Military History Tours On Tour - Boer War 110th Anniversary Tour - 28 May 2012
Due to an issue at the lunch stop in Ermelo yesterday, John and I decided to arrange through our hotel a cut lunch for today as we had quite a distance to travel from Witbank to Kroonstad. Also we decided it should be a bush picnic, so we purchased some wine and soft drink to wash down the sandwiches.
The route took us over the high veldt; where there were once no trees at all. The height above sea level meant native South African trees could not survive. When they settled the area in the 1840s, the Boer farmers planted trees for shade. When the miners came, they needed trees for timber. One of the fastest growing lumber trees is the eucalypt. Seeds and seedlings were brought from Australia and you now find many of our native trees from large close packed stands to scattered individuals dotting the veldt.
Travelling south we passed through Bethel then on to Standerton where we stopped for coffee and visited the military cemetery. The cemetery was just outside the town adjacent the main burial ground. It was in excellent condition and obviously well maintained by the South African War Graves Commission. There were few grave markers; however, most of those buried there have their names recorded on a marble memorial in the centre of the cemetery.
Standerton was the site of a hospital; thus there were two nurses buried in the cemetery, each had a headstone. John Howells’ wife Rosemary has a great uncle buried there, his name Oliver Fry was on the memorial. We conducted a small service which concluded with Barry playing the ‘Road to Gundagai’ on his harmonica.
We were leaving Standerton to head for Vrede when a ‘phone call from Australia let us know of a medical emergency. We altered our route to allow for a tour participant to be picked up and taken to Johannesburg airport. Our plan for the transfer was successful, a major issue in that part of the high veld, and we were able to say our farewells as the transfer took place.
While waiting for the transfer vehicle we had our cut lunch on the lawn outside the ‘Graceland’ Casino Secunda. We then headed South West to Heilbron and eventually Kroonstad.
Heilbron, a very old town was having a new water system installed and we were not able to get into the church grounds as planned. We were able to photograph the impressive Boer Monument to those who had fought in their second war of independence. The church in whose grounds the monument stands is a Dutch Catholic Church built from local sandstone also used to build many farmhouses.
We then headed west to Kroonstad where dinner was waiting for us. Tomorrow we will visit a couple of local cemeteries with a local guide, Vredefort where Lieutenant (later Major General Sir Neville) Howse won his VC, then to Klerksdorp for our next stay.