Month: February 2012

Remembering the Mendi.

When I originally started photographing war graves and memorials I had very little information about the loss of the SS Mendi in 1917. An occasional mention in the newspapers was as informative as it got. There was one book by Norman Clothier that always stood out, but was almost impossible to find, and so I “went it alone”, producing my first page on the Mendi. There is not much to say here that isn’t on that page already, but oddly enough Mendi material still keeps coming my way.

SS Mendi in happier times.

The death of over 600 soldiers in one incident is not something that is taken lightly, although when you look at it in terms of naval deaths, the sinking of a capital ship can result in over 1500 deaths at a time.  However, what makes the Mendi deaths very sad is how the members of the SANLC and NMC were treated by the government that they were serving, and how little recognition they got for their service overseas. Make no mistake about it, these men were crucial cogs in the line of battle, and who knows how many lives they saved as stretcher bearers. In fact their contribution to the war effort was a major one, but the moment they returned home, they were forgotten.
NMC Collar and cap badge

NMC Collar and cap badge

There are a number of NMC graves in South Africa, in Gauteng the biggest concentration is at Palmietkuil War Cemetery, and it is here that we hope a memorial will be erected to the members of the NMC and SANLC who became victims of apathy in the war department. 
NMC Member, buried in Payneville, Springs.

NMC Member, buried in Payneville, Springs.

In South Africa the Mendi men have a number of Memorials, the most poignant is in Atteridgeville, and there are memorials in Avalon Cemetery and New Brighton in Port Elizabeth and one (which I do not have photographs of), in Mowbray in Cape Town.
How many of their family members were ever able to make a pilgramage to these memorials? How many even knew where their sons or fathers or grandfathers lost their lives?  All I know is, today it is up to us to keep their memory alive.
The words of Reverend Isaac Dyobha should never be forgotten,  
“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die… but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazi’s, Pondo’s, Basuto’s, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. “
We need leaders like that today in our country, we need to show the youth that bling, alcoholism and ill discipline have no place in their lives. The courage of those long lost African Servicemen is all the example that we really need.
DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 23/03/2016

East Rand Once Again

The problem with photographing war graves is that you can never really say that you have photographed them all. There are just so many, and new information tends to upset the applecart and send you off to the place where you were a few weeks previously. This was the case with Edenvale New Cemetery. Two more graves needed photographing and it had to be done. I lined up 3 other visits for this trip: Edenvale Mopedi Road, Primrose Cemetery, and Alberton Florentia.
Edenvale Cemetery is one of those places where the people are always helpful and the maintenance is always good. I enjoy going there, but access to the cemetery is always difficult because of the one way streets and the blocked off roads. I finished there reasonably quickly and headed off to Mopedi Road Cemetery which is near Sebenza.  

Edenvale New Cemetery

Mopedi Road Cemetery is one of the many neglected African Cemeteries that are dotted around Gauteng. It is not a large space, and there are roughly 50 headstones visible and numerous mounds with the remains of  ornamentation. But I cannot even begin to think how many graves there are, or how far back they go.

The grass had been cut not too long ago but I was surprised to find a lot of very swampy ground in it.  I took my pics and then headed on my way. pausing at the abandoned Rietfontein Commando Office/headquarters. The building has been trashed and is now occupied by homeless men and their belongings. I don’t understand the reasoning behind simply moving out of a building and leaving it to rot like this.
Next on my list was Primrose Cemetery in Germiston. I had been here before to photograph the ABW plot, but didn’t really take too many pics of it, my intention was to photograph the Rand Revolt graves, and anything else would be a bonus.  I also wanted to take a look at some of the statues that I had seen there before, and try grab some of them. Alas though, Barbara Road was standing due to roadworks and trucks so I ended up making a long detour to get to my destination.

Anglo Boer War Plot


The one nice thing about this cemetery is that it is well maintained and the older parts of it were really looking beautiful. But there has been a lot of vandalism of the statues, which is really a pity because Primrose has some beautiful artwork in it. It also has a lot of beautiful natural artwork in the form of what I call “tortured trees”. I have no idea how they get like this, but they are really breathtaking.

There are five Rand Revolt casualties buried in the cemetery that we know about, but there is no real way of knowing how many others are buried here that we do not know about. I spent a lot of time at the cemetery exploring its graves and statues, and it is definitely on my list of favourite places. The nice thing about Primrose is that the staff are very helpful and it is a pleasure dealing with them.
Last on my list was Alberton Florentia. I had been here in January 2008  to photograph the CWGC graves. This time around I was after five Border War graves that we did not have photographs of. However, getting onto the highway was impossible because as per usual the section between Giloolys Interchange past Van Buuren was standing still. I had to then do a detour to avoid getting onto the highway and ended up going through Malvern and then getting on at Cleveland. It fascinates me how they are incapable of ever sorting out this abomination of a highway.   
Unfortunately the person manning the office at Florentia was of the officious nature and he used every excuse he could think of not to help me, which meant I would have to try find the graves the hard way. Fortunately it is not a huge cemetery, but the sun was a killer and walking the rows was exhausting. I did not find two of the graves on my list, but found two others that were listed as burial place unknown.  

I will probably have to go back to this unattractive cemetery, but this time I will go to the area I did not walk yesterday. For some reason this cemetery lacks character, and the unhelpful staff just leave me angry. On at least 3 occasions this place has featured in the local newspapers for being badly maintained and overgrown. I should remind them about it next time I see them. Its all fine and well sprouting by-laws when you are not abiding by them yourself. 

That concluded my mission.  I had not found everything I was after, but did fill in two gaps in our list, that alone makes it worthwhile. Finding just one undocumented grave always makes it worthwhile, and this time around I had found two! 
DRW © 2012-2018. Images and links  recreated 23/02/2016, links recreated 04/03/2018

They do not grow old, as we grow old.

In the course of my gravehunting I was always on the lookout for four specific graves. These are the final resting place of 4 young boys who died during their military service, and with whom I served during my two years. 
The first death I encountered was of a rifleman who was a member of E-Company in Jan Kemp Dorp.  His death was one of those that should never have happened, but it did, all because of the pig headedness of those who were supposed to lead us. I will not go into details, but he has been in my mind since 1980, and I have never found his grave. But, Sktr Van Der Kolf, (possible Van Der Colff) I have never forgotten you and hope that one day I will find your resting place.
The next loss I experienced was that of a young rifleman, Lionel Van Rooyen. During a rehearsal for what would become Ops Protea, the platoon that he was in, as well as some of my friends, was involved in a live fire accident and 15 of them were wounded, Lionel never survived. He was a very popular guy and a Springbok figure skater. That accident devastated our company, and Lionel became yet another statistic. Many years after the incident I read a report about the investigation, and  a magistrate in Ondangwa found nobody to blame. Ask anybody that was in platoon 6 on 10 July 1981, and they will quite happily tell you who they think was to blame. (Image courtesy of Eleanor Susan Garvie)

The next death that struck us very hard was that of Cpl  Johan Potgieter, who was killed during Ops Daisy on 04 November 1981. The events leading up to his death tell of his bravery and his sacrifice. It was not too long before the operation that I stood guard with him, and I remember us brewing coffee in the guard post. We had 44 days left of our national service when he died, and he never saw the day when he too could walk out of Tempe and return to civvy life. I was fortunate enough that I found this grave myself and was able to stand and say my goodbyes in person. It was a very emotional moment.

The final death was that of Rfn Peter Hall. I do not know the circumstances of his death too well, but if anything it was through “misadventure”. However, it matters not. He lost his life on the 2nd of March 1981. We had been on the border just over 3 months by then,  and he too became a statistic. Finding his grave was always a problem because we did not know where he was buried. Now I know, and this image is courtesy of  Tanite Swart.
The platoon commander of the platoon where Peter Hall was in, said that this grave completes the circle, and while in my case that circle is not yet complete, I suspect that I have found the grave of my Sktr Van Der Kolf, but just need confirmation to close it.  
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn them,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 22/03/2016