South African Military History 

South African Military History Society Eastern Cape Branch
Suid Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging Oos Kaap Tak

Newsletter No. 19 - April 2006.
Nuusbrief Nr. 19 - April 2006.

Members met at the usual venue of the PAG Drill Hall for the monthly meeting and also that of the Annual General Meeting. The latter was regrettably curtailed and a further notice reconvening this meeting will be communicated to members.

Chairman Malcolm Kinghorn welcomed all to the gathering and this included two new members in Theo Brown of East London and John Stevens. A number of apologies were noted and their names will be noted in the attendance register. The Chairman was pleased to note that with the end of the month approaching membership stood at a healthy 43 members with the chance of others to still register. David and Taffy Shearing of Sedgefield were welcomed as was Nic Badenhorst of "Veg " magazine. Dr Taffy Shearing is a renowned authority on the Anglo Boer War and was present to deliver The Main Lecture.

Nic Badenhorst who had requested an opportunity to address the meeting on his publication then proceeded and outlined the issue which carries the title of "Veg". The publication is essentially military in nature and issued every second month. The contents is varied and deals with other subjects of topical nature such as global warning and electricity.

Mention was made of Chris Papenfus's appearance on television where he acquitted himself very well in a quiz relating to the Eastern Cape. Chris is a loyal member and is a registered tour guide. Well done Chris ! Pat Irwin rose to inform the meeting of the death of Prof. Colin Coetzee who had in his time researched the history of the forts in the Eastern Cape and to this end published a book entitled to that effect. That work is a masterpiece and one could not really undertake any visit to these fortifications without a copy in hand. Prof. Coetzee was indeed fortunate and had the presence of mind and fortitude to visit many of these old fortifications in earlier years whilst they were in some reasonable good shape and construction

The Month in History - The last of the present series.

Some excerpts from the list of events and times that have passed us by in military history over the years.
* 15th March 43 BC - The Ides of March - Brutus kills Julius Caesar
* 23th March 1775 - Patrick Henry, saying," Give me liberty or give me death " ignites the War of Independence
* 16th March 1816 - The Slagtersnek executions
* 3rd March 1900 - The Battle of Sannaspos - where the third most Victoria Crosses were awarded in one single engagement
* 21st March 1945 - General Patten crosses the Rhine
* 17th March 1922 - South Africa's first naval ship, the HMSAS Protea, has its launching delayed as there is not enough money in the kitty to pay for the name plate! (Obviously not part of the Arms Deal!)

Tour to Fort Fordyce and the Keiskamma Hoek Areas.

This is scheduled for the 12th to the 14th May and members have already been alerted and requested to enter their interested names. If members are not able to join the party on the Friday then they are welcome to do so on the Saturday. Piet Hall then allocated some of the information talks to various members and it was agreed that he engage the services of Gert van der Westhuizen of Fort Beaufort to put on a live demonstration of his old fire arms which date to the days of the Frontier Wars. The meeting also agreed that an information booklet be published which would cover the military sites and fields of operations that the tour will cover.

Membership and the Monthly Newsletter.

It is a perk of membership that you receive the monthly newsletter. To those who have not as yet renewed their membership which final renewal date is the 31st March this will be the last newsletter that one will receive. I urge you to renew your subscription and to enjoy the full benefits of the Society. They are welcome to attend meetings but will not receive any correspondence.

Main Lecture - "The Cape Rebel of the South African War" by Dr. Taffy Shearing.

Dr. Shearing did her thesis on the subject and her talk covering this aspect of that war was most interesting. She has undertaken thorough research over many years and in doing made contact with survivors of that war whose tales and experiences she has so well documented for the sake of posterity and future generations.

Preceding the outbreak of that war was an event that had catastrophic effect on rural agriculture and the rural population at large. It was the outbreak of The Rinderpest in 1896 that decimated the herds of livestock and also that of the wild game population. It left thousands penniless and reduced wealthy landowners to penury. The transport system collapsed. Theiler of Onderstepoort fame stated that this disease contributed mainly to the loss of the war by the Boers. Their support system, when taking to the field, had been severely harmed.

W.P. Schreiner was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. His blunt refusal to recognize the dangers posed on the borders of the Cape by the forces of Boer Republics, which threatened border towns such as Aliwal North, Vryburg, Dordrecht, and Mafeking left the locals confused and angry and many left to join the Boer Commandoes. It was with fortitude that Col. David Harris of Griqualand West warned that the Boers could and would take Kimberley but due that he had stored with De Beers Mines batteries of guns the day was saved. Milner intervened and Schreiner called out local volunteers on the 7th Oct.1899 but the likes of The Kaffarian Rifles, The PAG in Port Elizabeth and Marshalls Horse in Grahamstown were all still on a peace footing. It was only in November 1899 when Colesberg was occupied by Generals Grobler and Schoeman that reality hit Schreiner. Lady Grey, Burgersdorp, Venterstad and Aliwal were annexed by December of that year. Some 3500 Dutch speaking colonialists were commandeered and the size of the invading forces grew by the day. Schreiner was replaced and the British moved in under General Gatacre to arrive at Queenstown. Buller had taken over the military operations and well known names such as Col. Tim Lukin and Col. E. Brabant emerged to lead the retaliation against the invading Boer forces. The latter incurred heavy losses near Dordrecht at Labuschagne's Nek, Cronje surrended at Paardeberg, General French broke through near Kimberley at Ramdam and many rebels fled over the Orange River and into the Free State. They could not sustain their early gains but history will have that their advance into the Cape was not seriously undertaken and much time and effort was wasted. The war appeared to be over. By May 1900 some 5000 rebels had surrended to be sent to Burmuda, Green Point and elsewhere. There were then the diehards such as Koos De La Rey who was joined by Lategan who was to lead a group of a few hundred rebels who fought on the side of the Republics. Rebels captured under arms were deported and were split into two groups. Class One were put on bail before appearing in court whilst Class two were sent home and their movements were restricted. By March 1900 the rebel movement had collapsed.

President Steyn was determined to hold onto the presidency and planned a second invasion of the Cape. Many rebels from the first invasion refused to join and conditions were difficult in the Cape. Martial law had been declared, all arms and horses had been surrended and there was no hope of an uprising by the remaining Dutch colonialists. Generals Kritzinger, Scheepers, Fouche and Smith raced into the Midlands creating havoc with a sizable proportion of their force very young and keen to experience the excitement of war. Little did they know what lay ahead. Bitter cold, no food, dead horses and being continually pursued by the British forces made life a misery. Many Free Staters returned home leaving the colonialists to continue with the war. Lotter was captured during a night time raid by Scobell near Pearston and Kritzinger fled when at Ruiterskraal he was driven out of the Cape. Scheepers, then a sick man, was captured near Laingsburg and was imprisoned in Graaff-Reinet where he was later executed. General Frence cleaned out the Camdeboo and the rebels found themselves now the hunted with little in the way of resources. By November Lukin and Crewe had control of the Cape south of the Orange and an uneasy truce reigned. However an uprising took place in the Northern Cape led by Gen. Piet De Villiers and roving commandos raided towns and columns for the sake of only finding food to sustain themselves.

Kitchener was determined to end all signs of rebellion in the Cape and a total of 23 Cape Rebels were executed by firing squad, ten others were hanged and these ceremonies were carried out in front of assembled townsfolk. A sign of authority had to be stamped on the local populace and it certainly was - for generations these bewildered young rebels were to be remembered as folk heroes and martyrs. To be caught wearing British uniform or "khaki" was a capital offence and the rebels who had nothing were none the wiser when caught wearing this clothing in an effort to keep body and soul together.

Taffy, in her talk, had many personal recollections to recount and to attempt to try and relate these would not do justice to that which would be omitted through lack of space in this newsletter. The rebels never received any thanks and it was only Smuts who at Vereeniging had anything to say about the rebels in his appreciation. Many came back to nothing, others lie in cemeteries in India, Burmuda and elsewhere and there was a great deal of bitterness towards the Free Staters whom the rebels had felt had let them down very badly.

Official figures give the tally of rebels who joined up as being 12 205 but Taffy is of the opinion that it was closer to 16,000 men. Today they are largely forgotten but their participation in that war scarred the communities for decades. Families were split as brothers found themselves on different sides of the political fence and animosity took years to wane. Taffy interspersed her talk with a number of slides and one is most tragic. It depicts a Boer with his wagon, with eight donkeys led by his last cow. That was the remains of his herd of 160 head before the Rinderpest struck. Both Taffy and her husband, David, were thanked most sincerely for making the trip through from Sedgefield and presenting a Main Lecture of profound interest.

Next Meeting - This will be held at SAAF Museum on Thursday, 20th April at 19.30 hours.

Please note the change of venue only applies to this meeting and has been deferred for a week due that the usual second Thursday in April falls before Good Friday and attendance would be badly affected had we to hold the meeting to the second Thursday. By way of a separate note, either by e-mail and or by hard copy will reach all members as to the directions that would lead you to the SAAF museum. In essence, turn into Forest Hill at the Caltex site off La Roche Drive, proceed down Forest Hill Drive, past the Military Base, and then follow the road towards the back of the airport which is some distance.

Speakers Roster for the April Meeting

Curtain Raiser The Zero Fighter by Geoff Hamp Adams
Main Lecture The Boy Colonel of The Confederacy by John Stevens.

Ian Pringle
Scribe / Secretary.

083-636-6623 or

The following was added in May 2007 and comes from Dr Shearing whose contact details are:
David & Taffy Shearing
Cape Commando Series
Tel +27-044-343-1649
Fax +27-086-516-6714

Lambert Colyn: a rebel with a price

Lambert or Lemeul Colyn of Afgunst, Piketberg was a hanger-on in the outskirts of the Smuts Commando and known to Theron's Commando as Oom Willie. Colyn's son Piet was also a rebel in Maritz's Commando. Consequently when Colyn snr approached Cmdt Ben Bouwer and asked to join his commando near Van Rhynsdorp on 10 February 1902, he was accepted as a matter of course. None of the Boers, apparently not even his son, was aware that Colyn had been recruited by Lieut-Col CM Kavanagh of the 10th Hussars to betray the whereabouts of Bouwer's Commando. Colyn, who had been instructed by Kavanagh to spend a week with Bouwer's Commando, had joined the Boers when the commando divided into three detachments and advanced from the vicinity of Van Rhynsdorp to a new position along the Olifants River, as they planned to harass the Clanwilliam garrison. Bouwer, with V/C Peter Visser, was camped at Krantz on the Olifant's River. In the early hours a picket under Cpl Meiert Avis told Bouwer that he could hear a mounted force approaching. When Bouwer warned his men they discovered that Colyn was missing and what appeared to be a sleeping form was in reality a blanket roll. They knew they had been betrayed.

Cmdt Bouwer escaped, but ten of his officers were captured and because the Hussars wielded sabres the sounds did not carry and the rest of the Boers nearby did not come to their aid. Bouwer regrouped and began hunting for Colyn, determined to punish him for his treachery. Their chance came when the Boers captured the Windhoek farmhouse on the Clanwilliam road. The fight between the Cape Police and the Boer forces had been hard fought; both suffered casualties of four killed or died of wounds. The most severely wounded was Gen Jaap van Deventer who had collapsed with a bullet through his throat, jaw and tongue. After the police had surrendered, Colyn was discovered in front of the fire in the Windhoek kitchen.

Gen Smuts convened a court martial at Aties the following day, 25 February 1902. Other members of the Court were Cmdt L Boschoff, V/C C Brink and C van der Westhuizen. Colyn made a full confession in which he admitted that he had joined the commando with the intention of spying on them and reporting their whereabouts. He detailed the places he had visited and gave the names of the people who interviewed him. He stated that he slipped away from the commando and told a man called Bennet where the Boers were camping. The confession does not mention what reward he was to be paid for the information or what benefits he was promised. Neither is there any reference to a reward being paid out.

A document by Cmdt Bouwer was included with the confession. Bouwer stated that Colyn informed him that he joined the Boers because the British suspected him of being a spy, and he pitied Colyn because the British had nearly apprehended him. The verdict, signed by Gen Smuts, said that Lambert Colyn was unanimously found guilty of espionage, and that he was condemned to death by shooting on 25 February 1902. The execution took place a few hours later.(1) His son Piet remained on commando and laid down arms at Clanwilliam at the end of the war, which seems to imply that he was too frightened of Smuts to complain about his father's execution or that the facts spoke for themselves.(2)

This was certainly not the first execution of renegade Boers. De la Rey had ordered the capture of a National Scout patrol near Ventersdorp, and, after a hearing, P de Bruin and JAB de Beer were executed near Lapfontein on 27 December 1900. But it appears that Colyn was the first white Cape colonist to be executed by Boer forces. Colyn was a spy, that is clear, but was he a rebel? Smuts, who was president of the Court that tried him in 'The State versus Lambert Colyn' was clearly aware that the execution might prove controversial as nobody had addressed the Court in Colyn's defence, nor in mitigation of sentence. The Transvaal was a state in name only, and it was probably Smuts who insisted on the precaution that the names of the execution squad remain secret, as they have never been revealed.(3)

Thirty years later when Denys Reitz published 'Commando' he omitted to mention that Colyn had had a trial because, as the text read, it seemed that Smuts had ordered Colyn to be executed without due process. The controversy that arose from the matter appeared to have more to do with the quarrels between the various political parties in the 1930s than the South African War.(4)

1 NAR, Smuts Papers, A1, Vol C1, Notebook c of 1902, item 41, 'Trial of Lambert Colyn'.
2 CAR, AG 2116, sentenced under Proclamation 100 of 1902 at Clanwilliam.
3 Shearing, General Jan Smuts and his Long Ride, p174.
4 Deneys Reits, Commando, a Boer Journal of the Boer War, p293.

South African Military History Society /