Category: Transportation

OTD: The Westdene Bus Disaster

On this day,  27 March 1985 it was supposed to be yet another school day for the pupils of Hoërskool Vorentoe, in fact it was supposed to be a normal day for the whole of South Africa, but the events surrounding the Westdene bus disaster changed all of that in a brief tragedy that will remain with us all forever.  It is one of those surrealistic moments in your life that somehow remains with you forever.  The day was subdued after that, even though that was not true at Westdene Dam where divers were frantically searching for bodies and parents were standing grief stricken, knowing that their son or daughter would not be coming home on that day. 

Westdene Dam. (1500x466)

Westdene Dam. (1500×466)

The actual cause of the disaster was never really pinned down to any singular factor; the driver  never really gave an adequate explanation, there was no mechanical fault with the bus, and the weather conditions were not poor. I seem to recall that he said another car had swerved, or he had blacked out. Faced with the imminent backlash and the trauma that he had gone through too, it was no wonder that no single cause was ever found.

I won’t delve into the disaster because I was not directly involved and do not know the facts, there are others more qualified to do that. It was one of those moments in South African history that has remained in our pysche since 1985.   

Those that died in the disaster are mostly buried in Westpark cemetery in a dedicated plot close to the main gate. It is a tragic place to visit because the sheer sale of the disaster is only experienced when you are faced with seeing all of the graves together. 

In 2011 I spent some time in Westpark photographing all of the graves, sadly they were all desecrated a long time ago and never restored. I spent time hunting down the graves in the general cemetery and they too had been desecrated. Nobody has even been able to explain why this happened, and who was responsible. It was a sad pilgrimage for me, trying to match headstones with names, and seeing those names in the registers made it just a bit harder. The funeral for all of the children was held on the same day, and a sad day it was for so many people.

It took until 2007 for a memorial to be erected to the victims,  and even this has had its fair share of controversy.  

In 2014 I revisited the graves while I was down in South Africa and photographed the small photographs that were on some of the graves, one day I will match faces to names and make my own records of the disaster a little more complete. 

There are two graves that stick out for me, the first is grave number 7, where two sisters are buried together (Reinette and Linda Du Plooy) , and the grave of Caroline Brown who is buried in the general part of the cemetery in a grave that was stripped of its name like so many others.  The vandalism of the graves was not random, it was targeted, somebody went out of their way to hunt down the graves and desecrate them

It is just over 30 years since the disaster, had it not happened some of those children would have been mothers or fathers today, they would have had families of their own, and just possibly their children would have attended that same school that they had attended so many years ago. There are a lot of what if’s associated with the Westdene Bus Disaster, it was all a matter of timing. catching a different bus, or sitting upstairs or downstairs was the difference between life of death.

There were a lot of heroes on 27 March 1985, but sadly there were too many victims. May They Rest in Peace 

Images of the graves are available on eggsa. I sincerely hope that one day they get restored. 

My own page about the memorial may be found at Allatsea

DRW © 2016-2020. Originally created 27/03/2016

Updated: 27/03/2020 — 19:52

What was supposed to be (1)

Theoretically if we were’t in the middle of a pandemic I would have been in London round about now. and scoping out the passport renewal queue in Whitehall. But I am now sitting at home having been down with sinusitis since the weekend and self isolating. I think that at this point I can safely say that it is getting to me and I am becoming somewhat down, or more down than normal? Last night I was thinking about the whole state of affairs and thought to myself that I have enough images amongst my collection to make a virtual trip to London without leave the discomfort of my chair. So without ado grab your goodies lets go!!

The journey starts off at Ashchurch for Tewkesbury where I would catch the train to Worcester Shrub Hill, en route to London Paddington. Shrub Hill is quite a large station compared to the nearby Foregate Street station. 

From there the train travels to Evesham, Oxford, Reading, Slough and finally London Paddington. You can see I have visited this line and the stations on it in the past, although Slough has not really fallen inside my sphere of curiosity. Paddington is a familiar destination too as I have to pass through it to get to Heathrow when/if I fly anywhere. 

I would have stayed at the EasyHotel in Norfolk Place from the day I arrived till the Saturday when I would have returned home; leaving me 2 days to renew my passport in. The glorious structure below is the St Mary’s Hospital, amongst others it is the birth place of  Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (born 1984), Prince George of Cambridge (born 2013) and  Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (born 2015) . Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming was on it’s staff and it was here that he discovered penicillin in 1928.

My plans for the 3 days were flexible, revolving around the passport renewal, but I did have a rough list of places that I wanted to visit. The Embassy is situated on Trafalgar Square although that is not where the renewal is done.  South Africa House was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with architectural sculpture by Coert Steynberg and Sir Charles Wheeler,  and it was opened in 1933. I was hoping to get a better image of the building while I was there but that is not going to happen. However, I am grateful to Ronnie Lovemore who could supply me with a great pic of the building.

Getting to the Embassy or Trafalgar Square would have been via the Circle Line of the London Tube. I am quite a fan of the tube, although get confused quite easily because I only seem to use it once  a year!  There is a station underneath Paddington and I would have boarded there and caught it to Embankment Station.

Paddington Tube Station

In the background of the image below you can see the London Eye sticking out with the multiple trestles that come out of Charing Cross Station and then crosse the Thames.  Charing Cross is the name of the road junction to the south of Trafalgar Square, and that’s where the station gets its name from. The word Charing comes from old English ‘cierring’, which means ‘turning’, a reference to the bend in the River Thames by the station. 

Embankment Station

Charing Cross Station

Actually I have a slight ulterior motive behind choosing Embankment Station: There is a Japanese take-aways called Wasabi Sushi and Bento there that sells some really nice Japanese food. Also on the embankment is supposedly a statue of Isambard Brunel and of course I wanted to have a look at Somerset House while I was there.  

There is also a very interesting remnant on the Embankment that I wanted to look at: 

Bear in mind that before the massive sewerage works undertaken by Joseph Bazalgette the Thames would have had a slightly different waterline to what it has today. The gateway above marks the position on the north bank of the Thames before the construction of the Victoria Embankment in 1862.  It was built in 1626 by Nicholas Stone as the watergate to York House although York House was demolished in 1675 and streets were laid out on the site. Today the gate is situated in Victoria Embankment Gardens (Google Earth 51.508118°, -0.122873°) and the water of the Thames is now 130 metres away,  There is a memorial to Joseph Bazalgette on the Embankment and I intended adding that to my list of things to find in London. The image below is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license and is attributed to Prioryman and is dated 20/03/2015. 

There are a lot of interesting plaques, Memorials and statues along the Victoria Embankment, worthy of note are:

The Samuel Plimsoll Memorial. The inscription reads: “Samuel Plimsoll, born 1824 – died 1898. Erected by the members of the National Union of Seamen, in grateful recognition of his services to the men of the sea of all nations.” Any ship enthusiast worth his salt is aware of the Plimsoll Line on the side of a ship. (Image by Wualex 2001, and is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterline.  Out of curiosity WNA sands for “Winter North Atlantic”. 

The National Submarine Memorial

And of course one of my personal favourites is the Battle of Britain Memorial.  It is really the sort of memorial that you have to see in person because it has just so much detail in it. 

Assuming I did not get anything done at the embassy on this day I would probably have reboarded the tube and headed towards Monument Tube Station as it is the closest to my next destination. However, I would have deviated slightly at The Monument so that I could see whether I could find some of the plaques associated with the Great Fire of London.  The plaque below is mounted on the building, but there are a number of others in that area that I was not aware of and I want to find them. 

The ultimate goal however was to head to the Leadenhall Market which is roughly 3 blocks North of The Monument. I really would like to have a look at this piece of ancient history which dates from the 14th century and it is one of the oldest markets in London. Personally I think it will be an interesting place to photograph and I have seen some really amazing images of it on the net. The image below was created by “Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA”  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadenhall_Market.  (Image is 1280×917) One of my other favourite places is not too far from here, but I have not decided yet as to whether I would visit it or not. Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial is a very special place in my heart. And the rows of names really makes me sad and angry at the same time. I have always wanted to photograph the whole memorial but it is not as easy as it seems. The majority of the World War One casualties plaques are situated in and around the Memorial building as below and trying to photograph them would need a long ladder and infinite patience as well as heaps of yellow tape and a risk assessment. The Memorial was recently restored so it will be nice to see without vegetation growing from the roof. The view below is probably the best I have ever managed to squeeze in that does not have vehicle or pedestrian traffic crossing in front of it. 

Tower Hill Memorial, London

Tower Hill is in spitting distance of Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and of course HMS Belfast.  The smaller ship berthed next to her is HMS Westminster (F237).  I am tempted to visit HMS Belfast again, but I have been on her 4 times already so it is time and energy dependant. 

This little jaunt would probably take me close to peak hour and I would probably get the tube back to my hotel to do some R&R before trying the renewal again on the next day. It can be quite a story getting back to Paddington Station as I can go clockwise or anticlockwise with the Circle Line, and of course once I am back in that area the odds are I will need food! The only really interesting area around the station is “Little Venice“. Alas the food there would be way out of my budget but if it is sunny it is quite nice to stroll about and look at the canal and narrow boats. 

None of this however would be cast in stone because there were all sorts of variables to contend with, and so far the biggest has been Covid19 that has created a worldwide disaster in the making. So everything you see here is theoretically had I been sitting in London on the 25th of March.  Thank you for joining me on this unofficial virtual trip to London.  To be continued…. and don’t forget to please mind the gap. 

Day 2.

Wake up…. rise and shine, hit the tube and stand in the queue! 

When/if I get that done I will technically have the time to myself and there are 2 cemeteries that I wanted to revisit. The first is Nunhead Cemetery and it is pretty much south of where I would be at that point in time. I visited it way back in 2013, and it had been a gloomy and dreary day with remnants of snow all around me. I recall that it was visually an impressive place but the weather ruined my images. ​

I now have another reason to revisit it. Last week while researching graves I discovered that my maternal great grandfather is buried in Nunhead. He died way back in 1929 and if you look at the map in the table is buried more or less opposite that Seventh Day Adventist church. It appears as if he is in a communal grave though so there would really be no way of finding an individual grave. It is also assuming I can penetrate through into that area to have a look. Parts of Nunhead are a regular jungle. Getting to and from Nunhead can be problematic; in 2013 I was living in Kennngton so it was just a matter of catching a bus (or 2). This time around I would use the London Overground and grab a train from Victoria Station to Nunhead. 

Victoria Station is another of the terminal stations in London and was built for the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBCSR) and the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR). Nowadays it serves the Gatwick Express and is on the Circle, District, and Victoria lines of the tube. The Victoria Coach Station is roughly a block away from it. Unfortunately when I visited it in 2013 it was an island in the middle of large roadworks so getting to and from it was a mission.   

The station is also famous as being the place where the coffin bearing the Unknown Warrior paused overnight en route to London, and there is a plaque commemorating this event on the station. 

Having completed my trip to Nunhead would have left me very tired and rumpled. These trips are not as easy to do as they were way back in 2013, although I recall suffering from shin splints or similar shortly after I got to London. I put lots of miles into my body in that month and saw many things. Depending on time I would probably have headed back to the hotel for a shower and some food.  Let’s call it quits for now and continue tomorrow. 

DRW © 2020. Created 25/02/2020

Updated: 28/03/2020 — 11:10

OTD: Moorgate Tube Accident

On 28 February 1975, the Moorgate Tube Accident occurred.

In my 2016 London trip I used Moorgate to get to Bunhill Fields and at the time spotted a plaque on the wall of the station.  

Later reading put the accident in context; and it has now been almost 4 years since I passed through Moorgate, and 45 years since the accident occurred. The plaque was unveiled on 28 February 2014 by the Lord Mayor of London, on the side of the station building, in Moor Place and there is also a memorial in the south-west corner of Finsbury Square; just north of Moorgate station. 43 people died and 74 were injured after a train failed to stop at the Northern Line’s southern terminus at Moorgate. 

Following the accident an inquiry was established and it found no equipment fault on the train, and that the dead man’s handle had no defect and attention focused on the 54 year old driver –  Motorman Leslie Newson, However nothing conclusive was found to explain his lack of action when approaching the terminus.  The report by  Lieutenant Colonel Ian McNaughton, the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, found that there was insufficient evidence to say if the accident was due to a deliberate act or a medical condition.

The cause of the accident was never adequately explained and it did mean rail safety was looked at once again and improvements were made to the system. The London Tube is an impressive work and one of the best things about London. It is however not infallible, but given how many use the tube it has a very impressive safety record. 

DRW © 2020. Created 15/02/2020

Updated: 15/02/2020 — 08:58
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