When I visited Ghana in 2007, I spent some time in Wa, the capital of the Upper West region, and the main city of the Wala people. Near where I was staying, there was a cemetery and I had been told that it contained the graves of some Europeans. At a loose end one day, I decided to investigate and found them together in one corner.
As soon as I saw Lieutenant Hunter’s grave, some lines of Rupert Brooke’s poem resonated in my mind.If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home. And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts a peace, under an English heaven.
Today, I came across this photograph in my collection, and looked up the full poem, and wondered who Lt. Hunter was. Presumably a young man – did he die of illness? Or was it by violence? I thought of his family back home, and pondered on how traditions change over time. No respectful journey back home, accompanied by comrades, for the body of Lieutenant Hunter. No hearse and flowers, no mention by name in Parliament, no grave which could be tended by grieving relatives.
His grave was one of the oldest in the cemetery. Nearby was Major T. Westbrook, M.C., who had died twenty years later, and there was a Mr Cook, Agriculturist, who died in 1930. The only grave which was older than his was that of Mr G.E. Ferguson, a Fante from the south of what would have been the Gold Coast colony. He had spent some years surveying the country, and signing treaties with local chiefs on behalf of the British, and was killed in 1897 in Wa by a slave trader called Baburi. The cemetery was named after him.
So what of Lieutenant Hunter? He died and was buried alongside Mr Ferguson in 1902, which was the year that the British established control over the Northern Territories, after finally defeating the Ashantis. There were no roads to Wa at the time, and just five years previously, the British had stopped the selling of slaves at the Kintampo market, nearly 300 km to the south. The world was very different then, and it seems that the death of a British soldier somewhere on an obscure border of the British Empire was not a newsworthy event.
After looking around the dusty cemetery, I walked over to see what the men were working at nearby. They were making concrete blocks for the construction of what appeared to be a stand for a football ground.
Life goes on around the “small corner of a foreign field”. Lieutenant Hunter’s grave, with its Christian cross and reminder of Ghana’s colonial past, remains intact, treated with respect in this overwhelmingly Muslim town, if judged by its tidiness and lack of graffiti.
And I continue to wonder – Who was he? How did he die?