A PHONE call that the grave of one of Lisburn’s forgotten soldiers has been located was the best Christmas present Roberta Pithie could ever have imagined.
On Christmas Eve, Roberta from Torwood in Moira received a call from Rod Armstrong that his brother Desmond located the grave of Major TR Johnson-Smyth.
The grave was found in a military cemetery at the foot of Vaalkrans in south Africa near Mount Alice farm and Mooi River.
Desmond had spent some time planning and trying to locate the grave and finally had to travel through the outback and even got the help of Zulus to eventually find the grave and place a wreath at the major’s final resting place.
A memorial tablet for Major TR Johnson-Smyth, who originally came from Lambeg, lies in Lisburn Cathedral and a Memorial window is in Christ Church.
Roberta, as a child lived with her parents on Harmony Hill, on the estate of the Johnson-Smyth family headed by the Major’s son Roger Henry Ellis Johnson-Smyth, who was a young boy when his father was killed in February 1900.
Roberta’s mother, Christina Hunter was the housekeeper in the big house and Roberta has carried on a lifelong tradition of tending the family grave at Derriaghy Parish Church.
When Roberta received the welcome news that the grave was found she said, “Rod phoned me on Christmas Eve to tell me that not only had the grave of Major TR Johnson-Smyth been located but Desmond had made a very long journey into the African bush to visit it and put on a floral tribute.
“Shortly after Des phoned from South Africa and then e-mailed photographs to me. The Armstrong brothers have a terrific interest in, and are very well informed about, both the Boer War and the Zulu Wars.
“I appreciate their efforts on my behalf and the genuine interest they had in my quest. It was rather nice for the conclusion to come on Christmas Eve.”
Roberta read with interest an article in the Ulster Star a few weeks ago about Rod Armstrong, who himself originated from Lisburn, his brother Rod and cousin Reg Aulds who, after 30 years searching, located a young soldier’s grave from 113 years ago. Recently they unfurled a flag and laid a wreath.
Desmond, who lives in south Africa, said that he was only too willing to find the last resting place of Major TR Johnson-Smyth.
“Roberta was absolutely delighted and said that her Christmas was complete having received this news,” he said.
“Perhaps an interesting and important aspect was that as we progressed deeper into the thorn bush we encountered an elderly African gentleman coming towards us on an ancient bicycle. He was listening to music via ear plugs connected to his ‘mobile-phone.’
“We stopped him and my wife Ulla who speaks the Zulu language engaged him in an animated conversation as to the whereabouts of the Vaal Krantz Cemetery. This lovely old man gave us perfect directions to follow and in no time at all we came to the remote little memorial deep in the African Thorn-Bush.”