My Granny was in a concentration camp
Granny Sarah Alice Liddell; Bluegumbush farm, Witsieshoek, Free State, South Africa; Harrismith Concentration Camp
A few years ago, Megan found a reference online that indicated that my grandmother, Sarah Liddell, had been interned in the British Concentration Camp at Harrismith during the Anglo Boer War. This was a big surprise. My grandmother’s family were English and my father and grandmother had never mentioned anything like this. My first reaction was that someone had made a mistake. My surprise turned to shock when I discovered that it was true. My grandmother, her parents and her siblings had indeed been interned in the Harrismith concentration camp. Two of my grandmother’s sisters had died there from typhoid. And a number of my grandmother’s Liddell aunts, uncles and cousins had also been interned and other children had also died.
This was not a little event that had slipped from memory over time. This was a big deal. It would have been firmly imprinted in the minds of all who were involved. But it had never come up in family conversations. I checked with my brother. He too is sure that these events were never discussed. I checked with my cousin, daughter of my father’s elder brother. She too is sure that these events were never discussed by our grandmother or her father.
What happened? Who knew? Why was it kept quiet? All the protagonists are now dead so we will never know all the answers, but there are a lot of records and some people who remember things. There was a lot to know, but I now do know what happened and have a good idea why no one talked about it.
The investigation was quite difficult because I essentially knew nothing except that my grandmother was a Liddell from Witsieshoek in the Free State who had grown up on a farm called Bluegumbush and that her parents, my great-grandparents, were James Greaves Liddell and Sarah Eleanor Clark. I now know a lot, lot more, but that is thanks to meeting a number of fellow Liddell descendants online. Descendants who, unlike me, actually knew something – and had an interest in family history.
The reason why no one discussed the war is, strangely, quite simple. The reasons why they were in the camps are not. They were caught up in some of the major, chaotic events of the war and these need to be understood in order to understand why they were where they were and did what they did. I have set out the family background and experiences in some detail. I have also provided a summary of the historic context for those people, like my children, who have not grown up in South Africa.