Author Archives: Charles Ross

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Tobruk War Cemetery

Category : Articles , WW2

TOBRUK WAR CEMETERY

On 21 June 1942 Tobruk fell, giving the German Afrika Korps major victory in North Africa. South African forces, along with numerous other Allies were very much involved in the fierce battles leading up to the tragic event. The casualties from the fierce battles are commemorated in two cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tobruk War Cemetery and the Knightsbridge War Cemetery.

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Tobruk is a Mediterranean port with an excellent deep water harbour. During the war it was important to Allied and Axis forces alike, for the reception of supplies and reinforcements. In January 1941, it was taken from the Italians by General Wavell’s forces, and after the clearance of the demolitions in the harbour the port was usable and proved invaluable. When Rommel commenced his drive across Cyrenaica towards Suez it was deemed essential that Tobruk be held, and the resulting siege lasted from 11 April to 10 December 1941, when the Axis forces were driven back. They recovered far more quickly than was expected and by early February 1942, it was the Allies turn to fall back towards a line running southwards from Gazala to Bir Hakeim. Again orders were given to hold Tobruk, but it fell to Rommel on 21 June. It was retaken five months later by the Eighth Army in their final sweep along the North African coast into Tunisia.

Tobruk War Cemetery incorporates the burial ground used during the siege and the memorial erected there at the time by the Australians has been replaced by a permanent memorial of similar design. Many battlefield graves in the desert have been brought into the cemetery.

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There are now 2,282 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in Tobruk War Cemetery. 171 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate a number of casualties known or believed to be buried among them. The cemetery also contains 171 war graves of other nationalities, most of them Polish.

A total of 156 known and 6 unknown South Africans are commemorated in the Tobruk War Cemetery which includes 66 members of the South African Native Labour Corps, 21 members of the South African Artillery, 12 members of the Cape Corps, 7 members of the South African Air Force, 6 members each from the Cape Town Highlanders and South African Tank Corps, 5 each from the Royal Durban Light Infantry and the South African Technical Services Corps, 4 members each from the Indian and Malay Corps and the South African medical Corps, 3 each from the Q Services Corps, the South African Engineer Corps and the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, 2 each from the South African Corps of Signals and the South African Naval Forces, 1 each from the Field Force Battalion, Imperial Light Horse, Regiment Botha, South African Infantry, Transvaal Scottish and the South African Police.

Also commemorated in the cemetery are 132 members of the Polish Army, 1 members of the Polish Air Force and 3 members of the African Pioneer Corps (HCT), probably from Basutoland (Lesotho). Major General H. Williams CB CBE DSO MC TD is the most senior casualty in the cemetery.

Two members who were awarded the Victoria Cross earlier in the war are also commemorated in the cemetery. They are:

Captain James Jackman VC of 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. His citation in the London Gazette reads:
On 25th November, 1941, at Ed Duda, South East of Tobruk, Captain Jackman showed outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty above all praise when he was in command of a Machine Gun Company of The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in the Tank attack on the Ed Duda ridge. His magnificent bearing was contributory in a large measure to the success of a most difficult and hard fought action. As the tanks reached the crest of the rise they were met by extremely intense fire from a large number of guns of all descriptions: the fire was so heavy that it was doubtful for a moment whether the Brigade could maintain its hold on the position.

The tanks having slowed to “hull-down” positions, settled to beat down the enemy fire, during which time Captain Jackman rapidly pushed up the ridge leading his Machine Gun trucks and saw at once that Anti-Tank Guns were firing at the flank of the tanks, as well as the rows of batteries which the tanks were engaging on their front.

He immediately started to get his guns into action as calmly as though he were on manoeuvres and so secured the right flank. Then, standing up in the front of his truck, with calm determination he led his trucks across the front between the tanks and the uns—there was no other road to get them into action on the left flank.

Most of the tank commanders saw him, and his exemplary devotion to duty regardless of danger not only inspired his own men but clinched the determination of the tank crews never to relinquish the position which they had gained.

Throughout he coolly directed the guns to their positions and indicated targets to them and at that time seemed to bear a charmed life but later he was killed while still inspiring everyone with the greatest confidence by his bearing.

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No. 15705 Corporal John Hurst Edmondson VC, Australian Military Forces. The citation for the Victoria Cross reads as follows:
On the night of 13th–14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry broke through the wire defences at Tobruk, and established themselves with at least six machine guns, mortars and two small field pieces. It was decided to attack them with bayonets, and a party consisting of one officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates, took part in the charge. During the counter-attack Corporal Edmondson was wounded in the neck and stomach but continued to advance under heavy fire and killed one enemy with his bayonet. Later, his officer had his bayonet in one of the enemy and was grasped about the legs by him, when another attacked him from behind. He called for help, and Corporal Edmondson, who was some yards away, immediately came to his assistance and in spite of his wounds, killed both of the enemy. This action undoubtedly saved his officer’s life.

‘Shortly after returning from this successful counter-attack, Corporal Edmondson died of his wounds. His actions throughout the operations were outstanding for resolution, leadership and conspicuous bravery. Corporal John Edmondson died of his wounds and is buried in the Tobruk war cemetery. He was the first Australian to receive the Victoria Cross in the war.

 

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross with information from Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Casualty Data Base and Wikipedia.

Photos by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


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Sinking of the Arniston – 200th Anniversary

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Images by Peter Napier

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200 YEARS SINCE THE SINKING OF THE ARNISTON COMMEMORATED

30 May 1815 – The East Indiaman Arniston is wrecked during a storm at Waenhuiskrans near Cape Agulhas with the loss of 372 lives and only 6 survivors. She had been requisitioned as transport (troopship) and was underway from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to England repatriating wounded soldiers. Her loss was controversial in that she did not carry a marine chronometer, at that time a comparatively new but expensive navigational instrument. As a result of this lack she could not determine her longitude accurately and from an incorrect assessment of headway assuming she was rounding Cape Point when she was actually rounding Cape Agulhas she turned north to proceed up the west coast and ran aground.

Notwithstanding inclement weather, more than a hundred guests attended the Memorial Service to commemorate the sinking of the Arniston 200 years ago, at Waenhuiskrans in front of the Arniston Hotel on Sunday 31 May 2015. Of the twenty wreaths that were laid, Marshal Smuts Shellhole Life Member Moth Daphne Foster-Sutherland represented the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH’s) at the event.

Commemoration of the event lasted the whole weekend and our old friends the Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band performed throughout; the British High Commissioner attended on the Saturday.

On completion of the service all the wreaths were collected and taken by three fishing boats to be laid to rest at sea behind the breakwater. Two flares were then fired followed by a two gun salute and to conclude the service, an eight bell ringing of the Ship’s Bell was performed.

Story by Charles Ross for the South African Legion based on information by Glen Knox, SA Naval Museum and Lgr Peter Napier, Chairman Cape Town Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans who also provided the photos.


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Dar Es Salaam Cemetery

The East African campaign of the First World War which started on 05 August 1914 when troops from the Uganda attacked German boast on Lake Victoria. This was soon followed up by an assault on the radio stations by the ships from the Royal Navy on 08 August 1914.Dar es Salaam was the capital of German East Africa, modern day Tanzania, and soon became the focal point for the Commonwealth Forces with the establishment of the General Headquarters there and later the No 3 East Africa Stationary Hospital. It was also the primary port of entry for supplies and the evacuation of the wounded.

At the start of the East African campaign the South African forces were involved in the German South West African, modern day Namibia, which ended on 09 July 1915. By 1916 South African forces were deployed, along with Indian and other Commonwealth forces, in the East African campaign. The war in German East Africa ended 25 November 1918.

DAR ES SALAAM WAR CEMETERY was created in 1968 when the 660 First World War graves at Dar Es Salaam (Ocean Road) Cemetery had to be moved to facilitate the construction of a new road. As the burials in the former African Christian, Non-Christian and Mohammedan plots had not been marked individually, they were reburied in collective graves, each marked by a screen wall memorial. (Memorial Gardens “B”, “C” and “D”). During the early 1970s, a further 1,000 graves were brought into this site from cemeteries all over Tanzania, where maintenance could no longer be assured.

Dar es Salaam War Cemetery now contains 1,764 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 60 of them unidentified. The 112 war graves of other nationalities, the majority of them Belgian and German, all date from the First World War.

A total of 612 identified and 3 unidentified South African casualties from the First World War are commemorated in the cemetery. Of this 280 are South African Infantry, 88 are South African Horse, 73 are South African Service Corps, 54 are Cape Corps, 27 are South African Medical Corps, 16 are Rhodesian Regiment, 15 are South African Field Artillery. 11 are South African Rifles, 7 are South African Native Labour Corps, 6 each are British South Africa Police and South African Veterinary Service, 5 each are South African Engineers and South African Mounted Brigade, 3 each from the South African Motor Cycle Corps and South African Pioneers, 2 each are Northern Rhodesian Police, South African Indian Bearer Corps, South African Mounted Engineers, South African Mounted Rifles and South African Water Supply Corps, 1 each are Northern Rhodesian Regiment, Northern Rhodesian Native Regiment, Camp Commandant, South African Intelligence Corps, South African Road Corps and South African Special Service Company.

The cemetery also contains the DAR ES SALAAM HINDU CREMATION MEMORIAL which commemorates 14 Indian servicemen whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith.

The DAR ES SALAAM BRITISH AND INDIAN MEMORIAL which stands within Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, commemorates by name more than 1,500 officers and men who died in East Africa during and after January 1917 (the advance to the Rufiji river) who have no known grave. The memorial was moved from a site elsewhere in the township and re-sited in Memorial Garden A. The earlier casualties are commemorated by a similar memorial at Nairobi, Kenya.

During the Second World War, Tanzania saw the creation of several transit camps within its borders for Commonwealth forces moving to and from the Middle East and India. There are 41 graves from the Second World War, 7 of them unidentified. 34 of these are South African of which 16 are casualties from the South African Air Force.

The cemetery is maintained by the East African Office of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross with photos by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


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Hamilton War Cemetery – Bloemfontein

Category : Articles

 

BLOEMFONTEIN (HAMILTON) WAR CEMETERY

The Hamilton War Cemetery in Bloemfontein with its 74 Commonwealth graves is one of the 602 burial sites in which 8 440 casualties are commemorated for which the South African Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible in South Africa. Both the number of burial sites and graves are increasing as Commonwealth casualties previously not included in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s casualty database are added. The cemetery is located close to the War Museum of the Boer Republics and opposite the In Memoriam Municipal Cemetery.

The cemetery features an attractive entrance which was erected in 1982. The entrance gives access to an open grass area with a Cross of Sacrifice directly opposite the entrance. Provided that a train does not rumble pass, the cemetery is one of tranquility, peace and quiet. During 2013 the Mangaung/ Bloemfontein Municipality erected a new historical cemetery name board at the entrance.

To the right on the open grass area are 9 Border War graves as well as a memorial to the Imperial Light Horse Regiment and Kimberley Regiment commemorating the Battles of El Alamein and Monte Salvaro. On the left are the graves of 3 of the 13 members of the South African National Defence Force who were killed in the clashes in the Central African Republic in 2013. As these graves are within the boundary of the cemetery it will be maintained along with the Commonwealth graves.

During the Second World War a Military Hospital was established in the Tempe Military Camp which also housed the Headquarters of the then Orange Free State Command. Flying training was carried out by 27 and 62 Air Schools at Bloemspruit Airfield outside Bloemfontein.

Of the 74 Commonwealth graves in the cemetery 12 are from the First World War and 62 are from the Second World War. 29 of the burials are South African Army personnel who were originally buried in the non-European cemetery which became unmaintainable and the remains were re-interred here in the early 1970’s.

The First World War graves are 11 members of the South African Native Labour Corps and 1 member of the West African Fighting Force (WAFF), Gold Coast Regiment.

Graves from the Second World War includes 18 graves from members of the South African Native Labour Corps, 11 members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves, 9 members of the South African Air Force, 8 members of the Cape Corps, 3 members of the 1st South African Reserve Brigade, 2 members each of the General Service Corps, Indian and Malay Corps and South African Engineer Corps. In addition there are 1 grave of each of the following Essential Service Corps, Q Service Corps, South African Artillery, South African Instructional Corps, South African Interment Corps, South African Pay Corps and the South African Corps of Military Police.

Story by Charles Ross for the South African Legion of Military Veterans.10958054_404744223028649_8678580468726497812_o


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