Joseph Bowers Abram was the first child born to my great grandparents Joseph Charles and Millicent May Abram.
Growing up I remember often being told about Joseph, although at the time we did not know the child’s name, born to my great grandparents during time they had spent in South Africa. My great grandfather was stationed in Tempe, Pretoria on army service and Millicent was there with him.
There was no military conflict in South Africa that would have caused them to be there but there was a substantial military presence in South Africa following the
creation of the Union at the end of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1902 and some British Army units remained stationed in South Africa until the beginning of the First World War.
The British had occupied the town of Bloemfontein and Tempe became a military base – Bloemfontein, as the capital of the Boer Orange Free State Republic and a large town, was established as one of the new Union’s administrative centres and consequently had a local military garrison, Tempe. Today, the Tempe base is reported to be one of the largest Army bases in South Africa.
My grandmother recalled being shown a photograph of the child’s grave which Joseph Charles is said to have carried in his wallet but the photograph can no longer be found – the grave was surrounded by iron railings made by my great grandfather, who worked as a Farrier (a blacksmith – specialising in shoeing horses, a skill that requires not only the ability to shape and fit horseshoes, but also the ability to clean, trim, and shape a horse’s hooves).
However, for many years the search for information about the child proved to be fruitless. Requests for help locating documents or a photo of the grave ran cold. The child was nothing more than an often told family story – there was no evidence he had ever lived.
Eventually information about the child did emerge – a boy, named Joseph Bowers Abram (Joseph after his father and Bowers, his mothers maiden name) was found to have been born on 11 March 1913 – he was baptised less than a month later on 4 April 1913 in Bloemfontein Cathedral, Orange Free State, South Africa.
Sadly, Joseph lived for two short months – he died of enteritis and heart failure. Joseph and Milly May returned to England soon after. I can only imagine how it much have felt to leave their baby so far away.
Around 2009 my dad made contact with a cemetery recording project, they advised they had the following information on a DVD.
Buried: Rooidam Military Cemetery, Tempe, District Bloemfontein, Free
Note: Joseph Abram
Son of S Sgt Abram. Died 1908-1913 during occupation of Tempe
The information he was told was taken from a headstone recording done in 1993 by Holden, P and Botha but sadly the information did not lead to a photo of the grave.
Both of us also made contact with The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They advised their responsibility for graves in Rooidam Military Cemetery was limited to the war graves and those of soldiers from the Anglo-Boer War. The cemetery contained many private graves of the soldiers family members but many of the private memorials had deteriorated over time or disappeared and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission did not have records of the civilian burials in Rooidam Military cemetery.
A member of staff kindly visited and checked the private headstones that still existed but was unable to locate any that related to Joseph Bowers Abram which was terribly sad, as it appeared there had been a headstone in 1993. He went on to advise that many infants appear to have been buried in a plot to the rear left of the central avenue but unfortunately few headstones remain. He sent the photograph of the cemetery below but could not confirm this was where Joseph was actually buried.
Further images of the cemetery can be found below.
Then in February 2018, when trying to pull together everything I knew into one place to write this story, I decided to do an internet search for ‘the occupation of Tempe’ – I wanted to know why my great grandfather was there and why Tempe was occupied. I didn’t find the answers to my questions but the search did lead to me discovering four photos of the Tempe memorial which named both my great grandfather and his son.
Further images of the Tempe memorial can be found below.
This was swiftly followed by a church burial record and death entry.
Armed with the new information I had obtained, I made contact with the South Africa War Graves Project. They wrote back and advised that a visit to the Rooidam Cemetery had not identified the location of the grave – there are quite a few crosses with no names etc and open patches where you can see there’s a grave but no stone etc.
Updating this story in March 2018, I now believe the chance of locating an individual grave is unlikely – it has been suggested to me that there might have been an individual grave at sometime with or without a headstone. It has also been suggested to me that the graves could have been flattened and the memorial erected and/or the people named on the memorial could be buried at the site of the memorial. Whether we ever find this out remains to be seen – we may never know.
However, finally, the burial certificate shows the place where baby Joseph is buried and whilst the Tempe memorial is not the individual grave dad and I had been searching for, the memorial, clearly names Joseph and his father Staff Sergeant Abram – evidence that the baby who lived for only two short months has not been forgotten.
Many people helped in piecing together the history that appears on this page. Thank you in no particular order and hoping I haven’t missed anyone to Sandy Botha at Bloemfontein Cathedral, Terry Cawood and Glen at the South Africa War Graves Project, the eGGSA library, Cheryl Jacobs on the South African Genealogy Facebook page for providing the links to to the church burial record and the death entry, Riana le Roux, Rod Carkett at the Commonweath War Graves Commission, Rob Palmer at British Military History and the Ministry of Defence Army Secretariat in Andover.