South African Military History Society

January-February 1981 NEWSLETTER

Past meetings: Johannesburg

The December 11th meeting took the form of a film evening. The 3 hour epic film "Patton" was shown to approximately 50 members and guests.

Col George Duxbury presented the January lecture entitled "The Origin and Causes of the Transvaal War 1880/1" and "Bronkhorstspruit". The lecture was presented on the 15th January to 48 members and guests. This lecture also served as a briefing for those members who were booked to go on the one day battlefield tour to Bronkhorstspruit.

The Transvaal Republic had been annexed to the British Empire following Lord Carnavon's plan in April 1877. The British Administrator, Col. Lanyon was unsympathetic to the objections of the Boers and increased taxation and was generally unpopular. Matters finally came to a head when a Boer's wagon was siezed and put on auction to settle his tax debt as determined by the Court. 100 Burghers siezed the wagon back before the auction started and the Landrost in Potchefstroom called for help from Pretoria. The Boers moved forward a planned meeting to December 8th to discuss their grievances, which culminated in a meeting at Paardekraal on the 16th December where it was decided to reinstate the Republic under a Triumvirate, and a proclamation to this effect was drawn up and sent to Pretoria. The British had anticipated this rising and orders had gone out calling in reinforcements to Pretoria at the end of November.

After procrastinating till the 5th December, Lt.Col Anstruther, 7 officers, 239 other ranks, 3 women, 3 children and 34 wagons set out from Lydenburg on route to Pretoria. The column arrived at the flooded Olifants river on the 17th December where they were warned by 3 local farmers as well as by a written despatch from Lanyon that they should take precautions as they could expect to be attacked. The Boers had sent out 2 columns to stop British reinforcements reaching Pretoria until Lanyon had decided to hand over the government or declare war.

The British column, having crossed the Olifants river,was marching along with the band playing, scouts out a short distance ahead and carrying only 30 rounds of ammunition per man instead of the regulation 70 when expecting an attack. About 150 Boers appeared on the left hand flank of the column and a rider under a white flag brought Anstruther a letter requesting him to stop and wait for Lanyon's decision. Anstruther rejected the request and gave the command for the column to proceed. The Boer force under Cmdt. Joubert had meantime grown to about 250 men and taken up positions 150 yards from the column. A battle ensued in which the Boers lost 1 killed(Kieser) and 1 who Later died of his wounds. The British suffered 77 killed and 79 wounded, among them Anstruther who later died from his wounds. A Field Hospital was established for the wounded (which was maintained at the site of the battle or a couple of months), and the remaining British prisoners were marched to Heidelberg. A lively discussion followed as to the probable causes of the Boers' overwhelming victory. Dr. F. Machanik gave a short talk on the arms in use at that time and Ian Uys proposed a round of thanks to the lecturers rn the Society's behalf. Col. Duxbury has just completed a book on this war which is due for release at the end of February.

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Tour to Bronkhorstspruit

Sunday 25th January saw an early departure from the Museum of a busload of Society members,together with a vintage Rolls Royce and a lesser vehicle, on a tour to the battlefield of Bronkhorstspruit ("Water-cress creek" would you believe!).

The leaden skies of the previous few days had lightened and raincoats and jerseys were shed as the morning progressed and conversation became more animated. An hour and a half's journey brought the bus onto the Bronkhorstspruit-Delmas road where several more motor cars were waiting at a roadside cairn. A short dirt road trip past a farmhouse and the Museum's kombi came into view. Mesdames Duxbury and Spier had been up to wake the sparrows, and members of the Museum staff had assisted them in setting out tea, complete with koeksisters, on trestle tables next to the thorn trees.

Suitably refreshed the group settled down on raincoats, cushions, shooting sticks and tufts of grass to listen to Col. Duxbury's lecture. Capt. Spier read a prayer and Prof. Barnard introduced the speaker. The time of day (noon) was very close to that of the battle, albeit one hundred years and one month later, and it was very easy to visualise the column marching to the band's beat over the veld in the hot summer sunshine. The group was sitting approximately twenty meters south of the road the British had been on (now a mealie field) and almost in the centre of the length of the column.

The sudden appearance of more than 150 mounted Boers must have caused consternation despite the white flag of the lone rider who approached the head of the column. The many thorn trees now present disguise the fact that the ground rises to the immediate horizon over which the Boers appeared. The close proximity of the lone Boer grave (Kieser) to the group's position gave an idea of how near to each other the opposing forces were.

Questions led to discussions on Boer marksmanship and British under-rating thereof;British uniforms being conspicuous,particularly the white helmets even without the helmet plates (only shoulder flashes, buttons and buckles have been found at the site); the British rifle sights having been found to be set to 400 yards while the range was only 150; and what fate had befallen the African voorlopers who were undoubtedly present though not mentioned.

A stroll to Keiser's grave and a quick look at the Rolls-Royce were followed by a visit to the roadside cairn and the cemetery in which all the remains were reinterred when the farmer ploughed the original site over for his mealie field. Headstones included those brought from the rear guard cemetery (also under mealies).(It was customary to bury dead almost on the site where they had fallen).

Everyone proceeded to Bronkhorstbaai for an excellent lunch, attested to by the gentle snores and nodding heads on the bus journey home. (J.M.)

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Future meetings: Johannesburg

12th Feb - 20h00 - Col. G Duxbury - "Schuinshoogte,Laing's Nek & Amajuba Battles of the Tvl. War of 1880/1881".

12th Mar - 20h00 - Maj A. Theunissen - "Why did I wake the General? - Reminiscences of a General Staff Officer".

Durban - Contact Tania van der Watt 742970
12th Feb - 2OhOO - Norman Reeves- "Rhodesian War films"

Cape Town - Contact Paul Lange 61-7441
12th Feb - 2Oh15 - Prof J de Villiers "Medical Services during the Anglo-Boer War: 1899-1902"

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Majuba Tour.

The Museum has arranged a tour for 2 busloads of Society members to the battlefields in the Newcastle area and to attend the Centenary Celebrations of the First Anglo-Boer War. A group of volunteers will also climb Majuba 100 years to the hour after Colley's night march. The bus/es leave the Museum at 13h30 on Thursday 26th Feb. and return at 17h30 on Sunday lst March.
Anyone interested should contact the Museum at 41-5513.

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Annual Subscriptions are now due: Single=R7.50, Family=Rl0.00
Contact Maurice Gough-Palmer at 616-1531 if you have any queries.

That's all ... Mike Marsh


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