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Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery

Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery
The Irene concentration camp was opened on 02 November 1900. The population of the camp increased rapidly and people were housed in tents under poor conditions. A camp census report for Boer Prisoner Populations (April 1901) stated that there were 3703 prisoners of which 317 were sick and 49 had died. In 1901 alone, 808 people died, and 973 of the total were children. On 6 April 1901 a team of nurses started a nursing corps. Henrietta Armstrong kept a camp diary that was published in 1980. The camp was later extended and this second camp was known as Nylstroom. By the end of 1902 there were about 5400 people in the two camps. Although peace was declared on 31 May 1902, the camps were only officially closed in 1903. The Irene Primary School, adjacent to the cemetery, was founded in September 1901 for the Boer children in the concentration camp.

The Camp Cemetery had more than 2000 people allegedly buried there, although the cemeterys name list only lists 1149 names. A name plate with a number of 2156 was discovered but only 850 heaps of soil, indicating graves, could be found. The original gravestones, which had generally been hand-engraved on slate as at the Cottesloe monument, were removed and placed under cover to prevent further weather damage. The grave sites were formalised with stone plaques on which the names of the 1149 persons buried in the cemetery were engraved.

Today, the Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery on Main Road in Irene is a national heritage site, under the protection of the SA Heritage Resource Agency.

For a lot of South Africans this site is a memorial to their forefathers, one visitor said that this was one of the saddest places he had visited in a long time. And to find memorial plates with his family surname printed on it was even sadder, having to think what conditions these people had to endure. We can only be extremely thankful for not having to live in those times.

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