Tag: SADF

Return to West Park

My very first war grave photography for the South African War Graves Project happened in 2005 according to the file information that I got from the images that I took. 

It is hard to believe that so many years later I would be standing in front of the CWGC Plot in West Park Cemetery ready to do it all again. 

I was never really happy with my original images, my camera back then was not the world greatest, and to be frank I messed the first row up badly and ended up redoing it at least twice. I now have over 10000 war graves to my name and am probably much better at taking war grave images now.

The layout of the plot has not changed and my map from back then is still relevant today.

The major difference was that I was going to photograph the whole plot in a morning instead of over a few days. 

L/Cpl Lucas is grave number one in the plot.

And once the first image is taken it is really a continuous process that is only interrupted when a shrub gets in your way.

The plot is looking very beautiful, the grass is cut and the beds are planted and tended, and that is very different from when I was first here in 2005. Back then the grass was dry as it was winter, whereas it is now April and heading into Autumn in South Africa. Make no mistake, it was a hot day! In fact the weather on this day was very similar to that predicted for the rest of the week, although by Friday I will hopefully be back in the UK.

There is something about the symmetry of this plot that I find fascinating,  

There is also a cremation memorial behind the Cross of Sacrifice and it commemorates those who were cremated.

And behind the plot is a small SADF/SANDF plot where a number of soldiers are buried. You can see the memorial to the right of the big tree. There are quite a few Border War casualties that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, and I spent many hours over the years looking for them. 

You can see the original graves as well as the newer additions to the plot of graves of members of the SANDF. Once the graves were photographed I moved across to the Police Plot which is a bit deeper into the cemetery. Sadly there have been a few new additions to the plot, and that is never a good thing, especially when a the policeman is killed in the line of duty.

However, before I photographed the war graves, I had stopped at the “Heroes Acre” area of the cemetery to see if there had been any changes, and of course I was curious to see the grave of Ahmed Kathrada and Joe Mafela. They had been buried 3 days prior to this so the odds of a headstone were small.

Admittedly, many of the names on those headstones are not known to me, but some are, and a number of them touch a chord. None more so than Nkosi Johnson. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child, and the furor that was created when he tried to attend school really opened many eyes in South Africa.

Right opposite that area is the Westdene Bus Disaster Memorial and graves. In 2012 I had photographed them all and was saddened to see how they had been vandalised. It was the anniversary on 27 March and yet there is still a very raw wound around the disaster. I was able to get new images and shall process them and pass them onwards to eggsa for updating. 

The last bit of graving that I did in West Park was to re-photograph some of the graves in the EC section (English Church). It was really a case of having better quality images because my early images were not as good as they are today. Does a new camera make a difference? certainly, and of course the right lighting does help too. Unfortunately I now struggle with getting down to take the image, actually, I struggle to stand up. 

It was time to go home and I bid the cemetery goodbye and drove out the gate. I have 800 images to process, and they will show the difference between 2005 and 2017, assuming that there is one. Will I return one day? if I am in the country and I have transportation I probably will. It is important to monitor the condition of the graves, although CWGC does tend the graves under their care, and City Parks does look after this large space. And while the cemetery does have its moments it is not a great one like Braamfontein and Brixton where the weight of ages is heavy. In the almost 3 years I have been away quite a few open spaces have been filled, and technically the map that I drew many years ago has changed quite a lot since I started it. 

Maybe one day I shall complete it, but not today. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/04/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:51

Two comma four

On Sunday afternoon there was a post on Facebook about the dreaded “Two comma Four” that was used as the standard fitness test in the SADF waaaay back when I was a conscript in 1980/81. The cut off time was 12 minutes and the first 2,4 we ran in 3SAI was in pt shorts and takkies. I remember it well, we had a one pip loot that would mark the turning around point (theoretically 1200 metres away) and then we would be on the downhill stretch. On your marks, get set… fokof! 
 
And so it started. A regular test of our fitness levels, and in 61 Mech it was compulsory for everybody to run it, whereas in basics only us roofies seemed to run it. We ran and ran and ran and ran and ran, further and faster than we had ever run before. Far from the perimeter fence of our high school and the the 3 rugby fields that we sometimes ran during PT. Far from Phineas Mackintosh Park in Mayfair where we tried to fitten up for the army in those last days of our school careers. That road was endless, and there was no sign of that sodding lieutenant! At some point we realised he was not there and we started to turn around and run back to the start line. I seem to recall walking a bit, but coming in at  under 13 minutes. 
 
 
We ran that 2,4 twice in PT gear, after that we did it in “Staaldak, webbing en geweer” which weighed a gazillion kilos and which became second nature to us, almost like a pair of underpants but heavier and on the outside. I know my times improved dramatically, and by the time I moved to Kimberly and 11 Commando could easily run it in under 12 minutes. That course took us through the middle of the camp and around the one parade ground, still in staaldak, webbing en geweer. 
 
 
When I ended up at Jan Kemp Dorp our fitness dropped, and our stamina was more in keeping with 4 hours of guard duty. Those were fun days, although in winter we really suffered. Shortly before we left some of us started to run the 2,4 for fun, and even then could do it under 12 minutes.  
 
The next major run we did was shortly before we went to the border when the whole company ran 3,6 kilometres in De Brug, and I believe we all made it under the allotted time, but we were buggered by the time we had done it. 
 
When we hit the border we used to run the chalk road from our tents to the tar road and back first thing in the morning (about 3,8 kilos). It was hell, partly because of the blistering pace and the early morning heat, but also because we ran it as a squad and that was difficult. When we got back to our tents we would then have inspection and company parade and those meticulously shone boots were all white from the morning run in that chalk road. 
It was hell. 
Trust me on this.
 
Today? I would probably not even manage 1 kilometre, although I am very walking fit. I was never a runner, and I never will be.
 
ps. cpl Slegter, cpl Strydom, and cpl Akker: you three are a bunch of “obscenity delete-eds”
 
DRW © 2016 – 2019 The image of the platoon running comes from social media, I do not know who it belongs to, but wanted to use it as it is very representative of what we faced back them. If the photographer will come forward I will gladly acknowledge you. 
 
Updated: 21/11/2019 — 18:34

Completing the Cards

Followers of this blog may recall my post from 24 May 2012 “Reading the cards”  At the time when I wrote it we were facing the seemingly mammoth task of trying to find record cards for as many South African World War One casualties as we could.  It seemed like a daunting task. There were 339 drawers, each filled with roughly 700 cards. Theoretically they were in alphabetical order, and theoretically each should have had an indication of the servicemen/women’s status.

 

Today, on 9 January 2013, we closed the drawers for the last time. The number stamped on the last card was 113906. Between my partner and myself we photographed about 8500 cards of individual people, equating to just over 174 drawers each. In my case I did 30 trips to Pretoria and back to do it, driving to Marlboro and catching the Gautrain to Pretoria. The only real glitch in our routine was over December when the office was closed on the one day we were there. 

 
One thing that these cards did was provide a unique glimpse into the lives of a wide spectrum of people from that era. I was always fascinated by how many people lived in Johannesburg City centre, and how many lived in my old stomping grounds in Mayfair. I found the card of one of the early ministers of the church I attended, as well as the card of somebody that lived in the house I used to own in Turffontein. 
 
It was not all honey and roses though. Most of the cards provide a glimpse into the service record of the soldiers, often recording their misdemeanours, illnesses, deaths and burials. Often the medical side makes for shocking reading, and yet it sometimes makes you rejoice to read about a severely wounded soldier finally being discharged after a long period in hospital. Bad boys also got their comeuppance, with punishment records often containing multiple sins and omissions. 
 
There were many events that are milestones that I looked for. The sinking of the Galway Castle and Mendi,  The Battle of Delville Wood, and the 1914 Rebellion and South West African Campaign. I also discovered the Hex River derailment, and the horrific losses through diseases such as Enteric and Blackwater Fever, Malaria and Influenza. I also saw the men that were escorted home suffering from dementia, heart complaints, TB and alcoholism.  And I saw the many that died in late 1918, just a few months before the end of the war.  The flu epidemic of 1918 decimated the ex-soldiers, many of whom were still suffering the ill effects of their military service.
 
It has been a magnificent project. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had. It really needs an actuary to look at these cards and make some sort of sense out of the data in them. My one regret is that we were not able to photograph all of the cards because they really need to be preserved.  We still need to extract a lot of information from the cards and I hope that we will be able to add a number of previously unrecognised casualties to the Roll of Honour from WW1. And, I hope that one day somebody will look back at this achievement and use it to keep the memory alive of those who never came home. 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated and link fixed 26/03/2016
 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 16:06
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