musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Military

Pressing on to Prestbury

When I originally photographed Prestbury Cemetery in Cheltenham in 2015 I did some reading about it and one name popped up that I stashed away “just in case”. That name was the Prestbury War Memorial and it sort of became famous after it was bit by car! Unfortunately the opportunity to find it did not happen until today as I had business to attend to in Cheltenham, so could really kill 13 birds with two stones. Very close to the memorial is the Parish Church of St Mary’s, and I would be an idiot if I missed visiting it while I was in the area. 

From Clarence Street in Cheltenham I caught the “A” bus (gee, it is nice to have working bus services) that took me towards my destination, and the friendly bus driver set me off as close as he could to the church. That also happened to be next to the United Reformed Church which is a beauty in it’s own right.  

Being Autumn the light is beautiful, although it really depends on how cloudy it is. On this particular trip it alternated between overcast and sunny and by the time I headed off for home I was overheated in my lightweight hoodie.  

Left would take you to the church while right will take you into Prestbury village. I took the left path.

And there she is…

Like so many parish churches it is hard to date it because of the numerous restorations that have been done to the building, however the church appears to have been largely rebuilt in the 14th century when the north and south aisles were perhaps added to an earlier building. The church was so thoroughly restored in 1864–8 that the date of the medieval work is difficult to determine. (British History) . It is really very similar to many of the parish churches I have seen but it is no less beautiful. Fortunately I was able to access the church and my images do not really do it justice.

My camera tends to get confused with the available light so pics are usually hit or miss.

The Prestbury page at the Open Domesday Project may be found at  http://opendomesday.org/place/SO9723/prestbury/  and this is what the entry looks like: 

The war memorial inside the church is unlike any I have seen before, and it is really beautiful. 

Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph it because of ambient light but I am sure the gist is there. That memorial must have taken a long time to create.

The church has quite a large churchyard,  and there are six casualties buried in it,  and I managed to find 5.

There are a lot of these wooden crosses in the cemetery, and I always thought they were found more in Orthodox churches, but for some reason this seems to be a regional thing in the churchyard. Irrespective though, I could not help but think of a flock of birds when I first saw these.

The weight of ages is heavy in this churchyard, and who knows how old the earliest burial may date from. From what I can see the churchyard is in use for limited burials, and the lack of space is what would have brought Prestbury Cemetery into use.

I did the obligatory circuit of the graveyard, but could not really form any opinion as to what is the oldest grave in it. These churchyards hold more than what is visible on the surface. It however a very nice graveyard with some really beautiful headstones.   

Then it was time to leave this pretty place and head for the war memorial up the road.  Past the local with its fine views of the churchyard.

and finally…

As war memorials go it is not really a big or fancy one, but it does tell the story of how many men lost their lives from this area which makes it an important part of the village. And, I hope on 11 November the people of this village will pay their respects to those who never came home. There are a number of names that match the graves in the churchyard close by, and this memorial really provides something tangible to those who were never able to see where their loved ones were buried. 

The list of names may be found at Remembering.org.uk

Then it was time for me to head back to Prestbury Cemetery to try to find a grave that had evaded me the last time I had been there. It is a mere kilometre “down the road”, but that was much easier to deal with than my mammoth walk from Painswicke to Stroud last month. 

Prestbury Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery to visit, it too is full of the history of this area and the people and families that lived nearby, and I am happy to say I found the grave I was missing, although it was quite a search. The one memorial in the cemetery that is really outstanding is the Gloucesters Memorial that is made up of the battlefield crosses from the graves of those who are buried in foreign fields. It is a very unique tribute that is in dire need of restoration. 

 

And then it was time to head to town to deal with the business I had to attend to. It was a long day and I covered a lot of ground. Many of my goals were achieved, and others were not. But Prestbury is in the bag, but who knows whether I will ever go their again.

© DRW 2017. Created 03/11/2017.  Domesday Book entry courtesy of the Open Domesday Project, under the CC-BY-SA licence, with credit to  Professor John Palmer and George Slater. 

Updated: 12/11/2017 — 16:09

Lost at Sea: HMY Iolaire

This past month I have been busy with shipping disasters that tie into the First World War, and this post is about one of them. This particular tragedy occurred on the 1st of January 1919 and concerns HM Yacht Iolaire.

During the past month while adding information to Lives of the First World War I encountered the grave of a crewman from HMY Iolaire that went down in the early hours of New Years Day 1919. I had bumped into the name of this vessel before so I decided to do some looking further and I was shocked by what I found.

The Iolaire was former private yacht that had been pressed into naval service in the Outer Hebrides, and on old years eve 1918 she was hurriedly loaded with over 200 members of the Royal Naval Reserve to take them to the Island of Lewis.  That passage is fraught with danger for those who do not know these waters; rough seas, an unforgiving coastline and submerged reefs are all just waiting for the right moment to spring their deadly trap. The RNR men were all inhabitants from this area, most had served and survived through the war years, often serving in minelayers or small craft that performed a very necessary function, but without the glitz and glamour associated with a much larger vessel. Their own knowledge of the sea meant that these experienced seamen were much in demand by the Royal Navy, and they performed admirably in the roles they filled. It was almost the beginning of a new year and they had survived the war and the flu epidemic and Hogmanay was looming. The Iolaire would take them home to waiting families, and there were more men than spaces on that ill-fated vessel.  Crowded with happy reservists she would sail into destiny from the pier at  Kyle of Lochalsh. 

Back home on Lewis; mothers, wives and children were preparing to welcome home their men, it would be a festive occasion because Hogmanay is very much an important part of the people around Scotland and these islands. Some of the men had not been home in a long time, and with the war over all that was left was demobilisation and a return home. There were brothers and neighbours on that ship from a small community that worked hard and who lived an often precarious existence. On board the yacht some of the men slept, some talked, others swapped yarns and compared their military service with men that they did not know. The master of the vessel was Commander Richard Gordon Mason and once they had sailed the commander went below, presumably to sleep, leaving  Lieutenant Leonard Edmund Cotter in charge. These were not amateur seamen but experienced men who knew how to handle ships. 

The Beasts of Holm is a rocky outcrop near the harbour and Iolaire was driving towards it, with seemingly nobody in charge attempting to rectify the situation.  To make matters worse the weather was starting to get rough, and the darkness compounded the problem.  It also emerged that there was no lookout stationed in the bows of the vessel, although given the darkness and how little time there would be to make course corrections it was really a moot point. 

Below the men had no way of knowing the calamity to come, and when the ship struck the rocks they were all in immediate danger. The chances are that many died almost immediately, but for others it was the beginning of a life or death struggle. Many were encumbered by their heavy uniforms and unfamiliarity with the ship, To make matters worse she did not have life-saving equipment for them all, the lifeboats were few, and in the heaving seas trying to launch them successfully would be almost impossible as the ship plunged and ground her iron plates on the rocks. There was also a lack of guidance coming from the bridge although Lt Cotter remained on it and very little is known of the whereabouts of Commander Mason.

The tragedy was unfolding almost 20 yards from land, but nobody on land was aware that a ship was dieing on their doorstep, and that the men had very few minutes to save themselves. Some tried to swim for safety but in the cold wild waters almost none would make it. One brave man managed to get ashore with a rope and a hand over hand crossing was established, but the sea would clear that vital rope of its cargo on more than one occasion, but men were getting ashore,  often battered and bleeding but alive.

On the bridge rockets were being fired but these lacked the percussive element that would alert the people on the land, the rockets that were fired from the ship were taken as part of the celebration of the first year of peace, and a lookout on land reported a blue light as a “request for a pilot”. There were really many things that went wrong on that night and the end result would devastate the small community of Lewis

Once the alarm had been sounded on land things moved at a frustratingly slow pace; people had to be woken up, keys had to be found, horses found, cars hired and so on. By the time all of it had been coordinated it was too late, the ship had gone down, those who could reach safety had, although one man still clung to the mast. The morning light revealed the carnage, dead men washed up on the shore, or drifting in the sea, exhausted survivors looking for help and trying to find their friends or family that may have survived. The full horror was still to come as the islanders tried to take stock of what had happened. Isolated families were notified and the festivities of Hogmanay would be forgotten as married women found that they were now widows while their children were unable to understand the magnitude of the tragedy that was unfolding around them.

Aftermath.

The dead were gradually gathered in and taken to a hastily evacuated ammunition store that now served as a mortuary. Small boats scoured the area looking for and recovering bodies, while parties on shore walked the jagged coastline, hoping to find survivors, but the sea had not given up all of it’s dead.  Of the ship there was little trace, and a number of bodies were invariably trapped within its flooded compartments.

The community where this disaster had unfolded was never the same again, families would grieve for many years, while those who had lived through it would suffer from “survivors guilt”. A commission of inquiry was set up but it could find no real reason for why the ship ended up on the Beasts of Holm in the first place. There was nobody alive who could explain the sequence of events that had led to the ship hitting the rocks, and naturally scapegoats would be sought so as not to throw the spotlight on high ranking officers or the Admiralty. 

A further inquiry was launched to establish more facts and possibly apportion blame, and generally it seemed to do a reasonable job given the difficulties involved, but no real reason behind the accident was ever found. Those that knew went down with the ship.  

The dead are buried in many places. I found a crewman buried in Portsmouth while a search at CWGC under 01/01/1919 will bring up a long list of men who are buried in a number of cemeteries in the community and surrounding settlements, while some are commemorated on the Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham Naval Memorials. There is a memorial to those who lost their lives on the Island of Lewis, but is is a rarely visited memorial because the story is almost forgotten.

The Iolaire Memorial, Holm Point, near Stornoway, Lewis

Young children would grow and watch as the world plunged once again into a mad war, some would following in the footsteps of the previous generation and serve their country, and once again women would mourn those who never returned. The story of the sinking of the Iolaire is more than a story about a small ship foundering, it is about complacency and negligence and about a community ripped apart in the early morning of a new year. 

Sadly the men of the Iolaire are mostly forgotten now, occasionally someone like me will stumble on the story and ask the same questions that were asked almost 100 years ago. We will not find any answers either. Unfortunately a number of difficulties facing anybody who is researching the disaster is trying to make sense of the Scottish naming conventions that often leave a researcher with multiple occurrences of the same name. There is also a lack of information in general as to the men who served in the Merchant Navy as well as the Royal Navy Reserve,  most of these me were members of the latter. Fortunately somebody has done the work for me and there is a Roll of Honour that I found very useful. 

There is not a lot of information out there. A good place to start is the The sinking of H.M.Y. Iolaire – 1 January 1919 page, as well as the Wikipedia page and of course the relevant CWGC pages for individual casualties. I bought a very good book called: “When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire” by John MacLeod (Edinburgh: Birlinn Press. ISBN 978-1-84158-858-2.), and it went into aspects that I had not even considered before. 

The Iolaire was built in 1881 by Ferguson of Leith. (634 tons) and her original name was Iolanthe. This was later changed to Mione, and later, to Amalthaea. She is however not to be confused with the  Iolaire that was owned by Sir Donald Currie. In 1915, the luxury sailing yacht Amalthaea was commandeered by the Admiralty and converted and armed for anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrols. Her owner was Mr Michael Duff-Assheton Smith, who later became Sir Michael Duff. He had bought her from the Duke of Westminster.

I am not finished with the Iolaire tragedy, so I do not consider this page as completed. There is still so much to find out, but even if I do not complete it be rest assured that the story of the loss of the Iolaire will remain with me for a long time.

© DRW 2017. Created 21/07/2017. Image of Iolaire Memorial is © Stephen Branley and is being used under the the Creative Commons  Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Image has been cropped, darkened  and resized. 

Updated: 24/10/2017 — 12:29

Lives of the First World War

Regular visitors to the blog may be thinking that I have given up on the blog. Be rest assured I have not, and this post will explain why.

Recently I started submitting images to “Lives of the First World War”, and it is a lot of work. I have over 8000 images of war graves, and a large number of War Memorials  in my collection. The majority of graves have been photographed in the United Kingdom and most have been submitted to the British War Graves Project. This is really an opportunity to marry up a grave with a record, and it is really a decision  that I decided to take seeing as I had all these images that have never really seen the light of day. 

Lives really is a series of templates that are populated from a variety of records, ranging from CWGC right through to British Census records up to 1911. However, there is no real consistency as to what records will be available for each casualty. In some cases even the CWGC record is missing, which is odd considering that technically there is a CWGC record for every casualty. Lives does not only touch on casualties, but on survivors too, and in that department I am totally clueless as my photography has been about casualties and not survivors. The one thing I do like is that many of the private memorials that I have photographed can now be linked to an individual and that record can be further fleshed out with the data on the private memorial. Unfortunately these can make for very sad reading. The one PM I did yesterday involved three brothers that were all killed in action, they were able to be linked because of a simple typed piece of paper stuck to a tree above the grave of one of them  (Sgt Evan Victor Joseph DCM, MM).

The other PM I have found today concerns Ernest Lute and Alfred Morgan. The latter had a sister called Amy who married Ernest Lute, who was killed in action on 25 October 1918, while Alfred died on 05 October 1918 in a Berlin hospital after being a POW for 4 years. Amy did not live long after that, as she passed away on 15 December 1918. The war ended on 11 November 1918, and she was the only one to see it, although having lost a brother and husband it is possible that she died from a broken heart. This particular memorial sums up a lot of what the war was about for those who were left at home. 7 people were involved in this case, and they are all remembered on this forgotten memorial. Whether Albert or Doris are still alive I cannot say, but loosing their parents within such a short period of time must have been very traumatic and life changing.  

At the time of writing I have “remembered” 1958 individuals and have created 53 “communities” where I have my images sorted into. The biggest being for Netley Military Cemetery with 528 “lives” in it. The nice thing about the project is that I am revisiting those places that I photographed in 2013 and 2014, seeing pictures that I had really forgotten about completely. 

Unfortunately the project is not that great a design, in fact I could rip it to shreds given how rigid it can be in the way it does things.  A good example would be the cause of death field that does not include a “died at sea” option. With so many naval casualties you would think that it would have occurred to them to have that option available.

And on the subject of naval casualties, it is shocking to see how poor the records are for the merchant navy men. Trying to find the correct record for a “John Smith” who served in the merchant navy is almost an impossibility. Just out of curiosity, there are potentially 113007 occurrences of the surname Smith, of which 1917 served with the merchant navy.  The merchant navy has always been an odd many out amongst the many services and corps that served in both world wars, and that is true even today. They lack the glamour of a uniform, but when courage was handed out they stand right near the front.

Amongst the Dominions; Canada, New Zealand and Australia stand out, with the Canadian records being the easiest to make sense of. There are lamentably few South Africans to research. I know from our time doing the record cards way back in 2012  the military records are sparse for our men and women, and even sparser for those who served in the South African Native Labour Corps.  The only real sources for information about our casualties is the CWGC and of course the South African War Graves Project

There is a community for those who drowned in the HMT Mendi and that constitutes the biggest grouping of South Africans in the project. I was recently able to have 151 South Africans added that are buried in Brookwood Cemetery, most of them died of Spanish Flu in 1918, although amongst the millions who were taken by the epidemic this is really a small group. Unfortunately only certain people are able to add in new lives, and that really leaves me with no real way to increase the coverage of our men. 

I will be busy with this for a long time; looming in my future are 778 naval casualties in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, and I am currently busy with Arnos Vale in Bristol and the 363 casualties commemorated there. I can do roughly 20 in a day, although I am having a lot of fun with private memorials in Arnos Vale and they tend to take more time. I dread Haslar though because even the Royal Navy tended to confuse everybody with how they did things. One of the biggest problems in my opinion is that the British Army did not allocate service numbers to the officers, and you can realistically only search with a surname and a service number. 

So, if things are quiet that is why. I do get some sort of enjoyment out of something like this, one day they will probably start a World War 2 version, but the odds are I won’t be alive to see it.

View this as part of my legacy for the future, I may not have achieved much worthwhile in my life, but I have certainly ensured that a small portion of those who never came home are remembered.

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.”
 

© DRW 2017. Created 17/09/2017

Updated: 17/09/2017 — 10:50

The Mud of Passchendaele

On 31 July 1917 the third battle of Ypres started. but it is more commonly remembered as the Battle of Passchendaele. A name synonymous with mud, wasted lives and no gains for the high cost in human lives. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, and was part of strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.

An estimated 245,000 allied casualties (dead, wounded or missing) fell in 103 days of heavy fighting. many of those killed were buried in the mud, never to be seen again. 

South Africans generally recognise the Battle of Delville Wood as our “definitive battle”, and as such we do not commemorate it the way Delville Wood is commemorated, and a quick search for 31/07/1917 at the South African War Graves Project website will only bring up three pages of names, of which at least one page may be discounted as not occurring in the battle. However, from 31 July 1917 many families in the United Kingdom would be discovering that they had lost a father, or a son, or a husband. My current project is called “Lives of the First World War” and there I am encountering many of the casualties from that battle. I was particularly struck by a private memorial that I photographed in Reading Cemetery in 2015.

Serjeant Charles Stewart MM. lost his life on 31 July 1917, probably in this very campaign. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate like so many of his countrymen and comrades who would loose their lives tomorrow, 100 years ago.  He is also remembered on this overgrown gravestone that I found by chance. 

The sad reality is that  little, if any, strategic gain was made during the offensive, which was in fact a total of eight battles.  It increased the soldiers distrust of their leaders, especially Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and left many soldiers utterly demoralised, shell shocked or badly wounded. The often atrocious weather just made things that much worse for Tommy on the ground, whereas the Generals, far behind the lines could condemn the lack of progress safely in the dry map rooms of their headquarters.    

The French lost 8,500 soldiers. while estimates for German casualties range from 217,000 to around 260,000. Bearing in mind that each one of these casualties had parents, possibly wives, occasionally children. A single death would have repercussions that would affect many more people.

World War One is really a series of disasters, The Somme battlefields, the icey sea of Jutland, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the mud of Passchendaele, the horrors of chemical warfare, the rattle of machine guns and the cries of the wounded and the dieing.

There were many heroes in these battles, and many wore the uniforms of nurses who had to drag extra strength from within to deal with the flood of blood in the casualty clearing stations as the wounded were brought in. Their story is often overlooked amongst the khaki uniforms, but their sacrifice was equally important. A light of sanity in a world of blood soaked madness.

We commemorate the battle from the 30th of July, but for those caught up in the trenches the hell would continue right through until November.  The only light on the horizon was that it would all stop a year later on the 11th of November 1918. 

Unfortunately, we never seemed to learn those lessons from the First World War, because a second war was looming in the future, and that war would define our world from then onwards.  

Remember the Dead.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

© DRW 2017. Created 30/07/2017. The “Ode of Remembrance” is from Laurence Binyon‘s poem, “For the Fallen“, which was first published in The Times in September 1914. 
Updated: 21/08/2017 — 12:23

Bad teeth no bar

Many years ago when I was photographing the WW1 Record cards for the South African War Graves Project I was puzzled by the notation on some of the cards “May be rendered dentally fit in 7 days”.

When I first saw “Discharged: Dentally Unfit” I thought there was typo on the card, but later on I found more like it, and on a few occasions servicemen being discharged for refusing dental treatment. 

That phrase stuck in my head because I could not really fathom what was going on. I do remember that prior to us going up to the Border in December 1980 our whole infantry company was marched off to the dentist up the road in the military hospital, and those who had dodgy teeth had them treated before we flew out to South West Africa (now Namibia) .

This past week revealed another link in the chain when a recruiting poster for WW1 popped up on facebook. Emblazoned in a largish font at the bottom was the advisory “Bad teeth no bar”.

Jokes abounded about how you cannot have a bar if you have bad teeth or can only visit a bar if you have good teeth.

Each time I was called up for a camp we visited the military dentist in Potch too and he noted the condition of your teeth, the reason being that if you were a casualty identification may be possible through your dental records. There was method in that madness after all. I do not know whether this was also true way back 1914,  or if it was just a ploy to gain more cannon fodder for the generals to throw into badly planned and executed attacks. I do suspect that the military back then was more concerned about not having their soldiers all going on sick leave with dodgy teeth. Dental hygiene was quite poor back then, a cavity would not be given a temporary filling followed by an even more expensive permanent one. The dentist just grabbed his biggest set of pliers and let rip! 

Military dentists were not known for their compassion, and for that matter the same could be true of some “civilian dentists”. They were doing a job and they probably saw some horrible things during the course of their day, although a mouth of rotten teeth on a living soldier was much preferable to that of the corpses that were left after a bloody battle. I believe in earlier wars the teeth of dead soldiers became the source of many pairs of false teeth. There were people who picked through the corpses and extracted teeth which they then sold off to the dodgy false teeth creator. It was a perfectly respectable way to earn a living.

My current reading matter is all about Victor/Viktor Capesius, a Romanian who served at Auschwitz and who was put on trial for his part in the “selections” alongside “men” like Josef Mengele. Mention is made in the book of the inmates who were given a pair of pliers and sent to extract the gold filled teeth of the dead, and how Capesius allegedly stole of that ill gotten gold. Given how many people died in Auschwitz the amount of gold obtained from fillings was a large amount, and while most ended up in the coffers of the Third Reich, the unscrupulous nature of the perpetrators of the horrors of genocide in the camps certainly extracted their cut too.  (The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, by Patricia Posner)

My curiosity is suitably satisfied for now, but you never know what else will pop up in the future. 

© DRW 2017. Created 07/07/2017. Image of the military dentist was taken in Winchombe during the Wartime Weekend on the GWSR,and he most certainly was a decent fellow just doing his bit. 

Updated: 21/08/2017 — 12:22

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. Created 02/06/2017, updated 09/08/2017

Updated: 21/08/2017 — 12:21

Moving the Dak

This is another retrospective post that I am doing based on images that I have in my collection. The exif data of the images says that this event happened on 05/04/2009, but, it may be incorrect due to my frequent file movements.

Anyway, one fine Sunday in 2009 I headed off to the South African Museum of Military History aka “The War Museum” in Saxonwold. I vaguely recall the reason for it, but somebody forgot to tell me that they were holding a military themed fair on that day. I hopped onto the M1 North, intending to bail out in the vicinity of St Andrews or Oxford streets, Unfortunately, the universe was not playing fair and as I approached the turn off I realised that I would not be turning off at that point because there was a thumping great Dakota blocking the exit! Now Daks are not the sort of thing you expect to find on a highway, they tend to congregate around airports, airborne invasions and occasionally rusting away in backwaters of the world. Some still insist on flying, and you know what they say “you cannot keep a good Dak down”.

This unfortunate Goony Bird was being towed tail first towards her destination (which was probably the same as mine), her wings had been shed but her engine housings were still intact. However, there was no way I could fit past her and given the fact that this was a highway meant I could not stop for a quick squizz, I had to get back into my lane really quickly and find the next off ramp. I do not know that part of town so well and there was a good chance I would end up taking one heck of a detour as a result. 

Eventually I managed to orientate myself and was in the correct area with the War Museum in front of me, although the place was buzzing with cars and people. I was very tempted to up the hook and head off for home instead.  I have just checked my images to see why I was at the War Museum and the reason was that I wanted to get pics of Nancy, the Springbok Mascot.

I forked up vast amounts of dosh to go into the War Museum, and it was packed, however, I first had to get my image and headed to the display where she was. Images taken, I went outside to look at the exhibits and displays. There was a small contingent of re-enactors  in military uniform and some of them were really amazing to see. The people responsible were Battle Group South. 

Special thanks to the guys that I photographed, especially the sinister looking guy in black. I have blanked his face to protect his privacy. 

There were the usual purveyors of militaria at the show and I wandered around, occasionally examining items or drifting back to the museum exhibits. I did not take too many pics that day for some reason. It could be that the crowds distracted me and I left after doing the rounds. However, there was a surprise in the parking lot!

That Dak and I were destined to meet again! 

The question is: what is the history of this aircraft? fortunately the history could be found at the Dakota Association of South Africa website. In a nutshell:

C/N 27099, Delivered to the USAAF on 11 January 1945.

Transferred to the RAF on lend-lease at RAF Nassau on 18 January 1945 as KN231.

Arrived in South Africa in May 1975 for the South African Air Force as 6850 (2) delivered August 1975.  Was to be donated to the Dakota Association of South Africa but was sold to private concern and displayed inside Caesar’s Palace Casino near Johannesburg International Airport in April 2000.

Sold once again to private concern and donated to the SA National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold Johannesburg in 2009, arrived Sunday 5 April 2009.

It was obvious that she would be a new exhibit, although I do question her arriving at one of the busier days at the museum. It was awhile before I was at the museum again, and the first place I went to was the only area large enough to house a Dakota. 

I must admit I did a lot of looking at this old lady because they are really becoming quite rare birds. 

Random Dakota Images

Who knows, maybe one day somebody will come along and buy her and she may fly again, at any rate, considering this old lady is now 72 years old she is a tribute to her builders and has a special place in the heart of all aircraft buffs. 

There is another Dak at Swartkops AFB that I grabbed 2 pics of… 

You can view more images of the SAAF Museum at Swartkops on allatsea.

What other aircraft does the War Museum have? 

The museum has a number of interesting aircraft, but they are not very easy to photograph in some areas (it is even harder now because of the no photography policy they unilaterally brought in).

Other Museum Aircraft.

My aircraft identification skills are not fantastic, but I can generally tell what they are but not what version they may be. I will slowly add data as I work towards finishing this post. Apart from the Dak there is a….

Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer S.50 ‘422’

Dassault Mirage IIICZ

Aermacchi/Atlas Impala Mk II

 

Supermarine Spitfire F VIII

Hawker Hurricane IIc ‘5285’

De Havilland DH98, PR IX LR 480 “Lucky Lady”

Messerschmitt Bf109E3

Focke-Wulf Fw190A-6/R6

Messerschmitt Me262B-1a/U1 VH519

Messerschmitt Bf109F-2/Trop ‘31010

Hawker Hartebees Royal Aircraft factory SE5a

Aircraft Manufacturing Company DeH9

 

© DRW 2009-2017. Retrospectively created 23/05/2017.

Updated: 26/11/2017 — 17:42

Return to West Park

My very first war grave photography for the South African War Graves Project happened in 2005 according to the file information that I got from the images that I took. 

It is hard to believe that so many years later I would be standing in front of the CWGC Plot in West Park Cemetery ready to do it all again. 

I was never really happy with my original images, my camera back then was not the world greatest, and to be frank I messed the first row up badly and ended up redoing it at least twice. I now have over 10000 war graves to my name and am probably much better at taking war grave images now.

The layout of the plot has not changed and my map from back then is still relevant today.

The major difference was that I was going to photograph the whole plot in a morning instead of over a few days. 

L/Cpl Lucas is grave number one in the plot.

And once the first image is taken it is really a continuous process that is only interrupted when a shrub gets in your way.

The plot is looking very beautiful, the grass is cut and the beds are planted and tended, and that is very different from when I was first here in 2005. Back then the grass was dry as it was winter, whereas it is now April and heading into Autumn in South Africa. Make no mistake, it was a hot day! In fact the weather on this day was very similar to that predicted for the rest of the week, although by Friday I will hopefully be back in the UK.

There is something about the symmetry of this plot that I find fascinating,  

There is also a cremation memorial behind the Cross of Sacrifice and it commemorates those who were cremated.

And behind the plot is a small SADF/SANDF plot where a number of soldiers are buried. You can see the memorial to the right of the big tree. There are quite a few Border War casualties that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, and I spent many hours over the years looking for them. 

You can see the original graves as well as the newer additions to the plot of graves of members of the SANDF. Once the graves were photographed I moved across to the Police Plot which is a bit deeper into the cemetery. Sadly there have been a few new additions to the plot, and that is never a good thing, especially when a the policeman is killed in the line of duty.

However, before I photographed the war graves, I had stopped at the “Heroes Acre” area of the cemetery to see if there had been any changes, and of course I was curious to see the grave of Ahmed Kathrada and Joe Mafela. They had been buried 3 days prior to this so the odds of a headstone were small.

Admittedly, many of the names on those headstones are not known to me, but some are, and a number of them touch a chord. None more so than Nkosi Johnson. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child, and the furor that was created when he tried to attend school really opened many eyes in South Africa.

Right opposite that area is the Westdene Bus Disaster Memorial and graves. In 2012 I had photographed them all and was saddened to see how they had been vandalised. It was the anniversary on 27 March and yet there is still a very raw wound around the disaster. I was able to get new images and shall process them and pass them onwards to eggsa for updating. 

The last bit of graving that I did in West Park was to re-photograph some of the graves in the EC section (English Church). It was really a case of having better quality images because my early images were not as good as they are today. Does a new camera make a difference? certainly, and of course the right lighting does help too. Unfortunately I now struggle with getting down to take the image, actually, I struggle to stand up. 

It was time to go home and I bid the cemetery goodbye and drove out the gate. I have 800 images to process, and they will show the difference between 2005 and 2017, assuming that there is one. Will I return one day? if I am in the country and I have transportation I probably will. It is important to monitor the condition of the graves, although CWGC does tend the graves under their care, and City Parks does look after this large space. And while the cemetery does have its moments it is not a great one like Braamfontein and Brixton where the weight of ages is heavy. In the almost 3 years I have been away quite a few open spaces have been filled, and technically the map that I drew many years ago has changed quite a lot since I started it. 

Maybe one day I shall complete it, but not today. 

© DRW 2017. Created 02/04/2017

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:21

Connections: Woodbine Willie

Many years ago there was a programme on local TV called “Connections” and it dealt with how things connect to form a link between one action and a result. It was fascinating watching it and I have often tried to link things like that in my own life. Yesterday I found a perfect example. The connection between a ship and an Anglican priest and poet.

It starts off like this:

In March 1986 I went to see the QE2 in Durban for the first time.

I did not see her again until 1991. At that time there was a small ship called Avalon in Durban harbour. Formerly the RMS St Helena, she was now seeking a new career doing cruises to the Indian Ocean Islands.

We managed to wangle a short trip across Durban Harbour on board her as she vacated the berth where QE2 would be the next day.  

Both QE2 and the former St Helena were Falklands veterans. In 1992 I sailed on the Canberra, also a Falklands veteran, and when we arrived in Cape Town the new RMS St Helena was alongside and I photographed her from the Canberra.

I mentally set a goal to see whether it was possible to get a trip on board the St Helena, and I wrote away for a brochure. As luck would have it there was a voyage to Tristan da Cunha coming up in 1993 and I was fortunate enough to book a cruise on this mini mailship

Many years passed, and the RMS St Helena ploughed her lonely furrow between Cape Town and St Helena while they constructed an airport on the island. Once it was completed the announcement was made of the St Helena’s last voyage in June 2016. Of interest to me was her visit to the Pool of London, where she would berth alongside HMS Belfast. I decided to head down to London and watch her arrive and say my goodbye to her.

Upon arrival in London I went to see the RMS arrive on the 7th of June, and it was quite an emotional moment for me. 

On the 8th I revisited Kensal Green Cemetery, and afterwards headed into London once again to see the ship. I first visited St Pauls Cathedral, before heading towards the Thames. In the maze of streets I somehow ended up in Lombard Street, and saw one of the many churches in London, it was now the home of the London Spirituality Centre, or, as it was formerly known: St Edmund, King and Martyr.

During my visit the person manning the front desk showed me a number of wall memorials in the church, and she was very proud of a memorial to somebody called “Woodbine Willie”.

 

I had to admit that I had never heard of him before, but the nickname stuck in my mind because Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy was way too much for me to remember at once. Apparently he was the Rector of this particular church at one time. He got his nickname for his habit of handing out cigarettes to troops (Woodbines being a favoured brand).

I continued my walk down to the Thames to say my goodbyes to the RMS and the next day I returned to Tewkesbury to post my blog and recover from my short but exhausting London jaunt. 

Yesterday, I visited Worcester Cathedral, and after seeing the cathedral walked through Worcester, and while I was walking I discovered a number of small bronze statues in the area. I did not pay too much attention to them, just read the names and took the pic. At the one statue I did a double take because the one statue was of Woodbine Willie! 

I was even more amazed to discover that there is a memorial to him in Worcester Cathedral, 

as well as an engraved pane on the Window of the Millennium.

“Woodbine Willie takes the light of Christ to the Troops”

On the 13th of March I returned to Worcester to close the chapter a bit more, walking to St John’s Cemetery where I photographed his grave.

As strange as it seems, this sequence really revolves around how things connected to each other, from the QE2 in 1986 to a forgotten and reluctant war hero in 2017. The key to it is really the RMS St Helena, without seeing Avalon the chances are I would not have recognised the name on the statue. Had I taken a different route in London I would not have seen the church, had I not stopped to look at a statute I would not have read that it was Woodbine Willie. Come to think of it, it is all really the fault of the QE2.

 

There is a stained glass window dedicated to him in St Paul’s Church in Worcester, that will be the last step of this journey. 

Connections, they are all around us if we know how to tie them together.

© DRW 2017. Created 21/02/2017, updated 13/03/2017 

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:23

Remembering the Mendi 2017

Every year around this time I commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of the troopship Mendi on the 21st of February 1917. This year is no different and each year I know more about it.

Earlier this month I discovered a new Mendi Memorial in the churchyard of St John The Evangelist, Newtimber, Sussex. The memorial is to  “Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase” who perished on the Mendi.

TQ2713 : Memorial to Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase by Bob Parkes

Naturally I wanted to know more and took a good long look at my Roll of Honour and drew a blank. The big problem with the ROH is that it is really inaccurate, and there are a number of reasons for that. I consulted with the local co-ordinator of the South African War Graves Project and he replied as follows:

“This whole Mendi RoH is troubling, it seems to me that there were initial errors made in some of the names, errors crept in as a result of “tweaking” the facts and a general misunderstanding of the history of the casualties (probably due to the unavailability of any documentary evidence.) Many of these errors are now on memorials and plaques and seem to be copied from one to the next (or sourced from the internet) and how do we address that? We have forwarded copies of the documents at the SANDF Archive  that list the recruitment details of these chaps and I hope that these will eventually be filtered through the system and the graves/memorials amended. Lets see…

Typical documentation for SANLC

Henry Bokleni:   (7587)  His father was Bokleni and he was Henry. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. It seems he was a Chief/Headman at the time.

Richard Ndamase:  (9389)  His father was Ndamase and he was Richard. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Dumezweni so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Mxonywa Bangani:  (9379)  )  His father was Bangani and he was Mxonywa. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Nongotwane so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Isaac Williams Wauchope : (3276) His father was Dyoba (also known as William Wauchope). Isaac was a learned man, holding the posts of a teacher and a clerk/interpreter to the magistrate and married his wife Mina as per Christian rites. He was a minister at a church in Blinkwater when he got sentenced to 3 years in Tokai Prison for forgery. He enlisted in 16 Oct 1916 as a clerk/interpreter and not as a chaplain (it is unlikely he would have got the chaplain post as he had a criminal record) The Chaplain job went to Koni Luhlongwana (9580), who also died on the ship.

 It does not seem that he used his father’s name as surname at all during his lifetime and so the use of “Dyoba” is incorrect. The reasoning behind the attempts to ‘africanise’ his name remain a mystery.

New Memorial to the Mendi :  There is also a problem with the 670 (it was 646, including the crew) who died. We have identified the home provinces of some of the casualties – Transvaal (287), Eastern Cape (139), Natal (87), Northern Cape (27), OFS (26), Basutoland (26), Bechuanaland (8), Western Cape (5), Rhodesia (1) and SWA (1) so not all were from the Eastern Cape.”

The reality is that the memorial contains incorrect information, and it is perpetuated as there is no real way to correct many of the errors. I am relooking my own RoH and correcting it to conform with the data that SAWGP has.  

However, in spite of the errors, the fact remains that people have not forgotten the Mendi, in fact we probably know more about it today than we did way back in 1917. 

This year, apart from the Services of Remembrance being held at Hollybrook and Milton Cemeteries in Hampshire, a South African Warship, SAS Amatola, (a Valour Class Frigate) will lay a wreath at the site of the disaster.  On board her will be some of the relatives of the soldiers who died on board that ill fated troopship.

The Mendi has not been forgotten, it is now prominent in the military history of South Africa, The men who lost their lives have not been forgotten, the sea has claimed them, but their spirit and courage still resonates 100 years after they died. However, we need to broaden our vision and recognise that all of the men of the battalions of the SANLC and NMC who volunteered to serve overseas are remembered too, because the non combatant role that they played was equally important to the ending of the “war to end all wars” 

© DRW 2017. Created 21/02/2017.  Image of Newtimber Memorial © Copyright Bob Parkes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:22
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