OTD: Commemorating HMSAS Parktown

HMSAS Parktown was originally built for The Southern Whaling and Sealing Company of London by Smiths Dock Company of Middlesbrough. She was laid down and launched in 1929 under the name Southern Sky.  In 1936, she was  bought by the Union Whaling Company and registered in Durban as Sidney Smith for service in the whaling industry until 1940. When war broke out she was requisitioned for service in the South African Navy as a minesweeper on 8 August 1940 under the name HMSAS Parktown. 

HMSAS Parktown Memorial in Pieter Roos Park in the suburb of Parktown

On 10 June 1942, HMSAS Parktown arrived in Tobruk Harbour for magnetic minesweeping duties and for ten days she continued operations off the harbour while the 8th Army were being driven back by advancing German and Italian forces. On 20 June 1942  the Tobruk garrison was attacked from the south and south east and By 18H00, the Allies had been overrun and Allied ships were ordered to embark personnel for evacuation.   At 06:45 on 21 June, the lookouts of HMSAS Parktown sighted what they believed was an Italian “MAS” torpedo boat,  but according to German reports, the ship was engaged by a flotilla of German E-boats based at Derna. The Parktown attempted to fight off the attacks but she was out-numbered and out-gunned by the axis vessels.  Within 15 minutes Parktown was stationary with a hole in the boiler. Half of her crew, including her captain (Lieutenant (SAN) Leslie James Jagger) as well as evacuated soldiers were dead and the ship could no longer move and was on fire. 

The ship was abandoned and the survivors took to the sea. Some were saved by an Allied MTB as well as a tug that had been under tow by Parktown. The wreck was then sunk by depth charges.

The ship is Commemorated on a memorial in Pieter Roos Park in the suburb of Parktown in Johannesburg. 

Roll of Honour.

70457 Able Seaman Peter S  BROCKLEHURST
70265 Stoker 1c John COOK
70016 Lieutenant Leslie J JAGGER (Commander of HMS Parktown)
69686 Steward William A MCEWAN
71109 Petty Officer Arthur P TREAMER

The men are Commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon.

Plymouth Naval Memorial

DRW © 2020. Created 15/02/2020. Image: “The Royal Naval War Memorial and Hoe Park, Plymouth Hoe” by Robert Cutts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

OTD: The Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion

One of the many events that occurred in the fledgling city of Johannesburg was the Dynamite Explosion that occurred on 19 February 1896 at Braamfontein Station. A memorial was erected in Braamfontein Cemetery to commemorate the event, and the over 70 people that lost their lives in it. An explosives train, carrying dynamite, had been left standing for 3 days in searing heat in what was then Braamfontein goods yard; the massive explosion occurred when this train was struck by another that was shunting. It left a crater over 60 m long and 8 m deep and was heard 200 km away. The exact number of casualties was never ascertained, and over 200 people were seriously injured. Some 3 000 people lost their homes and almost every window in the town was shattered. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact site where the explosion occurred but a period map puts it on the bend where Braamfontein Vapour Depot now stands.

I have spotted at least 5 physical graves in Braamfontein cemetery that have explosion related inscriptions on them, and it is probable that most of the casualties are buried in this cemetery, the majority of the funerals being held on the 20th and 21st of February. I can physically identify 46 names in the registers as being marked as “dynamite explosion”, and all are buried in the DR section. There is also supposedly a mass grave in this plot where unidentified severed limbs are buried.

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Apart from the devastation that the explosion created, it would have also tested the fledgling cities ability to manage a disaster of this magnitude. Braamfontein Cemetery was relatively new when this happened and it would be here that the victims were buried. It is certain that there were African victims too, and they are also probably buried here in an area that has been ploughed under. I was not able to check against the register because I did not find a register for that area. There may also be victims buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery, but the register for that was not available at the time.  It is an interesting piece of history though, albeit one that has been almost forgotten.

DR Walker ©  2011-2020. Recreated and expanded 23/05/2016.