Boer War Page 26

Boer War Places: Then & Now 2

Borrie & Rita Erasmus Family: "Orange Free State Lied" 2000

You are listening to a recording made on the lower slopes of the Biddulphsberg (below), during the centenary commemoration ceremonies honouring Britons and Boers who fell on this field during the Battle of Biddulphsberg, in May, 1900. The song is the National Anthem of the old Orange Free State, sung with feeling by scores of descendants of the original Boers who fought on the slopes of this hill, trying to defend their farms and their Republic.

You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's sound track. Details on our Music Page.

Biddulphsberg, Orange Free State: May, 1900

Fire on the Veldt: In May, 1900, the British army formed up where the Boer reenactors stand (above), and advanced across the field towards Boers defending the Erasmus farm at the foot of Biddulphsberg Hill in the background. During the battle the veldt in the foreground caught fire and British wounded were enveloped by the flames (Battle of Biddulphsberg print above).

Grietjie Erasmus: Grietjie Erasmus points to holes in the walls of her family's home (above left and right), made by British canon fire during the battle. She says her great, great, grandfather (below left), refused to leave the house during the battle, feeling far safer behind the massive stones than outside in the open as the British attacked. Family members had to drag him out by force. The Erasmus house was destroyed in the Boer War, but rebuilt with the same stones after the war.
Borrie Erasmus: Grietjie's father Borrie (left), holds a precious family memento made by his grandfather (above). He joined a Boer commando operating in the mountains of the Orange Free State, but was captured at Surrender Hill three months later, along with 5,000 other Boers.

He was sent as a prisoner of war to Bermuda, never knowing, for two years, whether his wife and baby were alive or dead in the war zone. The Erasmus family still cherishes the wooden box he made while in exile, and inscribed "With Fondest Wishes for my wife Anna Erasmus, 1900"

John Maile (below): John Maile's father was one of the Grenadier Guards attacking the Erasmus house that day one hundred years before. John returned to the Erasmus farm at Biddulphsberg to share in ceremonies marking the hundredth anniversary of the battle in May, 2000.

Says John, overcome with emotion when remembering the battle, the Boers, and his father, "He was wounded in ten places, and would have died in the veldt fire had it not been for the Boers who came, acted like Christians, pulled him out of the fire and saved his life. I always said if I was alive in the year 2000 I would return to Senekal and honour my father."

John Maile & Borrie Erasmus: Standing where the Boer pom pom gun was located during the battle, John Maile salutes the memory of his father, and the Boers who saved his life, as Borrie Erasmus, whose family's farm was being attacked, looks on.

Pretoria, Transvaal Repbublic: June, 1900

Pretoria Hooray: On June 5, 1900, Lord Robert's army entered the Transvaal Republic's capital of Pretoria. As the Union Jack was run up on the Boer Parliament (left), thousands of British soldiers in the square cheered and sang God Save the Queen.

Everyone, including the hundreds of Canadians who stood in the square that day, was convinced, that with both Boer capitals occupied, the war would be over shortly.

Wrote Canadian Hart McHaarg, "It was the proudest day of my life, to stand as the representative of the Canadian people in the captured capital of the Boers."

The building still stands. (below) the large 9" pressed glass plate struck to commemorate the occasion. (Found in St. Catharines, ON)

Surrender Hill, Fouriesburg, OFS: July 1900
The Trail of Tears: On July 30, 1900, 5,000 Boer men, women and children were trapped and forced to surrender to a huge encircling British army on a hilltop, at Surrender Hill, near Fouriesburg in the mountains of the eastern Orange Free State. (right).

(below) Historian John Goldi - standing where the photographer stood - points to where the Union Jack flew as four British generals watched on top of the hill (below left), as hundreds of wagons streamed past them down the track on which he is standing. It was a mass surrender on such a scale that everyone felt the war was now almost over. The surrender here, has split generations of Boers since, into bitterly divided camps, as they struggle to interpret the morality of this defining moment in Afrikaner history.

(below) General De Wet who had escaped from the trap with 2500 men was livid when he heard of the surrender. In his memoirs he wrote: "It was nothing short of an act of murder! One could gnash one's teeth to think that a nation should so readily rush to its own ruin."

(below right) Daniel Johannes Erasmus, whose family and farm house at Senekal had been the centre of a huge battle, was captured at Surrender Hill and sent as a prisoner of war to Bermuda. He would not see his wife and baby again for two years, all the time never knowing if they were still alive in the war zone. Some 30,000 Boers shared his fate and nearly 1,000 of them died in exile.

The huge bare patch of ground, just below the crown of the hill (right), is where the dreams of a generation of Boers went up in smoke. Here they were made to pile up thousands of their rifles, pistols, and their ammunition bandoleers (below). Then the pile was set on fire. Witnesses said it burned day and night for days.

In the past hundred years not a single blade of grass has ever grown on this spot (right). Says historian John Goldi of the barren ground, "It's as if the salt from generations of tears has made it impossible for anything ever to grow here again."

(left) Boers surrendering their arms to British Tommies. But it was not the end. General De Wet ignited a guerilla campaign that, for two more years, tied up the biggest British army in history, in an endless and futile effort to try to catch the rest of the elusive Boers.

(below) Some relics of the great fire: Top row, melted and flattened Mauser shell casings, middle row, mauser lead bullets, bottom row, Martini-Henry shells and bullets, with vintage cartridge for comparison.

Surrender Hill - July 30, 1900
The Soul of the Freedom Struggle: One who escaped with General De Wet from the trap at Surrender Hill, was President Steyn of the Orange Free State, looking quite proper in his stylish suit (right) for he had trained as a lawyer in London. He and de Wet would never be caught as they fought their guerilla campaign through the lenghth and breadth of the two Boer republics for the next two years. Together they remained the "heart and soul of this freedom struggle" and now lie in eternity, side by side at the foot of the Woman's Memorial in Bloemfontein, which also holds the ashes of a British lady, Emily Hobhouse.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000