The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging


by Ken Gillings

On the 31st May 1902, at the eleventh hour, Gen Christiaan de Wet's change of mind resulted in the Boer delegates who had assembled at Vereeniging accepting the British terms for the cessation of three years of hostilities.

By a vote of 54 to 6, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed at Melrose House in Pretoria, 55 minutes before Lord Kitchener's midnight deadline.

Kitchener shook hands with the Boer leaders. "We are good friends, now", he said.

The news was greeted with ecstasy in Britain, which 'mafficked' with more relief than Mafeking. The Boer delegates were required to sign a treaty that bound their loyalty to King Edward as their liege and sovereign in the presence of God.

The cost in lives and money had been enormous; the 9 249 000 interest on the initial cost of 201 907 00 had increased the cost to 211 156 000. Total British casualties, killed and wounded were 97 477 of whom 20 870 had died in South Africa - two thirds of them from disease.

The Boer casualties had been 9103 killed & wounded and over 20 000 women and children died in British concentration camps. An entire generation of Afrikaners had perished. The British had lost about 2752 officers and 35404 other ranks.

No one will ever know how many Blacks died but they are estimated to have been in excess of 12 000.

The British had now inherited a wasteland that comprised the two former Boer Republics - the ZAR (then renamed the Transvaal) and the OFS (then known as the ORC).

The task of reconstructing this shambles was given to a man whom the Boers had considered to be a ruthless Imperialist who was responsible for the War - Alfred Lord Milner, then High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal.

To assist him in this monumental effort, Milner enlisted the services of a group of young Edwardian fellow Imperialists - all recent university graduates, who proudly accepted the epithet "Milner's Kindergarten". Their priority was the repatriation and resettlement of displaced inhabitants from the former Boer republics. This included 12 954 ZAR and 12 358 OFS POWs who were scattered in camps around the world.

Then there were 30 000 Boer homesteads that had been burnt down during Kitchener's scorched earth policy. They had been stripped of livestock and crops.

Thousands of Blacks had to be resettled.

In terms of the Treaty, the British Government made 3 million available to the Boers to cover the resettlement programme and another 3 million in interest-free loans. Landowners were provided with implements and seeds to rebuild their farms.

Furthermore, another 2 million was made available as compensation to British subjects, neutral foreigners and Blacks. The total eventually reached 16.5 million!

Nonetheless, this was a minor consideration compared with Milner's and indeed the late Cecil Rhodes's greater vision, which was a rich British South Africa, within the Empire, dominated by an immigrant white population of Anglo-Saxon origin, which wasn't quite achieved. Furthermore, when the Transvaal and Orange River Colony were granted self-government, Afrikaners held power in both of them.

An important aspect of the War was that it forced Britain to reorganise its army. Early failures on the battlefield had proved its inadequacies. The generals were too old, too slow, too inflexible and in many cases, totally incompetent. It was divided into two factions - the Wolseley (African) Ring and the Lansdowne (Indian) Ring. They despised one another more than they considered the Boers their enemy.

Even before the war ended, re-organisation of the British Army was set in motion. When Sir John Broderick replaced the Marquis of Lansdowne as Secretary of State for War in 1901, he proposed substantial reforms that met with fierce resistance. Eventually two commissions were established under Lord Elgin and the Duke of Norfolk to streamline the army.

It resulted in Lord Esher recommending the establishment of an Army Board similar to the Board of Admiralty, headed by a Chief of General Staff. Field Marshal Earl Roberts vociferously opposed the ideal and went into retirement, but the principle remains in operation in Great Britain to this day.

By 1909, when Campbell-Bannerman's 'Whigs' came to power, the new Secretary of State for War, Richard (later Viscount) Haldane, completely reorganised both the regular and the part time army and by amalgamating the Yeomanry, Militia and Volunteers, he created the Territorial Army that is in existence today.

As would be expected, some British commanders were reluctant to adapt. Gen Douglas Haig continued to extol the virtues of the horse and cavalry charges in 1914. When he was Director of Military Training in 1907, he supervised the production of Field Service Regulations, which tended to overlook the relevance of the carbine and despite the success of the Boers' guerrilla tactics, he favoured the old fashioned use of the lance and the sabre.

Artillery saw immense innovation and guns of new calibre were introduced. They also had a new recoil system - adapting the same principle of the innovative 75 mm Creusot guns that the Boers had used in the veld. The greatest lesson that the Royal Artillery learnt, however, was that of indirect fire. During the War, observation was from the gun position. Commandant Hendrik Prinsloo's signaller, Louis Bothma, changed that. During the Battle of Spioenkop on the 24th January 1900, he had positioned himself on Aloe Knoll and directed fire by heliograph to the Staatsartillerie's commander at Louis Botha's HQ on Mt Royal. Adjusting fire was relayed to the other guns, hidden from view. Indirect fire was born and the British tried it for the first time during the North Bank operations in the Battle of the Thukela Heights.

The War even had an impact on the British Army's uniform. Prior to the War, the army had gone into battle dressed resplendently in scarlet tunics. The re-conquest of the Sudan in 1897 - 1898 saw the introduction of khaki. During the Anglo-Boer War, the army was dressed in khaki and it remained in khaki for all the wars up to 1960, when various forms of camouflage clothing have been worn.

Many a lesson was learnt by the RAMC during the Anglo-Boer War. When the War broke out, the Boer medical system was quite advanced due mainly to the role played by Holland and Russia. During the guerrilla stage, the Boers were almost without medical assistance and in fact relied entirely on the British for medical treatment. Both sides adhered to the terms of the Geneva Convention as far as possible.

The British RAMC had been established in 1898 and they grossly underestimated the logistical requirements for a major campaign in Africa. Treatment and evacuation of casualties was crude and badly organised. The RAMC simply could not cope with the outbreak of enteric and typhoid, especially in the Western theatre of the War, which caused most deaths. During the guerrilla stage, hospitals were based on the railway lines.

The concentration camp debacle was a massive learning curve for the RAMC and it took many months before the shambles could be remedied. Many lessons were learnt and by the outbreak of WW1, the treatment of battle casualties had progressed considerably.

If, however, we are to focus on the aftermath, as the title of this talk, it is undoubtedly the political aspect that is most relevant.

As mentioned, Milner's ideal was for a British Transvaal and Orange River Colony. Indeed, by the census of 1904, there were about the same number of potential British voters as there were Boers. To help establish this, Milner had to restore and then improve the pre-war levels of production in the gold mining industry. His achievement was staggering; in 1903, gold production was 12 600 000 and by 1907, it had risen to 27 1/2 million. Such growth hastened the likelihood of Union, but Milner made a costly mistake; he introduced indentured Chinese labour to the gold mines. This policy was severely criticised by the Liberal Party, which as mentioned, came to power after the War. It also caused a division within British circles in the Transvaal. Above all, however, it resulted in a re-organisation of Afrikaner politics.

Before the War, the OFS had been a prosperous Republic, while in the Transvaal, poverty was on the increase. Now, however, Afrikaners were impoverished, second class citizens in their own countries and thousands of poor Whites flocked to the cities to try to find employment on the mines and in the booming British-led industries. Nonetheless, a core of young Afrikaners was also emerging with a degree of business acumen. Bittereinders and those who had surrendered - the 'hensoppers' - remained such bitter enemies that the National Scouts were forced to establish their own church.

For Blacks in general, the situation was catastrophic. While the Repatriation Department in the Transvaal spent 1 183 594 on rehabilitation of White agriculture, it spent a fraction of that on the Native Refugee Department towards Black recovery.

Kitchener's scorched earth policy had devastated the Transvaal especially and to exacerbate matters, a severe drought struck in 1902 and 1903. Blacks relied almost totally on Whites for employment; they were exploited by the mines and living conditions in compounds became appalling.

During the War, the British had undertaken to reward all loyal rural Black chiefs with vast tracts of land and hints of independence. Instead of the Zulus being rewarded for their co-operation, Whites surged into Zululand to plant sugar cane and the Colonial government introduced a poll tax which led to rebellion in 1906.

The Black elite, feeling somewhat betrayed, especially since Britain had hinted that some form of political franchise was on the cards, began to become politically active, setting the scene for the establishment of the African National Congress.

When Campbell-Bannerman and his Liberals swept to power in 1905, it was the end for Milner. He and his kindergarten - except for Curtis and Duncan - vanished from the scene.

In Afrikaner circles, political parties emerged with Louis Botha, ever the reconciler, trying to unite them into the Het Volk Party together with General Schalk Burger, General Koos de la Rey and General Jan Smuts. Several British politicians became so disillusioned with the Government that they aligned themselves with the Het Volk Party.

In the Orange River Colony, the Orangia Unie was formed with General JBM Hertzog, Gen Christiaan de Wet and Braam Fischer as the leaders.

Then, in 1906, the Liberal Party Government in Britain decided to grant responsible government to the Transvaal, followed by the ORC in 1907. Both the Het Volk Party with its English-speaking allies and the Orangia Unie swept to power in the elections, with Botha and Fischer becoming Prime Minister in their respective countries.

Not only politics made headlines in 1906. That year, the Springbok Rugby team was born. The first captain was a young player from Stellenbosch named Paul Roos. At an impromptu meeting, the tour manager, officials and Roos invented the name 'Springbok' to prevent the British press from inventing their own name. Roos told newspaper reporters that they were to call the team De Springbokken. The name helped heal the wounds of the Anglo-Boer War and the team instilled a sense of national pride in South Africa. The 'Boks drew with England, were beaten by Scotland, but beat Ireland and Wales. They then crossed the Channel to play against a combined French team and beat them 55 - 6, scoring 13 tries!

Meanwhile, in the Cape, Dr Leander Starr Jameson, whose raid into the ZAR had made him public enemy No 1 with the Kruger government, had likewise swept to victory with his Progressive Party in the election of 1904. He was voted out of office in 1908 by John X Merriman, resulting in three of the four South African Colonies being ruled by Afrikaners. The scene was now set for the unification of South Africa and a National Convention was established to pave the way. It met in all four Colonies and former bitter enemies began to weld themselves into a united White South Africa.

On the 31st May 1910, the Union of South Africa came into being under a British flag with General Louis Botha as its first Prime Minister. Ironically, it had been the ideal of Cecil John Rhodes and Leander Starr Jameson. It had resulted in three years of bitter warfare and their former enemy was now at the helm as Prime Minister.

While the new Union of SA brought the four Colonies under one flag, it failed to unite the people. Besides excluding the Blacks of South Africa from any constitutional decision making, Afrikaner discontent continued to simmer.

In 1912, Blacks, who felt bitter and betrayed, formed the South African Native National Congress - the forerunner of the ANC. It was spearheaded by lawyers Pixley Seme, Alfred Mangena and George Montsioa. This was followed in 1919 by the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union. The turmoil in non-white politics resulted in Mohandas Gandhi splitting from the Natal Indian Congress in 1913 and he returned to India in 1914.

Whites, on the other hand, tried to cement the new-found rapport between English-speakers and Afrikaners with the establishment of the South African Party (the SAP).

In 1912, Botha resigned after clashing with General Hertzog. When he was asked to form a new government, he dropped Hertzog from the Cabinet. That year, the Land Bank was established to help struggling farmers and the following year, the new government passed the Natives' Land Act, which set the ball rolling for the expansion of the so-called Native Reserves.

This perceived liberalisation of the SAP led to a split and Hertzog and his followers quit the SAP in 1913. They formed the National Party in Bloemfontein in 1914.

This could not have come at a worse time for Botha and Smuts; at the same time, war was looming between Britain and Germany and when it was declared in 1914, the new South Africa was split. The Union government decided to support Great Britain, despite demands from Hertzog that South Africa should remain neutral. Both Botha and Smuts took to the veld once more by invading German South West Africa and German East Africa respectively. When Botha called for support, leading Boers asked who they were going to fight this time; the British or the Germans.

Several Boer generals planned a coup d'etat which was swiftly crushed by Botha. Those Boer Generals who opposed South Africa's participation in the War included de Wet, Beyers, Kemp and Maritz. The legendary Lion of the West, Koos de la Rey was hesitant and met a bizarre fate which I'll refer to later. Nonetheless, Botha personally led the South African invasion of German SWA in what has been described as one of the most remarkable campaigns in military history.

A bitter division between the Boer leaders emerged and several leading personalities were killed or died as a result of the conflict, paving the way for an even more bitter division in later years.

World War 1 saw South Africans fighting as brothers side by side and the Battle of Delville Wood will be remembered as one of the most heroic in its military history.

As the war came to an end in 1918, Afrikaners in South Africa established the Afrikaner Broederbond, whose ideal it was to ensure the survival of their nation. SANLAM which became an Afrikaner Insurance giant was formed.

Then in 1919, Botha died and he was succeeded by Smuts. The following year, the Native Affairs Act created separate structures for occupants of the Reserves. The seed of Apartheid was sown. Yet another event that was to have considerable impact on South Africa in later years also took place in 1920. The League of Nations, whose constitution Botha had helped to draft, gave South Africa a mandate over South West Africa. The Union's first test of authority in the territory came two years later when the Bondelswarts Rebellion was suppressed.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Blacks were starting to demand some constitutional rights. In 1920, the Transvaal Native Congress had launched an anti-Pass Law campaign. In 1921, Smuts was faced with his first test of authority. 3000 members of a Black religious sect, known as the Israelites, and led by their prophet Enoch Mgijima, settled at Bulhoek near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

The reason for this, according to Mgijima, was because they wished to take refuge from White rule and oppression. Mgijima also predicted that when the Day of Judgement came, they would be transported to Heaven in wagons.

The Government considered them to be illegal squatters and matters came to a head in April 1921, when Smuts offered them free rail tickets and rations if they returned to their homes. The Israelites ignored the offer and 800 policemen assembled in Queenstown.

On the 21st May 1921, the police commander, Col Theo Truter, issued an ultimatum to the Israelites to leave. Mgijima challenged Truter to remove him. On the 24th May, when the Israelites were at morning prayers, Truter arrived not only with policemen, but also artillery and machine guns and took up a position on the surrounding hills. 500 Israelites assembled and Col Ernest Woon met them and warned them to disperse.

The police claimed that they heard shots being fired and they returned fire. Dressed in white tunics and brown khaki shorts and armed with knobkerries, the Israelites charged. Within minutes, 183 lay dead and over 100 injured. Mgijima, his sons and more than 100 Israelites were jailed.

Smuts was heavily criticised by White and Black alike for his handling of the matter.

Smuts's next challenge came in 1922. The miners decided to strike. It began in Witbank on the coal mines on the 2nd January 1922 and spread to the Witwatersrand. By early February 1922, the National Party and the Labour Party became involved.

On the 12th February 1922, Smuts asked the miners to return to work, promising to provide police protection to those who did. It was too late; by now, a militant Action Committee and Communist Party had taken over. Despite appeals by the latter for the strikers not to attack Blacks, several were murdered and the strike leaders lost control to Afrikaner Commandos who had seized control of Johannesburg by the 10th March. They called for the overthrow of the State.

Smuts had no option. He immediately declared martial law and personally took command of 20 000 troops, backed by aeroplanes, tanks and the guns of the Transvaal Horse Artillery.

Pitched battles were fought in Fordsburg, Brixton Ridge, Ellis Park, Dunswart, Boksburg, Benoni and Brakpan.

Four days later, the strike leaders, Fisher and Spendiff, committed suicide. The remaining members of the strike action committee were arrested and four were hanged. They went to the gallows singing "The Red Flag".

Realising that he was losing the support of the White electorate, Smuts called for a General Election in 1924. Hertzog's Nationalists formed a pact with the Labour Party. The Nationalists won 63 seats, the Labour Party 18 and the South African Party 53. Hertzog's majority was 28 votes and he lost no time in pushing through reforms. Bilingualism in the Public Service was introduced by Dr D F Malan and in 1925, Dutch was replaced by Afrikaans as an official language.

Hertzog piloted several Bills through Parliament, which eventually abolished Cape Blacks from the common voters' roll. In 1927, Hertzog made the Governor General the Paramount Chief of all Blacks in South Africa. Support for the Communist Party flourished initially, but then fizzled out due to internal upheaval.

In 1931, following the Wall Street crash in 1929, Britain announced she was going off the gold standard and Smuts, now Leader of the Opposition, urged South Africa to follow suit. He was backed by the previous Justice Minister, Tielman Roos. Depression began to bite and Roos called for a coalition government. Money streamed out of South Africa but on the 28th December 1932, the Minister of Finance, Klasie Havenga, announced South Africa's departure from the gold standard. The price of gold rose and money poured back into the country.

The two Boer Generals held discussions and by March 1933, the two parties merged to become the United South African National Party, with Hertzog as Prime Minister and Smuts as Deputy. Dr D F Malan quit and established the Gesuiwerde (Purified) National Party, while dissatisfied SAP members formed the Dominion Party.

It was inevitable, however, that with such diverse opinion in the same party, as war loomed once again, the shaky alliance split in September 1939. Meanwhile, the Broederbond infiltrated Parliament, siding with Malan's Purified Nationalists. Even Hertzog was astounded at the Bond's fascist ideology and its support for Hitler's Nazis. The union forged between English-speakers and Afrikaners by the two Boer Generals Smuts and Hertzog began to falter. When the time came to decide who to support as WW 2 broke out, Smuts defeated Hertzog and took South Africa into the War with the support of the Labour and Dominion Parties.

The South African soldiers who volunteered to serve outside of South Africa wore a red tab on their shoulders and became targets of the right wing. A paramilitary force - the Ossewabrandwag - was formed. Led by Dr H J H van Rensburg, they referred to those who wore the red tab as the Rooiluisies (the Red Lice or vermin). Their militancy resulted in Smuts rounding up 2000 members including many prominent Nationalists and he interned them at a camp near Koffiefontein in the Orange Free State. One of them was destined to become a Prime Minister of South Africa. His name was Balthazar Johannes ("John") Vorster.

South African soldiers performed with great distinction in several theatres of the War, but a bizarre situation arose when Smuts, the former enemy of the British, became a British Field Marshal. After the disaster at Dunkirk and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from mainland Europe, Churchill called for the establishment of a "butcher and bolt" small group raiding party. After it had been formed, Lt Col Dudley Clark of the Royal Artillery proposed the name "Commando" after the term used during the Anglo-Boer War. Churchill liked the name but many senior military figures didn't and preferred "Special Forces". Its Regimental March is a permanent memorial to the Commandos that are now being disbanded by the present South African Government; it is Sarie Marais.

After the War, on the 28th May 1948, Malan's Herenigde Nasionale Party (Reunified National Party) defeated Smuts's United South African National Party by a narrow majority in a General Election. In fact, most voters supported Smuts, who was beaten by a delimitation of constituencies that he had inadvertently loaded against his Party.

Malan and successive Nationalist Prime Ministers and leaders made it clear that they were in pursuit of the ideals of the Anglo-Boer war - an independent Afrikaner Republic. In 1960, Prime Minister H F Verwoerd - a Hollander by birth - decided to put the ideal to the White voters in a Referendum. He included South West Africa and the scale was tipped in favour of a Republic. On the 31st May 1961, South Africa became a Republic with C R Swart (who had spent his youth in a British Concentration Camp with his mother) as its first ceremonial State President replacing the position of Governor General.

The ceremonial dress was the same as State Dress of President S J P Kruger - top hat and tails with a sash.

One also shouldn't lose sight of the impact that the War had on the Colonies and I'd like to focus on one in particular - New Zealand.

New Zealand's troops first made a name for themselves defending their position at Slingersfontein in the Northern Cape near Colesberg on the 15th January 1900. It is known as New Zealand Hill. Later in 1900, they served with troops from Britain, Canada, Ireland, Australia and Colonial South Africa. This military melting pot highlighted the differences amongst the various Colonials and the War helped define a New Zealand nation, consequently virtually eliminated any chance of New Zealand joining the Australian Federation when it was formed in 1901.

There are, however, several little anecdotes that I feel I cannot allow to escape being mentioned in this talk. These apply to some of the key role-players.

In 1904, President Paul Kruger died a sad, lonely old man in exile at a little Swiss village named Clarens. His body was returned to South Africa and he lies buried with his beloved Tant Gesina in Heroes' Acre in the Church Street cemetery, Pretoria. The South African Government has maintained the house ever since and the village of the same name in the Eastern Free State was named in his memory.

Earl Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria and Waterford died while visiting Indian troops in France during WW1 and he lies buried in St Paul's Cathedral.

General Colvile, who was sacked by Lord Roberts, was killed by a car while cycling near Bagshot in England. The driver was Col Rawlinson.

General Sir Redvers Buller VC returned to his home county of Devon. He was feted as a hero and died in 1908. His adoring followers, as faithful as the soldiers who adored him for his compassion and concern for their welfare, erected a monument that reads simply: "He saved Natal".

'Fighting Mac' - General Hector MacDonald - was also adored by his Scottish countrymen. He was accused of having a homosexual affair with a Ceylonese boy. It was reported that the King suggested suicide to be the only solution, and to save himself from the scandal of an enquiry by the War Office, he shot himself in the head in a room of the Regina Hotel in Paris.

General Ian Hamilton, undoubtedly one of Great Britain's more capable Generals, was in command at Gallipoli in 1915. It was an absolute disaster and he was recalled. He became President of the Royal British Legion and died in London in 1947 - the year I was born.

Both Lord Methuen and General Sir George White became Field Marshals. Methuen returned to South Africa in 1908 as GOC British Forces. One of his greatest friends was General Koos de la Rey, who had captured him at Tweebos as the War drew to a close. He was Governor of Natal for 5 months and of Malta from 1015 until 1919. He then became Governor of the Tower of London and died at the family home in Corsham, Wiltshire in 1932.

White became Governor of Gibraltar and was made a Field Marshal in 1903. He became the Governor of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in 1905 and died in London in 1912.

Lord Kitchener became Secretary of State for War in 1914. In 1916, he was aboard HMS Hampshire when it struck a mine and sank off Northern Scotland while en route to Russia. He was swept overboard and drowned - or was he...? Boer bittereinders refused to eat any fish afterwards, claiming that his body had polluted all the fish in the sea.

What of the Boers?

As mentioned, Smuts, the great Boer guerrilla leader became a Field Marshal in the British Army. Some reports even state that he would be appointed as British Prime Minister had Churchill died or been killed during WW2! I've dealt with his political career. He died two years after his staggering defeat at the polls, on the 11th November 1950 and his ashes were scattered on the koppie above his modest little home in Irene. The bronze plaque on the memorial has been stolen and apparently sold to a scrap metal dealer.

General Piet Cronje was never forgiven for surrendering to Lord Roberts at Paardeberg on Majuba Day 1900. He visited the USA in 1903 to give realistic displays of Boer tactics and was ridiculed by his fellow burghers. He died in 1911 and is buried in Ventersdorp.

General Christiaan de Wet, the Boer pimpernel, wrote a best-seller about his exploits during the War. He became the Minister of Agriculture in the Orange River Colony and was one of the founders of the National Party. During the Boer Rebellion in 1914, he was cornered in Mushroom Valley near Marquard in his beloved Orange Free State - not by soldiers on horseback, but by soldiers in motor cars. He fled to the Kalahari and was eventually captured on a farm called Waterbury, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment and fined 2000 but he only served one year. He died on the 3rd February 1922 at de Wetsdorp and is buried at the foot of the Vrouemonument in Bloemfontein.

President M T Steyn, who had tried to prevent the War, became almost totally paralysed in 1902. He resigned as President and was unable to sign the Peace Treaty at Melrose House. After the War, he and Mrs Steyn worked ceaselessly to rebuild the fortunes of his people. When he attended the unveiling of the Vrouemonument in Bloemfontein, he was so weak that he was unable to deliver his speech. He tried to stop the Rebellion in 1914 and collapsed and died while addressing a women's meeting in Bloemfontein. He, too, is buried at the foot of the Vrouemonument.

General Ben Viljoen, who was captured near Lydenburg in January 1902, returned to South Africa from St Helena where he wrote his memoirs which he entitled "My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War". He found it impossible to live under British rule so he emigrated to the USA, where he participated in Cronje's Anglo-Boer War displays. He married an American named Myrtle Dickenson in Missouri and settled in New Mexico with several of his followers. He helped to overthrow the Mexican dictator in 1913 and died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on the 14th January 1917, where he lies buried.

General Jan Kemp, the master of lightning-strike raids, also entered politics and became Minister of Agriculture in Hertzog's government. He died on his farm near Piet Retief in Mpumalanga on the 31st December 1946.

Perhaps the most tragic incident of them all was the end of The Lion of The West, General Koos de la Rey. He had been a delegate to the National Convention and became a Senator in the first Union Parliament. He became an ardent Nationalist and was a staunch supporter of the restoration of the Boer Republics. While driving through Johannesburg with General Christiaan Beyers on the 15th September 1914, reportedly en route to join the Boer Rebellion, they were challenged by two policemen, Drury and Ives. They were looking for the Foster Gang and when Beyers's driver, Trooper A J Wagner was challenged, Beyers apparently ordered him to ignore the warning. Charles Drury fired at one of the tyres and de la Rey said quietly, "Dit is raak, Krisjan" ("Krisjan, they've got me."). Beyers shouted to Wagner to stop and held the General against his chest, saying: "Oom Koos; Oom Koos". De la Rey stretched slightly, groaned and slumped back dead. The bullet in fact had ricocheted off the road. His death caused a bitter rift between Beyers, de Wet and Maritz on the one hand and Smuts and Botha on the other, but the friendship that had existed between the de la Rey, Botha and Smuts families was never broken. Nonetheless, the great Boer leaders stood side by side as de la Rey was buried in Lichtenburg.

Beyers, who became the Union Defence Force's Commandant General of the Citizen Force, resigned when WW1 broke out and was accused by Smuts of high treason when he joined the Rebellion in 1914. On the 8th December 1914, he was on his way with General Jan Kemp to join Manie Maritz when he was cornered in a bend of the Vaal River by Government forces. Rather than surrender, he plunged into the river and drowned when his coat snagged his legs.

But enough of this tragic story about the demise of the great sons of South Africa. I've left the most bizarre tale to the end. Alfred Lord Milner returned to Britain on the 2nd April 1906. He served as a Cabinet Minister during World War 1, became Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1919. He retired in 1921, married into high society and returned to South Africa in 1924 to admire the fruits of his labour. Africa took its revenge on the man who helped orchestrate the Anglo-Boer War. He was bitten by a tsetse fly, caught sleeping sickness and died.

Ken Gillings
26th August 2008.

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