musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: January 2013

The Kruger House

No reading about the Boer War would be complete without mentioning Paul Kruger, and there is no doubt that he was a significant person in the history of South Africa. His house is situated in Pretoria and is now a museum, so with some spare time I decided to pop in for a visit. 

It is strange to find the residential property of a State President at street level, but from what I read this is what Paul Kruger would have preferred. If anything he was a deeply religious person, not prone to outbursts of emotion, and well loved by his friends and countrymen, and respected by his enemies. Situated in  Church Street, The house was designed by Tom Claridge and built by the builder Charles Clark during 1883-1884. Right across from the house is the magnificent Gereformeerde Kerk Pretoria (aka Paul Kruger Kerk) of 1889.

 

The house is not overly complicated, but is well built and very simple when compared to a house like Melrose House. By 1899 it was one of the few buildings in Pretoria that had electricity and a telephone, although from what I saw water borne sewerage was not on the cards. Paul Kruger and his wife lived there until he left the country in 1900. His wife remained in the house until her death in 1901. The house was bought by the Union Government in 1925 and it was restored and opened to the public in  1934, being declared a National Monument in 1936.  

Sitting Room

A lot of the furniture and fittings do come from the original house, and while it does have a bit of a cluttered old fashioned feel about it I did find it was a very personal house, not really the sort of place that you would expect a  President to live in. 

One of Paul Kruger’s offices

Dining Room

Bedroom

Bedroom


There are also two display halls: The ZAR Hall, and the Exile Hall. 

Exile Hall

The ZAR Hall has some amazing historic artefacts that pertain to the Boer War, as well as many of the awards and gifts give to the President and people of the ZAR. The Exile Hall is more about the period when Paul Kruger fled the country on board the Gelderland, and his subsequent exile in Europe. 
Also on display are an oxwagon, and his state coach.
   
Of special interest to me is the State Railway Coach which is on the premises. Sadly this wonderful old clerestory coach, with its observation platform, is not open to the public. All I could really see inside it were a conference room, sleeping berths and a small kitchen.
 
 According to the information sign, the coach was used by Paul Kruger when he was at Machadodorp and Warterval-Onder, and carried him to Lourenco Marques from where he went into exile. It was restored in 1951 and placed at the museum in 1952. 
 
A final stop in my tour was the kitchen and scullery where some sort of inkling of domestic life was on view. 
 
 
 
Paul Kruger died in Switzerland on 14 July 1904, his body being returned to South Africa and given a state funeral on 16 December 1904. He is buried with his wife and members of his family in Church Street Cemetery.
Out of curiosity, in my visit to the archives in Pretoria I found a document that may have been signed by Kruger himself, ok, he is mentioned in it. 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016
 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 16:06

Completing the Cards

Followers of this blog may recall my post from 24 May 2012 “Reading the cards”  At the time when I wrote it we were facing the seemingly mammoth task of trying to find record cards for as many South African World War One casualties as we could.  It seemed like a daunting task. There were 339 drawers, each filled with roughly 700 cards. Theoretically they were in alphabetical order, and theoretically each should have had an indication of the servicemen/women’s status.

 

Today, on 9 January 2013, we closed the drawers for the last time. The number stamped on the last card was 113906. Between my partner and myself we photographed about 8500 cards of individual people, equating to just over 174 drawers each. In my case I did 30 trips to Pretoria and back to do it, driving to Marlboro and catching the Gautrain to Pretoria. The only real glitch in our routine was over December when the office was closed on the one day we were there. 

 
One thing that these cards did was provide a unique glimpse into the lives of a wide spectrum of people from that era. I was always fascinated by how many people lived in Johannesburg City centre, and how many lived in my old stomping grounds in Mayfair. I found the card of one of the early ministers of the church I attended, as well as the card of somebody that lived in the house I used to own in Turffontein. 
 
It was not all honey and roses though. Most of the cards provide a glimpse into the service record of the soldiers, often recording their misdemeanours, illnesses, deaths and burials. Often the medical side makes for shocking reading, and yet it sometimes makes you rejoice to read about a severely wounded soldier finally being discharged after a long period in hospital. Bad boys also got their comeuppance, with punishment records often containing multiple sins and omissions. 
 
There were many events that are milestones that I looked for. The sinking of the Galway Castle and Mendi,  The Battle of Delville Wood, and the 1914 Rebellion and South West African Campaign. I also discovered the Hex River derailment, and the horrific losses through diseases such as Enteric and Blackwater Fever, Malaria and Influenza. I also saw the men that were escorted home suffering from dementia, heart complaints, TB and alcoholism.  And I saw the many that died in late 1918, just a few months before the end of the war.  The flu epidemic of 1918 decimated the ex-soldiers, many of whom were still suffering the ill effects of their military service.
 
It has been a magnificent project. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had. It really needs an actuary to look at these cards and make some sort of sense out of the data in them. My one regret is that we were not able to photograph all of the cards because they really need to be preserved.  We still need to extract a lot of information from the cards and I hope that we will be able to add a number of previously unrecognised casualties to the Roll of Honour from WW1. And, I hope that one day somebody will look back at this achievement and use it to keep the memory alive of those who never came home. 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated and link fixed 26/03/2016
 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 16:06

East Rand Cemeteries

There are a number of cemeteries on the East Rand that I haven’t visited, mainly because I don’t usually have a reason to go into that area. One of the reasons for my excursion on 2 January 2013 was an ongoing search for a grave of a soldier that was buried on the East Rand. Unfortunately we have no date, or positive location, but we have been trying to exclude a few places in our search.  
 
First on the list was Rietfontein Cemetery. This small African cem is not associated with the hospital of the same name that I had obsessed over late last year, in fact if you didn’t know it existed you would miss it altogether. The weather wasn’t great that day, it was grey and cold and damp and the cem was covered in long grass, making gravehunting difficult. Graves date from the 40’s and 50-‘s and there was a small Coloured and Asian area. The cem has also been called “Brickfields Road”, but the sign did read Rietfontein. 
  
 
It was obvious that we would not find our missing grave here so headed off to the next destination: Elsburg. Situated in Wadeville, this smallish cem has CWGC graves in it, as well as a large African area. It is in a reasonable condition, but many things about it are puzzling. 
 
It is difficult to know what this cem was originally, or whether it was a farm cemetery that was expanded. The oldest grave I saw was dated 1905, and there were at least 3 rows of graves without headstones that were very similar to those I had seen in some of the Concentration Camp cems. Vandalism has taken its toll though, and not too long ago there was a crime problem here. This cemetery does not have a good reputation. 

Sadly the only Angel I saw had been toppled, and many of the older headstones were not in too good a condition. Our missing grave was not here either, so I headed off to South Park Cem.
 
This cemetery became famous because this is where Chris Hani is buried. I always thought it was small cem, but I was surprised to see how big it was when I arrived. Of immediate interest was the SADF plot which has 21 graves in it. 
 
There were at least two funerals being held while I was there so I was not able to investigate the one area, but from what I could see this cemetery is rapidly filling up. It was also in a very good condition, and I could see workers  actively busy, even on this the second day of the new year. The grave of Chris Hani I found by accident, and again I had to ask the question; had he been alive today, what would have have said about the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of those in charge? His murder nearly plunged South Africa into a bloodbath.
I did a quick walk around, but there weren’t many artistic headstones that appealed to me, if anything this cem is very similar to West Park in that it has many graves, but very little character. Cemeteries often mirror the society that they are a part of, and the older they are, the more character that they have. South Park has not reached that point yet. I also noted that it had been renamed to Thomas Titus Nkobi Memorial Park. 
 
That concluded my first gravehunting session of the new year, and I was off home. I was able to find one previously unknown grave which made it worthwhile, and I am happy to add 3 more cemeteries to my list. My next expedition? I don’t know, but it could be that the next time I report back from a cemetery it may be in another country. 
 
And, just to remind me of what was going to happen at the end of February….
 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:40
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