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Proud CWGC staff restore South African cemetery

19 January 2017

More than 2,200 square metres of lawn has been completely replaced during renovation work at a remote war cemetery, east of Johannesburg.

The six-week project at the CWGC’s Palmietkuil South War Cemetery at Aston Lake involved realigning headstones, removing scorched turf, replacing flower beds and relevelling the new lawn.

It was a major undertaking for the Commission staff, who care for hundreds of cemeteries and memorials across South Africa.

Joey Monareng, Technical Supervisor for the CWGC, said up to 12 people have been involved in tasks at the site, from composting richer soil, to improving the irrigation system, to replanting flowers.

"We’re getting a lot of visitors, so this work is important," she said.

"The cemetery is in a farming area and is quite remote. But even during the restoration, we had people coming along to look at what we were doing.

"The good thing is that people get to appreciate what we do. They are very proud of this cemetery and we hope our visitors will educate others about the history here."

The cemetery contains 217 graves belonging to soldiers from the Native Military Corps and the Indian and Malay Coloured Corps of the South African Army, who died in the Second World War.

The site is in the grounds of a former gold mine at Palmietkuil Farm. It was taken over by the Union Defence Force at the outbreak of the Second World War and used as the main training centre of the South African Military Corps. The centre was served by its own hospital.

A memorial within the cemetery also bears the names of 122 soldiers whose graves in remote parts of the country could not be properly maintained. It bears the inscription in English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Southern Sotho: The men commemorated here gave their lives in the service of their country and lie buried elsewhere within the Union of South Africa.

Work to restore the green lawn and colourful flower beds at Palmietkuil South is due to be fully completed by the end of the month, according to Juan Maree, Director of the South African Agency of the CWGC.

He said: "In the past, the cemetery had a stable water supply and a borehole, but the water contained acid as a result of mining in the area and the cemetery couldn’t be maintained according to the international acceptable horticultural standards."

Disruption to the water supply in recent months meant the lawn and flower beds dried out. The CWGC has now paid to install reservoir tanks on the site for watering the new lawn, plants and flower beds.

Juan Maree added: "Palmietkuil South is but one of the cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 154 countries that are maintained by the CWGC."