musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: World War 1

Nancy the Springbok Mascot

One of the more colourful mascots that was adopted by the military is Nancy, a young Springbok (Thompson’s Gazelle) that became the mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (SA Scottish). She was presented to the Regiment in August 1915 by Mr D. McClaren Kennedy who lived on the farm Vierfontein  in the Free State.

Her keeper was a bugler: Edmund Peterson of “D” Company South African Scottish, Nicknamed ‘buck major’, he was not only her keeper, but her trainer and protector. Being the official mascot, she was trained to move and trot in tune to the sound of the bagpipes and the regimental band, and she accompanied the Springboks (As South African soldiers came to be known) everywhere, even surviving the horrors of the battle of Delville Wood in 1916.

When the fighting was in the vicinity of the French town Armentieres, a shell exploded close to where Nancy had been tethered and she bolted in fright, seriously damaging her left horn against a wall. The doctors were not prepared to risk resetting the horn so it eventually grew downwards at an angle. Her out-of-alignment horn allowed her to display a golden ‘wound’-stripe on the tartan coat that she wore to stave off the cold.

In the winter of 1918 she caught pneumonia,  and although cared for by her keeper and the medical personnel, she sadly died on 26 November 1918, a few days after the war had ended. Her death was announced in General Orders and on 28 November 1918 she was buried in the cemetery in the village of Hermeton-sur-Meuse in Belgium with full military honours.

Before being buried she was skinned and her skin was sent  to a taxidermist who stuffed and mounted her effigy and that was then sent onwards to South Africa. She was on display in the Officers Mess of the Transvaal Scottish Regimental Headquarters before being presented to the South African National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold in 1958. 

Nancy is also listed at the South African War Graves Project

© DRW 2009-2017. Retrospectively created 11/07/2016. Some text from the SAMVOA Website 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:10

Remember the Somme

The Battle of the Somme; a name to remember with sorrow because of the huge cost in human life. The campaign has long been picked part by historians and soldiers, and as always there are those who criticise the plan, the generals, the artillery, the weather, the Germans, the French and everything in between. Who is to blame? it is not my task to apportion blame, I am only here to remember those who never returned.

As with my Battle of Jutland post, I am using the Somme 100 toolkit provided by the Royal British Legion. I am afraid I could never explain the battle myself because I do not have the ability to describe such a monumental slaughter. Remember, I only photograph the graves. The Toolkit uses “The Battle of the Somme” From an original work for The Royal British Legion by Professor Sir Hew Strachan FRSE FRHistS. I am only going to reproduce excerpts from it.

The British folk memory of the Battle of the Somme is dominated by one moment: 7.30am on 01 July 1916. It was a bright summer’s day, the sun well up, and falling from the east on the backs of the German defenders and into the faces of the British. Officers sounded their whistles, and their men scrambled up ladders to get out of the trenches and into No Man’s Land. Sergeant R.H. Tawney, with the 22nd Battalion, the Manchester Regiment near Fricourt, recalled that:

“[We] lay down, waiting for the line to form up on each side of us. When it was ready, we went forward, not doubling, but at a walk. For we had 900 yards of rough ground to the trench, which was our first objective.”

By the day’s end 19,240 British soldiers had been killed and nearly twice that number wounded: the total of 57,470 casualties was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. This single fact ensures that for most Britons the Battle of the Somme defines what they mean when they talk of the ‘tragedy’, the ‘waste’ and ‘futility’ of the First World War. Apart from the war’s opening and closing dates (for Britain 04 August 1914 and 11 November 1918), 01 July 1916 was the first day picked out for national observance when plans for the commemoration of the centenary were being drawn up.

On 01 July 2016, it will be 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. This was one of the largest battles of the First World War fought by the British and the French against Germany. It took place on both banks of the River Somme in France, and is remembered as one of the most tragic episodes in human history. 

  • The Battle of the Somme is synonymous with the United Kingdom’s Remembrance of the First World War and the futility of trench warfare.
  • Fighting at the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and lasted four and a half months.
  • In total, 60 nations from across the British Empire and Europe were involved in the fighting across a 25 kilometre front.
  • There were almost sixty thousand British and Imperial casualties on the first day of the battle, of which nearly twenty thousand were killed.
  • At the start of the battle, most of the British Army had been an inexperienced mass of volunteers.
  • Going over the top at the Somme was the first taste of battle for many men, as a large number were part of “Kitchener’s Volunteer Army” which was formed by Pals battalions, mainly recruited from the North of England. The Pals battalions were made up of groups of friends, team mates in sports clubs and colleagues, who had joined together expecting to fight together. The heavy losses in one battalion had a profound effect on Britain and were felt locally and nationally.
  • Of the approaching half a million British and Imperial casualties suffered in the 141 day-long battle, a third died. When the offensive finally came to a halt on 18 November 1916, the Battle of the Somme had claimed a million casualties; 430,000 from Commonwealth countries, with a third of this number killed. 
  • On 15 July the South African Brigade took Delville Wood, a thick tangle of trees, and held it against successive counter-attacks and under shellfire that shattered the forest. Of their original strength of 3,153, just 143 left the wood five days later.
  • 19,240 British soldiers had been killed by the end of the first day. It was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. In comparison, the French Army had around 1,600 casualties and the German had 10,000–12,000 casualties.
  • The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days (from 01 July – 18 November 1916).
  • 1,700,000 shells were fired on to the German lines by 1,600 pieces of British artillery during the eight-day preliminary bombardment.(est)
  • The first tank to engage in battle was designated D1, a British Mark I Male, during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. 49 tanks of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps of the British Army were sourced and were to reach Somme by September 1916. However, due to mechanical and other failures, only 36 of them participated at the Battle of the Somme.
  • 5 Miles was the furthest advance of any allied force during the whole battle.
  • During the Battle of the Somme, 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 17 of them were awarded posthumously.

The Battle of the Somme did not produce a ‘decisive victory’ of the sort that was alleged to have characterised earlier wars, but the Somme could be seen as a waypoint on the route to winning the war in 1918. Certainly the Somme redefined modern industrialised warfare, and was fought as a battle of attrition. Within the ‘battle’ of the Somme were scores of other battles – the battle of Albert, the battle of Flers-Courcelette, the battle of Ancre; by the standards of the previous century, the Somme was a war within a war.

“As day breaks through wind and rain we form a line on rough terrain, to face a foe we’ll never know, we will fall and die where poppies now grow. Remember us the chosen ones, the lads the dads and someone’s sons. Be not sad, just be glad, knowing we gave all we had. As you walk on our fields of doom, places where our bodies were strewn, we will gaze on you through heaven’s door and hope our words stay for evermore. When you leave save a tear, for here we stay year on year, the lads the dads and someone’s sons, the boys who fell before German guns.”

Dave Callaghan. Taken from the wall of remembrance at www.somme-battlefields.com

 

 
© DRW 2016-2017. Created 30/06/2016. Period images are sourced from the Somme 100 Toolkit of the Royal British Legion, and they originate from the Imperial War Museum.  Most of the text in this post is copied from that toolkit and Remembrance pack. Some images are from my own collection.
Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:10

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

This morning I headed into London with the express purpose of viewing the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” installation at the Tower of London. Time is drawing near when the weather will close up, the rail tickets will become expensive, and the 11th of November is upon us. Of course this was only one of three destinations that I had in mind for my day out, but more about those later.
 
The moat of the Tower is currently being filled with 888246 ceramic poppies, each representing a British Military fatality during World War 1.  That is a lot of poppies, and seeing the real thing is overwhelming.
 
I realised that there were a lot of people there when our queue to get off the underground platform at Tower Hill ground to a halt. There were people everywhere, and I suspect that many, like myself, were really shocked at the sheer size of the red patch that is seemingly flowing out from an opening in the battlements into the moat. 
 
  
But once you step back and look along the length of the moat you suddenly get a sense of scale of the size of the project, and the numbers of casualties that are being commemorated. 
Each poppy is hand placed, and the installation is scheduled to be completed by November 11, I do not know how many have been placed already, but there are still two months to go and the moat is a very large area. Looking at the numbers, they have to place over 9000 poppies a day which means there are roughly 100000 in place already. 
 

 
It is really breathtaking to see,  as numbers lost in warfare goes 800000 is not a lot, but when you see all of these poppies you need to consider that for every poppy there was a mother and father, possibly siblings, wives, children and loved ones. Each poppy connected a family to a person, and those family members are sometimes unaware that they have somebody in their past that is represented by one of these ceramic flowers. 
 
The work is the brainchild of Paul Cummins, who has really made a monument that just says so much, and which is going to be unbelievable when it is completed.
 
 
I do not know if I will see it again, but I do think that this is one of the most effective memorials I have seen for those who never came home. 
 
More information about the installation and the charities that will be benefiting from the sale of the poppies is available on the The Tower of London Remembers Website
 
© DRW 2014-2017. Images recreated 19/04/2016
Updated: 13/12/2016 — 20:08

Random Churchyards: St Lawrence, Stratford Sub-Castle.

I have been meaning to visit St Lawrence for quite some time, but it is a bit of a long walk so have been able to blame the weather for not going there. On my trip to Old Sarum in February I was literally in stone throwing distance of the church, but could not quite spot what I was after, however I could probably find it now without too much trouble (as well as find the footpath that connects the two)
 
 
That’s Old Sarum in the distance, and it doesn’t seem that imposing from here, but its a different ballgame looking down on this area from the complex. But by the time St Lawrence was erected (1711), the church had moved to Salisbury Cathedral and the castle/fort had been abandoned. 
 
The church seen from old Sarum

The church seen from old Sarum

The church is quite a pretty one, although not too large and not too ornate. you could almost say it is a dead ringer for the typical English country church. The area around it is mostly farmland with some very impressive houses on the way. 
 
  
I had not done any homework on the CWGC graves at the church, I thought there were only a few, but it turns out that there are 49, and there is a Cross of Sacrifice.
 
  
Most of the burials are Australians who died in local hospitals during the First World War, and there are also two WWII burials too. 
 
The churchyard isn’t a big one, and by the looks of it is still in limited use. However, I expect there is more unseen than seen in this case, after all, the church dates back to 1711. Headstones are not too spectacular, and most of the older ones are not legible. 
 
 
The church was locked, although while I was there the bells tolled the hour, and the organ was playing, but I could not find any door that I could enter through as all were burglar barred. I was able to look through the windows but there wasn’t too much to see. 
 
 
It was a weakish sort of sunlight that filtered down on the landscape, and we were definitely heading towards Spring as there were quite  a few flowers on the footpath leading to the church.
 
 
While in front of the church there is a World War I Memorial, which could do with a but of restoration.
 
 
A last round of the churchyard and it was time for me to go. I am sorry I was not able to see inside the building, or to climb the tower, but maybe another time?
 
 
  
From a gravehunters perspective it was a bit of a disappointment, but from a war graves perspective it was a good find. Most of the graveyards I have visited in Salisbury have CWGC graves in them, although never on this scale. This is probably the third biggest CWGC plot in the city, and I am glad that I finally have it under my belt. 
 
Then it struck me that I have a long way to walk to get home, and I was not looking too forward to that. 
 
© DRW 2014-2017. Images recreated 17/04/2016
Updated: 13/12/2016 — 20:16

Circumstances of Death.

One of the many cemeteries I have visited in Southampton is Netley Military Cemetery. It is associated with the former Royal Victoria Hospital, and is a very interesting cemetery in its own right, with 671 identified casualties buried there, 6 of which are South Africans.  I have been there twice already, once as a solo gravehunter and the second time on a guided tour hosted by the Hamble Valley and Eastleigh Heritage Guides
 
 
 
Naturally my interest is in the South Africans buried here, and they are all to be found in the larger part of the cemetery where the Cross of Sacrifice is to be found.  In no particular order these are: 
 
Private AH Collier 25 February 1916, age 17.
Private EC Garton  01 January 1916 
Serjeant H Goodwin 28 September 1917, age 37
Private WH Hollis 01 January 1921 age 35
Driver AF Langford  03 June 1918 
Private E Mbenyesi 25 August 1917.
 
Like so many casualties of these wars, we often never know the circumstances of their deaths. A few lines on a record card, or maybe a medical report in a file is the only thing that we know so many years down the line. 
 
I was very fortunate in assisting with the record card project that the South African War Graves Project undertook in 2012, so I did get to read many of these cards and the often tragic circumstances surrounding these casualties. In many cases the information is simply not recorded, or, has been lost over the years. 
 
Private Hollis is interesting because his death occurred after World War 1 had ended. However the designated war years are from 4 August 1914 till 31 August 1921, and as such he qualified for war grave status.
 
 
But why was he still at Netley in 1921? I consulted the record cards to find an answer. He seemed to have lived in Umtata in the Transkei and worked as a storekeeper, and was part of the 2nd Regiment, South African Infantry, leaving South Africa on or about 28 February 1916.  He was severely wounded in action on the 12th of September 1916 and evacuated to England on the 23rd. He was discharged to the port of embarkation on 03 July 1917,  presumably for repatriation back to South Africa. He is listed as being at Maitland No2 General Hospital on 28 July 1917.  On 19 September 1918 he is described as having “paralysis of the spine with no likelihood of improvement.” The gunshot wounds he received were in his legs and back, so the paralysis was directly attributable to those wounds. He was discharged from the military by a medical board on 29 March 1920, but was still at Maitland Military Hospital.  
 
On the 23rd of April 1920 he was transferred back to England for further treatment at Netley Military Hospital, and on the 9th of July 1920 is still listed as being seriously ill with no improvement in general. 
 
On the 1st of January 1921 he finally succumbs to the effects of those wounds he got in 1916 and is buried at Netley Military Cemetery. 

All that is left of the Royal Victoria Hospital

It was a long and probably painful period for Private Hollis, and I have no way of knowing whether his family ever saw him once he left South Africa for Netley.  He became just another statistic in the long casualty roll for that war, and by now all of his immediate family have passed on. His next of kin was his brother and was listed as Edward George Hollis. 
 
I am fortunate that I can reach back from 2013 to 1921 and record the last few years of William Henry Hollis, and the circumstances of his death so far from home. I do not understand why they sent him back to Netley in the first place. The sea voyage from the Cape to Southampton would have taken at least two weeks, and he spent just over 8 months at the hospital with its view over Southampton Water. But, I think he would have really preferred to have seen the views back in the Transkei where he came from. 
 
Rest in Peace Private Hollis. Your duty has long been done.
 
 © DRW 2013-2017. Images recreated 10/04/2016
Updated: 13/12/2016 — 19:45

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 2013-2017. Images recreated and link fixed 26/03/2016

 
Updated: 12/12/2016 — 07:39

Remembrance Day 2012

11 November fell on a Sunday today, and 11 November is when we remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice in aid of what?
 
World War1, touted to be “The War To End All Wars” was really a practice round for the carnage to come. It was also an exercise in how to throw lives away. In my record card research I often see the effects of that carnage so many years ago. Men who were severely wounded, or who would suffer from the effects of gas, or “shell shock”. Men who would survive the war, only to die in the flu epidemic of 1918, or from the effects of their service overseas. 
 
My record cards do not mention how this service affected their families, apart from a notation about a pension denied, or a grant given, campaign medals issued, or maybe just the name of the next of kin. In quite a few cases I have found the record cards of the soldier whose grave I photographed, and sometimes I have to remind myself that these were really real people, and not just a card with a name and abbreviated military history.
 
If my war grave photography has taught me one thing; then it has taught me that the military is an extremely efficient killing machine. 
 
So today I will display my poppy with pride because I am remembering all those who never came home, and those who are no longer with us.  I remember my grandfather who survived the slaughter of  Delville Wood, and I remember my Uncle who is buried far away, and my late father who wore the poppy with pride and who was captured at Sidi Rezegh. I remember those who have no known grave, and those who came home broken. And, I will continue to do so as long as I am able, because it is important, and because we must never let this happen again.

 

In  Memory of Herbert Turner, Robert Owen Turner and David Walker.  Lest we Forget.

 
© DRW. 2012-2017. Images recreated 26/03/2016

Updated: 12/12/2016 — 07:24

Remembering the Mendi.

When I originally started photographing war graves and memorials I had very little information about the loss of the SS Mendi in 1917. An occasional mention in the newspapers was as informative as it got. There was one book by Norman Clothier that always stood out, but was almost impossible to find, and so I “went it alone”, producing my first page on the Mendi. There is not much to say here that isn’t on that page already, but oddly enough Mendi material still keeps coming my way.

SS Mendi in happier times.

The death of over 600 soldiers in one incident is not something that is taken lightly, although when you look at it in terms of naval deaths, the sinking of a capital ship can result in over 1500 deaths at a time.  However, what makes the Mendi deaths very sad is how the members of the SANLC and NMC were treated by the government that they were serving, and how little recognition they got for their service overseas. Make no mistake about it, these men were crucial cogs in the line of battle, and who knows how many lives they saved as stretcher bearers. In fact their contribution to the war effort was a major one, but the moment they returned home, they were forgotten.
NMC Collar and cap badge

NMC Collar and cap badge

There are a number of NMC graves in South Africa, in Gauteng the biggest concentration is at Palmietkuil War Cemetery, and it is here that we hope a memorial will be erected to the members of the NMC and SANLC who became victims of apathy in the war department. 
NMC Member, buried in Payneville, Springs.

NMC Member, buried in Payneville, Springs.

In South Africa the Mendi men have a number of Memorials, the most poignant is in Atteridgeville, and there are memorials in Avalon Cemetery and New Brighton in Port Elizabeth and one (which I do not have photographs of), in Mowbray in Cape Town.
 
How many of their family members were ever able to make a pilgramage to these memorials? How many even knew where their sons or fathers or grandfathers lost their lives?  All I know is, today it is up to us to keep their memory alive.
 
The words of Reverend Isaac Dyobha should never be forgotten,  
 
“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die… but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazi’s, Pondo’s, Basuto’s, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. “
 
We need leaders like that today in our country, we need to show the youth that bling, alcoholism and ill discipline have no place in their lives. The courage of those long lost African Servicemen is all the example that we really need.
 
DRW 2012-2017. Images and links recreated 23/03/2016
Updated: 08/12/2016 — 07:35

The Robertville War Memorial

I have to admit that this World War 1 Memorial in Robertville/Stormill on the West Rand came as a surprise. For starters there is nothing written about this Memorial, it came totally out of the blue.

Given its location and proximity to old mining areas it is related to one of the mines that was around in the early 1900’s. Situated just off Main Reef Road next to Stormill, it has now become more of a derelict structure than an important part of history. Special thanks must go to Terry Cawood who notified me about it, and Giel Nel who took the first pics. For want of a better name I originally designated it as Robertville War Memorial, although the memorial is on the former property of CMR making it the CMR War Memorial.

I took these images on 31 August 2011 and I was notified in November 2012 that the memorial had been removed. Whether it was reclaimed by its owners, or stolen I cannot say, but sadly it can now be classified as extinct. Apart from the Roll of Honour, the only markings on it were:

A Remembrance to all who served in the Great War

Erected as a token of respect & esteem to those who who fell in the Great War

Erected by their fellow employees, erected 05 December 1920

The memorial is very similar in design to that of the Ferreira Deep and Kingston Frost memorials in Johannesburg.  

The Memorial was located at Google Earth Co-ordinates 26° 12.004’S, 27° 56.436’E, and its current whereabouts are unknown.

© DRW 2011-2017. Retrospectively recreated 22/06/2016. 

Updated: 07/12/2016 — 07:19

The Ferreira Deep Memorial in Selby

This was one of the first memorials that I photographed all those years ago, and oddly enough I never managed to get revised images of it even though I used to go past it regularly on a Sunday. The memorial is situated on a small island on the corner of Booysens Road and Trump Streets, Johannesburg. Unfortunately the flow of traffic around that area is complicated so it is not all that easy to get to it by car. Google Earth co-ordinates are: 26° 12.807’S, 28° 2.221’E

The inscription on this memorial reads:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Pro Patria Mori

In memory of the employees

of the Ferreira Deep Ltd,

who made the supreme

sacrifice in the Great War

1914-1918

Ferreira Deep is immediately west of the start of the M1, and just west of the old financial district of Johannesburg and the Standard Bank head office in Johannesburg is built over workings from Ferreira Deep. It appears as if excavation of the Ferreira Deep vertical shafts commenced in March 1897 and the mine was liquidated in 1929, but it left behind a large mine dump that became the Top Star Drive-in.

 

© DR Walker 2007 – 2016. Recreated 04/06/2016. 

Updated: 08/12/2016 — 20:34
DR Walker © 2014 -2017. Frontier Theme