by Lionel Wulfsohn ©
A peculiar phenomenon of the Anglo-Boer War was the action of demoralized burghers who decided to lay down their arms after the occupation of Bloemfontein and Pretoria.
This is a doleful chapter in the history of certain Rustenburg men, and no pleasure is derived from writing about their failure to perform at a crucial stage of the Anglo-Boer War. What is recorded actually happened and the facts need to be revealed, lest the story be incomplete. As a youth, the writer knew some of these men and wishes to assure their descendants that what follows is not intended as a slur on the good name of their ancestors. In fact it is an attempt to pinpoint responsibility for the state of affairs.
It is generally accepted that if one's country cannot resolve its differences with a foreign aggressor diplomatically, and decides by parliamentary authority to go to war, then the country's physically fit citizens of eligible age are automatically committed.
However, there were certain cases in which citizens of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek were entitled to exemption from service in the armed forces, before or during an actual campaign. For the sake of clarity they are enumerated as follows:
Only white and coloured male burghers between the ages of 16 to 60 would be mobilized, although in the ZAR and the Orange Free State boys of twelve to fifteen years of age, known as 'penkoppe', and men of over seventy, participated voluntarily(1).
Men exempted from service were: sitting members of both Volksraden and leading state officials, church ministers, school teachers(2), young men who were the sole supporters of their widowed mothers and living in their mother's home(3), pupils still at school(4), business managers, managers of contracting firms, and the artisans employed by such firms. However, should defence of the country become paramount, all men in the latter group would be called up, and the government had the right to cancel penalty clauses which might affect contractors financially(5).
No immigrant could be called up for military service in the first two years of his residence in the ZAR(6). This would account for the writer's father not being called up for commando duty in September/October 1899. Many British subjects, who were aware of the limitations of this exemption, left the country for the Cape and Natal prior to the outbreak of the war. It would be out of the ranks of these emigres that regiments such as the Imperial Light Horse would be formed. Many mine managers and other British subjects, being key men in industry, remained on duty. The Continentals and Americans either left or stayed on in the ZAR and many formed themselves into national corps and subsequently allied themselves with the ZAR forces. Those enfranchised immigrants who voluntarily fought for the Boers were granted the right to vote for the First Volksraad.
Men working on the railways, post and telegraph technicians, printers, millers, and weapon manufacturing artisans were considered key men and were exempted from the call-up.
Another group that was exempted included men suffering from physical defects or medical problems which would preclude them from going on commando. Such men would have to obtain certificates from qualified medical doctors, and these certificates would have to receive the approval of field cornets(7).
The latter exemption worked reasonably well for the first three to four months of the war, but as the situation deteriorated, commandants and field comets no longer took any notice of these certificates. Many men, although badly wounded or medically very ill, remained on commando, doing their duty to the best of their ability. Others would go to their farms, and, with inadequate nursing facilities, hoped to be allowed to sit out the war in the serenity of their homes. This hope was, of course, shattered when the British field columns, on their tours of destruction, found these men on the farms. Some went to concentration camps with their families and others were sent to prisoner-of-war camps(8).
Another problem which arose, involving those who wished to be exempted from further service in the field, was the action of certain burghers who misused medical certificates to get home leave. This practice was contemptuously referred to by other burghers as bangsiekte (fear-sickness). A Dr E Van Rijckevorsel, a medical practitioner in the Netherlands- Russian ambulance, referred to this disease as bellophobia (war sickness)(9).
Certain burghers resorted to self inflicted wounds to secure exemption. This practice was sometimes successful, but at other times the wounds were far more serious than anticipated, and the burgher would have a lonely, monotonous convalescence in a field hospital. The other patients who had been genuinely wounded in action would have little to do with a man with self inflicted wounds(10). The point of this exposition is that no one had the right, excluding the above conditions, to opt out of service in the armed forces. Were a man to desert his commando in war time, he was liable to be charged under the Krijgsdienst Wet (Law on Military Service) with any one of the following crimes: desertion in the face of the enemy, ordinary desertion, cowardice and high treason.
The penalties for such crimes could be anything from severe fines to long prison sentences with hard labour for ordinary burghers, who, in both instances, would forfeit the right to vote(11). The penalty for officers was far more severe, and they were generally reduced to the ranks. An example of this was General J P Snyman, who did not defect, but, after the poor performance of the Marico men at Donkerhoek(12), coupled with his ineffectual command at Mafeking(13), was reduced to the rank of ordinary burgher by Commandant-General Louis Botha in mid-June 1900. It says much for the honour of this man that he stayed on as an ordinary burgher of the Marico Commando until the end of the war(14).
There are reported cases of officers being sentenced to death, and a classic example was the case against General Hendrik Schoeman, who had a large holding in the Broederstroom area near the present-day Hartebeestpoort Dam. General Schoeman had apparently signed the oath of neutrality, and was in possession of a British protection pass. He had been arrested by Commandant Coetzee (Pretoria West Commando) for refusing to join the commandos shortly after De la Rey's successful action at Silkaatsnek early in July 1900. The Boer authorities sent him to Barberton gaol, where he was released by British forces in Lord Roberts's eastern advance. He was returned by the British to Pretoria where, shortly afterwards, he was captured in company with several British officers who were out on an expedition to trap Boers on their farms. He was sentenced to death for high treason by the ZAR government. He was sent to Pietersburg but was again released by the British and returned to his townhouse in Pretoria. While living in this house during the British occupation, he must have thrown a lighted match into what he must have thought was an empty lyddite shell case which he had brought back with him from the Colesburg area as a souvenir of war. The shell exploded, killing the poor man; the Boers saw in this extraordinary accident the judgement of God(15).
In the case of ordinary burghers defaulting and not doing their duty, they would be sentenced by their commandant or field cornet to be lashed with a sjambok. Defaulters were tied to a wagon wheel and lashed on the back.
These defectors were referred to by their fellow fighting Boers as hendsoppers, and the writer believes that the reasons that induced previously brave men into such disloyal action warrants investigation. The views about this matter which follow are not necessarily in order of precedence, as various burghers 'threw in the towel' for different reasons and at different times.
Boers had never fought a successful long-term campaign. The war against the Bapedi Chief Sekukuni in the 1870s was a military, political and economic disaster. As a result of that protracted and unsuccessful campaign, the ZAR Government was so impoverished that it was forced to accept the annexation of the country by the British Government under Sir Theophilus Shepstone in 1877. W A Schoch, who lived for twenty-eight years at Boschdal near Rustenburg, recorded in his reminiscences,
'When the siege (of the Bapedi) lasted longer and longer the burghers lost their courage. Some packed up on the quiet and went home, amongst others demoralization set in so fast that the whole commando in spite of the exhortations of the chivalrous president [Reverend Thomas Burgers] melted like snow in the sun and everybody rushed huistoe [home].' (16)
The burghers who had ventured intrepidly to war in September and October of 1899 were unpaid, had no uniforms and had to supply their own horses, rations and rifles. 'While this might have been acceptable for the first few months when early successes had been achieved, many burghers began to desert their commandos as soon as Lord Roberts commenced his great push and had his various proclamations posted.
Some historians claim that the hendsoppers were predominantly those landless, poorly educated men who eked out an existence as bywoners (tenants) on the estates of their more affluent compatriots(17). Although this may, to a certain extent, have been true as far as the rank and file was concerned, it definitely did not apply to those men who became the leaders of the Central Burgher Peace Committees, and who subsequently became the hard core of the 'Joiner' movement(18).
It is possible that the younger burghers lost confidence in their rather old fashioned leaders in the early part of the campaign. For example it is on record that professional soldiers such as Gideon Scheepers, who had received his training in the ZAR Staatsartillerie, heartily despised the older leaders such as General Piet Cronje and even General Koos de la Rey(19).
Another theory is that burghers feared being captured and removed to remote localities such as Ceylon, India and the islands of St Helena and Bermuda, and believed that by laying down their arms they would be allowed to remain quietly on their farms for the rest of the war. This hope, of course, never materialized. With the advent of the guerrilla war when, first Roberts, and then Kitchener, began the devastating scorched earth policy, most of the hendsoppers were detained in concentration camps together with their families.
Possibly the main reason for the mass defection was the lack of discipline prevailing amongst the burghers. In practice they were splendid horsemen, marksmen and masters of field craft, but, in general, uncooperative with their officers. It has frequently been written that even the best Boer leaders such as De la Rey, Beyers, Kemp and De Wet had to use the sjambok to motivate their men(20).
From the beginning of the campaign in October 1899, little went well for the Hex Rivier Field Cornetcy of the Rustenburgers. For example, on 16 October 1899, Assistant Commandant Caspar du Plessis and Field Cornet Piet Kruger, at the request of Field Cornet P A Swart of the Marico Commando, crossed the border between the ZAR and the Bechuanaland Protectorate with a contingent of 370 Rustenburgers. They took up a position between Ramoutsa and Gaborone, and proceeded to tear up the railway line to prevent a British armoured train escaping to the north. That they failed in this minor operation is a clear indication that something was wrong with the discipline and organization of a substantial part of the Rustenburg Commando(21). The next indication was the desertion by fifteen burghers of the Rustenburg Commando during an attack by Bakgatlha tribesmen on the laager at Derdepoort on 25 November 1899.(22)
The siege of Mafeking was originally laid by all of the western Transvaal commandos under General Piet Cronje. However, when Cronje was ordered to proceed to the Modder River area near Kimberley, the Rustenburg and Marico Commandos were left to carry on the siege under the overall leadership of General J P Snyman.(23) Not much has been recorded about the siege from the Boer point of view. The writer has, however, had the good fortune and privilege of access to letters written by Hermann Eugen Schoch, a land surveyor from Rustenburg, to his wife in Rustenburg while he was serving at Mafeking from 23 October 1899 to 20 May 1900, and Schoch's diary which covers the period 25 March 1900 to 6 December 1900.
Originally Hermann Schoch was an ordinary burgher, but, as his father-in-law, Gert du Plessis, in charge of the Commmissariat of the Rustenburg Commando, wished to go home on leave, he applied for and was given the post of assistant in the commissariat division. When his father-in-law fell very ill with malaria fever, Schoch was placed in charge of the commissariat. In addition to this duty, owing to his being an educated man, and proficient in English, Dutch, French and German, he was asked by Commandant Petrus Steenkamp to he his secretary. In this position he had access to much information not available to other burghers, including officers(24).
Schoch, who had married Elizabeth du Plessis on 12 December 1898, was the proud father of a boy whom he and his wife nicknamed 'Sonny'. He was clearly devoted to his young wife, and wrote affectionate letters to her at least twice a week. These uncensored letters contained important information about Boer and British movements and clashes.
Although Schoch wrote in clear English his opinions are clouded, in some respects, owing to his extremely anti-Boer feelings exacerbated by living cheek by jowl with the undisciplined Rustenburgers for seven difficult months. His antagonism notwithstanding, many of Schoch's observations are pertinent and revealing. Having analyzed all of these letters, several excerpts are provided to convey Schoch's impression of the lack of discipline and order prevalent in the Rustenburg Commando during the long siege of Mafeking.
There had been heavy rains, the camp terrain had become swamped, and the laager had to be moved. He wrote on 18 January 1900,
'There are, however, several in camp, who thro' laziness or thro' not caring for filth and dirt, refuse to shift, so as there are no positive orders given we remain haggling about the matter.
Continuous reports were coming through about Colonel H Plumer's relief force, which was moving southward from Lobatsi and was reported to be in the vicinity of Pitsani. An order had been given that everyone had to sleep in the perimeter trenches at night. He wrote on 8 March 1900,
'The first night I did it, but when I found that only very few had obeyed I took the precaution on the second night to have a look around first, and when I saw that nobody took any notice of the order I quietly went to bed in the house and have done so ever since.
A fort had been constructed between the laager and Mafeking, and Schoch's brother, Victor, who had been home on leave in Rustenburg, was assigned to this fort. Schoch wrote on 26 April 1900,
'I have not seen Victor since the day of his arrival. They seem to be having rather uncomfortable times down there. They threatened to go out on strike, and abandon the fort if they did not get reinforcements at once. There are, however, none available just now so they will just have to get on as best they can.' Schoch Comments, 'The order and discipline is something grand; it is really a wonder we have not come to grief yet!'
At the beginning of May 1900, the President, Paul Kruger, who had originally in October 1899 cancelled an order for a direct attack on a fortified place in Mafeking, must have been persuaded by his grandson, Commandant Sarel Eloff, to let him assault Mafeking and capture the town. On 10 May 1900 Schoch wrote,
'There is also a movement on foot to storm Mafeking one of these days. Volunteers have been called for, but with the exception of the Uitlanders (foreigners) under Commandant Eloff the call has not been responded to at all. It may be that all will be ordered to go, but that is hardly likely as our Burgers are not given to obeying orders when they are in conflict with their own personal views'.
In the same month news had come through that Brandfort and Winburg in the OFS and Vryburg in the Cape Colony had been occupied by the British. Schoch wrote on 10 May 1900, 'If they keep this pace up for some time, there will soon be an end to the war, for notwithstanding the repeated statements, the "burghers zyn vol moed" (burghers are still full of courage) the fact is that the determination to resist is growing daily weaker, and the courage is oozing out very rapidly.'
Of the forty-nine letters analyzed, in twenty-four the lack of discipline and order amongst the Rustenburgers is mentioned; the five excerpts are, therefore, a mere sample of the poor state of affairs prevailing in the Rustenburg Commando.
With the relief of Mafeking on 17 May 1900, the laager was at once broken up and the men trekked with all speed, probably in the direction of Rustenburg. They were so anxious to leave that the burghers in the fort and those on patrol were not even advised, and made their way home at a later stage. Stores were not destroyed but simply left behind. The Boer hospital was taken over by the British who, however, subsequently advised the Boers that they could take away the patients and equipment.
According to Schoch the burghers had orders to halt at a dam, but it was not possible to stem their retreat. When they got to Dawid Louw's farm they were turned back in the direction of Buhrmansdrift. There they met the Marico burghers, and were ordered to proceed to Ottoshoop. On the way they were again ordered to halt, but the order was ignored(25). They eventually formed a laager on the east bankof the Malmani River(26).
On the morning of 21 May 1900, General J P Snyman and Assistant State Secretary Piet Grobler unsuccessfully exhorted the men to make a stand. On Tuesday afternoon, 22 May, General Koos de la Rey arrived at the laager and was not impressed with its position as, according to him, the burghers could not offer any resistance from there. He ordered the Rustenburgers to join his laager at the Oog (eye) of the Molopo River on the next day, but at 21:00 Schoch's laager received orders to proceed as far as it could in the direction of Potchefstroom.
The laager broke up early in the morning of 23 May and started for Potchefstroom. A number of burghers and wagons ignored the order to go to Potchefstroom and decided to go home instead. Schoch left at about 11:00 and then caught up with the laager at Wonderfontein. From there Schoch and his brother, Victor, proceeded to Ventersdorp and slept that night in the veld.
The upshot of all these movements was that the Schoch brothers reached Frederickstad at 14:00 on 27 May, and all voetgangers (burghers without horses) and paarden-ruiters (mounted burghers) were ordered to entrain at once for Roodepoort and Randfontein. They were to be part of the defensive line at Doornkop, intended to stop Lord Roberts' advance on Johannesburg.
On 30 May the laager again broke up and all the wagons were returned to their respective homes. Hermann Schoch left his wagon at Kaalfontein, and must have continued the journey on horse-back. Near the Bronkhorst's farm (Sandfontein), Koos Pretorius caught up with him and informed him that the Boers had been beaten back all along the Rand. He also informed him that the brave Commandant Petrus Steenkamp had been wounded in the shoulder and leg.
At Wagenpadspruit, about half way between Magaliesburg and Rustenburg, and on the main Johannesburg-Rustenburg road, he was informed that the British would be in Rustenburg on 31 May. This was somewhat premature because General Baden-Powell only arrived on 14 June 1900.
On 11 June 1900 an order was sent out to the burghers calling on them to gather at Roodekoppies on Friday 15 June. Few were inclined to go as they felt that they had just returned from commando and had had enough of it. If this was not a refusal to obey a lawful command it is difficult to imagine how else it should be understood.
At 04:00 on 14 June the British, under command of General Baden-Powell accompanied by Colonel H Plumer, accepted the surrender of Rustenburg by Field Cornet Piet Kruger, who could not persuade the burghers to put up any resistance.
On the same day Hermann Schoch handed in his Martini-Henry carbine and two locked rifle cases to Maj Alec Godley, the adjutant of the Protectorate Regiment, and most probably signed the oath of neutrality. The two Schochs, Hermann and Victor, then left the scene as members of the ZAR armed forces.
With the occupation of Pretoria on 5 June 1900, the western Transvaal commandos, and in particular the Rustenburg Commando, became despondent and thought that the war was over. In that thought they were greatly encouraged by proclamations which Baden-Powell had issued stating that the President had fled taking with him all the gold he could lay his hands on and leaving only his unpaid bills to his burghers(27).
One 'proclamation' was worded as follows,
TWO GUINEAS REWARD
Will be paid by any of our 'Gentlemen in Khaki'
to any person giving information that will lead
to the apprehension of
who on or about 21 May 1900
HIS LOVING WIFE AND FAMILY
and absconded with all the available money in the Transvaal, and left his wife and family on the parish relief of Lord Roberts and his army. Was last seen making another foolish speech from a cattle truck on his way to Machadodorp.
DESCRIPTION: Height about 5ft 6in: age 73 (or in his second childhood). Would be easily recognized by his lunacy actions. Iron grey hair, turned white since the relief of Ladysmith. Was last seen wearing a very shabby frock coat suit, a very old silk hat (one of the first that was made and was found after the flood) and always smoking a big badger's pipe. No underclothing, Union Jack socks and brown boots.
The above reward will be paid by any right-minded Englishman.
June 1900 By Order
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
Psychological warfare was thriving in June 1900!
On the day that Baden-Powell entered Rustenburg a thousand Boer rifles were handed to his men, and one can assume that an equivalent number of burghers signed the oath of neutrality. With the exception of new Mausers all rifles were burnt by the British Army(28).
Despite extensive archival research, it has not been possible to locate a list of Rustenburgers who signed the oath of neutrality in June and July 1900. A M Grundlingh, in his thoroughly researched book Die Hendsoppers en Joiners, states that towards the end of 1902 General Botha decided that the list of National Scouts which the Boers had procured during the war should be destroyed. It was thought that it would be better for the descendants of National Scouts not to know about the action of their forefathers during the war(29). It is possible that with the destruction of this list, the oath of neutrality lists were also destroyed.
What is recorded in this account, therefore, is not based on archival lists, but is drawn from such reliable sources as General J C Smuts who, in early June 1900, stated,
'The Rustenburg Commando with it's 2 000 men almost entirely disappeared, and it was a pleasant surprise to us afterwards to hear that some 130 burghers under Assistant-Commandant Caspar du Plessis had refused to surrender, and were marching eastwards in order to effect a junction with the main Boer forces under General Louis Botha.'(30)
In this statement Smuts was not entirely correct, because he did not take into account the Rustenburgers who, having fought at Doornkop, had proceeded under the command of Commandant Petrus Steenkamp to assist General Louis Botha at Donkerhoek east of Pretoria.
A further source is the reminiscences of Johannes Penzhorn (brother of Christopher Penzhorn, Secretary to General Piet Cronje), who reported,
'Our laager (portion of the Hex Rivier Field Cornetcy) moved back past Rustenburg. The news that the British were in Pretoria confused everybody. We did not hear from our headquarters (Commandant Petrus Steenkamp had, in accordance with his instructions, proceeded to the eastern front). Our Field Cornet was in an alcoholic haze, and did not give any orders. So we went home as did most of the burghers. Assistant-Commandant Caspar du Plessis and a few burghers went to the Waterberg district.'(31)(In this he was incorrect as they proceeded to join the burghers under General Louis Botha at Donkerhoek.)
Much has been written about the 'oath of neutrality', a document which warrants careful analysis. It read,
I, the undersigned.................................
in the district of ............................
Do hereby solemnly make oath and declare that I have handed in and given up all the arms and ammunition demanded of me by the British authorities, namely all rifles and rifle ammunition of whatsoever description they may be. And I solemnly swear that I have no rifle or rifle ammunition remaining, and that I know of none such being concealed or withheld by anyone whatsoever.
And, I further swear that I will not take up arms against the British Government during the present war, nor will I, at any time, furnish any members of the Republican forces with assistance of any kind, or with information as to the numbers, movements or other details of the British forces that may come to my knowledge. I do further promise and swear to remain quietly at my home until the war is over.
I am aware that if I in any way falsely declare in the promise, or if I break my oath or promise as above set forth, I shall render myself liable to be summarily and severely punished by the British authorities.
I make the above declaration solemnly believing it to be true, so help me God.
In normal warfare a man may surrender, and then at a later stage, subject to his good behaviour, be granted a form of parole. According to the British authorities, the oath was simply a form of parole suited to the conditions of the war. By advertising this form of parole in proclamations they reversed the normal procedure in war(33).
The British authorities stated originally that under the commando laws of the ZAR and OVS every male burger, with slight exceptions, could be called up for military service. Therefore, any male captured, whether on his farm or in a town, was considered a combatant. For humanitarian reasons and, undoubtedly, also for economic reasons, the British granted these men the right to sign the oath.(34) Similarly, men in the field, influenced by the thought of an easy return to civilian life, signed the oath in their thousands.
The British authorities thought that by getting them to sign the oath the burghers would be 'knee haltered', and all the costs involved in sending them away to distant POW camps would be avoided. This desire to fight the war on the cheap was to cost the British Army many lives and much expense at a later stage, when a great percentage of the Boers realized that they had been misled into signing the oath.
An old Rustenburger told his friends when he emerged from the British office where he had signed the oath of neutrality,
'My hand has signed this accursed thing, but God knows my heart is pure, and that I intend tearing it up as soon as the first commando appears.'(35)
It should not be thought that only the poorly educated Rustenburgers signed the oath. There are well documented cases of leading officers and professional men putting their signatures to the document as well.
In seeking a cause for the general lapse in loyalty among Rustenburgers, several factors should be considered. It was not that the Rustenburgers were poorly trained or armed. They were, furthermore, not inexperienced. Most were skilled shots having lived in an area abundant in wild game. They were equipped with modern, 7 mm Model 96 Mauser rifles. They had gained experience in the Sekukuni War of 1876, the Mapoch War of 1894, the Jameson Raid of 1896, and the Malaboch War of the same year. In short, they should have been the equal of any comparable army of that era. It is the opinion of the writer that it was in respect of discipline that they fell short. The Rustenburgers, being strongly incdividualistic, did not easily submit to authority.
A point that should be taken into consideration is the effect on the burghers of the climatic conditions of the Rustenburg area. It is extremely hot in summer and in 1899 probably the entire population was suffering from malaria or bilharzia or both. For example, the men serving at Derdepoort, Janskop and Mafeking were constantly laid low by the dreaded malaria. Men died from the disease, and many who did not, returned with their health permanently impaired.
The majority of the Rustenburgers farmed on black turf soil, planting tobacco in summer and wheat in winter. Turf soil may have the advantage of retaining moisture for an extended time, but Rustenburg farmers have an expression to the effect that black soil gives one grey hairs. When it is dry it is difficult to plough, and when it is wet it is difficult to get farm implements into it. Crops were watered from rivers such as the Hex, which are not perennial. The Rustenburg farmers, on account of their generally small holdings had, perforce, to lead very modest lives. Furthermore, many of them were bywoners (tenant farmers) on the land of their more wealthy compatriots. They probably felt that, as they were only eking out an existence, they had nothing to lose by defecting from the commando.
The senseless siege of Mafeking which dragged on for seven months had sapped their morale. The Marico men who served with the Rustenburgers at Mafeking also had a high percentage of defectors after that town had been relieved. On 29 May 1900, it was reported that the strength of the Marico Commando had dropped from 1 250 to 110 burghers(36). The Boers had the men, weapons and supplies and should have taken Mafeking in the first week of the war.
The responsibility for the poor performance of the Rustenburgers lies squarely on the shoulders of their officer corps. There were, however, some splendid officers who helped subsequently to restore some form of honour to the name of Rustenburg. Commandant P S Steenkamp was an outstanding man, and by his personal example should have led the Rustenburgers to great success. Despite his age, he was 54 years old when the war broke out, and being severely wounded three times during the campaign, he stayed in the field until peace was declared in May 1902(37). Where he may have failed was in his extremely good nature; he was seldom able to refuse a person anything. One cannot be in command of a group of strong individualists and accede to their every request. Commandant Steenkamp's excessively good nature is exemplified by this event: On 2 May 1900, Victor Schoch was sent from the lower fort to assist his brother Hermann in the Commissariat. Hermann did not think he would be there long, as Victor was trying very hard to get leave to do his autumn ploughing and sowing on his farm. Hermann commented, 'The Commandant is such a good natured old chap, that he will get his leave all right'. Ominous reports were coming through of the speedy approach of British relief columns, and within two weeks Mafeking was going to be relieved - surely not the time to accede to requests from burghers wanting to go home on leave. In fact, Victor Schoch did not get his leave.
Field Cornet Roelf van Tonder was to prove himself in action after action. On 8 March 1900, Hermann Schoch made this comment, 'Besides that Field Cornet van Tonder will be there, a man I think to be relied upon, who can be trusted to act a little more energetically'.
Field Cornet Koos van Heerden was to become a legendary leader in the Rustenburg Commando who carried out his duties bravely, purposefully, and with great energy until the end of the war.
Blame for allowing incompetent officers, who lacked the qualities of leadership, to be appointed to the Rustenburg Commando, should be apportioned to the War Department of the ZAR.
In the virtual absence of control by their officers, with their lack of discipline, their disillusionment and ill health, the Rustenburgers were susceptible to Lord Roberts' proclamation encouraging burghers to sign the oath of neutrality. Regrettably, for their country and for themselves, they handed in their rifles and signed the oath.
The writer wishes to draw certain analogies from his experiences during the Second World War. His regiment, the Regiment de la Rey, consisted of men recruited mainly from the western Transvaal. Those men were, undoubtedly, neither better nor worse than men from other districts. The authorities, however, did not consider them fit for frontline service. It seemed that they were a regiment suited only to guarding internment camps, bridges, aerodromes and ammunition dumps; in short, a second-line regiment.
The situation rankled many of the volunteers as they claimed that they had joined the army to get to grips with the enemy. Some deserted the regiment and joined others under assumed names; some got official transfers.
Generally, the morale of the regiment was very low until the battle of El Alamein in October 1942. Two very important events occurred at that stage.
The first was that the General Headquarters of the Union Defence Forces realized that the war in Africa was drawing to a close and that the South African armed forces would have to sign a new oath whereby they could participate in campaigns anywhere in the world. Many of the officers of the Regiment de la Rey, who were ageing by modern infantry standards, took the opportunity to opt out of infantry duties, and some returned to civilian life.
The second was the transfer of the officers of the Field Force Battalion (FFB) to the Regiment de la Rey. The FFB which had fought so courageously in Abyssinia and North Africa had lost so many men in the North Africa campaign and in particular at El Alamein, that they were strong in officers but had relatively few men. This heralded a turning point in the regiment's career, and from that time onwards the Regiment de la Rey went from strength to strength.
In mid 1943, the regiment amalgamated with the Witwatersrand Rifles, and the combined unit was designated WR/DLR. It became one of the leading motorized infantry battalions in the Sixth South African Armoured Division.
The purpose of the aforegoing exposition is to illustrate the writer's contention that it is not the men who determine the destiny of a regiment or commando, but the officers corps.
In June 1900, the only officers of any consequence left in the Rustenburg Commando were Commandant Petrus Steenkamp and Field Cornets Koos van Heerden and Roelf van Tonder. After the battle of Donkerhoek on 11/12 June 1900, Generals Smuts and Lemmer were instructed by the Commandant General, Louis Botha, to assist those officers in licking the shattered remnants of the June 1900 debacle into shape(38). With the passage of time several new officers were appointed on merit, and Rustenburg Commando once again took it's rightful place amongst the other ZAR commandos.
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Breytenbach. J.H. Geskiedenis van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog. Deel 1. Pretoria. Staatsdrukker. 1969.
Engelbrecht. S.P. Die Nederduitsch Hervormde Gemeente Rustenburg 1850-1950. Die Kerkraad. 1950.
Grundlingh, A.M. Die Hendsoppers en Joiners, Rasionale en Verskynsels van Verraad. Pretoria. HAUM. 1977.
Meintjies. J. Sword in the Sand - The Life and Death of Gideon Scheepers. Cape Town. Tafelberg. 1969.
Schoch, W.A. Transvaal - 34 Years in the Country of the Boers. Brieg, Switzerland. R.Kubisch. 1910.
Hancock, W.K. and Van der Poel, J. Selections from the Smuts Papers. Cambridge University Press. 1966.
Safleu, A. Die Beleg van Mafeking. Pretoria. Raad van Geesteswetenskaplike Navorsing. 1985.
Penzhorn, J. Lebenslauf und Herinneringe
Pretorius, F. Kommandolewe tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902. (Unpublished D. Litt et Phil thesis. UNISA. 1988).
Wet No. 20 1898 voor Den Krijgsdienst in de Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. Pretoria. Staatsdrukkerij. 1899.
Schoch, H.E. Letters and Diary. Listed in A.M. Cunningham, Schoch Family Papers. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 1976.
Transvaal Archives Depot
F.K. 1830 (W.O.) Oath of Neutrality
F.K. 2016 (W.O.) Statement re parole
F.K. 1830 (W.O.) British definition of a combatant
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