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The group from Bermuda toured Namibia and then came to South Africa, where they were treated to a visit to the Kruger National Park by Mr Charles and Ms Bev Leach. From left to right are Mr Andy and Ms Jane Birmingham, Dr Elizabeth Higgins, Ms Bev Leach and Mr Charles Leach. The other three members of the group had already left when the photo was taken.

Bermuda’s Boer POW’s remembered

Date: 02 November 2012 By: Linda van der Westhuizen

The Bermudan government sent a plaque to the Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Museum in the Soutpansberg area.

Mr Andrew Birmingham of Bermuda presented the plaque, a coat of arms of Bermuda, to Mr Charles Leach, local historian, tour guide and author, at a function at the Lalapanzi Hotel on 27 October.

At the event, Birmingham spoke on the boer prisoners of war who were interned on the Bermuda Islands for a year from June 1901. Bermuda is in the western Atlantic ocean and it took a month for the prisoners to sail the 12 800 km.

“The Boer POWs got the same rations as the British army. They were treated with some dignity,” Birmingham said at the function, attended by people from Louis Trichardt, Polokwane and Johannesburg.

There were 4 619 boer prisoners of war, of whom 850 were under the age of 19. The youngest was six years old and the oldest 78. Of the prisoners, 35 died on Bermuda and six died en route. The deaths comprise less than 1%. In comparison, the concentration camp in the former Pietersburg had around 3 600 inmates, mostly women and children, and 666 (nearly 20%) of them died.

“The low percentage of deaths in Bermuda is a testimony to the excellent medical care that was given on the islands,” Birmingham said. As long as the prisoners adhered to military rule, they had relative freedom to conduct their own affairs. They engaged in many activities, including a debating society, gymnastics, fishing and farming.

“Their greatest legacy, however, was the souvenirs they made, the bulk of which had been carved out of Bermudan cedar wood. They were industrious and inventive. Their articles represented life in South Africa. They made, among other things, wagons, tiny ploughs, goblets and a small boot with a snake popping up, symbolising their guerrilla warfare. The boots with the snakes, as symbol of their biting the British army, have been found in St Helena, India, Ceylon and Bermuda, where the prisoners of war were,” Birmingham said.

The subgroups, the “bittereinders” and “hensoppers”, were kept on different Bermudan islands to avoid conflict. When the Anglo Boer war ended on 31 May, 1902, and the prisoners returned home to South Africa, the “bittereinders” (about 300) refused to sign a certificate pledging fealty to the British King. The last “bittereinder” in Bermuda died in 1927.

Among the prisoners was a medical doctor, Dr August Schulenburg. His son, Dr Carl Schulenburg, not only visited Bermuda where his father had been detained, but also was one of South Africa’s foremost authorities on the Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC). In writing his authoritative book on the BVC, Leach made extensive use of the Schulenburg Collection, housed in the National Army Museum in London. When Leach visited London in an effort to scrutinise these valuable sources, he was not allowed to do so. UK-born Andy Birmingham of Bermuda, however, had made copies for Leach before he donated the Schulenburg Collection to the London Museum.

“Andy, we are indebted to you for your amazing commitment to our South African heritage and history,” Leach said.

Birmingham is a former senior police officer and is currently the president of the Bermuda Historical Society.

 
 
 

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Linda van der Westhuizen

Linda van der Westhuizen has been with Zoutnet since 2001. She has a heart for God, people and their stories. Linda believes that every person is unique and has a special story to tell. It follows logically that human interest stories is her speciality. Linda finds working with people and their leaders in the economic, educational, spiritual and political arena very rewarding. “I have a special interest in what God is doing in our town, province and nation and what He wants us to become,” says Linda.

 
 

More photos... 

The Bermudan government sent a plaque to the Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Museum in the Soutpansberg area. Mr Andrew Birmingham (left) of Bermuda presented the plaque, a Coat of Arms of Bermuda, to Mr Charles Leach at a function at the Lalapanzi Hotel on 27 October. Photo supplied.

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