musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Retrospective

Commemorating Annie Munro

Being involved with photographing war graves you often find that you are drawn to some graves, or individuals, or you feel that you need to remind the world of a life that was cut short by the tragedy of war. One such grave is that of a young nurse called Annie Winifred Munro.

I do not recall how I got involved with this particular grave, all I know is that I felt that a plan really needed to be made to commemorate her loss, and some investigating was done. She is buried in the Glasgow Western Metropolis and her casualty details may be found on the corresponding CWGC page. Glasgow is far from my usual stomping grounds, and while we knew that there was a headstone we had no photograph of it. I decided to ask around and by luck one of the members of the South African Branch of the Royal British Legion was able to go to the cemetery and photograph the grave for us. It was winter, and snow lay on the ground. 

Annie was no longer forgotten, her record at the South African War Graves Project was just that much more complete now that the grave was photographed. Incidentally her headstone was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and “was erected to her memory by the South African Comforts Committee, under the personal direction of the Viscountess Gladstone”. 

But why was Annie buried here in the first place? It is difficult to understand so many years after the fact, but the information that exists is as follows: “… on arriving in England she was sent to France, where she contracted pneumonia which obliged her to return to England. After having partly recovered from the effects of pneumonia, she desired to visit Scotland, the home of her father, but was unable to travel farther North than Glasgow. There she was taken under the care of those who had known her father; and although she received all the attention that medical skill could give her, complications set in which it was impossible to combat. She died on 6th April, 1917, at the age of 25 years, and was buried with Military Honours in the Western Necropolis, Glasgow.”

Annie had previously served in the German South West African Campaign, transferring to the hospital ship “Ebani” on 26/11/1915.

Record card for Staff Nurse Annie Munro

She is also recorded as serving in Gallipoli and eventually was sent to France where she contracted pneumonia. She was shipped back to England to recover, but after having partly recovered she desired to visit Scotland, the home of her father. 

She is noted as having died from “Phthisis” (pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease) on the 6th of April 1917, although her record card shows her as being “very ill, progress unsatisfactory” on 07/04/1917. It is very likely that the date is incorrect as death is accepted as having occurred on 06/04/1917.

What drove Annie to visit the home of her father? was she invited over? was there some other underlying reason? She was a qualified sister and was probably well aware of how ill she had been and that there were risks attached to her travelling so far from where she was staying.  Sadly she died in Scotland and in time would eventually become just another name on a headstone in a cemetery.  Renewed interest in the First World War saw more and more people researching those who fought or died in that terrible war and there was a reappraisal of the role of women and nurses in the global conflict that touched everywhere on the globe. In 2012 Our own War Graves Project was already busy with the record card project that would reveal more details about  the almost forgotten part that South African Forces played in the war. Annie is amongst those many names on the Roll of Honour.

She was visited by Louise Prentice Carter in July 2018 who laid flowers on her grave and paid her respects to this nurse so far from Pietermaritzburg where she was born.

William and Ellen Munro lost not only their daughter in 1917, they also lost a son in the war;  Sergeant  William Alexander Munro was killed at Delville Wood on 15/07/1916.

Many people have contributed to this page, although I did rely on our South African War Graves Project for most of the information. Special thanks to Louise and the Legionnaire who photographed the grave for me in 2015. There is not a lot of information to add to this story though, and the one source I did find that is new to me is from The Evening Times of 13 May 2014.  

DRW © 2019. Created 12/04/2019

Updated: 16/04/2019 — 05:56

Retrospective: By train to Magaliesburg 12AR-1535

One of the more obscure centenary celebrations coming up is that of 12AR-1535 “Susan”. This steam engine is the only remaining member of the SAR Class 12AR in the world, as well as being Reefsteamers’ oldest operating locomotive and the second oldest operating main line locomotive in South Africa.  
She was built in 1919 by the North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow and joined her sisters in South Africa for service on the Germiston-Witbank line moving heavy trainloads of coal. She first entered traffic on 15 March 1920. The sisters were all reboilered at some point in their lives, and 1535 was reboilered in 1944, although her existing boiler was commissioned in 1955. 

Boiler plate of 1535

I first encountered her in 1985 when I was posted to the Germiston Telecommunications Depot. At the time she was the “station pilot” for Germiston Station, and she shone so much that she could blind you in the sun. She never really retired from service and was not restored from scrap or in a derelict condition. Fortunately her original service in Germiston means that she is really back home in the depot where she worked for so many years. I have a soft spot for her and enjoyed linesiding this small wheeled “4-8-2 Mountain” as she spent her retirement running heritage train for Reefsteamers. 
According to the EXIF data on the image below, Susan was brought back into steam on 28 March 2009 and I was present for a photography session with the people who had walked with her to that point.

(1500×1092). Back in steam. 28/03/2009

You can read more about her history on the relevant Reefsteamers page. Special thanks for Lee Gates for his work on that page and his continued posts on social media. 
 
It is not very often (especially in South Africa) that a steam working steam engine reaches her centenary, and with this in mind I am reposting the blogpost about the trip I did 10 years ago on 4 April 2019.  

By train to Magaliesburg. 12AR-1535

I got the opportunity to travel with Susan on 4 April 2009 from Maraisburg Station to Magaliesburg. The same consist as before was used and the schedule was almost identical to my previous trip with Elize. Some of the images used here were taken linesiding or when I intercepted other trips at Magaliesburg.


The two images above were taken on another trip that she made on 27 April 2009, I would definitely not stand here taking pics if I had been travelling on the train.
 
And then we were off,  eventually passing through Roodepoort Station where the plinthed 10BR slowly moulders away in the parking lot.

Through to Krugersdorp where we could pick up any passengers that had wanted to join there,

Past Millsite and the rows of derelicts that were not as fortunate as Susan was, and any goods wagons that were being shunted, 

and then past the disgrace that was Sanrasm.

And once that was past you could really relax and enjoy the ride for awhile and listen to the loco in front. At some point you would start the long climb towards the grain silos,

and then power along towards the end destination,
although the cutting really was the first sign that we had almost arrived.

This time around I had opted for lunch at the hotel, but I did not bail out there, but hung around at the station for awhile to watch them turn Susan. 

 

I then had to make a mad dash down the hill for my belated lunch at the hotel.
 
Arriving back suitably satiated, I discovered that Susan had been turned and was now on the opposite end of the train in readiness for our trip back.

And as usual, there was brightwork to be polished. These preserved loco’s are always turned out very well because they showcase our proud steam heritage. Susan, as station pilot in Germiston, was always in a supershine condition, there was a lot of pride in these machines, and that is still true today.

The sitters were empty as the passengers did their thing at the picnic area, quite a few were already tanked up before we arrived and they would sleep the return journey away. 
The passing of some Class 34’s really provided a photo opportunity, although I know which is the more handsome engine out of all those in Magaliesburg on that day.
Then the passengers were roused and the whistle blew and we were off, pausing at the hotel to collect a few more errant people before attempting the level crossing on our way out of the town. 
In 2011 I was in the area and stood at the level crossing watching this spirited departure which is available on Youtube, and it amazed me how even though the loco had started moving drivers still try to get across in front of her! You do not tackle a steam engine with a car because you will loose. 
Unfortunately though we literally crawled through the cutting and the hills, and I asked some of the guys why this had happened, and it turned out that the coal was of poor quality so she was really struggling. Susan is a freight loco with lots of power, but even poor coal can turn a steamer into a snail. I did take some video of the climb and pullaway, so all is not lost
 
And even today people wave at steam engines going past, because it is just something that is done. I feel sorry for those who have never experienced steam trains because they have lost a little bit of magic. Fortunately most people opted to relax on the trip home, and the kids stopped with the “pooop pooop” imitations and I was able to get some peace. I was not really in a mood to take too many pics, besides, everything you see here is very similar to what you saw in the other trip post. 
Even the desolate landscape that we passed just after Millsite was devoid of life, but then that area has been ravaged by mining and will take many years to rehabilitate, assuming that even happens in the first place.
And eventually we were home. The sun was low on the horizon and the people who climbed off were much more subdued than those that had climbed on this morning. Even Susan seemed tired, and she still had a long way to go before she could be bedded down for the night,
 
 
 More video: 
 
DRW © 2009-2019 Created 04/04/2009. images recreated 07/03/2016, edited and reposted as a retrospect on 04/04/2019
Updated: 07/04/2019 — 13:05

Scanning the Slides

When I was still photographing ships in the pre-digital days I was shooting with slide film. There were many advantages to it at the time. The large images displayed on a screen were amazing to see and much better than the standard small prints that were the result of shooting with film. Pricewise it was slightly cheaper to shoot and process 36 slides than it was to develop and print 36 prints. And of course the prints were only as good as the operator of the printing machine. When the digital era arrived I really wanted to convert my slides into a digital format and the first results that I still have is a contact sheet that a friend of mine made on a professional film scanner at his work in 1999. Unfortunately the resulting images, while excellent copies were only 640×480 in size.

A few years later I bought a “Genius” flatbed scanner that could scan slides, and the results were mixed. Because many of the images had vast expanses of blue water in them I could not get a semi decent outcome because the scanner lamp had a slight blue tinge to it and rendered the images less than perfect. The scanner wasn’t faulty either because I even sat with a technician from the company and we were just not able to get a perfect result, or one as good as the contact sheet above. 

I never gave up though and at one point I bought a high end Epson scanner and it could scan slides and negatives but the interface tended to be somewhat iffy. The end result was much better and in some case I had a lot of success with the scanner, so much so that 90% of the ship and cruise images on my blogs were created with that scanner. I did not scan everything though, some images just came out badly and and others I skipped because there was too much to do. 

The scanner did produce some amazing results from negatives, and while I did not even tackle them as a project I really should have, although I never used an SLR for prints.

The images above are both scanned from the 1986 negatives. 

In 2010 I bought a dedicated slide/negative scanner that had just come onto the market and frankly it was a waste of time and money. Surely there were other ways to convert slides to digital? 

Since the advent of the digital camera (and high end cell phone camera too) there are other possible ways to scan slides and when I was in South Africa I did some experimenting. The end results were interesting although some images were a disaster due to focusing issues. My “rig” looked something like this:  

I have a small battery powered pocket slide viewer that I bought in the USA, and it formed the display part of my machine.

I also have a cut down enlarger head stand that enables me to get up close and personal with a document (or slide viewer) parallel to my camera.

 

And of course my digital camera forms the last part of it all and I initially set the camera on the “Macro” setting and set this up in a dark room with the only illumination coming from the viewer screen. The reality is that I was taking a very close up shot of a displayed slide. 

The output.

It was mixed. Some images came out so well, while others were lousy. The focusing being the biggest issue and that may have been a problem with camera shake or me misfocusing or in some cases the slide is slightly bowed.  I am still sorting the 1331 images that I photographed, so cannot comment on whether this was a success or not. The biggest problem I had was not being able to see the output on a monitor after I did it and now that I am back in the UK I cannot redo the images as the slides are in South Africa. I do however feel that the theory is sound, and I would have liked to have seen what a cell phone camera does under the same conditions, alas I did not have a way to mount one with me so could not try it out. 

I am not done yet and will reserve my verdict till after I have sorted and culled. But it is worth considering as an option if ever slides need digitising. 

To be continued.

DRW © 2019. Created 21/03/2019

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 13:57

Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.

Last month, when I was in South Africa, I bought a small plastic tugboat at the local el-cheapo shoppe. It was a simple bathtub type boat with waterjet style propulsion, and stickers stuck on it and with the propensity to listing and sinking. It does not have enough of a draught to stay upright without batteries in and it leaks like crazy. It is not a very successful tugboat, it’s more of a typical cheap and nasty toy designed for a few days enjoyment and then a swift final voyage to the dustbin or under the bed.

Now you may ask what this has to do with the price of eggs? People who know me are aware that I am a ship enthusiast, and once upon a time I used to have a large fleet of ships, of which two were radio controlled. 

My first RC boat was a “Damen Stantug” made by Veron and she had a 29″ fibreglass hull and was quite a large vessel with lots of space in the hull for a small model engine of the glowplug design. Naturally these were not available on my budget so a large electric motor was substituted instead. I also purchased a 2 channel radio and a set of motorbike batteries to run the motor off. Unfortunately a reliable speed control was very difficult to find and I ended up with a large wire wound potentiometer affair that used to run very hot and tended to be somewhat unreliable. 

Once the motor, prop shaft and bulkheads were installed I was ready for a test run and a friend and I headed off to the Blue Dam in Mayfair late one evening with the hull ready to launch. I had installed simple navigation lights and a search light on it so we could see it in the dark and we launched the hull with much trepidation. If something failed I would literally be up the creek without a paddle because retrieving the boat would have been very difficult. Lo and behold everything worked and the hull tore across the water at maximum revs. It was working remarkably well and so far no leaks had shown up although the speed control was running very hot. 

Wind forward many moths later and my tug was finished as per the plans. And, by some strange miracle I have pics of her. She carried the moniker “Dildo” and I am not even going to try explain it. She also flew a small red flag with “Enjoy your pizza” on it, just another quirk that I added. 

Unfortunately the speed control was a major bugbear and charging arrangements for the motorbike batteries was less that idea. The big motor drew a lot of current and the bike battery worked well enough. The hull was buoyant enough that I ended up adding extra lead ballast in it to bring down the draught. I also managed to score 10 model truck tyres that I wired as fenders along the rubbing strake, and later on I added a small crane, zodiac, electric searchlights, internal lights and navigation lights. I was proud of my tug, she was awesome. 

I also bought a small centre island container ship that could be converted into a superstructure aft configuration made by Graupner under the unlikely name of Neptun. She too was radio controlled and was very fast on the water, too fast in fact and she really had to be reigned in or she would try to imitate a speedboat. Her motor was much smaller and more efficient and I had better battery life with her, although the limitation of both boats was the life of the penlights that were used in the radio receiver (4) and transmitter (8); back then rechargeable batteries were not as readily available as they are now.  

Of course back then I was living close to a large body of water, albeit a very polluted body of water, so could put a boat under my arm and head out for a quick sail. When I moved from Homestead Park in 1985 I no longer had anywhere to sail my boats and of course not having a car meant that their days of sailing had come to an end, I used the tug once or twice when I was involved with the disastrous attempt at restoring the models ships at Santarama, Alas the person in charge was more of a hindrance than anything else so that all came to nought. Interestingly enough Santarama had a number of radio controlled ships that were probably in operation when the place opened, but they had been laid up and became scrap.  

At some point I had managed to pick up a very nice trawler by Veron too, and sort of completed her but the wood was very dry and the superstructure cracked badly. It was a nice model though and it would have made a nice conversion into a short seas trader. She too was sold in a semi rebuilt state. I recall using her as a demonstration model on navigation lights at a meeting the Titanic Society of South Africa under the name SS Lamptest. 

I sold my large ships in 1999 and I like to think that my tug is still out there somewhere and that she occasionally hits the water and has a blast. I always regretted selling her as she was an awesome boat, but at the time it was more or less a sound idea. I still collect ships though and have a large collection of 1/1250 and 1/1200 waterline vessels, although none can float. And, I have just gotten this poor imitation of a toy boat that I am tempted to refit, although fittings appear to cost more than the boat did. Much to my dismay there is not much of a selection of toy boats suitable for the bath out there, and that is quite sad because occasionally you really need to mess about with boats. 

 

DRW 2019. © Created 14/03/2019

Updated: 27/03/2019 — 15:12

Back home in England.

It is now 19.30 on the evening of the 7th and I am back home, surrounded by washing, empty suitcases, clothing, postcards and heaps of other odds and ends that I brought back with me. My flight left last night at 9 pm, and we landed just after 6 this morning. I have spent the time between then and 4 pm in queues, trains, buses and Paddington Station. 

A lot happened between my previous post of the 24th of February and now. I split my time between my brother’s house and my friends on the West Rand, although was not as active in the local cemeteries as I was previously. My mother is surprisingly strong, but I fear that she is trapped inside her body and is probably hating every minute of it. Unfortunately we had to make the decision that we made in 2017, there were no more options available to us.  Sadly she is surrounded by other elderly women of various ages, many never get visited and lead out their lonely lives in the home. I am afraid that in some cases they have outlived their children, or their children are no longer in the area or in the country. 

Menu from my return flight

There is a lot I can say about South Africa. Corruption has seriously damaged the economy, and the continued demand by Eskom for higher tariffs is met with disgust as the public recalls how easily Eskom and the corrupt in it seemingly burnt money with impunity. To this date no high profile crooks have been arrested for corruption and  they continue to lead the high life, safe in the knowledge that they got away with it.

The few malls that I visited were also showing the effects of the economic downturn, with empty shops and fewer buying customers visiting them. Generally though I had good service from 99% of the people I encountered in my travels in and around the West and East Rand. The petrol price continues to bite though, and of course the traffic jams in Johannesburg are even worse as a large portion of the one freeway has had to be closed to repair some of the supports and bridges that are part of it.  

Muffin the cat continues to amuse, at this moment he is thinking of entering politics and is trying to register his own political party called “The Fishycookie Party”. By his reckoning he could be the chief poohbah in the next election because at least he wont be corrupt, although is liable to sleep in parliament. 

Again I got to enjoy the pets of my brother and friends during this trip, and it is amazing how they enrich our lives; there is never a dull moment when you have a cat or a dog.

The weather back in South Africa was hot and very uncomfortable as I really prefer the relatively cooler summers of the UK. I do not do heat well! We did have a typical highveld thunder/rain storm in my last week, and I had forgotten how much water these could dump and how bad the thunderstorms can get in Johannesburg. Back in the UK it was overcast and drizzly where I live, but the march to Summer continues.  

Suburbia (1500×671)

Prices.

Food prices continue to rise and I did quite a few comparisons with the prices I gathered way back in 2017.  These are just a few examples that I spotted, and some items may have been on sale. The items are not indicative of my own personal preferences and are sourced through leaflets and shops I visited in the West and East Rand. Petrol was R14.08 pl 95 octane and R13.86 for 93 octane (02/03/2019)

6 Eskort Gold Medal Pork Sausages: R44.91

Kellogs Corn Flakes (750gr) R49.99

Beef Biltong R320/kg

Oreo 16’s R14.99

Sedgewick’s Old Brown Sherry 750 ml R44.95 (R39 in duty free at ORT airport)

Milo 500gr tin R51.99

2 Litres Coke R16.99

Cadbury’s Chocolate (80g slab) R19.95

Oral B electric toothbrush R499.95

Jungle Oats (1kg) R26.99

Weetbix (900 gr) R38.99

Wellingtons Tomato Sauce (700 ml) RR18.99

Baby Soft 2 ply toilet rolls (18’s) R124.99

Lipice (4.6 g) R22.99

Sunlight dishwashing Liquid (750 ml) R32.99

Joko Tea (60 bags) R32.99

Milo (500 gr) R54.99

Ricoffy (750 g) R79.99

Mrs Balls Chutney (470 g) R28.99

Douwe Egberts Pure Gold coffee (200 g) R119.99

Crystal Valley salted butter (500 gr) R47.99

Nature’s Garden mixed veg (2,5kg) R25.99

30 Large eggs R49.99

Stork Country Spread 1kg R29.99 

Dewfresh milk 6×1 Litre R69.99 (R11.99 ea)

Gordons Gin 750ml R99.99

Hunters Dry 12x440ml Cans R129.99  

30 Extra large eggs R44.99  

Ultra Mel Custard 1 Litre R22.99

Enterprise Back Bacon 200gr R23.99

Fresh chicken breast fillets (R59.99/kg

Huletts white sugar (2.5 kg) R39.99

Lipton ice tea (1,5 litre) R17.99

King Steer burger R64.90, Regular chips: R15.90  2019

95 Octane petrol R14.08, (/02/03/2019)

4 Finger Kitkat R8.99

48 Beacon Mallow Eggs R79.99

Tabasco Sauce (60ml) R38.99

 

Random Images

DRW © 2019. Created 07/03/2019

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 14:03

Remember the Mendi

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship; HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. The resulting death toll was high; of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew.  The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton I decided to visit Hollybrook Cemetery and the Hollybrook Memorial to the missing. 
 

 
This particular memorial at Hollybrook commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial.  
 
Sadly, all that is left of their lives is their names on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to participate as non combatants in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it, these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 
 
However, in a shocking newspaper article on the 17th of February it was revealed that “The department of military veterans has withdrawn support for an “imperial” commemoration of a World War 1 shipping disaster in which 646 mainly black South Africans died” 
A retired senior military officer this week described the department’s decision as “abominable and a disgrace”. He said: “This means no military band or guards in fact no formal military presence at a memorial for South Africans who died on service in war.”
(Article in the Sunday Times 17 February 2019 Front page.) 
 
The stance has drawn severe criticism from veterans and organisations, and sadly the Mendi is once again just a porn in a game called political correctness and white washing of history. 
 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.


DRW © 2019. Created 18/02/2019. 

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 13:58

Remembering SAS President Kruger

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  was a Type 12 Frigate, acquired by the South African Navy in the 1960’s. Built in the United Kingdom, she was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun.

SAS President Kruger (F150)

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg.

SAS Tafelberg replenishing a frigate (source unknown)

The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side. At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the  Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved  turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  

The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings.

Roll of Honour:
AB. G.T. Benjamin
CPO J.P. Booysen
 PO. S.P. Bothma
 PO. G.A.F. Brind
 PO R.C. Bulterman
 PO. G.W. De Villiers
 PO. E. Koen
 PO. H. Lotter
 PO. R.A. Mc Master
 PO. R.F. Skeates
 CPO. H.W. Smit
PO. W.R. Smith
 CPO. W.M.G. Van Tonder
 CPO. D. Webb
 PO. M.B.R. Whiteley
 PO. C.J. Wium
 
1982 Naval Casualties at the SADF Wall of Remembrance
At the naval board of inquiry it was found that there was a  lack of seamanship by the captain and officers of the ship. The inquest apportioned blame on the captain and PWO. However none of the officers was court-martialled.
 
There is a comprehensive look at South African naval casualties on the Observation Post blog
 
DRW © 2019. Created 18/02/2019. The ship two images I cannot source. They come from my collection, but I have no idea where the originals came from. If you are the copyright holder please contact me so that I may acknowledge your historic images.

 

Updated: 17/02/2019 — 08:22

Remembering SAS Southern Floe

HMSAS Southern Floe. (11/02/1941)

One of four Southern Class whalers taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.  

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941,  HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk where she was to meet Southern Floe,  but there was no sign of her. A common enough occurrence as often ships would be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life.  24 Men lost their lives; although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine. 

CWGC lists 26 South African Naval Casualties from that date as being commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial.  

Casualty List from CWGC

There is a comprehensive look at South African naval casualties on the Observation Post blog

DRW © 2018-2019. Created 06/02/2019

Updated: 17/02/2019 — 08:21

The loss of HMY Iolaire

Over the years I have read about many disaster’s at sea and of course the Titanic springs to mind almost instinctively. However, in October 2017 I discovered yet another disaster that has slipped below the radar, and I was determined to create some way to commemorate the men who lost their lives  in the disaster 100 years ago on this day. It was an uphill slog because unfortunately accuracy is difficult because of the poor records, contradicting evidence and the multiplicity of the same names being used.  Unfortunately I was not able to get anybody involved with the disaster commemorations to look at what I did and assist in getting it correct. 

The HMY community on LIves of the First World War.

HMY Iolaire was a former private yacht that had been pressed into naval service in the Outer Hebrides during the First World War, and on old years eve 1918 she was hurriedly loaded with over 200 members of the Royal Naval Reserve to take them home to the Island of Lewis on leave.  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 approaching. 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; parents, wives and children were preparing to welcome home their men, it would be a festive occasion because 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 final return home and civilian life. 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 (Gael: Biastan Thuilm) 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. 

“The Beasts of Holm rocks near Stornoway on Isle of Lewis Scotland” by Dave Conner is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (image resized)

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.

The tragedy was unfolding almost 20 yards from land, but nobody on land was aware that a ship was foundering on their doorstep, Some men tried to swim for safety but in the cold wild waters almost none would make it. One brave man, John F. Macleod from Ness, Isle of Lewis, 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.

There were really many things that went wrong on that night and 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 on the bridge 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.  Another book is due to be launched in 2018 called “The Darkest Dawn: The Story of The Iolaire Disaster” by Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John Macleod. 

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.

© DRW 2017-2018. 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. “The Beasts of Holm rocks near Stornoway on Isle of Lewis Scotland” by Dave Conner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 04/01/2019 — 06:42

Looking back on 2018

2018 had many high and low points, and it was really a year of change and renewal.  The biggest issue that weighed on my mind towards the end of 2017 had been the renewal of my visa which was done successfully for another 5 years. By the time you read this almost a year would have passed from those 5. My mother’s health took a turn for the worse towards the end of December and at one point I was looking for flights just in case I had to return to South Africa. Fortunately that did not happen, but she remains in high care and who knows what the future holds. (Update: I will be returning to South Africa for a brief visit at the end of February 2019)

I had also been contemplating resigning from my job as I was really getting tired of the atmosphere where I worked, sadly it was all caused by the same person and by the end of August I had made my decision and resigned. It just goes to show how bad things were, and I am amazed that I stuck it out for 3 years. I have a new job now, albeit it as a contractor and am still in Tewkesbury, but would probably leave like a shot if a better job came up elsewhere. My new employment is interesting though, I have learnt a lot of things that I had never considered before, and that is a good thing.

The weather was also surprising, with 2 snowfalls in the early part of the year. They were fun, and I got some great pics. So far (touch wood) we have not had snow, but that is pretty much how we felt at the beginning of the year too.

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We also lost Ray Thomas, Mort Walker, Billy Graham, Stephen Hawking,  Harry Anderson, George and Barbara Bush,  Aretha Franklin, Burt Reynolds,  Joe Jackson, Dolores O’Riordan, Montserrat Caballé, Hugh Masekela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, John McCain, Morgan Tsvangirai, Pik Botha, Margot Kidder, Sir Roger Bannister, Kofi Annan, Charles Aznavour, Paul Allen, and Stan Lee (complete list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_in_2018

Because the weather was better I ended up gallivanting again, and visited a number of places during the year. Naturally I ended up taking way too many photo’s as usual. I also ate too much ice cream, read lots of books and watched too many anime and movies. 

The highlight of the year was definitely  the trip I made to Liverpool in June and it spawned a whole wodge of blogposts.

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and of course my visits to Evesham were amazing, and it is a place I enjoy visiting. Hopefully next year I will get to the light rail that runs there too. 

This was also the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and I am still involved in the Lives of the First World War Project.

The project finishes in March 2019 and I may find that I have a lot more free time on my hands from then. 

I was also lucky to get to travel to Wales and paid a brief visit to Swansea and Mumbles

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and I paid a few visits to Bristol in July and August. This time around exploring beyond the cemetery and harbour too. I will be returning there once the weather improves. 

Meanwhile back in Tewkesbury, we had the usual Medieval Festival as well as the Classic Vehicle Festival.

The one thing that I can be sure of is that I live in interesting times, and I expect 2019 will bring quite a few highlights and low lights to blog about. I may be making a short trip to South Africa in 2019, but haven’t made a decision yet, there are many factors involved in deciding, but really need to look into all of them. It is an expensive trip and with my job still being as it is I have to be rational about something like that. 

That is 2018 in a nutshell. I have deviated from my usual format this time around, its much easier to do, and I can always add bits on in these last days of the year. Irrespective though, with Brexit looming in the distance who knows what April may bring. The election in South Africa is also looming in 2019 and given how bad things are getting there who knows what the year will bring. You can bet that more money will be squandered on everything but the poor. We will just have to wait and see.

DRW © 2018-2019. 

Updated: 29/01/2019 — 13:39
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