Tales passed down over the years often require more than cold, dry facts uncovered by research to disprove them to family members. In the case of my husband’s maternal grandparents, even I as a researcher fell under the spell of family lore. As I heard bits of their story, I developed a rather romantic notion of this couple and their decision to marry across cultural, political and religious boundaries.
Arthur and Letitia POOLE were the only grandparents my husband knew; he and his brothers always refer to them as Oupa and Ouma, Afrikaans for Grandpa and Grandma.
Oupa was a Welshman who had gone to South Africa as a soldier in the British Army during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Ouma was Afrikaner on both sides, so my husband and his brothers assumed that her family supported the Boers. Feelings ran high in that conflict; some modern-day Afrikaners still speak of the wrongs perpetrated on them as if they had happened yesterday.
In addition, the couple would have come from two different religious backgrounds. On his enlistment form, Oupa declared his religious denomination to be Church of England. Ouma was most likely raised in the Dutch Reformed Church.
I had long imagined the probable reaction of Ouma’s family when she brought home a young man who would likely have been the polar opposite of the person they hoped she would marry. One of their grandchildren thinks they had to elope. My husband remembers the oft-told tale of their honeymoon, a “grand tour” of Europe, which I came to think of as Ouma’s compensation for defying her family. In my mind, Oupa and Ouma were a South African Romeo and Juliet, albeit with a happy ending to their story: they had five children and were married for over 52 years.
Alas, this romantic vision dimmed a bit with each document I found.
If Oupa and Ouma eloped, it could only have been to city hall rather than to another city. The marriage record index for Potchefstroom in the Transvaal, where Ouma was born and raised, lists the couple as marrying there on 15 Jan 1907. I think it likely that their wedding took place in a church, but I have yet to find that record.
My husband recalls visiting MASSYN relatives in Potchefstroom in the 1950s. Records show that Ouma’s youngest sister married a man named MASSYN. It would appear that at least some members of the family remained close to Ouma after her marriage.
In a previous post, I examined the christening record for Oupa and Ouma’s only daughter, Angela Letitia. One of the witnesses was Ouma’s mother. If initial feelings about the marriage were negative, it seems they had abated over the years.
And yet the romantic notions lingered in the back of my mind — until a recent phone call from my husband’s brother in South Africa turned all of my preconceptions upside down. Just one small memory, but with so many implications.
“Ja, Ouma was a died-in-the-wool Afrikaner. Even so, there was a very large picture of Lord Kitchener hanging on the wall in their house in Bloemfontein!”
That Oupa would have admired the military leader is understandable; Kitchener was the commander in chief of the British forces in South Africa from 1900-1902 and a hero to most British after their victory over the Boers.
But that Ouma would have tolerated displaying his picture is both surprising and puzzling. Kitchener was responsible for what many consider the “ruthless policies” which ultimately defeated the Boers, including the burning of farms and the establishment of concentration camps in which more than 27,000 Boer civilians died, most of them children. Many historians credit the bitterness engendered by such policies with the rise of the Nationalist Party under whose leadership apartheid laws were enacted and enforced.
On the other hand, there are those who think Kitchener has been unfairly judged. A review of a contemporary biography states that “British politicians had wanted a vindictive peace. Kitchener achieved a peace of reconciliation and goodwill.”
Then, too, there were undoubtedly Afrikaners at the time who acknowledged the justice of the Boers’ cause yet realized at some point that continuing the struggle was futile.
Without knowing more about Ouma and her family, I can offer only a smorgasboard of possible reasons for her behavior without a shred of proof for any of them. If I were to pick and choose the ones most favorable to Ouma based on the scant evidence I have and from my 21st-century viewpoint, I’d run the risk of conjuring up yet another romantic — and possibly erroneous — view of this couple.
1. Find photographs of Oupa and Ouma POOLE.
2. Locate the two MASSYN children known to my husband’s family. Perhaps additional or different lore has come down in their family.
3. Read more about the Second Anglo-Boer War and the attitudes of the various Afrikaans-speaking groups to this war.
4. Continue to research both sides of Ouma’s family and the circumstances under which they went to Potchefstroom. Newspapers would be especially helpful; research their availability.