Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Farewell to Paradise

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

This now concludes my exploration into the stories of of the men who were buried at Paradise Cemetery in Marandellas, Rhodesia (now Marondera, Zimbabwe) during the Boer War era.

It has been an enlightening and often moving experience to now know something of the personal histories of those whose graves I stood beside so many years ago. (See my initial post here.)

While I havent solved the puzzle of exactly how many individuals in total lie in Paradise, I have clarified the whereabouts of some. There may well be others who have slipped through the cracks of officialdom, non-combatants attached to the army services and whose details are missing altogether. 

A most useful discovery in trying to resolve the last of the British Imperial Yeomanry men buried in Paradise, has been this book Rhodesia - and After: Being the Story of the 17th and 18th Battalions of Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa written by Sharrad H. Gilbert, published in 1901, and now available online in digitized format.

It is worth reading Gilbert’s straightforward and sobering account of what the British and Empire contingents had to endure as part of the Rhodesian Field Force, of how some of the strongest and fittest men, like New Zealander Rough Rider, John Saxon, were the first ones to fall victim to “the malarial mists” and “steaming swamps” of Mozambique and left to die en route in remote and primitive conditions.

Line of mounted troops of the 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen Contingent, marching from Umtali to Marandellas.
(Australian War Memorial)

Assuming Gilbert’s personal reporting is often more reliable than the official records, it is now possible to eliminate many men from the archival lists and confirm they do not lie at Paradise Cemetery, in spite of the fact that their service records with the National Archives in the UK, the UK Register of Soldiers Effects, various other Anglo Boer War returns, plus numerous newspaper reports of the time all suggesting that they do!

Apart from instances of incompetence, another feasible reason for so much confusion may be that the military staff reporting on the deaths from the base at Marandellas were under stress and also suffering from exhaustion or fevers themselves and in no fit state to be checking particulars.

It is also highly likely that most of the families concerned were never aware of the mistakes in places of burial; that few of them ever had the chance to make the pilgrimage to Africa to pay tribute to their lost loved ones or, if they did, they would not know of the errors that were compounded by the good intentions of groups like the Guild of Loyal Women, as shown to be the case with Paradise.

Gilbert’s book also confirms the two men with the surname of Shaw, George Frederick and Albert Edward, were buried at Bamboo Creek and Umtali respectively in spite of many mentions of Marandellas but, having investigated their stories in some depth, I shall not delete them from my earlier post as along with the sad story of John Saxon are good examples of such mistakes.

(Navy and Army Illustrated,  21 April 1900)

Bamboo Creek
 (Navy and Army Illustrated,  21 April 1900)

As Gilbert also refers to his visit to the sixteen graves at the Mashonaland Rebellion cemetery a few miles away at Ruzawi, this may help to explain why the number “sixteen” was mentioned by the Australian visitor of 1933 who could have confused the two cemeteries.

As the ZimFieldGuide website states, there is a marker at Paradise that definitely doesn’t belong there and should be at Ruzawi. It is for Trooper James Hastie Stoddart of the Umtali Rifles who was killed in action during the Rebellion in 1897. He was the son of James Hastie Stoddart, once the Chief Editor of the Glasgow Herald. Another forgotten story of a young man going out to far-flung places to fight for “Queen and Country” and paying the ultimate price.

The only possible way of determining for sure how many individuals lie in unmarked graves at Paradise Cemetery would involve archaeology with a geophysical survey and that is never going to happen unless some future Zimbabwe government becomes more tolerant of its white colonial history and permits such investigation.

Even if such a scenario did eventuate, the results would be unlikely to offer much in the way of academic value. Men who never saw action because they died of illness, accident or suicide rarely, if ever, warrant quite the same attention as battlefield heroes. There is no excitement or historical glory-of-war glamour attached to them. 

The current commemoration of the centenary of World War I has reignited considerable interest in the stories of men and women from all over the British Empire who served and died in that War. There have been numerous respectful services and the tender restoration of graves and memorials, pilgrimages by thousands of descendants too young to have known their ancestors, church services and huge poppy displays, plus more than a touch of dewy-eyed sentimentality over a generation stamped with sacrifice and nobility.

Patriotic Postcard, Boer War (State Library of Victoria)

Contrast all of this with those Sons of the Empire who did likewise just a few years earlier and travelled to Southern Africa to serve during the Anglo Boer War. Even if it was an unpopular war at the time, it is still sad that there is not the same dignity awarded to its memorials in countries where the action took place. While some may see the destruction of war graves as a natural reaction of indigenous populations against what they see as evidence of colonialism, the reality is that it has more to do with ignorance and vandalism in the hunt for items of value including metal crosses or goods thought to be buried with the bodies.  

So perhaps it is best that those graves that lie scattered and lost along the route taken by the Rhodesian Field Force in 1900 from Beira to Marandellas and beyond and via obscure places like Bamboo Creek and Iron Mine Hill have no markers to identify those who have long been beyond the cares of this world. 

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling in his poem about that great Empire figure himself, Cecil John Rhodes, who was buried within “... the granite of the ancient North” just a few years after the Boer War, they also lie at peace in the same “... great spaces washed with sun ...” 

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

A Boer War Burial (Australian War Memorial)

Here are some casualty statistics for the whole of the (2nd) Boer War 1899-1902 from the Forces War Records site, as compiled from the various official sources, including those used for this project:

7,894 killed
13,250 died of disease
934 missing
22,828 wounded

This is by no means reliable and the site does state that there are differing reports on the exact split of the casualties, although all agree, however, that disease was the main cause of death”.

Those men that I have discovered in this small research project who went mad and committed suicide, or died in accidents, or from neglect, exposure and exhaustion, are presumably all just lumped together under the deaths from disease. 

Anyone undertaking family or historical research into the Boer War should treat all such statistics, and especially all the official records mentioned, with a great deal of caution.

An unknown Yeomanry trooper and sick horse (Imperial War Museum)

It is worth remembering also that more than 300,000 horses died during the Boer War.
Just like their riders, they had little immunity against the terrible scourges of Africa.

* Research into the sole woman buried at Paradise, Gertrude Margaret McLaren, revealed she was aged 49 when she died at Paradise Estate on 20 October 1935 of heart disease. She was born in the Cape Colony, South Africa. Her husband was one of the several doctors listed as her medical practitioners on her death certificate. He was Thomas Dick McLaren, who had been born in Edinburgh and immigrated to Southern Rhodesia where he seems to have worked in various towns and on mines as the Government-appointed resident doctor. He also saw service during World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and his record card indicates he served in the hospital services at Malta. He died at Gatooma in 1938 aged 64. Gertrude's death certificate shows she had two daughters, but his death certificate shows four children, so possibly Gertrude was a second wife, but evidence as to the marriages has not as yet been found. It is assumed the property called Paradise Estate belonged to the McLarens during the 1930s and would have included, or been adjacent to, the Cemetery.

If anyone reading this knows more of the McLaren family, please do contact me.

[Update: Since writing the above, a reader has advised me that Gertrude's daughter, Helen, wrote a memoir about her youth at the Paradise Estate. It is entitled "A Rhodesian Childhood", copyright 1980, and was published in UK in 2008 by Sandeman Press.]

Copyright ZimFieldGuide

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.

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