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 simple answer to why they were in the camp is that they voluntarily chose to go there. They were not taken there against their will. The complexity is in the situation in which they found themselves, because, in many ways, they were forced to go to the camp by the demands on their livelihoods by both belligerent forces as well as the direct threats to their lives.
The complexity expands across the extended family and neighbours. There were families who, like my great-grandparents, went to the camps for protection. There were those who were forced. There were others who fled to Natal or Lesotho. 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 2020