Setting up the largest military field hospital in the southern hemisphere right here in the middle of the Karoo was no mean feat – especially during the Anglo-Boer War era.
In its time, the Deelfontein railway siding west of Richmond in the Northern Cape was the site of the largest British Surgical and Convalescent hospital in South Africa. If you pass it today, you’ll see the ruins of a once-gracious hotel called The Yeomanry and an overgrown graveyard full of British soldiers – nothing more.
When Lieutenant-Colonel AT Sloggett arrived at Deelfontein on Monday, March 5, 1900, he was greeted with even less. Within a few weeks, however, the good colonel and staff of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital had established a working medical facility to service the wounded from the Anglo-Boer War battlefields.
‘The sick and wounded could be carried from the ambulance trains straight into the wards,’ said Sloggett in a report. ‘The first patient admitted to the hospital was an officer of the Shropshire Light Infantry, who had received a severe gunshot wound in the eye during fighting at Boshoff.’
And on the night that more than 50 nurses and ward maids arrived fresh from England, their mess tent and some of their sleeping tents were blown away by a typical Karoo rainstorm, leaving them exposed, hungry and sleepless.
‘It was quiet around Deelfontein,’ recalled one Charles Fry, who worked on the X-ray unit. ‘It was only the trains bringing hundreds of sick and wounded that reminded us of what was happening up north.’
Grim evidence of the enteric plague which swept the country at the time lies etched on the gravestones in the cemetery.
The Adamstein family owned and ran The Yeomanry Hotel nearby until 1985, after which it was abandoned and fell into ruin.
- The full story of Deelfontein is in the fascinating Yeomen of the Karoo, researched and written by Rose Willis, a leading Karoo cultural historian, Dr Arnold van Dyk, a widely respected authority on the Anglo-Boer War, and Professor J C (Kay) de Villiers, an eminent Cape Town neuro-surgeon and expert on the medical history of the Anglo-Boer War.
- The book retails at R450 and is available from:
Email: [email protected]
Fax: 086 5809 189
- For more information on the Karoo theatre of war during the Anglo-Boer conflict, visit karoobattlefields.com