Concentration Camp Site & Monuments in Bethulie, Free State
The Bethulie Concentration Camp site is a sad commemoration of what was the largest of the camps used by the British in the Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902).
As there was a possibility that the area where the original Concentration Camp was located would be flooded with the construction of Lake Gariep, a decision was taken to exhume, move and rebury 1 717 remains in the Concentration Camp Memorial site, 3km from town.
In June 1962 the Dept. of Water Affairs advised the cemetery committee that the cemetery was to be relocated at the expense of the State but any available monies in the committees coffers was to be distributed to the Council of War Graves for upkeep of the graves.
The rocks removed from the graves were piled on top of each other forming the mound that still exists at the site today. The original cairn and two monuments can still be seen.
The Bethulie Concentration Camp was established in 1901 and was relocated 3 times:
- 1st was alongside the reservoir bearing paintings of horses. The camp under supervision of Russell Deare was known as “Rooibultkamp” and started with 180 prisoners of which 44 were males. Amongst the first casualties were a Mr van der Walt and his wife who had both survived the Great Trek.
- 7TH June 1901 saw the camp relocated across the way from where Joubert St east runs currently. Conditions here were wet and muddy and the camp was known as both “Moerasvlakte” (swamp lands) and “Moordkamp” (Murder camp).
- The last location on recommendation by Cole Bowen was sited south east towards the Orange River. Between 4800-5000 people were interned in this 3rd camp, the largest site.
During the thirteen month existence of this camp a total of 1714 mostly women and children perished. This equated to an average of 9 deaths every two days or 63 deaths every two weeks. A daughter of the Kruger family was the first to be buried here. The remains of 18 prisoners who were buried at the first camp site were reburied here.
Conditions in the last camp were crowded with as many as 18 people sharing a bell tent. A camp secured with wire fencing served to mete out punishment whilst Russell Deare, in particular, went out of his way to make life unbearable for those interned here. Deare, whose company included Percival, de Villiers and Devleter was replaced by Cole-Bowen.
A well providing water to the camp had until fairly recently been supplying water to the station. The camp did not have a direct water supply other than flood water from a small stream nearby. The only laundry facility was a “washing hole” filled by muddy floodwater and guarded by a “joiner.”
In 1902, five shops were opened in the camp. When the camp became too crowded some prisoners were relocated to Kabusie (East London) and others to Uitenhage's camp.
After the war a stone monument was erected under the direction of Ds Becker. This was subsequently relocated to the site housing the current concentration camp memorial. Three monuments were erected in the camp and cemetery:
Mother and Child Statues
The “mother and child” statues, also known as the “statues of angels,” “the women’s monument,” or the “Helpmekaar” monument. On September 4 1915 an action group was formed to acquire funding for the maintenance of the graves and for a monument by women volunteers (Vroue Helpmekaar). A similar group comprising men amalgamated with the women in 1920. Their efforts culminated in the erection in 1923 of two sculpted angels (signifying mother and child) mounted on a base of blue granite. The monument was unveiled on March 22 1924. “Mother and child” were separated when the monument was relocated to the new memorial site.
The English Monument
The English Monument, funded by the Imperial government, of cubic structure, was built on the south side of the cemetery in 1919, to serve as a tribute to those who died. It was designed by Reenen J van Reenen, but was never completed. It is also known as the Structure Monument.
An obelisk was constructed with granite facings on opposite sides by one van Tonder. A poem by Totius was inscribed on one of the facings. The obelisk was unveiled at a ceremony presided over by dr. DF Malherbe in 1953. Both facings bearing inscriptions were later relocated to the new memorial site but the obelisk still remains on its original site.
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