Simply magnificent

This post dates from 1918, but is being reposted because the formatting of the original went haywire while WordPress was trying to force me to use Blocks instead of its Classic Editor.

Researching the events of the last week of March 1918, in War Diaries relevant to the experience of some of the men commemorated on a Parish War Memorial in Surrey, I discovered that there was a complete absence of such diaries for the First South African Brigade’s regiments for the period 1 March 1918 to 31 August 1918.

I like also to refer to histories and personal accounts, and for the latter, I chose to see how the week had been covered in diaries I happened to have, of two individuals on opposite sides of the frontline.  On the German side, Herbert Sulzbach’s men had bivouacked the previous night in Artemps, where there had been a British camp, and, after taking many prisoners, Sulzbach spent the night in a British Officers’ dugout. He woke to the news that his unit had moved from being second-line troops to frontline troops.

All day the wrong way…

Nursing Sister Kate Luard, recalling the morning of 24 March in her diary, wrote of a day in which “a steady stream of everything flowed past…all day the wrong way, like Mons“. She describes an incident, which reminded me of the huge losses suffered by the South Africans during that week.

The [24th] Division was practically napoo for the moment…The Germans came straight through one of the other Divisions, the 16th, and…the 66th. A Black Watch man on a stretcher was asked where the 9th Division were.  “They’re in Germany now,” he said.  They are all Scotch and South Africans.  I’ve met them all through the War.” [p. 167]

If only.  Confident though the Black Watch man was, they certainly weren’t in Germany.

I turned to John Buchan’s History of the South African Forces in France to see what was really going on with the South Africans and the brigades of the 9th Scottish Division, to which the First South African Brigade had been attached since July 1916.  In a German contemporary evaluation of all the Allied Divisions, the 9th Scottish Division was amongst the handful regarded as the top five British Divisions. Here’s how Buchan describes the state of the South African Brigade at this point:

Giddy with lack of sleep, grey with fatigue, poisoned by gas and tortured by the ceaseless bombardment, officers and men had faced the new perils which each new hour brought forth, with a fortitude beyond all human praise. [p. 181]

Closer attention to this week is long overdue as one of my great uncles was killed in that week, one amongst the hundreds of slaughtered soldiers from the South African Brigade who have no known grave and are commemorated, instead, on the Pozières Memorial.  Their numbers include the inspirational Captain Garnet Green and his entire company, and the irrepressible commander of the 1st Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Henry Heal, DSO, who, though wounded twice, insisted on remaining with his troops.  Buchan quotes from a letter from another officer:

By this time, it was evident to all that we were bound to go under, but even then Colonel Heal refused to be depressed.  God knows how he kept so cheery through all that hell; but right up to when I last saw him, about five minutes before he was killed, he had a smile on his face and a cheery word for us all.

Chapter VIII covers the action of that week, from the moment, at quarter to five in the morning of 21 March, when the “uncanny silence” was broken and Ludendorff “flung the dice for victory.”  Buchan sums up the South African contribution to holding a vital part of the line as follows:

In all that amazing retreat, when our gossamer front refused to be broken by the most fantastic odds, no British division did more nobly than the 9th.  It held a crucial position in the line, and only by its stubborn endurance was a breach between Gough and Byng prevented.  Among the brigades of the 9th, the chief brunt was borne by the South Africans.  A great achievement is best praised in the language of the commanders themselves.  General Tudor wrote:—

“I think everybody should know how magnificently the South African Brigade fought…. The division will not seem the same without them, and it was they who bore the brunt of the fighting of the 9th on the 21st and 22nd.” [p. 190]

Here are Dawson’s words:—It is impossible for me  to do justice to the magnificent courage displayed by all ranks under my command during this action.  For the two years I have been in France, I have seen nothing better.  Until the end they appeared to me quite perfect. The men were cool and alert, taking advantage of every opportunity, and when required, moving forward over the open under the hottest machine-gun fire and within 100 yards of the enemy.  They seemed not to know fear, and in my opinion they put forth the greatest effort of which human nature is capable.  I myself witnessed several cases of great gallantry, but do not know the names of the men.  The majority of course will never be known. It must be borne in mind that the Brigade was in an exhausted state before the action, and in the fighting of the previous three days it was reduced in numbers from a trench strength of over 1,800 to 500.” [p. 190]

Buchan continues by recounting ‘the testimony of the enemy’.

During the German advance, Captain Peirson, the brigade major of the the 48th Brigade of the 16th Division, was taken prisoner.  When he was examined at German Headquarters, an officer asked him if he knew the 9th Division; for, said he, “We consider that the fight put up by that division was one of the best on the whole of your front, especially the last stand of the South African Brigade, which we can only call magnificent. In the course of his journey to Le Cateau, Captain Peirson was spoken to by many German officers, all of whom mentioned the wonderful resistance of the South Africans. [p. 190]

There is a more striking tribute still.  On the road to Le Cateau, a party of British officers was stopped by the Emperor, who asked if anyone present belonged to the 9th Division. “I want to see a man of that division,” he said, “for if all divisions had fought like the 9th, I would not have had any troops left to carry on the attack.” [p. 191]

As captured officers were taken eastwards, they saw that the stand of the South Africans, at such heavy cost  to the brigade, had not been in vain.

The whole road for miles east of Bouchavesnes was blocked by a continuous double line of transport and guns, which proved that the South Africans had for over seven hours held up not only a mass of German infantry, but all the artillery and transport advancing on the Bouchavesnes-Combles highway.  Indeed it is not too much to say that on that fevered Sabbath, the stand of the Brigade saved the British front…But for the self-sacrifice of the Brigade at Marrières Wood and the delay in the German advance at its most critical point, it is doubtful whether Byng could ever have established that line on which, before the end of March, he held the enemy. [p. 191]

The ‘departure’ of the South African Brigade from the 9th Scottish Division was a result of the loss of so many of its men in that fatal week.  It is hardly surprising that there is an absence of War Diary coverage in the WO 95 series at The National Archives—for any of the Brigade’s units—for the period 1 March 1918 to 31 August 1918.

Thoughts on Marrières Wood, 105 years later

I recently came across a blog post which suggests that Operation Michael (also known as Die  Kaiserschlacht) was bound to fail.  Not so.  Both Buchan and Reid have been frank about how close our forces came to losing the battle. Numerous British and Allied units were broken up and in nigh chaotic retreat towards the coast, where they would have been cornered, with fewer options, and less chance of being evacuated, than others would have, in 1940.

It was the courageous men in the tight-knit units who held their ground on the battlefield, and along the frontline, who bought with their lives, the seven to eight hours needed for those units in retreat to be rounded up, regrouped and returned to begin to recover the ground that had been lost. Two days later, the German attack began to fail. In this the support of the French forces was crucial.

British mistakes strained relationships between the British and the French commanders and within days resulted in the decision to appoint Foch as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces.


Buchan, J., A History of the South African Forces in France, London and Edinburgh, 1920 [Thomas Nelson and Sons],, accessed 24/3/2023.

Luard, K., Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, London, 1930, [Chatto & Windus], republished 2014, (ed.) Stevens, J. and C., [The History Press].  A diary covering an early period in the war, and printed anonymously, is out of print.

Reid, W., Five Days from Defeat: How Britain nearly lost the First World War, Edinburgh, 2017.

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Remembrance Sunday in Richmond 2022

This is a belated upload of my post on the Two Minutes’ Silence at Richmond Cemetery on Remembrance Sunday, 13 November 2022.  Once again it was the two of us, joined this year by the Patrons of Lost Causes (The Three Cyclists) and Fiona, who laid a wreath on behalf of the Booth family, which was one of the families joining us in November 2020, when we had a strictly socially distanced gathering, one of our ‘best’ gatherings yet, as people appeared out of the blue.  We were all incredibly touched by the Booth family’s continuing to remember the South Africans buried here.

This year also marked the centenary of the unveiling of this South African War Memorial by Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts.

The wreath on the left was laid on behalf of the “Ypres Company, 1st Battalion, London Guards” which I think may refer to the London Scottish, at least one of whom is buried in the adjacent section of Richmond cemetery.

Ironically three of my four most recent posts have been about Scots, two of whom were serving in the South African forces.  The 4th Regiment in the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was the South African Scottish Regiment and they, along with all the casualties of the London Scottish, and of the other Commonwealth Scottish Regiments are all commemorated in the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.

This year's wreaths

Wreaths laid at the Memorial in 2022

Richmond 13 November 2022

The official photograph for 2022, taken too late to capture everyone!

Posted in Cemeteries, Commemoration, Patrons of Lost Causes, Remembrance Day, South African Military Hospital Richmond | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Forgotten Scottish Poet of the First World War

I sometimes can’t resist the urge to rescue from oblivion the forgotten casualties of WW1, who are often also those for whom the CWGC database falls short. That means I always have a waiting list of ‘war strays’ for deeper research. But in the case of one of these, as I began to discover that neither the Scottish Poetry Library, an otherwise amazing haven and resource for lovers of Scottish poetry, nor the school at which he had been educated, nor the university college at which he had lectured in philosophy for four years, could find a record of William Robert Hamilton, I felt obliged to prioritise his story with a post that, I hope, is a gentle nudge that gets him a little attention from his ‘ain folk’. I have chosen to post it in this particular blog, largely because of his longing for Southern Africa, clearly expressed in his poem, The Song of an Exile.

2/Lieut. William Robert Hamilton, The Coldstream Guards
attached 4 Company Guards Machine Gun Regiment.
Born 25 April 1891, Dumfries, Scotland;
Killed in action, 12 October 1917,
Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

I first came across the name of William Hamilton on an online list, Forgotten Poets of the First World War, which included his poem, The Song of an Exile. The poem seemed vaguely familiar to me so it is possible that I may have come across it in a South African anthology many years ago.

Here’s an extract from that poem—its first verse, followed by the poem’s first refrain. One can feel the yearning in the refrain.

I have seen the Cliffs of Dover
And the White Horse on the Hill;
I have walked the lanes, a rover;
I have dreamed beside the rill:
I have known the fields awaking
To the gentle touch of Spring;
The joy of morning breaking,
And the peace your twilights bring.

But I long for a sight of the pines, and the blue shadows under;
For the sweet-smelling gums, and the throbbing of African air;
For the sun and the sand, and the sound of the surf’s ceaseless thunder,
The height, and the breadth and the depth, and the nakedness there.

[Modern Poems, William Hamilton, 1917.]

William Robert Hamilton

William was born at 1 Maryville Terrace, Dumfries on 25 April 1891, the only child of John Hamilton (1858–1944), at the time a Commercial Traveller, from Keir, Dumfriesshire, and his first wife, Jane Waugh (1862–1909), a Music Teacher.  In most records, she appears as Jeanie, which was then a fairly common diminutive for Jane and Jean, two popular Scottish first names. John and Jeanie were married according to the forms of the Free Church, at the bride’s residence, 86 High Street, Dumfries on 27 December 1887.

As William would turn out to be their only child, I am interrupting here, to take his story back one extra generation, in the hope that there may be descendants of his paternal or maternal grandparents who will recognise their connection with him. Following his death, there remained only William’s father and his friends to remember him, and my hope is that this post will, in due time, reach some descendants of his Scottish cousins.

William’s father and his paternal grandparents

William’s father, John, was the fourth child of Robert Hamilton (c.1818–1903) and Irving Crosbie (1824–1902), who were married on 27 June 1846 in the parish of Gorbals, Glasgow.  Born at Keir Mill, John was presumably named after his Crosbie maternal grandfather and in later life, John would clarify this connection by incorporating the Crosbie/Crosby surname as a middle name. Robert Hamilton was born in Closeburn, Dumfriesshire and by the time of the birth of his son, John, was a Master Miller in Dumfries.  John’s occupation, described as Commercial Traveller in 1887, and as Grain Dealer in 1891, suggest he was perhaps filling these roles on behalf of his father.

William’s mother and his maternal grandparents

William’s mother, Jeanie, was the daughter of a Minister of the Free Church of Scotland, Robert Brown Waugh (1829–1863) and Jessie Fyfe Rattray (1838–1867). Her parents were married on 18 March 1862 in Dundee and Jeanie, their first and only child, was born at Crookham, in Northumberland, where her father was then the village’s Presbyterian Minister.  Jeanie was only six months old when her father died on 22 June 1863, at his parents’ home, Bengal Hill, in Durisdeer, Dryfesdale.  Robert was himself the youngest child of his parents John Waugh (1775–1852) and Jane Brown (1787–1871). Jeanie was named after Jane Brown, and Jane’s surname was occasionally included as Jeanie’s middle name.  Robert’s parents were both born, and brought up, in Durisdeer.  The family seems to have been comfortably off—the 1851 Census has John as a Landed Proprietor and Farmer, with 170 acres at Bengal Hill, employing 11 labourers.

Like her husband, Jessie, was the youngest child in the family of David Rattray (1792–1850) a Flax Spinner and Miller and Helen Jamieson (1797–1856). She was born at Bramblebank in Rattray, Blairgowrie where, five years previously, her father, David, had moved his family from their home in Dundee. There her father built the Bramblebank Mill on the banks of the River Ericht. The mill was driven by a ‘cutting edge’ condensing engine, powered by a turbine, producing flax and tow for Fife and Forfar.

The informant at the time of Jessie Rattray’s death, on 31 January 1867, was Alexander Malcolm, who turned out to be the husband of Jessie’s sister, Jane, the sister closest in age to her. The address at which Jessie died was the Malcolms’ family home, 1 Dudhope Terrace, Dundee and was the address at which Jessie was recorded in the1861 Census, taken a year before her marriage to Robert. Following Jessie’s death from rheumatic fever just a month after Jeanie’s fourth birthday, she became an orphan, and probably retaining few memories of her mother.

I was curious to know who had cared for Jeanie between her mother’s death and her marriage to Robert.  Initially I thought she might have been taken in by one of her Rattray aunts—Helen who was married to George Malcolm, the elder half-brother of Alexander, or one of her mother’s other sisters, Margaret, Elizabeth or Jane. But when next I came across Jeanie, she was recorded at Bengal Hill, in Durisdeer in the 1871 Scotland Census, living with the youngest of her Waugh aunts, Isabel, in a separate household attached to the household of another paternal aunt, Alison Waugh, and her husband, William Bell. William was farming land previously held by his father-in-law, John Waugh, but an area 20 acres fewer, and with four farm servants instead of eleven.

It was perhaps in the environment of Bengal Hill that Jeanie’s interest in music was facilitated, for in 1881 she was recorded as a Teacher of Music, living in Aberdeen, in the household of another aunt, this time Elizabeth Rattray, and her husband, William Aberdein, manager of a Jute Works there. There was a strong involvement in jute in this side of the family—the Malcolm husbands of Jeanie’s aunts, Helen and Jane, were both managers of Jute Works in Dundee.  As most of the jute sent to Dundee came from Bengal, and John Waugh farmed at Bengal Hill, I have been wondering whether John Waugh could himself have been an early investor in the jute trade.

William’s story

Four years after the marriage of John Hamilton and Jeanie Brown Waugh, and three weeks before William’s birth, we find them at 1 Maryville Terrace Dumfries.  Also in the household on Census Day (5 April 1891) was Jeanie’s paternal aunt, Isabel, with whom we had found Jeanie in 1871.  The census has her as a boarder, living on her own means.  That she was not described as a ‘Visitor’ could suggest that Isabel’s presence in the household was more than just as someone to assist with the new baby.  It’s interesting that we find Isabel with her niece in the first and last Scottish censuses in which Jeanie was represented. Perhaps of all the willing aunts, Isabel was, in effect, the one most filling the role of a surrogate mother to Jeanie.

I have found no convincing entries on the available passenger lists of ships bound for Cape Town that include William’s father, his mother or William himself, so we cannot yet be sure when the family emigrated to the Cape Colony. I have not been able to find them in the 1901 census, so I am tentatively assuming that they emigrated before the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) and thus before the deaths of John’s parents, Irving and Robert in 1902 and 1903 respectively.

We know that William received at least some of his primary education at St George’s Grammar School, a cathedral school, at the time attached to St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.  At about the age of 12, William would have embarked on his secondary education at the South African College School, known locally as SACS. Founded in 1829, it is said to be the oldest high school in Southern Africa. In about 1874, the school added a small tertiary education facility which grew considerably over the last two decades of the 19th century, because of the growing need to provide advanced technical skills for example, for mining.  By the turn of the century, that ‘arm’ of the school had gained the status of a University College, and had become quite distinct from the College Schools.

The SACS Archive turned out to have records for many Hamiltons in its admission registers for the period 1905 to 1922, but no record for William, which is not surprising because, having been born in 1891, he had probably entered the school no later than  January 1903.  This extract, from William’s Record of Service with the Coldstream Guards provides information about his education:

Schooling Coldstream Guards application

The Coldstream Guards’ list of where William had been educated.

William would have completed his education at SACS in 1908 or 1909, at around the time that his mother died.  She had been suffering from cancer for six months,before her death at the Diakones Hospital, in Bree Street.

Academic life

During William’s time as a post-Matric College student, his play Moths and Fairies (1910) was published and perhaps, at some point performed.  After graduating with an M.A., he was appointed as a lecturer in Philosophy and English for four years—from the start of the academic year in 1912 to the end of the academic year in November 1915.

In 1912, Hugh Adam Reyburn, a native of Leven, Fife, with a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Glasgow, was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the South African College.  Besides their deep interest in philosophy, the two men had in common their relative youth—Reyburn was only five years older than William—and their Scottish roots. Within eight years of his arrival, Reyburn had developed a keen interest in psychology, promoting it and shifting his focus to it for the remainder of his academic career.

In support of William’s application for a commission, early in March 1916, Reyburn wrote that “during the period [of four years, he] has shown himself to be of irreproachable moral character.  His conduct has left nothing to be desired & he has efficiently fulfilled positions of responsibility and authority.”

1916 9 March SACS Reference W R Hamilton Original Cropped

We know that one of his close friends was N A Jackson with whom he had shared a house at 1 Park Road, until his departure for England,  This friend, along with William’s father, was listed in the records of the Coldstream Guards as a “person to be contacted in the event of an emergency”.

Off to war

There is also an earlier letter ‘in lieu of discharge’ in William’s Army Service Records, on notepaper headed ‘Judge’s Chambers, Supreme Court, Cape Town’ and signed by F G Gardiner, O[fficer] C[commanding] C Co[mpan]y Special Battalion.  Dated 10 November 1915, it reveals that he had undergone some basic part-time military training ahead of his departure for Europe. Gardiner wrote:

I am very sorry that you are leaving us, but glad that the reason for your resignation is that you are going on active service, and I congratulate you on the step you are taking. I hope that the training you have had with C Coy will prove helpful to you. It is a great encouragement to those working to make the Special Battalion a success to find that we are feeding the fighting forces.

Ever protective of his equipment, Gardiner concludes, May I remind you not to forget, in the hurry of departure, to return your rifle & equipment to the Q.M.R., Drill Hall.

He was indeed in the ‘hurry of departure’.  The passenger list for the  Llandovery Castle establishes that the ship docked in London on 19 December 1915, though it appears William disembarked, perhaps a day earlier, in Plymouth. He is described on its passenger list as a Lecturer, aged 24, and with his country of permanent residence given as Scotland.  He would have had his very last sighting of Table Mountain about two weeks earlier.

1916: William’s year in England

William wasted little time in continuing his military training.  On 17 January 1916, just four weeks after his arrival, he signed up with the Inns of Court O[fficer] T[raining] C[orps] and his attestation notes that he was based near Holborn, in the household of Dr John Waugh, M.D., at Gordon Mansions, in Francis Street. Dr Waugh (1856–1937) was the son of Jeanie’s uncle, John Waugh (1824–1891) and his wife Margaret Moffat (1834–1909) and thus first cousin to William’s mother, Jeanie.

On 4 August 1916, the second anniversary of the start of the war, and following six months of training with the Inns of Court OTC, William applied for a commission in the Coldstream Guards.  Having answered in the affirmative what may have been key questions—whether of pure European descent and able to ride—William was formally granted his commission on 22 August, Two days later, training specific to an officer in the Guards began, including, no doubt, extra sessions on horseback, given that he had demurred over those skills with the admission Yes…but out of practice.

Modern Poems

The preface to his collection of poems tells us that during his military training at the Victoria Barracks in Windsor, William spent some of his free time composing the poems in that volume and that ‘most of’ the poems in the collection published in 1917 were written during his year in England.

Preface to Modern Poems

William dedicated Modern Poems to A R Orage which suggests that he was someone whom William particularly admired.  Alfred Richard Orage (1873–1934) was at the time a key figure in socialist politics and modernist culture.  A former school teacher in Leeds, he had resigned in 1906 and moved to London, where he became editor of The New Age, transforming it into a broad forum for politics, as well as literature and the arts.  I see, in this dedication, clues also to William’s interests and, perhaps, to his political leanings, as a young adult. His base with Dr Waugh in Holborn meant that he was within easy reach to take advantage of the cultural scene and the avant-garde ‘pushing at the boundaries’—and, indeed, to encounter influential thinkers like Orage.

Preparing for the Front

Towards the end of the year, William undertook additional training, first at Windsor, as a Gas Instructor, and then by December in Grantham, when he completed Machine Guns training.  His grade for the latter, being Good, probably sealed his fate, as it resulted in his being attached thereafter to one of the Guards’ Machine Gun Battalions, in his case the 4/Machine Gun Guards Battalion.  His service records show that he was hospitalised at Etaples in June 1917 for almost a month, during which he was treated for an abscess.

The entry in the War Diary below, from of 4th Guards Machine Gun Battalion records that William returned from leave two days before his death. Only hours after first uploading this blog post, I found William was featured by A. St John Adcock in Chapter 8 of For Remembrance: soldier poets who have fallen in the way (1920). Adcock wrote that William’s “book was not published till after he had gone to the front, and a copy of it reached him only a few days before he was killed in action there.” But since he returned to the Front from English leave less than 48 hours before his death, I think it likely that he would have received a copy while he was in England, and, one hopes, been able to forward copies to those closest to him.

10/10/17   The whole company was present in FOREST AREA.  2/Lt Hamilton returned from English leave.

The entry below for 12 October 1917 covers the action in which William lost his life in an attack on Houthulst Forest. In the course of the war, the German forces had made the forest an almost impregnable fortress, holding it until September 1918, when Belgian forces finally ‘evicted’ their opponents.  Writing on the Great War Forum, ‘bieras’ gives vivid details of the scene in October 1917. Before the Great War, the Houthulst Forest covered over 4000 hectares but was reduced to fewer than a hundred hectares by the end of hostilities. [Link provided under Sources, but please regard it as having an associated Content Warning.]

On October 12th the 3rd Guards’ Brigade attacked enemy positions south of Houthulst Forest.  This machine gun company sent 14 guns to assist. 6 were detailed for Barrage fire under Lt Cooke at [Wijzenroff?] 2 under 2nd Lieut Fallows at Pascal Farm, 3 under 2nd Lieut Hamilton went forward with the advancing Infantry while 3 guns under Lieut Wallis were in immediate reserve about Egypt House.

The Company were relieved in the Line by the 1st Guards Brigade Machine Gun Company on the night of Oct[ober] 14–15 Marched back to [word obscured] Camp in the Forest Area.

Killed 2/Lt W R HAMILTON  2 O[ther] R[anks]
Wounded 2/Lt R G SIMPSON (gassed)  25 O[ther] R[anks]

The silence on any events between the commencement of action early on 12 October and the night of the 14th/15th is deafening.

The Telegram

Despite the distance, and no doubt the confusion following the Disastrous Twelfth, it was not long before a telegram reached William’s father in Cape Town. It read:

[TO] J C Hamilton 105 Kloof St., Cape Town, South Africa

Deeply regret to inform you 2/Lt W R Hamilton Coldstream Guards 4th Machine Gun Coy was Killed in action October twelfth The Army Council express their sympathy.

Telegram from WO to John Hamilton original image cropped

Others who knew William, read the Casualty Lists with dismay.  Ten days after William’s death, a clergyman, A W Woolverton, writing from Clevedon, Somerset, approached the Military Secretary in a letter enquiring into the identity of the soldier on the Telegraph’s list of officers killed.

I see by the D[aily] T[elegraph] list of officers killed, one, 2nd Lieut. W R Hamilton, C[oldstream] Guards. Can you inform me whether this is young Hamilton who came over from Cape Town?  For I know him, & would like to write to his folk.
Yours truly,
Rev. A W Woolverton

There is a poignancy behind Arthur Wellesley Woolverton’s concern.  While he and his wife, Rosa, had no children, he had a nephew, the son of his elder brother, Charles Nicholas Woolverton, who shared the name Arthur Wellesley Woolverton, and who was about the same age as William, who had died in France while serving in the 65/Field Ambulance, RAMC on 4 June 1917.  His CWGC headstone has the memorable epitaph, Á Dieu.

A wee mystery

William’s service records contain several items of correspondence between his father and the Army. Two months after his son’s death, John Hamilton wrote to the War Secretary to inform him that he was his son’s sole executor.  He included some requests:

I should be glad if you would kindly send all his valuables such as private letters and papers and any small articles of value.  He was wearing a Diamond Ring which he has left to someone here and I should be glad if it was carefully sent out to me.

As William has no known grave, it is unlikely that the diamond ring was ever recovered. William’s will may reveal to whom it had been left.

The last years of John Crosbie Hamilton

William’s father, John, died in the Groote Schuur Hospital on 2 May 1944 and was buried in the Maitland Cemetery. He was 86, though the Death Notice, for which his widow, Agnes Mary Robotham, was the informant, gave his age as 76 years. Agnes was the daughter of a Welsh father and a Scottish mother. Born in the Cape, where her father was a police inspector, the family returned to England in the early 1890s. In 1924, Agnes returned to the Cape, following her mother and younger sisters who had re-emigrated in 1915. Agnes would not have known William.

Not immediately forgotten…

Perhaps over the months I have been unravelling the story behind William, and exploring the background of his associates, my search engine skills have improved. To my astonishment, soon after I had completed, as I thought, my post on William, I came across William Hamilton in Chapter 8 of A. St John Adcock’s For Remembrance: soldier poets who have fallen in the war, published in 1920. There is a Wikisource link to this chapter in my Sources list.

Adcock concludes his piece on William, by referring to, and then quoting, Henry Simpson’s If it should chance… followed by a final paragraph, on which I cannot improve.

If it should chance that I be cleansed and crowned
With sacrifice and agony and blood,
And reach the quiet haven of Death’s arms,
Nobly companioned of that brotherhood
Of common men who died and laughed the while,
And so made shine a flame that cannot die,
But flares a glorious beacon down the years—
If it should happen thus, some one may come
And, poring over dusty lists, may light
Upon my long-forgotten name and, musing,
May say a little sadly—even now
Almost forgetting why he should be sad—
May say, ‘And he died young,’ and then forget….

And because that must be true of the vast majority, one is the happier that these at least will be held longer in remembrance who could give words to their thoughts and emotions, which were the thoughts and emotions also of their comrades who died, and made no sign, and have put their hearts and minds into songs that are not so perishable as the singer.

Reflect with me, on the first of William’s War Sonnets, written in 1917, as he anticipates a future in which he suspects he will likely play no part, under a future government which will rattle on regardless of the consequences of repeating its historic mistakes.

War Sonnet I

The spoils of youth are shaken from the net:
The golden promise spilt, and in despite
Of nature’s well-laid plan, a nation’s might
Of intellect becomes a dull regret.
And ye, who lightly talk of England’s debt;
Who muddle into government and war,
Spilling the garnered ointment from the jar
The Past upon the Future’s altar set—
How shall ye meet this greater debt incurred
Of reasonable hope outraged, and how
Restore the sweetness to the People’s song:
Revive its pristine trust in those whose word
May yet precipitate a greater wrong
Than that whose bitterness we harvest now!

William Hamilton, Modern Poems, p.21

Points of interest?

Who died alongside William?

Reading the list of casualties in the 4/MGG Battalion’s War Diary for 12 October 1917, I felt keenly, as one does, the failure to identify the 27 injured from the lesser ranks.  I searched for information on the two men of ‘other ranks’ who may have died alongside William, and who like him, have no known grave.  I was only able to identify one of them, 775 Private Henry George Blyth (1894–1917) of the Machine Gun Guards, 4 B[attalion], who died on 12 October 1917 and who, like William, is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The CWGC has no further information in its database, not even the names of his parents, nor his full name, nor the names of his wife and children.  I will be writing a short piece on Henry and his link to Scotland—he married in Portobello—for my Passersby Remember blog.

Why the Coldstream Guards?

I frequently pondered over this, asking myself why William was so keen to enlist in the Coldstream Guards, as there seemed no family connection with that particular regiment.  It was when I narrowed down his mother’s place of birth from England to Northumberland and finally to Crookham in the parish of Ford, that I found a clue. As I had begun to suspect, Crookham is close to Coldstream, and it may have been anecdotes her mother or her aunts shared with Jeanie, that she in turn shared with her son, William that inspired in him the ambition to serve in the Coldstream Guards. And if, during his childhood, he had been taken to England to see his mother’s birthplace, and seen the Guards on parade, that may have been what deeply impressed him.

While a new build, in 1932–1933, replaced the original Presbyterian church in Crookham, built in the 1730s, it is on the site of the old church, and is still following a similar tradition, but as a United Reformed Church.  I was touched to discover that this church has recently been surrounded by a peace garden.

The SACS War Memorial

The SACS archivist responded swiftly to an enquiry, and was kind enough to send me a photo showing a section of the school’s memorial to pupils of the South African College School who perished while on active service. William’s name would have been between HAMBIDGE P G and HANSEN A D.  I hope that the school’s English and History teachers and some of their pupils will be interested in reading and sharing William’s story., so that he is not forgotten by those who came after him.

It was not particularly unusual for South Africans to enlist in a British regiment.  For example, elsewhere in this blog, you will find my post on Barney Rissik, grandson of Dr Gerrit Rissik, who served in the Rifle Brigade.

Bramblebank Mill

In 2002, Canmore (The National Record of Historic Environment) described the Bramblebank Mill as follows:  A mid-19th century linen/jute mill utilising water from the River Ericht. The complex of buildings includes a three-storeyed & attic rubble-built mill with gabled slate roof, and a five-bay extension at its NW end. The mill was disused at the time of survey in 2002.  Information from RCAHMS(MKO) 2002

Bramblebank Mill was gutted early in 2021, in an inferno thought to be the work of vandals. Thus was lost an industrial heritage site, spanning nearly 200 years. Some machinery survives, because, when the mill ceased production in 1903, the “cutting edge machinery” was moved to Westfield Mill, which was then being rebuilt.

Sources and documents

Adcock, A. St John, For remembrance: soldier poets who have fallen in the war, 1920., accessed 11/12/2022.

Canmore, (National Record of the Historic Environment) ‘Blairgowrie, Rattray, Bramblebank Mill’,, accessed 15/12/2022.

Cateran Ecomuseum, ‘Bramblebank Works’, 9/12/2022.

Elliott, C.C., ‘The History of the Cape Town Hospitals’, South African Medical Journal, Volume 21, Issue 16, p.377–380, August 1947,, accessed 11/12/2022.

General Register Office (GRO), Statutory Births 1863, ‘Jane Waugh’, Glendale (Northumberland), Vol. 10B, p.335.

Great War Forum, Map of Houthulst Forest,, accessed 14/12/2022.

Great War Forum, ‘Houthulst Forest, October 1917,, accessed 16/12/2022. Look for contributions to this thread by Andrew Lucas aka ‘bierast’—there are also some photos that provide a strong impact. Also see entry for Andrew Lucas in this Source list.

Hamilton, W., Modern Poems, Oxford (Blackwell), 1917.  The British Library has a copy of this book, but also provides access for registered users to an online digital copy.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), ‘Bramblebank Mill, Rattray, Blairgowrie’,, accessed 9/12/2022.

London, L[ucy], ‘Forgotten Poets of the First World War’,, most recent access 6/12/2022.

Lucas, A[ndrew] and Schmieschek, J[ürgen], For King and Kaiser: Scenes from Saxony’s War in Flanders, Pen and Sword, 2020.  Warmly recommended.  It’s a sequel to their earlier book ‘Fighting the Kaiser’s War’.  It is always illuminating to understand what was happening in the opposite trenches.

Representative Poetry Online, ‘William Hamilton’,, accessed 12/12/2022.

Royal Society of South Africa, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, Vol.34, Issue 1, ‘Hugh Adam Reyburn’, 1954,, accessed 13/12/2022.  This piece provides a brief overview of Reyburn’s career, evaluating and focusing on his character, interests, strengths and contribution to psychology.

The National Archives (TNA), WO 339/68909, Officers’ Records, ‘2 Lieutenant William Robert Hamilton, The Coldstream Guards’, 1914–1922.

TNA. WO 95/1206/1, ‘War Diary 4 Guards Battalion Machine Gun Corps, With Plans’, 1/3/1917–31/3/1918.  Relevant images are on image 21/107 and 22/107.  This War Diary is available to download from The National Archives.

Wikipedia, ‘Alfred Richard Orage’,, accessed 12/12/2022.

Wikipedia, ‘Battle of Passchendaele’,, accessed 4/12/2022.

© Margaret Frood QG, 2022.

Posted in First World War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James Martin of Gallatown, an Old Regular

5132 Private James Martin,
4/SAIR (The South African Scottish),
formerly 3828 The Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch).
Died 28 November 1918 at the SAMH, Richmond Park,
Buried Zone Z in the South African Section of Richmond Cemetery.

Why James?

After researching Herbert Rose, who enlisted and headed north to the battlefields of France, while still only 15, my thoughts turned to a handful of older men buried in the South African Section of Richmond Cemetery.  According to the records of the CWGC, James was 52 when he died on 28 November 1918 and thus stood out significantly ahead of the rest.  Though all was not as it seemed, James would still turn out, in this, to lead the rest of the field.

James was buried only a couple of weeks after the cessation of hostilities, but October and November of that year had seen a dramatic rise in deaths of patients, as well as nurses, at the South African Military Hospital. These were peak months for influenza deaths in Richmond and nearby Kingston.  However, I was wrong in thinking the influenza epidemic was the likeliest cause of James’s death.

James’s story

An approximate birth year for James, based on his death towards the end of November 1918, and aged 52 in the GRO death records, suggested a year of birth of about 1866.  I could not find a birth registration for him in the parish of Dysart so, broadening the search by five years on either side, I found a James Martin, son of James Martin (potentially justifying the J of his father’s initial as well as the precise location, Gallatown mentioned in our soldier’s CWGC entry.

James turned out to be the first-born child of a baker, James Martin of Cowdenbeath in the parish of Beath, Fife and of Marjory Morrison, a factory worker in Gallatown, in the parish of Dysart, where they were married on 3 January 1870. James’s date of birth matches that on the attestation of a James Martin in Perth on 17 December 1888, who joined the Royal Highlanders, later known as The Black Watch. His clear confident hand then, had a distinctive M that also matches his signature on the records for his later marriages. His records in the Royal Highlanders also confirmed his father’s name.

James was ploughman, at the time he enlisted, shortly after his 18th birthday. It was perhaps a desire for adventure and change that impelled him to sign up with the Royal Highlanders, later known as The Black Watch, a prestigious Scottish regiment which James would serve for a total of 13 years. 

Barely had James been discharged than he was recalled to Army Service under the Special Army Order of 7 October 1899, on the very day the British Army was ordered to mobilise. His regiment was posted to South Africa almost immediately. After just over two years on active service in South Africa, James was eventually discharged on 16 December 1901 just over five months before the Second Anglo-Boer War came to an end.  This extra from his Military History Sheet, shows where James spent his years as a soldier serving with The Royal Highlanders/The Black Watch.

Military History Sheet for 3828 Pte James Martin, The Black Watch (1888–1901)


Whether James returned to Scotland after his discharge, before returning to the Transvaal, is not clear, but the next record we have for him has him in Pretoria on 3 December 1903.  On that day he was married, in a civil ceremony at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, to Minnie Pollard, a spinster, and native of Scarborough, Yorkshire, who had emigrated to South Africa soon after the end of the War. It was not his first marriage, as he declared himself to be a widower.

Barely a fortnight after their marriage, Minnie contracted enteric fever, which led to a miscarriage (in a pregnancy estimated to have lasted five months) and which culminated, two weeks’ later, in heart failure. Minnie died on 5 January 1904 and was buried in the Pretoria Cemetery. She was 34.

Minnie was the daughter of Horatio Pollard and his wife, Martha Forbes.  Her father was a tailor, as was James’s maternal grandfather, Andrew Morrison, but James may not have known this ‘connection’, as he was not able to identify his wife’s parents when providing information for her probate record.


Eva was listed on James’s South African service records at the time of his enlistment in 1915, as Eva Pretoria Martin.  A search of South African records showed that she was the daughter of Edward and Martha Elizabeth Maxted, and had been born in Pretoria on 4 January 1878.  I no longer find it surprising to discover people from the United Kingdom in the ZAR (the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek), before the first Anglo-Boer War (1880–1881) or the Gold Rush (1886) but I was surprised to find Eva  given the middle name of Pretoria, because I had always thought that choice of name was a product of the second Anglo-Boer War.

James and Eva were married in Pretoria, on 2 June 1905, with their daughter, Marjory Eva, born on 1 September. Marjory was followed by that of two brothers, Edward, in 1907 and Charles Douglas in 1912.

Transvaal records of the time do not show the occupations of the bride and bridegroom so the only indication we have of how James might have been employed is that he was a Caretaker prior to joining the South African Scottish Regiment (4/SAIR) in 1915.  His service record is thin on the details but notes that he was appointed ‘Servant’ (batman) to Major Baker—perhaps because of his prior military experience or his age, which he had given as 39 when re-enlisting (when he was actually 45).  His record also shows that he embarked on 26 September 1915, probably bound for the Eastern Mediterranean. There are is no indication in his service card of where he was posted over the following three years.

The section in his records under the heading Disability, Casualty Etc. has precisely four entries, which I give in the exact order they are written, rather oddly in the middle of that side of an otherwise blank card. The columns in order are headed Date, Nature (i.e. of disability or illness) Place, Hospital and Remarks. Note that the final item is dated the day after his death.

The military’s No. 25 General Hospital was based at Hardelot, in the Pas de Calais and the South African Military Hospital was in Richmond Park, Richmond, Surrey.

11–11–18    Bronch[itis] mild     Hardelot            25 Gen[eral] H[ospital]

 6–11–18   Bronchitis                                            Dis[charged] to duty ex 25 Gen H

27–11–18   Adm[itted]:              Hosp.

29–11–18                                                                 SA Mil. Hosp.                 died.

His service record gives the cause of death as Pleurisy and Syncope.

James’s wife, Eva, did not remarry and continued to live in Pretoria, the city of her birth, and to receive her military dependant’s pension until her death, aged 85, on 13 June 1963. 

Eva outlived her daughter, Marjory, who had died on 26 October 1927, age 22, having suffered from cardiac and related problems over a period of two years.

I’ve not found further definitive records for Edward, other than his birth, but we know we lived at least until after his father’s death, or he would not have appeared on the list of James’s children, recorded in the WW1 pension ledgers.

Eva also outlived her son, Charles Douglas, who had married Lilian Campbell on 6 November 1943. Charles died in the Entabeni Hospital in Durban on 13 July 1954.

Appendix 1: Unravelling some trickier bits in the SAWGP record

Information about James in the CWGC’s WW1 database was modestly helpful.  It gave his name, age, service number, unit and the initial letter of his father’s first name, as well as his father’s location. 

His South African service record did a little better, in providing the name of his widow, but, unfortunately, it also linked him, I think incorrectly, to another James Martin via a citation for a medal from the Royal Humane Society in 1912

The information I have italicised below, is that provided on the South African War Graves Project.

Died of pleurisy and syncope; From RHS – Martin, James – Case 39242 – On the 3rd June 1912, George Collin fell overboard from a fishing boat some 12 miles off Burnmouth, there being a heavy sea running at the time. Martin jumped after him, and, having caught him, they were got on board after being twenty minutes in the water;

Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. This is not mentioned in his Army Records for the Royal Highlanders to which I think it pertains, but there is no reason to reject it entirely on that account.

Son of James Martin, of Gallatown, Scotland. This is correct.

Served in Nile Expedition (1885) This is unlikely. James’s pre-1914 military record has him enlisting in 1888 aged 18 years and 4 months—age spot on with regard to his birth registration.

Chitral Campaign (1895) and Gold Coast Expedition (1896)—James did serve in India but only from 18 February 1896 for just over eight months, after which he was posted ‘Home’ for nearly three years.  So he was in India too late for the Chitral action and in India, rather than the Gold Coast for most of 1896.

The South African Campaign. That fits!

Awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Medal.  I suppose it is vaguely possible that he got an RHS medal but it would not have been for this incident since the James Martin who rescued George Collin cannot be the James Martin of interest to us. The James Martin who rescued George Collin off Burnmouth in 1912 was the son of William Martin and Margaret Aitchison, while our man was the son of James Martin and Marjory Morrison after whom James’s only daughter, Marjory Eva (1905–1927) was named. 

Appendix 2: Previous marriages?

There is no indication in James’s South African WW1 service records of earlier marriages, and, to recap, I was only alerted to a previous marriage by finding that he had declared himself a widower at the time of his marriage to Eva Maxted, a marginal note in that record leading me to realise that an earlier marriage must have ended in South Africa. I then found the record of his marriage to Minnie Pollard in 1903, and in due course located the record for her death, a month later, in 1904 only to discover that James had also declared himself a widower at the time of his marriage to Minnie. In this case, there was no marginal note to support his being a widower. Searches, limited to James’s years in South Africa, provide no obvious previous bride or brides and a surprising number of James Martins to eliminate.  The extract from his Military History Sheet that I provided may provide sleuths willing to search for a marriage or marriages in his posting prior to South Africa.

Key Sources

The National Archives (TNA), WO97 5473/82, ‘Service Record of James Martin, b.1870, enlisted 1888, Royal Highlanders’, 1888–1901,, accessed 15/11/2022. Title of document amended to include the key data that will reduce the entries for to extract this James Martins, and ensure ‘our man’ is listed on the first results page.

South African War Graves Project, ‘James Martin’,, accessed 13/11/2022.

© Margaret Frood 2022

Posted in Anglo-Boer War, First World War, Military Hospitals | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anthonie Johannes Havenga

Jérémy Bourdon’s Instagram account (@jeremy.bourdon) has become my favourite account for war memorials in France. It’s partly because he features the graves of our allies as well as those of our enemies, and because of his keen eye for the natural world within the war cemeteries and his superb photography.  I now feel cheated that I have not yet, knowingly, shared a war cemetery with unexpected deer, sheep, and, no, not even a fox, given the numbers of suburban foxes on this grumpy island to the west of France.  Jérémy has tempted me down some interesting alleyways and in the case of Havenga’s grave, whose headstone, he posted on 28 July, led me to a disastrous attack involving the 1st South African Infantry Brigade.

Anthonie’s story

10104 Private Anthonie Johannes Havenga
1 South African Infantry Regiment,
served as John Andrew Havenga.
Killed in action, 12 April 1917,
Buried in Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux, France.

Private Havenga—the g is pronounced like the ch in the Scots loch—came to my attention this week when I noticed the Springbok on the headstone in a photograph uploaded by Jérémy Bourdon (jeremy.bourdon) to Instagram, on 28 July 2022.  Too many of the dead of the South African Infantry Brigade in Europe during WW1 have no known grave, so this was, in itself, unusual.

I was touched also by the comment added by @marievioletta8’s response:

Venu de si loin pour mourir.  Respect.

I took the obvious steps of looking first for Private Havenga’s entry on the CWGC database, and then for his service record with the South African Forces, and the latter was to give me a sense of foreboding.

The 1st South African Infantry Regiment (1/SAIR), in which my grandfather and his younger brothers served, is close to my heart, as is the 4/SAIR (the “South African Scottish”) because of my Scottish maternal line . It was extra tempting, therefore, to rescue this soldier from oblivion and to discover how he and his comrades had fared.  The event responsible for his death I soon found summarised in the South African War Graves Project, as Killed in action in the improvised and disastrous attack of the 9th (Scottish) Division on the German positions to the east of Fampoux.  The 1st SAIR lost 2 officers and 203 men.

But that improvised and disastrous–what hell was behind this?

I looked first for the record of that action in John Buchan’s History of the South African Forces.  I have emboldened sections of the text, but the words are Buchan’s:

At 3 p.m. on the 12th the 1st, 2nd and 4th South African Regiments assembled in Fampoux. The enemy was evidently prepared, for though this movement was carried out in file, with intervals between companies, it was subjected to a heavy and steady bombardment, which cost us many casualties.

The prospects of success were not bright. All three brigades of the 9th Division were very tired, having been hard at work under shell-fire for three days, and having had no sleep for four nights, three of which they had spent lying in the snow without blankets, and many without greatcoats.

 There was no chance of an adequate bombardment, and there was no time to reconnoitre the ground. The country between Fampoux and Rœux station was perfectly open, and was commanded in the south by a high railway embankment and three woods, all of them held by the enemy; while in the north it sloped gradually to the inn around which the Germans had organised strong-points. It was impossible, therefore, to prevent the movement of troops being observed by the enemy. The South African dispositions were the 1st Regiment on the left and the 2nd on the right, with two companies of the 4th in support of each. The 3rd Regiment was held in brigade reserve. As the different companies began to deploy from the shelter of the houses in the east end of Fampoux they were met with heavy machine-gun and rifle fire.

The attack was timed for 5 p.m. when our guns opened fire. Unfortunately, our barrage dropped some 500 yards east of the starting-point, and behind the first enemy line of defence, so that the South Africans had a long tract of open ground to cover before they could come up with it. Our artillery, too, seemed to miss the enemy machine-gun posts on the railway embankment, which, combined with the flanking fire from the woods to the south and the south-east and from the direction of the inn, played havoc with both the attacking brigades.

The result was a failure. A gallant few of the South Africans succeeded in reaching the station, a point in their objective, where their bodies were recovered a month later when the position was recaptured. For the rest, only one or two isolated parties reached points as much as 200 yards east of the line held by the 4th Division. But as a proof of the quality of the troops, it should be recorded that before the attack was brought to a standstill, the casualties of the 2nd Regiment, who went in 400 strong, amounted to 16 officers and 285 men, while the 1st Regiment lost 2 officers and 203 men, and the 4th, 6 officers and 200 men. The casualties of the 27th Brigade in this ill-fated action were nearly as high as those of the South Africans.

His service record shows that Private Havenga was amongst those missing on 12 April 1917, but that record was subsequently updated, once his body had been recovered, to killed in action on 12 April 1917.  It is not impossible that he was one of the ‘gallant few’ who reached the station, and whose bodies were recovered a month later, when that position was recaptured.

What of the Regiment’s War Diary?  Just three words cover 12 April 1917:  See Annexe “B”.

Snippet from War Diary of 1_SAIR on 12 April 1917

Snippet showing War Diary of 1/SAIR on 12 April 1917

Annexe B turned out to be headed Operations of 12 April 1917 and only compiled a week after the event. In the images I accessed, the typescript is faint in parts, particularly where the co-ordinates for the various positions were concerned.  Pressure from other research means that I will only transcribe the full report when I have a bit more time. For anyone too curious to wait for this, I have added a link to the Annexe pages in my Source List.

Those left to grieve the loss of their son and brother

Our soldier was born at Viljoensdrift, in the (Dutch) Free State Republic on 25 January 1896 and baptised on 5 July in Bloemfontein.  His baptismal record lists his parents as Adolf Havenga and Johanna Francina Sofia Greyling, with his godparents identified as Marth[inus] Greyling and Johanna Francina Sofia Greyling—she was more likely to be his maternal grandmother standing as his godmother, than his mother.  His parents were married in Burghersdorp in the Albert district of the Eastern Cape on 20 May 1895.

Because of the traditional naming pattern, there were so many Havenga men with the identical combination of Coenraad Adolf and Anthonie Johannes in the Burghersdorp area, that Anthonie (and others) may have chosen to be known by their middle names.  At the time of his marriage to Johanna, Adolf described himself as a veeboer (a cattle farmer) but he would later give up farming for a job with the South African Railways (SAR), as would his eldest son, Anthonie, who, at the time of his enlistment in the 1st South African Brigade, was an apprenticed Fitter with the SAR, where he was based in Port Elizabeth.

His story was not entirely straightforward to research, because in some documents, including his enlistment in the South African records, and his entry in the UK’s Register of Soldiers’ Effects, his name was recorded as John Andrew Havenga.  John is the English version of his middle name, Johannes, but for reasons of his own, he replaced Anthonie with Andrew rather than Anthony.

Anthonie had six younger siblings, whose names I have recorded in full below, in case his story is not known to his siblings’ descendants, if they spot a grandparent or great-grandparent below.  Most of the siblings also had cousins bearing the same names and time did not allow me to scrutinise the alternatives, so they should check carefully that the birthdates match those below. I list the children in order of  birth and in two cases I have added the spouse’s name, where their identities could be easily confirmed.

Children of Adolf Havenga and Johanna Francina Sofia Greyling

Anthonie Johannes Havenga (b. 25 January 1896; d 12 April 1917);
Johanna Francina Havenga (b. 17 June 1897);
Simon Lodewijk Havenga (b. 5 October 1899);
Charles Havenga (b.23 June 1902), married Francina Johanna du Plessis;
George Havenga (b. 23 April 1904);
Maria Magdalena Havenga (b. 2 May 1906);
Jacobus Johannes Havenga (16 September 1909), married Anna Sophia Jacoba Jordaan.


Bourdon, Jérémy, Instagram account, @jeremy.bourdon, ‘Private Antoni Johannes Havenga’,, 28/7/2022.

Buchan, J., the History of the South African Forces in France,
p.124–127, accessed 29/7/2022.

South African War Graves Project, ‘Havenga, Anthoni Johannes’,, accessed 29/7/2022.

The National Archives (TNA), WO/95 1780/082, ‘War Diary of 1/SAIR, 1 June 1916 to 28 February 1918.  This can be downloaded from The National Archives’ website.  The entry for 12/4/17 is on image 75 of 140. Annexe B begins on image 82 of 140 with its second page on image 81 (sic).

Posted in 9th Scottish Division, Cemeteries, First South African Infantry Brigade, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Herbert Rose

10126 Private Herbert Rose, 4/SAIR (The South African Scottish),
Enlisted aged 15.
Grievously wounded in the Battle of Marrières Wood;
Died of tuberculosis, 29 May 1919, at the South African Military Hospital, Richmond.
Buried in the South African War Graves Section, Zone Z, Richmond Cemetery.

The Background

For the ‘daft days’ following last Christmas, I gave myself a research mission, which was to complete gaps in the CWGC’s spreadsheet for the 39 South African soldiers buried near the South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery.  For the majority of these men, the CWGC database does not provide their full names, many ages provided are incorrect and, for 14 of the soldiers, the database provides no information on their parents or a spouse. These are details you need to establish if your aim is to rescue their stories from oblivion.

Cemetery Register Entry

A Scottish South African

Headstone marking the grave of Herbert Rose

The headstone marking the grave of Herbert Rose

H. Rose, the youngest soldier buried in this section, was a private in the First South African Infantry Brigade, a brigade that was a valued part of the 9th Scottish Division, from its arrival in France in July 1916 until the brigade’s heavy losses at Marrières Wood during the German Spring Offensive/the Kaiserschlacht, of March 1918.  His regiment, 4/SAIR (the 4th  South African Infantry Regiment) was known as The South African Scottish, a kilted regiment, drawing its members chiefly from the soldiers of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, the Cape Town Highlanders, and others, the majority having Scottish connections, and drawn from the British Colonies across Southern Africa. There is a memorial book for 4/SAIR in alcove M of the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, which will almost certainly have H. Rose on its list.

His South African service record supplies us with this soldier’s full name, Herbert, and records that his next of kin was his father, Alexander Skeane Rose, whose postal address was P.O. Marseilles, O.F.S.  This translates into Post Office Marseilles in the Orange Free State, a former Boer republic. (Some records have Alexander’s middle name as Skene or Skeen.)

As readers of my post on another Herbert (Herbert William Deutschmann) may recall, the fighting force of 2/SAIR was raised from the Orange Free State, Natal, and the Kaffrarian Rifles. so I began to suspect that Scottish roots were the impetus for Herbert, a Free State man, choosing to enlist in 4/SAIR. rather than in his geographically ‘local’ regiment, 2/SAIR.

I noted with interest that Herbert’s South African service record gave his age on enlistment as 19. That was the age the soldier gave when he enlisted, though it might also be what he thought he could pass as.  The South African Hospital in Richmond Park was primarily a rehabilitation centre for patients with life changing injuries. Herbert’s record reveals he had been in and out of the hospital over a period of 14 months before his death, which would have given the hospital administrators plenty of opportunities to establish his age and his date of birth, information which could be drawn upon when notifying the Registrar  for Richmond of Herbert’s death. This made it worth checking the General Register Office’s Deaths Index, which confirmed Herbert’s name, but recorded his age, on 29 May 1919, as 18. This would suggest a date of birth no earlier than 30 May 1900 and no later than 29 May 1901.

It is possible to find South African Probate Records for most of the deceased soldiers of WW1. Some of them also have an English, Scottish or, more rarely, an Irish probate record, as well as their South African ones. I was able to view Herbert’s probate record, submitted nine months after his death, dated 19 February 1920, filled in and signed by Alex S Rose, his father, at Marseilles.

4 Hampton Place birthplace of Herbert Rose

4 Hampton Place, the birthplace of Herbert Rose © Margaret Frood 2022

Unhelpfully, Alexander did not name Herbert’s mother, writing simply deceased in the space set aside for her details. But on the helpful side, Alexander identified his son’s birthplace with a specific address: 4 Hampton Place, Edinburgh.  Not for him merely the country, or the city, but an actual street address. This address would later provide crucial supporting information to confirm his mother’s identity and as well as his birthplace.

In the probate document his father, Alexander, helpfully narrowed down Herbert’s age at death to 18 years 5 months. When I later learnt that Alexander had trained as a chemist in Scotland, I felt we could be fairly confident in his calculation of his son’s age.  If we go back five months from 29 May we get 29 December of the preceding year—going back 18 years from that, his birth was probably in December 1900 or early January 1901, depending on whether his father rounded up or down when calculating the months. Narrowing down Herbert’s date of birth was critical, because I already knew that there was no obvious Scottish birth record for our Herbert Rose among the various Herbert Roses I had found in the General Register Office’s Births Index.  There was also no entry for him under his mother’s maiden name.

What is certain from this, is that Herbert was 15 when he enlisted in either late July or August and still that age when he embarked for England three months later, and would have turned 16 at about the time he arrived in Northern France, during the first quarter of 1917.

What triggered the enthusiasm of so many men to enlist under age at this point in the war?  For South Africans it seems to have been the brigade’s gallant stand against a superior foe.

The national reaction to Delville Wood

While Herbert’s service record does not show the date on which he enlisted, we can surmise roughly when that was, by working back from when he was taken on the strength in France, back to his departure to join his regiment in France.  It records that he embarked at Cape Town on the Walmer Castle on 6 November 1916.

The date of embarkation is significant and could suggest what impelled so many youngsters to enlist under age. In times when the need for fresh troops was urgent, three months was the time it took to train recruits. The Walmer Castle sailed when it was a few weeks over three months since mid-July 1916,  when, over a momentous four days, the South African Brigade had followed instructions to hold Delville Wood at all costs. Orders which the brigade gallantly followed—to the despair and the ungrudging admiration of the opposing Germans—until only one tree was left standing. Virtually all the South African dead have no known grave.

The effect of this loss on the country was tremendous.  To give an example, the Mayor and Council of Cape Town’s swift reaction to the devastating news, was to hold a three minutes’ silence across the city to coincide with the customary daily firing of the noon day gun on Signal Hill. Three minutes proved a little too long, so, within a few weeks, it was reduced to a two minutes’ silence.

This ritual would continue every day, for nearly four years, until the very last soldiers returned home from Europe, in the early months of 1920.  Sir Percy Fitzpatrick recommended to the British government that it should consider adopting a similar silence as part of the first Remembrance Day commemorations in 1919. The government turned down his suggestion, so Fitzpatrick aimed higher. George V was enthusiastic, and thus it was that, across the Commonwealth, we still have a Two Minutes’ Silence included during the Remembrance commemorations each November.

Another effect of the loss of so many men, was a rush to enlist by young South Africans, many of them under age, almost certainly inspired by the South Africans’ stand at Delville Wood.  Nine months’ training for these recruits was compressed into three, and by the end of October, troops were on their way to war.   Since Herbert’s group embarked for Europe in early November, he is likely to have enlisted in either late July or early August.  After their arrival in England, the recruits underwent about two months’ further training and preparation, before their regiments ‘transferred’ to Rouen in the first quarter of 1917. (The date for that isn’t clear on the card.  I think it reads 11/3/17.)

The photo below may be familiar to anyone who saw the exhibition, Common Cause, at the Scottish National Museum in 2014, where this photo was enlarged to fill an entire wall.  It stopped me in my tracks then, as I realised, from their kilts, that these young men were serving in the the 4th Regiment. I hasten to say, that this was not Herbert’s intake, but fresh recruits arriving in France in June 1918, who perhaps responded to the call to enlist, following the brigade’s losses at Marrières Wood in March 1918. This was the action in which Herbert was seriously injured,  and another action in which the South African Brigade was ordered to hold yet another wood at all costs. Almost to a man, they did—but not before holding up the German reinforcements and supplies for eight hours, and that at a critical point where the bulk of the British forces was in retreat. The South Africans’ gallant stand during the German Spring Offensive allowed British forces to regroup and attack.

I now realise that, when Herbert and his fellow recruits arrived in France in early 1917, they may have felt as exuberant as the carefree band of the replacement 4/SAIR, depicted engaging in a battle dance in June 1918. I’m sure readers, especially those who have a background in teaching, can spot a few truant schoolboys amongst these soldiers, probably right down to their possible school year groups.

1918 June South African Scottish Reinforcements Zulu War Dance

June 1918 Men of the SA Scottish performing a Zulu War Dance on arrival at the front. © Ditsong Museum of Military History.

It feels important to recognise the many under-age boys who managed to sneak away to war from the distant colonies of the then Empire.  My great uncle Stan, another under-age recruit, was killed in the same action in which Herbert sustained his grave injury.

Herbert’s story concerns me for additional reasons.  Ancestry provides its record hints gratuitously, often based on flawed research by its subscribers, and even in those hints, Herbert seems a lost soul, invisible, even to his own relatives. While his Rose relatives, including his father, appear on a handful of Ancestry trees, not one tree on his paternal line, has Herbert’s mother or Herbert recorded on it.  Some have a second spouse for his father, with a son, born in 1924, but I will step back on that here—perhaps adding it later, as an Appendix, in the hope his half-brother’s family will come across Herbert’s story.  After this longish background, it’s time to let Herbert’s story be heard.

Herbert’s father, Alexander Skene Rose

Alexander Skene Rose, the youngest child of John Rose and his wife, Isabella Skeen (sic), was born on 21 January 1865 at Embo Mains, near Dornoch, Sutherland, where his father was the farm bailiff and overseer.    John Rose was a native of Grantown-on-Spey, and his wife, Isabella, of Manbean, Elgin, which is where, on 28 December, 1848 they had been married, as was usual, in the bride’s parish. Their eldest children, Jessie and James, were born in Elgin, with the younger children all born at Embo.  However, less than two months after Alexander’s birth, his father died, after suffering from heart disease and dropsy for 5 weeks.  His death was followed, in August of that year, by the death of the second youngest of his sisters, Isabella (1859–1865), also at Embo.

At some point, after the death of her husband and daughter, Isabella returned with her surviving offspring to Elgin, where the 1871 census finds her at Milton Duff, occupied as a Crofter.  Her eldest son, James Skene Rose, was independent, having already joined the army. In Isabella’s household on Census Day were her three youngest sons, John employed as a clerk, while George Christall (b.1861) and Alexander were both still attending school.

John (1855–1943) would eventually become an accountant in the South African Civil Service.  He married Amy Bertha Lister in Pietermaritzburg in 1899, just two months before the start of the Anglo-Boer War, and his emigration there, may have been what prompted a restless or, perhaps, ambitious, Alexander, to emigrate as well. Their brother, George, became a school master, and it was probably while he was studying in Lancashire that he met and married his wife, Annie Elizabeth Nicholson in 1891. George soon moved back to Scotland where he spent the bulk of his teaching career on North Uist, though he died away from home at Ben An, Polmont.  At least one of George’s children emigrated to Canada.  As for Isabella’s eldest son, James, his life in the army took him away from Scotland.  He married in middle age, and died in Crookham, Hampshire, in 1910.  His wife and their two children remained in Hampshire after James’s death, .

Herbert’s mother, Jane (‘Jeanie’) Bookless

There was a further unsettling piece of information in Herbert’s probate record.  In the section for names of children, failing whom, the names of brothers and sisters, his father wrote:

Deceased was my only Son, & had no Brothers or Sisters.  His mother died from Shock on hearing of his accident.

With no first name for Herbert’s mother, I looked for the Death Notice of a female with the surname Rose, living in the Orange Free State, in the district of Ladybrand, of which Marseilles is part. There was one.  She was Jean[i]e Rose, born Bookless, aged 54, who died after suffering from cardiac disease for some years.  Unfortunately, Alexander, her widower, did not know the name or occupation of his father-in-law, nor the name of his mother-in-law.  In the section on the form for Issue of the Deceased, was recorded 1 male, aged 17 on 6 June 1918.  Herbert, still alive, but at war, was that 17 year old male.

In fairness to Alexander, he registered the death of his wife on the day of her death, and must have been himself suffering from the double blow of receiving news of his son’s injuries followed by the death of his wife in its aftermath. Perhaps, at this point, I should admit some confusion when I later discovered Alexander’s own marriage by declaration, which recorded his father as Alexander Rose, Farmer (deceased). I hasten to add, in Alexander’s defence, that he was not yet two months old when his father died and may only have heard him referred to within the family as ‘Papa’.

Herbert’s mother was the daughter of James Bookless of Oldhamstocks, East Lothian, a plumber and his wife, Jane Peffers of Haddington.  Born on Christmas Eve, 1825, in Oldhamstocks (East Lothian), to Alexander Bookless and Christian Watt, James Bookless grew up in the Vale of Bilsdean.  The younger son of a blacksmith, James chose to serve an apprenticeship under Thomas Burn, a plumber in Coldstream, following which, he was in a position to marry Jane Peffers in Haddington on 20 June, 1847.  The couple had 5 children:  Christina, named after her paternal grandmother (1849–1914); Alexander Peffers (1851–1877) named after his maternal grandfather; William Bookless (1854–1864); Jane, known as Jeanie (1860–1918) and named after her maternal grandmother, and finally Jessie (1864–1865) who died in infancy.  Jeanie would outlive all her siblings.

Information available for Jeanie from the age provided at her marriage in 1901 (33) and in the 1901 Scottish census (also 33), suggested a birth in 1867–1868, with that provided on her death (54) suggesting a birth in 1863–1864. There is, however, no record of the birth of a Jean or Jane Bookless within those time spans. Finding the family in the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses with information from her mother in the latter two, provided a matching and credible set of ages, (4 months, 10, 20) suggesting a birth in the last months of 1860.  Jeanie is a nickname for Jane, and Jeanie’s mother, Jane Peffers, sometimes also appears in records Jeanie.  Eventually I had enough additional information to conclude, with some conviction, that James and Jane’s daughter, Jane, born on 21 November 1860, is ‘our’ Jane or Jeanie Bookless, and the mother of Herbert Rose.

After Jeanie’s birth, the family moved to North Berwick, where her sister, Jessie, was born and where her father died in 1867. After his death, Jane moved with her children, Alexander and Jeanie, to Edinburgh, where five young lodgers joined the family at 47 Grindlay Street.  By 1871, Alexander Bookless was supporting his mother and siblings as a plumber and Jeanie was still attending school.

At that time, Jane’s eldest daughter, Christina, was one of two domestic servants at the Free Church Manse in Coldstream, in the employ of Robert Paul, the Free Church Minister, his mother and two sisters.  Coldstream was where, 30 years previously, Christina’s father had been apprenticed as a plumber.  The following year, Christina married Andrew Wight, a commercial traveller and settled in Edinburgh. It was probably only after the early death at Oldhamstocks, of Jeanie’s brother, Andrew Bookless in 1877, that Jeanie and her mother, Jane, moved in with the Wights and their four children, at 16 Buchanan Street, in South Leith. Jeanie presumably contributed to the household income from her work as a shopkeeper.

Also in South Leith by 1881, were Isabella Skeen and her sons, John and Alexander Rose.  John Skene Rose, the second son, technically the head of the household, was a Clerk at the General Register House, an easy walk from their home in Leith, taking the very route I follow, 150 years later, when I go to the NRS or the SPC.  John emigrated to the South African Colonies some years before Alexander did, but their time together in South Leith, supporting their mother, may have brought the brothers closer, despite an age difference of ten years, and may have convinced Alexander that he, too, could have a brighter future in the Colonies with his wife and son.

It was on 27 February 1901, that A. S. Rose, chemist and bachelor, and Jeanie Bookless, spinster, were married by declaration, at 30 Chambers Street, Edinburgh. The certificate does not note her occupation. Both parties gave their ages as 33. while Jeanie’s address was 4 Hampton Place, as was that of both witnesses, Jeanie’s niece and nephew, Margaret and Andrew Wight. You may recall that this was the address given in his South African probate record as Herbert’s birthplace in Edinburgh, and while we do not yet know the actual date of his birth, we calculated, working backwards 18 years and five months from the date of his death, that he was probably born there in December 1900 or in the first weeks of 1901.  Was this marriage being declared under pressure to enable their infant son’s birth to be recorded as legitimate?  And if so, why is there no birth record for Herbert under Bookless or Rose?

On 31 March 1901, barely four weeks after their marriage, we find Jeanie, once again, in the household of her widowed sister, Christina and her nine children, ranging in age from 10 to 28. Jeanie gave her occupation as dressmaker, with her age, still recorded as 33, despite her having already reached her 40th year. Neither Alexander, nor their son, Herbert, is listed in that household.

I suspect that Herbert’s father is the passenger, A. S. Rose, on the Kinfauns Castle, which departed Southampton for Cape Town on 3 August 1901.  He is recorded on the passenger list, with tallies under Scotch and Single, but without ages, so I cannot yet confirm that this is our man, but it is a little curious, if he is ‘our’ Alexander, that he would describe himself as single, when he had a wife and son.  Was this an assumption made by the ship’s purser, that a man travelling without a family could be regarded as single?

It would have been an interesting time to be arriving in the Cape Colony nine months before the end of the Anglo-Boer War.  While I have yet to find out more about Herbert’s youth, we do know that Alexander eventually brought his wife and son out to join him, that the family settled at Marseilles, near the Free State town of Ladybrand, and that Alexander became a cheese maker there. We learn also from Herbert’s military record that, when he enlisted, actually aged 15, he too, gave his occupation as a cheese maker.

The South Africans’ Last Stand at Marrières Wood

I have recorded aspects of this battle in other posts on this blog so I will say less about it in Herbert’s case.  In Flowers of the Forest, Trevor Royle comments on the resolve of the South Africans at Marrières Wood, and adds, “as the divisional historian [John Buchan, also a novelist and politician] put it, at the bitter end rescue was now impossible and the South Africans grimly set themselves to sell their lives at the highest price.” (p.259)

Let’s reflect back on the words of his bereaved father wrote in his son’s probate record: Deceased was my only Son, & had no Brothers or Sisters.  His mother died from Shock on hearing of his accident.

His mother died on 6 June 1918. It’s not clear what his father meant by accident.  We know of a serious injury as Herbert’s service record notes a severe Gun Shot Wound during the Battle of Marrières Wood. Was that gunshot wound an accident, or even friendly fire?  Would his service record have any clues?

And why did it take over 10 weeks for news of his injury to reach his parents. With so many men missing, one could understand that it might take time to establish their fate, but Herbert went rapidly from a Stationary Hospital to a General Hospital to evacuation to England, by which time his injury was far more serious, and he was admitted to the Military Hospital in Richmond Park on the third day after his injury.  By that time it was judged serious enough for him to need the rehabilitation provided for those with life-changing injuries there

The Final Entries

Here are the last entries in Herbert’s service record—the square brackets surround my ‘padding out’ the abbreviations in the original document.  His service record also notes that he qualified as a Marksman (sniper?) in June 1918, that, after his discharge from the hospital.

24.3.18: G[un] S[hot] W[ound] Body Mild; Admitted 41 St[ationar]y H[ospital] Gailly.

26.3.18:  Admitted 2 General Hospital, [Le] Havre.

27.3.18: Invalided to England.

28.3.18: G[un] S[hot] W[ound] Shoulder sev[ere]; Richmond S.A. Hosp[ital].

RH marginal note R7.7.18

16.5.18:                                                                                                 Now convalescent.

18.5.18: Richmond Park S.A.H[ospital];                                                D[i]sch[ar]g[e]d.

Presumably Herbert returned to France to join his unit.

31.1.19: Admitted Glencourse (sic) Hospital.

Glencorse Barracks and Hospital was at Penicuik, in Scotland.  This may have been the closest Herbert had been to his Edinburgh birthplace since the family’s emigration to South Africa. A Parliamentary question from 1913 indicates the treatment in which that hospital specialised at that time. (Link provided in Sources.) Note that this was not necessarily true by 1919, given its unpopularity in 1913.)

Twelve weeks later, an entry was made in Herbert’s record, presumably at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond, but there is no note of his transfer there.  There’s no indication of when, how or why he returned to the South African Hospital in Richmond Park, but his return was likely to be to benefit from rehabilitation there, following his shoulder wound.  However, it was neither infection nor influenza that led to his death.  Analysing the causes of death for all 39 soldiers, tuberculosis caught five of them.  Herbert was particularly vulnerable, along with others who lived in sparsely populated rural areas, where they had not been exposed to disease and had had few opportunities to develop immunity.  He was probably exposed to it at sea, on the crowded troop ships, or in the trenches.

19.4.19: “Tuberculosis.  Seriously ill.”

For most of May, this last entry was repeated on his service card, every 7 to 10 days, until 26 May, when the last entry became ‘now dangerous’.

His death is not recorded on the card, but he died three days later, as his entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects confirms.

The Aftermath

Herbert’s father Alexander lived through the Second World War, still running his Cheese Factory in Ladybrand. He died on 22 July 1947, aged 82.  The informant, H.A. Rose, was the mother of his son, Herbert’s half-brother, John Alexander Rose (1924–2013) and was Alexander’s putative wife, Heather Aubrey Daniel.

There are still too many loose ends to Herbert’s story, but we do at least, so far, know his name and the names of the parents who grieved for him.

Heather Aubrey Daniel or Ward

When Heather’s Scottish born mother, Violet Virginia McDonald, died in 1940, Heather was described in the probate record as Heather Aubrey Ward, (born Daniel) Widow.  As Alexander was still alive, it is likely that the Daniel family knew of her current marital status, and that would seem to indicate that Heather was not at that stage legally Alexander’s wife.

On the death, in 1948, of Heather’s son, Joseph ‘Joey’ Morgan Ward, his sister Daphne Hyacinth Ward, indicated that the whereabouts of their father, and whether he was alive, were unknown.  It would appear that Heather and her young children, had been abandoned by her husband, Charles Ward, in the early 1920s. However, Daphne described their mother, in Joey’s probate record, as Heather Rose, which seems to suggest that that is how she was regarded within the local community.

© Margaret Frood 2021


Buchan, J[ohn], The History of the South African Forces in France, London & Edinburgh, 1920.

‘Herbert William Deutschmann’, accessed 6/1/2022.  A post on another Herbert killed at Marrières Wood.

Frood, M.W., ‘Simply magnificent’,, accessed 6/1/2022.  More reflections on Marrières Wood.

Hansard, ‘Glencorse Barracks (Hospital),, accessed 7/1/2021.

Paterson, H., in South African Military History Journal, ‘The Forgotten Battle’, Vol. 18, No.2., June 2018.

Royle, T., The Flowers of the Forest: Scotland and the First World War, Edinburgh, 2006.

South African War Graves Project,, accessed 3/1/2021.

Photograph of the 4th South African Infantry doing a Zulu war dance at Rouen (June 1918) is from the cover of Stuart Allan and David Forsyth’s Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and The Great War, Edinburgh, 2014. The original photo is held by the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.

Posted in 9th Scottish Division, Cemeteries, Commemoration, Delville Wood, First South African Infantry Brigade, German Spring Offensive, Kaiserschlacht, Marrières Wood, Military Hospitals, Scottish Regiments, South African Military Hospital Richmond | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Richmond Cemetery 2021

Yes, we were there again on Remembrance Sunday, the cyclists, aka The Patrons of Lost Causes, arriving just ahead of us—the full complement of three this year, and a visitor, a friend of one of the cyclists.  So there were six of us to remember our 39 South African servicemen, including local-to-Richmond lad, George Henry Rosser, buried in a family grave nearby.   It was only in 2015 that young Rosser finally had a CWGC headstone placed in front of his family’s one.  The CWGC headstone, easily identified in crowded cemeteries, makes spotting his grave much simpler.

Ahead of The Silence, rosemary sprigs were placed at each grave, including, as is now traditional, an extra one for a soldier of the London Scottish, buried nearby.

Thanks, guys.  You do our boys proud.

The Noble Company of Patrons of Lost Causes, and not a single South African amongst them.
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William Victor St Clair McLaren posts in date order

My account of William McLaren’s life and his family network has grown considerably since my first post on him, after I’d popped into St Cuthbert’s one Saturday, hoping to find a certain Minister of the Kirk in the portraits on its staircase.  The posts are listed below in order of posting, and that’s the reading order that makes the best sense. 

Alternatively, you can go to the home page of the blog ( and enter William McLaren in the blog’s search box, which you’ll find at the top of the right-hand navigation bar.  Then read the posts in date order as listed in the (abbreviated) headings below:

William McLaren’s links to Whitefoord House

More on the McLarens: the Whitefoord update      

Bernard Rissik and the McLaren brothers     

William McLaren’s Sinclair & McLaren lines


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South African War Memorial, Richmond Cemetery, 2020

We had a good turnout (perhaps best ever?) for the two-minutes’ silence on Remembrance Sunday: a full complement of The Patrons of Lost Causes—the Surrey cyclists, who have been supporting us since at least 2014—two family groups, and my bloke and me.  Altogether 14 or 15—one family with small children slipped away before I got round to thinking of taking an official photo.

Best turnout indeed, but again, the only South African present was the one behind the camera.   In 2014, I uploaded a post to this blog explaining how to find a South African War Grave in the United Kingdom.  This week I put a link to that post on one of the Facebook groups for South Africans in the UK.  Last time I looked there were 43 likes so I am hoping that on Sunday or today (11/11 2020) at least a handful of the 43 took the time to include, in their lockdown exercise or bike rides, one of Britain’s many cemeteries where there are South African War Graves.

Some of our supporters at the 2020 Richmond Remembrance Sunday Commemoration.

It was lovely to have some younger people there, including two Scouts from a Richmond troop, with their parents.  I think one of them may have placed the handmade poppy, which had definitely not been there in a photo of the wreaths, taken before anyone else had arrived.  Perfectly placed, with the leaf at eleven o’clock.

The single poppy beside the wreaths.

Wreaths laid earlier by the SA Legion.

This year, with the group’s agreement, I read out all 39 names, to mark having finally been able to identify each by his full name. 

The men’s names—and sometimes even their surnames—are often incomplete, with some middle names missing or names not correctly spelt in the CWGC records and in their South African service records. Ages need to be regarded with caution, because they are often a few years out. The GRO death index doesn’t have two of the Richmond deaths, though Free BMD does, though not with more than bare initials to represent any middle names. 

I include, of course, on this list, George Henry Rosser, a Richmond lad who had emigrated to South Africa and enlisted in the renowned First South African Infantry Brigade as soon as war was declared in 1914.  As he died on British soil, in Fulham Hospital, from severe wounds received in the early weeks of the Battle of the Somme, his parents were permitted to have him brought home for burial in a cemetery near their home.  Thus it was that George was the first South African soldier to be buried in Richmond Cemetery. Barely a week later, Philip Pitman would become the first to die at the newly opened hospital in Richmond Park and the first patient at the hospital to be interred in this cemetery.

George’s grave, while not in the South African section, lies a short distance from his fellow soldiers.  Two months after his burial, George’s 10 year old nephew was buried in the same grave, followed later by one of his sisters, and this is perhaps a reason why George was not reinterred, with the passing of time, in the section set aside for the the South African burials and War Memorial.  It was, however, not until recently that a CWGC headstone was placed in front of George’s original headstone.

I’ve decided to post all the names I read out here, just in case a relative, interested in family history, enters the name into a search engine.   I am happy to supply any information I have obtained about these young men.

We should not forget another death at the hospital, that of Sister Dorah Bernstein SAMNS, who worked in South African military medical units, having enlisted in the first month of the war.  She was buried according to Jewish custom in Willesden Cemetery and was one of five nursing staff at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, who succumbed to influenza during the pandemic. 

In the list below, there is only one officer.  All the rest belonged in the category of ‘Other Ranks’.  This particular South African Military Hospital was for the rehabilitation of servicemen who had suffered life-changing injuries, such as the loss of sight or limbs.  This rehabilitation including training for occupations suited to their handicaps, as basket weavers, telephonists.  Apart from a handful of deaths from infection, tetanus, or tuberculosis, the majority of deaths at this hospital were from complications of the influenza brought to Europe from North America by US servicemen.  In 1918, news of the pandemic was suppressed in order to avoid damaging the military efforts at a crucial point and it is only described as Spanish ‘flu because the Spanish newspapers were the first to report it.

Sidney Victor Boothroyd, 1/SAIR
Stanley Shirley Bromley, 3/SAIR
Ernest Conry, 1/SAIR
Ernest John Croft, 1/SAIR
John Roy Denny, 1/SAIR
Thomas Frank Fitchett, 2/SAIR
John Leslie Francis, 2/SAIR
Lancelot de la Penha Garcia, SALC
Albert St Francis Gibbs, 4/SAIR
William George Godden, 3/SAIR
Percy Rowney Greenhough, 2/SAIR
William Henry Harker, 4/SAIR
Clement Wallace Hayes, 4/SAIR
Ernest Sydney Holland, 2/SAIR
Frank Fleming Fuller Kidson, SAMC
Alfred John Paton Landrey, 2/SAIR
Otto Lund, 2/SAIR
Joseph MacRae, 4/SAIR
James Martin, 4/SAIR
Lionel Victor McCallum, SAMC
James Binnie McPherson, 4/SAIR
Henry William Miller, 1/SAIR
Samuel Pieter Marthinus Nel, SAHA
James Charles Norval, SAFA
Ockert Thomas Oosthuizen, 1/SAIR
Martin Jacobus van Dyk Osler, SAMC
Fred George Pitfield, 2/SAIR
Philip Pitman, 4/SAIR
Edgar Porter, SAMC
Pieter Michiel Rentzke, 1/SAIR
Herbert Rose, 4/SAIR
George Henry Rosser, 2/SAIR
William Sharp, 2/SAIR
Stafford Smith, 1/SAIR
Ernest Michael Smith, 2/SAIR
Joseph Francis Still, 2/SAIR
Athol William Leslie Tomlinson, 1/SAIR
William Edward Wheeler, 2/SAIR
John Alexander Whyte, 4/SAIR

1/SAIR: 1st South African Infantry Regiment 
(Other Infantry Regiments follow the same pattern. 2/SAIR etc.)
SAFA: South African Field Artillery 
SAHA:  South African Heavy Artillery
SALC:  South African Labour Corps
SAMC:  South African Medical Corps

The National Archives, Abbreviations used in the First World War medal index cards,, accessed 11/11/2020.

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Edward William Deutschmann (1889–1918)

13742 Private Edward William Deutschmann
2/South African Infantry Regiment.
Killed in action 12 April 1918,
Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Edward William Deutschmann lost his life just under three weeks after the death of his cousin, Herbert William Deutschmann, during the first week of the German Spring Offensive of 1918.  Both men had enlisted in the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment (2/SAIR), which raised some of its soldiers from the Kaffrarian Rifles, a territorial unit.  Both men were grandsons of Wilhelm Friedrich August Deutschmann (1832–1903), who, in 1858, had emigrated from Prussia to the Crown Colony of Kaffraria, with his first wife, Emilie Auguste Fiebige (1831–c.1859) and their two children.

Herbert transferred to 4/SAIR, for reasons we can only speculate, but both regiments were part of the same brigade, the elite First South African Infantry Brigade.  In the month before his death, Edward would have been involved in the defence of a stretch of the front line, and the Brigades desperate attempts to delay the German advance.  After the loss of Marrières Wood to the Germans, after a staunch defence almost to the last man,  Edward would have heard of the devastating losses of Herbert’s regiment and is likely to have learnt that his cousin was classified among the missing.

Edward William Deutschmann was born at Green River in the King William’s Town District in about October 1889, the second of the five children of Eduard (1861–1911) and Emma (1860–1927) Deutschmann.   It is perhaps an indication of the importance of the first names Wilhelm and Eduard to this family because the couple had given both names to their eldest son, Hugo Edward William.  As naming goes, they were perhaps ensuring an heir and a spare.

Edward was named after his father, Eduard, who was the eldest child of Wilhelm Deutschmann and his second wife, Ernstine Wilhelmine  Ninnemann (1842–1908). Eduard had been named Carl Heinrich Eduard after his paternal grandfather Carl Friedrich Deutschmann.  Quite early on, Eduard chose to spell his name in the English way, but here I will spell it in the Germanic way, to avoid confusion between ‘our’ soldier, Edward, and his father Eduard, who, to add to any confusion was also known as Edward Carl.  Heinrich lost out.

Whereas Edward’s paternal grandfather had emigrated as a farming settler, his maternal grandfather had emigrated as a military settler.  Edward’s mother, Emma Esprey (1860–1927), was the daughter of Adolph Esprit (c.1833–1916) one of the group of German Military Settlers of 1856,  who had been offered land in the Crown Colony of Kaffraria.  In Adolph’s case, this land would be at Greytown where men of the 3rd Regiment of the King’s German Legion—a British force—would be settled.

The German Military Settlers
These were soldiers of the King’s German Legion, who had been recruited and trained, to form part of the British Army, in order to fight in The Crimea, but by the time this training had been completed and the battle zone reached, the war was all but over.  The soldiers were given the choice between being discharged from the Army, or of continuing to serve, but as military settlers, in Kaffraria.  They would serve part time for seven years from the date of their arrival there. Those who chose the military settler option, were given uniforms, arms and ammunition, free passage to the Colony, a piece of land on arrival and a building allowance towards their accommodation.  They would be on half pay for seven years, and in exchange would undergo up to 30 days military training per annum for the first four years, and 12 days per annum for the remaining three.  In time of need, during the seven years, they could be called to defend the colony, for which they would receive full pay. What they were told about the environment in which they would be starting their new lives did not match what they found when they arrived, and many of them did not settle in, some deserting, and many of them signing up to quell the Indian Mutiny. (The latter would also arrive in India too late for most of the action.)

Sir George Grey specifically requested married soldiers, and most of the men were single.  There were mass marriage ceremonies in England for the unmarried men who were able to find a willing wife.  (Grey was furious when he found that the majority of the arriving soldiers were unmarried.)  It appears that Adolph Esprit was one of those who found a wife, because there is a military record for his marriage to Sarah Gall, at Colchester—probably at the Old Garrison Church—on 19 October 1856.  Prior to departing for South Africa, the men of the King’s German Legion had been stationed at Browndown Camp, Aldershot and Colchester and it is presumably at Colchester that the couple met.  Emma appears to have been the eldest surviving child of this marriage.

We know that Edward was working as a Storeman/Trader’s Assistant when he volunteered for active service in 1917. I think it is possible he was working alongside his brothers, who all seem to have involved trading.   While there was no conscription in South Africa in either of the two World Wars of the 20th century, as bad news from France reached home, many men felt under pressure to enlist, particularly after actions, such as Delville Wood, in which many South Africans lost their lives.  We know, from his military records, that he was “taken on the strength” of his regiment on 23 March 1917, four months after Herbert had embarked at Cape Town en route to Europe.  Unlike Herbert, Edward may not have been a volunteer in the Kaffrarian Rifles, since the time between his enlistment, and his departure suggests he had to undergo basic military training. It was not until 13 September that Edward embarked, at Cape Town, on the freight ship, Dunvegan Castle, for the voyage north.

The actions involving 2/SAIR between Edward’s arrival in France and the end of March, can be followed in John Buchan’s History of the South African Forces in France.  (This can be read online—see the link under Sources.)  The staunch defence of Marrières Wood has been described as part of Herbert Deutschmann’s story.

A short lull in the fighting, following the action at Marrières Wood, allowed those who had become separated from the rest of the Brigade, during the general confusion along the British Front, to re-join their units. The “remnants” were collected together to constitute a composite battalion, and plans were made to reorganise the Brigade under General Tanner.  According to Buchan, every man who could be found was brought from England. 

On the night of 27 March, the South African remnants (about 500 men) were all withdrawn from the front line, and began a long march to Candas, with the rest of the 9th Division, reaching it on 1 April.

Earlier that year, on 4 February 1918, Edward had been appointed Acting Lance Corporal “without pay,” an appointment set to last until 31 May.  In the aftermath of Marrières Wood, however, Edward “reverted” to the rank of Private.  “Revert” may sound as if it was some demotion, after some kind of failure or lapse, but this is unlikely.  The timing suggests otherwise.  The decision occurred towards the end of a long march, which followed a desperate stand against the full might, well armed, co-ordinated actions of the enemy.  Many whom he had fought alongside for the previous six months, had lost their lives or suffered serious injuries at Marrières Wood.  Perhaps it was simply that Edward, himself, felt too exhausted to continue to carry the additional responsibilities of that temporary promotion.

On 9 April, Ludendorff broke through the line between the Lys and La Bassée in his attempt to capture Béthune and the Messines Ridge.  General Tudor ordered the transfer of the South African Brigade to the 19th Division, which, along with the 9th and 25th Divisions was holding the Messines Ridge.  (Thus ended their association with the 9th (Scottish) division, but not the strong attachment that the Scots held for them, and which is still remembered.)  The brigade was given orders to launch a counter-attack and to retake a section of the ridge.   A map showing the terrain on which the Brigade’s action took place can be found opposite page 198 of Buchan’s History.

“Backs to the Wall!”
On 10 April, the Germans broke through on a 4 mile front and captured Messines.  Of that day, Buchan would record, “the safety of the British front depended on the 55th, 19th and 9th Divisions.” (p.201.)  The South Africans put all their efforts into retaining their positions.

On the following day, 11 April, Haig issued a stern instruction: “Backs to the Wall!”   This became as memorable an order as “defend at all costs”.  On that afternoon, von Arnim attacked with fresh troops, and the situation on their section of the front became grave.  A strong and ferocious attack drove Edward’s regiment back about 600 metres.  Nearby, the famed Hill 63 had to be abandoned, and that, together with the loss of the Messines Ridge provoked a decision to re-arrange the Allied units on that section of the Front.  By dawn on 12 April, the South Africans were established on a new front.  Thus far the Germans had been relying on up to sixteen Divisions, and now they “threw in…[their] reserves at a furious pace.”  These fresh German troops managed to break through and reclaim ground they had lost.  The brigade’s historian, however, notes that nothing happened in the section held by the 9th and 19th Divisions on the 12th. (Buchan, p.204.)

This suggests that Edward probably lost his life on the 11th, not the 12th, in the desperate action when the 2nd Regiment was driven back.  It may not have been until the 12th, that a roll call revealed he was missing.  Edward was not “presumed dead” until 19 December 1918, so it would not have been until after that date that his mother would learn that his death had been confirmed.

Edward is commemorated on the Ypres Memorial (at the Menin Gate through which the troops on their way to battle). There a Ceremony of the Last Post has taken place on every evening of every day of the year, since 1927—with the exception being the years of German occupation during the Second World War.

Why, you may wonder if you are following both Deutschmann cousins, when they died within three weeks of each other, in the same part of the Ypres Salient, was one of them commemorated on the Pozières Memorial and the other on the Menin Gate?  Here’s the answer from the CWGC site:  The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.  A bit ‘luck of the draw’ really.

A fellow soldier in 2/SAIR, killed aged 15
Among those from 2/SAIR who died on 11/12 April, and are commemorated with Edward on the Ypres Memorial, is 15 year old Private John Leonard Forsyth-Ingram, 2/SAIR.  John was one of five 15-year olds who died while on Active Service with the South African Forces during WW1.  He  gave his age, boldly and ambitiously, as 19, when enlisting in 1917.  His uncle, of Mooi River, was named as John’s next of kin.

And finally, can you help to flesh out Edward’s story?
I am hoping that some of the descendants of Eduard and Emma will come across this blog post, and contact me.  I’m hoping his family will be able to fill in the blanks in Edward’s life before he went to war, and how his widowed mother and her children coped after the loss of their father in 1911.  Out of interest, where were Edward and his siblings educated?  Were they involved in any of the German churches in the KWT area?  What do they know about Adolf, the military settler?

Adolph and his son-in-law, Eduard, were both masons, a trade they had in common with Eduard’s father, Wilhelm.  Who carried on the skill in the next generation?  It was usual to keep a trade in the family, because tools were expensive but could be passed down.  There would also have been a network with others in the trade.  Eduard’s sons seem to have concentrated on trading as opposed to acquiring a trade.

Eduard’s widow, Emma, lost three sons,  within three years.  Here’s what I know about them:
Hugo Edward William, b. c. December 1887, d. 13 November 1920, leaving two children, Douglas Hugo Edward Willian b. 15 June 1913 and Dulcie Beryl b. 10 July 1917.
Edward William, b. c. October 1889, d. 12 April 1918.
George, b. in the Transvaal in 1891, d. 28 February 1919, King William’s Town.  George died of malaria, heart disease and influenza, yet another of the many young men I have come across, who succumbed in the 1918 influenza pandemic.  He died at the family home, and his brother, Hugo, signed the death notice.
Frederick:  Frederick might be Frederick August Deutschmann, b. 1893, d. 1947, spouse Harriet Emily.
Was there a Robert?  The only trace I have been able to find of Robert, is on Edward William’s Death Notice.  This was signed by their mother Emma on 14 March 1919, exactly two weeks after George’s death, for which Hugo had been the informant. Could George have been George Robert?
Wilhelmina Dorothea, b. 30 April 1899, d. 21 March 1947. Wilhelmina would have to cope with the loss of her husband on Active Service in WW2.  I am deliberately not listing his name or those of their children, only one of whom had reached the age of 21 in 1947. (I am reluctant to release their names withoug their permission, or that of their children.)

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in France, London, 1920.  There is a map showing the action of the Brigade opposite page 198.  This book is available to buy in various reprints via the specialist bookseller,  Peter Thackeray, of Crask Books, but can also be read online via the Open Library at, accessed 8/8/2020.
Schnell E.L.G., Germans in Kaffraria: 1858–1958, Pinetown, 1958.


Posted in 9th Scottish Division, First South African Infantry Brigade, German Spring Offensive, Kaiserschlacht | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment