South African Military History Society


The curtain raiser at the society's 9th March lecture meeting was given by guest speaker John Sutton on the Rhodesian contribution to the Anglo-Boer War, with particular reference to the role of the British South Africa Police (BSAP).
Rhodesia was only 10 years old when the war broke out in October 1899, and its European population numbered less than 4 000. Yet more than one-third of the males in that population served in the ZAR. They were in three units: the Mashonaland (No.3) and Matabeleland (No.2) Divisions of the BSAP; the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers (SRV) and the Rhodesia Regiment (RR).
Their initial role was defensive. Some 500 guarded the drifts over the Limpopo and Crocodile rivers, and were engaged in numerous skirmishes in the Tuli area when engaged by a force of between 1 300 and 2 000 Boers from Pietersburg. When the Limpopo came down in flood in December 1899 the Boers withdrew, and Rhodesia was never again under threat.

This withdrawal allowed Lt. Cool Plumer to move towards Mafeking, joining forces with other Rhodesians at established posts along the railway. The troops under Lt. Col. Baden-Powell at Mafeking included 10 officers and 81 men of the Bechuanaland (3rd) Division of the BSAP. Despite suffering many casualties in frequent skirmishes, they played a vital role in ensuring the trains continued to run by repairing damage to the line and culverts, and by constant patrolling.
After Mafeking was relieved, the Rhodesians accompanied Baden-Powell's troops on his march to Pretoria, from where they were sent north along the railway to Pietersburg. At Warmbaths station they were attacked by a Boer commando but resisted so strongly that the Boers were routed and their commandant, Potgieter, was killed. Baden-Powell's force was then ordered south, and at Pienaar's River Bridge the BSAP's guns were served with such proficiency that a determined Boer attack was driven off and the station was never again in danger.
The Rhodesian troops, including the BSAP, were withdrawn in late 1900, although some volunteered to continue the fight and joined irregular corps. Two of these were the Commander-in-Chief's Bodyguard, which was subsequently wiped out in an ambush, and Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. This unit, commanded by J Colenbrander, served continuously in the areas north of Warmbaths, as far east as the Kruger National Park, as far west as Bechuanaland and as far north as Louis Trichardt. In September 1901 Lord Methuen invited 124 BSAP to join his column as part of his personal bodyguard. Shortly after joining they were involved in the successful action at Vuurfontein. Thereafter, they were drawn into numerous no-win situations owing to their attachment to cumbersome British columns. The end came in March 1902 when Lord Methuen surrendered to De la Rey at Tweebosch. Two months later the war was over and the BSAP were sent home to resume normal duties.

The main lecture of the evening, given by Hendrik van Eck, dealt with Sir Charles Warren's campaign in the northern Cape, May to July 1900. After the relief of Kimberley, Lt. General Warren succeeded Lt. Colonel Kekewich as military governor of the Cape Colony north of the Orange River. He was well acquainted with the area, and his task was to suppress the Boer rebels active in Griqualand West.
At the beginning of the war the Orange Free State proclaimed military rule of the area, and commandeered large numbers of men sympathetic to the Boer cause. Their commander was General P J "Hartjie" de Villiers. About 2 000 mainly inexperienced British and Colonial volunteer troops gathered at Belmont station to serve under Warren. His objective was to drive the Boers from their strongholds at Douglas, Campbell, and Griquatown, and from there to Kuruman into the arms of the British garrison at Mafeking.

Douglas was occupied on 21 May after sporadic fighting. The Boers retreated northwards to the Ghaap plateau and Campbell. Warren camped at Fabersput, about halfway between Douglas and Campbell, to await reinforcements and supplies. Situated on a wide, open plain surrounded by densely wooded hills, Fabersput had ample water, but the troops were totally exposed to fire from the neighbouring ridges. Despite British reconnaissance, the Boers surrounded the encampment before dawn on 30 May. Comdt. Jan Vorster's men were to launch the attack from the hills to the north-east, where Warren's headquarter were. On the south-east, 57 sharpshooters infiltrated the garden to within 30-50 metres of the Yeomanry asleep in their saddle circles. The rebel groups in the south under Venter surprised one of the few British pickets. When he fired, the Boers opened up from all sides, and confusion reigned in the British camp.
Venter's men stampeded the British horses while de Villier's inflicted heavy casualties from the garden. However, Vorster's group fled under heavy fire. The British tried to position their four canons and mounted a Maxim gun on the roof of Warren's headquarters. From there they fired on the garden, where most of the 14 Boer casualties occurred. The Boers retreated after about two hours when their own horses were endangered by canon fire. The British lost 25 dead and 37 wounded.
On 4 June Warren's troops drove the Boers from Campbell, where approximately 33 rebels surrendered and the rest abandoned ammunition and supplies. The Canadian, Sam Hughes, occupied Griquatown on 9 June. Warren's force followed the rebels northward via Papkuil to Danielskuil. On 22 June. Hughes, who had been critical of Warren's leadership at Fabersput, rounded up several hundred Boers at Bilkfontein, confiscated their horses and weapons and turned them loose. Warren, who wanted no less than surrender and capture, was furious.

Your committee has decided that the practice of inviting all society members to vote on their choice for the winners of the annual prizes for the best lectures given during the year - instead of restricting this function to a sub-committee - will be continued in this and subsequent years. In order to be fair to speakers who have lectured in the early months of the year, members are asked to assess the quality of the lectures immediately after they have been given, and not wait until the end of the year and rely on their memory.



19 April
ML Neil Lee - The Bayeaux Tapestry


19 April
Ron Locke - Isandlwana - The Battle
Peter Quantrill - Isandlwana - The Cover-up

Cape Town

12 April
Rodney Constantine - Guerrilla action in the Cape Colony
during the Anglo-Boer War

George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581

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