A cemetery steeped in history…

The Dido Valley cemetery.

If you’ve been glued to your TV watching Netflix’s The Crown, you will find the history of the Dido Valley cemetery in Simon’s Town particularly interesting.

The cemetery, established in 1911, is not only home to World War I and II war heroes but also houses the grave of Emily Roose, the nanny of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II.

The graves of 77 World War I and 106 World War II troops as well as two non-war burials and members of the navy are housed in the Commonwealth war graves section which overlooks False Bay.

This section of the graveyard, which does not belong to the City of Cape Town and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is well maintained and in stark contrast to the overgrown neglected Christian and Muslim burial grounds adjacent to it.

Retired Warrant Officer Class One Harry Croome, who was in charge of the Naval Museum for eight years, took the Echo on a tour of the graveyard on Friday December 11.

Both his parents are buried there, and his mother, Maria Elizabeth, was a nurse at the Cottage Hospital in Simon’s Town while his father, Harry Steven, was an accountant for the South African Railway in Cape Town.

He maintains their graves and those of other family members who are also buried there.

The grave of Ms Roose, who died in 1933, is a large marble slab and is located in the Christian section of the cemetery. Her tombstone reads: “In loving and deeply grateful remembrance of 25 years devoted friendship and service from Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and their children, Margaretha, Theodora, Cecile, Sophie and Philip.”

Former chairman of the Simon’s Town Historical Society, David Erickson, said a short article appeared in the society’s Bulletin in January 1983 indicating Ms Roose’s connection with the Greek royal family.

The article, he said, was the result of a letter written to Prince Philip by Glencairn resident, Len Cooper.

Prince Philip forwarded the letter to his sister, Princess George of Hanover (Princess Sophie), and she then wrote a long letter to Mr Cooper in which she explained her family’s close connection with Ms Roose.

In the letter, she described Ms Roose as “our much loved Nana” and as “lively” and “pretty”.

Ms Roose joined the Greek royal family in 1905 and followed them into exile in 1917. She left the family in 1928 when she became crippled with arthritis and came to live with her brother and sister in Simon’s Town.

Prince Philip also sent Mr Cooper a copy of a photograph from his family collection showing Ms Roose with princesses Cecile and Sophie as well as a photograph of himself, aged about 7, sitting on her lap.

Mr Cooper donated these items to the Simon’s Town Museum.

Mr Erickson said that after Ms Roose’s death, the royal family had sent out a tombstone and someone from the British High Commission had organised its delivery and erection on the grave.

And in 2012, Anne, the princess royal, the second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, visited the cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Commonwealth War Grave Memorial – which is situated in the centre of the Commonwealth War Grave section – and thereafter, she also visited the grave of Ms Roose.

She was visiting Cape Town to mark the diamond jubilee of the queen’s reign. Another interesting resident of the graveyard is a cypress tree believed to be at least a 100 years old.

Hunched over the path like an old man resting on a walking stick, it guards one of the entrances to the cemetery. It has been there since the origin of the cemetery in 1911, according to retired merchant navy Captain Brad Wallace-Bradley, who has been taking care of the tree for the past 18 years.

He started to care for it as he was worried the City would cut it down as it was blocking the entrance.

“The tree has its own historic significance and it would have been a shame if it had been cut down,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Dr Zahid Badroodien said the Dido Valley cemetery had always had an indigenous covering of vegetation and was never grassed due to its size.

Plant growth at the cemetery was very slow and mowing did not happen often, he said.

Mowing would also cause windblown sand as the south easter blew directly into the cemetery. He said the City kept invasive plants in the cemetery under control and municipal workers cleared litter weekly.

The cemetery was closed in 2 000 and only second burials are allowed of which the last was in 2012. However, the Muslim section is still open and active.