…it was the worst of times…it was the season of Darkness…it was the Winter of despair…we had nothing before us…just some of the phrases from that most iconic opening paragraph by Charles Dickens, was drifting through my mind, as I drove to the Anglo-Boer War concentration camp cemetery in Irene, as it aptly applied to the time for all those in this camp.
The weather matched my mood. Early morning drizzle left a chill in the air.
Visiting Anglo-Boer War sites always leave me feeling rather over whelmed, and today is no different.
As a result of Lord Kitchener’s brutal policy of destroying Boer farms during that war, thousands of women and children were left homeless. They were taken into more than 30 concentration camps scattered all over the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
I gaze at the neat rows of symbolic tombstones, arranged alphabetically from South to North.
In the words of a 41 year old spinster from Cornwell, the world heard of…”wholesale burning of farms…deportations of a burnt out population…deprived of clothes…semi-starvation in the camps…fever stricken children lying upon the bare earth…the appaling mortality.”
Soon the phrase: “methods of barbarism” echoed around the world.
Spoken by Emily Hobhouse, who became an honorary citizen of South Africa and she was revered for those humanitarian actions and heroism during the Anglo-Boer War. When she died in 1926, her ashes were ensconced in a niche at the National Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein.
In 1958, at the request of the Women’s Federation, the SA Council for War Graves, turned the cemetery into a garden of remembrance.
This memorial wall was built from the rocks removed from the original graves, on the above black and white photo.
The original tombstones were hand carved in slate and mounted on various walls in the terrain. The remaining 573 have been taken down, to be restored and exhibited anew.
That labour of love is co-ordinated by Cilliers du Preez. Contact him on 083 325 9768, if you want to be part of the action on the 2nd of May 2011.
The camp statistics are staggering. Approximately 5 452 women and children interned in this camp from 1900-1904. It is generally accepted that 1 149 died. Nearly a thousand of those were children under the age of 15.
At the Southern end of the terrain, lies a unique concrete slab. Oxwagon tracks are clearing visible from the wagon participating in the 1938 centenary of the Great Trek. And between the 2 tracks, ladies footprints, as the wagon was pulled through the wet cement by women, some of them survivors of this Ango-Boer War concentration camp.
As I am leaving, the sun comes out, and it is morning break at Irene Primary School, adjacent to the cemetery. Exuberant and boisterous laughter rings in my ears as I take one final picture.
Need to know more? www.erfenis.co.za
Thanx to Cilliers du Preez for sharing his expert knowledge, thus adding value and enjoyment, to visiting a rather sombre piece of South African history.