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athelstan

Rhodesian graves in German South West Africa

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athelstan

In the old European cemetery on the outskirts of Swakopmund in Namibia, formerly German South West Africa, there are the graves of 65 Commonwealth troops. Two of those graves are for soldiers of the 1st Rhodesia Regiment both killed in action on 7 February 1915. Private C.C.W.F. Clayton is commemorated on the main memorial whilst Private B. Rabinson is in the small Jewish section of the cemetery. As would be expected both graves were being well looked after when I visited for a second time in April 2009.

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Private Clayton would originally have had a headstone but at some point these were replaced by the current granite memorial with each grave number indicated on a central panel. This raises an interesting point as to where the graves actually are. I have been told by a Namibian national that the graves are beyond the current cemetery in open land used rather alarmingly for quad biking. The area is gently undulating providing the quad bikers with an extra challenge. Whether these are the original grave mounds I have unable to verify but my contact was quite appalled at this apparent lack of respect.

Since my first visit I have often puzzled over the date and how they met their deaths. At this time the South African troops were consolidating their position in Swakopmumd before the main advance inland begins in earnest on 15 March 1915. February 1915 finds the Rhodesians dug in defending the outskirts of Swakopmund. There are no major actions to speak of but something must have happened on 7 February 1915. None of the various books I have on the campaign could shed any light.

Even Gerald L'Ange's thorough and comprehensive 'Urgent Imperial Service' whilst containing several references to the Rhodesian troops makes no mention of their deaths. As for J.J. Collyer's Official History of 'The Campaign in German South West Africa' it is never strong on detail at the best of times and has a terrible index. No help there then.

Equally I have been unable to trace the War Diaries for the 1st Rhodesia Regiment. Admittedly I've not searched very hard. Those of the 2nd Regiment who served in German East Africa 1915 to 1917 are in the National Archive at Kew but not the 1st. Any suggestions as to where those of the 1st Regiment are would be welcome.

So I remained in the dark until the recent acquisition of a copy of 'How Botha and Smuts conquered German South West' by W.S. Rayner and W.W. O'Shaughnessy. Turning to page 178 to 179 reveals the following account:

"By February a portion of the Rhodesian Regiment had been pushed out to occupy the sand-dunes guarding the approach down the Swakop River bed. The sand-dunes here run inland in long series from north to south for a few miles only, when the ground becomes firm and pebbly with a gentle undulation towards Nonidas. The Rhodesians held the last ridge but one of the sand-dunes, daily sending forward a few men as outposts in the early morning to overlook the open country and returning them back at nightfall nearer to the main picket. Such was the position on Sunday, February 7, Colonel Skinner moved out before dawn with the I.L.H. and a detachment of his only available artillery (the Heavy Artillery Brigade) to reconnoitre the enemy's position beyond the Rhodesian outposts. By a strange co-incidence it transpired that the enemy had also dispatched a reconnoitring party, who, during the night, occupied the last sand-dunes already referred to and at daybreak, as the Rhodesians were crossing the open space dividing the ridges, opened fire upon the surprised men, killing two outright. Simultaneously, Colonel Skinner and staff, who had gone ahead and taken a direction to the right to higher observation ground, saw the enemy's horses revealed behind the dunes in the growing light. Although the distance was probably over 1,000 yards away, some of the staff could not restrain a few enfilading shots with their revolvers at such a tempting bait, and away went the Germans back to their camp at Nonidas."

Later on it is revealed that the Germans reconnaissance was a prelude to a possible attack on Swakopmund which as events turned out never happened.

Meanwhile the Appendices reveal not just the names of Clayton and Rabinson killed on the 7 February 1915 but also list Rabinson as wounded which would appear to contradict the being killed outright account above. Actually for anyone tracing a soldier killed or died of wounds or disease or wounded in the German South West Africa Campaign these Appendices are invaluable sources listing Corps, date and place of death or wounds.

Finally I can thoroughly recommend a trip to Swakopmund. It is a curious place, a German colonial town complete with its own brewery plonked down between the wild shores of the Atlantic coast of southern Africa and the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. Little wonder it was used for ITV's recent remake of The Prisoner.

References

'Urgent Imperial Service' by Gerald L'Ange, Ashanti, 1991.

'How Botha and Smuts conquered German South West' by W.S. Rayner and W.W. O'Shaughnessy, Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd, London,1916.

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bushfighter

James

Well Done & very interesting.

Harry

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Martin Bennitt

I was there a year ago. I remember the quad bike circuit near the cemetery, but never thought there might be graves underneath. As you say, Swakopmund itself is interesting, but the whole country is fantastic. The German presence is still very marked

cheers Martin B

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athelstan

Harry, Martin thanks for your comments.

Searching through my slides from my trip to Namibia in 2001 I came across the picture below indirectly related to my post regarding the Rhodesians at Swakopmund. A local tour guide took me out for the day ostensibly on a natural history trip but I persuaded him to include a few World War One sites. George was very knowledgeable and amongst other World War One related sites he took me to some trenches at Namib a few miles outside of Swakopmund. At least he'd always been told they were trenches. See for yourself from the photograph.

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Visible are vague traces on this being an entrenched position on a low hill looking eastwards. My notes from the time record myself as not being 100% convinced but there were small amounts of camp debris, mostly pieces of bully beef tins, adding credence to there being soldiers here.

As mentioned in my first post the Rhodesians were occupying the front line at Swakopmund in early 1915. I should add that they may not have been at this exact spot as just round the corner from here are the regimental badges of the 2nd Durban Light Infantry and the 2nd Battalion, Kimberley Regiment picked out in white quartz pebbles by bored soldiers on sentry duty. It does however give an idea of the sort of terrain they had to dig out and occupy and the surrounding countryside.

Rayner and O'Shaughnessy in their book "How Botha and Smuts Conquered German South West' relate an amusing tale of the Rhodesians digging their trenches.

"While the Rhodesians were constructing these entrenchments several suspicious looking metal drums, full of a liquid into the nature of which none was sufficiently curious to enquire (the poisoning of the wells by the enemy having produced a dampening effect upon the ardour fo the more inquisitive ones) were pressed into service as supports to the loose sandy sides of the excavations. Men record today in sorrowful tones how they unconsciously slept against these casks for nights on end, and it fell to the lot of a private of a relieving regiment, guided presumably by instinct, to thrust his bayonet unerringly into the heart of the nearest barrel, producing a fountain of - German beer!" Gerald L'ange in 'Urgent Imperial Service' adds the new occupants took much plesure in informing the Rhodesians of their discovery.

Hope this is of some interest.

james w

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KONDOA

James,

Thanks for posting again, I had missed this thread for some reason. All very interesting and Namibia is on my "to do" list.

Roop

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athelstan

Another related photograph to add to this post. The recently published 'Rhodesia Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890 – 1980' by Peter Baxter contains this uncredited photograph from the campaign in South West Africa.

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It is captioned "South African and Rhodesian troops digging entrenchments at Walvis Bay. They were rarely used in defence against German attacks."

If this is at Walvis Bay it would have been taken in late December 1914 or early January 1915 as the 1st Rhodesia Regiment landed from the SS Monarch at Walvis Bay on Boxing Day 1914. It would be more accurate to say the entrenchments were never used in defence against German attacks. It is at Swakopmund, 20km north of Walvis Bay that the Germans attack on 7 February 1915 and where Clayton and Rabinson lose their lives.

The quality of the original photograph is not good but it does convey something of the conditions. Army chaplain, the Rev William Meare's description of Walvis Bay (quoted in L'Ange's 'Urgent Imperial Service') of "But oh what a wild, barren, cheerless waste the country seems to be" seems pretty close to the mark. The variety of headgear and the casual attitude taken towards digging in is also worth noting. The Germans can't have been very near.

james w

Reference

'Rhodesia Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890 – 1980' by Peter Baxter,Galago, South Africa, 2010

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athelstan

In my first post of 01/07/2010 I mentioned that I'd been told the real graves of the soldiers buried at Swakopmumd lay outside of the old European cemetery in an area now used by quad bikers. I now stand corrected.

Reference to 'The Kaiser's Holocaust – Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Routes of Nazism' by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen reveals this is a Herero burial ground from the 1900s. The Herero along with the Nama people rose up in rebellion against German colonial rule in 1904. Brutally put down in what amounted to genocide the survivors were rounded up into work camps. Concentration camps by any other name. Housed in appalling conditions and put to work on public and private infrastructure projects many died of disease, starvation and over work. These are the people buried in the land next to the European Cemetery.

In fact this was observed as early as March 1915 when a Doctor H.F.B. Walker from the South African Mobile Field Ambulance commented:

"Beyond the European cemetery is what is said to be the native burial place. Rows and rows of little heaps of sand occupy about a thousand yards of desert. Some of these heaps have rude little crosses of sticks placed on them. It was very puzzling to explain why so many natives were buried near Swakupmund, in a place that was not even enclosed."

Regardless of whether the graves are those of South African and Rhodesian soldiers or of the Herero people there is a distinct lack of respect being shown by the quad bikers.

james w

References

'A Doctor's Diary in Damaraland,' Dr H.F.B. Walker, Edward Arnold, London 1917

'The Kaiser's Holocaust – Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Routes of Nazism,' David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen, faber and faber, London, 2010

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athelstan

Harry

Thanks for the link to the Namibia graves. The 'If you are visiting South Africa ....' section is also useful as I'm off on holiday to South Africa soon and hope, time permitting, to squeeze in a cemetery or two in Cape Town and Durban.

regards

james.

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SteveE

The 'If you are visiting South Africa ....' section is also useful as I'm off on holiday to South Africa soon and hope, time permitting, to squeeze in a cemetery or two in Cape Town and Durban.

James

I hope I'm not being too presumptious but if you do manage to squeeze a cemetery or two into your holiday, and it happens to be any of the following listed, could you perhaps photograph the headstones of any of the following 25th Royal Fusiliers for me?

#28127 Charles Westmoreland, Durban (Stellawood) Cemetery, Grave ref. F. 130.

#14864 Leslie Rupert Hawkey, Cape Town (Plumstead) Cemetery, Grave Ref. BI. UP. 5.

#15151 Thomas Wilkes, Cape Town (Plumstead) Cemetery, Grave Ref. BI. UR. Z.

#36108 Arthur Henry Cripps, Cape Town (Maitland) Cemetery, Grave Ref. Sec. 4. 97452A.

Regards

Steve

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athelstan

Steve

Happy to help if I can. Stellawood and Maitland are both on the possible visit list so I'll do my best to photo your headstones. Might be able to fit in Plumstead too (family permitting!).

regards

james

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SteveE

James

Many thanks, anything you can do will be much appreciated. Have a great holiday.

Regards

Steve

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KONDOA

Sorry to add to your burden but if the opportunity arises I would really appreciate these two strays.

Name: LEDREW, GEORGE

Initials: G

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Gunner

Regiment/Service: Royal Garrison Artillery

Unit Text: 158th Heavy Bty.

Age: 21

Date of Death: 03/06/1917

Service No: 290219

Additional information: Son of George and Mary Ann Ledrew, of 51, Northumberland Avenue, Hull.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: Bl. UP. 10.

Cemetery: CAPE TOWN (PLUMSTEAD) CEMETERY

Name: JONES

Initials: E

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Gunner

Regiment/Service: Royal Garrison Artillery

Date of Death: 11/05/1917

Service No: 169

Awards: Mentioned in Despatches

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: Sec. 4. 98226B.

Cemetery: CAPE TOWN (MAITLAND) CEMETERY

Many thanks for any effort possible.

Roop

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KONDOA

Many thanks.

Roop

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KONDOA

Many thanks to James W for acquiring the photograph of George Ledrew on my behalf.

Roop

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athelstan

You're welcome Roop.

My visit to Plumstead turned up two gravestones for men of the Rhodesia Regiment one of which was a bit of a surprise. Both graves are for men of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment who served in East Africa rather than South West Africa so I am going slightly off topic here.

The first grave is for Lieutenant Ronald Cecil Vernon who died on 11 October 1918, aged 26.

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I was not expecting to find this one as his Commonwealth War Graves entry records his Regiment as General and Base Depots, South African Forces, General Depot Staff (Wynberg) and not the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment.

Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Capell's 'The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa' contains a useful appendix listing every man who served in the Regiment, when he attested, any awards and date and place of death if applicable. Vernon is listed as a Lance Corporal, attested 16/08/1915 and as Died with no date or place given.

The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment it should be noted was formally disbanded on 12 October 1917.

So it looks like whilst Vernon was commissioned into another unit his family chose to remember him as a solider of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment albeit with his new rank.

His Commonwealth War Graves entry records he was the son of the Rev. James Campbell Vernon, M.A., and Esther Elizabeth Mary Vernon, of 24, Westcliffe Grove, Harrogate, Yorkshire, England and he was born at Kyneton, Thornbury, Gloucestershire.

I'll pick up on the second grave, that of Private Alexander Mcintosh Cormack in a later post.

james w

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athelstan

The inscription on the gravestone may not be too clear in the above photograph so I've added a close up.

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I have to admit that when taking the photo I failed to spot the last line of the inscription buried in the soil.

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athelstan

The second grave at Plumstead is that of Private Alexander Mcintosh Cormack died on 14 February 1917, aged 42.

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His entry in Capell's book records he attested on 16/1/1914 and his death at Wynberg where there was a military hospital.

Cormack is also recorded on his parents' grave in Wick Cemetery (see the link below to the Scottish War Graves Project). The grave gives Wynberg Hospital as his place of death.

Scottish War Graves Project

james w

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ShirlD

I am finding this thread interesting, thank you

Cheers

Shirley

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athelstan

Thanks for your comment Shirley

Carrying on with my holiday snaps from Plumstead Cemetery in Cape Town there are two graves with links to the campaign in German South West Africa.

The first is for Private Thomas C. Dodds of the Rand Rifles who died on 24 August 1915. His grave, a private memorial, is shown below.

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The inscription reads:

In memory of

Thomas Dodds

Rand Rifles

Died August 24th 1915

As result of fever

contracted in the G.S.W.

Campaign

Aged 28 years

erected in affectionate

remembrance by his fellow

workers of the staff of

Norman Ansty & Co

Johannesburg

Dodds was actually from Ireland and his death is recorded in the Central Presbyterian Association (Belfast) Monthly Magazine for October 1915.









"It is with feelings of sincere regret we chronicle the death, from enteric fever, at the Military Hospital, Wynberg, Capetown, of Mr. Thos. C. Dodds, who was for a number of years a well-known and popular member of this Association, and a brother of Mr. R. S. Dodds, who is with the firm of C. M'Cullagh & Co., Castle Buildings. Our late member, who gave his life for his country, served in the Rand Rifles under General Botha through the recent South African campaign. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the relatives and friends."

The Rand Rifles land at Walvis Bay on a foggy Christmas Day 1914 and are the first to encounter a German patrol the following day. As part of the 4th Infantry Brigade, with the 1st Durban Light Infantry and the South African Irish, they do an awful lot of marching but always seem to just miss out on any action. Such was the lot of many of the infantry who served in German South West Africa.

Rayner and O'Shaughnessy's book "How Botha and Smuts Conquered German South West" has an invaluable appendix listing every man killed and wounded in the campaign. This list has appeared on several websites. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is not 100% accurate for Private Dodds is missing from the list. There are no casualties listed for the Rand Rifles so it looks like they emerged from the campaign unscathed.

Dodds death due to enteric fever is unusual as compared to the Boer War when deaths to it far outnumbered those killed by Boer bullets, casualties are very low. Lessons were learnt and health, hygiene and inoculation improved dramatically between the end of the Boer War and the start of the First. From the 'History of the Great War: Medical Services General History. Volume 1' by Major-General W.G. Macpherson the figures are Boer War cases of enteric fever 38.8 per 1,000 men, German South West Africa 0.78 per 1,000.

So having endured the hardships of German South West he was unlucky to succumb to enteric fever.

Any information on the Rand Rifles would be appreciated.

James w

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athelstan

The second grave with a South West Africa link at Plumstead is that of General Henry Lukin. This actually lies just outside of the Commonwealth War Graves plot and is not listed in the cemetery's register. Lukin was the commander of the Central Force in the campaign in German South West Africa. He is in charge at the Battle of Gibeon on 27 April 1915.

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As his memorial reflects (see photos in following posts) he was a solider of great experience having served in the Zulu War (1879), Basutoland Gun War (1881) and the Second Boer War. After German South West Africa he goes onto the Western Front and Delville Wood.

For an insight into the man's character, apparently he had his idiosyncrasies, see the link to an article on the South African Military History Society webpage.

http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol073bj.html

Another article on his role at the Battle of Sandfontein on 26 September 1914, when 200 South African soldiers were forced to surrender, can be found at:

http://www0.sun.ac.za/sdorm/index2.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=29&Itemid=26

A statue of General Lukin stands in the Company Gardens in Cape Town.

james w

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athelstan

post-36214-0-31864000-1304545132.jpg

Right hand panel of General Lukin's grave at Plumstead Cemetery, Cape Town.

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athelstan

post-36214-0-89693900-1304545516.jpg

And the left hand side panel of Lukin's grave in Plumstead Cemetery in Cape Town.

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DSWA

In the old European cemetery on the outskirts of Swakopmund in Namibia, formerly German South West Africa, there are the graves of 65 Commonwealth troops. Two of those graves are for soldiers of the 1st Rhodesia Regiment both killed in action on 7 February 1915. Private C.C.W.F. Clayton is commemorated on the main memorial whilst Private B. Rabinson is in the small Jewish section of the cemetery. As would be expected both graves were being well looked after when I visited for a second time in April 2009.

Hi James

I am from Swakopmund Namibia and I belong to the Kriegsgrabefursorge and we keep the grave clean and fixed. Unfortunatetly time is a problem and we try see to the graves every four years.

I`m trying to attach some photos of our work to the message but my size is too great. Once I have tried to make the photos smaller I will post them

Kind regards from Namibia

DSWA

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