One of the many cemeteries I have visited in Southampton is Netley Military Cemetery. It is associated with the former Royal Victoria Hospital, and is a very interesting cemetery in its own right, with 671 identified casualties buried there, 6 of which are South Africans. I have been there twice already, once as a solo gravehunter and the second time on a guided tour hosted by the Hamble Valley and Eastleigh Heritage Guides.
Naturally my interest is in the South Africans buried here, and they are all to be found in the larger part of the cemetery where the Cross of Sacrifice is to be found. In no particular order these are:
Private AH Collier 25 February 1916, age 17.
Private EC Garton 01 January 1916
Serjeant H Goodwin 28 September 1917, age 37
Private WH Hollis 01 January 1921 age 35
Driver AF Langford 03 June 1918
Private E Mbenyesi 25 August 1917.
Like so many casualties of these wars, we often never know the circumstances of their deaths. A few lines on a record card, or maybe a medical report in a file is the only thing that we know so many years down the line. I was very fortunate in assisting with the record card project that the South African War Graves Project undertook in 2012, so I did get to read many of these cards and the often tragic circumstances surrounding these casualties. In many cases the information is simply not recorded, or, has been lost over the years.
Private Hollis is interesting because his death occurred after World War 1 had ended. However the designated war years are from 4 August 1914 till 31 August 1921, and as such he qualified for war grave status.
But why was he still at Netley in 1921? I consulted the record cards to find an answer. He seemed to have lived in Umtata in the Transkei and worked as a storekeeper, and was part of the 2nd Regiment, South African Infantry, leaving South Africa on or about 28 February 1916. He was severely wounded in action on the 12th of September 1916 and evacuated to England on the 23rd. He was discharged to the port of embarkation on 03 July 1917, presumably for repatriation back to South Africa. He is listed as being at Maitland No2 General Hospital on 28 July 1917. On 19 September 1918 he is described as having “paralysis of the spine with no likelihood of improvement.” The gunshot wounds he received were in his legs and back, so the paralysis was directly attributable to those wounds. He was discharged from the military by a medical board on 29 March 1920, but was still at Maitland Military Hospital.
On the 23rd of April 1920 he was transferred back to England for further treatment at Netley Military Hospital, and on the 9th of July 1920 is still listed as being seriously ill with no improvement in general. On the 1st of January 1921 he finally succumbs to the effects of those wounds he got in 1916 and is buried at Netley Military Cemetery.
It was a long and probably painful period for Private Hollis, and I have no way of knowing whether his family ever saw him once he left South Africa for Netley. He became just another statistic in the long casualty roll for that war, and by now all of his immediate family have passed on. His next of kin was his brother and was listed as Edward George Hollis. Private William Henry Hollis was the the son of Edward and Elizabeth Hollis who pre-deceased him. According to his death notice he had been born at Paddington, London. In his will dated 1915, his sole heir was his sister Elizabeth Sarah Hollis, spinster of Queenstown.
I am fortunate that I can reach back from 2013 to 1921 and record the last few years of William Henry Hollis, and the circumstances of his death so far from home. I do not understand why they sent him back to Netley in the first place. The sea voyage from the Cape to Southampton would have taken at least two weeks, and he spent just over 8 months at the hospital with its view over Southampton Water. But, I think he would have really preferred to have seen the views back in the Transkei where he came from.
Rest in Peace Private Hollis. Your duty has long been done.
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 10/04/2016, additional information added 17/01/2018. With thanks to Maureen Loftie-Eaton McCleland.