The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging



Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 4 - June 1969

MEDAL TO JOHANNESBURG VRIJWILLIGER CORPS 1894-1899

By D. R. FORSYTH

Over the years it has not been uncommon for companies and private individuals to award medals to fighting men of their fancy and in South Africa medals have been similarly awarded, viz., the Sir Harry Smith Medal in silver, the O'Okiep Copper Company Medal in silver and bronze, the Mayor of Kimberley's siege medal (subsequently suppressed) in silver, the Mayor of Kimberley's Star in silver and in gold and the Johannesburg Vrijwilliger Corps medal in bronze.

First photo

Whilst the Johannesburg Vrijwilliger Corps medal does bear the badge of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, thereby perhaps indicating an official award, I am unable after eleven years of research, to come to any other conclusion but that Lt. Col. S. H. van Diggelen paid for, and arranged the award, to the officers and men of the Corps, that he founded and largely financed. In his book Worthwhile Journey, page 64, paragraph 2, the late Mr. Tromp van Diggelen (South Africa's strong man of yesteryear and son of the Colonel) writes as follows about his father:
"He took up another rolled parchment, tightly bound in medal ribbon. Proudly he untied the broad silken ribbon as he said, 'And here is my Commission as Colonel Commandant of the Johannesburg Vrijwilliger Corps, also with that characteristic signature of Kruger's.' Holding the thick silk ribbon he proffered it to me. As I took it he said, 'I had that ribbon specially woven in Holland when they received their medals after we returned from the Swaziland Expedition.' "

Although the full strength of the Corps at any one time is uncertain according to Standard and Diggers News, 17th June, 1898, some six hundred men turned up at a meeting of the Corps held at the old Gaol and expressed their willingness to join the contingent ordered to Swaziland.

Only one hundred men were needed, and this contingent, under command of Lt. Colonel S. H. van Diggelen with the following officers, Maj. Hall, Capt. Dorey, Lieuts. Durr, Cerdoni, Mostert, Molenaar, Rosseger, together with Dr. Leibaert, Captain Joubert and Quartermaster Ring, must have been eligible for the bar "Swazieland Expeditie 1898". How many of the Corps were called up for, and thus possibly qualified for, the bar "Jameson Inval en Revolutie te Johannesburg 1895-1896" is unknown.

Despite the original contingent of one hundred plus eleven officers who left for Swaziland, and those who served during the Jamieson Raid period, only ten of these medals are known to exist. What could have happened to the rest?

Perhaps here one could mention that the first recorded history of the Corps is to be found at page 362 and 363 (et seq) of the "Staats Almanak Voor Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek 1897 op last der Hoog Ed. Regeering Samengesteld door H. Kuipers en H. C. de Bruijn Prince Ambentenaren ter Staatssecretarie," wherein on page 362 is recorded:

"VRJJWJLLIGER -- KORPSEN: In termen van Wet No.17, 1894, Zijn Vrijwilliger Korpsen opgericht te Pretoria, Johannesburg en Krugersdorp."

The first meeting to form the Corps was held in the office of Mr. S. H. van Diggelen on 18th September, 1894, with subsequent meetings on 19th September, 1894, and 27th March, 1895. However, the first meeting in 1894, as the date on the medal suggests, could be considered the day on which the Corps was formed. The official date of disbandment appears to me to be 1st January, 1899.

The Jamieson Raid has been pretty extensively covered in most history writings, but the Swaziland Campaign could perhaps do with a bit of elaboration.

SWAZILAND CAMPAIGN, 1898:

During April, 1898, the Chief Induna Mbaba was treacherously murdered at Zomboti, the seat of the Swazis, with the result that the paramount Chief Bunu was called upon to account for the said deed. He, however, fled to British Zululand but was delivered up and was temporarily relieved of his position as Chief of the Swazi nation. After an enquiry in September, 1898, he was sentenced by the Government of the South African Republic to a fine of 500 sterling. Bunu was then re-instated.

At the time of the murder Swaziland was administered by the Republican Government. Mr. Chamberlain on 27th December, 1899, wrote from Downing Street to High Commissioner Sir W. F. Butler as follows:

"The situation with which Sir Alfred Milner had to deal was one of extreme difficulty. The inhabitants of Swaziland were greatly excited by the murder of Mbaba. The Government of the South African Republic moved into that country a considerable body of armed troops stating that such a force was in their opinion necessary for the maintenance of order."

The campaign seems to have consisted mainly of patrols and Captain Joubert appears to have been the first and only casualty, for the De Randpost, on 21st June, 1898, reported:

"Bij het patrouilleeren der Johannesburg Vrijwilligers te Barberton gisteren nacht, viel Kapitien Joubert. Hij had zijn revolver in de hand, deze ging af en de kogel schafde het been den jas doorborende. Tengevolge van dit schot werd het kamp gealarmeerd dat binnen 3 minuten geheel strijdnaardig was. Morgen gaan een detachement naar Pigg's Peak in Swaziland an aldaar ammunitie te brengen. Er zijn geen zieken onder dit Corps."

After the Jamieson Raid the Corps had kept themselves busy, but in April, 1896, with troubles brewing in Rhodesia, the following telegram was despatched by Lt. Colonel S. H. van Diggelen to the Administrator in Salisbury.

"In consequence of rumours of serious state of affairs in Rhodesia, I beg to place the services of myself and two or three hundred picked volunteers, all good riders and crack shots, at your disposal, subject to the approval of my Government."

To the regret of van Diggelen, his offer of aid in the suppression of the Matabele revolt was not accepted, for the Acting Administrator's message of reply on 22nd April, 1896, read:

"Sincere thanks for your offer. Assistance not required. We are getting men from the South."

Had this offer of help been accepted those collectors fortunate enough to possess the medal may have also then seen a further bar, Matabeleland 1896.

The medal, 47 mm. bronze, without suspender, weighs 48.42 grams. A bronze ring suspender 1.65 mm. in diameter passes through a hole in a spherical bronze knob 7 mm. in diameter fused to the top of the medal.

The description of the medal, as given by the makers, Messrs. Begeer of Utrecht, Holland, now known as N.V. Ateliers Voor Edelsmeed en Penningkunst -- Voorschoten, is as follows :

"Voorzyde het wapen der Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek en het omschrift langs de onder rand -- Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek.

"Keersyde een cartouche omgeven door twee lauwertakken. Op het midden van deze cartouche een door een parelrand omgeven ovaal vlak, waarop het opschrift: Johannesburg Vrijwilliger Corps. Langs de bovenrand het omschrift: Commandant v.h. Corps Lui nt Kol. S. H. van Diggelen. Langs de onderrand het omschrift 1894-1899."

They do not in their description mention the word "Begeer" to the left of the date 1894 and the word "Utrecht" to the right of the date 1899 -- these words refer, of course, to the manufacturers.

The ribbon worn with the medal, was the Transvaal "Vierkleur" 39 mm. wide and consisting of four vertical stripes of equal width from left to right: bright grass-green, scarlet, white and deep sky-blue. (The photograph published here does not show the bright grass-green and the scarlet clearly.)

There are two bronze bars, the width of the ribbon, and made to slip over the ribbon:
(1) Jameson Inval En Revolutie Te Johannesburg,1895-1896 (8.3 mm. wide).
(2) Swazieland Expeditie, 1898 (7 mm. wide).

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