Remarkable People

ID #5236

Emily Hobhouse 2 Extracts from the Report.

“In some camps, two, and even three sets of people, occupy one tent and 10, and even 12, persons are frequently herded together in tents of which the cubic capacity is about 500 cubic feet.” “I call this camp system a wholesale cruelty… To keep these camps going is murder to the children.” “It can never be wiped out of the memories of the people. It presses hardest on the children. They droop in the terrible heat with insufficient unsuitable food. Whatever you do, whatever the authorities do, and they are, I believe, doing their best with very limited means, and it is all only a miserable patch on a great ill. Thousands, physically unfit, are placed in conditions of life which they have not strength to endure. In front of them is blank ruin…If only the British people would try to exercise a little imagination – picture the whole miserable scene. Entire villages uprooted and dumped in a strange bare place”.

“The women are wonderful. They cry very little and never complain. The very magnitude of their sufferings, their indignities, loss and anxiety seems to lift them beyond tears…only when it cuts afresh at them through their children do their feelings flash out. Some people in town still assert that the camp is a haven of bliss. I was at the camp to-day, and just in one little corner this is the sort of thing I found - The nurse, underfed and overworked, just sinking on to her bed, hardly able to hold herself up, after coping with some thirty typhoid and other patients, with only the untrained help of two Boer girls – cooking as well as nursing to do herself. Next tent, a six months’ baby gasping its life out on is mother’s knee. Two or three others drooping sick in that tent. Next, a girl of twenty-one lay dying on a stretcher. The father, a big, gentle Boer kneeling beside her; while, in the next tent, his wife was watching a child of six, also dying, and one of about five drooping. Already this couple had lost three children in the hospital and so would not let these go, though I begged hard to take them out of the hot tent. I can’t describe what it is to see these children lying about in a state of collapse. It’s just exactly like faded flowers thrown away. And one has to stand and look on at such misery, and be able to do almost nothing”.

“It was a splendid child and it dwindled to skin and bone. The baby had got so weak it was past recovery. We tried what we could but today it died. It was only 3 months but such a sweet little thing…It was still alive this morning; when I called in the afternoon they beckoned me in to see the tiny thing laid out, with a white flower in its wee hand. To me it seemed a “murdered innocent”. And an hour or two after another child died. Another child had died in the night, and I found all three little corpses being photographed for the absent fathers to see some day. Two little wee white coffins at the gate waiting, and a third wanted. I was glad to see them, for at Springfontein, a young woman had to be buried in a sack, and it hurt their feelings woefully”.
“It is such a curious position, hollow and rotten to the heart’s core, to have made all over the State large uncomfortable communities of people whom you call refugees and say you are protecting, but who call themselves prisoners of war, compulsorily detained, and detesting your protection. They are tired of being told by officers that they are refugees under “the kind and beneficent protection of the British”. In most cases there is no pretence that there was treachery, or ammunition concealed, or food given or anything. It was just that an order was given to empty the country. Though the camps are called refugee, there are in reality a very few of these – perhaps only half-a-dozen in some camps. It is easy to tell them, because they are put in the best marquees, and have had time given to them to bring furniture and clothes, and are mostly self-satisfied and vastly superior people. Very few, if any of them, are in want”.

“Those who are suffering most keenly, and who have lost most, either of their children by death or their possessions by fire and sword, such as those reconcentrated women in the camps, have the most conspicuous patience, and never express a wish that their men should be the ones to give way. It must be fought out now, they think, to the bitter end. It is a very costly business upon which England has embarked, and even at such a cost hardly the barest necessities can be provided, and no comforts. It is so strange to think that every tent contains a family, and every family is in trouble – loss behind, poverty in front, sickness, privation and death in the present. But they are very good, and say they have agreed to be cheerful and make the best of it all. The Mafeking (Mafikeng) camp folk were very surprised to hear that English women cared a rap about them or their suffering. It has done them a lot of good to hear that real sympathy is felt for them at home, and so I am glad I fought my way here, if only for that reason”.

“Imagine the heat outside the tents and the suffocation inside! The sun blazed through the single canvas, and the flies lay thick and black on everything; no chair, no table, nor any room for such; only a deal box, standing on its end, served as a wee pantry. In this tent live Mrs B’s five children (three quite grown up) and a little servant girl. Many tents have more occupants. Mrs M...has six children in camp, all ill, two in the tin hospital with typhoid, and four sick in the tent. A terrible evil just now is the dew. It is so heavy, and comes through the single canvas of the tents, wetting everything…All the morning the gangways are filled with the blankets and odds and ends, regularly turned out to dry in the sun. The doctor told me today he highly disapproved of tents for young children, and expected a high mortality before June”.

“Soap has been unattainable and none given in the rations. With much persuasion, and weeks after requisitioning, soap is now given occasionally in very minute quantities – certainly not enough for clothes and personal washing. We have much typhoid and are dreading an outbreak, so I am directing my energies to getting the water of the Modder River boiled. As well swallow typhoid germs whole as drink that water – so say doctors. Yet they cannot boil it all, for - first, fuel is very scarce; that which is supplied weekly would not cook a meal a day…and they have to search the already bare kopjes for a supply. There is hardly a bit to be had. Second, they have no extra utensil to hold the water when boiled. I propose, therefore, to give each tent a pail or crock, and get a proclamation issued that all drinking water must be boiled”.

“Above all one would hope that the good sense, if not the mercy, of the English people, will cry out against the further development of this cruel system which falls with crushing effect upon the old, the weak, and the children. May they stay the order to bring in more and yet more. Since Old Testament days was ever a whole nation carried captive?”

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:48
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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