My late father's farm, Essiena, was eighteen miles from Stanger and one of the most outlying on the banks of the Tugela.
In view of what happened to Sangreid and Mr Robbins on the night of the 18th of June, it will give one an idea of the state of the country as it was then. Old Mr Robbins the Stock Inspector for our area arrived at Essiena on the 17th and spent the night with us, leaving just after breakfast on the morning of the 18th for Thring's Post. It was the same night after leaving Essiena that he and Sangreid were attacked and found later on the morning of the 19th by Corporal J. Koster of the N. M. R. Fortunately the Thring family had left the farm a few days earlier. Corporal Koster found Sangreid murdered and poor old Mr Robbins still alive with two assegai wounds and a nasty crack on his head from a knobkerrie, under an old rose bush in the garden, where he had been dragged by his faithful old native policeman and left for dead, after the rebels had dispersed. I may mention that these events took place long before the days of farm party telephones and motor cars.
On the morning of the 19th, not knowing what had taken place the previous night at Thring's Post only a matter of ten or twelve miles away, I went on horseback, accompanied by an umfaan to return the horses, for Stanger where I was spending my holidays with some friends. I was then about eleven or twelve years of age. We left after breakfast and after we had ridden for about ten or twelve miles, nearing the Nonoti River, we came upon about 200 rebels all sitting under a big fig tree about a hundred yards off the road. Luckily being bush country they could not have observed us approaching until we were alongside them. On seeing us about a dozen of them jumped up with their shields and assegais and rushed at us trying to cut us off. With that, we stuck our heels in and galloped like mad beating them down through the Nonoti drift where my horse just about came down with me tripping over some submerged boulders and did not draw reign until we reached the outskirts of Stanger, a distance of about eight miles. Two miles this side of Stanger, after we had crossed the Mboziyan Spruit, we came upon a whole concourse of people, some on horses, some on foot, others again in horse or ox driven vehicles, all coming in from outlying surroundings making for the laager, which was the old Stanger school house.
I will always remember old Mr Van der Wagen, with his wooden leg, which the saying went he made himself out of a piece of Mtamboti wood, stepping it out good and solid about 100 yards ahead of the convoy.
On arrival there all was chaos. A neighbour of my friends, hearing about my escape and that my people were still out on the farm not knowing what was taking place, immediately took me to the Magistrate, Mr Shuter, who happened to be a friend of Dad's. After explaining the position to him, he promptly instructed, I think it was, 14 Stanger Reserves to go out and escort them in. I naturally wanted to accompany them back to show them the road but Mr Shuter merely shook his head and told me to get into the laager and that if I was feeling energetic enough, to help fill up sand bags. I may mention that all the young and able men were at the front, having joined up earlier, to quench the Rebellion, and were away in Zululand and elsewhere and the Stanger Reserves were mostly old men.
However, it must have been about half past four in the afternoon before they left, after collecting horses, saddles, bridles and firearms. On getting back to my friend's house we found them just about to leave for the laager, where everyone had been ordered, and strangely enough the umfaan had disappeared with the horses. He apparently got back to Essiena safely because, when they eventually arrived in laager, Dad was mounted on one of the horses, Pompeii. When one takes into account what occurred at places like Mpanza, one realises how lucky they were to get in at all.
It transpired that a New Zealander, Mr Tom Anderson, who was a neighbour of ours who lived about four miles away at his farm Bulwer was only informed that evening by one of his working boys of what had happened to Mr Robbins and Sangreid the previous night and, realising the state things had got into, immediately rushed down to the police camp adjoining and warned the two white policemen. He then took them back to his house and, after barricading the place, left them in charge of Mrs Anderson and their two children, Redvers and Ruby. He then started off for Essiena to warn Dad and the family and to try and get them away as soon as possible. This deed which went unrecorded, was a most courageous one and deserving nothing short of the Victoria Cross, was as follows: starting off all by himself on a very dark night with one horse cart and his shotgun loaded with buck shot, exposed to ambush through dense intervening bush on both sides of the road.
He got down to Essiena at about ten o'clock and, after rousing and bundling the family into the cart, started back for his farm to collect his family as well. Ours consisted of mother, my sisters, May, Dorothy, Irene, Constance and baby sister Gwen only a few months old. After having gone about a mile with Dad riding ahead with his shotgun, they heard a commotion, stopped and listened. As they got nearer Dad shouted "Ubani lo?" (who is that?) and to their relief the "darkness" replied "Stanger Reserves".
Even then it must have been a harrowing journey for them after what happened to the escort which was sent out to Mpanza to bring in Mesdames Hunter, Marshall and Borham, where they were ambushed and no less than four policemen killed and several wounded.
Anyway they got back to Mr Anderson's farm safely and then started off for Stanger. How Mr Anderson managed to get them all into the one cart, nine of them, still remains a mystery to me. It was only a small cart too, drawn by a big half-bred Clydesdale.
One must realise that these farms were all adjoining large native locations, which had risen to a man. Mashwillis (adjoining Essiena) and Messenis (adjoining Bulwer) were all up in arms. At the Iziminba fight on 3rd July, two weeks after we had left, no less than 547 rebels were killed including Mashwillis himself, his son and principal indunas on our boundary.
However, after a nightmare of a journey during which they managed to elude two large impis, had to retrace their tracks and go into hiding, they all eventually struggled into laager at three o'clock on the morning of the 20th June, which happened to be mother's birthday.
We all had, however, been in the laager since about four o'clock the previous evening. All dumped on the wooden floor of the school, with whatever rugs and cushions one was able to bring along. Quite an experience to us kids, watching the sick, weary and decrepit being brought in, some even on stretchers, and also dumped down on the wooden floors.
What a night it was, all packed like sardines, babies crying, people snoring, the stretcher cases moaning and groaning, it was Bedlam let loose.
And as for rumours, a military base camp would have faded into insignificance. As to what was going to happen to us and exactly how we were all going to be cut up and be made into muti. As for the Tollners and Andersons, the last families to get into laager, well do I remember lying awake and listening to the number of times they had all been murdered and cut up, some knowalls actually going into details. Believe it or not they were not men folk either.
Meantime there was great activity going on outside. Sandbags being filled up and put into place by a few squads of available able old men erecting barb wire entanglements etc. By mid-day we were all packed off to Durban in a special refugee train, which was, I remember so well, absolutely crowded. We never returned to our old home again, which Dad eventually sold, including all five farms.
It remains to be mentioned that, but for Mr T. Anderson's heroic and plucky act, a different story may have been told, for it was gathered later that on the morning of the 20th just before day break an impi from Mashwillis lot surrounded and looted the house carting off all they could lay hands upon as well as all Dad's stock.
Hence my partiality to New Zealanders.