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TOPIC: Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railways

Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railways 1 week 4 days ago #61573

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"Until a week or two ago there was a gentleman staying at Hazlewood, near Belper, from that place of sad memories, namely, Modder River, South Africa. His temporary home was with Mr R. C. Cordon, C.E., the Surveyor to the Belper Rural District Council. During his sojourn here I had several most pleasant and interesting interviews with Mr Walter Westerman, who is, and has been, for many years Inspector of Cape Government Railways. When Lord Methuen advanced on Modder River, three years ago, Mr Westerman was residing there, and immediately after the battle he voluntarily undertook to trim the graves of the fallen soldiers. Mr Westerman sought out the bodies, identified as many as possible and re-interred them in cemeteries. Buried on the veldt, and the ground being hard, the corpses were not many inches below the surface. Trees and shrubs were planted, and in many cases, with the help of British residents at Modder River, he has erected monuments. I was shown numerous illustrations of what has been done in this care of the soldiers' graves. Photographs of the improvised graves and of the cemeteries have often been sent to relations of those who fell on the field, which must be some comfort to relations at home. An old lady in Scotland recently wrote to Mr Westerman about her son who fell with others of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The body was found on the river side, re-interred, and over the grave a cross has been erected.

Mr Westerman took in hand the case of the Guards' Cemetery at Belmont, where Private Melbourne, of Belper, lies. This improvised "God's Acre" he surrounded with iron railings and planted a hundred trees. There is a monument put up. At Graspan, where the Naval Brigade suffered severely, and at Eslin, similar improvements were made. The Highlanders' graves at Magersfontein have also been attended to. Watches and trinkets have been restored to owners through marks by which they could be identified. Last May Mr Westerman visited Jacobsdaal Cemetery and found it in a most disgraceful state. The walls were level with the ground and cattle swarmed at will over the graves. Arrangements were made to have the cemetery fenced in. So at Stormberg are the graves neglected. These will be cared for. Mr Westerman has paid a good deal of money out of his own resources for this work. All honour to him for the trouble he has taken. I have seen the photographs of scores of graves, I might say hundreds, which have received careful kindness from his hands.

Mr Westerman was one of those extremely modest men who refused to have his self-imposed deeds recorded in the Press. I refrained from making public some of the things he did while he was still among us. Now he is again in Africa, or on his way there, I make no apology for recalling some of the reminiscences he gave. On the day before the battle of Modder River, Mr Westerman volunteered to raise a gang of natives to assist in the construction of the Modder River deviation bridge, and it was completed. In the afternoon of the battle of Magersfontein he accompanied an armoured train under the charge of Major W. R. Stewart towards the scene of the great battle. The local knowledge of Mr Westerman was of great assistance. Major Stewart decided that it was unsafe to allow the train to proceed further, and Mr Westerman with officers of the Royal Engineers went on foot some distance up the line, to near Merton sidings. From there Maxims opened fire on the Boer position.

To those who have relatives buried in any of the places mentioned in these fragmentary notes I have the authority to say a letter to Inspector Westerman, Modder River, South Africa, will receive attention, and if there are means of identification, he will be pleased to give information.

The subject of these comments did not confine himself to caring for the graves of the soldiers. He was among some of the stirring scenes before the war began, and after several battles. Mr Westerman had charge of the railway from De Aar to Mafeking. He had spent a score of years in the district, and knew it as probably no other Englishman did. To him fell the task of acting as pilot to the first troops sent to Kimberley from Orange River, in October, 1899. On the evening of Saturday, October 14th, the first train was cut off from Kimberley, and this was the commencement of the isolation. The next day was spent in burying explosives and tools to keep them out of the hands of the Boers. The telegraph wires were not cut south of Modder River until Monday, October 16th, and the bridge was blown down on the same day.

I could give many narratives of what Inspector Westerman did in those dark days. One will be enough. He was summoned before Commandant Prinsloo who demanded the store and office keys. They were gone; English forethought had determined English tools and explosives should not be used against his country men. After being soundly abused by Prinsloo, Mr Westerman was told to "clear out." Later, or two days before the fight at Modder River, this typical Englishman was taken before Delarey, and was informed that if he were found giving information to the English forces he would be shot at sight. On Monday, November 26th, Mr Westerman met Generals Cronje, Delarey, and others, and was ordered to leave. He went in the direction of Kimberley, and wished to get there. Three miles north of Modder River he was stopped by Boer scouts and told if he proceeded he would be shot. Turning south, Mr Westerman despatched a special native messenger to Lord Methuen, advising him of the position of the Boers at Modder River. For this and other work Mr Westerman has been recommended for a war medal. Prior to leaving Modder River for England this summer he received a testimonial for what he had done.

Such is an outline of some of the things Mr Westerman has accomplished. He is married to a sister of Mr Cordon. The Derbyshire Times received several graphic letters during the dismal days around Stormberg from this lady. She and her husband have returned to Modder River, after a holiday, where it is to be hoped they will live in comfort, undisturbed by Boer or Briton again. Mr Westerman became well known about Belper, and his recollections of the war have furnished many an interesting, though dreadfully sad, evening to friends and acquaintances during his stay. He has left us, and I have pleasure in reproducing a few of the impressions as a souvenir of those anxious periods now happily numbered with the past.

The Derbyshire Times, Saturday 25th October 1902
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Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railways 1 week 4 days ago #61581

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Great post, what an interesting story.

Unfortunately, it appears he did not receive a QSA for his efforts.

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The Register of the Anglo-Boer Wars 1899-1902
theangloboerwars.blogspot.co.uk/

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theangloboerwars.blogspot.co.uk/

Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railways 1 week 4 days ago #61583

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It was the first half of the article I found particularly interesting. I wonder how much of his work still survives.

For his efforts with the soldiers' graves and the cemeteries, he deserves to be remembered as a part of the history of the war, and post-war.

Here is an article by him, and could that be him in the first photograph?
www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/cari...er-and-magersfontein
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Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railway 1 week 4 days ago #61586

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Walter Westerman was my Great Uncle on my mother’s side. The R. C. Cordon mentioned above was his brother-in-law who was a second cousin to me on my father’s side.
Walters efforts were recognised and he was awarded the South Africa Medal and Clasps WO 100/279 p98 of 262
His death was reported in the Derbyshire Times 27/9/1930
( d28/9/1929 )
I would be very interested in any other information relating to his life in S.A.
Brian Cordon

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Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railway 1 week 4 days ago #61588

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Hello Brian

What a great pair of ancestors to have.

The page number is 93 and Ancestry have indexed his surname as "Westermann", although it is clearly written 'Westerman'.

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Meurig

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theangloboerwars.blogspot.co.uk/
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theangloboerwars.blogspot.co.uk/

Walter Westerman, Inspector of Cape Government Railway 1 week 4 days ago #61589

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Thanks Meurig

Another reference I have to Walter Westerman is from ‘From Aldershot to Pretoria’ by W.E.Sellers and R.W.Allen from which I quote here:

One of the best helpers the chaplains had was Mr. Westerman, who held an important position on the railway line, and who was steward of the Wesleyan Church at Modder River. He had been a prisoner among the Boers for six weeks, and on many occasions they had threatened to shoot him as a spy. They had not, however, injured him or his property in any way. It was, therefore, a most unfortunate occurrence that this good man's house and furniture should have been wantonly damaged by British soldiers on their arrival at the place. Evidently they thought the house belonged to a Boer. An order was, of course, promptly issued stopping such wanton destruction for the future. Another good Christian man at Modder River was Mr. Fraser, a Scotch Presbyterian, whose house had been most unfortunately wrecked by the bombardment. He and Mr. Westerman met week by week, during the period of the Boer invasion, for Christian worship. These two gentlemen rendered splendid service to our Christian soldiers, and to them both we are greatly indebted.

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Brian
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