musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: War Grave

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

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

Photo Essay: Return to Florida Cemetery

Florida Cemetery was one of the many that I went to when I was photographing war graves in and around Johannesburg. There is one CWGC grave, one Border War grave, and two private memorials in it. It is also not too far away, and while I was in the area I decided to stop for a quick visit to rephotograph those graves.

It is a pretty cemetery with a mix of headstones and a number of family plots. It is hard to know when it opened, but it was certainly busy in the 1920’s. I photographed two graves that date from 1889 and 1891 respectively, both headstones were of slate and very legible.

Sadly the little office at the gate was vandalised many years ago and when I was there it was being used to stash some of the tools of the guys cutting the grass. 

There are quite a few children’s graves in the cemetery, and the small china statues that are often used on those graves are broken. Some of those small graves are very old, and the mortality rate for young children was very high in the era when this cemetery came into being.

This particular example dates from 1948.

The one thing I did not like seeing was the detritus from people; litter, tins, broken glass, paper etc. Even though the cemetery is fenced it is reasonably easy to climb the fence or just open the gate. The area around it has deteriorated too, and that leads to all sorts of undesirables using the cemetery as a place to do what they do best. 

Florida was also a mining area many years ago, and I am certain that many of the graves here will tie into the mining industry, although there is no real way to extract some sort of data on who is buried here. The odds are that there are graves that are reserved for family members although who knows if they will ever be filled.

And, like so many cemeteries there is a population of birds and small rodents that live in and around it. I think the bird is a “Spotted Thick Knee”, and I encountered them in most of the cemeteries in South Africa that I visited. They are quite aggressive during the breeding season and given the haphazard scrapes that they build I can see why. Unfortunately they are easy prey to marauding cats, and there are quite a few around given that this is a residential area.

And then it was time to go…

Florida will always stick in my mind as it is such a unique cemetery in an area of ever changing demographics. How much longer it will remain relatively intact remains to be seen, things can change very quickly in South Africa, hopefully it will all pass by and leave no impression on this small haven of tranquility. 

Random Images.

Private memorial in a family plot

CWGC grave

Marklew family plot

1902 grave

 
 

1891 grave

 

1889 grave

© DRW 2017. Created 03/04/2017

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:20

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

Photo Essay: Brixton Cemetery

On my way home on the 29th of March I detoured to Brixton Cemetery and took a quick ride through it. I did not have any real purpose, I just wanted to see it again. 

Following the recent rains the cemetery is looking beautiful so this post is really just a photo essay.

I spent many hours looking for the CWGC graves in the cemetery and in the course of my meanderings passed many really beautiful headstones.

There are a number of Angels from Brixton Cemetery in my Cemetery Angels pages on allatsea.

Left or right? Actually if you go straight you will encounter the Police Plot, left will take you to the one pedestrian gate and right will take you to the back of the Jewish Cemetery.

I took the path to the right because I was interested to see changes.  Just before I left for the UK in 2013 a lot of gravestones in the Jewish section had been vandalised and since then it has been fenced off. This image was shot over the fence.

The area to the right is a small Salvation Army plot, and the heavily wooded area is where I had my first bee sting. Bees are really just one hazard that you face when you are exploring a cemetery. Brixton has vast swathes of fencing missing and this patch of road is one of the many thoroughfares that people use to get to the other side. I never felt safe in Brixton and tended to remain close to my car all of the time.

My mini tour was coming to an end and I needed to go home, it was interesting to see a place that is so familiar yet so unfamiliar at the same time. Cemeteries are in a constant state of change thanks to nature, and they are beautiful spaces in their own right.

The cemetery is over 100 years old, having been opened in 1912 when nearby Braamfontein started to get too full, and it was in use until West Park opened in February 1940. These places are a glimpse at Johannesburg’s past, and as such should be preserved for all to see, and to provide a green lung for the city. 

My final image is of the Cross of Sacrifice that looks onto the entrance of the cemetery. It was one of the reasons why I went into there originally. The cemetery contains 124 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War and 153 from the First World War, and I am proud to say I photographed them all.

Brixton Crematorium

In 1908, Gandhi was approached to help find a suitable plot for a crematorium. He negotiated with the town council and the land was allocated in the North Western corner of the New Cemetery (later renamed Brixton Cemetery). The wood burning crematorium was built in 1918 and still stands today, although not in regular use. It was the first brick built crematorium in Africa and was built by Messrs Damania and Kalidas. It was declared a National Monument on 24 September 1995. 

 

Random images from the past.

I have seen Brixton many times before, and some of my images have never seen the light of day. Here are a few of them.

© DRW 2017. Created 30/03/2017, more images added 16/04/2017  

Updated: 16/04/2017 — 09:15

Return to Worcester

On 13 March I returned to Worcester as I had some free time. It was a spur of the moment thing though because the weather was wonderful and Spring is in the air. Unfortunately the trains were not. Somewhere something had broken and Ashchurch had one at the platform and one in the distance and none of ours in sight.

The train was delayed by 20 minutes and in an effort to make up the schedule was only going to Worcester Shrub Hill Station.  It is also a larger station than Foregate, but seems to take very little traffic compared to Foregate. Last time I was in Worcester I spotted the semaphores again and the set at Shrub Hill is much larger than the one I had seen previously

Here you can see the split in the rails (Shrub Hill sits on the vertical leg of the T junction, with Foregate on the line to the left and Birmingham to the right). I asked a conductor about them and he said that they are still in use and they do not know when they will be replaced. There is signal box located at the south end of platform 1, and two signal boxes at Henwick (west of Foregate Street), and Tunnel Junction to the north of Shrub Hill. 

Bailing out at Shrub Hill messed with my plans because I had planned to head off to St John’s Cemetery in Henwick, and then return via the cathedral. Now it made sense to go to the cathedral first, take my pics and then go to the cemetery. I could see the cathedral from the station so really just had to head in the general direction. 

Actually I am glad things did work out like that because I saw more of Worcester as I wobbled along. 

Presumably this was the local Great Western Hotel associated with the station. The station building is quite impressive and was designed by Edward Wilson and built in 1865. It is a Georgian-style building mainly of engineering brick with stone facings, but situated where it is you cannot get a decent image of it from the parking area beneath it.  

To the right of the hotel was what seems to be an “Industrial Park”, what it was before I do not know, but it is large and very impressive. 

It is really a large warehouse type structure, and at the far end is one of those wonderful clock towers that seem to pop up in the strangest places.

Then I crossed over what I suspect is the Worcester and Birmingham Canal that eventually comes out at a set of locks into the Severn River. If you follow the Severn there is a good chance you may end up in Tewkesbury.

Just look at that sky! I had not brought my parka with today and eventually had to remove my hoodie because I was getting decidedly overheated. 

I then threaded my way through the maze of streets towards my end destination.

Finally ending up at the Guildhall. 

And if you know where to look you will spot Cromwell above the door, with his ears nailed to the wall (theoretically).

While Edward Elgar looked towards the traffic and probably lamented the lack of Pomp and Circumstance.

At this point I went to the cathedral to photograph the “Woodbine Willie” plaque and window, and those will be covered in my “Connections: Woodbine Willie” post. Suffice to say I did take some new cathedral images and you can view my original Cathedral post on its own page.

After finishing the cathedral I then headed to the right of the image above into what is known as Deansway Street, passing the Ducal Palace 

Until I detoured to the remains of the Medieval Church of St Andrews. 

The structure is also known as “Glover’s Needle”. The plaque inside gives more information, unfortunately it is affixed to the far wall of the spire and not readable from the locked gate. Thank goodness for optical zoom. Click on the image to read the plaque. 

It is a very pretty spot and it overlooks the river close to the bridge. It must have been a fine looking church and today is a very easily recognisable landmark in the city. 

This is the road bridge over the Severn, while the railway bridge and viaduct is in the image below.

Once across the bridge I entered into Cripplegate Park.

And then through the park and onwards to my destination: St John’s Cemetery in Henwick. 

As far as cemeteries go, this one is reasonably uninteresting, there are 33 CWGC graves in the cemetery and I would photograph those that I saw, my final tally being 29. My real aim was to photograph this grave.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, also known as “Woodbine Willie” would gain fame through his work on the Western Front during the First World War, and his devotion to the poor. He was an orator and a poet who drew crowds to hear him speak. He was also the vicar of St. Paul’s in Worcester (next on my bucket list).

This grave really closes a chapter for me, one that started in London in 2016, and which led me here in 2017. Read about the strange chain of events at “Connections: Woodbine Willie”

Then it was time to head back. I had 2 choices. I could increase speed and make the 13H03 train, or dawdle and make the 15H06 train. Given how wonky the trains were the former seemed like a better idea and I rang down for full ahead. 

Back along the path I had come, passing over the railway line with it’s signal cabin that was mentioned above,

Past St John’s Church,

Through Cripplegate Park with its really nice ornate non functional fountain,

Over the bridge, pausing to take a photograph,

Up Broad Street and past All Saint’s Worcester,

along Foregate Street, pausing to take an image of Lloyd’s Bank and the former church alongside. Now called “Slug and Lettuce”  it was the former St Nicholas Church that dated from the 18th Century. It is a Grade II listed building but is no longer an active church.

I snuck a peek inside and it was stunning. 

Leaving slugs and their lettuce I finally arrived at  the station with 6 minutes to spare.

That was not my train though, mine was the next one. And, while it left on time it tarried before Shrub Hill and did not rush to Ashchurch either. 

Worcester was in the bag, although there are enough reasons to return one day, It wont be anytime soon though because I have an even bigger trip ahead of me, but that is another story for another day. 

© DRW 2017. Created 13/03/2017. 

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:21

Camberwell Cemeteries in Danger

When I first arrived in London in 2013, one of the first cemeteries I visited was Camberwell Old Cemetery and at the time I did not really take too much notice of it. It is an old cemetery and there is a small chance that I may have family buried there, but I cannot confirm it.

I visited the cemetery twice, and on both occasions the weather was grey and chilly and the remnants of snow may still be seen on some of my pics. I had no real reason to visit it though, and it was by sheer luck that I picked up one of the two Victoria Cross burials in the cemetery during my first visit (Albert McKenzie VC).

The cemetery was really divided in two, the first part being a normal maintained cemetery, while the other being a heavily wooded area, probably much older and reminiscent of Nunhead Cemetery. Given the weather I did not explore very long in this area because the mud and undergrowth really precluded doing very much. I was actually quite puzzled by the state of this area, but I did not know the history at the time. 

The cemetery is located on Forest Hill Road, and covers approximately 30 acres (0.12 km2).  The site was purchased in 1855 and it was originally meadow land.  The first interment took place in  July 1856 and over 30,000 burials took place in the subsequent 30 years. In 1874 the cemetery was further expanded by seven more acres and by 1984, there were 300,000 interments. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camberwell_Cemeteries)

Map courtesy of Kevin Brazier

There are 291 First World War burials, and war graves plot is in the north-east corner of the cemetery and contains two screen walls. One commemorates almost 160 casualties buried in the plot, the other bears the names of those buried in the remaining war graves scattered throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. Those remaining graves are much important than we realise in the light of what is happening at Camberwell Old Cemetery.

The war graves plot also contains a group of special memorials to the 14 casualties of the Second World War buried in the cemetery. 

   
   
   
   

So what is going on at Camberwell Old Cemetery?

From what  I can  read in short it is “Southwark Council is cutting down acres of inner city woods to mound over graves and next to dig up thousands of people’s remains to sell their graves as ‘new’ burial plots” (http://www.savesouthwarkwoods.org.uk/home/4593424362).  That will include the unknown burial plots of the war graves scattered that are throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. The cemetery is more than a mere burial place, it is a green lung in a busy city, it provides homes for woodland and small creatures, it is a valuable recreational space and it is a historic cemetery. It is difficult to know the whole story because there are two sides to each story, but my gut instinct says that what they want to do is fundamentally wrong, although the rational part of me says that come hell or high water they are going to do it irrespective.  The part that really gets to me is that “the Church of England has said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do not need to mark the poor soldiers’ graves – to avoid making them seem special and for ‘practical purposes’, that is, to allow cemeteries to bury on top of them”. http://www.savesouthwarkwoods.org.uk/48-ww1-soldiers-graves/4593715253. It would be interesting to know why these graves have been “lost” in the first place and why they were not accorded a CWGC headstone at the time. I do suspect that there may be private memorials involved, and as such CWGC has no real jurisdiction over those graves.   

Camberwell New Cemetery

Before I made my second trip  I first visited Camberwell New Cemetery which is not too far away. It contains 198 Second World War burials, almost 80 of them forming a war graves plot and the rest are scattered throughout the cemetery. A screen wall commemorates almost 120 of these casualties (including those buried in the plot) whose graves could not be marked with individual headstones, together with a further 56 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in Camberwell (Honor Oak) Crematorium.  

I will be honest and say that the cemetery was not really memorable, in fact I took very few photographs of the place.

In 1926 the first part of the land was laid out as a cemetery and was consecrated by the Right Reverend William Woodcock Hough, Bishop of Woolwich, and the first interment took place on 23 May 1927. The Crematorium was built in 1939 to meet a growing demand for cremations and it is situated in the cemetery grounds, ten acres of which were landscaped as memorial gardens. 

What did interest me at this cemetery was the Civilian Casualties Memorial that was seemingly under restoration.

This was the first one that I had seen since arriving in London, and I have seen a number of others since then. 

I did not spend too long at this cemetery and set off for Camberwell Old Cemetery to photograph the grave of William Stanlake VC, and I recall at the time thinking that finding it in that mass of vegetation was going to be very difficult, but fortunately the plot was easily found.

Path to the grave of William Stanlake VC.

And then I headed off for home. I seem to recall visiting Motherwell and Brockley cemetery on this trip too. No wonder I was so tired all of the time. 

The destruction that is happening at these two cemeteries is very sad, and while I do not live in London I do have an interest in these happening because I have seen it so often before. I do not think that the destruction and re-use of these two cemeteries can be halted, but I do hope that the damage can be minimised or stopped before these two spaces are irreversibly changed.

It is worth visiting the  Friend of Camberwell Cemeteries website to read for yourself what is going on. Let us hope that sanity prevails. 

© DRW 2013-2017. Retrospectively created 11/03/2017

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 12:49

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

Blundering around Bushley

The winter weather was decidely pleasant when I set out for the village of Bushley in Warwickshire, I had one CWGC grave to photograph so it was worth the walk to get there.  However, this was really a test to see how well I could cope with an extended walk like this. Unfortunately I have been suffering with unspecific hip and back pain and that has really curtailed my meanderings in the countryside. The church of St Peter is just over 3km away via the Mythe Bridge, which is not really far until you factor in the return walk and the gallivanting I had planned for my return trip. 

The route encompasses the magnificent Mythe Bridge that I had photographed last year, 

crossing the River Severn

and then following the signs until you reach the village which is in Warwickshire as opposed to Gloucestershire.

The church is easy to find too, it is the highest point there.

The church of St Peter was rebuilt in 1843 by Canon Dowdeswell and consists of chancel, north and south transepts, nave and west tower and spire, it is a Grade II listed building and was designed by Dr Edward Blore & Sir Gilbert Scott.

The graveyard is in a reasonable condition and I spotted a number of 1700’s graves in it, which means that there was a church here for many years before the current building was erected.

My CWGC grave was easy to find, and I also found one private memorial.

The War Memorial is affixed to the outside wall of the church and covers both world wars.

I am always curious as to what these parish churches look like inside, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the church was unlocked.

The building inside is much smaller than it looks from the outside, but it is a very beautiful church on the inside.

There are a number of wall memorials to members of the Dowdeswell family and a few floor memorials but I could not get a clear image of those.

 The Font may date from the late 12th century, while the organ was erected in 1908.

Time was trickling away and I needed to start making tracks out of here, I paused at the Nativity scene in front of the pulpit. Christmas was upon us, and it is a very special time in any church.

I returned to the churchyard and took more photographs.  

As can be seen the churchyard is higher than the surrounding pavement, which ties into the fact that there are more people buried here than reflect in the 177 memorials in the churchyard with a total of 352 names.

The registers for the church go back to 1538, and the oldest date on a memorial is 1633.

The churchyard does have an extension next to it, although that is nowhere near full.

Then it was time to head back to the Mythe Bridge for my next bit of exploration.

On the right hand side of this image is the sealed off entrance to the tunnel that runs underneath this road. 

It was part of the former Upton-upon-Severn to Tewkesbury line and I had been looking for the other end of the tunnel half heartedly for some time. I now had a better idea of where it was, I just had to find it. There is a footpath that runs along the bank of the Severn and by the looks of it I would be able to reach the general area without doing too much bundu-bashing.

The footpath was muddy and there was not much to see in the bush, hopefully at some point I would at least find a clue as to where the tunnel entrance was. Eventually I reached a crossroad with gates in 3 directions, the bush had thinned a bit but was still quite thick, but after checking the gps I was probably close to where I suspected the tunnel was. I walked around the one gate and voila… there it was.

It was bricked up and the entrance door had no visible hinges or lock so was probably fastened from the inside.

Sadly the local graffiti artists had expounded on his occupation, but I was kind of cheesed off that they had found this spot before I had, To see inside that tunnel I would need a long ladder and that would not fit in my slingbag.

There was an interesting little brick hut next to the tunnel with a pipe leading to the roof, but I have no way of knowing what it was in aid of, although I suspect it may have had something to do with signalling.

Then it was time to leave this remnant of the railways and head off towards town and lunch. I had achieved what I had set out to do and that was great. I could now plot that railway almost to Ashchurch Station, I just had to find one more illusive item. 

I crossed to the bank of the Avon and took a quick pic of the King John’s Bridge which was commissioned by King John in the late 12th century.

and a strange dredger called Canopus. 

and finally a gap in the former railway embankment that leads to the tunnel. 

and then home was in sight. 

It had been a long walk, and I am tired and sore. I am afraid I will have to stop taking these extended walks because recovering from them is long. Fortunately tomorrow is a bank holiday so I can take it easy, but I may just head out to….

DRW 2016-2017. Created 26/12/2016

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 19:17

100 Years of Delville Wood.

The Battle of Delville Wood lasted from 15 July – 3 September 1916, however, South Africans commemorate the portion of the battle where the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was involved in, and that runs from the 15th till 20th of July.

My late grandfather was one of the men who entered that wood on the 15th, and today, 100 years later I cannot quite picture him with his mates digging shallow scrapes in the tree root entangled earth  of the wood. I cannot imagine him experiencing the bombardment that the Germans threw at that small portion of France, at times as high as 400 shells a minute. I cannot imagine him fighting hand to hand with Germans, and most of all I cannot even begin to imagine what the wood looked like when his comrades staggered out of it on the 20th. He was luckier than most because he was evacuated on the 18th with a shoulder wound, and as a result I am here today.

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic  Aug 19, 1916)

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic Aug 19, 1916)

I have never had the privilege of visiting the wood myself,  but I have had the privilege of sorting through over 113000 record cards from World War One and photographing nearly 8500 of them.  I would come across a lot of cards where the soldier in question had died in the wood and it was really a sobering glimpse at what we lost as a country in the month of July 1916. 

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

However, when compared against the overall slaughter of The Somme, our casualties are mere drops in an ocean of dead soldiers. And once the last survivor had passed on Delville Wood seemed to have been finally forgotten by South Africa. The Delville Wood Memorial in France is really one that very few South Africans will visit, although I believe it is a very beautiful place.

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

Yet, there are still many who ask about those who fought in that hell of a battle, they ask the same questions as I do, and possibly cannot picture the same things that have plagued me over the years. 

In fact Delville Wood has always been contentious in our national psyche, it is untouchable because of the blood that was shed and that small part of France that is really a small part of South Africa now. Many of those who died in the wood have no known grave, they are names on a memorial, their physical bodies vaporised or smashed to pieces in the barrage of steel:  the wood is still the real cemetery for Delville Wood.

In 2014, the remains of Private Myengwa Beleza, a black soldier, was re-interred at the memorial and in 2016, a new Roll of Honour was unveiled to honour all those South Africans who lost their lives in the First World War, and to ensure that the role played by South Africans of all races in the First and Second World Wars was accorded the necessary recognition. A new Garden of Remembrance was to be created for those who fell but whose remains were never recovered.

The list of of all South Africans who died during the battle of Delville Wood 15/20 July 1916. It lists all those who died in France. Of note, many of them are listed as having a date of death (particularly the 3rd Regt. SAI) of 1 August 1916. It wasn’t until that date a roll could be completed. Many of the prisoners taken by the Germans at Delville Wood were originally on the roll until the Red Cross could determine who had actually died in the battle. 

A SOLDIER’S SONG

Lt Frederick Carruthers Cornell, S. Africa Native Labour Corps

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The German foe in thousands lay,
And no-man’s land, with British blood,
Ran red as wine that summer’s day
We’d sworn to take it – and we would!
 

God help the Bosche in Delville Wood!
To Delville Wood – to Delville Wood,
We faced his fire, and forced our way
To where his grim machine guns stood,
And where he fiercely turned at bay –
We’d sworn to beat him – and we would!
We’d turn him out of Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
As inch by inch the ground was gained,
With bullet, steel, and smashing butt.
We fought and fell, till few remained;
But Boer and Briton steadfast stood,
For Freedom’s sake – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
Midst splintered trees and shattered wrack,
From morn till night we still made good
Gainst shot and shell and massed attack,
We’d sworn to win, so firm we stood –
Or died like men – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The shattered trees are green with leaves,
And flowers bloom where cannons stood,
And rich the fields with golden sheaves –
Sleep soft ye dead, for God is good –
And Peace has come to Delville Wood!

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 15/07/2016. 2 Images by Brian Roberts, “In Vlaandere se Velde” courtesy of Karen Dickens.  

 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:09
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