In this post I’m focusing on the UK, because that’s where I am based, but no matter which country you Scatterlings of Africa find yourselves in, why not explore the resources I suggest to find Southern African war graves.
In this particular post, I assume that you are not looking for the memorial for a specific person, but rather for a war grave or memorial for a South African that is situated near where you find yourself, wherever in the world that might be.
For step by step information on undertaking military research into the stories behind specific individuals, you might also want to view related posts on my blog Discover Your Family History, which you can find by searching for posts in the category ‘War Memorials’
South African War Graves Project (SAWGP)
This remarkable project identifies the location of South African War Graves and War Memorials throughout the world. By South Africa is understood the entire Southern Region of the continent so it includes graves as far north as Zambia. Follow this link for a list of those countries where there are cemeteries with South African war graves or locations where South Africans are commemorated on war memorials. The breakdown for each cemetery distinguishes between South African and ‘Rhodesian’ war graves.
While there are also ways of achieving this via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database, using the SAWGP helps you to narrow down the cemeteries of interest to Southern Africans, and also to find South Africans serving in non-South African units. Once you have identified cemeteries or memorials which it would be convenient to visit, then you might head over to the CWGC site for information on the cemetery, its location and history as well as details of the serviceman or servicewoman with a connection with Southern Africa and the location of the relevant grave or graves.
Find a cemetery with Southern African war graves
- From the Home Page, click on Cemeteries/Countries List. (It’s in the left hand vertical navigation bar.)
- Click on the name of the country in which you wish to find a Southern African’s war grave.
- A table appears, organised by locality and in some cases, cemeteries are listed by county, region or province. The first column in the table lists the locality.
For the United Kingdom, the ‘locality’ is the county, with Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland and English counties listed together, alphabetically, and under the names they bore before counties were re-organised in the mid 1970s.
Some large cities, such as London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, get their own listing. Note that ‘London’ seems to cover what used to be classified as Inner London, with Middlesex covering the parts of Greater London, north of the Thames, and Surrey, those parts of Greater London, south of the river.
- The second column lists the name of each cemetery in which there are Southern African war graves.
- The three columns of figures record, respectively, the number of graves of South Africans serving with the South African Forces, South Africans serving with a ‘non South African unit’ and those from the former Southern Rhodesia .
Find a war grave in a particular cemetery
The Advanced Search function on the South Africa War Graves Project allows you to search by Country, Locality or Cemetery to find the names of servicemen or women buried or commemorated there.
- Scroll down to the heading Commemoration Details.
- Look for the cemetery field in the list of options under this heading.
- Click on the drop-down arrow next to Cemetery and scroll down the list until you find the name of the cemetery in which you are interested. If you can’t find it (this bit works least well) then leave that field blank—bump it back to ‘Please Select’. Then fill in the third field which is the County.
- Click the Search button at the bottom of the page.
- This generates a list of the names of South Africans and/or Rhodesians whose war graves are in that cemetery or locality.
- Follow the links to find out more about the person you are researching. You’ll go straight to information about that person, and additional information that may have been omitted from the CWGC database.
Volunteers supporting the South African War Graves Project have so far added their WW1 service records to the profiles of 85% of the casualties. To view a photo of the grave, or the part of the memorial showing the name of the casualty, click on the small magnifying glass to the left of the name. If service records have been uploaded, you will also be able to view those images. I have found that the photo on the SA War Graves Project often helps me to spot a landmark in the background, and makes it easier to locate the grave.
Update after my revisiting the above advice in September 2018
Here’s an example of why the CWGC database doesn’t work equally for all candidates. The table of the SA War Graves Project showed me that there was a South African grave in one of the Haddington Cemeteries (St Martin’s New Burial Ground). (Now that Falko has closed its Edinburgh shop, we have to go to Haddington to buy our loaves of Hausbrot.) But when I viewed the details for that cemetery on the CWGC site, under the Refined Results/Served with option it listed 23 UK, 12 Canadian, 8 Australian and 5 New Zealand war graves. So which of these had a South African connection?
There is a way round this in that you can (temporarily) download the cemetery list as a spreadsheet, and then skim through the field Additional Information to view the relatives’ details, skimming until you find that connection. (Save space by deleting the file once you’ve achieved your purpose.) The Southern African turned out to be Sergeant Stephen (Steve) Cornhill Rhynas, RAFVR described in the additional information as ‘Of Northern Rhodesia’. But using the South African War Graves Project, I had his name almost from the start.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
Occasionally you will find a few additional details for specific men on the CWGC database, and the site provides particularly useful information about visiting the cemetery, including travel advice. Note the full name of the cemetery carefully—some places have more than one cemetery—then follow the link to Find a Cemetery. If you download the CWGC War Graves app, you will be able to find Cemeteries Nearby. You will then need to use the CWGC database to identify whether there are any Commonwealth War Graves for South Africans in any of those nearby cemeteries.
I would welcome queries, via the Comment form, if anything is unclear, as well as any comments you might wish to add to this post.
Home Page of the SAWGP: http://www.southafricawargraves.org/
Countries and Cemeteries List: http://www.southafricawargraves.org/list.htm
Advanced Search: http://www.southafricawargraves.org/search/index_advanced.php
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, http://www.cwgc.org/
‘War Memorial’ category on Discover Your Family History: http://bit.ly/1x2WpBg