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


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. 

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 © 2013-2019. Images replaced 14/04/2016

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 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 © 2013-2019. Images recreated 14/04/2016