War Grave photography can be a very rewarding experience, with highs and lows, and many times you are left shaking your head or just feeling angry with what you see. My post today is one that finally had closure for me after many years.
I was “responsible” for many of the original photographs that we have on the South African War Graves website that covered the cemeteries and memorials in and around Johannesburg and a few other places in Gauteng. I found it very satisfying to do and it did help me when I was suffering from an extreme case of “cabin fever” in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately though, many casualties had slipped between the cracks when the South African Roll of Honour was being compiled. Apparently the person responsible for that job was stricken with Spanish Flu and passed away, and the unfinished ROH was adopted and the files of those who had not been processed were stuck on a shelf.
In 2012 we started the record card project in an effort to photograph as many of the WW1 record cards as possible. The end goal being to submit the names of those who had slipped through the cracks to the CWGC and ultimately to have them added to the ROH. When Ralph and Terry started to submit names for inclusion to the CWGC, one of the graves I went to find was that of PAULINE HERMIONE EMILY PAFF, a Probationer Nurse with the South African Military Nursing Service. She died of pneumonia and influenza, at Johannesburg Hospital on 20 October 1918 and was omitted from the ROH.
She is buried in Brixton Cemetery in the “EC” section (“English Church”) although that does not necessarily mean that the grave would be easy to find. Brixton is a big cemetery and there are very few grave numbers/markers and no real coherent plan of what is where. Fortunately I know the cemetery quite well and because I photographed the war graves can identify a section based on known graves. Pauline’s grave was close to the fence of the Jewish section and a few graves close to where I was stung by a bee in 2009. By the time I left South Africa in 2013 no headstone had been erected although she had been approved for inclusion in the ROH and on the CWGC lists for South Africa.
This past week Sarah Welham Dove was able to send me a photograph of her headstone and I was finally able to get closure over this grave. Pauline has been remembered and no longer does she rest in an unmarked space in a cemetery that is rapidly deteriorating due to indifference.
I am also hoping that in the intervening years a headstone has been erected for Chris Charles Doak in Braamfontein too, although there was a dispute about where he was buried. He was somewhat of a troubled chap and died as a result of an overdose of morphine. Hopefully one day I will be able to display his grave here too. Irrespective of whether they died by misadventure of through no fault of their own each is important, and that is why we were out there taking the photographs.
Rest n Peace Pauline and Chris and all those who we are still waiting for an answer on.
The last time I was in Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol was October 2015, and on that visit I discovered that the original ledger stones had been installed on what is known as “Soldier’s Corner”. This area was established by the Bristol Red Cross who placed the original ledger stones on the graves in the 1920’s. Many plots have more than one soldier buried in them so there are multiple names on some stones. However, the ledger stones were not maintained by the CWGC although the screen wall behind them was.
At some point the ledger stones were removed from the plot and stored underneath the Anglican Chapel where they were rediscovered, along with the original cross that used to be mounted on the plot. It was decided to re-install them, although many were broken or damaged and some were missing altogether. It was these restored stones that I went and photographed in 2015.
Wind forward to December 2017, the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and CWGC came to an agreement about the restoration of Soldier’s Corner, that involved replacing some stones, repairing and cleaning others and re-turfing the plot, thereby restoring it to what it may have looked like in the 1920’s. The project was completed on 8 December 2018 and the unveiling of the plot was to coincide with the unveiling of the new headstone for Private William Walker, AIF, who died in Bristol on 11 December 1918. I had been in contact with the family of Private Walker due to my work with Lives of the First World War and was invited to attend the unveiling and meet the faces behind the emails, I am however not related to the family in spite of my surname.
And that is the background to why I was about to head off to Bristol on this cloudy, windy, damp and dodgy Saturday.
My major concerns for the day were twofold: weather and timing. The weather had been clearing in Tewkesbury when I left, but the forecast for Bristol was 50% chance of rain. The rising sun made a rare appearance for me, signifying that I needed to make the trip.
When I did the navigation for the trip I was concerned that the service was only starting at 2pm, and I had two options on trains, 14H45 or 15H00, the next trains were nearly 2 hours later, and anything after that was just out. I really had to watch my timing very carefully. Unfortunately though Bath was holding some sort of market and when the train got to Cheltenham it was swamped. To make matters worse it was only a 2 coach train and it filled even more when we reached Gloucester, and even more as we neared Bristol. It was so bad that the train ended up standing longer at each station as people struggled to board or get off. It was a tight squeeze as you can see from my image below at Bristol Temple Meads.
I had planned on grabbing a taxi at Temple Meads but the roadworks in front of the station caused the taxi queue to stand still. It took me less time to walk out of the station and to the road than it did for a taxi that had a fare. It is roughly 20- 30 minutes walk to the cemetery depending on how many detours I make, but on this day I made none because I was already running 20 minutes late. I had a list of 77 graves that were still outstanding from Arnos Vale and I was hoping to at least find a few of them between when I arrived and when I had to attend the function. However, I had forgotten what Arnos Vale was like. For starters it is a very hilly place and very overgrown in parts.
Recent rains had also made the going very treacherous in places so I would have to try to stick to paths where possible. The odd thing is that once I was in the cemetery and ready to search I could feel the old sensations of enjoyment come back. I used to love walking these cemeteries but have cut down considerably on them because of my own mobility issues these past 2 years. When Summer comes it is Arnos Vale and I!
Soldiers Corner was looking so much better than it had since I had last seen it. Compare the image below with the one at the top of the page.
There were two people busy planting flags and planning for the event, and after comparing notes I tackled the 82 ledger stones that I had to photograph.
Amongst the stones that was replaced was number 674, which is the grave of A Dowling, AG. Lavers, PC. Mitchell, W Toogood and Jacobus Mozupe (or Molupe). A South African, he died in Bristol on 28 August 1917 and he shares his grave with 4 others. Unfortunately the ledger stone for 674 was not amongst those reinstalled in 2015 and he was now afforded a proper marker just like those around him.
The grave on the left is 674, while the grave on the right (675) is for HG Jones, GW. Turner, M Modlala (Madhlala), W Podmore and WT. Hellier. Gunner Jones and Private Madhlala are both South Africans, of which there are 5 tagged to Arnos Vale.
The family gathering I was attending was being held in the former Anglican Chapel which also has a small crypt beneath it. This is an image I took of it a few years back.
I did manage to peek inside it in 2015, although this time around it did not have all the trappings of a wedding reception. I always wonder what it looked like way back when it was being used for its original purpose.
The family gathering was interesting, because it did bring through that you really needed a bit of genealogist in you to be able to fully appreciate the lives of those who are buried all around the chapel. William Walker and his siblings are long passed on, but 100 years down the line we were able to connect to those whom he was close to and to experience the loss of a soldier that died a month after the war had ended. Twice wounded, he had spent 2 years on the Western Front and we will never really know what he went through in those two years. He has not been forgotten though, and hopefully long after we have passed over others will remember him, and the other servicemen and women who gave their lives in the “Great War”.
I briefly went looking for the one grave I visit each time I am at Arnos Vale and this time I was determined to identify her.
Her name was Lillian Sarah Radford, and she was 2 years old when she passed away on 9 March 1902 and she was the daughter of George and Lillian Radford. Her statue is beautiful, and if you don’t know where she is you won’t find her. The 1901 census records that she was born in Bristol in 1899 and was the youngest of 3 children
Crunch time was rapidly approaching and I had to make a decision whether to stay for the service or not and I decided to leave as it was just too risky with the train situation. I was not in the mood to get stranded in Bristol, and after a quick look around I turned my bows for home. People were arriving all the time and I even spotted a representative from South Africa, and that made up for me leaving.
It had been quite an emotional trip, as these things usually are, because no matter how many times I see war graves I can never forget that each was connected to 2 other people, and each was affected by the deaths of that loved one, often in a foreign country far away.
The seven images below are reproduced courtesy of Julian Walker and the CWGC
When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.
It is strange to see how so many countries were represented at this service, how strangers all came together to remember a soldier who lost his life so long ago. Looking at the images above I was struck by how smart the military personnel were, and how important that wreath laying is. As civilians we often forget that when large scale trouble does occur these are the men and women who are in the forefront, and who will lay down their lives for their countries and loved ones. That was also true for the men and women way back in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
The road to the station is a familiar one, I have walked it quite a few times, thankfully the roadworks are complete so walking on the pavement is now possible.
I took a slightly different route as I wanted to see the Avon as it was flowing very strongly, and I was not disappointed.
I also found another Gromit statue at Paintworks, although I could not identify which it was.
And of course there is a nice bridge to see on the way too. I have not gotten a name for this one yet, and it does feature in my Banana Bridge post. It does appear as if another bridge is being built in this area and it is to be called the St Philips Footbridge.
The one thing I do like about Bristol is the street art (not to be confused with those meaningless “tags” so beloved of spray paint purchasers). This pair caught my eye.
The dogs are raised from the surrounding brickwork, and while the 2nd one seems to have been ruined it really looks awesome.
One of my favourite buildings in Bristol stands just outside the station. It used to be the headquarters of the former Bristol and Exeter Railway, and was designed by Samuel Fripp and opened in 1854. Alas it is now an office complex, but it really needs to be something more grand like a hotel or museum.
At the station it appeared as if my train was still on time, and I had 10 minutes to grab some pics of the all new Class 800 Azuma that are replacing the long lived HST’s that have dominated train travel in the UK for so many years. I have been trying to get pics of these for quite some time and this time I was successful.
This interior shot was taken on my 2019 trip to Paddington Station
On the other platform 43-378 in the Cross Country livery showed these newcomers a thing or 2.
My own train arrived shortly after I hit the shutter and it was a Class 166, and these seem to be appearing more often in my viewfinder. It seemed to have originated in Malvern and not Bath so was reasonably empty, but it could quite easily have been choc-a-block had it come from the opposite direction. I was just relieved that I could get home without having to fight my way onto a train.
And then we were on our way, it started to drizzle just after we left Bristol, and of course the light was also fading and by the time I reached Ashchurch it was getting dark very fast. The sun leaves us early these days, but soon it will turn and get darker later. Winter however will still be with us for awhile.
My mission was semi complete. I had to sort and label pics and of course write this post as well as send off images to whoever needs them, then there are all those Lives that need new images in my Arnos Vale Community I will probably change things in this post too, but I will leave that till tomorrow.