18 MONTHS IN THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
JAN F.E. CILLIERS
It is of the utmost importance that personal experiences like this in connection with the concentration camps be available for our people. This information is so precious for writers in the future to make use of this material of the behavior of our people and that they would study our history. In this story of the camps there is no beating around the bush it was written as it was. By reading some of these pages it makes some of us very upset and the blood boiling with anger – by example the woman who got insane when the blacks took her so forcefully away from her home – we are touched by the scene of misery of sickness and death, we raise our heads in pride of how the Afrikaner women endure all this misery and torture and abuse by her inferiors who, just because of their power, her physically downgraded and insulted her, although all she had to endure her spirit was never broken.
If, when we one day reached the stage where we were supposed to be, then books like this could be studied and read where and how the building bricks of a great nation were laid, even under the heel of tyranny.
TO THE READER
I was but twenty years old with the outbreak of the war, at this age you are more susceptible than at other times.
It is the time when you are longing for adventure. It does not matter what kind of adventure. At this age you can love and hate more, remember better, in one word: “never forget, I can never forget my adventures, my experiences, and my humiliation, what I went through during the time of war!
It is just a pity that I do not have the enthusiasm of those years, to be able to express what I went through, as it was playing off in my mind. In spite of it all I did what I could and I hope my People will accept it in the context I tried to express myself.
Everything in this treatise is the Truth and nothing less than the Truth. There are still thousands of people still alive who can testify and confirm. Because the times are changing and that what I experienced would turn to dust on the Altar of Freedom, therefore I thought this is the appropriate time not to postpone anymore.
When you ask me why I did not write this before, I can only say, “I do not know”. Maybe this is now the right time.
I am awaiting in anticipation for your judgement.
My prayers to the literate and Young South Africa is a prayer of David: “Be gentle she did what she could.”
THE ENGLISH AND MY MACHINE
Just as the old people were scared of the “khakis” (English) taking over their little town, Hartebeesfontein, near Klerksdorp, was I looking forward to see the results of what I heard about them.
The day arrived. This was February 18, 1901. The “khakis” started firing over the town, in the mountains to drive away the Boers, although there were no Boers. The bombs which flew over our heads, some of them landing in town went on the whole day. I cannot understand how not a single bullet hit anyone. The shop windows of Mr. and Mrs. Felstead had no less than 38 bullet holes! The afternoon brought its own fire display, all over were fires! Everything that could burn was taken from the shops and all the mealies (corn) on top and lighted. All burned for days on end. The fire caused a big disaster. After the fires were out it started raining. On top everything looked dead, the fires burned out. My youngest brother, about five years old started walking through the rubble and landed into burning coals. His legs were burned up to his knees so badly that the flesh fell off. Because there was no medicine available the healing process took months. During that time I made women’s clothing which brought our household a good income. My sister and I, worked in a room next to the house. There was a big cupboard where we stored the materials and orders, also quite a lot of unmade stuff for ourselves. When the khakis quite unexpectedly stormed into the room I jumped with fright. The one came towards my sister and touched her cheek. Without thinking she slapped him. We stormed out the room. There were also a few bags of mealies in the room. The khakis took all the bags and I think the mealies found themselves to the burning fires nearby our house. After they left we went back to the room and found everything thrown around. The machine needle was broken, and to our consternation all the needlework was stolen! What to do? What about the needlework? With due respect to some of the ladies they did not blame us. Although one women, very rich I had to pay her a golden pound for the blouse material that was lost. The reader can thusly fully understand that I never wanted to see a khaki in my life. Of them, their power, their civilization, I saw enough and had enough experience.
After they destroyed as much as possible and plundered the vegetable garden, they left. According to the grapevine we heard hey had women with them who they caught. We went to look and it was so. Amongst them there were the following: Mrs. E.D. Konig and Mrs. Herman Hesse-Schulenburg. Mrs. Hesse was taken from her house and taken to the concentration camp at Klerksdorp, because she tore down the English flag, after the English raised the flag for the first time in Wolmaransstad. I will never forget how I looked at her in admiration and how brave she looked. She was as brave as a mother with four children could be under the circumstances. Some were in the camp till the end. Mrs. Hesse went back to Germany the next year, after she gave her offer on the altar of freedom with the death of her son, she mourned him as thousands of other women mourned the death of their children. After this we kept on hearing how women were brought to Klerksdorp. What we heard about the meagre rations that they received pained our souls for what was waiting for us. After the English left our town our own people came and gave those who had no stock, cattle to slaughter to distribute meat amongst the people. The inhabitants were sharing amongst those who needed most. A name not forgotten is that of Uncle Paul Bester. No one ever left his house empty handed, till the day he died.
Another benefactor was Mrs. Willem Joosste (Aunt Truitjie). More than one poor and starving burgher was fed by her hand.
On May 16, 1901 the English turned up again at Hartebeesfontein and gave us 15 minutes to get ready to be taken away to Klerksdorp with the wagons. It took much longer as there were 32 households to be loaded on the wagons. Two to three families had to get on one wagon. It did not matter to the English who the families were, old, young, rich or poor, all suffered the same fate. Some had the privilege to sit on a bed others just on some clothes. There was no space for boxes or containers. Just think about it, only a little bundle – people with mansions, such furniture, they had everything of the best, even pianos, nothing could be taken with.
With her gardens and flowers Hartebeesfontein was known as one of the most beautiful and fruitful of places in the country. With her heavy laden orange trees and strong water, a church which had an honorable place in the community, this all was destroyed in one day.
When we had to leave in haste the streets were full of soldiers destroying everything. To satisfy their vandalism they made fools of themselves by either wearing ladies hats, flowers or ostrich feathers on their heads. What they did not steal from the stores for their own use they destroyed and threw it in the streets. At night the light of the fires were seen for miles and it seemed even more woeful and melancholy. Oh, dear, how dark and somber was our future.
I had to go back. The women whose men were in Klerksdorp were promised that their houses would be locked and everything left intact and that they would have the house back as soon as the “ignorant” Boers capitulated.
The one after the other the ox wagons went, after about two to three miles from Hartebeesfontein they came to a halt. We had to stay their overnight with our bundles of clothes and no food. Nobody could eat that day, especially the mothers who knew what was in store. They distributed rations and everyone had to say how big her family was. The children thought it funny. I still remember the look on my dear mother’s face, so drained and white. What made her look like that? It was a look into the future, the months and years ahead with hunger and suffering that was covered as with a veil over the eyes. We will never forget that night.
Some had only a tarpaulin over their heads, others were on the wagons, only a few got tents and a few blankets on the ground. The low of the cattle and the bleat of the sheep cut into the soul, because they were taken away from their mothers, the animals had to suffer with the Afrikaner for his Freedom and his Rights. We had to listen to the moans of one of the most important ladies who had a whitlow on her finger. She who had all the comforts in her life up to this night was no better off than the poor animals. Everyone wanted to do something to her. The previous day my mother had the privilege to take her bed with her, and I my sewing machine, because we were related to general Liebenberg. The morning before we left a Tommy (English soldier) came to me and said, “I got an order to take your sewing machine”. When I heard this I was speechless with fear, as the first thought was: “where do I get another sewing machine and how are we going to live without an income?” The Tommy left with the sewing machine and me following him with fear in my heart that it would be destroyed. The tommy walked to the general and I begged him with tears in my eyes to give it back to me. I told him that we have no income as my father and oldest brother were taken prisoners of war at the beginning of the war. The machine, my loyal friend on which I shed many a tear and had to listen to my many sighs. “No”, said I, “you cannot be so cruel, oh give me back my machine!” And I burst out in tears. “No”, he said, “I would have done so, if I had not heard you made so many clothes for the Boers.” “This is true”, I answered, “I made clothes for them, but you would have done the same if you would have been in my shoes.”
The Tommy who still stood there with my machine in his arms, looked at me with sadness, as if he was also afraid that it would be broken. When I looked at the Tommy with his dismal face I burst again into tears, and said “Oh, please give me back my machine!” With that the Tommy got the order to give me my machine back. Who can ever describe the gratitude in my heart? Who can ever imagine the value of such a sewing machine? The machine later became our saving grace. A lot of extra food we could buy was because of my machine. Many days I sat in front of my sewing machine making clothes to dress us decently sometimes till I passed out from pure exhaustion.
I went back with the machine in my arms pushed close to my heart, while the tears were still running down my cheeks. “What,” my sister was yelling, “are you crying in the presence of a khaki?” All I said was, “Oh my machine!”
Amongst other things we brought with us was some canned fruit. The khakis found it and took it away. When my sister saw that she wanted to take the case with the canned fruit from him. He took out a bottle and gave it to her, she took it but threw it in front of his feet and the bottle broke in a million pieces.
Without taking a bath and without a change of clothing we had to go. The oxen were harnessed, the one after the other wagon left. Such a confusion is difficult to comprehend. Everyone that is ready put the whip to the oxen and going over rocks, over ant heaps, through ditches and holes, over roads not used for many years. After an hour or so we came to rest and all the wagons are parked the one beside the other – the khakis are in a hurry and upset. We asked, “What is going on?” “Yes”, we got the answer, “general Liebenberg with the Boers are here in the hills in front of us and we expect a battle.” Not long after that the canons were brought in line behind us. We could then clearly see if there is a confrontation today, the bullets would flying over our heads. Just think about how upsetting this was for the women. Luckily it was a false alarm. Again the oxen got whipped. We went forward – it looked like doomsday. A large ox was harnessed next to a small ox, there we see an ox passed out. He stayed behind and was dragged along. Then he was cut lose and left. Nothing good would come for the poor ox. No with haste they went over him. The wagon over his shoulder, the one over his behind, and Oh! One did not know how long the poor animal will have to suffer to death!
Before we reached Klerksdorp, at nightfall, the one rear wagon wheel fell into a deep hole, with such force that Mrs. Zeederberg fell out with bad results. So was hurt so bad that she was under doctor’s care for weeks after. After she was better she came to the camp and told us about the bad treatment she had to suffer under the English. She said she wrote to Queen Victoria to inform her how the English treated her, and her being a “British subject”. She was born in Ireland and never wanted to be anything other than English. Her husband was a doctor, although already dead for five years. The only thing she could take with her was an enlargement of her husband portrait. She had silver that was over 200 years old and she had to leave that all behind. Her awakening regarding the English was worse than ours, because she could never believe that such a civilization could mistreat women and children. She was a noble and well-bred lady and she did such charity amongst our people by giving them medicine after the towns were occupied by the English. Yes, she nursed more than one burgher.
We arrived in at 10pm at Klerksdorp. The men in town met their wives arriving with the wagons. Then the men asked where the furniture was. The women informed the men that the furniture was left behind. They could not believe it, because the English said they are going to fetch the women from Hartebeesfontein and they were bringing all their belongings.
The “Hands-uppers” then saw what the English word meant. But their women were allowed to be dropped off at their houses.
In the Camp
The women who had a husband or a father on commando, or who was a prisoner of war, had to go to the camp.
We were off-loaded with our bundles and me with my machine. Concerning earthly possessions, I was that night the richest. There were already some of our relations and friends. They brought us coffee and bread. Then we went to bed, what else do you do? A few blankets are thrown over my mother’s bed. She had the honor in bringing it with. As I mentioned before, it was because general Liebenberg was her brother-in-law. We went to bed, each one with her own thoughts, which were very depressing.
Oh! Everything was so strange! The moon was so bright in heaven! It seems you would not be able to sleep here where the stars were brightly shining through the canvas. A concerned person came to warn us to not have the light on after 10pm. If there is someone ill in the tent, it was then necessary to keep the light on. The light had to be so concealed that the guards would not be able to see it. If they see it they reported it and the sick person was taken to the hospital and most of the time not coming back again. The warning not to keep the light on after 10pm was not necessary. We were dumb and speechless and as the verse said: “We could not force flesh and blood to prayer.” To even think of sleeping was impossible, the tents were so close together you could hear even next door breathing. Humans tend to listen, here you heard a child crying, there you heard the sighing of the sick otherwise it was quiet. The crying, the sighing, would it always be like this? Could you ever sleep the sleep of the righteous? These questions were going through our minds. The feelings that roared through our very being this first night were indescribable.
When we woke at dawn it felt like we woke from a nightmare. We watched with awe the bright sun shining through the tarpaulin. Everything looked strange – the few possessions, the terrible sand, called a floor.
All this made us jumped up to get hastily dressed to see if we could rationalize the situation.
The first thing we saw was dust, and more dust. Here and there was smoke, campfires were lit; they became more and more till there was one burning next to every tent, where upon would be a kettle. In most cases the mother would stand next to the kettle till the water was boiling. What impression did this lonely mother make? The woman born under a free flag, the woman with a free nature! There she stood, an exile, she did not possess any freedom, she did not have any rights over her children. It was no wonder that she looked so dismal! She stared into the future, but everything was darkness for the human eye. There was no Hope! For the woman, the Hope of South Africa there was no Hope! While standing there you heared crying – you look around, where did it come from? All of a sudden you saw they were carrying something. Following the procession, a woman, a mother and the crying was coming from her. You asked what it meant. What is it they were carrying? It was a body they were carrying to the death tent. The death tent, what is it? And before the question was answered you saw the funeral procession nearing the tent, much bigger than all the other, where the stretcher, consisting of a blanket, disappeared. You were still contemplating what happened and then you heard another wailing. Here came another procession, another body. This time carried by loving hands. For the first hour at dawn you watch the procession of children’s bodies. But it is not only children’s bodies taken to the death tent, there were bigger bodies. Behind this procession crying children followed. Now we did not think of standing still. Unwillingly we followed the procession to the tent where we could see a few bodies lying on blankets in the dust. The mother is placed next to the others and when you saw how the children cried as if their hearts were broken and you think about your Master and you cried in empathy and everlasting friendship. Now the children were led back to the empty tent, to a place which would be forever empty. We asked the eldest child, “Who is going to take of you?” Then you get the answer, “Oh, we do not know, grandmother died last week and now mother.” And the crying of the children just intensified.
If and when you were in a concentration camp as the one in Klerksdorp, and several others in the Transvaal and the Free State, then and only then would you understand the meaning of the death tent. Then you can visualize the sorrow, the hunger, the abuse, the mockery, indignity and the thousands of deaths. I still shudder to think about those days and nights and the Death tent.
The camp was located between the showgrounds and Skoonspruit. It was only sand and dust where the thousands of tents were pitched. This situation only got worse with the driving of the military every day. They went daily to the upper part of the camp to water the animals. In so doing thousands of horses and cattle go past this way. Especially in August when the dry western winds are blowing from sun up to sun down, without taking a break. Sometimes there is such a bad wind that the little fire under the pot would be blown out. The women who had a fire drum were the luckiest. Many a day we were not able to put anything to eat on the table. We had to take a piece out of the pot and eat it quickly before it was full of sand or dust. Material to make a fire, what did we use? This as with anything else were scarce. I still remember my mother, when one morning she was as white as a sheet. She could not even answer us when we asked what was wrong, so deep was her spirit/soul in distress. When she gathered herself she told us that she and a few other ladies went to gather wet manure in the kraal to dry, when without a warning a big black man smacked her to the ground and took the manure cruelly from her hands. This all we hand to endure. We could not expect any justice or help from the authorities. Then we felt like God abandoned us.
Because – how can He, the Righteous, the Almighty allow our enemy to rule over us in this way? Then we sighed again: Maybe another nation would come to our rescue? Would they not hear about our suffering? Then we wait again and again, “watcher of the morning, the morrow, oh when oh, when?”
We are still waiting – not on the help of another nation, but on God! Everyone who suffered with me, or heard about the suffering went with me further into the camp, where I was but only four months, where I experienced the most terrible sorrow and tears. Our time at the Klerksdorp camp was from May 7 to September 15. Then hundreds of us were sent to Natal.
When there was a drought the months of August and September they were the most woeful in the Western Transvaal. That year was particularly dry and dusty. It felt as if even the elements were against us. Yes, we had to struggle against sickness, death and hunger, but also against the elements. Measles, whooping cough, etc. was rampant in the camps, because everyone was living so near to each other the one after the other succumb to the illness and there was not one tent without someone sick or dying. It was as if every mother had to bring her sacrifice to the altar of Freedom. 2686 gave their lives in Klerksdorp for the Freedom of the Transvaal and the Free State. The child who was still playing so happily there on the Boer farm, this child never knew hunger or lack of food, the nature child who lived so freely with healthy red cheeks, the same child was now lying there on the blanket on the dusty tent-floor. He asked his mother for some milk or soup, the mother’s heart is breaking, it was as if the blood in her arteries solidified. Why? There is nothing to give, there is nothing to eat.
The last words he said were FOOD! Can you even imagine to be a mother in a situation like that, she had only one wish, to give him food, but there was none. Her sorrow was beyond description. As a Rachel she refused to be pacified. Imagine not only one child, but hundreds who are lying there in the tents, hungry, sick and tired.
At 8pm everyone had to go to her tent. At 10pm the guard did his rounds and yelled: “Lights out!” Where there was a child dying, the mother would grab a small candle cover it with a tin or something so the weak light can fall on the little face of her beloved child, to make sure she would even cover it with her clothes to make sure the guard would not see it. Then she sat in front of her child and wait! For what did she wait? Did she wait for support or help? No, she was waiting for him to close his eyes forever. She waited for his last gasp. When the gasp was given, when the little eyes were closed, then you heard the crying of the mother there in your lonely tent, who did not want to cry in front of the child in fear he would ask why she was crying!
When the mother laid her child in the corner, she again burst into tears: this is her third, her forth taken from her heart. Her tent got emptier, her heart fuller – but full of sorrow and heart break.
The mother became still, it was as if her tears just dried up, she just sat there, so pathetic waiting for the morrow which seemed still so far.
There in your lonely tent you cried with the mother who you never saw before. She was now quiet, a grateful prayer went up: at least there is now silence.
Your mind cannot function anymore, it is too tired of sorrow then sleep overtook you. It was not a restful sleep, not a sleep to strengthen, it was fitful full of nightmares. Then all of a sudden you woke with the wailing from another part of the camp, another mother, you heard her begging God to take revenge on her child’s suffering. The hope she had for her child was taken away by death. Then another, the crying and wailing for the death of a mother. This is the way we spent our nights, eventually we became used to death, to the crying of a mother, the tears of the children, also the stretcher which had to carry 20 to 21 bodies per day to the death tent. You did not cry so easily with the mother or the child who followed her. You got used to the procession – behind the donkey wagon to the cemetery where you could hear daily the singing at the graves.
A person nearly got used to see a child walking around, lonely, without mother or father, left alone in the power of the cruel enemy, left to the mercy of mighty England, who was busy to destroy the Afrikaner. You might ask where they got the caskets.
The caskets were soap boxes made in England.
The Little Grave
A certain well-to-do woman, who had money with her, did not want her child to be buried in the soap- or candle-box. She went to town to have a casket made for her child. When she got back from town after two hours she could not find the body of her child. She started asking and searching. They told her that a few bodies were buried already early that morning. She could not understand the strange attitude. She went to the cemetery – all she could do was to kneel at the newly dug soil and with an emptiness and sadness beyond description returned to her tent. Later the guard told her that the children’s faces were damaged and eaten by a hungry pig. After this incident shelves were made from planks where upon the bodies were placed. From the same death tent a wounded burgher was buried. He was mortally wounded and his last request was to be buried there as his wife was in the camp. She had the privilege to follow him to the burial site. How many burghers had to follow the same path, the path of death! Although the offers of the burghers were not as many as those of the women and the children, the women were 26,000 (with later research the figure is much higher 38,000).
The English called us: refugees. Dear friends I do not think there was ever on the earth a more false statement. We were not refugees, but prisoners of war of the English. I could never forget: one afternoon when I came back from town I saw a few women stood next to the few possessions they brought with. Sitting on one of the bundles was a very pale woman. When I asked her if she is sick, she said, “Yes I gave birth on the wagon yesterday.” She told me how she begged them to leave her at home till later. Her begging, her tears were to no avail, she had to go to the camp. What I could tell you is that when a woman refused to go to the camp, her house was burned down over her head, others who refused were dragged from their homes and forcefully loaded on the wagons. Also a certain lady who was living alone on her farm, her husband was on commando and she was childless.
When the English gave her 5 minutes to get on the wagon, she refused. What followed is such a disgrace, the English told the blacks to take her and load her on the wagon. She was a very well-mannered and noble woman and therefore very touchy and nervous. Could you imagine the fear being all by herself? Between the rough English soldiers they had black khaki brothers.
What the result of this treatment? She became insane and was taken to the prison in Klerksdorp. By the time we heard about it, she was already there for 10 days locked up as a criminal. This of course made her condition even worse. After two weeks I heard by accident that they were taking her to Pretoria to a mental institution. A girl and a very stupid old man were taking her to Pretoria. It was too terrible for me to bear, because I knew her, to be treated like an animal without her family even knowing, was just too unfair. There was no mercy or support for people like this. It was already dark and no decent woman wanted to leave the camp, so what to do? I was beside myself with despair; her family in tears and powerless. In town there was a nurse with the name of Rothman, a very upright and wise woman whom the English brought in from Hartebeesfontein with the wounded burghers she was taking care of. The English left the impression they respected the Red Cross, there is no such thing, all hypocrisy. All they could care about is to rob. I got permission from the camp guard to go and see nurse Rothman. When I got to her, she was willing to go with me to the Provost Marshall, “Major Cobridge” the “women hater” as he was known and when I got there I asked permission to go with Mrs. K. to Pretoria. He gave his permission and a third class ticket. When I got to the prison at 6am there was a certain Mr. Lukas with two Tommies. The two were supposed to be our guards to Pretoria. Nothing was too barbarous or vicious for old Lukas. He made a fortune from the Boers and in the camp the women had not a worse hater or persecutor. The prison guard opened the prison door. I found Mrs. K on the floor on top of a few pieces of bedding of her own. Mr. Lukas yelled at her with a thunderous voice to get up and get dressed. He kept on yelling and then kicking at her to make her even more afraid. I told him to leave it be I would take care of her. I told her we were going on an excursion to Pretoria by train when she full of fear asked me where we are going. She was satisfied with my answer and got quickly dressed. Then we walked to the station with Mr. Lukas in front and the two Tommies on either side. When we got to the station there were other prisoners who were going with the same train. Amongst them was Piet Boshoff, well-known in the town and district. They were circled by armed soldiers with bayonets. Not far away stood a few women, amongst them the old mother of Piet Boshoff. There she stood bent with age, pale with fear and sorrow, tears running down her cheeks while she begged to give her child a farewell kiss. Her youngest child, her provider, her all in life. Oh, how did she looked at the officer with those dull black eyes, begging, while she again asked to say goodbye to her son. It was not allowed. All for nothing. The wife and children of Piet Boshoff stood there crying, but it was as if no one even saw them or had any mercy. All cried with the mother. And the English?
“I think the English stopped their laughter. I think the stars give their splendor when a mother weeps, tears – her hands once strong. Hands carved in work of love with her sorrow alone.”
The train went forth with our loved one. Our minds were scattered, then it was here in front with the burghers, it was there at the back with the old mother, the wife and the children. And next to us sat the woman with no idea what was going on around her. In actual fact quite oblivious to what was going on with her own situation.
Our eyes are lackluster with tears while the image of the old woman drifted in front of us. There we sat, lost, despised, in an old third class wagon, without any comfort or privacy, and so we sat from 7am to 3pm when we got some coffee. The two Tommies full of sympathy went to fetch us coffee.
It was in the heart of winter, we were stiff with cold and we were getting hungry. No one cared about us, except the two Tommies and they were not able to help. They were also sometimes not better treated than a dog. The night we had to stay over in Johannesburg. At least we got a second class wagon. The next day we had to be out and back into the third class wagon, with its long wooden benches. Mrs. K. was as happy as a child, she was out of prison and with someone she knew.
I was quite lost, not knowing what to do and where to go when we got to Pretoria, The only plan which came into my head was to get a cab to take the lady to the mental home.
We did not travel far when she asked me where we are going. I wanted to cry, my throat ached. I did not know what to say, so I said, “we are looking for a cheap hotel.” It felt that we were travelling forever when we at last got to our destination. I got out, go to the door and asked to see the matron. After I told her everything she got very angry and said, “We do not just anyone here, I need a sworn statement from two doctors and the magistrate.” What now? Back to the magistrate’s office. I would never forget how friendly and courteous we were received. We were not used to decent treatment. The first he asked is how much the cab asked us. “15/-“I said. He called the cab driver and told him he over charged us with at least half, It was about 10am and we had nothing to eat or to drink and we a shivering from cold. I told him that we are very hungry and that he must handle our case very quickly.
That morning I saw a telephone for the first time. The clerk called the doctor and asked him to come over immediately (in English) as there were two women waiting for him and it was a tragedy the way they have been treated. We were sitting there cold and hungry. “Oh”, I thought by myself, “do you know how your kind words are making an impression on me.” In my soul I asked God to allow him to do much to alleviate the sorrow of our nation. Not too long after that the doctor turned up, a dear friendly man. He asked Mrs. K. a few questions, when she was last there, if the place changed a lot, etc. she answered everything correctly. When he left he indicated to me to follow him. When we got to the stoop he said, “I will never give my permission to put this woman in a mental home. She only had a nervous breakdown and all she needed was tender loving care. The second doctor came to the same conclusion.
Now back to Klerksdorp. I asked the magistrate’s clerk what I must say when they asked me why I brought the woman back. “Oh”, he said, “do not worry about it, I will see to everything.”
On our way to the station we went to a café to have something to eat.
When we got to the station we found the two women who came with us, sitting outside with Mrs. K’s bedding we had with us. She looked so scared and full of fear and when I asked her what was wrong, she said they chased her out of the waiting room because we do not allow “refugees” here. I went to the waiting room and told the woman that we are not refugees, but that we are going to Klerksdorp. “You are from the camps” she said, “and will infect us with your illnesses. People from the camps can only get on or off and are not allowed to make use of the waiting room.” I begged and asked nicely that we be allowed to stay there while we were at the station. The humiliation was just too much to handle, to sit outside on bedding to eat. She was not one of those “dirty” Boers.
Mrs. K’s bedding was not with us in the wagon like before. The night we got to the station all was gone and she never heard what ever happened to it. We did not have a lot for ourselves and we had to house her in our tent, feed her, only later she got a tent by herself. Others shared with her the little they had.
After her sister and sister-in-law were sent to Howick and she went to Merebank she had a complete relapse and her mental health deteriorated so badly that she was taken to the mental hospital from where she never left. I went to visit her after 20 years, the beautiful woman looked like a withered flower. The first thing she told me: “You remember my little Bible which I had before I got married? The English destroyed it together with all my other stuff. Now I am still without one.”
These experiences of the memories were too much for my state of mind. She said, “You know this year I would be married for 25 years, then others will celebrate my silver wedding while I am here.”
We talked about a few little things and then she said, “I thank the Lord that I did not have any children.” With the end of her cloak she wiped the tears from her eyes.
After so many years the camp life experiences came back and it was just for me too much…too much. Then I would say, “Oh, God my God, how my soul wait on Thee alone.” There in the beautiful building, where so many unhappy souls were, why would the Lord take His time? While I had all these thoughts the organ started playing and it filled me with even more sorrow.
How many times a mother said in this same building why did I not die before you?
I greeted her with this thought: “What is the human, nothing better than the flowers of the fields: today they bloom and tomorrow they are cut and they die.”
It was and is the situation still today with the women, so cruelly treated by her enemy. She was forgotten by her friends and loved ones and when a thought about her would come into their minds it was quickly discarded with something better and not so sad.
We were reminded and were grateful for the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:29
Now, let us go back to the camp.
I told you about the dying child, the soap box, the mother who refused to be consoled, the donkey card, every day to the cemetery with 19, 20, 21 bodies. You were asking, “Could nothing be done about this?”
After being in the camp for a while this question was asked by me. I then talked to a few reliable ladies and asked them if it would be good idea to draw up a petition to be submitted to the Superintendent, Mr. Howard to ask if there is a possibility for more food, milk, vegetables, etc. They told me this was done before and nothing came of it. Well, said I, “then when send it to Major Colridge.” I then drew up the petition asking for more food, vegetables and milk for the sick children. I was very clear and said, “The children are dying because of lack of food. We are hopelessly underfed and this became an everyday occurrence in our houses.”
Two ladies, my sister and MS Catharina de Klerk went to the people to have the petition signed. Of all the house holds only one refused to sign. This woman was very rich and her son was with the English so she had no shortage of food. Thousands signed with the hope and trust that we would be heard. A week later, just when I came out of the tent, and there was Mr. Howard in front of my door and asked me my name. When I told him he said, “The major said you must be at his office at 10.” I got such a fright and wondered what he wanted. Mr. Howard told me to come past his office when I got back from the Major as he wanted to know what was said. I had to follow both orders. With a heavy heart I walked to the station.
At precisely 10 I arrived. In front of the door stood Mr. Lukas with a “What do you want?” I said, “I came to see the Major.” Mr. Lukas had no time for the Boers and could not speak our language.
I knocked. “Come in”, said a voice like a roaring lion who smelled blood. I walked in with an attitude that I did not fear any lions. “Sit!” he ordered. I sat and wondered what would happen.
He opened a drawer in front of him, and guess what? He took out the petition I wrote. I went pale, how did he know I wrote it? You must not think I was a coward. The best of us trembled under the British hand. “Did you write this petition?” was the first words from his mouth. “Yes” I answered, I had to swallow first as my throat was so dry. “Is everything you wrote here the truth?” he asked. “Yes, it is all true.” “Do you want to tell me that you do not get enough flour?” “Well, the flour is enough, if we get other food with it, but the ‘Lord said you cannot live on bread alone’. What we want is vegetables, milk and better meat.” He then asked me if I would be willing to walk with him to visit tents to make sure that there were no food left after the meals. “I am willing. We do not even have enough to eat, so how can there be anything left?” He never came. He just wanted me to doubt myself and the truth. He gave me the assurance we would get more meat. “Better” he did not mention. For more than one of you, I want to tell you, you have no idea what the meat looked like. It was very lean. We could not eat it. Otherwise we had nothing but the “flour” and so it went day after day, the lean meat and flour. Therefore hundreds died of dysentery.
Just by the way: In London they made tests on rats with the “flour”. They fed the rats with the “flour” and after a while they were all dead. Well, to our enemy we were far worse than the rats. Furthermore he said, “There is no way you going to get any vegetables. We cannot even get enough for ourselves.” You can imagine I left there with a lighter heart than when I went there. With my return to the camp I went to Mr. Howard, as ordered. The first he asked was, “What did the Major say?” “Oh”, I said, “He said he will see to it that we get more food in the future.”
“Why” he asked “didn’t you send the petition to me? I am the Superintendent of the camp and not Major Colridge.” “Because you ignored the first petition”as I was told by the ladies.” “Now to show you who is boss I am going to give all of you who signed the petition no meat for a week.”
“I do not care, but let me tell you, if you want to punish someone, punish me and put me in prison, do not punish women and children with their food.” “We cannot punish women and children with a prison sentence”, he said. “What” I answered, “is there anything you cannot do?”
One day we did not get any food, all because general Liebenberg broke up the railway line. Then Uncle Maans Lemmer went to them and said, “Look, you do not know what a hungry Boer can do, so you better feed the women and children.” The next day we got food.
When I thought about some of the women back some days, I was just amazed at their patience and long-suffering. One day when I went past Howard he said, “We are going to send some of you cheeky one’s overseas.” “Anything for a change”, I answered back. Never would we allow to see how we suffered and of all things that we were scared of them. The women got food twice a week. You went with your card, with your name on it and how much food you were allowed. Then Howard said, “Just to show you that I am the boss here, you are not going to get meat for a week.” They had the list of those who signed the petition the next food distribution day. When a woman gave her card, then they first check on the list if she signed. Then the women would yell, “Save yourself the effort I signed.” Another would say, “I did not sign as I did not get the paper, but if I did I would have signed a thousand times.”
There was such chaos that day and they were ashamed because the women could care less that they gave everyone the same portion the next time. Well, the little bit of meat we got was nothing to brag about. But as the saying goes, “Every little bit helps.”
The sending of Doortjie
I wanted to show the other side of lives, with its changes and sorrow.
An aunt of mine had a black girl whom she took care of. One day my aunt said she thought of sending Doortjie to the Boers as she missed her husband very much and would have loved to hear from him.
I supported her in this decision and said I wanted to write too. We discussed it with the little black girl and she was very willing to go.
The next day she would leave to Platberg which was 18 miles outside town. There she would meet some of her people she knew who would know where their boss would be and take her there. That night I wrote till 10, but my aunt and sister-in-law never gave 10pm a thought. The guard did not forget. He came and yelled, “Lights out!” The lady yelled back, “I am writing to my sweetheart.” “Lights out!” he yelled again, “or I will report you. “All three of us begged not to be “hands up”. We told them how we hated the hand uppers, how they were working in the ditches for 1/- (one shilling) per day, while the khakis guarded them.
The next day Doortjie left with a bundle of letters, men’s pants, underwear and socks stitched under her dress. Black girls could move freely those days and we had no reason to even think of treason, Doortjie could be trusted.
It was Friday morning. Doortjie left – and we were imagining how happy everyone would be reading our letters. My sister came on Sunday after attending church in town. She met a certain lady and she asked my sister where Doortjie was. She got scared and could not lie, so she said she must be at the tent, as per usual. The woman answered “No, she is not in the camp a policeman took her across the Market square to prison.”
That day and night we nearly died of terror, not only sending the little black girl, but for all the information we wrote about the English and the Hands-uppers. Everything was the truth, but you are not allowed to say the truth. I was the only one from our tent who wrote, the idea that I would be separated from by mother was just too much to bear. For days we did not hear anything about it. Then we heard from a certain lady that Major Colridge wrote to Pretoria about the case and he was still waiting on an answer.
When I heard this I started packing my few belongings in case they would come at night to take us away, as they have done to Mrs. du Toit. She was still in her house at night and the next day the neighbors saw she was gone and sent to a camp. We waited on the order from Pretoria.
Doortjie was released from prison after three weeks and could not come back to the camp and she later died. She said she got safely to Platberg where she had to ask for information and what to do. A black spy went to Klerksdorp to report that Doortjie had letters to take to the Boers.
How I left to Hartebeesfontein
One day my cousin asked if I would go to Hartebeesfontein if she can get a permit for me, as the Commando of her father and my uncle was there. I was ecstatic with excitement to think I could get out to go to the dear beloved, courageous fighting burghers. Now, you would ask why she could not go, her husband was Scottish and because he loved his people he sent information to them regarding the Boers and then he, his father-in-law and brother-in-law were shot by the Boers. We went around with petition for mercy, but by the time the family heard about it the sentence was done.
This same cousin and Nurse Rothman went to Wolmaransstad where the sentence was executed. By the time they got there the men were already buried. The bodies were exhumed, placed in coffins and buried.
We do not have any words regarding the deep sorrow of the family.
Everything was a mystery, well this all happened before we were arrested. My cousin and I were in the same camp, but her mother stayed on the farm.
The reason why she wanted me to go to Hartebeesfontein was to visit her mother to get some documents from her. She got the permit for me to go and also one for an elderly lady to go with me. We had to go by donkey cart – there was nothing else available. She told me if I took any letters with, they must not be sealed so they can be read at the gate. I agreed with everything but did the opposite. The news travelled like a wild fire. That I night I was surrounded by women and girls who had men on the outside. I will see to it that no Englishman will get his hands on the letters. The next day we left with two loyal black men to lead the donkeys. When I thought of what I did, I could not believe it, but in those days I was fearless and full of hate that to even think of danger never entered my head. If all went well we could be in Hartebeestefonetin at 3pm.
Nurse Rothman and old Aunt du Toit were at the school changed into a hospital. The morning before I left I had to go through the same process as Doortjie. Again pants, underwear and socks were sewn under my dress. Of course it was not the same stuff as with Doortjie, no, that was safely in possession of the English. And the letters? The letters were stuffed behind my shoulders and where I could find a place I hit a letter there. I was so heavily “stuffed” that I could hardly walk. All this made me so happy to think that I could do something for our burghers, even just taking a letter from a loved one. The papers and letter from my cousin I had in my hand, so when asked if I had any letters I said yes and held them for inspection. “This is alright”, he said and there we went on the donkey cart which we imagined was the best vehicle, we were so happy. After about an hour out of town we were asked by khakis on patrol where we are going and we told them to the General, who was not too far away. He brought me to General Kitchener and I showed him my permit and he said it was in order. There were thousands of English. We were very happy and pushed the donkeys to run! We got the last hill, we just had to go down through the thorns and we would be in Hartebeesfontein. While we were laughing about the surprise we are going to give Nurse Rothman we heard shots fired. We looked and saw they were firing from the hill in front of the road. I screamed to the blacks to push the donkeys to run faster that we can get away from under the flying bullets. The blacks got so scared they did not want to do it, the cowards! If only they kept on pushing the donkeys we could have gotten away. Those who were firing at us would not get too near Hartebeesfontein. The blacks brought the cart to a standstill and I looked around. On the hill I saw the khakis and they beckon us to come to them. The lady with me wanted to hoist the white flag and I wouldn’t allow that, I would not wave a white flag to a khaki. I am still today grateful I did not do it. They did not want to come to our cart, they still beckon us to go to them. They were obviously scared of the Boers on the cart. So we walked towards them to show them our permit – the khakis stood about 100 yards from us between the rocks. What did we see when we got nearer? Blacks! Armed blacks dressed in khaki! They were shooting us and too scared to come near us!
I did not believe you can die of anger, because I am still here.
I was speechless with anger and prayed that God must destroy these blacks. When my friend showed the permit they said they cannot read. “Here at Rietkuil is a column of Kekewich and we have to go there.” They cannot allow us to go so they jumped on their horses and rode to the cart and we were running after them. When we were on the cart they started whipping the donkeys and they started running over rocks, holes and ant-hills into the veld to towards the laager.
After about 15 minutes white khakies with white strips around their hats turned up at the cart. When they got to us the first thing I said was, “Do you see you low lives how things are with you. You, Afrikaners are fighting with the blacks against your own blood!” When I said that they took the blacks off the cart. “It is too late, they shot at us and here on the cart are not less than 21 armed blacks. How low can you become!” There was the family of Commandant Vermaas and a Dutch woman, Mrs. Hoffman from Holfontein, district Lichtenburg. I did not know this woman and I did not trust her, but this was unnecessary. That night I could not undress as all the letters would be exposed and I could not dare let that happen. I would not ever forget that night trying to sleep, but was not able to. The khaki blacks were upper most in my mind. The next day I had to appear. At 9 I was taken to the general who sat like a demigod on his throne. “Oh” said he, “the permit is a fake and I sent a signal to the town. We will know shortly where you come from.” I could see he did not believe me. Just think about his ignorance. How could I go past the large English laager outside Klerksdorp? This without an airplane. I said, “This is good”, and looked at him with disdain and said loudly, “you said you do not allow blacks to fight! What about the blacks who molested us yesterday??” He answered, “they are only our messenger and do not fight.” I said, “This is not true they are dressed in khaki and just as well armed as your soldiers and they shot at us. Not less than 21 were on our cart and just look how many are here in your laager!” He became red in the face and told one of his soldiers to take me away till he get the message. After one hour I did not know if I was guilty or not and I walked to his tent without throwing my hat and asked when can I go back. He said, “Oh, I got the message you can go back if you want.” I was too angry to go back and when they went to town we went with them. The column with the women stayed on this side of the town for the night. We could go into the town. We got to the Skoonspruit Bridge at sunset. The people known to us were surprised to see us and asked how we got there so quickly.
I was so upset and miserable, I looked forward giving the letters to the burghers and here I was with all of them my whole back and bosom full.
The same cousin showed such a lot of faith in me that she got me another permit. She could get one horse and cart. I had to look for another which I was able to, with the promise I would be back the next day. My permit was only for one day. The morning my little brother and I left with the cart, me still with the same clothes, same letters hidden at the same places. Our journey was a success, but oh dear! The horses! They were hopeless, would not pull the cart. But all things considered we made it and was welcomed by Nurse Rothman and old Aunt du Toit. I could not believe we were free of the faces of the khakis, also the terrible dust. I stood in front of the door breathing in the clean and fresh air, relaxed with breathing in the clean air. I would never forget that night, there were a few burghers but they did not appear to be relaxed, happy free as I would have thought. What was the reason? Weren’t their women, mothers and children not in the camps in captivity with the enemy? They are outside and fighting for Freedom! Fight as they would but could not anymore. All they could do was to keep the mighty British Empire busy and this they did, for which every women and child are grateful for, as well as our descendants, yes also those of other nations of the earth! God bless you all, courageous heroes!
In the school which was changed to a hospital was a piano and a man and father sat down at the piano after he read the letters from his wife and children and he started to play and sadly sang, “Be with me God”. Something came to me that night about Freedom, it is not Freedom alone which can make you happy, Freedom is but one of the things and most certainly the greatest. But most of all and that is Love, Love which cannot be measured. Love with no beginning and no end wished for by everyone. They missed love, the care, the smile of a woman, happy voices of the children, which he would never hear again on earth. The little face was drifting in front of his spirit, he still felt the little lips so warm against his brown tanned check he still felt the little arms around his neck with thousand question from the child’s lips. Was this then any wonder that he was singing “Be with me God”? That night I put all the letters and the documents of my cousin in the room I shared with Nurse Rothman. I would never forget my amazement and disappointment when all the papers were gone the next day. The papers which were given to me in confidence, which gave me this freedom of today they were all gone! Till today I do not know who took them, where they went and what was written in them. I would never ever forget how sorry I felt and how difficult it was to tell her the papers were gone. I am not able to forget the look of disappointment and doubt she gave me. If in her shoes, I would have felt the same.
Amongst other things I met my two uncles and lots of people known to me I want to mention two friends. The one was Jack Baxtor and the other Frank Smeer. The previous day Frank and I had a nice visit and talks – he missed all his people very much. We thought that day how much must still be offered for Freedom and Right. He asked me for the ring on my right hand and said, “It will remind me of our noble and courageous women and might I fall, I would ask my friend to take it off and give it back to you, if not then one day I would give back or send it back to you.” Not long after that he fell as the hero he was. His career ended in a lonely grave. And the ring? That is with him in the cold dark grave. We mourned him as a David over Jonathan, as friend, as a hero, over a hero. His memory is still within our hearts.
What happened to Jack Baxtor, the noble, the courageous, good hearted, the challenger! The courageous blood which flowed within his arteries was the cause of his death. He had a very sad ending. He would dress in khaki and went into towns to spy on the enemy, till he was caught and condemned to death. He wrote to a friend of his, “I must die within the hour, but got permission to write a few letters. I am writing to my mother and a very dear friend of mine. I enclosed my ring for you as a token of my love. Pray for my mother and do not cry for me, because I am dying as a man.”
Who cannot cry over such a man! Over such a friend, such a hero, such a son!
His poor mother! The news was devastating, as Simeon said to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the sword will go through your soul. The memory of Jack Baxter will live amongst those who knew him. His heroic deeds would not be forgotten by the Afrikaner nation.
I must go back to Hartebeesfontein. As I said before there were many burghers around the little town and more than once they gave us bread to eat. Some of them told me one day that they would dig out some potatoes and make a plan so I could take it with me. They told me that General Liebenberg asked permission to send some meat and this was granted. They said they would bring a wagonload of potatoes to the bridge under a white flag. As said so it was done. Many burghers sent stuff to their wives who were in town, mostly vegetables. I got 7 mud with the promise not to sell anything to an Englishman. The 9th day I went back with a one day permit.
Amongst other things on the wagon I had a bucket of butter for my cousin who got me the permit. The wagon with the donkey left early in the morning. Then my little brother and I followed with two horses and a cart – also a few burghers on horseback. One of them was Frank Smeer. They came as near the town they could and then greeted me and I never saw those burghers again!
When we got to the bridge the wagon of General Liebenberg was waiting loaded with meat. There was meat for his family and some of the burghers also sent to their families. The man who was with General Liebenberg said he did not believe that they would allow the meat in, as the meat on his wagon had to go back, except that for the family of General Liebenberg.
I was upset and despondent, I just could not accept that all the work was for nothing. The potatoes were dug by spade and the earth was very hard and dry. Lukas, who we called the lapdog of the Major turned up and I asked his permission to go in with the wagon. He laughed and said he had to get permission from the Major. The miracle was that I thought Lukas looked very willing as he thought he is also going to get some of the vegetables. But he did not know about my promise: my word was my honor.
Not long after that Lukas turned up with two mule wagons and the stuff were offloaded from the other wagons. Just imagine how full my one wagon was! The poor burgher then had to return in the cold of night to Hartebeesfontein, I then realized how great his sacrifice was! I feel so ashamed that I could not remember his name. After everything was offloaded we went into town. I felt like the chief general with all my potatoes, not even knowing about it 8 days ago.
When I got off the wagon I was greeted by all and told by them how my mother worried that I would be sent away because I was so cheeky. My mother looked like she received my death sentence. All my happiness just evaporated. And the town and the camp came into mind with all the suffering and sorrow and bitterness. I could not sleep that night, my mother neither. I took the horse back to the man who lent it to me. He was so mad at me he was roaring like a lion. It did not matter what I said, that at least the poor horse had some good grass to eat, and in any case it was a hopeless horse. He wanted me to pay him £5, otherwise he is going to lay a charge against me. I regret sending him £1 the next day. It was 20/- too much. From all over women and girls came to see me, to listen to my story and to receive their goods. As old Lukas remarked it seemed like I had a little for everyone. I could give everything off in good order except the bucket of butter for my cousin. The Tommies stole a lot from our goods. It is so weird that I was so unlucky with all I had to do for my cousin. A lot of women cried that night because of the meat which had to be returned. The dear beloved burghers could watch how the potatoes were distributed amongst the mothers to cook soup, it was to them such a blessing.
I must jump ahead on my story about the potatoes. I made a promise not to sell any, although I could have made a fortune.
My mother had nearly a bucket full of potatoes the day we had to leave for Howick. Without my knowledge she sent it to the market and she received 18/6. When she told me that she needed the money desperately I forgave her and I am sure the burghers, if they would have done the same.
Well, I had to report my arrival the next morning. What was instore to happen to me was unreal. I just walked off and could not care less. “I was outside – this chance did not happen to anyone.” I consoled myself with this thought. When I got to the office Lukas, the lapdog, said I had to wait a bit as the Major was busy and he whispered if I have seen my uncle. “Yes”, I said and he asked again, “when is he going to surrender?” I told him I did not discuss politics with my uncle and I hope he never surrendered. Then he said, “What, he would have to, where else were you going to get food from?” I laughed and told him if he forgot that two wagons at the gate. They are still sending in food. He said the food will be finished and then? I said I am not worried it would be solved.
When I entered the Major office he roared a good morning and told me to sit. He asked if there was anything I wanted. I said, “I do not want anything I am just reporting I am back from Hartebeesfontein.” Oh”, he said, “it that you?” and a smile played around his mouth. I suppose he wanted me to tell him what he wanted to know. The same questions Lukas asked, he asked about my uncle, I gave the same answers.
He said, “It is because there are so many fools as your uncle that this war has not come to an end sooner.” After he had his say I said, “I would rather see my uncle jumping from one rock to the other before seeing him walking around here with the women.”
A miracle he did not say a word because I stayed away so long. I left his office sooner than I got there and I did not think that my heart was lighter on my way home. My dear mother was so happy and relieved, she thought she is never going to see me again.
My little Brother’s escape from the Camp
Later in the day a few young boys went to the mountain to gather firewood.
One day a few of them went to the mountain, as well as my two brothers, 10 and 12 years old with some of their friends who were a bit older.
That night, when we’re sitting at the table my Mother looked around and asked, “Where is Isak?” The other brother answered, “Ma, he and Hendrik and Jan Lindford left to join the Boers. They do not want to stay with the women any longer and they got to hungry.”
Just think about it, children 12 and 13 years old would not like to be seen in the camps. They also heard how everyone was talking with disdain about the hands uppers. My mother was so upset! Her heart was as dark as the night outside. She was walking around wringing her hands and calling, “My child, Oh my child, never will I see him, never will I hear his voice or his footsteps, the cruel enemy is all over, they would not be able to break through enemy lines.” Then my little brother comforted her, “Oh my mother, they said they will walk in the night and the English will never catch them, if they see the enemy during the day they will go into hiding for the whole day. “She lamented, “Even if they come through with their lives, what would they eat, what would they wear?” My mother lamented, cried, prayed right through the night and when the sun shone the next day her heart was still cold with worry. She could not even imagine her son would be safe, that he would get through the enemy lines and join his people in safety. She lost her faith because she was so heartbroken that she asked God to take her life!
She did not hear from her husband or oldest son for 8 months and she was still mourning the loss of her little boy, this was just too much to bear for the love of a mother’s heart. If you think we mourned with our mother, No, we did not we were too proud of our hero. Later we had to cry, but not now. If the mother and all of us would have known what has befallen our little brother and what was in stall for him, where they would send him and the death sentence he had to stand under while in prison, then we would have prayed that night, “Lord save him even if he has to lose his young life.” There was another offer on the altar of Freedom and Right, but a lot of tears and sorrow could have been avoided. Can we forget, No! And again NO, we cannot and we may not.
What happened to Isak? We leave you dear reader in uncertainty as we spent our days: praying, hoping, and waiting.
We should have prayed more and with more conviction for those who were still out there doing their duty and holding the flag of honor and right up high!
Eight days after the first young boys left the camp, 23 more followed to join the Boers. After that no boys were allowed to go to the river, the women had to do the gathering of the firewood.
Our further lives in the Camp
I have not seen a woman so forlorn and sad when one day she was just brought in by the English and dumped in her tent with nothing, she just sat there on the ground and in the dust. The previous day she still enjoyed her spacious home, her beautiful furniture, plenty of food and all the luxuries you could think of, she had it all whatever you could think of she had it. In the shedding of her tears and begging these blacks found joy. Thank the Lord not all blacks were like this, there were those who cried and had sympathy towards the plight of the noble Afrikaans women.
There she was, sitting in the tent on the ground crying as if her heart is breaking. She never knew hardship or discomfort. The more we tried to comfort her, the more she cried. That night some friends gave her some stuff from the little they had, she had to make the best of what she had, but with a little pot and she could make a fire, just like everybody else. A sister-in-law of her were brought to the camp, she was not there too long when her little girl died. She would not allow her daughter to be buried from the death tent or in a soap- or candle-box. She had a beautiful coffin made for her and she asked Rev Martins, who were there to have the service in her tent, which he did in a splendid and tragic way. The coffin was carried by six young maidens all dressed in white, while the other children were taken by donkey cart to the cemetery. I want to tell you about the woman who was living next to us. She had nine children and her husband was a prisoner of war. The children became sick, the one after the other and one by one they passed away to a better place and in the end the mother followed. And the tent? That was broken down after the mother was carried off there and now there was only a round empty place where the tent was pitched. What emotions went through the father when he returned? He called like a Peter, “Lord help me I perish.”
Another mother, who had three children and gave them all to death to be all by herself. She could not bear to carry this cross, she wanted to succumb under the weight. Months on end she just sat there, overwhelmed with sorrow while the tears just fell into her lap. She deaf and dumb with everything going on around her. She did not know about time, day or night.
“Hands uppers” and Women sorrow
We had a lot of “hands uppers” in the camp and I am sure our suffering was because of them. They were cowards and could not wait to follow all the orders of the English. Oh, it was for us just too much to see our own men, young, strong and big between the English! If they dared to greet us we met their greeting with disdain and said no word, or “We do not greet hands uppers.” My sister said that to them one day and then was promptly called to the Major. When she got there he ranted and asked her why she did not greet Japie, as he complained that she was nasty to him. She told the Major, “I do not greet a scout.” Then he said, “Yes, you are a fool, if you greet all the people then the Boers will surrender, it is because of you that there is no end to this war. When the war is over your father can come back from Ceylon. Would you please greet them from now on?” “No”, she said. He screamed at her to leave, he was very angry.
I told you before that they had to work, of course not all the Afrikaners did, there were also those who did not fight and those who did not want to fight and just sat there still and at peace in their homes, for a shilling a day. Ditches had to be dug to take position for when the Boers came.
There was this old man who surrendered. He wanted to come the camp before, but his friend would not. In the end the friend succumb to pressure and came. The next day the old man and his friend got “rations”, amongst other things a can with jam. He grabbed and said, “You see here the nice things started.” That was the end of it.
It is not the idea to stir old memories where we tell you about what happened, but we give everything to you as it happened in those days and how we felt. We do not judge all, there were those who were misled the one way or the other. I wanted to share a story with you, told to me by an honorable man, a few days ago. He told me that after the English occupied Pretoria and a few other towns they camped on the farm of his father. The English then forced the father to tell his sons to surrender otherwise they would destroy the farm and burn his house down. And not to allow them doing this, we surrendered.
We thought we had a hopeless case and why must we allow them to destroy everything and be shot, we would anyway never win the war. After he surrendered he had such remorse he had difficulties living with himself. Especially when he saw how we persevere and the sorrow and suffering of the women. But it was too late.
He told how the English begged him to take up arms against his own people. He refused till the end.
This made me think of what Paul Kruger said, “Take from the past what is good and build there upon the future.”
The suffering of the women were indescribable. Not only the shortage of everything, the sickness and death, but the way they were treated by the authorities. I would never forget one morning when I saw 6 or 8 women standing in a row. I was listening to what their request was, because Lukas came out of his office and asked the first one, “What do you want?” The woman said in such a quiet voice that I could not hear her. The next question was, “Where is your husband”, she answered, “still outside”. “No!” he said. Then the next and the next all the same questions with the same answers. He walked out the door with an attitude like a king!
Oh! How forlorn those women looked. A real picture of destitution.
Then the English always propagated that the women died of lack of hygiene in the camps. This a woman repeated to me after 18 years. The biggest miracle is that they never died like that in their own homes, where their homes were full of furniture and more than enough food.
What the English had to take care of were the ablution blocks which were hopelessly too small and too few, this was a scandal to England. This place and the death tent we will never forget. They could have made a place for the dead with corrugated iron and not a tent, so we thought.
One day two households got the order to get things together to leave the next day for Natal.
The reason why, we up to today had no idea.
The next day the two mothers and their household left for Natal.
They wrote later that they found it much better in Howick than in Klerksdorp. How wished also to be sent there, to Natal! The day dawned and we went. Hundreds of women got the notice to leave the next day. Some of the old ladies were frightened to death. They were always full of fear as they never knew what the next day would bring. We had to be on the station the next day. That day we were a couple of hundred in a bundle. Some of the inhabitants of the town had to go with us to Natal. Amongst them were the best families of the town, amongst them Mrs. Rev Strasheim. The reverend was with the Boers and stayed there till the end.
Because the English needed housing for their officers they had to get the women out of theirs.
It was September 14 the afternoon when we went to the station. We thought again that day that the weather was also against us. When we got there with our bundles we were shown to our places. And guess what the place was – a cattle wagon. There were up to three families in one wagon. We were lucky that we had one all by ourselves. Most people were suffering from dysentery. Our family consisted of 8 members, mother and 7 children and 5 were sick. It seemed that this night had to have the last say in our sorrow. Over the wagon was an old tarpaulin full of holes, the night was very cold and then on top of it started to rain and the old tarp started leaking and everything was quickly under water. We had to sit there stiff and cold to the bone, full of pain into our very soul! We thought that we could have spent the night in our little tent. How we prayed that the day must break.
What a shock the next day when we looked at the camp, more than half of the tents fell over. Those poor people were in the same boat we were. The nearest house to the camp belonged to Mrs. Willem Jooste. Later she told me that the mothers stormed to her house during the night with their dying children. As she said herself she could not even walk that morning, the floors were full with people. People who came to Howick later told me that most of the dead were buried the following day.
The sick who got wet had to be taken to another tent or to the house during night. Some of people were scarcely in the other tent when it was blown over and had to leave to find another.
The morning before dawn some dear friends brought us kettles of coffee. Oh! How it salved our very soul the love and care shown to us. We could not make our own, where would we find boiling water? We could not make a plan, because the train could leave at any moment. The time came quickly and we had to depart with hearts breaking, it would take us far away! How the women and the mothers cried for their men who had to stay behind. Mother and daughter were also taken from each other, the one would go and the other would stay. When the train steamed out of the station it felt our hearts were torn apart. Our dear Isak, a child of 12 years old, got safely to Hartebeesfontein this was 4 months ago, we do not know anything more, he had not heard from us as well. How long oh God must we still suffer for our Freedom and Right. So we sigh, so we weep. And while one was still sighing and weeping the train started moving the Four Color flag appeared, first one and then 10, 20, all sizes and the women sang: “Dat vrye, vrye volk zyn wy.” (The anthem of the ZAR, old South Africa Republic), and we thought: “even if we are not free, our nation outside is still free, and as long as they perservere and stay loyal, then we would be free too.”
The first station we went passed that morning was “Machawie”. There was a large black city. When the black women saw the train full of noble white Afrikaner women, they wept with us and pointed the finger in the air as if they wanted to say: “God alone can help.” And surely, the finger pointing was such comfort to our souls. The second day we were at Heidelberg from where I am writing this. It was about 8 o’clock when the train came to a standstill. We jumped off the train to run to the locomotive with our coffee kettles. The driver gave us some boiling water so we could make some coffee. Never did I feel so despised that morning on the station at Heidelberg. We were so dirty and looked so tired, the open wagon was so dirty and full of dust that it was no use to wear good clothes. The fourth day saw us at Charlestown where we had to wait for hours for other trains to come past. If you never really looked at a cattle wagon, please look now. The whole thing is made of very thick iron and a bar right through. It is fastened with a sliding bolt at the top. When you slide it open the whole door falls off to the outside so that the thickest part just reach the ground. How we envied the horses who were in wooden wagons. They had a wooden wagon with a roof on top, where we had to sit in the open wagons.
When we nearly had to leave I asked my little brother to slide the lock of the door, but instead of letting it fall he held on to the top of it and the door was so heavy it was pulling him down. He would not let go and I saw him coming down with door and all. I went to try and help him to let the door down, but his hand slip and the door fell to the ground. I jumped away but too late and the door caught my foot. Hundreds of people ran towards me even the stationmaster with a glass of brandy. It is wonderful as I had no pain at that moment only my hands were crumpled and my back rigid. I drank the glass of brandy and up to today I was not drunk at all. Later that night at New Castle about one in the morning I heard someone asked about the lady who got hurt at the train. The people pointed at us and here came a doctor and two nurses who wanted to take me to hospital. I pleaded that there was nothing wrong and that my injured foot was already healed. I thought that if I went to hospital, as with so many of our people, I would not be able to get out of it, but only dead. We arrived the fifth day at Howick. Just reckon the day before we arrived at Howick we were moved to third class wagons. It should have been better if they left us in the cattle wagons as we had to leave all our bedding behind, they promised we would get the bedding back. We arrived just after sunset. The people who went to the camp each and every one got a tent of their own. I could not walk and my mother stayed with me. After everybody were gone the Commandant asked me what was wrong. I told him what was wrong and he took a look, he was also a doctor and he told me that the bone on top of the foot burst. He sent a soldier to the hospital and they came with a stretcher and without a word they grabbed me and put me onto it. It happened so quickly that I got quite a fright. I screamed at my mother to come with me as I did not know where they were taking me. With that the doctor said, “Take her gently to her tent.” He could speak Afrikaans very well and I did not know it. When they grabbed me I thought they were taking me to hospital. We all had big tents and there the dear women were making coffee and offering it to others. These were the ladies from Heidelberg who came before us to the camp. The candles were already burning by the time my Mother and I got there. Here we all came into the tent and not only us, but all of us without a box or blanket on the raw floor. The people told us it has been raining for the past 9 days. The tents were only pitched that morning there was water everywhere. All over it was just water. Our stuff arrived with the train only the next day. The Commandant, who was also a doctor distributed khaki blankets to the women who arrived that day. Every child got one blanket so did every family member. Those who had one or two children could not sleep that night as the wetness came through the blankets. The conditions there were much better than in Klerksdorp. Where we got “flour” bread in Klerksdorp we got hop-bread in the new camp. A child under the age of three got milk and not “rations”. We could have bought what we needed if we had the money, which we didn’t.
The women suffered as to be expected in every camp. The camp on the other side had problems with water. The women had to haul the water in buckets about a quarter of a mile from the camp climbing up a hill. A lot of the women who were weak nearly died doing just this. The laundry was hopelessly too small. It was first come first serve to find a spot, if you were late you had to go to the river. There were not enough rocks so some of the women found themselves standing knee deep in the water for hours, enduring the burning sun and the water was torture in itself. Most of them carry the marks of those days.
What was most impractical and terrible was the kitchen where the women had to stand in line to receive food. The mother would go to the kitchen in the morning hoping not to wait too long as she has a baby to feed back in her tent and other children crying for food. Now she went to fetch food. When she got there hundreds were already waiting, now she must wait for hours. More than once a mother or daughter would pass out of pure exhaustion. Hundreds of times they got wet from the rain, waiting there in the pouring rain for hours. It rains very easily in Natal, the one minute the sun would shine, the next it is pouring with rain. I would never forget one day fetching food, just for the taste of it. My cousin was just behind me and I got two loafs of hop-bread, the one very small. So I grabbed another and jumped from the step. My cousin said, “That’s right.” Her family only got one bread, because they were a small family. She did not get any because she said, “that’s right” so I gave her one of mine and in so doing I was just back to where I was before.
One day when my sister went the bread was not delivered yet and everyone had to return to their tents. Between the kitchen and the camp was a big tent with the tables nicely set for the officers and there were so may loafs of bread which they did not need. My sister jumped into the tent and she grabbed one bread. There were a few soldiers. She showed them the bread and said, “We cannot starve and you alone stay alive.” Since that day the tent was not without a guard.
The first victim was a son of Aunt Sina Joubert. When she was still living on her farm she fled from the English. She was not far enough from them when they started shooting at her. She and two of her sons were wounded. The youngest died of his wounds in Natal after he suffered for months. The old mother was after being wounded like that never the same, and so the other son. Poor Aunt Sina! When she followed her son to his grave she was still in heavy mourning over her husband who died a prisoner of war in Simonstad.
Her one son became a missionary in Agoniland and a representative of Heidelberg, Transvaal.
Our Privileges at Howick
The town of Howick was near to our camp, it was a beautiful little town with a waterfall 365 feet high.
The people from different towns around the camp even from Mooi River and Pietermaritzburg brought us some sewing. This helped us a lot. What we must not forget was the kind-heartedness of the late Uncle Stoffel Buys from Weenen, Natal. He gave lots of money and more than once he sent boxes with stuff to the camp. Oh, how precious was such a box with homemade butter, jam and biltong (jerky). Yes! It was so precious that the family still cannot fathom the gratitude of the inhabitants of the camp. We had a corrugated iron building which served as a church and school. We had the honor to have a preacher of our own Volk as well as teachers. Rev. Van der Horst worked tirelessly amongst our people and he held a service every Sunday. He was the Superintendent of the Sunday school, as well as the headmaster of the school. He was always prepared to walk the walk.
On Dingane’s Day (Day of the Covenant), 1901 saw the women marching with the Four Color Flags through the camp with all the women following. MS Erasmus, who became Mrs. Jozua Scheepers had the biggest flag, was leading the procession. The clerk, the deputy of Commandant Ellewee grabbed the flag from her, it happened so quickly that she just let the flag go. But, she did not wait, she took the flag back, the deputy wanted to take it from her, but this time he was not so lucky. The deputy lost his hat which was trampled underfoot, never to be worn again.
It was the beginning of May 1902 that we got the news about the arrest of Isak and the uncle who I took clothes to, as well as 5 men from the staff of General Koos de la Rey. Immediately after the news I went to the Commandant to get a permit to go and see Isak and to get him from prison to bring him to the camp. After a while and a struggle I got the permit and I left for Durban. I spent 6 days waiting to be allowed to the Umbilo camp. That morning there were lots of people to meet their loved ones. There were also hundreds of men. When the women came into the camp the men stood in two rows like a welcoming committee. As far as we went one will jump out to greet. My uncle was at the gate so he was the first to greet me, just after that Isak came to the fore. When I laid my eyes on him I was in such shock. They led me to the nearest chair.
Oh! I was surrounded by loved ones – all wanted to know how everyone was. Isak and my uncle told me how they were captured. The man who stayed with them and slept at the house was the one who went during the night to the enemy and betrayed them. They just heard the call the next morning “hands up!” Some of them started laughing thinking it was a joke. It did not take long for them to realize it was no joke when they saw their friend dressed in the khaki of the enemy.
Hendrik Schoeman and Isak Liebenberg were forced to where khaki as their clothes were tattered and there was nothing else available.
The two had to appear in council of war and were condemned to death. They were in custody for two days and two nights. The sorrow of the children was so deep! The father of Hendrik Schoeman was nearly insane with fear! The families were dumbfounded! It felt as if the death penalty was over all of them. Later on they received clemency and had to leave for Klerksdorp in an iron cattle truck.
Isak got up on his way to Natal in the truck as he could no longer sit. Without him realizing the soldier was aiming at him to shoot him dead. Luckily my uncle saw what was coming and pulled Isak down. The poor Afrikaners who were fighting for in their own land for their freedom did not have any freedom in their own land. This is how it was.
I told Isak that I was trying to get him out of the camp. Although the authorities did not bring into consideration any age, I was still trying my utmost. When he heard this, he said, “I am not going to a women’s camp.” That was the status quo. He preferred to be sent away.
By the end of May they were sent to India.
Oh! Why could there not be peace just a month earlier? How many lost their lives in India and on the way there! Before they got to India Mr. Philip Badenhorst died of sunstroke.
It was so hot there that the trains only run very early or late afternoon. During the middle of the day the trains came to a standstill, where they were parked under grass shelters, till it was cooler.
Peace! Oh how sweet the sound! There is Peace! But this was mixed with bitterness:
Loss of independence!
Oh! What an ugly word! A human, a nation, who lost his freedom deteriorates morally and spiritually of not prevented by God.
I thank God after 19 years it had not happened to our nation.
It was a Sunday morning. The children of the Lord were gathered together in this corrugated iron building. The preacher was pleading for the salvation of the souls of his nation. Songs of praise and thanksgiving went to the heavens while a sigh were sent for a loved one on the battle field or in the concentration camps. The congregation said, “Amen!”
On a notice nailed to the door was but one word ‘PEACE”, which went from one mouth to the other.
A few could grasped it. The one would be jubilant, the other doubted, the other wept. So it was right through the night no one thought how this peace would be, but only thought “there is Peace.”
That Sunday night all of us were gathered in God’s House. After a heart renting prayer by Reverend van der Horst the commandant, clothed in khaki got on the podium. It felt something was strangling us, as it seemed there would be a “coalition!”
Commandant Hunter, one of the best during those days told us that the war was over, there was an end to the spilling of blood, the Boers surrendered unconditionally. From all sides voices were heard, in both languages, Afrikaans and English, “it is a lie!” With this the nurses and teachers got up and walked out: nurses Brink and Beyers, teachers Beyers and Human (later Mrs. Rev. Rossouw), Aunt Nonnie Human, (now Mrs. Haupt) and others. The result was that they were informed the next day that their services were no longer required. The school, etc. kept going for another few months. The last women only went home in November, or rather from the place they came from, because there were no houses any more. People who had a palace to live in came home to ruins. They moved into the barns where the walls were still standing, which were not touched by the flames. A few pieces of corrugated iron, burned black were set in stone and that night a prayer of Thanksgiving went to the Throne of Mercy.
Tears of joy were shed the first night for the release from the camps, as well as tears of sorrow for those who were left behind.
Songs went to the Wind of the West “Was all for nothing?” “Was all for nothing?”
Isak’s Home Coming
Isak only came home in December 1902. When the ship docked in India the peace treaty was already signed. Isak was very sick with sunstroke and for six weeks he fought the illness and death without his parents.
When he came home he changed so much, he was not the same person anymore.
His mother’s heart was so broken that she said it would have been better if he was just another casualty on the altar of SOUTH AFRICA.
These stories are not fiction, everything is the truth, especially those telling about the war.
A “household destroyed through alcohol” happened most probably after the war. The only original name in the story is “Danie”. The other names and last names were made up by the author.
We found this family Smit on a farm in western Transvaal.
They are not by any standards well-to-do, but they could live very well and was a noble family and the father was on commando. The oldest daughter, Nellie, was engaged to be married to Danie Cronje a capable man from the old Cape Colony.
She was not only the crown jewel of her family, but also the support of her family. She was always there to help, to lend support in the smallest and the biggest of trouble.
Nellie’s father was on commando for a month when Danie as usual turned up at the farmstead. He visited every month or two the farm Rustfontein of the Smits. That particular night Nellie realized there was something wrong with Danie, he was not his usual jovial self. He was very quiet. Nellie did not say anything.
When the family talked about the brave Boers who had so many victories in such a short time, Danie agreed, but did not elaborate, not agreeing with the happiness of the mother or the daughter what they felt about the Boers in the veld.
As was the custom after everyone went to bed, Danie and Nellie sat next to each other in the dining room on the sofa. After a painful silence Danie said, “Nellie, darling I want to make a serious suggestion tonight and you must not let me down, you must listen to me carefully, you and your mother and talking so lightly about the Boers chasing the khakis into the sea, you must not think it is going to be that easy.” Nellie said, “What, do you think our people are cowards?” She immediately moved away from Danie, not even wanting her clothes must touch his. But Danie was too quick for her, he took her into his arms and held her against his heart and said, “My poor little Transvaler, how little you know about the power of the British Empire?” Nellie removed herself from his embrace and said, “Danie, you must make a choice between me and your British power.”
“Nellie, do not be foolish, I told you I have a suggestion, be quiet and let me finish, then you can give me your opinion.” “I will do my best”, Nellie said. Danie gave her a kiss and said, “This is my suggestion: You know I have a big family in the Cape and they are all very rich and are good people and I want us to get married immediately and live there till the war is over.” “Never”, said Nellie, “you promised to be quiet till I am finished”, said he. “Well keep on talking, although you are wasting your time.”
Danie got very agitated and said, “Do not be so foolish, it is because I love you that I do not want you to go through the difficulties of war as it can last many years, Nellie you know I do not want to fight against the British flag, I was born in the Cape and you are not going to win the war.”
With anger and determination Nellie said, “Danie! Do you think I will let my mother and my folk down and look for something better in this critical time? No, I see you do not know me at all, before the New Year all will be over and then we can get married, not now. No, my father left the care of my mother and brothers to me, and I will be like Ruth, to live or to die with them. I will never be happy without them, even if I have you and all your riches of the world. Do not talk about it again, never can I agree to this suggestion of yours in a time like this and – I would not be called disloyal or a coward.” While Nellie shuddered at the suggestion to leave her family she said, “I am not leaving my land of birth the Transvaal, no even if I roam the world, the Transvaal I love over all.”
While a smile covered Danie’s face he said, “Transvaal is good, I also love the country, but you will see when the British flag flies here, the goldmines will still function and we all would be very rich. Yes, money will be in abundance.”
“What” said Nellie, “if money was so available, did you come here and not stay under the British flag which do such miracles, and talking about our freedom, I do not want to be happier and free than I could be if not under my own flag? You cannot tell me anything about the greatness of England, if I did not read the history of the Voortrekkers, I would not have known better and was my father not born under the British flag? No, if the flag was so valuable you would not have come here and also not allow them to make a living as assassins to steal our stuff and our blood and our freedom! Our freedom, a legacy from the noble Voortrekkers, from the blood of a Frederik and Jan Bezuidenhout, who no longer wished to be under the heel of the Englishmen.”
“But Nellie” Danie said, “what would it help you, you can never win against the British power, and don’t you know that in the time we are living in that power is right?”
“With you power maybe right, but not with us as a Christian nation, God would not tolerate that we would be conquered by this power. When it gets to overwhelming Germany and other countries would come to our rescue, they would not allow that we be overpowered by such a plundering power like England. No, He is fair and merciful.” This was the way Nellie spoke her mind, not knowing how she would be disappointed by her Volk and Danie.
Danie left to go home the next Monday full of hope that Nellie would in two weeks’ time change her mind and he be able to convince her to go to the Cape with him.
Danie’s business came to a standstill, there is nothing to do, truth to be told, and he decided there is no way that he would fight on the side of the Boers, the cause looked doomed to him. Luckily Nellie was not aware of the fact that Danie was so against his own people the Boers and the Afrikaners.
Time went by slowly and boring on the farm for Nellie, they were totally alone on the farm, only with their servants. So many times her thoughts went to the days gone by when they were happy. After her talk with Danie it felt that a dark cloud was hanging over them, she tried to understand and looking for a reason, but prepare herself for a disappointment or tragedy. While she was walking, something she always found pleasurable, it felt as if every nerve in her body was tense, she cannot get rid of this feeling of a coming disaster, she thought by walking briskly it would help, but nothing lifted this feeling. When she got home her mother said that Dawie looked sick and that she must have a look.
Nellie went to her brother with trepidation. When she got to him, she picked him in her arms, gave him hugs and kisses as if this would make Dawie better. She put him back in bed and said he must stay in bed and in the room he is too sick.
Dawie begged Nellie to sit with him and she scolded him, “You should never have been sitting on the wet ground so long this is why you are sick and coughing.”
“Nellie, you know I planted corn for mother. When they are ready we would have nice corn to eat.”
“Yes,” said Nellie, “if the cattle do not roam around the house and trample it all.”
“I will chase them away”, he said and it seemed that he was getting sicker.
Mrs. Smit tried her best to open Dawie’s lungs, five long days it seemed it was not getting worse, but he was also not getting better.
From the sixth day it got worse, the suffering of the sufferer was too terrible to watch, there was no rest for mother or daughter. The ninth day he was suffocating and he said: “Mamma you must give the whistle father bought for me to Willie, and my beautiful shoes you must give to Fanie, you must give all my toys to my little brothers.”’
The poor mother, it seemed like her worst nightmares and fears were materialized, still she would not show her sorrow. As calm as she could she asked, “Do you not want to play with it anymore?” “No, not anymore” he said gasping for breath.
He was suffocation, fighting to breathe so much the last night on earth that he wanted to be carried from room to room.
At a about midnight it seemed he fell asleep for a few minutes just to wake and looking around the room in anguish and said, “Mammie, God wants me.”
A while later he said, “Oh the hunger, the hunger!”
Later in the suffering camps, when our mothers heard the children cry for food, we remembered those words.
Far from friends and family Nellie and her mother with two of their servants saw how life and death fought against each other.
Oh! That terrible night and day, only those who went through something similar would be able to understand the sorrow of such by a mother and daughter.
Dawie grabbed his mother around her neck that following Saturday at 7:30, gave her two kisses in his suffering and said, “Mammie now I want to sleep.” And he fell backwards and with his little arms still around his mother’s neck hanged lifeless. The eyes that looked into in the eyes of his mother who would not show a tear for her dying child, his eyes are now closed to never open again.
Nellie ran from the room, leaving her mother alone with her dead child.
When she ran outside Danie came towards her! She was so grateful when she saw him.
Danie took her hand, squeezed it and in that she could feel she had a friend who wanted to help her carry her sorrow, Al she could say was, “Oh! Danie!”
Danie was such a supporter to the family in their sorrow and heartbreak.
Alone in her room that night, Nellie opened her Bible with the words, “Give me comfort”, her eyes fell n Ps 121: “My help comes from the Lord, who made the Heaven and the Earth.”
Danie went to town the next day and had with him a beautiful casket with the following written on it:
4 years and 8 months
After everything was arranged Danie left with a very heavy heart and an emptiness in his soul as he never experienced before. He knew that Nellie would not leave her mother.
His hope and his visions for the future were taken away with the passing of this child.
And Nellie, when she greeted Danie knew that she not only had to handle the death of her little brother, but there was this mysterious emptiness within she could not fathom. That day Danie kissed Nellie for the last time.
She never saw him again. Twenty-two years later she heard about is life and career which I am discussing in the next chapter and what Nellie would hear as a nightmare.
The morning of the funeral saw Nellie inconsolable roaming around the house and then her eyes fell on the corn starting to grow.
She then again heard her little brother, “Nellie when they are grown then we are going to enjoy eating them!”
The sun was shining brightly, so clean, so clear and nature looked so fresh after the beautiful rain.
Nellie, overcame with sorrow there at the small corn plants, planted by her little brother, his little hands now lonely and lifeless. She called out in despair, “Oh, Father is it at all possible that nature torment us with the sun so brightly, the flowers so beautiful as if there are no broken hearts, the grass still grows as if there is no stillness as quiet as the grave. The only disturbance of the silence was the shovels there in the corner of the garden, there where the sisal plant proudly points his finger to the heavens as if he wanted to say, “He knows your sorrow.”
Her father only received the news of Dawie’s passing three weeks later. He was inconsolable, not only because of him not ever to see his child again, but he grieved as he knew how mother and children grieved and he wrote:
“I love Jesus, my heart is big, and I will gladly carry the burden He laid on me.”
The first news Nellie got about Danie was that he was with the English.
He who did not want to fight were now fighting on the side of the enemy.
Nellie, who was so loyal to her loved ones and her nation was very disappointed, not only with his love of her, but also as a man.
She made a quick decision, although it cost her a restless night and lots of tears.
She returned his ring to him without a word of reproach. She wanted to forget him. Such an Afrikaner did not deserve the love from a loyal Afrikaner.
The lonely life on the farm became too much for the family and they decided to move to the nearest town.
After eleven months later Dawie was reinterred in the town’s cemetary where he is resting with so many others till God’s voice will wake them.
The family found solace so many times that their little one was spared the soapbox and the suffering of the concentration camps.
“Yes, man, who fell on the battle field,
And in the children camps, child and woman,
Sleep in peace, be still, you who have so suffered so much,
And died – we remember!”
Recollections from the Last War
“Wife, I think you must start baking rusks tomorrow. You must bake a lot, you know that I cannot sit and eat and watch my burghers eat porridge, because there are too many who cannot bake enough. You know it is me, Hansie, Diedrik and Jopie my servant, I will have to feed him too”, said Uncle Hansie Coetsee, field-cornet from the Lichtenburg district, to his wife, aunt Lenie. “Hansie what are you talking about! Do you really think we are going to war?” “Yes, my dear wife, there is no doubt about it. I will have to start commandeering as from tomorrow.”
Aunt Lenie and her three daughters burst out in tears when they thought about all the dangers father and son would be facing.
The son whom she had such wonderful dreams about, him just back from school. Since their twelve year old son drowned a few years ago, all focus was on a bright future of their remaining son.
The mother gave her son such a proud look when asked, “What did father say? – It seems Mom is crying?”
“My child” answered Hansie, “you mother cried because I told her we have to get ready to go on commando tomorrow.”
“You must be ready, as you would be the first I am commandeering.”
A smile played on his lips when he said, “Ma must not cry now, bake us rather some cake and give us some jerky to take with. I am glad to go and if I have to give my life, then I give it freely, because what is life to me if I cannot get Lissie.”
Everyone was somber, everyone was quiet, and so they went to bed, not to go to sleep, but to be occupied everyone with his and her own thoughts and worries.
Oh! How good it is that we could not see into the future! It is as if you waiting for the thunderstorm, but – then you pacify yourself, “It is but only a feeling, it will be gone by morning.”
That night there was a knock on the door. Uncle Hansie jumped up and say, “Wife I told you so”, and walked to the door. Aunt Lenie waited with her heart in her throat. Uncle Hansie returned shortly and said, “I got orders to commandeer the men.”
He looked at his son, Hansie, who was named after his father and said, “Get up and go to uncle Salie, tell him to get ready, we have to leave tomorrow afternoon, and do not give aunt Annie a fright, you know she is not well.”
Then he went to the room where Diedrik slept.
“Diedrik, get up and go and give the horses lots of fodder, we are leaving on commando at 5 am. The reds are coming into our land, just as I told you yesterday. When you are finished with the horses give aunt Lenie a hand with the baking.”
When uncle Hansie came back into the house he saw aunt Lenie and her daughter already baking.
“Oh, wife, stop your melancholy, you know we have to clean the land, even with our blood.”
“Yes”, sighed aunt Lenie, “it is not that easy, what I would do if I lose you and my child. I missed him so when he was at school, he was just back from there and now he must leave again. Oh! I never thought about it. I do not want him to stay behind, but just to think he is going to the battle field – one thing is for sure, not everyone would be coming back. And, my Hansie, I cannot offer him, not even for my country, he is too precious to me.”
“My wife, God knows what is best for us, and even if both us must fall, He will take care of you.” So uncle Hansie pacified his wife when he gave her a kiss with the promise to be back by eleven.
“Children”, said aunt Lenie, “do not forget when you pack your father’s stuff to pack French-and-spice brandy as well as buchu vinegar, we can get some for us again.”
Everything was done and packed.
The wagon is ready, the red oxen patiently waiting on the first sign to go.
All the neighbors were gathered in front of aunt Lenie’s big house to say goodbye, some for a little while others forever. Who would be left behind? This question was on everyone’s mind and no one able to give an answer. Everyone occupied with his own grief while waiting for the field-cornet’s orders to go. Come burghers! Came the call from uncle Hansie while tears filled his eyes.
He greeted first the children and then his wife, and it was as if it was the last time that he would see his loved one and with this thought he gave her a last look and then this brave man walked to his horse.
When he sat on his horse as a hero and a soldier he was nearly not able to loosen himself from the arms of his mother.
Mother and daughters just stood there watching their loved ones rode away to war.
When they could not hear the horses’ hooves anymore as well as the cracking of the whip by Diedrik, they just stood there in their sorrow and heartbreak all alone. Aunt Mieta, the mother of uncle Hansie had to be led to her chair, where she just sank down to cry utter despair, like an inconsolable child, “When!, Oh when would the Englishman just leave us alone, this is not the first time I had to say goodbye to my children”, weeping like that she just stared at the empty chair on the other side of the table and sighed, “Oh was I just dissolved from Christ and my husband.”
Little did aunt Mieta knew how many tears would be shed, rolling over her wrinkled cheeks, how she would be taken away from her home. And, yes, how she would outlive many young and strong men and women. Yes, how she would return to her home, not to be sitting in that chair, because that chair and table and the rest of the home would be destroyed by the flames of war.
Father and Son
It was November 29, 1899. Aunt Lenie was very busy baking rusks and cake to send to uncle Hansie, who was with his men at Modder River. She rejoiced in the thought that her husband, son and Diedrik, who went with to war – no man worth his salt could stay home.
Then she heard the postal wagon, “Yes,” sighed aunt Lenie, “I long to get the mail and when I hear the wagon, fear wraps around my heart.”
Today was worse than other days, because a few days ago the burghers were in battle with the English.
Uncle Willie brought the mailbag in! It is opened and YES there was a letter from father! Also one from Hansie! A happy smile was on the face of the mother. But – there is also a telegram. Everyone were deathly pale, as if they had a foreboding of bad news.
“Read it quickly”, said the mother. Nobody wanted to, all were scared for the unknown message the telegram may bring, only the youngest daughter was brave enough. She took the telegram, opened it and started reading – she lost all color in her face and crumbled it in her – Hansie was mortally wounded. Only those who received messages like that in those days could know what grief and fear was in that house.
Telegrams were sent and received all the time.
Hansie’s condition was deteriorating very fast. He was wounded in the throat and could not talk anymore. At long last the message came that he passed away.
Uncle Hansie was there all the time, taking care of Hansie, seldom eating, seldom sleeping. He got permission to go home.
He is inconsolable.
The news that he was returning home was of some comfort to the family. It was sorrow grief and joy that he was welcomed home.
It was December 11 and time for the mail. “If he is not there in person, then at least there would be a letter or a telegram to say when he would be coming”, they talked amongst themselves. One of the girls was on her way to the home of her grandmother when the postman came past and Uncle Willie was beside himself with grief called out to her, “Miemie, just when I wanted to go a telegram came from General De la Rey that your father fell this morning.”
Without a word she collapsed, luckily there was a servant who could help her home.
Everyone at home were wondering why she was in such a state. The terrible news was soon known to all. The telegram with the horrible news was after a week not yet opened.
More news regarding Uncle Hansie came to light, the morning of December 11th, before he had to leave for home he decided to participate in a battle. He could not leave his burghers by themselves. That day at 11 he got shot through the head. When Diedrik Danth ran to help him, he too was wounded in the head, and when Jopie Pretorius tried to help he was also shot. Only a remnant of the burghers made an end to the enemy who caused all this catastrophe.
The man who caused all this was hiding behind a bush and was shot by the brave burghers of Uncle Hansie.
When the burghers lifted Uncle Hansie he just said, “Leave me under the tree and do not leave your positions.”
He was left under the tree with a water bottle next to him. When they went to him after the battle he was already cold. He was so cold, they could not even take his shoes off.
“How the heroes fall – and lovely in their lives, also not separated in their death.”
All over everyone heard “Uncle Hansie fell!”
It was not even two months and both he and his son gave their lives for their country. Uncle Hansie was buried next to his son.
Diedrik Danth was still in hospital, mortally wounded. As soon as he is better he would be going back to the farm to take care of what must be done, and then he can tell what really happened. But, he also did not come home.
By the end of the year Diedrick died from his wounds. A few days later also Jopie Pretorius.
After they did their loyal duty all four heroes passed away.
A months later the same wagon we saw in front of the house did not bring Diedrick home, but only his blood-soaked clothing.
The big box was brought into the dining room and opened under lot of grief, sorrow and tears. That moment was just too terrible for the mourners. It felt like the area was holy, as if there was no place for a stranger.
The first thing that was taken out was Uncle Hansie’s blood-soaked hat. The old mother grabbed it with her weak arms, now even weaker with sorrow, but the daughter grabbed it as if with a jealous fervor from the hands of Grandma, and held it against her heart, and when she fled to the far corner of the room, the mother looked for another piece of clothing of her husband, but the hat was the only piece of clothing which came back and when she was still going through the stuff she found some clothing of Hansie which she pressed against her lips and yelled, “Oh1 it is his blood! Is this the blood of my Hansie!” and she just pressed it closer and closer while her sobbing got louder and louder.
The wailing and crying of the old mother, of children of the wife of Jopie Pretorius, who sat with a piece bloodied clothing, the situation became too much for the bystander and when you ran outside you see in the kitchen the servants crying just as much as those in the dining room. A servant was crawling around on the floor while she cried out, “My boss! My Hansie who I took care of. My boss, my boss, where are you?” All the others are voicing the grief of the old black woman and the crying was getting worse and worse.
The passing away of those who gave their lives so others could live and those still to be born. It was as if we heard a voice from the grave, “Be brave and do not allow our blood that was spilled be in vain for our fatherland.”
To Ceylon and back
After our people surrendered at Tweeriviere the burghers had to walk about 30 miles to the nearest station to be taken to Cape Town.
To walk the thirty miles after such a long and hard battle was no easy task, especially in the terrible heat and being so tired in body and soul. They had to walk along the rivers but were not allowed to drink the water, although they were so terribly thirsty.
When my father could not stand the thirst anymore he bent down to drink from the river. Before he even had a chance to drink the water an officer hit him with a whip and ordered him to keep going.
The poor soldiers also had to walk, while the officers were on horse-back.
So many of our people were sick and worn-out by the time they got to Cape Town. The sickness was because of the bad water they had to drink while surrounded for ten days by the English.
Some the men, amongst them my father and brothers were sent directly to the ship.
My brother was one of the men who got sick and had to go from the ship to the hospital in Cape Town.
My father said he was never so filled with sorrow when he saw his son taken by boat to the shore. By the time my father got back from deck getting something for my brother he was already on the boat and left. He did not even had a chance to say goodbye to his son who was unconscious.
Crying like a child he went back to his cabin, deeply in prayer for his son and the mother who did not even know of her son’s condition.
My brother was fighting against death for twenty-two days.
He only left the hospital after twenty-eight days.
We received the message about my brother’s condition and for two months we lived in suspense, till we received a letter in his own handwriting that he was better.
As soon as he was back on the ship they left for Ceylon and they stayed there for two years.
We received the message that they were sent to Ceylon and we had to wait for eight months to get news. Later when we were in the camps we received letters from them. We could not write the truth because they would then never receive the letters.
We then got the advice to write with lemon juice. It is invisible, but when you hold the letter near a fire then the letters were visible to read. The big problem was to let the prisoners of war into the secret of how to read the letters. After we thought about it for a long time we wrote to them to read their letter near the fire.
My father said it was not always necessary, because of all the handling of the letters it was read without any effort.
My father and brother came back to Durban after two years and ten months.
Hundreds of us were early at the railway station to meet our loved ones.
That night three trains went past with prisoners.
The first train stopped for a few minutes and because our people were in the last train, we had the privilege to talk to our people.
It was really a mixture of men, young, old, beautiful, ugly, the one full of cheer, the other weeping with joy or sorrow. I will never forget, that night an old man asked me, “Where are we now?” “In Howick”, I answered. “In Howick? In which country is it?” “In Natal, Uncle”, “Oh, Naatal” said the old man.
When the train had to leave again, you just heard, “Oh, give me another kiss!” Of course this was from a young man to his girl.
Jokes in those days were in very short supply, but we managed to make some of our own.
Household destroyed by Liquor
After the war Danie got married to Annie Brink, a lady from the eastern part of the Transvaal. Annie was full of love and timid. She never listened to gossip and never gave it credence.
How many times people warned Annie not to marry Danie, whispering, “We understand he drinks.” Annie did not listen she was in love with Danie, she ideolized him. The fact that he was a “National Scout”, she forgave him for that, as the Lord tells us you must forgive.
He admitted to everything and she never blamed him. If only others and her father would only forget.
In a lot of ways Danie proved to be a man, then the neighbors will whisper, “What a pity such a man was a “Scout.”
Danie was not only a weakling because he became a traitor to his people, but he was also weak in his liquor habits. Yes, this was his greatest weakness! He was not master of himself. Although Danie did not drink a lot in the beginning of his married life, he would not let a chance go by to have a drink.
Danie loved Annie very much. What is there not to love about Annie, she is such a lovable and good mannered lady.
After the birth of Annie’s daughter, who she named Poppie, her happiness should have been perfect if she was not worried and sorry for her father who was so alone in his old age. The loneliness was too much for Annie after her mother died, this is why she got married. More and more Annie realized that Danie was drinking more than what was required. His temper was either too friendly or too brash. Although she worried about the future she never let Poppie know about her fears. She was, as nearly all mothers, too worried about her child to allow her to be scared.
Poppie was as intelligent as her father, but she was timid and caring like her mother. The first years of their marriage everything went well, they lived in one of the good streets of the neighborhood, a nice house, although small with a beautiful garden with flowers and fruit trees. After sixteen years they lost the house because of a heavy mortgage that Danie was not able to afford. What he earned he spent at the bar, the ruination of millions of others.
They had to move to a back street to a much smaller house and to a neighborhood that was not to the liking of Annie and Poppie. Why did Danie make the choice of this neighborhood? Is it only because it was cheaper there or was it because most of the people there sold their souls to the liquor devil?
Never would the mother or the daughter get used to live in such circumstances.
When the men of the neighborhood got home at night, they first go to the bars and spent their money while the wife and children suffer.
How many times did Annie and Poppies wish they could leave there, fleeing to the desert, where they would not see the staggering, where they would not hear the crying of the hungry children of all the drunkards? Yes, the desert which would cover up the swearing and blasphemy.
Many times Annie reprimanded Danie and showed him how the liquor destroyed the people. And here she was today, another victim. More than one of those women were daughters of a drunkard, used to either the too happy laughter then again the swearing, the fighting against women and children, but with Annie it was something completely different. She had to get used to it very slowly, and what did it cost her? Oh, no pen can even attempt to describe what was taking place
When Danie was sober and Annie warned with tears and a troubled heart, then he would take her in his arms with thousands of kisses and begged for forgiveness. Then he promised her like so many thousands of times before that he would not get drunk again. Poor Annie, then she forgave him and Danie was to her the same as sixteen years ago.
When Danie got a chance he would come home drunk again. His tears, his prayers, his promises, all forgotten! As soon as he had a few pennies for which he had to work very hard, he would spend at the bar to meet his drunken friends and his wife and child would soon be forgotten. Here in the canteen he would drink and gamble. You just hear, “Heads or tail.” “You lost, you must pay.”
And this man who had a wife and child in whose veins run royal blood – this man drank, gambled swore with the lowest of the lowest. He kept going till the last penny was spent.
The same Danie who that same morning left his wife and child with a smile, met them now with a red face and eyes, this morning he was proud and upright, now he was staggering, his head too heavy for his shoulders.
With this picture Poppie would run to her room. There in the quiet of her room she would plead to God for her father.
Oh, how did she plead for strength for her mother! While the child was still on her knees her mother came into the room with despair and misery on her face.
When Poppie saw her mother she burst out in tears and said, “Mother does God not hear our prayers for the drunkard? What is most embarrassing when our friends come here, when we are not able to hide our sorrow? How can I face my friends who are coming over tonight? If father would only stay in his room, but he does not consider man or God when is he so drunk? Oh! My heart my young heart is broken, I cannot, and I just cannot live like this! I would give my life willingly if only I can save that of my father!” In despair she said, “Oh, how terrible it is to be so ashamed of your father. You father, your protector, your care-giver. Today he is the destroyer of body and soul!” She fell in hopeless despair on the bed. The mother with loud sobs sat down next to her child to pacify and to comfort her, to give her hope and she said, “My child, my heart is broken, not for me, but for you, my child, you are not even an adult yet, for your future I fear. Maybe this situation would end soon, maybe sooner than we can expect it.” While the mother was still trying to comfort her child when there was a knock on the door. Poppie jumped from the bed, startled and said, “Here they are.” The mother wiped her tears and walked to the front door, after she told Poppie to wash her face and then come to the front.
After Poppie invited her friends in, greeted them with a pale face and quivering lips. The first friend, after he greeted her asked if she was sick. “No”, she said, “I am not sick, just a headache.”
When Poppie tried her best to hide her sorrow, Danie yelled from the bedroom, “Pop, where is your mother?” The visitor looked at each other and then realized what the reason was why her eyes were so red and her being so pale. They got up to leave and Poppie did not have the courage to ask them why they wanted to leave so soon, she was very grateful they are leaving her alone with her sorrow. She also wish that Koos would leave her alone and stop his talk about love all the time. She had no time and inclination towards a lover. No, her heart, her love, all of it was for her mother, never would she leave her mother alone with such a father.
Koos, with understanding in his eyes, grabbed her hand and said, “Good day, Poppie.” Oh, how he wished that Poppie would tell him about her sorrow, would let him know how she felt, that he could have the confidence to take her in his arms so she can forget about her sorrow and heartbreak. He knew it was all in vain! Poppie was like a closed book. No one would hear from her, not even Koos, about their sorrow.
The door was just closed behind the friends when Danie yelled from the room and hit the table with his fists so is wife would come to the room. “Where is my food?” he screamed. “But, Danie, you know we do not have any food. You promised to bring us a small piece of meat and some vegetables.” “Give me food, you careless woman. I worked hard this morning and now I cannot even have a meal.” The hammering on the table became worse and harder, the anger became more vicious, the liquor devil came to the fore with such a terrible force. The burning throat was seeking solace and he thought he would get in food.
Annie ran to her neighbor and said, “Help me with a piece of meat till tomorrow. When Danie came home the butcher was already closed.” The woman helped her without saying a word, thinking, “why must a man like that have such a wife, she is too good for him, she is too good for this life. How does she plead with him – and the butcher closed! I know better!”
She cooked the piece of meat as well she could. The smell of the meat has a negative effect on the hungry woman, it was as if she felt faint, she sat down.
After it was done she took it to him, and as it happened time and time again, he slapped it from her hand and said, “Now you can keep it!”
She just stood there like a marble statue and wish that she and her child had something to eat, what was now on the floor in the broken plate.
Poppie went to her room with wobbly legs shaking with fear, to again like the afternoon praying to God. When she heard the heavy breathing of her father she knew he was asleep and she thanked God that she and her mother were safe. It was already midnight and the mother and daughter were still dressed.
The next morning Danie stayed in his room, he was always embarrassed to come out. As a dream the previous night came to him when he saw the lines of sorrow on Annie’s face. He saw the broken plat on the floor. All of a sudden the bar, the last penny, the promise to buy food dawned on him and he grabbed Annie around the neck and said, as so many times before, “Annie, my wife, Oh, my wife forgive me, please” while the splinters of the broken plate bore into his soul he hated himself and wished he was never born. And, Poppie, when she heard her father crying and his prayers, her tears mingled with that of her father.
“What is man!” the daughter cried, and she got the feeling of tenderness towards her father as if he is a newborn baby.
The next Saturday it was again just the same.
Danie, together with millions of others feel that they are hopeless against the power of the liquor devil.
When the minister of church came for a visit he would ask Annie how her life was and she would always answer him with a smile, “Reverend all is well.” “Annie you do not have any complaints?” “No, Reverend I have nothing to complain about.” And, “Annie do you still read the Word of God on a regular basis?” The answer was, “Oh! Yes, I read my Bible regularly.”
The preacher is too modest to pursue the issue. That night in the rectory very serious prayers would go up for Poppie and her mother.
How many times Annie’s father wished she would confide in him, he did not want to ask without her telling him what was going on. Annie, nor Poppie would inform the old father and he would leave them with tears in his eyes.
Danie had what the old people called, “the angry liquor” on him. More than once Annie and her child had to run from their house, to find safety in some dark corner somewhere.
So it happened one night, Poppie could not handle her father’s anger, did not want to listen to him. So fled outside and when she was there all by herself she remembered the old pigsty dug into the ground. She was already so tired and weak when she fled to the old pigsty and sat there for hours although the ground was wet as it rained the previous day.
When it got quite late Danie asked Annie where Poppie was and she said Poppie went to her aunt. She of course, could not tell him that Poppie was outside hiding from her father.
Now Danie thought, “Now I have a good reason to cool my anger.”
He started screaming at his wife like a mad man that she allowed her daughter to walk in the night. It did not matter how Annie pleaded that Poppie was with her aunt, as safe as in her own house, nothing helped he just got angrier. Later on he grabbed his hat and said, “I am going to fetch her and tonight she would know that she has a father.”
Annie grabbed his arms and pleaded, “Danie, not tonight! Not in your condition!” “What do you mean my condition? Are you saying I am drunk?” And with that he grabbed the stove iron and hit her over her head and her forehead that the blood just streamed down her face. When he saw the blood he got such a fright that he ran to the bedroom like a coward. Poor Annie, this was the first time that her husband lifted his hand to hit her. Oh, how it hurt her. With that blow her husband killed the last of the respect and love she had for him. As the preacher said, “You coward how can you win your soft wife by hitting her?”
Poppie heard her mother’s screaming there where she was in the pigsty. She wanted to get up but realized she was not able to. Because she was there so long on the wet ground and in the cold her legs got too stiff that she had problems getting up. Painfully and with difficulty she eventually could get up and she left the pigsty. She was not only tired and weary that night sitting in the pigsty, but all the years of sorrow and worry was weighing heavy on her emotions and on her heart she was weak also because of lack of food through the years.
The mother heard Poppie’s dragging footsteps she went to her and when Poppie saw her mother she collapsed in her arms and cried with such anguish, “Oh! Mother, you are talking about the suffering of the women in the camps. Were their suffering worse than ours? They had to flee from the enemy, I have to flee from my father! They were destroyed, starved by the British, me, by the hand of my father, our beloved! Why don’t you leave and go to your father?”
“Poppie, be quiet, you have no idea what you are saying, in the camps thousands suffered, here we suffer alone. And my child, because of your future I do not want to want to find refuge with your grandfather. What will happen to him? No, my father warned me and I did not listen. From my lips no complaints will come to my father regarding your father. And you, my child you know that women are born to suffer and He will not give you a burden you cannot carry. Regarding your grandfather, he can see how threadbare are your clothes and you went through the bitter cold winter without anything warm. Your grandfather could have given you a coat, even if he does not love me, he could have done it for you, you came into the world so innocent, and for you he could have shown some compassion.”
Annie did not understand her father at all. He wanted to help so desperately.
The mother next helped her child to her bedroom and put her to bed and when she at last fell asleep with such exhaustion, the mother just sat there like a marble statue, a statue of suffering, a statue without hope, a statue of patience. Poppie could not get up the next morning, her joints were too stiff, she had no energy, and feeling very sick. Her temperature went up and up. Danie looked at his wife and he went pale staring at his sick child and his conscience were eating him.
The doctor came and could not understand why and how she got so weak so quickly. She seemed as if she caught a cold. But where and when? Poppie whispered to her mother, “The old pigsty.” And as a lightening stroke Annie remembered the old pigsty.
She left the room and prayed for her child to God that she cannot give such a great offering. No, she had enough suffering. The suffering was for a long time and also weakened Annie so badly that she stumbled and had to grab something to hold on to, not to fall. And now her child! If this would happen it would be like tearing her heart out!
Poppie got weaker and weaker, she had such a bad turn that the doctor recommended that the grandfather took her away from that house and neighborhood.
She was taken to her grandfather’s home, where there was peace and quiet and where the Psalms were sung in the early morning.
The poor Koos, he is so beaten and he followed the stretcher carrying Poppie and when he touched her hand she said, “Do not cry over me when I close my eyes. You were loyal to me.”
Poppie had a turn for the worse the next day. Sometimes she called her father. Then Annie remembered what Poppie said, “If I can save my father from drinking by giving my life, I will do it willingly.” But for Annie this offer is too great, and she prayed, “God save her life, take me rather, me with all my sorrow and burden.”
The young life already destroyed by liquor cannot fight the illness and struggle against death.
There was silence which was only broken by the sobs of the father and the lover.
Aunt Sannie with her sister came out of the room she was always ready to help in any situation, in sickness and health or death and she saw Annie. She called out to Annie, “Oh! Annie, Annie, do not cry she is free from suffering and sorrow, we have not seen such a body so beautiful, so clean so calm. How beautiful she would be in Heaven, where she would at this moment sing, “There is a cross, there is a life for you and me.” She not only sang this, she is living it.
The father came to her and said, “God saved her from hurt and suffering. He saved her from a life like yours.” And the old man cried for his grandchild. “Father,” said Annie and she fell against his chest as if she was still a little girl, “We will be with her shortly.”
Sobbing the father and daughter left the room; Aunt Sannie and Aunt Nelie were crying over the loss of a child, one they knew so well and was so loved.
And Danie! Oh! Never in his life had he experienced such a terrible day.
His thoughts went to the day when he first saw her a small little white bundle being put into his arms. He still heard his wife asked, “Are you not disappointed I is not a son?” He still remembered he stopped the words by his kisses. He already saw how Annie would be fighting off all the suitors and how he would be laughing.
He still remembered how he stood by her sickbed and prayed, “Oh Father spare her so I can hear her whisper, ‘Daddy’.” And when she could say “Daddy” he again prayed that God must spare her so he can see her walking and how he heard her little voice through the house calling “Daddy” and when he heard her little feet running, he prayed again and said, “Oh! She is so precious, save her for us.” And God heard his prayers. He save the sunshine in their lives and the same life that was spared by God, he destroyed by his drinking. Oh! The self-reproach! “Koos”, he said, “from now on I am going to live like my child wanted me to live.”
Poor man he only stuck to his promise till after the funeral. He went from bad to worse and because Annie feared for her life she went to her father. She could not live with this man, the choice of her youth.
We see Danie back in the Cape Colony wearing tatters and with wild eyes. He is an example of desolation. Left by his wife, his drunken friends, and we can also state left by God. If it was not for his voice no one would recognize Danie. Then we see another figure, she walked towards the grave, she is bent over, she is pale and grey, old before her time. She had flowers in her hand and she knelled at the grave and called out, “Lord even this offer was in vein! Poppie, Danie” came from a broken heart.
We pulled the curtain over this pitiful scene.
BANNED TO BERMUDA
Joubert Reitz, 1902
When the searchlight of the gunboat
Throws its ray upon my tent.
Then I think of home and comrades
And the happy days I spent
In the country where I came from
And where all I love are yet.
Then I think of things and places
And scenes I’ll never forget,
Then a face comes up before me
Which will haunt me to the last
And I think of things that have been
And the happy days that’s past;
And only then I realize
How much my freedom meant
When the searchlight from the gunboat
Casts its rays upon my tent.
We must never forget our heritage, our roots, who we are and our fallen, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, do not let it be in vein.