johannesburg Photowalkers. I was a very interesting experience, and there is an associated blogpost for it.
DRW © 2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016. Edited 12/03/2017, links recreated 03/03/2018   

30 years ago.

30 years ago, on the 16th of December 1918, I left South West Africa and the Border and headed back to 1SAI in Bloemfontein. We were due to kla out on the 18th and we had over 200 troops in our company that had to go through this process. However, for once the army was uncharacteristically efficient, and by the evening of the 16th most of us had already handed in our rifles, skeleton webbing, and any other extra odds and sods that we were issued with before going up to the border. The next day we would go do our paperwork and on the 18th we would head off in our respective directions.  Our 2 year National Service was finished, for some it was the biggest adventure of our lives and for all of us it was one of the biggest formative events in our youth. We had gone in as boys, and theoretically we came out as men.
15 Dec 1981. Omuthiya SWA. The tents are closed, we are on our way to "The States"

15 Dec 1981. Omuthiya SWA. The tents are closed, we are on our way to “The States”

But what did come out of those 2 years? What would we have been like had we not gone in in the first place? What would we have been like if we had become conscientious objectors? or left the country? When I got called up there was no End Conscription Campaign, and going to varsity was not an option. South Africa was in a period of bitter turmoil, that same turmoil that got us to where we are today. Those of us who served  our 2 years and camps today are legislated against by law in the job market. Our current government does not recognise our service and considers us to be “temporary workers”, and even the MOTH didn’t want anything to do with us.

Bravo ’81. One of the signs of our passing through.

Then there were those who never came home. In my case four of my comrades never made it. Rfn Hennie Van Der Colf,  Rfn Lionel Van Rooyen, Rfn Peter Hall, and Cpl JL Potgieter. Strangely enough they are always with me, and they are partly what drives me to find the graves of servicemen.  They are still young, they never got to look back on 30 years.

In memory of Cpl JL Potgieter.

I remember arriving at the doorstep of our family home in Mayfair on the 18th, our household now consisted of 3 people. I had lost my father on 7 November 1981, at the time when I understood him the most, he was taken away from us. I had many questions to ask him, and never got that opportunity.

61 Mech Bn Grp Memorial

I participated in Ops Thunder Chariot in 1984 and was given a medical discharge in the late 1980’s. South Africa gave SWA away at the end of the day and the old Nationalist order was replaced by the very thing they always feared and fought against. I came out of the experience a changed person who has never been the same since. I turned into a loner, I had problems with relationships, and have not been able to keep a steady job in years.
Did my time in the army contribute to what I am today? I cannot answer that as I do not know, but it probably did. I suffered from mild PTSD for many years and have steadily declining hearing. Was it worth it? those of us who went to the army have different viewpoint to those that missed it, we did better at work and we studied harder. We also had more discipline, a better sense of responsibility and we were theoretically more stable in our jobs. That must count for something. All I know is that I hated it while I was there but can look back on the whole experience with a jaundiced eye and say that I am glad it is all over. NEVER AGAIN!

First Pass. 1980. Gee, I hated that beret, it had no houding.

Would I ever do it again? if a global enemy threatened the planet and we were asked to return to uniform I do not know what I would say. But the chances are, there would be more volunteers from amongst ex-soldiers than there would be from the present technologically obsessed “youth” and millennials. Would I fight for my country if I was asked? probably not. I was never South African enough before 1994, and am now the wrong side of the colour, gender and age line.

I recall before I left for 3 SAI in January 1980 thinking that the chances were that I would never come out in December 1981, it seems as if I was wrong. It’s just a pity that so many dreams and wishes just never materialised. I finally got my “Pronutro” in August 2011, nearly 30 years later!

So what about the future?  There is a future?

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

Bakerton and Payneville.

Continuing with my efforts to capture images of the more obscure cemeteries where CWGC graves are to be found, I ventured forth to Bakerton/Payneville Cemetery outside of Springs. My original thoughts were that these were two distinctly seperate places, however, some homework revealed that actually they are a cemetery within a cemetery. Bakerton being the Hindu/Moslem cemetery, and Payneville being the African burial ground. Naturally they are miles from anywhere, but reasonably close to Brakpan to pay a return visit to Brenthurst Cemetery  and pop in at the derelict war memorial in Springs.
My first port of call however was at the Cosy Corner MOTH Shellhole in Brakpan to photograph the new Wall of Remembrance, that is now home to the original plaque from the mess that is the former garden of remembrance in Brakpan.
The MOTH Shellhole is a treasure trove of memorabilia and is well worth visiting if you have an interest in Delville Wood. A tree, grown from a seedling from a Hornbeam tree on the battlefield, grows in the grounds. Its a strange tangible link to that terrible battle.
There is a proud heritage at that Shellhole, and by the looks of it, it is a thriving one. There are two preserved tanks on their premises, and that is quite an accomplishment. 
Moving onwards to Bakerton, I had one CWGC grave to photograph,  and he was reasonably easy to find. This area of the cemetery is very well maintained and is still in use. Unfortunately I cannot say much about when it opened, but it must have been open in the early 1940’s at a minimum. The Springs area does have a number of Native Military Corps graves in it, with the beautiful Palmietkuil South War Cemetery just up the road.  
Payneville however was a different ball game altogether. Its not a very large space,  but it is sparsely populated with headstones, and overpopulated with weeds and grass. Mounds and holes are not easy to spot and I nearly saw the ground from close up on quite a few occasions.
I had 2 CWGC graves to photograph, and had a rough idea where they were, but in reality, finding them in real time was a different story. Usually the headstones are very distinctive and I found the one reasonably easily, but the second was nowhere to be seen. I had rough GPS co-ordinates of the graves and changed to pedestrian mode to try find it, but even with a GPS I struck a blank. I did a block search in the area and eventually found the stone, but it had been broken in half. It was only recently that the CWGC graves had been cleaned up, and this was a recent break. There wasn’t much to do but report the broken stone and head off to our next destination. I think that as long as I live I will never understand the logic of somebody that goes around breaking tombstones. If somebody can provide insight into this please drop me a comment.
Springs War Memorial was one of those mapbook finds. I spotted it when I was researching Palmietkuil in 2007, but couldn’t find it on the ground at the time. There was this strange derelict dome structure on an island in the town, but surely that wasn’t the memorial? 
Springs War Memorial in 2007

Springs War Memorial in 2007

My gravehunting companion assured me that WAS the memorial, or should I say, what is left of it. The dome used to cover a tripod of rifles with a helmet, inscribed on the interior walls were the “Their Name Liveth Forevermore” reminders. Upright walls lined the pathway, with name plaques of the fallen, a fountain adding its melody to the tableau. That was then. This is now.
springswm 093
The only purpose that this derelict seems to serve now is to provide a shelter for the homeless, otherwise it is just a travesty that can get consigned to the scrapheap of history. In the nearly 4 years since I had visited here originally, nothing had been improved or done to rectify the situation. And, probably in 4 years time, things will be exactly the same as now. I wonder how many residents even have an idea what this derelict structure actually was? I know one thing, no remembering of the fallen is done in Springs anymore.
In 2014, I was contacted by Joe Borain who informed me that they were stealing the copper off what was left of the dome.  The image below being taken in February 2014. It was also announced that the council would be “restoring” the memorial, but whether that ever happens remains to be seen. 
I did post an update to my original entry on the relevant page of allatsea
A last detour to photograph a Honey tank, and we were ready to head off to Brenthurst Cemetery, but that’s another story, for another day. Unfortunately, between my visit and 2016 the tank has been deteriorating and I did an update on her too.
DRW © 2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016