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We were kept at Lydenburg until about the 30th of January, 1902, and during our stay there I obtained leave to write a letter to my burghers. In this I acquainted them and my brother with what had occurred, and exhorted them to keep up their hearts and persevere. Although kindly treated at Lydenberg, I cannot adequately describe the feeling of disappointment and sorrow which my enforced inaction caused me. I would have given anything to have been able to return to my commando, and felt that I would rather have been killed than have fallen into the enemy's hands. Being thus rendered impotent I could but curse my fate.

Friendships which are formed on the veldt are strong indeed, and the men who have lived together through all the vicissitudes of war for twenty-eight months—through sunshine and  rain, happiness and sorrow, prosperity and adversity—become attached one to another with lasting affections. My sufferings hit me very keenly. Besides the sadness which separation from my companions caused me, I acutely felt my position as, having been before in the habit of commanding and of being obeyed by others, I was now subject to the humiliation of having to obey the orders of British privates.

We prisoners were conveyed from Lydenburg to Machadodorp under the charge of Colonel Urenston, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with an escort of 2,000 men. I was at a loss to know why so large a force should have been sent to guard me, but this seemingly exaggerated precaution was soon explained when I was told that Lord Kitchener had given special orders that great care was to be taken to prevent my commando from rescuing me. I must say that there was not much chance of that occurring. Colonel Urenston was a very courteous soldier, and treated me as well as could be expected.

Reaching Machadodorp four days later, I was handed over at Dalmanutha Station to  Captain Pearson, a staff officer, who subsequently conducted me and my fellow prisoners to Pretoria. Some days after my arrival there I was taken before Lord Kitchener, and was received very courteously by him at his office. My interview with this great General lasted about half an hour. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in South Africa impressed me as being a real soldier, a man possessed of a strong will not marred by arrogance.

I did not know what the British military authorities proposed to do with me, and felt quite indifferent as to the matter. At dawn on the third day after my arrival I was awakened by a soldier and informed that I was to be taken to the station. The train was in readiness when I arrived, and the officer in charge invited me to take a seat in his compartment. I was then told that we were to proceed to Durban, but no information was given me as to my ultimate destination.

On the train we prisoners were treated with great courtesy, but on reaching Durban a different experience awaited us. Here I was placed under the charge of Colonel Ellet, a  very irascible person. This Colonel greeted me with the information that he was quite delighted that I had been captured. He repeated this gratuitous insult three times, and, my patience being exhausted, I asked him to be kind enough to tell me where he was instructed to convey me, and not to cause me unnecessary pain by his taunts. He apologised lamely and told me that I was to proceed on board ship. This very much surprised me, and I remarked that I had already been taken from home and hearth 500 miles. This ill-tempered creature then lent back arrogantly in his armchair, puffing at his cigar, and said: "Well, ah, you are banished, don't you know. You are to be sent to St. Helena, or as we call it, 'The Rock.' You will shortly embark. It is a large ship you are going in; it is called—ah, let me see, oh, yes, the Britannica. I will proceed to the station and order your kit, and in the meantime you must sign this parole and report yourself forthwith at the docks." I said in Dutch, which the Colonel did not understand, "Lord deliver me from this evil person."

On arriving on board ship I found several other Boer prisoners-of-war, amongst them my old friend Erasmus, who masqueraded as a general in the early stages of the War. Never having been before upon the sea I was soon in the throes of mal de mer, and the prospect was certainly not encouraging. There was no help for it, however. Colonel Curtis, of the Royal Artillery, who was in charge of the troops on board, was a very polite and pleasant person, and very welcome after that extraordinary creature, Ellet. We were provided with good cabins and the food was excellent. Before leaving the Bay General Lyttelton visited me and showed himself very friendly. I soon found out that Mrs. Lyttelton was proceeding on the same boat to England. My company must have been rather unattractive, seeing that I was only well for one day during the whole voyage.

The steamer was ordered to call at Cape Town, and when we neared this port the guard kept over us was strengthened. An officer remained with us continually and counted us every two hours to make sure that none of us  had escaped. One day two young Boers conspired to make a fool of the officer, and concealed themselves in the lavatory. Their absence was discovered the next time we were counted, and the officer in charge, in a great state of perturbation, demanded of us what had become of them. We took up the joke at once, and replied that they had gone on shore to be shaved and would return at 7 o'clock. This entirely took his breath away. But the absurdity of the situation so got the better of us that we burst out into ironical laughter, and finally set our custodian at ease by producing the two fugitives. We were punished for our little joke, however, by having our paroles withdrawn.

On the 19th of February the ship, with its sorrowful freight, steamed away from Cape Town. We prisoners, assembled on the upper deck, bade a very sorrowful farewell to the shores of our dear Fatherland. Long and sadly did we gaze upon the fast receding land from which we expected to be alienated for ever. Notwithstanding our depressing circumstances, however, we attempted pluckily to keep up our  spirits, and with laughter and frivolity to cheer each other. Most of us had never been on a ship before, and only one of our number had ever voyaged away from South Africa. Ours was a very cheerless prospect, for, although we did not know our exact fate, banishment for life loomed over us. The ship's officers were urbanity itself, and did everything in their power for our comfort. I shall always remember their kindness, but it would have required much more than human effort to have made our voyage enjoyable owing to the fact that we suffered so intensely from sea-sickness.

After a very cheerless and discomforting voyage, we dropped anchor on the 24th of February in St. Helena Harbour. "The Rock" rose out of the ocean, bare and rugged, and imprisonment upon it offered a gloomy prospect. No animal was visible, and foliage was wanting, I never saw a less attractive place than Jamestown, the port at which we landed. The houses seemed to be tumbling over one another in a "kloof." We were all gloomily impressed, and somebody near me said, "This will be our living graves." I  answered, "No wonder that Napoleon broke his heart upon this God-forsaken rock." I must confess that the feeling grew upon us that we were to be treated as ordinary criminals, since only murderers and dangerous people are banished to such places to be forgotten by mankind.

An English officer came to me and asked what I thought of the Island. My feelings got the better of me, and I replied—"It seems a suitable place for England's felons, but it is very spiteful of England to deport here men whose only crime has been to fight for their country. It would have been much more merciful to have killed us at once than to make us drag out an existence in a manner so dreary."

We were soon taken ashore by boats to Jamestown, and there learned to our great disgust that we were all to be put in quarantine for bubonic plague, and to be isolated at Lemon Valley, a valley in which I afterwards found that lemons were conspicuous by their absence. No greenery was to be seen in this desolate place. While our debarkation was  proceeding one of the boats capsized, but, happily, everybody escaped with nothing worse than a ducking.

Quarantine regulations were enforced for six days at Lemon Valley. The accommodation was very inadequate, and our culinary utensils, though not primitive, were very bad, the food being such as might have been the portion of criminals.

Luckily for us a British Censor named Baron von Ahlenfeldt, and a doctor named Casey had accompanied us, and owing to their instrumentality we were allowed better food and treatment. At the end of our detention in the quarantine camp some of our number were removed to Broadbottom Camp, while the others were quartered at Deadwood Camp. Lieutenant Bathurst, who now assumed the position of our custodian, was a good prototype of friend Ellet at Durban, and he was at pains to treat us as felons rather than as prisoners-of-war.

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Category: Viljoen: My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War
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