musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: September 2012

Jeppe Boys. A Glimpse.

On Heritage Day, 24 September, I joined in a photowalk at Jeppe High School for Boys in Kensington. I did have an ulterior motive behind it because I wanted to photograph the War Memorial on the property. It is one of the 3 school memorials that I am still pursuing (the others being at St Johns and KES). When I was ready to enter high school my parents actually considered sending me to this school instead of the local academic high school, however, as fate would have it I ended up in the local technical high school instead. Who knows what would have happened had I ended up at Jeppe? 
The school was originally founded in 1890, but it’s present iteration in Kensington came about in 1911 when the school moved to its present site. The connection between Sir Julius Jeppe and the school is very strong and it is probable that he had a big influence in its formative years. 
There is an old world feel about the buildings and its grounds, and listening to our guide speaking about the buildings it was evident that there was pride in its traditions, heritage and future legacy. 
The War Memorial I was after is on the right hand side of the entrance, and consists of a dome with a portal over a plinth with the names of the masters and pupils who died during World War 1. The portal is supposed to allow sunlight to shine onto the name list below on 11 November, but that only really applies in the Northern Hemisphere. 
On either side of the dome are facilities that are now used as the school museum and a recruiting centre. One of the names on the memorial is that of James Humphrey Allen Payne, who was the headmaster of the school from 1905-1917.  He also lends his name to the magnificent “Payne Hall” which is inside the main building pictured above. 
Sadly though the building is showing its age and is currently being restored to its former glory. I suspect that this is hallowed ground for those who work or study here, and the weight of tradition hangs heavily upon it. Continuing our tour, we headed down to the extensive sports fields, which are now an integral part of  the suburbs around them.

Playing fields viewed from Caledonia Hill

It is difficult to really picture what this area must have looked like when the school opened,  today it is heavily treed and suburbanised, in 1911 people would ride horses, and the home of Sir Julius Jeppe would be a prominent part of the landscape. The house, “Friedenheim” was demolished in the 1960’s, and was situated where the school now has it’s sports fields and swimming pool. Only the gates survive from this legacy, although there is a monument to Julius Jeppe not too far away.   
The area by these gates is where some of the hostels may be found, and we were fortunate to be able to have a walk around in one of these old buildings. I must admit though, it was nothing like I expected, but it really was a glimpse into a different age.
With hindsight I should have asked whether this building was originally built as a hostel. I could however see the limitations of  the structure when used in a modern situation, sadly, our desire for electronics has meant that in some areas the use of conduit and surface mounted reticulation has ruined its looks.
Our next destination was the main school hall,  the foyer was also home to the Second World War Roll of Honour, and once again it was strange to read names on there that I had personally photographed the graves of. 
The main hall had been in use for examinations and still bore the traces in its rows of desks lined up in the available space, it was quite funny reading school desk graffiti and trying to see whether it’s quality had improved since my days at school. Sadly, it has not.
Then it was time to go home. I made a short detour to Caledonia Hill to check up on the status of the Scottish Horse Memorial. It was recently restored, but all the name plaques and inscriptions have been removed. The view is still amazing and it is well worth the climb. 

One last detour through Jeppe to photograph some old buildings and then home James.  Jeppe High School does not have the prestige of a place like St Johns, but it is still one of the the top 20 boys schools in the country, and is also the oldest known school in Johannesburg. It’s motto is Forti nihil difficilius, meaning “Nothing is too difficult for the brave”, also translated as “For the brave, nothing is too difficult”. 

© DRW 2012-2018.  Images recreated 25/03/2016. Links replaced 20/05/2015 

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:46

What a shock.

On the morning of 17 September 2012, somebody woke up; got dressed, picked up their saw and headed out to the substation in Roodepoort with the intention of cutting the electrical cables to steal them. They probably gave no thought to the fact that what they were about to do was dangerous, illegal and downright stupid. Their motivation may have been hunger, boredom or they needed money for whatever reason, or they were looking for a quick thrill. That piece of cable they cut would end up at a scrap metal dealer who would give them a fraction of the copper price for it.
They entered the premises of the substation and oblivious to the humming transformer close by, cut the cable. 
The results were fatal to the thief, he was probably charred beyond recognition and may never be identified. The subsequent fire plunged vast portions of the West Rand into darkness.
His actions were felt throughout the Roodepoort area because this happened during peak hour traffic. The robots were all out. Westgate was in darkness, Clearwater Mall was running generators, the local doctors office was using torches and the x-ray dept was down, bread was not being baked at the bakery,  industries came to a halt, and who knows how much production was lost as a result of one person with a saw.
Cable and metal theft is competing with corruption and incompetence to kill South Africa.
One of the first things I learnt when I worked on section in Germiston in the early 80’s was that you do NOT cut a cable, especially not with a steel hacksaw. But then I was trained to deal with instances like that. These opportunistic thieves are not. Their motivation is very different to what mine was. However, I do not have a lot of sympathy with this person or any of his ilk, just like he had no sympathy for the thousands of people who would end up having to be inconvenienced through his actions.
And, as long as there is a demand, and people who will buy these lengths of ex copper cable so there will be willing thieves with saws.  
I have witnessed the destruction of over 40 heritage locomotives by metal thieves, I have seen complete cemeteries stripped of anything metal, I have seen the World War 1 Roll of Honour destroyed by metal thieves at the Union Buildings, I know of at least 3 other memorials that have been rendered obsolete by metal thieves, I have heard of countless incidents where lives were put in danger because of metal and cable theft. It is an epidemic in South Africa, and I believe in other parts of the world too. 
World War 1 Roll of Honour. Union Buildings Pretoria.

World War 1 Roll of Honour. Union Buildings Pretoria.

So, on that night somebody did not go to bed with his ill gotten Rands.
And today people had to catch up with production that was lost yesterday. And business had to count the cost of the days lost production and will pass that onto the consumer. 
And maybe tomorrow some other scrap metal dealer will encourage some poor or homeless person to go cut a cable, and they will acquire a hacksaw, and…… 
It never ends.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:47

Forgotten Children

One of the many aspects of gravehunting is the finding of children’s graves. It is is inevitable that children are often the most vulnerable when they are still very young, and, the earlier one goes back in our history, the more precarious that young life could be. Often you encounter the graves of children that die shortly after being born, and often enough their mothers would die with them, or shortly afterwards. 

Occasionally their lives would be cut short by disease or illness; childhood diseases like measles or diphtheria were often fatal to a young child, and while their gravestones very rarely mention their causes of death, you can only imagine the heartbreak that must have existed in the household when a baby or toddler was taken from them. In some cases more than one child is remembered on a headstone, and often a parent may be remembered on the child’s headstone.

Equally poignant are the small statues that often decorate the half sized graves, statues that usually are the first to be vandalised, and in some cases there are rows of beheaded statues in children’s plots, or small porcelain feet are all that is left of the cherub or angel that once adorned the child’s grave. The much used “never forgotten” phrase is also common, but in many of the cases not only are the parents of those children long departed themselves, but, even the next generation are well into their middle ages and the existence of these children is now in the realm of the genealogist or, a curious gravehunter like myself. 

I have two children’s graves in my family, the one closest to me is of a 1st cousin called Rita, who drowned at the age of 4 and who is buried in Sterkfontein Cemetery in Krugersdorp, I do remember her as a naughty, curly haired moppet, 6 years younger than myself, who doted on her grandfather, but alas there was not a lot of love from her mother. I found her grave awhile ago, and there is no headstone, and even the exact position is difficult to ascertain due to the layout of the plot.  But in my family tree I have her marked down and I know that she existed.

RIP. Rita Elizabeth Kyriacou. 06 Sept 1967 – 20 Mar 1971

I also have graves that I visit when I am at certain cemeteries which have a special place in my heart, one being that of a child who is buried with her soldier father in Brixton Cemetery, and the other is that of Claire Wallace, daughter of the writer Edgar Wallace in Braamfontein.

My latest find is a simple grave that says “Pookety” engraved on it; in Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp.  I have no idea of the gender or age, but with a bit of investigation I may be able to find out more, assuming that the graves around it are numbered consecutively.
Another of my heartbreak graves is probably one of the older graves in the Johannesburg area. Two sisters: Anna Maria, and Cecilia Maria Smit, aged 13 and 10 respectively, were struck by lightning on 01 Dec 1876. They were buried in the farm cemetery very close to where I worked and they were possibly killed on the very farm where our office was.  Today we are so divorced from these two girls who died 136 years ago that it is very unlikely that any of their family even know that they existed.

Of course childhood deaths can be seen in any cemetery, there is a large plot in Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery where many stillborns or babies are buried in unmarked graves. And while their burial is recorded in the register, there is no real way to know the grave numbers as these have been lost/stolen over the years. By the same token, a large section in Brixton Cemetery is given over to children’s graves, and many of those are marked in the register as “unknown”.  Lives that came about and never saw fruition. 

Children's plot. Braamfontein Jewish cemetery.

Children’s plot. Braamfontein Jewish cemetery.

I have always considered that children’s graves are very special and they often reflect the love of a parent for a child. In some cemeteries toys and mementos abound on those small graves, in others simple words of affection are engraved on simple headstones, but often there is just an empty space where a headstone should have been, the name known only to those who laid it to rest, or who wrote it in the register. And just maybe in some faded family album somewhere there is a photograph but nobody knows who the photograph is of.

My final thought goes to the many thousands of children who were lost in the concentration camps during the Boer War, or in any conflict for that matter. Their lives should not have been about struggling or pain, but about experiencing the joy of childhood and the smiles and love of parents. 


I am not finished with “Pookety” yet, I hope to identify the grave one day, and I hope to stop by at Baby Sol’s grave, and visit Claire again, and I will pass the memorial to the children that died in the Westdene bus disaster, and pause to photograph an angel, and read a faded inscription, and get all soppy and sentimental because often those silent memorials speak more to me than any elaborate granite monolith ever can.

A postscript.
I returned to Burgershoop on 17 September 2012 and catalogued the graves around Pookety, and after consulting the register I am about 98% sure that the grave is that of  Gerald Norval Allen Watt, aged 6 months, buried in grave J1546, on 17 January 1918.

Pookety is the first grave on the left of the row.

© DRW  2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016 
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:56

9/11. The day the world changed.

Today is the anniversary of the 9/11 calamity, and from that day forward the world has become a more dangerous place. I was living with friends when it happened and I remember watching it on TV as events unfolded.  This was however, not some Hollywood style disaster movie, but the real thing, in colour, in bright sunlight, and real people were losing their lives as we watched. 
It was also a turning point in world history because America would become engulfed in a protracted campaign in the Middle East, and air travel became even more tedious. The usual conspiracy theorists rubbed their collective hands together and checked under the rug to see if they could start a new theory, the internet went crazy and the media had a more than a field day. And, in many homes loved ones did not return from their day.
I was in New York City in the early months of  2001, but was based out in Flushing, and all I could see of the skyline of Manhattan was the Empire State Building and the WTC in the distance. 
I had organised to go into NYC on one day, but the day I was scheduled to go ended up being changed and I went the next day. As luck would have it the weather was grotesque, and armed with a really lousy 35mm camera I headed off towards the Hudson River where USS Intrepid was moored.  I was more interested in the maritime history than anything else, so going to look at the WTC was not really on my list. Besides, I had also booked to go on a Circle Line cruise down the Hudson so it was pretty inevitable that I would see them anyway. 
Did I mention the weather was lousy? Because the image below is all I saw of the WTC on that brief expedition. 
Naturally today I regret not being able to get a better look at NYC, but that was how things worked out.  A friend of mine who had been there in better weather was luckier than I was, so I do have his image to view, albeit in a very small version.
And while I was reading the many retrospective posts about the incident I could not help thinking about the many police members and fire fighters who risked their lives trying to assist at the scene, and how many of them went back into the doomed buildings. It takes a special courage to do that, and there was no shortage of that courage on 9/11.  It is also difficult to read about the many people who died in those buildings  and not feel saddened in some way. In many cases people lost their lives by being early, or were saved because they took a different route,  Death was waiting all over the site of the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and he claimed many for himself.
Today there is a memorial at the site to the 2983 victims that lost their lives, and a new glass tower is rising to dominate the skyline. But will we ever be safe again? Somehow I doubt it. As long as there are fanatics and their followers who are prepared to go to oblivion, or leaders who think getting embroiled in a war will benefit mankind then we will never be safe. The consequences of  9/11 have been far reaching for people on both sides, and at that defining moment in history the world should have reached the understanding that unless we disengage and quit trying to slaughter each other, we will end up slaughtering us all.
 © DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:47

Beautiful Braamfontein

Somebody once asked “which cemetery do you consider to be “home”?” I didn’t really have to think about it because Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg is probably my “home”.   It was the second cemetery where I went to photograph war graves, and I keep on coming back to it. 

It was not the the first cemetery established in the fledgling city of Johannesburg, that honour goes to a short lived cemetery that was bounded by Bree, Diagonal and Harrison Streets. The “inhabitants” were relocated to Braamfontein Cemetery in 1897, although the grand dame of Johannesburg was established in 1888. 

I suspect that when it originally opened it must have been a dry dusty place, trees were sparse in the early Johannesburg, so these would have been planted much later, leaving the legacy of green that we have today. The cemetery is laid out along a single road that heads west towards the railway lines that ran from Braamfontein yards through to Sturrock Park.
Cemetery Plan (JHB City Parks)

Cemetery Plan (JHB City Parks)

On either side of this road the various sections are laid out. Turning right at the Dynamite Memorial,  the cemetery extends Northwards before petering out at the fence at Enoch Sontonga Ave. On either side of this short road is the  African and other “non white” sections. An extensive Anglo Boer War Plot is also found along this road.
At some point in our history the African section was ploughed under and all that remains now is the Enoch Sontonga Memorial and a green field.
The grave site of Enoch Sontonga

The grave site of Enoch Sontonga

The cemetery filled up very rapidly, and by 1910 the “New Cemetery” was opened, and burials in Braamfontein were scaled down. However, this the place where the founders of Johannesburg have come to rest. Within it’s walls are soldiers from the ABW, Rand Revolt, 1907 strike, WW1, WW2 and the Border War. There is a VC holder, the Foster Gang, a Titanic victim is mentioned in it, there are at least 4 baronets, a cartoonist, Edgar Wallace’s daughter, 6 unknown Indian soldiers, the writer of our national anthem, a famous artist and her family, the 1896 dynamite explosion memorial, 3 conscientious objectors, a Muslim cemetery next to a Jewish cemetery, a famous poet, a family of stone masons who made many of the monuments in it, the founder of a pasta company, and a burgher from the Boer War. And those are just the things I can think about off the top of my head. 
Braamfontein from the air

Braamfontein from the air

It has some magnificent artwork in it, and a collection of headstones that are still legible 100 years after they were erected. In some areas the trees have grown into each other and make some areas dark and dingy. During a storm it can be a fearsome place,  yet it can have moods that make you gasp in amazement. 
I have seen the early registers, and from what I can see the first person officially buried there was a little boy called John, who was buried 9 April 1888, in grave number 1. He was only 1 year, 11 months and 10 days old. The grave is close to the office, in the area set aside for “Pioneers graves”.
The Coffin Rest

The Coffin Rest

The cemetery has seen a lot of strife too and contains 77 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War and 11 from the First World War, with roughly 400 Boer War graves within its walls.  There is also a large Police plot where many of the casualties from the 1922 Rand Revolt are buried. And, I believe many of the miners that died in the revolt are also buried in unmarked graves along the fence. 
The Police Plot

The Police Plot

There is also an extensive Jewish area in the cemetery, which was always maintained in an immaculate condition up till recently. And in my recent explorations I have been able to see so many of the graves of the early Jewish community from Johannesburg.  
The Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish Cemetery

It is very difficult to show the cemetery in all its glory. Cemeteries are the type of places that you only visit on rare occasions, and only those who explore them can really appreciate the history and beauty inside of them. Taphophiles generally understand the nature of places like this, and Braamfontein is a very popular destination for day tours. As morbid as it sounds, there is no other place where you can experience your own mortality when in the midst of so much death.  
 Random Images
DRW © 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016, new images added 22/01/2017, added link 04/03/2018
Updated: 05/03/2018 — 07:25
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