FORT POST RETIEF REVISITED

My first visit to the Post Retief Barracks was in February 2017 during a period of rain that had turned the grass within the fort a lush green.

Four years later, and at the end of winter, not only was the grass dry and pale, but there were further signs of deterioration of these historic buildings designed by Major Charles Selwyn of the Royal Engineers in 1836.

Local clay bricks and sandstone were used in the construction of these buildings – both materials are showing serious signs of wear and tear. A stone lintel that was already bending and cracking four years ago despite being shored up with timber, has cracked further.

Compare the state of the first of the buildings in this row between 1917 and 2021.

There are other aspects of this fort that are worth returning to later. I will end, as I did with my earlier post, with the narrow gate in the wall opposite the officer’s quarters through which one had to pass to draw water from the Koonap River below.

ANGLO-BOER WAR CONCENTRATION CAMP IN PORT ELIZABETH

Concentration camps were first implemented in South Africa by the British during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902). The first to be established was in Port Elizabeth, which was functional between December 1900 and November 1902. Its existence came about shortly after the British invasion of the Free State, which is why most of the internees, Boer women and children, came from the Jagersfontein and Fauresmith districts. They had been removed as there was concern that they might ‘aid the enemy’. Although originally sited on the racecourse, by March 1901 the concentration camp had been moved to Lennox Road in Glendinningvale, close to the Kemsley Park Police Sports Ground and Old Grey Sports Club.

The memorial is surrounded by a symbolic barbed wire fence.

The camp housed about 200 children and 86 women in zinc and iron huts surrounded by a 1.5-m high fence, with approximately 32 men accommodated in a separate camp nearby. Among the notable internees were the mother, wife, three sisters-in-law, and children of General J. B. M. Hertzog, who was later to become the Prime Minister of South Africa. Fourteen people died at the concentration camp between November 1900 and April 1902. Seven-year-old Charles Neethling Hertzog died of measles shortly after his arrival in the camp.

Few families could afford a gravestone such as the one above and so the rest of the dead were buried in paupers’ graves in the North End Cemetery, where this memorial has been erected in their memory.

The names, ages, and date of death of those who died have been engraved on a marble memorial with the words Ons vir jou Suid Afrika (from the national anthem) inscribed above them.

The incarceration of women and children garnered adverse publicity in England, leading to Emily Hobhouse visiting the Port Elizabeth concentration camp first on her arrival in this country. Unlike the conditions she was to encounter in other concentration camps, she reported that these families had been made as comfortable as possible.

Despite early opposition to the establishment of a memorial on the site of this concentration camp, the Summerstrand branch of Dames Aktueel, supported by the Rapportryers, oversaw the erection of the monument which was unveiled on 29th October 1983.

IN DEFENCE OF THEIR TOWN IN 1901

There was a time during the Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902) when the Boers adopted guerrilla tactics to harass the British forces. As the advancing commandos of Generals Jan Smuts and P. H. Kritzinger had attacked towns in the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown called upon cadets from local schools to assist with defending the town. Trenches were dug around the perimeter of the town.

This happened during March 1901. For about ten days these trenches or schanze were manned by school cadets from St. Andrew’s College, Kingswood College and Graeme College. Unmarked remnants of these trenches can still be seen if one has a careful eye.

None of these boys saw any action and not much information is readily available about their contribution to the defence of the town. What we do know is that the St. Andrew’s College cadets (Detachment No 4) manned their post on the fringes of the old golf course for ten days before standing down. It transpires that Kritzinger’s forces only reached as far as Carlisle Bridge, about 127Km away. In 1997 the school erected a marble tablet to commemorate this event.

Those St. Andrew’s College cadets voluntarily forfeited their soldiers’ pay, having voted to put it towards the building of what is now known as the Drill Hall.  This memorial can be located at 33°17’51.90”S; 26°30’14.60”E. The trenches they dug, though overgrown, are still visible.

A rich source of information about St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown can be found in Marguerite Poland’s magnificent book, The Boy in You: a biography of St. Andrew’s College, 1855-2005.

SECOND WORLD WAR COASTAL FORTRESS OBSERVATION POST: PORT ELIZABETH

One cannot help noticing a strange looking building atop a sand dune on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. This is a Coastal Fortress Observation Post – one of three – built during the Second World War to give advance warning of the approach of any unusual shipping and aircraft near the harbour.

It was constructed in 1940 and can be approached via a long, steep staircase of concrete steps. The double-storeyed building has a flat roof reached by a steel ladder, with loop holed free-form parapets rising above the roof, which give it this strange appearance to our modern eyes.

These strange looking parapets, the angle buttresses and ‘fins’ help to diffuse the otherwise box-like shape of the building when seen from the sea against the background of the bush.

Note the use of the ‘broken plate’ plaster finish on the external wall surfaces which serves as another camouflage feature of this building.

For an interesting in-depth article on these observation posts, do read the Second World War, 1939-1945: Artillery Buildings in Algoa Bay by Richard Tomlinson at http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol123rt.html

 

BRYNBELLA BATTLEFIELD

Near Estcourt, in KwaZulu Natal, one can see the historical Brynbella Battlefield stone wall that forms the boundary line between the farms Glenbello (historically known as Tamboekieskraal) and Stockton.

Now a National Monument, this wall built from dolerite boulders was used by both the Boers and the British soldiers during a skirmish on the 23rd November 1899. At the time, Brynbella Hill (Harris Hill/Willow Grange) was occupied by the Boers under General Joubert as part of their intention to advance further south into Natal.

Prior to this they had successfully ambushed the reconnaissance/armoured Train near Frere on the 15th November 1899 – where Winston Churchill was taken captive. Although the British were forced back, General Joubert decided to withdraw behind the Thukela River afterwards.

According to the Times History, the total (British) casualties had been sixteen killed and over sixty wounded, mostly from the West Yorkshire Regiment. Among those killed was Trooper George J. FitzPatrick, whose grave I have featured before. What I have since discovered is that the wounded comrade he was carrying at the time of this death was also from the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Other British soldiers killed were Private F.E. Reeves from the East Surrey Regiment and the following Privates from the West Yorkshire Regiment: W. Morgan, H. Benson, J. Smith, J. Thornton, S. Tobin, J. Newton, and A. Rudd.

Note the ubiquitous blackjacks in the foreground – they arrived during the Anglo-Boer War.

It is said that the Boer casualties were about a quarter of the British. Among them were D. F. Joubert, C. H. Parker, and N. Smit.

https://www.angloboerwar.com/images/pdf/TimesHistory02-08.pdf