Staff Sister Dorah Bernstein (c.1889–1918)

Staff Sister Dorah Bernstein (c. 1889–1918),
South African Military Nursing Service,
Died 6 November 1918
at the South African Military Hospital, Richmond Park,
buried at Willesden Cemetery.

For some time after I first encountered an obituary of “Staff Nurse Sarah Bernstein”  my searches focused on looking for Sarah’s records. After having attempted, without success, to locate her grave in Willesden Cemetery—where I had learnt she had been “buried with full military honours”—I approached the cemetery officials for help.  The foreman at the cemetery, unable also to locate a record matching this name, searched the original records for 1918, discovering that the first name of this young nursing sister was Dorah, rather than Sarah.   I was later to find Dorah on the South African Roll of Honour for the Medical Services, as B. Bernstein.  Her gravestone, and some other records, though not the army records, suggest that she had reached the rank of Staff Sister, and I defer to the former, in describing her as Sister Bernstein and, while some documents record her as Dora, again I take my lead from her family, as expressed on her headstone.

Staff Nurse Dorah Bernstein

Staff Nurse Dorah Bernstein

Dorah was a victim of the ‘Spanish Flu’, possibly the most devastating pandemic in history. The daughter of Harris and Flora Bernstein, she was survived by her mother and her siblings. The headstone on Dorah’s grave records that she was “of Kimberley in the Cape Province” but obituaries of the period suggest that her family later lived in Hillbrow, a suburb of Johannesburg.  Her headstone suggests that she was just 29 (“in her thirtieth year”) at the time of her death, and that her nickname was Bunny—which perhaps accounts for the “B” in the SAMNS records.  It also notes that her death was “to the deep grief of her patients and colleagues”.  The headstone, erected by Dorah’s mother, Flora, and her sisters and brothers, and adds, in summary of her life’s work, “a duty unflinchingly performed and a glorious end”.

In searching for her parents and siblings, another name variation came to mind, which throws doubt about the ‘thirtieth’ year having been applied in the traditional sense.  The Griqualand West Bris records include Deborah Bernstein, born 17  January 1888, the daughter of Harris and Flora Bernstein. They also provide the names and birthdates of other children born to this couple in South Africa, viz. Miriam (Kinberley, 1886), Judith (Tafelberg, 1891), Lazarus (Tafelberg, G.W., 1894), Rachel/’Rae'(Tafelberg, District Herbert), 1896) and Leah (Kimberley, 1901). For Leah’s birth we have an address, 33 Sydney Street.

The feelings of her family, expressed with pride and sorrow on her headstone, was certainly endorsed by her nursing colleagues. Five members of the South African Medical Services, serving at the South African Military hospital died within a few days of each other, four being buried with military honours at Richmond Cemetery, while Dorah, the last to succumb, was laid to rest at Willesden Cemetery.

This is how Dorah’s death was reported in the December edition of The Springbok Magazine.

Sister Bernstein was a beautiful character and her loss is indeed a heavy one.  Her record was one of loving devotion to her unselfish duty.  She joined the Union Defence Force in September of 1914, and remained at her first post in Wynberg until May 1st of the following year, when she was transferred to Swakopmund, South-West Africa, returning to Wynberg on August 11th, 1915.  Sister Bernstein faithfully served our patients on the Hospital Ship Ebani, plying between East Africa and Cape Town for two years and two months.  She left Wynberg, where she had been appointed Staff Nurse and Nursing Sister, for England this year, and reported for duty at the South African Military Hospital, Richmond Park, Surrey in July.  She passed to her rest on the 6th of November and was buried with full military honours on the 10th November at Willesden Cemetery.

The Richmond and Twickenham Times of 16 November 1918, under the headings ‘Death of a Hospital Sister’ and ‘SOUTH AFRICAN HOSPITAL’S LOSS’ gives some details of her nursing career as a fully fledged Nursing Sister with the South African Medical Nursing Service, but also some indication of the effect her death had on her colleagues (including some further afield) and on her patients.

A valuable life has been prematurely cut short by the death at the South African Military Hospital, Richmond Park, on the 6th instant, from pneumonia, supervening upon influenza, of Staff Nurse Dora Bernstein, S.A.M.N.S., daughter of Mrs and the late Mr J. Bernstein of Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

Sister Bernstein joined the nursing service shortly after the outbreak of war, in September, 1914, and served in the South-West African campaign until August 1915 at the hospital at Swakopmund.  From August 1915 to October 1917, she served on the hospital ship, Ebani, and after a short stay in East Africa, she was transferred to the Wynberg Military Hospital.  She arrived in England to take on duty at the South African Hospital on August 21st last, and was promoted to the rank of sister. In Richmond she was a general favourite among the staff and patients alike, and many touching tributes to her sweet disposition and devotion to duty have been expressed both by officers and co-workers.

The high esteem in which she was held was manifested at the funeral on Sunday last.  The coffin, wrapped in the Union Jack, was borne from the hospital mortuary by Jewish orderlies of S.A.M.C. through lines of the nursing staff drawn up as a guard of honour, and placed in an ambulance for transport to the Willesden Jewish Cemetery, where the interment took place.  On arrival there the cortege was met by a military escort and firing party.  Among those present were the officer commanding the South African Hospital (Lieut.-Colonel C.M. Thornton) the matron (Miss Jackson) and a large contingent of the nursing staff.  The service prior to the interment was read by the Rev. H. Goodman, the officiating clergyman to the Jewish troops in the London District.  After the burial, the usual three volleys were fired and the “Last Post” sounded.  The second portion of the service was read by Major the Rev. M. Adler, D.S.O., the senior Jewish chaplain to the forces.

Floral Tributes from Dorah's colleagues and friends.

Floral Tributes from Dorah’s colleagues and friends.

The tribute to Dorah in The Springbok Magazine included a photo of the numerous floral tributes sent by her colleagues and friends.  While flowers are not customary at a Jewish funeral, it appears that an exception was made in accepting them, perhaps in recognition of the grief of those who sent them.


Wreaths and other floral tributes were sent by:

The officer commanding, medical officers and other ranks; matron and sisters; staff nurses; V.A.D. probationers; warrant officers and N.C.Os of the S.A.M.C.; men of the S.A.M.C; Mrs Ritch (Hampstead); the masseueses; nursing staff and patients in Ward C; the domestic staff; Miss Bond and nursing staff; Comforts Committee of South Africa; Mrs E. Brooke; Nurse Harries; Staff nurses Burgess, Aves and Daly; Jennie (Wynberg, Capetown); the medical officers; and the officers in hospital.

Can YOU help Dorah’s relatives to access this material?
I would like to share the information I have obtained about this remarkable nurse, with her relatives i.e. the descendants of Harry and Flora Bernstein.  Some of it, including a photograph of her headstone, is not included in this blog post. If readers of this blog know Bernsteins with a South African background, who might be Dorah’s great nieces and nephews, and are able to help me find them, please contact me via the contact form on my professional blog.

‘HMHS Ebani’,, accessed 6/5/2016.  
The Richmond and Twickenham Times, ‘Death of a Hospital Sister,’ 16 November, 1918.
The Springbok Magazine, ‘Obituary.  Staff Nurse Sarah (sic) Bernstein, December 1918, p.73–74.

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Between Bishop’s Pond and Conduit Wood

So, ardent walkers in Richmond Park, the best time to find the remaining signs of the foundations of the South African Military Hospital, is in the winter months.

Between Pond and Wood, Autumn 2015 © Margaret Frood

Between Pond and Wood, Autumn 2015
© Margaret Frood

This is the view, on a fine autumn day in 2015, looking towards Conduit Wood.  (Bishop’s Pond was behind me.)




Bishop's PondTurn 180° and this is the view of Bishop’s Pond—unless I’ve got it hopelessly wrong!  Its proximity to Cambrian Gate heightens the ‘odds’!

I have yet to find the signs of the ‘lost’ hospital and hope that, in time, someone will do it for me!

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The “Patrons of Lost Causes” visit again

Note: This post was written on Remembrance Sunday, but for some reason, it lingered on in the Drafts folder from which it has only now been extracted!  I’ve edited it to take account of this delay.

Remembrance Sunday in Richmond Cemetery, 2014, was on a mild November morning.  We arrived with plenty of time to place our rosemary sprigs, and to talk together about the men buried in the South African Section. Having remembered, when I tied the jute around each sprig this morning, that one of last year’s cyclists had pointed out the nearby grave of a London Scottish ‘Jock’, I prepared a sprig for that grave as well.  “After all,” I’d said, “we can’t expect the cyclists to come here again.”  Last year they’d chosen to cycle to the South African Memorial because that was the one place that nobody visits. I was sure they weren’t likely to be back, now that they knew that at least the two of us were likely to be at the Memorial.

At about five to eleven, when I was crouched over the CD player, loading the CD with The Last Post and the Reveille, my husband quietly announced, “There are some cyclists over there.” I’d thought that the South African Memorial had seen a peak in visitors, following the breakthrough of 2013, with the bouquet from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, OMSG DD FKC and Mrs Tutu, and the arrival in 2014 of three cyclists, which more than doubled the total contingent at previous commemorations, at least in this century. But no, they’d come back again this year reprising their role of Patrons of Lost Causes.

In fact, they’d expected to see a few more people than just the two of us.  With so many South Africans living in the area, they’d thought word would have spread.  And, following last year’s commemoration of The Silence, one of them had dispatched a message to the South African authorities about the ‘neglect’ of this war memorial.  He told me that he had since heard that the memorial had been re-dedicated this year.

This was not the complete shock that a similar snippet of news had been to me less than 48 hours earlier.

On the Friday before, I had been in a nearby section of this cemetery, an outcome of my work on the Ham Parish War Memorial.  I was there to meet a couple who’d come up from Devon to support some veterans taking part in the Remembrance Parade in Whitehall this morning. Alan’s brother was one of Ham’s Civilian Dead and I was meeting them to help them locate the grave of his brother Michael. Michael had been killed, aged 2, when a high explosive bomb landed on a house in Mead Road, in Ham. Alan, his parents’ only surviving child, was born eight years after his brother’s death.

They asked about my war memorial research, so I mentioned that it had started as a result of the research I’d done on the South African War Memorial and on the Military Hospital in Richmond Park, and I mentioned that I’d be back here on Sunday, to do my little DIY effort again.  Ah, they said, they knew indeed where the Memorial was and, hey, that they’d been up earlier this year to attend a British Legion event at that very Memorial. Apparently there’d been a lot of South Africans present.

Given the British Legion’s advice to me, to join the march to the Twickenham Memorial as “nothing happens at the South African Memorial” when I’d approached them some years back, I was somewhat surprised that they had ‘bothered’ about it now.

So the couple from Devon reassured me, in my whowilldothiswhenIamnolongeraround moment, that surely there’d be bound to be a few of those ‘many’ South Africans turning up at the Memorial on Remembrance Sunday.

Well, they and the Patrons of Lost Causes all supposed ‘wrong’.

Twenty years ago, I had the privilege of receiving an invitation from ‘le Préfet de la région Picardie’ to a ceremony to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Delville Wood.  I think the then curator of the Delville Wood Museum had a hand in the extension of that invitation.  My grandfather was with the South African Infantry Brigade at Delville Wood, and I met a 99 year old veteran, then living in Canada, whose son had brought him to the ceremony.  Also amongst the guests was a 92 year old Frenchman who claimed he’d been a runner!

I’d love to know what is being planned for the centenary at Delville Wood in July.

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A tribute to The Springbok Blue

When, some years ago, I first started to research the South African Military Hospital, the reaction of many local residents to the news that there had ever been a hospital in Richmond Park was a sceptical raised eyebrow.   Last year, however, Richmond Museum included a display about the hospital in the exhibition Richmond at Home and at War, to which I contributed the text as well as an image of my grandfather in the grounds of the hospital.  Pembroke Lodge, to whose collection I also contributed some material, did its bit as well on behalf of the forgotten, or overlooked, hospital.  Every little helps and there are certainly fewer raised eyebrows now when I mention the hospital.

2015 tribute from Richmond's 'Young People' to The Springbok Blue

2015 tribute from Richmond’s ‘Young People’ to The Springbok Blue

Imagine my delight when I spotted a familiar image in the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive recently. It was the springbok on a blue background on the cover of a leaflet created by ‘Young People at Orleans House Gallery’ as a tribute to the original Springbok Blue. The leaflet was their contribution to the gallery’s exhibition In their Footsteps: Richmond’s First World War and the leaflet’s cover echoes the emblem and masthead of the original magazine.

The Springbok Blue (later, more simply The Springbok) was a magazine for, and by, the patients, the vast majority of whom were serving with the South African forces.

Most of the patients at the South African Military Hospital had suffered life-changing injuries and the hospital provided support during the long, slow process of their rehabilitation.  The monthly magazine was not just a means of communicating the activities at the hospitality to patients, staff and supporters, local and in Southern Africa, but for those involved in its production, it was also an effective element in that rehabilitation.  What a pleasure it was to find that The Springbok Blue inspired this project nearly a century after it first appeared.

It’s a small point, but I should perhaps note that The Springbok Blue was not a project of the “South African Legion” as the leaflet suggests.  The South African Legion’s forerunner, the British Empire Service League, was not founded until 1921.


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George Henry Rosser (1885–1916)

6011 Private George Henry Rosser (1885–1916)
2/South African Infantry Regiment
Died in Fulham, 23 July 1916, of severe wounds received on 11 July at The Somme.

Headstone of George Rosser Richmond CemeteryWe’d planned, yesterday, also to look for the grave of Private George Henry Rosser, who is not buried with his fellow combatants in Section Z, but is in Section W of Richmond Cemetery.  I had brought with me a photo of the headstone, which I had found through the South African War Graves Project, and I knew that, like the first headstone erected on Corporal Miller’s grave, it was not a CWGC headstone.  These headstones have the advantage of standing out in a cemetery, once you know what to look for, but what I expected to see was two cuboid stones, the lower one larger than the upper one, topped by a stone cross.  You can see the now ‘dismembered’ headstone in the photo on the left.

The cycling Patrons of Lost Causes came to the rescue, by mentioning a new CWGC headstone for a South African grave that they had noticed on their way to the South African section.  “Was the name Rosser?” I asked. They confirmed that it was the name on the headstone they had seen, and they pointed it out to me after the Two Minutes’ Silence.

Old & New Headstones George Rosser

The old and new headstones on George Rosser’s grave.

Of all the soldiers serving with the South African forces, and buried in this cemetery, George Rosser was the first to die. His death was registered at Fulham Military Hospital where he was being nursed following the severe wounds he had received in France eleven days earlier. Although the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park had begun to receive patients that month, it focused on treating people with long term life-changing injuries.  He was buried in this grave on 29 July, six days after his death and in Richmond, because his parents still lived there.

This photo shows what you have to look out for in Section W, if you are looking for George’s grave.

It is now over five years since I researched the South African soldiers in Richmond Cemetery, so I took a fresh look this morning at the information I had on him and at the additional information I obtained from the South African War Graves Project (SAWGP) recently.

George Henry Rosser was born in Richmond, the eldest son and second child of George Henry Rosser (1860–1920) and his wife Louisa Ann Keates (c. 1860–1955?).  His father was a labourer, eventually working for many years as a Carter for the Corporation (Richmond Council).  The family lived for over 20 years at 6 Michel’s Row, Richmond, before moving to 134 Manor Grove, North Sheen, in the first decade of the 20th Century.

George had left the family home by the turn of the century, and may already have gone out to South Africa. Perhaps he went out to work on the mines.  We know, that by the time he enlisted in 1915 at the age of 30, his occupation was recorded as ‘Hotel Keeper’. His enlisting in the 2/SAIF, a regiment raised in Natal and the Orange Free State, with some volunteers drawn from the Kaffrarian Rifles, suggests that he was living in the eastern part of the new Union of South Africa.  Originally on the strength of a Reserve Battalion, George was taken on the strength of the 2nd Regiment from the date of his disembarkation in Egypt, from HMS Transylvania, on 12 March 1916.  Two months later, the South African forces were ordered to France and from 4 May, for two months, the South African Infantry Brigade was initiated into the methods of trench warfare, something they had not experienced thus far in their action in the war, when they had been fighting the Germans and their Allies in South West Africa, East Africa and the Middle East.

John Buchan, the historian of the South African Forces, commented on how the soldiers might have been struck by the similarities of the landscape of Northern France and that of parts of their native country.

He notes:

The Somme, with its acres of swamp and broad lagoons, was not unlike some river of the Bushveld…As they topped the hill behind Méaulte and faced the long lift of land towards Bapaume, they had the kind of spectacle which is common enough beyond the Vaal.  In the hollows around the watercourses was the light green of crops; then a great stretch of unfenced country patched with woods, which were curiously clean-cut, like the coppices of a park round a country house.  It was such a reach as a man may see from Haenertsberg, looking north towards the woodbush.  The weather too was the soft, shimmering mist of the Berg.  Our bombardment had only just begun and the countryside was not yet devastated.  Fricourt was still a pleasant woodland village, Bernafay and Trônes were as yet little forests, and the spire of Mametz Church was more than a tooth of masonry. (p.47–48)

And on the eleventh day of July, the day in which George was fatally injured, the 4th Regiment was involved in fighting, near Trônes, with its headquarters and two companies and in Bernafay Woods, and two companies near Glatz Redoubt.  They were exposed to a “barrage of fire” from the enemy and amongst the victims was Lieut. Colonel F A Jones, who was the commanding officer of the 4th Regiment.  An inspirational leader, his death, as a result of a shell splinter, was a “grievous loss” to the Brigade.  Buchan records that ‘Fatty Jones was beloved throughout the contingent for his gay and imperturbable temper, his ready humour and his complete coolness and gallantry.”  He had served in the Anglo-Boer War with the Welsh Regiment.

This is the only action I can find for the 11th, but, as an astute reader will have noticed,  Rosser’s record links him with various companies of the 2nd Regiment, so I can only speculate as to how he received the injuries which would prove fatal.  I think he may well have incurred these injuries on the 10th.  Buchan records that A and C companies of the 2nd Regiment had relieved the 6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who were holding a “portion of” Bernafay Wood on the 8th July, with  D company joining them on the 9th.  Buchan notes that “during the 10th” these companies of the 2nd South Africans were relieved by two companies of the 4th.  He adds, “The 2nd, during its short time in the line, was most severely shelled and incurred some two hundred casualties.”

As a wounded soldier, George would have been taken to a Casualty Clearing Station, and had his death seemed imminent, he would not have been moved back to England as the journey back to England, by hospital train, would have been deemed too slow, disturbing and risky for the critically ill.  Once there, he may have been told the shocking news of the dreadful losses sustained by his brigade, after being sent to Delville Wood, ordered to hold it “at all costs”.

It would have taken some days for George to reach the Fulham Military Hospital, but one hopes that his family had the comfort of being with him before his death. They were perhaps fortunate that he was indeed ‘hospitalised’ back to England, as they could arrange for him to be buried in Richmond Cemetery, a short walk from their home in Manor Grove.  He is the first man serving with the South African forces to have been buried in that cemetery.  The second was Philip Pitman, who was fatally injured at Delville Wood, and who was buried in the Cemetery on 1 August 1916, but in Section Z which later to be the zone to include all the South African graves.  Philip was reburied in another grave in Z section in 1920.  George was not reburied with his comrades in the South African section, perhaps because within two months of his burial in 1916, his nephew was buried in the same grave and in 1920, one of his parents was buried nearby.

If George was given a military funeral in Richmond, it may have been conducted in the chapel in the cemetery.  If his funeral was conducted in a Richmond Church, then it is likely to have been held in St John’s Church, where his parents were married, and where he, and all his siblings, were baptised.

Grave W.5546
It was only yesterday that I discovered, from the Burials’ database, that two family members were subsequently buried in George’s grave.  The first, buried only two months’ later, was George’s nephew, Frederick George Steel, the ten year old son of his elder sister, Louisa Annie.  George’s sister, Annie Elizabeth Lucretia Bedward, was buried with her brother and nephew in 1933.  George’s parents were later to be buried in the same section of Richmond Cemetery as their son (in plot W.5377).  His father, George, died in 1920. and his mother, Louisa, in 1955, in Yorkshire, but was brought back to Richmond for burial in the same plot, near to the grave of their son, daughter and grandson.  The only relative I can place in Yorkshire is their son, Percy.

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in France, London, 1920., p.55
South African War Graves Project, Service Details for G.H. Rosser, Photo 4,,  accessed 8/11/2015.

Personal note about Bernafay Wood
Re-reading what Buchan wrote about the South African role at Bernafay Wood, reminded me that my great great-uncle, John Henry Lewin, who lost an arm and an eye at Arras, was to name a Northamptonshire house ‘Bernafay’.  Was he perhaps reminded of the pleasant wood, rather than of the losses incurred by his comrades there?  His vivid descriptions of life ‘behind the lines’, and a couple of short stories based on his war experience, were published in The Springbok Blue during 1917, while he was a patient at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond.  Later that very same year, he was married at the Register Office in Richmond, and went on to stand for Parliament on behalf of the Labour Party, to become known as a fiery Unitarian preacher in the North of England, and, following the death of his wife in 1940, went to the Middle East, where he was to spend four years supporting Allied soldiers at Hibbert Houses in Syria and Egypt, and subsequently at the Y.M.C.A.  He returned to the UK in 1946.  After his retirement, Jack lived for many years in Onslow Road, Richmond.

[Mottram, R.H.,(comp.) Hibbert Houses: a record,, accessed 11/11/2015.]

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Do you not know…

Do you not know
that a man is not dead
while his name is still spoken?
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

Today, Remembrance Sunday 2015, we once again spoke the names of the 39 men buried in the South African section of Richmond Cemetery and placed a sprig of rosemary near each headstone.  I would like to suggest a few names that readers might like to reflect on, and perhaps, to help keep the memory of them alive in some way, by mentioning them, and allowing their names to be “still spoken”.

We got ourselves there early this year and had time to reflect each of the men, and on any additional information we have acquired about them since Remembrance Sunday last year.  Because of ‘Corporal’ John Smith, I’ve been reading the history of the Cape Corps, so I recently tried to locate Cape Corps graves in the United Kingdom.  There is a trick to this.  Do not enter too much information, even if you are sure it is correct, because the outcome will be either a blank or hundreds of unrelated regiments.  Just choose the war (First World War) and don’t tick the South African Forces box.  Instead, scroll down to the Regiment, and type in Cape Corps, S.A. Forces.  This will generate 524 results, worldwide.  Now scroll back up the page, and allow yourself to choose the name of the country from the drop-down list under the heading Country (commemorated in).  Refine your search, and you find there is a war grave within your orbit.

Choosing the United Kingdom, I found no graves, but two Privates from the Cape Corps commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial.  Both men died of illness in 1918, on the same voyage, and were buried at sea.

4267 Private Carl Smit, 1/Cape Corps
Pte Smit died of cerebral pneumonia on 21 August 1918 en route from South Africa to Egypt, on board S.S. Palamcotta and was buried at sea. His record gives his next of kin as his grandfather, Adrian Adriaanse, of Cook’s Farm, Ottery Road, Wynberg. Cape.

5013 Private Adrian Bantan, 1/Cape Corps
Pte Bantam died of pneumonia on 8 September 1918 en route from South Africa to Egypt, on board S.S. Palamcotta.   Adrian was the son of Michael Bantan of Stockenstroom, Cape Province but his record gives his address as Glen Deep, Johannesburg.

I have been thinking also today of the casualties who were soldiers of the South African Native Labour Corps, very few of whom have graves in the United Kingdom.

9555 Private Willie Elijah Tshabana, C Company, 5/SANLC
Pte Tshabana drowned at sea on 21 February 1917 when the S.S. Mendi was lost. His body was recovered, and he is buried in the Churchyard of Saints Simon & Jude at East Dean. He was the son of Gobozi Tshabana, and his wife, Mtani Hlongilwa and the husband of Sarah Gobozi, of Mfume Reserve, Pinetown, Natal.

10020 Private Simon Linganiso, C Company, 5/SANLC
Like Pte Tshabano, Pte Linganiso drowned at sea on 21 February 1917 when the S.S. Mendi sank, with the loss of so many lives. He is also one of the few men whose body was recovered. and he is buried in the Littlehampton Cemetery. He was in the same company as Pte Tshabana.

9122 Private Smith Segule, B Company, 4/SANLC
Pte Segule is also buried in the Littlehampton Cemetery but served in a different battalion to Pte Linganiso. He too drowned at sea on 21 February 1917, a victim of the sinking of the S.S. Mendi.   He was the son of Mashagale Segule, of Haenertsburg, Transvaal.

18830 Private Jeremiah Siyabi, SANLC
Somewhat less information is known about the death of Pte Siyabi, but it is ascribed to an accident, on 30 March 1918. He was 45 years old.   Pte Siyabi is buried in the north west corner of the Churchyard of St Werburgh, Wembury.

7163 Private Mrogoyi Tshikwase Madhlala, SANLC
Pte Madhlala died of Bright’s Disease on 16 August 1917 at Bristol. He was 50 years old and the son of Gatshu Madhlala of Port Shepstone. Like other servicemen buried there, Pte Madhlala is also commemorated on a Screen Wall in the Arnos Vale Cemetery, which is about one mile from Bristol’s Temple Meads station.

My loyalty at 1Ham Scout Group Milosz quote 20151 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday is to the South African servicemen, buried locally. Afterwards I went to Ham, the parish whose war dead I am currently researching.  The words attached to the wreath left by the Ham Scouts at their memorial, resonates with the words of Pratchett, with which I began this blog post.

They are by Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet, who was a native of Lithuania:

The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.

Further Reading
I recommend The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire for the insight it gives into the role assigned to the SANLC.  Any good library should have a copy.  [Dewey 940.412 OLU.]
Olusoga, D., The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of the Empire, London, 2014, p. 311–320.  For SS Mendi, see p. 268–272.

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In search of Corporal John Smith of Galashiels

Gala Remembers its South Africans

Gala Remembers its South Africans

In my post Gala Remembered  I was unable to do more than hazard a guess as to which of seven Smiths with the initial J, listed on the CWGC database as serving with the South African Forces, could be a match for Cpl John Smith.  I found no Corporal Smiths, but there were two Lance Corporals whose first initial was J. I hazarded a guess that Cpl Smith might be 735 L/Cpl J Smith, killed in action in Palestine, while serving in the Cape Corps.

I should note that I repeated my search for J Smith between 1913 and 1922 this time looking at the results which had generated someone whose middle name was John.  I then viewed each search result in turn to identify the man’s rank and noone with a middle of John was a Corporal.

The South African Roll of Honour, now accessible for a fee on Find My Past, did not provide much additional information than did that person’s listing on the CWGC database. The place of burial or commemoration is written in by hand, which makes me think that the basic printed list was compiled fairly soon after the war, and perhaps before the wartime burials had been collected in the cemeteries which would be their permanent resting place, and before the memorials to the missing were in place. Occasionally some additional information, also inserted by hand, such as the man’s age, or “Delville Wood” is added. The cause of death, if not clear from the CWGC information, is specified.

If you are not a subscriber to Find My Past, and the serviceman is not a relative, then paying to view this image does not deliver good value given the charge.

The inimitable South African War Graves Project came to the rescue. For one thing, it allowed me to rule out the other Lance Corporal.   L/Cpl J.H. Smith was Joseph Henry Smith, who died on 11 January 1917, in what is now Tanzania. It gave the name of his ‘late father’, James Smith and the name and address of his widow. It noted that he was also commemorated on the Mossel Bay War Memorial.  This useful entry hinted at other information which might well be useful, such as recording that Joseph had died of wounds incurred on 7 January. Without access to a service record, or a regimental war diary, this is often exactly what researchers need to know for those who died of wounds, if they are to find out what happened and to work out what action his unit was involved in at the time he was wounded.

Having ruled out this Lance Corporal, I also attempted to identify whether there might be a Corporal J Smith.  For this I entered J and Smith in the name fields, and inserted Corporal in the box for additional text, but omitting to limit the date range. Only one result was generated in the SAWGP database, and he was a Southern Rhodesian, also called John, but he died in 1941, in a different war, and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial. There is also a more than usually informative summary of the incident in which he and several others were killed. Interestingly enough, his parents, William Lawrence and Robina Smith lived in Westmuir (sic), Angus. Yes, I did look for him in the hope that, like Galashiels, West Muir remembered. Googling West Muir plus war memorial didn’t appear to generate any results so I looked at the photos of Brechin’s War Memorial for WW2 (on the Scottish War Graves Project) but there was no Corporal J Smith RAFVR.

I think that Corporal J Smith may well be 735 L/Cpl J. Smith who was killed in action at Kh Jibeit and was the son of Louisa Smith of Cape Town.

The day of Corporal Smith’s death, 20 September 1918, was the third day of General Allenby’s “great Palestine Push.” It was also a day which was summarised in the timeline of the war experience of the Cape Corps, by its Quartermaster and historian, Capt Ivor Gifford, in The Story of the 1st Battalion Cape Corps (1915–1919)  in the following words:

Battalion heavily engaged at Kh Jibeit and receives temporary set back and heavy casualties. On this day we fired our last shot in Palestine.

I found the second sentence poignant, thinking how close John Smith had come to being able to return to his family and friends.

Once I was reasonably certain of his name and unit, I was able to find a great deal about the events of 20 September.  The post on my findings will be uploaded shortly.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC],, accessed 5/11/2015.
DIFFORD, Capt. I.D., The Story of the 1st Battalion Cape Corps (1915–1919), Cape Town, 1920 [publ. Hortor’s] accessed 1/11/2015 , accessed 6/11/2015
South African War Graves Project [SAWGP],, accessed 5/11/2015.
South African Roll of Honour (1914—1918),, accessed 5/11/2015. [This is a pay to view site.]



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