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Rob Milne
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There is the tale of a ghostly couple who meet on the Bergendal Battlefield. During the later guerrilla phase of the war a British soldier on patrol met and fell in love with the feisty daughter of the Boer farmer at Bergendal. They used to meet late at night in the storeroom of the farm, but their affair was soon discovered by the local Boer commandos who then ambushed and killed the British soldier as he arrived at the storeroom for one of his liaisons. His grief-stricken lover then betrayed the Boer commando to the nearby British camp at Belfast who wiped them out. Branded a traitor, the Boer girl lived out her solitary life on the Bergendal farm. Now her ghost is seen to meet the ghost of her British soldier lover on the anniversary of his death around October each year.

After a careful examination of all the headstones in the Bergendal family cemetery I have found that the Boer woman may well rest there. The Botha’s and Potgieter’s buried there either rest beside their spouses or their spouse is mentioned on their headstones. The grave that interests me is that of a single Boer woman, possibly a widow in her early forties at the time of the affair. A woman having her identical maiden name is buried close by – most likely her daughter, born when her mother was 27 years old. The grave in question has a curious epitaph: “Ges. 7.1.” This can be taken to mean “Psalm” and not the Gereformeede Church hymn or “Gesang” (which can also mean “Psalm”), and this is what Psalm 7 verse 1 reads:

“O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection;
rescue me and save me from all who pursue me,
or else like a lion they will carry me off
where no one can save me,
and there they will tear me to pieces.” (Bible, p. 597).

These words are appropriate to a woman who was labelled a traitor after the war and shunned by her own people. Added to this quote are the words in High Dutch, “Op Bergen en in Dalen”, which means “On mountains and in valleys”, a reference to the great highs and lows of her life. I do not mention this woman’s name as I have not had the means to research the family history, but it is curious that she died on the 10th October 1933 and the ghosts of the two lovers are said to appear in October each year.

There is only one British soldier’s grave in the nearby British military cemetery in Belfast about whose death very little is known, except for the month that he died. It is that of Driver Thom who died in January 1901. His regimental number, his regiment, the cause of death, and the exact date that he died are not recorded. Could this be the lover who was murdered by the Boers, and his remains found later in the veld?

Or do they only appear in October? A very strange thing happened when I was taking photographs of the kraal in which the Boer survivors (ZARPS) surrendered to the British after they were overwhelmed at the end of the Battle on 27th August 1900. There is a very unusual cut stone monolith at the entrance to the kraal which stands over 1.2 meters high. It has linear engravings on its white patina and it is chert – unlike the Black Reef granite that outcrops in the area. A number of my photos clearly show the ghostly figure of a woman in a long Boer dress just above the clear image of a man’s face. Is the mystery British soldier buried here, or did the ghostly lovers decide to show themselves to a curious researcher 111 years later?

ROB MILNE

Rob MIlne

Rob Milne was born in Johannesburg in 1953 and educated at St. David's Marist College and the University of the Witwatersrand. From an early age he spent most of his free time in the veld exploring the South African battlefields with his father, developing a keen interest in the Second Anglo-Boer War, archeology and geology.

Rob Milne
Writer/Blogger