Shad­ows of the Great War

Memo­ri­als and a ceno­taph were erected in Dur­ban to numb the loss

Sunday Tribune - - METRO - Fu­neral March

EX­ACTLY 100 years ago to­day, the Great War ended. When it be­gan in 1914, many de­clared it would be over by Christ­mas. In­stead, it would be fought bit­terly for an­other four years, en­gulf­ing the whole world, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, and shat­ter­ing a whole gen­er­a­tion.

South Africa was not spared. About 146 000 white men and just un­der 400 white nurses vol­un­teered for ser­vice in ad­di­tion to about 45000 African and 15000 coloured vol­un­teers.

Al­most 12 500 South Africans were killed in ac­tion or died as a di­rect con­se­quence of ac­tive ser­vice. How to make sense of so many dead, to hon­our them, to hold on to the mem­ory of them?

Around the world, that sense of numb­ing loss was ad­dressed by erect­ing plaques, memo­ri­als, tablets and re­mem­brance walls in churches, schools, town halls, clubs and even at busi­nesses. But even that was in­suf­fi­cient. A grander ges­ture was needed – a ceno­taph.

In Dur­ban, the ques­tion of a war me­mo­rial had been dogged by de­bate over its de­sign and cost. In the in­terim, a small, tem­po­rary me­mo­rial was erected. Var­i­ous sites had been pro­posed be­fore the Town Gar­dens in front of the City Hall was agreed upon. In 1923, the coun­cil adopted the mo­tion that the cost should not ex­ceed £20000. Fi­nally on De­cem­ber 9, 1923, the Gov­er­nor-gen­eral of South Africa, Prince Arthur of Con­naught, laid the foun­da­tion stone. The lo­cal dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing the mayor, Wal­ter Gilbert, stood while Chopin’s

was played.

The Ceno­taph was com­pleted in March 1926. The fussy, or­nate and colon­naded de­signs had been re­jected in favour of some­thing con­tem­po­rary. In the Art Deco style, the ceno­taph is both strik­ing and con­fi­dent, and re­mains one of the city’s best Art Deco mon­u­ments. It was un­veiled by Colonel Molyneux of the Dur­ban Light In­fantry, whose drums opened the pro­ceed­ings. The names of the fallen were in­scribed on large brass plates on front of the ceno­taph.

Over the years, var­i­ous ad­di­tions were made to the ceno­taph. In 1929, the two bronze lions, which cost £400 each, were hauled into po­si­tion to mount guard over the dead. Af­ter World War II, the gates to the ceno­taph were of­fi­cially opened by King George VI and Queen Eliz­a­beth dur­ing the 1947 royal visit. The en­clos­ing stone walls were raised and length­ened to ac­com­mo­date the names of the fallen from the Sec­ond World War.

A year ago, the ceno­taph was van­dalised. Nine of those brass plates (each weigh­ing 100kg) were ripped from the walls and taken to a scrap dealer. Some of the plates were re­cov­ered, but sev­eral had been badly dam­aged.

The plates had been pho­tographed by Dur­ban pho­tog­ra­pher Roy Reed, but dis­coloura­tion had made some dif­fi­cult to de­ci­pher. It has been im­pos­si­ble to find a com­plete list, par­tic­u­larly as the names of the fallen were com­piled decades apart. The cost of re­plac­ing the plates and other dam­age could amount to sev­eral mil­lion rand.

The crim­i­nal trial of the eight sus­pects is pend­ing in the Dur­ban Re­gional Court.

CAP­TAIN ED­WIN VAUGHAN Vaughan was a Bri­tish Army of­fi­cer in World War I, his di­ary be­came a fa­mous book STAFF RE­PORTER THE im­mor­tal­ity of the Flan­ders poppy as the flower of re­mem­brance for the dead of two world wars is due to Colonel John Mccrae, a disti

THE ghostly Wire Sol­diers at Slim­bridge Church, Glouces­ter, Eng­land. Each chicken-wire sculp­ture, by artist Jackie Lan­telli, stands at the foot of a grave where a ser­vice­man from the parish is buried. Scores of com­mem­o­ra­tions are be­ing held to­day on the 100th an­niver­sary of the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties . |

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