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Report on the Concentration Camps in South Africa
By The Committee of Ladies
Appointed by the Secretary of State for War.
This is an extract from the report containing all references to the Harrismith camp and also the section of the report dedicated to the Harrismith camp.
Para. 3. – The best use to be made of charitable funds. – We draw attention first to the best use which can be made of charitable funds. We have visited every concentration camp in South Africa, with the exception of tho one at Port Elizabeth, viz.. Mafeking, Vryburg, Irene, Johannesburg, Nylstroom, Pietersburg, Potchefstroom, Krugersdorp, Ollerksdorp, Barberton, Belfast, Middelburg, Balmoral, Vereeniging, Heidelburg, Standerton, and Volksrust, under the Transvaal Administration; Kimberley, Orange River, Norvals Pont, Aliwal North, Bethulie, Springfontein, Bloemfontein, Brandfort, Kroonstad, Vredefort Road, Winburg, Heilbron, and Harrismith, under the administration of the Orange River Colony ; and Howick, Pietermaritzburg, and Merebank, near Durban, in Natal. We have moreover paid a second visit to a not inconsiderable number of these camps. We therefore feel in a position to say that as far as the necessaries of life are concerned, viz., the provision of food, fuel, shelter and clothing, the Governments of the several Colonies are alive to their responsibilities in these matters, both to the people in the camps and to the taxpayers on whom the expense must ultimately fall.
Para 17. – Application for permission to reside in Camps. – It may cause surprise in some quarters to learn that voluntary applications to enter camps are by no means infrequent. The General Officer Commanding at Harrismith informed us that he had for some weeks ceased to bring people compulsorily into the camp at that place; nevertheless there were almost daily arrivals on the part of persons seeking permission to come in. Some arrived on the second day of our visit, having driven 28 miles through very bad weather. We have had handed to us copies of letters received by the Superintendent- General of Burgher Camps in Natal, asking leave to reside in camp. One of these was from the father of a family who stated that he was very anxious to come into camp, more particularly for the sake of the education of his children. He said he was quite willing to do any work he might be asked to do in camp without payment, in consideration of the educational benefits anticipated.
Para. 38. [Sanitation] [Sic – This is a typo as this is actually Para 35.] The special difficulties associated with sanitation in the Boer camps have been already referred to; but we feel that in some camps there has been a tendency on the part of the officials to sink to a low standard of order, decency, and cleanliness in these matters, rather than to face the constant wear and tear involved in insisting on a high standard. What may have been sufficient as regards sanitation, disposal of refuse, provision of bath-houses, &c. of the camps were regarded as a temporary expedient destined only to last a few weeks, becomes an obvious source of danger to health if the camps are to last months or years, We advise that the general inspectors of camps should bestow constant labour in t raising the standard in those camps which require it to the higher level successfully attained in the best camps. A few words should be added here on the subject of the supply of transport animals for the camps. No superintendent, however zealous, can keep his camp clean and healthy unless he can secure the constant use of a sufficient supply of transport animals for sanitary work, the carting away of refuse, and, where necessary, the bringing in of water.
It has been pointed out that over large districts of South Africa it has long been quite impossible to obtain fresh vegetables or fresh milk. Recently the supply of meat, in more limited areas, has given out. It ought to have been foreseen that a dietary [sic] without fresh milk, vegetables, or meat would be followed by a lowering of vitality, and that scurvy would almost certainly result, and earlier precautions ought to have been taken to prevent it. A more determined effort might, we believe, have been made to secure fresh meat, however thin ; and lime juice, jam, and vegetables of some kind added to the dietary would have been a reasonable precaution to have taken in view of an obvious danger. Again, when once the formidable character of the measles epidemic, followed as it was by pneumonia and kindred diseases, had made itself evident, more strenuous and earlier exertions ought to have been made to secure the services of an adequate supply of efficient doctors and nurses to cope with the outbreak. It would have been well if the Concentration Camps Department in each colony had, from the very beginning of serious illness in the camps, set about the formation of a reserve of doctors and nurses, so as to throw quickly into any camp, which required it, extra help to enable the existing staff successfully to combat the disease. In some camps – Barberton should be particularly mentioned in this connection – a most praiseworthy effort was made from the beginning to isolate measles. Special marquees and a buck-sail shelter were erected, and Colonel Robinson, P.M.O., was successful in bringing into hospital 357 cases of measles out of a total throughout the camp of about 500. He kept the children in hospital for 16 days after the rash had first appeared, and the proportion of deaths to cases was very favourable compared to that in most other camps. Belfast, Harrismith, and, to a certain extent Balmoral, followed the same course; but we believe more might have been done in this direction if the Departments had had a staff of doctors and nurses in reserve ready to send to each camp as the epidemic made its appearance, to help the regular staff to combat the disease. These should have been sent for from England earlier than was actually the case.
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REPORT ON BURGHER CAMP, HARRISMITH, 29th and 30th NOVEMBER 1901.
This camp is beautifully situated at the foot of the mountains near Harrismith town. The locality is said to be one of the three healthiest in the world. The camp was formed in January 1901 ; the present Superintendent, Mr. Bradley, I.Y. [Imperial Yeomanry], began his duties last August. There were at the date of our visit 1,653 people in camp, viz., 143 men, 540 women, and 963 children. A roll call is taken every night ; the camp is fenced and is now divided into two sections, separated from each other by a deep donga. The camp was originally confined to the higher of these two sections, and this, which we shall call the ” old camp,” is in a far better situation than the new, which ought to have been pitched higher up the hill. All the cases of enteric now in hospital originated in the ” new ” camp.
1. The Water Supply is extremely good, the same as that of the town. Two mountain springs supply three large reservoirs, capable of holding 15,000,000 gallons. These springs and the reservoirs are carefully fenced in ; a caretaker lives within the fence, whose business it is to protect the springs and reservoirs from fouling and to report any defect. Two horse patrols ride over the veldt daily and take care that no dead animals or other impurities are left near the source of the water. From the reservoirs the water is brought into the camp in 2″ iron pipes. There are three stand-pipes in the camp and also three corrugated iron cisterns of 1,000 gallons each, which act as a reserve of water. These cisterns have well-fitting lids and they are fenced in. Another stand-pipe is about to be put up to supply the hospital. Three large tanks for boiling drinking water have recently been sent up, a fourth is coming which is to be used as a cooler.
Washing Clothes. – There are two capital wood and iron wash-houses at which 96 women can wash at one time, there are eight taps in each ; the tables slope downwards and the dirty water drains away to a good-sized central drain- The place for the hospital washing we thought too small, and there was not enough space for separating the enteric linen from the rest and properly disinfecting it. We would suggest that the present wash-house be converted into an additional bath-room, and a new wash-house for the hospital be erected.
Bath Rooms. – There are two bath-rooms well fitted with large enamelled iron baths. They are kept locked, but the key can be had on application. On the first day of our visit the baths had been used by 15 persons.
2. Sanitation. – The pail system is used, and the latrines are well kept and clean ; the floors are of cement and a cemented drain outside. Each seat is screened from the others, and suitable accommodation is provided for children. The pails are emptied twice daily by the same contractor, who is employed by the town.
Disposal of Dry Rubbish. – Fifty large barrels arrived in camp on the first day of our visit. These are provided with covers and are to be placed about the camp as receptacles for dust and dry rubbish. Up to the time of our visit there had been ” authorised dust heaps ” taken away twice daily by the town contractor; the barrels will take the place of these. The final dumping ground is about three miles away from the camp, where a vlei is being filled up with dry rubbish, while the banks are honey-combed with trenches for the latrine deposits. This arrangement is very bad.
Disposal of Wet Rubbish. – There are nine large galvanised iron tubs placed at intervals throughout the camp ; these are also emptied twice daily by the town contractor. The ground around them was clean and well sprinkled with chloride of lime.
3. Housing. – The great majority of the people are in bell tents, but there are about 20 houses (called Park Lane), built either of sods or of wood and iron. 50 E.P.* tents are coming from India, and six marquees. When people wish to put up a house for themselves, it costs them from 3l. [3 Guineas] to 5l. The sailcloth is given to them by the Superintendent. The rule is not to have more than five in a bell tent. Smith, the head of the sanitary staff, manages the people with great tact and discretion, and gets the rule about the ventilation of tents and of houses fairly well attended to. The camp is very dry and well trenched. The surface water is drained off and used for the garden in the lower part of the camp.
[* The E.P tent was the English (or European) Private’s tent in India. The EP tent was made of multiple layers of white cloth, was 22′ by 16′ and had two stout poles and a ridge pole and all together weighed between 600 and 630 lbs. The Soldier’s Pocket-Book, Colonel Sir Garnet J Wolseley, 2nd Edition, Macmillan and Co. London and New York, 1871. Similar to modern day army tents.]
4. Rations. – The usual O.R.C. rations are given. No tinned meat has been issued. Mutton from this locality is given four times a week, and Australian beef three times. This latter comes up direct from Durban. Meat is issued daily, groceries on Tuesdays. The milk given out for this camp is all condensed, but General Sir Leslie Rundle allots eight gallons of fresh milk daily to the hospital. A small lime-juice ration weekly to each individual has recently been sanctioned.
5. Kitchens. – Some of the women club together for the use of ovens, but there is no common cooking of any kind. There were originally two public bake-ovens ; but they were not used, and have now been taken away. The Superintendent is going to put up at once the tanks for boiling water which he has recently received.
6. Fuel. – Wood only is issued, black wattle from Durban. The ration is 2lbs. per head per day, the same as a soldier’s ration. Some coal is issued for the hospital.
7. No Slaughtering is done in camp. When captured stock is used, a local butcher is paid 2d. a lb. for killing and delivering it in camp.
8. Beds and Bedding. – There are still about 65 adults in camp who have no bedstead or kartel [wooden hammock used in an ox-wagon]. Scantling poles [Also called storey poles are lengths of timber used in building and cabinet construction.] are ordered, and when they arrive in camp carpenter will make them into kartels. About 300 blankets have been issued.
9. Clothing. – The Superintendent had just ordered 861l. worth. He showed us his account. Some of his items. were as follows : –
|961 yards corduroy||446 pairs women’s boots|
|1,493 “ sateen||170 “ girls’ “|
|1,520 “ calico||98 “ youths’ “|
|1,785 “ print||148 “ boys’ “|
The people who want clothing state what they are in need of, and their applications are investigated by a committee of ladies in the town, Mrs. Leary, the magistrate’s wife, Mrs. Gibson, &c, on whose advice the Superintendent finally acts in making out the order.
10. Shops. – One only in the camp. The prices are regulated by proclamation. The Superintendent wanted to start a coolie shop for greengrocery, but the old O.F.S. law, not yet repealed, forbids any Indian trading in the State, so it was obliged to be given up, but vetegables [sic] are being sold in the shop. The shop was well provided with food stuffs, but had no clothing or hardware. We did not discover the reason of this. The people can go into the town for shopping purposes between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. They used to be allowed to go in and out as much as they pleased, any time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily, but three women abused this privilege and stayed away all night ; since this happened freedom to go to town has been curtailed.
11. Hospital. – The staff consists of one M.O., Dr. Beor, not resident in camp ; two trained nurses, one English probationer, two Boer assistants.
The situation of the hospital is bad – it is in the corner of the camp, low down, it ought to be removed to higher ground as soon as possible. There are three marquees for enteric and four for measles. The number of beds is 32, and on the first day of our visit the number of patients was 25, but the beds were nearly all full before we left. More bedsteads are needed and another marquee ought to be put up for general cases. More probationers from the camp are also needed, and one native to act as handy man is also much required. The hospital furnishing and equipment are extremely scanty. In one of the measles marquees the patient had brought in her own bed and bedding, the hospital being so short of these necessaries. The enteric sheets are neither boiled nor properly disinfected. The hospital wash-house as previously mentioned, is very small and unsuitable and at a long distance from the hospital, so that the soiled linen has to be carried all across the camp. An incinerator for enteric stools should be provided. In one enteric marquee were four children, all members of the same family, who had been living in a bell tent in the ” new ” camp. Two members of the family had died already. Nothing had been done to disinfect the tent or the ground on which it stood. Notwithstanding these serious defects in the hospital organisation at Harrismith, we desire to mention that although there have been in all 76 cases treated in the hospital, there have been only four deaths, and that this is the only camp in which we have heard a message from a person sick in the lines, asking why the hospital had not sent the stretcher to bring her in as promised.
The patients were carefully attended to and looked after, as far as the short equipment permitted, and we were pleased to see that mosquito netting was used to protect the enteric patients from flies. It should be mentioned that though Harrismith is naturally an extremely healthy place, there was a good deal of sickness, especially enteric, among the troops in it at the time of our visit. It was constantly being brought in by the columns.
Housing and Feeding of the Nursing Staff. – One nurse has a comfortable room, the others have bell tents. A bell tent also serves as a mess tent. We think the nurses should have a marquee as mess room, and that some comfortable chairs should be provided tor it. The feeding of the nurses is not what it should be, they draw ordinary refugee rations with the addition of ½lb. meat daily. We think they should be allowed army rations.
Out-patients and Lines. – Out-patients are seen at the hospital, and the lines are supposed to be visited by the doctor every forenoon. There is no camp matron and the system of reporting cases of sickness in the tents is not good. Request for a doctor’s visit have to be sent to the hospital in the morning and in some cases this request was never made, and the patient died without having been visited by a doctor at all. The tents are neither lettered nor numbered and this is another hindrance to the doctors visits, and occasions waste of time.
12. Camp Matron. – We felt that a trained nurse was urgently required as camp matron, and telegraphed to the Deputy Administrator to that effect before leaving Harrismith. There is a Miss Brink in camp, who is called camp matron, and who was appointed three days before our arrival. She looks after the soup kitchen, but she has not got the capacity, training, and experience which would enable her to organise a thorough system of visiting, reporting cases of sickness, and attending to the nursing of the. sick in the lines.
13. Minister of Religion. – The Rev. C. P. Theron is resident in camp and seems to give satisfaction.
14. Discipline and Morals. – The Superintendent said he had found no special means of discipline necessary. With the exception of the women previously referred to, who absented themselves all night, it is feared for immoral purposes, he had had very little trouble.
15. Education. – There is a very good school in this camp with 350 children on the roll, and an average attendance of about 212. The headmaster is Mr. B. J. Smit. He speaks English well. One of the new school shelters, built of sun-dried bricks, has been put up and the walls had been whitewashed, which much improved the appearance of the shelter. Good benches and seats had been made by the Royal Engineers. Five marquees are also occupied by the school. A fairly large group of scholars were preparing for one of the examinations of the Cape Town University, called the “School Higher.” They were doing Latin and Mathematics. This was the most advanced teaching we have seen in any camp. The school is provided with a Harmonium. Many of the children take home work to do. There was a bright, cheerful spirit about the school and we feel sure it is doing good work. A dramatic and musical entertainment, in which both scholars and teachers were to take part, was in preparation for the evening of November 29th, and we saw flowers and other signs of the little festival being brought into the camp. It should however be noted that the rule that all classes should be taught in English was disregarded, and a senior class was writing composition in Dutch.
16. Occupations. – There was a capital garden attached to this camp, produce from which will soon be available.
There had been a; sewing class for girls, conducted by a camp lady, Mrs. De Villiers, but there were no special occupations which call for remark. A tennis club was just going to be started.
17. Orphans are taken care of by their relatives.
18. Local Committees. – None but that referred to under Question 9, which advises Mr. Bradley about clothing.
19. Return of Ages of those who have Died. – Up to the present Harrismith has been one of the healthiest camps in either the O.R.C. or the Transvaal. Enteric and measles have unfortunately made their appearance, and we feel that a strong effort ought to be be [sic] made to stamp them out, before they get a firm hold upn [sic] the camp.
|Month.||Under 1.||1 to 5.||5 to 12.||12 to 20.||Over 20.||Total.|
|November to 29th||8||6||–||1||3||18|
* Isabella Jane Liddell aged 21.
# Elizabeth Greaves Liddell aged 16.
20. How many Women have asked to Leave? – Some have asked to go to their husbands in Ceylon, but this may have been partly in joke. ” A good few ” have been allowed to leave to go to relatives ; the approval of the commandant of the place to which they go is required, and no one is allowed to leave who has relatives still on commando. This we are informed is a necessary precaution in view of the information constantly supplied to the enemy in the field.
21. Are Servants allowed? – Yes, there are about 45 in the camp. They are not rationed. The Superintendent informs them all that they are free to leave if they wish to do so ; he also inquires into their wages and treatment by their employers.
22. Coffins and Shrouds have been provided free in every case where death has occurred. An undertaker in the town is employed who charges 4l. 10s. for an adult, and 2l. 10s. for that of a child. Burials take place in the town cemetery.
We had some rather interesting conversations with people in this camp. One woman complained that her “adopted son,” aged 11, had deserted her, leaving her with a sick girl and a baby one month old. . She remarked she supposed it was a case of “Each for himself and God for all.” On investigation it appeared the boy had been beaten and ill-treated by the woman, and that he had gone to the British soldier’s camp, where the men had given him jam and pennies and made a pet of him.
Another conversation was held with a mother and daughter, who came from the Bethlehem district. The daughter said that before the British came to Bethlehem they had heard “such terrible lies ” about them. When they came, these ladies said, the British soldiers had occupied the village where they lived for more than a year, and they had never heard even a rough word from them. The younger woman spoke again and again of the lies which had been told, and the wickedness which prompted them, and ended up by saying, “Now I will stick up for the British till I die in my grave.” She had two brothers prisoners in Ceylon. They wrote constantly, and often spoke of the good treatment they received. Another interesting visit was to old Mr. B., for 24 years a member of the Volksraad. He was about 76 years of age, and evidently very ill. He had been only a fortnight in camp, but had been seriously ill for 11 months. He said the Superintendent had been very kind to him and brought him fresh milk daily; also that the military authorities at Bethlehem had been very good to him. They had offered him a permit to go to his daughter at Pretoria, but he preferred remaining where he was. He deeply deplored the war, and said he had done his best to prevent it, supporting the policy of Mr. Fraser, against that of Steyn, but he had been overborne ; he had seen the overthrow of the independence of his country, and was a dying broken-hearted man. He said “If President Brand had lived this war would never had [sic] taken place.”
General Sir Leslie Rundle takes a kindly interest in this camp, and is always ready to do things for it. The Superintendent said that though the general had only, once on the occasion of Lord Milner’s visit, come into the camp, he could always rely on him for practical help in every possible way. “It was only a question of ask and have.” General Rundle informed us that an order had been received about a month ago from headquarters not to bring any more people compulsorily into the Concentration Camps. Since this had been acted upon there had been a constant flow of people into the camp, who were coming in voluntarily ; some arrived on the second day of our visit; they had driven in a Cape cart, over 28 miles, in very bad weather.
- Appoint a trained nurse as a camp matron, with a sufficient staff of local assistants.
- Remove the hospital to a better site ; appoint more local assistants for the hospital nuring [sic] staff. Put up another marquee for general cases. Provide proper hospital equipment. Put up a proper hospital wash house, close to the new site, and make the present hospital wash-house into a bath-room.
Give the nurses army rations and pay a native to act as hospital handy-man.
- The present site of the hospital should be left unoccupied.
- Put up a boiler for enteric linen, and an incerator [sic] for the stools.
- Number and letter the tents.
- Remove the lower part of the “new” camp higher up the hill.
- Take down every tent in which there has been enteric and repitch it, after disinfection, on clean ground. The old ground should be thoroughly disinfected, and left without any tent upon it.
- Public bake ovens should be put up, or the fuel ration should be increased.
©Alun Stevens 2020