The story of the petitions, related
in the previous chapter, had, as I have said before,
taken place during the time of Hansie’s sojourn
at Irene. She knew nothing about it at the time
because, naturally, her mother’s letters contained
no hint of the agitation with the Consuls at Pretoria,
and she was absorbed in her own “agitations”
in the Camp, her stormy interviews with the Commandant,
her hopeless struggles against disease and death.
If ever a Concentration Camp was mismanaged,
Irene was, and the six volunteer nurses, not being
paid servants, but having taken up their work for
love and at no small sacrifice to themselves, left
no stone unturned to bring about the necessary improvements.
How futile their poor little efforts
were! How powerless they found themselves against
the tide of wilful misunderstanding, deliberate neglect,
The number of deaths in the Camps
increased every day, and Hansie, wiping the hoar-frost
from her hair when she woke, half-frozen, in her tent,
wondered how many of her little patients had been mercifully
released by death that night.
For always, when she resumed her work,
there were childish forms stretched out in
their last sleep.
One morning, when she found that there
had been five deaths during the night, in her ward
alone, she took the train to Pretoria, straight to
General Maxwell’s office.
“Come and see for yourself,
General. The people are starving, and they lie
on the cold ground with little or no covering.
Fuel they have nothing to speak of, medical comforts
are always out of stock ”
With a heavy frown he asked:
“Why are these things not reported to me?”
“I don’t know,”
she answered miserably. “We thought you
knew. We can do nothing with the Commandant ”
A great deal more was said on both
sides, revelations, not to be repeated here, made
by the unhappy girl, and the Governor’s sympathetic
face grew stern with righteous indignation as she
“I will investigate the matter
for myself,” he said. “But you look
ill why don’t you come home and take
a good rest?”
“I am only sick with misery,
General; but if you will speak to the Commandant and
insist on better management in the Camp, we may still
be able to save a great many lives. There is no
time to lose. If the people are not provided
with better food and warmer covering during this intensely
cold weather, the mortality will be something appalling
A few days later, one beautifully
crisp and clear Sunday morning, General Maxwell and
his A.D.C., Major Hoskins, rode over to Irene to pay
the Camp a surprise visit and a “surprise”
it must have been indeed, of no pleasant nature, to
the Commandant, judging by his black looks afterwards.
The General asked to see Miss van
Warmelo and demanded to be shown through her ward,
inspected her worst cases, visited the overcrowded
tents. He seemed much impressed by the scenes
he witnessed that day, and issued orders to the effect
that all complaints from her ward were to be attended
to promptly, and that a distribution of blankets and
warm clothing should be made immediately.
There were no blankets “in stock”
the day before, but they were produced on this occasion
with remarkable alacrity.
The Governor inspected the foodstuffs
and the small supply of medical comforts (which was
always, I may say here, kept in stock for inspection,
and was not touched for the use of the inmates of the
Camp, when the stores ran out).
On leaving, the Governor said to Hansie
with marked emphasis:
“I shall be obliged if you will
make your complaints to me in future.”
Her ward was now in a somewhat better
condition, and she was preparing to leave for home
for a month’s rest and recreation.
Although there were never more than
six volunteer nurses in the Camp at a time, there
were quite as many again in Pretoria, waiting to take
the place of those obliged to go home on sick leave,
and one of them was immediately sent to take charge
of Hansie’s ward.
Tragic were the parting scenes witnessed
in that ward next day, and, as Hansie laughingly extricated
herself from the crowd, she promised to come back
“very soon,” little thinking that she would
be in their midst again on the morrow.
The new nurse, an inexperienced girl,
after having gone through the ward once with Hansie,
quietly fainted away.
“Shall I stay?” Hansie
asked her, when she had recovered.
“Oh no; I must get used to it.
But what must I do when the babies are dying like
“You must pray to God to take
them quickly. Very little can be done to save
them. Report your worst cases to the doctor regularly
every day; then, at least, the responsibility does
not rest on your shoulders.”
It was terrible, leaving them all in such a state.
Arrived at Harmony, Hansie found a
note from Mr. Cinatti asking her to come over to the
Consulate immediately, because Dr. Kendal Franks, who
was visiting Irene next day, wished to see her before
She went at once, and found a dinner-party
in progress at the Consulate, the German Consul, Baron
Ostmann, the Austrian Consul, Baron Pitner and his
wife, one of the directors of the Dynamite Company,
and Dr. Kendal Franks. She was shown into a private
study, where Mr. Cinatti joined her, in great excitement.
“Come in to dinner,” he
urged, but Hansie wished to see only Dr. Franks and
said she would wait.
“Tell me,” she said before
Mr. Cinatti left her. “Is there any danger
for my mother in connection with those petitions?”
“Oh no, my dear, I think not.
I hope not. The penalty” (he said “penality”)
“would be very great. You won’t mention
it to Dr. Franks, will you?”
“Of course not,” Hansie
laughed, and when he flew in a few moments later,
with a silver dish containing bon-bons, he whispered
excitedly: “He’s coming now.
Be on your guard! Take some of these, they contain
rum.” Dear Mr. Cinatti, how he enjoyed
an atmosphere of danger! How he revelled in secret
adventures, and how he would have appreciated the
conspiracies at Harmony, at a later date, if it had
been possible for the van Warmelos to take him into
There was an atmosphere of serenity
in the courtly, kindly presence of the great doctor.
“Have you any objection to being
cross-questioned?” he asked, producing a notebook
“Not at all,” she said.
“General Maxwell told me to
make a point of visiting your ward. I am sorry
you will not be there. Would it not be possible
for you to go over to Irene with me to-morrow?
I am leaving by the early train.”
“I have no permit, and it is too late now.”
“Oh, that is easily remedied.”
A messenger was at once dispatched
to General Maxwell’s house, almost next door,
and he soon returned with the necessary permits and
a cordial note from the Governor, wishing them “good
That was an eventful day at Irene!
The anxious face of the “new
nurse” broke into a beaming smile when she saw
Hansie on the scenes once more, the people crowding
round her with their questions. Why did she come
back? Was she going to stay? Didn’t
she go to Pretoria yesterday? Who was that with
her? etc. Mothers pulled her aside and pointed
in wordless grief to their tents, to what lay there
in still repose since last night. Children clung
to her skirts “We thought you had
gone for good.”
“The people love you,” the great doctor
“But not as much as I love them,” the
answer quickly came.
It was arranged that Dr. Franks should
go through the hospital, the dispensary, and the store-rooms
in the morning, with the matron and the doctors of
the Camp, and that after lunch he should inspect some
of the tents in Hansie’s ward.
This arrangement suited her to perfection,
for she wished, after she had greeted her people in
the Camp, to write an important letter, destined for
the north of Holland, for which she had had neither
time nor opportunity for many weeks.
The doctor’s “hour or
two in the Camp” lengthened to three, very nearly
four, and during the greater part of this time Hansie,
sitting in the tent which had been hers, wrote, without
lifting her head.
“How shall I get this away?
The censor must not set eyes on this,”
she mused as she folded the closely written sheets.
She put the envelope into her handbag,
and just then “the girls” trooped in from
the Camp. Surprised greetings were exchanged and
explanations made as they all went into the big marquee
where the midday meal was being served.
The doctor was very hot and tired
after his long visit of inspection, but highly satisfied
with the number of notes he had made, and the meal
passed off in animated conversation. When it was
over, Dr. Franks and Hansie went through the long
rows of tents in her ward her “prize”
tents she called them and the doctor seemed
much struck by the extreme poverty and misery of the
inmates. In one tent two little boys were dying,
and the distracted mother, when she heard the magic
word “doctor,” implored him to save them.
She was a widow and these children were all she had.
He knelt beside them and examined them with his strong
and gentle hands, shaking his head. There was
“Your ward is in a shocking
state. But things were not as bad in the dispensary
and store-rooms as you made out last night,”
he said to her on their way to the station.
There was a touch of reproof in the kind voice.
“You saw the small supply which
is always kept for inspection, doctor,” she
answered. “It is always there and is not
touched when the stores run out.”
His face wore a troubled look, but he said no more.
When they parted at the station he
said he would report on his visit, to the Governor,
and Hansie laughingly replied that she would report
“For you are a Briton and I
am a Boer. General Maxwell must have two
She found the Governor next day in
the friendliest of moods and evidently satisfied when
she thanked him for the improvements in her ward.
He told her that the Commandant, who
had been at Irene when first she came there, was going
round the country to inspect all the Camps and to
write reports for him. Seeing the look of intense
dissatisfaction on her face, he asked whether she
did not think that Commandant would
do it well.
“No, indeed,” she replied.
“I think I would do it a great deal better.
Will you let me go round to all the Camps also,
to write reports for you?”
She spoke in jest, but to her surprise
the Governor immediately entered into the idea, saying
that it would be a great help to him to know that
he could rely on getting truthful reports.
“You must come and see me later,”
he continued. “I advise you to take a few
weeks’ rest before you begin this tour.
Is there anything else I can do for you now, or, I
should say, for your people, for I have done nothing
“Not just now, thank you, General;
but I will let you know when I am able to go round
to the Camps, and when I take up my work again at
Suddenly she remembered the unposted
letter in her handbag.
“But there is something else ”
“I have a private letter for
Holland here. It contains no word about the war,
but I cannot let it pass through the hands of the censor.
May I ask you to send it for me? I can assure
“With pleasure,” he broke
in. “I will see that it is dispatched safely.”
“Thank you very much. Shall
I tell you what it is about?”
“Oh no; I trust you.”
He handed a piece of sealing-wax to her.
“What is this for?” she asked.
“To seal the letter,”
he replied; but she quickly answered, with a smile:
“Oh no; I trust you.”
He gave her a long official-looking
envelope, into which she placed her letter, and, when
she had readdressed it, he closed it with the stamp
of the Military Governor’s office.
Now, this little scene could not have
taken place a few months, or even a few weeks, later,
but at the time Hansie had no secrets to conceal from
the Governor, and she had no reason to feel the slightest
qualm in asking him to do her this personal favour.
But the time was soon to come, however,
when she remembered the incident of the uncensored
letter with no small degree of discomfort when
she found herself in the midst of conspiracies against
the enemy, conspiracies of a far more serious nature
than the harmless “smuggling” hitherto
carried on by her and her mother.
“He would never believe that
that letter contained no war news, if he were to find
out what we are doing now,” she thought then.
“This kind of thing must cease no
more favours from the enemy, and, if I can help it,
no more interviews with the Governor. But there
is this tour of inspection no getting out
of that, and I shall have to see a great deal of him.
Well, as far as the Camps are concerned, I can always
‘play the game’ to him. That is a
A few days after this interview with
the Governor, Mr. Cinatti called at Harmony with the
interesting news that General Maxwell had invited
the entire Diplomatic Corps to spend a day with him
“We are going to-morrow [July
13th],” he said. “Now, why are you
not there?” looking dolefully at Hansie.
“Oh, why did I leave my little
round tent at Irene Camp?” she wailed.
“But I will give you a letter for Miss Findlay,
Mr. Cinatti. She knows all my worst cases and
she has many quite as bad in her ward. Ask to
see her, and whatever you do, don’t forget to
ask for Dr. Neethling.”
Dr. Neethling was the only Dutch doctor
in the Camp, and he was seldom in evidence when there
was any question of inspection. That Consular
visit to Irene must have been quite an event.
General Maxwell, Major Hoskins, and all the Consuls
in a body went through the Camp and hospital, and
made the usual inspection of foodstuffs and “medical
They were satisfied that great improvements
had been made, but they did not see the volunteer
nurses or Dr. Neethling, although Mr. Cinatti asked
three or four times for Miss Findlay and all the Consuls
asked to see Dr. Neethling. These good people
were not forthcoming, and there was so very much to
see that it was time for the sumptuous lunch, with
which General Maxwell treated the Consuls at the Railway
Station, before further questions could be asked.
On the return journey General Maxwell
inquired of Mr. Cinatti what he thought of the Camps,
to which Mr. Cinatti replied, with that quaint mixture
of pathos and humour which characterised him:
“General, your tiffin was a
beauty, but your Camp was very sad!”
Mrs. van Warmelo laughed when Hansie
repeated these words to her and said:
“Oh, you have no idea how funny
he is,” and then she related the following incident
to her daughter with great relish:
After she had drawn up the first petition,
she was out driving one afternoon with Mrs. General
Joubert in the latter’s carriage, going from
house to house to get the signatures to the petition,
and on the Sunnyside bridge they found the three inseparable
Consuls, Aubert, Cinatti, and Nieuwenhuis, out for
their daily constitutional, leaning over the railings
and looking down into the stream below. Approaching
the bridge from the opposite direction were Lord Kitchener
and his A.D.C. on horseback, and the three parties
met, as luck would have it, in the centre of the bridge.
“The Consuls took off their
hats in greeting to the ladies in the carriage, and
then turned in salutation to Lord Kitchener, but I
wish you could have seen the look Mr. Cinatti gave
me, Hansie, as he glanced from the document in my
hands to Lord Kitchener’s retreating form.
It spoke volumes, and I had the greatest difficulty
in preserving my gravity.”