Tuesday 22nd of October 2002 07:08 AM 
General C.R. De Wet's Three Years War

My thanks to Lew Orans, who kindly permitted me to 'borrow' this transcription of General De Wet's Three Years War from the "Perspectives" section of his quite marvellous site, the Pine Tree Web

Publisher's Notes on the 1st Edition. Reprinted 1986, Galago Publishers, Alberton, South Africa

On 2nd October 1899 a horseman arrived at his Orange Free State farm and served summonses for commando service on Christiaan Rudolf De Wet and his three eldest sons. They were to prepare for active service, providing themselves with horses, saddles and bridles, and rifles each with thirty rounds of ammunition (alternatively thirty lead balls, thirty percussion caps and half a pound of black powder). Nine days later on 11th October 1899, Britain and the Boer Republics went to war.

De Wet took his place in the ranks of the Heilbron Commando as a common burgher, but a few weeks later he was nominated and elected to Commandant. Two months afterwards on the 9th December 1899, President Steyn of the Orange Free State, appointed him to the rank of Vecht-Generaal - Fighting General. By the end of the war he would become Commandant General and Commander In Chief of all Boer forces of the Orange Free State.

After the British army had regrouped and reorganised after suffering several humiliating defeats, they advanced under the command of Lord Roberts and occupied Pretoria. Once Pretoria was occupied the British considered the war was over. The Boer commandos, however, took to the veld and carried on the fight as a guerrilla war.

De Wet soon began to show that his title of Fighting General was no sinecure. In the nearly three years until the 31st May 1902 when the war ended with the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging, De Wet established a worldwide reputation as a most remarkable guerrilla fighter. He was the man whom the British couldn't catch. The damage this virtually unschooled farmer who'd never had a formal lesson in military tactics, did to the British was little less than astonishing.

At the war's end his book in High Dutch De Stryd Tusschen Boer en Brit and its translation, Three Years War, became instant bestsellers and have been much in demand ever since.


Table of Contents

Chapter I..............................I Go on Commando as a Private Burgher.

Chapter II.............................Nicholson's Nek.

Chapter III............................Ladysmith Besieged.

Chapter IV............................I am Appointed Vechtsgeneraal.

Chapter V............................The Overwhelming Forces of Lord Roberts.


By way of introduction to my work, I wish, dear reader, to say only this short word: "I am no book-writer." But I felt that the story of this struggle, in which a small people fought for liberty and right, is justly said, throughout the civilized world, to be unknown, and that it was my duty to record my personal experiences in this war, for the present and for the future generations, not only for the Afrikander people, but for the whole world.

Not only did I consider this my duty, but I was encouraged to write by the urgings of prominent men among my people, of men of various nationalities, and even of several British officers.

Well, dear reader, I hope that you will not feel disappointed in reading these experiences, as it is not in me, as is perhaps sometimes the case with historical authors, to conjure up thrilling pictures, imaginary things, and put them together merely to make up a book or to make a name for themselves. Be that far from me! In publishing my book (although it is written in simple style) I had one object only, viz. to give to the world a story which, although it does not contain the whole of the truth as regards this wondrous war, yet contains nothing but the truth.

The original has been written by me in Dutch, and I can therefore not be answerable for its translation into other languages.

General de Wet's signature


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Further Reading

Howland, Frederick H. The Chase of De Wet. Providence; Preston & Rounds, 1901.

Intelligence Officer. On the Heels of De Wet. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1902.

Murray, Colin. Black Mountain: Land, Class and Power in the Eastern Orange Free State, 1880s to 1980s. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
[See pp 53-4, p. 65, p. 247, pp. 53-4, 54-7, p. 265, Ch. 2.]

Reitz, Deneys. Commando: An Afrikaner Journal of the Boer War. NY: Sarpedon, 1993; orig pub 1929.