Tuesday 15th of October 2002 07:50 PM 
 
 
Tributes: General C.R. de Wet

My brave burghers and comrades. I know what is passing in your hearts. I have also been in deep waters. If today any one of you had stood bare-headed at the open grave of your mother, you would at least have had the hope of meeting her in heaven; but this our dear native land, and our independence, will never be ours as we knew them. Wherever I have led, you have followed unquestioning and uncomplaining, but in this hour I know that I can lead you only one way... Lay down your arms and let us enter the dark waters together.
General C.R. de Wet
Speech to his Commando after the Vereeniging Conference

General De Wet's signature



The Early Years
C.R. de Wet was born at Leeukop in the Smithfield district on the 7th October 1854. During his life he was a farmer, a member of the Volksraad, an Orange Free State Boer general, a cabinet minister and a rebel leader.
He was a sixth generation descendent of Jacobus de Wet (died 1711), the South African progenitor of the de Wet family, who emigrated from Amsterdam to the Cape in 1693. C.R. de Wet's father was Jacobus Ignatius de Wet (1823 - 1891), who was born on the historic farm Boontjeskraal, near Caledon; his mother was Aletta Susanna Margaretha Strydom (1828 - 1868). From 1847 fourteen children were born, of whom Christiaan was the sixth son.

At first the family farmed in the Cape Colony, but towards 1852 they left Aliwal North district and settled on the farm Leeuwkop, in the Smithfield district. During his childhood his father moved again, first to Kalkfontein (later the village of Reddersburg), and then to Nuwejaarsfontein, near the village which in 1880 was called Dewetsdorp after his father. At the age of eleven, he had to join his father in guarding the Boer 'frontier' during the war between the Orange Free State and the Basuto in 1865. When he was fourteen, his mother died, and, having to help his father on the farm, he was formally educated for only a few months (one of his sisters supposedly taught him to read and write).
At the age of nineteen he married Cornelia Margaretha Kruger (b. 22 Dec. 1856 d. 15 May 1936). They had eight sons and eight daughters.

In the early 1870s, while living on Neeuwjaarsfontein De Wet for a time took part in the profitable transport riding to the diggings at Kimberley. This was the first symptom of the restless energy which was to preclude him from staying at the same place for any length of time. After the British annexation of the Transvaal Republic in 1877, he moved to Vaalbank, in the Vredefort district, in order to be closer to the scene of possible action. Some months later he moved again, this time to Weltevrede; from there he moved to the farm Rietfontein, in the Heidelburg district (Transvaal) in 1880. He had attended the protest meetings of the Transvaal burghers and on 08 December 1880 added his stone to the cairn at Paardekraal. When hostilities broke out and the Heidelburg commando set out for the Natal border, he became very enthusiastic. He seemed to be a born leader, and his natural military aptitude became immediately apparent in the skirmishes near the Drakensburg at the beginning of 1881. As an acting commandant he fought in the battle of Laingsnek, while his bravery at Ingogo and Amajuba were noted.

After the war and the restoration of Transvaal independence, he was elected field-cornet for the Rooikoppies ward, Heidelburg. When in, in 1882, he moved again, this time to Suikerboskop in the Lydenburg district, he had to resign from his post. On a visit to the Orange Free State he decided to buy his father's farm, Neeuwjaarsfontein. He had been elected a Volksraad member for Lydenburg in 1885, but attended only one session in Pretoria before moving to the Free State. During the session he did not hesitate to oppose measures introduced by President S.J.P. Kruger.
De Wet was never strongly attracted (or suited it seems) to politics, but as a man of some conviction and decided opinions on national affairs he continually attracted the attention of fellow-citizens. Feeling ran high at the end of the 1880s when the proposed construction of a railway line to the Cape harbours and the conclusion of a customs treaty with the British colonies seemed to jeopardize the Orange Free State's independence. De Wet was a member of the commando which rode to Bloemfontein to protest during the Volksraad's session extraordinary in 1889, but he was also one of the first to withdraw his opposition when the terms of the proposed construction of a railroad and customs agreement were published.
Shortly afterwards he was elected to the Volksraad by the Bo-Modderrivier ward. He represented this ward from 1889 to 1898 and always took a spirited part in the debates. Although his contribution in the Volksraad was not remarkable, he represented a less conservative generation in the republic. Stuttering slightly, he was not a born orator, but he could present his opinions in such a lucid, pithy and penetrating manner, that he compelled his audience to listen. He took a moderate and even liberal stand on matters such as the liquor trade, the construction of railways and transportation traffic, but he was inexorable in his demands that the neglect of Dutch as an official language should cease, and that the independence of the republic should at all costs be maintained.

Nevertheless, his personality testified to his aptitude for action rather than argument. Upon receiving reports of the Jameson Raid he took up arms immediately and left post-haste for Pretoria, but when he arrived there the incident had already been disposed of. He then devoted all his powers to having Judge M.T. Steyn elected State President in 1896, and was also carried away by the upsurge of Afrikander national sentiment in the years preceding the war. He had grave misgivings about the role played by capitalists and imperialists such as C.J. Rhodes; under Steyn's guidance he became a fervent protagonist of a closer union of the two Boer republics in order to form a bulwark against the assault (sic) by Sir Alfred Milner on the continued existence of Afrikander republicanism.
In 1896 he moved to another farm once again, this time to Rooipoort, in the Heilbron district. Although de Wet derived from a line of farmers, he was never a successful farmer. In the early nineties he suffered a severe setback when he indulged in unsuccessful speculation on the potato market. It would seem that he had too fiery a temperament to succeed in an arena which calls for patience and delicate judgement.


The War Years
When war broke out in October 1899 there was little to suggest that the forty-five year old farmer from Heilbron was destined to become one of the most celebrated figures in the history of the Orange Free State. He had foreseen the war and a month previously had instructed his son, Jacobus (Kotie), to buy him a good mount, the famous Fleur. Conscripted as privates, he and Kotie accompanied the Heilbron commando to the Natal border. He took two other of his sons, Isak and Christiaan, and throughout the war they, together with other hand-picked men, were to be his scouts and body-guard. When the Heilbron commandant fell ill, De Wet was elected acting-commandant. Near Ladysmith he showed for the first time what he was capable of on the battlefield. With great courage he and a commando of only 300 charged Nicholson's Nek on the 30th November 1899, dislodged the British troops from their positions and took more than 800 prisoners. This was the first spectacular Boer success in Natal, and served to bring de Wet to Steyn's notice.
On the 7th December 1899 he was promoted to field general on the western frontier, where General P.A. Cronjé had lapsed into defensive action after his success at Magersfontein. Supported by General J.H. De la Rey, de Wet tried in vain to persuade Cronjé to outflank the forces under Lord Roberts, sever his rail communications and try to rouse the Cape Colony to rebellion. As a result of Cronjé's failure to attack, he was finally pinned down at Paardeburg by a flank movement of Roberts' forces (16th Dec. 1899). De Wet himself did not allow his commando to be cornered. Although he once again displayed his military ingenuity by capturing a huge British supply dump at Waterval (15 Feb. 1900), he did not succeed in his main objective, the relief of Cronjé. Through his intrepid action a position east of Paardeburg was in fact cleared on the 22nd February, through which commandants Froneman and Potgeiter succeeded in breaking out, but because Cronjé was not prepared to desert his wagons he was forced to surrender with 4 000 men on the 27th February 1900.
After Cronjé's surrender, de Wet became commandant-in-chief on the western frontier of the O.F.S. Not only did he have to try to prevent Lord Roberts' vastly superior force from reaching the capital, but also had to cope with a surge of despondency and discouragement among the surviving commandos. With De la Rey's support, final resolute stands were made at Abrahamskraal and Rietfontein, but de Wet was forced to relinquish the defence of Bloemfontein when certain commandos left key positions without authorisation to do so; the capital surrendered without a shot being fired on the 13th February 1900 and Steyn and his government were evacuated northward to Kroonstad.

While Boer commandos were disbanding in all directions, and in most cases virtually disintegrating, De Wet took the unusual step of formally disbanding the commandos and ordering them to re-assemble at the railroad bridge across the Sand River on 25 March. Commandant-General Piet Joubert who had meanwhile rushed to the Orange Free State, severely reprimanded him for this action, but De Wet had been aware that Roberts' forces would have to recuperate for several weeks before they would be able to take offensive action again.
The burghers were therefore given the opportunity to put their own recuperation period to good use, and Sand River saw an entirely different spirit in the commandos. Only "men of firm convictions and courage arrived to report for service," as De Wet had probably anticipated. The war was to be resumed more resolutely and under stricter discipline. The ponderous wagon laagers were gradually done away with, because these demanded static military action. Fast and mobile mounted commandos were to become the order of the day. While General Louis Botha (Cronjé's successor) and De la Rey were to try to stem Roberts' march to Pretoria, De Wet chose a different course of action. From now on he was to keep his own counsel on when and where he would attack British forces; he himself stated that traitorous actions in his own ranks and lack of discipline among his own troops at times presented a greater obstacle to him than the enemy's superior force.

His foresight and aptitude for surprise attacks manifested itself in particular at Sannaspos (23 March 1900), when he outwitted the force under General R.G. Broadwood in masterly fashion in a battle which was to become a classic in the annals of warfare. More than 500 British were killed and wounded and an equal number taken prisoner; in addition, he captured a large number of supply and ammunition wagons. De Wet had remarkable stamina and would often decide to pursue action elsewhere almost immediately a battle ended. In order to persuade burghers who had surrendered under Roberts' amnesty offer to re-enlist, he marched in the direction of the south-eastern Free State. At Mostertshoek (03 April 1900) he clashed with a brigade of the force under General W.F. Gatacre and once again took a large number of prisoners. This added impetus to his recruiting drive, but he failed in his attempts to force the Cape Mounted Rifles and Brabant's Horse - colonials in the service of the British Army - to surrender at Jammersbergdrif (07 April 1900).

When thousands of British troops began to overrun the Orange Free State, de Wet, who was now in sole command of the O.F.S. forces of barely 8 000 men, was compelled to change his tactics. Large-scale assaults on the open plains were no longer possible; he order his generals to harass the many ramifications of Roberts' main force, its communication lines and supply dumps on the way to Pretoria.

We have to use opportunities as they present themselves; at other times, flee!

Although he objected strongly to his men being called guerillas, it was at this time that the tactics which immortalised de Wet began to be utilised in earnest.
When the railway bridge across the Vaal River was destroyed by the retreating Boers, a huge amount of British supplies, ammunition, clothing and mail worth more than £250 000 accumulated at Rooiwal station, halfway between Kroonstad and Vereeniging. While his officers forced the surrender of British forces to the north and south of the railway, de Wet launched a direct attack on Rooiwal station (07 June 1900) and within a few hours subdued all resistance. After seizing ammunition cases, the dump was burnt that night. This spectacular setback to the British army was of inestimable benefit to Boer morale.

Lord Roberts resolved to put a stop to attacks on the British rear. With a force of 15 000 the British chief of staff, Lord Kitchener, tried to launch a direct assault on the O.F.S forces, but it was soon evident that an attack on mobile Boer commandos must fail. The best of the British generals then tried to drive the Drakensberg commandos toward the Drakensberg Ranges and force their surrender; Bethlehem became the crucial point in the action, for it was here that Steyn and his government were temporarily stationed. De Wet, who had once again been elected Commander-in-Chief (O.F.S. forces), made an heroic attempt to hold the town against a vastly superior force, but was forced to break through the encirclement and take Steyn and the government with him on commando.
On 15 July 1900 he escaped unscathed from the Brandwater basin through undefended passes, but his orders were not carried out and General Michael Prinsloo and 3000 remaining burghers surrendered. Meanwhile, de Wet had suffered a bitter blow when his brother, General Piet de Wet, a most able commander, deserted to the enemy and proved of great worth to the British as a scout.
The war in the Orange Free State was now a British effort to force de Wet and Steyn to surrender. The first 'de Wet hunt' began; a mounted division tracked him down in the Lindley area and drove him north in an attempt to corner him against the Vaal River, while a force of 50 000 men converged on his commando from all directions. Despite a cumbersome wagon laer he had succeeded by 11 August 1900 in exhausting his pursuers in the Transvaal, and finally, in shaking them off behind the Magaliesburg. De Wet could spur his burghers to almost superhuman exertions (with the sjambok and spiritual exhaltation), and his tactical ingenuity not only misled renowned British generals and severely impaired their prestige, but cost the British taxpayer enormous sums.
While his commando recuperated north of the Magaliesburg, he returned to the Orange Free State, where others as firmly convinced as he of the justice of the Boer cause had persisted in their stand. The forces were regrouped once again and ordered to dispense once and for all with all encumbering wagon laers, in order to achieve maximum mobility and striking power. The main object remained the cutting of the enemy's rail communications, and where possible, direct attacks on provisional posts. Recruitment amongst burghers who had laid down their arms proved most successful, and the hitherto depleted ranks of the commandos were filled.
Through small, sporadic and sudden raids de Wet saw to it that the enemy suffered severe blows everywhere, but, to relieve the pressure on the eastern Orange Free State it was decided in December 1900 to invade the Cape Colony. Incessant rain and the impassability of the Orange River frustrated de Wet's designs. He was pursued relentlessly by General C.E. Knox in the second 'de Wet hunt', but at Sprinkaansnek (14 December 1900) he succeeded (almost miraculously) in breaking through the fortified British lines. At the end of January 1901 an opportunity of invading the Cape presented itself. Although the expedition has become legendary, it was a military failure. For a distance of 800 miles de Wet was pursued so closely by Knox and other British commanders in the third or 'great de Wet hunt', he was unable to deliver any telling blows. By exhausting his pursuers, he once again proved an embarrassment to the British forces, for it became evident that a vastly superior force of well-trained troops, supported by rapid rail transport, was unable to pin down a much smaller Boer commando.

His prestige rose continually as the war ran on, not only in the eyes of his adversaries and abroad, but also among his burghers, whose unbounded admiration and respect he gained, despite his harsh discipline and laconic manner. His strict discipline, frequently enforced with his sjambok where necessary, and the almost superhuman efforts he demanded from his burghers did not always make him a popular commander, but his men followed him, for the most part, blindly. They seemed never to have doubted his military judgement and acumen. His intimate knowledge of the veldt, his direction-finding skills and a remarkable knack of knowing the time of day, even in pitch darkness, his intuitive knowledge of enemy positions and tactics, and, in particular, his ability to remain cool and collected in critical situations and moments of extreme confusion, made him a military leader par excellence. Because of his unshakeable belief in the justness of the cause for which the Republics were fighting, he opposed most energetically the Transvaal's willingness to negotiate a peace in May 1901; in which he enjoyed Steyn's support. He persisted in his determination to pursue the struggle to the bitter end, a task becoming all the more difficult because of the British scorched-earth policy, the establishment of concentration camps for women and children, and the employment of scouts from among the Boer forces and the ranks of surrendered burghers.

The next phase in the British campaign began in the Orange Free State. In 1901, at enormous expense, the British began the construction of a system of blockhouses and barbwire entanglements along railway lines, the object being to corner the mobile commandos against these barricades through 'drives' carried out by unbroken British columns, and then to force a surrender.
With characteristic ingenuity de Wet and his commandos succeeded with little difficulty in overcoming these obstacles. To the humiliation of the British strategists they broke out of these 'corrals' when and where least expected. In the early hours of Christmas day, 1901, de Wet heavily defeated the British Yeomanry at Groenkop (Tweefontein or Krismiskop), between Bethlehem and Harrismith, by employing the well-tried Amajuba ruse. Early in 1902, however, two more gigantic 'drives' were launched against him in the eastern Orange Free State. His excellent scout system enabled him to avoid the first unnoticed and unhindered; he brought about the abject failure of the second (in which 60 000 British troops were involved) when, on the night of 23 February 1902, he discerned a weak spot in the encircling lines at Kalkrans on the Holspruit, which he exploited immediately, breaking out with only slight losses.

The End
To give the stricken Orange Free State a reprieve, he shifted his field of action to the west in March 1902. But the Transvaal leaders accepted the British offer of negotiation, and it was to no avail that De Wet and Steyn pleaded, during the first phase of the peace talks in Klerksdorp in April 1902, that the war be continued at all costs. Finally came the 'agonising moment' when, against his will, but for the sake of unanimity De Wet had to sign the peace treaty of Vereeniging in Pretoria on the 31st May 1902, and thus committ himself to the surrender of the political independence of the republics for which he had fought so hard and long. It was no consolation to him that, because of Steyn's grave ill-health, he had to act as President of the Orange Free State on the last day of republican independence; in his eyes he stood, as he put it, 'at the grave of his nation'.
He was then faced with the dreary task of visiting the various Orange Free State commandos and calling on them to lay down their arms. With his family he returned to his ruined farm, Rooipoort; like many of those who had fought to the bitter end he applied himself to the task of reconstruction, relying on his own strength and acumen, and on the assistance of his two sons. This task had to be shelved, however, as he had to leave for Europe in July 1902 with De la Rey and Botha to raise relief funds for the widows and orphans impoverished by the war. His wife (who had been in the concentration camp at Pietermaritzburg during the war) and his children were left in a tent on the farm.


The Post-War Years
Although he was untrained in the art of writing, De Wet, with the Rev. J.D. Kestell advising him on style, achieved the quite remarkable feat of completing his lengthy war memoirs, Die strijd tusschen Boer en Brit (subsequently published in English as Three years war) during the journey to Europe aboard the Saxon. The demand for the book was so strong that the first edition sold out in unbound sections. It was later translated into at least six European languages.
The rather modest De Wet did not enjoy the overwhelming reception that greeted the Boer generals wherever they went; his international prestige seemed in many respects a nusiance to him personally, and soon his sole desire was to return to his own people in South Africa.

The general despondency and despair which prevailed after the war was soon succeeded by an energetic resistance to the Milner 'regime', which seemed to have had as its specific object the denationalisation of the Afrikaner. De Wet played a major part in the movement to attain self-government in order to counter Milnerism in the Orange Free State. Together with Abraham Fischer, General J.B.M. Hertzog and others, he participated from 1904 in the movement which culminated in the establishment of the Orangia Union in May 1906, in which the former republican burghers and moderate English-speaking citizens were linked in one united party. When the Orange River Colony was granted self-government in 1907, De Wet was elected the member for Vredefort in the colony's first parliament, and was included in Abraham Fischer's cabinet as minister of agriculture. The routine office life demanded by his portfolio semmed to suit neither his temperament nor his abilities, and it was no surprise when he left politics after Union in 1910. As an Orange River Colony delegate to the National Convention of 1908-09 he had, however, made his contribution to the political unification of South Africa.

In 1910 he went to live at Allanvale, near Memel, where his lively interest in current affairs persisted and he accepted nomination to the Union Defence Board. After the disagreement between Hertzog and Botha on South Africa's relations with the British empire (1912), as a result of which Hertzog was ousted from the Cabinet. De Wet expressed his support for Hertzog's point of view in his famous and caustic [sic] 'dunghill' speech in Pretoria on 28th December 1912. In this period of tension his fiery personality was prominent time and again. In 1913 he resigned from the Defence Board in protest against Botha's attitude to Hertzog. The final division between the former Boer generals occurred in November 1913, when Botha's South African Party congress could not resolve its differences, and De Wet and Hertzog left the conference at Bloemfontein dramatically to found the National Party in 1914.


The Great Schism
The First World War brought the political schism among the Afrikaners to a head; perhaps more than anything else, the readiness of the Botha government to attempt as Great Britain's ally, the conquest of German South-West Africa caused a profound stir among Hertzog's followers. General C. F. Beyers resigned as Chief of the Union Defence Force, and when De la Rey was tragically shot in the streets of Langlaagte in September 1914, an extremely tense situation developed among the Afrikaners in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
To De Wet the death of his old comrade-in-arms was a severe blow. After speaking at De la Rey's funeral in Lichtenburg, he took part in a protest meeting in the town the following day. It was resolved to authorise him and others to persuade Generals Botha and Smuts to abandon the attempt to conquer German South-West Africa. The deputation achieved nothing, and De Wet proceeded to address several other protest meetings to bring to the government's notice the sentiments of a significant section of the Afrikaner 'nation'.
It cannot be established with any certainty whether De Wet was at this stage contemplating armed resistance, because there is evidence that he was as yet undecided on his course of action. Matters assumed a different aspect, however, when General S. G. (Manie) Maritz and some members of his training camp in the north-west Cape came out in open rebellion. Martial law was declared and burghers from all over the country were conscripted. To their opponents this move was irrefutable proof that the government had failed to honour its undertaking that the conquest of South-West Africa would be attempted with the aid of volunteers only. De Wet, Beyers, J.C.G. Kemp and thousands of their followers were not prepared to enter into hostilities on behalf of Britain against a power, which, in their view, had done the Afrikaner no harm. Following a solemn declaration issued by Beyers on behalf of himself and De Wet at Steenbokfontein on 29th October 1914, it was decided to stage an armed protest against the government's actions. They intended to march on Pretoria and force a change of government policy through a demonstration, but as former republican burghers flocked in their thousands to the standards of their old generals and commandants, the ideal of restoring the independence of the Free State and the Transvaal revived.
If, at this stage, the 1914 Rebellion still had a definite aim, it certainly had no clear design. Even the two most prominent leaders, De Wet and Beyers, were not in close contact, and also differed materially on the practical aspects of the protest campaign. With Maritz they were out of touch. The entire enterprise was soon doomed to failure. Supported by modern arms and both government troops and volunteers, Botha struck without delay at the poorly equiped rebel commandos. On 26th October 1914 De Wet left his farm, Allanvale with his six sons, and joined the burghers who had rallied at Vrede. Here, in an address he delivered a sharp attack on the government, to which as a prisoner, the local magistrate had to listen. Gradually burghers from other districts joined the commando which rode towards historic Vegkop, near Heilbron. Here De Wet held a council of war and appointed officers to lead the various commandos. He then addressed the burghers, assuring them that they would not fire the first shot, but that an attack on them would not be tolerated. It was probably anticipated that the protest campaign would achieve national proportions and that Botha would not risk spilling blood.
From Vegkop the commando moved south to Lindley, which they virtually occupied. Why De Wet moved further south is not clear, but it is believed that, because Steyn was anxious to prevent hostilities at all costs, De Wet wanted to communicate with him. On a Sunday morning (8th November 1914) De Wet's commando clashed with a government brigade under Commandant F. R. (Frikkie) Cronjé at Allemanskraal. In a skirmish between rebel scouts and the government troops about ten rebels were killed, among them De Wet's promising [sic] son, Danie. The death of Danie, whose funeral address he himself delivered, affected him profoundly and he 'resolved to pursue his intentions even at the cost more lives'.
When rebel reinforcements arrived, the government troops retreated, occupied Winburg and ransacked several shops and houses. De Wet had great difficulty in restraining his men. Because Botha's forces held the main railway line, De Wet and the commando which had joined him rode east. Botha himself then attempted to surround the rebel commandos. The attack began at dawn (12th November 1914); poorly armed, the rebels could not reply to the government artillery and either surrendered or dispersed in all directions in an engagement which came to be known as the battle of Mushroom Valley. With his old virtuosity De Wet slipped out of the trap, rode around the Korannaberg and eventually escaped, with a small force, across the railroad at Virginia in an attempt to join Maritz in South-West Africa. He instructed the other rebels to avail themselves of Botha's favourable terms for those who surrendered immediately. Shortly afterwards Beyers met his death in the Vaal River before advancing government troops.
De Wet might have suceeded in reaching the South-West border, however, on the 20th of November Colonel G. F. (Jorrie) Jordaan was informed of De Wet's presence at Waterbury, near Vryburg, and captured him and his companions. Exhausted after a relentless pursuit, De Wet, a prisoner for the first time in his life, gave no indication that his humiliation had affected his dignity or his convictions. He was at once taken to the Fort in Johannesburg. Six months later, on 15th June 1915, he was found guilty of high treason by the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein, sentenced to six years' imprisonment and fined £2,000. The fine was raised within a few months through a spontaneous collection on a national scale. De Wet pleaded not guilty, but had added that he was guilty of insurrection, and expressed surprise at the leniency of his sentence.

After repeated please for clemency and a march by thousands of women from all parts of the country to the Union buildings on the 4th August 1915, the government freed him on certain conditions, in December 1915. It was, however, a graying and aged man who left the Fort for his home; De Wet was a mere shadow of the somewhat short, but powerful man his men had once known. His stride remained firm and proud, but his body had become heavier and his shoulders much more bowed; his well-known heavy moustache and somewhat sparser goatee were snow white, contrasting with his hair, and lending even more forcefulness to his characteristically prominent nose. Once widely feared, his piercing eyes lost most of their former sparkle. Shortly after he had been released, he sold his farm Allanvale and moved to Puntjiesfontein, in the Edenburg district, from where he moved for the last time to Klipfontein, near Dewetsdorp. Although he still displayed a lively interest in current affairs, the erysipelas from which he suffered allowed him only rare appearances on public occasions. Seldom has the imagination of a gathering been fired as it was when De Wet, at the burial of ex-President Steyn at the base of the Nasionale Vrouemonument in November 1916, paid tribute to his departed friend and spiritual father. On special occasions he issued declarations which, on one hand, expressed profound concern about Afrikander dissension and, on the other, indicated his unshakable faith that the Afrikander would achieve his ideal of freedom. An incessant flow of admirers, from young boys and girls to eminent visitors from abroad, came to pay tribute to him in his simple farm home. It was his hospitality and humble bearing which particularly impressed his visitors. In 1919 the Orange Free State provincial council decided to nominate him a senator, but several bouts of influenza sapped his strength to such an extent that the proposal was abandoned. His spirit remained forceful, but his last years were marked by sincere piety and moderation. He was fully reconciled to his personal fortunes, which, contrasting with the regard of his compatriots. included poverty and physical suffering. His political moderation even induced him to advocate the inclusion of English-speaking citize in political affairs, but to the very end found it hard to be reconciled with those who in his opinion had betrayed the Afrikander cause. Head of a large family, he was a strict, patriarchal father whose orders and decisions had to be accepted without question. The respect his children showed him as their father reflected the relationship between him and his burghers: dread of the fury which could so easily be unleashed by conscious or unwitting disloyalty or disobedience. The enforcement of rigorous and ruthless discipline made hirn by no means an easy person. His military and political decisions were high-handed. He might be prepared to listen to his superiors, but from his inferiors he demanded complete obedience. His obstinate and impulsive characteristics have frequently been overlooked or obscured because of his virtues and gifts. Despite his humble and cordial attitude to the great and the lowly, to friends and enemies, no one readily became his confidant. Disloyalty among his own people served more than anything else to breed in him a suspicion which was not inborn.

Those who met him only occasionally were usually much impressed by his pithy and penetrating analyses, his grasp of and his firm convictions about situations and problems affecting him and his people. On such occasions his imperturbability belied the seething restlessness which his fellow officers and members of his family, in particular, came to know so intimately. His entire personality was constantly focused on action, which explains why his behaviour in everyday life, in times of peace, could never compare with his actions as a soldier. On various occasions De Wet was gravely ill and was expected to die; in the presence of his loyal wife his powerful spirit was finally released from his ailing body. He lay in state in Bloemfontein and was buried at the foot of the Vrouemonument, where thousands of his admirers and some of his former enemies paid tribute to him.

There are many portraits of De Wet. The best known, from the period 1899 to 1902, is the photograph (taken in Potchefstroom on the 27th August 1900) that shows him, seated, with his mauser in his hand. When the three Boer generals visited Europe in 1902, he was often photographed (for example, by Duffus of Cape Town) and he sat for portraits in Holland and in London. Many photographs were taken of him by E. Kress of Bloemfontein (including the last on his farm in 1922).

The Africana Museum, Johannesburg, has a bronze bust by Anton van Wouw, charcoal and wash by J. M. Solornon (1909) and a wash drawing (by John Beer) of De Wet addressing a commando after the action at Reddersburg. In the Bloemfontein War museum, there is a charcoal portrait (by Therese van Duyl-Schwartze), as reproduced in De Wet's book, Three Years War, and an unfinished portrait in oils by the same artist. Of the portraits of De Wet by the portrait painter Antoon van Welie which were done in Europe in October 1902 and were afterwards in the C. J. K. van Aalst collection, Arnersfoort, Holland, two are now in the Bloemfontein War Museum, while nine have been in the possession of the National Museum of Cultural History, Pretoria, since 1965. The War museum also possesses the bronze bust by Van Wouw (1926); and in the Orange Free State archives there is a charcoal drawing by J. S. Sargent (London, June 1902). A portrait in oils was painted by F. Wichgraf (1902). On the hundredth anniversary of De Wet's birth, a bronze equestrian statue, by Coert Steynberg, was unveiled at the Raadzaal in Bloemfontein (1954).

 

  GALLERY
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet with Mauser in hand. Probably the most famous photograph of him taken in Potchefstroom on 27 August 1900.
Acting Commandant-General (O.F.S.) C.R. de Wet. This photograph seems to have been taken at the same time as the previous image.
This photograph appears in The Official History of the War and seems to have been taken at a time of great stress.
Source: The Official History of the War [Vol. IV]
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
From the frontispiece by John S. Sargent, R.A. of De Wet from de Wet's book "Three Years' War"
Source: C.R. de Wet. Three Year's War, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902**
A portrait of General de Wet. Believed to have been taken in Potchefstroom.**
A painted portrait of General de Wet
C.R. de Wet
An image, popular at the time, of General De Wet which appeared in Vanity Fair.
General de Wet in the field He was known for his distaste for photos.
Source: With the Flag to Pretoria**
A tulip named after the General.
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
General de Wet beside his farmhouse, destroyed by British troops as part of an official policy.
Source: With the Flag to Pretoria.
**
General de Wet with member of his staff
Source: After Pretoria.***

Peace negotiations - British officers and Boer delegates at Heilbron.****

General De Wet's commando crossing the Orange River (date unknown)
General De Wet after the War.

The General in Europe after the War, with Generals Botha and De La Rey.
 C.R. de Wet
C.R. de Wet
General de Wet with his family. Taken after the peace.
Source: After Pretoria.
**
An elderly General de Wet and his wife on stoep at farmhouse, shortly before his death.
Taken by E. Kress of Bloemfontein, 1922.**
A scarf owned by General De Wet with the coats-of-arms of the O.F.S and the Transvaal featured.
A gathering in 2000 at a commemorative statue of General De Wet in the Netherlands.
A gathering in 2000 at a commemorative statue of General De Wet in the Netherlands.
View from the base of the statue.
A statuette of the time depicting General De Wet spanking a British officer.
This 5" mirror heliograph was used by General De Wet during the Boer War.
 

* Image courtesy of Mr Piet Steyl.
** Image courtesy of Mr Ken Hallock.
*** L-R - Commandant Nell's son; Jones, (a scout who clandestinely entered Potchefstroom 3 times while it was occupied by Methuen); Field-Cornet Colson; Field-Cornet Francis; De Wet's secretary; Gen. De Wet; Commandant Nell; Commandant Grabn. - Image courtesy of Mr Ken Hallock.
**** Top L-R - De Wet's son (his secretary); Theunissen (His Orderly Officer); Lieut Mangles (Signalling Officer); Capt. Master (D.A.A.G.)
Seated L-R - Maj-General Wilkinson (Brigade Major); De Wet; Gen. E.O.F. Hamilton; Commandant Olivier
Bottom L-R - Capt. Tufnell (A.D.C.); Capt. Craig (Intelligence officer.)

Source: After Pretoria. -
Image courtesy of Mr Ken Hallock.

 

Commemorative Medals
The De Wet/De la Rey Medal (obverse).
Minted in 1902*
The De Wet/De la Rey Medal (reverse)*
The de Wet Medal - Thumbnail only
The de Wet Decoration - Thumbnail only
The C.R. de Wet Medal (this medal is awarded for 10 years service in the commandos).
The C.R. de Wet Decoration (this medal is awarded for 20 years service in the commandos. There is also a bar awarded for 30 years service).
 
*Image courtesy of Mr Ken Hallock.

 

 

This site designed and maintained by Bowler Hat Design
All enquiries to info@bowlerhat.com.au
All rights reserved - 1996-2002, except content in the Public Domain.
No unauthorised copying or use of site material.

 

Links

A digitised version of General De Wet's best-selling wartime memoirs, Three Years War
Click here to read it.

Further Reading

De Wet, Christiaan R. Three Years' War [Die Stryd Tussen Boer en Brit]. NY: Scribner's,1902. 448 p. DT930D513.

Howland, Frederick H. The Chase of De Wet. Providence; Preston & Rounds, 1901. DT932H68.

Intelligence Officer. On the Heels of De Wet. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1902. DT932I57.

Klaussmann, A. Oskar (Anton Oskar). General Christian de Wet's Der Kampf Zwischen Bur und Brite. Kattowitz: K. Siwinna, 1903.
[Abridged and translated adaptation of De Strijd Tusschen Boer en Brit.]

Pretorius, Fransjohan. The Great Escape of the Boer Pimpernel: Christiaan de Wet, the Making of a Legend. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2001.

Pretorius, F. Life on Commando During the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 1998.
[English version of Kommandolewe Tydens Die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902.]