Friday, June 5, 2020

My Grandmother's BOER WAR MEMORIES - 11 October 1899 -31 May 1902.

My Maternal Great Grandparents were Charel Jakob Vorster 1863-1933 and Margaretha Johanna Du Plessis 1864-1910. They were married May 23 1887.
They lived in Colesberg -Cape Province.South Africa.

My Grandmother Kitty on the left, photographed after the Boer War in Colesberg  ,with her sister's Nellie and Miemie.

Colesberg 1900.


The Australian  Regiment.

"The withdrawal was heartbreaking to the soldiers of the Australian Regiment  who had worked so hard and so long in extending the lines, but it might be regarded with equanimity by the Generals, who understood that the greater strength the Boers developed at Colesberg the less they would have to oppose the critical movements which were about to be carried out in the west. Meanwhile Coleskop had also been abandoned, the guns removed, and the whole force on 14 February passed through Rensburg Station and felt back upon Arundel, the spot from which six weeks earlier General  French had started upon this stirring series of operations. It would not be fair, however, to suppose that they had failed because they ended where they began. Their primary object had been to prevent the Boer Troops from moving into the Cape Provence. "

  • On 14 November 1899 a Boer force of 700 men under the joint command of Chief Comdt ER Grobler and General HJ Schoeman entered Colesberg unopposed.
  • On 1 January 1900 British troops under Maj-Gen John French attacked Boer forces in and around Colesberg.
  • On 11 January they managed to drag a 15-pounder Armstrong gun to the top of Coleskop, overlooking the town, and on the next day they began shelling the town.
  • On 14 February the British withdrew from their positions around Colesberg and regrouped at Arundel Siding.
  • On 20 February the Boers began to retreat from Colesberg, and on 28 February British forces under Maj-Gen RAP Clements marched into the town unopposed.
  • The railway line to Colesberg Junction was reopened on 2 March 1900.
  • However Boer forces continued to control the Orange Free State banks of the Gariep and on 2 March 1900 they dynamited the Colesberg road bridge.
  • They finally retreated from the area on 7 March 1900.

Map of the battle at Colesberg.

General French and some of his staff.

General French and the Australian Regiment  at Colesberg.

Read more here about the battle of Colesburg

The Boers.

 Boer warriors at .Colesburg.

During the Boer War of 1899-1902  one of the first battles of the war was fought at Rensburg Station in the Colesberg district ,between the Australian Regiment and the Boers. Colesburg is located in  the Cape Provence and was not part of the two Boer Republics ,the Transvaal and the Orange Free State  that were at war with Britain.Paul Kruger- the President of the Transvaal Republic wanted the Boer Commandos to  confront the British troops at Hexriver - before they entered the Karoo .The troops where on their way south to Cape Town when the British Army landed troops in Durban and they intercepted the Boer Commandos at Colesburg. As Colesburg lies in the Cape Provence that was not at war with the Britain, any help given to the Boers would have seen as treason by the British and punishable by confiscating properties, imprisonment and execution.

Boer war Memorial in Colesburg.


 My grandmother photographer in 1972 at the age of 80 years old.
 Kitty Vorster's story starts on October 2 1899 when she was 8 years old.

My  Great-Grandfather Charel Vorster  (38) who was a well off farmer who bred horses on the farm Kleinfontein in the Colesburg district. .His family consisted of his wife Margaretha Susanna van der Walt  (37) who he married as a widow with two daughters Sannie (18) and Johanna (16) .They had had three children together by this time :-  Miemie (10)  Kitty (8)  (my grandmother) and two sons Charel (6) and Wiekus (3). Six Children altogether.

The first thing Ouma Kitty remembers about the war is seeing a few British troops and Boers attacking each other close to their home. She saw a British soldier shoot the horse under a young  Boer who jump onto his side-horse and got away . It was a short battle as the few Boers were in  the minority and escaped fast.
 My Great Grandfather was sympathetic to the Boer cause and  helped them by supplying the Boer Commando with horse feed  .Once the British troops arrived they must have heard through the grapevine who of the locals were  helping the Boers.
One morning they saw a big troop of  British soldiers coming towards the "opstal". When they reached the farm house the troops  started plundering all,they could get their hands on .Chickens, ducks and turkeys were killed on the spot and fires were started to cook their bounty.The soldiers went into the cornfields and pulled the young corn from the stalks.
 A few officers came toward the house where the family was huddled and started searching the home for Boers and guns.The family was told that their house was going to be used as the headquarter or the army and they should load a ox wagon with the necessary things and get out.  The  family were given permission told to use a few rooms to lock up their most precious belongings, but they had to go.They packed in between the chaos that was going on outside and left for  a neighboring farm "Brandwag" where they rented a empty  house from the farmer Johannes van Rensburg.  A few days later the British arrested  my Great-Grandfather and he was taken away to prison .After a few days he was set free  as they could not find enough evidence against him for a conviction.They accused him of supplying the Boers with feed and ammunition.He was placed under house arrest and my great grandmother had to go to  town to do all the shopping if needed.
 As my Great- Grandfather was a British subject he would be seen as a  traitor if he helped the Boer Commandos against the British Army and be sentenced to death.  After the war, ten  Boers were shot by the British Government for treason ,one in Colesberg and nine in Graaf Reinet.
My Great Grandmother went back to their farm one day with her two elder daughters  to look for some corn and found  the rooms broken into and their property was strewn around the garden.She was very upset to see that , all the corn was in the barn in bags were cut open and burnt.They found very little but a copper bread plate , that my grandmother gave to me years later.The  harmonium stood under a tree in the garden. While her mother and older sisters were looking for things to salvage, my Grandmother's sister started playing "My Bonnie lies over the ocean" on the harmonium. Soon the British soldiers gathered around her and  paid her sixpence every time to keep on playing the same tune over and over. Being far from home these boys were homesick, fighting a war in a far away land.
My Grandmother never saw that farm again She remembered the swing under the willow tree near the dam wall The little pond near the house where they pestered the bullfrogs and the  big stone beneath  their parents bedroom window where she and Miemie prayed for rain during a severe drought a few years before. 
My Great Grandfather knew that the truth would come out sooner or later about him helping the Boers. Rumors of the horrid conditions in the concentration camps and farms being destroyed by the British Army reached their ears and the Vorster family decided to flee north  into the Boer Territories.
In secret they packed an ox wagon with some of their belongings and sent it ahead with two Africans The family would meet up with them in Norvalspont  a few days later. Two horse carriages carried the family as they left one morning while it was still dark.Arriving  at Norvalspont there was no sight of the ox wagon or the Africans. After the war my Great Grandfather saw his ox wagon again and when he inquired about it , The African man told him he bought it a few years ago.

Bloemfontein 1900

On February 28 1900 they left Norvalspont by train for Bloemfontein .As the British Army  advanced onto  Bloemfontein ,they moved on to Pretoria in a few weeks time. My Great-Grandfather joined the Boer Commando in Bloemfontein  and my Great-Grandmother with the children continued onto Pretoria alone.The had no idea if they would ever see their father again. They heard that the last train for the Transvaal was leaving that night so they found a place on it.They spent the previous night in one of the open cattle cars on  the train as nobody knew when the train would be leaving .It left around midnight for the north,  That night the younger boys were cold and  hungry -and crying. When they reached Kroonstad the station master asked my Great Grandmother why the kids were so fretful .She told him that she only had some dry rusks and they did not want to eat that .He offered that the older girls accompany him to his  home where he would give them some milk for the boys. On the way back the sisters Sannie and Johanna saw the train moving and started running as they did not want to be left behind. The train was only shunted to another rail and so all the precious milk was lost on top of it. They arrived in Pretoria on March 14th 1901.

 Church Square .Pretoria 1900.
President Paul Kruger's statue was not erected yet ,but the base was finished as one can see in the middle of the photograph.. 

Pretoria 1900.

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The Staats Meisjiessjchool  Pretoria.  Built 1899.

For the Vorster kids, this was big city life. In Pretoria the Staats Meisjiesschool was founded in 1894 and the school building was erected in 1899.The Vorster girls most probably went there for a few weeks but because of  the war  the school year was cut short. It did bring a sense of normality back to them The younger kids were very scared of the Chinese they saw in Pretoria .They had to pass the Asiatic bazaar that opened in 1890 on their way to school. They heard that they would abduct kids and eat them! This was a far cry from life on a farm in the Karoo. My grandmother Kitty who was about 9 years old  remembered walking past Paul Kruger's home in Pretoria to school and seeing the old President sitting on the porch .She was more impressed with the guards in front of the house that the dour old guy on the porch.

President Paul Kruger sitting on the stoep.


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The Presidential Coach .

 By this time my Great- Grandfather had joined up with his family again as the Boers found him unfit for service. As he was deaf they almost shot him one night after he did not hear the guard ask for the password. The family was thrilled  having their father back with them .After two months in Pretoria -in May of 1900- they had to pack once again and joined by several other Boer families.They went by ox wagon to the border of Mozambique and there boarded a train to take them to Lourenco Marques on the 18 of June. One night the train ran into to truck full of cattle.The passengers were thrown from their sleeping bunks but nobody was seriously hurt.  Nobody was hurt but most of the animals had to be shot as they were badly maimed. Everyone had to get out of the trains and slept next to big bonfires that kept the wild animals away.It was all rather frighting for such young children to hear the balking of the injured cattle being shot as well as the night sound of the bush .The stayed very close to their parents.
The Boer families arrived in Mozambique on September  23 1900 .The railroad between Lourenco Marques became a battle field for  the Brits and Boers.On 1 October 1900 , less than a week later  the Republican forces of the former Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), derailed a train traveling to Pretoria at Pan Station. On board the train were three hundred British troops, of whom 23 were killed by the attackers who opened  fire upon the wreckage of the train. This attack was followed on 6 October by an attack at Balmoral Station, where an engine was blown up and five trucks detailed. The following day a culvert was destroyed at Brugspruit, east of Balmoral Station and, on 9 October there was a serious accident at Kaapmuiden, probably caused by ZAR forces tampering with the line. On this occasion the train left the rails at the deviation crossing the Kaap River, killing three British troops and forty horsesAfter August 1901 attacks along the Pretoria -Delagoa Bay Railroad almost ceased The line was so heavily defended as to make successful attacks almost impossible and certainly not worth the risk involved .

An Armoured train ,wrecked by Boer forces near Vlakfontein, Transvaal.
 October 8  1900.

Winston Churchill worked as a young reporter in the  Boer War. He was captured by the Boers and kept in Pretoria as a POW. On the 12th of December 1899 he escaped .It took him nine days using this same train line to get to Lourenco Marques. On reaching Mozambique he went to the British Consulate and they sent him by ship to Durban where the continued his reporting.Soon after her returned to England to start his political career. 


Lourenco Marques 1900.

 Rickshaw -Lourenco Marques .

 Late in the afternoon of  September 23 1900 the family arrived with several hundred other refugees.The Vorsters got separated from the rest of the party at the train station in Lourenco Marques. My Great-Grandfather, Charel being deaf ,missed the announcement of where they should meet up with the rest of the party. A South African, Afrikaans speaking lady, Mrs. Doris Maria d'Anzinhoes ,who was married to the Portuguese leader of the Police Band  ,was passing in a rickshaw  She heard of their plight and invited the Vorster family to stay in her house where she gave them rooms in their mansion. They rented  several rooms that had doors onto a porch. Here life returned to bit to normal with the Vorster family relaxing and having a better time knowing their father was out of reach of the British.At night they would sit on the veranda and watch the lights over the harbor- it was like a fairy world. They were so fortunate to live in a cool house where the other Boer families were housed in corrugated iron huts  in the police camp. They had  Sand Fleas and diseases like  Dysentery and the Fever to cope with  .Malaria got hold of the whole family and Aunt Mary nursed them all back to health .She and her husband were God sent. Some of the young Portuguese men would throw pebbles with love notes attached onto the porch to get the attention of my Grandmother's two older stepsisters, Sannie and Johanna .
In 1901  at the age of 37 my Great- Grandmother gave birth to a  little girl in Mozambique that they named after their benefactor Doris Maria d'Anzinhoes . They stayed there for five months .
 By this time the British Government was pressurizing the Portuguese  Government to deliver the Boer refugees to them. As this war was not  popular in the eyes of the rest of the world , the Portuguese refused, and send the refugees to Portugal  at great expense.They were shipped to Portugal as a result of an international treaty signed on July 29, 1899 in the Dutch city of The Hague. In terms of the treaty, a neutral power that allowed troops of a combating power on its territory, had to detain those troops as far as possible from the war front.
 The Boers were supplied with warm shoes and clothes for the trip into the European winter.

The corvette "Alfonso de Albuquerque "
 One of the three ships that transported the Boer families to Portugal.

 Boer families waiting on the Lourenco Marques harbor, to board the ships to Portugal 1901.

 Play in Portuguese about the war between Boer and Brit.

"Undesirables" were men and women of the Cape Colony who sympathized  with the two Boer Republics at war with Britain and who were therefore considered undesirable by the British. These internees were burghers and their families who had withdrawn across the frontier to Lourenco Marques before that advancing British Forces and had finally arrived in Lisbon where they were  interned. On March 27 1901 650 Boer soldiers arrived on the on the ship "Benguela". A week later came the "Zaire" with a group of 56 women and 172 children. On the following day the Portuguese corvette "Alfonso de Albuquerque" disimbarqued 10 Boers. In total 1260 adults and 173 children came to Lisbon to detention in custody?
My grandmother and her family traveled on the "Zaire" to Lisbon. According to reports the ship was not very clean and the  Portuguese food  was too oily for  the Boer's palette. They traveled up the east coast of Africa through the Suez Canal .My grandmother remembers seeing Mount Edna -the volcano  located in Sicily in the distance.Most other reports said the ships sailed around the Cape up the West Coat of Africa to Portugal but my grandmother told me personally that she remembered seeing the volcano .

Mount Edna 1894.

Members of the Dutch Red Cross accompanied the travelers to Portugal. Both the parents were very ill on the voyage and my Great- Grandmother could not nurse her baby .A week before they reached Lisbon ,on March 28 1901 ,their two month old baby girl Doris d'Anzinhoes Vorster died. The little body was buried at sea at midnight.
My Great-Grandfather was in a semi coma because of the fever and one of the Portuguese ship men would sit with him during the nigh saying "Ja Oom" (Yes Uncle) to my Great- Grandfather's delirium. It was most probably the only Afrikaans words he knew. The journey  must have been a nightmare for the family.


Vintage: Historic B&W photos of Lisboa, Portugal (1890s) | MONOVISIONS

Praca da Ribeira do Livro. Lisbon. Portugal

 On April 3 1901 they arrived in Lisbon but could not leave the ship until the 6th. of April .My Great Grandfather was taken to the Estrela Military hospital in Lisbon to recover .The family were send by train to Caldas da Rainha, a town about 50 miles north of Lisbon, close to  the Atlantic ocean.


Queen Eleanore's statue in Caldas da Rainha.

Caldas da Rainha  was founded in the 15th century by Queen Eleanore-( Eleanor of Viseu (2 May 1458 – 17 November 1525 ) -who established a hospital on the site of some therapeutic hot springs. The Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world with five centuries of history .The city's name means "Queen's Hot Springs" or "Queen's Spa".

The Boer POW and families where send to the following centers in Portugal:-
"Order of Christ Monastery" in Tomar.
Monastery of Alcobaca ( 376 men)
Caldas da Rainha (320 men women and children)
Abrantes Monastery.
Oeiras ( near Lisbon possible at the prison near Caxais)
Peniche( 380 Boers were housed in the fort)

Caldas da Rainha Spa Hospital and Barracks.

Praca D Republica - Caldas da Rainha

Praca D Maria Pia - Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha  .

 The Lake  in Queen Leonor's Park.

Market Day.

Caldas da Rainha Fountain.

Church interior.

Monastery of Alcobaca.

380 Boers were housed in a old fort in Peniche and another 376 men in a monastery in Alcobaca . 320 men, women and children stayed in Caldas da Rainha. They were welcomed by the locals shouting  "Long live the Boers" and pelted  them with flower petals. The Boer families  were given shelter in the spa to start with .
My Great-Grandfather came from Lisbon and was treated there until he was well again.When summer came they had to vacate the spa as the tourists were coming to "take the waters" .The families were then  moved to the nearby barracks and the spa hospital. Most families, as well as the Vorster by then had rented private houses and lived  there .They were allowed freedom of movement and could change housing ,if desired. The Boers were seen as prisoners of war, but were not kept , nor confined to their camps but had to report to their guards twice a day. The Boer internees did not organize many leisure time activities although a few concerts were presented and religious festivals were observed. As they enjoyed considerable freedom , long walks and excursions were popular .They often played cricket and football while target shooting was a popular as pastime. In Caldas da Rainha the Boers could frequent attend bull fights as well. The relationship between the Boers and the Portuguese were very cordial so it was only natural that close friendships were formed, and three young Boers married Portuguese women.The kids started to learn to speak Portuguese as well .

Avellino Belo Ceramic Art.

Caldas da Rainha was well know for it ceramics and there were several designers working in this medium. A very talented artist Avellino Belo admired the Boers and their plight very much and honored them with his work .He designed water pitchers and one was sent to President Paul Kruger in Clarens Switzerland - somebody he admired very much. For Christmas of 1901 he manufactured several terracotta medals honoring the Boers. It had the face of President Paul Kruger on the front as well as the emblems of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal ,the Orange  Free State and the Transvaal  on each of the four corners. They were sold to collect money to help some of the Boer families.
One of them are in the Paul Kruger Home Museum in Pretoria  today.

During the Vorster's stay in Caldas da Rainha another tragedy struck .Their seven year old son Charel Jacob Vorster died of the fever he caught in Lourenco Marques . They lost two children in one year .Here is a photo of the body, as well as the key of his coffin.

The grieving Vorster family photographed in Caldas da Rainha Portugal after the death of their son.
My Grandmother Kitty center - photographed with her parents, sister Miemie above and her brother Wiekus below .Her two stepsisters Sannie and Johanna are beside her .My Great- Grandmother is pregnant with their daughter Nellie and would have another daughter Anna , after they returned to South Africa.

The children went to school daily and their education was not neglected. They had two Dutch teachers .Here is a photo of the  School children of Boer Families in Caldas da Rainha. My grandmother's two older sisters- Sannie en Johanna -are on this photo as well .

Photo taken in Caldas da Rainha  Portugal 1901-1902 Boer POW.

Boers arrival in Caldas da Rainha .

Boer families photographed in Caldas da Rainha.

Reception for Boers in Caldas da Rainha ."Tot Wederziens"

Boer families rented houses or stayed in hotels.

Boers and sons.

Family at the  grave of a loved one.

Boer Children.

Statue of a  "black amour".

Mrs.Doris d'Azinhoes and her husband came from Mozambique to visit the family in Caldas da Rainha..My grandmother told us that she was a sensation with her little "black amour" who walked behind her and carried the train of her dress. They invited the Vorsters to dinner at the hotel.
The African boy sat at the table with them to eat .In 1900 this was not common and the kids nudged each other and giggled. For the Portuguese this was even a stranger sight.

Dining room of the Grand Hotel.

Letter sent to the Grand Hotel in Caldas da Rainha addressed to a South African prisoner of war.

The younger kids learned some  Portuguese , and my grandmother's sister Miemie, at the ripe age of 80 + could still tell you that she would kick you in the ass in Portuguese! My grandmother as a young girl of nine remembered the sight and sound of Portugal very well - She told us about the dancing bears .The little monkey with the red cap  that collected the money.The fish mongers with their baskets of fish for sale.Donkeys with two baskets on either side- one with the baby and the other basket packet with vegetables. They went to the Catholic church for a baptism and was mesmerized by the big statue of the kneeling Christ picking up the cross.His foot was hallow where everyone kissed it when they entered the church an .She also remembered  many beggars and crippled people begging on the church steps.When they bought cherries at the market the the lady would throw the cherries into their aprons- if the police constable was close by  he would take another hand full of cherries and add it to the aprons load. He must have felt sorry for the Boer refugee kids.

Fish Mongers. Caldas da Rainha.

Dancing monkey begging.

Riding donkeys.


Religious street parades.

Kruger Honor Medal. Caldas da Rainha "Natale de 1901"

For the Christmas of 1901 that they were in Portugal the Dutch School teachers tried to make it special for the Boer children .They received gifts and clothes from Holland and a big meal was prepared They each received a medal with the face of Paul Kruger on it. During the summer month they arranged beach parties as well .They even attended a bull fight but all the blood and the torturing of the bull was not to their liking. She remembered many religious festivals when the Portuguese carried statues of Christ and Mother Mary through the streets of the of Caldas da Rainha ..People will fall on their knees but the kids were told, as Protestants- not to do so.The people also lit sweet smelling trees on some occasions . For kids from South Africa's open spaces the were surprised that every inch of the ground was tilled and used .Not like in Africa where they were used to big open fields. Here there were one vineyard after another .
Shortly after the British -Boer peace treaty was signed on  May 31 1902 , these prisoners and interned civilians were allowed to return home .After they signed a document of allegiance to the British Crown they could leave.Many left for Cape Town on the British War Ship " Bavaria".By August of 1902 the majority returned to South Africa.

 In 1913 the government of the Union of South Africa had a central monument erected in the English cemetery in Lisbon for those internees who were laid to rest in Portugal. My grandmother's little brother, Charel Jakob Vorster's name is also on that monument.

Boer War Monument. St George's Cemetery. Lisbon. Portugal.

The British War Ship "The "Bavaria"

Algoa Bay- Port Elizabeth.


The ship left Lisbon on the July 19 1902  and they traveled down the west coast of Africa .The trip back home was fun and less stressful than  leaving home . The passengers enjoyed games on the deck and was excited to go home. What was waiting -was in the future but they enjoyed the present.  Reaching Cape Town on  the 4th of August the men were taken prison and sent to Simon's Town -most probably to the Tokai Prison .The women stayed on the ship and reached Algoa Bay or Port Elizabeth on August 7 1902. "The Bavaria" could not enter the harbor so the women and children had to climb down rope ladders into the little row boats .Looking down at the small boats swirling on the stormy ocean below ,and climbing down the ladder was a very frightening thing for a 9 year old girl to do! They were taken  to a concentration camp in Port Elizabeth and housed there for 20 days.
This Anglo Boer War Concentration camp was in operation in Port Elizabeth form December 1900 until approximately November 1902.It held an average of 230 children and 86 women who were housed in corrugated iron huts.It was encircle by a high barbed wire fence .There was also a separate fenced camp for 32 men in tents.
 Here they heard about Emily Hobhouse the British woman who did so much for the plight of Boer women and children in the British concentration camps. She was a heroin in the eyes of the Boers. She was a British welfare campaigner, who is primarily remembered for bringing to the attention of the British public, and working to change, the deprived conditions inside the British administered concentration camps in South Africa  built to incarcerate Boer women and children during the Second Boer War. 

Emily Hobhouse.1860-1926.

 On the 27 of August my Great Grandmother and the children boarded the train for Colesburg. It was a very tiring trip with no toilets on the train.All they had to eat was a piece of bread,  a tin of salted meat and a tin of milk. They arrived in Colesberg on the 30 of August 1902- after the three day journey. There they were welcomed by my Great Grandfather's sister with a warm meal and comfortable beds.She told them that my Great Grandfather had arrived in Colesberg but he was still in prison. The next day my grandmother and her sister took him food and they were thrilled to see each other again. My Great Grandmother rented a few rooms and she and the two elder daughters took in needle work to earn some money.The farm was confiscated by the British Government and sold to knew owners.My Great Grandmother and her eldest daughter went to the farm to see if they could selvage anything. They pointed out some furniture that belonged to them and the new owners very graciously returned these items to the Vorster family. My Great Grandfather received 200 English Pounds from the British Government to repay his loss - the amount was laughable. After a few months he was set free and after three years away and minus two children lost , the family returned to their hometown. As everything  they had was confiscated by the British, they  had to start from scratch.

 My Great- Grandmother died in 1910 at the age of 45 .She was still a young woman but the sorrow of her two kid's deaths hastened her passing .This is a photo taken of the family after her death .
Kitty ( My Grandmother) ,Miemie, Nellie, Wiekus, Great Grandfather and Anna.


A couple of years later my grandmother Kitty attended the Teachers College in Graaf Reinet. While there she started loosing her hearing like her father. Deafness was in the family, but one night when she had ear ache a fellow student poured some warm oil into her ear and she felt that was the beginning of her hearing loss. The students lived in Reinet House that is a museum today .

Reinet House. Graaf Reinet.

Around this time she met Zack de Beer who with his brother Dicky worked in a Colesburg garage as mechanics. They fell in love and got married in a double celebration when my Grandfather's brother Dicky ,married my Grandmother's stepsister Lettie Lombard . After my Great- Grandmother died in 1910  my Great- Grandfather had married the widow Lombard.

 A postcard my grandfather Zach sent to his betrothed , Kitty my grandmother.

Zack and Kitty de Beer on their wedding day
 with Dicky de Beer  and Lettie Lombard at the back..
December 27 1915  Colesburg.

The Colesberg church in 1915. Ten years later the spire was added.

My grandparents had 8  living children within 14 years. Zackie born in 1918. Charel, Willa, Rina ( my mother) Miemie ,Meyer ,Koos and Hanna the youngest in 1932.
Their first child, a daughter named after my Grandmother's mother as the custom was, died in Rhodesia at the age of 2 months of spina bifida. Miemie was a twin but her twin sister died at birth. Between Koos and Hanna a little boy, Wiekus named after his uncle, died at 8 months of bronchitis.

My Grandmother Kittie - my mother Rina in her arms with Zackie, Boet en Willa .

Ouma Kitty, ? Zackie Rina
Meyer  Hanna Koos.

Meyer, Cousin Lenie, Zackie, Rina, Koos, Hanna.

Willa, Hanna, Rina, Miemie.

My uncle Boet (Charel) as a woodwork apprentice ,giving his first pay check to his parents.

Zackie Boet Willa Rina
Hanna Meyer  Koos

Willa, Ouma Kitty ,Miemie, ? Zackie,
Koos, Hanna ,Meyer.

Miemie, Rina, Willa ?

Zackie, Koos, Rina, Miemie ,Willa, Meyer, Boet.
 Oupa Zack , Hanna ,Ouma Kitty.

Zackie, Meyer, Koos + Boet  (Charel) Christmas 1948.

Zackie, Boet, Meyer, Koos.

 Rina , Willa, Hanna, Miemie with my grandmother taken in Pankhurst 
Johannesburg July 1951.

My Grandparents with their first six grandchildren,
Oupa Zack with Charline, Henry , Rina ,Ouma Kitty with Andre.
Shani and Neil at the back.
This photo was taken in 1950 when they lived on the farm Welgegund near Potchefstroom.
My grandfather built this house.

Welgegund house plan.

The De Beer Family around 1960.
I am next to my grandmother in the white shirt and tie.

 Ouma Kitty with some of her grandchildren.
Leon, Adre. Riaan, Carl, Andre,
Shani ,? Ouma Kittie ,Wilma?
Petro, Charline. 
Her first  great-grandchild ,Arnold Wentzel on her lap. 

Some of the de Beer Great-grand-children discoverd the their children were born with Usher Syndrome .It is the most common generic cause for blindness and deafness.
More than 400,000 people are affected by this disorder worldwide.
There is currentlky no cure for Usher Syndrome.

My mother Rina was their fourth child and I was the eldest of six children .
My grandparents lived with I us when I was about 11 years old.  Hanna the youngest daughter was unmarried then and lived with them .After my grandfather passed on my grandmother lived with us for several years. I got to know her very well .By the time I knew her she could hear much better using a hearing aid and was more talkative. When she spoke on a phone she had to hold the hearing part of the phone  to her chest, as that was where her hearing aid was.
My mother said they grew up in a silent house as my grandmother only spoke when necessary but she could read their lips. She was a great reader and had a great general knowledge .People that did not know her thought she was snobbish and unfriendly, but her deafness set her apart for so many years that it was difficult for her to communicate .As the kids were growing up the whole family will take a book after dinner and sit and read in total silence.My mother remember seeing my Grandnmother reading when they came back from school. She made all the children's clothes but while she waited for them to return  she would enjoy  reading for a few minutes. A way of the hand would greet them as they sit down for lunch There was not place for discussing anything with her as it was so difficult to communicate. My mother told me that when she reached puberty she learned from  other girls at school what was happening to her.She did not feel she could discuss this with her mother.I think it was the case for many young girls during this era.

Kewpie dolls.

Once my mother  was in a school play and she had to be dressed as a Kewpie doll with a jumper bottom that closed between the legs. She was too embarrassed to tell  my Grandmother that she had to ear short pants. She arrived the evening at the concert dressed in a skirt. The teacher had to us a safety pin to gather the skirt between her legs to make it more like a jumper l!
I remember Ouma Kitty  pronouncing  the play "Faust" as "Fost".I used to pronounce it the German way and could never understand why she said Fost and not Faust .Later I realized that was the way the French pronounced it. She never made light conversation. One always learn something when sitting down with her. She was the eternal teacher.
I recall being in the living room with the family when my grandmother walked into the room .All of her children ,sons as well as daughters and in laws ,got up from their chairs and waited for her to sit before they sat down again. They had great respect for her. The de Beer family could very easily be with each other without talking - sitting together in total silence .Even today I notice it when they are around. When I call , and my mother has a her sister Willa and brothers Koos and Meyer visiting her , I jokingly ask if they are speaking or just sitting there  gazing into space. More often than not my mother will say "Oh we are just sitting and talking a little....."
Both my grandparents were very religious and led pious lives. Ouma Kitty  would talk to me about her love for Christ and pushed me to take my religion serious. When my parents went to church on  Sunday evenings she would play the piano and we would all sing religious songs.
She was very close to her sister and her sister Miemie had a great sense of humor.She would come and visit from Bloemfontein and she also love to tell stories about their time in Portugal and the good old times.
Her deafness alienated my Grandmother from the world around her and because it happened so early in her life it made it more difficult for her to cope.She did not allow people to get too close to her and even  her own children she kept a distance. She loved them and were very proud of them but it was not sentimental at all. As a married couple my Grandfather and her moved around a lot and loosing her first born in Rhodesia must have been very traumatic for her.Nothing came easy for her. She was a rather intense person.Later in her life she relaxed more as her communicating skills got better. Money was always tight and a big family did not make it easier.As she got older she became less uptight and by the time he knew her she was much easier to get along with.
 I could say things to her that very few other people could. We could have out disagreements and she had her own ideas. Sunday to her was a holy day and she wanted us to wear out Sunday best for the rest of the day after we came out of  church-that was not going to happen..  I used to listen to a organ recital  on the radio on a Sunday afternoons. She was very against listening to the radio on a Sunday except to the church service.I explained to her that I was not going to stop listening to the organ music as it was not pop music. When I came back from London I told her about the musical  "Godspell "that I saw there.  That Jesus will sing pop music was just against all she stood for. When I told her that thousand of younger people were exposed to Christ's message by going to this musical she half heatedly agreed. Even television was from the devil .As we had one of the first TV sets. the family would come over and watch it. Ouma Kittie was very upset as we all watched TV and did not talk to each other. I explained to her that soon it will be old hat and people would visit again  and ignore the TV. In other countries where that have had TV for a long time people did not sit in front of it for days on end, One day I made her sit with me and watch the news,and she was pleasantly surprised.
She was very close to my mother but I think as they were so close they could never even discuss my Grandfather passing when they were alone together. I could talk to her about him and it helped her to get over her loss.We would disagree but I was not scared of her. When my cousin Shani was getting married to a Petr Vavruch that was from Prague she asked me to tell my Grandmother and prepare her for the news that her eldest grandchild will not be marrying an Afrikaner. I think I did a good job-and they are still married!
We are all the product of our circumstance.In her life time we went from driving ox wagons and riding horses to landing on the moon Very few people lived in a century  that saw so many changes.
Change never is easy and she was guided in her faith to lead an honorable life.

Me and my Grandmother Kitty 

I have a letter that she wrote me after she saw a outfit that I designed in a newspaper. She told me how disappointed she was that I showed too much of the woman's body. She said I must realize I will influence many people in the way they dress but I must remember that my action will be judged one day. My poor mother had to draw the necklines higher on some of the dresses or make the longer before she showed them to her.She was very serious but had a good sense of humor and she had a belly laugh that would send the tears streaming down her face if she found something funny. All her daughters inherited that and I will see my mother, and her sister Willa ( both in their 90's ) laugh about something stupid until the tears are running down their cheeks. Miemie was the same, and Hanna-  before her amnesia, as well.

My grandfather Zack was a quiet and a gentle soul .He could get very cross if you misbehaved but he was a very kind and lovable man.He and my Grandmother treated each other with great respect and spoke very gently to each other. Oupa Zack would cut his food into small pieces and take his time eating. When he was done his plate was as clean as a whistle . He could work with his hands and made us a beautiful bird cage as well as a chair for my mother .He could fix anything! All four of his sons loved carpentry and two of them made their living doing it. At night he would listen to the news on the radio and then to the church service. My Grandfather Zack  was the first in my family to pass on and it was frightening idea for me.I remember his funeral very well.
In their bedroom was an embroidered framed verse from the Bible.
" God ken alleen die regte pad ,wat uitloop op die Hemelstad ".
(God alone knows the way to the Heavenly City )
They lived their lives accordingly.

This photo was taken the day of Hanna;s wedding.

 Before I left for the USA in 1983 , I went to visit my Grandmother in Springs where she was living in the same retirement community where my mother lives now. It is run by the Dutch Reformed Church. I took my Grandmother a mohair blanket for her knees and we had a nice visit. She teased me when we both became tearful at saying goodbye. I saw her once again in 1987 when I returned to South Africa for my first visit. By this time she had been in a coma for three year , but came out of it She passed on a year later in 1988.


My Grandmother Kitty lived to the ripe old age of 96 and my Grandfather Zack to 74
They where buried together in Springs.

My Grandmother Kitty with her sisters .
Anna, Nellie, Kitty ,Miemie and Johanna.
This was taken the day of my Grandfather's funeral  June 9 1962.

Ouma Kitty's 80th birthday June 28 1971 .Her younger sister Nellie is next to her.

My 92 year old Grandmother Kitty with her 8 children taken in 1981.

Willa, Meyer, Rina, Zackie,Miemie ,Koos, Hanna ,Boet, Koos ,Charel (Boet)

This an article that appeared in the newspaper about the de Beer family
This was photo was taken the day of my father's funeral .
My mother Rina surrounded by her brothers and sister.
Since then Zackie, Boet, Miemie and Koos have passed away.


  1. Hi Henry, what an amazing account. Loved every second. Best regards Antonio

    1. Thanks Antonio -Very kind of you to take the time and post a comment.

  2. A very very lovely story of your family Well done and best wishes Bernard

    1. Thanks for this Bernard .Coming from you I appreciate if very much

  3. How interesting and factually. We also have many of these stories in our family, but much of it got lost with generations. Well done with your historical research where you added so much value to this legendary grandmother's life story. And of course, the story of a Nation.

    1. Kerneels if we dont write it down so much of the history of our nation will be lost. My grandmother did write most of the information down so that made it much easier.Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Hierdie is voorwaar 'n liefdestaak. Jy het my bewondering en respek vir die manier waarop jy hierdie saamgestel en bewerk het. Ek is besig met iets soortgelyks oor 'n Douw Gerbrand van der Merwe wat ook as 16-jarige seun daar geinterneer is. As ek jou werk so kyk, weet ek hoe ek graag sou he myne moet lyk. Groetnis, Renzo Giani, Pietermaritzburg

    1. Baie dankie Renzo.Die familie fotos help baie en my Ouma het dit bewaar.Ek het dit maar in Engels geskryf sodat meer mense dit kan verstaan .Sal graag wil lees wat jy ook skryf oor jou familie.

  5. Absolutely fascinating reading and the wonderful collection of pictures. Have just completed translating my G.G. Uncle's (mother's paternal uncle) from Afrikaans (originally written in German) to English. Decided to make a bit of project it and been battling to find pictures of that era. His family were also from Colesberg, but he lived in Pretoria, going via Komatipoort to Maputo. His diary entries interesting although sometimes cryptic. Well done, need to keep the history going.