Oh might it die or rest at last! ”—Shelley.
Letter from the Clergyman’s Wife.
“ Harrismith Camp, Jan. 3, 1902.
“ I am afraid we will all die of fever if we remain much I longer in this crowded and closed camp. The wire fencing is quite close to the tents, and there is no chance for a walk in order to get a little fresh air; we can’t even go into town any more. Measles, whooping-cough, and fever have been raging most furiously among old and young. Oh ! to see the dear little children wasting away like tender plants before the hot rays of the sun. Every day there are two, three, up to eight, to be buried. We cannot live in these single bell-shaped tents; they are too hot in the daytime; even though the lower part is rolled it is so hot on the beds that Mr. T. and I have often left our parasols over the head of a sick baby to give it a little more shade. All of a sudden a thick cloud comes from the Natal mountains; it rains, and you turn in for the night with a very cold and damp wind playing on you all night. Often these tents leak, for some of them are old and thin. Many a measles patient gets wet all over, and consequently dies of inflammation in the lungs. And even though they don’t leak, still your bed and clothes, everything, get quite damp on rainy nights. We have to fasten up the openings on rainy days and creep underneath through the mud. Oh, it is a horrid life; there are broken hearts in almost every tent. ‘Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not*
“ Poor Mrs. L. is no more. She got measles; her tent was near mine, so I watched over her and brought her food. She did not seem bad at first, but her tent got wet, and she got inflammation of the lungs. I went immediately for the doctor, but he had his hands so full that he could only come three days later; he took her to the hospital, where she died the same day. They are well cared for in the hospital, and the superintendent does everything to keep the camp healthy. To-day we got some onions and potatoes, a present; but I don’t know how we will live through the summer without vegetables and fruit When I see the dear, innocent little children passing away, it reminds me of a children’s sermon your father had on the text, * The streets of the city shall be filled with boys and girls playing in them.’
“ We have had very hot weather and great scarcity of water for the last three days. We cannot wash our clothes or take our baths; we can scarcely cook our food. We are hard up for fuel, and often have to go without dinner because we have no firewood. Everything is done by our Commissioner to improve the health and comfort of our camp. The sweets and cakes sent by our friends from the Colony arrived here in time to give the children a treat on New Year’s Day.
“ Even should peace be declared and people allowed to go back to their homes, they will have no houses to live in and no food. The only consolation is that our future is in God’s hands. I should be glad to see my children safe in the Colony, but prefer staying here myself to be a help to Mr. T. and to my fellow-suffering people. May the coming year bring us together again, to work with fresh courage. May we be enabled to sing ‘Peace on earth,’ for now it is hell in South Africa, and oh, I can’t stand it any longer.—With much love to all inquiring friends, your loving friend, C. T.
“ P.S.—Mrs. de L. and family have all had measles, and so has Mrs. du P. The latter has lost her dear little baby, with its pretty little dove’s eyes. When whooping-cough and measles come together they can’t pull through, and even when they get through the measles they seem to get a sort of consumption, which puts an end to their life. When you have once seen them cry, you can never forget their pitiful little faces.”
A second letter says—
“ Jan, 24.
“ There is no news here, only that the people all die of the fever. It is a wonder when one recovers, and such a one resembles a skeleton more than anything else.”
Another point of view is presented by a young prisoner who writes from his gaol, where he says he is allowed cigarettes, which help pass the time, to Miss Martha Meyer, his cousin—
“ Centra!. Gaol, Jan. 9.
“ My brother and sister are with Aunt Pretorius for their holidays. Poor little Lenie had a rough time of it with this war. She has faced what I have not, namely, a sword. I suppose if I were to say much about the matter this letter would never reach you. Lettie and Hattie came down to see us two weeks ago. We had a jolly time together. Aunt Engela is in the so-called Refugee Camp. They were well drenched through and through by a thunderstorm which passed over the unlucky prison camp. Their tent was blown all to pieces. She was captured after being shelled the whole day. Oh, Martha! how can we forgive? ... I have not much to write about, as the lex loci does not permit the use of facts, but I have volumes to talk about. . .
A young girl with patriotic fervour still unquenched writes—
“ HOWICK CAMP, Jan,
“ We have just had a wire saying that my father and eldest brother (19 years) have been captured. It is difficult for me under the circumstances to write fully. But it is too painful even to think about, that after not having seen them for twenty months, now they have to be sent across the waters and we not even allowed to greet them. Do pray for my youngest brother (17 years), who is still on commando, that he may not only be spared, but be also kept from taking any wrong step as regards surrendering. Mother and we two sisters are trying to make the best of this life in exile; and only wish to be fully sanctified through this sore affliction. We do sometimes long so intensely to go back to our homes and be with our dear ones again; but we do not wish to return if thereby our independence shall be forfeited. We women in the camp still keep up courage and are in no way desponding.”
The sickness described by Mrs. Dickenson at Merebank and prophesied by the Ladies’ Commission did not fail to gain ground. A woman experienced in camp life wrote thence on January 7—
“ At Howick, they say, the death-rate is slightly decreasing. Here I am afraid it is still on the increase. . . . Opposite my small canvas room I can see the workshop where the coffins are being made daily. It is too saddening to see the little coffins being carried out continually. Last night four little ones died in our immediate neighbourhood.”
From other parts, as January advanced, reassuring news began to arrive, and it was clear that improved conditions were bringing improved health.
Rev. W. P. Rousseau, Pietermaritzburg, to Committee at Amsterdam.
"Jan. 8, 1902.
“ . . . I have great satisfaction in informing you that the mortality in the camps (in this country at least) has greatly decreased. There are but few sick here in the camp. Some are ill with enteric in hospital. At Howick also, where some time ago as many as four or five were buried in a day, it is much less now. The military always help with clothes, etc., but there are many complaints that the help is not timely and often not as was desired. In all urgent cases the Committee help.”
Mr. W. F. Hollard to Committee at Amsterdam.
“ Pretoria, Jan. 9.
“ I have much pleasure in informing you that I have heard that the mortality in general, and in particular amongst the children, has greatly decreased as the hospital arrangements have been improved.
“ We have in most cases been able to provide the women and children with stretchers, so that they are no longer obliged to lie on the ground, and we were able to provide restoratives. I believe I need hardly remark that, notwithstanding all our efforts added to the important aid we have received from friends, such as you in Holland, Paris, Germany, etc. etc., want is still very great, which you will understand when I say that the camps are daily enlarged and still more women and children are brought in.”
With the decrease of sickness and death, the monotony and weariness of the life became more apparent. It pressed sadly upon the old, as appears from what is written to her daughter in Cape Town by an old Dutch lady—
“ Volksrust, Jan. 27, 1902.
“ I must do everything for myself and for---. We can get no assistance. In our tents we sit on the bare ground. During continuous winds we are enveloped in a whirlwind of black dust, and during the continuous rains we have now, it is a mess of mud. I cannot possibly describe our life in the tents and in the camp, but since the New Year it has proved too much for me; with my last remaining strength I have also lost my courage. . . . Ah, may this sad war speedily draw to a close! I am at this moment sitting in T---’s tent, for she is lucky enough to have a table and a seat, which I have not. For night-table I have two boxes placed on the top of each other. My bed was only the frame of an iron bedstead laid on a couple of chests. B--------- and the child slept for months on the bare ground, but now at last they have got an iron bedstead. You cannot possibly realise how we have suffered, at first from the cold and wet, and now from the heat and heavy thunderstorms. God alone knows what is still in store for us. T------ has been ill since the 5th of December. When the heat gets too great in her tent, she comes over to mine, for since my illness I have got an over-tent, as I could not stand the wet and the cold. It is not possible to write about everything as I should wish, for one does not know if the letters will be passed, if one gives too exact a description of our position. ... I could write no further, being over-tired, and I trembled so that writing was out of the question. B-------- has been eight days in the hospital with enteric fever; he is now getting better, but many have died from it.—Now I will tell you something about H-----’s wounds. One bullet entered his chin and stuck in his jaw. This had to be extracted. Another shot went clean through his knee. A third bullet passed over his foot through his big toe. Besides, he has many small wounds about the face, probably from the bursting of a shell. We do not know where we shall see each other again. All we possessed has been destroyed and swept from the face of the earth. Send us some money, for without it we can get absolutely nothing. There are four of us, and these are our weekly rations: sufficient flour and rice, a little coffee, scarcely any sugar, this lasts us about three days. Once a week we get some meat, mostly bones; and every fortnight every person a piece of soap the length of my hand to do all our washing with. On this we are supposed to keep alive and well.”
No time was lost by those who began to experience the improvements now really being effected in some camps, in giving expression to their relief. The two next letters are full of appreciation. The first is from the clergyman’s wife who had written so despondingly a few weeks previously—
“ Ladysmith Camp, Feb. 17, 1902.
“ I am happy to say your prayers for us are heard: sickness and death have decreased to a great extent in all the camps. We arrived here on the 8th; about 900 of our camp have been removed to this place. It is so glorious to live in a house again. They are large iron buildings, lined with wood, boarded floors, and big windows, and though we are five or six families in one building, with only blankets for partition walls, still we consider it a great comfort compared to the horrid little round tents.
“ When we see the dust-storms and rain coming we need not run to fasten up our tents and fix down the pins, nor need we crawl on all-fours through the mud through the small openings of our tents in order to get backwards and forwards to our wooden kitchens. For the present we still cook outside here, but they intend giving us sheds later. . . . The water and bathrooms are near by. We also get our drinking water boiled in big tanks.
“ The meat is beautifully fresh, and we may buy vegetables and fruit. . . . Though our camp is closed, still we are allowed to go into town with passes three times a week. We have a nice comfortable hospital, good nurse, and old Dr. -------- for camp doctor. So you see how much there is to be thankful for. . . . Lottie seems to feel the heat and the rough camp life more than any of us. She is always complaining of weakness, and has grown thin. My brother-in-law has sent her journey money to Cape Town, but hitherto we could not get her a pass.
" No one is allowed to leve who has relatives still on commando" - Cd 893, p. 108."
M. F. is in Winburg Camp, and has lost her four youngest children, including her only little girl; she has only the two eldest living. Mr. P. T. is in Bloemfontein Camp, and has lost his wife and youngest child. He has three little children to care for with him, and only one hand to fulfil a mother’s duties. The histories of some people are too sad to relate.”
From a Young Girl to a Former Teacher.
“ Tin Town, Ladysmith, Feb. 17.
“ You’ll doubtless be surprised to see that we have again been moved.
“ We arrived at this place on the 2nd of February. I suppose the whole of the Harrismith Camp is to be sent here, but as yet there are many of our friends there still.
“ We have certainly made a great change for the better, inasmuch as we are now in nice comfortable houses, with decent windows and floors. One feels quite another being since one can walk and sit straight again in a nice high room.
“ Some of the Harrismith townspeople have been sent here too. Here are quite a number of our old Seminary girls in camp. Bessie and Helena are both in Harrismith Hospital with fever. The death-rate in that camp was frightful during the last month of our stay there. . . . Five of us were confirmed the day before we left the camp at Harrismith. There were more than forty 1 catechisanten,’ and so the little building used as a church being too small, Ds. Theron had the service in the open air. It certainly was the most imposing scene I had ever been present at. It was a beautiful afternoon, and nearly the whole camp was assembled there. Mr. Theron said he thought it certainly was the first time since the days of the ‘ Voortrekkers ’ that confirmation was held in the open air.
“ It is with something of a shock that I realised I am really and truly eighteen years already, and oh ! how very far I am still from that rung of the ladder where I’ve always determined to stand at that age. However, God knows it’s through no fault of mine. It is so very hard to understand why I should have been so completely checked in the course of my studies just when it was all growing so immensely interesting. However, I have not at all given up hope yet, and am going to apply again. I suppose you know that Lottie also wishes to go to Stellenbosch. Perhaps we may be allowed to go together. The last answer I had from the ‘ Powers that be ’ was that they have nothing against my going, but, only could not allow me to go at present. . . . You’ll answer me soon, won’t you? ”
From Miss Lottie Rossouw to a Friend.
“ Refugee Camp, Kroonstad, Feb. 2. 1902.
“ A few weeks ago I received your kind letter and parcel. Mother is very glad to have the papers to read, for we get no reading of any kind unless it is an old newspaper. ... I had a disappointment about your letter; when I had just opened it, a whirlwind came through our tent and carried away the first half and I have been unable to find it again. . . . We are all still in very good health and daily picking up lost strength. The heat is unlike anything we have ever felt even in Natal, and it is responsible for much of the illness and debility of the people. We have been able to fare pretty well lately, for grandfather sent us two large cases of vegetables with a promise of more, and we shall soon be able to have potatoes and beans from papa’s wee garden. Our Choral Union has changed conductors, and last night we gave a very successful entertainment, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all, including several townspeople and the whole hospital staff not on duty.
“ I have not been teaching since the Christmas holidays, and I think several other teachers will have to leave now, because four or five teachers arrived from England yesterday to take charge of the Camp School. I am quite anxious to hear how they will get on with these children. One of our teachers is dangerously ill with enteric fever. . . .
“ Here there is hardly any grass and no flowers ; on all sides you have nothing but tents in long rows; all is so monotonous and every street just like the other, strangers seldom find their way. The streets, and even the tents, are numbered, ours being E. 18 and 19, Section V. Some name their tents, and one of our neighbours called theirs Bellevue Tent, so Ella promptly christened ours Bell-Tent View!
“ They have sisters and nurses now for the out-patients, and the hospital accommodation is very large. Altogether there have been various small improvements and some fresh restrictions. Last Monday, two girls, sisters, were drowned whilst bathing, and now no one except grown-up men is allowed to bathe at all. This is very awkward, for very few people have baths, and the banks of the river being terribly steep it is no joke to carry up sufficient water for a bath. No bathing arrangement is made, and I pity too the women who have to do their washing outside in the sun, and carry the wet linen up the banks to dry. ...”
A Colonial lady’s picture of the improvements in Bethulie after Mr. Cole Bowen’s visit and reforms cannot fail to interest—
“ We visited Springfontein Camp on the 25th of February. The even streets, the clean tents, the whitewashed stones placed to mark different squares and streets, made the impression on the stranger of order and prosperity. Now I can understand how a stranger coming for a peep at the camps can leave well satisfied with all that is done in such a place for its inmates. He naturally does not see behind the scenes, the heartache, the oppression, the indignities often heaped upon these patient, silent Boers. On the 27th we were in Bethulie, and during that and the following weeks saw something of what happens there in the camp with its 5,000 inmates. A pleasing sight was the soup-kitchen, with its rows of huge soup-pots. Mrs. Du Preez, the matron, told us that she received 150 lbs. of meat every day, and from that made soup for 3,000 persons. Every school-child was entitled to a cupful of soup with a little piece of meat in it. The soups were as varied as possible from day to day. They were busy erecting baking-ovens for people to bake their bread. This, we believe, will save much labour and trouble. We went at different times to the so-called Orphanage. It broke my heart to see the state of those 40 children there; the others at that time were ill in hospital. Ill-kept, ill-clad, a disgrace to the Christian (?) nation who will not let them be given over to us, who would at least treat them with love and pity. The hospitals are, I daresay, as good as possible under such circumstances; I am not able to say much about them. But the feeling is that if the people had been properly fed there would have been much less need of such places.” Shortly before this Mrs. Dickenson had been writing from Bethulie Camp—
[Extract from Advertiser of South Australia.] “ The Inspector of Burgher Camps, Mr. Bowen, has been here for a fortnight, trying to ascertain the cause of the terrible mortality in Bethulie Camp. On his arrival he at once dismissed the superintendent, who seemed to have been entirely unfitted for his position. In fact, I was told that his qualifications for the post consisted in being a great sportsman, and having been the means of recovering some officer’s valuable dog which had been lost. He was supposed to live in the camp, but spent his time at the hotel, while the 4,000 people under his charge died by hundreds (1,200 in six or seven months). The overworked doctors either fell ill, and sometimes died themselves, or resigned their hopeless task. The camp had every fault possible, Mr. Bowen told me—overcrowding, tents too near together, and never moved for months; bad sanitary arrangements, insufficient water supply, and a poor, scanty dietary. Under his direction the tents are being spread out so as to cover a much larger area on the new ground, the dietary is improved, and already the death-rate is lowered. Epidemics of measles and whooping-cough are responsible for many deaths, but at present debility and atrophy among the mothers, and a sort of marasmus among the children, are what the doctors have to contend with. Some of the people are really mere skeletons. ‘ Only a course of port wine, jelly, and change of air would be ordered for them,’ as the superintendent quietly remarked to me, ‘ were they in a position to get either.’ He says he has just obtained from the Government permission to allow tinned milk for young children, which has hitherto not been given except in case of sickness.
“ Bethulie, which has always been a most healthy little village, has a good deal of enteric,—a disease unknown here before the war,—and this is the case all over the Orange River Colony. The cause is the contamination of water supplies by the presence of large bodies of troops, or those hotbeds of disease, the Concentration Camps. The thousands of slaughtered cattle lying all over the farms add to the insanitary condition of the country, and I strongly suspect that cholera will break out when the farms are again inhabited.
“ Of Bethulie, a Mr. Grant, of whom I asked the question, replied, ‘ Undoubtedly their owners will be allowed to return to them, whether they are in Ceylon, St. Helena, or India. They will be sent back, and allowed to resume possession of their land. English law recognises the right of private individuals to their own property, even in a conquered country.* The first question I am asked by die women in the Concentration Camps is, * When will this terrible war be over, and we be able to return to our homes ? *
“ I have met none of that belligerent spirit I was led to expect among them.”
Mrs. Dickenson informs me that a good deal of this letter was cut out before it reached the Australian Advertiser.
She had mentioned that the sub-superintendent had been, getting tobacco from Government at 1s. 6d. and selling the same to the men in camp at 4s. per pound. Also that the people complained that their letters posted in camp were never received by their friends unless they were registered, and that people making complaints in letters were forbidden to write at all\ These items the censor deemed dangerous to the military position if published in Australia, and they were suppressed.
“ I was about three weeks in Bethulie,” continues Mrs. Dickenson, “ and during that time ” (after the reforms of the Inspector, Mr. Bowen) “ the health of the people improved, and the death-rate lessened considerably. Speaking to the medical men and dispensers, they told me about September and October, when things were at their worst, the death-rate averaged about 120 a week out of 4,000 people! One day 27 funerals took place (they are always buried on the day of death). About August some very bad meat was sent into the camp, and the doctors condemned it as being the flesh of cattle that had died of disease. A dispenser told me it was full of yellowish spots. However, the meat was returned, and the superintendent was told that they must make it do. After this, dysentery and enteric broke out. When I was there, the deaths were mostly owing to debility and prostration. Children, who reminded one of the famine-stricken people of India, and who were gradually wasting away. Women, whose only chance would be sea air and a generous diet. But most of the patients had gone too far for any human aid.”
Mrs. De Wet, who had on previous occasions expostulated on our methods of treating a general’s wife, now wrote direct to Mr. Brodrick. She had been supported in the town of Johannesburg without expense to the English Government, but when her husband did not surrender she was exiled to Natal, and placed in the camp at Pietermaritzburg, though able and willing to support herself elsewhere.
" March 13, 1902.
“ Sir,—This is to acquaint you that I protest against the treatment accorded me by the British Government.
“ I was living in Johannesburg, in a comfortable house, at my own expense, and was deported from there against my expressed wish and inclination by order of the military authorities, July 26, 1901, and put in the Concentration Camp here, into a canvas house consisting of two rooms, with my family, eight souls in all. One of the rooms had been occupied by an enteric patient until within a few days of my arrival. The floors are so wet after heavy rams as to be positively unhealthy. I was told when I was sent from Johannesburg that a furnished house would be given me at Pietermaritzburg, and that I and my family would be both well treated and provided for; instead of which I was put into a two-roomed canvas house, without furniture or conveniences of any kind, not even a kitchen, so had to cook outside in all weathers, until friends kindly put up a verandah and shelter for me to cook in. The ordinary rations are served to me, 'upon which no one can live unless supplemented by vegetables, fruit, milk, butter, and eggs. The fuel allowed is insufficient to cook the food, the soap is also insufficient for washing and cleanliness, and three and a half candles per week are not enough to light one room, let alone more.
“ Shortly after my arrival here I applied to return to Johannesburg, at my own expense. Reply received: ‘Your husband is fighting.’ I have made applications at different times to leave the camp and live elsewhere, but that has been denied me. I also asked the British Government to provide me with a furnished house and funds to live in Pietermaritzburg, as my application to go to Vredefort Weg was refused. On receiving answer from the authorities here that I was receiving the same good treatment in the camp as the other commandants’ wives, my request for a furnished house in Pietermaritzburg could not be entertained, I then wrote to Lord Kitchener, asking him to allow me to leave the camp and to reside in Pietermaritzburg at my own expense. Up to the present time I have received no answer.
“ I fail to understand where the good treatment comes in, as I have been treated with scant courtesy. The British have destroyed my home and property, placed me in a Concentration Camp in a shanty such as my servants on my farm would have scorned to occupy.
“ C. M. De Wet.”
The mental suffering of the people, all along more intense than their physical sufferings, became more prominent as these last were alleviated. A lady who has laboured for months among the camps has entered fully into this, and her views are expressed in the following letter:—
“ She says that literally it is now a case of no money being spared to make the camp life as healthy as possible. But though now food and clothing are supplied, she says the deadly monotony of the life remains, and she thinks that now the suffering is more mental than physical, and that suffering she never can forget. . . . She thinks that many are so wretched, have suffered so much, and lost so many of their relatives, that when illness attacks them they make no great fight to live. Even many young girls die because they are broken-hearted at having lost their lovers. The little she said gave me a more awful impression of the substratum of agony on which these camps rest than anything else I have heard. A people are being tortured to death. Of course one knows it all, but the talk with her brought it all very vividly before one. . . . The women are convinced that their cause will ultimately triumph. She says she tells them that if the camps were to last ten years longer England will continue the war for that length of time, so that to continue to fight is absolutely useless as far as the Republicans are concerned. She assures them that they will never get back their country. But the suffering and agony weigh her down, and her eyes are always full of tears, as it were, and she looks as if they had shed floods of tears. It is awful to meet so compassionate a woman and to find her at bottom determined on victory for her country, whatever it may cost to those who are to be conquered.”
The following little note from a minister, with its application for books, gives a timely hint of the large sums that will be required to replace the endless losses of so many families— things which the Government fund is not likely to provide. Every household article, from a saucepan to a piano, will be lacking:—
From Rev. C. G. Jooste.
“ Brandhort Camp, April 2, 1902.
“ Send me, if you please, three Dutch Bibles and three hymn-books. They must not be very dear, nor very large, but the usual convenient size. They are for old people in the Refugee Camp who have lost almost everything. Elderly people who are more than 60 or 70 years of age, so that a good clear print is needed. The hymn-books as soon as possible, with full notes, that is, with notes to each verse. The people are so poor in this camp, they have lost so much, that it would be difficult for them to pay anything out even for books. Our Colonial people at the camp may be assured that they are really needed They are so very poor here, but they must at least have Bibles. May the Lord bless us in this work. I have written to Dominie Mar-guard about these books, but have not yet heard from him. I must have these books for the camp.”
The improvements are nowhere more gladly recognised than by the President’s wife, who had suffered deeply in sympathy with her people. Mrs. Steyn writes to Lady Farrer—
“ Bloemfontein, March 3, 1902.
“ You will no doubt be surprised to hear from me, but as you are Treasurer of the ‘Women and Children’s Distress Fund,’ and one who has done so much for our women and children, I feel as if I would like to write and tell you how our hearts have been gladdened lately by the very marked improvement which has taken place in the different camps.
“ I will, of course, write more particularly about the one here, as I am in a position to judge a little for myself. In December I was as a favour allowed to drive out to visit the camp hospital, and the sight was indeed most touching. To see ward after ward crowded with sick women and children could not but make one feel very sad. I went from bed to bed, spoke a few words to those who were well enough, and they all seemed delighted to see me.
“ One woman in particular, a wealthy farmer’s wife, and a very good creature, I found very, very ill; her big strapping daughter of about nineteen stood beside the bed. I said to her:
" Whisper to your mother, “ Mrs. Steyn is here.” ’ The girl did so; the poor woman opened her eyes, stretched out her hand for mine, pressed it to her heart for some minutes, and all she could say was: ‘Thank you, thank you.’ My eyes were dim with tears. I turned and left the bedside, with the fervent prayer that God would restore her to health—but—both she and her daughter are ‘ no more.* It was an afternoon of many touching incidents, and I shall never forget it.
“ The wards, I must confess, looked very neat, and the patients clean and comfortable, and I could not understand why our women, one and all, so strongly objected to the hospitals, when to my mind they were infinitely preferable to the hot tents. On inquiry afterwards, I found the food, and in many cases the young inexperienced nurses taken to assist the trained nurses, were the great objections. Just passing through the hospital, it was difficult for me to judge about these matters. The death-rate at that time was high, and I felt very cast down. I knew, however, that the authorities were doing everything in their power to improve things, and that was a great comfort. In January the soup kitchens were started, better meat was supplied, the rations increased, and in addition a fair amount of vegetables allowed for each family. We had lovely rains, cooler weather set in, and in a marvellously short time the improvement was so great it seemed almost incredible. The health of the camp improved with rapid strides, and the death-rate decreased accordingly, so that just lately for four days the mortuary was empty.
“ You may imagine how great our rejoicings were, and how many prayers of thanksgiving were offered up to God.
“ Only this morning I had a woman with me, an old inhabitant of the camp, she had lost two children last year, and once before called to see me; wept so bitterly then, and said: ‘ Oh, Mrs. Steyn, how I hate the hospital, and how hard it is to have our loved ones taken to it! * Last month her only surviving child took ill, and soon after herself also. She begged not to have either of them removed, but the doctor spoke kindly, and at last she consented. Her words to me were : ‘ Mrs. Steyn, I am so thankful I went, both my child and self recovered in no time. We were treated very well, had plenty of good food, and the improvement in the hospital is very great.’ She spoke so nicely, and I most earnestly hope the improvement may continue; I have such confidence myself that it will.
“ You must understand, to very many of our people, even under the most favourable circumstances, the life in a camp and a tent is a hard one; but they are all more satisfied and contented with their treatment, and that is a very great comfort to me. I daresay you will have heard that I was all packed and ready to leave for Europe in November, and at the eleventh hour my departure was cancelled. It was a terrible thought to me to have to leave South Africa while my husband was still exposed to so many dangers, and I was delighted when unforeseen circumstances arose which prevented my departure.
“ Mrs. Blignaut, though not visiting the camp, still does a great deal for our people, and is often kept very busy. We gratefully remember our kind friends, and will always deeply appreciate what is being done for us . . .”
Letter from Mrs. Geldenhuis to Myself.
“Bloemfontein Camf, vi/W/12, 1902.
“ I am glad to say, through the merciful grace of Providence, myself and mine have so far been all spared, all enjoying fairly good health. My little Sarah has been in hospital some time, but is quite well again, and has grown to quite a big young lady since you saw her.
“ Our life in camp has greatly improved of late. Medical arrangements too are on a far better scale than some time back. Our hospitals are almost empty ; last month there were only 28 deaths, while this month up to date only three.
“ I am sorry to say, after you left, for some or other small reason, I was placed in the prisoners’ camp, where I had been, so to say, forgotten by every one outside. I cannot now give you full details of how I have been kept in the dark.
“ I am making up a little parcel of curios I intend to send you with a friend of mine. Hoping the time is near when we can correspond more freely.”
Quite recently a friend of mine sent to the Neiv Age these few lines, the substance of her conversation with a Dutch woman, a relative of General De la Rey—
“ April 29, 1902.
“ My acquaintance with their language, and expressions of sympathy for the sufferings of the women in the camps, soon gained their confidence. The principal speaker was a very tall, finely-built woman, with eyes that were capable of a great variety of expression; generally they were only half opened, while the speaker’s soul veiled itself under an appearance of calm and indifference—very typical of this land of peace and basking sunshine and violent and tremendous storm. I inquired as to whether there was an improvement in the general condition of things in the camp she had just come from. Most assuredly there was—the food was better, the aged and infirm and delicate were dead. She attributed the terribly high death-rate of the past to the way in which the people had been dragged from their homes, and exposed without food or shelter to the inclement weather. On arrival there was, as a rule, neither shelter nor food, and the continued exposure and exhaustion led to severe outbreaks of sickness, with the result that numbers died. ‘Are the women losing heart?—are they willing that their husbands should surrender ?’ I asked. A light spread over her face, and welled up in her eyes, as she said: * There are some Afrikanders —hounds I call them—that have given in; but there are numbers of women in our camp that will never give in; that will never bid their husbands give in. I say my husband must fight to the last; if only two men are left, he must fight on; if he is left alone, while he can hold a gun he must fight on. It is a sore thing to part with your husband—to know that he is fighting; but I would rather he lay dead on the battle-field than gave in.' * And what about the women themselves—about their sufferings ?91 asked. She threw back her fine head and said: ‘ I have never had anything the matter with me; the harder I get it, the stronger I seem to get—strength comes as you need it. It is true I have seen whole families die out in camp; but there are also others who have lost none, who are still all together. But if I die—I die—it matters not; never, never will I give in. It is my light,’ she continued, ‘ that every one must do what they can for their own land. I cannot do otherwise. I cannot understand those who do give in. I do not hate the British. I have no hate in my heart, but I can never forget nor forgive what we have gone through. We have had it too bitter. We have suffered too much—too many have died—too many tears have been shed. I can’t cry any more—there are no more tears left in me. I have to laugh sometimes. There is no one to help us, so we have to keep each other’s spirits up. But the poor “ Tommies,” ’ she went on—* I will always do all I can for a Tommy. They get it too bitter—they get it as we do. It was awful to see them when they first came into our town. They were starving. They crowded round our ovens when the bread came out, to get a morsel. They ate all the green fruit off the trees. One poor “Tommy” was found dead at his post. His body was opened—he had filled himself with green mealies.’ I asked whether the negotiations that were going on would lead to peace. She replied: * There will be no peace unless we get what we want—unless we get what is right.’ Then the same strange, beautiful light again spread over her face, and filled her eyes, as she said: * We may get it still more bitter, still more hard; I may be without a petticoat at last. But if everything is gone—that day that we get our independence I will dance and play like a little child.”’
Nothing can more fitly close this slight outline of the tale of the women’s sufferings than the passages which follow, culled from the Report of General J. C. Smuts, late State Attorney [New Report of General J. C. Smuts to Mr, Kruger, p. 10.]—
“ Never can pen describe what the heroines of our people have suffered and endured since the spring of 1900. Fleeing before the enemy into the woods and mountains of Rustenburg, Waterburg, Loutpansburg, Lydenburg, Swaziland, and Zululand, where skeletons now cry to Heaven against the barbarous Kaffir . . . hiding with their little ones knee-deep in water in the reeds of Schoonspruit and Mooi River, where they were fired at by the enemy with Lee-Metfords and Maxims and driven into towns; then after months of useless fleeing dumped at last into the prison camps of the enemy, where, sick unto death themselves, they saw their children buried, and where they went hungry because they could not eat the bad meat and the still worse meal, and had no firewood for cooking—week after week, month after month, year after year, they sit meditating and longing and brooding over their husbands and sons who have perhaps already been shot. Has such a picture of suffering ever been unfolded to the world before ? The life of the man on the veld, although hard, is comfortable compared with the slow death of their imprisoned loved ones.
“ And still the women keep up marvellously; nearly all the letters which are smuggled out of these prison camps encourage the men to hold out to the death and never to bring shame on their name and family by surrender. ... I do not believe that there was ever a more noble spectacle among men, and one of which humanity may more rightly be proud, than that of the Boer wife. Her quiet suffering points out the way to our independence; her noble and heroic character is the guarantee for the greatness of our future."
The terms signed on the 1st of June will not alter or quench this fine spirit. The question remains: Will it, under the guidance of a wise and understanding statesmanship, be incorporated with the best English feeling, or will it smoulder beneath repression, petty tyranny, and narrow intolerance till it kindle anew' the abandoned resistance of the men ?
It is there, and it is a factor to be dealt with in the problem of the South African future.