Tribute to Boer prisoners of war

Members of the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK) travelled to Simon’s Town from as far as Wellington to pay tribute to their ancestors who were Boer prisoners of war in Simon’s Town.

Tribute has been paid to Boer prisoners of war who were held captive in Simon’s Town, over a hundred years ago.

The event was organised by the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK).

On Sunday August 1, a ceremony was performed to honour the prisoners held at the camp.

Cathy Salter-Jansen, manager of the Simon’s Town Museum, said that during the Anglo-Boer War, from October 11, 1899 until May 31, 1902, there was a Boer prisoner-of-war camp on the site of the present-day golf course at the Boulders.

Ms Salter-Jansen said the camp was the last place of incarceration for Boer POW’s, the first having been a prison ship in Simon’s Bay, the next being the camp on the present-day SA Naval Sports field at Seaforth, and the last being Bellevue, near Windmill Beach, Simon’s Town.

Boer prisoners of war were allowed to swim at Windmill Beach. This picture is courtesy of the Simon’s Town Museum.

She said prisoners had been allowed to bathe at Windmill Beach, in an area demarcated by barbed wire.

The first prisoners arrived on February 28, 1900.

Still visible in the water are the cement foundations in which the poles were planted for the camp’s double barbed wire fence.

“Today it is just a quiet beach where children play in the sand,” said Seugnet van Zyl, spokesperson for the FAK event.

Ms Van Zyl said the first large group of Boer War prisoners, about 200, were captured at the Battle of Elandslaagte on October 21, 1899, and temporarily housed in Simon’s Town in the British naval ship, HMS Penelope, as no camps were prepared at that time.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum website notes that several ships were used as floating POW camps until permanent camps were established at Green Point, Cape Town and Bellevue, Simon’s Town.

According to the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the first prisoners were accommodated in Bellevue on February 28, 1900 and wounded prisoners were sent to the old Cape Garrison Artillery Barracks at Simon’s Town, which had been converted into the Palace Hospital.

Ms Salter-Jansen said POWs dying in Simon’s Town were buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the Old Burying Ground at Seaforth.

Towards the end of 1900, with the first invasion of the Cape Colony, the Anglo-Boer War Museum notes that prisoners at Cape Town and Simon’s Town were placed on board ships.

At the end of December 1900, 2550 men were placed on board the Kildonan Castle where they remained for six weeks before they were removed to two other transports.

The surrender of General Piet Cronje and his commando of more than 4000 at Paardeberg saw numbers rise sharply at the Bellevue camp.

On Sunday August 1, families drove out to Simon’s Town and gathered at this beach. Young children, teenagers, and adults climbed the rocks from where they tossed handfuls of flowers into the sea, to pay tribute to their ancestors imprisoned at the spot more than a century earlier.

“The flowers rained down on the ocean from the rocks above, and below, a few girls stood on a flat rock, ready to help any flower that got stuck back on its way into the sea,” Ms Van Zyl said.

She said the youngsters explored the cement blocks in which the fence posts were once driven, while adults enjoyed koeksisters and coffee and socialised in the winter sun.

FAK projector organiser Elizma Smith thanked all those who took part, including the members of the FAK Northern Suburbs Cultural Network and members of the Bellville Oom Vossie, Tierkop and De Kuilen Voortrekker Commandos. The Van Eeden family drove from Wellington for the event.

Francis Hitchinson and a teenager, Stefan van der Merwe, released two glass messenger bottles into the sea.

Ms Smith said the bottles carried the story of their brave ancestors and this tribute in Simon’s Town.

“Who knows where these two bottle letters will wash up, only time will tell,” Ms Smith said.

Children of family members of the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK) dropped flowers into the sea to pay tribute to their ancestors.
Stefan van der Merwe and Francis Hitchinson, members of the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK) releasing two message bottles into the sea.