Not until it became positively known
at Harmony, towards the middle of October, that the
members of the Secret Committee had been sent away
to Bermuda, did Mrs. van Warmelo and Hansie breathe
The suspense of five full weeks was
over at last, a suspense not to be described, and
never to be forgotten by those who endured it.
It did not seem possible to grasp
the fact that those brave men had escaped with their
lives, and Hansie, looking up at the stars that night,
felt that she had learnt something of unspeakable value
in the relief and gratitude with which that period
of concentrated suffering had been followed.
Carlo looked up at the stars too,
for he invariably followed his young mistress’s
gaze, but on this occasion, seeing nothing unusual
in that vast expanse, he stood up on his hind legs
before her and gave a short bark of inquiry.
“They have gone, Carlo,”
she said. “I know you won’t believe
it, but they have really gone, and if ‘Gentleman
Jim’ knew anything about this, he would surely
say, ’I ’spose their time hadn’t
come yet, little missie.’ That’s
it, Carlo. Their time had not come yet. But
they have left things in a fearful muddle, and we will
have to work as we never worked before. The first
thing to be done to-morrow morning will be ”
She stopped suddenly not
even to her faithful Carlo could she confide the secret
plan which she had made for reorganising and re-establishing
on a safer footing the Secret Service of the Boers
She would form a new Committee, of
five women this time, who would carry on the work
on the same lines which had been adopted by the Secret
Committee, and this plan, when she unfolded it to her
mother that night, was received with warm approval.
The first and last meeting was held
at Harmony on October 15th and was attended by Mrs.
Malan, Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Honey, Mrs. van Warmelo,
and Hansie, who was appointed secretary.
Bound together by the sacred oath
of fidelity and secrecy, these five women vowed to
serve their country and people, as an organised body
of workers, as long as they had the power to do so.
On the occasion of his next visit
to the capital Captain Naude was to be informed of
the formation of the new Committee, but for the rest
its very existence was to be kept a dead secret.
Mrs. van Warmelo told the members
that she was in a position to communicate with the
President in Holland by every mail, and that the methods
employed by her would be revealed to them after
the war. With this they expressed themselves
satisfied, willingly leaving the matter of sending
away dispatches from the field in Mrs. van Warmelo’s
It was felt that the greatest responsibility
resting on them at the time was to have a suitable
place of refuge ready to receive the Captain when
next he entered the town.
There was no house free from suspicion
since the arrest of the Committee, except except Harmony!
Harmony, surrounded as it was by British
officers and their staffs, by British troops and Military
Mounted Police Harmony was at last chosen
as the most suitable, the only spot in Pretoria in
which the Captain of the Secret Service could be harboured
with any degree of safety.
It was arranged that he would immediately
be brought to Harmony when he came again, and in the
meantime the Committee would be on the look-out for
an opportunity to send a warning and instructions out
to him not to approach the houses hitherto frequented
For many weeks no spies belonging
to his set came into town. No war news of any
description reached his friends, except one day the
information, conveyed we know not how, of the safe
arrival at the Skurvebergen of young Els, the spy
who had been fired upon and was missing from his companions
on that eventful September 12th. That this news
gave his relatives and friends great joy and relief
after the intense anxiety gone through on his account,
my readers will readily understand.
The discovery of the White Envelope
was not always a source of unmixed satisfaction.
One of them, containing news of the
betrayal and arrest of the Committee, and sent to
Alphen in the ordinary way, failed to reach its destination.
This caused the senders so much anxiety that for some
time they did not dare risk the sending of another.
The letter might have fallen into the hands of the
censors and the secret be discovered by them, in which
event they were probably waiting quietly to catch up
It may have been only a coincidence,
but at this time the plotters at Harmony observed
that the censorship on their post had been
They knew only too well what this
meant! And their hearts sank when they thought
of the White Envelope!
It meant, good reader, that there
was a most disquieting increase in the vigilance of
the censor; it meant that their letters were opened
by steam, to throw them off their guard, and
to encourage them to write with greater frankness
to their absent friends.
Mother and daughter felt the hair
rising on their heads when they thought of one of
their precious White Envelopes being subjected to a
treatment of steam by the censor, and of his
exultation on beholding the result.
As the days went by, their dread of
him and his evil machinations increased, for hardly
a letter reached them that did not betray traces of
his handiwork or unhandiwork, for he was
not always judicious in the quantity of glue used
by him in reclosing the envelopes. He should
have been a little more economical in the use of Government
property if he really wished to hoodwink his enemies,
and he would have saved Mrs. van Warmelo the trouble
of damping the envelopes afterwards where they stuck,
on the inside, to the letters.
While the steaming process was being
carried on at the General Post Office, no White Envelopes
were taken to the censor, but they were posted at
Johannesburg by friends, and in this way the distant
correspondents were warned of danger, until it became
evident that the steam-censorship had been withdrawn
and the old reassuring order of things been established
A week or two later another White
Envelope from Holland reached Harmony in safety, by
which it was known that the secret was still undiscovered,
but the fate of the missing envelope remained a mystery
to the end, and was a constant reminder and warning
to the conspirators to be careful in the use of their
I am sure the Post Office officials
had plenty to do during the war, but there is no doubt
that their labours were considerably lightened by
the “smugglers” who chose to dispense with
the services of the censors entirely. And then
we must not forget the activities of the spies and
of their fellow-workers in town.
Quite a large private postal service
was carried on by them, as we all know, and every
week, before the entry into Pretoria became so difficult
and dangerous, hundreds of letters were carried backwards
and forwards, to and from the commandos.
One man in town was in the habit of
receiving great batches of these smuggled letters,
which he distributed to the various addresses, until
one day he was very nearly caught. He had just
received a packet of communications “from the
front” and had opened it on his writing-table
in his quiet study, when the doors were opened unceremoniously
and some officials entered with a warrant to search
his house. Carpets were taken up, walls were
tapped, furniture was overturned and examined, books
were removed from their shelves and every cranny inspected
with the greatest thoroughness, but the pile of letters
lying open on his writing-table, over which they had
found him bending when they entered the room, was
passed over without so much as a glance.
This may sound a bit unreal, unlikely,
but there are similar cases on record, which we know
to be true beyond a doubt, and one of these I must
relate, because it so closely concerned our friends
at Harmony and so very nearly proved to be their undoing.
They did not know it at the time, but were told by
Mrs. Cloete, after the war, that she had sent all
their uncensored, their “smuggled” letters,
to her friend at Capetown, Mrs. Koopmans de Wet, with
instructions to read and return them to her as soon
as possible, which Mrs. Koopmans had done, with the
alarming news that her house had been thoroughly searched
for documents while the pile of letters was lying
open on her writing-table.
The authorities must have been “struck
blind,” she had said, for though they had overhauled
the place and had taken away with them every suspicious-looking
document, they had passed and repassed the papers
on her table without a word and with nothing more than
a superficial glance.
This information had alarmed Mrs.
Cloete so much that she had immediately packed every
incriminating letter and all her White Envelopes into
a tin, which she secretly buried, with the help of
her German nurse, under one of the trees at Alphen.
And there they, or what is left of
them after ten years, still lie, for the spot has
never again been found, although every effort was
made to do so.