musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Border War

61 Mech: The Book

When the 61 Mech Veterans Association was founded a few years ago, it was decided that the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group needed to be told. Not only to preserve the history for the future, but also to correct many of the myths, lies and propaganda associated with the battalion group.

I was a member of Bravo Company of 61 Mech and served with the unit from December 1980 till December 1981 and consider it to be my “home unit”; and while my memory is not as good as it was, I do remember that way back then we knew we were special and that when butts needed kicking we were the ones to do it.

The book took a long time to write, even longer than the average service period of a national serviceman way back in the bad old days. Mobility Conquers, the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group is co-authored by the much respected Willem Steenkamp and Helmoed-Römer Heitman.

I received my copy in early August of 2016, before the book was officially launched in South Africa.

My first impressions were that it was roughly the same size as the box that a 200 round belt of 7.62 ammunition came in, and almost the same weight! In truth it weighs in at 2.6 kg (1062 pages) which is one heck of a lot to balance on your chest at night when you lay in bed reading.

The book covers the period 1978-2005 which is the period when it was founded till when it was disbanded, although in my experience it appears as if the post border war era is really short of detail and does seem rushed.

My biggest gripe is the images, some are almost illegible, and others are way too small too. The maps, while really helpful and beautifully created, are way too small. I struggled to see the detail and frankly just gave up on them. I do however like the occasional sidebar that is used to enhance a page or story or person, they are very helpful and contain some fascinating information.

The book does read easily, interspersed with anecdotes from those who were there and those who planned and oversaw the operations. If anything the book does provide a really good insight into the border war as it was fought in Angola, although it is really restricted to the roles of 61 Mech and affiliated units that served under it’s very large umbrella.

My own interest was in the 1981 years and it was really strange to read about the happenings in that year without shaking your head in agreement. Our OC back then was Cmdt Roland De Vries, and we were really privileged to have him as our OC. This man wrote the book on mechanised warfare for the SADF, and his influence permeated throughout the book. It was also interesting to see how many of the officers from our era moved up in the ranks to lead formations in later operations. As a former nsm we went home after our two years, and for them the war really continued because many were career soldiers.  

Some of the action reports make for interesting reading, and the sheer scale of the operations is amazing. However, the enemy that they fought was even bigger and the losses that they took is staggering. It was really in the nature of these conflicts that lives were thrown away all in the name of a “Liberation Struggle”.  

61 Mech had a reason to exist while the border war raged, and once peace came the writing was really on the wall. There was no real need for a unit that had waged war so effectively, and which had the respect of it’s  friends and foes, and up till now the story of 61 Mech had never been told, and now it is all there in print. 

In my humble opinion the book should have been split into two, although where that spilt would be inserted is difficult to pinpoint. Two volumes would have enabled the authors to expand on the later years and add in a lot more about the operations, equipment and other associated minutiae that made up the unit and it’s men.  It would have also made for a much lighter read, and allowed for choosing which era your interest was in. 

The book is pricey, and hopefully when a second edition does come out some of the errors and omissions will be corrected and the quality of the images will be addressed.  I think I spotted maybe 5 typos in the whole book which was great. 

On my 2nd last day as an nsm  I remember thinking that I was finished with all the crap and once I walked out the main gate I would never hear about the unit again. I was wrong, because 61 Mech fought on and even today, long after it was disbanded it  is still leading the field, it is just that the field is now full of old men who look back with fondness on those days where we were fit and ready to conquer the enemy. 

Mobility Conquers reminds us of those days and those who never came back, our friends and comrades, our much loved Ratels, and the starlit sky above the sandy roads of our base in Omuthiya, and if we cast our minds back we may hear the generator in the distance or the feint whine of a Ratel or the bark of a Hyena.  Those are memories most of us share, and they are well defined inside the book. 

If I wanted to I could nitpick, but I will leave that to those who are more erudite than I am. I will do a reread of the book at a later stage, but this time I will dip in and out, savouring the past and smelling the diesel and cordite, and hearing those familiar sounds once again.

A great read. Congrats to those involved. This is one of the best Border War Books out there and we can be rightly proud of it.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 29/08/2016 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:21

Rest in Peace Lionel

On 10 July 1981, Bravo Company of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group was rocked to the core by the death of one of its own and the wounding of 15 of its members. If you speak to anybody that served with the company you will realise how much his death affected us. It is 35 years since he left us, but he still lives on in our memories, he is always 19 unlike the rest of us who are now mostly in our 50’s.

I was never able to visit his grave personally but I do have contacts through my own war grave photography and was able to have his grave photographed. It was a cathartic moment.

I cannot explain the circumstances of his death because I was not on that operation. I just recall the return of the company afterwards, and the sheer anger of those boys as they walked back to their tents.  We were 6 months away form kla-ing out, at that point of our service we had all gone through hell in training, only the month before we had been in in Lohathla carrying out battle group drills, and little did we realise that Ops Protea was not that far away. The tragic part is that this incident was a “blue on blue” incident. Swapo had not killed our friend, our own artillery had.

Over the years I was able to settle many of my ghosts from back then, but the strange thing is that you never really do, They are always there in the back of your mind.

The official enquiry really apportioned no blame, and according to General Roland De Vries there was no such thing as “acceptable losses through training”. I respect his stance, but given how badly the SADF treated national servicemen  I will always question that.

It will not bring back the young 19 year old, or heal the wounds of the 15 others. We still have the duty to make sure that we remember Lionel Van Rooyen and that he does not become yet another statistic on a memorial.

 

 

Lionel Van Rooyen is buried in Stellawood Cemetery in Durban, and is remembered on the 61 Mech Memorial in Johannesburg

His memory will live on.

Update: 07/08/2016.

Because it was his anniversary I asked one of my friends in Durban to visit his grave for me and the rest of Bravo company and see what she could do.

I would also like to dedicate this to Rfn Locke who was badly wounded in the incident.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 14/07/2016. Updated 07/08/2016

 
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:26

Two comma four

On Sunday afternoon there was a post on Facebook about the dreaded “Two comma Four” that was used as the standard fitness test in the SADF waaaay back when I was a conscript in 1980/81. The cut off time was 12 minutes and the first 2,4 we ran in 3SAI was in pt shorts and takkies.
 
I remember it well, we had a one pip loot that would mark the turning around point (theoretically 1200 metres away) and then we would be on the downhill stretch. On your marks, get set… fokof! 
 
And so it started. A regular test of our fitness levels, and in 61 Mech it was compulsory for everybody to run it, whereas in basics only us roofies seemed to run it. We ran and ran and ran and ran and ran, further and faster than we had ever run before. Far from the perimeter fence of our high school and the the 3 rugby fields that we sometimes ran during PT. Far from Phineas Mackintosh Park in Mayfair where we tried to fitten up for the army in those last days of our school careers. That road was endless, and there was no sign of that sodding lieutenant! At some point we realised he was not there and we started to turn around and run back to the start line. I seem to recall walking a bit, but coming in at  under 13 minutes. 
 
 
We ran that 2,4 twice in PT gear, after that we did it in “Staaldak, webbing en geweer” which weighed a gazillion kilos and which became second nature to us, almost like a pair of underpants but heavier and on the outside. I know my times improved dramatically, and by the time I moved to Kimberly and 11 Commando could easily run it in under 12 minutes. That course took us through the middle of the camp and around the one parade ground, still in staaldak, webbing en geweer. 
 
 
When I ended up at Jan Kemp Dorp our fitness dropped, and our stamina was more in keeping with 4 hours of guard duty. Those were fun days, although in winter we really suffered. Shortly before we left some of us started to run the 2,4 for fun, and even then could do it under 12 minutes. 
 
The next major run we did was shortly before we went to the border when the whole company ran 3,6 kilometres in De Brug, and I believe we all made it under the allotted time, but we were buggered by the time we had done it.
 
When we hit the border we used to run the chalk road from our tents to the tar road and back first thing in the morning (about 3,8 kilos). It was hell, partly because of the blistering pace and the early morning heat, but also because we ran it as a squad and that was difficult. When we got back to our tents we would then have inspection and company parade and those meticulously shone boots were all white from the morning run in that chalk road.
 
 
It was hell. 
Trust me on this.
 
Today? I would probably not even manage 1 kilometre, although I am very walking fit. I was never a runner, and I never will be.
 
ps. cpl Slegter, cpl Strydom, and cpl Akker: you three are a bunch of “obscenity delete-eds”
 
The image of the platoon running comes from social media, I do not know who it belongs to, but wanted to use it as it is very representative of what we faced back them. If the photographer will come forward I will gladly acknowledge you. 
DRW © 2016-2018
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:02

I wear a Poppy To Remember….

I wear a Poppy To Remember….

my Father: a signalman; who was captured in North Africa during World War 2

my Grandfather, a rifleman, who was wounded in Delville Wood

my Uncle: an air mechanic, who died in Egypt during World War 2, and who is the reason for my war grave photography

 

I remember the soldiers that I served with and who never completed their national service in South Africa.

Lionel Van Rooyen, Johann Potgieter, Peter Hall,  Hennie Van Der Colf

I remember those men of the South African Native Labour Corps who lost their lives in the sinking of the Mendi

I remember all of those other African and South African soldiers who have been largely unrecognised for their service

 

I remember the dedicated  nurses, VAD’s and other women who served in medical disciplines during and after the wars, many never returned and were victims of the conflict.

 

I remember the merchant seamen who faced not only a determined enemy, but the sea in all its fury, often in coffin ships that were only one screw turn away from the breakers yard. 

 

I remember those who have no grave, and who are just names on a memorial

I remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilians, children and animals who lost their lives in the folly we call total war 

I remember the 6 million Jews who were exterminated
 
 
And the millions of other casualties who were caught up in the madness
 
I remember those who were left behind

and those who will die tomorrow, or next week, or next year, defending their country, their comrades, and their families; often for a cause they do not understand.

I remember them all because it is important to never forget them and to never drag the world down into the horror of total war, and I curse those who sit in positions of power and who create the conflagration but who never die in it, for they are a curse upon mankind. May they have to answer for the monsters that they unleash and may their punishment be eternal. 

 

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

 

Postscript.
Words do not adequately describe the feelings that I have around about this time of the year,  I served as a national serviceman in 1980/81, and when I first went in I did not think that at the end of 1981 I would have 4 names in my memory that would be with me until I die. My grandfather was a soldier, my father was a soldier, as was my brother, and so was I, my father and grandfather were volunteers, my brother and I were conscripts.  

It is difficult to quantify all of those who I have omitted, I could probably fill reams of paper with groups of people who were affected by warfare, and of course who continue to be affected by warfare. The images on this page are my own with the exception of the image of the grave of my late uncle Robert Turner who is really the reason I photograph war graves. I never knew him, but my mother did, and she still mourns him to this day. 
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 15:34

Reflections on Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day has come and gone. At this time in 1914 (roughly 21H00) the soldiers were probably still dazed as they contemplated the silence around them, and the fact that they had survived. Many however would still suffer the consequences of their service for the rest of their lives, and for some of those servicemen the rest of their lives was a very short time. The after affects of their time fighting would affect their health, both mentally and physically. Many would return to broken homes and unemployment, while others would find solace in alcohol, and some would find peace in suicide. 
 
Wind forward to yesterday, and I attended the two services that I had wanted to attend. The service at the Cenotaph was well attended by the people of Southampton, with a large honour guard and a band. They formed up outside the Guildhall and marched the short distance to the Cenotaph which isn’t too far away. 
  
The weather was glorious, after a week of cold and wet, the sun decided to bless the occasion and we had a sunshine filled Autumn day.
 
I was at the back of the honour guard so could not really see much of what was going on in front, but then it was more about the occasion than being able to eyeball the proceedings. Besides, squaddies were dropping like flies, and the St Johns Ambulance girls had quite a time rescuing those who could not stay the distance. Many of the honour guard came from local youth regiments that are affiliated to full time military regiments, so many of the participants were quite young. 
  
What I found interesting was the many other religious groups that were present and who offered “Prayers and reflection in remembrance of the dead”. What struck me though was that this was a city that had tasted real warfare, not too far away is the park that had an air raid shelter in that was hit by a bomb, and the building in sight of my window had been destroyed in the bombing. And many of the elderly that stood on the sidelines may have been young when the war was raging. 

Then the wreaths were laid and the speeches were over, and the National Anthem was sung. An odd moment for me as the anthem this time around was different to what I was used to in South Africa. 
The parade started to disperse and I headed across to the cenotaph to have a look,

The red Poppy Wreaths were neatly laid out on the steps in front of the flat altar like stone that is inscribed: 
 
Their Name Liveth For Evermore” 
  
There was also a mini Garden of Remembrance where people could place individual crosses if they wished, and suddenly I regretted not having one with me, although I did have some back home. 
  

Then it was time to watch the honour guard march off and head my own way, I had about an hour before I had to leave for the cemetery, so at least I could grab a cuppa and change into something that was less likely to be destroyed by the often thorny vegetation in parts of the cemetery.

I arrived in good time at Southampton Old Cemetery, and was met by members of the friends group that takes care of this wonderful cemetery. I have come to know quite a few of them and had I not been heading off to Salisbury would have definitely become a member.
The cemetery has over 100 CWGC war graves in it, and I recently photographed roughly 96 for the British War Graves Project, so I do know where quite a few are. The graves had been cleaned up by the friends and already the weather was starting to change the colour of the white headstones.  There is a Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery, and this was where the Commemoration for Remembrance Sunday was to be held.

What was interesting is that there was a representative from CWGC present at the service, along with the Mayor of Southampton who had lost family in the war too. I dont think that he was the only one though, a number of elderly people were present, and I am sure some of the family may lay here or at Hollybrook.

The honour guard was not a large one, but then there wasn’t enough space for a company strength guard, and many of the members were youngsters who had also been in the guard earlier in the morning.

Five cadets had been assigned to various headstones and were on hand to tell the story of the the casualty that occupied the grave,  it was a great concept, and one that could be expanded in many ways in the future.

The service was brief, and 5 wreaths were laid by dignitaries, while a lone piper played his lament in the background. It was a moving service, and much more personal than that I had attended earlier in the morning. From there we moved across to the Belgian War Memorial in the cemetery where the Honorary Consul for Belgium in Southampton laid a wreath in remembrance of the Belgians that are buried in the cemetery.

And then it was over. I paid a visit to the grave of a Lt Stanley James Young, an airman from the RFC that died on 23 December 1917 in a collision in the air during training.

The cadet assigned to his grave provided an interesting insight into somebody that can choose whether to take up a military career or not, unlike us who were conscripted. I just hope that one day he makes the right decision, and does not become one of the statistics that go to war and never return.

With all that completed it was time to bid the cemetery farewell. It was probably the last time that I would walk those grounds, so it was with some sadness that I walked through the familiar paths and past my favourite graves. It is a memory preserved in my photographic collection now, and hopefully I will find a new place to root around in when I am in Salisbury.

I did have one more thing to do though. I had managed to buy a plywood cross at the cemetery and on my way home I planted it at the mini Garden of Remembrance at the Cenotaph. On it I had written the names of those I remembered on this day,  they are always young, and I know that they are not forgotten. One day somebody else will be the custodian of those names, it is an important task, but one which we must keep alive or we may forget the lesson that those terrible wars supposedly taught us.

 

Finally, on Monday 11th of November, at 11am. the company I work for paused for two minutes. The radio was on a BBC station, and they tolled the bell and suddenly we were all left with our thoughts, I did not expect this to happen, but the line manager had said that people could participate in that 2 minute silence, and everybody did.  I felt very proud, and humbled that so many cared.

And so we close the period of Remembrance till next year when it will be the 100th anniversary of the commencement of that horrible waste of life. I don’t know where I will be then, hopefully it will still be in the UK, and once again I will attend the local service to pay my respects. At least I know I will not be alone.

© DRW 2013-2018. Images replaced 14/04/2016
 
Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:50

Remembrance Day 2013

I must admit that I am pleased to see the many Poppies on display in Southampton and Salisbury, it brings the whole Remembrance Day closer to me as as we approach the 11th of November. Back in South Africa such displays were rare, and even finding a poppy to buy was difficult. Alas, many of They do not grow old, as we grow old those who used to stand in the shopping malls with their medals and collection boxes have passed on, and a lot of the ex servicemen groups closed ranks as their membership slowly died off. And then of course we had the case of a shopping centre in Sandton that would not allow poppy sellers in its ivory towers, perhaps they thought that these men did not fit in with the yuppie crowd that they wanted in their mall. Yuppies do not seem to die in wars.
 
Coming back to reality though, as an ex national serviceman myself, I too have lost friends during my period in the military, so I wear a poppy for them too. This past year I saw a photograph of one of the boys we lost, and it was like seeing a ghost. I recall the sorrow I felt when I finally found his grave, and it is as important to remember him on the 11th too.
 
There will be a parade and wreath laying in Southampton tomorrow, and I will probably be lurking in the background somewhere with my camera. 
I just hope that the weather plays its part too. I may also head across to Southampton Old Cemetery to attend their service, but again that is all weather dependent. 

Cross of Sacrifice, Southampton Old Cemetery.

Irrespective of where I will be though, I will be a part of the brotherhood of military veterans. A select group of people who “served their country”, although in the case of the South Africa it appears as if we really just wasted our time. 
 
My association with South African War Graves Project will also bear fruit as the database will finally be going live on the 11th. It has been a long road to get to this point, and we still have a ways to travel.
 
I know this is a very jumbled collection of words for such an important day, but I can’t quite get a coherent sentence out because there is such a lot of significance to this week of November in my life that often I can only really touch bases here and there. . 
 
In Memory of:
Robert Owen Turner. Died in Egypt WW2.
Matt Slabbert Died in France 1918
Herbert “Bertie” Turner. Deville Wood Survivor
David Leonard Walker. WW2 survivor.
Rfn Van Der Kolf. E Company 11 Commando. 1980
Rfn Peter Hall. B Company 61 Mech Bn Grp
Rfn Lionel van Rooyen. B Company 61 Mech Bn Grp
Cpl Johann Potgieter B Company 61 Mech Bn Grp.
 

 

© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 14/04/2016

Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:51

Died in Detention.

Today, 05 February 2013 is the anniversary of the death of Dr Neil Aggett. I found his headstone a few years back while gravehunting in West Park cemetery, and it was one of those jarring moments in time.


I did not know him in person, but the name was familiar from the early 80’s and finding the grave just triggered a sadness that is difficult to explain. The fact remains that he did not die an easy death, and while the official verdict was suicide, it is easy to view his death in the same way as that of Steve Biko.  However, nobody was ever prosecuted for the torture that he suffered, and many of those who committed the atrocities on behalf of the government of the day are still living amongst us.  

Personally I cannot see how many of these “men” that abused their power can really live with themselves. I cannot see how they went home after a long days torture and abuse and sat down to dinner with their families, or how they could sit in church and listen to the Dominee all the time thinking that on the next day they would back in there with their rubber hoses, shock machines and other instruments of violence. They share the same part of history as members of the Inquisition, witch finders, Nazi’s, concentration camp guards, serial killers and  terrorists.

Another grave that I found was that of David Webster

Assassinated 1 May 1989, that says about it all. Do those responsible lay awake at night and consider that they did a good job on that day? do they go home and tell their wives? I do not understand it and frankly I never will, but then I have never been in that position either. 

The problem with finding graves like this is that it changes your perspective. Before finding the grave Neil Aggett and David Webster they were only names in a newspaper, now the are real people who had the courage of their conviction. 
 
Another grave that left an impression was that of Hector Petersen. The schoolboy that became an icon on 16 June 1976.  It is easy to look at that iconic photograph by Sam Nzima of the boy being carried by  Mbuvisa Makhubo. It is like looking at grainy black and white footage of World War One. It does not seem real, yet it did happen. On that day the sun was shining, birds were singing and people were dieing. 
 
However, once you find the grave, things change. I remember I felt a deep sadness on that day in Avalon cemetery,  All I could do was stand there and hope that this death, like so many others, was not in vain. Whether we like it or not, the ghosts that form the past of South Africa will not rest until we all  come to realise that there were sacrifices on both sides, people died on both sides, people murdered and tortured on both sides, and that we are all in this together.  Maybe its about time we took our children to see these graves from the past, let them make the connection, let them reach their own conclusions about who was right and who was wrong. And let them carry us forward. 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016
 
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:56

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

Revisiting Bays Hill

One of my favourite memorials has to be the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria. It is a magnificent structure that epitomises “those who mount up with wings as eagles”. 

 

I recall going there as a toddler with my parents and an uncle. In those days the Book of  Remembrance used to be in a recessed holder, and it was in there that we looked for the name of my uncle that died in Egypt during World War 2.

 
The memorial was opened on 1 September 1963 by President CR Swart. Other additions have been the Garden of Remembrance, the Walls of Remembrance, and the recent addition of the Potchefstroom AFB Memorial.
Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

The futuristic and angular design of the building is unique and it does not have the heavy often morbid feel of a memorial, if anything it is light and airy, reminiscent of flight. 

Garden of Remembrance

Garden of Remembrance

The interior houses a small chapel as well as spaces for the Rolls of Honour and guest books, while not a large space still retains a aircraftlike feel with its angular windows. 
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On the day of our visit the national flag was at half mast, probably to honour Chief Justice Arthur Chaskelson who had died that week. However, little did we realise at the time that the Air Force would loose an aircraft and its crew and passengers on the next day. Those names will be added to the thousands already inscribed on the Roll of Honour. 
 
Korean War Roll of Honour.

Korean War Roll of Honour.

It is a sombre place to visit, and seeing the names inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance always leaves one feeling humble, and as you leave this small haven of peace you may hear the sound of an aircraft flying overhead, and know that it is a kindred spirit of those who are remembered here.
 
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Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:41
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