while ago I discovered some military graves in Hillary Cemetary
and wrote about them in the diary on this site on 22nd March
2006. I got some responses and thought I'd put the whole lot
here on a page by itself, beginning with my original article.
Allan Jackson - 9 August 2006
22 March 2006, I wrote:
pondering on the transient nature of our memories quite a
lot just lately. I'm not talking about little things like
forgetting where you've lost your keys, for example. What
is concerning me at the moment is how even an entity like
eThekwini (Durban) and all the people in it can forget something
intropection was brough about by my recent discovery of a
military burial site in Hillary Cemetary. It contains around
120 graves of men who died between 1942 and 1946; each with
a Commonwealth War Graves Commission-pattern headstone. There
is also a mini chapel and a big cross but, get this, there
is apparently nobody who knows the circumstances under which
the men were buried in our city!
grave site is divided into two sections with a cross standing
middle. The cross can be seen in the distance and, beyoond
there is another smaller plot.
on the gravestones seem to indicate that many of the people
buried there are black Africans. There are some English or
Afrikaans-sounding names among them but it might be unwise
to make racial assumptions from that. The majority are South
African, which is shown by the Springbok head and the 'Unity
is Strength', 'Eendrag Maak Mag' motto carved on their stones.
The remainder of the stones have a variety of markings on
them indicating that the men came from West Africa.
the stones carry only the standard items of information like
number, rank, name, unit and date of death, but others have
additions which, I am informed by Mr Potgieter of the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission, the family would have requested at
the time of burial.
told me that they are well aware of the site but not of the
circumstances under which the men were buried here. I consulted
the Local History people who couldn't tell me any more but
who put me on to Arthur Gammage at the City Architect and
Buildings Department. He told me he was aware of the graves
and that moves were afoot to find out more. He told me that
the only way to find out anything would be to delve through
the military files to find each man's records to find when
and where they died. He said that a researcher had already
begun the process, but that nothing had yet come to light.
every hope that we will soon know more about the people buried
in Hillary because it isn't right that they, who gave their
lives during and immediately after WWII, should be forgotten
so soon. I suspect that at least some of them will turn out
to have been victims of U-Boat attacks in the area, or of
accidents which took place while their ships had stopped off
site is located near the Italian Military Cemetary, which
is also located within the Hillary Cemetary, and which I described
in this diary
on 20 April 2004. When I visited the Italian Cemetary I saw
this one, across a little stream, but I didn't get around
to visiting it until a couple of days ago.
repsonse I received to the article was from Ricky Nortje who
is National Coordinator of the rather remarkable South African
War Graves Project. The organisation has as its goal to take
pictures of every single South African War Grave from every
war and no matter where it is located. The organisation was
started by Canadian Ralph McLean and is part of a wider network
of similar organisations in Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
Britain and the Netherlands.
6 June 2006 Ricky Nortje wrote:
read with interest the article pertaining to the war graves
located in the Hillary Cemetery.
During the Second World War, Durban was the embarkation
and disembarkation port, first for the East African and
Abyssinian campaigns and later for those in the Middle
East and Italy. A large military hospital (apart from
others) operated at Springfield and hospital ships plied
between the port and theatres of war in the north. Operational
flights in protection of incoming and outgoing convoys
and general anti-submarine patrols were conducted from
the airfield to the south of Durban city.
Based on the fact that Durban itself received so many
troop ships that contained wounded and sick, many were
cared for in various hospitals in and around Durban, of
all Commonwealth nationalities. It's possible that all
the graves that are located at Hillary were cared for
at a particular dressing station either that was located
close to the present cemetery site, or it was the plot
allocated to accommodate the bodies at that specific period.
There are 122 Commonwealth burials and 16 French graves
in the cemetery.
The Italian graves were in fact POWs on board the Nova
Scotia that was sunk while transporting them from Egypt.
I have all the records in my possession of the casualties
(commonwealth) located there, in regards to next of kin
and all service number details, and from my overall glance
most were killed throughout the duration of the war, with
no specific date being a common denominator. In other
words, those casualties located in Hillary, could have
been there due to wounds received in the front, accidents
at home, sickness from the front or home....there are
In regards to the headstones, yes, as you see it, the
engravings are standard. The families were given an opportunity
to supply their own headstones, but given the financial
situation, most opted for the state issued headstones.
A personal small message was allowed to be placed on the
headstones by the family as well as the option of a religious
The cross of sacrifice is erected in cemeteries that contain
40 or more Commonwealth casualties. They differ in size
in accordance with the size of the war plot and number
of graves. Stellawood Cemetery houses the largest military
concentration of graves, with over 700.
There are many military plots in and around Durban. If
you are interested in war graves, please feel free to
have a look at www.southafricawargraves.org
You will see that there are a few people out there who
are trying to preserve our military past and to give the
so many who sacrificed their lives for mankind the dignity
and recognition they deserve.
also sent me a very interesting document which contains a
great deal of information on the beginnings of the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission and the SAWGP, as well as some very
interesting bits and pieces on Durban in the two World Wars,
Victoria Cross holders in Durban, and much other stuff of
interest. I could have cut it up and put it here and there
on the site but I decided it deserved its own page, which
I put here.
I am grateful
to local historian Ken Gillings who put me onto Col. Graham
Du Toit who has a massive database of information on South
African War Graves. I sent him a query and he replied in the
12 June 2006, Graham Du Toit wrote:
am in receipt of your message regarding the Military War
Graves plot in Hillary Cemetery. The cemetery belongs
to the Durban City Council and it must be remembered that
during World War Two 1939-1945, Durban was the seat of
the Natal Command of the Military Establishment. During
the war years, Durban was the embarkation and disembarkation
Port, first for the Campaign in East Africa, then later
for North Africa/Middle East. The 6th South African Armoured
Division also used this port during the Italian Campaign.
Visiting Allied War Ships and Allied Troopships bound
for the Far East also stopped over in Durban for replenishment.
large Military Hospital operated at Springfield and the
Hospital Ships plied between Durban and the various theatres
of war. Anti-Submarine patrols were also flown from Durban
and from the lakes at St. Lucia. All this activity demanded
a huge labour force to maintain and construct roads, railway
lines, Port facilities, coastal gun batteries and generally
maintain the military and civilian infrastructure in and
majority of the graves in Hillary Cemetery belong to members
attached to the labour units in and around Durban while
some of the foreign unit burials come from the military
hospital ships or ships passing through the Port. Causes
of death are mainly due to sickness and natural causes.
Some are from trauma casualties such as car accidents,
stabbings, freak accidents, shootings etc.
other large military graves plot in Durban is situated
in the Stellawood Cemetery, south of the City. Burials
here are much the same as those in the Hillary cemetery
but many of these graves can be attributed to air training
accidents, general army training accidents or bodies that
were washed up from torpedoed Merchantmen. Men who died
from natural causes, injuries or were admitted to hospital
for sickness while aboard ships calling in at Durban and
who subsequently did not recover, are also buried here.
There are also many 193945 war graves scattered
in the civilian cemeteries of Redhill, Clairwood, Kenilworth,
Lamontville, Old St. Thomas Street cemetery and Stamford
old Ordnance Road Cemetery contains World War One Graves.
The Port of Durban became a considerably large Military
Hospital centre during the First World War, taking in
patients from the East African Campaign and other Theatres
and by 1918, No. 3 South African General Hospital, seven
other Allied Military Hospitals and two convalescent centres
were stationed in and around the port. The majority of
the men buried in this cemetery, came from these hospitals.
I hope this answers your questions. I can also provide
the causes of death for the majority of the W.W.II burials
in Hillary Cemetery should you be seeking this sort of
to a question received from a geology student about what stone
the the headstones were made of, I received a note from Brigadier
General Johan Potgieter (Retd.) who is in charge of the Commonwealth
War Graves in South Africa.
6 June 2006, Johan Potgieter wrote:
you for the interest in our activities. Regarding your
enquiry I unfortunately could not find any record of the
contractor who manufactured the headstones in Hillary
Cemetery. They were erected during the early 1950's and
manufactured according to the same shape and dimensions
as the standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone
which is used world wide to mark the grave of a serviceman/woman
who died during the 2 World Wars. The stone used for the
headstones is called Rustenburg granite and I have contacted
a local (Durban) stone mason who has done work for us
in the past who assured me that the stone used must have
come from the Rustenburg area as this stone is not quarried