New College of the Humanities

St. Helena Honours Boer War Prisoners

Rosemary Laurent discovers a British outpost in the south Atlantic.

In a peaceful wooded valley on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena lie the graves of nearly 200 Boers, who died on this lonely British outpost as prisoners of war.

During the Boer War of 1899-1902 nearly 6,000 Boers were shipped to this tiny colony, best known for its more illustrious captive, the Emperor Napoleon.

In June this year St. Helena's less distinguished prisoners were honoured by a visit from a South African Navy vessel, which stopped off to renovate the Boer cemetery during a training operation.

A representative from South Africa's National Monuments Council, Maritia Badenhorst, accompanied the logistic support vessel SAS Drakensbergon, its South Atlantic voyage, named Operation St. Helena, to supervise the restoration work.

A team of sailors spent two days scrubbing, repainting, renumbering and mapping the graves, which lie on a steep hillside near the centre of the island. Their labours were concluded by a. moving ceremony, attended by about fifty members of the ship's company and 200 islanders.

Wreaths were laid by St. Helena's Governor, Alan Hoole, by Captain Fred Marais of the SAS Drakensberg and by Mrs Badenhorst of the Monuments Council before two memorials, engraved with the names of 180 Boers buried in the cemetery. Accompanied by a piped lament, the flags of Britain and South Africa were gradually lowered over the graveyard and a two minute silence was observed.

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