South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 502
December 2017

Roy Bowman
Land-line; 031 564 4669
Mobile; 084-951 2921

The KwaZulu-Natal Branch held its November meeting on the 9th and the meeting was opened promptly at 19h30 by the Chairman, Roy Bowman.

The Annual Lunch was held at the Blue Waters Hotel on 5th November and was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. Fellow Committee Member, Charles Whiteing was thanked by Roy Bowman on behalf of the Branch for the wise choice he made and the hard work he put in to make the event a great success.

The Raffle Committee put forward a request to the members for donations for the monthly raffle. To date the committee members have been supplying the prizes themselves.

Roy Bowman and the Vice Chairman, Graeme Fuller attended the Remembrance Service at Durban High School on 7th November where they laid a wreath on behalf of the Branch.

The Chairman attended a Battle of El Alamein commemoration wreath laying and medal parade at Natal Mounted Rifles, on the evening of 7th November on behalf of the Society.

On Sunday 12th November the Chairman, Vice Chairman and two Committee Members will attend the Annual Service of Remembrance ceremony at the Durban Cenotaph and lay a wreath in commemoration of the fallen.

The project "Fortress Durban" to drive the rehabilitation of the military installations on the Bluff, has taken a very positive turn with two American military historians visiting the site on 10th November. Spare parts for some of the guns have been found in Cape Town and steps will be taken to get them to Durban, as a first step. Members were called upon to possibly give some of their time and expertise to this worthwhile project.

With the completion of the announcements the Chairman then called upon the first speaker, Donald Davies to present the DDH, entitled, "Radio Waves along Durban's Shore-line".

The interception and interpretation of enemy Radio Signals was of paramount importance to the Allies. This would allow them to anticipate the intended actions of the Axis Forces in the Second World War.

Radio Technicians therefore became a very important asset in this endeavour to achieve this end. Essentially it was a matter of life and death for many Seaman crossing the Atlantic bringing much needed supplies to Great Britain.

With the Axis Forces gaining control over the Mediterranean Sea Shipping Lanes, by means of their AirFields in the South of France and Sicily Italy, the only other route to supply the Allied Army lead by General Bernard Montgomery in North Africa, was around the Southern Coast of Africa and up the East Coast, Red Sea and thru the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Port of Alexandria.

This circumstance placed South Africa in a key strategic position in the fight to defend the Convoys bound for North Africa via the Southern African Sea Route.

To counter the Convoys supplying Allied Troops in North Africa, The German High Command deployed a number of U Boats to attack these Convoys and sink as many keys ships as possible. At the early stages of this War within a War, the U Boats were successful in sinking as many as 140 ships most bound for North Africa.

South Africa relied considerably on support from the Royal Navy and their Destroyers accompanied the Convoys for protection against the Nazi German U Boats.

At the time of the Battle for the Atlantic, Great Britain had began working on intercepting, but more particularly the decoding the Signals between the Nazi German U Boats and Nazi German High Command on the Battle Formation in the attacks on the Atlantic Convoys. It must be stated for clarity that at this stage of the War, the German Radio Communications were able to be intercepted but not decoded until later on in this War.

Now take what was occurring in the North Atlantic, and duplicate it down to the Southern Coast of Africa and one realizes the importance of South Africa in this War within a War.

It therefore became expedient to install Radio Signal Tracking Equipment along the Southern African Coast for the purpose of locating the Nazi German U Boats. This Operation required Direction Finding Radio Equipment.

At the start of the WWII after South Africa had declared War on Germany, the Amateur Radio Operators had their Radio Sets sealed so that they could not use Them. However due to the proportionally large German immigrant Community within the South African population at that time, and the bitterness of the Scorched Earth Policy of the Anglo - Boer War, ... in which the Dutch and German Nations supported the Boer Republics struggle for independence from Great Britain.

As a consequence there were many Nazi German sympathizers within the borders of South Africa, many of whom had Radio sets, and communicated information about the Allies War Machine in South Africa to their handlers either in the adjacent neutral countries such as Lourenço Marques in the old colony of Mozambique, or in Nazi Germany itself.

Very secretively the Allies brought in British Naval Personnel to set up this Direction Finding Equipment to begin intercepting the Radio Signals from the Axis Forces Vessels at Sea off the South African Coast. The operation required the co-operation of the South African Post Office, as these Radio Signals once intercepted, had to be communicated immediately to the Main Receiving Station in SimonsTown. The Direction Finding Stations were established in Smiths Farm near Cape Point, and the other at the old Telephone Exchange back of Overport on The Berea DURBAN.

Once these High Frequency Direction Facilities had been established, with the Receiving Station interpreting and Plotting the positions of those Signals, the response to the threat of Nazi German U Boats became more effective, ... or gained an important boost.

In parallel with this Radio Signal Interception Operation, another Operation was also implemented.

This was known as Radio Finger Printing, and this technique was implemented in the CommonWealth Countries, ... its name later became known as 'Z' intelligence, which was a combination of two methods being used at that time namely 'RFT' and 'TINA.'

The information that could be obtained related specifically to the characteristics of the Operator and the Transmitter, e.g. by using the Radio Finger Printing technique the individual transmitters could be identified by their emitted waveform. The recordings of morse code using the TINA method were made with a pen imprinting on a paper tape using a device known as an Undulator.

It is little known that these techniques were used to not only locate the Radio Signals of TeleGraphists on the Nazi German U Boats, by also the Radio Transmitters of Nazi German Sympathizers within the South African Community.

After the customary 5 minute comfort break the Monthly Raffle was drawn and was won by Professor Philip Everitt.

[Don Porter then presented "The Actions at Kheis Drift, 28/05/1900 and 18/11/1914".]

For the benefit of some of my cousins, most of whom I scarcely knew until we corresponded on the family tree, I've enjoyed organising four battlefield/genealogical history tours to some arid areas of our country, notably the Northern Cape & the Free State. My three earlier Cousins' Tours had shown us how local people have a deep sense of history, but not all know the difference between family legend & confirmed historical record.

On a personal level my first three homes were north of the Zambesi, the last year of WW2 coinciding with my first of 6 ½ years at boarding school near my grandparents in Durban. Although my grandfather never spoke about his wartime service throughout the Anglo-Boer War (for which he enlisted as a Private & ended as a Captain), the Rebel Campaign & the German South-West Africa Campaign, I do remember the last year of his service in the Civil Guard on maintaining the 'blackout!'

Boarding schooldays ended when my father secured the requested transfer to an education centre, for my sister's & my further education. She subsequently became the first DSG old girl to return as Principal & her last year was the school's centenary (1974). Then chairman of the Old Girls' Guild was Mary Wylie (nee Wentworth), whom I met & later corresponded with, notably after I obtained the Death Notice of her uncle Victor Wentworth & discovered that he was killed in action at Kheis Drift on 18 Nov. 1914 & not near Hopetown as she thought. I resorted to Google to find out more about Kheis Drift. On 18 March 2016, after some blind alleys I spoke to Mr van Eyck, the communications manager of the Groblershoop local authority. He knew about the 1914 graves on the farm Winstead & gave me the phone numbers of owner Stephan van Zyl & of neighbours, 'Spokie' & Guilliaume de Witt, of Kheis Riverside Lodge, which they developed over the past 20 years, with ten chalets & ten campsites opposite the scene of our two actions, 14 ½ years apart.

Mr van Eyck also mentioned a privately published book, The Turning of the Wheel by Stephan's mother Lokkie van Zyl, merely omitting that the book was in Afrikaans! I lived in Kimberley for 4 ½ years during my late teens, so contacted an old family friend who retired as Director of the Africana Library, where she has continued for 9 years as a volunteer. She sent me photocopies of the cover of Boegoebergdam se Mense & of the 4 pages I wanted. The Wikipedia history of the Natal Light Horse tells that this irregular regiment was formed by Col 'Jack' Royston (1860-1942) in Aug. 1914, after petitioning Smuts to do so & setting up recruiting offices in Pietermaritzburg & Durban, with 600 men recruited within ten days. All those enlisted had seen previous military service & included quite a number of Australians who had served under Royston during the 2nd Boer War. After the GSWA campaign ended in May 1915, Royston wished to continue to help the British cause, but in London was persuaded that an independent regiment was not feasible & he was sent to Palestine to take command of the 3rd Australian Light Horse.

By now I was talking to Ken Gillings about the action during the Rebel Campaign, mentioning that I had the Death Notice of my distant cousin Ernest Victor Wentworth, who was killed in action at Kheis Drift, misleadingly described as 'near Hopetown, on 18 Nov 1914, aged 27. His niece, a spritely 86, wrote to me on 30 Mar.2013:- "Victor was a journalist on the Star newspaper and joined the Natal Light Horse which was a sort of private unit at the outbreak of WW1. They were in Cape Town awaiting shipment to France when the rebellion occurred and they were sent up there & then to SWA. They were camped near Hopetown and were ambushed by the rebels who bluffed they were friends. Four (initially, but 7 in all) were killed - and Victor was one of them. I have read a very good account of the raid/battle, but I don't know where I got it." I asked Ken whether he had any idea where I might find this story? He promptly sent me 9 pages of Galloping Jack (the Reminiscences of Brig-Gen Jack Royston) by Napier Devitt, which in turn quoted the words of P J Sampson's The Capture of De Wet, 1915, "which represent a true account of the incident according to General Royston himself." Ken was happy to play the leading role in what he saw as a Boer Rebellion research project, asking me to add to his two actions at Kheis my personal angle on the discoveries made.

The Action at Kheis Drift, 28th May 1900

After the relief of Ladysmith on the 28th February 1900, and Field Marshal Lord Roberts's entry into Bloemfontein on the 13th March 1900, many Cape Rebels had quietly returned to their farms. One exception, however, was the Prieska area where out of about 600 men who were capable of bearing arms, no fewer than 400 had done so.

The area they operated in is extremely sparse and Lord Roberts appointed three small columns to be formed to counter the rebellion. They were under the overall command of Brig-General HH Settle at Orange River Station. The western column of 450 men under Colonel Sir Charles Parsons was to march on Carnarvon and Kenhardt from Victoria West; Colonel Adye [pronounced Addee] was to concentrate the centre column (+- 500 men) at Britstown and advance on Houwater, while Settle personally commanded the right hand column (+- 600 men) due west from Orange River Station to clear the river banks & secure the drifts (and prevent General Liebenberg from causing too much trouble. Several Prieska rebels had crossed the Orange River into the region known as Gordonia, evading the British posts in Upington, Draghoender and Prieska.) Most of the leaders had been captured or had returned to their farms, but a Jewish storekeeper named Hermann Judelewitz took over the leadership. The problem for the British was that they threatened the railway line.

Towards the end of May 1900, Col Adye in Prieska received intelligence that 400 Rebels had formed a laager at Kheis on the northern bank of the Orange River, midway between Upington and Prieska. Adye's force comprised 4 guns, a company of mounted infantry of the Gloucestershire Regiment, the Militia Battalion of the Welsh Regiment, Nesbitt's Horse and 44th Battery Royal Field Artillery.

Adye decided to act immediately and leaving his infantry and 2 of the 6 guns at Prieska, he made a forced march with the remaining 2 sections of 15-pdrs, Nesbitt's Horse and the Mounted Infantry to the drift opposite Kheis, which he reached on the 26th May 1900. While en route, he was reinforced by the 32nd Lancashire Hussars Imperial Yeomanry at Draghoender and at Kheis by the 5th Warwickshire Yeomanry from Kenhardt (which was considered to be the most remote settlement in South Africa.) Besides being laagered on the northern bank of the Orange River, Judelewitz had occupied a heavily wooded island in the middle of the river, and this commanded the drift.

The following day, the rebels exchanged rifle fire with Adye's force and Adye decided to attack them the next day. The guns were deployed on the river bank and the Warwickshire Yeomanry on the drift while Adye took the rest of his force 8 km upstream and advanced on the laager. The guns opened fire and the converging movement drove the rebels out of their laager after several of them - including Judelewitz - had been shot down. The Lancashire Yeomanry, who should have cut off the Rebels' retreat, were prevented from doing so by the projectiles of the four guns of 44th Battery, which continued firing far too long because of the difficulty in communication between the Yeomanry and the Battery Commander. The Warwickshire Yeomanry suffered some losses while their men were attempting to capture the island in midstream. The company commander (Major Orr-Ewing) and three Other Ranks were killed and six were wounded.

By the end of the action, Adye managed to capture the laager with all the women and children, and many burghers were made prisoners of war. He also captured thousands of head of cattle. Total losses on the British side were 9 killed and 18 wounded. Adye's operation also succeeded in preventing another party of rebels who were en route to join Judelewitz from doing so. They crossed the Orange River at Koegas Pont and fled to the north to Griquatown.

The official British report on this incident is worthwhile relating. When the British force opened fire on the rebels' picket at Tsebe Drift (some distance upstream from Kheis), they fled, enabling Adye to cross the Orange River with little difficulty and he advanced rapidly on the laager which was situated on the north bank of course. This resulted in the Boers abandoning it and falling back on some bushy hills to the north, where they clearly intended making a stand.

Adye then detached the Lancashire Yeomanry under Captain L H Jones to move around the Rebels' left rear, holding back his main attack until Jones's move had been completed. The artillery fire from the two sections of 44th Battery RFA was then diverted from the laager to the Rebels' new position on the bushy hills referred to earlier. When Jones closed in and Adye himself advanced, the Boers found themselves surrounded and, of course, under long range artillery fire. It was during this phase that Judelewitz was killed and the Boers then abandoned the laager and fled, leaving 100 women and children. Colonel Adye's report read: "I was unaware that the laager contained women and children or I should not have shelled it, but fortunately none were hit, having been quickly hidden in a spruit or gully."

There was also what was reported as a "misadventure" and Kheis Drift and this provides us with a little more detail on Orr-Ewing's actions. Major J A Orr-Ewing of the Warwickshire Yeomanry was ordered to check if it was possible to cross at Kheis Drift and to link up with Adye. Orr-Ewing called for volunteers and was joined by Lieutenant J S Forbes and Corporal A Baxter; all three entered the water and headed for the island which is in the middle of the river, unaware that several burghers who had fled from the laager on the north bank had concealed themselves on the island and they opened fire on the two soldiers at a range of about 150 metres, killing their horses. Note that Orr-Ewing was not with Forbes and Baxter, both of whom managed to regain the left bank of the river with great difficulty. Baxter fell mortally wounded and Orr-Ewing and Private E P Ashley went to the two men's assistance, but they were also shot down.

While they were under fire, Civil Surgeon Dunn, Lieutenant C S Paulet and 8 NCOs from the Warwickshire Yeomanry ran forward to help them. All except Paulet and two men were hit and Orr-Ewing, Baxter and Private W F Lane were killed. The rest of the Yeomanry had lined the south bank to provide covering fire but the Boers were so well concealed on the island that they could not be found. Nor, of course, could the four guns have been utilised in case they hit Adye's men on the north bank in the vicinity of the laager.

To make matters more challenging, Adye on the north bank was totally unaware of the events that were taking place on the south bank. When he eventually heard what was happening, he sent one of the prisoners from the laager across to the island to suggest that those firing at Orr-Ewing and his men lay down their arms to prevent further bloodshed. Six Rebels surrendered, but several others managed to escape.

The Boers lost Judelewitz and several more burghers killed (some of them mortally wounded) and all the wounded were captured. This appears to have been an isolated incident in an extremely remote part of the Northern Cape, but it had an important effect for the British, because the Kheis action meant that the entire Orange River area was now free from rebellion until early 1901, when small commando groups raided these thinly inhabited districts.

The Action at Kheis Drift, 18th November 1914

When the First World War began, the Union Parliament was heavily divided; after all, Germany had shown open support for the Boers in their struggle during the Anglo-Boer War; the wounds of Lord Kitchener's scorched earth policy during the War were far from healed and now the Afrikaners were expected to support their former enemy against an ally. The matter was debated in Parliament and Smuts informed the House that in fact a German invasion force had not only assembled at Nakob on the GSWA / SA border, but one of their forces had crossed the border and occupied a koppie in Union territory. This was manna from heaven for Smuts, who maintained that South Africa was certainly not the aggressor; her territory had been invaded and it was the duty of South Africa to repel the attack. After a heated debate, the Prime Minister's motion was adopted by 92 votes to 12, and South Africa was at war with Germany.

It led to a major split amongst the Boer leaders. In fact, it resulted in what is termed the Boer Rebellion developing, with families and communities openly opposing one another, but the die was cast and the planned invasion of GSWA was to be led by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence. On the 21st August 1914, the military commanders met at Defence HQ in Pretoria to plan the strategy for the invasion of GSWA. It was decided that the invasion force would land at Lüderitzbucht to seize the wireless station there while the Royal Navy would shell the one at Swakopmund. Lukin would land with another force at Port Nolloth to take the pressure off the Lüderitzbucht force while a third force, under the command of Lt Col 'Manie' Maritz (commander of the UDF units in the Northern Cape) would assemble in Upington to deal with any threat by the Germans from that quarter. Beyers must have been aware that Maritz was already planning to lead a rebellion in that quarter.

Beyers resigned a few weeks later on the 15th September 1914. On that day, he was accompanying General Koos de la Rey who was almost certainly about to announce his support for the Boer rebellion; they tried to evade a roadblock that had been set up to apprehend the Foster Gang and de la Rey was killed. Beyers went into open rebellion and Smuts accused him of High Treason. On the 8th December 1914, he was drowned in the Vaal River while being pursued by Union Defence Force troops.

The scene then shifts to Maritz's activities in South Africa. Salomon Gerhardus 'Manie' Maritz had been a controversial figure during the Anglo-Boer War. A direct descendant of Voortrekker leader Gert Maritz, he had fought with great distinction with the Boksburg Commando in Natal and later served with Danie Theron's corps of scouts and with General Christiaan de Wet on his raids into the Cape Colony. He was later given command of his own unit and General Smuts promoted him to general in 1902. He was a prime mover in the rebellion by Boers in the Northern Cape but was severely criticised by several Boer leaders, however, when he attacked Leliefontein in Namaqualand, resulting in the deaths of dozens of coloured inhabitants. After the War Maritz refused to surrender to the British and fled to GSWA, Europe and Madagascar, but returned shortly after Union to farm in the Ventersburg district. He joined the UDF in 1912 and became a staff officer in the Upington district.

With that background, it is time to discuss the events at Kheis. After the German invasion of the Northern Cape, sympathy for them spread like wildfire amongst the Afrikaner rebels. When Maritz deserted to the Germans, to counter the threat to the Upington garrison, troops were sent there to reinforce it. The commander of the Upington district was another Boer hero, Colonel Jaap van Deventer. The Natal Light Horse was sent from Natal to reinforce van Deventer. They were commanded by Lt Col John Robinson Royston, known affectionately as "Galloping Jack". Royston was a veteran of the Anglo-Zulu War, the Anglo-Boer War and the 1906 Poll Tax (Bhambatha) Rebellion, during which he raised his own unit that was known as Royston's Horse. When WW1 broke out, he wanted to revive Royston's Horse but he was instructed to raise the Natal Light Horse instead. They were presented with their Regimental Colours by the Mayoress of Pietermaritzburg, Mrs P H Taylor in the Market Square on the 18th September 1914, shortly prior to the Regiment's departure for Upington.

Within a couple of days of his arrival in Upington, Royston set off in search of and pursuit of Maritz. His first engagement occurred on the 22nd October 1914. The Government forces engaged Maritz at Keimoes after Maritz had occupied the town and declared it a republic with himself as president and commander-in-chief. While watching the battle from his horse, Appel, Maritz was wounded in the knee and retreated to Kakamas where he was defeated by General Coen Brits on the 24th October 1914. Maritz fled to GSWA where he used the farm Jerusalem as his base until his knee healed well enough for him to resume his activities. This now leads up to the action at Kheis on the 18th November 1914. Maritz was not the only prominent Afrikaner to rebel; he was joined by Jan Christoffel Greyling Kemp, who had also distinguished himself as a General during the Anglo-Boer War and had voted against submission at the Vereeniging peace talks. After the War, he began farming near Piet Retief and when the Union Defence Force was formed, he became an officer with the rank of major. He joined the Boer rebellion in 1914, and had acquired the services of General Koos de la Rey's extraordinary visionary and 'prophet', 'Siener' van Rensburg. He was now heading in Royston's direction.

There are usually two sides to a South African story, and we'll discuss the action from the Union Defence Force perspective first.

After Keimoes and Kakamas, Royston was ordered to guard a position at Kheis Drift on the Orange River, about midway between Prieska and Upington and about 8 km upstream of Groblershoop. His orders were to hold the drift, where several roads / tracks converged between Kimberley and Upington. Royston failed to execute his instructions in their entirety. He ordered Major Knott to take half the Natal Light Horse and occupy a farm belonging to one de Beer on some exposed ground, about 5 km from the drift, while he personally took the remainder of the Regiment, and instead of waiting for Kemp, who was known to be en route to Kheis Drift, he followed him. In the vicinity of Witsand he found Kemp trying to out-manoeuvre him and cut him off in order to reach the now abandoned drift.

Royston ordered "Column about" and the two squadrons jog-trotted through the night. In the early hours of the 18th November 1914, they reached the crossroads 8 km from the drift. Royston sent a party of men to hold the drift before Kemp could arrive and he reached the drift with the remainder of the Natal Light Horse later on the same morning.

Royston's horses and men had been without food for 48 hours and they were exhausted - which was in fact the same situation with Kemp's force. Royston's biographer's account is as follows, as given in the words of P J Sampson with Royston's confirmation, as recorded in his book, "The Capture of de Wet", 1915:

"At about half-past two Royston's observation post reported that a large body of men was approaching the drift carrying a white flag and wearing white arm bands like those of the Union Forces. Taking them for a Union force which he was expecting, Colonel Royston allowed them to come up to his outpost. It was Kemp's advance guard...

Suddenly they dismounted and fired volley after volley into the Natal Light Horse, four of whom were killed* and others wounded, including Major Helbert and Captain Knyvett. Many horses were also hit.

The main body of the rebels then tried to rush the camp, but were beaten back. Sniping continued until late.

Royston lost seven killed and fifteen wounded; the rebel losses were estimated at between forty and fifty. Nine dead bodies were picked up in one place."

There was also a potential major problem for the Natal Light Horse. As the battle raged, Royston's men were short of ammunition and the spare supply was ordered forward. All the cases were correctly marked externally "L.M. .303" but when they were opened, several cases were found to contain Martini Henry cartridges. Apparently before Royston entrained at Pietermaritzburg, he had been ordered to return the .303 Lee Metford ammunition to Ordnance in Pietermaritzburg and was told to draw his ammunition from the depot at De Aar. It was from here that Royston drew the supply that contained the obsolete cartridges. No one ever discovered how this happened, but perhaps it should be borne in mind that De Aar was a hotbed of support for the Afrikaner Rebels!

Kemp eventually reached Ukamas and Nabas in German South-West Africa, but not via Kheis Drift.

Let's now consider the Rebel version of events.

Jan Kemp had assembled a commando of 610 Rebels, which he had mustered in Potchefstroom. With him was, as previously mentioned, General Koos de la Rey's prophet, "Siener" van Rensburg. Kemp headed towards Vleeskraal, which he reached before addressing a public meeting on the 2nd November 1914, intending to join Maritz in GSWA. He led the commando through Schweizer-Reneke the following day and then split his force, linking up with them on the 5th November at Leeuwfontein. The combined force then proceeded via Pokwani (near Hartswater) and Kuruman, through the Rooiberge reaching Vlermuislaagte on the 10th November.

They entered the Langeberg range of mountains near present day Olifantshoek and reached Taungs on the 14th November. They then continued to Witsand, where they spent two nights. They suffered a considerable setback, however, when 150 men surrendered to Government forces after a skirmish on the 16th November. This action at Witsand was a difficult one for Commandant van Zijl with about 200 Government troops. The Rebels had occupied a very strong natural position and held the only water for many kms around. After the engagement, which lasted for five hours and in which the Rebels lost 15 killed and 7 wounded, van Zijl had to retire as the nearest water was about 14 ½ km away at Xangs. This now leads to the action at Kheis.

The Rebels acknowledge that they were wearing white armbands as a type of badge or form of recognition. When some of the Rebels realised that the Government troops AND civilian supporters were wearing white armbands, they tied them around their hats. One rebel was unhappy with this form of identification. Mussmann wrote that they felt that the white armband was the sign of the Catholic link to "Bartomeusnag" and objected strongly to wearing it.

Kemp's personal report was written in Dutch / Afrikaans: "At Witsand, we lost Field Cornet Marx, G.J. du Plessis (son of Field Cornet du Plessis), W. Steyn and W. Retief. They lie buried in the desert. Under difficult circumstances the wounded are still being cared for and transported by Joh. Botha, who had a motor car.

The conditions were so dark that when I departed on the afternoon of the 17th [November] towards Kheis, a group of 18 burghers turned around and surrendered. I gave orders for everyone to walk and lead their horses to give hope to those burghers who were without mounts. I arranged for Ouderling [Elder] Boshoff to lead us in prayer. His text was "God's miracles".

Incredibly, when we arrived at Kheis after a challenging ride of 7 hours, we discovered the enemy sleeping at the river, without any guards. They did not notice us and we took up a position 300 to 400 yards from them.

We later discovered via a telegram from Smuts in the camp at Nous, in which he stated that we were expected to depart from Witsand at 3 and arrive at Kheis at 10 a.m the following day. We actually arrived at 3 p.m. As a result of our delay they apparently assumed that we had taken another route.

After a fierce battle, the enemy was defeated and we occupied the Orange River. They had intended ambushing us in the desert. The enemy lost heavily. Field Cornets G.R. Erasmus and R. Colyn were wounded while Field Cornet G.R. Erasmus died of his wounds (at Sadeldraai on the 19th or 20th November).

We continued with our advance along the Orange River. On the 20th [November 1914] we were attacked by the enemy while drinking at the Orange River at Grootdrink. One of our burghers (Herbst) was wounded but we were still fortunate enough to reach the river.

On the 21st November, the enemy tried to force us away from the river at Kafferswart but we were able to drive them off with losses on their side".

Kemp then led his men along the Orange River, swinging northward into the desert at Kafferswart, eventually linking up with Maritz, headed southwards and across the river as far as Nous (where he discovered Gen Smuts's telegram), then moved upstream, southwards once again as far as Lutzputs, after which he headed north and participated in the Battle of Upington on the 24th January 1915. He surrendered to Government forces and was imprisoned until 1916. Smuts paid tribute to Kemp and his epic trek through the desert, saying that only a man such as Kemp could have led such a campaign.

In conclusion, however, you'll have noticed that Jan Kemp makes no reference to the white flag incident at Kheis Drift in his account..!

There were no questions for Mr. Porter and the Chairman called upon Mr. John Buchan to present the Vote of Thanks of those present, to the two presenters.

The final meeting of the year was announced for 14th December and it will be in the form of a Cocktail Party, after a presentation by guest speaker, Col. Steve Bekker with his presentation of, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", the story of three Turbo-prop Dakotas.

The Chairman wished all a safe trip home and closed the meeting.

Roy Bowman

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South African Military History Society /