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   Chapter 26 No.26

Three Years' War By Christiaan Rudolf De Wet Characters: 9414

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Wherein Something is Found About War against Women

It was decided here, on the 26th December, to divide the large commando into two. The one part was to be under the command of Assistant-Chief-Commander P.H. Botha, and the other Assistant-Chief-Commander Pete Fourie.

I entrusted to President Steyn a bodyguard under Commander Davel, who went with the Government in the direction of Reitz.

As regards myself, I went to Assistant-Chief-Commander C.C. Froneman, who was with the Heilbron Commander, L. Steenekamp, in the neighbourhood of Heilbron. It was my intention to take with me from there a strong escort, and to dig up the ammunition at Roodewal taken on the 7th of June, as both our Mauser and our Lee-Metford ammunition were nearly exhausted, although we still had a fairly large supply of Martini-Henry Giddy cartridges.

I then started from Tafelkop, on the 27th of December, and arrived two days later at General Froneman's commando, close to Heilbron. I had to wait there till the evening of the 31st December, until the necessary carriages and oxen had been got together for carrying the ammunition with us. Carriages were now no longer to be got easily, because the British had not only taken them away from the farms, but had also burnt many of them. Where formerly in each farm there were at least one carriage and a team of oxen, and in some two, three or even more, there were now frequently not a single one. Even where there were carriages the women had always to keep them in readiness to fly on them before the columns of the enemy, who had now already commenced to carry the women away from their dwellings to the concentration camps within their own lines, in nearly all villages where the English had established strong garrisons. Proclamations had been issued by Lord Roberts, prescribing that any building within ten miles from the railway, where the Boers had blown up or broken up the railway line, should be burnt down. This was also carried out, but not only within the specified radius, but also everywhere throughout the State. Everywhere houses were burnt down or destroyed with dynamite. And, worse still, the furniture itself and the grain were burnt, and the sheep, cattle and horses were carried off. Nor was it long before horses were shot down in heaps, and the sheep killed by thousands by the Kaffirs and the National Scouts, or run through by the troops with their bayonets. The devastation became worse and worse from day to day. And the Boer women-did they lose courage with this before their eyes? By no means, as when the capturing of women, or rather the war against them and against the possessions of the Boer commenced, they took to bitter flight to remain at least out of the hands of the enemy. In order to keep something for themselves and their children, they loaded the carriages with grain and the most indispensable furniture. When then a column approached a farm, even at night, in all sorts of weather, many a young daughter had to take hold of the leading rope of the team of oxen, and the mother the whip, or vice versa. Many a smart, well-bred daughter rode on horseback and urged the cattle on, in order to keep out of the hands of the pursuers as long as at all possible, and not to be carried away to the concentration camps, which the British called Refugee Camps (Camps of Refuge). How incorrect, indeed! Could any one ever have thought before the war that the twentieth century could show such barbarities? No. Any one knows that in war, cruelties more horrible than murder can take place, but that such direct and indirect murder should have been committed against defenceless women and children is a thing which I should have staked my head could never have happened in a war waged by the civilized English nation. And yet it happened. Laagers containing no one but women and children and decrepit old men, were fired upon with cannon and rifles in order to compel them to stop. I could append here hundreds of declarations in proof of what I say. I do not do so, as my object is not to write on this matter. I only touch upon it in passing. There are sufficiently many righteous pens in South Africa and England to pillory these deeds and bring them to the knowledge of the world, to remain on record for the future. For what nation exists, or has existed, which has not a historical record whether to its advantage or to its disadvantage? I cannot do it here as it should be done. And too much cannot be said about this shameful history.

I had to unburden my heart. Now let me proceed.

On the evening of the 1st of January, 1901, I pushed on towards Roodewal Station, for I had obtained all the waggons I needed for my

purpose. Perhaps that night the outposts were asleep; but however that may be, we reached the railway without the enemy being aware of our movements. The hour was growing late, and so we had no choice but to remain where we were, nine miles from the spot at which we aimed. But the following evening we were again on the march, and reached the place where the ammunition had been buried. We found it untouched, and just where we had left it, a few miles from the railway, and quite close to the English camp, at Rhenosterriviersbrug.

We were very careful to recover every cartridge, since it was clear that the war must still continue for a long space of time. We could have no thought of giving up the struggle, whilst the pride of England would not allow her to turn back.

We loaded our waggons with the ammunition, and I gave to General Froneman the task of conducting it across the railway line. I myself proceeded to the Vredefort commandos, which were stationed some fifteen miles away, for the state of affairs amongst these commandos called for my presence. On the 4th of January, when night had fallen, I crossed the railway near Vredefortweg, unnoticed by the enemy.

Two days later I was back again with General Froneman's commando, where I found that the ammunition had arrived in safety. I was informed that General Knox had divided his forces into three parts, one of which had engaged General Fourie and Commandant Prinsloo, near Bethlehem. We had given the enemy a good beating, but had lost two men in the affair. I regret to say that one of them was that clever officer, Vice-Commandant Ignatius du Preeij. He was a man whom every burgher loved, for he was goodness personified. The second of General Knox's division had set out in the direction of Heilbron, whilst the third had pursued General Philip Botha along the Liebenbergsvlei.[78]

This division had attempted to mislead General Botha by all sorts of tricks, but on January the 3rd he had put up notices outside different farmhouses, stating that he did not like such familiarity.

On one occasion the General, with only fifty burghers, had charged one hundred and fifty of the bodyguard, and had taken one hundred and seventeen prisoners, leaving the whole of the remainder either killed or wounded.

A panic now occurred among General Knox's forces. The division that was marching to Heilbron suddenly turned aside towards Kroonstad, only to meet with General Botha, who left them in anything but an undamaged condition.

The division which had been despatched to deal with General Fourie and Commandant Prinsloo entered Senekal.

When I arrived at General Botha's camp, which was situated six miles to the east of Lindley, I found that General Knox had already taken Kroonstad.

After this we allowed ourselves a rest.

On the 8th of January I received reports from Commandant Kritzinger and Captain Scheepers dealing with the state of affairs in Cape Colony. They informed me that they had safely crossed the Orange River by a foot-path. There was another footpath, more to the south, which an English outpost of eight men was guarding. These soldiers occupied a house near by, and the first warning they had that we had crossed the river was when the door of their abode opened, and they heard the order to "hands up."

Commandant Kritzinger and Captain Scheepers also assured me that the sympathies of the Colonial burghers were strongly with us. Like every other right-minded man, I had expected this to be the case, for "blood is thicker than water."[79]

Although the Colonials were well aware what a dangerous course they would be pursuing if they joined us, and how, later, they would be sure to be treated as rebels, they nevertheless threw in their lot with ours.

From Judge Hertzog I received a very encouraging report as to the burghers in the north-western parts of Cape Colony. This news decided me on leaving behind, in their own districts, parts of the commandos from all the various divisions, and on taking others to join with me in a second expedition into Cape Colony. The following were the officers I took with me, ordering them to assemble at Doornberg, in the district of Winburg, on the 25th of January, 1901: Generals Piet Fourie, Philip Botha and Froneman; Commandants Prinsloo (Bethlehem), Steyn (Ficksburg), Hasebroek (Winburg), De Vos (Kroonstad), Merve (Parijs), Ross (Frankfort), Wessel Wessels[80] (Harrismith), Kolbe (Bloemfontein), and Jan Theron, with the renowned Theron Scouts.

From the 8th to the 25th of January we were in the north-western districts of the Free State. We were waiting for a suitable opportunity to make a dash into Cape Colony.

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