A Visit to Church Street Cemetery – Hero’s Acre

Saturday 28 October 2023

by Francois van der Merwe

On October 28, 2023, members of The Gunners’ Association, Moths, and Engineers embarked on a visit to Church Street Cemetery. They convened at Gilroy’s pub in Sandton at 8:50 AM and commenced their journey to Pretoria at 9:00 AM.

Upon arriving at Church Street Cemetery, the group was welcomed by the Caretaker and introduced to their experienced tour guide, Gunner Dominic, who shared valuable insights into the cemetery, its historical importance, and the numerous graves and memorials it houses.

“Heroes’ Acre, also known as “Die Helde Akker,” is a distinguished section within the Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria, established in 1867. It serves as the final resting place for numerous prominent individuals, including Andries Pretorius, Paul Kruger, and Hendrik Verwoerd. The meticulous documentation of the cemetery was undertaken by Tom Andrews in 1973 and was subsequently published as “Pioneer Sketches.”

The visit included stops at several graves and memorials, each with its unique historical significance. The group commenced their visit at the memorial site of Andries Wilhelm Jacobus Pretorius, a notable historical figure renowned for his role in the Great Trek and his contributions to South African history.

The next destination was the grave of Josef Johannes (Jopie) Fourie, an intriguing figure who played a pivotal role during the South African War. Gunner Dominic provided a detailed account of Jopie Fourie’s life and his principled stand against Prime Minister Louis Botha’s decision to invade German South West Africa.

The group proceeded to pay their respects at the grave of State President Stephanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) Kruger, the first State President of the South African Republic. Gunner Dominic elaborated on Kruger’s significance in the context of the Second Anglo-Boer War and his enduring impact on South African history.

The visit also encompassed the memorial stones dedicated to those who fell during the Second Anglo-Boer War, with a particular focus on individuals like EL van Zyl. Gunner Dominic shared poignant stories about these soldiers who either met their demise in battle or succumbed to wounds during the conflict.

The group then moved on to the memorial stones commemorating British soldiers who had sacrificed their lives during the Second Anglo-Boer War, underscoring the fact that all these soldiers perished in battle.

The next point of interest was the grave of Desire De Villiers, notable for an intriguing fact.

The sculpture on Desire’s tombstone did not quite resemble him, and his family expressed their dissatisfaction.

Desire De Villiers met his fate in Natal on December 11, 1899, at the age of 18 during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). His grave is situated alongside his parents’ in Heroes Acre.

The visit continued with a stop at the grave of Prince Christian Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson, an individual with a compelling life story. He served in the Second Anglo-Boer War and chose to be laid to rest in South Africa alongside his comrades rather than in his home country.

The next visit paid homage to the graves of four nurses who rendered their services during the Second Anglo-Boer War: Sister H.A Cruickshank, Marian Lloyd, Ethel Lloyd, and Sister E O’Neil.

The tour proceeded to the graves of the notorious figures, Hancock and Morant, known for their involvement in British atrocities during the war. Gunner Dominic provided extensive insights into their court-martial convictions and subsequent executions.

The visit continued with a visit to the grave of Harry Spanier, the first “Boerejood” killed during an ambush at Surprise Hill amid the Ladysmith siege. The group engaged in a meaningful discussion about individual stories and their significance within the broader context of war.

The concluding stop of the tour took place at the graves of Olivia Selina Lys and Robert Olivier Godfray Lys. Gunner Dominic provided detailed information about the origins of the Transvaal Horse Artillery and its founder, Major Godfray Lys. The group learned about the regiment’s development, uniform style, and its transformation into the Transvaal Horse Artillery. In 1913, the unit became integrated into the Union Defence Forces as the 7th Citizen Battery (THA).

Gunner Roy Andersen paid his respects to the founder of the Transvaal Horse Artillery by laying a wreath on the grave of Major R.O. Godfray Lys, bringing the visit to Church Street Cemetery to a memorable close.


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