musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: South African War Graves Project

Revisiting Soldier’s Corner

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 a 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.

800-031

800-317

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.

Mission accomplished. 

DRW © 2018 – 2019. Created 09/12/2018. Some images courtesy of Julian Walker and the CWGC

Updated: 28/03/2019 — 07:44

Bad teeth no bar

Many years ago when I was photographing the WW1 Record cards for the South African War Graves Project I was puzzled by the notation on some of the cards “May be rendered dentally fit in 7 days”.

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. 

That phrase stuck in my head because I could not really fathom what was going on. I do remember that prior to us going up to the Border in December 1980 our whole infantry company was marched off to the dentist up the road in the military hospital, and those who had dodgy teeth had them treated before we flew out to South West Africa (now Namibia) .

This past week revealed another link in the chain when a recruiting poster for WW1 popped up on facebook. Emblazoned in a largish font at the bottom was the advisory “Bad teeth no bar”.

Jokes abounded about how you cannot have a bar if you have bad teeth or can only visit a bar if you have good teeth.

Each time I was called up for a camp we visited the military dentist in Potch too and he noted the condition of your teeth, the reason being that if you were a casualty identification may be possible through your dental records. There was method in that madness after all. I do not know whether this was also true way back 1914,  or if it was just a ploy to gain more cannon fodder for the generals to throw into badly planned and executed attacks. I do suspect that the military back then was more concerned about not having their soldiers all going on sick leave with dodgy teeth. Dental hygiene was quite poor back then, a cavity would not be given a temporary filling followed by an even more expensive permanent one. The dentist just grabbed his biggest set of pliers and let rip! 

Military dentists were not known for their compassion, and for that matter the same could be true of some “civilian dentists”. They were doing a job and they probably saw some horrible things during the course of their day, although a mouth of rotten teeth on a living soldier was much preferable to that of the corpses that were left after a bloody battle. I believe in earlier wars the teeth of dead soldiers became the source of many pairs of false teeth. There were people who picked through the corpses and extracted teeth which they then sold off to the dodgy false teeth creator. It was a perfectly respectable way to earn a living.

My current reading matter is all about Victor/Viktor Capesius, a Romanian who served at Auschwitz and who was put on trial for his part in the “selections” alongside “men” like Josef Mengele. Mention is made in the book of the inmates who were given a pair of pliers and sent to extract the gold filled teeth of the dead, and how Capesius allegedly stole of that ill gotten gold. Given how many people died in Auschwitz the amount of gold obtained from fillings was a large amount, and while most ended up in the coffers of the Third Reich, the unscrupulous nature of the perpetrators of the horrors of genocide in the camps certainly extracted their cut too.  (The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, by Patricia Posner)

My curiosity is suitably satisfied for now, but you never know what else will pop up in the future. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 07/07/2017. Image of the military dentist was taken in Winchombe during the Wartime Weekend on the GWSR,and he most certainly was a decent fellow just doing his bit. 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:57

Photo Essay: Brixton Cemetery

On my way home on the 29th of March I detoured to Brixton Cemetery and took a quick ride through it. I did not have any real purpose, I just wanted to see it again. 

Following the recent rains the cemetery is looking beautiful so this post is really just a photo essay.

I spent many hours looking for the CWGC graves in the cemetery and in the course of my meanderings passed many really beautiful headstones.

There are a number of Angels from Brixton Cemetery in my Cemetery Angels pages on allatsea.

Left or right? Actually if you go straight you will encounter the Police Plot, left will take you to the one pedestrian gate and right will take you to the back of the Jewish Cemetery.

I took the path to the right because I was interested to see changes.  Just before I left for the UK in 2013 a lot of gravestones in the Jewish section had been vandalised and since then it has been fenced off. This image was shot over the fence.

The area to the right is a small Salvation Army plot, and the heavily wooded area is where I had my first bee sting. Bees are really just one hazard that you face when you are exploring a cemetery. Brixton has vast swathes of fencing missing and this patch of road is one of the many thoroughfares that people use to get to the other side. I never felt safe in Brixton and tended to remain close to my car all of the time.

My mini tour was coming to an end and I needed to go home, it was interesting to see a place that is so familiar yet so unfamiliar at the same time. Cemeteries are in a constant state of change thanks to nature, and they are beautiful spaces in their own right.

The cemetery is over 100 years old, having been opened in 1912 when nearby Braamfontein started to get too full, and it was in use until West Park opened in February 1940. These places are a glimpse at Johannesburg’s past, and as such should be preserved for all to see, and to provide a green lung for the city. 

My final image is of the Cross of Sacrifice that looks onto the entrance of the cemetery. It was one of the reasons why I went into there originally. The cemetery contains 124 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War and 153 from the First World War, and I am proud to say I photographed them all.

Brixton Crematorium

In 1908, Gandhi was approached to help find a suitable plot for a crematorium. He negotiated with the town council and the land was allocated in the North Western corner of the New Cemetery (later renamed Brixton Cemetery). The wood burning crematorium was built in 1918 and still stands today, although not in regular use. It was the first brick built crematorium in Africa and was built by Messrs Damania and Kalidas. It was declared a National Monument on 24 September 1995. 

 

Random images from the past.

I have seen Brixton many times before, and some of my images have never seen the light of day. Here are a few of them.

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 30/03/2017, more images added 16/04/2017  

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:51

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

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:31

Davidsonville Cemetery

Continuing on my retrospective grand tour of the West Rand Cemeteries, one of the many smaller cemeteries I visited was Davidsonville (Google Earth -26.161200°, 27.852150°).  Situated slightly west of Roodepoort a look at the map will show that this may have been a former mining area, and when mining was completed it was abandoned and left to become a low cost housing area. For want of a better description it was probably classed as a “Coloured area” by the previous government. 

This is however a dodgy area and I was unable to park inside the cemetery but I kept as close to the gate as possible. 

It is not a large space and you can see it from end to end. It was relatively sparse from a headstone point of view, and those empty spaces are probably occupied by unmarked graves. 

 

There was only one grave to find here, and it was a strange one at that. The grave is of a Corporal Harry (Henry) Schoeman, and he appeared to have three separate graves! He is listed as being buried in Old Roodepoort Cemetery, and on that headstone he is listed as being buried “Elsewhere in this cemetery”. However, he also has a headstone in Davidsonville! 

A quick look at his record reveals that he was the son of John and Hilda Schoeman; husband of Gladys Schoeman, of Roodepoort. The connection to Roodepoort is there, but I have no idea as to why he has two headstones. 

I had my pic and I split out of there very quickly. It was a Saturday when I was there so lots of people were about, and I tend to prefer sneaking in and out without too many people asking questions.  And, once the grave is photographed I rarely need to go back again unless there is another reason. Images of the graves are on the eGGSA cemetery website.

At some point between 2009 and 2011 I returned to the cemetery, as I was really redoing some of the CWGC graves. The same rules applied though, keep a low profile, park close to the gate and try not to be seen. 

I really wanted to get more headstones for eGGSA too, as many of these small cemeteries tend to never be visited. The pano gives a reasonable idea of what the cemetery looks like. 

Naturally I had to check up on Cpl Schoeman, only to find that a mound was now on the spot where his headstone was which meant that a family burial had probably happened recently.  More pics and once again I was out of the door and down the road.

However, I needed to watch this grave to see what headstone was erected. and I returned in 2011 only to find that the CWGC headstone was laying flat behind the grave and a new headstone was in its place.

The names on this headstone are not amongst those named at CWGC as being his next of kin, although he is named on the new headstone; however it could be that this was the daughter of Corporal Schoeman (Headstone engraving not shown). We will probably never know for certain unless the family comes forward with additional information. I never did get back to Roodepoort Old Cemetery to see whether there had been a change in that headstone too. We did submit the new information to the local agency of the CWGC but I do not know whether any recent changes were made to his record. Reading between the lines his headstone was replaced in 1993 with the one that was in Roodepoort Old Cemetery. Could it be that the original headstone was relocated to Davidsonville? And, where is he really buried? We may never know that answer, but the fact that he was listed on our lists meant that I went and photographed his grave, and as a result he has not been forgotten. Certainly somebody in his family remembered him and had him added to the new headstone.  

The search for Corporal Schoeman also drew me to yet another small cemetery in an area I would otherwise never visit, and that expanded our knowledge just a bit more. The frustrating thing is that we know so little about these places or the people who lived and died there. These cemeteries really give us a tantalising glimpse into the past and hopefully will remain important spaces within the communities around them. Sadly though they really become the place where the ne’er-do-wells congregate and convenient dump sites for rubbish. What a pity. 

And that was Davidsonville and I was out the door. A mighty space it was.

DRW © 2011-2018. Retrospectively created 17/07/2017, link recreated 03/03/2018

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 19:42

Maraisburg Cemetery

Amongst the many cemeteries that I photographed for the South African War Graves Project was Maraisburg Cemetery on the West Rand. There were four CWGC casualties in the cemetery, and there was also a small ABW Plot which was strange in itself.

The cemetery may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates  26° 10.874’S,  27° 56.514’E, and is very close to Maraisburg Station.

It is however worth noting that this area does have a crime problem so I was taking quite a risk being there in my own. I went through to it during my lunch break at work, the intention being to grab my pics and scarper as fast as I could once I was done. Naturally, the best made plans of mice and men often go awry

Like so many smaller cemeteries this one had fallen on hard times. Situated in what was a working class/industrial/mining area it had been neglected and left to remain in limbo, with only occasional visits by those responsible for its upkeep. The rest of the time it was the abode of tramps, drug dealers, amateur vandals and the usual n’er-do-wells. I was hoping that my flying visit would avoid all of those. The big problem was that there was only one recognisable CWGC headstone amongst them all, the other three were all private memorials so would not be that easy to find. I am certain that I did have a rough map provided by the local CWGC agency, but cannot find it at this moment 

Way back then I was still shooting with a very primitive Kodak digital camera and the images were not all that great, but it was all I could afford at the time and it served the purpose. The cemetery was divided into 2 distinct areas on either side of the road that led from the abandoned main gate. There were not too many headstones, but that did not mean the cemetery was empty, it just meant that there were a lot of unmarked graves.

The Boer War plot was strange, this was not the place where I expected to find ABW graves, and judging by what I saw new headstones had been erected in front of the original steel military style crosses. Sadly many of the new headstones were already toppled, and looking at the headstones it seems as if they were never very well constructed in the first place. It is inevitable that those steel crosses would be stolen anyway, and it was amazing that they were still there even in 2008.

I photographed the graves and managed to hunt down my other CWGC graves and prepared to make tracks as fast as my little yellow car could carry me. Yet, a part of me wanted to explore a bit further and I headed for a gap in the back fence. Like so many other things in the old South Africa the cemeteries were segregated, not only by religion, but also by race, and the gap in the fence led me to what was probably the African section.

I did not venture deeply onto this area because it would have taken me a bit too far from my car. But, I have often wondered who these people were that were buried here. There is so little information available on these cemeteries that you can only really guess as to what the history is behind this sparsely covered piece of of land. 

Then it was time to go. I had my 4 graves and an overview and we could chalk this cem up as having been done. 

Return to Maraisburg.

The problem with a place like this is that you always wonder what you may have missed, and I returned there on a number of occasions, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I I needed to see whether there were other private memorials that we did not know about. I also think curiosity was to blame too, because I really enjoy walking these rows of graves and trying to create some sort of mental image of what the community may have been like. This was quite an old cemetery, and there were graves here that probably pre-dated the Boer War,  I never did feel safe here though, I was always aware of potentially how dangerous this place was, but in all the times I visited it I never saw another person.

The Boer War Plot was redone again at some point, the toppled headstones had been straightened and it was looking much better than before.

This image dates from August 2011, and it was still winter so the grass was dry and the light was great from photography. My Kodak had been pensioned off a long time ago and my new camera was a major improvement.  

 

The big question is: does Maraisburg have any angels?

Yes it does, and here she is.

and, she was surprisingly intact too. 

The Autumn and Winter light has always been my favourite, and even a place like Maraisburg Cemetery looks great in it. I took a lot of really nice photographs during my 2011 visit, and these are a few. 

 

Even that barren patch that was the African Cemetery was looking better. A fire had ravaged the undergrowth not too long ago, so new grass would soon be emerging again in the continuous cycle that is so typical of Johannesburg.

Not too far from the cemetery is a neglected War Memorial that I only discovered after taking the wrong turning. 

It was all a part of this area that was once inhabited by miners and their families. Today it is neglected and run down and the mines are shades of their former selves. The fact remains that because these areas are not situated in the Northern Suburbs they are relatively unknown by the heritage community, and it is only once you start to explore that you discover that they too have history, and that it too deserves to be preserved. If it had not been for the project I would have probably never ventured into the Cemetery, but it was really the first of a number of similar small cemeteries that I visited while photographing war graves, and they were all worthy of exploring.

DRW 2008-2019. Retrospectively created 24/04/2016. 

Updated: 09/04/2019 — 08:18

Palmietkuil South War Cemetery

There is a small haven of peace out on the East Rand called Palmietkuil South War Cemetery. The CWGC describes it as follows: ”Within the cemetery is the Palmietkuil South War Cemetery Memorial, which commemorates members of the South African Forces who died during the 1939-1945 War and who lie buried in different parts of South Africa in graves which could not be maintained. The compounds of the gold mine on Palmietkuil Farm were taken over by the Union Defence Force at the outbreak of Second World War and used as the main training centre of the Military Corps. The centre was served by its own hospital. The cemetery contains 217 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, all of the South African Army. A memorial within the cemetery, behind the Cross of Sacrifice, bears the names of 122 soldiers, whose graves in remote parts of the country could not be properly maintained.

I visited Palmietkuil in November 2007. It was a a hot and glaring day and I found the cemetery at the end of a dirt road that really taxed my small car. The space was ringed with trees and stood out proud in the flat fields around it. When it was created those trees had been planted, and now over 50 years later they were tall, and created this small space inside.

Inside the cemetery was immaculate, and well maintained. Rows of grey headstones bisected by an avenue that led to the Cross of Sacrifice with the Memorial behind it.

The dominant colour here was green and frankly I admit my entry level camera was not really equal to the task. I have always regretted never returning here to reshoot my images because this was such a special cemetery. The local co-ordinator of the South African War Graves Project was also present this day and he tackled one half of the cem while I tackled the other. Photographing each grave so that they too are not forgotten. Sadly the men who served under the NMC and SANLC colours were conveniently shunted aside when the wars ended. Yet they performed a vital duty and served the British Empire and South Africa with distinction. The memorial also commemorates men from the Essential Services Protection Corps, The Cape Corps, Indian and Malay Corps,

The men who are buried here probably had families and loved ones, and there is no way of even knowing whether those family members even saw these graves because Palmietkuil is really off the beaten track, about 9 kilometres from Springs. These men did not die in action though, but probably died during training or in accidents or of disease or illness. Unfortunately a military base was often a home to diseases like TB and of course many childhood diseases like measles or mumps could and did wreak havoc amongst the soldiers.

It is also worthwhile remembering that the men who are buried here were mostly volunteers, and they did so for a variety of reasons. However, the government decided that they would not be used in a fighting capacity, but rather as support troops, and in that role they excelled. Who knows how well they would have done as fighting men. The bravery of men like Job Maseko and Lukas Majozi, is legendary, as is the bravery of the men who were killed in the sinking of the Mendi . Just how much of a fighting force did we loose because of politics?

And then we were finished. I stayed behind a bit longer to photograph the graves in the other half for my own records, and while I did that I was struck by how quiet it really was. The only real noise was coming from the mine close by, but other than that it was silent. I bid the men of Palmietkuil farewell and headed off to my next destination. This was my first dedicated war cemetery, and one which I would not forget. I really intended to return one day, but my own circumstances changed in many ways and I never did; much to my dismay. But I always said that if ever I was in a position where I could specify where my ashes should be scattered Palmietkuil was high on my list. Palmietkuil was left reasonably undisturbed until June 2012 when somebody apparently performed an unofficial exhumation of a body. It was a very disturbing moment in the history of this cemetery and I do not know if the perpetrator was ever found, or what the motive may have been, but it was desecration of a really special cemetery.

I believe that it was also intended that a larger memorial be erected to the men of the SANLC and NMC was to be erected and Palmietkuil was mooted as one the possible sites. And as far as I am concerned it would be too little way too late. 

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