Thursday 13th of February 2003 11:59 AM 
 
 
The Boer War Experiences of L.J. Groenewald

Some of my experiences during the three year war.

I grew up on the farm Soutfontein in the Vryburg district. In the tradition of farmers' sons, I looked after my father's sheep until, at the age of eighteen, the dark years of war descended on us.

The first shots were fired at Kraaipan near Mafeking. From there General de la Rey rode to Vryburg and hoisted the Vierkleur at the post office. We had withdrawn a little when one of the English took the flag down again. He was promptly captured and the Vierkleur hoisted once more. At Vryburg we were divided into two groups. General de la Rey set off for Kimberley, and the Stellaland commando, in which I found myself, under the leadership of Commandant van der Merwe, made its way to Kuruman. There we encountered the English in their fortifications. We could get within about 1 400 yards of them, and there, close to a mission station, we built some stone barricades. The gunfire between us continued day and night. Fortunately there were no cannons. At last we grew tired of the situation and began to attack the English forts by night. Then the bullets hummed around us as they let fly at us. One evening we attacked again, unaware that the English were lying in wait for us. Before we could even take up position they let loose on us with all their might. In the ensuing fight my brother Schalk was wounded in the leg, but luckily we were able to get him to safety. Dr Bartells, of Dutch origin, was our camp doctor and I helped him to remove the bullet from my brother's leg.

After about a month of fighting we received a cannon from President Kruger. This old cannon emitted a huge cloud of blue smoke when it was fired. When we had fired three times at the English fortifications the white flag crept up and we occupied the place. The English were taken prisoner and sent to the (prisoner of war) camp on the other side of Pretoria.

We now began to make preparations to join General de la Rey, who was still waiting at Kimberley. We loaded wagons with mielies, fodder and so on. During the loading my foot slipped through the outside rails of one of the wagons and I broke my leg in three places. I lay like that for three days before Dr Bartells was able to put my leg in a splint. Once my leg had been splinted the Commando left and I was taken to the hospital at Kuruman where I spent fourteen days under the treatment of an English doctor. My father came to fetch me in a light cart drawn by six oxen. After fourteen days at home I rejoined the Commando. At Viertienstrome we met small bands of Boers who were trekking back from Kimberley on their way to Christiana. Now and then there were skirmishes with the English (Rooies) but nothing very serious. We trekked back to Pretoria where the first serious battle took place at Sesmylspruit. We fought for several days but the English began to surround us and we had to flee right in the face of the English Ladiet. I must tell the story of the women who came from Pretoria to watch the battle. What their intentions were, I have no idea. The English Ladiet shot skimmed our fortifications and landed near them. Believe me when I say it was a treat to watch those dresses disappear so quickly!

We retreated a little further to Wonderboom where we enjoyed a bit of breathing space. It was there that Lord Roberts made us the proposal that anyone who wanted to surrender would be allowed free and safe passage to his home. Many men laid down their arms. We begged them to give us their good weapons (Mausers) and to hand our old ones to the English instead but they would hear nothing of this and out of sheer desperation we were forced to fire at our own men. In the event they escaped during the night and fled. From here we Stellalanders moved on to Donkerhoek where we joined up with the Transvaler General Dotwich. There we had eight days of hard fighting in the low hills. Our general sent out seven of the Stellalanders to scout. We spied a large "kapkar" (hooded cart) and four horses en route from Pretoria to the English camp. The "kapkar was full of English officers and was loaded with liquor. We tipped the officers out and set them to walking and took the cart and horses. At first General Dotwich was furious at what we had done and punished us but after we had taken him some of the drink he became very reasonable and sent us out to spy again the next day. That day we nearly landed in serious trouble. There were seven of us on the spying expedition. The grass was three to four foot high on the slopes of the ridge. When we crested the ridge we found the English camp down in the valley, a mere 600 feet from us. We decided to fire at them. Hardly had the first shots rang out when the English sprang up all around us. I had borrowed a horse from my brother, as my own horse's back was sore. The roan horse was so unnerved by the gunfire that I could not get near the saddle. My comrades had already sped off and the English were all around me, but only firing at those who were racing away. The horse gave me a moment's respite and I sprang up, and before the English knew what was happening I had escaped without a scratch.

The English now tried to free their men who were being held prisoner in the camp. Our Long Tom was on a railway truck drawn by an engine. We fired a shot at them just before they reached the camp but they then turned the Ladiet on us. I cannot tell exactly what the distance was but it was at least a few miles. The first shot narrowly missed the Long Tom. As the Ladiet flashed for a second time, the locomotive drawing the Long Tom moved forward, and the shots fell precisely where the cannon had been standing! We had nearly lost our only cannon!

Again the English began to surround us and we had to move on. About fourteen of us Stellalanders trekked to Machadodorp where we met President Kruger. We stayed there three weeks and on Sundays President Kruger would hold a church service for us. He was never without his long stemmed pipe when he rode in his carriage. The train had seven trucks, each of which his guard assured us was laden with gold. I cannot say whether this was really true. President Kruger treated us Stellalanders very well and encouraged us to continue the fight. After three weeks' rest we trekked through the bushveld in the direction of Magaliesberg. We lost all our horses, except for my brother's, to horse sickness during the march and had to struggle on on foot. I can still remember a few of the names of the men who were with us, namely my two brothers Schalk and Hendrik, Piet Bekker, Koos Bekker, ------ Silliers (?), Peet Wagenaar, Jan Rieckert and his son, another Rieckert and Piet Smit. The names of the other three men have escaped me. At this time we were under the command of my brother Hendrik, who was later made Commandant. Any of the men who were with me can vouch for the truth of this account.

We came across groups of English here and there as we struggled through the bushveld. Sometimes we had to go without food for two days and two nights. Our shoes were worn through and our clothes torn to shreds. In this state it was no joke to have to carry a gun and two belts of ammunition. After another two days without food we happened upon two kaffer huts. Koos Bekker, only eleven years old at the time, asked me whether we could ask the black woman for something to eat. I agreed because hunger is not easy to bear. The homestead was very neat and clean. Koos asked the old woman for something to eat, even if it was only a bit of "suur pap" (sour porridge). She gave us some cooked "kafferboontjes" (black-eyed beans).

That was the best meal that I have ever had. In the evening we built huge fires although we had nothing to cook. One day Oom Jan Rieckert shot a klipspringer which didn't last long among fourteen men! On another occasion we came across an old black man and bought a few mielie cobs from him and also borrowed a pot to cook them in. He had some ducks down at his stream. Taai Cilliers and Peet Wagenaar took a few grains of mielies and set off for the stream. They lured two ducks out of the water and clubbed them to death and we ate them as well. When the old man came to fetch his pot we told him that there were mielies left over which he could take. We had also added a lot of duck fat (drippings) to the mielies and he was welcome to this too. We expressed our mutual thanks to each other and set off.

Just past Magaliesberg we joined up with Commandant Fouche's commando for a while. One day we were sent out to spy quite a distance away. Seven of us stayed behind at a school to feed the horses. It was not long before we realised that we were completely surrounded. Thinking that there was no escape, three of our men immediately handed themselves over. The remaining four of us, under the leadership of Commandant Fouche's son, decided to try to escape. There was a deep donga between us and the English. Together we rode slowly towards the English who, thinking that we were about to surrender, had already dismounted. As we reached the donga we gave the horses the reins. All four of us leapt over, storming through unscathed with the bullets whistling past our ears. We were split up and a friend and I fled with the English close on our heels. Close growing acacia trees made escape very difficult. I told my friend to rein his horse in a bit as I could see that the animal was not going to make it much further. Among the trees we encountered yet another band of English soldiers. They captured my friend almost immediately and I could only watch helplessly as they pulled him from his horse, before fleeing for my life through the acacias. I sighted a hill in the distance and set my course towards it, reaching it at sundown. I took up position at the top of the hill and the few English who had been following me fired back. To my disillusionment I realised that, thanks to the acacia thorns, I did not have a shred of clothing on me, other than my shirt collar and my shoes. I gave my horse a breather and tried to remember how to get back to the camp. I rode on a bit further, hoping for the best. After a while I heard voices and crept closer. Fortunately it was the scouts from our commando and they took me back to camp with them. Commandant Fouche's son arrived later that day, also unscathed. Our other friend had been captured. After spending a little while in the encampment we moved off again in the direction of Potchefstroom. Just before Silkaatsnek we passed a little house. There we were met by two girls who asked us in for a cup of coffee. The English were close on our heels and the others refused but I went in: it was koringkoffie (corn coffee) but to me it tasted delicious. Their mother (the old woman) had cooked sweet potatoes and she gave me some in a bag to take with me, and I shared these with the others who were waiting for me in the pass.

Beyond Potchefstroom we joined Commandant Muller's camp for a little while to allow our horses to rest, and then we moved on to the Korkamieser near Vryburg. Here we established our own commando with General van Zyl as the general and my brother Hendrik Groenewald as Commandant.

By this time we had been away from home for eighteen months, so seven of us rode through to our farm to find out whether our parents were still there and to do a bit of reconnaissance. We found my parents still there but could only stay a short while as a kaffer commando was moving in to surround us. We shot our way clear and joined our camp at Leliesfontein once again.

Two days later the whole kommando moved up to Soutfontein (our farm) and gave the kaffers a real hiding. Those who were not killed fled to Vryburg. The following day the English captured my father and two younger brothers and my brother-in-law on the farm, as we were now regarded as rebels. They were imprisoned at Vryburg for twelve months. Every morning they had to march up to the post office and back again, without ever being questioned. In the meantime we fetched my mother and my brothers' wives from the farm in a wagon and took them to Perdefontein. A week later they were captured there by Lord Methuen and sent to the [concentration] camp at Kimberley. When my father and brothers had been in prison at Vryburg for a year they were also sent to the camp at Kimberley.

Our commando moved around mostly in the west and did well out of plundering from the English. Once we captured some cattle, amongst which was a blue wildebeest, which we then gave to General de la Rey as a gift.

Near Setlagole was an old shop owned by a Mr Reynolds. Two men, Jansen and Rautenbach, were sent there to fetch mielies for the horses. They were still busy when the English descended on them. As we were quite a distance away, our commando was unaware of what was going on. Jansen and Rautenbach were taken to Vryburg where they were hanged. One evening soon after this we planned a raid. Unaware of the English in the vicinity, the Kuhn brothers made a quick visit to their house which was close by. Field-Cornet Mauce Kuhn and his brother were taken prisoner at their house, and the two brothers were also taken to Vryburg and hanged. We moved on further in the direction of Kuruman. At Blikfontein Bekker and I were sent out to spy. Unbeknown to us, the English had built a fort on top of a flat roofed house, near the little shop which was our goal. Fortunately for us the English decamped with wagons full of provisions and several cattle and sheep. We helped ourselves to a bit of food from the shop and this was reported to our commando. Because we had taken the shop ourselves we had to stand guard the next day as punishment. We also came upon some hartebees and Bekker took aim at them. Luckily for us, he missed. The commando which heard the shots assumed that we had come up against the English again and sent a few men to see what was happening. Fearing further punishment, we had to think up an excuse quickly and told them we had been shooting at a huge snake. We set off after the English wagons with their loot and took it off them, together with a large number of cattle and sheep. Altogether there were between two and three thousand sheep, five hundred head of cattle and ten wagons. We made our way back with these to the Morokaan ridge. That night we had to cross the railway line at Brussels. We sent out scouts but everything seemed quiet. All the while, in fact, there was an armoured train standing on the tracks a little way from the crossing, and the English were in position all along the railway line. As the first sheep crossed the line all hell broke loose. We fought back but it was useless. Luckily none of us were shot, but we only managed to get about five hundred sheep and two hundred and fifty cattle through; the English took the remaining livestock and the ten wagons back again.

One night shortly after this incident we again had to go and raid a shop at the Ghaapseberg. There were just a few of us and we did not want the English to realise that we were not up to full strength. Near the shop were a few kaffer huts and, pretending to be English, we got a couple of sheep from the blacks. General van Zyl gave them proof of purchase in the name of some English officer or another and told them that they could fetch the money for the sheep from the English at Vryburg. In this way we were able to strip the shop undisturbed and return across the railway line to the Morokamies hills that same night.

Again we trekked up to Setlagole and attacked the English fortifications there. Field Cornet Blaauw got a bullet through the hand. We dropped back and allowed the English to pursue us, turning on them again and driving them back right into their forts. Quite a number of khakis died in the battle that day. General van Zyl withdrew to Morakani but Commandant Groenewald and twelve men went out to spy in the direction of the Molopo. We encountered some English but had to try to stay out of reach as we were too few to withstand them. They pursued us doggedly and our horses began to flag. On a ridge we dismounted and fired back and eventually they gave up the pursuit and we could return to our commando.

After resting for a few days we trekked up to Vryburg. Our chief gunner was killed in a battle. A few days after this we headed for the Molopo. We had not gone far when we received a report that the English had taken all Commandant van der Merwe's horses. We returned to Vryburg and came up against the English again. We managed to get a few horses back but the English escaped with a large number of them. That same day there was some trouble with the young Bekker boy who had captured one of the armed kaffers. He wanted to shoot him but the black hid behind his horse. Bekker had grazed him a few times when someone else saw what was going on and shot the kaffer dead. While all this was happening, Bekker's horse wandered off, straight to the place where the English fed their horses. Unperturbed, he grabbed another horse, charged into the English camp, seized his horse by the reins and brought him out safely, quite unscathed.

At this time Lord Methuen trekked out in the direction of our encampment and set up his own camp that evening on the farm Skoonheid. We surprised them there that night and a good number of them did not live to fight another day. We confiscated seventy-five of their horses, which broke free that evening and had wandered further off by morning. That morning my commandant brother and I were out on a scouting expedition when we realised that we were virtually surrounded. The only alternative was to charge and shoot our way clear. We had almost got through when an Englishman tried to chase past us at an angle. I turned my horse slightly and aimed as I was riding. I heard the report and knew that I had hit my target but there was no time to look - it was now a case of running for our lives. I remembered the spot exactly and when the English had gone I went back to look. The soldier had already been removed by the ambulance but his two bandoliers were still lying there. I could tell that the bullet had exited just where the two bandoliers cross on the chest, and a few of the bullets had exploded.

Bekker and I went out once more to spy, but on our return we realised that it was no longer our commando camped there, but rather the English! Now they were all around us. We made our way next to the road. A large number of English soldiers had taken up position on either side of the road. At walking pace we crept closer and closer. We both had good horses that we could rely on and at a distance of about 200 feet we gave them their heads. The shots whistled round our ears but neither we nor our horses suffered a scratch. When we had galloped for a distance of about 600 feet a bullet shaved the underside of my jacket sleeve and that was all.

We prepared to trek up to Kuruman and that evening we slept at Bosmanspoort. That same evening we received the news that the English had attacked and murdered women and children at Rouxkloof. We immediately rode down there and found the two Roux children and a Roodt boy, all between the ages of ten and twelve, dead. They had been stabbed, in actual fact ripped open, with bayonets. Tant Mina Britz was shot through the leg. We were enraged and our blood boiled at the thought that such atrocities could be wrought on children. We found the English at Leliesfontein. Their troops comprised mostly "basters". This was just too much for us and we fought fearlessly and with hatred in our hearts. At last they fled, but as so often happened, our ammunition ran out at this point. The bandoliers belonging to those English who had perished, were also almost empty. At some point I heard the roar of the cannon. I found myself on my feet in front of my horse, which was on its knees. To this day I do not know where that shot went! This had the effect of encouraging us even more. Field-Cornet Erasmus, a very brave man, attacked a group of English at some kaffer huts all on his own, leaving five dead before the rest fled.

We engaged with Lord Methuen again at Uitvalskop. A few boer commandos were encamped there together and seven of us, under Field-Cornet Van Vuuren, were camped to one side. I noticed seven Englishmen riding straight for us. Field-Cornet van Vuuren said they were our own people but I could tell from the nosebags their horses were wearing that they were English. One of them, a "Kolonialer" (from the Cape Province) with a large moustache, rode straight for me on a huge brown horse. I waited until he was about ten paces from me and then cried, "Hensop". He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Hensop be damned." I had no alternative but to shoot. As the horse's head was quite high, he took the bullet in the forehead and the Englishman got it in the chest. Horse and rider slumped down next to me. All the others died as well. One was held so firmly by his saddlebags that he only fell off his horse right at their camp, with seven shots through him. I kept on at Field-Cornet van Vuuren to take the saddle and bandoliers of the Englishman near me, but he said no, adding that more Englishmen were approaching. We lay still for a while and I realised that our commando had ceased firing. I pointed this out to Field-Cornet van Vuuren but he took no notice of me. I did not see my way clear to leaving them there and sprang up, taking the two Bekker brothers with me. Others followed me and we ran to our horses. We had just got outside the camp when the English moved in to enclose us from behind. In the end I had nothing of the lovely saddle and bandoliers, but at least my life and my desire to fight for my country were still intact.

After this we returned to the Morakan hills. We lingered there for a few days to give our horses a bit of a rest. Tom and Bêrend Terblanche were sent out to spy in the direction of Pudimoe one night. In the hills at Bormanspoort they caught two armed kaffers, and as was the case in all such captures, they showed them no mercy. They were in fact not shot but had their throats slit like sheep. The brothers did not say anything about this at the time. The next day we were again sent out to spy and one of the Terblanche brothers was with us. When we got close to the place (where they had killed the blacks) my horse, which was very skittish, began to dance around and I could not get him to go any further. Terblanche laughed and told us to come and see why the horse refused to go any closer. We saw that they had propped the two blacks in an upright position, and left them there.

From here we moved on to Hartbeesfontein where we encountered an English column and fought them for two days. We were reinforced by Commandant Tollie de Beer and his men. It was there that I realised what a fearless man he was. All through the battle he mingled with his men and encouraged them. He was white from the dust of the cannon shells exploding around him, but he was not deterred. A couple of his men and one of ours were wounded in the battle. Again we had to flee. As a matter of interest, in a town nearby a baboon had been kept, tied to a pole. With the report of the second shell he fell to the ground, stone dead from shock!

General van Zyl and Commandant Groenewald received orders from our leader, General de la Rey, to meet him at La Rey's Kraal. From there we marched down to Taungs to retrieve our cattle and sheep which had been stolen by the kaffers. There we found between six and seven thousand sheep and goats and about two thousand head of cattle. There was quite a lot of shooting as many of the blacks were armed. One of our men peered into a hut and a kaffer shot him in his cheek. Koos Uys was with him and pulled him back in time and then set the hut on fire. The kaffer ("Ta") decided he would rather roast than come out; later we found his body under the ash. General van Zyl gave the order to charge. Amongst his men he had five boys of eleven years old whose parents had been taken prisoner and who had had no other refuge. There was no stopping them in the charge and they killed whoever got in their way, man or woman. The blacks fled into the hills. At about ten o'clock the English armoured train arrived and stopped right opposite the hills and began to bombard them, thinking of course that it was the Boers who were hiding there. This continued until after dark. We then returned to La Rey'skraal and divided the loot. General de la Rey, General van Zyl and brother Hendrik each took their share and divided it again amongst their burgers.

General de la Rey notified the commandos of General van Zyl, General de Beer and Commandant Groenewald to gather at Brakspruit. The Seer prophesied that a huge Afrikaner bull came from Vryburg but when it got to Klein HartsRiver one of its horns was drooping down. The officers saw this as a sign to attack Methuen as he came out of Vryburg. We were also joined by General Kemp's commando. Lord Methuen set up camp that night on the other side of the Harts River. I was sent by my comrades that evening to eavesdrop on the officers as they conferred. I heard General de la Rey giving orders to General van Zyl, Commandant de Beer and Commandant Groenewald to attack the English from the rear as soon as they began to move. General Kemp would then attack from the front. That evening we moved down into the stream. The English started making preparations to move out at four o'clock the next morning. At that time I was adjutant to Field-Cornet Erasmus, a very brave man. I had been given the nickname Rosie. He said to me, "Rosie, I feel it in my bones that I am going to be killed today." I of course contradicted this and tried to put it out of his mind but he had the premonition. He told me that in the event of his death I should take his sjambok but that I should see to it that his wife received his horse, saddle and bridle.

We began to move closer to the English camp. It was just growing light as we climbed the bank of the spruit, and there was an English guard! I jumped from my horse instantly and crouched down, and with that a shot rang out, the bullet piercing my horse's neck. The animal jumped over me and collapsed, dead. The guard lay dead too as my finger pulled the trigger, but his horse bolted. I had to appropriate a packhorse from someone.

Now we stormed the camp. There were only about three hundred burgers against between two and three thousand English, on a barren plain broken only here and there by an anthill. The sun was already up but General Kemp had still not arrived to lead the attack from the front. The cannons boomed all around us but fortunately they tended to fire a little over our heads. The English artillery just would not give in. Field-Cornet Erasmus, Piet Bekker and another three men charged through the foot soldiers and shot dead the gunners as they sat at their cannons. Only then did General Kemp and his commandos appear.

Nearby was mud kraal, sheltering English, Hensoppers, hottentots and horses. General de la Rey and some of his men were sitting behind the captured English Pom-Pom gun. The first shot just missed the kraal: the second was a direct hit. Before long the white flag was raised. Commandant Groenewald and his adjutant Van Rensburg approached the kraal and when they had almost reached it one of the English officers screamed: "Shoot him!" Luckily they heard this and turned tail, the general's horse getting a shot in the hindquarters. The adjutant was leading a second horse and in no time Groenewald's saddle was on it and they could escape unharmed. But with this all hell broke loose and General de la Rey had to drag the gunners away from the cannon because they just would not stop firing. By this time Lord Methuen had been wounded, and Field-Cornet Erasmus had been killed, just as he had predicted. Piet Bekker was also seriously wounded, having had seven horses shot dead from under him. He claimed to have seen that it was a baster who shot him. One of the English even gave him a drink from his own water bottle; he had both his arms shot away and a bullet through his chest, just beneath the heart. Three others were slightly wounded, one with seven flesh wounds. Four Kolonialers (Colonials), dressed identically, made a canopy with a canvas tarpaulin for Lord Methuen, whose leg had been shattered just above the knee by a dum-dum bullet.

During this bloody battle young Bekker, eleven years old, got up to some pranks. He cried out "Halt" to an Englishman, took his gun and being one of the few among us who could speak a little English, asked him for money. The Englishman handed over his money, Bekker counted it, took half and gave the rest back to the Englishman. "Have you got any jam?" he asked then and the Englishman fetched him a tin from the wagons. While the battle raged around them, young Hendrik sat and enjoyed the jam. Suddenly a mounted Englishman came galloping past them and Hendrik picked up his weapon and said to the Tommy with him, "Now I'll show you how a boerseun shoots", took aim and as the shot rang out the Tommy fell from the saddle and did not get up again. The Tommy with Hendrik just cried out "Oh God!"

Some of the Tommies and others who had been hiding in the kraal scrambled out and fled. Captain Horn, Hendrik Jacobs, a third person whose name I cannot recall, and I set off after them but as we passed the kraal this third person was killed and Hendrik Jacobs got a bullet behind the eye (from which he later recovered). Now it was just Captain Horn and me. We quickly caught up with them as they were riding heavy draught horses. We would jump off and shoot and them mount again and catch them up again. They were heading in the direction of Sannieshof. When our guns got too hot we simply took the weapons of the English we had killed. Not one of them made any attempt to shoot back at us. We had so much time at our disposal that we tried to see how many we could shoot with one bullet. This was easy as they were riding close together in a group, and it was just as easy to see how many we had shot because no sooner had Tommy fallen from the saddle than his horse would simply stop and start grazing. We counted as many as seven turning off and starting to graze with one shot. At last I grew tired of this and spotted a group of Hensoppers riding to the left of us. I wanted to attack them but they were at an angle to us and I had to pass the English to get to them. Captain Horn was still arguing against this but I was off. I got within about 600 paces from them, jumped from my horse and fired. A big brown horse rose into the air and came to land on its knees, but was soon up again. Years later, after the war was over, the owner of this horse, a certain Terblanche, told me about the bullet his horse had received to the head. The horse carried him through to Kraaipan where he dismounted and gave it some water, whereupon it fell down dead. I assured him that that bullet had not been intended for such a good animal!

Some time later the English began to fight back again and General Kemp and some of his burgers, and General de la Rey, came to our assistance. One of the Hanskakies gave himself up, but because he was a Hensopper General Kemp gave orders to shoot him. In the event he was only wounded in the leg and as General Kemp rode past him, the Hensopper shot his horse dead from under him. We were watching and feared that he would killl General Kemp, but Captain Horn soon had him biting the dust. Oom Daan van Vuuren was riding next to me and I suddenly saw a baster hiding behind an antheap, aiming for Oom Daan. I shouted a warning, and as he was riding past Oom Daan lifted his rifle to his shoulder, took aim and shot the baster right through the forehead. We followed them a little way further and then turned back. We passed a house where a woman had just churned a large quantity of butter and we all enjoyed a mug of buttermilk before continuing. She told us that a baster had arrived there that morning and when she pleaded with him not to take all her cattle he replied, "Miesies, there's no time for cattle: the boere are chasing us until we drop."

The march back was not pleasant. All around us lay the dead and the wounded crying out for water, but we did not even have any for ourselves, let alone for them. The kraal looked terrible where the battle had taken place. Not far from the kraal was a river (or stream) and the blood from the English, Hottentots and horses trickled through the gate and into the river, forming a scum to form on the water.

The Bekker boy reached Lord Methuen before General de la Rey arrived. He was wearing a hat with a floppy brim, and throwing it to Lord Methuen, he said' "I'll swop you." Methuen's guards told him that it was Lord Methuen lying there and he certainly could not take his hat. Bekker replied, "I am Hendrik Bekker!" and turned on his heel. Later Genral de la Rey took the hat from him and returned it to Lord Methuen.

That day we captured seventy-five armed basters and Hottentots, and as I have already described, we showed them no mercy. First they had to dig a long trench and then they were lined up at its edge to be shot. When the firing began some fell so quickly that to this day I wonder whether they were all actually shot.

The dead Field-Cornet Erasmus and Bekker, who was seriously wounded, were lying together in one of Lord Methuen's long tented wagons. We trekked back with the entire camp to the place we had started from that morning, and there we buried Field-Cornet Erasmus and the other dead. Here we also divided the booty. General de la Rey sent Lord Methuen and his coach and mules back to Klerksdorp. His leg was later amputated. There had been a difference of opinion between Dominie and General de la Rey over the fate of Lord Methuen: Dominie wanted Lord Methuen shot because he was the mastermind behind the imprisonment of women and children in the concentration camps but General de la Rey decided to send him back to Klerksdorp. We sold the wagons and oxen at the place where the Brakspruit and the Harts River converge. We got five pounds for a team and wagon, and one pound for a full-grown ox, but it was better to sell them because tomorrow the English could take them off us again! I bought six oxen which I manged to keep and later I swapped them for a horse.

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending the reinterment of Field-Cornet Erasmus at the "feeshuis" (festival building) at Sannieshof. I was also privileged to be one of the bearers of the little coffin, draped in a vierkleur, which contained his remains.

At this stage the English started their "kettingtrek". This line stretched from Mafeking all the way to Taungs. They left a small opening near Taungs, and this is where we passed through. We also captured a number of English who were in the chain.

Just beyond Leliesfontein we again engaged with an English column. We surrounded them and fought them for two days and a night. That night Field-Cornet. Du Plessis and a corporal, my brother Schalk and Gawie van Deventer had to stand guard. The next morning we let our horses loose, planning to catch a few hours sleep as the night had been a long one. I had just taken the bit from my horse's mouth and allowed him to graze near me, and I was just nodding off when I heard my brother Schalk saying to Oom Gawie van Deventer that those were English approaching. At least they made quite sure about it before waking me! These English were in fact reinforcements sent from Vryburg and they were already upon us. They started shooting at our horses to drive them off. Fortunately my horse was very obedient and answered to his name, always coming when I called him. When the horses started to scatter I called him by name. The others were already mounted. I still took the time to fold my blanket, although the others were shouting at me to leave it, because I knew what it was to be without a blanket! Field-Cornet du Plessis killed the foremost Tommy, and wounded another, and this gave us a chance to escape. My horse trotted up to me and turned his body side on to me so that I could leap on. There was no time for a bit in his mouth. We rode straight for a deep ditch and our horses had to jump for it - luckily they all made it. Now it was just my brother Schalk, oom Gawie van Deventer and me. The others hid in the bush and arrived at the commando later. Field-Cornet du Plessis and the corporal were captured there and Field-Cornet du Plessis was wounded in the arm.

A few days after this incident we moved down to Danielskuil where we crept up on the English fortifications in the dead of night. We took up position in a nearby donga. There we had to stay all day, and it was blisteringly hot, because had we attempted to get out, the English would have made it a lot warmer for us! We waited till nightfall before climbing out and at least we plundered quite a large number of livestock before making our way back. The next morning, before we were awake, the English surprised us again. I do not know what the guards were doing but one cannot really blame them as opportunities for sleep were few and far between. Field-Cornet Van Vuuren was wounded in the leg just above the knee in the battle that day, the only casualty we had. We took him with us in a cart and his leg soon knitted. We came through that day with about two thousand sheep and five hundred cattle.

We attacked Vryburg again on Christmas night. It was a bright moonlit night and we got as far as the railway line before being sighted by the English. We hung on for quite a time but eventually had to flee and took the Amalia road back. As we topped the ridge my hat blew off and, unwilling to leave it lying there, I turned back and picked it up. The bullets raised the dust all around me as they fired at me, but I retrieved the hat and sped away. We fought again from the shelter of the ridge for about half an hour and then returned to camp.

There was also a group of women who were fleeing from place to place and whenever we got the chance we would visit them and play volkspele in an attempt to forget the hard times for a while. Among them was an Erasmus girl, very graceful and charming, and I tried always to keep an eye on her!

One day General Van Zyl sent us to a place near Vryburg where the kaffers had built fortifications from which they could spy. Five of us received orders to take these fortifcations. We reached the place at about nine o' clock that morning and saw two kaffers approaching us, neatly dressed in smart jackets and each carrying six guns with bandoliers full of bullets. They had almost reached us when one of us sprang up and cried out "Halt!" They jumped from their horses but at the same time we fired at them. One could clearly see the dust rising from the jackets where the bullets struck. At this point my gun suddenly misfired. Only when one kaffer was about five hundred paces from me was I able to fire. One lay motionless but the other was able to mount his horse and gallop away. He fell off on the Stella road near Vryburg. Eddie Pentz, who was driving past in a cart, picked him up and took him to hospital. He had been shot seven times and died in hospital.

There is one anecdote I would like to relate. Near Schweizer Reneke we came across a farm where two women were living. They invited the officers in for a meal. The burgers settled under some trees not far from the house to rest. One of the women was cooking just outside the house and every now and then she would come out to check on the food. We began to make plans to get hold of the food. When we reckoned that it was done we waited for the woman to go back indoors and then some of us youngsters made for the pots. There were a couple of chickens in a big pot just starting to brown. We each grabbed a chicken by the leg and got out of there fast. We had only just got back to the others when we saw the woman coming out again with a dish to fetch the chickens. All she found was an empty pot. She stood looking around for a moment and then went back inside. By this time we had already devoured the chickens. She hadn't been in the house long when out came the officers - we knew very well what they were looking for! They threatened and coaxed but none of us knew anything about the chickens. They just had to return to the house, empty handed, to a meatless meal!

We again moved up towards Taungs one night to cross the railway line there. At Bosmanspoort we got word that peace had been declared and we should go to Schweizer Reneke to lay down our arms. We trekked to Heuningspruit where General Van Zyl and Commandant. Van Zyl called us together and asked whether there were any among us who would go on fighting if it was necessary. There were thirty-five of us Burgers who stood up to say that we would fight for the two republics, till death or victory. We first shot away all our rounds and cannon shells at Schweizer before laying down our arms, and these we laid down in front of our own officers, not the English. Then we went to the Dutch church, from the steps of which one of the English officers delivered an address. He asked for three "Hoeras" for General de Wet, and these rose from us as from one man. But when he asked for three cheers for the English general, we youngsters turned on our heels and walked off. We certainly did not feel like cheering for a man who had incarcerated women and children in camps and who, on top of that, had bragged that 2600 had died.

A little further on a group of women and girls was standing, among whom we noticed a Haasbroek, who was a Hensopper. Tom Terblanche just could not contain himself and gave Haasbroek a sound thrashing, right in front of the women. We had had enough of his type because if it had not been for the likes of them, who knew the area there well and who worked together with the English, our chances would have been far rosier. For me the whole war was suddenly meaningless and all the suffering seemed to have been futile at the moment that I had to put down my weapon. Something inside me broke - for three long years we had been fighting for a freedom that had remained elusive.

We were then discharged by an officer and each went his separate way. Those of us who were Stellalanders from the district Vryburg could not even return to our homes as we were forbidden to cross the border for five years. In the event, my brothers and I rented a farm in the Free State and began to farm again, starting from scratch. In the end we were able return to our farm Soutfontein after three years.

The people that I know of who were in our Commando and who are still alive are the following: Commandant Groenewald (Johannesburg), Naas Raubenheimer (Vryburg), Jan Theron (Vryburg and also a Stellalander but not from our commando), Alec Vosloo (Broedersput), Abraham Vosloo and Marthinus van Rensburg (Stella), Tom Terblanche and Andries van Wyk the clown.

More than fifty years have elapsed since these events, and I am happy to see that we are on the right track towards a republic; I hope that I will be spared a few more years to see that day.

I have had this written as I cannot do it myself and I would like to leave it for posterity. All these are just anecdotes and things I experienced and saw with my own eyes. Nothing has been added or left out, as far as I can remember. The events are all clear and fresh in my mind; it is just the exact dates that escape me.

L.J. Groenewald 21st May 1966.

Contacts:
Dr. John Bottomley benmie@isdnet.co.za
Jan Schutte museum@lichtenburg.co.za

 

 

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Further Reading

Bester, Dr. Ron. Boer Rifles and Carbines of the Anglo-Boer War. The War Museum of the Boer Republics, Bloemfontein: 1994.

Boer Forces - General
The Boer War: Official Dispatches from Generals De la Rey, Smuts and Others. Philadelphia: Buchanan, 1902. 26 p. DT930A2B63.

Brandt, J. The Petticoat Commando, or Boer Women in the Secret Service. London: Mills & Boon, 1913.

Dudley, Charles. 'The Boer View of Buller: New Evidence.' Army Quarterly 114 (Jul 1984): pp. 320-27. Per.

Hale, F. 'The Scandinavian Corps in the Second Anglo-Boer War.'_Historia_ Journal of the Historical Association of South Africa. Volume 45, Number 1, (May 2000): pp. 220-237. Per.

McCracken, Donal, P. MacBride's Brigade: Irish Commandos In The Anglo-Boer War. Dublin: Four Courts, 2000.

Pretorius, Prof. Fransjohan. Kommandolewe Tydens Die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902. Pretoria: Human & Rousseau, 1991.
[also available in abridged, large-print, titled Op Kommando. Voortrekkerhoogte: Makro Boeke, 1992.

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.]

Ruda, Richard. 'The Irish Transvaal Brigades'. The Irish Sword. Dublin: vxi (1973-4), pp-201-211.

Scholtz, Leopold [ed]. Beroemde Suid-Afrikaanse Krygsmanne. Cape Town: Rubicon-Pers, 1984.

Shearing, David & Taffy. Commandant Johannes Lötter and his Rebels. Sedgefield: D & T Shearing, 1998.
E-mail authors at david.taffy@pixie.co.za for information on the book and purchase details.

Shearing, David and Taffy. General Jan Smuts and His Long Ride. Sedgefield: Privately Printed, 2000.
(Cape-Commando Series No.3). 248 pp. Index. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-620-26750-X.
E-mail authors at david.taffy@pixie.co.za for information on the book and purchase details.

Trew, Peter The Boer War Generals. Stroud: Sutton, 1999.
Go here for a review of this book.

Van der Byl, C.F. Patrolling in South Africa. Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1902. U220V36.


Personal Narratives (Boer & Foreign Volunteers)
Blake, J.Y.F. A West Pointer with the Boers. Boston: Angel Guardian, 1903. DT932B62.

Burnham , F.R. Scouting on Two Continents. NY: Doubleday Page, 1927. DT776B87.

De La Rey, Mrs. A Woman's Wanderings and Trials During the Anglo-Boer War. London: Fisher Unwin, 1903. DT932D313.

D'Etechegoyen. Ten Months in the Field with the Boers. (1901)
[Ex-Lieutenant of Villebois-Mareuil]

Hillegas, Howard C. With the Boer Forces. London: Methuen,1900. DT932H62.

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.]

Leyds, W. J. Kruger Days. 1939. [other details unavailable]

Pretorius, H.F. Sidelights on the March. London: Murray,1901. DT932M3.

Reitz, Deneys. Commando: An Afrikaner Journal of the Boer War. NY: Sarpedon, 1993; orig pub 1929. 286 p. DT932R4.

Sternberg, Count. My Experiences of the Boer War [Meine Erlebnisse und Erfahrungen im Boerenkriege]. London: Longmans, Green, 1901. DT932S8.

Unger, Frederic W. With Bobs and Kruger. Phila: Coates,1901. DT932U53.

Van Warmelo, Dietlof. On Commando. London: Methuen, 1902.
[Translation of: Mijn Commando en Guerilla Commando-Leven.]

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