South Africa War Graves Project

Frequently Asked Questions

"I want to be a volunteer" questions:

Q – I’m going to “XXX” Cemetery in Country “---” and will do the war graves there, do you need anything else?

A – Whoa! Hold on!

If you are a new volunteer and want to help we need you to contact us first. If you have already done so then look at the Project photo guidelines first, see here:

Next, is the cemetery already assigned or completed? Check here:

If not, we’ll provide you a list of the required graves that need to be photographed, email us at:

Next check to see if you can assist the other projects as well, see here:
Canada -
Australia -
British -

Each of the above projects has their own project director, and although we are all independent of one another we all try to work together so that efforts are not doubled unnecessarily.

Q – I’m going to the local cemetery do you have any suggestions on what to do?


1) Keep it fun! I always like to take a friend along when I do cemeteries. If you have a friend along they can watch your back (in dodgy areas), tick names off the list when you are snapping pix, have someone to talk to and share a cold drink with at the end of a hot day out.

2) Bring water and drink lots of it, wear a hat and sunscreen. Wear good shoes (or boots) with proper ankle support. Watch out for low lying grave markers and don't trip and crack your skull on one of them.

3) Start early, leave before the sun sets. Bring a lunch. Don’t overexert yourself.

4) If your back and knees say take a break, take a break, take micro breaks frequently.

5) Bring extra batteries, memory cards, CDs, film, water, etc.

Q – How come I can’t find a grave in the cemetery I was photographing?

1) If you can't find a grave go to the cemetery office for a map or ask a groundskeeper. More often than not the groundskeeper can show amazing things that aren't always apparent. i.e. graves not on list or point you in the direction of grave that has been transcribed incorrectly.

2) Not all graves are the "military" style, some will be private family memorials, so don't always look for the military stones. Some stones are low-lying or part of family plots so a sharp eye and patience will win the day.

Q – What is a National or Regional Coordinator?

A – A National coordinator coordinates volunteers for that country, i.e. organizes volunteers, responds to emails from that country, updates country spreadsheets, works with other projects as representative for the SAWGP in that country. Regional coordinator serves as the same function as a National Coordinator but in a lesser capacity, like a particular area of a certain country, i.e. Kwazulu Natal in South Africa.

Q – How can I become a National Coordinator or a Regional Coordinator?

A – If we don’t already have a National or Regional Coordinator for a certain country or area we would welcome your involvement, email the project director.

Already a volunteer / photographing questions:

Q – Should I use a regular camera or a digital camera?

A – If you are a one time contributor and don’t own a digital camera then we can accept photos of small cemeteries by mail or if you scan those images and send to us we’ll accept them that way. However if you attempting a large cemetery or expect to be contributing a lot then I strongly advise using a digital camera as you’ll soon pay for it by the saving of not having to develop the photos. Besides if you take the photos digitally it will save you time and effort scanning them down the road.

Q – I’ve got a digital camera, what resolution do you want?

A – Ideally the image would be medium (approx. 500 KB) to high resolution (800 KB or higher). We find that low resolution images are just not clear enough. We want to be able to pass these photos on to the loved ones of South Africa’s war dead and the last thing we want to do is send them a poor quality shot.

Q – Are you taking photos of Rhodesians (present Zimbabwe) as well?

A – Yes. We have added them to our lists and we are accepting war grave photos of Rhodesians. We have found that many a South African served in a Rhodesian unit or vice versa that many a Rhodesian served in a South African unit. In most cases it is hard to find a qualifying factor to exclude them. So for the sake of uniformity we have included all known Rhodesians into our list. In South Africa and any African country, it is appreciated that ANY military grave you find be photographed and sent along. We can easily disperse these photos to the other projects.

Q – I’ve photographed a war grave of a South African but s/he isn’t on your list, why not?

A – Many answers to this question.
1) In a war cemetery it could be that the headstone reads “Of South Africa” and we didn’t have the casualty on our list due to the details that were provided to us. Include that photograph with any others you may have when you send them to the project.
2) In a local cemetery, this will be most prevalent in South Africa it could be that the grave that you photographed is that of veteran and not in fact a war grave.
3) It could be that it may be a private memorial and the soldier in fact lies buried elsewhere.
4) Whatever the reason, if you have doubts, take a picture to be safe, we’ll sort it out.

Q – We have a war memorial in town do you want that photographed?

A – Yes. Although we aren’t going to make any lists of war memorials we would like to have pictures of your local war memorial with the panels of names on them. This will ensure that we can cross-reference casualties and include others soldiers that may have been not previously mentioned on our lists. We have already found that these memorials are valuable sources of extra information. A lot of South African soldiers served with British forces, so it helps us update our database.

Q – Are you photographing the Boer War graves?

A – Yes. We will also be looking for any war grave in South Africa and this will include Boer War graves (all nationalities and both sides of the conflict), Rand Revolt, Korea War, Angolan-Border War and the graves of those policemen who were killed in the line of duty. All of these have no cemetery lists and will have to be compiled by volunteers. Email me if you think something should be added to this list of inclusion.

Q – There are quite a number of Unknown South African soldier headstones in a cemetery that I’m photographing; do you want pictures of them all?

A – Yes and if possible if they are all the same can you label each photo either in the photo itself while snapping it or afterwards digitally naming it with a plot number from that cemetery. The project director believes that in this day and age that some of these unknown soldiers should be able to be identified by research. There are so few South Africa Unknown graves that it be a shame to exclude them from our efforts.

Q – I found a headstone that was broken or in a bad state of disrepair what do I do?

A – Email us with the cemetery name, and the grave that requires attention and we will forward that information to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for their attention.

Q – Some of the info on the headstone doesn’t match the information on the cemetery list, i.e. wrong date of death, wrong initials, wrong unit, wrong plot number, what do I do?

A – Email us that information and we will forward to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for their attention.

Q – I’ve been approached by people in a cemetery wondering why I’m photographing headstones, what do I say?

A – Tell them “I’m a photographer for an international project that photographs war graves of South African service people. The intention is to provide to the family a photo of the war grave or name on a memorial and an overview shot of the cemetery, should they request it. Due to the great distances involved not all family members have been able to visit the grave of a loved one that died in their country’s service. Through the project’s website they will have the ability to access these photos, and we will do it free of charge.” Then if you can tell them a short history of the graves that you are photographing and any extra history that may be useful, do so. Who knows, they may be the next volunteer that joins our ranks so be polite and courteous and answer all questions to the best of your ability, as for most volunteers this will the most common front line technique of introducing the project(s) to those who don’t know about it.

Q - I’m done all the cemeteries in my area, now what?

A - You can tell friends and family about the project, generate local interest, and write an article for the local paper, (In South Africa) go to the local MOTH’s shell hole. By doing this you'll get the "word out" about the project and someone somewhere will contribute.

Q – What is your volunteer credit policy?
A – The photos that are archived remain the intellectual property of the volunteer that took them. The South Africa War Graves Project will only act as an archivist for these volunteers and will never sell, misuse, or misrepresent these photos in a way that dishonours the sacrifice of those it represents. Volunteers submit photographs knowing that they will be dispersed to those families, friends of the service people, school and veterans groups and MOTH shell holes should they be requested. Any monies that are donated on behalf of any photo will not be used for the sole financial purposes of the project director, any future board of directors or any of its volunteers, but to the volunteer group as a whole and used towards the funding, expenses and equipment of this project.

Funding / Fundraising questions:

Q – Can I get paid for my efforts?

A – No. We have no money to speak of. The project director has spent thousands on this project and expects to never see any return on it. Volunteers who assist the project with their efforts are (and will remain) unpaid.

Q – I want to do some fundraising for the SAWGP and have come up with the idea of “xxxxxxxxx” and am about to go out and get it in motion, will you help me?

A – Please forward all ideas and suggestions to the Project Director for approval before setting out and doing anything in the project’s name.

Q – I’ve won the lottery; does the SAWGP need any financial support?

A – Yes! But you don’t have to win the lottery to help us; donations can be mailed in any amount you like. All monies will be used towards project needs. i.e. Web hosting, blank CDs, postage, software, etc. But we don't really seek donations. However, if we have helped you with a photo, we really would love to have some reference books in our library (which can be pricey), see the link on home page of our wish list. But again this is your choice.

Dispersal of photos:

Q – I want a photo. Will you send it to me?

A – If you are a member of the family, or friend of the fallen (i.e. served together), school or veteran group, or MOTH shell-hole we will gladly send you the photo, free of charge, via email.

Q – I want a photo, but I’m not a family member or a friend of the fallen. Will you send it to me?

A – We will ask that you explain to us the reason that you want the photo.

Q – I want a photo from “ABC” cemetery in “XYZ“ country and see that it isn’t completed, when will it be done?

A – When someone takes a photo of it and sends it in. This project is driven by unpaid volunteers around the world so you may wait some time before you get the photo.

Education & Research questions:

Q – I’m a student and I’m writing an essay about Delville Wood and it is due next Monday can you help?

A – Depends what you want. If photos will assist you with your project we ask that you credit SAWGP for the photos, but we will not write an essay for you, go to library or look on the internet.

Website questions:

Q – What does NSAU stand for?

A – Non-South African Unit

Q – What does NRU stand for?

A – Non-Rhodesian Unit

Q – What is an overview?

A – The current photo on the home page would be considered an overview shot.

Q – I sent you pictures awhile back, but how come the spreadsheet for that country hasn’t been updated?

A – Country spreadsheets are updated once a week, if you efforts haven’t been recognized, email the project director to remind him.

Q – How come I can’t see any photos on your website yet and where is the database?

A – Photos will not be published on the website until we have a running database and even then we will watermark the images to protect the volunteer’s efforts unless a request is made for the original.

Q – I took a nice overview shot of a cemetery that would good on the home page, why won’t you use mine?

A – I try to pick a nice overview shot each week from the efforts of our volunteers around the globe. If you think your picture is warranting display on the home page let the project director know.

Q – I’ve emailed the other projects but nobody responds, why?

A – Each of the project directors of the other war grave projects is very busy as well. Not everyone can instantly answer your email. We all have lives, work at a job, have some sort of family commitment and then squeeze in 3-4 hours a day or more of project work. Be patient they will eventually answer you. The South Africa War Graves Project can only speak on behalf of its own project.

Q – How come I can’t access cemetery lists online?

A – Because we haven’t put them there yet and don’t intend to. If you want a cemetery list, email the project director or National/Regional Coordinator for that area and they will provide. However in most cases, the remaining graves we require are posted in text form on the specific country pages.

Q – I have found a spelling mistake or problem with the figures shown on the website, are you interested in correcting it?

A – Yes. Please send an email so I can correct.

General questions:

Q – Big project, when do you expect to be done?

A – When it’s finished. It could be next month, next year, or 20 years down the road. We won't be done till we have collected all of the pictures of the fallen. One could almost say this is the final roll call.

Q – Who are you? Why are doing this? Aren’t you (the project director) a Canadian? If so, why are running the South Africa War Graves Project? How do you expect to get this done from Canada?

A – My name is Ralph McLean; I’m 40 years old and a student of military history. I’ve been an avid volunteer photographer for the other projects for years now and yes, I am a Canadian. I am running the SAWGP because no one else stepped up to take the job. I wanted something to occupy my time and as all the other Commonwealth countries projects (except India) have war grave projects websites that are up and running. I already had a large number of South Africa war dead photos in my collection and felt that the South African contributions had been left out. I believed that the SAWGP was the next logical step and thus I started the project. I have been running this project with ease thus far and just because I am not physically located in South Africa, it does not hinder me from doing the job of project director or any field work. With the internet I can send and receive photos, send out cemetery lists, organize volunteers, and update the website regularly. My field work is quite evident on the cemetery pages. I have contributed war grave photos for all projects in Canada, Morocco, Spain, Gibraltar, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Australia, Israel, Cyprus, Belgium, France, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Q – Who are all these volunteers that help the SAWGP?

A – We have many volunteers from all walks of life in many different countries, but they all believe that remembrance of these soldiers is important, that is why they help us.

Q – Can I have the email address of another volunteer?

A – Email us and we’ll ask them. But as a rule we do not give anyone's email address out for privacy reasons.

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