deur C. De Jong
By die nadering van die oorlog tussen Groot-Brittanje en die Boere-republieke in 1899 het Axel Christer Helmfrid Uggla, hoofingenieur van die Nederlandsch-Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij (NZAM.) in Pretoria, in September die inisiatief geneem tot stigting van 'n krosp Skandinawiese vrywilligers om aan die kant van die republieke te veg en van 'n ambulans om die korps medies by te staan. Uggla was 'n Sweed en is in 1890 deur die NZASM in Pretoria aangestel, en hy was 'n vooraanstaande persoon onder die Skandinawiers wat meerendeels eenvoudige mans was; baie van hulle het matroos geword en na die Witwatersrand getrek om as ambagsman hul brood te verdien. Die hoof van die korps was die Transvaalse landmeter Johannes Flygare seun van 'n Sweedse sendeling in Zoeloeland. Hy het in die begin van Oktober 1899 in Johannesburg die personeel vir die ambulans gewerf.
As geneesheer en mediese hoof van die Skandinawiese ambulans is dr Vilhelm Boeck Bidenkap bereid gevind. Hy is op 22 Februarie 1869 in Christiania (tans Oslo) gebore as seun van die stadsgeneesheer Johan Laurits Bidenkap en Elisa Berg. In Julie 1885 matrikuleer hy in die gimnasium te Oslo met die predikaat 'laudabilis" (loflik), in Julie 1886 slaag hy vir die eksamen "examen philosophicum", eweneens "laudabilis" en word tot die universiteit toegelaat. Na 5.5 jaar studie le hy die artseksamen aan die Universiteit van Oslo af, andermaal "laudabilis"(1) . Om onbekende rede emigreer hy na Suid-Afrika. Op 13 Oktober 1 896 woon hy in Fordsburg. Op 4 Januarie 1899 le hy die ampseed as goewernementsarts van Swazieland af(2). In Oktober 1899 neem hy die mediese leiding van die Skandinawiese ambulans op hom. Na 'n afskeidsparade voor die woonhuis van Staatspresident Paul Kruger, waar 'n bekende foto van die korps met Flygare en Bidenkap onder die vlag gemaak is, vertrek die ambulans met die korps op 16 Oktober 1899 na generaal P.A. Cronje se kamp by Mafeking en einde November 1899 na die front by Kimberley. Maar tydens die reis van Mafeking na Kimberley bly dr. Bidenkap agter in Rustenburg. Hy sluit hom nie meer by die ambulans aan nie. Dit is in Mei 1900 ontbind.
'n Enkele maal verskyn sy naam in amptelike dokumente van die Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Hy kla dat sommige van sy personeel hulle by die Boerekommando's aangesluit het en toe hulle later deur die Britte gevang is, het hulle voorgegee lede van die Rooikruis en van die Skandinawiese ambulans te wees en aangedring op hul vrylating, natuurlik sonder sukses(3). Sy lotgevalle tydens die verdere verloop van die oorloog is my nie bekend nie. Na die oorlog praktiseer hy as geneesheer in Hartebeesfontein(4). Hy bly ietwat raaiselagtig.
Flygare het in Johannesburgse hospitale drie Sweedse verpleegsters vir die ambulans gevind. Hulle was die gesusters Elin Charlotte Lindblom en Anna S. Lindblom, beide gebore op Tornbygaard by Linkoping in Swede, en Hildur C. Svensson, gebore in Gotenburg. Aan die front by Kimberley het Mevrou H.K.E. Slabbert, gebore te Rouxville in die Vrystaat, haar as hulpverpleegster by die ambulans aangesluit. Elin Lindblom is die skryfster van die verslag oor die Skandinawiese ambulans.
Verpleers en tegniese personeel was die Fin Ernst Evert Lindberg, geboore te Viborg, wat hom in Desember 1899 ofJanuarie 1900 by die kommando's aangesluit en op 27 Februarie 1900 met Cronje by Paardeberg gevang is, die Swede Axel Anderson, gebore in Gotenburg. Oscar Hedberg, gebore te Helsinborg, en Wilhelm Stolze, geboore in Gotenburg, wat op 1 Januarie 1900 na die Skandinawiese korps gaan en op 15 Februarie gevang is, asook die Duitser Wolf Trotzmuller, gebore te Lauringen aan die Donou(5). Die aantal van die personeel was dus tien, waarby enkele swart bediendes gevoeg is.
Elin Lindblom het in Augustus 1924 te Ronninge in Swede 'n verslag oor die lotgevalle van die Skandinawiese ambulans opgestel, waarskynlik op versoek van Christer Uggla wat toe in Stockholm woon en werk. Die aanleiding was die herdenking van die slag by Magersfontein 25 jaar gelede. Die verslag is in tikskrif in die Ryksargief te Stockholm. 'n Uittreksel is opgeneem in die werk van H.E. Uddgren, getitel Hjaltarna vid Magersfontein, Uddevalla 1925(6). Die lotgevalle van die Skandinawiese ambulans is in Suid-Afrika onbekend en daarom word die verslag hieragter volledig in Engelse vertaling met notas afgedruk.
Die belangrikste feite daarin is die volgende. Op 16 Oktober 1899 het die ambulans Pretoria verlaat en met die Skandinawiese korps per trein na die eindpunt van die NZASM.-lyn in Klerksdorp gereis. In die dorp moes die Skandinawiers hul perde bestyg om na Mafeking te ry. Sommige van hulle was die rykuns nog nie magtig nie, met name die gewese seelui onder hulle, en het die dorpsbewoners met hul kaperjolle vermaak, Ook suster Lindblom kan in haar verslag 'n glimlag nie onderdruk nie. Die ambulans het met die stadiger ossewaens getrek en eers dae na die korps oomstreeks 27 Oktober in Cronje se laer by Mafeking aangekom.
Die ambulans moes onmiddellik aan die werk spring en het 'n bedrywige tyd gehad totdat dit teen die einde van November agter die Skandinawiese korps aan na die front by Kimberley gestuur is. Daar was naamlik groot veldslae ophande. Op 10 Desember kom die ambulans by Magersfontein aan. Enkele ure later begin die verskrikking van die bloedige veldslag en is die ambulans met gewondes oorstroom. Daarna het 'n rustiger tyd gekom, maar onder die perseoneel het onenigheid uitgebreek. Die leiding van dr. Bidenkap is toe waarskynlik pynlik gemis. Dit is onduidelik wie die leiding oorgeneem het. Soommige verpleers, met name Lindberg en Stolze, het die krygsdiens by die gehalveerde Skandinawiese korps, wat dringend versterking behoef, verkies bo die langdurige en dikwels vervelige werk vir die ambulans, soos mis en hout vir brandstof versamel, klere en beddegoed was en koos kook.
Op 11 Februarie 1900 is die betreklike rus by Magersfontein en in die ambulans plotseling versteur deur die verrassende Britse opmars in die rug van Cronje se stellings. Dit was die begin van die einde van Cronje se leer, die Skandinawiese korps en die ambulans. Weens die groot aantal pasiente - meer sieke as gewonde - kon die ambulans die haastige aftog van Cronje se leer nie volg nie en dit is deur die Britte gevange geneem en na Jacobsdal gestuur, nadat die dorp deur die Britte tweemaal verower is. Tydens die gevegte om Jacobsdal het die Sweedse lid van die Skandinawiese korps, John Rudolph Ruthstrom, op 15 Februarie gesneuwel.
In Jacobsdal het die ambulans hom verenig met die van dr. Neethling van die Transvaalsche Roode Kruis. Na die oorgawe van Croonje by Paardeberg (beter: by Vendusiedrit) op 27 Februarie kry bulle verlof om die noodtoestand in die Boerelaer aldaar te gaan verlig. Kort daarna het die Britse opperbevel die Skandinawiese korps wat by Paardeberg met Cronje gevang is, na Sint Helena gestuur en die Skandinawiese ambulans vrygelaat om na Bloemfontein en die republikeinse strydmagte te vertrek.
Uggla se hoop om in Johannesburg of Pretoria die ambulans te herorganiseer en weer na die front te stuur is verydel deur die vinnige opmars van die Britte van Bloemfontein na Johannesburg en Pretoria en vermoedelik ook deur sy onvermoe om 'n bekwame mediese leier as vervanger van dr. Bidenkap te vind. Die oorgeblewe blanke personeel het oor Lourenco Marques na Europa gereis en die oorlogstoneel verlaat.
By die herdenking van die slag by Magersfontein in Suid-Afrika en die Skandinawiese hoofstede in Desember 1924 bet lieutenant-generaal C. Jungstedt wat as Sweedse militere attachee die oorlogstoneel in Suid-Afrika in 1900-01 besoek het, in Stockholm namens die Sweedse Rooi Kruis die silwermedalje vir verdienste oorhandig aan die drie verpleegsters van die Skandinawiese ambulans en is die bronsmedalje aan twee ongenoemde verpleers van die ambulans toegeken; die twee mans was nie aanwesig om die medaljes te ontvang nie(9).
1) Medelings deur die argivaris van die Universiteit van Oslo in 1976.
2) Verzameling ambtseeden van de Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek deel 1874-1899, in Staatsargief, Uniegebou, Pretoria.
3) Hierdie twee verpleers was Ernst Evert Lindberg en Wilhelm Stolze. Die brief van dr. V.B. Bidenkap is in die argief van die Transvaalsche Roode Kruis te Pretoria en is aangehaal deur Jan Cornelis Roos, Het Transvaalsche Roode Kruis gedurende die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog 1899-1902, ongepubliseerde verhandeling by die Universiteit van Suid-Afrika, Pretoria 1943, p.149.
4) Verskeie bejaarde dorpsbewoners op Hartebeesfontein onthou dr. Bidenkap nog goed, onder meer as 'n taktvolle geneesheer en goeie klavierspeler. Daar is ook vreemde, onkontroleerbare stories oor hom, byvoorbeeld dat hy 'n alkoholis was en gif gedrink het om selfmoord te pleeg. Hy is tussen 1907 en 1909 oorlede; die juiste datum is onbekend, want hy staan nie in die begraafplaasregister van Harteheesfontein vermeld nie, wat vreemd is. Hy het nie tot een van die plaaslike kerke behoort nie en sy graf le vermoedelik daarom ietwat afsydig. Dir dra geen opskrif nie, alleen die koperplaat met sy naam wat van die tuinhek van sy wooing geneem is. Sy vrou le langsaan hom begrawe, die opskrif met haar naam het verdwyn. Hulle het blykbaar geen kinders gehad nie. Ek besit 'n foto van dr. Bidenkap se graf met 'n groot krans met blomme en linte, waarop name van bekende lede van die Skandinawiese gemeenskap in Suid-Afrika voorkom. Hulle het die krans in 1924 by die herdenking van die slag by Magersfontein laat le en het dus geen kwaai gevoelens jeens hom gekoester nie.
5) Lys van Skandinawiers aan republikeinse kant, afgedruk in H.E. Uddgren, Hjaltarna vid Magersfontein, Minneskrift, En skildring av den skandinaviske kaarens och ambulansens oden och aventyr, Uddevalla 1925, p.89
6) In die hoofstuk "Under rode korsets baner", Uddgren, p.62-69.
7) Die ryverdigheid van die Skandinawiers het ook later goedmoedige spot onder die Boere verwek, hoewel waarskynlik ten onregte. In 'n brief in die argief van die Transvaalsche Roode Kruis is vermeld dat die Skandi nawiers in die begin van Desember 1899 onverwags van Mafeking te Magersfontein aangekom het, "vermoedelijk van den hemel, daar hunne paarden te zwak waren hen op aarde te vervoeren"; aangehaal deur Roos, t.a.p. noot 3, p.86 Ook die stadige mars van die Skandinawiese korps van Klerksdorp na Mafeking in Oktober het bekend gebly, maar hulle moes die stadige Long-Tom-kanon daarheen begelei.
8) Elin Lindblom skryf Niedling, maar 'n geneesbeer met die naam is onbekend en ek veronderstel dat hy dr. Neethling is wie se naam op Engelse wyse uitgespreek op Niedling lyk. Roos, t.a.p. noot 3, vermeld dat hy voor die oorlog distriksarts in Lydenhurg was en in die oorlog "'n regte dwarskop". Hy het rusie gemaak met die hoofbestuur van die Transvaalscbe Roode Kruis en dr. Lingbeek van die eerste Nederlandse ambulans (Roos p.49). Sy seksie het homself daarna die Afrikaner Korps Ambulance genoem en selfstandig opgetree; Roos weet nie waar dit was nie, maar ek vermoed stellig dat dit die front in die westelike Vrystaat was.
9) A.C.H. Uggla, Redogorelse Over Magersfontein Minnesfesternas andamaal och resultat; Uppsala 1926, p.9. Uggla, A.C.H. Redogorelse Over Magersfontein Minnesfesternas andamaal och resultat. Uppsala, 1926. p.9.
Report (1) regarding the activities of the Scandinavian ambulance during the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1900
In the first half of October 1899, about one week after the outbreak of the Boer War, Mr Johannes Flygare, who had been appointed captain of the recently established Scandinavian corps, came to us and asked us to form an ambulance for his corps. The conditions were free food as good as we could obtain, and free travel; possible remuneration would be dependent on the outcome of the war.
For three summers we had lived in Johannesburg: Miss Anna Lindblom, probationist, Elin Lindblom, qualified nurse, and Hildur Svensson, whose brother belonged to the Scandinavian detachment(2). We signed the contract.
We got an able Norwegian doctor(3) as surgeon, five ambulance men were enlisted and Miss Anna Lindblom was charged with the supervision of the whole enterprise. The ambulance men were Lindberg, a Fin; Hedberg, Axel Anderson and Stolze, Swedes: and Trotzmuller, a German(4).
As early as 16 October (1899) we were ready to leave for the western front under Cronje's command(5). The journey went by rail to Klerksdorp together with part of the Scandinavian detachment. In Klerksdorp we had the opportunity to see and prove the truth of the proverb "A sailor on a horse ... "6, for there the volunteers had to mount horses and train on them and many in the troop had been sailors.
There our ambulance received a big Boer wagon of the kind called "Voortrekker", a big broad wagon with high wheels, drawers on its sides as in a desk, a double floor and a tilt of cloth. It was divided in the middle, one half for the men and one for us women, large enough to transport all of us, but the men slept under the wagon. Six pairs of oxen before the wagon were driven by a Native with a long long whip, except in difficult passages where one of the "boys" of the corps had to lead the foremost pair. Two Natives served as drivers. Our provisions, medicines etcetera were stowed between the floors, waterbags on hooks under the wagon, household stores in the drawers. And so we left for a tour of nine days to Mafeking.
At Hartebeesfontein we were provided by kind Boers with various practical things; among others we nurses received a Boer bonnet each, which were to be very useful.
Now we travelled as typical Voortrekkers, six hours of driving and six hours of rest, if there was no fault with the oxen, in which case the rest had to be longer. The oxen had to find their own food as no provisions were taken along for them. Forests are absent; only here and there acacias with long thorns from which we took our firewood. Meat was mostly prepared by holding it on a fork over the fire and peppering and salting it as one thought best.
Our warriors who were mounted on horses, left us soon and we followed them at a slow pace. The tour lasted about nine days and we arrived at a distance of six miles from Mafeking where Cronje had his commando and had posted his "Long Tom" upon a hill.
As early as the first evening we had one of the Scandinavians wounded and a tent had to be pitched for him. He was a Finn, Jacob Johanson from Nykarleby(7). We drew lots for the first night watch. The lot fell on Elin Lindblom, but already at midnight she had to be relieved because when shaking up a pillow she was stung by a scorpion, fortunately a small one. But nevertheless she had to bear her arm in a sling for one week. This was a new experience; it taught us caution and the incident did not happen again, although we often met scorpions thereafter.
There were many patients, some of them wounded some ill with dysentery and other illnesses. One day they brought us an exceptionally tall Boer who had been shot through the head and was unconscious. For four days he was delirious and we had to relieve each other to keep a wakeful eye on him; the waking nurse could not take her eye off him for a second, because he continuously tried to tear the bandage off. We succeeded in nursing him through, thanks partly to our able doctors, partly to our vigilance. That we could cure Christian (so was his christian name) gave us a reputation among the Boers that "when they came to us they would be well again". Consequently we had much work and the other ambulances were almost without patients.
Hedberg was in charge of making food and performed miracles with our provisions of very limited variety. He was able and amicable and achieved much work.
One day we received a Boer who had stood too near the "Long Tom," fainted from its heavy bang and was scorched a little. For three days he believed himself to be dead and would not eat because "he was dead for truth". Finally he could be convinced that he was still in the land of the living. This made him so glad that he laughed without stopping; for at least three days we had to take care of him(8).
At the end of November (1899) we received orders to break up and move to the region of Kimberley at Scholtznek and we three nurses should drive by coach to Johannesburg. We could not board the first coach which left, because English prisoners had to be transported to Pretoria. Therefore we had to wait for a week and in this time we had the first death, a young, fine boy of seventeen years who had been shot in the stomach. No hope for his recovery, and as his parents lived in the vicinity they could be called to come to him.
We got our coach and from eight o'clock in the morning till one o'clock on the next day with two changes of mules and two hours pause for dinner in Rustenburg we travelled to Johannesburg in the shaking vehicle. There we had to wait again for our slowly moving ambulance which arrived one week later. Then we travelled by train to Bloemfontein. Our surgeon had taken another way and was not with us. Our big Voortrekker wagon was now replaced by a smaller wagon drawn by six mules, likewise with a tilt and large wheels. The high wheels should protect against high water in streams. Further a certain Mrs Slabbert, whose husband was on military duty, would accompany us.
So the tour went over endless plains where water was scarce and where the sand was so deep that sometimes we had to help to turn the wheels forward. After about one week of travel we were in the proximity of Cronje's camp at Magersfontein. We arrived on Sunday 10 December (1899) in the afternoon and heard heavy gunfire during the whole evening(9). We pitched only a few necessary tents. At five o'clock on Monday morning we were awakened by a person who called outside the tent: "The entire Scandinavian corps has been wiped out and lieutenant Staalberg killed!" We woke up.
Guns, maxims and riflefire were thundering and rattling at a distance of about one Swedish mile(10). We hastened to pitch the tent for patients and soon we received the first wounded, but had no surgeon. He had stayed behind in Rustenburg. Early in the afternoon came the seven men who had succeeded in escaping in the battle at Magersfontein (11), six unscathed, a Dane, Krohn, shot in the heel. The rest of the 49 Scandinavians who had been sent to the forepost, were dead or wounded and the wounded were prisoners with the English.
Our ambulance men had gone out with the wagon and in the evening they brought some of the wounded Scandinavians with them, among them Appelberg. He was shot in the stomach and died after a few days and he was buried after a post-mortem examination by a German surgeon(12). But during the whole day wounded Boers had come in one after the other, some of them wounded who needed bandaging to return to the battle, some in such a state that we had to find place for them in the tent as best as we could. The most seriously wounded man, apart from Appelberg, was perhaps a Boer, named Sauer, who was shot through the throat, and we feared that the spine was injured.
We washed and bandaged them as best as we could and gave them water and food. A mobile ambulance cannot do much in these cases, but it was better than nothing. Our tent was entirely full by the evening. The battle continued uninterruptedly and it was impossible for our ambulance men to go to the battlefield where our men had fallen. It became quiet only after three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon(13) and then they could go there, where they found eighteen dead and two wounded; all the others had been brought by the English to their ambulance. The wounded were two Finns, Backman and Viklund, who were in such a bad state that the English had bandaged them provisionally and left them on the battlefield. They had considered them as hopeless. We also thought this, when they were brought to us on Tuesday evening. Backman was delirious with three bullets through the leg, the whole legbone splintered by a bomb, one bullet in the breast and out through the back which was fearfully torn; it was a miracle that he had not bled to death. Viklund was seriously shot through his tender parts and had one flesh wound in the arm as well as heatstroke owing to sunburn. We feared that his spine was injured. They had lain on the battlefield from 5 o'clock Monday morning to 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon in the burning sun and bitter night cold, robbed of all their clothes(14). For even here pillagers are found. We had a German surgeon who had no ambulance to work for(15) and helped us to bring those who could be transported, to the hospital. The nearest hospital was at Jacobsdal, one day's travel away or a little farther from our spot. They were sent toJacobsdal with some of our men. Because Viklund was so seriously wounded we thought it better to keep him with the ambulance until we could see how his condition developed.
Now we had hot days and cold nights. A period of quietness on the front, but trouble in our ambulance started. Our Kaffer driver absconded, so that we were compelled to take care of the whole affair: patients as well as food and washing dishes. Hedberg was not willing to take care of the cooking alone and several of the other men refused to help him. His work was indeed to care for the patients, to prepare food, to wash, to collect dung for fuel, to boil drinking water and sometimes to mend clothes. Because there were now too many men without work in proportion to those who were willing to work, a report was sent to engineer Uggla in Pretoria who was the head of the whole enterprise, and he sent us Hansen-Stormoen who arranged that Stolze and Trotzmueller were sent to the camp; Lindberg who had had enough of the ambulance accompanied them(16). The splendid fellow Hedberg and Axel Anderson remained with us.
The heat was now intense. The fever thermometer stopped at 112 degrees Fahrenheit but the real temperature was higher. Coolness was to be found in the hospital tent which had a double roof where a draught of air could enter; the other tents were hot as baking ovens by day; most coolness was to be found under the wagon. The butter in the butter tons was like oil. Worst were the paraffin wax candles, they lay like oil in the drawers and we had no other illumination. Cautiously we cleaned the wicks when it was coolest, pressed the paraffin wax as well as we could around them and left them in bags of water under the wagon; there they became more or less straight, but in the evening they were curved again. We also got cool by making weak hot tea and leaving it in the sunshine to lose moisture.
For the account of the ambulance we received half a sheep every two days. This was well dressed with pepper and salt and hung uncovered under the wagon. Our fuel now consisted of oxdung of which the veld was full, well dried by the sun. It was excellent fuel although not pleasant to collect nor agreeable to smell when it burnt. Bread was baked by Hedberg in this way: he cooked yeast from hop and kept it in a big bottle. When bread had to be baked he made dough in two big frying pans which was left to ferment. A pit was lit with dung and when it was hot and the dough fermented the pan was put into it with the lid on and burning fuel was heaped upon the lid. In this way very good bread was made.
We lay about seven weeks on the bank of the Modder River, until we received orders to move our ambulance nearer to the camp. Our patients were better and could help themselves, although they were not quite healthy. There were eleven of us with the ambulance. The end of the spell of peace was nearing. Every day we had seen the English reconnaissance balloon on the horizon which did not succeed in ascertaining where Cronje had moved his camp(17). One of our flanks was vigilantly guarded by the Boers, the other flank was not guarded and one night the English passed our unguarded flank. If they had known where Cronje's camp was that night, we would have been middle in the firing line. We had placed rocks for both the patients and us to obtain protection as best as we could. But the English passed at some English miles' distance and the darkness of night saved our ambulance.
The following day we were ordered to join another ambulance(18) because it was necessary and to take the provisions we had with us. Our patients - some Boers with dysentery - had disappeared when fighting was imminent. They could not lie inactively and listen to the shooting. The day thereafter one of them returned more ill than before, the others did not come back. The night in which we had to join Niedling's ambulance was totally dark and a sandstorm raged similar to the densest snowfall, so that we could advance and find the place in question only with difficulty. All lights were forbidden.
In the morning we returned to our own ambulance and the things we had to leave there, and nothing ill had befallen them.
To avoid being forced into a cul-de-sac the Boers had to move to another place because it could now be seen that the English knew the Boers' position. The Boers left Scholtznek and moved to Brakpan. We received orders to follow them. We arrived there in the evening, but that night the Boers had to march farther on and because we had many patients we had to stay. For several days we heard heavy gunfire and shooting from the direction of Kimberley and every night very strong searchlights could be seen.
The Boers marched away by night. Towards eight thirty o'clock in the morning we saw a single man riding to our ambulance; he was an Englishman who declared us prisoners and wrote down our names and then rode on after uttering the words: "Now you shall not shoot me in the back, shall you?"
After a few hours we were exposed to heavy gunfire from another spot. We had set up no ambulance flag because we were travelling. Two ambulance men went out with a white flag and explained to the English that they were firing at an ambulance, and soon the firing was stopped. Soon thereafter three English officers came to us. They ordered us to go to Jacobsdal which was now occupied by the English. Neither we nor Niedling had sufficient mules, so we had to unite our spans and were forced to leave a great many things and to take only the necessary things with us. Nowe we were prisoners of war and ordered to go to Jacobsdal where we received a house; there we lodged together with Niedling. The feminine members of the ambulance received permission to go outside the village as far as the cemetary; there we succeeded in looking after Ruthstrom's grave. Ruthstrom had been shot a short time earlier in the defence of Jacobsdal(19). The men of our ambulance were not permitted to leave the place.
In the hospital we saw Backman again, still very ill after undergoing three operations but with good hope that he would recover. A very able German surgeon(2O) was the leader of the hospital and had treated Backman.
We were faced with the choice of either going home via Cape Town and by ship to Delagoa Bay or staying and awaiting the outcome of the war. The war continued day after day and the English ambulance carried many of their men to Jacobsdal. How difficult would be the situation of those without any surgeons and ambulance! Therefore we awaited the outcome of the fighting and stayed. About one and a half weeks after we left Brakpan we received the news that Cronje had surrendered, and if we desired we could go and take care of the wounded Boers. Not all of us could go and therefore most of the nurses were chosen from our and Niedling's ambulances to go. Mrs Slabbert was particularly eager to accompany them to meet her husband again, if possible, or to hear how he had got on. Hedberg and the sisters Lindblom also went, together with some surgeons and one skilled and two unskilled nurses of Niedling's ambulance. They travelled in the same vehicle, a big "Voortrekker" drawn by oxen.
After about a day's travel we met the army which had surrendered, consisting of about 3700 men, who were underway to Cape Town and later would be sent to Saint Helena. Mrs Slabbert found her husband, and we some of our acquaintances, among them Emil Sevensson(2), the brother of Hildur Svensson, our colleague in the ambulance; but the men passed us in a hurry.
After a second day of travel we arrived at Paardeberg, the place where the Boers had to surrender to superior forces; a deep valley along the Modder River, surrounded by hills on which 40 000 English with more than 100 guns were posted. Here we found 96 dead and 103 wounded and ill. Some of them had been carried to the English ambulance. All were famished. The English had an ox shot and after a few hours it had been converted into some kind of food, cooked together with some dried vegetables. All that could be found, bowls, wash basins etcetera, was used to hold food. Cake containers of tin which we received with cake from the English, were converted by skilful hands into food tins. The hunger was revenous, because many had been without food for several days, during which they lived in trenches.
The wounds were atrocious because there were men who had unbandaged wounds of a fortnight old. No untrained person could bear to look at them and do something for them. The other members of the ambulance were therefore set to work to prepare food. Many of the wounded had covered their wounds with a kind of leave which grew on the river banks, and they had succeeded in keeping them clean. The water of the Modder River was infested with typhus bacillis and had to be boiled before it could be safely used, but owing to lack of butts and time we had to use it without boiling. There were many typhoid patients when we arrived, and their number did not decrease during our sojourn there. Hedberg and the other ambulance men worked many hours every day pitching tents, washing patients' clothes because we lacked clean clothes for all of them, washing and feeding some of the patients and making food vessels. We were busy with washing and dressing wounds, assisting the surgeons and for the rest preventing nasty happenings.
When we could find appropriate transport the patients were sent to Jacobsdal or Kimberley. Axel Anderson and our ambulance men were sent after them and made several trips with patients, and finally we too could return to Jacobsdal and to the men we had left there.
Now our ambulance work had finished. We had been forced to abandon dressing material and medicines in the veld because of lack of transport. We had retained many donkeys. With them and in the company of Niedling's ambulance we drove back to Bloemfontein. We heard firing continuously along the whole road, but we saw neither friend nor foe.
In Bloemfontein we found a train, and the rest of our ambulance together
with Niedling's were loaded into the train which left in the evening. The
next morning the bridge over the Vaal River(21) was blown up. Our hope
was to organize an ambulance again to go out with it, but before we were
ready the English were in Johannesburg and the Boers ran hither and thither,
so that no ambulance was in a position to follow them. Ronninge, August
1) Report written by sister Elin Lindhlom in August 1924, in typescript in the Riksarkiv, Stockholm, translated from Swedish by C. de Jong.
2) Johan Emil Svensson, born in Gotenburg, Sweden, taken prisoner at Paardeberg on 27 February 1900; see H.E. Uddgren,Hjaltarna vid Magersfontein, Uddevalla 1925, p. 88. This work contains an extract of Elin Lindblom's report on p. 62-69.
3) dr. Vilhelm Boeck Bidenkap, born and graduated in Christiania (Oslo), Norway, government physician in Transvaal, Witwatersrand.
4) Axel Anderson, born in Gotenburg, Oscar Hedberg, born in Helsingborg, Ernst Evert Lindberg, born in Viborg, Wilhelm Stolze, born in Gotenburg, Wolf Trotzmuller, born at Lauringen on the Danube, all of them listed in Uddgren, loc.cit., note 2, p.90.
5) This was the camp of general P.A. Cronje's forces which besieged Mafeking.
6) I do not know this Swedish proverb or saying, but it is meant to illustrate the ineptitude of some Scandinavians mounted on horses, who had been sailors.
7) Jacob Johanson was wounded again in the battle at Magersfontein on 11 December 1899 and taken prisoner. He recovered, was sent to St. Helena and died there. Uddgren loc.cit. note 2 p.89.
8) Probably this man had suffered a nerve shock. His saying that he was dead might be borrowed from Bantu who use to say that a part of their body which is ill or diseased, is dead.
9) This was Lord Methuen's preliminary bombardment of the Boer positions which warned the Boers that a British attack was imminent.
10) A Swedish mile is circa 10 kilometres.
11) The only source in which I have found the names of the lucky Scandinavians who escaped the ordeal, is the work of Matis Gustafsson and Nils Viklund, entitled Boerer och engelsman, Skildringar ur det sydafrikanska kriget 1899-1900, Helsingfors 1910, p.63. They mention eight names: the Swedes Elof A. Blombergsson (wounded), C. Carlsson and John Martin Olsson, the Finn Johan Rank, the Danes Peter Krohn (wounded), Ludvig Rudbeck and Harald Knauer, and the Norwegian Jacob Allum (wounded). Other sources record that 6 or 7 escaped and do not mention all the names.
12) This must be the Swede Carl David Appelgren, field commissary, born in Oscarshamn, who died on 13 December 1899. See Uddgren loc.cit. note 2, p.51 and 36. Uddgren states on p.86 that Appelgren was not among the Scandinavians in their advanced position where they met their doom; so he was presumably wounded fighting in the lines of the Boers.
13) Tuesday 12 December 1899. An armistice was concluded on the morning of this day to remove the wounded and dead from the battlefield. 14) Also other Scandinavians were robbed of clothes and valuable objects and papers, among them Flygare and Baerentzen, as stated by Baerentzen in his articles in the Danish military journal Vort Forsvar, Copenhagen 1902.
15) The name of this surgeon could not be ascertained.
16) These men joined the Scandinavian corps and were taken prisoner near or at Paardeberg in February 1900.
17) I think it is improbable that the British air balloon failed to discover the place of Cronje's camp in the flat landscape.
18) This was probably dr. Neethling, government physician at Lydenburg before the war, during the war in the service of the Transvaal Red Cross, after his breaking with this society head of an independent ambulance which called itself "Afrikaner Corps Ambulance". See Jan Cornelis Roos, Het Transvaalsche Roode Kruis gedurende die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog 1899-1902, thesis University of South Africa, Pretoria, 1943, p.49.
19) John Rudolf Ruthstrom, corporal, born at Sundsvall, Sweden, fell at Jacobdsdal on 15 February 1900. See Uddgren loc.cit. note 2, p.87.
20) This German was one of the surgeons who worked as members of a German ambulance in the hospital at Jacobsdal probably dr. H. Kuttner or dr. Mathiolius. In the book published by dr. H. Kuttner, Unter dem Deutschen Roten Kreuze im sudafrikanischen Kriege, Verlag S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1900, is a photo on p.43 which shows left a Scandinavian, wounded at Magersfontein, in the hospital; perhaps he was Backman.
21) Probably an error. We should read Vet River instead of Vaal River; the railway bridge over the Vet River was destroyed by the Boers a few days after the fall of Bloemfontein which happened on 13 March 1900.
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