WHILE the Englishman lies baking in the blazing sun under his Celtic cross in “The Englishman's Grave", listening to the cars going by on the Pakhuis Pass, I wonder what his favourite drink was.
Could it have been gin?
Not that the Englishman didn't have a name. On the contrary. Graham Vinicombe Winchester Clowes (1881-1901) was not just any Englishman. His DNA belonged to a prominent and wealthy family in Hertfordshire.
Money and status were part of his upbringing and his family could afford anything imaginable in those days. His parents died a year or so before him and a huge inheritance awaited.
Only one school was good enough for little Graham: Eton. Unfortunately, Eton is also the reason the Englishman ended up in this grave.
During his last years at the school, he dared a friend to run across its roof. The friend accepted the bet, slipped on the wet tiles and fell to his death.
Clowes was devastated and accepted responsibility. He then did the honourable thing and filled the position in the army for which his friend had applied. After completing his schooling, Graham was handed a gun, made a lieutenant and sent to South Africa to fight the Boers.
On January 30, 1901, Clowes and two other soldiers were scouting an area in the Pakhuis Pass, near Clanwilliam, where they suspected Boers were hiding. The Boers outwitted them and Clowes was fatally wounded during the ensuing skirmish.
The enemy dug a hole and buried him right there.
When Clowes's sister, Eileen, heard of her beloved brother's passing, she was devastated. She immediately left for Clanwilliam. She planted a tree next to his grave and had a Celtic cross made as a headstone. His name was carved on a block of granite, as if she knew she had to make up for the impersonal “The Englishman's Grave" sign that is there today.
For the next 30 years Eileen travelled to Clanwilliam annually to lay flowers on her brother's grave. Her love for him touched the hearts of the surrounding farming community and to this day flowers are still placed on the grave.
Gin or brandy?
Whether Clowes rested comfortably in the Pakhuis Pass, just this side of the Brandewyn River, is doubtful. The Gin River would have made him feel more at home, because the English will not drink brandy if gin is available.
But his neighbour, who is buried not far from him, won't complain at all. He even wrote about brandy:
“Die brandewyn wat jy die lekkerste vind, is die soort wat met jou die beste akkordeer. Moenie geïmponeer word deur etikette of advertensies nie, maak jou eie keuse volgens jou eie smaak. En behandel daarna jou keuse met liefde en verstand.” (The brandy that you like the most is the kind that agrees best with you. Do not be influenced by labels or advertisements, make your own choice according to your own taste. And then treat your choice with love and understanding.)
Give them wine
C Louis Leipoldt's (1880-1947) grave is a stone's throw away from Clowes's. In the shade of an overhanging rock. His grandfather, Gotlieb Leipoldt, was a missionary from Germany who came to teach the people of Africa about the narrow path. The farm Rietmond, which he bought upon his arrival, is today the Wupperthal that is renowned for velskoene.
Leipoldt was a keen writer from childhood and that was about the only thing he could do well. For some reason he wanted to become a doctor and went to England to study medicine. He struggled, but was finally awarded his degree in 1907.
Leipoldt was never known for his excellent clinical skills. He once claimed it was healthier for children to drink wine than milk. The people wanted to crucify him. A man who previously held the office of school doctor should have known better.
But that was not really what Leipoldt meant. He was worried about schoolchildren queueing with their own cups to scoop milk from a large bucket during breaks. Surely this unhygienic ritual could not be healthy? How many germs must have been present in the poor last child's cup? That's when he said wine would be healthier than milk.
But the doctor was known for his stubbornness and took responsibility for his words.
In the days before our brandy-drinking doctor and children's activist made his debut, he just wrote. In addition to poems and stories, which don't pay the bills, he was a journalist. He joined De Kolonist in Clanwilliam as a junior reporter in 1898.
Chances are that he not only knew about the skirmish between the English and the Boers on the Pakhuis Pass, but also wrote about it.
When Clowes was killed, he was 20, almost the same age as Leipoldt in his reporting days. Neither of them thought about death at that point. Death does not exist for young people.
How could Leipoldt ever have guessed that a few decades later he would become the Englishman's neighbour?
Just this side of the Brandewyn River.
♦ VWB ♦
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