Editor’s note: All images featured in this chapter are taken from historical sources.
I Meet a Young Lady
During the first year of turning to the Lord and going to church I met what was going to be my wife. It was this way. The boy that borrowed money from me, we will call him Landveer, boarded with the printer that came over with me. He still worked at De Volkstem. One Sunday Van der Horst and I went to see him. When we were sitting on the porch there were two ladies approaching and they entered the same residence on which porch we were sitting. When these young ladies were near enough, I thought immediately that one on that side is going to be my wife. Not long after they had entered we found an excuse to get acquainted with the girls and did some singing together and I took them where they wanted to go. Thursday following I managed to see her again, when she was going to visit a member of our church who lived on Sunnyside, a suburb of Pretoria.
Later on I saw God’s providence in causing me to meet this girl (Zwantje). She was a Christian and would help me to go the straight and narrow path. During our courtship I took her along to my sister’s home. It happened one time that I was eating lunch by myself and she noticed that I did not say grace. While she had seen me in church and in company with other Christian boys, she thought I was a Christian, and I really was but had not dared to come out for it at home. So she talked to me about it on the way. She said, she could not have a partner in life that did not fear God, was not a Christian, and did not dare to profess His name before men. I said to her, “You are right.” And promised I would from now on pray at home and profess Christ before my godless brother-in-law and his whole family I did. He said to me, when he saw me pray that I was crazy and swore at me and at my girl and all the church people. But I felt better and was glad that I thus was professing Christ. I received strength from on high and the Holy Spirit gave me the courage to carry on.
Whatever happened at home with me, I related to my girl, and she being gifted with wisdom and having more experience as a Christian, encouraged me and told me to seek my strength in prayers and the Lord’s grace would be sufficient to me. I experienced it was However, later on I realized it was not a good atmosphere there to live in and I left them and roomed with Van Der Horst who made his home with some Christian church people. Then I felt better and more at home. My sister and brother-in-law blamed it all to that fantastically religious girl that had hooked me. But I knew better. The Lord had used her to guide and support me and together we had fellowship in Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
A few incidents of my stay in that territory may here be related:
Did you ever see locusts? I did. We drove one day through a cloud of them that darkened the sun. The locusts were about 4” long and as thick as a finger. Some of them landed on the package van. If one lit on your hand it would immediately start to bite. The clouds got denser and denser and this train moved slower and slower until finally it had to stop, for the rails and the wheels of the locomotive and the train had become all greasy from the crushed locusts. While we were there standing we had time to look around. We could not find a single blade of vegetation or a leaf on a tree. Even the green bark for the tree was eaten down to the white. These trees would all die. We had to shovel sand and gravel on the rails to pull out. Well, did you ever hear a lion roar?
During my stay in Pretoria, I sometimes had to switch a few railroad cars. At one time the engines stand backward before the train. In those days cars were connected with oblong couplings which would be held by a pin in the buffers. Usually a wire was carried by a switch man to lift the ring up when the two buffers came together and the pins would drop and link the two cars. I did not have a stick to lift up that coupling ring and thought I will signal the engineer to pull up and put a stone under the ring, this was often done in a pinch, then I did not have to use a stick and be safe but….I gave the engineer the sign to pull up, but he forgot, he was standing in reverse and while I put in the stone, he backed up instead and I got my hand smashed when the cars came together. It happened about 10:30 a.m.
Immediately the clerk at the railroad station, it was about 30 miles from Pretoria said he was all alone, gave me first aid and later the doctor was busy with my deformed hand for an hour. He marveled that I took it so coolly and could stand it so well. As he pulled my fingers to straighten the cord and scraped out the print of the coupling & bathed the wound with iodine solution and last but not least as he sewed up the wound. A little after midnight I went home and he gave me a few sleeping pills if I should have pain. Well, I did have pain and used the pills but did not sleep.
The next morning I was dizzy. How I had longed for the light. A Turkish towel doubled to a cushion on which my hand had rested during the night was soaked up with blood and it had also run down my chest. On the way the blood had dripped where I sat in the waiting room. It was also evident that there was cause that I should be dizzy. When the doctor arrived he said you first and he immediately examined everything and seemed satisfied ad told me to take plenty of rest.
After 9 days the wound had healed entirely and I was told to go and have my hand massaged. My whole hand and wrist had become almost as stiff as a board and I had to stand untold pain from day to day for an hour when under the hands of the masseuse. He was a very strong man and evidently knew his business. Many times I came near to fainting and at times I would simply run away from him. The next day, however, I would return. Every day I was to keep up incessantly the moving and of my wrist & fingers at long last I did it as an acquired custom. After three months my hand was sufficiently restored that the treatments were stopped at the masseuses’ office but for my own good I was to keep up massaging it myself.
Before I had the accident with my hand we had decided to get married shortly. But not only this accident caused us to postpone our marriage, there was also another event that attributed to this postponement. The lady for which my wife managed the house got sick and went for her health to the Netherlands. This incident made us decide that my girl would also take a trip to that country to make good a promise made to her parents and also she thought she might otherwise never get there. The future would prove to the contrary.
Well, she went to see her folks, but she found her father home sick in bed with cancer in the stomach. She came in time to help her mother to take care of him and to bring him to the grave six weeks later. These six weeks sapped her strength and she herself came nigh unto death through a very stubborn attack of the influenza.
During the time of her stay in the Netherlands we corresponded until she was on the way back to Africa. She had gone to Europe by way of the Indian and Mediterranean Sea and had stopped at different ports as Port Said, Naples, Marseilles, Lisbon, etc. When returning to Africa she went over England, Southampton, North & South Atlantic Oceans, the same spots that I had gone to Africa.
When the boat arrived at Cape Town I was there to meet my bride. How glad we were to meet. We went to a hotel and the following day we were married. On account of not being able to speak and understand English sufficiently we had to engage the Netherlands consul and the magistrate performed the ceremony. We were very glad.
After we were married a coach with two horses waited for us to give us an extensive ride through Cape Town and surrounding area and especially the view at the top of the Table Mountain was worthwhile. From there we could look down upon the town and far into the South Atlantic Ocean. We enjoyed ourselves very much during the five days it took us to go to our destination, Middleburg, Transvaal. It was the rainy season and at different places in the Cape Colony the road bed was washed out. One place we had to leave the train and go a short distance and board the train again. Yes, we enjoyed ourselves and finally we arrived at Middleburg.
Dark Clouds and a Baby
It was only shortly after we had settled in our home that the Boer War broke out. We were married August 2 and October 11th was the date that Paul Krueger, President of the Suid-Afrikaanse Republic, Transvaal sent his ultimatum to Great Britain. That great event in history affected us very much. Ever since this date, the train service was very uncertain. We never knew when and how we would return home. Sometimes I stayed out 15 hours, at other times 30 or 40 hours without getting much rest, sleep or food and always in danger of my life. My young wife was always anxiously looking for my return and would go to the railroad station to inquire.
We lived in one of a group of houses which were occupied by railway people. We were all much affected by the wars and we had to take things the best we could. We had bought sufficient food to last us a long time.
When we were married ten months and three days a daughter was born unto us. We had arranged to have a lady from Pretoria to help us for a couple of weeks, but shortly before the baby arrived Pretoria was surrounded by the enemy and we were very glad and thankful that a Boer midwife from Pretoria delivered a healthy, strong baby girl. However, we did not have other help and things did not go so well.
At the time that the baby was to be born and my wife was calling for me in her pains, I stood only a few hundred feet away guarding a train of dynamite that I just had brought in. This dynamite was to be used to blow up the bridges and tracks to hinder the advance of the army.
The midwife was kind enough to come a couple of days to tend the baby, but she was called away to attend Boer refugee women and for some reason or other the baby refused to nurse and the result was after a few days my wife’s breasts caked. Then I went to find a doctor if possible for she suffered untold pains. I found a German physician and surgeon and after he had examined her, he said she had to have an operation for the left breast was already full of pus. With me as his assistant he told her to lie down on the bed, put her under chloroform and operated on the left breast. He drained it and put in draining tubes. Everything went well. What a relief when it was over and she talked again to me. We were thankful for the right breast responded and it was not necessary to operate on that one. The baby we had boarded out by the neighbor living across of us. The baby had not done any too well on account of not having the right formula. Slowly on it went a little better and she started to grow. In the meantime I went out to work. Services on the railroad were very irregular. We were afraid after Pretoria was in the hands of the British, they would soon come our way.
President Kruger Leaves
One day I came home and told my wife I had seen our President Kruger in his railroad coach being on the way to Delagoa Bay to go to Europe. He went to Holland in a Dutch warship that Queen Wilhelmina had sent for that purpose. I still feel warm for him when I think of this noble deed. When I passed the coach in which the President sat, I saw him sitting in deep thought, smoking, with a crooked pipe in his mouth. I felt something in me that I cannot express in words, and waited until the train pulled out of my sight and disappeared through a bend in the road. He was faithful to the end.
At present, 42 years later the thoughts multiply in me, when I think of the German Kaiser, who refused to meet him, when Krueger was on his way to Berlin. Then I think of the 26,000 women and children that they, the British caused to die in concentration camps and also here during the Boer War, for persons more gold, more diamonds. And when I think what has happened and is happening now to the people in Britain, God is a God of justice. Hath not the judge of all the earth done right?
Back to the Netherlands
When we saw President Kruger a couple of months ago leaving the country, we thought, do we possibly have to go also, and when? Well, it would not be very long. From time to time we heard the British were occupying more territory and also that women and children were taken away from the farms. We felt as Hollanders instinctively that the enemy of the Boers had no use for us and in fact we did all we could to help the Transvaal’s. A number of Netherlanders had gone to the front and by this time there were some taken prisoner. The railroad, mostly manned by employees that hailed from the low country, was running with depleted ranks and the Transvaal Government desired that the married employees should stay at their post and keep things going.
Gleanings from my note book. My note book starts off as follows:
It was the morning of July the 27th, 1900 that I went outdoors and saw a patrol of the British, our enemy, approaching our dorp. We could see them plainly as we were living on the outskirts. Shortly after they appeared they were shot upon and turned back. Middleburg, the name of the dorp was open and of no strategic value and all the Boers had left some time ago. But someone had shot.
The next day the British took the town without any resistance. The soldiers picked up whatever they could to eat, chickens, etc. and we saw with our eyes, they entered a house of which the owners were absent and took the furniture and built a fire with it to make their meal. Many homes were destroyed and burned. Personally we were not bothered by them that way.
The following days all the employees of the LASM were summoned to the railroad station. They wanted us to work for them, but we accepted to do so under protest. They told us to go home but to return the following day. They warned us if anything would happen, we would be shot to death. When we returned the next day we all received a pass so we could be identified any time whenever we were outside of our home. We had to be inside from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and we would be taken somewhere else. We were allowed to take luggage along and we packed the most valuables in a couple of trunks. Whatever we had on hand in food we sold Monday morning for the best price we could get and a few other things we sold for a pittance, but to practically all we possessed we could say goodbye to never see it again.
(Continue to next chapter)