musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Anglo Boer War

Shot at Dawn

In April 2015 I visited the National Memorial Arboretum and one of the many Memorials I saw on that day was the “Shot At Dawn” Memorial. 

Shot at Dawn Memorial

I commented at the time:

“The subject is a difficult one to read up on, because of the controversy of so many of the hasty decisions made by those who endorsed the executions. It can be argued that in many cases the sentence delivered did not take account of the circumstances of each individual, and the age and maturity of so many of those who were executed.
It is true that there were executions for offenses that were not related to cowardice or “lack of moral fibre”, some men were executed for murder. However, the fairness of the court martial process is often questioned, and those high ranking officers who sat on these tribunals were often seen as being totally out of touch with the reality of the situation of soldiers on the ground. It could also be argued that in many armies, the benefit of any sort of hearing did not exist, and the men were shot outright, often on the field of battle.”

Each wooden post that has been driven into the ground represents one of those who had their lives taken from them by the court martial process. 

The statue is fronted by 6 similar pillars, representing the firing squad who had to do the deed. A target was pinned on the person to be shot, and supposedly none of the squad knew whether his bullet would end the life of the accused. However, if blanks were used they would easily know whether their rifle fired a blank or a live round.   

This past week I read a book entitled For the Sake of Example, by Anthony Babington, first published 1983. It is an oldish book, but it is the first one I have read that dealt with the issue of those who were “shot at dawn”. It made for very sad reading because many of those deaths were not necessary in the first place. The common thread I saw in the book was the phrase “setting an example”. I also read a lot between the lines, and there was evidence of very perfunctory “trials” (Field Court Martial), with a swift verdict and the case would be “shoved upstairs” for some higher up to agree with and so on until it reached the desk of Field Marshall Haig or whoever was the end of the chain.

Once they rubber stamped the verdict and passed it back downwards the sentence would then finally be read out to the person who had been found guilty and often he would be shot the next day. It is doubtful whether anybody of high rank gave those meagre findings more than a glance and probably muttered “setting an example” before passing the buck to the next person in the chain. Many of the cases I read about were the result of poor decisions made by the man who was about to be shot. No real account of domestic circumstances was taken, and neither was much attention paid to the mental health of the soldier apart from a brief lookover by the closest doctor.  Many of the men who lost their lives were suffering from what we call today “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD)” , and given the horrors of the typical First World War battlefield it is understandable why so many ended up with the symptoms of PTSD.

One comment was made quite often: “unfit to be a soldier” and it was used in negative way, irrespective of whether the soldier was a success in civilian street, or a good father or dutiful son. The career soldiers with their rubber stamps did not give a hoot. Would we be able to say the same thing about them if ever they ended up on civvy street? would we condemn them as being “unfit to be a civilian” and take them outside and shoot them?

It is an incredibly difficult decision to take a person’s life, although if you were used to sending off complete battalions to their death in nonsensical attacks surely one more wouldn’t make you loose any sleep. I get this feeling that the Tommy on the ground was really just a number, irrespective of whether he was a regular soldier, a conscript or even a volunteer. Let’s face it, many of those who flocked to the colours were under the impression it would all be over by Christmas and they got a rude awakening when it carried on until November 1918 instead. A large number of those who flocked to the colours were young, often under 20, as were some of those who had their lives brutally ended by a squad of men from their own side. The shooting of a soldier often propelled his dependants into poverty as they no longer had the income that was sent home by the soldier, and if my memory serves me correctly a least one solder was shot shortly after he got married, widowing his bride even before he got to know her properly.  

The First World War did bring about many changes to the military, and fortunately the practise of shooting somebody for taking a stroll down the road to visit a girlfriend or local tavern was not as prevalent in that war. It could be that many who had served in the first slaughter avoided the mistakes that were made back then. Political pressure was also used to change the way these situations were dealt with, although it was way too late for the 20,000 who were found guilty of offences carrying the death penalty. 3000 soldiers received the death penalty and 346 were carried out.

In 2006 the British Government agreed to posthumously pardon all those who were executed for military offences during the First World War, but that was too many years too late for the families of these victims of officialdom. The irony is that even though a pardon has been granted, the pardon “does not affect any conviction or sentence.”

*Update 09/08/2017*

While uploading images to Lives of the First World War,  I encountered a private memorial to Arthur James Irish who was “executed for desertion” on 21/09/1915, although the grave (and CWGC record) states he was killed in action in Loos, Belgium. He is buried in Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Canadian Cemetery

This is the first time I have encountered a grave connected to one of those who was executed by firing squad, and I will do some more reading about the case. It could be that the information is incorrect, or it may be a genuine case of mistaken identity. In any event it does not excuse those who rubber stamped these executions without looking into individual circumstances. 

Executed for Murder.

There are three interesting cases in South Africa that need mentioning, although none are from the Western Front during the First World War. 

The first being that of “Breaker Morant” and Peter Handcock.

Lieutenant Harry Morant was arrested and faced a court martial for “war crimes”. According to military prosecutors, Lt. Morant retaliated for the death in combat of his commanding officer with a series of revenge killings against both Boer POWs and many civilian residents of the Northern Transvaal.

He stood accused of the summary execution of Floris Visser, a wounded prisoner of war and the slaying of four Afrikaners and four Dutch schoolteachers who had been taken prisoner at the Elim Hospital. He  was found guilty by the court martial and sentenced to death.

Lts. Morant and Peter Handcock were then court-martialed for the murder of the Rev. Carl August Daniel Heese, a South African-born Minister of the Berlin Missionary Society.  Morant and Handcock were acquitted of the Heese murder, but their sentences for murdering Floris Visser and the eight victims at Elim Hospital were carried out by a firing squad  on the morning of  27 February 1902.  Morant’s last words were reportedly “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

They are both buried in Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria.

The next incident is the case of a Veldkornet, Salomon Van As who was executed by firing squad on 23 June 1902, against the back wall of the jail in Heidelberg, having been found guilty of the murder of Captain Ronald Miers at Riversdraai 12 miles south of Heidelberg.

On 25 September 1901, Captain Miers approached a party of Boers under a white flag most likely with the intention to convince them to surrender. What exactly happened is not known, the British claim the Captain was shot in cold blood which made this a war crime, however Van As claimed he acted in self-defence. 

Today the bullet holes from that execution can still be seen on a stone that has been picked out in white paint on the back wall of the building. 

Two years after the war the British authorities apologised to his parents and offered compensation after admitting that false witnesses had been used against him during the case. He was buried in a shallow grave close to the old cemetery (Kloof Cemetery) but reburied on 13 October 1903.    

 

Executed for Rebellion.

Our next example is equally interesting because of the emotions that it raises.  Josef Johannes “Jopie” Fourie was executed for his part in the 1914 Rebellion in protest against the decision to invade German South West Africa as part of the international war effort against Germany. Fourie was an Active Citizens Force (ACF) officer in the Union Defence Force at the time and had not resigned his commission. As a result he was tried under court martial and was sentenced to death. This quirk also means he is eligible for commemoration as a casualty of war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and his name has been put forward for consideration.

He is buried in Pretoria’s Church Street Cemetery. The same cemetery where Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock were buried. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/06/2017, updated 09/08/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:58

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

Johannesburg Fort

In all the years I lived in Hillbrow I occasionally would pass the Johannesburg Fort and try to imagine what was inside those ramparts. I never thought that one day I would get a chance to have a look. History does not tell us much about this old building, it was built by Paul Kruger from 1896-1899 to protect the Zuid Afrikanse Republiek (ZAR) from the threat of a British invasion, and to keep watch over the miners flocking to the gold fields of the village (that later became the city of Johannesburg) below. Following the Boer War it incorporated into the jail complex that was built around it, although during the apartheid era only whites were held there. The luckless African male prisoners being held at the “Number Four” jail not too far away. The sloping entrance tunnel was the last view that many prisoners would have of the outside world before being taken into the buildings behind the earthern ramparts.

Entrance tunnel

Compared to Fort Klapperkop and Fort Schanskop in Pretoria the buildings within the ramparts are laid out very differently, but have not lost their military character. Sadly, there was no real access to any of the interior buildings, although I did get to stroll on the ramparts and explore some of tunnels beneath them.
 
The view in all directions is limited by the buildings that have sprung up on either side of the site, however, if one goes back 110 years, the view would have been very different, and the closeness to the railway lines would have made the transportation of prisoners and supplies more controllable.
Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Striking mineworkers from the 1922 Rand Revolt were held at the Fort, as were a number of political figures from our past. The whole fort complex was actually a series of jails, including a women’s jail, an awaiting trial jail,  the number 4 complex and the physical fort itself. All have now been transformed into the Constitution Hill complex.
The buildings at the back of the fort

The buildings at the back of the fort

Facade across the interior gate was created by Anton Van Vouw

The rooms that I explored were all beneath the eastern ramparts. They were entered through a curved tunnel and all had the curved ceilings and claustrophobic feel about them. The literature states that these rooms under the ramparts were used as barracks and storerooms and not for prisoners. I suspect that there were not pleasant places to live in, given the sparse ventilation.    

Ramparts and interior buildings

Ramparts and interior buildings

 
Looking South from the ramparts

Looking South from the ramparts

Today the fort does not really dominate the skyline, it is more of a curiously grassed hill that hides its interior from the world. Ironically it also faces onto the Constitutional Court and is a reminder that the constitution needs protection from those who would like to change it to suit their own political agendas. There are no guns here, but the reminder is there in those strange crenelated walls and isolated guard posts.

View northwards, Constitutional Court is on the right.

I need to do more research on this building and its history, because it has seen so much history and is one of the older surviving structures of Johannesburg.  The relevant Wikipedia page does not say much about it, and so far I haven’t seen anything really definitive. There is an interesting account of the fort in 1969 at the Artefacts site, but it is a small part of the chain in this area, and in later blog posts I will explore the other buildings around it.  
 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 23/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:28

Dear Dr Jameson….

One of the more unsavoury events in our history is the Jameson Raid. Cecil John Rhodes and his friends planned this really ridiculous farce to…. wait, I will let you read about it yourself because I sure don’t understand half of it. I do know that it was one of the triggers that caused the Boer War, and so much misery in this country ever since. Who knows what might have happened had Jameson and his 600 men succeeded in their attempt to “restore order” in Johannesburg, or better yet, never embarked on such a haphazard scheme in the first place. But, given the really bad planning and a really stupid ideal in the first place, the chances of success were really very small. 
 
I deal with what is left over, and there is not too much. Many of the sites associated with the raid are long gone, or built over, graves have become part of the veld, and all that is really left are a few places along Adcock Street out near Dobsonville/Vlakfontein as well as Randfontein, Krugersdorp and possibly Magaliesburg.  There are three main memorials worth considering. Firstly there is the main memorial on Adcock Street.
  
 
This plinth is situated outside what is loosely known as “the brickworks”, behind which is what is known as the Vlakfontein Memorial. I first photographed it in May 2009, and it was still fenced and the area was badly overgrown. I revisited it on 2 Feb 2012, and the fences have all been stolen, and it is still overgrown!
Jameson Needle (2009)

Jameson Needle (2009)

 
Sadly, all that is left of the so-called Kraal is a low wall and this needle, and there does not seem to be any way of knowing where the original site was in the first place.  On the one side of the brickworks is yet another interesting spot, loosely known as “The Stump“. When photographed in 2009, it too was fenced and not too badly overgrown, sadly the fence has also been stolen and the stump fell victim to fire at some point.
jamesonstump
 
 
From here we move across to Randfontein to what is loosely termed “The Randfontein Estates Gold Mine Military Cemetery” It took the good memory of a security guard to find this spot near the railway lines outside Randfontein, and when I first photographed it in 2009 it had already been badly vandalised.
 
On my visit today I was happy to see that the area had been cleared of vegetation but that does leave it more visible for scrap metal dealers and their ilk. These are the graves of Troopers William Charles Beatty-Powell, John Bernard Bletsoe, Harry Davies, John R.H. Forster, and C.E Hennessy.
 
In Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp, there is one more reminder of the Jameson Raid,  that was erected in 1917 to commemorate the casualties suffered by the Transvaal Burghers who opposed Jameson and his raiders. There are also 3 Jameson raiders buried in that cemetery, as well as the five Burghers. 
 
But what is missing?  The Vlakfontein needle mentions 26 casualties. Of these 5 are buried at REGM Military Cemetery and 8 are buried in Burgershoop cemetery. There are some raiders buried supposedly at Vlakfontein farm cemetery, as well as 3 that were supposed to be buried outside Doornkop Military base, there is one listed as being in Magaliesburg but that one has never been found,  and others are listed as burial location not known.
Dr Jameson and his cronies left a legacy that erupted into the Anglo Boer War; by all rights they should have been shot for treason. The punishment meted down to the plotters and leaders was surprisingly lenient. It was the ordinary soldier who once again caught the short end of the stick. Ironically Jameson became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (1904–08) and was one of the founders of the Union of South Africa.
 
The physical remnants of the Jameson Raid are now hard to find, a recent visit to a farm in Magaliesburg revealed that the raiders may have travelled through one of the farms en route, 2 swords were ploughed up on the farm, so who knows, just maybe more answers may still be in that area.
 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 22/03/2016
 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:48

Heidelberg Concentration Camp Cemetery

This post ties into the visit I made to Heidelberg in January 2012 but only deals with the Concentration Camp  graves in the Kloof and Camp Cemetery (aka Kampplaas). It is situated just outside Heidelberg and close to the N3 offramp. To be honest, the cemetery and concentration camp graves didn’t really leave much of an impression with me.  
 
The history of the camp may be found at http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/Histories/Heidelberg/

heidelberg_camp 005


I was led to believe that the graves were restored before these images were taken so I have no idea what condition they may have been in before.

 
 

The graves are mostly unmarked, and I do not know whether this is the original position of them or whether they are merely symbolic.

There are markers on some of the graves, but many of the markers are illegible after so many years.

I had originally missed the plaque that was on the road outside the camp (I have no idea how I missed it). but detoured to photograph it when I returned to Heidelberg in May 2012

In that visit I concentrated mostly on Kloof Cemetery which is really beautiful.

Between my original visit and this one a memorial wall had been erected with the names of the inmates of the camp that are buried in these two cemeteries.

Again it is difficult to know what graves are of victims, although if they were children and died between 1900 and 1902 the odds are quite large that they were. There are a few mounds amongst the graves and these had been “restored” so I can make the assumption that these were graves associated with the camp.

 
There are a number of scattered graves that do have illegible markers on them, but they are in the minority. In July 1901 measles struck and many of the graves probably belong to the children that died as a result of the epidemic. 
 
The irony is that this cemetery does hold a number of graves of Imperial soldiers who died during the ABW.  
 
There is also a small dedicated Jewish Cemetery at Kloof, and it did make an interesting diversion.
Strangely enough it also has a very fine collection of angels and statues that were worth photographing. There are two very impressive examples that I was amazed to find.
 
Kloof is a wonderful cemetery that holds a lot of history, and is really worth visiting, but it is in dire need of an information plaque that tells a bit more of the history of this site. All of the graves in Kloof have been photographed and may be seen at the relevant eGGSA Library page
 
Random Images of Kloof Cemetery
   
 
   
   
 
DRW © 2012-2018. Images recreated 22/03/2016, more images added 30/04/2017, links recreated 04/03/2018
Updated: 09/05/2018 — 12:52

Garden of Remembrance: Bethlehem

The town hall in Bethlehem in the Free State dates from 1930, and would have been a familiar site to my family members who lived in the town all those years ago. It is also where the “garden of Remembrance” is found, although I am not sure whether “garden” is the appropriate word to use.

In essence they brought boulders from places of relevance to the town and created an area of Remembrance. Unfortunately the plaques are all in Afrikaans which means any relevance is lost to overseas visitors or those who do not speak the language. 

Roughly translated the plaque reads:

This Garden of Remembrance was erected by the
“Voorslag en Bethlehem
Rapportryerskorpse”
of Bethlehem in commemoration of those who,
paid the highest price in:
The Anglo Boer War 1899-1902
In Exile 1899-1902
Women and Children in Concentration Camps
1899-1902
The combating of terrorism within and outside the
borders of the Republic of South Africa.
Our honour, their legacy.
John 15:13: “No greater love has a man that he gives his life for his friends”
Unveiled by the former head of the
South African Defence Force
Genl Jannie Geldenhuys
(S.S.A, S.D, S.O.E, S.M)
on 21 November 1992

The Battle of Bethlehem (aka Battle of Groenkop)

This boulder came from 
“Groenkop” where the battle occurred on
25 December 1901. 
Unveiled by KMDT. Jannie Maree
Commander: Bethlehem Commando.

This boulder originates
from the stone ridges of Bethlehem
Unveiled by Uncle Johan Blignaut

The Operational Area

Bethlehem, like so many towns in South Africa contributed it’s sons to the military for two years of conscription. 

This boulder originated from
The Operational Area
South West Africa
Unveiled by
Mr PJ Farrell MP.

Founders

To the best of my knowledge Bethlehem was founded in 1864 on the farm Pretorius Kloof by Daniël van Dyk. However, I did find the following information on him: He was the co-founder of the town Bethlehem, and named it as such for the area’s likeness to the description in the Bible of Bethlehem’s waving grasslands. Rumour has it that, at the Battle of Blood River, he was one of two members (the other being a Cilliers?) who refused to take the Covenant, on religious grounds.  

Finally, there is one more memorial stone which is somewhat of a puzzle. 

 

Unfortunately I am unable to find the context of this memorial stone or the names engraved on it. However, given the date range there is some continuity between the names and I am still looking to see what the incident was and how it ties into Bethlehem.  

© DRW 2011 – 2018. Retrospectively created 01/07/2016

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 13:56

Graves between the railway lines

I remember this cemetery from my young days travelling by train through Langlaagte to Mayfair. It is situated between the main lines and a spur that goes into the depot next to Langlaagte Station. Maintenance here does not happen very often, the grass on my trip was almost as tall as I am, and trying to get a sense of the extent of the cemetery was almost impossible. There are about 90 graves, of which I could positively identify about 30. Most date from the early 1900’s and there is one ABW casualty buried there.  
 
The weather that Sunday was not really good for grave hunting, it was a typical highveld Sunday, and the storm was brewing. I did not want to be caught out in the open with lightning around.  
 


I returned there on 10 July 2011 hoping that a fire would have cleared some of the grass and it had; sadly though, many of the graves uncovered had no markers, and while I could easily make out 10 graves I could not ID any of them, although I was able to document at least 5 previously missed headstones. The cemetery can be found at Google Earth co-ordinates -26.201210° 27.992552° Images of the graves may be found at the relevant eggsa entry 

 
(1500x462)

(1500×462)

I eventually made three trips to document this cemetery, and each time was able to add another grave, but without knowing the full extent of it, or having markers it was a difficult task, and of course I always ended up covered in blackjacks.
 
 
  

 

 
 
DRW  © 2011-2018. Images recreated 17/03/2016, link replaced 03/03/2018
 
Updated: 04/03/2018 — 19:30

Fort Schanskop

Following my visit to Fort Klapperkop in August 2009, I decided that a visit to Fort Schanskop would also be an idea and filed it away for when I attended the Memorial Service at the SADF Wall of Remembrance in October of the year. 

 

One of four forts constructed in 1897 to protect Pretoria against attacks. It was built by Krupp of Germany and erection by HC Werner was commenced in May 1896. The fort was shaped like a pentagon and had canons placed on rotating platforms on the embankments. It was handed over to the ZAR Government on 6 April 1897.

 
 The forts were surrendered to the British with the fall of Pretoria, and from then on were manned and armed until 1902 by the Imperial Army. The 4 forts were handed to the Defence Force in 1921 and declared National Monuments in 1938. Schanskop and Fort Klapperkop served as military museums but they were closed in 1993 and the forts were purchased by the city council. Schanskop was purchased by the Voortrekker Monument from the city council in June 2000 and was subsequently restored.
 
The whole structure is in a beautiful condition and is well maintained, but again it is let down by a lack or reasons to return. Realistically, once you have seen it you probably will never need to return. There are a number of displays inside the fort depicting life at the fort and exhibits pertinent to the ABW.
 

 

 

 
And of course there are a number of artillery pieces scattered around. 
  
 
Overall though, the fort is very similar to Klapperkop, although it does seem much smaller.
 
 
Like all of the forts around Pretoria it never heard a shot fired in anger, and as such was really just a waste of money. However, the paranoia against the “uitlanders” was very strong in the ZAR Government, and I am sure that at the time they considered it money well spent. 
 
Situated close to the Voortrekker Monument, the view is quite a good one, although there is not too much to see.  
 
 
The other two objects of interest at the fort are the Danie Theron statue, or “Piet Skiet” as we knew him. (The beret badge of the Commando’s featured a likeness of this statue of Danie Theron)
 
and there is also the “Tanganyika Trek Monument”. This is a scale model replica of the Trek monument that was inaugurated on 16 December 1954 in Tanzania to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Afrikaners who settled in what was then Tanganyika after the Anglo Boer War. 
 
 
 And that was it, time to head off home, both forts in the bag. 
 
© DRW 2009-2018. Images recreated 08/03/2016
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 19:56

Fort Klapperkop

I have visited Fort Klapperkop in Pretoria three times. The first was when I was in primary school and we went of an outing to Pretoria and the fort was part of the experience. At that time it was still a Military Museum and I do recall climbing over the military vehicles with much enthusiasm.

My second visit happened on 30 December 2008, and the fort was closed for the Christmas break. I only got as far as the main gate. And my final visit was on 16 August 2009, which is what this retro blogpost is about 
 
 

One of four forts (Schanskop, Klapperkop, Daspoortrand and Wonderboompoort) constructed in 1897 to protect Pretoria against attacks. It was handed over to the ZAR Government on 18 January 1898. Unlike Schanskop, Fort Klapperkop was surrounded by a moat. In February 1898 a Long Tom was mounted here, but removed in October 1899, its final destination being Ladysmith. The fort was equipped with electricity, heliograph, telegraph and a telephone. It was surrendered to the British with the fall of Pretoria, and from then on were manned and armed until 1902 by the Imperial Army.

 


The 4 forts were handed to the Defence Force in 1921 and declared National Monuments in 1938. Schanskop and Klapperkop served as military museums but they were closed in 1993 and the forts were purchased by the city council. Fort Schanskop was purchased by the Voortrekker Monument from the city council in June 2000 and was subsequently restored.

  
 
The fort is also home to the South African Defence Force Memorial
 

 

Like many of these old forts this one feels like it was really a waste of money, certainly the “enemy” that it was meant to protect against did not have to fight a pitched battle against it, and realistically it was more lip service to paranoia by the ZAR government than anything else.

 

 

The structure is beautifully maintained and on the day I was there I did not see too many visitors. Admittedly that could be because the access road is quite a killer! My poor little car struggled to raise itself up to the crest of the hill where the fort is.

The view of Pretoria from the fort is quite spectacular in parts, and at night it must be especially good.

 

Living in a fort like this as part of the garrison must have been very tedious, and I am sure those stationed here must have felt very frustrated by being so close but so far from the lights in the distance. the ZAR government were particularly afraid of the threat posed by uitlanders in Johannesburg and I was quite sad that you could not even see that city from the fort,

There are a number of interesting exhibits at the museum, especially artillery pieces like the “Long Tom” below

 

The weapon is a replica of the Creusot siege guns bought from France by the Boers and used extremely effectively during the Anglo Boer War.

 

Down below the battlements the rooms have been more or less restored to what they may have looked like during their occupation or house exhibits pertinent to the forts.

 

 

I could not help wondering whether the soldiers stationed her were ever chased down the hill with tar poles, or sent to weed the moat?

 
 

 

You can bet that bored soldiers were kept very busy by their superiors, for this is the nature of military service irrespective. You can bet some lazy bugger wangled himself a job operating the fumigation machine.

The problem with static defences like this is that any enemy worth his salt will go around your fort and isolate you very easily and starve you out.

 


Or will wait till nightfall and sneak up to your nice secure main gate and knock…..


The fort is an interesting place to visit, one of those really strange places that we have in South Africa which don’t quite make sense. But then we are viewing them with hindsight instead of as things were at the time when they were built. Unfortunately though, once you have seen Klapperkop there is no real reason to return, and that is a tragedy because there are only so many potential visitors.

Two other items of interest do exist at the site, the first is Class 6B- 537, formerly from the CGR and Imperial Military Railways.


When I was there she was looking very dilapidated, but was cosmetically restored not too long ago. How they got her up the hill I do not know.

The other oddity is a single decker tram (Brill?) that was in a very poor condition. I believe she may have been cosmetically restored as well.

And that was Fort Klapperkop in a nutshell, or was it a coconut shell?
 
© DRW 2009 -2018 Images recreated 08/03/2016
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:04

Vereeniging Concentration Camp Cemetery

When I went to this cemetery I was looking for war graves and was not even aware that there were any concentration camp graves in it. The cemetery is also known as Beaconsfield Cemetery, but it was originally known as Vereeniging Old Town Cemetery. There are 48 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War in the cemetery. 
 
 
The history of the associated concentration camp may be found at British Concentration Camps of the South African War.  When I visited it the cemetery was in a very poor condition, with uncut grass, vandalised buildings and the feel that the local municipality were not interested in maintaining it in any sort of condition.  It was also very exposed with very limited shade and few trees.   
 
I also recall it was very hot day and finding the graves I was after was a very difficult task, but I did manage to find them all. However, the concentration camp graves are a different story. These were made out of sandstone and were already in a poor condition in the 1960’s (http://es.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Vereeniging-CCC.pdf).
 
A double sided screen wall lists the names and date of death of those who died in the camp.
 
  
 
The site was restored in September 2011 by a team from the Erfenis Stigting so they may be in a different (and better) condition to what they were when I originally saw them in 2008. There are only 29 visible graves and I did not photograph all of them, many are just marked “Onbekend”.
 
 
The majority of deaths in this camp were from measles and not British soldiers as seems to be the general consensus. Childhood diseases proved to be as effective at causing deaths during the ABW as enteric fever was.
 
 
The sad state of this cemetery is indicative of  the poor state of maintenance in many small town cemeteries, and the poor state of the concentration camp graves is indicative of those who are quick to apportion blame for the deaths on the British, but who have never picked up a weedeater and gone out there to restore the graves of their own people.   More images of the cemetery are available at eggsa 
 
DRW @ 2008-2018. Recreated images 06/02/2016, link recreated 05/03/2018 
Updated: 06/03/2018 — 07:56
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