Cecil Stanley Groves (1899–1918)

16650 Private Cecil Stanley Groves,
1/South African Infantry Regiment.
Killed in Action, 23/24 March 1918,
Commemorated on The Pozières Memorial.

16650 Private Cecil Stanley Groves, 1/S.A.I.R.

This one is personal; Stanley is one of my great uncles.    I am posting a day early because one of his nephews lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, which is currently 13 hours ahead of us.

Cecil Stanley was the fourth son, and fourth child of the seven children born to  Alfred Grosse and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Lewin.  He was always known as ‘Stan’.

His father, Alfred, was a Lincolnshire ‘yellow belly’.  Born in Owston, he was the youngest son of a farm bailiff; on the maternal side, his grandfather was William Chapman, a Waddington farmer.  One of William Chapman’s younger brothers was Samuel Palmer Chapman, a man whose dedication to learning has inspired some of my own pupils, and gives me, I think, the excuse to interrupt my homage to Stan, with a hint of Samuel’s story.

One of the youngest sons in a large farming family, Samuel Palmer Chapman was taken out of school, aged 12, to work on his father’s farm.  Such was his yearning for learning, that he always set off for the fields with a textbook under his cap, to protect it from the weather.  When he took a break, he would sit under a tree, lift his cap, and take out his textbook.  He worked his way in turn, through subjects such as Algebra and Latin.  Eventually Samuel became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society; his obituary reveals that this self-taught man was indeed a rare bird, a Fellow who was not a University Professor, but simply an ordinary man who had been awarded that accolade despite the not having the benefit of an academic education.

In 1890 Alfred Grosse emigrated to South Africa, seeking his fortune as a miner, but instead becoming a train driver for the Cape Government Railway.  These were the days when train drivers had the standing that pilots of an A 380 Airbus have today.  Stan and his siblings were born in the ‘Railway Camp’ at Beaufort West in the Cape Colony.  According to a Wesleyan baptismal register, Stan was born on 10 June 1899, just four months before the start of the Second Boer War; it’s chastening to think that his early years, as well as his final years, were lived out in the shadow of two major wars.

 

The photo below, taken in 1913, the year before war was declared, shows Alfred and Polly Grosse with their five surviving children.  Standing behind their parents, were Wally, Percy and Stan. In the front row, are Reg, Alfred, Polly and Joyce.  By 1913, Percy was in training as a mechanical engineer, but was already a Reservist, having  enlisted in the Territorial Army.  The Grosse family, now using the surname Groves, was living at Malta Farm, just below Mowbray, and about where the Liesbeek Parkway runs today.  It was about this time that the family, and some of their cousins, adopted the surname Groves.

Alfred & Polly Grosse with their children

Stan was privately baptised by a visiting Wesleyan minister on 26 October 1900.  Unusually for this family, where othre children were baptised within two months of their birth, there seems to have been an interval of well over a year in Stan’s case, if the baptismal register is correct.  After leaving school, Stan became an apprentice fitter with the South African Railways.

We were always told that Stan had lied about his age when he enlisted, so keen was he to follow his older brothers, Percy and Wally, and his uncle Jack, to Europe.  After initial training, Stan sailed in August 1917, on RMS Llanstephan Castle, a mail ship which had only recently been requisitioned for the war effort.  His service records reveal that he had enlisted in the S.A. Rly Coy—presumably a Railway Company— and part of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade.

The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have Stan’s date of death as 24 March 1918.  However his service record [File No. 39308] has him declared missing on 23 March 1918 and it is for that reason that I record both dates above.  It was not until a week before Armistice Day, that Stan’s death was confirmed, after a long and anxious wait for his parents.  The UK Register of Soldiers’ Effects records his effects only in terms of money due ‘for disposal’, namely £9 6s 8d.

Their grief at the loss of Stan may have contributed to Alfred and Polly’s estrangement and their eventual divorce on 1 December 1919.  At Polly’s insistence, several of her grandsons were given the name Stanley.  One of them was registered, at birth, as Patrick, by his defiant parents, but they had to cave in to Polly’s wishes when the time came for Patrick to be baptised.  He was always known to his cousins as Stan, though he did not answer to Stan anywhere else.

To understand the exceptional achievements of The South African Infantry Brigade in holding the line during the Kaiserschlacht (The Kaiser’s Battle), please view Simply Magnificent, my post of 28 November 2014, .

Further viewing
Yesterday (21 March), Max Dutton, Assistant Historian for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, recorded a clip from The Pozières Memorial.  Those who have never visited the area, may find this interesting.

The Lewins, Cecil’s mother’s family
Alfred’s father-in-law, James William Lewin was a friend and contemporary of Keir Hardie, and worked his way up the ranks on the Midland Railway from Porter to Driver.  Known as Will, he was one of the ‘ringleaders’ of the first major Railway Strike in the early 1870s, a strike based on issues of safety.  This strike had the support of The Times as well as of Parliament, thanks to the Derby M.P., Mr Bass, whose barrels of beer were conveyed to St Pancras by the Midland Railway.  Will was a committed socialist, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his youngest child, Jack, whose obituary described him as a ‘fiery speaker’, came close to overturning the majority of H.B. Betterton, in Rushcliffe, one of the most solid Tory seats in the country, during the 1923 General Election.

Jack Lewin, who was only a few years older than his nephews Percy, Wally and Stan, was badly wounded at Delville Wood, and spent many months in hospital, before rejoining his regiment in 1917, only to lose an arm in the next round of battles.  This time Jack ended up in the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, whose main focus was the rehabilitation of soldiers with life-changing injuries. While there he made his mark as a writer, contributing some fine pieces to The Springbok Blue, the hospital’s magazine, and while an inmate there, found the time to get married in the Richmond Registry Office in August 1917.

Percy, the eldest son, was sent back to England twice for medical treatment in other London hospitals.   I have a photograph which shows Percy in Hospital Blues, in the hospital’s grounds in Richmond Park, at about the time Jack was a patient there, and in a group which perhaps included his uncle, Jack.  (Those Hospital “Blueys” were vital when patients were allowed to roam outside the hospital, because they identified them to the general public as wounded soldiers rather than civilian skivers.)

 

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Finally! South Africa remembers: Remembrance Sunday 2017

As we walked through Richmond Cemetery on Remembrance Sunday, there was an icy wind to chill the 8ºC on the mercury, and I regretted not giving my gloves an outing.  As the South African War Memorial came into sight when we were about 200m away, and I caught a glimpse of red, and called to my husband that I thought there might be wreaths there. But then headstones and trees obscured the view until we were much closer, when indeed both of us could see FOUR wreaths.

We have been coming here on Remembrance Sunday for several years now with, in more recent years, the company for the two minutes’ silence, of three cyclists, aka the “Patrons of Lost Causes”.  Usually there is nothing at the War Memorial, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Some years ago, Archbishop and Mrs Tutu sent a magnificent floral wreath, and one year there was a single wreath (from the British Legion), and a paratrooper’s cap, but otherwise the monument has been bare.  We’ve got into the habit of bringing sprigs of rosemary from our garden, one for each grave. One year, when Marks was marking down the price of roses at the end of the day, we were able to provide each grave with a red rose. (CWGC spies please note, we are very careful not to place anything near the headstones.)  We also visit the grave of Private George Henry Rosser, 2/SAIR who was actually a native of Richmond, and is buried nearby.

Thank you to the organisations behind these wreaths, probably laid here on Saturday,  Remembrance Day.  We appreciate that this year South Africa Lodge 6742 (UGLE), the MOTHs. the Royal Star and Garter Home and the South African Legion have remembered the South African servicemen buried alongside  the South African War Memorial.

Nor did the cyclists, the supporters of lost causes, forget the South Africans this year.  Here’s the photo I took of Trevor, as surprised as we were by the wreaths. That they’re there at all, is possibly due to the efforts of another of the cyclists, Mark, who’s previously expressed his disappointment to S.A. officialdom.

 

 

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Charles Henry Green (1882–1917)

Major Charles Henry Green,
1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment,
attached 3rd Battalion, Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force.
Died of wounds, near Mkwera, 8 November 1917.
Buried in the Mkwera Cemetery, whose war graves were ‘lost’
and is now commemorated in the Dar es Salaam Cemetery.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Charles Henry Green on 8 November 1917, at the age of 35.  A career soldier, and a veteran of the Boer War, Major Green left a widow, Ruth Graham Parry and a three year old son, later the legendary RAF ace,  Group Captain Charles ‘Paddy’ Green (1914–1999).

Charles Henry Green was the fourth son and sixth child of Sir Frederick Green KBE, a descendant of the shipbuilding Greens of Blackwall Yard.   His mother, Alice Jane, was born in Sydney, the daughter of a baronet, Sir Daniel Cooper.  Charles was born on 23 August 1882 at the country home of his parents, Hainault Lodge in Chigwell Row, Essex.

Another ancestor, the shipbuilder and philanthropist, George Green, was the founder of a number of schools, one of which, George Green’s School on the Isle of Dogs, continues to bear his name today.   Green’s concern for the safety of the crews of his ships between voyages resulted in the building of The Sailors’ Home, in East India Dock Road, which accommodated 200 sailors.  This hostel was racially integrated, something regarded as “exceptional” for the time—1841.

Charles was educated at Harrow School and at the Royal Military College (Sandhurst).  He was ‘gazetted’ to the South Staffordshire Regiment in 1901, and saw service in the Boer War following which he served with the West African Frontier Force until 1908.

In 1913, Charles married Ruth Graham Parry at the Parish Church of St George, Hanover Square.  Their only child, Charles Patrick Green was born in Pietermaritzburg the following year, four months before the outbreak of the First World War.

In October 1914, Charles went to France with the 7th Division, and fought in the First Battle of Ypres, which saw the Regular Army suffer appalling losses.  Charles was seriously wounded in that action and was mentioned in dispatches for conspicuous bravery.  A transcript of the battalion’s diary is in the Thread started by Coomera (see under Further Reading below).

Once recovered, he was sent to the Cameroons and then on to East Africa, where he was attached to the 3rd Battalion of the Nigeria Regiment, probably because of his experience with the West African Frontier Force between 1901 and 1908. At the time of his death, he was Acting Second-in-Command.  He was again mentioned in Despatches in January 1918, and recommended for the DSO.

The following account of the action at Mkwera Hill, in which he was mortally wounded on 8 November, is taken from a letter sent to his widow, Ruth, by Lieutenant-Colonel John Badham, who was commanding the 3rd Nigeria Regiment.

He was as fine a fighting man as one could possibly get, and always so cool and collected in the hottest of actions, that everyone round him gained complete confidence, and I always knew that, however heavily the Germans might attack us, if your husband was in command of the firing line, there was not the slightest chance of anything going wrong.

On the 8th of November we were ordered to attack the left of a German position, and, after getting right up against the Germans in thick bush, they made most determined counter-attacks on us. Your husband again took command of the firing line and had just gone to a part of the line which was being heavily attacked, to cheer on and encourage the Officers and men. On his arrival there the Officer in Command had just been wounded, and your husband was helping him away when he was hit in the back.

The Orderly informs me that he said to your husband, ‘Come away to the hospital,’ but your husband, seeing that matters were critical, turned back to the firing line and re-established confidence all round, but was shortly afterwards hit by a burst of Maxim fire, receiving four more wounds in the chest and arms. He was quickly got away to hospital, but there was no hope from the first, and it was only his stout heart that kept him alive so long.

Major Green was the most senior officer in the Nigerian Overseas Contingent to be killed in East Africa. As an officer, it is apparent from this account and from the Nigerian Contingent’s War History (pp. 236–241), that Major Green fought alongside his troops, rather than commanding at a safe distance.  (This book is accessible online from the link in the sources.)

A marriage bond and allegation, dated 27 June 1918, together with a marriage registration in the second quarter of 1918, record that Charles’s widow married Lieutenant Colonel John Frederic Badham in the Parish Church of St George Hanover Square in the last week of June.  This was the church in which Ruth and Charles had married five years earlier.  A marriage to the widow of a fellow serviceman or brother officer was not uncommon in that war.  And sometimes a pact had been made, and was kept.

Sources
Downes, Capt. W.D., With the Nigerians in German East Africa, London, 1919. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924027831860#page/n7/mode/2up, accessed 7/11/2017. [Major Green is mentioned on pp. 59, 74, 238 and 241.]

The National Archives, WO 76/104/18, ‘Record of Service of Charles Henry Green’, date left blank.

The National Archives, WO 95/1664/2, ‘War Diary of the 1 B[attalio]n South Staffordshire Regiment, 25 October 1914.

Survey of London, Volumes 43 and 44, ‘No. 133 East India Dock Road’, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp127-147#h2-0017, accessed 7/11/2017. [This Building is still standing today, but has been converted into flats.]

Further Reading and Notes
The updated CWGC web site now informs the searcher of the day of the week on which a death occurred, or was presumed to have occurred.  I now know, without reference to a historic calendar, that in 1917 the eighth of November fell on a Thursday.

1914-1918, Invisionzone, Thread responding to a post by ‘Coomera’ re the wounding and rescue of Charles Henry Green, http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/145290-1st-battalion-south-staffs-regiment/, accessed 7/11/2017.
[Note: Read the first post, by Coomera, and the post by Roy Evans giving the War Diary entries for 25–26 October 1914, the action in which CHG was seriously injured.  There are also two later responses by Coomera as he attempts to establish the story behind his grandfather’s saving the life of CHG, and the accommodation provided for the relatives of Sergeant Richards in the 1930s.  Note that Sir Frederick and Lady Green both died in 1929 so the ‘Mr Green’ to whom Coomera’s grandfather referred, may have been one of Charles’s brothers.]
Exactly a week later after Captain Green received these serious injuries,  the 1/Lincolnshire Regiment was taken in by similar tactics, in their case the calling out of Hindustani phrases, resulting in the loss of most of the Regiment when they advanced between and towards ranks of the enemy.  For more information on the fate of the Lincolnshires, see https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/leo-de-orellana-tollemache-tollemache-1879-1914/.

Major Green was not a South African but his son settled there after WW2, and his grandchildren were born there. (This blogger is flexible re criteria for Southern Africa.) Today his descendants can be found in South Africa, and further afield, in Canada and Scotland. If I find I am a few countries short here, then expect an update.

Much can be found online about his son, Paddy, including lengthy obituaries in the British Press. The following links lead to some reflections on his son’s military career. All hyperlinks in this article were checked and worked on 7 November 2017.

600 Squadron Association, ‘Profile: Charles Patrick ‘Paddy’ Green’, http://600squadronassociation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Profile_-_Charles_Patrick_Green_-_600.pdf, accessed 7/11/2017.

Tidy, D.P. (Squadron Leader), ‘South African Air Aces of World War II: No 7 Group Captain C.P. Green’, Military History Journal, Vol. I, No.7, December 1970.

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Keith Brennand MacWilliam (1921–1944)

117609V Lieutenant Keith Brennand MacWilliam,
34 Squadron South African Air Force,
Killed in action, 16 October 1944, Poland.

Keith MacWilliam was one of the 43 South African Air Force Crew killed in the extremely risky exercise of dropping supplies during the Relief of Warsaw.

In my blog post for Bernard Rissik I referred briefly to other members of the Rissik family who lost their lives while on active service.  I mentioned Keith, the husband of Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Ulrich Rissik, one of Bernard’s younger brothers.

Keith has recently come to the attention of Ipswich War Memorial researchers, because an Ipswich man, Sergeant Geoffrey Frederick Ellis, was among the crew of the B=24 Liberator bomber (serial number KH-152 ‘F’) on which Keith was one of the pilots.

I received a message via Ancestry on 16 October 2017, about a web page on which Keith was mentioned, but it was not until this evening that I came across the message.  The sender, Helen, is another war memorial researcher, one of a group researching those commemorated on Ipswich War Memorials.

In her message, Helen helpfully drew my attention to the web page which the Ipswich researchers  created for Geoffrey Frederick Ellis and which they uploaded on 16 October 2017, the 73rd anniversary of the death of five of the eight crew on KH-152.

There is a great deal of information on Geoffrey Ellis’s page about the shooting down of this aircraft and the aftermath of that for the various members of the aircrew.  Despite the aircraft’s being on fire, the first thought of the crew was to save the cargo, and as a result, “precious parachute height” was lost by the time those able to, jumped clear of it.

So young; and so selfless.

Sources
The Ipswich researchers credit extra and information and photographs by courtesy of Dominik Koscielny with additional help from John Allan.

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Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson (1890–1918)

X/762 Private Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson,
South African Medical Corps.
Died of influenza, 30 October 1918
at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, .

The grave of Frank Kidson, 2013

The grave of Frank Kidson, 2013

If I were ever to allow myself a ‘favourite’ from amongst the Richmond Cemetery Lads, he might well be Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson, a medic, who succumbed to the ‘Blue Death‘ (the Influenza Epidemic of 1918) an illness which took more lives in Europe than had the Great War (about 21 million versus about 15 million in the conflict on both sides). Sadly, his illness was to have grave repercussions, for his young wife, Kate, and for their infant daughter.

Frank Kidson was the son of Job Paul Kidson and his wife, Phyllis Elizabeth Fuller and, through his father, he came from pioneering stock.   Frank’s great grandparents, William Kidson (b. 1784 in Staindrop, Co. Durham) and Anna Maria Parke (b. c. 1787 in Saffron Waldon) were 1820 Settlers, and, with their six children, members of Thomas Willson’s Party, which had sailed from London on La Belle Alliance, on 12 February 1820.  This party was allocated land in Beaufort Vale, along the Bush River and close to the frontier of the Cape Colony. The parents of Anna Maria Parke were Joseph Parke and Elizabeth Talmash (or Tollemache), the latter a surname well represented on the war memorials in Ham and in Petersham.

William and Anna were married at St Paul’s, Shadwell in 1807, with one of the witnesses being Anna’s brother, Samuel Fenning Parke.  The Fenning surname continued down in the Kidson family for several generations, and so I am confident that the Fleming which replaces Fenning in some of Frank’s military records is incorrect, and has been misheard with the error perpetuated.

The family lived first in the parish of Westminster, later moving to Bermondsey.  We can observe the changes in William’s occupation throughout his marriage from the baptismal records of his oldest children. Immediately before his departure for the Cape he had been a Victualler in Bermondsey Street. He made a living in Bathurst, in the Eastern Cape, first as a Cattle Dealer, and later as a farmer.  Just over 20 years later, the Victualler had reverted to type, and William was trading in Grahamstown as a wine merchant.

Frank’s grandfather, Joseph Parke Kidson,  married twice and Frank’s father, Job, was a child of Joseph’s second marriage to Mary Timm.  Like many of the frontier settlers, Job Kidson was called upon to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. At the time of his marriage to Phyllis Elizabeth Fuller, in 1882, he was  a trader at Indwe.  The following year, he was initiated as a Freemason at the Lodge Star in the East, in Queenstown.  The Lodge records show that he was working as a wagon maker.  Job’s father was also a freemason, and several of his sons also became freemasons, members of lodges in King William’s Town, but there is no record that Frank ever became a freemason.

Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson was born on 18 March 1890, their fifth child, and first son. Fenning, so important in previous generations was included in his string of first names. Just under three months later, Frank’s father died in the Frontier Hospital, in Grahamstown, leaving five children under the age of seven.  It is likely, given their ethos, that Job’s fellow masons would have helped his widow and children if they were in financial straits, as would his Kidson brothers. Frank would, unfortunately, have grown up without any memories of his father, as would the youngest of his sisters.   Following Phyllis’s remarriage, she moved to the Transvaal.

At the time of his enlistment, Frank was employed in the South African Police Force.  He enlisted in the Army in 1915, when he appears to have been deployed to a Reserve Battalion at Maida Barracks, Aldershot.  He was sent to France the following year, after having been detailed for duty with the Military Police, not arriving there until September 1916, three months after the South African Brigade had suffered devastating losses while holding out at Delville Wood.  It is not clear from his record card just when he was attached to the South African Medical Corps but it appears, as there is no indication of his being a patient, that this must have occurred before 2 June 1917, when he was transferred from the Military Hospital in Eastbourne to the Eastbourne Convalescent Hospital. Within a fortnight, he was transferred to the Military Orthopaedic Hospital in Shepherd’s Bush where he served as a medic until 1918.

We know that Frank was accommodated at Maida Barracks in Aldershot and subsequently at Inkerman Barracks, his residence at the time of his marriage. Parish records show that Frank married Kate Kathleen Eves in St John’s Church, Woking, on 26 April 1918.

The South African War Graves Project has obtained an interesting newspaper cutting about Frank’s exceptional height, shared with other family members, including his sisters, and which I have transcribed here:

THE SIX-FOOTERS

CURIOUS RECORD OF A GIANT SOUTH AFRICAN FAMILY

There is serving at Aldershot a young soldier of the South African Infantry, Private F.F.F. Kidson, who stands 6ft 8in.

His father stood 6ft 1in., and served in the Zulu War.  His mother, now with the family in Johannesburg, is 6ft 4½ in., and there are four daughters, all over 6ft. 4in.  Three are married, with husbands respectively 6ft 4in., 6ft 2in., and 6ft 1in.

Kidson’s fiancée is only eighteen years of age and 5ft 4in in height but she weighs 16st[one].  Kidson belongs to a platoon of thirty-six men all over 6ft.  He is anxious to meet a giant Hun.

 On 20 October, the very day that his daughter, Frances Florence Fuller Kidson was born, Frank was admitted to the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, suffering from influenza. Medical records show that he was described as “dangerously ill” on 27 October.

Tribute to Kate Kidson on her husband's grave

Tribute to Kate Kidson on her husband’s grave

Frank’s young wife, Kate, is said to have taken her newborn daughter to London, so that her father could meet her.  He died at the hospital on 30 October, one of several members of the medical corps to die that week. Kate’s trip south was to cost her her own life, and she succumbed to influenza just over a week later, on 8 November 1918.  She was particularly vulnerable to this virus, because she was exposed to it so soon after having given birth.

Frank and Kate’s daughter, Frances, gave birth to a son and three daughters from her marriage to Ronald Henry Watts. A subsequent pregnancy proved fatal. When I pause at Frank’s grave on Remembrance Sunday, I think not only of him, his wife and their orphaned daughter, but I also wonder whether his descendants in the UK are aware of the intrepid pioneers from whom they have sprung.

Note
My post The Blue Death gives some information about the influenza epidemic and how it affected the staff and patients at the South African Military Hospital.

Wartime Marriages: Inkerman Barracks is also where my grandfather was stationed, at the time of his marriage my grandmother, in Leeds, in October 1917. I’m aware of a number of marriages between S.A.M.H.  patients and local women—one of which was the marriage at Richmond Register Office in 1917,  of my great great-uncle, John Henry Lewin,a patient at the S.A.M.H. because of life-changing injuries, and an enthusiastic contributor to the hospital’s magazine, The Springbok Blue.

Researching the 1820 Settlers
Those interested in the experiences of the 1820 Settlers in Albany, might like to obtain a copy of The Chronicle of Jeremiah Goldswain, a recent edition of which has been sensitively transcribed and edited by his descendant Ralph Goldswain.

Further information sought
I have been told, by one of her descendants whom I contacted, that Kate’s father, Benjamin Eves, a farmer, travelled down to London to collect the infant Frances, and that she was raised by her mother’s family in Woodbastwick.  Frances Kidson’s birth was registered in Blofield, Norfolk, possibly at the same time as the registration of her mother’s death. Presumably this means that both these events took place at Woodbastwick, where the Eves were living.  Would Kate’s father have been allowed to register the birth in Woodbastwick, if she had died in London?  If she returned home, when ill, then who took care of her baby in London?

Posted in Blue Death (Influenza) victim, South African Medical Corps (SAMC), South African Military Hospital Richmond | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Remembrance Sunday 2016

Preparing sprigs of rosemary for the South African war graves in Richmond, 2016

Preparing sprigs of rosemary for the South African war graves in Richmond, 2016

My disappointment at the neglect, by South Africans, of the South African War Memorial on both Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday continues.  I was sorely tempted this year, to go to the annual commemoration at Ham or Petersham, and did not prepare the sprigs for the graves until the actual day. It was, therefore, dangerously close to 11 a.m. by the time we approached the memorial.  I thought, as I had done last year, that this year the “Patrons of Lost Causes” (see earlier posts) would surely cycle elsewhere, and that we would once again, pay our respects alone.

2016: the British Legion left a wreath.

2016: the British Legion left a wreath.

But no, the inimitable Mark and one of his cyclists were already there and in their usual cheerful spirits. (The third cyclist wasn’t, because this year he was involved in an event in Europe.)  We were pleased to see a wreath had been laid there by the British Legion, almost as heartwarming as it had been to see the wreath from Archbishop Desmond Tutu some years ago.  We saw that St Dunstan’s had again laid wreath at the nearby grave of Natalie Opperman (1904—1988) in appreciation of her lifetime of service to the “war blinded” in both wars. We also checked up on the grave of George Rosser, a Richmond lad, serving with the South African forces, which had acquired a CWGC headstone last year.  This time it was in full sun, so I photographed it again.

Come on Saffers!  Do your bit next year, and in March 1918, and in November 2018.  If Richmond is too much of a trek for you, then follow the guidance on this site, which will enable you to find the grave of a Southern African near to where you live.

Find South African War Graves

If you’re interested in military research in general, then the following posts, from 2013, and on my professional blog, Discover your Family History, may help you get started:

War Memorial Research (1): Perils and Pitfalls

War Memorial Research (2): First Steps

War Memorial Research (3): No easy match on the CWGC database?

Posted in Memorials, Remembrance Day, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘The Blue Death’—the influenza epidemic of 1918

The ‘Great Influenza Epidemic’ reached its height in the last quarter of 1918, though there had been a noticeable increase in influenza cases in the preceding year.  As the virus became more virulent, some patients developed complications, notably pneumonia or meningitis, for which there was no reliable treatment.  Those in their late teens and twenties were particularly at risk and, quoting Jim Duffy’s book, The Blue Death, Rod Graham, notes that the disease is said to have caused more deaths in 24 weeks (in late 1918 and early 1919) than AIDS has caused in over 24 years or the Black Death did in over a century.

The suggestion that a pandemic is less dangerous in its early months, seems to be borne out by an article in the July 1918 edition of The Springbok Magazine.  In Six Days with the “flu” an anonymous serviceman describes his admission to hospital, the extent of the illness, his treatment and, after six days, his discharge.  Even at that stage in 1918, he was describing a huge influenza ward—“You try to count the number of beds in the ward but you cannot see the end; it fades away in the dim distance, and you shut out the miles of beds and clutch the nearest.”  (And, of course, the nurses were always compared to angels!)

The earliest fatality at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, and which is probably attributable to the 1918 influenza epidemic, was the death from ‘pneumonia’ on 3 October 1918, of Sergeant Lancelot de la Penha Garcia of the South African Labour Corps.  Before the death of Sergeant Garcia, there had only been twelve deaths at the hospital in the time since its opening in 1916. In only one case was the cause recorded as pneumonia, and that had occurred nearly two years previously.

The death a fortnight later, of Private Ernest Michael Smith, also from ‘pneumonia’ marked the start of a truly bleak three weeks at the hospital.  Excluding from the count the earlier case of Sergeant Garcia, of the 13 patients to die from 18 October to 7 November, the cause was given as pneumonia in four cases and as influenza in seven.  There was also a case where the cause of death was given as ‘influenza and pneumonia’. Only one other patient died in that period, and that was as a consequence of tetanus, from the infection of wounds he had sustained on active service.  It is a tribute to the medical treatment of subsequent service personnel that, in spite of the numerous cases of influenza in Richmond, that occurred well into 1919,  there were no further deaths from influenza or pneumonia at the hospital that year, and indeed, only one more case of ‘pneumonia’, in late February 1919.

Among the victims were four members of the Medical Staff at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, who died within a few days of each other, in the last days of October, and the first week of November.  Influenza deaths peaked in Richmond in the three weeks leading up to Armistice Day.  Not far from the hospital, at his family home, Parkgate in Petersham, Company Quarter Master Sergeant, Gerald Farren, East Surrey Regiment, was to die from influenza on 4 November.

Private Martin Jacobus van Dyk Osler, died on 29 October 1918, followed the following day by the loss of two other members of the Medical Corps, Private Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson and Lance Corporal L. V. McCallumPrivate Edgar Porter, died three days later, on 2 November.

Another member of staff, a much-loved nursing sister, Dorah Bernstein, S.A.N.S., died from influenza on 6 November.  Her funeral cortege started its journey from the hospital mortuary with her coffin borne out of the hospital by Jewish orderlies of the S.A.M.C.  Like the hospital’s other influenza victims of the epidemic, she was buried  with full military honours, thought at Willesden Cemetery rather than at Richmond.

Source List
Barry, J. M., The Great Influenza: the epic story of the deadliest plague in history,
Duffy, J., ‘The Blue Death’, http://magazine.jhsph.edu/2004/fall/prologues/index.html, accessed 18/10/2016.
Graham, R., ‘Author brings the Great Influenza to the School’, http://www.jhsph.edu/news/stories/2005/great-influenza.html, accessed 6/5/2016.
The Springbok Blue, ‘Six days with the Flu’, July 1918, p.36–38.
The Springbok Magazine, ‘Obituary.  Staff Nurse Sarah (sic) Bernstein, December 1918, p.73–74.

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