The Captain’s visit was not
an unmixed joy. Some bitter revelations were
made, much pathos mixed with the humours of the situation
and tragic experiences related by all but
on these I shall merely touch, as unavoidable and
necessary for the completion of my story.
After the treachery of their own people
and the arming of the natives, nothing troubled the
men so much as the fact that the fighting burghers
were, in some parts of the country, suffering from
sore gums and showing signs of scurvy, caused by an
unchanging diet of meat and mealies. The spies
wanted to communicate this to some good, trustworthy
doctor and to get medicine for them to take out to
the commandos, but Mrs. van Warmelo told them that
no medicine in the world could cure that. What
they wanted was a change of diet fresh
milk, vegetables, fruit, and an abundant supply of
Sending out lime-juice would be as
absurd as impossible, for it would be as a drop in
the ocean of want and as it was, the men
were handicapped by the two bottles of good French
brandy which they were taking out for medicinal purposes.
These could not be thrown across with the other parcels,
but would have to be carried on their persons as they
wriggled through the barbed wires across the drift
of the Aapies River.
In some districts, where the destruction
of farms had not yet been completed, the commando
found a sufficient supply of fresh fruit and vegetables
and were in no immediate danger of the dread disease,
but in the neighbourhood of the towns there was nothing
more to be done in the way of devastation, and the
only fresh food they got was what they took from the
enemy. As an instance of the thoroughness of the
system of destruction, Naude related how he and his
corps of hungry men had one day come upon a kraal
containing the bodies of over 500 sheep in an advanced
stage of decomposition, with their throats cut or their
heads cleft in two by swords. Too far away from
towns or camps to be driven to some place where they
could have been kept for the use of starving and suffering
humanity, they had been slaughtered and left to rot anything
to prevent their falling into the hands of the Boer
No provisions of any sort were left
within their reach and they lived entirely on what
they took by main force from the enemy.
A precarious existence indeed!
Not to know from day to day where
the next meal would come from and with appetites sharpened
by the healthy, roving, outdoor life they led, no
wonder these men uttered imprecations on the heads
of those responsible for the systematic devastation
of the country and wholesale destruction of food.
The privilege too of stripping their
prisoners of their clothes had its disadvantages,
for in many cases they swarmed with vermin and had
to be boiled before they could be used, while a camp
deserted by the English had to be approached warily
and with the utmost caution on account of the vermin
with which it frequently was infested.
English prisoners were set free (what
could the Boers do with them otherwise?), but the
traitors caught with them red-handed were shot without
mercy and it was Naude’s duty, as
Captain of the Secret Service, to see that these executions
were carried out. This was to him the hardest
task of all.
“His fallen brothers”
he called them, and voice and eye when he spoke of
them betrayed compassionate horror and wrath unspeakable.
Armed natives met the same fate, and
in a few words he described to his shuddering listeners
how it was done, how he informed the doomed man of
his fate, how the prisoner pleaded for mercy and offered
to join the Boer ranks, how he prayed in despair when
he found no mercy, no relenting, how he covered his
face or folded his arms, how the shots rang out and
he fell down dead.
Scenes such as these were witnessed
without number, but the execution of a “fallen
brother,” when the details were arranged, took
place some distance apart, beyond the vision of the
burghers who had captured him.
But it was when the subject of the
Concentration Camps was broached that the darkest
gloom settled over Harmony.
Captain Naude had a young wife and
two children in one of the Camps in Natal, and Mrs.
Malan had procured, as a surprise for him, snapshots
of his dear ones taken in the Camp. When they
were placed in his hands he gazed on them for a long
time in silence, finally muttering under his breath,
“For this the English must die!” and from
that moment he was moody and silent.
His thirst for information on the
condition of the Irene Camp, as Hansie had found it,
was insatiable, and hours were spent in discussing
the subject and its probable effect on the duration
of the war.
“What do the men think of the
Concentration Camps?” Hansie asked. “Will
they give in for the sake of the women and children?”
“No,” was the emphatic
answer “never. We all feel that
our first duty is to fight until our independence
is assured. We are not responsible for the
fate of our women and children, and they let no opportunity
pass of urging us to be brave and steadfast in the
fulfilment of our duty to our country. Our spies
come from the Camps continually with messages of encouragement
and hope; but that the mortality among them is more
bitter to bear than anything else, you can understand....”
There was a long pause, and then,
the Captain continued gloomily:
“I did not recognise my wife
on that photo she has become an old, old
woman.... Sometimes on commando we actually enjoy
ourselves. You must not think that it is all
hardship and trouble! I gave a concert, quite
a good one, on the President’s birthday, and
occasionally, when we come to a farm where there are
still some girls left, we take them out riding and