Tag: Pretoria

Reading the Cards

One of the biggest problems that The South African War Graves Project has with the Roll of Honour for South Africa, are inaccuracies and omissions. Given that there was a war on, and given the authorities tendency to overlook portions of the population it is no wonder that we need to access the cards for individual servicemen.  
There are roughly 11000+ cards for World War 1 alone, and each has to be examined for the crucial rubber stamp that indicates where the servicemen/women ended up. There are a number of stamps in use. “WOUNDED IN ACTION, KILLED IN ACTION, DIED OF WOUNDS, MISSING, DEATH ACCEPTED ON OR SINCE, DIED; and possibly a few others that I have left out.  
Ironically, the stamp that does not interest us is the one that reads “DISCHARGED“.   Occasionally we will find one that has “PRISONER OF WAR” on it, followed by “REPATRIATED“, this is one that bears scrutiny as repatriated POW’s could die of influenza in 1918 or as a result of their war service.
The  cards also provide a fascinating glimpse of the military mind and the way that it’s system worked during World War 1. When I first saw “Discharged: Dentally Unfit” I thought there was typo on the card, but later on I found more like it, and on a few occasions servicemen being discharged for refusing dental treatment. It does leave me pondering the quality of military dental practioners, as well as the state of the teeth of some of the men involved. On some of the records are long paragraphs about punishment received for infringements of military discipline. These can range from being docked  3 days pay, up to 14 days “confined to barracks” or being discharged completely from service.  The usual incidents warranting such punishment ranged from loosing a piece of equipment, to being absent from parade, drunkedness, or disobeying a “superior” officer.  One incident did stick in my mind and that was “being in possession of a towel“. 
Some of the cards tell unique stories, the case of the man promoted to temporary Lieutenant in October, and loosing his life in February of the next year. Or the man who died of dysentry while waiting for a ship to repatriate him back to South Africa. Or the man that died during the voyage home and who was buried at sea; there is a story behind each one of these cards.
A few things stick in my mind though, many servicemen died of malaria, blackwater fever, enteric fever and dysentry as a result of their service in the East African Campaign. Many survived to return home, only to be struck down by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Some were discharged after the South West African Campaign, only to re-attest and then get killed in France.  Many would die later as a direct result of their service in the military, and some would attest once again when called upon during World War 2. Most of the cards that I photographed tie into a grave, or into a name on a memorial.
Of interest to myself is the names of troopships that carried these men back and forth, many were Union-Castle Line vessels and their names would have been familiar to those who were ship watchers on our coast.  I have yet to find the name Mendi on any of those cards, but it is early days yet.
Irrespective of their military achievements, each one of these was an individual. Some had wives and children, all had mothers, some were poor, some were middle class, some were of African extraction, some were of European extraction. Many of their lives were cut short in a war that probably was not really necessary. That war would change the face of Europe and would be followed by an even greater carnage in 1939. Once again the military machine would haul out its pens and cards and start all over again, creating records of lives that were in their keeping until the day they were filed away with that rubber stamp.     

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016

The Gautrain and Pretoria. 22-09-2011

Better late than never. On 22 September I had to go to Sandton. Everybody knows I hate going to Sandton. That traffic drives me completely and utterly insane. However, nowadays you can drop your car in Marlboro, and then catch the Gautrain to Sandton. I decided on this option, although a slight deviation via Pretoria would be made after my appointment. Twas supposedly car free day too, but the traffic, once again, was standing on the highway.

The Gautrain at Marlboro

By 11.30 I was heading to Pretoria from Sandton. I had already done the Rhodesfield trip before so wasn’t really a stranger to our own HST. It’s all slick and polished and a tad uneventful hurtling along at 160kph. I had been lucky enough to ride the Pendolino in the UK and that was amazing because of the traction motor noise. Gautrain is quieter.  In spite of all this the trip went smoothly, infinitely better than trying to dodge mad taxis on the highways and byways.

I had no real plan for Pretoria, in fact the original intention was to ride to Hatfield and then come back, but once we hit PTA I decided to head out to Church Square and check out the statues and buildings.  
Pretoria Station in itself is a piece of history, my last journey through here had been in 1981 when I was in the army. Today it has changed considerably, gone are the railway coaches and steam engine, replaced by security and unfamiliar signage. Its still a pretty building though, and well worth seeing on its own.

Stitched image of PTA Station

I passed the old Victoria Hotel, which looks so out of place. Its a wonderful old structure though, and was supposedly completed in 1895. 
Continuing up Paul Kruger Street, I came to Pretorius Square with its 3 statues and town hall building that is a magnificent edifice all on its own. A beautiful statue of Chief Tshwane fronts it today, and that gives it an almost ironic feel.

Church Square did not disappoint. Its a beautiful space, surrounded by historic buildings, trees, and dominated by Oom Paul and his 4 sentries. Sammy Marks probably would have approved at what his creation looks like, however whether Oom Paul would is another story. Paul Kruger seems to have found some sort of tacit acceptance amongst those who now use this space.  At any rate, the pigeons still enjoy visiting his hat. 

Church Square looking towards Paul Kruger

The Palace of Justice

The Old Raadsaal building

When it comes to magnificent buildings I don’t think you get any better than the Old Raadsaal building or the Palace of Justice. They are absolutely beautiful, and definitely make the square. Of course there are other buildings there that are as stately and from another age, but those two just crown them all. 

Then it was time to head off home, my mission accomplished. Looking back though, I should have explored the east side of the square, and taken more time to try find some of the other significant sites in that immediate area. 
I was fortunate to be able to grab the next train heading south and didn’t have a 20 minute wait. And, on the drive home from Marlboro the robots were all dead along William Nicol Drive. Traffic was backed up onto the highway for at least 2 kilos. Had I gone through to Sandton by car I would still have been sitting in traffic! Car free day my eye.

Gautrain at Sandton Station

The one final comment worth noting is that Gautrain’s biggest asset is its staff. They are really great and I just hope that they don’t go down the road of surely, unhelpful and apathetic.

May 2012: An update to this post. Since this was written originally, there has been a change of policy with regards to photography of the Gautrain, it is no longer welcomed and expect to be accosted by security guards if you haul out your camera. Apparently this was always the “policy” although when Gautrain originally opened photographers were encouraged. It seems as if the whip has now been cracked. My comment about the staff still holds partly true though, although some of the security guards are becoming very officious. 

DRW © 2011-2018. 

Friends of the Rail to Cullinan

I had always had a hunkering to go on a Friends of the Rail trip, but never seemed to do it, until one day Reefsteamers was offered seats on the 150th Celebration of Steam Railways in South Africa trip to Cullinan.
This trip took place on 26 September 2010 from Hermanstad to Cullinan, and I was really looking forward to seeing their train as it had magnificent vintage slam door suburban coaches. I had always wanted to ride in one of them and this was my chance.
The loco up front was 19D-2650 “Cheugnette”. We were blessed with great weather were soon ready to go.

Friends of the Rail (aka FotR) operates out of Hermanstad in Pretoria, and they have a very nice collection of rolling stock and loco’s at their disposal. Unfortunately though, Pretoria is a bit out of my range, and I had only visited their site once before (and nobody had been home).

And then we were off. I do not know the route that the train takes, although I do recall we went past Capital Park and Hercules, although where they fit into it is beyond me. I had also never ridden behind a 19D and she was really romping up front, she had a wonderful whistle too and the coaches were a pleasure to travel in.


At some point we stopped. The line is a busy commuter line too, and naturally precedence is given to Metrorail. We were passed by a 10M5 here, and it was interesting to see the difference between two the generations of suburban traction.


From here we had a clean run to Reyton where we collected the Staff which gave us permission to use that line. A few years ago a 15F operated by FotR derailed on the way to Cullinan after sleeper theft, but we were fortunate that all sleepers were intact as we wound our way into the sleepy mining town.

Once we were alongside a short ceremony was held to celebrate the 150th Celebration of Steam Railways in South Africa. It also gave me an opportunity to have a look at the whole train without a platform in the way. Unfortunately the light post I could do nothing about.

 And there were photo opportunities with Cheugnette.


At this point I headed off to the local cemetery and to do some sight seeing. The town isn’t really very big, and one of the major attractions is a large hole (and you cannot even see that properly).  There is also a very strong military heritage to the town, but I did not have the time to explore it.



I soon ran out of things to see so headed back to the station where our loco was being serviced and having a drink of water.

Once that was completed she was turned around and then ran back down the line to be at the front of the train in readiness for our return.

A few last minute photo opportunities were provided and then we were ready to leave.

There were quite a few linesiders on the way back and I bet they got better pics than I did, the curvature of the track did not give me enough of a view of the loco ahead, so opportunities were few and far between. 

And of course as we got closer to Pretoria we started to encounter many of the Gautrain works that were extending to Hatfield. The Gautrain was still a few months away from being in operation, and I believe that some great images have been taken on this stretch of track of the Gautrain since it opened. 
 And there are still remnants to be seen of the old South African Railways along this route, even if they are long disused watertanks and SAR liveried coaches.
The end destination was in sight, all that was left was to shunt into the Hermanstad and disembark.
It was over. Time to head off home. I had a long drive back to Johannesburg, and it was getting dark quickly. Hopefully my GPS would not get me lost like it did last time I was here. Well done Friends of the Rail for great trip, and long may you go on preserving this heritage.
DRW ©  2010 – 2019. Images recreated 10/03/2016