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National Women's Memorial


Designing of the Memorial


Architects were invited to submit designs and an amount of 100 was offered for the best design. More than forty designs were received and the adjudicaters, Prof A. Moorrees, Rev. J.D. Kestell and J.N. de Villiers pronounced the entry of the sculptor, Anton van Wouw and the architect, Frans Soff, together with the one by Hawke, McKinley and White to be the best and recommended that the prize be shared by these two groups. However, the Steering Committee decided to accept, with a few minor modifications, the design submitted by Van Wouw and Soff. The design included an obelisk of 120 feet (36.5 meters), with a group of sculptures at its base and figures in bas-relief on either side of the sculptures. After almost four years, an amount of 10 237 had been collected and the erection of the memorial became a reality. The final choice for a site (12 morgen) for the memorial fell on a position near some koppies to the south of Bloemfontein which the City Council of Bloemfontein made available. Building was to start immediately, and if possible, the unveiling would take place on 16 December 1913.

The sculpture group

The tender for the building of the memorial was given to Medlin and Leham. After Van Wouw had had detailed discussions with the architect, he left for Italy where he started working on the group of sculptures and the panels in bas-relief in the studio of Canova in Rome. During this time he was in constant contact with Emily Hobhouse who also visited him in Rome. She told Van Wouw about an incident during the war when she was visiting the concentration camps in South Africa. The story she told him undoubtedly moved him to completely change the original design he had in mind for the main group of sculptures.

When she was visiting the concentration camp at Springfontein, she encountered a number of dishevelled and neglected women near the station. There was no accommodation available for them in the camp itself because there was a shortage of tents. With sticks and pieces of old canvas which they had scrounged from the British soldiers, they had erected rough shelters. Hobhouse was called to attend to a sick child and she described the following scene: "The mother sat on her little trunk with the child across her knee. She had nothing to give it and the child was sinking fast... There was nothing to be done and we watched the child draw its last breath in reverent silence. The mother neither moved nor wept. It was her only child. Dry-eyed but deadly white, she sat there motionless, looking not at the child, but far, far away into the depths of grief beyond all tears. A friend stood behind her who called upon Heaven to witness this tragedy, and others crouching on the ground around her wept freely."

After working uninterruptedly for almost two years, Van Wouw dispatched his sculptures to Bloemfontein. Amidst great public interest the sandstone blocks from Kroonstad were lowered in place and the heavy bronze tip was carefully lowered to fit exactly into its grooves at the top of the obelisk. Thus the construction was completed and the group of sculptures and the figures in bas-relief could be placed in their correct position and covered with white canvas.

Topics

Introduction
Monument Designs
Monument Unveiling
Speech
Buried Heroes and Heroines


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