Steve On Sunday

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Steve on Sunday

14 February 2021

Greetings my fellow Valentinos and Valentinas,

There is no doubt that you romantic types today are going to have an absolute ball, perhaps hit the beach while it’s still open and have a toast with some champagne hidden inside the cream soda can. A game of golf with your loved one perhaps?

Nah, methinks she (or he) may not be so keen to wander around 18 holes and then put up with a conversation about the so many shots that went awry and the one shot that actually worked!

Valentine’s Day was not in many Kimberley people’s thoughts on this day in February 1900. Some 3000 women and children had been sent underground into the De Beers and Kimberley mines to get away from the Boer Long Tom 94 pound shells exploding all over the town.

Many of the citizens were also aware that a Kimberley relief column led by General JDP French was also nearing that town and that relief from the besieging Boers was quite possibly imminent.

The day after Valentine’s day – the 15th February – in 1900 did see Kimberley relieved after 124 days of living in siege conditions in the heat with food rationed and daily shelling from the Boers.

I was not there thank goodness, so I leave the story of that day to Winifred Heberden who kept a diary of the entire siege.

(Winifred Heberden was the wife of Captain Jack Heberden, a medical doctor. Dr GA Heberden, (affectionately known as ‘Jack’ to his family and friends), was at this time the District Surgeon of Barkly West; and when it was realized that the Anglo-Boer War was inevitable after the Ultimatum on 9 October 1899, the Magistrate of Barkly West advised all who could to leave the District, as the small town could not be defended against the Boers. Dr Heberden immediately decided to offer his services to the Imperial Forces in Kimberley, and that night he tied his three year old son, Reggie, to his back with a blanket and, together with his wife and 19 year old cousin, Harry Gibbs, left everything they possessed behind them, but for a few important papers, and rode on horseback the 23 miles into Kimberley.)

My notes, where necessary, are in parentheses.

THE SIEGE DIARY OF WINIFRED HEBERDEN:

“Feb 15th. This morning only six 100 lb shells were fired in and a few shrapnel from Carter’s Ridge. Poor Jack arrived in the afternoon, having been relieved by Surgeon-Lieutenant O’Gorman at Alexandersfontein. He had about 2 hours rest when Woodruffe rode up to say that they were all ordered out again and were to proceed to Kamfersdam. At the same time the glorious news was confirmed that General French’s Column was in sight, and advancing fast to the relief of Kimberley. But Jack had to go the opposite way with his men.

“I went off to the Debris Heap with many others to view the approach of General French from the far end of Beaconsfield. Here we could see the long trail of dust stretching for miles across the veld far away below us, and a large body of horsemen riding in quite close to the Barriers. The place was alive with people in the most excited state and presently we saw a single horseman riding in alone, being greeted enthusiastically by everyone, who laughed and cried alternately.

“This man, who had the honour of first entering beleaguered Kimberley, is Lieut-Colonel Paterson, a retired Australian Officer who is accompanying the Queensland Defence Force for reporting purposes. (This is thy famous Banjo Paterson, composer of ‘Waltzing Matilda’)

“The next man to ride in was Mr Beresford of the ‘Daily Telegraph’, who also came in for a great ovation.

“The excitement was intense – and indescribable. People did all they could to welcome any soldier they could get hold of – who, poor fellows, were in far greater need than ourselves at that moment, of rest and comfort, and food and drink after their brilliant and intensely fatiguing dash to our rescue.

“Bread and cigarettes seemed to be most valued. One man told me that 50 of them had only had one box of matches between them for the last 4 days. They expected to find us, however, in a much more desperate condition than our appearance showed and some of them went so far as to empty their wallets of ‘bulley beef’ amongst a group of ‘Poor Whites’ alongside the road who certainly did not scruple to gobble it up as though they were literally starving.

“At about 5 p.m. General French and Staff rode in via the Wesselton Mine, just missing Colonel Kekewich and Staff who went to meet them at the Barrier. The Mayor of Kimberley, however, met the General at the boundary of Kimberley, and with a few grateful words tried to express our feelings to him. He answered that he supposed we were as glad to see him as he was to see us and after a further exchange of compliments, he rode on to the Kimberley Club.”

(French went to the Sanatorium to meet Cecil Rhodes first before heading to the Club and then returning to the Sanatorium later.)

“Here, we were told, his reception was tremendous. One lady, almost hysterical with reaction after the terrible time we have gone through, falling on her knees and attempting to obtain a little portion of General French’s boot-lace as a momento of to-day’s great gladness! After shaking hands and listening to further demonstrations of gratitude from everyone at the Club, the General retired to the Sanatorium for a well-earned dinner and rest with Mr Rhodes and Party.

“In the meantime, a portion of our local Mounted Men had proceeded to Kamfersdam and Dronfield to reconnoitre. They approached the Waterworks to within 250 yards without a shot being fired, when the Boers suddenly opened fire on them. They promptly got off their horses, putting them behind the best cover they could, and lying down themselves, till there was a chance of a retreat to the Debris Heap below Kamfersdam.

“When they got there they could distinctly hear heavy waggon traffic going in the direction of the Free State border, and were certain that it meant that the big gun was being carried away. However, Colonel Murray, in charge of the Lanc. Regiment refused to allow them to chase it. Night had fallen, and their horses were already too done up to risk the certain great loss of life to the men. Therefore, they bivouaced where they were till dawn.”

It must have indeed been quite day, the day after Valentine’s Day in Kimberley 121 years ago.

Be pleased we have only suffered lockdown, isolation and quarantine and not been besieged.

Perhaps it is the same thing!

Have a lovely day and may your loved one treat you with the respect you no doubt deserve.

I thank you.

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