Occasionally their lives would be cut short by disease or illness; childhood diseases like measles or diphtheria were often fatal to a young child, and while their gravestones very rarely mention their causes of death, you can only imagine the heartbreak that must have existed in the household when a baby or toddler was taken from them. In some cases more than one child is remembered on a headstone, and often a parent may be remembered on the child’s headstone.
Equally poignant are the small statues that often decorate the half sized graves, statues that usually are the first to be vandalised, and in some cases there are rows of beheaded statues in children’s plots, or small porcelain feet are all that is left of the cherub or angel that once adorned the child’s grave. The much used “never forgotten” phrase is also common, but in many of the cases not only are the parents of those children long departed themselves, but, even the next generation are well into their middle ages and the existence of these children is now in the realm of the genealogist or, a curious gravehunter like myself.
Of course childhood deaths can be seen in any cemetery, there is a large plot in Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery where many stillborns or babies are buried in unmarked graves. And while their burial is recorded in the register, there is no real way to know the grave numbers as these have been lost/stolen over the years. By the same token, a large section in Brixton Cemetery is given over to children’s graves, and many of those are marked in the register as “unknown”. Lives that came about and never saw fruition.
My final thought goes to the many thousands of children who were lost in the concentration camps during the Boer War, or in any conflict for that matter. Their lives should not have been about struggling or pain, but about experiencing the joy of childhood and the smiles and love of parents.
I am not finished with “Pookety” yet, I hope to identify the grave one day, and I hope to stop by at Baby Sol’s grave, and visit Claire again, and I will pass the memorial to the children that died in the Westdene bus disaster, and pause to photograph an angel, and read a faded inscription, and get all soppy and sentimental because often those silent memorials speak more to me than any elaborate granite monolith ever can.
I returned to Burgershoop on 17 September 2012 and catalogued the graves around Pookety, and after consulting the register I am about 98% sure that the grave is that of Gerald Norval Allen Watt, aged 6 months, buried in grave J1546, on 17 January 1918.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016