Month: March 2016

Remembering the Westdene Bus Disaster

27 March 1985 was supposed to be yet another school day for the pupils of Hoërskool Vorentoe, in fact it was supposed to be a normal day for the whole of South Africa, but the events surrounding the Westdene bus disaster changed all of that in a brief tragedy that will remain with us all forever.

I was doing tutoring at the Telecomms Apprentice School in Braamfontein when news broke that a school bus full of pupils had plunged into Westdene Dam. It is one of those surrealistic moments in your life that somehow remains with you forever. Classes stopped and the principal sent around a message that we would be collecting money towards a wreath or similar. The day was subdued after that, even though that was not true at Westdene Dam where divers were frantically searching for bodies and parents were standing grief stricken, knowing that their son or daughter would not be coming home on that day. 

Westdene Dam. (1500x466)

Westdene Dam. (1500×466)

The actual cause of the disaster was never really pinned down to any singular factor; the driver  never really gave an adequate explanation, there was no mechanical fault with the bus, and the weather conditions were not poor. I seem to recall that he said another car had swerved, or he had blacked out. Faced with the imminent backlash and the trauma that he had gone through too, it was no wonder that no single cause was ever found.

I won’t delve into the disaster because I was not directly involved and do not know the facts, there are others more qualified to do that. It was one of those moments in South African history that has remained in our pysche since 1985.  

Those that died in the disaster are mostly buried in Westpark cemetery in a dedicated plot close to the main gate. It is a tragic place to visit because the sheer sale of the disaster is only experienced when you are faced with seeing all of the graves together. 

In 2011 I spent some time in Westpark photographing all of the graves, sadly they were all desecrated a long time ago and never restored. I spent time hunting down the graves in the general cemetery and they too had been desecrated. Nobody has even been able to explain why this happened, and who was responsible. It was a sad pilgrimage for me, trying to match headstones with names, and seeing those names in the registers made it just a bit harder. The funeral for all of the children was held on the same day, and a sad day it was for so many people.

It took until 2007 for a memorial to be erected to the victims,  and even this has had its fair share of controversy.  

In 2014 I revisited the graves while I was down in South Africa and photographed the small photographs that were on some of the graves, one day I will match faces to names and make my own records of the disaster a little more complete. 

There are two graves that stick out for me, the first is grave number 7, where two sisters are buried together (Reinette and Linda Du Plooy) , and the grave of Caroline Brown who is buried in the general part of the cemetery in a grave that was stripped of its name like so many others.  The vandalism of the graves was not random, it was targeted, somebody went out of their way to hunt down the graves and desecrate them

It is just over 30 years since the disaster, had it not happened some of those children would have been mothers or fathers today, they would have had families of their own, and just possibly their children would have attended that same school that they had attended so many years ago. There are a lot of what if’s associated with the Westdene Bus Disaster, it was all a matter of timing. catching a different bus, or sitting upstairs or downstairs was the difference between life of death.

There were a lot of heroes on 27 March 1985, but sadly there were too many victims. May They Rest in Peace 

Images of the graves are available on eggsa. I sincerely hope that one day they get restored. 

My own page about the memorial may be found at Allatsea

DRW ©  2016 – 2020. Created  27/03/2016


Remembering Rita

In memory of Rita Elizabeth Kyriacou. 06 Sept 1967 – 20 Mar 1971

This afternoon I was working my way through this blog moving images and deleting posts that were of no relevance when I bumped into the post for Forgotten Children, dated in 16/09/2012. As I reread the post I realised that one of the children mentioned on that post died on 20 March 1971. 

Somewhere in that space is my 1st cousin (1 times removed), Rita Elizabeth Kyriacou who was born on 06 September 1967. I was 6 years old when she was born, and her family lived in another town, so I did not see her much, but what I do remember is a dark curly haired moppet that was very naughty and who doted on her grandfather. Her home life was a loveless one, the family being broken up when the husband had to leave South Africa for military commitments in Cyprus. They subsequently divorced in 1968, so it is unlikely that Rita knew much about her biological father.  

Tragically she died in a drowning incident on 20 March 1971, and was buried in Sterkfontein Cemetery in Krugersdorp. I do not know the circumstances of her death, but sadly there is no headstone to remember this small girl who never became a woman. I do not know whether her father attended her funeral, or whether he was ever notified. But she is probably long forgotten by her mother and everybody else. 

I did not forget her though and eventually managed to find her grave after long searches in the registers at Sterkfontein cemetery. The irony is that the only real love that she may have had came from her grandmother and grandfather, who are also buried in unmarked graves not too far from where she is. 

I like to think that somewhere there is a place where she went to and that she finally found the love that she deserved. There is no photograph of her, and no longer any real proof that she even existed. Did her father ever know about her death?  Does he have a faded picture of her?  

Rita, wherever you are, My family have not forgotten you. And while I only knew you for a short while, but you made an impression on me and you always were at Sterkfontein waiting for me to find you.

Rest in peace little one.


Visiting St Giles in Bredon

With Winter slowly heading towards the door I am slowly coming out of my torpor and considering expeditions. Unfortunately my limitations nowadays are many, and I am always hampered by the capacity of my bladder and the comfort of my shoes. 

The Village of Bredon falls under Warwickshire and not Gloucestershire as I expected. In fact the border of the two counties is not all that far from Tewkesbury.  It is roughly 3 miles from where I am, a mere brisk walk on a Winters day.  My target was the Church of St Giles in Bredon where there are 4 CWGC graves to photograph. This would also be a test of my new camera, and of course a bit of much needed leg stretching for me. 

My route was along the B4080 road, through farmland and countryside.  

I stopped on a number of occasions to wave at the sheep, but they just looked sheepishly at me and continued about their business.

At some point I came to the road that comes off the top of Northway into the B4080, with the Cross Keys pub on the corner. I made a mental note of it in case the bladder decided to explode on the way home.

 

After more trudging I started to see the church spire in the distance, and it was a high one. At least now I had an aiming point. 

A bit further one I spotted what I thought was a war memorial but it turned out to be a large milestone instead

The church was behind the milestone, and I was in gravestone mode.

The churchyard is quite large, dominated by the church itself and the usual trees that thrive in churchyards like this

The CWGC graves were easy to find, and I also found two private memorials. I then walked the rows, looking for interesting headstones and tryng to find the oldest legible one, which turned out to be be close to the church.

It appears to date from 1703, and it is very possible that this is not the oldest, there are others very similar to this, but the dates are not legible.

 

The church is stunning, and that spire is a tall one, but unfortunately I could not get into it to have a look. But, like all of these churches you can bet it had some really beautiful memorials inside of it. In the meantime I walked around the churchyard, admiring the lychgate on the way.

The gravestones were a mixed bag of 1800’s and 1900’s with a lot of very nice modern stones. In 200 years time those modern stones will be magnificent! There are also a number of family plots in the churchyard, but that is to be expected as many of the families have probably lived in this parish for generations. 

The Dyer family is particularly well represented. 

The church yard is surrounded by a number of beautiful houses, like the old Rectory (one of 3 rectories that I saw in my trip)

And I believe this is the church hall and associated buildings:

Not too far from the church is the local school, which shows its age somewhat.

and of course yet another pub:

In many cases these village pubs are amongst the older buildings around, and many are stunning examples of country village pubs. If ever I run out of graves I will start photographing pubs! 

There is even a local SPAR in Bredon, 

Although I doubt whether they are in quite the same price range as those back in South Africa. 

I strolled down the road, ever wary of low flying 4×4’s who seeming trundle out of nowhere. The narrow streets were never designed for the vehicular traffic that dominates them, and village can be quite dangerous places to drive in as evidenced by the many reversing mirrors I saw outside driveways.

Lo and behold, there was another pub in the distance.

Then it was time to turn around and head back to the church before tackling the walk back home. 

Now is it left or right? either way I can see the church spire next to the chimney so I am heading in the right direction.

Back at the church, a quick walk around, and some wonderful Soul Effigies on view

 

and then I was on my way home, pausing only to wave at the local lawnmowers ruminating in the adjacent field.

Ugh, I still had far to walk. Would my bladder hold out?

And isn’t that Shaun the Sheep?

It had been a great walk, I was bushed and frankly had enjoyed my outing, I must do that more often. The 4 CWGC graves were in the bag, and that was really why I was there in the first place. 

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