We were driving along the N1 towards Matjiesfontein when I noticed two memorials on a hillside and we turned off on to a very bumpy dirt road to investigate. We had found the Matjiesfontein Cemetery, about 10 kms west of Matjiesfontein itself, at a train station called ‘Memorial’. If you are coming from the direction of Cape Town you need to look out for it – like many similar sites in South Africa there is no sign post, just a turning off the main road.
To our surprise we found an extraordinary mix of graves telling us about the history of Matjiesfontein. Lohman’s tombstone dominates the site, and nearby are the graves of James Logan, Emma Logan, and his son, daughter, and other family members.
The site is very overgrown, which is not unpleasant, but given another year or two I wonder if the graves will be visible. But locusts – disgusting things.
During the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 the Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein was the headquarters of the British Cape Command. Over 10,000 troops and 20,000 horses were camped there. The hotel was used as a field hospital, with the tower as a useful lookout for Boer Commandos under people such as General Smuts and Commandant Scheepers. Significant military personalities visited or were stationed in Matjiesfontein: Major Douglas Haig (later Field Marshal), William Ironside (later Field Marshal), John French (later 1st Earl of Ypres), and Lord Roberts. Logan himself took part in the war: he raised a mounted corps and was twice wounded. Major General Wauchope of the Black Watch Regiment was killed at Magersfontein but, it seems to me, in a rather dubious series of actions, was buried at Matjiesfontein.
And above all Matjiesfontein was about the railways. John Maitland Grant was the District Engineer and responsible for the line from Worcester to Beaufort West. He was educated in Blackheath, South East London (where I live), and then London University. He was killed when his coach was involved in a collision with a railway truck.
And there is always something in these desolate sites which stays with you, whether it is the memory of man who was one of the world’s greatest cricketers, an extraordinary entrepreneur, death in a country far away from your birthplace, or just a tilted marker on a grave like that of Private Boyles of the Royal Scots Greys who died on 10 October 1902 during a dreadfully protracted war.