Killed by the British
by Herman Labuschagne

Eden Express article, 27 January 2014


“You must try to find out one day,” my grandmother said to me, “about the inscription in the family graveyard. The one which reads: ‘Killed by the British.’” Always drawn to a mystery, I went upon a journey to blow away the sands of time.


My great-grandfather was an Englishman who felt that his sense of justice compelled him to rather fight for the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War. One day a battle took place on his farm Burnettsland, near Lindley in the Free State. The Boers occupied one set of hills while the British were on the other. In the valley between them lay the family farm – and in the house were women and children.


The grave of Mary Jane Hobbs, bearing the inscription: "Killed by the British"



During the artillery duel that ensued, the British forces somehow assumed that there might be Boers hiding in the farmhouse. Accordingly, they started shelling the old sandstone home. What they did not know was that a 22 year old girl named Mary Jane Hobbs was sick in bed that day. Tragedy found the girl when she was mortally wounded by an exploding shell.


Her mother, was incensed by this act, and promptly set off to the British line with a white cloth tied to a broom handle. There she demanded that a doctor should be dispatched at once. The doctor, however, was in no hurry and by the time he reached the house the girl had bled to death.


As I read the words upon that gravestone I felt a strange connection with this innocent girl who died for no reason at all. And suddenly my heart bled for her, for her mother, for a home that was destroyed, and for a war between brothers that should never have been started. And for bitterness, which can last as long as marble takes to weather.

The old family cemetery at Burnettsland, near Lindley in the Free State.