A wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel, and an opportunity for writers, artists and photographers to contribute the historical, the hysterical, the quirky and quixotic... anything with heart.

3 years ago
Another odd war
Another odd war

I must have passed him, walked right past; his bony back propped against the mausoleum wall while taking his midday nap. He wears a threadbare navy blue sweater despite the 35degC Pretoria heat.

I'm wandering gravel paths, by graves, headstones and monuments. Jerome has approached me, his black face more puzzled than rebuking. He looks over towards the main entry, with me having parked way outside and having crawled through a hole in the wire fence.

I admit I'm lost.

He smiles, says nothing at first, picking at a hole in his sleeve while listening intently to my excuses, then turning and slowly heading down one of the many paths. I follow. The summer grass smells dry and parched.

Jerome stops at a simple grave. "You have kangaroos of course, and many horses." It seems an Australian woman was here just last week. "She was also asking after your Handcock and Morant."

I'm surprised, being here to find the grave of soldier-poet and drover named `Breaker' Morant, but knowing nothing of `Handcock'.

"This lady, she leaves me a book you see, with a brown cover." Jerome pauses and frowns. "It has pages missing, and I am not so learned. I do not always understand."

Jerome stoops down to straighten a wilting red poppy between two stones. I'm stuck for a reply, not initially taking his point. But then I get it.

He can't see the logic in far off Australia sending troops here, to South Africa of all places, to fight South Africans in the Second Boer War . "But you are both white men. You both have the same slouch hat. And both are farmers and horsemen."

Jerome stands by my side in silence, and we both stare down at the grave: the final resting place of two Australian soldiers sharing the same tomb, having both been court-martialled by their own British allies, convicted of killing South African civilians and a  German missionary, and in turn shot by British firing squad in 1902.

Photo: A Common End - Old Pretoria Cemetery, Gauteng, South Africa _ Ian Cochrane