‘. . . it is nine months this evening since I last saw the light in my own house, when I had to tear myself away from all that is dear to me. And today is also my little son’s birthday. Oh, how I long for home.’
So wrote Michael Muller in 1901 as he gazed at the lights of Cape Town from a ship bound for Bermuda, after months of internment in a British POW camp in Simon’s Town. The camps were full, so Boer prisoners were being sent to other parts of the empire. Michael’s brothers, Chris and Pieter, were exiled to Ceylon, while Lool was held in the Green Point camp in Cape Town.
Remarkably, three of the brothers kept diaries – the only known instance of this happening in the Boer War. They recorded their intimate thoughts and turbulent emotions, and the diaries gave them agency. The scrawled notes of Chris on the evening after the legendary Magersfontein battle, the rain-dashed pages written by Lool in Colesberg, and the angry words penned by Michael about his treatment at Surrender Hill, have the urgency of men determined to go on record.
When Beverley Roos-Muller first began to explore writing about the Boer experience of the war, she read the tiny war diary of Michael, grandfather of her husband, Ampie Muller. It led her to the discovery of the other diaries and many more documents. She also records the brothers’ difficult return home and examines the consequences for South Africa of the bitterness this strife invoked.
This is a beautifully told account of the fellowship of four brothers in war, their capture and their eventual recovery.
DR BEVERLEY ROOS-MULLER is a veteran journalist and broadcaster, and former academic lecturing in humanities at the University of Cape Town. She was an antiapartheid activist in the 1980s, including being a spokesperson for the multi-organisational Open City campaign opposing the Group Areas Act. She is the co-author, with her late husband, Prof Ampie Muller, of Vuur in Sy Vingers about his father-in-law, the poet NP Van Wyk Louw.
||Jonathan Ball Publishers
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