During the Anglo-Boer War, Lt Austin mentioned suffering from intense loneliness: “I am in charge of a blockhouse with twenty men to guard a bridge 200 miles from Cape Town. Our HQ is at Worcester, a long way off, so I am my own master here. I have no troubles, except it is awfully lonely.” “It seems he was the man that Emily Hobhouse met,” said Allen. In Boer War Letters she describes her trip from Kimberley (April 18 – 19, 1902) and states: “The journey was tedious and now autumn had come the nights were cold in the train. There stands out in my mind a bare spot where the eye swept the horizon in vain for even a tree and no human creature was in sight, where I talked with a Tommy almost mad with the aching solitude around him. He poured out his feelings: (accustomed to town life) he found himself in this – to him – torturing silence. He said he had been out for months and had never seen an enemy but felt he was going out of his mind with loneliness and lack of employment. I gave him my novel to read – it was a Dickens – and such papers as I had and suggested collecting strange flowers and insects, or tilling the ground. We crawled away and left him on the silent veld. What is it Kipling wrote of these boys?
‘Few, forgotten and lonely,
Where the white car-windows shine,
No, not combatants only,
Details guarding the line,
Out of the darkness we reach,
For a handful of week-old papers,
And a mouthful of human speech….”
[Information provided by Allen Duff].
© Rose’s Roundup, November 2010(No 202)
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