A VOICE FROM THE PAST
Reading a Diary Begun in 1900
What a gift it was when someone discovered and sent me my father’s ‘Boer War Diary!’ A book written by a friend who is mentioned in the diary shown below, was published many years ago, and I have long wished to do the same for my father, but, although I have often ‘blogged’ — and written stories — about him for Blogcritics.org –I have not, until now, been able to record his Boer War experiences (which began when he was hardly sixteen years of age).
I found the youthful understatement (eg, ‘scrap’ for battle) endearing, and I don’t think that it is only because I am prejudiced that I was impressed by his knowledge of the English language. (There are scholars who would not know the meaning of a word like ‘fey,’ and I attribute the excellence of the writing – in a country where Dutch had long been the major language, to his having attended Grey College in Bloemfontain; as had his friends, Denys Reitz and Pierre van Ryneveld — later Sir Pierre. – Founder of the British Royal Air Force.) They can all be found on Wikipedia.
Sir Pierre van Ryneveld did not, to my knowledge, write a memoir, and Mr. Reitz wrote his many years later, which would account for the comparable lack of sophistication exhibited in my father’s.
The conflict is commonly referred to as ‘The Boer War’ but is also known as the South African War outside South Africa, the Anglo-Boer War among most South Africans, and in Afrikaans as the Anglo-Boereoorlog or Tweede Vryheidsoorlog (“Second War of Liberation” or lit. “Second Freedom War”) or the “Engelse oorlog (English War.”
The Second Boer War and the earlier, much less well-known, First Boer War (December 1880 to March 1881) are collectively known as the Boer Wars.
This book is the diary of a sixteen-year-old boy whose life changed on 11 October 1899. He began to record his experiences on May 5th, 1900, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Boer War (Dutch: Tweede Boerenoorlog, Afrikaans: Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or Tweede Boereoorlog) which was fought from 11 October, 1899, until 31 May, 1902, between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics: the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State. It ended with a British victory and the annexation of both republics by the British Empire. Both would eventually be incorporated into the Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire, in 1910.
Is it possible for any wartime experience to be funny? … Apparently so… Several of the people who helped to edit the manuscript surprised me by chuckling at some at some of the entries, and led me to realize that my father’s famous sense of humor was already evident when he was very young.
I Have Learned a Lot…!
The most precious item in the estimation of a patriotic young boy? — Clearly, a horse! It should be borne in mind, that those who fought on the Boer side could only do so while they possessed a horse so, if the precious steed was shot out from under them, it became a common practice just to steal one!
Once the horse had been ‘acquired,’ however, it became very dear to the new young owner’s heart, and this becomes clear from an entry on May 25th: “I cremated Charlie today. I dragged whole logs of wood over him and made a bonfire. I could not bear the idea that he should be eaten by worms as he was too good a friend to me, and saved my life on many occasions.”