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From the Diaries of Women During the Anglo-Boer War: Extracts from Angels of Mercy by Chris Schoeman

Angels of MercyIn Angels of Mercy, Chris Schoeman quotes from the diaries of various women who came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War to help out as nurses, teachers or simply in search of adventure.

Zebra Press has shared a few extracts from the book, starting with descriptions of conditions at the hospitals and going on to describe the schools organised for children in the concentration camps.

From the diary of Elin Lindblom, a Scandinavian nurse, Schoeman relates the story of an exceptionally tall Boer who was shot through the head and delirious. “We succeeded in nursing him through, thanks partly to our able doctors, partly to our vigilance. That we could cure Christian (as was his christian name) gave us a reputation among the Boers that ‘when they came to us they would be well again’,” she writes.

Among others, Schoeman also writes about Alice Bron, who came to South Africa with strong pro-Boer feelings, but left disillusioned, and Mary Kingsley, who visited Rudyard Kipling at his home in Wynberg.

‘The weather was now very cold at night, the frost being thick both inside and out of our single bell tents – the patients, being in double marquees, did not feel the cold so much. We were scarce of water, and lived on rations, which an orderly cooked for us on a fire on the veldt, dinner being a movable and uncertain feast on a rainy day. Around our camp, within fifty yards, were several six-inch guns, while we had prepared in a donga a place of safety for helpless patients and a bomb-proof shelter for all the hospital staff in case of attack, which for some time threatened us daily. Hanging in our mess was a copy of orders to be observed when attacked, etc. Several mornings we wakened to hear the boom of guns, which, however, were never near enough to necessitate our using the shelter.’ ~ Georgina Pope, Canada

Named after the strong-flowing Hex River, Sterkstroom lies in a valley, with the Stormberg and Bamboesberg forming an amphitheatre. Nearby is a wide expanse of rolling grassland, with rocky kopjes on all sides, where the wind blows fiercely, and lightning and severe thunderstorms frighten strangers. Nights are bitterly cold, mornings are frosty, and summer days are unbearably hot. It was in this inhospitable place, at the Stationary Hospital, that Nellie Gould and the other sisters prepared to nurse Gatacre’s sick and wounded soldiers. It was the beginning of a period in which Nellie and her team set about transforming decrepit buildings into hospitals, and raising the level of patient care; supplies were often limited, and food and water were in short supply. The team was fully committed to its task, however, and the women tirelessly scrubbed and cleaned sick tents, frequently using their own clothing as covering for the sick. At one point, Nellie was in charge of the entire Orange River district, which stretched far beyond Sterkstroom.

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