Keith Brennand MacWilliam (1921–1944)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So young; and so selfless.

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

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Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson (1890–1918)

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

The grave of Frank Kidson, 2013

The grave of Frank Kidson, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SIX-FOOTERS

CURIOUS RECORD OF A GIANT SOUTH AFRICAN FAMILY

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

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

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

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

Tribute to Kate Kidson on her husband's grave

Tribute to Kate Kidson on her husband’s grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Blue Death (Influenza) victim, South African Medical Corps (SAMC), South African Military Hospital Richmond | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Remembrance Sunday 2016

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

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

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

2016: the British Legion left a wreath.

2016: the British Legion left a wreath.

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

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

Find South African War Graves

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

War Memorial Research (1): Perils and Pitfalls

War Memorial Research (2): First Steps

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

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‘The Blue Death’—the influenza epidemic of 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Military Hospitals, South African Medical Corps (SAMC), South African Military Hospital Richmond, South African Nursing Services (SANS), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 one of the most devastating pandemics 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, would certainly have been 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 or by means of a comment on this post.

Sources
‘HMHS Ebani’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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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