Springfontein, Free State

Springfontein blockhouse

One of thousands of blockhouses built during the Anglo-Boer War.

During the Anglo-Boer War it was like the Siege of Troy down in the southern Free State town of Springfontein.

You had the largest field hospital in the southern hemisphere, railway lines from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London all met here on their way to the Reef – and there was a concentration camp holding nearly 3 000 Boer women and children. More than 700 of them died in that time.

Edgar Wallace, renowned journalist and author, was a war correspondent out here, and once found himself mired in Springfontein – possibly as bored as a blockhouse guard. So he wrote some colour pieces for his readers back in the UK, imagining overhearing “Tommy Atkins” (the typical British soldier) holding forth with his mates on the platform at Springfontein Station:

“Here were a dozen men who had probably seen more battles in one year than most generals see in a lifetime, and yet their talk was not of war, or great daring, but just the subjects, the selfsame subjects, they would argue out in times of peace at the bar of the ‘Green Man’.

“It seemed more than incongruous at times to hear – here in the loneliness of the rolling veld, with the black peaks of the distant hills, sooty bulks against the velvet-black skyline, with death lurking in the darkness about, it seems strange…when Tommies are arguing in strident Cockney on the legitimacy of the birth of Moses.

“’Found ‘im in the bulrushes – yuss, that’s wot she said…’”

There’s just such a blockhouse out at Prior Grange, a guest farm on the outskirts of Springfontein. Sit up there of an afternoon, look down on the passing N1 traffic, and let your imagination turn you into a Tommy of a century ago…

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