A Tiny Grave
The Cemetery Recording Project of the GSSA brings together people from three continents.
It all started with this e-mail received for Barbara Rea-Venter: "I am hoping you may be able to help. Two of my Grant cousins, Thomas (died 1st August 1943) and James (died 5th March 1942) are buried in South Africa. I have copies of documents that suggest they are buried at Stellawood Cemetery.- Grave No 383 Block W. Is it possible to obtain a picture of the grave? Regards, Barbara Rae-Venter- California USA
This is how Maureen Schnittker responded: After we had looked at all the gravestones and not found it we decided to look again more closely, it was at the top end. It is a small gravestone and the surname is not as pronounced as some of the others, my son actually found it and cleaned it, I just did the photographing. It gives me great pleasure to be able to help loved ones far away and unable to come to the cemetery themselves which I think apart from capturing the history this is one of the aims of the eGSSA gravestone site. - Maureen Schnittker South Africa
And this is the history behind it: - Ross Holmes and Shona Smith Australia
Just two blocks of stone remain, one for each little boy. The angel, originally surmounting it, has long since flown and the mouldy darkening of the marble bears witness to seven decades of weathering. Yet this diminutive monument represents a story of escape, sorrow, reconciliation and survival. It also reminds us of a generosity of spirit demonstrated by the people of Durban during the years of the Second World War and continued today.
Early in the nineteenth century, the growth of the motor car industry created a need for huge amounts of rubber for tyres. Large rubber plantations were established in tropical areas, including Malaya, and many expatriates moved to Malaya to manage the plantations. These included the Scottish families of Charles Grant and Eleanor Margaret Little who met and married in Malaya in the 1930's.
Charles and Eleanor (who was known as “Bunny”) lead an idyllic lifestyle and had two boys, Peter and John, during the late 1930's. This lifestyle was sent into turmoil shortly after the birth of their third child, James, when Japanese forces invaded the Malay Peninsula. Charles was required to serve in the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (FMSVF) as part of a general mobilisation on 1st December 1941. Charles and Bunny were separated when Bunny and the children fled to Singapore with her mother early in 1942.
Their situation was complicated by medical problems experienced by baby James who was unable to digest any food and would vomit when fed. He was being treated with a German medication which became unavailable due to the war.
Bunny, her mother and children endured daily bombing in Singapore before boarding the “Empress of Australia” a Canadian liner which was converted into a troopship. The ship departed Singapore about a week before the city fell.
It was diverted from its original course to Australia due to enemy activity and travelled via Colombo arriving in Durban, South Africa on 2 March 1942. James' health continued to deteriorate during the voyage.
When the “Empress of Australia” berthed, a distraught Bunny fled with her sick baby and tried to get a taxi to hospital. After finally hailing a taxi, Bunny experienced the generosity which the people of Durban were extending to a huge number of refugees. Bunny explained to the driver that she had no money, a very sick baby and an urgent need to get to a hospital. The driver didn't think twice, just told her to hop in and conveyed her to the hospital, speedily and at no cost.
Sadly James Robert (Hamish) Grant died three days later and was buried at Stellawood Cemetery. He was just eight months old.
Seven decades later the generosity of Durban was once again in evidence as Henry Rudman and Maureen Schnittker located and photographed the original grave at the request of James' siblings in Australia via their cousin Barbara Rae-Venter in California USA. Of course there is more to the story. Charles was able to secure his escape from Singapore on a fishing boat making a passage via Indonesia and eventually landing in Australia. He searched in vain for his wife who he believed was in Australia, but they were eventually reunited in South Africa after both had written to a relative in Scotland. They had another son, Thomas Christopher who also died in infancy and was buried with James in Stellawood.
From Durban, Charles and Bunny went farming in Transvaal and Kenya before returning to manage a rubber plantation in Malaya after the war. Sons Peter and John attended school in Perth Western Australia from 1947 and the family eventually migrated to Australia in 1952 with two infant girls Shona and Sue. Once again they were escaping a war, but this time it was from the guerrilla activities of the Malayan Emergency.
Charles and Bunny are buried together in Karrakatta Western Australia.