A family history from the Anglo-Boer war

2011-02-02 00:00

THE boy of the title is Charles du Preez, but this is actually a family history set in the second, guerrilla phase of the war.

The Du Preez family farmed at Wonderkop in the Senekal district of the north-eastern Free State. Charles wrote his memoirs years later, but they form only a portion of the book, which relies on secondary plus other primary sources. One of the latter is the diary of Charles’s mother, Charlotte, who was of British ancestry.

A devastating upheaval took place on the highveld during 1901. Charles’s father, Philip, had returned to the farm but the family was constantly trekking to evade British troops trying to cut off supplies to the continuing insurgency. His mother and siblings were interned in the Winburg concentration camp and he and his father hid out in the mountains until betrayed. Divisiveness within the Boer community is a particularly interesting sidelight of this book.

Like 20 000 others, Philip and Charles were transported to a prisoner-of-war camp, in their case Solon near Simla in India.

Charles was ten, the youngest amongst numerous under-age prisoners.

Conditions in the camp were good, there was surprising freedom of movement, people were kind to Charles and clearly he regarded the whole experience as an adventure. They had barely arrived when the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed.

A friendly English officer lent them £30 to hasten their return home. In fact they had none. The farmhouse, crops and most of the animals were gone.

The Du Preez family started again from scratch, first by breeding horses.

This interesting account, no doubt typical of hundreds of experiences, is distinguished by the fact that the author was able to draw on two accounts from the same family. What is missing, however, is a sense of the effect of wartime experience on subsequent lives. Apart from sparse detail, the only clue is Charles’s enthusiasm, picked up in India, for polo.

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