Sunday, August 27, 2017

He was only nineteen

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

And so to the last and perhaps most poignant of the burials at Paradise Cemetery that date to the Boer War era.

George William Norton Stevens was born in Suffolk in 1881, the only son of Dr George Stevens and his wife Harriett Earl Stevens (nee Cowdell). He received his education at Epsom College and also planned to be a medical practitioner and, while in training at the Charing Cross Hospital, he volunteered with the Royal Army Medical Corps for the war in South Africa. His family home at Prospect House, Norton, Suffolk is now a Grade II British Listed Building.  

Several of the official records state he died "of exhaustion", which is rather vague, and hints at overwork possibly being a factor. In the following two letters to his sister as reproduced in the Bury Free Press, it seems his illness began with a sore throat and in those pre-antibiotic days all too easily developed into a major infection. 

London Evening Standard12 September 1900
STEVENS - On July 28, at Marandellas Camp, Rhodesia, S. Africa, George William Norton Stevens, Rhodesian Field Force Hospital, son of George and Harriett Earl Stevens of Norton, Bury St. Edmunds, aged 19, of the Charing-cross Hospital, London, W.C.

Copyright ZimFieldGuide
Bury Free Press
8 September 1900



We regret to learn that the death has taken place in Rhodesia, of the only son of Dr. Stevens, of Norton, who went out on active service. We give below two letters which have been received by Miss Stevens, of Norton, from two of his comrades, who speak in the highest terms of his work with the forces. The receipt of these letters was the only intimation which the relatives received of his death, as they did not even know he was ill. We are quite sure that the sympathy of the whole locality, and of all who knew the deceased, will go out to his parents and relatives in their great trial and the altogether irreparable loss which they have sustained. The letters referred to are as follows:-

R.A.M.C. Rhodesian Field Force,

Marandellas, Mashonaland,

1st August, 1900.
Dear Madam, - No doubt by the time this letter reaches you you will have heard of the sad news about your dear brother, who passed peacefully away on the 28th of July. He had been ill for about five days, and up to the third day we all had hopes that he would pull through, when he took a turn for the worse and became very weak. Although he was unable to speak during the last two days of his life, he was able to write down on a piece of paper what he wanted. I do not think he had much pain, the end came peacefully about 12 o’clock on the 28th, when he passed away in his sleep; so peaceful was the end. We all feel for you and his people in your great loss. He had endeared himself to all who he came in contact with in the discharge of his duties or otherwise, which duties were always faithfully and conscientiously performed. He was buried here on the 30th with full military honours, the Surgeon Captain reading the beautiful burial service of the Church. Around the grave were grouped detachments from every regiment in the camp, men who came on their own accord to render that last tribute of friendship and respect which he had won for himself whilst in the service of his Queen and country. A monument will be erected over his grave by us. To you and to his people I tender my sincere sympathy. You have lost a loving brother and I have lost a comrade good and true, and I pray that He who orders all things for the best will comfort you in your sorrow and bring us all nearer Him, and that the day is not far distant when we shall be reunited with those we have loved and lost for a while.
I beg to remain, madam, yours faithfully,



Marandellas Camp,


Aug. 1, 1900,

335 Liverpool Road

Islington, London, W.
Dear Miss Stevens, - As I joined on the same date, and came out to South Africa as hospital assistant with your brother, I am sure you will excuse me for thus writing you. All through the voyage out, the stay at Cape Town, and subsequent stay here, we were great friends, and in fact he was greatly liked by all the hospital staff and patients, especially latterly, when he took the post of dispenser. It is, therefore, with great regret that I have to be the writer of bad news. The dear fellow fell ill on July 23rd with a sore throat, which gradually grew worse, and in spite of all the attention all here could give, which I assure you we gave, and to the infinite grief of all, sank weaker and weaker till at 12 o’clock midnight on the 28th he passed peacefully away to his heavenly home. I cannot express the grief of all here at the loss of so good a friend, and all wish me to condole with you in such a terrible bereavement, and wish me to express their sympathy with his relations.He was buried with due honours on the 30th, and we are seeing that a cross with inscription is mounted, as showing our regard for a dear departed friend.His death was due to tonsillitis. Having to write this bad news, I hope you will rest assured that we all did what lay in our power for your dear brother, and accept our deepest sympathy for your great loss.
I remain,

Yours very sincerely,


Entry for George from UK Register of Soldiers Effects

George was only nineteen years of age when he died - a life with so much promise to do good and help humanity cut short - just as would happen over and over again in all the subsequent wars of the 20th Century.

Even as I stood beside his grave all those years ago and wondered who he was (see my initial blog post here), young soldiers aged nineteen were dying only a few miles away as another protracted war raged around us. That was the Rhodesian Bush War - or the Second Chimurenga - another African conflict that has slipped into the byways of history even though there are still many alive today who served in it and have been left to carry its scars with little sympathy from the world at large.

This song by the Australian band Redgum is about another unpopular war in Asia that ran parallel to the Bush War during the 1970s. This was the Vietnam War when other young men were conscripted and sent to fight and die on foreign soil. "I was Only Nineteen".  Its strong anti-war message remains relevant.

George William Norton Stevens is commemorated in the Chapel at his old school Epsom College on a plaque that was unveiled by Winston Churchill in 1903. There is also a beautiful stained glass window dedicated to former students who died during the Boer War.

His name also appears on the Bury St Edmunds Boer War Memorial, at St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, London, and although his name is missing from the online listing, he should also be at the RAMC Boer War Memorial, Aldershot.

Bury St. Edmunds Boer War Memorial

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Brothers and others

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

Thomas George Bertram Armstrong (112544) of the 61st Company of the Imperial Yeomanry has quite a bit in common with Captain H.C.W. Hamilton (read about him here) as he also hailed from Ireland and his father was also a churchman, being The Reverend Robert Armstrong, A.M. This is his parents' marriage notice from the Belfast Newsletter, 29 June, 1876: 
ARMSTRONG-FISHBOURNE. June 27 at St. Stephen’s Church, Dublin, by the Rev. Theodore J. Cooper, A.B., the Rev. Robert Armstrong, A.M., Rector of Stradbally, Queen’s County, to Charlotte Elizabeth, fourth daughter of the late William Fishbourne, Esq., J.P. Font Hill, Carlow.
Their son, Thomas George Bertram, was born on 8 November 1879 at Stradbally, Athy, Queens, Ireland. He was the eldest of eight children, three of whom, according to a public family tree on Ancestry, immigrated to the United States and another brother died aged only 22 in Western Australia.

T.G.B. Armstrong. From ZimFieldGuide

The Rev. Robert Armstrong’s name appears in various Irish newspapers in connection with marriages that he performed, usually between members of the military and the Cosby family of Stradbally Hall, Queen’s County. In 1896 he was appointed to the chancellorship of the Cathedral of St. Lazarian.

Nothing else can be found at this stage about young Thomas George Bertram. His service record can be located the National Archives of the UK, but is not available to view freely online. He joined the 61st (South Irish Horse - Dublin) Company of volunteers that was raised on 7 March, 1900 and served with the 17th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry.

He died at Marandellas on 7 August 1900 at just 20 from either meningitis or dysentery and his burial at Paradise is consistent across all the records. Sadly, no record of his name on any Irish Boer War memorials can be found and it is not known if his family had any plaque erected in his memory although a sibling who died in infancy is recorded in the Stradbally graveyard.

Trooper Sidney Edward Davis (4701) of the 50th (2nd Hampshire) Company, 17th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry apparently died of "blood poisoning" on 26 July 1900, although some sources state "disease". 

He was born in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, in December 1879, and christened at Holy Trinity, Hawley, on 4 January 1880, so thus also only 20 when he died. 
His father Thomas Davis was a blacksmith, his mother Sarah was nee Pullen. In the 1881 Census return they lived at the "Blacksmith's Shop" and one year old Sidney had three elder sisters and one brother, George. In the 1911 Census Return, Thomas Davis, aged nearly 70 was still practising his trade.

Hartley Wintney c. 1908 when Sidney's father was still the local blacksmith

Noticing that George was close in age to Sidney, I found that he, too, had joined the 50th Company of the 17th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry with a similar service number that suggests they enlisted at the same time. He was Corporal George William Davis (4712) who returned safely from the war, becoming a blacksmith like his father and living at Blackwater, Hampshire, with his wife as per the 1911 Census Return. 

Being part of the same Field Force, it is hoped George was with his younger brother when he died. To have a member of the family near to him at the end would surely have been a comfort to poor Sidney that few others like him would have had.

His grave marker has a major error in the date - 1906 instead of 1900 - and given the general disorder connected with burials at Paradise, the placement may also be incorrect.

Trooper S.E. Davis. From ZimFieldGuide

Next is Trooper Albert Edward Shaw (15507) of the 75th Sharpshooters Company, 18th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. He has a service record with the National Archives in the UK which again is unavailable digitally and finding the correct man via the usual online sources or via Ancestry or FindMyPast is proving elusive without exact age as there are too many men with the same name. Being a Sharpshooter, a rural background is likely. 

He died on 19 June 1900 and from the not always reliable UK Soldiers' Effects records the only clue is that he was married, his widow's name Helen (could be Ellen), but with no address given for her again difficult to find more about him. 

This shows death at Umtali, not Marandellas

There is no marker for Albert Edward Shaw either and it doesn't help he has been confused with another Shaw who, although in a different company, was also part of the same Battalion, also a Sharpshooter, and is either buried at Bamboo Creek or also in Marandellas, as per newspaper reports. 

Trooper George Frederick Shaw (12249) of the 67th Sharpshooters came from Ayrshire, Scotland, one of ten children of Charles George Shaw and Flora Campbell Whiteside. Their youngest son, he was born 24 June 1876 and died on 29 May 1900 (the National Archives erroneously have 1901).

G.F. Shaw died at Bamboo Creek according to this.

The family tree does not show any brother called Albert Edward Shaw, but given they were both Sharpshooters and, as with the Davis brothers above, perhaps some cousin connection is possible, although there are no newspaper articles that mention the death of Albert Edward Shaw as does this one about George Frederick Shaw:

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald 8 June 1900.
It is with deep regret that we notice the announcement of the death of Mr. George F. Shaw - youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. C.G. Shaw, Ayr - which took place at Marandellas, South Africa, on the 29th May.
To the people of Cumnock, Mr. George’s personality was perhaps not so familiar as it was to the farmers of this and some of the neighbouring parishes. By them he was heartily esteemed for his frank and courteous nature. He was a young man of great promise, and his death, coming to him in his 24th year, must be a sad blow to his universally respected parents, for whom the deepest sympathy is being expressed.
It might be mentioned that young Mr. Shaw was one of the gallant Ayrshire civilians who volunteered for active service in South Africa. He joined the City Imperial Yeomanry, and it was with that regiment he went out
Here is a link to an image of C.G. Shaw, Clerk to the Ayrshire Council, and a former factor to the Marquis of Bute at Dumfries. The local newspapers also carry reports two elder brothers of George Frederick also joined the war, being James Edward Shaw and Phillip Armstrong Shaw. Their records are beyond the scope of this project, but it is presumed they survived.

Albert Edward Shaw and George Frederick Shaw are recorded next to one another on the Boer War Memorial in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields in London.

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.