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ELIZABETH RUSSEL CAMERON: CHAPTER TWELVE

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Lindy

Lindy Report 11 May 2004 15:52

In Groenpunt Camp at Maritzburg. ............................................................................................................. When they arrived at the capital they were taken to the military head-quarters there, and the officer in charge who was very courteous and considerate, sent them in rickshas to the Concentration Camp in the vicinity of the Botanical-Gardens. This Camp was called Groenpunt because all the tents were made of green canvas. In the other Camp the shanties were made of corrugated zinc whence it derived the name, Witrug. On reaching their destination they found that Mr. Ted Struben, whom they had known before the war, was the Commandant in charge. He sent a couple of natives with Annie and Bessie to fetch their belongings from the station, while another native was ordered to show Mrs. Cameron which tent she and her daughters were to occupy. The people already there were kindness itself to the newcomers. On their arrival some sent them hot soup, others sent tea, and again others offered to help in any way they could. Among them Mrs. Cameron came across several old acquaintances whom she had known in Harrismith years ago when she had taught there. The following morning she went to the Supply Store to get the usual camp furniture which consisted of a small table, a bench, a huge kettle and a blanket for each occupant of the tent. At the store she found the man in charge with his sleeves rolled up, his shirt open at the neck and the perspiration dripping down his face, as the days were still very hot although the evenings were decidedly chilly. Approaching him she enquired: "Do you distribute the supplies?" "Yes," was the reply. "Then, please, I want six blankets and they must be new. I refuse to have old ones." "Six blankets!" ejaculated the official in utter astonishment, "but you are entitled to only three." "We come from Amsterdam and the climate there is warmer than it is here, so we feel the cold very much. I would like six and they must be new, please." The man stared at her in sheer surprise then slowly smiled, his eyes twinkling with amusement as he complied with the request. When he had given her the rest of her furniture, she returned to her tent. Her neighbours, astounded to see the half a dozen brand new blankets, were curious to know how she had managed to secure them. In the early days of the camp all the aged men and women were supplied with condensed milk. One day the old people were told to line up and open their mouths while an official went down the row to see how many teeth they had. All those who had none or only a couple received two tins of milk each per week, whereas the allowance was stopped for those Who had more. Mrs. Cameron was most annoyed with the old people for obeying this order, as she considered it was infra dig and showed a lack of self-respect for them to line up and open their mouths for inspection. Every fortnight all the women were ordered to go to the Commandant's office at Witrug, and, among other seemingly unnecessary questions, they were asked each time what their ages were. The first time they were summoned Mrs. Cameron gave her age correct almost to the day as she thought they really needed the information, but at the end of the next fortnight when the same performance was repeated, her ire was roused so she said to the Commandant, "Kindly put me down as a little under five hundred." The clerks tittered and the Commandant roared with laughter, but it had the desired effect for she was left in peace for the future and was not again asked her age. She still cannot see what the object of those questions was, unless it was just to annoy the inmates of the Camps. A Hulpfonds Committee was formed by the women, the number of members being twenty-four, and Mrs. Neethling (wife of the Rev. Neethling who was the Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Transvaal at that time and who lived at Utrecht) was appointed treasurer and secretary. The work of this committee was to look into the needs of the people and to distribute the goods and the money sent to the Camp by Germany, France, a certain section of the British and some private people, outstanding among whom was Mrs. Koopmans de Wet of the Cape, who helped very generously. Later on Mrs. Cameron heard that she paid for the education of a number of the Boer children whose fathers had fallen in the war. The Camp was divided into blocks A,B,C etc., a certain number of tents forming a block, each of which elected its own member for the committee. Mrs. Cameron was chosen to represent two of these divisions, the one in which she lived and the adjoining one. Once a week, in the building used for church and school, meetings were held, at which the members brought forward the particular needs of the people they represented, and these matters were put to the vote and dealt with accordingly. One member of the committee, Mrs. X, was appointed to receive the bales of second-hand clothing and other goods sent to the Camp. She would apportion these to the different blocks, after which the committee would meet and each member would divide up the goods she received as fairly as possible for the different people in her section. Several times when goods had arrived, it had been noticed that Mrs. X favoured certain blocks by giving them more than their legitimate share, and this had naturally caused great dissatisfaction. On one occasion Mrs. Neethling was absent as she had to go to Maritzburg, so she asked Mrs. Cameron to represent her at the meeting. On arriving at the school-room, the members had a look round and found that the things had again been unfairly divided. Mrs. Cameron raised an objection at which Mrs. X, becoming angry, ordered the whole committee to leave the building and threatened to lock the door to keep them out. Mrs. Chatterton and Mrs. du Toit backed Mrs Cameron up and the three of them refused to budge, whereupon Mrs. X flounced out of the room and banged the door behind her. After some time had elapsed, she came back with tea and cake to try to pacify the three. They, however, refused the peace-offering and insisted on a re-division of the goods. Finally it was decided to call a man in to portion out the bales of print. He did this to the satisfaction of all the members, who collected the rest of the things and redivided them in fair shares. Some time later there was much talk that Mrs. X had appropriated and sold some of the best goods that had been sent to the Camp. Mrs. Chatterton, Mrs. du Toit and Mrs. Cameron, having made sure of certain facts, went to the Commandant and lodged a complaint against her. He promised to look into the matter and arranged to meet the committee in the school-room on a certain day. He arrived punctually at the appointed time, accompanied by a clerk and Mrs. X. One of the members, a Mrs. van Rensburg, stood up to discuss the complaint against Mrs. X, but the Commandant did not give her a chance to speak for he ordered her to sit down and silenced her by saying he did not wish to hear what she had to say. Mrs. Cameron, greatly vexed, stood up and requested Mrs. X to answer some questions the committee wished to put to her. The Commandant was all for smoothing things over and ordered the speaker to sit down, but this she refused to do and, addressing Mrs. X directly, asked her point-blank whether she had misappropriated goods sent to the Camp. Mrs. X refused to answer. Mrs. Cameron repeated her question and stated that the committee insisted on a reply, whereupon Mrs. X explained that she had put some goods away with the intention of distributing them at a later date. The questioner turning to the Commandant and the rest of the committee exclaimed: "Now you can draw your own conclusions." The Commandant tried to smooth things over by saying there had evidently been a