Harrismith; Granny Sarah Liddell; Bluegumbush; Graveyard on Clifton (Jeff Leader); Clark sisters (from left) Fanny, Sarah, Edith with Edith’s husband Corry Cronje; James Greaves and Sarah Liddell Golden Wedding (Liz Finnie).
YOU ARE HERE: Boer or Brit ► Conclusion
This has been a long and complex journey. I started with a desire to understand why my grandmother’s family had not mentioned that they had been interned, despite losing two daughters, and why what I always regarded as an Anglophile family had been interned at all. The story is, in some ways, much more complex than I imagined it could be, and, in others much simpler.
The simplicity is that they voluntarily chose to go to the camp after being forced off their farm by Boer forces. The complexity is in the situation which led to this with demands on their livelihoods and allegiances by both belligerent forces as well as direct threats to their lives.
The complexity extends to the wider family and neighbours. There were families who, like my great-grandparents, went to the camps for protection, but after being forcibly removed from their farms by the British who destroyed their livelihoods. There were others who fled to Natal and Lesotho after being forcibly removed from their farms. And still others who simply fled to Natal or Lesotho of their own volition. There were fathers and sons who willingly participated on the Boer side. There were others who reluctantly did so, and still others who actively avoided this participation. There were fathers and sons who willingly participated on the British side. In the parlance of the times, we have Hendsoppers, Joiners, and Bittereinders. We have the whole patchwork of experiences that came out of the war – most of which were grim and stressful.
We also have the memory of eight girls and young women who died of the silent, gruesome killers of the age that were fuelled and fostered by the deprivations of the tented communities. They were my granny’s sisters, Isabella Jane Liddell (21), and Eliza Greaves Liddell (16); her cousins, Bessie Marian Johnstone Walker (21), Florence Wilhelmina Liddell (20), Lucy Olive Liddell (17), Agnes Louisa Liddell (14), and Mary Eliza Liddell (6 months); and Annie Margaret Smith (3).
Their passings would have become indelible, overwhelming memories.
My family did not talk about the war because doing so would have brought back memories they did not want to relive and because it would have revived personal differences and antagonisms best avoided. This I understand and accept.
But it would have been nice knowing. I can remember visiting Afrikaans farmers in the Orange Free State and Transvaal with my father. The farmers and their wives sometimes talked of their farms being burnt, their livestock killed and their families taken to the camps to die. They talked of the deprivations, the hunger and the deaths. Some felt that they had been taken to the camps to be killed. We could just nod. The conversations would have been quite different if my father could have said, “Yes. My mother was in the Harrismith camp. Two of her sisters died there.”
©Alun Stevens 2021