Remembering Pauline

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. 

Gravesite in 2008


DRW © 2020. Created 21/06/2020. Thanks to Sarah Welham Dove for the image.

OTD: The Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion

One of the many events that occurred in the fledgling city of Johannesburg was the Dynamite Explosion that occurred on 19 February 1896 at Braamfontein Station. A memorial was erected in Braamfontein Cemetery to commemorate the event, and the over 70 people that lost their lives in it. An explosives train, carrying dynamite, had been left standing for 3 days in searing heat in what was then Braamfontein goods yard; the massive explosion occurred when this train was struck by another that was shunting. It left a crater over 60 m long and 8 m deep and was heard 200 km away. The exact number of casualties was never ascertained, and over 200 people were seriously injured. Some 3 000 people lost their homes and almost every window in the town was shattered. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact site where the explosion occurred but a period map puts it on the bend where Braamfontein Vapour Depot now stands.

I have spotted at least 5 physical graves in Braamfontein cemetery that have explosion related inscriptions on them, and it is probable that most of the casualties are buried in this cemetery, the majority of the funerals being held on the 20th and 21st of February. I can physically identify 46 names in the registers as being marked as “dynamite explosion”, and all are buried in the DR section. There is also supposedly a mass grave in this plot where unidentified severed limbs are buried.


Apart from the devastation that the explosion created, it would have also tested the fledgling cities ability to manage a disaster of this magnitude. Braamfontein Cemetery was relatively new when this happened and it would be here that the victims were buried. It is certain that there were African victims too, and they are also probably buried here in an area that has been ploughed under. I was not able to check against the register because I did not find a register for that area. There may also be victims buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery, but the register for that was not available at the time.  It is an interesting piece of history though, albeit one that has been almost forgotten.

DR Walker ©  2011-2020. Recreated and expanded 23/05/2016. 

Visiting Winston

While doing the navigation for Oxford I realised that it was not too difficult to visit the grave of Sir Winston Churchill in Bladon. He is buried in the churchyard of the Parish Church of St Martin in Bladon (Google Earth co-ordinates 51.830287°, -1.349588°) and the closest station to the church is Hanborough which co-incidentally is the stop before Oxford. By my estimates it was about a 1,8 km walk and I could do a round trip to the grave in 2 hours. The problem was: the trains to Oxford and back only run one per hour and they are typically 25 minutes apart. I could bail at Hanborough, do my graving and head back to Evesham, or I could continue onwards to Oxford depending in the time. It was something that I would only be able to decide when I was there.

I decided to do the trip on the 24th and it was a stinker of a day, with temps of 29 degrees and upwards. I caught my usual train and it was reasonably full, and got even worse when we arrived at Hanborough at 10.11.

Hanborough Station

I was hoping that there would be a taxi at the station but I was out of luck and I would have to hoof it. Fortunately there is a pavement so I did not need to do any bundu bashing.

Roughly at the midpoint the road crosses the River Evenlode and runs parallel with the River Glyme too although you cannot see the latter.  The Evenlode was originally called the Bladene and the village is named after it, although it appears in the Domesday Book as Blade.

River Evenlode

And then I started to approach houses, and in the distance the spire of the church showed me the way.

The church is on a rise with a steep path leading from the road. A lychgate is at the entrance to the church grounds.

and there she is. The Parish Church of St Martin, Bladon.

The Churchill family plot is on the other side of the church and there are quite a few members of the family buried in the plot (you can actually see it on Google Earth).

Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874. Grandson of the 7th Duke, he was also a close friend of the 9th Duke and Duchess. Winston spent a considerable amount of time at the Palace throughout his life and proposed to his wife Clementine in the Temple of Diana at the palace. Both are buried in the family plot below.

And the grave of Sir Winston Churchill. 

Unfortunately there were other people at the plot and I wondered around waiting for them to leave. The churchyard is quite large but legibility of the graves is very poor. I did not really hunt down any military graves, but just walked through the burial area before returning to the plot which was still not cleared of people.  

I was thinking on the train about how I would feel about seeing this grave, I am somewhat of a fan of Sir Winston for his actions during the Blitz, but am no fan of his disastrous Gallipoli campaign  in the First World War. He was also not very popular with Afrikaners for his participation and capture in the Anglo Boer War, but then they hate anything English anyway. As it turns out I did not spend time at the grave as time was my real deciding factor. The church was open for visitors and I strolled inside, only to be confronted by the same people. The organist was also busy playing although he did seem to hit a few wrong notes.

The present building appears to have been considered around 1802 when the Bishop of Oxford was petitioned by the villagers of Bladon to grant them a new church as the old one was dilapidated and falling down. The new church was opened in 1804 and the building materials were paid for by the fourth Duke of Marlborough. It was extensively reconstructed in 1891 and the lychgate was built in 1893.

There is a small display about the burial and life of Sir Winston, and it appears as if he had a very strong connection to the church. A stained glass window commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death and it was unveiled by the Duchess of Cornwall on 09 June 2015

And then it was time to leave as I needed to plan my return to the station and I still had at least a 25 minute walk ahead of me. 

In earlier year the village of Bladon was involved in glovemaking and the quarrying of stone, much of which was used in the construction of the buildings in Oxford, and nearby Blenheim Palace, the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Bladon does appear in the Domesday Book too.

  • Hundred: Wootton
  • County: Oxfordshire
  • Total population: 28 households (quite large).
  • Total tax assessed: 5 geld units (quite large)
  • Taxable units: Taxable value 5 geld units. Payments of 0.5 miscellaneous.
  • Value: Value to lord in 1066 £6. Value to lord in 1086 £6.
  • Households: 8 villagers. 18 smallholders. 2 slaves.
  • Ploughland: 7 ploughlands (land for). 2 lord’s plough teams. 3 men’s plough teams.
  • Other resources: Meadow 14 acres. Woodland 1 * 0.5 leagues. 2 mills, value 0.7.
  • Lord in 1086: Adam (son of Hubert).
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

(Domesday Book images are available under the CC-BY-SA licence, and are credited to Professor John Palmer and George Slater )

I discovered the village War Memorial just past the church and quickly grabbed some pics of it while I could. 

and then a quick look to the left…

and a turn to the right and I was on my way again. 

I had 3 choices ahead of me. It was unlikely that I would make the 11:11 train to Oxford, but would be in time for the 11.33 train back to Evesham. I could also catch the 12.33 train back to Evesham and use the spare hour to look over the Oxford Bus Museum that was next to the station. (assuming it was open). However, as things turned out I arrived at the station at the same time as the 11.11 train so I decided to grab it and continue onwards to Oxford where we will continue our exploration of that great city. 

DRW © 2019. Created 23/08/2019. Domesday Book images are available under the CC-BY-SA licence, and are credited to Professor John Palmer and George Slater