This document was received from Ricky Nortje who is the National Coordinator of the South African War Graves Project. We initially became acquainted over some military graves I had found in Hillary Cemetary and he sent this document in response to a question about the SAWGP. On reading it, I found it had a lot of other interesting stuff in it as well. Allan Jackson - 9 August 2006

Durban in the World Wars and many other things...

By Ricky Nortje - June 2006

Ricky is pictured here in Stellawood Cemetary with a typical
Commonwealth War Grave-pattern headstone and the
cemetary's Cross of Sacrifice visible in the background.

On this page:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission | World War I in Durban | World War II in Durban
War Graves in Durban | Victoria Crosses | SA War Graves Project | Haunted Church


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Sir Fabian Arthur Goulstone Ware was responsible for starting the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.

Unable to enlist in the British army in WWI due to his age, Ware travelled across to France at the head of a mobile Red Cross Unit. Struck by the sheer carnage he saw on the front and the obvious lack of anyone recording the dead, Ware got the idea to raise a body to perform this task and, with the assistance of the British government, established the Graves Registration Commission in 1915.

Over the next two years, along with assistance from well know architects, artists and poets, which included Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Reginald Blomfield [who designed the Cross of Sacrifice which adorns the CWGC cemetaries. Ed.] and Rudyard Kipling, Ware designed appropriate war memorials and cemeteries, determined to ensure the ongoing recognition of the war dead beyond the conclusion of hostilities.

By the time of his death in 1948, The Imperial War Graves Commission had established a presence in some 150 countries.

Today, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is a unique body, responsible for the monumental and perpetual task of commemorating those who died in the two world wars. The four main principles of the CWGC are:

  • That each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on a headstone over the grave or by an inscription on a memorial if the grave was unidentified.
  • That the headstones and memorials should be permanent
  • That the headstones should be uniform and
  • That there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.

The Commission commemorates 1.7 million war dead in over 23,000 burial grounds.

South Africa is one of six Commonwealth countries which participate in the work of the Commission, others being UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and India. The cost of the Commission is met by the participating countries in proportion to the number of graves in their area. South Africa's contribution is 2%.

In regards to the South African headstones, the Springbok head appears atop of the stone, with the service number, rank, initials, surname and official abbreviation of any British decoration. Below this, is the name of the service or regiment, date of death and age, and in some cases, a religious emblem was featured below this. Relatives were given an opportunity to have a personal message with max 25 letters inscribed on the headstones.

South African WW1 headstones were made from Paarl granite with the motto inscribed coming from the old national emblem "Endracht Maakt Macht", which is Dutch for "Union is strength".

South African WW11 headstones were made from Rustenberg granite with the motto "Endrag Maak Mag", the Afrikaans version.

There are 6763 South African graves from WW1 & WW11 located within South Africa. These are made of 256 names on 6 memorials and 6507 graves in 594 cemeteries. There are also 1571 British, 5 Canadian, 81 Australian, 13 New Zealand, 24 Indians and 136 Other nations, including Poland and Greece.

World War I in Durban

Durban became a considerable hospital centre during the First World War. In May 1918, it contained No. 3 General Hospital, seven other hospitals and two convalescent camps, to which sick and wounded were brought from East Africa and other theatres of war. I was recently reading a journal on the history of Metropolitan Durban by Peter Johnston, and it seemed that many normal activities and the development of Durban, came to a virtual standstill during the first world war, due to the towns response in support for the war effort.

There were frequent fund raising activities to finance the effort as well as massive recruiting drives. Local papers, daily covered the progress of the war, including photographs of some local Durban men serving in the armed forces. There was also a roll of honour section, which carried the names of the wounded and dead. It's interesting to note that a young woman by the name of Ethel Campbell used to stand on north pier waving flags, greeting and bidding farewell to ships coming and going from Durban. She became known as the "girl with the flags".

During this time, the Y.M.C.A erected a hut in the centre of town and provided refreshments for the troops as well as organized parties to welcome returning troops. Many houses on the Berea were used as military convalescent homes. Entertainment also included concerts at Albert and Mitchell Park.

In 1915, after the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine, tensions ran high in Durban and many German owned businesses were gutted by fire by anti-German elements. Buildings that fell prey to these acts of arson included the Alexander hotel, Muller & Company and Baumann's Bakery. It was ironic to note that Muller & Company was actually a Dutch owned and the owner of Baumann's Bakery had sons serving in the South African Army. The First World War had firmly established Durban as a port.

The CWGC commemorates 6640 identified burials and 2823on memorials of South Africans that died in the First World War.

World War II inDurban

During WW11, servicemen in Durban received special treatment, enjoying free rides on municipal transport and special concession at cinemas, as well as free concerts at the City Hall, run by the Municipal Entertainment Department. Durban harbour proved invaluable for the Allied cause.
Salisbury Island became a naval base and joined the Bluff by a causeway. The railway line along the Embankment was electrified and the graving dock was improved.

A large camp was erected in Clairwood to house servicemen passing through, as well as a POW camp. Not only did the port serve as a stop over for troops, but troops were also able to change convoys or board trains in Durban for military destinations inland.

Tents were erected at Stella Park and Penzance Rd, as well as the two racecourses. Kings house on the Berea was turned into a hospital and to the south of Durban, the Royal Navy built barracks, which would later become the Wentworth Hospital.

During this time, Perla Gibson, singing from North Pier, entertained troops leaving and arriving at the port. She became known as "The lady in white". In 1942, a young serviceman named Arthur Morris would disembark from the "Highland Chieftain". Who would have known that forty-six years later, he would become a Durban City Councillor?

It's interesting to note that there was 250,000 tons of shipping sunk off the S.A coast. Kings Warehouse was often used as a makeshift morgue. To protect Durban's identity, the lighthouse on the Bluff was demolished and Cave Rock on the Bluff was dynamited. Both were deemed to be far too identifiable.

Air raid shelters were built and there was a blackout from 27th June 1942 as well as the introduction of day light saving. Identity disks were issued and parents were encouraged not to tell their children about the war.

The Jewish Club was greatly dedicated to entertaining servicemen. Populated places included the Roadhouse and Athlone Hotel, with prostitution rife in the Point and Clairwood areas.

WW11 brought an increase in employment in Durban with further land reclamation in Congella and Clairwood during 1941. Many bridges were constructed after the military became concerned about the city's routes of evacuation in the event of an emergency. As a result of this, in 1942, the Umhlatuzana and St Andrew's bridges were completed as well as the Bellair subway.

The CWGC commemorates 10,019 identified burials and 1,883 on memorials of South Africans who died during the Second World War.

War Graves in Durban

Apart from the Cross of Sacrifice found at military plots with 40 burials and over, there is also a "Stone of Remembrance", which is located at military plots with 400 burials and more. Stellawood Cemetery has one. The inscription "Their name liveth for evermore", is inscribed on the stone; words chosen by Rudyard Kipling.

The Cross of Sacrifice that appears in cemeteries with more than 40 Commonwealth war graves is made from Portland stone stands on an octagonal block that rests on three steps. There is a bronze downward pointing sword that hangs down the side.

The Stone of remembrance that appears in cemeteries with more than 400 Commonwealth graves is also made from Portland stone.

A few cemeteries in the Durban area that contain war graves:

  • Durban Ordnance Rd Military Cemetery - 80 Commonwealth graves and 78 Anglo-Boer war graves
  • Durban West St - 21 Commonwealth graves and 22 Anglo-Boer War graves. The grave of SA painter, John Thomas Baines is located in this cemetery. There is also a grave of R. Kenyon Howden who died 16 November 1949 (possibly the founder of Kenyon Howden Rd in Montclair ?)
  • Durban Umgeni River Mouth Muslim Cemetery - 1 Commonwealth
  • Durban Clairwood Hindu Cemetery - 2 Commonwealth
  • Durban St Thomas Rd Church Cemetery - 1 Commonwealth

Vandalism is a concern in many of the cemeteries, with many now employing full time security guards in an attempt to prevent further decay. Many cemeteries are under lock and key now !!!

Victoria Crosses

Durban is also home to some Victoria Cross recipients.

  • Robert Vaughan Gorle - V.C won October 1st 1918 at Ledeghem, Belgium. Gorle was serving with the "A"Bty. 50th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, British Army- buried Stellawood Cemetery.
  • Quentine George Murray Smythe - V.C won June 5th 1942, Libya, serving with the Royal Natal Carbineers - cremated Stellawood Cemetery.
  • Joseph Malone - V.C won October 25th 1854, serving with the 13th Light Dragoons at Balaclava, Crimea, Charge of the Light Brigade - buried Kings Rd Cemetery, Pinetown.
  • Charles Edward Haydon Parker - V.C won March 31st 1900, serving with Q Battery Royal Horse Artillery, Korn Spruit, South Africa - buried Stellawood Cemetery.

It's interesting to note the story behind this grave. It's alleged that this recipient is a fraud and the real V.C Parker, the true recipient of the V.C is buried in London Rd Cemetery, Coventry. This chap who is buried in Stellawood with all the royalties of a recipient, obviously fooled everyone this side of the world with his stories of how he won the medal. He must have been familiar with the action concerned, a possible brother of the real Parker and enjoyed all the perks that came from being a V.C recipient, drinks on the house and troops of admiring women. Parker the impostor !!!!

There are 28 South African recipients of the Victoria Cross, out of the 1355 awarded to date.

South African War Graves Project

A few years ago, a Canadian by the name of Ralph McLean was travelling around France, documenting Canadian War Graves, when he realized the vast amount of South African war Graves located among the Commonwealth casualties. It was this realization that inspired him to start up the South African war Graves Project.

I was researching my Great Grandfathers WW1 medals and came across the website and volunteered my services. I have been with the Project for about a year and a half and the National Coordinator for about 10 months.

The main aim of the Project is to photographically record every South African casualty throughout the world and by building a on-line data base of these photos, they can be easily accessed by distant relatives, schools, MOTH shell-holes and any other interested parties, not able to actually visit the grave located on some foreign battlefield. The Project has proved to be popular and due to demand, has expanded to not only include all South African graves from the two world wars, but also the Anglo-Boer war, The South African bush wars and graves from the Freedom Struggle.

The Project is separate from the CWGC and is self funded by the volunteers who make up our ranks. Our progress can be monitored on our official website

Haunted Church

St Stevens Anglican Church cemetery in Montclair is said to be haunted. There is one South African soldier buried there. Rumour has is that during the war, a sailor on shore leave, attacked and murdered a local girl. It's said that she roams the graveyard in the evenings !!! Luckily I didn't test this theory and visited the cemetery during the day !!!


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