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The British Newspaper Archive

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ELIZABETH RUSSEL CAMERON: CHAPTER ELEVEN

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Lindy

Lindy Report 11 May 2004 11:39

In the Concentration Camp at Volksrust. ......................................................................................................................... After the fear of a Swazi attack had died down, everything went on quietly at Amsterdam until 1898 when rumours of war with England became rife. Soon afterwards the Boers hold meetings and began commandeering. When hostilities commenced Rod who was working in the Customs Office at Volksrust joined the Boer forces under Commandant Sassenberg, while Lionel who was in the Ermelo district joined up under Commandant Grobbelaar. The Amsterdam Commando held an open air service before their departure for the front. They set out well provided with wagons, mattresses and food. Many bags of flour and meal had been made into bread and beskuit by the women for them. Whenever a commando passed through the village, supplies of bread and beskuit were baked by the women for the burghers. Mrs. Cameron sent fruit from her orchard to some of the Ambulance Wagons which the Russians, the French and the Germans had fully equipped and sent out to South Africa for the use of the burghers. She heard a great deal said in praise of a certain Russian who was in charge of one of these wagons. He was extremely handsome and had a really outstanding character. He always saw to the care of his horses first, then to that of his men, and only when this had been done, did he think of himself. It was said that he belonged to the nobility of Russia and was very wealthy, and that he had given up a life of luxury to come out to this country to help the Boers. Later on in the war he was killed. All along he had had a presentiment that he would lose his life, but even this did not deter him from carrying on his good work. When the burghers had been forced to retreat in Natal, a great number of British troops went to Amsterdam as they had heard that a meeting of all the Boer generals was to be held there. The rumour, however, proved to be false. Some of the British officers walked into Mrs. Cameron's home without knocking and this annoyed her intensely. A day or two after this had occurred she saw what appeared to be a party of officers approaching her house. She made up her mind that they would not be allowed to enter as the others had done, so she locked the front door, stood on the verandah with the key in her hand and waited for them. The man in advance of the ethers walked up to her and announced pompously: "I am General Campbell." "And I am Mrs. Cameron," was the haughty reply as she drew herself up to her full height. (Grins from the General's staff in the background.) "Mrs. Cameron, are you not ashamed of yourself, you, an English woman, allowing your sons to fight on the Boer side?" asked the General. "No, indeed I am not," was her reply, "as I claim no nationality. Did God allow you to choose your place of birth? He gave me no choice. Try to reckon out my nationality - my mother was Welsh, my father English, I was born in London, brought up in South Africa and married an American." (Broader grins from the staff.) She laughs with real enjoyment at the remembrance of the fact that the General and his staff departed without entering her house. In 1901 the British troops took all the old men, the women and the children from Amsterdam to the Concentration Camps. Much food, clothing and other things were packed by the women on their wagons, but as soon as the column of vehicles had crossed the stream on the outskirts of the village, they were halted, outspanned, unpacked and searched. The officers considered that too many belongings were being taken along so they ordered most of the clothing to be put in a pile and burnt. A number of the women, among others Mrs. Cameron, donned as many as four or five dresses in order to save them. The top dresses gaped down the back as they could not meet over all the others, but the wearers overcame this difficulty by hanging shawls around their shoulders. One of the soldiers was heard to exclaim. "By Jove! they're fat," to the silent amusement of the women. As they proceeded to Volksrust, many more wagons conveying old men, women and children from different places to the Camps joined their company until there were about seven hundred vehicles travelling together. On the second day out from Amsterdam Mrs. Cameron was placed under guard for expressing her opinions too freely. Four soldiers were told off each day to act as her guard and she was not allowed to converse with the other women. These soldiers were always very considerate and fetched wood and water for her. At the outspans they often posted themselves near the water so as to give her an opportunity to speak to the other women when they came to fill their buckets. At Rooihoogte a fight had taken place and some wounded soldiers and an officer were brought to the passing wagons. The officer was put into a spider so that he should be as comfortable as possible, while the soldiers were put on the bare boards of a tentless wagon and were covered with a tarpaulin. Mrs. Cameron was indignant at this, as she considered officers and troopers were serving their country equally well, hence they deserved equal treatment when wounded. She could not bear to see the dreadful discomfort and suffering of the soldiers under the bucksail in the sweltering heat, so she suggested that a frame-work of branches in the form of a pitched roof should be made on the wagon over the wounded men, and that this should then be roughly thatched with grass to give them much-needed shade. She also pointed out that, if a thick layer of grass were to be spread on the floor of the wagon to serve as a mattress, it would greatly ease their suffering. Her suggestions, however, were not followed and the wounded must have suffered dreadfully on the journey. The wagons stayed some time at the German Settlement, Bergen, near Piet Retief. Here the "meat corporal" sent her a message that she was to fetch her allowance of meat. She sent back the reply that she would do nothing of the kind. Upon his indignant enquiry as to the reason for her refusal to comply with regulations, she informed him that she objected to eating meat which she had seen pitched on to the ground floor of a tent and over which dogs and cats had walked. "Well," exclaimed the corporal, "that's the only meat we have so what are you going to do about your ration?" "I want a live sheep," was the prompt reply. Though somewhat amused and taken aback by this request, he granted it, much to her satisfaction. She did not waste any time but immediately called the boy from her wagon and told him to pick out a big, fat sheep and slaughter it for her. He brought back a fine hamel. She shared the meat with her friends and also gave some of it to the soldiers who were guarding her, as they did not get too much in this line. After this she sent her boy several times to fetch a sheep while the wagons were at Bergen, and the corporal did not interfere. Late one afternoon an English colonel in charge of several wagons loaded with bucksails arrived at the Settlement. Feeling sorry for those women and children who had tentless vehicles, he lent them some of the tarpaulins for the night, but these had to be returned when he resumed his journey next morning, as he was not authorised to give them away, much as he would have liked to have helped the women and children. One of Mrs. Cameron's friends "pinched" a tarpaulin which he gave to her. She was indeed grateful to get this covering and cutting it in two she gave half to Mrs. Coetser. The following night it rained and these newly-acquired canvas roofs leaked, so the next morning Mrs. Cameron went to the military Supply Store and politely requested the sergeant in charge to give her a bucket of fat. In asto