South African Military History Society


Newsletter / Nuusbrief 205
/Oktober 2021


It was with regret that we cancelled our field trip to the Nanaga area as a farm attack took place in the area shortly before our planned visit. The attack was on a neighbouring farm to one of our members and we thought it proper to show respect to the bereaved family and community and postpone the field trip. A well-known dairy farmer was killed in the attack and his wife and son were injured. Such attacks appear to be on the increase and the farming community on which the country’s food security depends is under pressure. We understand that the local community reacted very quickly to the incident, but the assailants have managed to escape arrest to date. We are looking at an alternative date for the Nanaga field trip in the second half of November 2021.

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SAMHSEC has new members!

Chris McCartney from Cape Town lived in PE until two years ago and used to attend some of our meetings. He is a long-standing member of the MOTHS.

Paul McNaughton is from Stellenbosch. We know, of course, that the McNaughtons do not hail from the Western Cape and have deep roots in the Graaff-Reinet area! Paul found the Zoom lecture on Die Middelandse Regiment of much interest (see and could relate to many of the names and places mentioned in the presentation. The DMR was raised in the Karoo area and is still recalled with respect by the descendants of those who enlisted and saw service at Tobruk and the Western Desert.

Welcome aboard, Gentlemen. We trust you will enjoy your membership and look forward to your company.

And a former member on his way back!

Former SAMHSEC stalwart Tiaan Jacobs has returned to the Eastern Cape and is looking forward to renewing membership. Welkom tuis, Tiaan!

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SAMHSEC’s September Meetings

The following messages were received after the celebration of SAMHSEC’S anniversary during the 13 September meeting:

“NEWSLETTER NO 1 - SEPTEMBER 2004 Thirty persons attended a meeting to establish an Eastern Cape Branch of the South African Military History Society which was held on 9 September 2004 in the Prince Alfred's Guard Headquarters, Port Elizabeth. The curtain raiser was given by Colonel Piet Hall on "Frontier Wars Research". Long standing life member of the Society, Richard Tomlinson, gave the main lecture on "The World War 2 Radar Station at Schoenmakerskop and the excavation of the Tech Hut site"

“Old Military Historians never die....they simply Zoom away!!!!”

“Such a Mighty Host of Scintillating and Erudite Scholars-SAMHSEC”.

“Who would have thought that we would be where we are now with a healthy membership having had our early meetings at the PAG Drill Hall”

“Well done founder members for keeping the show on the road all these years. My only regret is that I was not a member from the start and so missed out on the earlier meetings. “

“17 years of stimulating friendship and much learning. Viva SAMHSEC!!”

“Congratulations on your 17th anniversary, SAMHSEC. May you grow from strength to strength!”

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“Wounded Warriors: some exceptional and eccentric maimed men of war who became general officers in the 20th Century” presented by McGill Alexander at our meeting of 13 September 2021

The British Royal Navy’s Admiral Nelson is probably the best known high- ranking military amputee in history. In this talk, two less well-known, but similarly mutilated army general officers who displayed the same Nelsonian courage were discussed. One was a Spaniard from a cultured, middle-class family; the other a Belgian aristocrat who became a naturalised British subject. A South African much-wounded warrior and amputee who fought in the front lines during two World Wars and rose to a senior rank in the South African Army, is also briefly discussed.

Brigadier General José Millán Astray de Terreros

As a young 2nd lieutenant, he won Spain’s highest awards for bravery in the Philippine Revolution (called the Tagalog War by the Spaniards) in 1896. Thereafter, he served in various infantry units, both on the Spanish mainland and in Spanish Morocco. In 1905 he was promoted to captain and attended the Spanish Army’s Staff College.

In 1913, Millán Astray commanded a company of the newly established opas regulares indíginas (regular indigenous troops) to help quell an uprising in Morocco. He was promoted to major for his meritorious conduct in combat, returned to mainland Spain in 1917 and propagated the establishment of a unit of “shock troops” along the lines of the French Foreign Legion. He was attached to this famous French unit in 1919 to learn how it functioned.

Although he was a contentious and controversial figure, he succeeded in getting the Spanish Legion established with himself promoted to lieutenant colonel as its first commander. Ensuring that his troops were exceptionally well- trained, he encouraged an elitism, aggression and even brutality in their ranks, fostering a “cult of death”. In 1921, within a year of its establishment, the Legion proved itself a ferocious and capable combat force, fighting in the Rif War of 1921 to 1926 and the ongoing rebellions of the Berber tribes in Morocco.

Millán Astray insisted on leading from the front and was twice seriously wounded in battle, each time returning to his command after a rapid recovery. But his outspoken criticism of the upper echelons of the Spanish military eventually cost him his command and he was sent to study at French Army Colleges. Political changes in Spain during his absence favoured him and, on his return, he was promoted to colonel and sent back to Morocco as a staff officer.

In October 1924, he was ambushed by rebels and his wounds resulted in the amputation of his left arm. Nevertheless, he successfully petitioned for a return to active service and in 1926 he was again given command of the Legion. However, little more than a month after re-joining the Legion, Millán was hit by an enemy bullet in the face, losing his right eye. A year later, he was promoted to brigadier general and given the title of Honorary Colonel of the Spanish Legion.

He was given command of the Military Region of Ceuta-Tetuán in Morocco and in 1930 became Chief of Recruitment and Doctrine in the Ministry of Defence in Madrid. He eventually became a member of the Supreme War Council. During this time, he lectured extensively, not only in Spain, but also in France, Italy and the Americas.

He was placed on retirement in 1932, but on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Millán was recruited by Franco to join his staff. Soon afterwards he was placed in charge of the Nationalist propaganda operation. He played an important role in persuading other senior officers that Franco should become commander of the Nationalist Army and head of state.

He had a flamboyant personality and a penchant for bold, chauvinistic and self-aggrandising antics. Some considered him to be prone to reckless, impulsive and disturbingly ruthless behaviour, both on the battlefield and at other times. He proudly bore the sobriquet Glorioso Mutilado ("Glorious Maimed One") and he habitually wore an eye patch and a white glove on his right hand when appearing in public. He was an inspirational leader, a competent administrator and had an incisive intellect. He died on 1 January 1954 at the age of 74 and was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major General.

Lieutenant General Adrian Carton de Wiart, VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO

Although a Belgian/Austrian, he grew up in Egypt and went to boarding school in England. He illegally joined the British Army as Trooper Carton when the Anglo-Boer War broke out, was wounded in the stomach and groin in South Africa and invalided back to England. On his recovery, he managed to obtain a commission in the 2nd Imperial Light Horse, seeing action in South Africa again.

He was later given a regular commission, transferred to India in 1902, returned to South Africa in 1904 and became ADC to the GOC-in-Chief in SA. In 1907, he became a naturalised British subject. In 1910 he was promoted to captain and from 1912 to 1914 he was adjutant to the Duke of Beaufort.

In 1914, he fought against the forces of the so-called “Mad Mullah” in British Somaliland, was shot twice in the face, losing his left eye and part of an ear. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

In 1915 he transferred to the Western Front in France, commanding successively three battalions and eventually a brigade. He was wounded seven more times in the war, losing his left hand in 1915 after biting and pulling off his fingers when a doctor declined to remove them. He was shot through the skull and ankle during the Battle of the Somme, through the hip at the Battle of Passchendaele, through the leg at Cambrai and through the ear at Arras. Each time, he recovered and returned to the front.

As a newly promoted Temporary Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, Carton de Wiart led his battalion in an assault on German positions at La Boiselle with three other battalions. When all the other battalion commanders were killed, he assumed command of their units too, pressing home the attack and retaining the ground that had been won. For this, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

At the end of the war, Carton de Wiart was appointed to command the British Military Mission to Poland. He became closely acquainted with high ranking diplomatic and political figures from many European countries, including Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. He was suspected of involvement in a gun running operation from Budapest and after an aircraft crash, was briefly held as a prisoner of the Lithuanians.

In 1920, while out on his observation train, he was attacked by a group of Soviet cavalry and fought them off with his revolver from the footplate of his train. The same year he was appointed as an aide-de-camp to the King of England. He officially retired from the Army in 1923 with the honorary rank of Major General.

Carton de Wiart spent the rest of the interwar years hunting on a large estate in the Polish Pripet Marshes. In 1939 he was recalled to service and appointed to his old job of Head of the British Military Mission in Poland.

He evacuated his mission to the Romanian border with both the Germans and the Soviets in pursuit. His car convoy was attacked by the Luftwaffe on the road, but he managed to get out of Romania by aircraft on a false passport.

He was briefly appointed in command of the 61st Division before being placed in command of an Anglo-French force and sent to Norway. Attacked by the Luftwaffe and shelled by German destroyers, with no anti-aircraft capability nor any artillery, they were evacuated by a British naval force under heavy bombardment.

Carton de Wiart was next appointed as the Head of the British-Yugoslavian Mission in 1941. While flying in a Vickers Wellington bomber, it crashed in the sea a mile off the coast of Italian Libya. Carton de Wiart was knocked unconscious, but the cold water revived him. When the plane broke up and sank, he and the others on board were forced to swim to shore where they were captured by the Italian authorities.

He was interned in Italy with several other high-profile senior officer prisoners. He made five attempts to escape, including seven months of tunnelling. On one occasion, he evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant.

Then, in August 1943, the Italians took him to Lisbon to assist in their negotiations to surrender. He was released there, summoned by Churchill, granted the temporary rank of Lieutenant General and appointed as the Prime Minister’s personal representative to the government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in China.

For three years after December 1943, he remained at the remote wartime Chinese capital of Chungking, carrying out reporting, diplomatic and administrative duties for the British. Despite being offered a job by Chiang Kaishek, he retired in 1947 and his memoirs were published by Jonathan Cape in 1950. He and his second wife settled in a country house in County Cork, Ireland.

Adrian Carton de Wiart died at the age of 83 in 1963. He was sometimes referred to as the most wounded British soldier (he was wounded eleven times), was awarded 23 decorations and medals, including the VC, 10 campaign medals from 4 different wars and was 6 times mentioned in despatches. He was an outstanding commander, an accomplished diplomat and did not take himself or life too seriously.

Brigadier Eric Ponsonby (“Scrubbs”) Hartshorn, DSO, DCM, ED

Never a career soldier, “Scrubbs” Hartshorn was nevertheless an impressive officer. He was born in December 1894, in Disley, Cheshire East, England.

He joined British Territorial Army in 1913. His early First World War service was in Egypt, Gallipoli and Palestine. During this time, he was wounded seven times. As a corporal, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for picking up an enemy hand grenade and attempting to throw it away from his comrades, thereby losing his right arm. He was promoted from corporal to 2nd lieutenant on 24 August 1915. As an officer, he was then attached to the 3rd Battalion of the famous 8th Gurkha Rifles in Mesopotamia. He finished the war with them in India.

He immigrated to South Africa, entered the advertising business and joined the Transvaal Scottish (ACF) as a commissioned officer in 1928. With them he rose to rank of major. On 24 August 1940, Major Hartshorn, then Brigade Major of 1 SA Infantry Brigade, was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of 1 Transvaal Scottish. As such, he led them into Italian Somaliland for the raid on El Wak on 15 December 1940 – the first South African unit to enter enemy territory in full battle order during the Second World War.

Service revolver in his left and only hand, he personally led the men of his battalion in street fighting to take town of Awash during the advance on Addis Ababa. He took the surrender by the Italians of the town of Dessie.

He remained in command of 1 Transvaal Scottish until 16 July 1941, having commanded the battalion for just over a year, including the entire East African Campaign. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his combat leadership in that campaign and also received the Haile Selassie I Military Medal from the Ethiopian government in gratitude for the role he played in liberating the country from the Italians.

In North Africa, Hartshorn was promoted to full colonel and appointed as press officer at the South African Headquarters in Cairo. He briefly commanded a makeshift battle group known as “Scrubbsforce”, held in reserve during the first Battle of El Alamein. He was given command of the 1st SA Infantry Brigade with the rank of Temporary Brigadier on 3 July 1942.

On the conclusion of the North African campaign, he was employed in the South African Administrative HQ that supported the 6th SA Armoured Division, the multitude of South African Engineer and other units and the SAAF squadrons deployed mainly for the Italian campaign. During this time his rank of Brigadier was made war substantive.

After the war, Hartshorn returned to his advertising business and in the late 1950s, he wrote the book Avenge Tobruk. In it, he defended General Klopper as the garrison commander who surrendered to Rommel and was damning about the British for placing Klopper in an impossible situation. He became the Honorary Colonel of the 1st Transvaal Scottish in 1947 and died in 1975 at the age of 81.

He was a big and jovial man, who was not liked by some Permanent Force officers for his outspokenness and his driving energy. However, he was held in high regard by two of South Africa’s most important general officers, Major General Dan Pienaar and Major General Frank Theron, having served closely under both of them.


It is interesting how easily a disabled but experienced and competent officer is dismissed as no longer capable of soldiering, purely because of a physical impairment. These three officers proved that there is more to commanding soldiers than having a perfect physique. Certainly, they showed that a maimed man can still be an exceptional leader if he has the necessary personality, drive and courage.

McGill’s presentation is in the SAMHS Zoom library

The following was posted in the chat function by Nick Cowley during McGill’s presentation: “Just to mention another one-armed soldier who also showed great leadership. Capitaine Jean Danjou of the French Foreign Legion fell during a heroic holding action at the Battle of Camaron, part of the Franco- Mexican war of 1861 (or French intervention in Mexico). His prosthetic arm was recovered and is still displayed as a symbol of heroism and fortitude during an annual parade by the Legion on Camaron Day, April 30.”

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“To be remembered -at the grave of General De la Rey” presented to SAMHSEC’s RPC on 27 September 2021 by G. Stephan Botha

A life worth remembering – early years

22 October 1847 – Jacobus Hercules De la Rey was born on Doornfontein Farm, Winburg District of the Orange Free State.

Son of Adrianus Johannes Gijsbertus de la Rey (died 1891) and Adriana Wilhelmina van Rooyen (died 1912).

Grandson of Pieter De la Rey, a schoolteacher who emigrated to South Africa from Utrecht, Netherlands in the early 1800s.

The family descended from French Huguenots who fled to the Netherlands during the religious persecution in the late 1500s.

The family settled in the Transgariep after the end of the Groot Trek in the 1840s.

De la Rey’s father was one of the Boer commandants at the Battle of Boomplaats in 1848. The Boer forces were defeated and all participants in the “rebellion” had their farms confiscated by the British.

The family trekked into the Transvaal and settled near Makwassie in the Western Transvaal.

De la Rey (29) married Jacoba Elizabeth (Nonnie) Greeff (20) on 24 October 1876. She was a daughter of Hendrik Adriaan Greeff (1828 -1883). He was the founder of Lichtenburg and first Commandant of the Lichtenburg district.

De la Rey, the soldier

1876 - Elected Field Cornet and participated in the war against Sekhukhune.
1880/1881 - Eerste Vryheidsoorlog / Transvaal War -Siege of Potchefstroom.
1883 - Elected Commandant of the Lichtenburg district.
1885 - War against Massouw of the Korana, Battle of Mamusa (Schweizer- Reneke) on 2/3 December 1885.
1896 - Jameson Raid.
1899 – 1902 Anglo Boer War / South African War / Tweede Vryheidsoorlog

On the outbreak of war, De la Rey was appointed as General Piet Cronjé's advisor by Commandant General Piet Joubert. Cronje habitually did not accept De la Rey’s advice.

He was involved in the following actions:
Kraaipan 1899.10.12 De la Rey led an attack that resulted in the first shots of the war being fired in an attack on a British armoured train that was on its way from Vryburg to Mafeking.
Siege of Mafeking 1899.10.14 - De la Rey advised not to besiege the town. De la Rey was appointed Vecht Generaal / Field General and departed on 30 October 1899 towards Kimberley.
Kamferdammyn (Kimberley) 1899.11.03.
Graspan/Enslin 1899.11.25 At Belmont station the British detrained and were attacked on 23 November 1899. The British shelled and then charged the hill from where the Boers attacked them. The Boers retreated and fell back to Graspan, re-joining the larger force of Free-Staters and Transvaalers under the command of Prinsloo and De la Rey respectively.
Tweeriviere/Modderrivier 1899.11.28 De la Rey insisted that his men and Prinsloo's Free-Staters dig in on the banks of the Modder and Riet Rivers, the first use of trench warfare in the ABW. Near the end of the fight, De la Rey was wounded in the arm by a shell splinter. His eldest son Adriaan / Adaan was also wounded by the same shell and died of his wound the following morning.
Magersfontein 1899.12.11 De la Rey had his men entrench at the base of the Magersfontein Hill, totally surprising and defeating the attacking British. De la Rey was sent to the Colesberg front - 1900.01.09-25 to counter Major General French's advance in the Colesberg area of the Cape.

He was involved in the following engagements on the Colesberg front:
Agtertang, Keerom, Slingerfontein 1900.01.10-12
Polfontein 1900.02.06
Waterkloof 1900.02.09
Rietfontein/Arundel 1900.02.20
Cronjé was trapped by Roberts at Paardeberg and surrendered on 27 February 1900. De la Rey was reassigned to take command in the desperate action to stem the British advance on Bloemfontein and then Pretoria.

He participated in the following engagements during this phase of the war:
Abrahamskraal 1900.03.06
Driefontein (OFS) 1900.03.10
Brandfort 1900.05.03
Misgunstfontein-drif 1900.05.05
Donkerhoek/Diamond Hill (East of Pretoria) 1900.06.11-12

As part of the re-organisation of Boer Forces for guerrilla war, De la Rey was appointed Assistant Commandant General for Western Transvaal.

De la Rey was sent to reorganise resistance in the Western Transvaal and, for the next two years, he led a mobile campaign in this area participating in the following engagements:
Silkaatsnek (Magaliesberg) 1900.07.11
Selonsrivier (West of Rustenburg) 1900.07.22
Siege of Elandsrivierpos / Brakfontein (Swartruggens) 1900.08.04–16
Slypsteenkoppies/Mabaalstad (South of Swartruggens) 1900.08.31
Boschfontein (Magaliesberg) 1900.09.10
Buffelspoort/Van Wykspruit (East of Rustenburg) 1900.12.03
Nooitgedacht (Magaliesberg) 1900.12.13
Hekpoort 1900.12.19-24
Cyferfontein/Cyferbult (Krugersdorp) 1901.01.05
Middelfontein (Magaliesberg) 1901.01.23-24
Hartbeesfontein (North of Klerksdorp) 1901.02.18
Lichtenburg 1901.03.2-3
Geduld (Hartbeesfontein) 1901.03.22
Lemoenfontein (Hartbeesfontein) 1901.03.23 (De la Rey lost his guns)
Wildfontein/Stompies (Hartbeesfontein) 1901.03.24 George Shaw captured – shot 1901.04.27
Goedevooruitzicht (North of Klerksdorp) 1901.04.14
Hartbeesfontein 1901.04.18

Engagements slacked during the winter months. De la Rey participated in the following engagements after the winter of 1901 up to the end of the war:
Renosterspruit (Groot-Marico) 1901.09.05
Moedwil/Selonskraal (West of Rustenburg) 1901.09.30
Driefontein/Kleinfontein, (Groot-Marico) 1901.10.24
Ysterspruit (Klerksdorp) 1902.02.25
De Klipdrif/Tweebosch (Sannieshof) 1902.03.07 (captured Lieutenant General Methuen)
Boschbult/Brakspruit (Ottosdal) 1902.03.31

De la Rey, the politician

The office of Field Cornet and Commandant of a district also included civil duties.

De la Rey was elected a member of the Transvaal Volksraad in 1893 and served up to the end of the ZAR in 1902

The Boer republican government system did not allow for political parties. However, the population was factionalised in the three Dutch church groups and behind prominent leaders that contested the office of president. In the latter part of the 1800’s two factions emerged centered on the persons of Paul Kruger and Piet Joubert. The conservative Paul Kruger secured the support of most Burgers and was elected president. The progressive Joubert by default occupied the office of Vice-president and Commandant General of the Burger forces. De la Rey and Louis Botha were supporters of the progressive faction under General Piet Joubert.

1899.09.29 At the sitting of the ZAR’s “Eerste Volksraad” (First People’s Council) De la Rey and Louis Botha earnestly talked against waging war with Britain. In the end, both did their duty to the bitter end after war was declared.

De la Rey was involved with the peace negotiations at Vereeniging and was instrumental in convincing the diehard republicans to accept that the war was lost.

He was one of the six Boer delegates to sign the peace treaty at Melrose House.

De la Rey shared in the vision of a united South Africa. He envisaged South Africa as an independent Republic in which his people, the Afrikaners, would experience freedom from domination.

On 25 May 1904 De la Rey became one of the founding members and Hoofkomitee-lid (Main Committee member) of “Het Volk” political party with Generals Botha and Smuts. In 1906 De la Rey was elected to the colonial Transvaal Parliament.

He was elected a delegate to the National Convention which led to the Union of South Africa in 1910.

In collaboration with Generals Botha, Smuts and Hertzog he was a founding member of the South African Party.

He was selected as a senator in the Union Parliament. The Senate was the highest parliamentary body under the South African law.

In 1912 General Hertzog had a fall out with Generals Botha and Smuts. He left the SA Party to establish the National Party. This split in Afrikaner politics affected De la Rey intensely. He was very much set on preserving unity amongst the Afrikaner people.

De la Rey and many of the old republican Boers did not feel at home in the Anglo-Saxon system of political party representation. They grew up with the system of “volksverteenwoordiging” / people’s representation which did not allow for political parties.

On 26 August 1914 De la Rey’s loyalties to Botha and Smuts were severely tested. Invited by Tielman Roos, he spoke at the establishing congress of the National Party in Transvaal. The National Party in the Free State was established on 9 January 1914 under leadership of General Hertzog. In his speech he called for unity among Afrikaners and to the bitter disappointment of the attendees, he did not support the establishment of this new political party.

When the long-expected World War finally erupted in 1914, De la Rey opposed the Union’s participation in the war against Germany.

Nicolaas “Siener” van Rensburg, was a friend of De la Rey. De la Rey saw him as a messenger from God. During the ABW, the visions of van Rensburg more than once saved De la Rey from defeat and helped him to achieve victory in others.

From 1905 van Rensburg started seeing visions about the coming World War. In a repeated vision he saw five bulls fighting. In time the number of bulls in the vision increased to fourteen. In the vision, a blue bull stabbed a red bull in the side, spilling its insides. van Rensburg interpreted the red bull to be Britain and the blue bull to be Germany.

This vision of De la Rey’s old supernatural counsel from the ABW had a profound influence on him. He was convinced that the Germans would win the war and he publicly stated that he preferred to live under British rule rather than German or Japanese rule.

De la Rey stated his willingness to defend the Union against German aggression, but he deemed it very risky to attack the Germans.

Louis Botha was convinced his old and trusted friend had lost his marbles when De la Rey tried to convince him of the sureness of the outcome of van Rensburg’s vision.

van Rensburg’s visions reignited the flame for the pursuit of independence amongst the conservative Afrikaner population, especially in the Western Transvaal. None of them had any doubt that De la Rey would be the leader towards this new independence.

De la Rey experienced profound pressure at this stage. He was torn between his loyalties towards Botha and other friends amongst the progressive faction of his people (the Clean Shaven), also his aversion to the horrors of war on the one hand and his love for his less sophisticated people (the Bearded Ones), he shared their unquestioning faith in God and he longed not to disappoint them, also his own longing for Afrikaner independence on the other hand.

Death of General De la Rey - 15 September 1914


28 June 1914 – Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo.
28 July 1914 – War declared between Austria and the Servia.
1 August 1914 – War declared between Germany and Russia
3 August 1914 – War declared between Germany and France
4 August 1914 – War declared between Britain and Germany.

De la Rey’s last days

On 11 July 1914 Nicolaas (Siener) van Rensburg told De la Rey of a vision he had.
He saw a white paper with a black one and a five (15) written on it.

The paper with the 15 hung over Lichtenburg, blood dripping from it. Then he saw General De la Rey, bare headed, and a black shroud hanging over Lichtenburg.

He also saw cork plugs drifting on a big blue dam.

A small machine came from beneath the water and popped up; as soon as it popped up, the cork sank.

Next, he saw an important South African visiting overseas. He was dressed neatly with gold buttons and a sword. When he returned to South Africa, the white paper with the number 15 again appeared.
He again saw General de la Rey bare headed.

The man returning took off his fine garment and his sword and discarded them.

Then he saw a long wagon, steam driven, coming from the North.

There were only a few people on the wagon.

De la Rey’s wife and children were on the wagon with abundant flowers.

There was also much food on the wagon, but nobody was eating.

The General was also present, but bare headed.

The man who discarded the fine garment was also on the wagon.

The wagon halted along the way, many people attended.

Then a lot of people assembled, they were grieving.

In mid-July van Rensburg again saw the vision of two bulls fighting. The blue bull still achieved victory over the red bull.

The effect of these visions, when they became known to the public, was that a perception became fixed that Germany (blue bull) would defeat Britain (red bull).

The perceived vulnerability of the British kindled a belief amongst the most independently minded Boers that the time was at hand to right the wrongs of the ABW. They were convinced that the restoration of the old independent Boer Republic would be ignited at Lichtenburg on the 15th of an unknown month.

On 5 August 1914 a call went out for the Burgers to assemble on 15 August at Treurfontein (Coligny) in Western Transvaal. De la Rey was to be the main orator.

Community members who supported Botha and Smuts’ reconciliatory policy between Afrikaners and English citizens raised the alarm in Pretoria.

0n 13 August 1914 De la Rey was summoned to Pretoria to meet with Botha and Smuts to explain his intentions. NJ de Wet, Minister of Justice and Schalk Burger (last Acting President of the ZAR), were also present. De la Rey explained that his intention was to calm the people and to prevent insurrection. Minister de Wet used the opportunity to warn De la Rey that he would use the law against him if his actions led to insurrection. De la Rey was very agitated by this threat leveled against him and it played a profound role in his decision not to stop at the police roadblocks the night he was killed.

On 15 August 1914 De la Rey was accompanied by his old friend and fellow senator, Sammy Marks to meet with about 800 Burgers at Treurfontein. In his speech he called on all to support Botha and the government. Most of the attendees left flabbergasted.

On 26 August 1914 the National Party in Transvaal was established. De la Rey was invited to speak in the hope that he would support the new party. In his speech he again called for unity amongst Afrikaners and did not support the establishment of the National Party.

3 September 1914 – General Christiaan De Wet unexpectedly visited De la Rey at his home. De Wet had already joined the National Party in the Free State. De la Rey asked De Wet to join him in prayer for guidance. De la Rey prayed to God to take his life if it was to be in the interest of his people.

5 September 1914 – De la Rey departed Lichtenburg to attend the special sitting of Parliament in Cape Town.

On his way he visited the military camp at Potchefstroom and delivered an address to troops of De la Rey-schutters (Rifles). He was honorary General of this unit. He asked them to be loyal to their officers.

9 September 1914 – Parliament convened in special session to debate joining the war against Germany. The decision to enter the war was cast.

12 September 1914 – The Senate debate the vote to ratify the Declaration of War against Germany. De la Rey talked against joining the war. He left the assembly before the vote was cast in order not to vote against Botha’s policies.

The Senate approved the Declaration of War and De la Rey departed Cape Town by train.

13 September 1914 – Kemp tendered his resignation from the Union Defence Force.

14 September 2014 – De la Rey detrained at Germiston and departed for the Victoria Hotel (room 15) in Johannesburg.

15 September 1914 – Beyers resigned as Commandant General of the ACF of the Union Defence Force.

Beyers sent his car to fetch De la Rey to meet him in Pretoria.

At about 19h00 Beyers and De la Rey departed Pretoria towards Johannesburg.

To this day it is debated whether De la Rey was on his way to his farm at Lichtenburg or to Potchefstroom to meet with Kemp.

It is also a debate that, if he was on his way to Potchefstroom, whether his intentions were to join a Rebellion or to try to defuse it.

It is a fact that they did not take the usual turnoff from Johannesburg to Western Transvaal via Sauer Street.

At that stage the Police were conducting roadblocks to apprehend the three Foster gang members, William Foster, John Maxim and Carl Mezar. They were accompanied by Peggy Korenico, Foster’s girlfriend. Foster had killed detective Mynott that afternoon. The gang was cornered on 17 September in a cave in the East Rand and all committed suicide.

De la Rey’s vehicle drove through three roadblocks without stopping.

When they sped past the 4th roadblock set up on the corner of Du Toit and De Wille Street in Langlaagte at 21h16, Constable Charles Drury, a British veteran of the ABW, fired a shot at the tyres. The bullet ricocheted into the vehicle and struck De la Rey in the back. De la Rey (66 years old) died in Beyers’ arms.

De la Rey’s eldest and only surviving son, Captain Hendrik de la Rey remained loyal to Botha and Smuts.

Hendrik served as his father’s impromptu secretary. He penned his memories of his father’s last days.

These recollections were published by his son, Brigadier Jack De la Rey, SM, AFC (pilot in the SAAF) in Die Ware generaal Koos de la Rey.

The booklet was compiled by Lappe Laubsher in 1998 and published by Protea Boekehuis.

Laubsher is adamant that De la Rey was on his way to Lichtenburg.

Beyers’s first statement also indicated Lichtenburg as their destination.

Later, Beyers said they were on their way to the military camp in Potchefstroom to fetch De la Rey’s son and counsel Kemp towards peace and from there they were going to Lichtenburg.

Because Hendrik was De la Rey’s only surviving son, it makes sense that he would not want his son to serve in the coming war. Of De la Rey’s six children only two were still alive at this stage. His daughter Polly was a devoted supporter of General Botha.

Burial of General De la Rey - 20 September 1914

A burial service was held by Ds HS Bosman in the main NG Church in Pretoria on 19 September 1914.

After the service De la Rey’s’ body was transported to Lichtenburg by train.

Beyers accompanied the family on the train.

Men of the old Krugersdorp Commando who had fought under De la Rey stood guard at the coffin on the train.

De la Rey was buried on Sunday, 20 September 1914.

His body lay in state from 07h00 till 14h00 in the old NG Church.

De la Rey was buried with military honours at Lichtenburg main cemetery.

About 10 000 people attended.

The cortege was led by the Church Warden, followed by three mounted burgers and ten burgers on foot who had fought under De la Rey.

Then came the horse-drawn hearse, covered with flowers. Transvaal and OFS flags draped the coffin. The bearers walked alongside the hearse followed by the family.

Following them were representatives of the Governor-General, central government, provincial government, fellow Senators and other Members of Parliament and Provincial Councils, mayors and members of municipal councils, ministers of the church and members of church councils.

Next followed the funeral committee members, public officials and teachers, members of school boards and commissions, ex-officers, members of shooting clubs and the general public.

At the graveside speeches were delivered from a small platform by Louis Botha, Christiaan Beyers and Christiaan de Wet.

After the speeches the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave, for hours people paid their last respects and the grave was finally covered.

Conspiracy theories started emerging.

Some believed that the government wanted to assassinate Beyers and De la Rey was hit because they changed seats midway to Johannesburg.

A Judicial Commission of Enquiry was established under Judge Gregorowski and lasted from 22 to 29 September 1914.

The Commission focused on the police action, but was also used to determine De la Rey and Beyers’s actions leading up to the tragedy.

The following facts emerged and deepened the suspicions of government involvement in the tragedy.

A policeman noted the registration number of Beyers’ car before they departed Pretoria. This officer also shone a light into the car when they passed him on their way. The departure time and possible time of arrival in Johannesburg was thus known.

It was determined that a barrier compelling motorists to stop at the first roadblock at Orange Grove was altered to allow passage just before the vehicle in which De la Rey was traveling arrived at the post. The generals were thus not informed to be vigilant of police action to apprehend the Foster gang, like all those who arrived there before them were.

Sub-Inspector EC Leech was blamed for not issuing the “don’t shoot” command to the post at Langlaagte. This was the only post he did not telephone with the order. He elected to drive there himself and only arrived after the incident occurred. Leech committed suicide after the enquiry ended, deepening the suspicion of sinister involvement.

By the time the generals arrived in Johannesburg it was known that the Foster gang was on its way to the East Rand, making the roadblocks on the generals’ path unnecessary for the original purpose.

The enquiry did not prevent a rebellion. But some argued De la Rey’s prayers were answered. His death had prevented a civil war. Had he lived to lead a rebellion, its severity would have been much worse than it turned out to be.

Grave of General De la Rey

In line with Victorian custom, General De la Rey’s grave was covered by an elaborate granite tombstone in 1917.

A bronze bust by sculptor Fanie Eloff, grandson of President Paul Kruger, was mounted as centre piece on the tombstone.

For 104 years this grave was left undisturbed, although the collapse of municipal functions in recent times led to nature overgrowing the graveyard.

Visitors at the grave became few and far between.

Desecration of grave

During the weekend of 17/18 April 2021 it was discovered that General De la Rey’s tombstone was vandalised and the bronze bust was stolen.

A R20 000 reward was sponsored for the recovery of the bust, but no information has turned up yet.

Restoration of grave

Officials of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK) immediately surveyed the damage and indicated that they would sponsor the cost of restoring the grave and the sculpting of a replica of the stolen bust from material that has no economic value.

Jacques Muller, a sculptor from Pretoria, was contracted for the task. He is also the sculptor that sculpted the replacement bust on the grave of President Paul Kruger.

Foam column was used to sculp the main features. Detail was added by making use of sculptors’ clay. The replacement bust was cast in resin.

On 15 September 2021 the restored tombstone was unveiled in a ceremony attended by descendants of De la Rey, representatives from the FAK and members of the public.

For the first time in years flowers were laid on the grave of De la Rey and his wife, Nonnie.


Van den Bergh, Gert. 1997. 24 Veldslae en slagvelde van die Noordwes Provinsie. Potchefstroom. The Author

Raath, AWG. 2007. De la Rey, n Stryd vir Vryheid. Kaapstad. Kraal-Uitgewers

De Jager, PJ. 2018. Wes-Transvaal, Militere brandpunt van die Anglo- Boereoorlog, 1899-1902. Bloemfontein, Kraal-Uitgewers.

De la Rey, H and Laubscher L. 1988. Die ware generaal Koos de la Rey. Protea Boekehuis.

Oost, Harm. 1956. Wie is die skuldiges? Johannesburg. Afrikaanse persboekhandel. Meintjes. Johannes. 1966. De la Rey – Lion of the West, A Biography.

Johannesburg. Hugh Keartland Publishers. Raath, AWG. 2011. Nicolaas van Rensburg Die Siener. Pretoria. LAPA Uitgewers.


History of Gravestones – Wrexham History (
De la Rey-graf loop onder vandale deur | Maroela Media
Boeregeneraal se graf opgeknap | Maroela Media
Ditsobotla municipality to step up local cemetery's security following theft of De La Rey’s bust -SABC News -Breaking news, special reports, world, business, sport coverage of all South African current events. Africa's news leader.

Note: See SAMHSEC September 2018 newsletter for the report on a presentation by Gerda Coetzee on Nonnie De la Rey during the ABW

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Franco Cilliers’ presentation to SAMHSEC’s RPC on 27 September 2021 was based on the book “The Guns of John Moses Browning” by Nathan Gorenstein.

John Moses Browning was born on 23 January 1855 and died on 26 November 1926 when he was 71 years old.

He made his first firearm at age 11, having learned his trade from his father. When his father died, he together with his brothers and half-brothers took over their father’s blacksmith shop and started repairing firearms and other mechanical items.

John then started designing and building a new rifle. The new design was successful, but the Browning brothers were unable to manufacture large quantities. John was becoming bored by the manufacturing process and wanted to focus on new designs.

Thomas G Bennett, Vice President and General Manager of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company heard of John Browning’s rifle and came to visit. Mr Bennett bought the patent rights to this rifle for $8000 (R 2 500 000 today’s money) and the rifle became known as the Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot Falling Block Rifle. This meeting resulted in a 20-year partnership between Winchester and Browning. Browning designed a new firearm each year, which Winchester was compelled to buy for fear of one of its competitors purchasing the design.

Browning’s next designed a lever action rifle. He also started to work on a new design for shotguns. This led to the first pump action shotgun which Winchester manufactured as the Model 1893.

Browning also started to experiment with automatic firearms after seeing how the gas from a shot being fired moved grass. He attempted to harness this energy to reload and cock a firearm. This work would allow Browning to create the first semi-automatic shotgun. He wanted Winchester to manufacture this new semi-automatic shotgun and switch to a royalty-based payment system. Winchester refused as the pump shotgun was selling well. They had also spent a lot of money setting up the manufacturing process and did not want to create competition for their pump shotgun. Winchester also wanted to stay with the once of payment system.

Browning was also working on a pistol design, which harnessed the recoil energy of the firing of a handgun to cycle the weapon. This led to what is now known as the FN M1900. Winchester were not interested in building handguns as they built rifles and shotguns.

There was a rise in popularity of small handguns in Europe. Browning met with a sales agent of Fabrique Nationale (FN) in the US and then traveled to Belgium. FN was looking for a firearm to produce after finishing a contract for Belgian Army rifles. They offered to license the handgun and Browning would earn royalty for each one manufactured to be paid in gold francs. FN would produce more than 700 000 of these pistols.

They would manufacture more than a million of the follow-on pistol M1910 before the outbreak of WW1. The model M1910 is the handgun that was used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which led to World War 1.

During the occupation of the Philippines by the US, the Moro people rebelled. Their warriors were psyched and drugged up before combat. They also tied their arms and legs tightly with rope. All of this led to the stopping power debate in handguns as the soldiers of the US Army believed the .38 long Colt revolver was under powered as the warriors needing multiple hits to be stopped. The US Army rushed the fielding of .45 caliber revolvers as a stopgap.

The US Army then started a competition to select a new handgun, which eventually led to the M1911 .45 pistol, which is a Browning design.

With the outbreak of WW 1 and the US joining the war in 1917, there was a demand for an automatic weapon to support advancing troops. This led to the US Army adopting the Browning Automatic Rifle after testing.

John Browning’s contribution to firearm development was enormous. He almost single-handedly developed the mechanical processes which modern firearms use as most can trace a part of their design back to Browning’s ideas. Below is a short list of his achievements:

Note: recordings of the 27 September RPC talks are currently not available. We hope to publish links to such recordings in a future newsletter.

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SAMHSEC’s October Meetings

During our meeting on 11 October 2021, Patrick Irwin will tell us about "The Elizabeth Salt Saga 1819-2021. An enduring myth exists about the claimed exploits of a young woman at the Battle of Graham's Town in 1819. The talk examines the origins of the myth and the probable reality of her role in the battle"

SAMHSEC Requests the Pleasure of your Company to talk about military history on 27 October 2021.

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Monte San Martino Trust zoominar on Indian PoWs in Italy

31 October 2021 at 1800 South African time

Following Anne Copley’s presentation on Allied Escapers in Italy to the SAMHSEC meeting on 28 June 2021, Anne sent us the following notice:

“Dear Monte San Martino Trust Supporter,

We are continuing the series of our successful Zoominars with an event that we hope will have great appeal.

Because our guest speakers are in three different time zones (US, Italy and India), we are scheduling this event at 4pm UK time (1800 SAST; note that UK time changes to GMT at 0200 on 31 October 2021) on Sunday, 31st October 2021, which we hope will be convenient for everyone.

This Zoominar will reveal an area of the history of Allied prisoners of war in Italy that is probably new to most of our supporters. Three speakers will narrate and illustrate different aspects of the story of Indian PoWs in Italy, allowing us to contrast their experiences with those of other Allied prisoners and escapers.

An Italian historian will describe his discovery of fascinating photographs and information from Italian archives; a professor of art will show her research in the subcontinent on the story of Indian PoWs in Italy; and the grandson of an Indian escaper will recount how his grandfather was sheltered by Italians for many months and how the Indian and Italian families were reunited after the war.

Please click here (or go 180157424707) to read details about this free event and to register.

Registered participants will receive a Zoom link one week before the event.

I shall be delighted to answer any queries at

Kind regards,

John Simkins,

Administrator, MSMT”

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Nick Cowley visited Modderfontein and Tarkastad

My wife and I joined a Friends of the War Museum of the Boer Republics group for one day of their recent Cradock Tour, led by Dr Arnold van Dyk (a fellow SAMHSEC member), which included a visit to the site of the Battle of Modderfontein or Elands River on 17 September 1901. It was my first visit to the site as a recent ‘semigrant’ from Johannesburg, though SAMHSEC has been there in 2018.

Our guide was an expert on the battle, Chris Roux of the Friends in the Western Cape. He gave the group some background on the movements of British troops in the area and on the progress of Smuts’ commando, emphasising the dire straits that drove them to attack the 17th Lancers camp. Chris then pointed out the direction from which the Rijk Section, that included Deneys Reitz, made the initial assault and outlined the course of the battle from that point, including the arrival of the rest of the Smuts commando and the directions from which they had come.

Arnold then asked me to place a floral tribute (krans) on the grave of Lt R. Sheridan, who was killed in the battle by Veldkornet Jack Borrius, as described by Reitz in his ABW memoirs titled Commando. I was asked to say a few words and mentioned Lt Sheridan’s probable descent from the 18th century playwright, who also had the same first names Richard Brinsley.

Earlier we had been to the cemetery at nearby Tarkastad. The focus of the visit was not on military graves there, but on that of Pieter Willem van Heerden, a civilian who was executed following an incident at his farm near the town in August 1901, a month before the battle.

In brief, a British platoon was involved in a skirmish with Boers who had earlier been at van Heerden’s farmhouse and it was claimed at his trial that shots had been fired at the British from the building. van Heerden was half-blind and overweight and his conviction and sentencing to death as a Cape Rebel appeared very tendentious, as they still do.

The trial at Graaff-Reinet took place only in October that year, a month after the defeat of the 17th Lancers and there is a strong belief that he was made a scapegoat for it. He was shot by firing squad at Tarkastad in November. An ABW expert in our group, Pieter Greeff, explained all of the above and a floral tribute was laid on the grave.

The Friends’ tours are packed with activities of general as well as military history interest. That afternoon we visited the NG Moederkerk at Cradock and the Olive Schreiner Museum. They are very well organised and I would recommend them to any SAMHSEC member.

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This is the Captain speaking

SAMHSEC enjoys good relations with a number of kindred societies, including the Port Elizabeth Historical Society, the Border Historical Society, the Lower Albany Historical Society, the Friends of the Karel Landman Monument, the Friends of the War Museum of the Boer Republics and the Monte San Martino Trust. Some SAMHSEC members are also members of the above and other societies.

There were large groups from some of the above societies who accepted our invitation to join the Nanaga field trip which had to be postponed as explained above.

Members are requested to promote relations between SAMHSEC and similar societies where possible. We historians have to cooperate to ensure that our shared history is preserved for future generations because if we don’t, no-one else is going to!

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South African Military History Society /