South African Military History Society


Prof Rodney Davenport gave us a most interesting lecture on the Rebellion of 1914 and its origins at our Society evening of 14.2.

When the Boer commandants met at Vereeniging in May 1902 to discuss making peace with the British, they decided to throw in the towel. It was a hard decision, but without food and horses their commandos were in desperate straits, and the deaths in the camps were so numerous that the future of the Afrikaner people was in danger. General Smuts may well have urged surrender for his men to live to fight another day, perhaps when Britain and Germany a were tied up in a future conflict. This paid dividends: Transvaal and Orange River Colony got their self-government back in 1907-8, Boer majorities returned to power six years later, and after two more years the Union came into being, giving the Boers dominance over the whole of South Africa. This conciliation enabled the British to retain influence while also helping bittereinders and hensoppers to talk to each other again.

But by 1912 Botha's cabinet was divided, Hertzog fought against the imperial connection, and Botha formed a new cabinet without him. Hertzog and his Free State followers set up the National Party in 1913. When war broke out one year later, Britain needed to silence the German radio stations in SWA to safeguard their shipping routes. To prevent Indian and Australian troops being shipped in for this purpose, Botha wanted to invade the German colony although people who considered Germans their friends protested, together with those who hankered after republican independence.

Emotions ran high, fuelled by a so called prophet van Rensburg. He had been a member of De la Rey's commando in the Anglo-Boer War, and his dreams were interpreted differently, some people seeing victory for Germany and a triumph for De la Rey. So he planned a campaign to march to Pretoria as a start for the restoration of the republic which he hoped would be assisted by Botha and Smuts. But Botha talked him out of it.

In September parliament authorised the invasion of SWA. Hertzog's Nationalists protested strongly and General C.F. Beyers resigned his commission, as did Major J.C.G. Kemp in Potchefstroom. On the way to Potchefstroom to address the rebellious troops, De la Rey was shot at a road block and killed. By this time South African troops had taken Luederitz and more troops were soon to cross the Orange river to fight.

On 8/9 Oct 1914, General Manie Maritz went over to the Germans with his entire force, and when the government proclaimed martial law in consequence, he became the focal point for would-be rebels in the Free State and Transvaal. But the coordination between the rebels and their planning were disastrously ineffective. Although 12 000 Afrikaners went into rebellion; Botha could field 32 OOO against them, and by late January 1915 the rebellion was over. Botha and Smuts had taken care to head the violence off.

In October 1914, Gen C. de Wet had addressed a meeting in north-east Free State and was asked to command rebel operations, with Beyers taking the lead in the Transvaal. But he drowned in the Vaal river, some described it as a martyr's death. De Wet, who had preached open defiance at Vrede, was defeated four days later at Mushroom valley and captured. He had miscalculated his chances of a mounted commando against 110 motor cars chasing him.

In the western and northern Transvaal the rising had spread under Generals Kemp and C.H.Muller and Cmdt Jopie Fourie, the latter inflicting considerable casualties on government forces. Fourie had not resigned his commission, and after capture he was court-martialled and shot. Kemp crossed the Kalahari to join Maritz. They proclaimed a republic after returning from SWA and took Upington in January 1915. Defeat a week later induced Kemp to surrender, but Maritz retreated into Southwest and, when the territory fell to Union forces, into Angola. On his return in 1924, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but immediately released by his ex-comrade Kemp who was Hertzog's minister of justice.

The failure of the rebellion was due in part to the uncertainty of leadership reflected in the roles of De la Rey, Beyers and Gen Jack Pienaar. But it had much deeper motivations, one of them being the discontent of the Afrikaner poor. They had suffered during and after the Anglo-Boer war, the severe drought of 1913-14, educational deprivations and lack of employment.

There also seems to have been a general sense of alienation by Afrikaners of all classes from a traditional way of life in a social context which was becoming more urban and less "boer".

Our speaker stressed the point that the impact of martyrdom (De la Rey, Beyers and Fourie) combined with the power of the eccentric van Rensburg's visions, had an influence on the minds of the often very religious Afrikaners to such an extent that the dreams (true or false) must themselves be regarded as a motivating force which in fact led to action - as can be seen by the later influence of van Rensburg on the right-wing Afrikaner politics even of the 1990s. They really believed that a restoration of Kruger's republic was more or less to happen.

Judging by the extensive and even very recent literature cited, the rebellion was a watershed in South African politics, representing the complexities of its people, and a manifestation of their inborn desire to be independent and free on their own soil. The full text of Prof Davenports' Lecture, encompassing paralells drawn to present day South Africa, will be available at a later date. Interested members are invited to contact the Scribe.

Due to the absence of the Scribe from 11.3. to 9.4., both March and April Newsletters have been combined. Please note attached notices on the AGM in April. Rodney Warwick's lecture will be reviewed in the May Newsletter.


14 March 2002
Illustrated Talk by Rodney Warwick
11 April 2002
Talk by Tony Westby-Nunn
3. A slide presentation on the German Fliegertruppe and Zeppelins 1910-1918
by John Mahncke
9 May 2002
Illustrated Talk by Col Lionel Crook
13 June 2002
BURMA 1942/43 (Japanese occupied territory).
Illustrated Talk by Richard "Dickie" Bullen
11 July
GALLIPOLI: 1914-1918
Illustrated Talk by Robin Smith
8 August
Illustrated Talk by John Mahncke
12 September
Illustrated Lecture by J.M. Sweeney

Miss A.M.C.Groenewoud, Mr Ken Sheppard,Mossel Bay, Mr Hugh Munro

FORMER CHAIRMAN: Alan Nathan has been forced to resign due to his advancing years. We will miss his cheerful manner and wish him good health for the future.

The Museum is looking for someone to help with public relations, preferably a retired person. If you are interested, please contact Natie Greef at 469 1153.

Ken Sheppard has kindly donated three Video tapes: Obersalzberg, War in the East and The Star of Africa, feature film about J. Marseilles, German fighter ace, with English sub- titles. They can be borrowed from the Scribe.

Report on "BIRKENHEAD 150" Commemoration by Tony Gordon.

All four events planned for South Africa and London went off very well indeed, amazingly so, and much appreciated by the guests and visitors. The only aspect wrong was on Saturday morning when mist obscured us at Danger Point Lighthouse from seeing the small boats laying wreaths on the rock. Murphys' Law applied -- the mist lifted just as we left!

Thursday 21st February at 11 am we buried the remains of five victims at the Naval Garden of Remembrance in Simon's Town. In 1993 we buried the first three. There was a good crowd of about fifty with a number of regiments represented.

Friday 22nd we gathered at Danger Point Lighthouse in the evening to see the about 445 "Wreaths" made by local children. Each had a label with the victim's name and his regiment. Later we had an informal meal at the "Birkenhead Boot Klub" at Gansbaai harbour, a very good opportunity for locals and visitors to meet.

Saturday 23rd was the big day. Breakfast at Danger Point, then a short ceremony of children laying a "Posie" with each regimental officer, followed by an excellent poetry reading. Mist came down once again to prevent us seeing the many small boats laying wreaths over "The Rock", but many went in the boats. Then to Stanford's cove for an excellent series of tableaux of events in the ship and ashore. This is the actual place where survivors met the few local inhabitants and received help. Lunch for invited guests followed.

Sunday 24th was the turn of London: In very cold weather over 250 gathered at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, at the main memorial. After wreath laying and bugle and pipe calls, there was a big service. About 200 had lunch in magnificent surroundings. No Royalty attended (but Maggie Thatcher and Dennis did, as it is their parish church.) Messages from Gansbaai were read and a big display of items was seen.

Tuesday 26th. The actual anniversary of the wreck at 2am. A memorial service at Danger Point was taken by the Rev Walter Buhler -- late SA Navy-- his 4th Birkenhead service. All 13 regiments and services were represented, as well as the Russel and Drury families, (Gt Granddaughter of Captain Salmond), Nesbitt (Descendants of R.A. Nesbitt who, aged 14, was saved with his mother, and the Mullins families. Regrettably there was no relative of Col Seton, the senior army officer. But four serving British officers attended.
A message from Buckingham Palace was read out in reply to ours of loyal greetings. It was a great gathering and a tribute to the Gansbaai Committee and many others who put in so much effort. There has been much publicity but note that according to a Cape Town morning English paper Tony Gordon now has no head and has changed his name!

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station. All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /