South African Military History Society

"April" 1970 NEWSLETTER (received 14 May at Johannesburg Reference Library)


P.O. Box 52090
SAXONWOLD, Transvaal.
Telephone: 41.4703


Dear Fellow-members,


This meeting was well attended. Despite its early hour of 7.30 p.m. there was a heartening number far in excess of the quorum needed. Both the Chairman's rteport and the Financial Statement, which had already been circulated to members, were approved. Commandant B.G. Simpkins was unanimously re-elected Chairman.

The following members were elected as the Committee for the ensuing year:-

Mr. W. Carr Mr. C. Cohen Mr. D. Forsyth
Mr. N. Kinsey Dr. F. Machanik Mr. P. Melville
Mr. P. Rice Mr. T. Sole Mr. T. Tolhurst
  Mr. A. Tyrrell  

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After completion of the A.G.M., the usual Monthly Meeting was held at 8.00 p.m. on Thursday the 9th. April, 1970. After normal business had been disposed of, the meeting was handed over to Mr. V. Solomon who gave the


Mr. Solomon, one of the Society's quiet and reserved members gave a most enlightening talk on the 1914 Rebellion and was given in a brilliant manner and he so kept his audience's attention that a pin could have been heard had it dropped.

Once again members were given a complete detailed description of this interesting Rebellion and cleverly put over by Mr. Solomon in just over an hour.

Mr. Solomon is a full-time lecturer in Economic History at the Witwatersrand University.

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Many subscriptions are still outstanding. Will you please settle as soon as possible.

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For the benefit of new members we give hereunder the programme for the remainder of the year and will do so each month so that new members will know what our future programmes are:-

Date Topic Speaker
June 11th "THE CAUSES OF WORLD WAR I" Mr. Stewart Jones
August 13th "THE GREAT WAR - OTHER FRONTS" Col. K. Pitts.
September 10th "THE POETS AND POETRY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR" Mr. Jacques van Oortmerssen
October 8th "THE EAST AFRICA CAMPAIGN 1914-1917" Col. Lunn-Rockliffe
November 12th "THE JAMESON RAID - NEW THOUGHTS" Mr. P. Cartwright
December 3rd "THE GREAT WAR - THE AIRFORCES" Sqn-Leader D. Tidy

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On page 1 we omitted to thank Mr. Brian Thomas for volunteering to carry on as Honorary Auditor for the Society. Many thanks, Brian.

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The Society's thanks to Mr. Harry Zeederberg who has given us permission to publish this article which appeared in the magazine "PERSONALIT".
General Joachim Fourie was the Commandant of the Carolina garrison and led his 200-man commando against the 19th. Brigade at Witkloof a few miles from Carolina. Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien described the charge as a fantastic feat of arms "unparalleled in this war." Both Generel Fourie and his senior commandant, Hendrik Prinsloo were killed. In this - perhaps the most outstanding engagement of the S.A. War - winner saluted loser in a manner unparalleled in the annals of war.

Major-General Smith-Dorrien, D.S.O., who commanded the 19th Brigade in the Eastern Transvaal in the latter part of the S.A. War issued yhed irst general order ever given in the British Army for all officers under his command to attend the burial of enemy officers: in this instance that of General Fourie and Cmdt. Prinsloo who were buried with full military honours on the battlefield.

A:small party of the Boers actually over-ran the gun positions of the 19th Brigade and almost succeeded in capturing one of the guns before Prinsloo was killed by shrapnel.

The sun was already high in the sky when the garrison commando of 200 burgers rode quietly out of the town of Carolina in the Far Eastern Transvaal.

They were nearly all young men. Many of them, in fact, were about to take part - also give their lives - in their first engagement against British troops.

Now they rode, eager though grim-faced, with their bandoliers slung across their shoulders and their rifles held loosely on the saddle in front of them.

Their mission was virtually a death warrant and had only one precedent in the annals of warfare - the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Their orders were equally fantastic. It was to capture the light guns of a British force of 4,000 men advancing from Belfast under the command of Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien, DSO, then commanding the British troops in the Eastern Transvaal.

It was nearly 11 o'clock before the commando reached Witkloof, about 12 miles from Carolina, and where, according to their information, the British troops had bivouacked the previous night.

Nor were they misinformed. As the commando cantered to the top of the ridge, General Joachim Fourie, who was in command and riding a short distance ahead of his men, suddenly pulled up his horse, and held up his hand.

Behind him, his two commandents, Hendrik Kwaaiman Prinsloo of Carolina and Johannes Grobler of Breyten, obediently halted - with the men stretched out in a long file behind them.

General Fourie stood up in his stirrups, took out his field-glasses and studied the British force advancing along the plain about a mile ahead.

After a few minutes, he half turned in the saddle and beckoned to the two commandants. As they joined him, he said: "It is Smith-Dorrien's main force all right. There must be at least 4,000 rooi badjies there but we must get those guns."

He unslung his rifle. "Tell the men, not to worry about the soldiers but to make for the guns and to get away as quickly as we can."

The two commandants wheeled their horses and rode back to the waiting commando, where they passed on General Fourie's orders. They watched him as he spurred his horse to the top of the ridge. They saw him raise his arm. Commandants Prinsloo end Grobler looked at each other and grinned., "Come on men," they shouted - and the next moment they were following General Fourie vvho was already racing across the veld towards the British troops.

Their approach had already been observed by the advance scouts of the enemy and before they hed covered even a quarter of the distance the clear notes of the bugles sounding the alarm could be heard on the crisp air. General Smith-Dorrien, who had decided three days previously to attack Carolina, sat on his horse at the head of the long column of troops.

He raised his field-glasses and watched the force galloping toward him. He turned to a Staff Officer. "Surely that is not the Carolina commando?" he asked. "It is, Sir," replied the officer, "and it appears to be General Fourie himself who is leading them." General Smith-Dorrien studied the approaching force again. "I wonder if it is only a diversion force," he commented. "There cannot be moro than about 200 men in that commando. However, this is no time to speculate. Call one of the batteries forward and open fire. As the officer galloped off, he turned to Lieut. -Col. Lessard. "When they get a little closer - if they are not all casualties by then - your Dragoons can lead the charge." As he spoke, one of the maxim batteries which had dashed up to the front of the column, opened fire - and within seconds their sharp bark sounded over the veld. Puffs of smoke rose between the ranks of the burgers, who were now spread out on a wide front. Riders and horses , however, seemed to bear charmed lives. The British general watched in astonishment as the burgers halted about 200 metres from the guns - and opened fire on the Dragoons who were just about to charge. There was momentary confusion among them as several volleys of rifle fire poured into their ranks. Then the burgers wheeled about and raced towards the protection of a nearby kopje. In the brief encounter, they had lost about 25 men - but had also inflicted heavy losses on the British. "Bring forward the other batterries." ordered General Smith-Dorrien. Within a few minutes they were also firing at the burgers who were now regrouping. The next moment General Fourie was again leading the long line of horsemen towards the British column - in the face of almost point-blank fire. A few minutes later they had surrounded the batteries and fierce fighting was taking pIace around the gun where Lieut. Edward Morrison and his gunners were making frantic efforts to pull them through the burger cordon. Above the din of the battle, the voice of General Fourie rang out. "Get these guns away, men."

Then, with several men behind him, he charged towards a kopje, where 2 number of British troops were firing on his men. But the entrenched soldiers had seen him coming and when General Fourie was only a few yards away, one of them stood up from behind a rock and shot the burger general through the head. General Fourie fell from his horse, fatally wounded. The next instant, the soldier collapsed with a bullet through his heart.

Commandant Prinsloo and several of his men had captured one of the maxims and were pulling it away when the commandant was struck in the head by a piece of shrapnel. He fell from his horse and died almost immedietely. His men abandoned the gun and grouped around Cmdt. Grobler. The latter realised the hopelessness of continuing the battle and shouted to his men to ride for the safety of a nearby ridge. Here they halted - about 50 men in all. It had been a gallant and desperate effort but the odds had been too great.

In his official report of this extraordinary engagement, which took place on November 7, 1900, Generel Smith-Dorrien recommended four gunners for the award of the Victoris Cross for their bravery in saving the guns in the face of fantastic determination by the enemy. The men were Lieut. Cockburn, Lieut. R. Turner, Pte.W. Kingsley, Sgt. E. Holland.

He also paid a remarkable tribute to the burgers. "Seldom," he stated, "have I seen braver deeds. The incredible charge of the small commando, led by General Fourie, was a fantastic feat of arms unparalleled in this war. He was an honourable enemy, and so were his commandants. I had already calculated that it would have taken two forces of 500 men each - with the assistance of artillery - to dislodge General Fourie from Carolina."

By a strange coincidence, at the very moment of General Fourie's death, a letter from General Smith-Dorrien was being delivered to Fourie's headquarters in Carolina. It was apparently a reply to a letter sent to the British General a few days previously complaining about the unnecessary burning of farmhouses. In his letter General Smi th-Dorrien said: "It is especially painful to me to have to burn farms and destroy the property of men who are fighting against us with such gellantry and fine feeling and I much regret that I must pursue the measure until all your people have laid down their arms." He added: "I wish to offer you the thanks of myself and troops I have the honour to command, for the humane treatment you have shown to all the wounded and prisoners who have fallen into your hands."

After the battle, Generel Smith-Dorrien issued an order that the two burger leaders were to be buried in coffins and with full military honours.

He also instructed that all officers under his command were to attend the funeral service.

This was the only occasion in the history of the British Army that such an order was issued. It was, indeed, an unusual tribute. The remarkable tribute by the British towards these two brave burger leaders did not end with the war. Twenty-five years after the battle, THE LONDON TIMES - at the suggestion of General Smith-Dorrien - took the unusual step of sponsoring a special fund to erect a memorial to the memory of the two men on the spot where they died. This was the first and only occasion that THE TIMES sponsored such a fund.

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At a Committee Meeting held on the 21st April, the following office bearers were elected:- Vice-Chairman Mr. P. Rice HON. Secretary Mr. P. Melville Hon. Treasurer Mr. T. Sole There will be no Committee Meeting prior to the monthly meeting on the 14th May.

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Details of this lecture;-

Kind regards.

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Signed [Bertie Simpkins]

South African Military History Society /